On Monday 10th Dec I got up at my parents’ house for the last time. I made coffee and packed all the clean clothes hanging in their laundry room, while Sam worked on his laptop. Mum gave me a lift to Portsmouth Harbour, where I took the Gosport Ferry for the last time and lugged the bags to Royal Clarence Marina. On arrival I collected the new boat battery from the marina office, installed it and set it charging while I changed the stern light and cleaned the boat top to bottom.
Sam arrived at about 2pm, dropped off his things and left to buy boat bits and a current almanac from the Swindlery (Chandlery- a specialist boat equipment shop with essential boat items at absurdly inflated prices).
By 6pm Joker was in fine fettle, gleaming and neat inside. On the outside, her lines were flaked and stowed, engines fuelled, oil checked, the new flag I’d sewed for the Dan buoy fluttering from its pole.
I made a final trip to Morrisons for food supplies, nervously overstocking just in case we ended up at sea longer than we expected. On my return I cooked and we slept at about 9.30. John the skipper was due to arrive at midnight, and we planned to set sail at around 2.30am.
Just before midnight I was having an odd dream in which my friend G-Bob lectured me on the importance of healthy eating and a good night’s sleep. Suddenly Joker lurched and the hatch squeaked open. John had arrived.
It was minus 3 degrees outside, and the pontoons were slick with ice. Over the next two hours we made a huge thermos of coffee, filled and stashed hot water bottles around the cabin and dressed for the voyage.
- 1 pair thermal longjohns,
- 1 pair high waisted leggings,
- 2 pairs woolly socks,
- 1 pair waterproof socks,
- 1 pair woolly tights on my arms,
- 2 thermal long sleeve tops,
- 1 long sleeve technical hiking top,
- 1 long tight jersey top,
- 1 long loose jersey top,
- 2 velour tracksuit tops, (1 with hood 1 without),
- 1 pair velour tracksuit bottoms,
- 1 pair technical hiking bottoms,
- 1 pair technical fleece bottoms
- 1 woolly bodywarmer with furry hood,
- 1 zipped technical fleece
- Waterproof wool-lined boots,
- 1 hooded Army coat,
- 1 fleece snood and 1 woolly hat.
- 1 pair thermal gloves with touchscreen-adapted finger and thumb for camera kit,
- 1 pair waterproof sailing gloves.
- 1 Life Jacket.
Not my most svelte look. I resembled the Michelin Man with a bobble on top.
At around 2.30am we untied Joker and set forth into the night once more. Like last time it was dry and clear, though the moon was a tiny sliver in the sky. A ‘Hunter’s Moon’- which was the name of the yacht my parents shared with two other families when we were kids. One of my early boat memories is playing at scrubbing her down as a tiny child, while my parents did the real work- and eating boiled eggs with my friends Sarah and Polly on day trips to Hayling Island when I was six.
For the first two hours I did a lot of helming, keeping us on course with the help of the GPS and floating compass. After that John suggested I take 2 hours rest and come back on standby duty, and that the three of us rotate shifts that way and try to keep warm in between. My two hours of dreamlike dark and strange thoughts weren’t what I’d call sleep, but I was pretty comfortable- even when the wind picked up and started slewing Joker around. I loved hearing the water rush around the hull and knowing I was lying on my own bed- safe, but not safe.
But by the time I was due back on, the waves were sloshing us around in a circular slopping motion. Staying on course meant regularly having to yank the tiller hard.
I decided I’d be better off on deck with John than ‘on standby’ in the cabin. I’ve been seasick before and keeping my eyes on the horizon is always the best way to fend it off. It was cold, but also quite lovely. The dawn was gradually seeping in to the East as we finally passed the last of the Isle of Wight.
Sam sat below- not having much luck with sleeping. And about 30 minutes in, the dreaded sound of the overheat alarm put paid to his rest once and for all.
We’d consulted Steve the engineer about the surprise overheating problem when we got back to Gosport after the first failed attempt. After describing the checks on the pipework and seals we had undertaken, He said he thought it must be a fluke. That the water had run out of the cooling system when Joker heeled over, and an airlock had formed when we restarted and it tried to pump more water in. This was pretty demoralising in a way as it meant we could have carried on last time if we’d tried refilling the water filter by hand. But in another sense it was encouraging- meaning our engine wasn’t possessed by an evil spirit.
We had tried to recreate the problem in harbour but the engine ran fine on the pontoon or in harbour & the weather was too extreme to head out for the waves in the intervening time, so we were really down to crossed fingers.
Now we were about to experience a real series of challenges…