Not the best of rhymes, but it sums up the past few weeks. We had a series of issues with the boat on the hellish crossing that had to be addressed. I’ll admit to a degree of shellshock from the ordeal as well. Xmas and the bitter cold gave us a reason to snuggle in and lick our wounds.
We’ve started sleeping 12 hours a night, in contrast to the summer when we rose early with the sun on Lexia. I’ve always been intrigued by the stories of the North European peasantry snoozing away the winters while the fields lay bare. Before industrialisation made it compulsory to work the same hours regardless of the season, and made nutritious food available all year round, our lives were governed more by the seasons. This time of year, surrendering to that snoozy snuggly feeling makes a lot of sense- even if there is more to eat than a daily chunk of black bread.
Adventure finally prevailed, and we got our heads round the idea of leaving. Our departure date was to be 19th January. For various reasons, it and many subsequent dates have come and gone.
In mid-January we changed the diesel filter and took Joker out for a spin. Doing this is always an adventure because of the cold fierce winds that have rocked the marina almost every day. It’s especially nervewracking to be unsure if the engine is going to conk out. But it’s also great, because it reminds us that Joker is a boat, built to move, not a tiny wobbly shed that for some reason we are living in.
We’d taken her out for a sail on the 21st of Dec but since then only pootled, listening to the engine in case it sputtered out or overheated. This time we went to hoist the sail, and halfway up it crumpled like a stunned bird. The Lazy Jacks had snapped near the top of the mast, so the boom could no longer swing above the deck. It gave us a bit of a chill. If that had happened on the crossing we’d have been in major trouble.
Fixing it required new lines and making eye splices at the ends. The man in the Chandlery showed Sam how to do it, but he’d half forgotten by the time he got back. Our finished splices were knobblier than they’re probably supposed to be, but strong. Now for getting to the very top of the mast to clip them on. We’d tried this on Lexia, without success. Sam’s vertigo made it tough for him, and I wasn’t strong enough to haul myself up, even in a harness strapped to the halyard. But this time Sam created two loops round the mast tied with prusik knots. The top prusik was clipped to my harness with the halyard, while the lower one had a hanging loop for my foot. I was able to shuffle them up alternately, and every time I stood up on the foot loop, Sam would take up the slack with the halyard.
It was a freezing sunny day. Sam hunched anxiously by the halyard, hauling whenever I stood in the red loop, the mast swaying in increasing arcs. After that, the work: stretching full length, legs braced against the mast and unscrewing small metal rings with a Leatherman while the windvane ticked and spun overhead. I detached three broken ropes and attached new ones- making the screws tight enough to withstand the sea winds. I was a little freaked out at how long it took and how cold I was getting, but rushing was the best way to ensure an accident or just a crappy job that I’d have to fix.
By the time I touched down, two hours had passed. It took me about six to get the cold out of my bones. But when we took Joker out and her sail stretched high into the sky on her strong lines, I was proud.
So what else was stopping us? A few weeks ago our gas stove developed a leak. The locker where the cylinder was stored vents into the cabin, so we decided it would be safer long term to abandon gas. We bought an alcohol stove, but the only affordable one we could find was in Scotland. It was scheduled to be picked up by courier just when the entre UK was swamped in snow- so it just arrived yesterday. We had a day of snow on Joker too, but just the one. The end of January brought a premature breath of Spring- it seems the worst of winter is past.
The other night in one of Cherbourg’s lively dive bars, we got talking to a sailor who told us in sepulchral tones of ‘Le Raz Blanchard’– A tide and wind phenomenon that embarassingly we hadn’t heard of, Le Raz has a reputation for smashing boats with the force of its white topped breakers. He told us we must under no circumstances leave in Joker without asking a proper sailor how to avoid Le Raz. When pressed, he said he was too drunk to go into it. Cheers then!
According to a bit of judicious googling, it seems that despite Yian’s fateful warnings we’re unlikely to encounter much of La Raz Blanchard on the way to St Vaast. If we mess up the timing though, the fearsome Raz Barfleur round the corner may get us.
But of course we’ll be careful. Very careful. As much as you can be when getting yourself and all your worldlies chucked around by the elements. It’s time to move on again. We’re just waiting for the wind.