The long-awaited breath of spring has been blowing damn seldom in the past couple of weeks. That goes for both the physical and emotional weather.
It was with light hearts we finally set off from Pontoon P in Cherbourg, a day of gentle breezes and hardly any swell. A couple of miles out the sun broke through the clouds, and we chugged merrily towards our destination. The sun sparkling on the water and bouncing off the white rocks and houses on the coast filled our heads with dreams of the Med and the long summer days, when we’ll be able to leap off Joker and into the blue without freezing to death. We were moving!
Twenty minutes from St Vaast, I returned from my blissful doze at the prow to see a green float skating through the water behind Sam. Before we figured out what had happened, the prop choked and seized up. Looking around, it became clear we had motored into a patch of lobsterpots. We tried reversing but it only wound the rope tighter around the prop, which started making ugly noises. Luckily we have an auxiliary engine onboard- a 4 horsepower outboard. We fired it up but made no headway. The pot was anchoring us to the seabed.
After about half an hour trying to reach the lines now stretched between the keel, prop and tiller, and attempting to dislodge or drag the pot, we gave up. With sinking hearts we radioed the coastguard. At first they offered to send a lifeboat to tow us, but shortly after we hung up we were able to snag the rope attached to the pot, cut it and get moving again. We limped into St Vaast on our outboard, with a creaky rope-choked tiller, cursing ourselves for allowing the day to lull us out of watchfulness.
St Vaast (pronounced San Vaaah) is a beautiful little tourist town, though this time of year it is resolutely out of season. The marina is choked with fishing boats of all sizes, their trawling nets sprawled on the quayside and hanging down their sterns like elaborate hairdos. The local oysters are famous- gathered from acres of metal grids that emerge from the sea at low tide. Every day you can see a yellow tractor and scores of yellow-clad workers combing the grids. When the tide gets really low, the locals turn up in waders and head out to the tideline to gather mussels.
Sam went out in his trainers and got a good sized bushel from closer inland, but when we ate the stew I made from them we learned why the locals go so far out. Our moules were a bit sandy, but more importantly they were full of tiny crabs, who must have been taking shelter. Sam’s dangerously allergic to crustaceans so next time we’ll make the trek out of crab country. Once the unfortunate crabs were rooted out the moules were gorgeous.
We celebrated our 13th anniversary, with oysters. A few days later we both came down with colds and stomach bugs. (No connection with the oysters.) The balmy sea breezes and sunny days bit down into freezing mudswept winter again as we recovered.
Drying-out day arrived and we headed out out of Pontoon E and past the harbour’s lock gates, to lash our house to the seawall, put out a pair of scaff-pole stilts and wait for the tide to go out.
It was bitterly cold and our hands numbed as we tied ropes to corroded ladder rungs and ancient bollards. Joker slapped against the wall, rocked by the wind and waves. We took turns popping out to loosen the lines as we descended to the seabed.
Sam worried that the beaching leg nearest to the sloping wall may get stuck and put us at an awkward angle, but it was impossible to tell until it happened. His worries came true. As the water receded and the port leg still hung free, the pole on the wall side dug into hard rock, pushed the starboard side up and began to creak and crunch alarmingly at the small plate anchoring it to the hull. The port leg finally hit the seafloor and sank deep into soft mud.
We crept around the cabin like ghosts, listening for the creak. Freaked out as always by our gently swaying home becoming landbound. Our surroundings, normally in barely perceptible motion, suddenly look like artifacts in a museum: stiff, distant and fragile. Coupled with the fear of a sudden wrench and fall as the leg tears from the hull, we felt we were balanced in an eggshell. Below the hull, the waves gurgled and slapped, then were gone.