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…but the sun is warm 

Sam Llewellyn Sam Llewellyn goes on a spring cruise

Spring is trying hard, but it is still too early to be cruising in British waters. Besides, the boat is still sitting in the yard, and the cabin cushions are being re-covered, and the sailmakers are a bit behindhand with the cruising chute.

Still, it would be good to be on the water.

Now I come to think of it, there is a perfectly serviceable 21ft open boat sitting in the shed, with an outboard and some sails and a tent affair that goes over the top of it, and an airbed to sleep on, and I can nick a four-seasons sleeping bag from someone who has just come back from his gap year.

Yes. We could have a bit of a spring cruise. Not a real cruise, to France or anything like that, you understand, I tell the family as I scuttle around scooping up tins of tomatoes and ransacking the freezer for boxes of stew. Just, well, here and there, while the high pressure lasts.

The family says that high pressure will mean light airs and cold nights with a good chance of fog, and they are right.

But as I trail the boat down to the harbour, I reflect that it also means blue skies, and that a touch of frost and fog did not deter the great Frank Dye from cruising up the Intracoastal Waterway of the USA and into the Great Lakes in a Wayfarer dinghy.

The 21ft boat I am towing practically a palace compared to a Wayfarer, I am thinking as it rolls into the water from the trailer.

High pressure or not, there is enough breeze to fill the cruising chute. Off we go, sliding across the harbour. It is not what you would call summery, but the sun is warm on the padded coat. The only navigational aids we have with us are a VHF, for the weather, and a GPS, for the fog, and a compass, for the usual reasons.

As so often at this time of year, what wind there is is from the east. So we beat up for a bay that faces west. The anchor goes down at sevenish, and so does the sun, a big blood-red ball on the glassy horizon.

The spirit stove makes a cheerful warmth in the tent. Above the remains of the sunset, Venus and Jupiter float hand in hand, Jupiter’s moons in their perpetual straight line, Venus big enough to show as a crescent in the binoculars.

There ought to be fog. Instead there is a mackerel sky after moonrise, because the VHF says the weather is going round to the southwest.

So next morning it is time to put a couple of reefs in the mainsail, point the nose across the bay and spend the best part of the day sailing full-and-by for the buoyed channel into the harbour, perched on the weather rail, the wake thundering away down the lee side.

This is the south coast of England, but there are only two other boats in sight. We catch the tide into the harbour mouth and turn west, short-tacking athletically up the narrow channels under a sky growing grimmer by the minute, until we find an anchorage protected by a low red cliff.

There we sleep the sleep of the fully oxygenated, the boat rocking gently in the cliff’s lee while trees blow down all over England. In the morning the sea is satin-calm, and the yodel of curlews mixes with the song of thrushes over from the land.

We take the tent down and head back for the trailer. It was not a real cruise. But it felt all right to me.

Sam Llewellyn

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