Alive again

First sailing trip of the season

Sam Llewellyn blows away the cobwebs with his first sailing trip of the season.

It is the beginning of the season. The sky is grey, and so is the sea. The boat lies alongside the quay, fat fenders keeping her tender hull off the coarse granite stones and their barnacles. There is an ancient French maxim that anything you can leave on the boat for the winter you should leave on the boat for the winter. So pumps, lifejackets, dinghy, fishing gear and the rest of it are present and correct, inspected and serviced where necessary, but not taken home, because anything taken home can be forgotten. 

Getting ready

The less-perishable stuff is coming out of the truck. There are cans, no labels, marked with paint pens, heading for the bilge, whence their rusty predecessors were cleared, holed and stinking, late last year. There are rice and pasta, dry, for the bins. There are onions and carrots and potatoes for the nets in the forepeak, and bedding for the bunks, and fuel for the engine. Fill the water containers from the tap on the quay which is connected to a spring of unrivalled purity on the hill above the bay. Books for the shelves, pilots by the nav station, novels elsewhere, not forgetting Charles Dickens in case of a gale that will keep us in harbour.  

There is a place for everything, everything in its place, kind of. Cram the stuff for which there is no place into the nets over the bunk. Cup of tea. Stand in the cockpit, leaning a shoulder on the boom. The boom shifts a little, and the deck moves slightly under the feet. It has been a long, still winter, but now everything is alive again.  

Springs off

The breeze is faint and cool from the west, blowing across the quay and on to the port bow. The springs come off, bow and stern lines on slips, once round the iron bollards on the quay then back on to the boat's cleat. Let go the mainsheet and put the main halyard on the winch. Up goes the sail, cream against the grey sky, rumpling head to wind. Let go the foresail reefing line and give the sheet a tweak. The sail unrolls with a run, bang, and there we are, poised on the starting blocks.  

A faint dryness of the mouth. It has been four months since the boat last sailed off a quay. Ease the bow line, haul a little on the windward genoa sheet until the sail backs, gently persuading the bow off the quay. Flip the bow line off the bollard, haul in the mainsheet, and off comes the stern line, and away we go. No links with the land now, the mainsail pulling, the boat moving. In comes the genoa sheet. And there are the sails, curved as sweetly as an albatross's wings, heeling the boat's deck underfoot and flying her out of the bay. 

Leaving land behind

Look over the shoulder. Already the quay is shrinking. Ernie who is driving the truck home lifts a hand. Lift a hand back, then winch in, hardening up, for the point is approaching, and it would be good to weather it on this tack. The boat heels steeply, wake roaring a small roar. We will not weather the point. The helm goes a-lee, and the world pivots, and the boat's nose settles ninety degrees to the west of its previous course.  

Wait till the point comes abeam, then drops astern. Tack again. The world spins again. And there perched on the flat grey horizon beyond the boat's nose is a little dark object the shape of a Christmas pudding: the Isle of Harris.  

We are on our way again. It is time for a cup of tea.  

Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly