The clouds are low and grey, and so is the mood. This is the last sail of the season. The mooring buoy is a bright blob of orange in the blackish sea. Important, in this year's final moment under sail, to get everything neat and right. Mizzen down. Come up on a close reach, rolling up the jib. Let out the mainsheet until the sail flaps.
The boat carries her way until the buoy is hidden under the lee bow. Stroll forward with the boathook, tweak the pickup, pull in the pennant and loop it over the samson post. She falls back, mainsail rattling in the light cold breeze. Cruise over.
It has been a fine year - plenty of breeze, a certain amount of sun, not much in the way of gales. No swimming, though. We have missed the swimming, because here in the north the heatwaves passed us by, and it has been the kind of summer when only Wim Hof and his fellow icecube fanciers will have slung themselves into the briny. Still, a swim would have completed the summer.
The main comes down with a run. Flake it into the stackpack. She will come out of the water tomorrow, and we will take the sails off in the yard, and sheet her up for the long winter.
The saloon is warm and charming. Cup of tea, tidy the chart table, divide the books into come-ashore and stay-on-the boat piles - taking everything ashore once meant that the tide atlas was left at home, causing untold suffering and a speed over the ground of one point four knots through the Dorus Mor. Soon all is in apple-pie order. The boat has done good work this year. We have used everything, even the mizzen staysail. Well, not the swim ladder. Still, you can't have everything.
Back on deck, inflatable over the side. It's a bit soft, losing air; repairs needed. Good to have a project or two over the winter. Memories of broad reaches and fast night exits will take you so far, but there is nothing like contact with a ruptured inflatable to remind you that life is real and earnest.
Step into the tender. Place oars. Untie painter and pull away. Pause for a moment to admire the boat: beautiful sheer, exact three-degree rake of main and mizzen, there she sits, proud and steady in the black ripple. Pulling for the beach is like pulling away from happiness. Except for the swim, of course. That would have made the happiness complete.
The traditional method of getting ashore on the home beach is to row the tender's nose on to the rock-free area known as the Titanic Slipway. The October easterlies have brought in huge piles of weed, and it is hard to see where the slipway begins and ends. Row hard till we ground on something that feels like shingle. Ship oars and step over the side on to the usual rock.
Except that it is not the usual rock. It is a gigantic clod of bladderwrack that sinks under the boot, and I sink with it, and suddenly I am up to my neck in water, remarkably cold water, and I actually manage to pull the dinghy over my head, so I am fully immersed, boots, waterproof trousers, coat, non-automatic lifejacket and all. Furthermore my mouth is full of salt water, because I am laughing.
I pull myself on to the beach using strands of weed. Still laughing, I haul the dinghy above the high-water mark and squelch up to the house for dry clothes. I have had my swim. The year is complete.
Sam Llewellyn, Editor of The Marine Quarterly