Wind over tide


The day has an encouraging look as we poke our heads out of the hatch. The sky is blue, and so is the sea. The tide will be with us today, and in these waters the tide means a couple of knots of help towards the lunch spot. The wind will be force fiveish, but in this crook of the islands there is scarcely enough breeze to transmit the smell of coffee from the companionway to the wheel. Maybe the forecast is wrong.

Wash up, then forward to haul up the mainsail and crank in the anchor chain. The hook comes aboard by fits and starts, in the same sort of motion an angler uses to pump a big fish up from deep water – hard to do in a breeze, but here in the anchorage the air is hardly stirring. It is going to be a lovely day.

The anchor comes up festooned with crocodile weed. Lean over the bow and chop the weed away with the breadknife. Aft into the cockpit, half a turn of wheel. The boat's nose comes off the wind. The mainsail draws. Genoa furling line off its cleat, haul in the windward sheet. The sail goes out with a bang, backed, the bow spins, and we are away, winching in the lee sheet, the red arrowhead of the boat on the plotter skirting the drying spit off the headland, and out into the Sound.

Winch in more genoa. Harden up the main. Beyond the bow a blue sheet of sea stretches to distant green mountains. A not quite blue sheet of sea; there are white horses out there, and the blue is not so much the colour of a baby's eyes as the colour of slate. Bang, goes a gust in the sail, and the boat heels, and suddenly the forecast was spot on, and the surface of the sea is covered in steep four-foot corrugations. The nose goes up the first and slams into the second. White water explodes under the bow and pours aft down the side decks, and the merry crash of breaking crockery comes from below. Well, there is nothing that can be done about it, singlehanded as we are, and the pace is too hot to inquire.

So on we go. Four-foot waves are not in themselves at all threatening. But when they are this close together even seven tons of boat finds it hard to slam a way through. Sheets of water fly aft, and the crashing from below becomes a doleful slither of debris on the cabin sole. On we plug, doggedly. It is always worth remembering, we tell ourselves, that while two knots of fair tide is a charming thing, a force five breeze blowing across it will cancel out the advantages, and then some.

Breakfast is becoming a distant memory. Somewhere beyond the genoa is the lunchtime rendezvous, a charming little harbour with a quay built by Thomas Telford to facilitate the exports of Jura. Jura rises, and in between the short hard seas and the sheets of water flying aft you cannot help noticing how charmingly green it is.

Tack, and tack again. And here is the bay, about time too, because this kind of sailing has all the luxurious pleasure of banging your head against a brick wall. The other boats are there for the rendezvous. In the shelter of the headland wind and sea abate. Down goes the anchor. Out come the dustpan and brush, and away goes the debris in the saloon. Calm descends, with the gentle lap of wavelets and the cry of a curlew on the shore. It is said, and said truly, that the joy of banging your head against a brick wall is the peace that descends when you leave off.

Sam Llewellyn, Marine Quarterly