Monday, September 29, 2008

Lesson 4: Bramble Bank

Above: Approaching Bramble Post. Note that the chimneys in East Cowes, visible mid-left through the shrouds, remain open.

"So what's the plan," asked the long-suffering Roger, as he stepped aboard. It was nearly two months since our last lesson together, which was more than enough for me to have forgotten everything Roger had ever taught me, and the look on his face told me that he knew that perfectly well.

"Let's actually go somewhere," I said. "Let's round the Cape of Calshot and see if There Be Dragons."

Like all pupils since the dawn of time, I knew that it was important to distract Teach before he had the chance to think of a good reason to say no. "But first," I pressed on, "You must admire my new fake wood cabin sole."

Above: Arabella's new cabin sole.

Roger surveyed the Tek-Dek Interior sole that had been fitted at the end of August. I like it - it's a hell of a lot nicer than the grubby (off-)white GRP cabin sole that it now conveniently covers. It clearly did nothing for Roger, who grunted non-committally.

"Come on, then," he said, "Let's set off and see where we get to."

And so we did. A textbook exit from her berth (blimey! I did remember how), and after a compulsory exercise involving nosing up to a pile in the river, hanging off it, raising the mainsail and sailing off, Arabella romped out into Southampton Water on a broad reach and pointed at the horizon.

Although it was almost October, it was a beautiful, warm day. Busy, too. There must have been, oh, at least six or seven yachts in sight the whole way down to Cowes, leaning before the westerly F4 under a blue sky punctuated with clumps of fluffy white cumulus. It was one of those days when sailing is pure joy - a happy boat, working well within her capabilities, on one of her fastest points of sail.

Before long, Arabella was out in the Solent. Warming to his task, Roger taught me as we passed the Calshot north cardinal how, if I kept the two tall chimneys in Cowes open to the south, I could shave the eastern side of Bramble Bank and sail close by the Bramble Post and tide gauge.

In the past, I'd religiously buoy-hopped round the Bramble roundabout, typically favouring the western side close to the main channel, which did mean a bit of a diversion if I was heading for Cowes. Roger's way was more-or-less a straight line route to Cowes, and a great deal shorter and quicker. In no time at all, it seemed, Arabella was gliding past the Post and closing on Cowes Roads.

Above: Bramble Post close up.

With 10 miles behind us, it was time to start heading back and we skimmed round the southern edge of the Bank, turning for home.

It was about that time that we noticed the change in the wind. It had strengthened a little, pushing 20 knots, but that wasn't the real problem. 20 knot winds held little fear for Arabella's crew after the conditions that had predominated throughout the summer. No, the real problem was that it had veered north-westerly. Most of our return journey was going to be into the teeth of the wind - a point of sail on which Arabella is not, shall we say, at her best.

Above: Arabella's clockwise loop around the Bramble, followed by the beginning of the long zig-zag home..

Roger and I looked at each other briefly and in silence. The expression on Roger's face was interesting as he replayed in his mind the conversation that had resulted in him getting stuck way out here. If he'd had his way, he could have been pottering round the upper reaches of Southampton Water within a few minutes of the marina. He sighed, and pulled out his cellphone to let her indoors know that he'd be home later than planned, while we resigned ourselves to a long, and increasingly chilly, tacking session back home against the remains of the spring ebb, as the late September sun began to set.

Conditions: W backing NW F4-5, mainly sunny. Sea state: smooth.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 23.8 NM
Total distance covered to date (2008): 122.6 NM
Engine hours: 1.9 (total for 2008: 10.7 hours)

[This blog entry was posted two weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The banking world in the US and Europe was in the process of imploding, although at this precise date, much that would soon become public remained generally unknown and unrealised. One of my clients was among the European institutions that collapsed one week after this blog entry, owing billions to savers and counterparties, necessitating an emergency government bailout and initiating many months of litigation, asset liquidation and crisis management. This collapse, and the workload that it created, wiped out any possibility that I would go sailing again before spring 2009. Arabella was
hurriedly mothballed , and I arranged for a further round of work on Arabella to be started by a new yard company, to ensure that my enforced break from sailing was not entirely wasted.]