Excerpt from All I Ask is a Tall Ship by Graham Lascelles
Chapter Twelve: Cowes Towards Tenerife
Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth. South Westerly gale force 8 decreasing force 4 and veering Northerly. It is time to go. I double lock the front door. Will I really not open it again for a year? The windows are secure, the gas, electricity, and water are switched off, and I just hope that the central heating won’t freeze. But what about the post?
Modern life doesn’t allow for people who do not live a “standard” life. Insurance companies don’t want to be paid in advance, cheques received are only valid for a limited period, and a plethora of people like banks and credit card companies get petulant if they don’t receive instant replies. Agencies like Councils, Jury Service, the DVLA, TV licences, and tax offices can quickly make you a criminal for just being away from home for too long.
Luckily I have a trustworthy friend who will sort through the detritus and forward anything important. After all, as the actress said to the bishop, you don’t want just anyone going through your drawers.
I have a timetable for the trip, which proposes departure between the 10th and 20th December 1999. On Sunday the 12th the BBC Country File programme gives the weather for the week. At noon on Monday the winds are predicted to be SW force 8 with heavy rain. This will clear overnight to a Nly force 4, and then in 24 hours it will be NW force 8 before it turns back to the SW and blows storm force 10 for the rest of the week. So far the forecast is accurate. Our course to clear the English Channel is 233ºTrue. We have the briefest of weather windows.
At 10pm a neighbour drives myself ((54), wife Anne (classified), son Paul (25), and daughters Helen (23) and Emma (19) the 8 miles to Cowes, where the yacht sits tugging at her moorings. After posting our customs form we board in the cold damp gloom that is a British winter night. The day’s rain has passed, but the wind still plays with a light which creeks mournfully as it swings, sending lonely finger shadows across the side of a corrugated iron warehouse. We all sit with our thoughts in the semi darkness as we wait for the tide to turn.
No self built vessel is ever complete. If you delay until everything is right you will never sail. I have only recently fitted, but not tested, many items including the radar, a second hand Ham short wave transmitter, and most importantly my own designed and built self steering system. They will be totally vital to the trip, and it is an act of faith that they will eventually work.
The vessel is however basically seaworthy. There are a multitude of books written about Heavy Weather Sailing, but as a wise man once said, all you need to do to float, is to keep the majority of the ocean on the outside. The steel hull, centreline hatches, and watertight bulkheads, should have a fair chance of achieving that. The engine works, the mast is up and the sails are stowed in the forepeak. We have 1000 litres (260USgal) of diesel and 1200 litres (320USgal) of freshwater in our tanks. We have two 19Kg (42lb) cylinders of Propane gas lashed outside the after railings. We have a compass, a GPS, a sextant and charts to find our way.
To provide fuel for a hungry crew we have made four separate trips to the largest Cash and Carry on the Isle of Wight. Each time we not only fill the internal volume of the car so tight that Anne has to sit in the passenger seat before I pack the food around her, but on each occasion we also tow an 8’X4’ flatbed trailer which we stack 3’ high with cartons of Wheatabix and other necessities. On our last visit the manager comes rushing out to ask how much more we will require so he can put in an emergency order to head office.
In retrospect we overdid the supplies. We are still eating packets of biscuits three years after our return, and the local cats home benefited from 30 world travelled tins of economy hamburgers. No one on our trip, including Helen’s boyfriend, who would devour anything that was not nailed down, would eat these because they were so revolting. I have no feedback on the cat’s reaction.
Also unknown to me at this time is the fact that my two daughters have smuggled aboard suitcases full of “must have” clothing that will clutter up the interior and have to be sailed unworn across the oceans of the world.
I have spent the day driving around in the rain making final preparations, and now, here we are. Big question, will this trip work? My normal passages are the 10 miles from Cowes to Yarmouth, when I start to get bored, but tonight we will sail past, and continue for another 1600 miles until, we hopefully, arrive at the Canary Islands. Is it a good idea to be the only yacht in the middle of the English Channel in mid-winter? Has every other yachtsman in the world got it right and have I got it wrong? The uncertainties of the sea still remain. Not wishing to tempt fate entries in ships’ logbooks use words such as Liverpool “towards” Cape Town rather than Liverpool “to” Cape Town. I write in my log Cowes “towards” Tenerife.
At midnight the East going stream is nearly spent. We drop the lines and it feels very lonely as we motor unnoticed out of a completely deserted Cowes Harbour. We turn left; if all goes well every course in the next year will be to the West.