The blog of the ancient mariner

No blog posts in a while as I’ve been trying to sort out many bits and bobs, I’ve also been trying to get my head around last weeks sailing trip and have spent a couple of days putting together the following post from my hazy memories of the trip.

Monday 30th April 8:15am found me in a cargo container taking my clothes off. Not all of them, just enough to get my sweaty cycling gear off and into something more civilised. I had arrived too damn early for my lift down to London and the office was still shut so I had to change in one of the containers near the back door. Swinging a bag of clothes and a sleeping bag around on my back while cycling in was tricky enough but trying to get changed in a container which had weird liquids on the floor was a challenge. A small group of staff slowly formed around 8:30 and two group of us jumped in a pair of cars destined for St Catherines Dock in London, site of the Oyster private show which had been there for the last few days.

Our mission, to bring back one of several yachts that had been there on show.

The day was spent packing up boxes and storing away the props which had been used to dress several of the yachts so it was mainly wrapping up things in bubble wrap and then carrying boxes to a waiting van. The weather was glorious, a hot sunny day with a little wind but there was a problem as we had been planning on traveling back that night (lock out was due at 7pm) but force 8 gales had been forecast. One of the crew said we could leave but we would be sick. Blunt but to the point. The general consensus was to stay at St Catherines and enjoy the evening, which was made up of eating “beast” sized pizza at the Dickens inn and watching Man City drum Man United 1-0 in a game of that footy thingy.

The plan of coming back overnight meant we had sleeping kit and would be spending the night on a yacht, we still did this and I spent the night in what can best be described as a coffin. The front cabin is a double sleeper and I managed to bag this when stowing my gear. Clambering up onto the high bed (it has room underneath for storage so they are a bit high up) I found the skylight was about a foot from my head and the rain was pummeling it like mad causing a drumming sound to echo around the small room. While I do like the sound of rain, it was a little weird hearing it so close and when I pulled the blind over the skylight the room was plunged into total blackness… not a single ray of light from any source seeped through the doorway, skylight or any other part of the room. I’ve never been claustrophobic but I did begin to understand why Poe was fixated with the fear of being buried alive. I couldn’t see my hand infront of my face and finding the shelf to put my glasses down was a case of gently feeling the edge of bed then working upwards. Turning a light on would have been obvious but this was far more interesting, fumbling around in a pitch black coffin. Gawd un bennit.
I don’t know if it was being in a new place or just the whole mood (read as over excitement) but I had a bit of trouble dozing off at first so kept putting the light on and reading some Hunter S Thompson that I had brought with me, sadly all that did was make me feel weirder… but no bats.

The next morning was an early(ish) start with us setting off around 7:30 to lock out of St Kats and head into the Thames, this is where it got interesting as all of a sudden I found myself looking at Tower Bridge from a rather low angle. We started motoring along and I spent an awfully large amount of time suppressing a giant giggling fit. I was probably grinning like a loon even with the cruddy weather which brought a mass of low cloud and mist to the morning. Most of the tall buildings had their tops removed as the mist seemed to bring a low ceiling down around us and adding a slightly sinister atmosphere to the day. London fog? Naaah, just rain but almost Jack the Ripper weather.

Passing sights of London included the Cutty Sark and the O2 dome which looked like some huge Cyclopean beast squatting next to the river with giant horns protruding from a misshapen head as it watched us sliding passed in the gloom.

Theres little noise along the river other than the lapping of the water as it slops against the side of the boat, the main noise was the constant throbbing of the engine as we traveled under motor power for most of the trip. We spent a couple of hours traveling out of London along the Thames and the buildings slowly changed from flats and offices into more and more industrial complexes. We saw giant container ships sliding in and out of the industrial areas and as they moved around us it we difficult not to be intimidated by these giants that dwarfed us, while tiny figures would appear on their deck, glance at us and then vanish out of the rain.

We moved further out into the Essex Flats where the depth gauge would tell us that there was less than a meter below us but looking around there was nothing on the horizon. A flat expanse of water that could easily be the deep sea with no features other than shadows moving in the distant mist that could have been passing ships or easily have been something coming up from the depths to sink down again without making a sound.

My daughters puffin that came with her to visit the HMS Dauntless had snuck into my bag the day before, obviously his taste for big boats needed to be satisfied again and he took a turn (or should that be tern?) on watch.

I also managed to get my grubby mitts on the wheel for a while, probably because we had got our far enough for me to not hit anything. I WAS grinning like a loon at this point.

After not managing to crash into anything (mainly because there was nothing to crash into) the autopilot was engaged and watching that do its thing was weird. The wheel judders left and right in a slightly alarming manner as it holds it course against the tide but manages to follow a list of waypoints that had been entered into its little mind. The weather also started to pick up with what actually looked like blue skies peeping down at us.

Sailing on we started to head towards a large sandback scattered with dark shapes which moved around in erratic ways and as we drew closer we could see it was large group of seals splashing around the water line. We drew closer and watched from quite a close distance as they splashed around watching us. Their huge rubbery bodies flopped around and some ventured into the water and heads would pop up and glance in our direction before dropping back below the surface but none had the nerve to come close to the boat.

We spent a few minutes watching before setting off again, by this time it was late afternoon and the heat of the sun combined with the lack of sleep and drone of the engine began to affect me and I started to feel sleepy. I dozed under the bimini and opened my eyes a few times to see things like the giant sea based wind farm off the Essex coast (bit annoyed with myself for not taking some pictures of that) but mainly just dozed quietly until around the time we reached Felixstowe. The boat was turning into the mouth of the river Orwell where the twin towns of Felixstowe and Harwich sit on either side, it was being hit sideways on by some strong winds and was rocking quite badly. I’m afraid to say that at this point I lost my lunch over the side. I’ve tried to put it down to dozing so that made me lose the horizon and my sense of balance, it could also be I took too much sun and the whole event was too much for my tiny mind but whatever the reason it didn’t last long. Once I had got it out of my system I was fine and back to snapping the sights.

At this point I managed to take another turn at the wheel but my nerve broke when a small boat thought it would turn towards us and sail directly at us. I was guided around him but started to struggle to see the nav bouys so gave up and let someone else take over. A short ride down the Orwell brought us to the bridge and our final destination.

All in all the journey took around 11 hours to make and was a wonderful experience (with one minor bump) that I would enjoy doing again… just not right now. I need to let my land lubber legs get back to normal.

There is a big old mess of photos online in my picasa web gallery.

Days cycled to work: 74
Days driven all the way to work: 0
Days sailed to work: 1
Days driven half way to drop the car off at the garage to have a service: 1
Days tramped along in snow and ice: 2

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