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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Back to sea, with plenty to say.

I finally picked up my sea boots for the first time in too long. I have ben adventuring on many different vessels. A Pilot Cutter, A Lugger, An 18th Century Brig. So I hope to write all about my time on boats and keep up with this blog that I have abandoned for far too long.

To kick start the new wave of writing I thought I would start with a trailer that I made. enjoy!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Follow me on my Lanzarote Delivery

Myself and Sacha have joined forces with two guys Mike and Al to sail 'Little Pea', a yacht to Lanzarote. The boat that we shall be sailing is a fancy schmancy Southerly 38.

It is intended then to go on and take part in the ARC race, a transatlantic jolly to the Caribbean. This race starts at the Canary Islands so it is there we shall leave her, in mint condition for the owner to take over and have the fun of the Atlantic in November.

It has many gadgets and gizmos and looks like it should be a fun boat to sail.
Although it has many of the mod cons that I am not used to having on boats it doesn't have an AIS sender. So unfortunately one cannot watch my progress in real time across the oceans and tell me where I am before I even know!
It does however have a satellite phone that will allow us to send our position to a programme called Mailasail. By FOLLOWING THIS LINK one may keep track of our daily updated position that is overlaid onto a map.

For those in the UK, enjoy the rain. I'm off to 27 degrees of sunshine.

Monday, 2 July 2012

I Swear I'm a Sailor!

I have recently given a lot of thought to my use of swearing. It is true that I swear a lot.
This is something that I hope to curb. A recent study said that swearing is more addictive than smoking (B*ll£*%s! Smoking is a deeply unattractive and insatiable vice).

Recently I responded to a thread on a boating forum to someone asking for photo's and information on the Irene of Bridgewater. I shamelessly plugged my blog posts hoping that they might find it interesting. Word got around and I saw that one reader was so offended that not only did they refuse to visit my blog but they also refused to show any future interest in the Irene!! I thought that this was a great shame as I never set out to damage the reputation of any individual or boat that I write about.

Saying that, I had quite a rant regarding the Bristol Hydrogen Boat Company without even using a rude word. I was asked to take it down as my opinion was far too one-sided (obviously) and in fairness I lacked both sides of the argument. I removed the post within 5 minutes of the request.*

I never use 'offensive' words to offend when I write. I merely write what was said or what I have been thinking. In my accounts of capsizing I felt that the use of swearing reiterated my feelings. It is for such moments in life that swearing was invented, I'm sure of it.

I too have tried to affiliate my blog with other web sites and bodies such as the RYA and Henri Lloyd and due to perceivably offensive content I have been refused.

My quandary is this, I have a group of avid readers that seem not to be offended by what I write. Yet by using such words am I restricting a potential future audience? An audience that I would like to have on board with me.
Should I go through my entire list of posts and sensor what I have written?
If you have felt offended by my site or have a view on this then PLEASE COMMENT using the fancy 'comment' button below.

* I still however disagree that a Hydrogen powered future is sustainable. I may write some more about it. Offer evidence without opinion and nurture a debate. I hope that I can write a post in the future with my tail between my legs having been convinced that I am wrong.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Matthew of Bristol Footage

I thought that perhaps you might like to see this video of the Matthew of Bristol under sail. The majority of this footage was taken earlier in the year to promote our 2012 sailing season.
It was mainly shot on an amazing Pasty Lunch Special day sail from Fowey to Falmouth. We couldn't have asked for more perfect sailing conditions.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Devil and the Diamond Thames Jubilee Pageant

The soaking that London saw on Sunday the 3rd merely added to the pandemonium that was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The density of the rain and the fifty people on board was a stark contrast to our departure from Plymouth.

We entered the lock at Sutton harbour at 17:30. We had closed the boat to the public half an hour before so naturally what ensued was a mad dash to stow everything in its proper place and get the Matthew of Bristol ready for sea. Ropes were coiled, gangplanks dismantled, loose items securely stowed, fenders set, and yards cockbilled in front of thousands of Plymouth pirates that hoarded around eager to watch us set sail. This mass rabble was headed by Jack Sparrow and sir Francis Drake and his missus.
As we pulled off from the quay, a pear shaped Plymouth wench started a rousing call of 'Oggy oggy oggy!
The crowd responded. 'Oi oi oi'. Then to our amusement she forgot the next verse which is in fact just Oggy!
After stowing the tender and sailing close in to the barbican for a final look at Plymouth we headed off to begin the penultimate leg of our jubilee tour.

I had started to cook up a Bolognese for dinner when the VHF set crackled into life. A yacht within a few miles of us had put out a PAN PAN call as they had ran out of fuel in Bigbury Bay.
We offered to assist and sell them some fuel, have a look at their engine and hopefully send them on their way.
Now this was exciting. A nice little detour to aid our fellow mariner.
As we didn't state what sort of boat we were it must have been extremely amusing for the stricken crew as it became apparent the great big pirate ship approaching them was in fact the boat going to help!
I wondered how we could confuse them even more so I suggested that we all got naked...

'Shut up and cook' and 'piss off' were some of the responses I got.


We got to work dropping the canvas and cock-billing the yards to come alongside. When we were less than a hundred yards away and still fully clothed the RNLI turn up from out of the sunshine to take all of the glory and to tow the yacht back to Plymouth.
I pondered for a little while just how often the RNLI are called out because of boats with no fuel. This along with engine failure are the most common call outs for the RNLI. I imagine this would be annoying for the crew scrambled to deal with an easily avoidable incident. On the other hand it must be better than being called out to a fatal accident. Because no one wants that.

We broke in to our watches. Me, Paul and Robin on Team Old Farts and Rob, Jon and Sarah on Team Young Guns.

We made good progress by Start Point. I am very familiar with these lights, flashing 3 times every 10 seconds. They continued to flash away behind us as the stars flashed above and the phosphorescence below.
A good watch, we turned in and eventually arrived at anchor in Lime bay.
Breakfast and away again.
We set the canvas and turned on some Frank Sinatra. Another day in the office.

Rob had timed the tides perfectly and we took Portland Bill at 10 knots!
In two days we passed by Swanage, the Isle of White, listened to old radio shows of Dad's Army to wile away the graveyard shift by the South Downs.
The weather began to turn at Dungeness, the wind slammed our bows and the canvas came down. I no longer cared, I was beginning to get tired and Ramsgate was just around the corner.

Throughout the trip the best wind we got was a beam wind that kept threatening to creep up behind us and allow us to turn the engine off. The watch changes seemed to occur at each new headland and with each hand over we would say it would improve around the corner.
This would have indeed been true if we were going the other way. As it stood it crept more and more onto the nose and our progress declined along with the weather from Dungeness. It didn't seem to deter the dolphins.

We had left thousands behind us in Plymouth basking in the sun or dancing on the promenade. We arrived in Ramsgate in driving rain to a pale looking populous caked in make up, tattoos or both.
Sacha rejoined us as we arrived. He was due to leave with us in Plymouth but was delayed. What greeted him was a tired and slightly underhanded crew for the trip we'd undertaken.
I'd not seen Sacha for over two months having messed up my spine in Fowey. He'd had quite a time of it whilst on land and we shared yarns over a crap pint of what I assume was piss in the Belgian bar.

We offloaded all items that were non essential to our Jubilee jaunt. A mismatched bunch of well wishers known as The Maritime Volunteer Service offered to take it to Sandwich for our planned trip there after the Queentastic weekend ahead.

Ramsgate always throws extremely useful people in our direction. One such person was Mike. He took me victualling in the grossly oversized Tesco's for the journey ahead with passengers.
He offered the use of collapsable chairs from the Maritime Museum in which he has just been appointed Master and Commander. Me and Jon were given a tour of the closed museum and I highly recommend swinging by if ever you have the chance, or indeed, any inclination to go to Ramsgate.

So, we get the passengers on board and head for London.
I like having passengers on board. They each have a story or some lesser known local knowledge that is invaluable.

After picking up a buoy at Gravesend and feeding the masses some Cassoulet followed by Rhubarb Custard, we picked up the tide and headed to London.

The crowds of over one million people could be heard cheering as the approaching bells on the belfry that headed this vast flotilla drew nearer. This was a fine start to a pageant hosting well over a thousand boats of the commonwealth.
As the noise of the crowd grew to a din I took half an hour out of my busy day to clamber up the rigging and get the best view of the flotilla.
Martin one of the crew was already standing on the yard.

There had been a break in the weather, yet as soon as the flotilla reached the boat it pissed down.
It didn't stop all day and night.

We had welcomed our 40 guests and media crowd in the morning. Rob got a safety talk out of the way and introduced the crew. Rob was the captain, Sacha the first mate. Martin a stalwart deck hand and trust member.

I was made known to the guests on board as Cook's Assistant.

Seven years of unfaltering service, my first trip to Dublin I had cut my teeth as Chef. A Boatmaster's certificate, a Yachtmasters, over 15,000 sea miles and trained to STCW standards at Warsash Academy for my time with Trinity House and I'd finally reached the dizzying heights of Cook's Assistant.
The Cooks Assistant, holding cheese, waving flags, wearing a neckerchief.

The cook for the day was the lovely Ann. Her logistical prowess and home-made cooking (especially the cakes) are unrivalled. She saw my smile quickly fade at my new rank and dashed away to the stern of the boat.
The Flotilla in full swing

 We played host non-stop for 9 solid hours to the Royal Lord Leftenant of Bristol and friends. We served them cloved ham, peppered beef, Scottish salmon. We made them tea and coffe. We served them alcohol. We cleared up after them. We doubled over to serve their every whim. We ran out of water.
I resorted to using rain water collected in the canopy for the washing up. Luckily it rained so hard as everything we had was washed up, by me, twice!

Finally the Water taxi arrived to collect our valued guests. We spent four hours clearing up.
I went to bed beneath the newly formed waterfall above my bunk. I woke up feeling like London had shafted me body and soul.
I got on a bus. Fell asleep and awoke dribbling to a sunny and serene Bristol.
God Save The Queen, and All Who Sail In Her.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Good Morning Irene, Are You Still Here? Part 6

Taking a boat to Scotland is a thing that everyone should do. 
We passed Isla Craig, a stumpy little island that Eric informed us in between his “Bips” and “Bops” was where they mined rock for curling stones. He then shouted “Liverpool Maid!” Grabbed a bit of tattered rope and scuttled away to dump it with the rest of his 'Maids'.

As you pass this island the rich green mountains rise into the clouds on either side of you. An early inkling of Scotland's barren beauty.
Ahead of us we see the Isle of Arran and Holy Island, our gateway to the anchorage. A beautiful spot. Many other Tall Ships agreed as the bay was chocked full of the race arrivals.

The anchor on Irene is infamous. It's huge, the chain is heavy, the capstan is cumbersome and the whole affair of anchoring is a monotonous ignorance to a hundred years of development in this field.

After a look around Leslie decided that he would like to anchor away from the crowded fleet, nestled at the foot of a valley. Was there a reason that over a hundred boats packed in together decided to ignore this part of the bay?


It's because when the tide goes out, the beach is very much all that is there. The bay is a deep 27 meters until very quickly it steps up to a drying height of 1.2 meters.

Leslie hands me a plumb line to check the depth with.
'As soon as this touches the bottom drop the anchor.' He says with a condescending grin.

I look at the line I was given as if I've been given a tooth pick to unblock a toilet.
It is a heavy weight on a 5 meter chord. When this is on the bottom it would be too late.
Leslie turns his back on my insistence to the flaws in the plan and returns to the helm. Periodically asking whether the plumb line is on the bottom yet followed by questioning if I'm doing it properly!

Then the plumb line finds the bottom at the same time the hull does and we stop suddenly.

'Is it on the bottom now?' Cries Dr. Morrish

'YES' I furiously reply.'but...'

'Then drop the anchor'

Jon hits the bar holding the anchor to the vessel with a lump hammer, the chain whips from it's neatly flaked stowage on the deck. Well about 5 meters of chain does which is accompanied by a half splash and a loud yet hollow clunk.

'Is it down?' bellows Leslie as from behind him two safety boats are approaching with great speed.

We look down to see half of the anchor protruding from the water.

'Umm, yup, definitely down, but sort of almost up as well...'

The safety boats are now alongside asking if we require a tow out of the mud. We have well and truly grounded on the top of a spring tide. If we cannot get off tomorrow then we may be here for 6 weeks.

Leslie declines the offer of a tow saying he much prefers the view here. Sacha gets on to the VHF Radio to let the coast guard know of the situation. So leaning over the rail to the RIB Driver he asks...
'Ere mate. Whats this part of the bay called?'

A pause and then a beautiful reply that I shall never forget.

'Shallow! You fucking idiot'

Good Morning Irene, Are You Still Here? Part 5

Throughout the day up to around 1500 hours, the wind had crept up and Irene was maintaining a healthy amount of progress Northwards towards the finish line South of Burrow Head Lighthouse.

The Isle of Man was in view on the Starboard Bow. If we maintained our present course we wouldn't make it past so it was time we put in a tack. Usually this is a nice and simple manoeuvre. 
One turns the helm position to bring the bow into the wind. When the boat is facing into wind the sails will flap about until the boat has said wind on it's opposing side. As the boat comes through the crew ease across the foresails. The mainsail can look after itself until it is tweaked to make the best of the wind angle.

As we began our tack and following quite a hefty cracking noise, the crew working on the fore sails were showered with bits of oak and leather. I looked up to see the heavy gaff swing out of it's position next to the main mast and bury itself into the shrouds on the port side.

Bad news.

We cannot move  the mainsail and it is stuck in a way that continues to power the boat forwards towards the Isle of Man. We are roughly four miles away and making about 6 knots. We have about 45 minutes to fix this.

Obviously we need to be fast, though there is a lot to be said about taking a few moments to breathe in and assess the situation by taking a step back and having a head scratch.

Our trouble seemed to be that we needed to dislodge the gaff from the shrouds before they were stretched to their breaking point or their strength became severely compromised. After all of our work tightening the buggering things!
This all has to happen without ripping the mainsail or damaging the boat further.

We get down the topsail and stow it out of the way. Then after trying a few ideas and failing or making very little progress towards success we stand back and come up with plan D.

I was sent up the mainmast to cut free the sail from rings that send it up the mast.
The gaff itself was being held up with halyards. Though as it's pushing forwards so hard against the shrouds it isn't as easy as simply lowering it on the halyards. We need something to pull the heavy gaff aft in order to free it and gain some control over it's descent.

'Okay guys.' cries Sacha.
'We've got 8 minutes until we reach the Isle of Man.'

Right. 8 minutes, that's fine.

To this thought Sacha adds, 'That is 8 minutes until we HIT The Isle of Man. Well, 7 minutes now.'

Ah. So we really have 5 minutes in order to slip by comfortably. We rig up a block and tackle system to the end of the gaff and take the line as far aft to the starboard quarter cleat as is possible and whilst two people ease the halyards, the remaining crew heave as hard as they can on the tackle.

It works! Bit by bit the big lump of wood came down. The gaff gets stowed out of danger on the deck and we can finally complete our tack, leaving the Isle of Man well clear on our windward (Starboard) beam. The kettle goes on and the off watch are sent below to finish resting up before their shift.

The beauty of the Irene and indeed a lot of Gaff rigged ketches is that so long as the rig is balanced then she will sail well. So we raised any foresail that had been lazy and found that with just the fore sails, the mizzen and mizzen topsail we could maintain a reasonable speed. Obviously we would love to have all canvas hoisted but without a gaff this is impossible.

We didn't rouse everyone from their slumber during this event as there was only so many people that were needed. There were quite a few confused looks when people came on watch yet none of disbelief when the tale was recounted.

But why did this ever happen? The short answer is that the gaff itself is bigger than it was ever intended to be. When originally built the spars and booms were much thinner and lighter. The amount of force placed onto the jaws was too great and they snapped under the pressure. It has happened before and has happened again since.

The rest of the trip to the finish line was joyfully uneventful. So joyful that we decided we would make the best use of the wind and sail about to while away the evening. Then make our way to the anchorage at Lamlash Bay where we could get some well earned rest. Of course that was wishful thinking.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Good Morning Irene, Are You Still Here? Part 4

4am. I arrive on deck with Jon and the increasingly unimpressed Mike. Our course, due North. The wind was settled nicely on the port beam, blowing stiffly from the Irish shores. The lights on the starboard side were those of the TS Royalist. An infamous Navy training ship and veteren of the Tall Ships Races.
We heard their friendly banter with another vessel close by, although out of sight. The lady on the radio was sounding as beautiful as a lonely sailor's imagination could make her.
Jon had been to sea now for a few months and wanted to spark up a conversation, have some fun with the sassy, semi nude blonde nearly two nautical miles away. So, smiling and laughing we pick up the handset and put a call out...

'TS Royalist, TS Royalist, this is Irene of Bridgewater, Irene of Bridgewater, over.'

The sound of jollity within the radio operators voice turned from airy jovial tones to a brick of professionalism.
 'Irene, Irene. This is Royalist, Royalist. Send, over.'

It was as if with each word she breathed that her long windswept hair crawled back into the Royal Navy regulation bun. Her saucy uniform buttoned up, re-starched and her fishnets knitted into perfectly creased, standard issue trousers.

We made up a reason for the call, asked if she was wearing her uniform and ended the conversation. To coin the old nautical expression, we had cut and run.

The Night Watch

We were a stigma, The Irene of Bridgewater was not winning any admiration in this race. She was a 105 year old, 34 meter long galoomphing drunk at a party. A wooden embarrasment to the race. The only love for the boat or anything to do with her was from the crew on board. We knew this drunk, she had a rich and colourful story, way more interesting than most of the fleet combined. We knew the sober Irene, the Irene that had seen and done things and that was a stalwart member of a bygone age that all sailors pine for. She was formidable.

Why such loathing towards the boat? Perhaps it was because Leslie had had a huge falling out with the organisers years previously. Perhaps it was because we were making more news than the race itself. Snapping the main boom whilst gybing and then colliding with and dismasting a yacht en route to Waterford didn't help (Myself and Sacha joined after these events). This yacht was unlit in a commercial channel, the soul crew member on board was asleep, the other ships in the area also failed to see this yacht on RADAR or indeed without. A prime example of what not to do at sea. Unfortunately the Irene found this hapless sailor and the negative news stuck.
Perhaps the organisers and participants thought that we would cast a bad light upon the race with more and more bad news.
If we'd have known what the next few days would hold for us, we might have agreed...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Good Morning Irene, are you stil here? Part 3

The wind kept up a steady force 2-3 for the remainder of the day and dropped slowly but surely throughout the night. I awoke to take charge of my windless watch with Jon and Mike. The same haze from the previous day melted the horizon and sky together, only broken by the race fleet around us and an occasional sea bird dipping into the glass like ocean.
The monotony of being in irons and going nowhere was getting to us. It's hard to keep up morale with nothing going on. At least we're on a boat and that means that there's always something to do.
We moved about some rope, tidied some other bits of rope and hauled on the big bits of rope. Maybe we were hoping to find some wind hidden within all of this manilla and hemp.

It seemed that hours had passed, the reality was that it wasn't even one hour. Mike helpfully pointed out that there was nothing to see or do. Just then, a whale's spout burst out of the sea not 20 meters from our port side. The fine mist dropped straight back to the water's surface. Like a pathetic geezer, straight back down with barely a ripple and no breeze to carry it. The cetacean's lethargic sigh, however, got our attention. Within seconds this gracious animal swam right underneath the boat, barely beneath the surface of the water. This majestic black and white mammal, travelling lazily alone to a place I'm not even sure he knew he was heading. We watched the sea in the direction he'd headed hoping to catch another glance. Hoping to bury another five minutes with something less boring than steering a boat that's going nowhere. Then the spout of mist broke the horizon once more, only this time there was a wind to carry it. The morning sun had begun to rise higher, bringing with it an offshore breeze as it heated the green hills of Southern Ireland.

Frustratingly we could see the ripples of the wind on the water, yet it was still half a mile ahead of us. We were still at the mercy of the tide and that was still half an hour from being favourable.
I took a bearing from the point on the land in which the wind was coming from then went to the chart
to see how long it would take until we got there. This is when I saw that during the previous watch and the start of ours, we had been pushed backwards just over two miles by the tide. This was massively frustrating. It looked as though we were about forty minutes away from the breeze, we were only half way through our watch and all bored out of our minds, oblivious to just how lucky we actually were to be there in the first place. Ahead of us, the larger ships in the fleet began to fill their sails, albeit pitifully, and make lazy progress towards the checkpoint.

The checkpoint. We were to find out very soon about these. It was every boat's obligation to call in daily with the boat's position, heading and with any useful information. After talking to 'Race Command, or Race HQ or Race Whateveritwas, we were then asked, 'We assume you have successfully managed to reach waypoint one?'

Following this was a pause, this consisted of me looking at Jon, Jon at me, his face as blankly bemused as I felt.

'Er. Affirmative sir, on course for waypoint two.' ???!!?!??

My response was not a lie, I was affirming their assumption, not the fact that we had crossed a waypoint. As for being on course for number two, well we still had time to find it.

'So. It seems that there is a course to follow.' Said Jon.

'Yes Jon, it seems that you are right. Where are we going?'

One might think that we'd have known about these waypoints before setting off. One should be right however this was one of those things that Leslie placed in the 'Nonsense' section of his elaborate, ageing and eccentric mind. The plan to get over not knowing exactly where we were going was to follow the fleet. When the masses change course, so do we. Simple. Winning this race was never a realistic option for Irene, but we had the will and whim to do the best we could, a steady twentieth would be admirable for the old girl. So this is what we would do.

The breeze tickled the rigging and sat softly in the sails that we had centred so that the booms wouldn't sway on the swell of the sea without the wind to hold them rigid. Before getting the chance to sheet out a little Leslie emerged from his cabin.

'Why the fuck aren't we moving? Sheet out! How long have you been sailing like this for? We should be miles further!'

'Good Morning Leslie.'

So unaware he was that he had arrived with this feint breeze. He stayed for a while and set the sails, grunted something in oldy worldy talk and went back down below. Oh well, we're steadily moving ahead and catching up with some more boats.

A steady course of East was adhered to as this seemed to be where the fleet was going. As they funnelled closer ahead of us we would know that we were close to the waypoint.

Leslie reappears, dressed and ready for the day, crumbs in his beard and the froth of a good morning coffee adorning his moustache.

'Why the fuck are we heading East?'

'Good morning Leslie...'

', because apparently in that pack that you once had with the race rules in, there were a list of waypoints. We don't have that pack so we're following the fleet for the second marker.'

'Bollocks! It's a race, we want Greenock, that's North, so head North!'



The rest of the crew either began to arrive to take on their watch or simply enjoy the morning's sailing. The wind was rising to a force 4 and from the beam. Perfect for Irene. No one would believe  us that there had been no wind and that we'd actually gone backwards in the night.

Sacha arrived and asked why we were heading North when we agreed to follow the fleet, I nodded to Leslie.

'For fuck sake.'

'I know Sacha, but we're going North now, waypoint two is a write off, let's find if and where number three is and actually hit it.'

So I hand over the watch to a tired eyed and grumpy Sacha. The sun warms up the deck and we sit and soak up the joy of fair weather sailing.

'Och aye! Morrrrnin, BOP! Squaaark! Squaaaaaark! Scottish Maid!!!...'

'Morning Eric!'

You crazy bastard.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Good Morning Irene, are you still here? Part 2

If you are a touch deaf and generally uninterested in anything other than your own affairs, then from time to time you may get a few things wrong.  For Dr. Leslie Morrish this was when the Tall Ships Race people asked for their money.
It is only after the ha'penny clunked into place that Leslie realised it was in fact Irene that paid to enter the race, not the race paying Irene.

If you are a touch indignant and generally uninterested in anything other than your own affairs... the same applies.
It was only when we were trying to find the race rules and various other important documents, that we realised Leslie had filed these articles into the 'nonsense' section of his brain. Consequently we hadn't got a clue just what we needed to partake in the race other than a few basics. The vast bulk of what we needed had probably found it's way overboard.
However by asking around the other boats and attending the last minute meetings we pulled it all together.

It may have been down to this apparent lackadaisical approach of Leslie's to such red tape that there was a strong feeling that at every stage, the organisers seemed doggedly determined to not allow Irene to sail.

With each request that we adhered to they would make up more irrational and unreasonable ones. As equally determined we would adhere to their inane rules applied only to us out of the sixty something boats taking part.
We blagged the 'correct' HF Radio Set; we brought the up to date to the hour charts; we added more flares; we bought ugly canvas name boards for the boat; we individually numbered and named our jackstays; we flew their flags; we attended their review meetings; we managed to get the right crew over 21 to those under 21 ratio just right, we walked their walk and talked their talk. Yet it still wasn't enough.

By the end of a week in Waterford and boat check after boat check they reluctantly allowed 'Irene' to sail, calling us master blaggers and bluffers. 
Not without one parting shot. His name was Anderson. He'd never sailed before and had signed on to the race for some experience. 
The Tall Ships people decided that on the morning of departure that we were the boat for him. This put our crew ratio off kilter. The rules state that there must be no more than 50% of the crew over 21. Andreas was 26. We were pleased to have him along.
An hour to leave for the start line, we were taking part any way. We had a crew on board that wanted to get to Greenock, so Greenock it was to be.
So off we went, our tired liaison officer (who had done everything in her power to help Irene) waving farewell to the crew which were:

Leslie: Owner/ AARGH!!!
Eric: Captain/ Character
Sacha: 1st Mate/ Sailing Master
Thom: Bosun/ Comic Relief
Jonathon: Crew
Paul: Crew
Mike: Passenger/ Crew
Shannon: Passenger/ Crew
Anderson: Passenger/ Crew
Tammy: Passenger/ Crew

We made our way down river to join the fleet at the start line. Though it was as we were setting the sails we realised that there was nothing rigged up for the Main Topsail. It is essential to have all of a sailboats sails ready to set once you are in a race. The rules specified that engines were not allowed.
We hove the boat to and got on with the work. This was in fact a great way for the 'green' hands to start learning the ropes. I include myself in this as I had never sailed a gaff rigged boat before. Other than the seamanship side of things I was new to this too.

Leslie growled orders and we worked to get the job done. Paul shouting down periodically from the top of the mast what needed to be done as Leslie made sure he did the exact opposite. Eric was asking the girls for cups of tea, singing at the sea birds and shouting randomly in true stereotypical Scottish, things like 'Bop!' and 'Och aye'. Every now and again he would bark things at the air such as, 'LIVERPOOL MAID', or 'Where's my tea!?'
Eventually we had the Main Topsail flying high above the other sails. The sun was out and Tammy was busy taking her amazing photos and mingling with Shannon.

Because of this faffing around we crossed the start line over an hour after the race had begun. Not only were we last in our class, we were last overall with the wind decreasing by the minute.
A good start...

The fleet miles ahead, taken from behind the start line. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Good Morning Irene, are you still here? Part 1

The Irene has a reputation that precedes it. A highly charismatic boat with an even more charismatic owner. In his book 'Good-night Irene' Dr. Leslie Morrish takes less than five pages before he tells us he put the bowsprit through a bridge in London disrupting gas and electricity to many thousands of homes. Not much later and you can read about the cat that shat in his pillow case and consequently was last seen sinking in the Thames Estuary.
Ask anybody that has sailed on Irene and you'll hear many tales. Skippers have been forced to stamp on their Pith helmets in despair. The boat has collided with yachts, yachts have collided with the boat. It has grounded multiple times and has even burned down once.
With a brief charter career in the Caribbean Mick Jagger played upon her grand piano.
She has led a colourful life indeed. In her wake is a succesion of great voyages, mentally disturbed skippers, irritated crew and confused harbour officials. Yet for each folly is a feel good story, this is the start of mine. Of my time on the boat that refuses to follow the path of other, similar boats and shout EFF YOU to convention and sometimes even reason.
'Irene' Grounded off Cleavedon in 2009

'It's looser than a Dutch woman in a window.'

With these words I had given to myself the first job aboard the 'Irene'. Tightening the rigging.

Setting to it with some good old fashioned swaging (or sweating, or heaving, or grunting), one person pulls on the halyard like a bastard, the other is 'tailing' the rope to pull in the slack. We used the halyard usually kept for lifting the heavy gaff that pulls up the main sail. Burly enough for the job so as we don't have to be. Perfect.

Once we'd pulled through enough line to tension the rigging we lashed it to itself in four places with marlin to stop it from slipping. Once done we move to the opposing shroud, slowly heading aft down the boat towards the stern until all eight shrouds are nearly bar tight.
This job took all day, firstly because like anything else on a boat, it is worth doing properly. Secondly, by the end of the day we had had quite a bit of wine.

Sacha and I had arrived in Waterford the previous evening. Sacha as first mate and me as his second, in my usual thankless job as the feared and despised, common ground of hatred and irreverence, the Bosun.

Upon arriving in Ireland we had been struck with festival fever, the Tall Ships were in town. Illuminated masts reached high to tickle the cloudy skies of Southern Ireland. Boats buzzed with excitement as crews made up of professional sailors and youngsters 'living the dream' for the summer drank hard. Shining brass bells and trims danced light onto the drunken smiles of kids eager to slip their ships lines and compete in and win the Tall Ships Race 2011.

I met the owner Leslie. He was pleased to see us, for this boat was lacking any experienced crew. There were people on board more than capable of sailing, yet sailors they were not.

This situation had led to an odd discipline on board where a completely unexperienced crew member had appointed himself Bosun, Second Mate and First Mate.

There was a sense of ill feeling for this man that I had yet to meet. The crew spun stories of his incompetence and poor manners; of his sense of superiority that descended to childish humility when his orders were implemented to various ill fated ends.
Unfortunately, through his callow ideals of what it means to be a mate at sea he had assumed that he would be 'liked'. Decisions made for the greater good of a boat may not always sit well with others.

He thought too that he could be respected. Maybe, though this comes with the experience and reason that is applied to decisions to do no more or no less than is necessary for a safe and speedy passage. To simply guess at what to do and for it to be unsafe and to waste everyone's time will earn you no respect. The only good that will come of you is that you will bind the masses to a general opinion that you are a complete dick.

However, 'he's new to this', thinks I.
'He's showing gumption and filling the void', surely.
'He can't be as big an arse as they say', can he?

2am and I'm sound asleep. The day's travelling has taken it's toll and I had long ago slunk to bed to be fit for duty the next day.

I awoke to find a beard with a Canadian accent and a flatcap poking me and looking at me through glasses belonging to the 80's.

What a dick...


This fellow starts reeling off a jobs list for me to start in the morning. I thank him for this by grunting that he should bugger off before he gets lamped. I can see already that we are going to get along fine...

Monday, 29 August 2011

It's been a while. Sorry

Many a tide has fallen since my last entry to this here Blog-O-Gramme. The winds have blown me to France, where the Matthew partook in the Golf de Morbien festival. This involved showing many thousands of people around the boat in Vannes. Followed by a Parade of Sail around the Golf itself, it is quite the event to see when there are thousands of boats criss crossing around and about you in a narrow channel.
Where else was I? Ah Cornwall, of course. Here we stayed for many a month, again showing the wonderful public around the vessel and taking the even wonderfuller public on evening/ day/ night/ weekend sails.
Here I jumped ship and left the Matthew after a rather nice weekend at the Penzance Maisy Day Parade. I left one boat to dive onto the 'Irene'. From Waterford we sailed with a fleet of some sixty plus boats in the Tall Ships Race 2011 to Greenoch. Coming a respectable 10th overall. This particular trip is worthy of it's own story that I shall endeavour to share with you next and soon. There will be peril, confusion, danger, idiocy and much more.

For now however this is it. Just a quick yarn to say hello and let you know I am actually still here.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

I sense that a voyage is near. There has been a sudden surge of unprompted activity. Bunks are cleared of the debris collected whilst in port, to be made available for new crew. Stray items are finding there way back to a safe stowage so as not to fall out of place upon the rolling seas. From below as I write this I can hear wood saws and sanders, the clomping of heavy boots upon the deck, a bustle of noises that alude to our imminent departure to France.

We shall leave on Monday at 10am with a compliment of 8 crew in total; Salty Sacha shall rejoin us with Lou, our highly charismatic and fun filled filly. It has been nearly a year since I sailed with Lou and I am looking forward to it immensely. Also on board other than the three of us that baby sit the boat whilst in port are Royston, the ex Lord Mayor of Bristol and current head of the brand new Matthew of Bristol Trust; Jane, the infinitely over excited volunteer and Ben, our one and only Falmouth based volunteer
First stop; Brest. I shall use my time here to visit The Spirit of Antigua, maybe there will be a relic or two of mine that I left on board from leaving in such a hurry.

Then onto Belisle, Vannes, Douarnanez and in three weeks time back to Falmouth for the Sea Shanty Festival.
Busy busy indeed.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Death of Enza (and my part in her demise) The final part

The story we were told to tell was; 'We went sailing, we got wet, we went flying, we came home.' Fair enough, however this is not the story I have relayed so many times, to so many people. I felt therefore that this was not my story. What comes up, comes out. So out it came, from head to fist and onto paper over the past six months.

I have written this account purely as a cathartic exercise for myself. To help me rid the demons, daydreams and nightmares that have occurred since October.
I share it primarily for those on board that evening. Maybe as a way of letting them see similarity's to their own personal tale and feelings, or indeed and more importantly, the differences.
An event like this is certainly a large undertaking to break down mentally. I thought that I was 'over it' long ago yet here I am still reeling from that day and the days that followed.
The 'What if's' have long since faded from the forefront of my mind. The reality of it all though is still quite a task. So much thought is given to those that risked their lives to save ours; to those whom we left asleep in their beds to be given such an awful wake up call; to those that would find out about it later on and for the compassion shown to me by family and friends and even people I had never met, nor ever will.
The thanks that I have for all involved in saving my life, my friends lives and the sanity and happiness of those that surround me is beyond fathomable comprehension.

Why do I still put to sea? I do not know. Will I always put to sea? Yes, though under what guise I cannot possibly say. Maybe simply talking of 'rounding the horn' someday in my own boat will conjure up all of the imagery and colour that I need in my life. My life. There is a term I enjoy. For I am alive and I wake up happy some days purely at that simple little fact.
I am very pleased I have survived to be able to share with you my story...

...and go sailing.

Thank you,

The Death of Enza (and my part in her demise) Part 16

High above the boat now and I am face to face with another French accent, this one dressed in green. He has no smile for me, he must be tired. He's grabbing me by the shoulders and wrenching me deep into the belly of this metal bird. What now?
Ben is in a foil blanket, at the back with him was Slava and Sacha. I get pushed along to my place at the front of the helicopter, in amidst the thousands of buttons and lights that I will never comprehend. The nurse comes across to check me over. I feel her compassion through my skin as she takes my hand. I nearly cry but think better of it. Man up Thom! Instead I'll fix my gaze through soaking wet, salty dreadlocks and into her deep eyes as she begins to take my blood pressure.

Ben Wookey was placed on the floor of the helicopter next to me. I look out beyond the green tinted window at the scene below and beyond us. So many ships passing by. Why could you not find it in your hearts to come and find us? Though the one directly ahead of the ex catamaran is beautiful.
'WAGENBORG, WAGENBORG, WAGENBORG' I repeat it over and over and over so as to remember it forever. 
Captain Jack Wieten and the crew of the M/V Ijsselborg. I love you. For answering the SOS, for steaming 35 nautical miles to assist, for having a heart.

The crew are all aboard the Helicopter now. Some noise follows and we begin to move. The tired man is playing around with the microphone on his helmet, I think maybe it's broken. He sees me looking at him so I flash him a smile full of heartfelt thanks and humility. He looks down, takes out a huge military issue knife and plays with more extrusions from his helmet. Then he looks over again and approaches me in a crouch.


The noise of a helicopter is deafening. My ears have been through a lot this evening.

'QUOI?' I ask.

His eyes roll and his question is repeated, to which I shout back that there were six.




A grunt, followed by a crouched swivel and he's back on the helicopter floor playing with more wires.

The sea is so vast. From a height the waves look tiny, merely a surface swell. Did we capsized in that?! What the fuck? Why the fuck? How the fuck?
I'm tired so I slump forward to rest my elbows and head on my knees. My dreads itch, will they ever dry? I wonder.

The nurse nudges me.

Shouting through the fantastic noise of brute force machinery keeping us aloft she asks, 'OK?'

Am I? I really don't know. I'm certainly elated and literally elevated. My night is better than it was but OK might only be a relative state of affairs.


Relatively, of course.

I wonder where they are taking us. I'll ask...

'Où cet hélicoptère va ? '

'Britain'. She replies

'Merci' Says I. 'Je le veux dire!' And I really, truly did mean it.

Ben Wookey looks a bit astonished that some one of my ilk is able to talk a foreign language, albeit in a true pigeon form.

'What was that about?' He shouts.

I explain that they are taking us to Britain. Though I don't see why or even where exactly they would take us.

An hour or so of shivering passes. How long did we go sailing for? We seem to be driving on the right hand side these days.
Of course they didn't take us to Britain, but to Lanveoc near to Brest. In BRITANNY! My mistake.

The Hellijigger meets the asphalt, I'm marched out by 'smiler', our tired French friend, grabbing me by my shoulders and moving me quick and low. I see grass and make a break for it. It's not far away and I dive to one knee to tear up a clump, just to feel it. I never thought I would again. Smiler does not like this, makes chase, wrenches me upright and leaves me in the care of some new uniformed faces. These ones are dressed in blue...

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Death of Enza (and my part in her demise) Part 15.

Through to the outside, I dive. I struggle much more with this attempt than previously as another tear on my suit has now snagged on the broken framing of the hatch. I break free and clamber up to see Ben through safely.

He emerges feet first, still clutching the torch. Close enough, I think. I grab it and cast it, still illuminating, into the life-raft.

'Sorry Thom.'

'Ben, you never have to apologise to me ever again about anything. Ever!'

The noise of the helicopter is ferocious, the lights fixed upon us are dazzling. So much so that I am forced to look down. Another phenomenal sight. So amazing in fact that I fall backwards. Through the clear waters of Biscay I can see the sails of the catamaran set eerily beneath us. It seems as if the boat is still trying to get somewhere. Rigging and other lines are climbing up the mast in a ghostly motion. A hand on my shoulder startles me away from my transfixed gaze.

Hello? A red wet suit, a new face with a French accent. A very welcome guest to have on board. What's he doing? Trying to put me into the harness to go up into the helicopter is what. Me and Ben start frantically pointing to the skipper, he needs to be looked at first. The flying frenchman nods and straps Ben in. Up he goes complete with his waterproofs and his expensive boots. Lucky bugger.

Slava had went up first, Sacha second. It was going to be Sacha first but he'd wrapped his legs around the Frenchman. This is good to do if you are drifting alone out at sea, though whilst your fixed to a boat it is unnecessary. Our rescuer in this instance thought that it was inappropriate and turned his attentions to the seemingly less affectionate Slava.

Then after we had motioned for Ben to go up it was my turn. As I was lifted higher and higher the scene became more and more surreal. The water was spiralling up into the air with me up to the blades of the helicopter. There were people on the Ijselbourg looking over and taking photos. There was our boat, looking so tiny and insignificant from so high up. Her sails still set, still trying to carve forwards though the water. I feel my laughter behind the noise. I feel! This is enough.

The Death of Enza (and my part in her demise) Part 14.

Pete lashes himself to the life line and heads through the hatch to the outside. Maybe for the want of simply something to do, he closes in on the life raft for a look. He's a braver man than I. I didn't even want to look at it this hopeless craft. Upon seeing the foot pump he asks whether it is worth trying to fill up the raft with air.  I can see his point. 

'No, I don't think it is.' 

I don't believe that the energy involved to get it to the 288 pounds per square foot of pressure needed would be worth expending. We can gather in the morning and try pumping it up then if it's needed. There will be more people to help and it will give us a job to do. Besides, I don't want to fully accept that we may well have to abandon our vessel for this floating tent.
Ben, Ben and Luke agree that maybe it should be left for now, Pete also.

'Quick! Pass me an EFIRB!'

It couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes of Pete being outside that we here him cry out.

Luke replies, 'What's an EFIRB?'

My humble guess would be that it's an EPIRB he's after. So we pass him one out. He sounds excited.
I stick my head through the gap. What a sight! What a beautiful, beautiful sight! What a din! What a beautiful, beautiful din! Floating above us is the brightest light I've ever seen, it's lighting up not only us but the vessel in front of us. The Letters WAGONBORG Must be twenty feet tall painted against the grey hull of a rather large merchant ship not twenty meters from us. The letters adorning the side of the boat are more like six feet tall. It is truly amazing how one remembers such things.
This vessel was the Dutch Merchant Ship M/V Ijsselborg. It had steamed 35 nautical miles out of it's way to aid in our rescue. It too had a bright light shining on us.

'Set off a flare.' I said.

I of course meant a smoke flare, it's not considered the done thing to be firing rockets at helicopters.


Enter Ben Bones. Standing up and looking good. Me and Ben Wookey insist that he leaves first. Reluctant to this idea he says that it's his responsibility to see we are all off of the boat safely. Ben Wookey replies with,

'Ben, we can argue about this all night when we're on the helicopter but you need to get up there before we do.'

This was indeed true, though looking at our skipper now you would never have guessed that he was lying silently on the brink of sleep up until thirty seconds ago. His argument was too a strong one.

'Look guys, there's no fucking way I'm not getting on that helicopter.'


OK Ben. We throw him through the hatch behind Luke. It's just me and Ben Wookey left here now, both laughing at each other. A serious disposition suddenly washes over me.

'Ben, I'm not sorry for what I am about to do.'

Grabbing his head I plant a massive, and I mean huge kiss right on his lips. The most surprising bit of it all was when he started kissing me back! Quite the moment indeed. Have you ever kissed your hero? Try it.

The elation of our now present situation is overwhelming. We've just lived a hundred years in six hours, and we are now being given the chance to live a hundred more.

'After you Ben.' I motion towards the hatch.

'No, please after you.' 

So polite.

'No no, I'd like to see that you get out okay.'

Ben says that he'll find it easier to leave the boat knowing that I'm outside. Fair enough. I tell him to leave anything behind that doesn't need to go up with him. This includes the torch he's been holding on to for a while now.

Once again I find myself looking around at a confused world, ready to plunge myself outside and escape from that upside down toilet that's been mocking me all night. Not so clever now are you? Stupid feckless porcelain bastard shitter!