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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...