Doing it wrong

Today’s sailing was good. I did loads of things wrong in the four and a half hours I got on the water, following yesterday’s three hours. It’s sunny again after a few weeks of not sunny at all, and 27 degrees on the car thermometer, so shorts and no sweater or coat for a change, and make sure there’s a bottle of water onboard. Which reminds me there isn’t now, so I’d better put one in the car for tomorrow’s sailing.

A couple of days ago there was an odd lifejacket incident. I’d bought a new Crewsaver Hammar automatic lifejacket new last year and thought it was pretty good. Certainly it ought to have been better than the 20 year old manual inflation jacket I’d been using for probably far too long, the one that dated back to Drascombe Scaffie days. I bought that boat the year the Twin Towers came down along with Tower Seven, the one that collapsed because a plane didn’t fly into it. The night before sailing I went to check my lifejacket and found it was partially inflated.

I didn’t really understand how. It hadn’t got wet. The indicator was slightly off centre, suggesting the trigger had been pulled, maybe when I put the jacket in the back of the car, stuffing it tight against the back of the driver’s seat because I had the car roof down and didn’t want the jacket to fly away. But it was only partially inflated. Next morning it was fully up.

None of this made any sense. Nor did what happened next. I checked the jacket all over. On the Hammar trigger that sets off the jacket if it gets wet there is a date stamp. It said to replace the trigger in 2018 or if you can’t see a green dot in the indicator. I could only see half a green dot. And the jacket was bought ‘new’ in 2020.

The seller couldn’t be found. So far, so Ebay. What was odder was Crewsaver’s reaction when I emailed them with the serial number, asking when the jacket was made, describing the partial inflation of the jacket and how it took all night to inflate fully, which is a bit slower than I’d like if I fell overboard unconscious, even though my Drascombe hasn’t got a boom to smack me about and sweep me over the side, one of the things I like about Drascombes. Crewsaver said…..nothing at all.

Nice website. All very straightforward and Ellen MacArthur used Crewsaver when she was wrecking boats and would I like to register for updates and all that blah. And when a customer has a query the response, as so often now, is simply nothing at all. Call me old, but I remember a time when Customer Service didn’t mean simply ignoring the stuff you as a company can’t be arsed to do. Answering emails asking why your product doesn’t work, for example.

I got a new lifejacket, fairly obviously not from Crewsaver, one much, much heavier but oddly much more comfortable to wear. It’s the alarmingly illiterately titled Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro, with so many Newtons of floaty that if I ever do fall off a boat then conscious or otherwise, I’ll be coming back out of it like a Polaris missile. Without the exploding end bit. If they still make them.

I wore it for the first time today. All the way up to Bouy 30, up with the tide, down with the ebb (it’s a Lugger. You don’t fight the tide in a Lugger) I didn’t fall in or come anywhere close to, although one gust did see the boat heel far enough to see the bow wave visible over the gunwhale. The wind on the Deben is problematic at the best of times. There are hills as well as trees as well as shallows and silting and an anchorage, not forgetting the geriatric arses in boats the size and style of a block of flats who either don’t know or don’t care about ColRegs and seemed utterly indifferent to pointing their boat’s bow at me 30 metres away. As I used to tell gobby smart-mouth kids who thought they were hard when I was teaching, I’ve had several people point guns at me over the years, all of them professionals. It’s still just rude.

Words were spoken

Fairly short words, at some volume. They seemed to have an immediate effect though, which was what I intended.

I had enough to deal with, with the gusting and trying not to run out of water and short tacks through the anchorage, sailing the Lugger as if it was a dinghy, which isn’t ideal as it isn’t. But it was fine. Mostly, anyway. There was a point when the jib shackle came undone which meant firstly that the jib ran off on its own, so half the power gone. More bizarrely, the shackle managed to close itself again, over the starboard shroud. A couple of days ago I’d perfected heaving-too, otherwise known as a sailing crash-stop. You tack, push the rudder away from you making the bow of the boat turn through the wind to go the other way. When it turns you normally let go the jib sheets on the side they were on and tighten the other side after the boat. has turned – you’ve now got the mainsail and the jib out the same side of the boat.

If you want to stop fast, or if you want to stop to sort something out, or even both, you only do half of that. Push the tiller away, the nose of the boat comes through the wind and … No. That’s it. Because the jib is still on the wrong side the boat somehow stalls in the wind, not going anywhere. You’ll drift if there’s a tide but it stops forward progress very quickly and it gives you space to sort things out. So that’s what I did, albeit after more words were spoken, albeit to inanimate pieces of metal.

After that a good long reach doing a decent enough speed for a Lugger back to the entrance to Martlesham Creek, a couple of very short tacks through the little anchorage at Kyson’s Point but the boat and I had the measure of each other now and we managed just fine. We even sailed all the way up the Creek onto our mooring right at the end and only dropped the boathook over the side once. It floated. Loads of things went wrong. And everything worked out fine. It’s what I like a lot about sailing these days. I’m learning a lot of things I’d forgotten. And I’m learning that I actually can do so many things I didn’t really think I could. All you have to do is try.

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Carl Bennett

Not born in a cross-fire hurricane because there is no such thing. Actually Stratford on Avon general hospital, since when Dorset, Wiltshire, compulsory London and currently Suffolk.

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