OK. I know it’s been a long while since I last sat down to write. Our little adventure was taken on a bit of a ride and we just had to get our head down and work if we were to have any chance of saving the dream. We have had no spare time as you will see.
We came back from the two French traditional boat festivals of Brest & Douarnenez in August. The festivals were pretty full on and it was really hot peaking at nearly 40 degrees. At this point in our summer we realised there were some fairly major issues with South Star. Whilst painting the hull on the River Lyhner in June some planks on and below the water line showed up as in need of replacement. Years ago when I had all the planking ahead of me I opted to fill the ends of these planks with polyester filler. Only the ends were rotten and I had to draw a line somewhere. 8 years later and the filler was cracked and the planks worse. A fist size hole just above the water line is no way to be heading south with (God willing) the wind and waves from behind. Whilst in France we did look to see if hauling out in the winter here was an option. I guess it would have been possible but sourcing wood for the planks and getting things done with little French and no car would have made a tough job tougher. We did, as a back up plan, arrange a spot in Port Rhu, Dournenez if all our other plans went awry.
Back in the UK we had also booked a spot in Galmpton Creek Boatyard on the River Dart in Devon for the 5th August. We were lifted out the water here in 2012 as the yard offers a ‘Summer Special’ where you can get lifted in and out and have a month on the hard for 800 quid. A lot of money but as cheap as you can get a 50 ton boat lifted in the South West.
Our year so far had been one of constant pushing. Pushing the boat along to leave Milbrook…pushing along on the water to leave Plymouth Sound…pushing ourselves as we adjusted to life on the water…and being pushed by a lovely, high energy little girl. To be honest we were burnt out. We have been doing this for long enough now to know and reluctantly accept this. It’s just the way of things. But we are hard working people and this is as close to getting away for an extended travel on the boat as we have ever been.
We returned to Cornwall in a bit of a pickle. We did not feel doing the work in France was really an option so our only real plan was to head back to Cornwall. We left Laberwrach on the North coast of Brittany on the 28th August. It was just us aboard and this was to be our first Channel crossing with only ourselves. The forecast was not great but the following week looked worse and we had a deadline to get to Galmpton.
We had a tough crossing. There was a 2.5m sea from the west, side on, and the wind was fresh to strong. We motor sailed for 11 hours with me on the helm. Bryony was looking after Bryher and both were seasick. I was also feeling queasy and was sick twice but could not afford to go fully down with the mal de mare. This is the first time I have been seasick on South Star in 12 years so you can see the conditions were crap. At night fall I opted to drop the sails and just motor. I did not want to have to deal with them in the dark hours in a possibly increasing wind. This was a mistake in hindsight as they do a fair amount to steady the ship and without them the rolling was worse.
As we approached the path where the heavy shipping emerges from the traffic separation scheme off of Ushant I was exhausted. The steamer track goes on for around 25 miles and it is constant work to avoid collision situations with these Goliath’s of the sea. I knew if we carried on we would make a mistake. I could barely keep my eyes open. We opted to drift, partially hove to parallel to the track of ships while I slept. Bryony propped herself up in the wheel house bed and with a bairn on the boob she kept a look out. She always seems to be able to dig deep in these moments where I run out of energy and help us come through. I slept badly – only rousing around ten times in two hours to adjust and check things. It was not sleep so to speak but it was an emergency recharge.
As the first light appeared in the Eastern sky I made coffee and with a determination to ‘get my girls out of here’ I hoisted sail and got underway. At least now we could see the ships and adjust our course accordingly. The day was rough and windy with the swell still on the beam. It took another 14 hours on the helm to get back to the shelter of the Helford River, Cornwall. To take the positives where you can find em I learnt this. Avoid deadlines – they always cause problems and we need an auto pilot desperately.
We had smooth, windless passage back to Plymouth. A lovely moment was when some dolphins turned up with what must have been a month old baby. I peer over the side with my baby and they peer back showing off theirs. Beautiful. We needed to go and see family over this time. Missed birthdays and missed times need to be made up for. Bryher is not a happy car passenger though so it’s stressful and she sleeps badly for a few days away so we return more tired than when we left. Will we ever get a break we ask ourselves? With half a day to rest we set off for the River Dart. Our friend Andy came along to help and we were really thankful for this. We anchored in the Dart and prepared the boat to get lifted at 7am in the morning. This involved getting the tonne of anchor chain out of the forepeak. Last time we lifted it caused the bow to stress somewhat as the slings pick us up some way aft. All that weight forward is not good. This involved undoing the bitter end and letting all but the last few feet out. When we pull it in it goes on deck and we can drag it back. At 6.30am and tired I made another mistake. The bitter end is a bit rusty as it’s always in the bilge so as we winched it in it caught round the chain gypsy and wrapped itself round a few times. Without thinking about It, I pulled the reversing leaver and as we were in 20 meters depth with all that chain hanging there in the water….it just shot out in a second and was gone. Some hardy sailors reading this would likely think me a bit of a case but when you are tired and down shit happens and there’s bugger all you can do about it.
‘We’re adrift!’ we had no time to look for the anchor. We had to proceed to our rendezvous with the boat hoist. An hour later South Star was back in the same place she was last in in 2012 high and dry’. We were here – exhausted. Now time to dig even deeper and make real what is so easy to say. Lets do these planks.
The next month was the hardest time spent working on South Star in 12 years of stupid hard work. We hit the bottom – literally. I pulled out the rotten planks. The hole got bigger and bigger. My heart sank more and more. Two of the frames also needed replacement. Luckily I had the wood for this already. I had to collect the 24ft long 2” thick planks from a wood yard 20 miles away. I had no option but to try to move them on the roof of our Volvo estate car. This was a stupid decision. I only managed to get 250 meters up the road before the roof rack sheared and broke. In the end we had to get a local lorry owner to come to our rescue and get them to the boat.
The planks had to be steamed and twisted through two planes. Imagine spending half a day cutting and shaping a plank. Then spend the other half of the day steaming it. Then when you start bending it round it snaps. Back to the beginning. Another half a day making, half a day steaming…bend it round. It snaps a second time. Two days work. £150 in materials. No further on. I am not ashamed to say I cried. I had reached the end.
I sat down with Bryony and said that I could not go on any more. Why are we putting ourselves through this? A lovely home? – a vehicle to travel the world in? At this point I had lost sight of it all.
The thing is though that you can not really just throw down your tools and walk away. Who would want to buy a boat with a massive hole in it? (I know I did but that’s years ago now) We had no choice but to stagger on. In amongst all this was the anniversary of my Fathers death.
My Dad died 10 years ago. His ashes were scattered in the quiet reaches of the River Dart. I feel it was more than a coincidence to be here at this low point –10 years on to the day. I sat with my toes in the river drinking wine and feeling utterly broken. Still loving him and feeling as though loosing him happened only yesterday. It’s not true what they say. Time does not heal so much, it just makes you forget a bit and the edges are not as sharp. I could see him clearly though as I sat there. Still supporting me in this crazy venture. His support has seen me through the last ten years and this project would not have been possible without him. There is a big part of me that would love him to have seen how far we have come and even though it was tough we did not quit. I often think what he would say if I could call him up like I used to. I miss that more than ever. Today it would mean a lot of earache for him.
August was really hot. Dust mixed with anti-fouling and rotting barnacles swirls round clogging and irritating my lungs. The owners of the yard are cutting up a steel boat with a petrol angle grinder fifty feet away. Is this a place to be living with a toddler? Defiantly not.
Bryony’s parents come to our aid by bringing their camper van down and booking it into a local camp-site for us to use. It’s a place for Bryony & Bryher to go and get away from this noisy place by day. It is strange though to be surrounded by all these people on holiday and we are still pushing on. It makes the situation even harder to understand. Filthy at the end of the day and glad of these nice clean camp-site showers rather than the seriously manky boatyard ones. Funnily enough though, Bryher does feel more at home here on board and sleeps much better in her little cabin than anywhere else so we were in the boat yard to sleep each night.
it was a mad finish to the last. I was getting up at 5am and antifouling all day. The effects of breathing this in causing headaches and chemical toxicity through my body. I was working all day like a possesed zombie then dropping into bed at midnight. We had to deal with left over wood and clear up under South Star. Driving scaffolding and workshop tools to storage – it all takes time and energy and we had run out of both a while back. Somehow it all comes together though and we got it all done. We just had to try to find our anchor and chain and get it back from the bottom of the river…if it’s still there.