We were up super early for the relaunch. It was still dark. The coffee flowed and the last few items slung aboard or in the skip. I get ruthless in these moments and good bits of wood often meet their destiny on the fire wood pile. Mind you I have been known to fish them back out again once the panic dies down.
The cradle lifted us up once more, carried us across the yard and gently lowered us into the water. I nip down below for a quick glance into the area I just planked but no leaks visible so we ready ship. I start the Foden and a belch of diesel smoke accompanies the roar that we make up against the dock wall. We slip free of the hoist and make our way out into the chill morning. We have to go and see if we can find the lost anchor and then raise it from the deep water. We rigged a smaller kedge and settle South Star to it adjacent to where the plotter remembers we lost the anchor and chain. The relaunch coincides with big spring tides and there will shortly be lots of water rushing past us on the ebb. We get in the dingy and start trawling for the chain with a grapnel, dragging it this way and that across the river. After a few passes I feel like we are nearly hooking something but as we apply pressure to the rope it let’s go. We then get the chart plotter from South Star to the dingy (an old toughbook so water proof) and realise we are not searching in the right area so we could have been snagging on a submerged tree. After a few more passes we catch what we hope is it (joy!)and attach it to a bouy.
We then get on South Star and move her to the spot. We haul up the bouy on the grapnel rope using our hydraulic winch. The loading is huge as we are pulling up 2x 17m + anchor of our heavy chain. This could weigh a ton. We get it up to a point where the grapnel rope just can’t take any more and is at its breaking limit but the chain is still below the surface somewhere in the murky brown water. I realise I must swim down and get another rope round the chain for if it breaks now all will be lost and we will give up. Wetsuit on I jump in to the now fast flowing brown water. I take a few breaths and start to descend, hand over hand, down the grapnel rope. I have to go down maybe 4 meters before I can feed the second rope under the chain but as I try to ascend with it the friction causes the rope to catch over the chain. I tug hard panicking and struggle upwards but as I near the surface I am aware that it is getting dark above me. I am being swept under South Star on the current. In a rush of adrenalin and fear I claw my way from under the boat and gasp to the surface. If I had let go of the rope I would have to go down again. Phew! We keep hauling on the second rope and eventually haul up the anchor and chain. It comes up anchor first and for a while we are sitting against an out going spring tide just on a length of chain sitting in the mud.
It has been down there for a month and stinks of river. The recovery operation has taken 4 hours. We leave on the last of the ebb and make our way beaten and bruised back to Plymouth.
We felt like we had come to the end of our dream though. We knew we needed an autopilot and without the it we could not do any longer passages again. Time was running out. I made some enquiries into buying a new auto pilot. The long and short of it is this. For a boat of South Star’s size the motor is the most expensive bit at £2500 and has an 8 week lead time! the brain and compass etc come in at less but still a lot. We are back on the mooring in Plymouth and it all seems like we have not enough time and money. We start to think about going back to Millbrook for one last winter. We are going backwards again and it feels so wrong. We both have the same feeling…we can not give up and return. We could go anywhere. It does not have to be Portugal. We could reshape our winter plans to be Wales or Penzance or anywhere.
I had some luck and stumbled on a company who know how to rewire our old autopilot motor (were talking a long long shot even if it works) They are based in Lymington, Hampshire. We drive there with the pilot in the boot. It’s a challenging trip complete with massive vomiting by Bryher and slow slow slow traffic. The hideous journey lasts six hours. We have the kind offer of a stay on a friends boat though and they treat us with a sail to Yarmouth for a pint. Back the next day after 6 more hours in the car.
The company take a week to rewire the pilot and get it all working right. We can’t believe our luck though as this old motor has been on South Star obsolete for maybe 30 years. It’s from the ’50s and is built well – better than today’s cheaply built modern rubbish. We decide to buy the rest of the pilot from them as they can give us the support we need to get it to work right. As it happens when we fit it all up (2 days work to install) and take it our for a sea trial the clutch keeps disconnecting. I find a company who can rewire it (as age may have caused it to become weak) and send it off. Another week later and it comes back. We test it and it works! All in all this has taken most of September to achieve. We nick named the autopilot ‘Ossie’ after the late famous Capt O M Watts who owned South Star for more than 30 years. When the pilot turns the wheel we think he is there, happy again to be standing his watch.
During the last month while all of this was going on we have optimistically stocked and stowed the boat and fixed many other things. We cleared up our messes left behind – bits of wood in Millbrook, tools elsewhere…. And reduced the chaos onboard to slightly less chaotic. We organise somewhere to leave our car – our kind friend’s Lucy & Rubin helping us out and offering support on many levels. By some luck we have pulled it all together and finally things start to feel as though they might work out. For the first time in months, we’re not going backwards, we are going forwards. The adventure is back on.
We set our sights on Brittany, France as a starting point. The Bay of Biscay and heading South is calling us still and I manage to reconnect with an old friend Nikki Crutchfield who was part of my original crew back in 2004 who helped me move South Star into the Taw estuary. He is free and up for an adventure.
Another friend also offers to come along, Nicholas Levrington our quayside neighbour in Millbrook. The weather windows go from looking great to shrinking and turning bad so we pick the best we have and make a plan to head to Douarnenez. From here we can either stay for winter or head across the bay if the weather improves and South Star is going well. We are ready as we can be. It has been a struggle but somehow we kept going and here we are ready to jump. And through all the difficulty we made sure our daughter is still having a great time. Over the month, Bryher has been going to a forest school in Mount Edgecombe Country Park and seeing her many friends around the village. Through all this work we are careful she gets what she needs.
One month after we launched from Galmpton Creek we are leaving the UK for winter. We can’t believe how much we have done. The things that were holding us back are fixed. Now there’s nothing to stop us except the awful value of a British pound and fear of the unknown.