CAP’N ART THA’ SLEEPIN’ THAR BELOW?
LOG OF THE GOOD SHIP ‘BRYAN’S BREEZE’ A BAVARIA 37 FROM CHICHESTER HARBOUR
Extracted from the log of Bryan’s Breeze (Helga). October 2003.
Two week-ends aboard Bryan’s Breeze during Ray’s efforts to attain the rank of Day Skipper.
Captain - Ray
Bob- Number One
Pete – Number Two – for the first week-end.
Julian – Number Two - for the second week end
Frank – The Ancient Mariner - RYA Examiner
NB. Bryan’s Breeze was renamed Tsunami and then renamed Kittiwake after the tsunami. The writer has named the yacht Helga for this story. October 2003
Crunch, crunch---------crunch, -----------crunch, crunch------------------crunch---- was the sound reaching Number One’s ear as he lay in his cabin on board Bryan’s Breeze swinging lazily at anchor in the moonlight just off Itchenor on the first night of a five day exercise in the Solent.
The crunch of the wavelets slapping the bow was a sound which Number One had heard before in a similar (but very much more uncomfortable) situation way back in the late 50’s when he was seconded to help refloat, on a cold February night, a friends converted lifeboat which had gone aground in mysterious circumstances off Thorney Island (just round the corner) when under the command of a very experienced skipper.
The memory faded as he dropped off into a fitful sleep interrupted now and again by the calls of the midnight curlews, crows and gulls vying for the last morsel. The distant buzz of a 2hp outboard at full throttle at about 3am grew into an ear piercing grind as a local pirate headed out for the morning spoils at Chichester Bar followed by a wake that rocked Bryan’s Breeze alarmingly and shook the stars violently above Number One’s head.
Bryan’s Breeze was a beamy 36 footer from the Bavaria Yacht stable who had, up until recently, been treated somewhat firmly by a sailing school and as such had endured a few harsh years at the hands of many kind but unknowing hands. She now was looking forward to a few gentler years in the hands of her new owners a Captain Raymond and his wife. She was a fine looking craft (i.e. Bryans Breeze!) despite her upbringing and the recent season spent jostling on her moorings amongst her sisters, most of whom did not get out much, and had left her a touch barnacled up in some very sensitive places. She was also hoping that being a lady her new owner might consider that her name could at least be changed to Wendy’s Breeze after the Captain’s wife or maybe even her favourite, Heidelberg Helga as a reminder of her birthplace. In any case she was more than pleased to be once more heading for the open sea in the hands of a captain and crew who would, she hoped, be a little more sensitive and knowing about which pit to push and which pit to pull.
The past year or so on the marina in Chichester had left a few cobwebs to be blown off and she was pleased that a particularly painful barnacle in her log region had already been removed by a very gentle Ancient Mariner with kind hands. She knew he was an Ancient Mariner with very experienced hands as he had the words emblazoned on his tee shirt and she had heard him talking of his previous life as a Urinary Surgeon – life definitely was on the up for Helga.
Helga’s excitement had been on the increase over the past few weeks as her new owners had scrubbed her decks enjoyed a glass or two in her cabin, treated her to a new cushion or two and provisioned her for what she hoped would be a lively trip. She was keen to show off to Captain Raymond and his wife that she was capable of great things and that maybe even fulfil their dreams of arriving at foreign ports such as Puerto Banus, Monte Carlo or St Tropez in great style.
The arriving crew on the Friday afternoon however did not bode well, the Number One wearing what seamed to be an apology for an Aussie cowhand’s hat with a feather sticking out wrestled with the water hose and got soaked in the process as he tried to insert the exploding end into the fresh water filler hole, at least thought Helga ‘he hasn’t stuffed into my diesel filler spout’. Number Two arrived laden with packs of fine German Bier – ah! thought Helga a man to be reckoned with, Number Two had had many months experience at sea in a somewhat larger vessel in the Southern Ocean and lent a certain air of experience to the crew, Number Two’s sense of humour would also prove to be a great asset, his habit of lighting up downwind of the gas cylinder was considered a risk worth taking.
Following lengthy safety checks, engine checks, head (toilet) checks, emergency flare checks, instrument checks, rigging, radio and first aid checks, donning life belts, rigging and checking safety harnesses which required all crew to don their wet gear in order to get a tight fit, Captain Raymond hastily tucked the label of his brand new Douglas Gill sailing jacket out of site before Number Two made some derogatory comment. Helga by now was getting somewhat familiar with her crew, the Ancient Mariner known as Frank was an experienced RYA examiner who was on board at the request of Captain Raymond to check out his ability for skippering Helga on her future voyages.
Number One was known as Bob who also at the request of Captain Raymond was invited to join the crew, Captain Raymond had heard say of Bob’s previous sailing experience (which was not inconsiderable) but Captain Raymond had had no first hand experience of Bob’s ability except a trip or two around Chichester Harbour in his 12 foot dinghy - hardly reason for a great deal of confidence but at least he would be a useful crew member when it came to the washing up.
Number Two, known as Pete, had many experiences to bring to the trip, none of which Captain Raymond had first hand experience of except a hole in the first at the fifth or was it a hole in five at the first, anyhow a present of fine Belgian Chocolate for the victual locker was enough to convince Captain Raymond that he had under his command a fine body of men.
Wives and girlfriends had said their goodbyes and had left the pontoon earlier that afternoon considering that time would be better spent on anything rather than witnessing their loved ones set sail for unknown ports, knowing in their heart of hearts that they would be weeping uncontrollably at the quayside and didn’t wish to be seen in this condition.
Following another lengthy questioning of Captain Raymond by the Ancient Mariner about tides, routes and weather prospects, Frank considered that the first leg of a few hundred yards to a mooring off Itchenor could be undertaken with no more than a quick look around and a wet finger in the wind, this done Captain Raymond fired up the diesel, Numbers One and Two slipped the mooring lines and Helga sighed as her bows began to cleave the murky waters of Chichester Marina. Chichester Marina is reached from the open sea by lock gates which fortunately were permanently open for Helga’s exit, a condition called free-flow, enabling Captain Raymond at the helm to motor proudly through waving to the lock keeper with the other hand as he went. A skilful negotiation of the buoyed channel in the gathering dusk by Captain Raymond brought Helga to a suitable mooring buoy which the crew considered fair game for a free night at anchor provided the owner of the mooring didn’t turn up in his MTB. A deft swish or two by Numbers One and Two with the boathook at the mooring line enabled Frank to secure the mooring for the night, any wrong moves with the knots would mean our hero’s waking up in the morning washed up in the mud off Thorney Island or drifting helplessly south of the Scillies, a prospect not worth considering?
Captain Raymond spent the first evening poring over the charts under the steady gaze of the Ancient Mariner, the prospect of a quick swim or dinghy ride for a pint of Pride in The Kings Head, which was beckoning a few hundred yards away in Itchenor gradually faded as his pilotage calculations for the next day’s manoeuvres took precedence. Numbers One and Two busied themselves at the galley preparing a fine spaghetti bolognaise, which had been donated by the Captain’s wife, followed (and preceded) by beer, wine, cheese and biscuits and chocolates, Bob and Pete commented endlessly on the plight of their captain unable to enjoy the evening until his homework was done.
Homework done, Frank decided that a game of cards would be a fitting end to a pleasant meal and proceeded to produce a bunch of cards displaying a myriad of red, green and white splodges on a black background which Bob and Ray were expected to recognize as vessels under various states of manoeuvre at night. Fortunately Ray had been tested by his wife on that very subject sitting up in bed the previous morning, so he was able to score well. Bob was also keen to impress as he was also under scrutiny from Frank for the highly prized Competent Crew ticket at the end of the trip, he knew that a cheerful disposition towards the washing up duties would also earn some points. Frank held up a final card which displayed a green splodge on the left hand side of the card, a red splodge on the right hand side and two white splodges in the middle, he described this card as ‘the brown trouser card’ as he explained ‘it is a vessel longer than 50 metres heading straight towards you, and something that you never will want to see’, Helga and her crew were blissfully unaware that before too long they were destined to experience the brown trouser card.
Eventually the gentle rocking of Helga, the meal, the wine, the star studded moonlit night not to mention the physical and mental strain took its toll and the crew retired into their respective cabins. Pete was too tired to complain when he realised that his bunk was to be the bench he was sitting on. Saturday dawned, the forecast was flat calm, which was a disappointment for Helga as she ached to unfurl her sails, and show her crew what she was made of and take off into the unknown, she needn’t have worried as she wouldn’t have to wait long. A concern for Raymond was that due to a long spell of under use the main battery was all but kn****ed, the prospect of no lights, instruments, radio or worse fridge to cool the wine meant that a chandler in Cowes (the destination for the day) would have to be contacted and have a battery ready for fitting, fortunately the second battery which is required only to start the engine was in good order.
Concern receded as the long passage using the engine slowly charged the battery, which alleviated worries about the wine. Egg and bacon butties tea and toiletries behind them Helga and her crew quietly slipped their mooring and headed down the channel towards East Head and Chichester Bar. A westerly breeze began to ruffle the waves and at last all hands helped Helga into her element. Following many fumblings the mains’l was hoisted, the headsail unfurled, the engine ceased and at last Helga was free and itching to please.
Bearings were taken from various points; Captain Raymond issued orders for compass headings and a course was set to the narrow gap in the submarine barrier which stretches from the shore, the barrier not surprisingly was built to protect Portsmouth from submarine attack also attack from the Gunners, (Pompey having regained their rightful place in the Premiership). All eyes strained into the distance to identify the gap in the barrier as captain and crew did not relish the idea of being de-keeled by the barrier.
The wind was by this time not too helpful and a combination of orders, skills and uncertainty prompted the Ancient Mariner to suggest that the course would be better between the Forts as quite rightly he considered that aiming for a narrow gap was a touch demanding for a captain on his first venture, the gap between the Forts was large enough for two aircraft carriers to pass port to port and as such presented a slightly larger target for Captain and crew – Helga was pleased. Nearly missing the gap between the Forts, Helga pressed on eagerly to Cowes but as time went on it was clear that Cowes would be unattainable before nightfall in the present tidal conditions, reluctantly orders were issued to change course for Portsmouth which meant that Captain Raymond had to recalculate his pilotage plan, take unto consideration the new tidal streams, try to miss the ferries, battleships, container ships, hovercraft not to mention the red and green cans, cardinal points, shallow water, yachts on starboard tacks, motor boats with drivers who don’t know or couldn’t care a toss for the rules, dredgers with limited manoeuvrability, anchored vessels, vessels constrained by draft, driftwood and seaweed.
This done a course was set for Southsea Funfair and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour which beckoned, to the North. Helga proudly entered Portsmouth Harbour under motor staying well clear of the passing hulks she quickly dismissed a fleeting thought of how proud her Grandad and Great Grandad would be if they could see her now.
Before tying up for the night the Ancient Mariner had ideas of a few exercises in Portsmouth Harbour to test Captain Raymond’s ability to manoeuvre and retrieve a man overboard. These had to be curtailed as space was limited. A few sail handling exercises were called for, which were successfully completed without Helga tangling her rigging with adjacent moored battleships, before calling the Marina to book a berth for the night. Captain Raymond tuned the radio to channel 80, pressed the transmit button and said 'Gosport Marina, Gosport Marina, Gosport Marina this is Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze over' (as per standard procedure). 'Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze this is Gosport Marina, go ahead, over' came the reply. 'Gosport Marina this is Bryans Breeze, request a mooring for the night, we are 36 feet long. Over'. 'Bryans Breeze, you’ll have to raft –crackle - up take India – crackle - 47 starboard – crackle - side, over', Captain Raymond appeared at the cockpit looking somewhat confused and requested the Ancient Mariners help. Following a few more radio exchanges the Ancient Mariner managed to book a berth at the nearby Camper Nicholson Marina for the night. Captain and crew received praise for their first berthing of Helga, managing to complete the task without hitting anything, any of the crew ending up in the water or getting unhelpful comments from adjacent onlookers, fortunately the conditions were favourable. The prospect of a hot meal in the Castle Tavern nearby was the spur the crew needed in order to complete the tedious tasks of tidying decks, flaking and covering the mainsail and replenishing water supplies
With Helga tucked up for the night and a refreshing shower in the marina facilities captain and crew strode into the Castle Tavern feeling like old sea dogs and ordered food and drinks, Number One was unable to see what the others had ordered as he couldn’t see over his beef steak pudding, carrots, greens and 5 lbs of boiled potatoes he failed miserably to clean his plate.
Suitably replenished all were looking forward to the following day’s manoeuvres. On the way back to Helga through the forest of masts and swaying craft, Number One spotted a yacht called Make My Day his comment about what it would sound like listening to this yacht putting out a Mayday (Mayday – Mayday – Mayday – this is yacht Make My Day, Make My Day, Make My Day – Mayday this is Make My Day etc) was ignored.
The night passed peacefully interrupted only by a baked bean tin which had been stored on it’s side rolling continuously back and forth, two 5 am ferries leaving for Le Havre which sent Helga up and down like a lift and slapping halyards on the masts of a thousand yachts in an increasing wind. Sunday dawned bright and cold with a strong wind from the north Helga jostled on her moorings vigorously which prompted the Ancient Mariner to question captain and crew ‘what will happen when the mooring lines are slipped?’ following many answers which included ‘stern seeks the wind’, ‘forward reverse forward’, ‘reverse forward reverse’, ‘swing on a spring’ and ‘lets stay another night’ it was decided that Number Two, who was considered to be the most agile, ‘walk the boat’ and leap for the gunwales as she left. The plan of action was successfully completed following another fine breakfast of eggs and bacon, further engine checks, bilge checks and checks for rats and stowaways.
With Captain Raymond at the helm, Helga headed out into Portsmouth Harbour, the wind was now nudging force 5 and whipped the tops of the wavelets, the Ancient Mariner directed Raymond to approach a half submerged mooring pontoon in order to test his mooring skills in dangerous conditions. Numbers One and Two prepared the mooring lines stepped over the guard rail coil of rope in hand and prepared to leap onto the lurching pontoon, Raymond desperately tried to gauge the effect of tide, wind and orders from the Ancient Mariner on Helga and failed to spot the large red sign nailed to the pontoon which read ‘NO MOORING AT ANY TIME’. Number Two hanging on with one arm looped round the shrouds, coil of rope in the other hand, wind and spray in his face expertly managed to light another fag thinking that this might be his last, CRUNCH, GRAUNCH, SCRAPE, Helga neatly took out the NO MOORING sign, the portion with ‘AT ANY TIME’ on floated briskly away. Yet another attempt or two, this time from port side instead of starboard, satisfied the Ancient Mariner that Captain and crew had performed well enough and proceeded to issue orders for mains’l to be hoisted in order to be ready for emergency action should the engine fail in the busy shipping channel exiting Portsmouth Harbour.
Helga and her crew motored proudly out once more into the Solent heading for Stokes Bay which was an area the Ancient Mariner considered would be suitable for Man Overboard drill. The wind by now was nudging force 6 (a yachtsman’s gale), the Ancient Mariner prepared the poor soul for dispatch (a bucket tied to a fender) threw him overboard and shouted ‘MAN OVERBOARD’ Raymond desperately tried to recall the sequence of events that he should have committed to memory, was it ‘heave to’, ‘turn down wind’, ‘jibe the main’, ‘launch the life belt and dan-buoy’, ‘start the motor’, ‘furl the gib’, ‘order a crew member to point at the drowning man’, ‘put out a Mayday’ or was there something else. ‘POINT’ shouts the captain to Number Two, by this time Number Two had lost sight of the bobbing white fender in amongst a million white horses, ‘sod’ cried the Ancient Mariner ‘I’ve never lost a man overboard yet’, there’s a first time for everything thought Raymond. Helga went round in circles all eyes desperate to spot the captains fender, after some minutes Number Two spotted the fender a couple of hundred yards away and pointed, Raymond furled his jib, jibed the main and once more bore down on his bucket.
After many attempts fender and bucket were finally brought alongside and hauled on board – but alas too late. Tea, coffee and biscuits were served and greatly appreciated by all as Helga now clawed her way back against wind and tide.
Her new course was 080 degrees (compass) once more towards the gap in the submarine barrier, Chichester and her homeport. Raymond invited Number One to take the helm, which he did with relish muttering ‘err to windward ‘and ‘money in the bank Frank’, and other such phrases that he thought might earn a few more points. Helga responded with an immediate broach to remind the new helmsman who was in charge. Having successfully negotiated the narrow gap through the submarine barrier, Captain Raymond issued a new course to Chichester Bar Beacon, which was now just visible on the horizon. Helga closed in on the Beacon converging with another similar craft crewed by waving sailors, Helga’s crew returned the wave, Helga sensed a distinct impending rivalry between the crews as they both rounded the Beacon almost together.
Sails were eased as Helga settled into a comfortable broad reach on the first leg up the narrow channel, there was a suggestion from the Ancient Mariner that an option would be to motor in as the leg up the narrowest part of the channel would be against the strong northerly wind and that slick tacking and sail handling would be required and might be beyond his rookey crew, Helga was having none of it and with Number One on the helm, Number Two on the jib starboard sheet, the captain on the port jib sheet and the Ancient Mariner manipulating the main Helga bristled with anticipation.
Battle commenced. Helga had already made ground on her rival with her first few tacks but she was still too close for comfort and may well lose ground on the next tack. Number One’s shouts of ‘ready about’ ‘lee- ho’ was met with quick reactions, the sound of spinning winches a healthy but firm couple of flaps of the jib as she was tightened up on the opposite tack, ‘tack on your depth’ came the order from the Ancient Mariner as Helga continued to gain ground on her rival, Number One had had experience of similar situations on his dinghy on the Norfolk Broads (which included overhanging trees) but charging at a wall of shingle with a ten ton boat, fisherman not yards away waiting to pick up the pieces and say ‘I told you so’ was a challenge he couldn’t ignore. Helga’s rival tried hard but failed to match the skill of a well-honed crew, the beaten yacht put in another tack before she needed to as if to say ‘I wasn’t racing anyway’ and faded into the distance.
The Ancient Mariner congratulated his crew on showing a clean pair of heels to the challenger but warned against over confidence and ‘WATCH YOUR DEPTH’. The passage up through the Itchenor channel was made without further incident, the helmsman managing to miss the red and green cans on the way. Thoughts now turned to starting the motor, furling the jib and bagging the main. The first two went without a hitch but some difficulty was experienced when bagging the main as this had to be done head to wind in a narrow channel which meant turning Helga through 180 degrees and motoring slowly with the tide, not an easy manoeuvre to achieve at the best of times but Helga was pleased that Number One on the helm didn’t act on all the orders that came his way.
With sails made shipshape, ropes and lines stored neatly Helga and her crew returned triumphant up the final approach to Chichester Marina lock gates. Wives and girlfriends were waving excitedly from the quayside as Helga approached the lock, their men folk now weather-beaten and looking confident making their women folk feel how proud and fortunate they were. Their pride waned somewhat as Helga and her crew got caught up in the traffic jam to the lock, 4pm on a Sunday afternoon was not a good time to return and required the utmost patience and skill from the Captain as he wrestled with the controls trying to keep Helga stationary in a queue of gin palaces with bow thrusters. After an hour or so Helga squeezed into the lock pleased that her crew had managed to fend off threatening sharp bits on other boats. It was sad for Helga that Number Two, although by now she liked to think of him as Pete, would be unable to be part of the crew for the following weekend to complete the exercise. However she was sure that her captain would replace him with another experienced pair of hands
ONE WEEK LATER
Ray and Bob arrived once more at Chichester Marina on the following Friday afternoon this time with Julian who was to be the new Number Two, Julian had said goodbye to his wife and young children earlier and although looking forward to the trip very much wondered if he would ever see his family again.
The sight of Helga dispelled any fears Julian may have had as he felt that she would take care of him even if his shipmates let him down. While Bob proceeded to carry out a bit of carpentry on the quayside in order to make a more comfortable bunk in the saloon, Ray hoisted the red ensign (Captain aboard signal) and was sat down at the chart table by the Ancient Mariner and was questioned about weather, tides and departure procedure. ‘Let me check your homework Ray’ said the Ancient Mariner ‘I usually tell somebody else to do the dirty work’ replied Ray but nevertheless knuckled down and tried to come up with a few answers. Helga was disappointed that the tides for that day meant that departure would be delayed until the following morning, she was upset to see her crew disappear off to the Pub at Dell Quay but became excited on their return when she heard Number One suggest a departure on the midnight tide, only to be outvoted by the Ancient Mariners casting vote as he considered that a well rested crew was essential for the exercises he had in mind for the coming days. All crew members quietly wondered what he meant but said nothing.
Saturday dawned and fellow mariners emerged from various boats and shuttled back and forth to the palatial shower facilities. The weather was crisp but the forecast was a northerly breeze of force 2 or 3 at best also the tide meant that Helga could not get out of the lock until 10.30am, Raymond was pleased that his calculations had coincided with the Ancient Mariners feelings. Chichester Marina, Chichester Marina, Chichester Marina this is Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, over. Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, Bryans Breeze, Chichester Marina, go ahead, over. Chichester Marina, Bryans Breeze, request lock slot over. Bryans Breeze, you are number 32, currently locking numbers 10 through 12 over. Chichester Marina, Bryans Breeze, understand number 32, out. Bollocks thought Raymond, should have called earlier, I’ll know next time. It was 11.30 before Helga and her crew finally cleared the lock and started out on a two hour motor to the open sea. The destination was once again to be Cowes, which meant Helga was unable to sail. The crew busied themselves with identification of various waypoints, identifying birds and drinking copious amounts of tea, coffee and biscuits as they steadily made their way across the main shipping lanes.
On arrival off Cowes orders were issued to drop the main which was achieved with little difficulty although other craft in the immediate vicinity were very obliging and went hard to port or starboard or astern in order to avoid Helga’s gyrations. A few more exercises at going alongside, mooring and casting off at various pontoons along the Medina River were achieved without difficulty, the new Number Two now getting used to the indecisions and merging well with the rest of the crew. Next on the Ancient Mariners list was a test on finding and negotiating the entrance to the Beaulieu River, once again Captain Raymond pored over the charts and produced compass bearings and a list of hazards to look out for, Helga motored at an easy pace towards the estimated position of the Beaulieu River entrance. Helga and her crew were somewhat disappointed that the day had been spent without any wind but there were by now a few ruffles on the surface and the prospects looked reasonable for a sail up the River as one or two sails could be seen in the distance.
The entrance to the River is a double dogleg with shallows all around so close attention was required to hit the marks and stick to the transits, Number One on the helm heard many shouts of ‘left a bit’ ‘right a bit’ but couldn’t quite get it right, fortunately a close eye on the depth gauge got him through. Having reached the River proper a zephyr sprang up from the stern and filled the sails which by now were full main and full genoa, the engine was stopped and once again Helga bristled, this time she was keen to show what she could do in light airs against the tide. The Ancient Mariner delicately adjusted the main, Number One at the helm once again called on his experience on the Norfolk Broads and slowly, ever so gracefully Helga pulled her way up the river using gentle tacks and gibing the jib. All crew members reflected as the late afternoon sun gently dropped toward the horizon, the nearby squabble of various sea birds and waders jostling for their supper, the gentle lap of Helga’s bow cleaving the river and the prospect of a well earned pint at the Master Builders Arms which was a mile or two up river at Bucklers Hard was a prospect indeed.
250 years previously Nelson had negotiated this very river in the Victory, which had been built at Bucklers Hard, Helga and her crew felt that they were in good company.
The mooring at Bucklers Hard was to be quite a different kettle of fish to what the crew were used to. It required mooring stern (or bow on) to a large pile (vertical log) in the river and gently easing the other end to another large pile the other end and so restraining Helga fore and aft along the flow of the narrow river. The Ancient Mariner took time to explain the moves necessary as he knew that his previous charges had cocked it up completely and ended up cart wheeling down river taking out many other moored craft. However by this time Captain and crew were ready for more challenges. With Captain Raymond at the helm Helga ever so slowly approached the upwind pile, Number One calmly slipped a line through the mooring ring, the Captain eased the throttle, Helga gently was eased back to the stern pile on the bow line and bingo – home and dry first time. The Ancient Mariner was aghast at the skill he had just witnessed but stopped short of offering to buy the drinks.
Helga was wondering how on earth are her heroes going to get from a boat moored in the middle of the river in darkness for that well earned pint.
Answer - Competent Crew compulsory test number nine. i.e Number One finds and extracts from the locker the inflatable dinghy blows it up (with a foot pump) launches it, jumps in, assists all other crew members on board, rows ashore and ties up, pays for the drinks, finds the dinghy in total darkness, rows back and makes safe the dinghy. After much struggling the dinghy was found, inflated and assembled with thwart and transom, rowlocks and oars, all seemed to be in a serviceable condition except that a few spots of dust needed to be cleaned off where the crew would be sitting this was efficiently dealt with by Raymond and his duster. The dinghy was finally launched from the fore deck and brought round to Helga’s bathing platform below the transom, Number One duly leaped in thinking that he would be required to row the other crew members one at a time. The Ancient Mariner with his vast experience of travelling in such style knew that the dinghy was capable of carrying at least another football team and promptly ordered all crew members to jump in. Sure enough much to the rest of the crews surprise the dinghy stayed afloat. Number One rowed vigorously in the direction of the Master Builders, so vigorously that a rowlock failed which meant that the Captain and Number Two who were perched on the back of the dinghy had to take an oar each. Number Two was stronger and fitter than the Captain so the dinghy proceeded round in circles much to the amusement of fellow sailors on nearby yachts.
Raymond had had another hard day at the chart table and the strain showed; nevertheless he managed to summon reserves of strength, which propelled the foursome onto the waiting pontoon.
Following pints of shandy, ale, Guinness and another fine meal at the Master Builders, phone calls were made to loved ones in distant lands in order to alleviate the concerns that their worried womenfolk were obviously experiencing. They needn’t have bothered. Ken’s daughter (Coronation Street) was doing it with Roy, Martin had been caught with his pants down, Deirdre and Emily were drunk and were soliciting at the end of The Street.
‘We’re alive for Christ sake’. ‘Yes dear call me back when you’re sober’. Click.
Helga waited patiently in the moonlight for her crew. Despite the current balmy evening she had a feeling in her water that the next 24 hours would be perhaps the most exciting she had experienced in her short life. Splash----splash-----splash the sound of approaching paddles in the darkness were indeed her crew returning, all clambered aboard somewhat pooped from an energetic day and a fine meal at the Pub, all were looking forward to a good nights rest, not so (yet) for Raymond, he once again was required to produce pilotage plans and tide calculations for the exit from the Beaulieu River and compass courses and way points for Southampton which was to be the destination for the following evening prior to the night sail a term which the crew imagined to be the ultimate test of endurance. All slept so well that nobody caught the 5.30am weather forecast, which predicted a drop in pressure in the Solent area and winds of force 6 or greater for a short time.
Once again Raymond produced eggs and bacon for his appreciative crew, the first fried egg yoke broke as he flipped it hardover instead of easyover, the captain shovelled into the bin in full view of three pairs of hungry eyes waiting patiently with their toast buttered, Number two commented that it would have been perfectly acceptable, Raymond wouldn’t dream of presenting any of his crew with a runny egg to start the day. Hatches battened down for sea, engine checks, sails made ready and Helga once more eased away from her mooring, and after a brief stop for water replenishment at Bucklers Hard headed down river in a strengthening wind.
Emerging from the river mouth the wind increased further from the east, the Ancient Mariner ordered a reef in the main in gusty conditions, the manoeuvre was completed with only slight hitches with the topping lift and leech line which had to be cut away in order not to snag the main. Raymond thought briefly about the cost of replacing yet another piece of string. Thoughts of coffee and biscuits were shelved as Helga started to dig her bows in to the increasing walls of water heading her way.
Taking turns at the helm the Captain , Numbers One and Two did what they could to smooth out the effect of wind and waves but horizontal spray from Helga’s bow was now beginning to be felt for the first time by the crew in her cockpit. ‘Watch your depth’ came the cries from the Ancient Mariner as he was concerned that a two-metre swell in a depth of three metres would be critical for a boat with a 2 metre draft.
A bounce on the Ocean floor was the last thing that Helga or her crew needed following eggs and bacon. The Ancient Mariner tried to explain the finer points of sailing a boat like Helga in these conditions, most of his words were lost in the wind and spray except the comment that Number One heard ‘the rudder has no effect to windward’ which was news but painfully obvious to Number One.
Slowly but surely Helga clawed her way past Cowes around Calshot Point and into Southampton water and headed up past Fawley refinery, close attention was paid to the many buoys and cardinals marking the passage, any false move here would have meant being run down by the flying hydrofoils or lumbering ferries. With headsail furled Helga motored towards Town Quay in a stiff breeze, the mooring would require the utmost concentration on Helga’s movements if she was to avoid receiving a sharp object through the side from a parked craft, Number One was not too happy on the helm as he knew that his captain would not be too pleased if he dented Helga’s fine lines.
The double dogleg entrance to Town Quay was successfully negotiated and then some confusion broke out as to where to park. The wind was unhelpful and continuous shouts of hard aport, hard to starboard, midships, no the other way, no not that way, where’s the roving fender, left a bit, right a bit, more throttle, no not that much, I said forward not reverse, we’ll try another berth, resulted in the Ancient Mariner apologising profusely to the captain of a moored craft, the actual words of the Ancient Mariner were ‘I am extremely sorry Sir’ he swallowed his next remarks ‘Sir, I have the misfortune to be surrounded by a bunch of idiots’, ‘No worries mate, we all do it sometime’ was the unhelpful reply.
Helga breathed a sigh of relief as the final bowline was tied. Raymond went off up the pontoon to check with security if it would be alright to stay awhile, ‘not so’ was the response ‘not even for a cup of tea?’ asked Raymond ‘well OK but no more than 10 minutes’, inconsiderate bastard thought the captain, doesn’t he realise what we’ve been through to get to his rotten quay, as he returned to his yacht. Sod em’, tea and biscuits all round was the collective defiant mood, 10 minutes later ‘Oi - you - move’ was the shout from across the water ‘alright, keep your socks on’ we’re just going, you miserable sod’ but the comment was lost in the wind.
Following another 20 minute discussion about which line to release first, as by now Helga was straining on all lines due to the wind, it was decided that Number Two should perform the running jump, Raymond should reverse out, continue reversing until reaching a large enough space to spin Helga on her centreline. Fenders were only required once as Helga headed out of Town Quay for Ocean Village marina around the corner in the hope of finding a more welcoming berth for a few hours. Efficiently tied up, berthing fees handed over, ablutions completed, dinner on the way (once again donated by the captain’s wife), Raymond was once more sat down by the Ancient Mariner at the chart table and proceeded to pore over his charts and tide tables in order to be ready for any eventuality during the impending night sail.
The night sail required a night passage of a minimum of four hours which could also be achieved under power if necessary, all crew were somewhat relieved as the Ancient Mariner declared that the conditions were not suitable for sailing and that all hands (and eyes) would be needed to concentrate on spotting the dangers. A mandatory requirement for any night passage on a yacht is that all crew, at all times, wear life jackets and safety lines that are attached to a ‘hard point’ when the wearer is anywhere except safely in the bowels of the vessel. The procedure for achieving this was explained in great detail by the Ancient Mariner, as he didn’t want to blemish his record of losing a man overboard just yet.
A stiff breeze greeted Helga as she nudged her way out of Ocean Village and headed down the River Itchen towards Southampton Water with Number Two (Julian) at the helm. Number Two’s quiet and devoted disposition to duty over the past days had earned him many points for his logbook, his failure to tie a bowline when under extreme pressure had been forgotten as he tried to stop Helga drifting from the course set by the Captain. Number Two’s determination and helmsmanship were soon to be put to the test.
Red, green and white lights, nearby container ships decks awash with light and a hazy moon punctured the darkness as Helga emerged from the river into Southampton Water her steaming light and navigation lights shining proudly as if to say ‘here I am please don’t run me over’.
Southampton Water greeted Helga and her crew as if she was a 747 approaching runway 27R at Heathrow at night, the waterway blazed with light along its length culminating in Blackpool illuminations (Fawley Refinery) in the distance off the starboard bow.
The Ancient Mariner repeatedly requesting all crew members to identify all adjacent vessels, channel markers and unlit floating objects from the pin cushion of lights, Number Two’s steady hands responding accurately to all commands. ‘What’s that white light flashing 6 and a long one’ asked the Ancient Mariner, all eyes peered into the distance ahead, Raymond armed with binoculars, paper, pencil and torch identified correctly a South Cardinal some three miles ahead. Helga’s diesel throbbed reassuringly below as it slowly but surely propelled her crew down Southampton Water past Netley and the Hamble River, a transit line marking the entrance to the Hamble was easily picked up by all crew members as their night vision was now improving.
Helga, now heading into the Solent proper started to rise and fall somewhat alarmingly on increasing waves as wind and tide slowed her to no more than two knots over the ground. Ryde church spire, illuminated off the starboard quarter came into view and was to remain there for at least, it seemed the next two hours. An illuminated wedge shaped object also came into view dead ahead, which was also to remain there for at least, it seemed the next three hours.
Helga began to pitch more and more as her bows lifted out of the water and slammed down the other side of the wave delivering gallons of spray into the cockpit. The continuous slamming lulled certain crew members into silence and a deep trance, Number Two gripped the wheel tighter and tighter as Helga’s bow launched once more skyward only to return, prop spinning in fresh air, down into the next trough. The Ancient Mariner looked at his crew one by one in the darkness and asked them in turn if they were feeling OK, fine, smashin’, great, super was the response but descended again into silence.
The Ancient Mariner was wondering if his crew were ready for his next thoughts but decided to air them anyway ‘It’ll probably be worse rounding Gilkicker Point’ he said but he needn’t have worried, some of the crew by now were thinking that they had had a good life anyway.
Sure enough the ride reached Alton Towers proportions but despite the winds worst efforts Number Two’s firm grip on the wheel seemed to have all options under control. The Ancient Mariner knew that Helga’s brave attempt at coping with such conditions were fine while heading into wind and waves but rounding Gilkicker Point and making the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour would mean that she would have to go beam on to the weather and he wasn’t hopeful of Helga remaining upright, he was of course consoled by the fact that a boat such as Helga would roll over gracefully and come up the other side – provided the hatch was closed – the hatch was open.
Rounding Gilkicker Point the Ancient Mariner called for 5 degrees to port, sure enough Helga’s motions were now aggravated by a cork screwing effect which now required an additional delicate counter action by the helmsman’, ‘another 5 degrees to port’ came the order from the Ancient Mariner, the corkscrewing action remained controllable ‘another 5 degrees to port’, Helga rolled but held her balance, ‘another 5 degrees to port’, slowly but surely Helga’s position came under slight protection from the howling easterly by Southsea Castle Point and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
All hands were grateful that the worst (they thought) was over and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour at just gone midnight would be child’s play. The track made by Helga due to her delicate manoeuvres into Portsmouth Harbour meant that she had missed the small boat transit channel to the harbour entrance and that entry by the main ferry channel was her only option.
No worries thought the Ancient Mariner as the midnight ferry from Brittany eased past ahead of Helga, the only problem might come if we’re unlucky enough to converge with the midnight car ferry from Fishbourne but even then he was confident that Helga’s radar reflector will alert the ferry crew to impending collision. Number Two continued correctly to keep the red cans marking the main channel close to his port side. For a few precious minutes thoughts of a night safely at anchor began to relax the crew.
Shit, said the Ancient Mariner under his breath, here comes the Isle of Wight ferry (the brown trouser card), ‘not to worry she’ll pass safely on our starboard side, she’s bound to be aware of our position’ he said confidently. Helga and her crew had implicit faith in the Ancient Mariner and that his prediction would turn out to be correct as they continued motoring into Portsmouth Number One being the passenger on this voyage watched on Helga’s stern quarter in some disbelief as ‘the brown trouser card’ approached. ‘Do you really think that the ferry captain is aware of our position and intentions’ he enquired to the Ancient Mariner, silence was the reply.
‘Christ, there’s a bloody yacht dead ahead’ came the cry from the ferry helmsman, the ferry was travelling at her customary 22 knots into the harbour and entering a four wheel slide to kill her speed as was her usual manoeuvre at this time of night, not expecting to encounter any crazy yacht skipper to be out on such a night. ‘Engines hard astern’ ‘ bow thrusters hard a’port’ ‘anchors away’ ‘full reverse thrust’ ‘fingers crossed’ 'eyes shut' came the desperate cries as the ferry responded slowly and disappeared in a cloud of spray only to reappear towering over Helga in a cold sweat.
The odd passenger appeared on deck and stared down at Helga wondering what all the commotion was about. Helga and her crew now knew exactly what the iceberg felt like the night it sunk the Titanic. The ferry came to a halt alongside Helga, allowed her to move ahead and gracefully and politely slid behind her and took up her correct position on Helga’s starboard side.
Excitement over for the night (they thought) Helga’s crew motored safely into Portsmouth Harbour on the look out for a suitable buoy on which to hook up for the night, sure enough a number of spare ‘Admiralty Buoy’s’ appeared from the darkness off the port bow, the Ancient Mariner confirmed that one would be ‘fair game’ for the night.
Captain Raymond, once more at the helm, made pass after pass at the chosen buoy as Numbers One and Two lying in prone position on the fore deck waved the boat hook at the buoy in the vain hope of hooking the ring. After the fourth attempt Raymond issued a firm order ‘Jesus, if we don’t get it next time round, we’re going into the marina, sod the expense’, after three more attempts Number One aided by Number Two managed to get the slippery serpent aboard and tied up.
Another night swinging safely at anchor was the reward for Helga and her crew as they retired to their cabins following a well-deserved coffee, cheese, biscuits, bananas, ham, spam and jam sandwiches.
THE FINAL DAY
The Ancient Mariner emerged from his cabin the following morning announcing that he had sat on his glasses and he would not be able to participate in the final day’s events, the news was received by Helga and her crew with a mixture of concern and relief. Concern that they wouldn’t find their way back to Chichester and relief that the Ancient Mariner might not spot any cock-ups. Number One’s suggestion that one option would be to catch the bus was received with the contempt it deserved.
The final day for Helga and her crew surely could not be as adventurous as the first four, and so it proved to be. A yachtsman’s gale had been forecast but did not materialise which allowed Helga’s crew to shake out the reef they had put in that morning. Despite the Ancient Mariner’s limited visibility he nevertheless put the crew through a few final ‘man overboard’ drills which were completed with only a few errors of judgement. Fortunately the Ancient Mariners record of not losing a man overboard remained in tact.
Helga tacked effortlessly against a gentle breeze towards Chichester Bar beacon almost losing sight of the shore on a number of tacks, but unerring bearings given by the Captain brought her back on track. The timing of the entrance to Chichester Harbour was critical unless Captain and crew wished to spend yet another night on a mooring. The plan for the afternoon included a final exercise to throw out the anchor (an exercise new to Raymond and his crew) at East Head and spend an hour enjoying lunch and a final debrief by the Ancient Mariner. The task of laying the anchor was completed after a short questioning of Raymond by the Ancient Mariner as to the sequence of measuring the length of chain necessary and the correct method of ‘setting’ the anchor.
During the laying of the anchor ceremony, Number One saw his chance to earn a few final points towards his certificate. He went below and in 10 minutes flat prepared beans a la chaud avec jambon, pain du beurre, fromage avec biscuit et café au lait, all laid out complete with china plates, knives, forks and spoons.
All hands came below and enjoyed the gourmet spread, Captain Raymond dreaming of the time when he could bring his golfing friends and their respective ladies to join him on a cruise to enjoy a glass or two and a swim off East Head.
The Ancient Mariner was more than pleased with his crew’s efforts and despite Raymond’s concern that he had not performed well enough was rewarded with the news that all had performed ‘way beyond the standard necessary’ and indeed could wear his Captain’s hat with pride. Helga’s final passage up to her berth in Chichester Marina was completed without further incident. She is to this day feeling very fortunate about her future as she heard Raymond remark that he was bringing his friends down one day to help scrub her bottom.
Extracted from the log of Bryan’s Breeze (Helga). October 2003.
29.11.2021. On reflection - how the hell we survived God only knows. Bob.