Preparations are underway. We have visited the London Boat Show where Hugh talked satellite communication and SSB radio. He is looking at water makers, self steering and the merits of solar panels and hydrovanes. In the meantime we are preparing the house for renting it out. All those odd jobs we’ve put off for years.
To be honest I’m really scared about the prospect of all that time at sea. Leaving my children. They may be in their 20s but surely they still need their mum? What if one of us gets ill? Will I ever live in my home again?
We’ve been busy getting the house tarted up so that we can let it out to ‘quality’ tenants. Polyfilla-ing all the cracks that have appeared in the last 10 years and painting stain blocker over the damp patches where pipes have leaked. The decorators have sorted the huge damp patch on the bedroom ceiling that I’d long since stopped noticing and are tackling the bigger decorating jobs.
In the meantime Hugh has been ordering all sorts of equipment for the boat which have been sprouting on the transom (ie back of the boat), including a huge mushroom – the satellite phone. Hoorah! I will be able to update my Facebook page mid-Atlantic although it’s apparently more to do with obtaining accurate weather forecasts. We have been down to Dartmouth to polish the bottom of the boat whilst she’s out of the water, on props in the boatyard. We had hoped to stay on board but there was total chaos, floor boards up, rewiring and fitting of equipment, so we booked into a local B&B.
Hugh has spent a week in the Solent doing a Yachtmaster course and exam, and he has become expert at man-overboard, so I’ll be ok. I pity him if he’s the one to fall overboard. Not a hope. At the end of the week I was relieved to get an email from him: ‘I am your master’. In the meantime I have done a Survival at Sea day course and learnt how to climb out of the water into a life raft (in Thornbury swimming pool) – not easy.
Vega went back onto the water in April and we went down again to Dartmouth to check out the new equipment with the marine electrician and rigger before setting off on the first leg of the voyage to Bristol. We waited until the very strong winds had eased and conditions were favourable with gentle force 4 easterly winds and glorious sunshine. Steve came along to help crew and to share the overnight watches. We had a good passage west accompanied by dolphins at times and a night sky full of stars and the sea of phosphorescence. Rounding Lands End at noon the next day, we bravely (foolishly?) took the rough and narrow inner passage, between, on our starboard side, the Armed Knight granite stack, Lands End and its visitors centre, and to port the jagged Kettles Bottom and Shark’s Fin rocks and the Longships lighthouse. Fortunately we survived and didn’t join the hundreds of wrecks that litter the ocean floor here. We had two days in Padstow eating fish and chips and cycling the Camel trail before motoring up the Bristol Channel to Cardiff in almost windless conditions and a smooth sea. More dolphins appeared which played at the bow and seemed to enjoy being filmed by me! We arrived at Cardiff barrage at 9am and entered through the lock taking a sharp left into one of the two marinas in Cardiff. We will bring Vega into Bristol in a few weeks as we are only allowed 30 days in Bristol harbour as a visiting yacht.
Vega is in Bristol! Alex and Charlotte and son-in-law Charlie came over to Cardiff on the train to join us on the trip back. Our departure was delayed as the gate on the exit gate from the Marina had broken, so we had to wait for the engineer. Eventually this was sorted but we weren’t allowed through the Cardiff Barrage locks for another hour, much later than planned, as it was low tide and there wasn’t enough water in the exit channel (shoot the navigator). That left less than 2 hours to do the 17 miles to the entrance to the River Avon. We motor sailed, with just the genoa, bouncing up the choppy brown waters of the Bristol Channel with 20 knots of wind right behind us and up to 4 knots of tide with us, envisaging a night in Portishead Marina. The Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world (the tidal range at Avonmouth can be up to 14 meters, second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada that has a tidal range of 16.3 meters). On the day we arrived the water at Bristol harbour was 1.2 meters at low tide but 12.6 meters at high tide, making for tidal rates of up to 6 knots – important not to overshoot the entrance to the Avon or we might end up in Gloucester.
Dear Reader, we made it in time! Weaving around a tanker going into the Portbury Docks there was a further moment of high tension as we struggled to identify the mouth of the river in a vast expanse of mud, before taking a leap of faith and the narrow channel that is the Avon appeared as charted. The trip up the Avon was wonderful, a glorious sunny day, and it was thrilling going under the Suspension Bridge with a friend Anne waving from above, Stan playing a trumpet anthem on the Portway, and my brother Rob and family waiting at the lock. We berthed on the visitors pontoon at the Arnolfini and fizz was drunk with friends who came to meet us.
We now have four weeks to finish disposing of clutter in the house, shift furniture and possessions into the attic room to lock away, and to get Vega ready. We still have to fit the water maker which converts saline into fresh water (although the tanks on the boat hold 400 litres this is not enough for a long passage), fit the solar panel, stock up with tins of baked beans and pulses (Hugh seems convinced that we need a large stock of both) and prepare the grab bag (the waterproof bag of essential items kept ready by the gangway to grab as you abandon ship for the life raft). And we need a new life raft. And gin, of course.
In the last few weeks no 4, Maurice Road has launched a protest at our departure. The central heating boiler has needed replacing, the downstairs radiators refused to get more than mildly warm thus requiring fitting of a Gold filter, a ‘power flush’ and ‘rebalancing’ of the system, the shower intermittently started to leak water down the light fitting in the ceiling below, and two days before departure the dishwasher decided to flood the kitchen. The plumber has had the floor up, the ceiling down below the shower and half of the tiles off the wall trying to locate the source of the leak and is now practically living with us. Our tenants will be moving in in four weeks. Although the removals men have moved half our furniture to our flat and the other half for storage in an attic room at no 4, there are still piles of junk needing sorting through and taken to the charity shop. The water maker and solar panel are still not fitted and no sign yet of the new life raft. There is a complete lack of provisions on board. Are we ready for Departure Day? I think we all know the answer to that.
It’s been a difficult time resolving all the problems in the house, particularly with the plumbing, and getting everything sorted and ready… it has all just taken so much longer than expected. After such a fabulous leaving party it has all felt like being in a limbo. The plus side has been spending time with friends who we hadn’t been able to see before the official departure date and also the chance to play with the band for a day at Glastonbury. But soon we will be gone. I hope.