Thursday 5 June 2014

Blood on the mainsheet

At last, after six months of preparation, both at home and on Juno, it is time to leave the dock.  We order meat for the freezer, six crates of provisions for the galley, fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, settle our bills at the marina and finally, finally, disconnect from the pontoon and head out of the bay of Palma. It feels great to be back at sea on Juno. As this is our first sail of the season it is just a short hop to Calla Vells, a small bay on the southwest coast of Mallorca that is usually sheltered from the prevailing winds.

As we drop anchor the wind is blowing gently from the south, holding us a couple of hundred metres off the beach in five metres of cold clear spring water. Jamie and Lucy are with us for a week and after a late night in Palma yesterday they turn in early and it seems the perfect conditions for a peaceful night's sleep.  As I go through my evening routine of turning on the anchor light, checking the snubber and closing down all the systems on the boat I notice that we have swung 180 degrees at our mooring and we are now facing out of the bay into open sea. The wind is still light and the anchor is holding but we are now being blown towards the shore, a situation I dislike because if the anchor fails the consequences are bad. We have twenty metres of anchor chain on the sea bed which is ample in light conditions in shallow water with good holding but with changing conditions and with night falling I would be much happier with more scope.  However as we are quite close to the beach and to other yachts, we don't have sufficient swinging room so I decide to sit in the cockpit for a while and see how the boat settles.  I have learnt over the years that if I have any doubts about the anchor, I should deal with it immediately, regardless of the inconvenience, and especially before nightfall because moving and resetting an anchor at night is always much harder. If only I would listen to my conscience.

It has been a tiring few weeks for Fatty and me and we have both been looking forward to a restful night at a peaceful anchorage.  When we decided to sail to Australia we also decided to rent out our house. Our rambling family home in the country needs constant upkeep and we didn't relish the prospect of spending our spare time, and our spare cash, worrying about gardeners, swimming pool boilers and all the accompanying bills that ensue. So we took the plunge and decided to let the house while we are away. In January, we bought a small house in London for the boys to live in, which Fatty has refurbished beautifully, and just after Easter we started marketing our country house with two estate agents. By mid May we had signed contracts with a tenant, starting on June 1st until September of next year, by which time we hope to be in Queensland.

Suddenly we were faced with the prospect of packing up our family home with 25 years of accumulated possessions and memories, in two short weeks.  At this point Fatty switched into gear and applied her considerable organisational skills to the task but it has been both physically and emotionally draining.  Every item in the house from beds to books and has been either given to charity, donated to Saz for her Barn where she has generously allowed us to live when we are in the UK, or thrown in a large skip which has already been emptied and filled twice. We have allowed ourselves one room in the loft to store possessions for our return and that has required a disciplined approach to packing. I find the experience cathartic and liberating but Fatty has found it hard.  The last task is to hand over our dogs, Tosca and Louis, to the dog sitter in exchange for the loan of my land rover until we return. At last, on 31st May we locked the door, closed the gates and moved into our new life.

As I sit in the cockpit in Cala Vells, the prospect of retiring to our cabin is vey tempting but I am not happy with the motion of the boat as the sea state is starting to build and the wind continues to blow into the bay from the north east, our bow rising and falling in the waves, putting further strain on my paltry twenty metres.  When Fatty appears at the companionway I decide its time to reset the anchor further off the beach, this time with more chain.  By now it is dark but I know the bay well so we motor out and reset the anchor, this time with thirty metres of chain, still not as much as I would like but we are limited by the space in the more sheltered eastern end of the bay. I reverse hard to dig the anchor in and I feel more confident that we are holding, but nevertheless I decide to stay in the cockpit for an hour or so as I know from the forecast that the wind is due to strengthen further.  Nearby a charter boat in the bay has started to drag its anchor, moving dangerously near the rocks. Two neighbouring boats flash their torches, whistle and shout but the occupants remain firmly asleep. In an act of selfless seamanship, one of the neighbours sets off in his small rubber dinghy, paddling hard with his oars against the chop and he eventually rouses the occupants by hammering on the hull with his paddle. They emerge, startled like proverbial rabbits in the torchlight and start their engine just in time to save their yacht. This little drama serves to sharpen my senses further and as we start to drag again I decide to do things properly this time and without compromise.

Fatty once more cheerfully sets off onto the foredeck to operate the windlass in her nightie and we motor across to the widest part of the bay and once again down goes the anchor, in 7 metres of water, with 40 metres of chain. The rule of thumb is five times as much chain as depth of water, and in worse conditions as much as you can, so I now feel that we are finally, properly anchored.  As I walk up the side deck to set the snubber I stub my toe hard on the genoa car, gashing it badly, leaving a trail of blood around the cockpit and on the mainsheet. Fatty knows me well and spends the next fifteen minutes washing down the decks even though it is two in the morning and she is dead on her feet.

I spend the remainder of the night in the cockpit, sleeping fitfully and at dawn we weigh anchor and leave for some peace out at sea, where Juno is more stable, safer and happier with her sails set and I am happier with coffee and toast. Not quite the restful first night that we had planned but it puts us on our toes for the year ahead as we head towards the East coast of Mallorca on our way to Sardinia.


  1. Missing you guys already!

  2. Nice start Frewie! One good thing about the ARC is that there is no fear of anchor drag at night!