Saturday, June 25, 2016

Simon's Guest Blog Post

So this is a guest blog and my name is Simon Evans. I have spent the past week on board Kalessin as the much honoured guest of Sam and Camilla.

I should explain that I am a complete newbie at sailing. I did a little bit many aeons ago but that was just in a dinghy. When Camilla tested me by asking whether I had ever been out of sight of land in a boat, I said that I had never even been out of sight of a crisp packet on land.  Or maybe even a crisp.

One of the first things you have to learn when sailing is the vocabulary. For example, a ship is definitely a boat but a boat is not necessarily a ship. A yacht is also a boat, but there are many different kinds. Our kind was for cruising and involved sailors. Imagine that. Except you'd be wrong.

A yacht is a sailing boat, and a sail is a kind of sheet. However, a sheet is not a sail but a rope. A shroud is not used to bury someone at sea but is another kind of rope. Surprisingly, producing a gaff is not a terrible mistake when sailing.

Below is what you or I might call "any old rope", but to a yachtsman it could be shrouds, sheets, or any number of other confusing things:


Continuing my theme, a pontoon is not a card game but a kind of floating boardwalk which allows you to get from your boat to dry land and to which you can secure your vessel. Securing your vessel is done with ropes, or rather, with "lines" and "springs". One of my first lessons was in how to do this.

In approaching a berth, the inexperienced crew member has to be ready with ropes in hand to jump onto the pontoon. Once the yacht is there, it is sometimes necessary to manhandle her into place before tying her down (reality check - not an extract from 50 Shades of Grey). This must be approached with care, otherwise it is entirely possible to find your toes still in contact with the pontoon and your fingertips clutching a polished deck edge and for something that was apparently going swimmingly just a few moments before to start going swimmingly in a quite different sense. If you are lucky enough to persuade the Son of God to crew for you, He won't have this problem.

The confusing language for a landlubber reminded me of a passage in the Hunting of the Snark:

This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.

He was thoughtful and grave—but the orders he gave
Were enough to bewilder a crew.
When he cried "Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard!"
What on earth was the helmsman to do?

Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
That frequently happens in tropical climes,
When a vessel is, so to speak, "snarked."

A sailing boat is propelled by the wind. Usually. Actually, a lot of the time (whisper it!) it is propelled by a propeller, driven by a motor. When you need to manoeuvre out of a marina, you use the motor. When you manoeuvre into a marina, you use the motor. When there is insufficient wind, you use the motor. If the wind is against you... Well, you get the drift! To further confuse the uninitiated, on board ship you often have to distinguish between "true wind" and "apparent wind". I think I can explain this by using the very excellent Natalie Bennett as an example. I could use fruitcake instead but it wouldn't work so well.  And it would be an insult to fruitcake.

Out of the public eye, I am told that our Natalie wears a small wind turbine strapped to her head to recharge her mobile. This enables her to continue Tweeting her pearls of wisdom indefinitely. You never see publicity shots of her wearing it of course, as that would make her appear daft. The very idea. But I digress. Let's forget la Bennett's tweets and get back to wind of a different kind.

If Natalie stands still and the wind is westerly, her turbine blades will face west. This is the "true wind" direction. But let's say there is no wind. This would mean no more Tweeting. So Natalie starts to jog in a northerly direction (jogging is an approved green alternative to driving). The air resistance creates an "apparent wind" from the north that keeps the turbine running. If the westerly starts blowing again while Natalie is running, the turbine will face somewhere between north and west and that will be the "apparent wind" direction even though the "true wind" direction is actually cardinal. This is what happens on a boat when it is moving forward.

Here endeth my wind lesson. Given that it features the outstanding Natalie Bennett, it may have been a bit flatulent.

Another step on the steep learning curve for the putative sailor has to do with technology. If you have the romantic notion that sailing is all about a man (or woman) and his (or her) boat battling the winds and ocean wave unaided, you are sadly mistaken. If you think cars are now tech heavy, you have clearly never been on a yacht.  Kalessin has radar, sonar, AIS, GPS, VHF radio, and a host of other acronyms I have forgotten. I don't think there were any heat-seeking missiles but it wouldn't have surprised me. The modern skipper has to get to grips with using all these bits of kit.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent on Kalessin with Sam and Camilla. Camilla has already blogged about the various places we visited so I will confine myself to a few highlights.

I joined the boat in Lorient but we moved Kalessin soon after I arrived to Port St Louis. We had some wonderful sunsets there, like this one:


On our next outing, we inadvertently got in the way of a yacht race. A yacht can lean for a couple of reasons. One is that the guy that ate all the pies is sitting on one side. A boat thus unbalanced is said to "list" to the pie eater's side. But when sailing in a strong wind, the pressure can make the boat lean away from the wind. This is called "heeling". Here is a picture of the racing boats we encountered heeling quite dramatically:


At Arzal, we encountered a major problem. One of my daily tasks was to scout out a suitable boulangerie and then repair thither each morning for the daily bread and croissants. But Arzal marina was a long way from the village and no boulangerie was available. To a Frenchman, this is quite simply une désastre. However, they mitigated the problem with something I have never seen before - a baguette dispenser:


La Roche Bernard was our next stop and was the diametric opposite of Arzal, a charming town dating back to the Dark Ages, with plentiful shops and even an endroit artisanal. Here's a view from the roche across the vieux port and down the Vilaine river:


The final journey up the Vilaine to Redon was almost completely wind-calm. The river has a barrage across it and a lock separating tidal from non-tidal waters. The barrage must slow the natural flow and the combination of this and the lack of wind gave a mirror-like surface to the water and some memorable reflections. Like this:


I have enormous admiration for Sam and Camilla, given the difficulties they have to overcome. As most reading this will know, Sam's stroke has left him paralysed down his right side. Getting about on a modest sized yacht is hard enough for the able-bodied but near impossible with a serious disability. It can only be achieved by effort and unwavering determination, both on the part of the afflicted and the carer. I am quite sure Camilla can easily sail Kalessin single-handed, but doing so whilst also caring for Sam is not really possible. She therefore depends on family and friends to crew, even if they (like me) are not proficient sailors themselves. I feel honoured that I was given the chance to play "first mate" and, for a week or so, help allow Sam and Camilla to enjoy a pastime they clearly love so dearly.


And finally, a few words bringing us back to where we started, on vocabulary. If there is no pontoon berth available to moor to, you might have to use something else. "Lashing a buoy" is not in fact what Mr Bumble might have got up to. Likewise, "visiting the heads" is not coming up before the beak at school, but actually going to the privy on board. All I can say is that I am grateful I never had to get to grips with the seacock.

1 comment:

Camilla Herrmann said...

Thank you Simon for all your support and a lovely and illuminating blog post.