It has now been a little over 3 weeks since we slipped our lines at Ipswich harbor and began our summer adventure. Having so long anticipated this day, one would imagine that we would be exhilarated by our new-found freedom. I guess there have been a few moments of exhilaration, but a good portion of the time has been consumed by what Benn refers to as “psycho-terror,” or, the pervasive fear and anxiety that follow the realization that one has foolishly embarked upon a life-threatening pursuit without the requisite experience, knowledge, and, perhaps, common sense necessary to ones eventual survival.
We left Ipswich on a bright day, expecting to follow the ebbing tide down to a pretty anchorage spot near Pin Mill. The morning had been slightly breezy, but just as we were leaving, the wind spontaneously decided to pick up, and suddenly Benn was stuck manoeuvering between a giant cruiser and the bowsprit of a beautiful wooden boat moored next to us, all the while being blown around by erratic gusts of wind whipping down through the harbor buildings. We fought the wind and current down to the lock, only to find that the spring tide had raised the water level too high for the gates to be safely opened, and we would have to wait for the tide to recede before we could continue. We pulled up to the side of an empty pontoon to wait for the tide to fall, trying to hold the boat against the fierce bursts of wind, and slowly began to realize how very much more difficult this was going to be than we had expected — and we hadn’t even left the marina.
Eventually, we did pass through the lock, and it was far less hassle than any of the locks we had encountered on the inland waterways in our narrowboat. Once we actually entered the river, we were happy to find that, despite the terrifying container ships, navigating the channel proved to be a matter of staying within the lines and watching out for boats who were moving faster than we were (which was every boat, by the way). Things seemed to be going well, but as the apartment blocks and industrial yards of Ipswich fell behind us, we could not suppress a marvellous sense of wonder at the utter absurdity of this entire enterprise, as well as the sheer idiocy of our having decided to undertake it.
It would have been pleasant enough to follow our original plan, remaining safely nestled in our marina in Ipswich and learning to sail by taking Pas de Deux out on pretty, clement summer days. Gradually, we would have built up our skills and confidence, eventually choosing to go upon bigger excursions and, if we decided that we actually liked sailing, to seek adventure on farther shores. Instead, we had elected to skip the part about learning and jump straight ahead into living at anchor in a region famous for its variable tides, unpredictable weather, and continually shifting shorelines, where shoals and sandbars hide beneath a veneer of calm, still water.
Before we left, I had unwavering faith in our boat. Pas de Deux is a sweet, happy little boat, seaworthy (more or less), but also 40 years old and not necessarily in top condition. At least one of her bulkheads is rotting away, and her engines still don’t make that happy, healthy chugging sound that they should. Of course, we knew all of this before we left, but once we found ourselves on the water, the little repairs we had failed to complete before leaving loomed large in our minds, and poor little Pas de Deux began to look awfully ragged. With her peeling paint and ramshackle exterior, she seemed in danger of falling apart at any moment. Our affable, perky little boat had instantaneously transformed into an aging monstrous beast, old and rickety and ready to dash herself against the shoreline at the slightest opportunity.
In truth, the biggest problem is not our boat, but the fact that Benn and I don’t really know how to sail. We have taken a sailing course and have a certificate to prove it, but, as we have since realized, the sailing conditions in Miami, where we took our course, and the East of England are just a bit different. If the tides and eddies and shifting winds were worrying us while we were motoring, how different would it all be once we actually started sailing Pas de Deux? How would we ever be able to master her tangle of sheets and lines and blocks — much less solve the mystery of what they are all supposed to do?
Our destination was a nice little anchorage recommended to us by a few fellow sailors (not that we actually are sailors, by any stretch of the imagination). We had scouted it out by land, but when we arrived by sea, we were unprepared for the wall of boats and mooring balls that separated the channel from the shore. Benn navigated them carefully as we kept an eye on the depth sounder, hoping to travel as far towards shore as possible without actually beaching the boat. The depth finder moved from 8 meters to 5.5 to 5 — and remained there, even when we noticed that our propellers were stirring up mud and the boat had unexpectedly stopped moving forward. We had grounded ourselves on the mud — something tricky to do in 5 meters of water. We now know that our depth finder was not calibrated properly and has difficulty making accurate readings in soft mud — which is, incidentally, the predominate type of bottom in our new sailing grounds.
Catamarans can beach without causing themselves much harm, so there was no real worry about any damage to Pas de Deux. In fact, we had hoped to settle ourselves in an anchorage which would dry out and leave us beached most of the time. The problem was that, without enough water, we wouldn’t be able to set the anchor probably, and when the tide rose that night, there was every possibility that we would rise along with it, dragging our anchor behind us as we headed straight for the shipping channel.
What could we do? We threw the anchor over the bow into the mud and hoped for the best. The best, however, wasn’t the easiest thing to hope for right at that moment. We sat together, terrified, drinking the celebratory pints of Broadside I had brought for the occasion without feeling much like celebrating at all.
The fear did not abate that night, nor did it that morning, when the wind rose and the water was choppy and the anchor still did not seem to be doing exactly what it was supposed to. Eventually, we reset it, with much trauma and terror, although for days later much of our conversation was focused on the anchor. Have we drifted? Will it hold? Do we have enough rode out? Is the shore closer today than it was yesterday? Farther away?
Now, three weeks later, with a few more anchorages, tides, and wind-rocked evenings under our belt, the fear has more or less dissipated. We’ve moved on to a new river and a new bay and, although we still talk lots about the anchor, we also talk about other things — the birds picking through the tidal flats, how strangely clear and beautiful the water is, and whether or not Fuji will ever forgive us for making her live on the boat.
There are more adventures to come, and I will be writing about them more regularly now that I actually have something to write about. The delay came in part from the fact that our inverter wasn’t working and I had no way to charge my computer. After much complaining and procrastination on my part, Benn went ahead and ordered a 12V charger for my MacBook Air on eBay. I can now say that my entire virtual life — phone, computer, iPad — is run entirely on solar power. The future is now. I’m posting a link to the 12V charger on here, but take note that it is an eBay affiliate link, which means that if you click the link and buy it, we will get a small kickback at no extra cost to you.
We are also part of the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you happen to want to read an incredible book about sailing the same rivers and waterways we’re sailing now, follow this link to The Magic of the Swatchways, by Maurice Griffiths (or, in the UK, click here). Anything you buy on Amazon after following that link will also help us maintain our stock of the meaty treats and dried pig’s ears that we use to buy Fuji’s affection now that she has realized that we will probably never have the cushy, luxurious life on land that she feels is her due.