Boxing Day 2018
Dear “piedaleau” aficionados….hello!
You may have noticed a lull in the blog lately. I’m sure there is a good reason for it, and one day Sarah may explain it to me. Normally, she writes the blog and I take the photos, but this time I guess you are stuck with me…
This time last year Sarah had just got her temporary visa to be in the UK, and we still had pretty much zero sailing experience. We were hunkered down in the boat, a layer of thick snow on the roof, the fire was lit, the Husky was snoring.
One year on, some things haven’t changed; I’ve just lit the fire and Fuji has spread herself cat-like in front of it, stealing its warmth. There is one difference, though….we can sail!
I often think of that first day we sailed the boat, the trepidation and psychoterror. I was reminded of it recently because of the very sad loss of Annalise II, an Oceanic30 identical to ours. I had just met the owner on an Oceanic Facebook group. They, like us, had put everything they had into buying one of these little-known, but thoroughbred old catamarans, with I guess much the same plans we had.
Every owner pictures the worst, trying to come up with scenarios of what would happen if the boat sinks, explodes, flips, is stollen, knowing it could happen to them, just somehow hoping to be the lucky ones who never have to face such drama. Sadly, on their first trip out, whilst moving to their home port, their boat started to break up and water came in. If this had been the end of it, it would still be a terrible event, but it gets worse. Whilst being rescued, the boat rolled on a wave entering the harbour and was dismasted and destroyed. Everyone was safe, but their new home was literally soaking matchwood. For days after, I thought of the images they had sent me after the wreck. Had we made a terrible mistake? Were all these boats falling apart after 40 years?
We talked with our friends Mayra and Aritz in Spain, who on a recent trip found water coming in on their identical boat, Bibaya. These catamarans were built in the early days of the catamaran revolution. They are dinosaurs compared to modern boats, but this has its advantages. They do “slam” (or, as our ASA instructor said in a very unimpressed tone, “that’s a slapper.” Incidentally, in Essex-English this means something much worse…), they are slow compared to modern boats, but they are solid and cleverly designed, take to ground without damaging the rudders or propellers and are very very shoal draft. But, how solid? Ours has a few parts merrily crumbling away, and it is a bit of an enigma structurally.
After a few days passed, I remembered why we bought this strange, odd-looking boat. Everything on it may look wrong, but it works. These were the first catamarans to go round the Cape Horn, damnit, they should be ok! All I can say is we were the lucky ones. I had one principle when we bought PDD: don’t change anything! Rosie Swale had said the boat worked the way it was designed and, until we tried sailing it, nothing was to be altered.
So, after the first season, how has that held up? When we left Ipswich in May, we had never hoisted a sail, we didn’t know we even had a staysail, the windlass was in bits in the anchor locker, and we had just bought an anchor off our Aussie friends Phil and Maree on Red Roo, despite the fact that Phil told us, “I don’t like it! It never sticks!”
Getting the windlass in working order quickly became a necessity. I had worried the 20kg Delta was “too big”. I remember guru John Pennington of Orca fame cocking an eyebrow at this. “You can’t have too big!” he advised me. But..it was! It was bloody heavy! And in any sort of wind it was impossible to hoist. I bought an old-timey drill, and spent a morning profusely swearing, trying to line up four long bolts. After hours, I realised a backing pad (not made by me!) was misaligned AND a thread had been chewed up anyway. But, eventually the windlass was in. It’s only a hand cranky one and I love it!
We got used to sailing the boat and fell in love with it this spring – everything just worked! One morning I decided to take on the staysail (it’s the small sail second from the sharp end on any decent-looking boat). We had a boom and a few nonsensical pulleys blocks and ….rope…. but how did it all work? With help from our friends in Spain and our resident technical and sailing expert Philip of Zingara, pop! It was up. The difference was amazing. Tacking was so fluid, and the self-tacking staysail had a wonderful character of its own. It felt like the sails were old friends, singing together again!
Lazily, we took over a secret bay. This empty, sheltered beach became our home for the summer. Drying out daily, weathering the odd storm, becoming pro-anchorers….we alternated between trainee sailors as soon as the tide was in in the morning, and, in the evening, shameless gluttons as Sarah would produce amazing food for us to eat while we gazed at the fire red sunsets, Suffolk ale and wine in hand.
We became used to the tide clock, nonchalant about the anchor alarm, concerned for the dog and physically rounder than the year before. Although we were pretty rigorous, trying different sail combinations every day, beating to wind, testing anchoring techniques and visiting different parts of the bay, we never went anywhere! We decided to set sail for the Walton backwaters our first real trip. And, we loved it so much that pretty soon we dug up our Suffolk roots and headed south. Not too far, but now we had gone to sea just a little and cruised a fair way to get there by our standards.
The Blackwater estuary was amazing. We had a whole new chart to explore, towns we had never been to, and we fulfilled our dream of finding towns you can moor in and get your shopping! Weaving up rivers, we discovered beautiful little parts of Essex that I had never expected to like. I grew up in the same county and never had much love for it! 20 years ago, I used to sail here with my neighbour. He taught me everything I knew, and that’s why I had to start again! But, for some reason, this same area seemed new to me: the sand golden, the fields green and the water…well ok still brown, but a nicer brown. We saw porpoise, rainbows, seals, took the dink on adventures, found free moorings, places to beach, pubs to haunt and antiques to buy! It was looking better by the minute.
We are still there, having decided to winter here after a fruitless road trip to Cornwall. I’ve waffled on too much already, so some more about Maldon next time. There is too much to say- it’s a great place. And, as far as the boat goes…it held up. We have to check a few things just in case, but I poked them pretty hard last year and they didn’t fall off, so I’m confident. One winch is falling apart slowly, one engine got better after some work, and we still need new sails – so on the whole, it was a very good year.
Happy Christmas from us all on Pas De Deux (I’m still confused by the piedaleau thing too, so don’t worry if you are) and a happy new year!
Oh….btw, Fuji the Husky forgave us for making her live at sea. We’ve decided she needs more “a-land” time (as it’s become known) as she gets older and more treats. She agrees.