Tuesday, June 21, 2005

To the waters and the wild...

Well, I may be back in the thick of it now, customer service reports drifting into my inbox like electric confetti - but I certainly got the most out of my weekend.

Up bright and early I was (for a Saturday), out the door by 10:10 to meet a very old friend whom I haven't seen much of these last 7 or 8 years. Today, "she who must be obeyed" is "otherwise engaged" at a weekend-long women-only party - which leaves me footloose and fancyfree, and determined to seek Adventure while I may. The old friend - call him Mr. T - was my companion in a particularly venturesome bit of sailing many years ago, and is keen to join me in further such trips. We've booked a high-performance dinghy for 11:30.

Tragedy! We arrive at the cove where our boat is waiting - but the promised wind has not materialised. However, this coast usually develops quite a respectable breeze during the afternoon, so we decide to go for a coastal drive to fill the intervening hours. This particular coast is very pretty, and having only just moved here, I'm keen to seek out its hidden places. The driving is very pleasant - although we are often away from the coast, the inland roads are also very pretty, trees and hedgerows wrapping us in a green tunnel, filtering the sunlight to dappled gold. We reach a small headland, upon which a derelict hotel looks down on a very pleasant beach, golden sand and a clean blue swell. For some reason, surf makes Mr. T slightly nervous - but he very graciously lets me pop in for a quick set or two. I paddle out on a very "friendly" 9 foot board, much more stable than what I'm used to. The surf is a little bigger than I expected, strong enough to drive quite an intimidating rip on one side of the beach, and my first trip out is a fairly strenous business - I have trouble ducking the board under the waves, so that I must go over them. Several spills later, I gain the lineup - the place where surfers wait, a little beyond the point where the average wave breaks, waiting for The Big One. There isn't long to wait, and soon I'm trying for my first ride. Tipping over the rising crest and sliding down the face of the wave, I soon discover that my weight would really have been better employed towards the stern of the board - when the nose slices deep into the trough. What follows is the familiar experience of plunging deep into sand-blackened water, arms tight over the head to protect from a surfboard which may by now have shot clear of the sea like a breaching dolphin, 9ft of Damoclean fibreclass. Back on the surface after only a mild spin-cycle inside the wave, I'm pleased to find the board bobbing to shoreward at the end of my leash and the next wave a safe distance to seaward - literally, I have breathing space.

Subsequent attempts go more smoothly as I pay more attention to trim (balance on the foreward/aft axis): I take the drop from the crest with hands clamped to the rails (sides of the board), rising to my feet only as I clear the foam. Once upright, I do try to steer a little - but mostly, I just enjoy the swift and the airy effortlessness of it, hightened by the contrast of the prone slog of the outward paddle. This early in the day, the hoi polloi have yet to arrive from the city, and the water is pleasently uncrowded - no need to bail out early to save some poor paddler from being run over.

Post-surf, Mr. T tells me how he passed the time - there is a walk that leads west along and above the shoreline, along low sea cliffs. He's see a sea arch, and found a sea cave - I ask him about getting into it at water level, but he doesn't think there is access. I'm taking mental notes...

Back to the sailing centre, and the wind has picked up - not much, but enough. Our launch is smooth, but within minutes I've handed the helm to Mr. T - and we're capsized, drifting quickly to our lee shore. Mr. T is in the water (serves him right!), I'm sitting on top of the hull grinning down, and then I see the crash boat making for us. Oh the humiliation - Mr. T is promptly ordered around to the stern, and I promptly right the boat and begin tidying away the spinnaker I had been attempting to launch at the time of our upset. I also get us back sailing very promptly indeed... and the crash boat allows itself to be waved off.

Mr. T doesn't know how to sail - but he is a quick learner, picking up the vocabulary as required, and soon knows his tack from his gybe, his jibsheet from his main. We even get a little competitive, chasing other sailors - and usually overhauling them - always trying for the weathergauge, always careful of our trim, always testing and adjusting our rig. Although the wind is fluky and light, we make the most of it - the spinnaker is missing its sheets, but gets launched anyway, jury-rigged with a trapeze wire. Fun!

So... a good day, which leaves me somewhat battered (stopped a surfboard with my head at one point) and aching (muscles complaining about the time spent battling waves and hauling ropes) and sunburnt, but very pleased. Think Mr.T and myself will be shipmates again before too long. To be continued...

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