Back at sea

It is one of the more frustrating attributes of the human condition that we always want what we cannot have. Or, phrased differently, the metaphorical grass is always greener on the other side of the metaphorical, erm, fence? River?

The are times when sailing – admittedly these times tend to coincide with somewhat adverse conditions – that one would be willing to offer oneself up as some form of human sacrifice just to be safely ensconced on land with a warm shower, a level, stationary bed and access to all the hot food and beverages our land-based kitchens can produce.

This means the initial return home from being at sea is a total delight. You luxuriate in the space, the soft furnishings, the absence of dampness, in the abundance of hot water, crisp bed linen, Netflix, Deliveroo.

In the freedom to walk out of your front door without landing in icy seawater.

Being on dry land is a wonderful thing. You don’t realise just how wonderful until you are confined to a boat for several weeks, salty greasiness pervading everything you wear and touch.

But this delight in everyday things calms. The novelty gradually wears off and you begin to take all those small daily luxuries for granted once again.

That’s about the time to head back to sea.

Inevitably, after a few weeks at home, as life settles back into its reassuringly repetitive rhythm, familiar faces in familiar places which you miss so much when away, you begin to yearn once more for the freedom of oceans on your bow.

So, after a month at home sorting through a large backlog of life admin, Pete and I were ready to return to life afloat.

We headed to Yarmouth – the one on the Isle of Wight, not to be confused with Great Yarmouth in Norfolk – to pick up N’Tiana and head west along the south coast.

We were accompanied by our friend Claude, a man who takes such a grave view of the dangers of the sea, he insisted on wearing a life jacket from the moment we stepped onto the Wightlink ferry in Lymington, almost without interruption until he returned on the same ferry to the mainland about 36 hours later. He even slept in it, he proudly told us.

Claude is not generally prone to undue worry about health and safety issues so this sudden show of concern for his self-preservation was a surprise.

Claude is one of those rare human beings – I know a handful of them – who has his own personal deity looking out for him, ensuring he emerges from frequent scrapes unharmed. Most of us cannot often rely on this divine intervention to save us and therefore try and avoid such scrapes to begin with. But it seemed that Claude had less faith in his god’s maritime abilities.

He innocently recounted some of his earliest experiences of sailing, most of which seemed to involve narrow escapes from severe injury or death in these very seas around the western Isle of Wight.

One adventure Claude recalled involved his 12 or 13-year-old self and a friend setting off from Lymington in a mirror dinghy. They ended up beaching the small boat somewhere on the Hampshire coast east of Lymington, planning to camp for the night, when the clear proprietor of this stretch of unspoiled coastline came and accosted them.

As Claude told it: “This old chap came along and said something like: ‘What are you two boys doing here? This is my beach.’

“And we said: ‘Ah, hello, pleased to meet you. We’ve sailed here and our boat’s just there. I don’t suppose we could camp on your beach?’

“No!” He said. “You cannot camp here. You can stay in my summerhouse, just there.”

His summerhouse, it turned out, was on a palatial scale far bigger than most people’s primary residence, which left those of us listening who know a bit about property ownership along that stretch of coast convinced that Claude had unwittingly made the acquaintance of Lord Montague of Beaulieu.

Despite his trepidation about the bloodthirsty nature of the sea, he kindly agreed to come along to help Pete and I transport the inordinate amount of luggage we had amassed, including a new generator and other such bulky items.

Once on the boat, Claude pointed out that really, sailing is just ‘posh caravanning’ – one of the best descriptions of the sport I’ve ever heard and one I will repeat readily to anyone who revels too much in the more elitist facets of yachting.

After a riotous evening at Yarmouth’s renowned fish restaurant Salty’s, he left us the next day, disappointed not to have had a sail on N’Tiana but still alive and still wearing his lifejacket, proclaiming, “Safety first” as he boarded the ferry.

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While in Yarmouth the usual boat checks were completed.

We had a visit from a local engineer, who aside from telling us of all the happy things that could mean the engine goes BANG in the next few months, also inspected our teak decks whose caulking is peeling off.

“Yeah, it’s not great,” he said. “But, you know, what can you expect, I mean, this isn’t an Oyster.”

“Erm, actually, it is an Oyster.” We responded.

He offered to throw himself into the murky harbour waters then and there.

Yarmouth is a beautiful little town, sandwiched perfectly between the western Solent and the salt marshes of the tidal River Yar behind it.

For me, a regular visitor since babyhood it is a true home from home. I love the annual return to Yarmouth.

It always starts with a quick inspection to see what new shops and restaurants have opened – La Cucina is worth a visit – what houses are being built or knocked down and what the latest controversy is at the local yacht club – the grandly titled Royal Solent Yacht Club.

Chris is our man on the ground is who is always ready to furnish us with the gossip needed to bring us up to speed on Yarmouth life. As a naval architect who has, at various stages, sailed in most parts of the world in a vast array of vessels big and small, he is also a great person to know if you need any boat related jobs done.

An old university friend of my parents, Chris has endured the annual invasion of the Prynne family rabble, and assorted friends, every August for the last 30 or so years with great equanimity – even in the days when we all used to stay in his tiny flat and he’d find spare babies left asleep in his chest of drawers. He seems to accept that there is a window of time in August when his peace will be utterly destroyed – possibly even enjoy it.

June is a perfect time to visit Yarmouth. By June the town has fully awoken from its deep winter slumber, when it grinds to a virtual standstill.

“In January, you can hear the tumbleweed blowing past,” Chris claims.

But the summer months bring a hive of activity as people flock to the Island for their summer breaks and visiting yachtsmen fill the harbour and the local pubs.

In June, the town has a lively bustle but it has not yet experienced the mad flurry that accompanies the start of the school summer holidays.

Chris waved us off from Yarmouth harbour on Sunday as we decided to brave the fairly unpleasant forecast and catch the ebb tide through the Needles channel to head to Studland Bay, a lovely stretch of Dorset coast just south of Poole Harbour which ends in Old Harry Rocks.

After tacking into the wind and rain for five hours, we reached Studland, finished off the remains of a veggie chilli I had cooked the previous night, and collapsed in bed to the gentle rolling of the boat and lapping of the water.

Entirely content to be back at sea, for now.

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