Tiger Moon Day Skipper Course 2003

Diary by Julian Foad

When: 4-9 July 2003

What: Tiger Moon, 34' Bermudan sloop

Where: Plymouth (Sutton Yacht Harbour) - Dartmouth - Totnes - Salcombe - Yealm - Plymouth

Who: Andy Rankin (skipper), Catherine, Julian, Jodie, Holly, Kat, Ben

Why: to sail, sing, study, sunbathe, sup (not necessarily in that order)

It was by the barbecue at Lucy's thirty-three-and-a-third birthday party that Andy mentioned he was going sailing soon and looking for crew.  Would I like to come?  Certainly - what sort of trip?  Well, officially a "day skipper" training course, but really he would do whatever people want to do.  As much instruction as we have time for, or just sail around and find some pretty places to visit ashore.  That suited me well, as I was keen to learn a bit more but did not think I was ready for the whole RYA Day Skipper course.  A few weeks later, it was all organised and there turned out to be a good mix of two novices, three at about my level, and two experienced sailors.

2003-07-03 (Thursday)

I met Andy and Ben and Kat at Reading station and drove them to Topsham (near Exeter) where Lucy and Adrian had kindly agreed to put us up for the night.  I quite like going by train but this time no-one else was driving and the car would be useful for shopping and for getting from Exeter to Plymouth in the morning, as well as saving quite a bit on train fares between the four of us.  And it meant I had room to bring my old guitar.  An evening at Lucy and Adrian's nearly always means a lot of folk songs being sung after dinner, and Catherine and her guitar were already there, and Andy found a violin which he mended and then played upright as if it were a cello.  Somehow between the eating and the singing we fitted in a tour of Topsham, seeing their catamaran "Gratitude" beside a stretch of the Exe just a minute's walk away, and following the "goat walk" along to a bird sanctuary by the Clyst (a tributary to the Exe).

During dinner lots of different 'phones rang, always asking for Catherine.  Even my mobile phone, which I hardly ever use, rang, and a voice said "Hello, this is Catherine's mother" and I laughed and couldn't hear her very well and I think she had to explain twice who she was before I understood that Catherine Rose equals "Kat".  She was concerned at not having heard from Kat (mobile 'phone coverage was poor in that area) and all she knew of me was that I was the driver and I probably sounded like a drunk untrustworthy yob.  Oops.  I felt guilty afterwards.

2003-07-04 (Friday)

L & A had to go to work so we all got up for breakfast at a reasonable hour and left at half past eight.  Adding Catherine's rucksack to our luggage completely filled the boot and the guitars had to ride with the passengers, but it was only about an hour's drive to Plymouth.  Fortunately there didn't seem to be a rush-hour traffic jam.  I pointed out a sign to a "Rattery" but then realised that it was presumably just a place name.

In Plymouth we stopped at the big supermarket for provisions so that we wouldn't have to go back after boarding the boat.  We stood inside and invented a shopping list for the week.  Breakfast: three large boxes of cereal, six loaves of bread ( some fresh and some long-life), sixteen pints of milk, and so on.  We walked out an hour later with two fairly full trolleys and tried to pile £157 worth of shopping on top of ourselves, and it very nearly poked out through the sun roof.  This was patiently endured by all until we found the marina where I went to the harbour master for a pass code and a trolley, and Catherine ran off to get the boat keys from the boat's owner(?), Caroline, in town.  We transferred everything onto the trolley and our backs, and I pointed out a boat beside which we would find Tiger Moon ... but she wasn't there.  Not far away, though.

About midday, after Holly had joined us and we had stowed away some of the stuff, Andy started the engine and said "Let's go!"  To get out of the harbour we have to go through a lock, so he called the lock master on the radio but there was no response.  The radio was receiving OK, but its handset connections were broken.  The hand-held radio had flat batteries, and takes eight hours to charge, and didn't seem to have the appropriate accessory for using non-rechargeable batteries.  Not a good start to the trip.  Catherine went ashore and returned with an old handset which the man in the office had said she could have for spare parts but shouldn't be trusted not to blow the radio up.  She also brought back a new 12V soldering iron which Tiger Moon later paid for and kept.  Andy and I opened up the new old handset and there weren't any frayed or broken wires so we reckoned it safe to try, and it worked, so we just used it for the rest of the trip.

At last we were out through the lock and into Plymouth Sound with its big grey Navy ships and big red and white ferries and

Sail up through the three chain ferries (Holly detects the deterministic pattern) to Saltash, and back to the marina to collect Jodie.

Kat finding the wheel turns the wrong way, only having used a tiller before.

2003-07-05 (Saturday)

Sail East.  Ben sick.

Arrive Dartmouth, where the old Kingswear Castle ferry sticks out of the mud.  The new one gives pleasure trips from the mooring next to Morning Star in Chatham.

Stop on a mooring buoy half way up to Totnes, rowing some of the last mile because there was no wind at all.  It got dark as we approached the buoy.  It's great because Andy is happy for us to drift along, sideways for minutes at a time (with Catherine at the wheel) and backwards for a bit, rather than use the engine.

2003-07-06 (Sun.)

Having learnt tide depth calculations, we motor and sail up to Totnes with Jodie and I practising pilotage by depth and shore marks, and stop there at the Steamer Quay for a quick shopping trip and to send postcards.  Set off back down river by 11:00 so the tide is (just) still rising.

In Dartmouth, practice mooring onto Navy pontoons.  I step onto one to release the rope, and get stranded by the No Mooring sign (with its owl dangling upside down) for a quarter of an hour while they try to approach again.  It was a nice warm textured metal surface with only a moderate amount of dried seagull guano on it.  After that we practice on buoys.

Moor for the night on a buoy (or anchor?) just below the little barge-and-tug ferry.  Jodie, Holly and I calculate that the clearance over the sand bar and the tidal streams will be best in the early morning, and Jodie in particular wants to get up at 3 am and get a couple of night hours.  Andy and the others aren't that keen but we're all up for it, so go to bed relatively early, while it is still light outside.

2003-07-07 (Mon.)

Up at about 3 am.  Clear sky.  A couple of hours of stars before the sunrise which we can actually see despite a bit of cloud on the horizon.

Sail back along the coast to Salcombe

Sail in to Salcombe, tacking through the moored boats in the marina, and anchor at the mouth of Frogmore Creek with only 40 cm of water below the keel.  Jodie has dangled her feet in the water earlier and now wants to go swimming.  Catherine follows; I walk round the deck dangling a fender in front of her so she feels safe.  Then I go in too, and then Holly.  We can't get Ben or Kat to go in, nor Andy.  It is cold but not as cold as the sea, and feels quite reasonably warm after a couple of minutes of continuous breast stroke.  (For some reason I don't like to get my arms out of the water when it is that cold.  Or I don't want to let the water into my arm pits.)  The water is so clear that we can just see things on the bottom, 2 m down.  Jodie and I and Holly wash our hair.

The harbour master, who seemed to have been following us around since he met us and advised us of a mooring place on our way in, comes over and tells Andy that we're not allowed to sail in the marina in July or August.  Holly and I cower behind the boat in case hair washing or swimming are forbidden too.

(Then?) We motor up Frogmore Creek to practice pilotage and see how far we can get.  We get within sight of Frogmore when we touch bottom and have to reverse back down the narrow channel a way before turning around.  Shortly after that Holly asks why we were travelling backwards for a while, not having noticed that we are now coming back down river.

(Then?) Catherine takes Ben and Kat flubbering for a couple of hours while Andy teaches the rest of us dead reckoning and tidal stream calculation and other navigation.

At about six o'clock Andy reminds me that Catherine would like a bonfire, and points out that this is quite a good time and place for one.  We all agree, and pick a nearby bit of shore further up the creek.  We attempt to motor towards it but get stuck after a hundred yards or so, so we just drop anchor there.  We dig out pasta, vegetables and sausages, and make up some squash, and I bring my flint and tinder, and Catherine ferries us all to shore, rowing, with both guitars too.  Ben and Holly play while the rest of us collect wood and Andy makes shavings while I try to select fine dry kindling.  For an hour we fail to get anything lit from my tinder, and I search in vain for pine needles or something really dry.  I do at least find some sharp-edge quartz chunks to supplement my rather awkwardly small bit of flint.

Finally, with the help of Andy's miniature palm trees made by cutting into twigs, and a mixture of my tinders, the flare-up leaves a few glowing embers, and Catherine blows carefully and Kat takes over when she runs out of puff, and the others join in and they get a flame and grow it and keep adding twigs until, very rapidly, we have a fire.

Andy puts the pot of water on and we try to keep it on embers and out of the flames, because it is a nice clean non-stick pot with plastic handles and we know what a horrible black sticky gum the flames will give it.

Kat and I seem to be the only ones with pen knives, so we whittle skewers and chopsticks while Holly chops up the vegetables and the others grill sausages.  The sausages don't stay very well on a skewer, and keep getting dunked in the ashes or catching on fire, but most of them turn out well and are greedily gobbled.

We make a pot overflowing with pasta, sausage and veg, plus the grilled sausages, and Ben is determined to use a fork but Kat will absolutely not allow it.  She has already made him about three pointy sticks; what's happened to them?

While we are eating the tide is coming in behind me, and I have to move away when it reaches within just a couple of feet of the branch I'm sitting on.  Andy had hoped I wouldn't notice it in time.

The food is very good and there is loads left over.  When we stop eating it is dark and we have to tidy up quickly and don't really have time for singing as the water is up to Ben's banked and crazy-paved edge of the fire.  Catherine insists on a quick ceilidh, so five of us dance get-the-girl (Jodie's foot is not up to it) to Andy's guitar playing.

Crabs are scuttling out of the water's edge up to the fire, green ones with shells up to two inches or a bit more across.  I say we should cook one, but no one else really goes with the idea.

The evening ends in a bit of a hurry, Catherine ferrying us back two at a time, Jodie keen to go first and Kat and Ben watching the fire's last breath.

2003-07-08 (Tue.)

Motored out of Salcombe and then set sail.  Very light wind all day and thick mist that cleared in the afternoon.  Rolling motion very unpleasant.  I and most took Stugeron; Kat sick.  Dead reckoning navigation practice for Jodie (out to sea and then back to exactly where we came from - oops), me and Holly, taking us in to Newton Ferrers.  Jodie took bets on when we'd arrive.  Arguments arose later about what constituted arrival but me and Holly got close to arrival at the river, and Kat to arrival at mooring.  Extra chocolate for us after dinner.

Second breakfast is hot dogs, BLT, etc.  Thanks, Andy.  Ben was able to eat a bit but Kat went to sit at the bows away from the smell of food.

Stopped a couple of miles before approaching the Great Mew Stone to do some "man overboard" drills, with Fred the Fender being thrown out the back and each of us taking a turn at driving to rescue him.  Also sailed in circles to demonstrate points of sailing to Ben and Kat, for their RYA Competent Crew.

Going up the Yealm, C & K identified a merlin that flew across the river.  Also buzzards and later bats.

Sailed up past the public moorings which were full, in the evening in almost no wind.  Corned beef hash by Andy, eaten in the cockpit on a private mooring buoy up the Yealm.  Ate all the remaining salad (all green) and then fruit salad.  Bats are flying around and owls hooting in the woods, prompting me to make a cupped-hands owl noise and Kat to demonstrate the rolled-tongue method which the rest of us tried but none of us could get.  Extremely funny watching us try though.  Good singing in the cockpit, me playing the few songs I know, Catherine playing several and singing most, Andy playing several Simon and Garfunkel tunes and others for us to sing along to, Kat playing a good song of hers and Holly singing one too.  Lovely harmonies.  Stars out but it was bedtime - nearly midnight.  Catherine noticed phosphorescence - little sparks of light triggered by spitting, swishing a rope or boat hook, or throwing water from a cup.  Very beautiful.

2003-07-09 (Wed.)

Sail from the Yealm in to Plymouth.  Tidy and clean the boat.  Lunch of all remaining suitable food: corned beef and cheese sandwiches, crisps, coleslaw.  I use a table knife to cut a bit of French loaf open, and slice into my finger: my first injury.  Ben makes a huge double sandwich.  I take a couple of photos at the table; not sure if it's light enough and I haven't fitted my new batteries for the flash.  I take Holly to the station as her train is booked for 12:40, and when I get back my portions of chocolate and cake await me.

We say goodbye to Jodie who goes to the marina showers.  The rest of us drive to Topsham where Catherine retrieves her wallet and Ben's cushion from Lucy and Adrian's garden and then just makes her train by staggering across the railway tracks after the level crossing gates close.

We stop for petrol and to eat the remaining sandwiches and crisps and chocolate at a service station a bit after Stonehenge, and drop Kat off at Basingstoke station, and get Ben and Andy to Reading station about 6:50, an hour later than they had hoped, but they 'phoned ahead and it will be OK.

At home, I type up a brief diary from memory, hoping to go back and expand it later.  Before midnight I fall asleep sitting on the floor, get up again and go to bed.

The next day I go to Waterstones and spend my £40 worth of book tokens (a leaving gift from work) on "The Complete Yachtmaster" by Tom Cunliffe, Ray Mears' "Essential Bushcraft", and "The Last Secrets of the Silk Road" by Alexandra Tolstoy who rode all the way to China with three friends on horse and camel.

All of my photographs from the trip




JAF monogram Copyright: text © Julian Foad, 2003; photographs © Julian Foad, 2003.