Our wonderful summer of sailing is now a dim and distant memory. Without my laptop and with only limited access to public computers in France, I was generally unable to keep my blog up to date during the summer. In the past week some followers have been in touch, wondering if my family and Carina are keeping well, and encouraging me to carry on writing. Oh, how I have longed to write. But time has conspired against me. I’ve taken on a new job in the Geography department at Exeter University and preparing for the start of term has been a akin to competing in back-to-back triathlons for three weeks. (Please don’t scoff, my triathlon friends!).
But here I am, delving into my travel journal to bring you new stories from our summer in France.
We departed Fowey, on the Cornish coast on the 2nd of August. Our destination was Roscoff, on the north coast of Brittany, and the weather forecast ‘promised’ force 3-4 winds, occasionally gusting to force 5. We spent the day preparing for our departure, our friend John fishing with the girls off the pontoon, while Julian and I got on with preparing food, running engine checks, and all the myriad little jobs that must be attended to before a long voyage. At 6pm we set out.
The water was a touch choppy as we exited Fowey, but we thought it would soon pass. I served up a potato gratin, and as we ate we began to hear thunder in the west and see flashes of lightning in the distance.
The girls were restless. They wanted to be below deck and then in the cockpit. They wanted to go to bed, and they wanted to stay up. Between serving up dinner and dealing with restless children, I began to feel seasick.
When the storm hit, the girls were in the saloon, and their behaviour changed completely. They sat calmly together, seeming to enjoy the crazy motion of the boat, and perhaps enjoying looking at the range of emotions passing across my face, as I sat in the cockpit.
The clouds grew darker to the west and the thunder grew louder, with intervals between thunder and lightning getting shorter and shorter. With Julian on the helm and John and I sitting in the cockpit, Carina was blasted by wind gusting sometimes to force 8, and sheets of rain pouring down on us. The rain turned to hail, hitting Julian in the face as he grimly tried to hold Carina.
John and I sat under the spray hood, but nonetheless got soaked. Carina was leaning hard to port, creating a pool of water that sloshed under John’s bottom and legs with each side-on wave we sailed over. I got wet from the sheer volumes of rain passing over the boat and from the waves that crashed over us. The waves pounded the boat, growing bigger as the storm passed over. The Cornish coast, moments earlier clearly visible behind us, had now disappeared into the mist and all around us was cloud and rain, thunder roaring like the gods driving tractors across the sky.
My heart pounded with fear, and the adrenelin of battling the storm put paid to my seasickness, and my nausea and headache vanished.
And then we were in the eye of the storm. The rain continued unabated, but the wind died to nothing and the sea was eerily calm. We knew it wouldn’t last. In no time we were into the other side of the storm, the waves crashing, the wind gusting, Julian akin to Ahab, rain pouring down his beard, a look of grim determination on his face. Only the girls seemed immune to it all, laughing and talking as though they enduring such conditions every day of the week.
But soon we could see the sky clearing to the west and as the wind and rain eased, the Cornish coast once again appeared behind us, and we watched the storm roll away to the east. And before long, it had passed over us, the bright skies to starboard in sharp contrast to the forbidding black to port.
Us three adults were cold and wet, and took turns going below to change into dry, warm clothes. But that was the end of the stormy weather. I saw one more flash of lightning at about 3am, when I was at the helm, but with the exception of hard leaning all the way to France, the rest of the twenty-two hour sail passed (generally) without incident.
John certainly received a sailing baptism of fire!