Delightful finds

I’m a snooper by nature. Not of peoples’ drawers or cupboards, letters or bills or diaries. I’m a snooper of bookshelves and of film and music collections. You can tell a lot about what you might have in common with someone by browsing along their bookcases or through their DVDs and CDs.

Our Bohemian friend doesn’t have a bookcase here in his cabins in the woods or a neatly alphabetically-ordered collection of films and music. Instead, his entertainments are scattered here and there – in the studio, under and between a stack of glossy bullfighting magazines (the latter related to a recent art project it would seem); in the kitchen, under an egg box containing a single egg of unknown age or behind a bottle of olive oil; in the bedroom, under the bed. The CDs are woefully mixed up, some cases empty, others containing five CDs, none of which belong in that particular case, and free-roaming CDs apparently independent of any case.

So rather than that browsing I usually like to do in a friend’s house (while the friend has gone off to make a pot of tea, change a baby’s nappy, or for some other reason has left me alone in the company of their books, films or music), here in the cabins in the woods, these things reveal themselves at unexpected moments and are all the more pleasurable for it.

When I finally find a saw to cut firewood I discover Brave New World and a collection of selected poems by Pablo Neruda, delightfully presented in their original Spanish on one page with an English translation on the opposing page. I forget sawing wood for half an hour as I dip into Neruda, a pleasure for which, ironically, words fail me. I have long wanted to read Brave New World, so as soon as I come to the end of the novel I’ve brought with me to the house, I embark on reading Huxley for the first time.

I find Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, one of my all-time favourite albums, my own copy sadly lost long ago. A live Mamas and the Papas CD has Julian and me grinning like idiots one night after the kids have gone to bed as we turn the volume up to eleventy-stupid and swoon at Mama Cass singing Wild women.

Amongst the DVD collection I find the complete set of Fawlty Towers. I haven’t watched any episodes yet, but on this upcoming long weekend, I think it might be time to educate the children!! I find both 2001: A Space Odyssy and Moon, neither of which I have seen before, both of which I have wanted to see for a long time and, together with Brave New World, I am in sci-fi heaven. Michael Clayton is here too and Run Lola Run, neither of which I have seen, together with Pedro Almodovar’s (Todo Sobre mi Madre) All About My Mother (without English subtitles, which will be a challenge!).

As I sit on the bed writing this, I notice, for the first time, a stack of CDs and DVDs in amongst our friend’s shoes. A new find. I wonder what delights await me there!

And so, while living in the house of someone as apparently disorganised as our Bohemian friend can be a challenge at times, the disorganisation brings joy and rewards too. I sit by the river in the warm afternoon sunshine, reading Neruda aloud in Spanish, and I lie in bed at night reading Huxley. I decide that Keep the customers satisfied, a song I have overlooked for years, is my new favourite Simon and Garfunkel song (the horns!!) and I look forward to finally, finally, far too many years too late, watching 2001.

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Sunset and moonrise; moonset and sunrise

When we looked at the weather forecast on Wednesday we decided to go for it. We’d been hanging around the river between Falmouth and Truro for a week and there was no sign of the southerly winds abating. We’d had a lovely time – multiple visits to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, two wonderful days in Truro, and a day exploring the parkland at Trelissick House. But we hadn’t set sail from Plymouth to wile away our summer in mid-Cornwall, no matter how beautiful it is.

Throughout Wednesday we made our preparations and at 5.16pm we slipped our lines and were on our way. I made supper while Julian helmed us out of the river towards open water, and with a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise inside us we were properly on our way.

It was a delightful, pleasant and uneventful crossing. Being almost mid-summer, Julian and the girls were fast asleep long before sunset, while I took the first watch. The almost full moon rose bright to the south-east, as the sun set towards the north-west. With the moon so bright, only the two or three brightest stars shone in the sky, as it never got truly dark.

Moon set

Moon set

We sailed for a while, but when the wind died completely we found ourselves bobbing around going nowhere, and we were forced to motor. Even then, the apparent wind read only two or three knots. I cruised along, feasting on Pringles and Jaffa Cakes and was much relieved to see Julian’s face appear in the companionway shortly after midnight.

I got three hours sleep and was up again at 3.15am and Julian returned to bed. A big mug of strong tea, a toasted buttered cinnamon and raisin bagel, and I was geared up for the next few hours.

In the three hours I had been asleep, the moon had slowly passed over to the south-west and the first glimmer of pinky-purple light was beginning to appear on the horizon to the north-east. Over the next couple of hours, the sky gradually got lighter, the moon set to the west and the sun rose gloriously at 5.13am.

The eastern sky just before sunrise

The eastern sky just before sunrise

As soon as the sun rose the seagulls returned, swooping low and gliding over the sea. When Julian awoke at 6.15am, I was more than ready for sleep. I crawled into bed and slept deeply until Lily woke me at 9.40am to tell me she could see France!!

And there it was, the shimmering white sands of northwest Brittany shining under the bright blue sky. Within an hour we were at the leading line for L’Aber Wrac’h, and gently motored up the river, past La Palue and as far up the river as Carina could go, to Paluden. There we picked up a mooring buoy and I promptly fell asleep in the cockpit, the sun warming me and my sunhat over my face for protection.

We’ve stayed up the river for the past two nights, and like it so much, we might stay a little longer. It is quiet and peaceful, the riverbank lush with foliage, and oyster beds exposed at low water. We’ve been basking in the sunshine, finding it hard to believe that we can be comfortably warm in shorts and t-shirts at all times of the day. We’ve gone exploring in the dinghy. Yesterday, Julian and the girls walked along a woodland path to La Palue for crepes with Nutella, and I walked to Lannili to explore. Today, we’ve taken the dinghy to La Palue. Julian and the girls are on the beach right now, and I’m going to join then in a few minutes. Life is sweet!!

The girls making their Father's Day cards and present yesterday evening.

The girls making their Father’s Day cards and present yesterday evening.

In love with the night

There was a time when I feared night sailing. That was before I had done it on my own. I had had a couple of short experiences of sailing in the dark, both times in the company of other, far more experienced, sailors. On my first Channel crossing, in 2005, with Julian, his dad and uncle, I remember reaching Cherbourg after dark, the lights on the harbour wall impossible to pick out from the street and traffic lights in the town behind, at least to my untrained eye.

When we bought Carina and dreamt of sailing long distances, always at the back of my mind was a nagging worry about the probability of having to helm on my own in the dark, while Julian slept. What did I fear? The dark itself, for the most part. That which I couldn’t see. The supernatural, alien lights in the sky…in other words, my own wild imagination.

But those worries never came to fruitition. The first time I helmed alone, in summer 2012, as we sailed from the Isles of Scilly to Ireland, I discovered I loved the dark, the solitude, the vastness of the starry sky. There at the helm, my family sleeping peacefully below, I at first tried to fill the dark with song. I sang song after song, not wanting to hear the silence, until Lily shouted up from the starboard saloon berth where she slept that night, telling me ‘Be quiet Mummy’. So I stopped and relaxed into the sounds of the night – the wind, the waves against Carina’s hull, the sails.

The things that frightened me were very much of this world. I lacked confidence in my ability to gauge the distances or courses of other vessels. The first few times we sailed at night, I called Julian from his slumber with annoying regularity, not trusting myself to make a decision to stay on course, or change course to avoid a collision.

This summer, something clicked. I don’t quite know what, but suddenly I found myself able to read the movement of other vessels by their lights and their movement relative to Carina. I’ve known how to do this in theory for years, but only this summer did I find the confidence to read these lights. And as a result, I experienced one of the most wonderful sails of my entire short sailing career, when we crossed from L’Aber W’rach to Falmouth in late August this year. Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal:

At 1am I took the helm and Julian went to sleep. I spent the next five hours alone on one of the most enjoyable sails of my life.

We were headed due north and at 1am the moon was due south, dead astern. At first it was behind a cloud, but when it came out, huge and bright and luminescent, it lit up the boat like a spot light. I turned suddenly, sure that a large commercial vessel had somehow managed to sneak up on me, so bright was the light. I could even read the unlit electronics display by its light. All night long, as the moon edged across the sky behind me, from south to south-west, it moved in and out of clouds, the occasional darkness of cloud cover giving way to sudden and brilliant light.

A meteor caught my eye, in the sky to the north-east. It streaked across the sky, falling down and down, and then exploded in a flash of white light, brighter and bigger and more magnificent than any shooting star I have ever seen.

There were other vessels, plenty of them. Lights white and red and green, moving along on either side of me and in front of me. West to east first, making passages into the English Channel, and later east to west.  It felt like a game, as I watched for the movement of lights along Carina’s guardrails. I was immensely pleased that Julian could finally sleep through my watch, undisturbed by my worried queries.

Carina raced along at 6.5 to 7.5 knots, barely leaning. At 4.30am, Julian popped his head up the companionway and asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing wonderfully and wanted to keep going until I saw the dawn. He went back to bed and still I enjoyed this magnificent sail, waiting for the first light to appear in the sky.

By 5.45am I had grown tired, and I had already seen the first light in the sky to the north-east. I called Julian and asked him to ready himself to take the helm at 6am. I crawled into bed beside Katie, and slept soundly until 8.30am. Not a long sleep, but a deep and satisfied one.