We are going to be attempting an Ocean Yachtmaster qualifying passage in the coming months. Our last attempt saw us run for a bolt hole, meaning it could not be used as our passage. So, with an ocean passage on the horizon, we’ve been busy prepping the boat, which has seen us invest in a new Iridium system, fit a new cooker, fit a new life raft, do a rig check, and get a new storm and main sail – among other things. It has been a very costly few months!
We’ve also squeezed in some excellent sailing, including a couple of passages to our favourite destination, Dieppe. Last weekend, we had various jobs to do, including fitting lights to our compasses, doing an inventory check for our victualling, and digging out all of the charts. It was glorious weather; scorching hot sunshine, with a light breeze, so we took the opportunity to have a short sail to test out our never-before-used (by us) cruising chute.
Hodge had a cruising chute tucked away from a previous boat he’d owned. The previous boat was slightly smaller, but we figured that the sail would probably still be just about ok for Ruby May, and to have the option of using a kite in light winds would be beneficial. So, we dug it out for a shakedown.
Locking out in the sunshine, we headed out into familiar waters. After informing me that he’d not so much as had it out of its bag, Hodge and I piled the sail on to the deck. A classic cruising chute, it comes in its own snuffer, making it easy to rig and use, also very easy if ever single-handed. We found the head and the tack, but with no sign of the clew, opted to rig it and start a hoist – we’d then be able to grab the clew and work out a plan for the sheets.
Heading up to the bow, we attached a spinnaker halyard and raised the chute up the forestay, size wise it looked good. After a bit of jostling, with the halyard, sail and snuffer, we grabbed the clew. We didn’t have enough suitable lines to rig two sheets, so we attached our preventer line and just accepted that we’d need to juggle things about a bit on the gybe. The winds were so light, it didn’t matter. We hoisted the sail, and looked up as it filled like a balloon. A beautiful bright blue and white sail, it was perfect.
Making just under 3 knots in virtually no wind, we played around with a couple of gybes, kicked off our shoes and let the tide and breeze gently carry us. We were in no hurry, we had nowhere to go. We marvelled at the feeling of not having a deadline to meet, something that is rare for us. Oh, if life could be this simple all the time.
With the sun in the sky, it was also a great opportunity to practice our celestial navigation skills. We got the sextant out and took turns at shooting the sun. Something we’ll need to do during our upcoming ocean passage. Although for us, celestial nav is just a bit of fun, and another ‘tool in the toolkit’, it’s amazing to think that this was how the explorers and adventurers of ‘the day’ used to navigate. I remember reading the story of Shackleton’s Endurance, and how at one stage he couldn’t take a site for days, and then it was in an open top rowing boat in an angry Southern Ocean. A million miles away from us, off the sunny south coast. Incredible.
With that Hodge heard a splashing noise off our beam, looking at me with a slightly bemused expression “was that a whale?” he asked. Jumping to my feet, I glared intently at the open sea. “There! There!” he points, and with that several glistening, black bodies slowly surface and disappear. Pilot Whales? Then there’s splashes, and tails, and dives. It looks like a pod of porpoises perhaps. Unusually for porpoises though one comes completely out of the water before crashing back into the cold sea. It’s a site to behold. These magnificent creatures, gliding past, going about their business. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared, and I feel so lucky that we got to witness them on their journey.
With the suns rays beating down, and a big success ticked off with our lovely cruising chute pulling us along. The cool sea is calling me. I undo our stern guard wire and sit on the swim platform. The water is freezing, I immediately feel my muscles tighten, nonetheless it is refreshing, and a great feeling, with the water whooshing past. Acclimatising, I decide to drop the swim ladder and go a little deeper. At first just my calves, then further and further until I feel the ice-cold water hit my spine – it’s debilitating, and I can’t deny that I wasn’t shrieking, much to Hodge’s amusement. I wanted to go all the way. I briefly popped back on to the deck, grabbed a mooring line and tied it around my waist, with the other end tethered to a hard point. I climbed back down the ladder, and let my body adjust before taking the final plunge. The cold leaving me temporarily breathless, a stark reminder of the staggering danger of ‘cold water shock’. I finally relaxed and let go of the ladder.
There’s something absolutely cathartic about pushing yourself, be it physically or mentally. This unexpected dip in the English Channel did just that for me. I wanted to go in, because I love the sea (I secretly also wanted to be in the same body of water as the porpoises who had not long passed us!), but equally it was incredibly uncomfortable physically, and so mentally every part of my brain was telling me to stop. Yet I ignored it all, and (after a lot of shrieks) took the plunge. And it provided an enormous rush!
Life has a been a little busy recently, with various stresses and strains from many directions, not to mention my beautiful and most loyal companion, my beloved black Labrador of 14yrs being put to sleep just over a week ago. But in the moment, let’s say freezing moment, hanging on to a line off the back of Ruby May, with a huge blue sail flying proudly, everything momentarily paled away.
Experts have hailed the benefits of cold-water swimming on mental health, and I can only agree, I certainly felt the benefit in that moment. Scientists say that it can cause the release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin – I’ll have some of that, thank you.
I played like a child, pulling myself back towards the boat, and then letting go to see how fast I’d drift to the end of my 12-metre safety rope. I pulled myself up the ladder, and then unceremoniously let myself fall back in. I pushed myself to see if I could swim as fast as the boat. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t, but that didn’t stop multiple attempts. It was just me, and the beautiful sea… Along with the occasional jellyfish whizzing past , and of course I was under the watchful eye of Hodge.
Nearing the entrance to the marina, and with the depth gauge starting to fall, it was time to return to reality. Pulling myself up the ladder for the last time, a cold-water shower on deck (warm in comparison to the frigid sea!) washed away the salt crystals. We snuffed our cruising chute and made our way back to shore. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things in life that make us the happiest, draining away the complexities and reminding us that stepping back every now and then brings perspective.