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  • Writer's pictureMark

Lockdown and locked out

Entry No.5

For reasons which I will elaborate on later in this post, we are still in Newtown. Trips like this are about moving forward and leaving places behind so as I type, I should feel a little frustrated about the lack of forward progress shouldn’t I? Maybe yes, but hell no! I have a habit of being a little over enthusiastic about the beauty of what surrounds us whilst sitting on this boat. Maybe sitting on Altor is my version of rose tinted spectacles because come sunshine, rain or cloud there is beauty all around as far as I am concerned.

I had three nights in Newtown in 2017 and it wasn’t enough. I left with a feeling of sadness and said to myself ‘I will be back here’. As good as my word I have returned. Unlike many other situations where you try to relive something only to be disappointed, Newtown has delivered once again. This is a very special place to be. Ok, we have been blessed with beautiful weather and whilst I am conscious not to appear like I’m having too much of a good time in these strange Covid 19 times, the simple truth is that I am and so is Asha! The beauty here is both overwhelming and intoxicating. Let me try to give you a little run down of a typical day here.

Wake at around 7am to the gentle sound of water lapping at the stern of Altor which is about a foot under our heads from where we sleep. It’s chilly onboard in the mornings, usually with around 8 or 10 degrees showing on the dial in the saloon but the heating doesn’t go on. No. Instead the kettle goes on, breakfast is cooked and we migrate upstairs to the cockpit to enjoy what is effectively a conservatory with the cockpit tent in place once the sun comes up.

Breakfast is accompanied by the sound of the family of seals who are very vocal and the youngsters frequently splash about with each other before getting out of the water to laze in the sun. There are countless Terns flying around occasionally diving into the water for fish, Egrets and Oyster Catchers paddle along the muddy shoreline for their breakfast, Skylarks hover over the marshes singing their song, the occasional bass jumps out of the water and the creme da la creme yesterday was a magnificent Eagle that came swooping in, almost blocking the sun, doing whatever it is that Eagles do. He was not welcomed at all by the other birds that all swooped and squawked at him but to absolutely no avail. The Eagle simply stood it’s ground totally unfazed, chilled for a while before flying past Altor and sitting on the outer sandbank that protects this estuary from the rough waters of the Solent beyond. It was again swooped and squawked at in it’s new area before flying off and disappearing in land. I don’t know what type of Eagle it was. I would have thought a Sea Eagle but unless it was a youngster without fully grown plumage, the colours just didn’t appear right to me when I consulted my bird book. Apart from the ‘Navaho Indian recreation series' by Hustler, this was the first time in years I have looked at a bird book which actually contains birds with feathers.

Talking of old school stuff like Hustler, how about this for a tangent? The kids of today eh? They have no idea how lucky they are. When I was a young lad I would happily stop my bike along some roadside to dig out a roughly screwed up page of a ‘bird book’ from a hedge and it would be a highly prized item that got passed around your friends until the paper was like an ancient treasure map which in some ways it was anyway. Nowadays, its all HD, totally free and available at the click of a button. Honestly, they just don’t know they are born do they!

After brekkie, there are always boat jobs to get on with. Being an anal individual, this involves consulting the notebook containing the ‘Routine maintenance’ schedule where, as the name suggests, I have diarised monthly tasks to be completed and ticked off. These are anything from testing smoke or gas alarms to engine service intervals, winch servicing, deep cleaning of the heads, bi monthly cleaning out of galley cupboards or a favourite of mine whenever it crops up on this list is polishing my brass. That always makes me happy and never feels like a chore.

There are, of course, always jobs in addition to the routine maintenance. That is the very nature of boats and there is always a project to be undertaken or a repair to be made. You can thank the salty surroundings for that I assume. Salt might be a food preservative but it has precisely the opposite affect on anything that floats on it. The gas heater stopped working the other day and it turned out that one of the rather large green waves we scooped over the deck on our way to Ramsgate had found it’s way down the chimney and briefly washed the thermocouple connections in the heater with salt water. The little gremlin sat in there quietly smirking for over a week before it decided to show it’s demon like work. When the flame kept going out I had to strip it down which is when I found the powdered salt corrosion on the connections. No drama, just a strip, clean and rebuild and it’s all good again. The thing is that all these jobs are small jobs on paper but on a boat with restricted access to pretty much everything they are all large jobs in practice, normally requiring a minimum of two hours faffing, getting every tool out until you find one that works around corners, upside down with one eye shut and a dislocated shoulder. Then you have to pack it all away and get on with the next five minute job! Just to clarify, this is a description of the reality of life afloat and is certainly not a complaint. This is the life I have chosen and it’s a cracker! Horses for courses, as they say, and this is my version of changing nappies, endless cost, endless work, continual encouragement, worry and nurturing. Notice that I left out any reference to vomit because I have a crew that has proved capable of projecting that special experience my way.

Please also bear in mind that all these jobs translate to ‘playing with my toy’ so they make me happy and when you are doing it in the middle of a tranquil National Trust area replete with beauty in every direction you probably get a good sense of my happiness! Later, in the afternoon sun, we go ashore for some exercise or for a wine run to the local village shop. It’s all about essentials you see. Then we return to the boat, I set my mind to writing some drivel and usually only stop when some wine is forced in my direction.

As for Covid 19, it’s easy to see when you read this that it really doesn’t have any effect on our daily life at all.

However, there is always a rub and here it is. We are being well behaved by isolating in our home but we haven’t been following the guidelines with regard to not moving around. You know my arguments for this and whether they are viewed as relevant, weak or otherwise, they are what they are. There is a part of me that wants to look back on this strange and unprecedented time and say ’Well, we did it our way’.

Our way is getting a little harder and I want to portray it in a ‘fly on the wall’ kind of way and whoever reads this will get to see the results, warts and all. Maybe we will carry on having it our way or maybe we won’t but either way, I will report honestly.

The village shop is a one mile walk away and there is a tap in the corner of a nearby field so we are fine for the essentials. However, we don’t have a way of getting gas here and that is a resource we rely on for cooking and heating. It would be hugely beneficial to us if we could moor on a pontoon near a town and provision properly rather than be limited to what we can carry in a backpack and transport in a dinghy. This means we will need to be in a harbour and this is where the net is closing in….

The marinas in the solent are closed so we wouldn’t be welcome there. I called up Weymouth Harbour to ask if we could go in there for a night or two in order to provision. ‘No, you would not be welcome’ was the reply. I called Dartmouth Harbour and the lady in the Harbour Office was far more helpful than the guy in Weymouth and she said ‘Yes, you can come in but you would need to sign some health declarations, isolate on the boat for 14 days and the local police would want to talk to you’!

That’s a no too then as far as we are concerned because we don’t want to go through all of that when all we do want is to provision and leave again.

I know I am in danger of provoking a negative reaction here but it remains my opinion that we’re not doing anything wrong. In fact, it is not just an opinion. We are not doing anything wrong! We are safer to ourselves and to others than many people are because our interaction or even proximity to other humans is limited to a distance of at least two meters, once or maybe twice a week and that is it. At this stage there isn’t anything other than ‘advice’ that says we should be in port and not moving. We don’t want to be locked down anywhere and we feel selfishly safer by being on our own. The authorities we have spoken to and indeed other people in the marine leisure industry have agreed that there is nothing to stop us from doing what we are doing. We are not breaking laws, merely not doing as advised and isn’t this the beauty of free will? The problems seem to arise when we need to reintegrate and it seems local police would want to talk to us. Why? We haven’t been anywhere other than UK waters and we can prove that by video and photographic evidence, records of our movements on AIS and indeed records with the border force in Ramsgate and the Solent and the Harbour Authority in Chichester.

I don’t feel any bitterness here because we have chosen to separate ourselves from the crowd and whenever you do that in life you are likely to make a target of yourself to some extent. What it does mean is that we have to make different plans which do not involve surrendering our soul to a harbour authority who are being governed by authorities that are unwilling to consider anything other than a catchall approach if you have dared to exercise free will. I did ask a harbourmaster for some specific information and chuckled to myself as he read me ‘the rulebook of advice'. That is as much double speak as ‘Social distancing’ which I feel sure would have made George Orwell proud!

This is going to get interesting but in for a penny, in for a pound, we will leave this place of beauty soon and for those who want to come along for the ride, we will happily share the sailing and any Covid 19 related antics with you.

Law breakers we are not but the ability to listen to advice and then make our own decision is still a right afforded to us and we intend to exercise that right, albeit only once a day!!! 🤪

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