‘Preparation, preparation, preparation’ as spoken by Sir Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.
Piss poor preparation leads to piss poor performance or fail to prepare, prepare to fail. The last two are cliches that sound a bit silly when you say them but they are relevant and I’m sure we can all attest to the downfalls of not following these rules. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t go to war with nothing but my cock in hand and certainly, when it comes to sailing, I am very anal.
In my opinion this is the only way to be because there really are a million ways to f*ck things up on a boat so readiness for as many eventualities as you can conjure up in your imagination is a worthwhile approach. Yeah, sure you can wing it if you choose and you will probably get away with it for a while too but sooner or later your PPP will indeed lead to PPP.
Unfortunately though, even the best laid plans sometimes go to shite. Asha and I spent two glorious weeks holed up in Newtown. As well as simply enjoying the wonder induced stupor that the place infects you with, I did also have one eye firmly on the weather. Easterly winds are more common early in the year than at any other time but when you are trying to sail westwards along the south coast they should be viewed as gifts from the Wind Gods, received with gratitude and the dividends spent immediately.
That’s easy to say now but I didn’t really abide by this rule. The easterly wind had been blowing for two weeks or more and the forecast just kept predicting the continuation of this gift and because of that, I became a little complacent.
Preparations for our planned passage to Falmouth, and escape from the authoritarian clutches of Weymouth and Dartmouth, were thorough. The 150 nautical mile 24 hour passage was meticulously planned, plotted and prepared for. The water tanks were filled following numerous trips to the tap in the field, engine, steering, electronics and all controls were checked. The night watch rota was set, passage food prepared, the crew was hosed down after the long stint in Newtown and made ready for action again and finally, departure was set for 11.15am on Wednesday the 22nd April.
Captain Bligh ensured the cold efficient execution of the plan and we put to sea at 11.15am precisely!
However, one element was missing. Where the hell was that forecasted force 5 easterly wind? After letting the previous gifts pass us by, we now sat there like a wrinkly old gold digger wishing we had bagged the fresh little upstart that fell at our feet a week before. Instead we waited greedily for the big one so full of promise that never actually came our way so our claws had nothing to dig into.…….
The wind had gone!
There is only so much rolling back and forth in the swell, sails flapping, boom banging, plates, jars and all sorts rattling in their cupboards and no speed showing on the dial that I can stand. That ‘so much’ is actually about five minutes! The engine went back on, the sails were put away and I told Asha that we must be in the lee of the Isle Of Wight and once a few miles further offshore, the wind would fill in.
I was wrong and it didn’t!
I am a sailor, not a motor man. I don’t feel any sense of achievement or satisfaction from sticking the engine on, pushing the autopilot button and motoring in a straight line to a new destination. That destination was still 140 miles away and I wouldn’t allow the misery that burning diesel, listening to the racket of the engine and rolling around in the swell would cause me to be inflicted on Asha too. No. A new plan had to be made and made soon. The option of turning and motoring into the strong tide back into the Needles Channel was not an option at all and once we passed Anvil Head the next port for us was Weymouth with it’s certainty of quarantine at the hands of the bleakly speaking harbourmaster. Not an option either so the only alternative was to detour into Poole Harbour. I had wanted to go into Poole but chose not to because of the usual scaremongering I had read about regarding lockdown, etc etc. At the time of my research Poole Harbour seemed less viable than Weymouth and Dartmouth and you know what those two places would have had in store for us so it was with great trepidation that we turned our bow and motored towards Poole.
Asha thinks I’m paranoid. The first boat on the horizon was ‘Coming for us’ and the helicopter overhead was also ‘After us’ is what I said!!! They weren’t but my paranoia was on high alert because whilst I pay authority the respect that I have to, I don’t much like it! I prefer to sail my own ship and do as I please knowing that, in general terms, I am not a bad citizen. Furthermore, somewhere deep down inside me, I like to believe that the rules don’t really apply to me!
The first good sign was that there weren’t any flashing lights at the entrance indicating that Poole Harbour was shut. The second good sign was that a fishing boat was going in ahead of us. The third sign wasn’t a good one at all and my paranoia was instantly justified. About a mile ahead, inside the harbour, I saw a very fast moving boat following by a second very fast moving object. The speed limit in the harbour is six knots and these two were properly going for it so I knew something was up. Through the binoculars I saw nothing but ominous blackness. A large black RIB with five people dressed in black onboard followed by a mostly black jet ski with another man in black onboard. Yep - here come the cops!
I had my VHF on and was listening to the main calling channel and also channel 14 which is the Port Control channel. No one had tried to call us but now two very fast vessels were coming straight for us. It was very intimidating and in my opinion, one hell of an over reaction! We had obviously been picked up on AIS which I have elected to keep switched on because I have always felt that we are not doing anything wrong so there is no need to try and sneak around. Following the sighting of a cruising boat moving very slowly against the tide, a pretty big police presence had been urgently scrambled our way!!
The jet ski stopped about 50 meters ahead and waved us to a stop while the RIB circled aft of our position and came up alongside.
I started to imagine being in a dark room, bound, gagged, stripped naked, with a ball strapped in my mouth making it impossible to speak whilst being yelled at and interrogated.
STOP IT MARK, I told myself. This was no time to be reminiscing about my first meeting with Asha.
‘Good afternoon! What are you up to’?
I removed my sunglasses because I always think eye contact is the first stepping stone towards establishing calm and trust. I then blabbed like a little school girl! Actually, I was a bit better than that. I did as I had intended to do. I told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I told them that we had been on passage from the Solent to Falmouth but the easterly wind had deserted us so we diverted to Poole and we are moving around because we are live aboard cruisers. I left that detail until last although as I admitted to the policeman, I should have said that first as an early explanation as to why we were aboard a pleasure vessel. He then asked if we had arranged a mooring and I said that we were intending to anchor north east of Brownsea Island and wait for better weather before moving on.
‘OK, you have all the right answers. We might see you at the anchorage’.
That is all that was said. As quickly as they arrived, they left!
We didn’t see them at the anchorage and there wasn’t any ridiculous talk of quarantine or health declarations. I feel sure that records are shared between marine authorities so they would have seen where we had been and that Border Force had spoken to us twice previously and indeed AIS would have shown them where we had come from.
We went ashore the next day, being yesterday, and landed on the pontoon where the police boats are moored. We were not spoken to again and we are currently continuing to isolate onboard, going ashore only for exercise or shopping.
Praise the Lord of sense and sensibility!
Please forgive me for ass kissing but I also want to praise the Marine Police here. There wasn’t any rubbish about confinement onboard, quarantine or questioning other than the perfectly reasonable questions they asked us on entering a port during the ridiculousness that is the Covid 19 crisis.
I have been a pretty reasonable law abiding citizen during my 44 years on this planet but despite this I have seen more questionable, and in my opinion, substandard policing than I have good. That does not seem to be the case here and I am not simply talking about our experience coming into the Harbour. It goes a little further. The vibe on the street feels good and positive. There are quite a few people around and some are definitely spending their time attending to mental wellness by relaxing, chatting, maybe even enjoying pastimes a little and ambling around happily, much more so than in other places where we seen everyone with their heads down, ducking and diving, stern faced, all the time seemingly concerned that the police might crack down on them at any moment for appearing to be having fun or not doing something essential, but not here. People seem to be much more upbeat. There is of course the 2 meters of separation but people haven’t relapsed into the dark ages of grunting at each other and they don’t seem to be looking at one another as if they are about to contract Covid 19 and drop down dead in a split second! Nor does there seem to be the palpable fear that a telling off for something is imminent. Unlike many other people, we have been moving around a bit and we can see a difference. Well done Dorset and well done to the police who came to check on us. This is good policing and you deserve thanks and credit for your work in reducing the ‘them and us’ gap.
We are people, not robots and the human element that the police have displayed here goes a long way! Thank you.
So what’s Poole Harbour like then? Yep - you guessed it. It’s beautiful but more on that next time….
Oh and one final word. We did end up getting a restock of gas thanks to a company on the Isle of Wight called VECTAWARM. We called and they were only too happy to deliver the gas to us at Shalfleet Quay which we could get to by dinghy. They even fitted other delivery times around us as they appreciated that we were restricted by the tide. Super friendly, super helpful, in perfect time for the tide and customer service second to none!
On our way out of the Solent
It all looks a bit calm!
The view from just inside the entrance to Poole Harbour
Dinghy landing on Brownsea Island
Another yacht in the anchorage! That's 7 yacht sightings in a month!