Tuesday, 17 April 2012

It Shouldn’t Happen To A Sailor (4)

Extreme Sailing on Ullswater

April, Lake District in UK, Ullswater lake, land of Wordsworth’s famous daffodils. Gerry has a new boat and can’t wait to launch her on the lake. April can still be pretty raw in these northern regions. Is it Spring yet or is it still winter? The jury is out.

Gerry tows the new boat up from Manchester. The weight of the boat is such that he’s towing at the legal limit for his car  - and the additional gear - rope, anchors, sails, etc makes the rig illegal. One trick he read about though is to pile as much boat-gear as you can into the car. That way, in the eyes of the law, you are not ‘towing’ additional weight; you just have a very heavy vehicle.

This strategy causes some family upset. Gerry’s wife objects to making the trip sitting in the back seat on an anchor with a boat cooker on her lap. A somewhat terse conversation leads to a compromise about the amount of gear that needs to be taken on this first trip and the gear is stripped down to bare essentials. Other, ‘nice to have but not essential’ equipment can be taken on the next trip.

The ground was hard with frost when they arrived. Still, the day was bright and the frozen earth made for an easy haul from the road to lake edge for the launch from the trailer. All went well, the boat was soon floating against the pontoon and Gerry was the proudest of men; probably the first boat owner to launch that season. After a hurried lunch of coffee and sandwiches in the car Gerry suggested a brief trial sail before heading for home.
‘Nothing too long,’ he told his wife, ‘just an hour to make sure the rigging is set up right’
She agreed reluctantly after pointing out that the outboard motor was one of the items left behind in Manchester.
            ‘ It’s OK, we won’t need it.’ Said Gerry, ‘There’s a steady breeze, and we’ll only be out for an hour.’ 

Ullswater Lake is nine miles long; the shores are steep fells side, home to a particularly hardy breed of sheep and not much else. They were half way along the length of the lake, about five miles across the water from their mooring when the wind died. 

By four pm, they were drifting towards the far shore in the gathering darkness of a short winter’s day. No, motor, no paddles, no additional warm clothes.  Even if the boat drifted into the shore, they faced a fourteen mile trek around the lake back to the safety of their car. Gerry studied a map.
‘There’s hotel on the far side.’ He suggested optimistically.’ If we can drift into the shore and secure the boat we could follow a track along the water’s edge. It’s probably no more than a mile away from where we’ll fetch up.’

An hour later the couple were feeling their way along the rough track in absolute darkness. There was no sign of the hotel, which should have been visible by now.
            ‘It’s probably around the next bend’, said Gerry, unable to explain the absence of any welcoming light. They eventually stumbled into the driveway only to find that the hotel was in darkness. It hadn’t opened for the season yet. Nobody home.

Back on the boat, the couple scoured every locker, for anything to add comfort to their miserable lot. No light, no food, no drink, no berth cushions to sleep on, no cooker for heat. Nothing other than the clothes they sat in and a set of keys for a car that was just too far away. Then, just as it seems that things could get no worse… it began to snow.