We waited for favourable tides floating around St. Ives bay for a few hours pulling up mackerel by the fistful and rolling on the fringes of the Atlantic. Eventually the moment arrived and we began to make our way down the last few beautiful miles of the Cornish coast, wistful of leaving such wondrous pasties and cream behind. As we passed Lands End Vic cooked an incredible meal of potatoes and fresh mackerel, who until moments before were swimming in the sea. The captain radioed the coastguard to inform them of our intensions and we were committed and away, facing 530 nautical miles of open seas, open space, waves and weather. With the wind almost to our nose the engine was stoked and we motored outwards.
Our first evening on the Bay was beautiful. The sunset cast colours out across the sky. All through that night we were blessed; a blanket of stars appeared above and phosphorescence (the stars of the sea) glowed beneath us. On Oshan and Garry’s watch, they sighted squid that lit up in the sea stars and beheld Mars rise out of the ocean. Nigel saw a 5foot Turtle raise its periscopic head as it swam past the ship, the sun flashed past the horizon in an orange glow then was gone.
That was the last we saw of the sun for a few days. Rain set in hard and the boat was rocked about by 4-meter high waves. Oshan and the intrepid Sabena began to feel the endless rocking in their stomachs, even Nigel who had been at sea many times weakened slightly. Sabena spent much time in bed feeling fully sick interspersed with her time on watch where she would joke and laugh and sing. In the afternoon Vic managed to balance the sail and lashed the wheel, this meant that the boat began to steer its self. Despite not having to steer, we were bashed about continuously by big waves in the rain. A testing experience.
We were making good speed and the boat was heeling over in the wind so much that the gunwales (top side of the boat) were continuously submerged. It became apparent that we were taking on a lot of water, it sloshed around in the bilges and when we were blown to great angles would wash out over the bunks in the main saloon. Garry bailed it out but it was soon established that the water was coming in as fast as we were bailing out. The consensus was that the water must have been coming in through gaps between the deck and the hull, because we were leaned over so heavily the sea was gently letting its self in. However, it was decided that because of the speed we were making and the distance we had to travel that we would hold course and keep up sail meaning that we would just have to deal with the water coming in. For about 2 hours the krew sustained continuous bailing in the fanatical rocking wet boat before we cracked and decided to change course and bring in sail to ease the baling effort (when Captain Scott sailed on his last voyage to the Antarctic they were hit by such a bad gale that the ship needed to be hand bailed continuously for 4 days). A spare hand pump was rigged up which further eased the situation.
It might have been rough, wet and uncomfortable but the krew were determined to maintain a high level of culinary experience. Paddy used some of the mackerel we had caught the day before to cook up a Goan coconut and fish curry with rice. It was delicious.
That night the fog set in proper and we realised that we were in a busy shipping lane. Onboard we have an incredible machine called Lowrance that tells us where boats are around us, where they are going, how fast they are moving, where they have come from and how big they are. It is a glorious machine and we love it. Through the night, despite the low visibility, we were able to evade all of the tankers and cargo ships trying to run us down. However the sea maintained its lumps and we were thrown about and out of bed, by morning it mellowed a little giving great relief. That day visibility improved and the damp fog and ran abated some. We were visited by many dolphins who would arrive then play around for a while before jumping away. In the afternoon the wind changed around and we were able to turn off our engines for the first time. Mellow gentle joy. We played music and read books and moved along at a steady speed.
We sailed through the night visited again by dolphins who where illuminated under the water by phosphoretic trails, making good speed. Fog came in and the sea got up and all found it hard to sleep, a tension seemed to fill the sailors. On dawn watch Vic and Paddy urged the boat onwards to Spain helped by a gentle wind when; BANG! In less than a moment the mast seemed to half in size and fall with great speed into the water and over the side of the boat held on only by bits of rigging. The mast had snapped! For the krew this was incredibly shocking and disturbing, but there was no time to dwell on emotion, the jagged point of the fallen mast was hanging by the hull of the boat, if we were to be hit by a big wave this could have caused further damage. Within a flash all hands were on deck. The Captain was aware that the safety of his krew was of highest importance so he decided that we needed to get rid of the mast and ordered all to sever the rigging stays, sheets and halliards. We set about disconnecting the mast in the foggy twilight with the big rolling waves. Steadily we separated ourselves until all connection that remained was the forestay at the end of the bowsprit (the pole that sticks out of the front of the boat). Vic shimmied along it undid the last tie and we watched as the mast sank out of view to be lost for ever on the floor of the ocean.
Now the mast stands mightily on the sea bed, 4500 meters below sea level, with prayer flags made in a Tibetan monastery 4500 meters above sea level fluttering out the wondrous names of god in the sub-oceanic currents.
The situation was shit. In other ways we were blessed. All were safe, the boat was safe, we had managed to get rid of the mast without it causing further damage and there hadn’t been too much wind, or too high waves and we had enough fuel to get us to the north coast of Spain. The motor was started and we gathered in the cockpit and sang songs. Back on our way dolphins were sighted jumping out of the water towards us, before long we were surrounded by more dolphins than we had ever seen, all around us they gathered and gathered.
What was needed was porridge. Gazza started making a special batch and realised that the boat was missing a spirtle (a wooden pole/thing used to stir porridge. The winner of Scotland’s porridge competition claims that the key to successful porridge is a quality spirtle). Nigel found a shard of Winnys mast on the deck, fashioned a beauty and the captain made a delicious breakfast.
Some went to bed, others took watch and we motored onwards. La Corunna lay 140 nautical miles away and we expected to reach it in around 24 hours, at around 3 am the next morning. Whilst Vic was on the helm a small plane began to circle overhead. Suddenly the radio erupted with the call “Yacht, Are you in Le trouble?” The plane was communicating us. It was the French coastguard. They checked if we were all right and if we needed anything. All we wanted was to know whether England had beaten Italy in the quarterfinals. Vic thought it unprofessional to ask.
Later we moved through easy seas, sleeping and steering and chatting. An incredible dinner of potato dauphinoise was made in order to soak up some of our vast cheese supply. Sabena relentlessly thrashed paddy at dice. Night drew in.
As we came closer to Spain all were awake on watch eager to experience the last moments of open sea on the Winny. Sharp mean waves began to hit the boat on the beam (side), we were thrown around with vicious intensity and the fog reduced visibility to about 20 meters. Through the murky damp we smelt and then sighted Spain, negotiated past wrecks and into the marina at 3am. Landfall. As we stumbled onto the pontoon and embraced and congratulated each other two beautiful women appeared and embraced and congratulated us. They took us to a madly plush motor pleasure yacht/ gin palace, where we were plied with drinks and given incredibly comfy seats. Surreal. When we had told them our story they ordered us to play them some music. We happily complied and offered a song of safety and relief, played a song of joy, played a jig, until dawn we sat about until one by one the krew left for a well-needed steady bed.
Awake the next morning we began to dry out the ship in the Spanish sunlight, met the lovely marina community, went for glorious showers, and contacted a boat builder. We began to think about what our next steps would be but real answers were hard to find as there was no surety as to when the boat was going to be ready again. Oshan, Sabena and Nigel booked flights back to their respective homes, Vic had vague ideas about trying to find a way back to Iona and Paddy and Garry considered their options; a definite walk to Santiago and to cycle to the holy land maybe…
In the evening the krew took their instruments and went to find a place to watch the Italy Germany game. We found beautiful thin winding streets and an incredible tea house/bar where some people were watching the game on the street on a TV linked up by a wire to the apartment above. Inside the Casa De Té was incredible clutter from around the world and fantastic music from Senegal. We assembled on the street with the locals and drank African chai made with condensed milk and sweet mint tea. The young exuberant proprietor cooked us Chorizo on a metal tray with some sort of liquid fire. All was joyful. After the game we took out our instruments and began to play. A Galician choir was attracted by the commotion and we exchanged songs, the street became full of people, merriment, dancing, with full-hearted voices, rhythms and laughter. Deep into the night we played. After the music we were absorbed lovingly by the locals, new friends were met and plans for further singing and playing conceived. We returned late to the boat for food and rest.
Yesterday, with sadness and fond recollection we said good by to sweet, mighty, gentle, humble, glorious Nigel, who began the long journey home to the wild western tip of Mull. Vic has been enlisted onto the krew of our neighbours incredible gaff rigged ship which will sail to Brest in France on Monday, he just cant get enough of the mighty Bay, this will get him allot closer to home. The mast man came to look at the situation. He took measurements, asked questions and we explored options. According to this man it seems that at the quickest the mast will be ready in a month, the carpenter will have to create a new set up and new rigging. Some of the krew went to explore La Corunna, the city we are moored in. it feels like the first unfamiliar place we have touched down in. Until now our landfall has been British and Irish ports, cities and towns. In Spain people have a different attitude to swimming in the sea to that of the British, whilst in the north we strip off and run howling into the icy water, all frantic and manic, the Spanish saunter down the beach in their swimwear and inflatables maintaining all dignity. The Galician coastline has a similarity to the west coast of Britain; lumpy and ragged volcanic rock formation. However, it is clothed in a gentler shroud of grass and wild flowers.
In the evening wonderful people from the boats around us came for a great dinner; a family from the north of Norway, deep into the arctic circle, who have taken a year out to sail the seas, a loan sailor embarking on a circumnavigation of the globe, a young man with the incredible gin palace that he has called Never Again which he yearns to sell in order to buy a proper sailing boat. We were also joined by two glorious local Spanish girls, met the night before who sing and dance with beautiful Galician passion. We ate and ate, and then took out our guitars, flutes, harmonicas, clavés, whistles, ukuleles and voices and played songs for hours, songs from Ireland, songs from Spain, from England, Scotland, Cuba, songs of joy and wildness. It began to rain so we filled the main saloon with candles, wondrous souls, music and rocked the boat until we were filled with happy weariness.
Today we draw plans of the rigging, rest, explore, and drink coffee. Two local Spanish men came by and told us of the last wooden boat builder in the area and arranged a meeting and offered to come back to translate for us when he comes around. They are pure angels
So, what now? Where will we go? What will happen? How will this pilgrimage continue? What troubles, what joys await us? It is hard to say. We will let you know when we know…