Scuppered !

With plans all made, equipment ready to pack and supplies all purchased, the adventure started to implode. First the new lockdown meant that the second and third nights had to be aborted much to the apparent disappointment of the crew – or was it relief? Assuming we would be okay before the lockdown came into effect, a precautionary telephone call to the Thames Lock, the gateway into the Wey Navigation where the licence was to be purchased, was met with the news that no new licences were being issued and we would not be able to pass through onto the Wey. A hastily convened ‘conflab’ agreed that the much anticipated and planned adventure was not viable in it’s original form and all that we  could salvage was a day on the Thames with suitable destinations for refreshment.

Thus it was that an Uber collected us from Sunningdale and took us to the Shepperton mooring.

Peaceful mooring in the morning mist – the best pictures are, as in this case, not taken by me!

Pumping the rainwater from T/T and readying her did suggest that it would have been a (not impossible) squeeze with all the gear for several days camping. We also had to be careful with the trimming and balance as two fatties and one child had to be carefully distributed. The river was running very fast after the rain but not threatening and the 6hp outboard pushed us along very satisfactorily over the current. Heading ‘upstream’, we decided to motor until we stopped for our first refreshment, then we would row with the current on the return leg.

I feel completely justified in saying that Toad likes the idea of boating but has absolutely no nautical ability and really no inclination towards learning. He paid ‘lip service’ to rowing with Chief Weasel and put little effort into the exercise, dipping his oars only occasionally and then managing to clash and disrupt the more fluid strokes of the Weasel.

Rowing not Toad’s forté

What is more worrying is that he seems intent on making a motorboat purchase, not starting as most enthusiasts do with a manageable small 20 something foot ‘starter boat’ but going ‘big balls’ at over 50 foot. This is totally in character with the Toad and all we can do is advise (ignored), watch and wince.

An example of Toad’s impressive knot tying – will it ever be undone?

One of the planned features of our Wey trip was to be the fishing. This was not to have been the traditional hook and bait type of fishing for real fish but the towing of a bleedin’ strong magnet behind the dinghy intending to catch treasure. This would have been fine on the Wey with little current but with the Thames in spate, it presented a problem when we caught a whoppa. Our progress came to an abrupt halt but pulling ourselves back against the stream, we lost our catch and we will never know what valuable hoard we might have landed. In the event, the sum total of our fishing activities was a tin lid, a NOX canister and lots of rust.

Catch of the day – a tin lid and a NOX canister

To avoid repeating ourselves in this account, I will leave it to the other two to ‘put the flesh’ on the bones of events but please bear in mind that Toad is prone to immense exaggeration and if he had a motto, it would be ‘Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ – I wonder what that is in Latin?

 

Toad writes:-

Firstly; Verum ne impediant et bibamus is the answer to Ratty’s question, secondly ‘Scuppered’ doesn’t even come close to the ‘Omni Shambles’ that Mr Mines oversaw on Tuesday.  Because he had not applied for the Wey license until the 59th minute of the 11th hour; we were all dressed up (especially him) but with nowhere to go.  He had considered continuing to camp but with the pastures beside the Wey Navigation now replaced by a verge under the flyover at Junction 13 of the M25.  This was soon dismissed by the crew.

You will notice from the photo showing Ratty at the rear of the boat, that he looks to be sat in a wheelchair and wedged in place in what Alan has now named the ‘Sunshine Boat’.  We appeared to the casual passer-by to be a ‘care in the community’ day-out or acting a scene from Little Britain with Nick playing Matt Lucas to perfection and dressed like him too.

Matt Lucas in Little Britain
Two carers taking a senile old git out for the day in the ‘sunshine boat’.

So having dialled back our expectations and cancelling all the previous restaurant bookings that we had secured for a waterway we were going nowhere near, we set off with Captain Calamity in control of the outboard.  All was going well for the first 20 minutes until we reached a Lock.  As you can imagine Nick leapt, well crawled off the boat and up the steps of the lock to show us landlubbers how this is done.  Carl and I would remain in that Lock for the best part of an hour chatting to some casual observers (who are now very good friends due to the time we spent with them, see photo below) that were too polite to walk away and even gave us a cheer as Nick finally managed to work the (automated) lock controls and we were off again.

Shepperton Lock with an audience

At this point he informed us that we weren’t going to go through any ‘more bloody locks’ and that would mean we could go no further than Chertsey; a total distance of 2.4 miles or a 6 minute car ride and I’ve taken a whole day off work for this ?????.

I have to admit that I don’t think I have ever laughed so much (for all the wrong reasons) in one day and by the time we chugged gently back to the Shepperton mooring we were ready for beer as the sun was setting on an eventful day.

After a long day, equilibrium is a  bit of a challenge.

Chief Weasel writes:-

Many of you sailing types whom partake of Nick’s watery missives will be already aware that the saying ‘ship-shape and Bristol fashion’ refers to a bygone age when ships entering the Port of Bristol, at the time the second highest in the world due to the dramatic tidal range of the Severn estuary, had to have everything safely stowed away and secured, or at low-tide the cargo would fall violently to one side as the vessels ‘keeled-over’ and everything could be ruined. In the interests of bringing this quote up-to-date, I would like to posit a slight tweaking: Ship-shape and Sunningdale fashion.

The true tale of mini-me-Hejira’s maiden voyage was not one of the sharp frost that greeted us on the morning, the necessary pre-requisite River Wey licence not being obtained, the gathered audience at Shepperton lock spontaneously breaking into applause when we finally navigated through, or the lovely, warming Young’s Special bitter at The Bridge. Nor was it defined by the coxless pairs superbly synchronised rowing stroke, surely reminiscent of our very own Sirs Redgrave and Pinsent, or Toad giving it large on the throttle and performing the boating equivalent of a 200m wheelie. It could almost have been given meaning by the fisherman’s adage of ‘the one that got away’ but even the suspected supermarket trolley sadly got the better of us at the net. No, the tale of this voyage can only be told within the context of Captain Catastrophe’s clothing, his jumper, his pullover and the garment from Hell.

Not overly known for his suave sartorial elegance, our erstwhile second-hand skipper really went to town and arrived in an article of apparel that I genuinely hope the photos do alarming justice to. Pregnant women and people of a weak disposition need to be forewarned.

This is the offending or offensive jumper depending on your point of view. It is by ‘Siochain’ which is of Gaelic origin and means ‘Peace’. Knitted in Co. Wicklow, Ireland and was bought from a craft shop (at considerable expense at the time) in Kilmore Quay when stormbound there, circumnavigating the UK about 25 years ago. It’s very warm and thick. It is a favourite and my ‘go to garment’ in the cold. I will let the readers decide!

Firstly, it was so large that Toad initially mistook it for the night’s tepee covering, only with slightly less shape. Secondly, exactly what colour was it, as to our eyes it comprised every colour known to man, not to mention a pattern of stripes, circles, blobs and all manner of indiscriminate form? Thirdly, had the belligerent bosun, who had obviously dressed in the dark, actually parted with ‘hard-earned’ for it or had some benevolent handcrafter charitably knitted it for someone three times Admiral Ahab’s already considerable size? And what exactly was it made from? Certainly not wool and my best guess would be shipwrecked, recovered and recycled ships’ twine or perhaps an angler’s unscrambled ‘bird-nest’ of twisted line. Imagine turning-up at the office on Christmas Jumper Day and being sent home for going just too far, and you’ll get the picture.

Notwithstanding, three were counted out, three were counted back and tremendous fun was had by all. As Josh McRae once sang ‘With the wind in your face there’s no finer place, than messing about on the river!’

What goes on tour, stays on tour! 😂😂😂

Wind in the Willows

In recent years, in my home village of Sunningdale, there has evolved a group of similarly obtuse, irreverent, but like-minded chaps who enjoy each other’s company, yarning over a pint and the occasional lunch. We have identified with the Kenneth Grahame classic ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as the individuals involved are very well suited to the various characters in the novel. So, those of the ‘Willowers’ that I have coerced into my next little adventure are my next-door neighbour, ‘Toad’ who fits the character perfectly being an effusive, impulsive, gregarious parvenue, given to hyperbolic exaggeration, flights of fancy and outright lies; ‘Chief Weasel’ is a small, hyperactive character who I think you will hear more from if you stick with this evolving blog sequence. I, of course, am Ratty for obvious reasons.

The casual observer would be forgiven for assuming that this is a rather childish, decadent excuse for the consumption of alcohol, gluttonous consumption and the exchange of ‘no holds barred’ banter. They would be right in many respects but as we always have such a laugh, I have decided, in the absence of any genuine ‘Hejira’ adventures this year, to include an account of our imminent, probably ill advised, November cruise under (camping) canvas, along the Wey Navigation in my new (to me) twelve foot dinghy, ‘T/T Hejira’ – pictured here.

Tender To Hejira moored at a good friend’s house in Shepperton. A beautiful still morning on the river Thames. Wonderful autumnal colours and reflections in the still water.

The crew will be 2 ½ Men in a Boat, the half being ‘Chief Weasel’ who does not actually qualify as a fully grown adult because of his diminutive size and the fact that he has never paid VAT on his clothes. He is often solicited for racing tips and has been known to be asked for his ID. ‘Chief Weasel’ crewed on the full size ‘Hejira’ last year with his son ‘Wee Tom’, joining her in Malta and leaving in Corsica via Tunisia and Sardinia. Anyone who followed the blogs for that period will remember that, between them, they added greatly to the entertainment and humour, if largely at my expense.  ‘Chief Weasel’ is an old friend and squash opponent who is, annoyingly, super fit, competing in ‘Iron Man’ events and is no stranger to roughing it having taken himself off on his own, cycling around France. In some ways he is a typical Northerner (he is from Lancashire) holding mis-guided socialist views and hating Margaret Thatcher despite having had huge success in business. I do however share some of his environmental and egalitarian opinions which is at odds with ‘Toad’ who had no shame at owning a gas guzzling Bentley and ‘selfish’ is his middle name. The contrast will become clear as Toad does not really know what he is letting himself in for. Working in the travel industry, he is used to staying in the very best 5* hotels and travelling first class. Up until now, he has never slept in a tent so this will be completely outside of his comfort zone – I understand he is really concerned about defecation! I really do not know where we will stow all of his suitcases.

We have now had a planning meeting (a few pints in the Nags Head) and I have asked them both to write some words by way of introduction: –

 

Toad writes:

It is perfectly true that I have had to invest in a tent, waterproof shoes, a sleeping bag and a lamp for the upcoming adventure as I have previously owned no such items.  I have also been informed that there will be no option for me to ‘dress for dinner’ and my pyjamas and dressing gown are not included in the allowable ‘cargo’.  However, slightly at odds with Ratty’s description of me above; is that I am often assumed to be his (and the other willower; Badger’s) carer.  It has been known for me to watch films at the cinema for free when they spot me with 2 absent minded, elderly buffoons and assume I work for Social Services and am taking them out of the ‘home’ for a few hours.

I have to say my nervousness about our ‘passage’ increased somewhat a few days ago when we went to ‘launch’ T/T Hejira into the Thames at Walton just 10 miles from our homes in Sunningdale.  Leaving, with Ratty at the wheel, we proceeded in completely the wrong direction for approximately 5 miles.  I had previously consoled myself that a chap who can find his way from Gran Canaria to Antigua, under sail, would be fine on a 15 mile long ‘canal’.  I now have my doubts !

Toad checking his erection in my conservatory 🙄 It went up in a couple of seconds, took him ages to pack it away. The complete opposite of his usual experience !

Chief Weasel writes:

Guilty as charged, your honour (words never uttered at Toad’s infamous trial). However, there’s an even more relevant literary classic that shall bear witness to both our travels and our travails.

The original tale, ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome tells of three friends rowing their way along the Thames toward Oxford. The pals consider themselves capable outdoorsmen, though they have trouble with simple outdoor survival skills and tend to find themselves holed-up in local hostelries a little too often. Setting up a tent flummoxes them and cooking on a camp stove proves way too complicated before they eventually ditch the boat and take the train back to London.

Though occasionally at odds with one another, their loyal friendship is shown in the way they are willing to not only share a room at an inn, but also sleep three to a bed when necessary. Along the way, author Jerome K, single, young, and a member of London’s middle-class metropolitan elite (no parallels there then), tells meandering, whimsical and often tipsy tales of the places they visit and sights they see.

Sitting comfortably? Then we will begin…

 

Postscript from the editor:

You will not be surprised that, given Toad’s sensitivities and phobia about defecation, he is insisting that our adventure does not extend beyond a one-night limit. This is totally in line with his character but, with the Thames lock closing half an hour before dusk, it will impose such constraints on our ‘adventure’ as to undermine it even being called an adventure. Chief Weasel has expressed a solidarity with Toad, borne out of some sort of ‘all for one and one for all’ Three Musketeers (how many books will be invoked on this trip?) philosophy. I do, however sense from more recent conversations that Chief Weasel may capitulate and ‘stay with the programme’– a priceless Passepartout!

Clearly being made of more sterling material, I am exploring whether any of my hardy Atlantic crew (we should have been preparing in the Canaries for our Atlantic crossing at the moment) would be prepared to step ‘Unto The Breach’ – and extend the trip into something more worthwhile.

T/T Hejira ready for the adventure on her Shepperton, Thames mooring. The outboard engine belies the intention to row the route.

Hurrah! The doughty Atlantic crew have come up trumps (sorry Stephen, no room for a ship’s doctor on this one) with John Coe and then Richard Cracknell both committing to 24 hours each. This then extends the adventure into something almost deserving of the description with me doing four straight days. I think I may then need a bath!

An account will follow – what could possibly go wrong?

Sandstorm

With France regressing into more stringent Covid restrictions, there is no imminent prospect of paying Hejira a visit and she remains as I left her, halfway through preparations for The Atlantic Project. I have however managed to secure a more formal ‘babysitting’ regime which should provide some comfort and help smooth my sleep patterns.

I have been lucky in that I have several friends with yachts, and they have kindly humoured me with various sailing trips. I have been out with John Coe on his Sadler 26 ‘Selkie’, a couple of times with Richard Cracknell on his Halberg Rassey 31 ‘Esmeralda’, a West Country cruise with Peter Hoade on his Vancouver 32 ‘Firebird’ and with Nick Bullen on the sister Southerly 135 ‘Sea Spine’. They have all been very much enjoyed and I am very grateful for their kindness and indulgence.

On Monday however, I sailed with John Goodall and his son Cyrus on their Series 2 Southerly 135 ‘Istana’ out of the Hamble. We enjoyed a spirited sail on passage to Ryde and John recounted his experience in Ryde Marina a few weeks ago when Storm Alex blew up overnight. The wind was easterly off the sands and he woke in the morning, slid open the hatch and was confronted by this incredible scene.

Istana’s cockpit after Storm Alex.
Sand everywhere

I have never seen anything like it and the sand had permeated every conceivable nook, cranny, and most of the equipment. We struggled to deploy the sails as the tracks had filled with sand and it was like smoke as it was shifted under extreme tension. The winches sounded very gritty and the deck was treacherous as it was recoated with sand dust displaced from elsewhere.

I guess the moral of this story is to always be mindful of one’s surroundings and the possible implications of changing conditions.

I know this is not strictly about Hejira, but I thought it worthy of a post and it was about the experiences of another Southerly 135.

I have previously ‘banged on’ about a ‘3 men in a boat’ type of river trip on a friend’s boat in the absence of any of the planned adventures on Hejira. Unfortunately, extraneous issues have repeatedly scuppered embryonic plans. I can now disclose that I have purchased my own, very elegant, 12-foot dinghy for just this purpose and I am in the process of preparing it for an adventure in November, camping alongside the Wey Navigation.

The pretty little 12-foot dinghy currently being prepared for ‘adventuring’ and to be named ‘Tender To Hejira’.

To maintain the theme (and with good reason) she will be named ‘T/T Hejira’ (Tender To Hejira) so I feel comfortable blogging about it on this website. The writing (which should be embellished by my two crew – warts and all) may have to wait for the circulation to return to our fingers!

Abandoned Plans

My sign off last year was ‘wishing everyone a healthy and happy new year’ having just escaped France (Hejira being moored near Nice) before a crippling strike in December. How very apposite this has turned out to be!

To bring you up to date, Hejira was collected from her berth in January and taken to Antibes for some keel work. During the course of the work, the contractor went bust (I had paid half up front) and I had to accept the work being handed over to another contractor that I had not briefed or vetted. Subsequently the yard itself plunged into liquidation with Hejira in their compound so I had to dash out to Antibes, accept and pay for the work which had been done completely wrong and very poorly. I had to supervise a re-launch and rescue Hejira, sailing her back to Baie des Anges single handed in a gale. There continues to be ongoing issues as a result of the ‘botched’ job and it has been a worry having Hejira just floating unattended for all these months unable to check her over as a result of the Coronavirus crisis lockdown.

My plans to cross to the Caribbean this winter are now in tatters and the thirty plus flights booked into and out of destinations en-route are of no use. The prospects of getting refunds appear to be very bleak but I am hoping to salvage holidays using the flights to Antigua just before Christmas.

I am conscious that circumstances are a lot worse for many sailors stranded around the world and finding themselves in limbo with weather windows closing on them and with little chance of escape. I have corresponded with a couple on a Southerly stuck anchored in a bay off Panama for the last 10 weeks. Now that would test a relationship and one’s appetite for adventuring under sail!

In the meantime, I hope to do some sailing on friends’ yachts in the UK when the restrictions allow and I have the germ of an idea to travel the length of the Thames, from Cricklade to Teddington with crew mate John Coe in his 12 foot Tideway dinghy, camping overnight and just ‘getting away from it all’. If this comes together, I will blog an account (it will involve a lot of rowing – is the spelling the same whether with oars or arguing?) as it should be entertaining.

I happened upon this article in the newspaper last week and it may be of interest. It is about the Joni Mitchell album ‘Hejira’ which largely inspired the naming of the yacht:-

Hejira Album

 

osCA

Credit for this needs to go to Ollie and his mates. I didn’t even know it was going on !

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