Monday, 24 December 2007

Preparation for the journey to Montenegro

27 November 2007
I have some trepidation about our journey to Montenegro. This isn’t helped by the amount of safety preparations we are making which focuses the mind on impending doom rather than a great sail in the company of someone who knows what they are doing.

The things I am worried about:

· Whether I am going to get on with Ruairi.
· Not being listened to (see above) or having control over the situation.
· Getting seasick thus unable to operate as crew
· Coping with a watch system – it’s a long enough journey to get very tired but not quite long enough to adapt to only getting 2 hours sleep at a time.
· Being able to sleep at all if there is a lot of movement.
· Sea state – what is it like being properly at sea? Well, I’ve seen what the Atlantic looks like 200 miles offshore when we were on Stavros S Niarchos (tall ship) and the thought of being in that, in a yacht, scares me. But this is the Adriatic – less swell; shorter, steeper waves.
· Storms – what if we bump into one? The weather can change rapidly at this time of year and even if it’s a nice high pressure system, set fine, there is always the chance of thunderstorms/squalls.
· Threat of a knock down – though if we suffer a knock-down and right ourselves quickly with no casualties (either boat, us or dogs) then it will at least be one of my fears experienced and survived so I will be better prepared should it happen again.
· Threat of a capsize – My main worry about capsize is being held under the boat whilst tied on and unable to get to the surface. My automatic reaction would be to attempt to unclip myself (I assume/hope – rather than lose the plot, try to breathe underwater and drown) and attempt to get to the surface. However, most capsizes will right themselves quickly and you would rather hope that you make it back with the boat (god knows how many injuries you sustain in the process but it’s better than being dragged away by the sea). If you unclip, you are a man overboard and will be taken away by the sea with little hope of recovery. A dilemma. I am not convinced our boat is watertight enough to come out of a capsize (for any length of time) without taking on a lot of water. But I can’t worry about stuff like that.
· How the dogs will cope. They are not going to see land for a few days so no walks and no land toilet for Louis (John will go on the swimming deck). They are still quite jumpy from our Frikes/Fiskardo experiences; they’re not happy when the wind howls and particularly hate thunderstorms. Unexpected movement of the boat or banging sends Louis into a barking frenzy. There will be some turbulent weather on this trip, without a doubt. I am very concerned about how they will cope.

Oh, I nearly forgot lightening strikes. I don’t understand how or whether we are sufficiently earthed. I’ve narrowly escaped being struck by lightening twice. Enough said.

I thought I’d feel better once I’d written these down but it’s put the fear of god in me instead. I do feel unusually nervous about this. It isn’t helped by Tim sitting by my side going through the dozens of out of date flares that we have on board. An insomniac wired on caffeine with deadly incendiaries in hand, saying things like “Did you see where I put the one without a top on?” does not make for a relaxing morning.

The journey will undoubtedly be an adventure. You cannot leave port without something unexpected happening and this is one of the truly exciting things about this lifestyle. I would just like to limit the adventure to a level below terrifying. In many ways, it will be fantastic. At last we will get to sail properly. Not just pottering about on the easiest point of sail or flapping around in light winds – we should get some good downwind sailing. I am looking forward to sailing with someone who knows what they are doing. That is what tips the balance for me when it comes to the adrenalin buzz v white-knuckled fear. We will learn a lot; pushing the boundaries far more than we ever would alone.

One positive aspect of our preparation is that it has focused the mind on the dull things that need to be sorted out and keep getting overlooked. Here are some of things that have kept us busy over the last few weeks:

· Got the liferaft serviced. A very interesting exercise as Laurie, who serviced it, took us along to his workshop to see our raft in action. It had been wrongly packed on its previous service and water had seeped in. We got to see it inflated, looked at how to get into it (and added an additional ladder for hauling ourselves in) and sat in it. We learnt that it was a great quality liferaft - £2K worth – so well worth servicing. We went through all the kit so we now know exactly what is in the raft and what we need in our grab bag. Yet to find out how much all this has cost (it will be expensive) but it is money very well spent. Postscript: It cost 428 euros to service! 428 euros! Jesus.
· Put together a grab bag of emergency supplies. You can imagine how much Tim enjoyed this.
· Sewing up the sprayhood as it is on it’s last legs. An arduous task using a huge needle, a hand thimble and strong thread. My mother can attest to my stitching leaving something to be desired so it isn’t pretty. It is a knackered, green and ugly affair which we are getting replaced soon so attention to detail is not required.
· Had custom made lanyards made to my spec – one short line (for clipping onto a strong point while you are working on deck), one longer line to clip onto jack stays when moving around on deck. Thanks to Mark from Neilson for very kindly making them for me.
· Installed new jack stays (secure, strong webbing that stretches the length of the deck which you clip onto when moving around at night or in rough weather). Thanks again to Mark.
· Tightening the guardrails and putting up safety netting to prevent you being washed overboard if you get hit by a wave or slip on deck.
· Tested our VHF radio and re-wired the Navtex so we can reliably get weather forecasts en route.
· Serviced the storm jib and stay sail so we how have an alternative to the roller-furling gear if we have to sail to windward in strong winds.
· Re-installed automatic bilge pump switches (I spent an entire day crouched in the bilges being a wiring monkey but now they work so if the bilges fill up with water to a certain level, the pumps will come on automatically – quite important really!)
· Need to get motoring lights working. Tricolour is working (navigation lights for sailing) but the port, starboard and stern navigation lights (for use when motoring) are all knackered.

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