Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Simply messing about in boats

Back from a week of some of this in the Norfolk Broads:

...and I have the bumps, bruises and muscular strains to prove it. Oh, and the liver's taken a bit of a hammering too - yes, even by my (ab)normal standards - but the challenge of being well outside my comfort zone will have done me good, it says here in the life-coach manual. I don't know how many of you have done some sailing, but 20 feet of solid timber boom whipping round at head height is something that isn't part of my everyday life. Another interesting little pastime on Broads yachts - designed to go under bridges - is dropping and raising the mast. The brochures always say this is "simple and safe", but frankly they're lying through their teeth. The theory for dropping the mast says you undo the 'gate' that locks it upright, push gently against the mast with one person on the ropes and pulleys at the bow (or pointy) end of the boat, and another person will be at the stern (non-pointy) end ready to "guide" the mast into the crutches - basically a pair of wooden scissors in which the mast sits when down. The reality is that you undo the gate, and the mast then refuses to go anywhere. You apply unscientific violence and much abuse, and eventually the mast comes down far too fast and one runs the risk of being hammered through the deck of the yacht like a human nail. Bad form, I'm led to believe.

It is at this point that one wipes one's forehead, lights a cigarette, and lolls limply for a few moments thinking about life's sweetness and how you never told so-and-so that you loved them.

Having got the yacht under the bridge, one must - as night follows day - get the mast back up again. By a strange quirk of physics, the mast now weighs some 50% more, and even with the help of the pulleys it feels like one is attempting to raise the whole of Norfolk to the vertical. A later diagnosis from a technical adept suggested - and you'll have to pardon the jargon here - that "well, you 'adn't slackened off the topper-lifts so you 'ad the weight of the boom and gaff an' all." Well, one lives and learns, if lucky. Eventually the several thousand tons of timber is more or less pointing uppards, and one brave soul is told by the skipper to "jump down into the tabernacle and close the gate". What this means is that one gets down into a little hole, right by the currently unsecured counter-weighted end of the mast, and locks it into position. The question that goes through one's mind - should one be of any imagination whatsoever - is what happens at that point if one's crewmate should let go of the rope temporarily holding the mast upright before the gate is locked? I put this question to my more experienced colleagues one evening and was referred to the principle of the mediaeval trebuchet. If lucky, you'd come to ground in the water (so to speak) rather than on terra all-too-firma or somebody's else's boat.

All of this excitement is before one even raises a scrap of sail, which is when things get really interesting. But it's all good fun, and I can recommend it to anyone who's life has got too comfy of late.

Do, however, make sure your affairs are in order before you go. I'm just saying.

1 comment:

  1. Rod Stewart put me off sailing for life, I'm afraid Q.O.

    Still, if he'd mentioned the booze, it might have been more tempting...


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