Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Elemental Living

The life we live aboard our boat is not without it's challenges. Over the last week we have been contending with a series of strong gales that have been sweeping along the Scottish coastline. One of these was particularly severe and it caused plenty of damage to property and infrastructure up and down the country. Only now has power been restored to the worst affected areas a number of days afterwards.

Living on our yacht means that I am acutely aware of the impending gales through the myriad on-line weather forecasting services. This constant attention to the heavy weather forecast ensures that I do what I can to mitigate any potential damage to the boat or heaven forbid, find ourselves floating off across Oban Bay. Each day I have perused the forecasts with a sense of weary resignation knowing that we will be in for a rough time.

We are safely berthed in the marina and I have put extra lines out to make sure that there is no chance we will break our mooring. I have tethered all that needs to be firmly tied down, the foresail is secure and will not unfurl and the mainsail is tight on the boom. The halyards are set in such a way that they won't flog themselves on the mast and contribute with the resulting noise to a sleepless night. Inside the boat we prepare the saloon and galley by stowing all loose items so that they won't fly around and get smashed when the storm hits.

All preparations done, we wait.

I have noticed that there is little build up to a gale arriving - the wind suddenly increases in force and then almost without any warning, the tempest hits us. In a matter of minutes it seems the noise has substantially increased and the boat is heeling away from the blast. Secure on her lines, she is straining to break free and surges with every strong gust. Sometimes she shudders in a movement that I find difficult to fathom. At other times she jerks hard against the lines as a gust subsides for a second or two before slamming into us again. Inside we brace ourselves against whatever we can, stretching our legs out to prevent us sliding ignominiously onto the cabin sole. During the fiercest of gusts it can be difficult to move about without uncontrollable lurches, wildly grabbing for handholds to prevent ourselves crashing into the cooker or the saloon table. All we can do is sit it out. Conversation is difficult and trying to watch a film on the laptop is impossible - even with the hard of hearing subtitles enabled.

Karen tends to head early to our bunk in the for'ard cabin to snuggle herself down under the duvet for comfort and to alleviate any impending sea sickness. I choose to stay up because I cannot sleep. My ears are too alert to the slightest change in tone to the usual cacophony of rattles, bangs and thumps. The noise during a storm like this is incredible to behold. The wind literally roars - but it also roars in varying tones as it thunders over the hill behind us, thumps in a katabatic fashion into the marina below and moans, whistles and whines through the rigging, yanking at halyards and loose fittings, causing these to add to the din as they rattle discordantly against their various boats. The volume of this clamour rises and falls with the strength of each gust and all the while I am tuning in to the sounds that are important to me. Any significant changes to these and I am tempted to go out onto the deck to check them out.

The gales we have been experiencing recently have been unrelenting. Each time they sustain their strength and ferocity for a number of long hours. The force of the wind rarely dips and rises, it remains at a steady unremitting strength throughout the storm. At times, after a few hours of this, it is easy for me to become despondent and to begin to wish for a life ashore. These morose feelings do not linger as I keep myself busy with writing or reading. I get tired but only after the storm has passed. When it appears that the worst is over and there are subtle indications that the force of the gale is beginning to die away, I take myself to the bunk and attempt to find some elusive sleep.

It is a funny thing, but as similarly as it arrived, the gale usually disappears without a whimper. It is as if a switch on a fan has been thrown and all of a sudden there is stillness, The boat is still, The halyards are still. The sea is still. The noise has disappeared. It almost feels as if we have been toyed with and then abandoned, left alone at long last to our own devices, to emerge from our cabin to survey our world around us, checking for any damage.

Thankfully so far we have not sustained any damage to our boat. Each time after a storm I tighten and adjust the lines, also resetting any lashings on the sails. I may readjust the fenders that will have taken the brunt of the force of the boat against the pontoon, but that is really all I can do in preparation for the next storm.

This week we have been coping with a series of strong storms and at the moment there is a period of relative calm. On Wednesday night and through all day Thursday, we are faced with another tremendous storm with wind gusts of up to 69 knots! That is storm force twelve on the Beaufort scale. I sincerely intend to be able to write here that we continue to live unscathed aboard our wee boat and that she remains undamaged, but I am absolutely certain that for those twenty fours hours, all my senses will be finely tuned to the cacophony and the ferocious tumult around me.

This then is the intensely elemental nature of our life on the water and why I am so drawn to furthering my connection to the natural world with my sea kayak journey this summer.

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Best wishes, Nick.