Beating the running rigging


You can lead halyards aft and convince yourself that you can handle a boat in a blow when sailing alone. The reality is always different. Sailing my Contessa 32 down the Thames I had a cracking close reach down the Lower Hope with a 7.3m giant ebb tide under my keel, but once I was spat out into Sea Reach the Force 6 easterly was bang on the nose and raising a tidy sea over the weather driving tide.
Time to take in a reef. I hove to and dropped the halyard off its winch atop the cabin on the starboard side. Down the mainsail snaked until the halyard fouled a coil of spinnaker running rigging close at the foot of the mast. So up on deck, unfouled the line, then pulled down the first reefing line, but not close enough to the boom because of having to dash back to the helm and let the yankee jib fly as I was getting too close to the shoaling Blyth Sand. I put her about and as the boat headed back out into the deep water started trying to tidy up the mainsail. Now the reef cringle on the luff had jumped off the reef hook on the boom end. No time to ease the halyard again, so I lashed the cringle to the hook. Then back in the cockpit to go about again to miss the Cobalfret ferry driving up river towards its berth under Dartford Bridge.
Now with a poorly reefed main: clew too high, no reef lines round the belly of the billowing sail she wasn’t pointing as high. But at least the furious tide was taking me to windward. Alas the brown seas, topped with cream were now threatening to swamp the dinghy (I was towing the rigid to her new berth on the River Roach).
There was nothing for it, but to run back to the land of chimneys. Arcadian Essex would have to wait.