Do dreams come true? Jonty Pearce certainly hopes not after having a very strange one including a Geordie, a rentable helicopter and a sinking ship
In our dreams, and seeking pastures new, we sailed Aurial away to explore more of the myriad nooks and crannies that surround our glorious coastline. The weather was fine, as it always is at the start of these cruises, and the sailing idyllic. Dolphins gambolled around our bows as we burbled over flat seas – sailing at its best. We lounged on the cockpit cushions, well satisfied.
All good things afloat must come to an end, usually as a result of an excess of wind and waves. And sure enough, black clouds appeared on the horizon, rapidly approaching till we had to reef – first one, then two, and then the third before dropping the main, still surfing along at over 7 knots under a scrap of genoa and the reefed mizzen. To add insult to injury, the GPS lost its fix, probably as a result of predicted sunspot activity. The waves built up as if wishing to grace a surfer’s paradise, and our thoughts turned to boltholes.
Our passage plan had already indicated that Shelter Hole would fulfil its promise if the conditions turned adverse. I laid off the course on the chart and presently the entrance was in view. I knew that there was a rock in the entrance, known as ‘Penguin Rock’ to its victims in our Penguin Cruising Club. However the steep cliffs all around promised a good refuge even if landing was prevented by the cliffs and rocks. I obviously tried to avoid the rock, but it was magnetic and I failed miserably, managing not only to strike it but also to get well and truly stuck on it. The tide was dropping, and all efforts to extract ourselves failed. I looked at Carol, and she looked at me. Well, glared really. Aurial was already heeling, and the dinghy was a suicidal option with nowhere safe to land.
I resorted to calling up the Coastguard on DSC, though with no position input due to the loss of our GPS fix, we were soon trying to communicate by VHF. Reception was poor due to the angle of the boat and the high cliffs, and clarity was further compromised by the strong Geordie accent at the other end.
‘Sheeelter Houle?’ Crackle crackle. ‘Yees, Ah know thaat. – we’ll send the leefboot to yeou – theey’ll be theere in footyfive meenutes’. Crackle crackle wheeee crackle.
I remembered that the coastguard had been ‘rationalised’ and that nearly half of the centres had been axed, the nearest one having being one of the casualties. I hoped the pool of local knowledge would be better preserved than that of my local Ambulance service when its call centre had relocated to some 100 miles away. The resulting chaos and misdirection had been justified under the label of ‘efficiency savings’.
An hour passed, and there was no sign of the RNLI. We had settled onto the rock and our concerns were mounting. I called the Geordie back.
‘Deeen’t wurry – they’re weeth you now – joost off the intrance’. Crackle crackle. But they weren’t. I tried calling the lifeboat on VHF. No reply – only the Geordie coming back on the air.
‘Wheere did yeou say yeou were?’ Atmospherics.
‘Sheeelter Houle on Mull?’
‘No, near Anglesey’. There was a silence. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked with concern.
‘I deedn’t kniow that theere were a Sheeelter Houle theere’. Crackle.
‘Well there is, and that’s where we are stuck’.
‘Ee’ll call the RNLI back – theey’ll be twa hoors though. Ee’m afreed ah sint they’m tae the wrung pleece’.
‘I think we might have sunk by then’, I replied, looking at Aurial’s increasing list and the dropping tide.
‘Reeet. We’ll send a choupper out tae yeou tae leeft yeou oaff’
I accepted, as I could see no other safe option. ‘Theey’ll be theere in fufteeen meenutes’.
I prepared the boat for evacuation, hoping she would not slip sideways off the rock and founder. After 10 minutes we heard the reassuring whup-whup-whup of an approaching helicopter, and a lime green machine appeared. However, no Naval or Air Force markings adorned the side – instead the label ‘Rentachopper’ stood out in purple. The VHF crackled into life.
‘Be with you in a sec. Need your credit card number first’.
‘New regulations, new provider. We need a payment to cover our costs’
I glanced at the rising water.
‘I thought SAR services were free of charge?’
‘They were, but the Government had to pull support due to the recession. Efficiency savings. We’re now a private franchise. Now do you want rescuing or not?’
I gave my card details, hoping that the plastic would not melt. The helicopter came up from the starboard quarter, lowering a weighted line. With a bucket at my feet, I reached out to coil the line safely inside when a sudden strong gust of wind blew the weight at the end of the line out of my grip, and with devastating accuracy and speed swept it back at head level.
The lights went out.
I came round to find myself warm and comfy in our berth, uninjured, and with Carol sleeping beside me. Aurial was heeled over, so I went up on deck to find she had dried out at an angle on the gentle slope by the stream in Sandy Haven. There was not a rock to be seen.
I sighed deeply, resolved to see my GP to try to get a cure for these strange nightmares, and went below to put the kettle on.
May I extend my apologies in advance to the excellent rescue services and to all Geordies everywhere.