Jonty Pearce relishes his first sail in months after finally getting towards the end of his maintenance list for Aurial

To my shame, it took until last week to take Aurial out for her first sail of the season.

I do not count the two short trips to and from the lifting bay at Dale Sailing for mast lifting and then re-stepping – that was part of the winter maintenance schedule.

Finally, all the commissioning tasks bar one have been completed, and she is a useable yacht once more.

The outstanding job is the creation of a new sprayhood and cockpit tent by Mark; unfortunately ill health has delayed his schedule, so Aurial will have to endure her ragged and tatty old canvas and ripped windows for a few weeks more.

Mind you, bearing in mind that this is the sprayhood whose stitching had been rotted by Mediterranean ultraviolet before we bought her 10 years ago, it has not done badly. Or maybe this is just another demonstration of my maritime parsimony.

Funds had been short after Aurial’s purchase, and one of my economy measures had been to buy a sewing machine and re-stitch all the sprayhood’s seams with nice new U/V proof thread.

I had hoped for a year or two’s delay before replacement became inevitable; it has lasted a decade.

My first job after coming aboard last week had been to refit the refurbished hydraulic keel ram.

With a nice new stainless steel locating pin the job was almost a pleasure compared to the misery of its extraction; the hoses were tightened onto their nice new pipes and then all that remained was to extend the ram and bolt the pulley system onto its top end.

Easier said than done; in the end I had to use a block and tackle to draw the ram shaft out of the cylinder far enough to able to insert the securing bolts of the reconditioned and strengthened pulley assembly.

The electrohydraulic pump needed a refill of over 4 litres of hydraulic oil; this made me ponder just how long the corroded pipes might have been leaking.

My worried face broke into a beaming delighted smile when it all worked perfectly; Aurial is now a lifting keel yacht again and shoal waters beckon. I had not realised how subconsciously bothered I had been by her reduction to a fixed keel boat…

We celebrated with a magnificent relaxing upriver drift under jib and jigger to our favourite retreat above the moorings at Black Tar.

With a fitful wind and winding river we managed to get to Beggar’s Reach before resorting to the iron topsail to make progress, but the peace and pleasure of sail propulsion, albeit slow, was a halcyon reward for all those maintenance hours.

The new Selden Furlex worked perfectly, and I had re-rigged the mizzen correctly. I lay back as Carol helmed up the twisting Cleddau, watching the woods, fields, cattle, and isolated dwellings creep past.

Continues below…

We anchored in the warm evening sun, and sipped Pimms as the sun sank behind the trees. Bliss. We stayed two nights; the next day was spent with much needed boat re-ordering and tidying, along with cutting and fitting new underlay beneath our bunks which duly satisfied our nesting instincts.

We left for another gentle sail downstream back to Neyland, but were diverted by a call from Norry and Hutch who were planning a high tide visit to Lawrenny and thence up to Cresswell Quay and the picturesque Cresselly Arms.

Our gentle progress downriver had been stemmed by the incoming tide, so we furled the sails and motored down onto the pontoon outside the Lawrenny Arms Hotel.

After a swift dose of lubricant, we joined Norry, Chris, Hutch and Colin for the procession up the Cresswell River aboard Colin’s Jolly Lady while Hutch raced ahead in his RIB.

The quay was humming with life; the local Rotary Club was holding its charity Annual Duck Race & Barbecue with live music.

We only had time for a swift jug of ale before the receding tide necessitated our return to Lawrenny for a meal in the last of the day’s sunlight.

With the water level dropping fast, we had to beat a quick retreat back to Neyland to be in time to slip over the Upper Basin cill; we were glad of the 3 knot downstream boost to Aurial’s speed, and then gratified by being able to lift her keel at the essential point.

Even with our reduced draught of 0.75m, there was only 0.5m clearance over the cill, and Hutch, watching from the shore, gave a whoop of delight as we serenely cruised into the basin.

Hooray for a lifting keel! And on Saturday the rain came down, perfectly timed to spoil Angle Regatta.