With the end of the season approaching, Jonty Pearce considers whether to keep his boat ready for action, or to pack it all away and enjoy the nearest warm pub

I have written before that our Southerly 105 Aurial has not been lifted out of the water since her launch over eight years ago. With Coppercoat protection there is no need for annual scrubbing and reapplication of antifoul, and we are so secure and sheltered in our marina berth in Neyland that there is no pressure to be on the hard for the winter. My seasonal maintenance is largely limited to engine servicing and the removal of canvas and any equipment not screwed to the decks or rails.

The big question for me is always whether to remove the sails or to entertain the fantasy that we might go out sailing during the winter months. The days may be short and cold, but the old adage that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, holds true, and Aurial does have an effective Eberspacher heater. But is the will to sail greater than the desire to protect our sails from the ravages of winter gales? While my work still restricts my sailing trips to hurried weekends after a three-hour drive, the sensible answer is surely no, so each November I bag up the mainsail, mizzen sail, and genoa, batten down the hatches and use Aurial as a winter Welsh caravan. After retirement next March, my attitude may well change. Without the dread timetable requiring my presence in the surgery at 0800 on a Monday morning, the world will become my oyster. A four-day weekend carries far more options than a two day one, and regular winter boat use becomes a more viable option.

Winter sailing does mean that far more self reliance is needed. Most floating pontoons in Milford Haven are removed for safe storage away from the anticipated gales, and many mooring buoys in small drying harbours are lifted. Seasonal businesses close while their exhausted owners recover in Barbados after the summer’s vigorous trading, and visiting yachtsmen are regarded as an unusual species variant.

None of this actually particularly bothers me; in west Wales those who are not confident in the art of anchoring tend to move on swiftly to the south coast, where my bigoted thinking suspects that yachts cruise from pontoon to pontoon with a mouldy length of unused anchorplait rotting gently in the foremost locker. Yet inspiration for winter sailing can be drawn from those hardy few seen to hammer shivering down the Haven to the open sea, and from resolute fishermen whose economic survival dictates that they should be out at sea whatever the weather. Am I driven enough to follow them? My sailing is for leisure, and that means it should be fun. Hair shirts can be itchy, and shoreside pubs are warm, bright, and inviting. Would I prefer to be out at sea beating into a five-metre swell while icy spray flays my face, or sitting nursing my third pint of real ale by a blazing log fire whilst boasting about fierce passages I have never made? The honest answer is, of course, the latter.

But never forget that winter is not dominated by sleet, gales, and ice; some of the best days of the year can be found on a sunny crystal clear December day when the sheer clarity of the air makes our frosting exhalations a mere insignificance. We may be wrapped up warm, but the summer’s heat and humidity falls into second place compared to the sharp freshness of such a winter’s day. Should I leave my sails and fittings rigged to enjoy them? Ask me next year.

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