Our blogger Jonty Pearce wouldn't let a little back spasm interfere with his first sail of 2015!

During our Friday evening three hour drive to Aurial, we reassured ourselves that Saturday would dawn still and sunny for our inauguaral 2015 sail. Gladly, it did, though I woke half crippled with a pulled back muscle. It was not quite severe enough to prevent us going to catch up with friends at the Brunel Cafe before leaving the marina while there was still enough depth of water over the cill, but it was bad enough to scotch our plans for an early season visit to Skomer’s South Haven. Mind you, a cynic’s appraisal of the weather forecast (a southerly F4 following a westerly F3) made me doubt the wisdom of staying overnight in an anchorage prone to unpleasant swell in such conditions. In addition, any increase in the wind strength beyond F4 would make South Haven untenable, and the following day’s F7 upheld my caution.

Thus it was that Carol helmed us gently upriver in a variable southwesterly just strong enough to counter the tidal stream emptying out from the upper reaches of the Cleddau river. We passed under the soaring bridge and were immediately buzzed by a hooligan rib passing far too close at maximum speed. Just about to gesticulate our disapproval at this intrusion into our privacy, we recognised friends Norrie and Hutch on their return pass. After the necessary banter we agreed to meet for an upriver evening drink and chilli as long as they brought an onion and some tonic! They zoomed off to finish antifouling Gwennol, and our attempt to continue under jib and jigger continued. I was glad to confirm that I had rigged the genoa and mizzen correctly, but felt that hoisting the main with a back in spasm while the wind performed pirouettes was a step too far, so its deployment check will have to wait for next time.

While Carol enjoyed the wheel, I fretted about the sticking keel (mind you, after drying out it will free itself off as usual), the sticking anemometer (well, stuck, actually – a job for Carol who likes heights), and a newly flickering instrument display. There are always irritations that crop up after a winter’s disuse – these are normal ones, so I put them out of my mind and sat back to enjoy the lush scenery. One of the delights of Milford Haven is the people we meet, and it was a pleasure to come across Ian and Cheryl with their son Matt on their new yacht C-Spirit – they had returned from the dark side of 4 years’ motorboating. Welcome back!

As they peeled off to anchor for lunch, the wind died so I put the engine on and dropped the mizzen, reeling in the genoa as we pootled up past Black Tar to our favoured spot where I woke Carol from her usual snooze.

The peace of our anchorage was overwhelming, and though there was no wind and a bright sun, we erected the Habitent cockpit enclosure in preparation for the evening’s drinks before settling down to a salad lunch with a sleep inducing bottle of white. Lovely, but I had a job to rouse Carol when I heard the buzz of our guests’ rib approaching. Norrie and Hutch used to own a near identical Southerly, and Fender had a lovely time reminding herself of the best places for a beagle to sleep.

We all enjoyed a thoroughly convivial evening despite an ill-timed gas bottle change half way through cooking the rice. As with all really good nights I have no idea what we talked about, but it seemed all too soon that midnight signalled the departure of our guests, safely armed with a good GPS track and a bright searchlight for their 9 mile trip downstream.

The morning that dawned was, as forecast but more so, more like winter than spring. Saturday’s sun and peace had been blown away by a F5 gusting 7, so once I had managed to roll out of bed and painfully dress I press-ganged a sleepy Carol into helping me strike the Habitent before we motored downstream. We were glad to enter Neyland’s shelter, though I underestimated the wind strength as we turned into our berth. We got blown off, overshot, and had to reverse back out – not one of Aurial’s strong points, and I still don’t know how I managed to avoid being pinned against the line of sharp prows on the opposite row of pontoons. It was a relief to berth up safely with no unplanned contact, and a cuppa helped to settle my nerves while I tried to persuade myself that we still don’t need a bow thruster. Apart from in a F7 side wind.

But that’s sailing for you – wonderful in the sun, and curiously rewarding in half a gale. Despite an inconvenient back spasm with a dearth of painkillers (apart from the liquid variety), we enjoyed a social, relaxing, and successful first sail of the season. May there be many more!


Jonty Pearce