A Summer Idyll (Or What Foolish Things We Do When Not Skiing)


by Barry Lewis

Paul, my brother-in-law, his son, Richard, and I had "enjoyed" the night sail across Liverpool Bay from Beaumauris on Anglesey to the River Lune. We were taking our 25 foot, twin keeled yacht, Chimo, back to her winter home and the passage had proved more eventful than we might have wished. The confusion between the lights on the gas platforms, the fishing vessels and the dredger had been resolved so that we missed them all. The GPS went down, but we still found the buoy marking the entrance to the River Lune. The mainsail ripped but we could still use a third of it and there was plenty of breeze. But now we could look forward to two weeks (warm!) sailing in Greece, whilst the boat was safe on its mooring. After all, had we not carefully checked all the mooring equipment and renewed parts of it?

Three days back from Greece, and deep in trying to catch-up at the office, a message. Would I phone the Coastguard, urgently! Chimo had gone walkabout and was high and dry amongst the rocks immediately beneath the sea wall at Knott End, within spitting distance of the Coastguard station. The Coastguard said she was only slightly damaged, so far, but that when the tide returned she was likely to be driven onto the sea wall and we would probably lose her. The next high tide was about 1.00 am that night. Brian Richardson (this is what friends are for!) and I set off for Knott End with Jonquil in support. On arrival we soon discovered that the coastguard had not been exaggerating. Chimo stood with her bow just inches from the sea wall. So at least getting aboard was no bother; we just stepped straight from wall to boat!

The auxiliary coastguards had put out an anchor in the hope that it might keep Chimo off the wall as the tide returned. We put out another, the idea being, as the tide came up, to use the anchors to haul ourselves off the sea wall, over the rocks and then back into deep water - and security.

It was, of course, dark whilst all the preparations were being made and when the real action occurred. However, the lights of the Coastguard Station, the car park and Knott End Golf Club illuminated the scene somewhat for the benefit of Jonquil, the auxiliary coastguard and a few curious spectators, who had gathered safely behind the sea wall to watch the antics of these foolish yachties.

As the tide returned, together with an onshore wind, Chimo began to pound on the rocks beneath and the sea wall ahead. Brian and I hauled against the anchors in an attempt to hold her off the sea wall and escape the largest of the rocks. It soon became obvious that we could not keep Chimo off the wall long enough for the rising tide to lift her fully clear of the rocks and so I decided we would have to try and move her out as quickly as possible. We kept hauling, inching seaward on the crests of the waves and banging back down in the troughs. After what seemed an age, the sea had risen high enough to feed the engine cooling system and allow us to start the motor. Terrified of causing greater damage, particularly to the propeller or the rudder, and accompanied by the horrible noise of the keels bouncing on the boulders, we motored gingerly in short bursts out of the waves and away from the surf breaking on the sea wall .... towards deep water. Once clear of the rocks, the noise abated and, with a tangle of cable and rope in the cockpit, we set about checking for obvious damage - leaks even - and then recovering the anchors to which we were still attached. Finally, we were able to notify the coastguard that all seemed well.

Much later that night we got Chimo back to her mooring and tried to sleep until we could get ashore. Jonquil spent a (comfortable?) night in the car. Before going ashore after dawn, we re-checked the mooring gear. In the ensuing postmortem, we concluded that the original cause of our adventure had been a failure on arrival from Anglesey to take sufficient care when replacing part of the mooring gear and one part had failed, thus causing the whole traumatic business. The pin of a shackle which attached the bridle, the chain used to hold the boat on the mooring, had got caught in a link of the chain and unscrewed itself. This could only have happened because, although we had seized the pin, we had not done so properly.

Apart from the severe dent to our own pride, there was damage to various parts of the hull, although nothing structural or immediately threatening. Some equipment in the cockpit had also been broken in the mêlée whilst the anchors, cables and various ropes were being recovered and sorted after our escape. Most peculiarly of all, the cooker door pulled off its moulding, presumably under the shock of the boat's pounding amongst the rocks. All in all, not too bad an outcome having regard to the fact that we came so close to losing the boat completely!

We're now having a plaque made to place in Chimo's saloon echoing the immortal words of a telegram to the children in the Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons". The plaque will read, "If not duffers, won't drown!", but whether it will do any good remains to be seen!

With thanks to Brian.

P.S. The support team's view

At one point I thought my only chance of becoming seriously rich (i.e. a widow) was just about to occur! In fact the coastguard (seemingly aged about 12 1/2 !) confided to me that she was not alone in her vigil. There were lifeboat crews at two separate stations ready to be afloat in seconds at the word from her. The other alarming part was the constant stream throughout the night into the Knott End car park of assorted low-lifes, drug dealers, dog walkers and illicit lovers. At least I didn't have to turn in for work the next day.

Jonquil Lewis