Crew Weekend 2 - Eventful...
4 crew. 115 miles. 1 fish. 1 visit to A&E. 23 hours at sea.
The second crew weekend was for those who plan to sail from the Canaries to Antigua in November. My dad, Jeremy and Ed came along, Ian lives in Canada so is excused. Friday dawned wet and thundery, with lightening all around and torrential rain. we stayed inside and ate a leisurely breakfast. Jeremy arrived about 10am and brought the better weather with him, and by the time we departed the rain had stopped, the breeze came up and by the middle of the day we had glorious sunshine.
Sailing comfortably when the wind was there, and motoring when it wasn't, we picked our way across the many channels and sandbanks of the Thames estuary, heading for the Swale, on the North Kent coast, where the remote Isle of Harty promised a well regarded inn and a very quiet anchorage.
During one of the slower sailing stretches, we rigged the rod and line with a spinner on the end. Dad had given us the rod, which he brought in France, and reminded us that he had trailed that line for many miles across the channel and beyond, without a bite. Ten minutes later, the reel was whizzing as the line ran out astern, clearly with an unwilling creature on the end. A battle worthy of Hemmingway ensued. Well, ok, We took a while to work out how the reel worked and drag in the fish, but it was more than a mackerel. We learnt that our little net isn't up to the job, but still managed to land a decent sized sea bass. Swiftly dispatched, cleaned and laid in the galley to await the bar-b-que, which we lit as we approached the anchorage and enjoyed a very tasty meal - that fish was more than enough for the four of us.
The anchorage was calm and peaceful, and the pub beckoned, so we rigged the dinghy and pootled ashore for a pint. Sure enough, the surroundings were very amiable, and the beer was good, as we sat in the garden chatting and enjoying the view. As the little midges got going, we moved inside for a last pint and discovered that they were still serving desert. Treacle suet pudding with custard. Mmmm. As the bell rang for last orders, we left and made our way towards the shore. Going down a grassy bank, Dad slipped on the damp grass and fell awkwardly. What seemed like a simple slip soon turned out to be something more painful and we decided to call for help. The 999 operator was a little uncertain of our location, somewhere in the very furthest reaches of Kent, and some 30 minutes the 'response car' arrived, a very helpful chap in a big volvo managed to find us and agree that Dad should go to hospital. Trouble was that it would be an hour before an ambulance could get to us, but we all decided that we could make space in the car to get him in, without bending his leg, and off he went to Chatham.
The remaining crew got the dinghy back down to the water - with the tide gone out and a heavy dinghy, it's no easy task, and then back on board. We knew that Dad would be lucky to be seen before the early hours of the morning, but he might then be chucked straight out again if he wasn't bad enough for a hospital bed, so we'd have to be there to pick him up. It's a five hour trip by water, so we'd have to get up very early to do that, or do some now, and finish in the morning. Given that we were all wide awake by then, we upped anchor at 01:30 and motored out into the estuary again. On a rising tide, we cut all the corners over the sandbanks, thankful for a calm night and the precision of the satnav, and rested to the anchor again in Stangate Creek at 04:30. A reasonable morning's sleep saw us off to Gillingham marina in the morning, by which time we'd heard from Dad and he had been admitted, and was seeing the specialist before they'd let him out. We picked up a bouy in the river and waited.
Waiting in those circumstances is a long and tedious business. But at least we were in the sunshine on the river, whilst Dad waited in the less attractive surroundings of Chatham Maritime Hospital. the crew passed the time chatting and preparing lunch, and I polished the hull and got some varnishing done. By 3pm, Dad was back, with a diagnosis. He has torn the muscle and ligaments in his thigh, where they attach to the bone, and needs an operation, then six weeks in plaster. The hospital were ready to operate the next day, but Dad decided not to get stuck in a hospital 200 miles from home withno things and a trip across London afterwards, so they strapped his leg to a splint and he rejoined us for the trip back, hopefully to get the operation in Shrewsbury pretty soon.
We dropped our lines and headed back out into the Thames, with the patient happily resting in the cockpit with a much needed beer. we clearly weren't going to be home before 1am, but with a good forecast it would be an easy trip and sensible to get back and work out how to get Dad back to Shropshire. After a hearty dinner - all food tastes better at sea - Dad retired to a bunk and we sailed and motored back. No fish this time, but amazing phosphorescence in the waters off the Essex coast, the bow wave glowed a vivid green as we disturbed the billions of microbes and persuaded them to light up in panic. Motoring up the river on a windless night, we picked up our mooring, had a glass of malt and retired for a long sleep. It had been 24 hours since Dad slipped, and we had covered a lot of ground.
In the morning, we tidied the boat, came ashore, said farewell to Jeremy, adjusted the insurance on Dad's car to let Ed and I drive, and I drove us back to Cambridge. Ed drove Dad on to Coventry, where Mum came out and picked him up. We know have to deal with the ramifications, because with only 8 weeks to go till we depart for the Canaries, it seems unlikely that Dad can have the operation, get out of plaster and be recovered well enough to get across the Bay of Biscay with us. Hopefully he should be fine for the second trip but right now we'll check out our options and see how things go.
Get well soon Dad. We'd like to see you back on board just as soon as you're ready.