In the morning, the weather forecast tells us that a gale will arrive the next day. Holyhead harbour is a bit exposed (in fact the marina was destroyed by the Beast from the East storm in early 2018), so we reckon that we will be better off finding shelter in Douglas on the Isle of Man. The only thing is that we will need to leave pretty much straight away to get there in time.
I take Peter and Joanne over to the shore in the little dinghy. No one is around, but the cleaning lady has promised to be there by 0800 to open the sailing club so they can retrieve their luggage. They have a taxi arranged to take them to the station for the train to London. We say our goodbyes and I head back to Ruby Tuesday. It seems strange to return to a boat with just the two of us. It has been good to see them.
We set off as soon as we have the dinghy loaded on the back. The wind has gone around to the south, so it is directly behind us. It is blowing at about 12 knots, so we goosewing and make a good speed.
The First Mate brings out a cup of tea. I reflect on the last few months since we started our voyage, and how quickly the time has flown. I find my perception of that time has also changed – rather than a series of chunks ordered by the demands of a working day, it is more of a flow – hours glide by, and days merge into one another. Time has not disappeared, but it has settled into a pattern governed more by the earth’s great rhythms – day and night, the flood and ebb of tides, the seasons. In between, the everyday jobs of route planning, sailing, and keeping the boat tidy and in working order keep us occupied. The hourly filling out of the logbook when we are sailing, and the keeping of a diary do provide some structure, but it is easy to forget these, and I find myself amazed sometimes when several days have gone by since the last entry in the diary. We do seem to be less stressed and the sense of urgency is disappearing – if we don’t do something today, it can always be done tomorrow. And we feel better for it.
It makes me wonder if modern civilisation has gone too far in its perception of time and how it must be filled. When we were working, there was relentless pressure to make every moment count – to be doing something, producing something, deciding something, meeting someone. But what did it all achieve? There was so little time to ponder and reflect on the great mysteries of life and appreciate the world around us. Should we all take time out, just to go with the flow? Would we be happier, more fulfilled, more creative, and (dare I say it) more productive in the long run?
Suddenly, out of the haze, I see a large yacht passing in front of us. I check the radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System) and see that it is doing 11 knots. That’s fast, if it is correct! Then I see another one on the screen, then two more, some way behind. It is too hazy to see the actual boats at first, but they are there somewhere. Then the second one appears and passes a few hundred metres in front of us. The crew see us and wave frantically to us. It suddenly dawns on us that we have stumbled into the middle of a race, but this is no ordinary one – it is the Clipper Around the World Race that started in 2017 and these boats are now racing to the finishing line in Liverpool, perhaps an hour away. This is what our neighbour in Aberystwyth marina was heading to see.
An hour or so later, we hear whoops of joy over Channel 16 on the VHF. The voice is unmistakably female and antipodean. We learn later that it is Wendy Tuck, an Australian, who has won the race. The boat we have seen, Seattle, is the second placed, skippered by a Nikki Henderson, a British woman. I tell the First Mate that there is hope for her yet. She ignores me.
We arrive in Douglas around 1800. Entry into the marina is via a lock gate that only opens two hours either side of high tide, and a road bridge also has to be raised. We are told by Harbour Control that the gates will open at 2215 and we can wait until then at the temporary pontoon in the outer harbour rafted up to one of the boats already there. The boat we tie up alongside is called Lady. We think there is a certain symmetry there – a Lady visiting the Isle of Man. Boom, boom!
We cook dinner and relax. Another boat draws up alongside and rafts up to us. It has a dog, a brown spaniel. The dog has been sick. The skipper explains that they have come from Conwy in Wales. It seems they rowed out in a small dinghy to their boat moored in the harbour to do some work on it, but couldn’t get back to shore because it was too rough, and decided on the spur of the moment to go to the Isle of Man instead, as one does. There are a lot of questions I feel need asking on this one, not least on why anyone would do that with an imminent gale warning, but I decide life is too short. The spaniel looks at me sorrowfully. “Don’t ask”, she seems to say.
At 2215, there is a burst of life. The gates have opened, and we form an orderly queue to proceed up to the marina. It is dark, and we follow the lights of the boat in front. We have been allocated a berth at the top of a side arm, which suits us fine. We can see street lights, shops and restaurants, and realise that we are close to the centre of town. We tie up the mooring lines and turn in.
The gale arrives in the early morning. There is an eerie calm beforehand, then the wind begins to blow. We are relatively sheltered in the marina, but the windspeed indicator at the top of the mast reads 50 knots at one point. Then the rain starts. We snuggle deeper into our beds. There is something immensely satisfying about being tucked up warmly and safely while the elements rage around us.