I’m not a sailor, get me outta here!

People who know me and our followers on Youtube will know I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I hate the inappropriate disclosure it encourages, sharing stuff that belongs in the intimacy of relationship or family with abandon. I love that it provides a medium for communicating what is happening in an instance with a huge audience of people. I resisted using social media for a long time in relation to us moving on to Faoin Spéir, my biggest fear was of nasty feedback, not so much for me and Leonard but for Ella and Luke. To be fair that fear has proven to be unfounded and all we have received are good wishes and warm supportive comments.

The other thing I hate about social media is the tendency for it all to be shiny and happy and completely unrealistic. In light of that belief, I was going to make light of our experience on Saturday and carry on with little reference to it at all. Then I caught myself falling into the “shiny happy people syndrome” and I thought people deserve to know what happened and how is impacting on us. There was a lot of distress, fear, disappointment, vomit and relief and more vomit and tears and appreciation for getting into harbour safely.

We set out on Saturday October 1st with a lot of excitement and hope, delighted to be finally setting out on our first offshore excursion. We had some anxiety, being well aware that even with in-depth preparation there are variables outside of our control which could make life difficult for us. We left Crosshaven at 5.30a.m. long before sunrise. Leaving the pontoon under sail in a gentle and quiet movement in what has come to be Leonard’s signature manoeuvre! We negotiated the exit from Crosshaven in the dark by following the markers and buoys and all was fine. Leaving the port of Cork, we encountered force 5 winds on the stern and an Atlantic swell of 3metres, but Faoin Spéir is a sturdy boat not afraid of a small Atlantic swell and Leonard and Ian had her surfing those waves with ease and all three were having a ball. As the sun rose we were anticipating a day of superb sailing and all was well.

Without warning there was a loss of steering. Leonard was at the helm while Ian was down below adjusting the computer which we use for navigating in addition to our paper charts. Ian took the helm and Leonard went below to check what was going on, at this stage Faoin Spéir was beginning to toss about, flailing and floundering at the mercy of the sea. Ian tried to help her along by tweaking the ropes that hold the sails in place with limited success. When Leonard established we had lost helm and we needed to use the emergency tiller, he first went forward and took down the headsail and the mainsail, using a harness and clipped onto the jackstays. Even the thought of this action makes me want to weep with fear. But it had to be done to stabilise the boat otherwise she would have been at the mercy of the wind as well as the sea and the danger to us would be so much greater.

So Leonard fitted the emergency tiller with a struggle, and tried to turn us around for the Port of Cork. We were approximately 15 miles out to sea, that journey was made out in under three hours, but it took roughly 7 hours to get back in. It was rough, we were bounced around, everybody felt sick, it was hard to focus and keep calm. We considered making a May-day call and agreed we would wait five minutes, by then the rudder was working and we started to make way, albeit slowly in the right direction. This time we were working against the tides and heading into the wind, it was horrendous and the vomiting started. There was however, a good side for me which was that Luke and Ella slept through all this and I was very happy that this was the case. Leonard was now steering the boat using the tiller, sitting down below in the back bedroom or aft cabin for sailing folk, unable to see out and Ian was directing him using hand signals because with the engine running nothing could be heard. The pitching and rolling was immense and the vomiting continued. But we did not have the luxury of giving in to the sickness we had to work to get back to harbour. There was an almighty crash down below as one of the cupboard emptied its contents, and when this woke Ella, she emerged from her cabin terrified looking for reassurance. She received some but not as much as we would have liked to give her. She tucked in beside me on the floor of the cockpit and she joined the group vomit. Vomit begets more vomiting. But gradually we were moving towards Cork, bit by bit. As we got into the shelter of land, the swell reduced and the vomiting reduced and the sun became warmer and we began to hope that all would be well for us. And still poor Leonard feeling utterly miserable steered us blindly, occasionally he would stick his head up and steer with his foot to get a breath of air. The extender pole for the rudder did not make it into our possession. Luke joined us in the cockpit having completed his vomit in the toilet and moaned about the fact that he should have risen sooner!

As we got closer to Crosshaven there was palpable relief for everybody, we were getting closer. But we still had some work to do. Crosshaven on a sunny Saturday afternoon brings the world and her mother out to sail and it would appear we met them all in the narrow channel on the way in. Can you imagine driving your car and the steering wheel falls off and somebody sits in beside you and gives you a long stick to steer with, then blindfolds you and tells you they will instruct you where to go and how to get there and now imagine doing that on the motorway on the last Sunday before Christmas and you may have some idea of the stress of the situation faced by Leonard and Ian to get us into harbour safely.

It was all hands on deck, eyes peeled, and clear guidance to get through the channel and onto the pontoon. By the time we came alongside, truly there was not a whole nerve intact between the five if us. When we tied up, the relief was enormous. We were all safe and Faoin Spéir was safe! It felt like we had all survived a long and drawn out car crash.

As I got off the boat, I miscalculated the drop and slipped and fell, my feet ended up in the sea but luckily I had not let go of the stantions, I was grabbed by Ian and Leonard and so saved from total immersion in the sea. However, my mobile phone slipped out of my pocket and now rests silently at the bottom of the deep blue sea. This was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back, I think the terror, the physical hurt and the humiliation of the fall just broke me and I dissolved into tears. Poor Luke and Ella were getting distressed so I left to get myself together. Ian took the kids for food and Leonard and I chatted for a while. I took some time alone too and gathered myself together. We all did in our own way!

We had a scare, it has left us shaken somewhat, and has raised some issues. We are disappointed not to be in the Scilly Isles and en route to France. We have worked so hard for four years in the pursuit of this dream and now it feels like we are stuck. It also feels wrong to whine, we are all safe and well and Faoin Spéir is in tip top form. We managed a very tough situation and kept calm finding the answer and working patiently despite our fear and sickness and I am proud of us. A bit of me wants to give up and go home, a bit of me wants to continue on our journey but mostly I am just tired and I want to sleep. We have since discovered that the cable in the helm snapped, probably fatigue after 42 years of extensive sailing, we are trying to replace it as I speak. And then, we will get back on the horse and try again.