Still in Leixoes. Walked today to a grand indoor market. A big 60’s building; white, arched, 100 feet tall packed with stalls selling veg and fruit, live animals, dead fish. All housed within glorious light.
The fruit and veg sellers were as usual, all female, short and stout with interesting faces and rough hands. In we walked, the usual arrangement; Olive in the buggy, legs akimbo, grubby face, hair everywhere singing or screaming depending on the mood. Alfi in the papousse on Ben’s back face peeking out with big blue eyes and her chunky thighs swinging around like sausages. We seem to attract a lot of attention. I’m not sure exactly why. Pretty soon the veg women closed ranks and starting talking and pointing and making soft affirmative sounds. So we stopped and let them stare at Alfi and have a squeeze of her sausages.
We went to leave the market but it was raining hard which was the perfect excuse to dive into a bakery where we drank tea and ate portugese cakes whilst Alfi tried to break the sound barrierwith screams of delight whilst Olive pulled all the napkins out of the napkin boxes. As long as the ladies behind the counter kept smiling I thought, we will be alright. And so they did. We ate loads and bought bread and it all came to a pittance…hmm are the girls paying off I wondered?
We walked home, well to the dinghy to row to Dhanu, still at anchor (or so we thought). We saw approaching us one of the French from one of the other boats. We had seen him around with his wife, two small kids and dog. We thought this might be the time that we properly introduced ourselves. Well there was an introduction but only after he had told us that there had been a problem with all the boats at anchor (6 including ours and his). He said there had been a sudden squall and that a terrific wind had got up. He said that out of the 6 boats, 5 had dragged towards the rocks including ours. He said that someone had got on our boat but that it had some damage. That another French boat had a hole in her hull and was in a bad way. His boat was ok but only just.
What??? What was he saying? We had been shipwrecked? What? His English was fine, there was no misunderstandings or mistranslations. Yet my brain was slow to accept the truth of what he was saying. So where was Dhanu now? In the marina he said, with the others. The harbour master had offered us all a free night. Stunned, we thanked him and said we should meet later for a drink. He agreed.
We then ran to the marina office. The man there confirmed that all bar one boat had dragged. Ours had dragged and hit the wall. He believed there was damage. On the obligatory aerial shot of the marina that all marinas seem to have, he showed us how close Dhanu had come to the quay wall. His pencil hovered on the wall. More shock. More realisation that according to these accounts, our adventuring voyage, our home, all our efforts had very nearly ended in splintery smashed ruin. Thank god we were not aboard I thought. We were told that some local men working in the port had boarded her and other boats. We wanted to know who so we could thank them. He said he didn’t know who it was.
We rushed to Dhanu. She looked fine from a distance. Up close we could see that she was not. The metal work around the bow of the boat is called the pulpit to which are attached the ends of the guard rails that run around the boat. So the force of the boat hitting the quay wall had pushed the pulipt downwards and backwards towards the mast. This pressure had caused the pulpit feet (bottom of the posts) to pull up and become separated from the deck. This in turn had released the tension in the guard rails so that they sagged and bowed. As a result the netting (in place to childproof the boat) was also sagging. It made poor old Dhanu look weary. As if her tights were laddered and falling down. Her skirts ripped. Poor Dhanu, yes she was down, but not out.
Moored directly behind us in the marina, were our French friends in La Desirade (Olive’s friend Eden’s boat). La Desirrade had been at anchor too. We could see people in the cockpit including our new friend Brian whom was the first guest at our party a few nights before. He was the other English boat at anchor. We went to speak with them all to find out what happened. La Desirade was ok, they were aboard when the squall came in and moved before they dragged.
It the became immediately clear that it was Brian who had boarded our boat. He explained the following; he had been on his boat. He was just about to have a nap when a squall came in and the wind picked up to 35-40 knots. After a short while he saw Dhanu dragging quickly towards the corner of the anchorage, ie, the rocks. He said he jumped into his dinghy but had to then get the engine on as there was no way he could row given the conditions. That done, he went to La Desirade and asked for Micha to help. Micha could not as he had to get his own boat to safety should she drag having a wife, a small child and a dog on board. Understandably. So Brian went it alone. He said he could see Dhanu still dragging closer and closer towards peril. He arrived and boarded her. He had to find the engine ignition and deal with the anchor later. But he could not find it. He said he was jumping around the inside of the boat cursing looking for it. He was scanning the interior, where is it where the f**k is it…then there, he found the key. Turned it. Engine failed to start. Find battery isolater he said. Find battery isolater. More scanning, found it. Switched batteries. Tried the ignition again. Success! Engine booted into life. He said what a great sound she makes…we agreed. Especially in that tense chaotic moment I thought. Like music. Then he revved the engine to get the hell out of the corner in which Dhanu was about to be pinned. Made up of rocks and the quay wall. He powered away with the anchor still down as there was no time to pull it up. In the kerfuffle of the moment, the bow hit the quay wall and the damage done to the pulpit. Once in reverse he got Dhanu away and out and gone from that corner…then he pulled up the anchor (we all know how hard that is). He jumped back to the cockpit and drove Dhanu into the middle of the harbour. There he tried to re-anchor but failed. So again he pulled up the anchor and again he tried to re-anchor. Again she would not hold. So he quit and motored her into the safety of the marina.
To have done what he did is in my book, frankly, no less than heroic. He left his own boat, which whlist at the time was holding who could say whether this would continue. The fact is he left his own boat unmanned in difficult conditions. (I asked him about this and he said he kept looking back to see she wasnt dragging and she wasn’t. Nonetheless!) Then he boarded a boat he did not know, managed to find the engine, get her to safety, pulled up the anchor THREE TIMES all of which he did alone, with no support and in difficult conditions. And not least successfully. Who cared about the damage?
So a few words on Brian are necessary. Brian has a face that has lived a good and life with plenty of late nights. He has twinkly kind eyes and well worn teeth. He smokes rollies and speaks fluent French. He is small and compact in his form and I suspect very strong. He is British, originally from Scarborough. He has lived in France for the last few decades. He is a climber/skier/sailor/adventurer. As such he must be a thrill seeker past, present and future. He comes across as a modest man who is quick to laugh and slow to take any credit for what he did. I sense he has much to say if he so chose. He is a complete dude. And to top it all, he is sixty bloody two!!! Incredible. We are completely indebted to him. So, please, when you are next having a drink raise your glass and toast Brian. He saved our bacon. Here he is…
Since we boarded Dhanu, we have met a few people who saw the scene unfold. Everyone was consistent in describing the timeframe. It was quick. Quickly did the wind get up and quickly did the boats start to drag. Others saw ours and described a man jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof trying to get her to safety (Brian). All described a sense of dread and sadness watching boats in such a way, vulnerable to the greater force of wind on sea. We also learned that one of the French boats we knew, Antoine & Laures’ had actually hit the rocks, damaged her rudder and sustained a hole in her hull. Theirs is a much sadder story. They are now on the hard trying to repair her. Again as bad as her damage is, it could have been so much worse. Those that witnessed her demise described it as a miracle that she is still in more or less one piece.
Perhaps what is most bad is that the wind took our much used solar panel. It blew off to who knows where. Such a shame as she was producing all the energy we needed. We now need to find a replacement. Grrr.
Ben surprise is that we dragged. He said that he has never ever dragged. The dragging was not the result of being poorly anchored. Had ours been the only boat to drag, maybe this would have been the case. But the fact that all 5 boats dragged tells otherwise. Plus when we left the boat whilst there was some weather about, it did not worry us or concern us that we should stay aboard or move the boat to the marina. Even when it was raining whilst we were at the market, there was no inkling that there was 35-40 knots of wind a kilometre away. It was a very localised intense bit of a weather that no-one could have predicted.
We must count ourselves very lucky as whilst we have some damage, it is not fatal. It has not upset the integrity of the boat thanks to some good decision making a year or so ago by Ben. That is, to screw, not bolt, the pulpit into the deck. This decision came about as a yacht had hit Dhanu whilst she was moored on the River Exe, Topsham. The yacht hit her with such force that it smashed up the pulpit and ripped up the deck. This lead to a big insurance claim and all the metal work having to be replaced and the damage to the deck, repaired. This was all done by Ben. As such Ben decided to screw the pulpit in this time and not bolt it in. Clever Ben. Had he bolted the pulpit in, this time it would also have ripped up the deck. As it is the pulpit has lifted up through the screws whilst the deck has remained intact. Another pat on Ben’s back for this sage decision making.
So as dramatic as the events were, we have got off very lightly. So we are all fine. Dhanu has lived to tell the tale. The dream is still alive. We will think twice when leaving the boat at anchor. And we will always remember Brian.