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Shrink in the Drink update - August

by Andrew Hill-Smith 23 Aug 2023 21:10 BST
Shrink in the Drink update - August © Andrew Hill-Smith

"I wouldn't go," said the fisherman. Portland Bill was all new to me. A thick grey mist was hanging over the Isle of Portland, more suitable for April rather than August and it refused to budge despite a decent South Easterly breeze. Trying to juggle all the details of the back eddies, inner passage, Shambles bank, wind against spring tide and forthcoming storm Betty, meant that my head was in a spin.

I had planned to leave at 0900 but delayed my rounding after taking an earlier fisherman's advice to wait for the wind to drop. He talked knowledgeably about conditions being "nasty" around the other side of the Bill. Waves were breaking over Weymouth harbour wall this morning, he said, and that was before the barricade had become lost in the mist. He gave stories of tides being simultaneously on the flood, then on the ebb and then on the flood again, all within 100m of travel.

I began to feel a little sorry for the sea, and even less at ease myself.

I had hung about for much of the day at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, which is a short scramble over Chesil shingle where I had landed. I spent the time mingling with parents of young and enthusiastic sailors in ILCA skills week which happened to coincide with my arrival. Whilst in awe of the effort and learning commitment to sailing, I was confident that the people I saw were much better sailors than myself adding to an air of intimidation.

Waiting for my wind and tide window was like waiting for an exam, in that you don't want it to happen, but you can't wait for it to be over.

I was invited to stay for prize-giving to share a short word to aspiring youths about my nearly completed Laser-around-the-UK journey. Needless to say, the schedule was delayed, and my anxiety to get going before Betty (my boat) would get taken on by Betty (the storm) got the better of me, and I left.

Getting ready to do the shingle slide launch into the green sea, a third fisherman asked what I was doing. He was not enthusiastic about my intended journey. "I don't have much choice," I said. "I would never get off the shore tomorrow since there will be a SW wind blowing in," which to my mind would make ideal shore dump, boat breaking conditions.

He urged me to "go and take a look" at the appropriately named Pulpit rock, but to come back if it looked too bad. He repeated his request more than once, which was not very encouraging, but at least it was good advice. So, I set off to my doom.

Like opening an exam paper and starting to write, anxiety dissipates when you finally get going. The fear of the unknown fades because you become focussed on the conditions that are in front of you. The danger of what might be, is replaced by the hazards as they present themselves and those hazards travel only as far as you can see, rather than the ocean of scale that you can imagine.

I did wonder what the tourists were thinking as they looked out from the cliffs under a sludgy sky, watching my little white boat beat its way past the light house, just out of reach of the waves breaking on to the rocks. "I hope he knows what he is doing," might have been a thought. I didn't know everything, but I reckoned I knew enough to keep going, so I did, and round the headland we went.

My only planning mishap was to omit my sunglasses, which would have been totally unnecessary for sun protection, but would have provided helpful spray relief for the speedy rolling reach down to the harbour wall, where the waves were indeed breaking over defences. Oh, and in true rookie style, I went through the wrong entrance, but no one could see, because no one could see.

My joy on landing was enormous, feeling a huge sense of relief. The exam was over with answers submitted to the examiners and I figured that was at least a pass. Perhaps I had even earned a skills credit in the process. Not only that, having navigated round the corner, the finish line of Stokes Bay was now in sight.

As I write, I am 99 something percent complete for the journey. One last leg of my Laser-around-the-UK journey is scheduled for the 28th of August from Lymington to Stokes Bay, to arrive at 1600, a date and time set to be helpful for anyone who might want to wave me in.

At WPNSA I had the pleasure to meet Andrew Simpson's sister Amanda who reminded me it is the 10th Anniversary since his early death. A huge amount of effort has been put into the foundation and a great deal of work has followed to improve lives through sailing, and Amanda has been central to that. I was in awe of the dedication and huge respect for a wonderful sailor whose legacy has lived on.

It has been an honour to raise money for the Andrew Simpson Foundation and I hope you too can make a positive contribution, directly through ASF or via my website below.

So, there you have it. It is nearly done. I have loved every minute of the journey, especially the bad bits, because the bad bits make the good bits even better. And if anyone is mad enough to be Laser (or ILCA) round the UK #4, I have a few tips for you so do drop me a line.

Do please make a contribution to one of the chosen charities, however large or small:

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