Chapter 32 Peniche to Oeiras

Monday 21st August 2017

Sailing in the Mist (1895) John Henry Twachtman

Sailing in the Mist (1895) John Henry Twachtman

When I bought Kite she was in Inverkip near Glasgow. Part of the deal was that Kerr, her former owner, would skipper her down to the south coast with me acting as one of the crew. I learned many things in that voyage. I am very grateful to Kerr for this even though I’m pretty sure that we are very different sailors.

The first thing that I learned was that Kite is an incredible boat, she was more than up to the eight meter waves and 40 knot winds that we faced off Lands End. Though it’s not weather I would ever choose to sail in, if I do end up in those conditions again, I can be very confident of my vessel. Secondly I don’t fear dying. Of course I imagine the actual event of dying, especially at sea, may well be terrifying, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I have four wonderful children all of whom have reached maturity. I have led an amazing life and experienced so many wonderful things, almost beyond the imaginings of a vast majority of the world’s population. If the end does come, I have no complaints.

The third thing that I learned was an important difference between Offshore and Coastal Sailing. In Coastal Sailing one typically aims to avoid difficult conditions by heading for a safe haven. While this can work well as a strategy it is not without its problems. It may come as no surprise that a key goal in sailing is to try and avoid hitting things. As one gets closer to the coast there are many more things to hit; boats, rocks and buoys to name a few. Generally when offshore the number of potential collision hazards declines. What is more those that are there tend to have electronic identification systems. In addition, wavelength - the distance between one peak and another - is longer in deeper offshore waters. This explains how off Lands End, Kite was able to ride up and over waves that would have been much more terrifying closer inshore.

Off the coast of Portugal in the dark and the mist there are no such waves to worry about, although I can still apply my skills and learning. There is no port to run to, as I have already established, Peniche is full. There is, however, an anchorage on the east coast of the Ilha da Berlenga. I could head back there and anchor up till morning or till the mist clears. This would take me inshore with the potential for hitting rocks and other boats, also I might run aground. What is more even when anchored there is still a risk of other boats hitting Kite. I opt for continuing on to Oeiras.

All afternoon I have been messing with a manual fog horn that came with Kite. A bicycle pump is used to pressurise a container from which air flows through a horn. To be honest though it seems like a lot of pumping for not much reward. It is now, surrounded by the dark and the mist, that I remember the outside speakers. To increase my concentration I had turned all sound off when the mist had first come down, but now with no visibility I get to thinking that making noise might be a good idea. So I crank up the tunes. Feeling very alone in the darkness and the mist, I post to social media:

Wanted suggestions for loud and and defiant tunes to play in a void? The mist is so bad I can just about see the front of the boat. Automatic identification systems are working but, just in case, you know I love you all right!

I really expect nothing back as it’s quite late already, but I’m overwhelmed by the suggestions and even more so by the love. I remember fondly the country of my birth, get angry at the situation I’m escaping and desperately miss all the people back home. As the suggestions come in, I sketch out, in my head, a sequel to my earlier Brexit and Arrival story:

I wake with my heart racing and my breath heavy.

“Dad, Daaad!”

He must be at work, I grab my phone from next to the bed and hit his number.

“Dad, Dad, it was terrible”
“What was?”
“My dream, my dream, I was in a void there was mist all around me and I couldn’t see anything” I breath heavily
“It’s alright, it’s alright now” my father reassures me.

I can feel myself calming at the sound of his voice, but as I do, in my barely awake state, something else nags at me. Oh yes I haven’t spoken to Dad for two weeks, not since I walked out that morning and came back to my stepmothers house. I can’t speak. He says nothing. In the end I manage.

“Dad I’m sorry……”
“Don’t be. I love you.”
“I love you too, I just ….” I stutter “I just couldn’t stay, not at grandads, not with him like he is, not with you agreeing with his bile”
“I don’t agree with him.”
“You don’t challenge him, not his racism, not all the vile things he says about my stepbrothers and sisters.”
“He’s an old man.” my father pleads.
“Yes he is, but that’s not an excuse to wreck our lives. It’s his fault you’ve split up with mum!”

Grandad has been on at my dad for as long as I can remember, talking about how my step-mum has been using him to keep all her kids in a life of luxury.

“It’s not his fault. Your stepmother and I haven’t been getting along for a while now”
“That’s because you seem so happy and optimistic one minute and so down and miserable the next. We don’t know where we are with you.”
“I know I’ve not been….” I can hear my dad’s voice cracking “I’ve not been easy to get along with lately”
“Oh dad you need to talk to someone, someone who isn’t grandad”
“I know I do, look I’m sorry sweet pea, I have to go, I have to get back to work. You understand?”
“Yes of course dad. Thanks for being there for me.”
“No worries. Ring me again….soon”
“Of course… bye” I blurt through the tears.

At around 1:30 Kite reaches the same latitude as Cabo da Roca. I start thinking about the final part of the journey. In this mist, it is on this last leg that things are going to get particularly difficult. The electronic chartplotter is already showing a group of anchored cargo vessels on my route. I just have to hope that there is not too much else around out here at this time in the morning and that anything that is, transmits identification data.

We have been travelling due south but opposite Cabo Raso I turn Kite gradually onto a south easterly course. We continue like this until we are half a nautical mile south of the cargo vessel anchorage, we then turn east towards the mouth of the river Tejo. In normal visibility the big ships would be looming above our port side, but I see nothing. Even when I turn north east for the last run towards the harbour and pass 400 meters from the shipping channel marks, I can only see the mist tinge slightly green as their lights flash. Finally I point Kite north to what should be, according to the plotter at least, the entrance to Oeiras marina.

Not wanting to run into any trouble quickly, I slow Kite’s engines. At about 250 meters I can pick out the two green and one red light that make up entrance to the harbour. The mist doesn’t seem so bad here. I slow Kite further still and gently ease her into the harbour. The berth that I’ve been given couldn’t be better. I reverse Kite in, get a stern line on. By the time the night manager arrives I’m all tied up.