May 10 – On the road

Journey: Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat – 26nm (6 hrs) – Santo Stefano Marina del Aregai

Today we sail to Santo Stefano Marina del Aregai, the boat yard in Italy where Caroline is to be hauled out of the water and antifouled.

We rise early and I prepare a quick breakfast. Bill heads off to the engine room to do the pre-start checks, then I hear him head upstairs to start the engine and let it idle. After doing the breakfast dishes I go around the boat closing all the port-holes and main hatches. Each cabin has the equivalent of a sky-light or opening hatch to allow air flow through. It’s mandatory that these remain tightly closed and locked while underway so unexpected waves don’t flood the place. It is also my job to ensure everything that can be put away, is put away, so nothing can fall over or break.

Prior to me clearing all the junk away this job would have posed a challenge. I once asked Brenda, “Can everything on the benchtops be restrained when the boat heels under sail?”

She replied in a superior tone. “Oh Caroline never heels under sail.”

I was flabbergasted. “All yachts heel under sail.”

“Caroline never heels,” she said, this time with an edge to her voice.

I remember sighing. As if? Maybe when Brenda’s on board she’s not allowed to sail fast enough to heel?

No matter. Since then I’d cleared a lot of the paraphernalia away and it was no longer an issue whether she was or wasn’t the only yacht in the world that could sail upright, all the time, regardless of the weather, waves or anyone’s timetable.

“Are you ready for a lesson on how to lift the anchor with me?” Bill interrupts my thoughts with a smile.

“Does a priest gaze longingly at an altar boy?” I quip. “Absolutely!”

I’ve been feeling left out of the ‘fun’ crewing stuff for a while now, and spent the past few evenings dropping gentle hints to Bill that he could be more inclusive with this stuff. Why would I be here otherwise, I’d asked him gently.

I now know the job needed a husband/wife or skipper/hostess team simply because there is only one double bunk in the crew quarters, but that wasn’t how Bill first sold this adventure to me. He said we’d be sharing the work, but so far the only help I get from him is to help set or clear the table when Franco and Brenda also help.

There is no way I would have agreed to come if I’d known I would be relegated to domestic duties. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure I want to stay.

For now though, I quickly drop what I’m doing and practically dance behind him to the bow.

It places far less load on the anchor winch to raise the chain vertically rather than on an angle. Achieving this is usually a two-person job. One person stands at the winch controlling it with a hand-held up/down control unit, and pointing with an outstretched arm to indicate the direction the chain is lying. The other person stands at the helm, very slowly motoring the boat forward in the direction indicated, to take up the slack of the chain as it rises. Once the boat is perpendicular to the chain, and the chain is hanging vertically straight down, the person on the bow uses a different hand signal to halt movement while the chain continues to rise.

I personally think it makes more sense for the woman to be on the helm. But for some reason most men insist that’s their job, and it’s the woman’s job to lift the anchor. Even with a powerful winch, raising the anchor requires heavy-duty muscle power to manually tighten, loosen or lock the clutch on the anchor winch, and to position the anchor in its cradle once it is lifted.

Despite owning several boats myself in the past and being 100% responsible for everything to do with anchoring—finding a good location, raising, lowering, resetting and teaching multiple crews how to do the same—I am grateful for a lesson as Caroline is a much bigger boat. Everything on her is that much bigger, that much more industrial and that much more intimidating.

Bill , as expected, chooses to put me on the bow, then demonstrates how to plug in the hand-held winch controller, lock the winch clutch so the chain can only go up, press the unlabelled button that raises the anchor, wash the chain as it goes over the roller spitting gooey black mud everywhere, then finally hunker the anchor down into its cradle and do everything we did at the start, in reverse.

The concept is the same on all vessels, but operating this winch is different because it’s just so much bigger than anything I’ve ever been exposed to. “So you do this and then you do that,” Bill says to me as he does it. “Oh hang on, I forgot to mention you have to do this first, which means you should really do that now, not the other thing.”

My head is soon swimming. Why is it that men always insist on teaching you by doing the job themselves, while giving out complicated instructions? I could learn so much more quickly if I was allowed to do the task myself, under management.

No matter how carefully I watch him, or how much I concentrate, I can feel many of his instructions slipping away in the wind inside my head. The arm signals are fine. I can do those standing on my head, although no doubt that might cause a ruckus if I tried. It is Bill ’s uncertain manual operation of the lever that tightens and loosens the electric winch clutch and brake that is doing my head in.

At the end of the lesson, the anchor is up and in its cradle. He stands up with a satisfied look and starts packing everything away.

“Hang on,” I say. “Can’t I have a go to practise?”

“I just showed you how to do it,” Bill retorts fairly sharply. “Of course we’re not going to drop it again.”

I remain where I am, feeling let down and mutinous as he walks back to the helm.

He turns and notices my expression.

“I mean, we can’t drop it again now. We’re already drifting too close to the rocks, but there’ll be other times,” he smiles.

I’m still out of sorts but he’s right about the rocks, so I follow him back to the cockpit.

I cheer up once we’re underway, even though we motor all the way, which is a shame considering Caroline’s lovely wardrobe of big sails.

“Why don’t we pull the sails out and sail?” I ask.

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“The sails are too big. They can’t be pulled in and out by hand. They need an electric winch to operate them.”

“So…. Let’s try it.”

“Franco hasn’t shown me where the switches are that operate the winches.”

“Oh. I hope we have enough fuel then,” I add as an afterthought.

Despite the sound of the motor chugging away in the background, it is still a lovely trip. The Mediterranean is startlingly blue in comparison to Australian waters but I’m noticing it’s almost devoid of sea life. There were hardly any fish where we had anchored, only the occasional school of tiny ones that were even too small to be realistically considered for a fish bowl, let alone bait. And we never saw any dolphins or seals. The whole sea is eerily empty, just brilliant, clear blue with incredible clarity and visibility.

“Why is the water so clear?” I ask.

“Because there’s no fish here,” Bill says.

“Why are there no fish?”

“Franco told me that the last generation of fishermen used explosives to catch fish.”

I gasp in disbelief.

Bill continues. “He said they would set off an explosive, then just scoop up the best catch. After a while, the place got fished out.”

I’m speechless for the rest of the trip.

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