Ten Years Abaft the Mast
There are so many different facets to owning a ship like Amelie Rose and running her as a charter boat that it’s really difficult to pick out the best bits. How does creaming along at over 12 knots compare to winning the Pilot Cutter review in really light airs? What about having tower Bridge lift for us to pass through versus sailing across the Channel on starry night so clear that the Milky Way was clearly visible from horizon to horizon? It’s been a magical 10 years that is for sure, but not without heartaches.
Little did we know when we won line honours on the last race of the Classic Sailing St Mawes Pilot Cutter Review in 2009 that it would be six years before we made it anywhere near the podium once more. To be honest for most of that time we didn’t really care – it’s always a pleasure to meet up with the other cutters and race against our own kind – so winning the “Pilot Cutter World Championships” came strictly second to just being there and catching up with “the family”.
But over the years even the dumbest of skippers picks up a feel for their boat and Amelie Rose is a light winds demon so when the 2015 outing played out over a weekend of F0 – F4 we always knew that we were in with a chance. To carry away both the trophy for the Tribute Passage Race and the one for Overall Review Winner in a single year did put the cherry firmly on the top of the cake however, and it feels good to know that Amelie Rose will be remembered for being fast as well as beautiful.
And when we say fast…
The squall didn’t exactly come out of nowhere but was on us quickly enough that dropping the staysail was the only response that we could muster before the water turned white. Making a note in the log I saw from the chart-plotter that we were 10 miles off Dartmouth before I headed to deck nervously eyeing our big No 1 jib whilst doing my best to project calm to the crew. As the leading edge hit us the rain came down and the wind speed went up. And up. And up once more.
I watched the water speed build as Amelie Rose took the whole thing in her stride, barely getting her decks wet as the log climbed to 10.5 knots before mysteriously dropping to a mere 3.5. Looking at the bow wave, clearly visible from the companionway where I stood, confirmed that she was now on the plane, with the resulting cavitation causing the log to misread. We’ll never know what speed she eventually hit but when, 25 minutes later, I ducked down to start the engine (the back edge of the squall had killed the wind entirely) we were only 5 miles away from our destination. I’m rubbish at maths so you’ll have to help me out: 60 / 25 * 5 = ?? kts
Rinse and repeat
Some of you will have met Julie – who over the last few years has more often than not been the first mate aboard the Amelie Rose. Julie and I met way back in 2010 at a week-long event in St Peter Port where we were taking disadvantaged kids out sailing aboard Amelie Rose and another boat called Morwenna. With only one break in 2011 (we were filming the Hungry Sailors) Amelie Rose has been at every Set Sail Trust event since and seen it expand to two weeks and require 3 boats. The last one managed to take every 10-year-old on the Island out sailing.
Each day proceeds the same; a 2 hour sail in the morning, another 2 hour sail in the afternoon and then out with sponsors again in the evening before hitting the sack to build enough energy to do it all again the next day. It’s an incredible event in every way; incredibly exhausting and incredibly rewarding in equal measure. But the year when we had an elective mute lad on board the Amelie Rose was one that blew us away. On stepping ashore, he was so excited that he ran up to his Mum and immediately started to tell her all about it. She was in tears, and quite frankly so were we. He just wanted to go out and do it all again…
Starry, starry night
There’s nothing quite like being on deck on a clear night – either at anchor or underway. Every so often “clear” becomes something more like “crystal clear” however, and then it takes your breath away – especially when you’re offshore or anchored away from confounding light pollution. Two nights spring to mind.
On the first we were lying at anchor off Sark in the Channel Islands where after wishing the crew a good night I just couldn’t bear to tear my eyes away from the view of the Milky Way and opted instead to sleep on deck. The other was crossing back from L’Aber Wrac’h to Falmouth after the 2012 Brest Festival. Despite a disappointing lack of wind, it will stay in my memory for ever; the hum of Amelie Rose’s engine pushing us along, a trail of phosphorescence behind us and our galaxy stretching away endlessly above.
Tales of the Thames
Amelie Rose has ventured up the Thames twice in her 10 years. Our first visit was whilst filming Series One of The Hungry Sailors which culminated with Amelie Rose and the team passing through Tower Bridge in the heart of London. I used to walk to work across that bridge, dreaming every day of the life at sea that I really wanted. To approach it, heading up-river in my own boat, and then to watch as the traffic stopped and the bridge opened, just for us, still sends a thrill down my neck as I remember it now.
Our second visit was at the end of the Falmouth to Greenwich Tall Ships race. Heading up river we were delighted to find that we’d been allocated a berth in South Dock at Canary Wharf – bringing my journey neatly back to the exact place that I’d worked 5 years before. Being moored up there in sight of my old office from the deck of my new one confirmed to me that I’d made the right choice.
Hardship brings rewards
The plan had been to sail from Poole to l’Aber Wrac’h in one 2-day hit on our way to Brest in 2012. The weather had other ideas however, blowing 5’s and 6’s from the West and delivering rain and heavy seas. After 10 hours we had achieved more progress sideways than forwards and so we diverted South via the Channel Islands to Lezardrieux and thence beat along the coast making best use of the stronger tides there. For three days we battled ever Westward, until at four in the morning with the rain hammering on the deck and barely a sip of diesel left in the tanks we finally made it to the corner and into l’Aber Wrac’h.
Having thus appeased the gods of the sea with a bit of hard graft we were granted a stunning passage down the Chanal du Four, a gentle F4 on the beam and blue skies from horizon to horizon. As we moored, a day later than planned, at our first Brest festival a beer seemed in order and no sooner was that opened than we were treated to an incredible fireworks display. We discovered later that it was in honour of Bastille Day, but for us it seemed that the whole world had just joined in our celebration.
Every dog has its day
So many of these tales are from years past and yet every new year brings its own succession of delights. 2018 has been no exception; leaning on the wall at Mousehole Sea Salts and Sail was certainly one. To finally get to see a UK festival done as well as the Bretons do theirs was fabulous and I loved that seemingly every person in the village got involved in putting on a proper shindig – priceless.
Also on the “small festivals” front, we visited the “Fete des Vieux Greements” in Paimpol this year too. This is the smaller festival that happens in the years when the “Festival du Chant de Marin” is having a rest. It turns out that the “smaller” one is just as much fun – with the added bonus that for them we were a fairly big fish to land (being the 3rd biggest boat there). As we hove into view of the entrance channel a whole flotilla of small boats appeared and made their way towards us – causing some consternation from the Skipper who didn’t want to be impeded in this narrow space. I needn’t have worried for they had set out specifically to welcome and escort us – the guests of honour! What gracious and incredibly welcoming hosts.
There are some highs and lows that happen every year. Raising the Isles of Scilly never fails to lift my spirits – especially after a night passage – and the same is true of heading west past the Start Point light – for it means that we are entering the West Country, the best sailing ground on the South coast and our summer home. Dropping the hook in the Cove off St Agnes or in Tean Sound by St Martins means a pint soon in either the Turks Head or in my favourite pub, The Seven Stones, respectively.
But all of these highs come with an evil twin. To see Scilly astern for the last time in a season always leaves me feeling flat for I know not when I’ll return and heading East past Start Point generally means that the summer is over and we are returning to our winter cruising grounds. Similarly, the mournful sound of boats hauling anchor on the Monday morning after the St Mawes Pilot Cutter Review or leaving one of the summer festivals signals the end of another family get together, the boats scattering to the winds, maybe not to be seen again for another year.
The boat we built together, tore us apart
It had been our dream to sail more and sit in offices less, and after a shove from the 7th July London bombings, we worked hard together to make that dream into the reality that is Amelie Rose. Over the course of the first year working her together as a charter boat it became clear however that the charter life was not going to work for Melisa. In the succeeding years our lives became more and more separate, mine at sea and hers on land, until in 2012 we realised that we couldn’t go on together and decided to split up. Not every dream has a fairy tale ending it seems, even one that brings so much joy to so many people.
The best of times and…
So there it is, some of the highlights and challenges from 10 years as Amelie Rose’s skipper. What was that? Did you want to ask me something? You’d like to know what the absolute best bit has been? Without a doubt it has been that I got to share all of this with so many lovely people. That so many of you have taken delight in Amelie Rose, and have shared in a little of our lives, and become friends is what makes this job so amazing. And the worst? Knowing that one day my part too in Amelie Rose’s story must come to an end…
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