Speyside Couperage, home of the ancient art of coopering, was our next destination. We have returned with the ferry to the mainland and drove with a motorhome, filled with wood, trough the narrow roads of Scottish night. We have arrived early in the morning, parked on a parking lot just few metres from the factory and grabed few hours of sleep before the final act.
The method of barrel manufacture is almost identical to the manufacture and repair of wooden boats. The machines are almost identical. Despite technological progress, the production of barrels remained mainly manual. Except of the machinery, all tools are primordial. As I would enter the factory a hundred years ago. And as for the shipbuilding industry, also here the human presence is the most important. Human work is essential. Throughout the day we have observed and listened to the raw power of swinging hammers. In the afternoon, there were two, two hundred and fifty liters barrels called Hogshead made.
We went home with low-cost flight, each of us caring one suitcase and a small backpack. As if nothing had happened. All I kept from the ship was five meters of rope and a piece of the hull. Other memories we bear within ourselves.
At our arrival in Paris airport we got the message.
The barrels are fullfiled.
The essence of sea, salt and adventure met a twelve year old Bunnahabhain whiskey.
Road To Valhalla
Road to Valhalla
So many times we have been confronted with people that we met saying to us:”What a Shame to destroy a boat like this, what a SHAME.”
No shame at all, instead of rotting in Bretagne parking lot Bear Winner went on her last 733 miles long journey to Islay with a quest. Her form transformed into a new form.
Bear winner finished her last journey with dignity.
RNLI group from Port Askeg and the workers from the Bunnahabhain distillery helped us to put it out of the water and to bring it to the place of the transformation.
We have sliced it like a fish, separating the flesh from the bones. Straight, sharp cuts. One by one the whole structure was opening. First the right front part, than the tail, deck, left and right side parts, until just the bone structure was standing alone.
We have cleaned the pieces of white oak that were in good condition, separated them from other material and prepared them for transport to Spiecyed Couperage, to be used for barrel construction.
The transformation lasted for three days.
We put together all the wooden materials and pieces that remained and took them to the place next to the sea where we have burned them. The fire, eating the last parts was beautiful. No martyrs, just the revelation. Straight to Valhalla!
Already two days in Port Askaig. Locals started to behave more friendly in this tiny port composed by only one shop and one hotel/bar/restaurant where we spent most of our time. Everyone is using the ferry stops here, takes a beer, a coffee or a snack, as it's the only thing to do. The staff doesn't really gives a shit about the passing by customers.
The small dining room was half full when we arrived, more busy the second day. The first night we have shared the table with two nice Taiwanese staying in the hotel. We just met around cigars, whisky, mourning, and human warmth. The second night the waitress asked us to go to the snug bar because she didn't feel to prepare a table for us in the restaurant. Haggis already the second night, made from one of the two companies backing it for the all Scotland, delicious anyway.
When i first came in Islay 3 month ago, i felt this atmosphere of whispers and distances. Already in the 50 sits plane from Glasgow everyone with the colors and outfits of one of the 8 distilleries of the small island sympathetically ignoring each other, no one speaking to no one. Whisky is an industry with it secrets and it issues.
Here finally came our day. The weather forecast window opened and Bunnahabhain distillery crew was waiting for us. First arrived the journalist from the BBC, with her camera focussed on us. People started to give a closer look. They came and asked us some questions about the project, reviving if rumors where true. Then our cinema crew landed, both taking the direction of the distillery.
Some hours later we cut our ropes one last time. We quit the tiny harbor in an unexpected efficient maneuver and we were quickly caught by the dropout of our mainsail… Already a photographer was around us on a powerful orange zodiac. He was taking photos of us struggling with our chandlery. We managed to hang it back and pull it up one more time. The arrival being so close made us little bit confused.
Wind is vigorous in the sound of Islay and the tides were pushing us with an enduring power. A shower joins our appointment, stout and
Violent, it reminded us again the almighty reigns of the nature and the sea.
Because of the strong conditions we had to shut down the sail a little bit sooner than planed and started the engine, but here we were. Half a dozen were here with us : our two Taiwanese friends, John from Ghiga, the girl from the communication company and her photographer just jumped from his zodiac and two Australian tourists.
Our joy was huge regarding what we have accomplished, we would love to share it with witness here but our audience was restricted.
Couple of photos/smiles/chin-chin with a glass of whisky after. It was the turn of the BBC journalist to come and shoot, trying to put her words in every bodies mouth.
We wait for this media coverage to go as it came and restage our arrival for our own pleasure and camera crew. This last sailing was fantastic, no more pressure, no more stress, the boat was leakin from everywhere and agonizing but the wind was sweet and constant as the waves. The sea offered us a last ride.
As we slided from one side to the other we felt for the very first time what the real sailors name the call of the sea.
When we reached the jetty it was already time to join the launching ramp and pull our boat out of the water.
Another paragraph opened for us. We succeeded, through all unexpected events.
We were in only bar on Gigha when John furiously entered the room: “You need to come with me guys, leave the drinks here, we are coming back soon, just come.” We jumped into his car and drove trough the dirt roads of Gigha. His view was focused, he did not speak. Later on I have realized that what I saw in his old eyes was the call of the adventure. We arrived to the wooden house and went inside. He introduced us to his daughter. She was the goal of our mission, her permission for his trip with us.
Next morning John came onboard, with a captain hat, jeans jacket, orange lifejacket, yellow plastic boots, sandwiches, sweets and a bottle of wine with a heart sticker on, saying Bon Voyage - a present from his daughter.
The tides were good, currant working for us, sun and just enough wind. We had to position John on the right place of the boat, Bear winner was not really ready for new weight. We put him in the centre, next to the mast, like this he replaced the keel and we sailed 9 knots with the currant. The fastest until now.
Since the first sail with Herve we did not have any guests onboard. It was interesting having a new companion onboard but at the same time a little bit strange. We got so used to our solitude and our little habitat that at the beginning we did not know what to do with it. It got better with time.
Seven hours of beautiful sail. Time for memories and rethinking.
The final goal was just two peaks away.
No Place to Swing a Cat
No place to swing a cat.
2m wide x 2m long. Divided by 2, our triangular cabin is about 2 m2. Less than a double bed.
In this space we have to hold our belongings, two bunks and a part of the chandlery. I don't know the area of a space station but when, lying in my bed i'm contort myself to thread my offshore equipement ,apart the moisture and the color of my suit, i don't see a lot of differences.
Yet we have managed to make it our own space. Bot of us have our own side, both of us have our personal effects. For Mark a picture of a bad impersonator of Elvis Presley, a tooth brush and a sketchbook. For me a picture of a Queen recovery group, a tooth brush and marines charts.
Every day demands from us a precise organization to live together in this cell.
First each of us puts his sleeping bag in a common red waterproof bag, then puts his pillow in an almost sealed bag, then each takes his clothes located in the "spider" ( a web made of bungee cords from the ceiling where we get stuck folded clothes) and squirms while lying to get dressed.
Only then, when both of us is done with his work and lies straight on the bunk, we open the door with a common effort. This is the only way to properly open it without tearing a muscle.
After that we successively leave the lying position, putting our feet on the cold and wet anchor's chain that lies between the two beds to finally step outside.
We thoroughly ventilate the room for escaping moisture outdors mixed with wet food and dirty socks fragrances.
It is at this moment that we have an overview of the cabin. We check if all goes well, the moisture on the walls, the water level in the bilge, the condition of the bags located around the mast. This daily exercise keep us the control over our environment.
Promiscuity imposed by our accommodation yet has never posed problems, we naturally found the coexistence mechanism and made it our home.
Say that we will miss this cave is not so exaggerated.
Back to the Sea
Back to the Sea
It's about two hours that we quit Wales, Paul's first Camel yellow pack is already finishing, i'm sitting in the back of his land rover defender, it's bumpy i don't know if i will be able to wri...
Defender is like a tank. Small windows in front of me and the squeaking sound of windscreen wipers. Driving Wheel on the right side and 600.000 kilometers on the counter. The car is three years old. Paul literally lives in the car.
Writing on the back seat was not possible so i took a nap. In between my naps i could hear Paul saying things as opposite about everything as a radio speaker to his only audience : us.
All the back seats are removed so Paul's bed can fit in. I sit on the bench that is hard like hell. Our max speed 40 miles per hour.
We jump from a radio show to music. It seems Paul knows all the radio schedule by heart. The rhythm and tempo of the conversation is directed by radio program. Also the content of our conversation. We sing, we laugh, we argue about politics.
Here we were, after the night on the road with Paul ands his defender, back to the sea. North channel was in front of us.
Our mast was originally used as a telephone pole, 5 m long and weights around 150 kg. The hole for it is up in the front and it goes trough the roof until the bilge. We had to put it up again. We were Paul, Max and me and no machines.
Paul put on his working clothes, lighted the endless stock of Camel, detained his eyes, and said:”Oh boys, thats going to be hard.”
Max was holding the end of the mast to slip into the hole and Paul and me were lifting the back part. At one moment i saw the mast rising above me. The image of it falling and crashing our heads and destroying everything around us flashed trough my mind. Paul was like a rock, he hold the mast by his own. Pushed with his shoulders one last time and the mast slipped in.
Again he puffed:” Oh yes, o yes, this was hard.”
After this action he was gone in five minutes, the road, the kilometers and his friend the radio were awaiting him.
Bear winner was in the water again. Cutting the waves of the north channel, heading towards the island of Gigha. Ireland on the left and Scotland in front of us. Endless horizon on the right. Rain in our faces but we were happy to be back. After the english channel, Lizard point and Land's End experience i was questioning myself a lot if i would feel need and happiness to go to the sea ever again. I do. Couple of days in the harbor and your eyes escape to the blue horizon. The sea pulls you back.
The leaks were still here but a little bit less than before the second reparation, so we had to pump only every half an hour.
They say that it always rains in Scotland. It rained this morning also but when we started to approach to Gigha, the coast was enlighten with sunlight. Big Island but only 150 people. One hotel, one restaurant, one post office, primary school, no shop, no police and John.
John was waiting us already at the beginning of the unfinished peer. Big man with shorts, yellow boots and captains hat. Same age as Bear Winner-74. He was the first one on our whole trip that welcomed us on our arrival. He invited us to his house, we drank his rum and smoked his tobacco.
Saorsa Gu-brat- Freedom forever, says an engraved writing on the stone in front of Johns home.
We have landed on Scotish ground.
The day started well after dry night in Ilfracombe. We moved and moored the boat on time to get out of the dry dock and quit the bay with the tide.
Sunset, two sail boats are also crossing the Bristol Channel, one of them sailed a hundred meter near us for some of time, we did not find us ridiculous compared to them, modern boats, both sail looks comfortable ...
Wind was good, 12 to 15 knots, we sail strong, immutably devon's cost disappeared in the morning mist.
Without our notice the boat started to lean as much as the wind and the sea began to get harder. There came a time when we noticed that our peace is not normal, the rudder got more and more difficult to hold, the boat leaned more and more, but who cares we go!
The odds of wales are not yet visible and Devon and our two boats have disappeared.
A quick glance at the GPS to see where we are. We should be close to half of the road and it is noon. We take turns at the rudder with the conviction to arrive as we had planned in due time. But as usual nothing happens as planned. The weather conditions haven't ceased to grow. The sea is at present particularly formed and waves that local name the Blackwaters have nothing of an invention. As the boat was carried away by the waves and began to surf, we felt that we could escape the formed situation. We are very vigilant and observe any signs of changes.
Mark asked me if maybe it is time to turn back to Ilfracombe.
Half of the road is behind us, silhouette of wales is now piercing the thick fog, wind is too strong but it constant and the weather forecast do not signal any storms. We decided to continue our road when suddenly the electric pump started to work. I was surprised because the way the switch is placed means that water is on the opposite side of the leaning of the boat. But sea moves a lot today and it does not bother me too much.
Just a quick look inside the cabine, everything was floating.
I literally plunged into the cabin to measure the situation, Mark wondered what happens, I reappeared with a bucket full of water in hand.
“Are we sinking?!?”
“Don't know... yes !!!”
The pump worked now for more than 45 seconds, it pumps usually 200 liters per minute. I screamed to Mark to use the manual rear pump to see what is there and after a look on the batteries, I saw that one is dying, a endless ballet started.
We have a leak, a big one, around 150 liters per 10 minutes, still 5 hours to go, in the middle of the Blackwaters of Bristol Channel with too much wind and waves breaking inside the cockpit.
As usual we don't panic, every 10 minutes we activate 2 pumps to evaluate the number of liters and check if the leak got bigger.
From now till the end Mark did not quit the rudder, i was going back and forth from the cockpit to the cabin to overview our problem. Mark is more confident driving us and anyway i'm not able to handle the boat in this sea.
We pumped more than 5 tons of water till our arrival. The batteries where flat when we have reached the harbor. We have to put bear winner out of the water, fix the leak and take a rest.
Dry Day Onboard
Dry day onboard
We arrived to Bude to late and because of the low tides we could not enter the harbor so we spent a night on the anchor. A peaceful evening with even better night forecast turned into a rough,bumpy night, third one in the roll. Anyway, the sky and the scenery were amazing. So many stars that you could hardly see the sky in between them. The resting hours shortened but we woke up into a sunny morning, first one after long time. There was a light NW wind, ideal to go to Ilfracombe.
Soutien De Famille - Bread Winner or how we called it, Bear Winner does not like to sail. Maybe a little bit with the wind from the back or half back -half side. In to the wind she goes only 90 degrees. She has no keel.
And when she finally sails her back is kicking like a camel.
After the English Channel we have divided the road from 35 up to maximum 45 miles per day. 12-15 hours a day and possibly no night driving any more. Normally we wake up at 4 or 5 am and start the road with the lowest tides. Like this the currant is with us and gives us a push of a mile or two per hour. The first one that climbs out of the cabin makes the coffee. Black. Because of no refrigerator on board milk would anyhow not survive.
Mornings are cold, humidity everywhere. When you open your eyes, there is still darkness. Led lamp above my head illuminates our two saints, Elvis on my side and Freddy on Maxs side. Three layers of waterproof clothes, wool, hats, scarfs, double socks, rubber boots. The sea is normally calm in the morning. The stars and the moon are still on. Quietly the boat slides trough the water and darkness. The light on the horizon comes very slowly, if you wish for it it comes even slower. One by one all the elements around you start to get the contour, later on comes the shape and the colors.
Normally we do not eat in the morning, to stay more focused and prepared. When we stop we make fist. There is not a lot that we can prepare on our alcohol cooker and with our small collection of dishes, but a lot of ham and eggs with tons of salt and pepper and bread that was sinked in the salty water for the hole day, makes your heart skip a beat. No more fish since our fishing equipment flew into the water at the Lizard point. Two beer on the top of that and you are hammered.
Bed time is at seven, sometimes even six p.m. If there is still daylight we close the door of our little cabin, curse the ever wet and moisty bed, wrap ourselves in the only dry onboard thing-sleeping bag and drown into the dreamland.
Dry, for the first time, we arrived in Ilfracombe in the afterrnoon, welcomed with a magnificent sculpture of Damien Hirst.
Newquay to Bude
Newquay to Bude
Around the last RNLI crew summer barbecue, RNLI volunteers explained us how to get out of the dry dock harbor with the low tide. The plan is following; we need to move the boat from her position around 3 am and get out as late as possible during the change of tides.
We are tired even with this 2 days and nights in the RNLI office. Instead of waking up at 3 am we have decided to move the boat earlier and spend the night waiting for the good timing to hit the road.
What an idea.
The waves where breaking inside the harbor. Low waters, top of the pier around 3 to 4 meters above our deck, no ideas how to hang the boat. Action. Mark jumped from one fisherman boat to another with a rope to reach the pier while I was trying to keep the hull parallel to the wall. We are nervous, we don't feel the boat.
Couple of cowboy style maneuvers and we are moored.
Mark climbed a rope to come back in the boat. She is moving like on the open sea. Waves are heavy and the weather wont change before the morning.
Installed in our stirred cell, bumping the head with each shock of the boat on the pontoon wall, we try to escape with thoughts about the previous day.
We woke up with first, then a second, a third and so on, person who wanted to "register".
We needed a moment to understand that Newquay RNLI office was the former register desk for a gig race.
By the window around 700 women from all Europe -but mainly from Cornwell- gathered in this seaside resort to compete for the first place of a rowing race.
The small beach became a tent, BBQ, multicolored stretching trousers and endless queue to the single women toilet.
After coming back to the harbor from the city centre, only two hours later, nothing was left. The rowing boats were on trailers, participants dispersed, tents folded, stretching pants stored in the dirty laundry.
We did not understand this event.
This bracket will not comfort us long. I drink a few drops of bourbon to hold tears. I'm exhausted, nervous and anxious to face irish sea again.
At 5:00 am we jumped in our offshore equipment. My pan where the coffee hardly shuddered is suddenly enlightened. It's Sam's torch- the journalist that comes to film our departure. Given the ridiculous circus of our necessary hour needed to live the harbor we guess our amateurism will held a good place in the portrait BBC will accomplish.
Sometimes silted, sometimes pushed by the tide, we are trying to move our vessel from this dead end.
However, we finally did it. Once again we are against the current, against the odds. the sun is already shining, we're late, as usual, but we are at sea and the incredible scenery of the north side of Cornwall made us quickly forget our shame.
The rest of our navigation will be a succession of unrealistic landscapes and lights. Our stubbornness and our carelessness is sometimes gratified by the simplest sights.
Saved by Newquay Lifeboat
Saved by the Newquay Lifeboat
St Ives to Newquay
As the time passes on the sea more you get superstitious. More and more you start to realize that not everything depends on you. The Sea has its own life.
This day everything went wrong since the beginning. We should start with the lowest tides, at 4.15 a.m. but we woke up trapped, like fish on a dry land, sitting on the sand with our wooden legs in the middle of the harbor. Next lowest tides 3.00 p.m. With the high tides we went out of the harbor, tided ourselves to the mooring buoy and waited. The wind and the waves rose in the bay of St Ives and started to move the boat from all the sides. Without the keel the Bear Winner never goes to the wind. She always likes to take the waves from the side which is ultra uncomfortable for the people onboard. Since we just had 20 miles to Newquay we were not worried. At three we started Freddy, pulled the sail on, released the ropes, prepared to fly with the wind. Instead of going forward we started to drive in a circle. Wind leaning us more and more with every circle. We got trapped in between two ropes, one stuck under our rudder with the buoy and impossible to remove.
That was already the second time this day that we thought that maybe it would be better to wait one day more. The weather forecast for the next day was so bad that we still decided to continue. A little cut with the knife and off we go again.
First 15 miles were amazing, now we have really sailed for the first time. This little monster was doing 6 miles per hour with the most shortened sail. Water was coming inside the hull literally everywhere. But at that time we did not care, it was just to beautiful. The electric water pump is on anyhow all the time and we have pumped the hand pump every 20 minutes.
We have a very simple Gps system, showing just the shapes and the position, no names of the places. Normally it works perfectly together with maps but this time we have misread it. Instead of the harbor of Newquay we went to the bay in front of Perranpoth. When we have realized it, it was already to late. The waves and the currants did not let us out of the bay anymore. Three times we have tried, with the motor, with sails, with both, nothing worked. Gps was saying that we only have 5 more miles to go so this was still fulfilling us with courage.
The waves became heavy. One after another they were covering the deck of the boat from a higher point. We turned away from the coast, trying to go diagonal with the wind but he boat did not move, just leaning 45 degrees. Even with his new cover Freddy passed out already after the third wave.
In St Ives we have told about the name of our engine to Buch. We have told him about Freddy and Mercury, he did not laugh, he just said:” But why name your motor like this young lads,? Freddy Mercury is already dead.”
Just at a moment of despair a little dingy mysteriously appeared in the middle of the waves. “ Are you guys ok, do you need help?”, the voice came trough the flashes of water. It was the surfing rescue team. Wet and tired we could not do anything else than except this most friendly offer. The small rescue team from Perranpoth came first, Rich, with his wife almost giving a birth, jumped inside our boat in full equipment like a commando. They toed our boat to the small zodiak by the mast and started to toe us towards the middle of the bay where Newquay Lifeboat took us over. Rich was replaced by Tim, Newquay RNLI Lifeboat volunteer.The rescue action in its full power started. Flash lights, helmets, BBC infrared camera, sounds of Walkie Talkies.
When you are saved by a lifeboat three emotions go trough your head.
Happiness - I am saved, everything is ok
Shame – How could I not predict and organize the situation better and be able to manage things by myself
Fear – Oh fuck, how much are they going to charge us???
Wet and frozen we landed in Newquay's lifeguard office. The hospitality that was given us here went beyond all the expectations. We have been offered with warm drink, food, hot shower and also a dry place to sleep. We have stayed in Newquay residency for two days, dried everything and repaired and prepared the boat for new adventures.
All of the lifeguards are volunteers. Young and old, ready to risk their lives to help people in trouble. The RNLI Lifeboat organization is based on charity.
As for the superstition, do not try to whistle or even worse, sing, Wind of Change on board. It brings strong wind and big waves. On the contrary, a fleet of dolphin under your boat definitely brings good luck.