"Hello Buoys!"

by It's Only Me from Across the Sea

Tom and Jerry And The Very Big Kish

I was thinking of describing the race coaching course that Tom had signed us up to. It used very different dinghies from the GP14, more modern, more plastic. Very lively, and empty of personality. They're the type of dinghy that RYA training establishments use because they're easy to maintain and are robust enough to put students in.

I thought, though, that a tack by tack rehash of the course might interest me, would definitely interest Tom, but it was unlikely to be of much interest to anyone else. As well as that I wasn't intending to write a diary of the events of my holiday with Tom.

You know the sort:

Dear Diary

Monday: Woke early, scratched bum, had a pee. Eggs for breakfast. Went sailing. In love with Tom.

Tuesday: Slept in late. Tom scratched my bum. Tom had a pee. Had my own pee, in the loo, not to drink. Missed breakfast. Fell out of boat. More in love with Tom.

Wednesday: Fell out of bed, thought it was a boat. Scratched Tom's bum, fair's fair! He had a pee. Me too. Tea and toast for breakfast. I love Tom more each day.

Yeah, that's never going to be interesting. I'm already asleep.

We did loads of stuff after the course. During it we were too tired. We both learned a load of stuff we were going to use when we got home. On the course; sailing stuff. The other stuff we were exploring anyway. I know sex and love are separate, kind of, but I'm enjoying learning about what makes Tommy squeal with pleasure. Not that we can squeal in the chalet at night!

We rocked it a good bit during the day yesterday, mind you! And there was barely strangled squealing that must have been heard in Porthdinllaen, too. We tried not to, but, well, you know... Gawd. Not to squeal! It would have been bloody silly trying not to do the other stuff with us being alone in the chalet for an entire afternoon. What a waste of good squealing time!

I'm a lot more comfy with my body now. I've always been comfy with Tom's. I think he's like me, a lot. He'll do anything for me, anything at all, anything that I've enjoyed when he tried it at least, but he either can't, or doesn't, ask for things.

I'm getting fed up with all this shilly shallying. What I mean is, kissing and snuggling is easy. Being naked together is easy. Taking hold of his rather lovely cock and holding it as it hardens, and then testing it again to see if it still works, that's easy, too. And he seems to find it easy with me, doing those things for me. More adventurous than that I can give, but can't ask for. Using my mouth on his cock, I mean. I haven't yet decided about being even more adventurous and involving bottoms. And I so do not mean with my tongue, nor with his!

We'd not just been in the chalet, waiting for his parents to go out. There was a lovely private stretch of beach if we walked a mile or more west, past the council estate and the grandiose and incomplete Edwardian esplanade. We spent a lot of time in the warm sun on a secluded part of the beach's hinterland. We're definitely moving from amorous to erotic. It's a lovely voyage of discovery.

Snuggles last longer than sex. Sex is more intense than snuggles.

What I like best is being in love. That's a feeling no-one can describe. It just lasts.


The Thursday of the regatta came. We hadn't sailed on Rhubodach since the Sunday before our coaching sessions. Tom and I thought beforehand about how much of those sessions applied to a handicap race.

I said all of them did.

He said that the only time were were in close quarters was at the start, otherwise the different boat speeds spread the fleet out.

Hazel, when we met them aboard in the marina, said she had no idea about any of that stuff, she just got on and sailed the boat as best she could. She does, too. I can see her doing an Ellen MacArthur if she wants to. She's a force to be reckoned with, is Hazel.

So we three sat down with David and Tony and talked about it. Tony pointed out that Tom's answer, while correct, wasn't answering the question. Starts are congested, yes, with all the boats jockeying for the best position. At the same time the start line there is always biased because the fleet goes round geography, not a course that gets laid by a race officer and has its own marks. So one end is always closer to the next mark than the other, and it's obvious. But he also said that yachts are far heavier than dinghies, and, despite hearing about collisions in things like the Round The Island Race, he wasn't going to risk some other dam-fool skipper as he put it, not knowing how to get out of the way, or even that he had to.

His view and Hazel's were pretty much the same. Have a race strategy, use the tidal streams and wind and forecast as tactics, and try very hard to sail their own race.

Even though I still don't agree I can see their point. I'm more for mixing it by using the racing rules to gain extra advantage, too.


The regatta was Thursday to Sunday, with a prize giving at the end, with two races each day. There were three fleets plus dinghies. We sailed Rubber Duck as hard as Hazel could make us. There were no allowances for being new to yachts. Hazel was just as organised as before, but faster.

Thursday we got a second and a first overall. You get the same number of points as your place, Lowest points overall for all races wins the pot.

Friday there was almost no wind. The fleet started, and two hours later we'd all gone down tide a lot while trying to sail up tide. One boat had got past the up-tide mark and was well away, the rest of us not. The racing was abandoned for the day.

Saturday and Sunday we got a third, a second, a tenth, and a first. And on Sunday it was blowing fit to bend the lampposts. We were reefed down and using the number 3 genoa. We had a discussion about the smaller spinnaker which centred around carrying it no closer than a broad reach.i As it happened no-one flew one that day. The reason for the tenth in the first Sunday race was that we hadn't reefed enough for the wind before that start, and putting an extra reef in after it cost us time; time costs places.

I wasn't pleased about the tenth, no-one was, but we could all discard one bad result. So nine points overall. It wasn't enough to beat the winning boat. They'd won all the races except the two we'd won.

Second overall wasn't half bad, though!


"There's a race from Abersoch to Dún Laoghaire," David told us a couple of days later. "It starts on Friday night. Was I right in telling Tony that you're both up for it?"

I had no idea what a race to Dún Laoghaire meant. To me a race was a race, was a race. "Sounds good to me, David. Tom? You want to?

"Not sure. It's a pretty big step."

"Not that big. We've done the easy stuff."

"You don't know where Dún Laoghaire is, do you?"

"Truth? No idea. Is it on the north side of the Llŷn peninsular?"

"Nope. It's off the west end."

"No, try again?"

"Ireland! Sometimes I despair of your geographical talents."

"Ok, Ireland. That's not far is it?"

"Lord help me. Dad? Tell this lovable idiot how far the race is, please!"

"Eighty miles or so, lads. Assume six knots, that's just under 14 hours. We start at 2000. That's 8pm to you. And we may not make six knots, or we'll probably have to tack across against the prevailing westerly wind and that takes longer. The earliest we'd arrive is 1000 the next day, Saturday. My money's on lunchtime, maybe mid afternoon."

"Why doesn't the race just start earlier. David?"

"Tides."

"I know about tides, the sea goes out and comes back in. So what?"

"You know more than most ordinary tourists, Jerry, but there's a lot more to it than that. The tide's rise and fall is caused by the sun and moon pulling a bulge of water round the earth by gravity. The movement of that bulge causes a current,ii and the shape of the coastline causes some areas to have big currents and others not so big."

"I never knew that tides caused currents. I mean I've heard about rip tides on beaches, but those are different?"

"Yup. A rip tide is a local thing caused by the waves on the beach. Tidal flows are a much bigger thing entirely. And we've got a bit of a tidal gate between Abersoch and Dún Laoghaire, at Bardsey Sound. Before you ask, a tidal gate is somewhere that the tidal flow is so strong that small boats can't make progress against it."

"Does it all turn the other way at low and high tide?"

"You'd think so! Most people think so, but the times are different. I think it's got a bit to do with the momentum of the water movement. Squillions of tonnes take a bit of turning round. So there's a delay."

"So..." I was starting to lose interest, "The upshot is that if we leave Abersoch much before 2000 on Friday we get stopped by the tide at Bardsey Sound?"

"You got it. It'll take us about three hours to get to the sound from the race start, and the tide will be with us on the way through. But it gets better. The tide's only just started to flow wth us, and it gets stronger for pretty much the first three hours of flow. We're going through with very little flow, heading west. Well, if Tom says yes, then we are."

"I'll work on him! I know his weaknesses."

"So do I. One of them is you. The other is cheese and onion crisps."

"I hate both of you," Tom said, laughing. "I just need time to think it over, ok?"

"Why is little flow better? Wait, I know her sister, Little Else." Well, I thought it was witty. Seems I was alone in that thought.

Not even gracing that with a groan, David carried on, "If we get a wind from the west against a strong tide flowing to the west, the waves that causes make Bardsey Sound feel like a washing machine's rinse cycle, but on a roller coaster! So we aim to go through with very little tide running. The faster boats will even get a bit of tide against them because they get there head of us, even though their start is fifteen minutes behind us."

"Ok, my head's starting to explode now!"

"Still want to go?"

"Yes!"

"Best go for a walk with Tom and talk it over."


We were along the beach, walking past the rather desolate old esplanade, the part that had tried to turn this odd grey place into a seaside resort.

"I won't make you go if you don't..." I started.

"I don't want to spoil it for y..." Tom spoke at the same time.

I took his hand. "I don't need to do this, you know. All I need is my Tommy and I'm happy."

"This is daft," he said, hugging me now. "I want to do it, but I'm worried about being in the middle of the Irish Sea."

There was a pause. I knew him well enough to know he was gathering his thoughts.

"I know loads of people sail small yachts across oceans and come home safely. I've just not been out of sight of land before, and it scares me. And I've not sailed at night before, and that scares me, too."

I held him tight and waited.

"I feel stupid for being afraid. I know how much it's a stupid fear. I know Rubber Duck has a radio and a liferaft and how we'll be wearing lifejackets. It's a big thing for me, Jerry." A shorter pause. "I want to do this."

"Let's go and talk to Tony or Hazel. They're not stupid. They've been before. Your dad only went when he was our age. He's not done this sort of thing for years. He's in the middle of a rosy glow about his lost youth."

"I'm glad I haven't lost mine! He's got his arms round me right now." He kissed my cheek. "They might be at the club. Feel like a longer walk?"


We found Hazel in rather deep conversation with Iolo. Well, not actually talking. The mode of communication was more tactile. I thought they were speaking in Braille.

"Hazel," It took a short while for Tom to disentangle her attention from Iolo, "Please can we talk to you about this race to Dún Laoghaire?" And he voiced his worries to her.

"I was a bit concerned the first time I went across the Irish Sea," she said. "I know what you mean about being worried about being out of sight of land. So, when we came back, dad fitted an AIS transponder. That meant that, while we couldn't see land, land could always see us. Mum liked that, too. It's on as soon as the main electric switch is turned on."

"What about the big ships at night? Dad told me once about the Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire ferry almost running them down at night, and in your boat!"

"Not heard about that one?"

"It was when he was our age. It was around midnight, and he saw lights astern and called down to the skipper, who popped his head out of the hatch, went down, grabbed a Very pistol, and fired a white flare directly at it. He said it stopped on a sixpence, whatever a sixpence is!"

"I bet that improves with every time he tells it!" She thought for a moment. "But that is a part of being safe. The skipper did the right thing. We have something else. We still have that old pistol and flares, by the way; they came with the boat. We have an active radar reflector as well as a passive one.iii Dad decided that the only way Mum would let him go on these long races is if she was sure he was as safe as possible. We've also got a YB Tracker aboard for the race timing."

"So that makes it safe?"

"No," she said. "We make it safe. That's dad, me, and everyone else on board. We made it safe even though the regatta was exciting, and we make it safe on the longer races. There's never a 100% guarantee with a sport like sailing, even on your GP14, but we manage safety into the fun. Your club does that with the dinghies with all the safety boat and powerboat qualifications; you just haven't got too close to all that."

"How do you know all this stuff?" I was truly amazed at how serious and how knowledgeable she was. "We're pretty much the same age, aren't we?"

"Dad's been involved in the RYA cruising scheme for ages. He's Yachtmaster™ Offshore qualified, and learning to be an instructor for the scheme, so I learn everything he learns. I intend to do the Ocean qualification as soon as I can get time to do the study and get the sea miles in. We're thinking of buying the school here. No University for me, though I might do a part time degree in yacht management later."

"Ok," Tom said. "I'm still worried about it, but I'm in. I thought we were just some randoms going for a jolly. Now I can see the bunch of randoms is led by folk who know a thing or two. And, anyway, Jerry really wants to go, and, and and..."

Which stopped when I hugged him and kissed his cheek. "You have to be sure," I told him. Then to Hazel "Please can we go and see these safety things? I want Tommy to make a real decision, not one just to please me because he loves me."

"Damn, you two are cute," she said as Iolo was making barfing noises. He'd been holding her hand all the time. "And you, Iolo Jenkins, you can stop play-barfing. I know all about you and Gwyndaf ap Simon a couple of years back, so you can cut that right out now! Anyway, these two are in love, not like you and Gwyndaf getting caught in flagrante delicious together!"


"Ok, I'm not going to say I'm not a little bit worried still, but I'll go now I've seen those electronic gizmos." We'd been over to the boat, and Hazel had shown Tom all the needed to know. She'd also gone through the emergency grab bag and the liferaft procedure with him. They also had a Mayday procedure card hanging on the VHF microphone cable which you just had to read down if you ever had to make the call.

"We've also got a handheld VHF with DSC and an emergency button,"iv she said, "as well as the boat's main radio." She went on to explain the use.

"I'm not normally nervous, you know," Tom said to me. "It's when I don't feel in control that it all gets weird."

"We don't have to, you know."

"I know. That's part of why I'm saying yes. Another part is that I'll regret not finding out. It's a big step for me; I seem to have said that before."


Friday was a morning of preparation. We each had foul weather gear to borrow. It costs a fortune to buy. David had his already, a bit tatty at the edges. We dropped in to Billy Marine and couldn't even afford deck boots! One arm, three legs, and a kidney and we might have been able to afford one left boot.

Tom was inspired. The club's junior training section would lend us two sets for a deposit, including boots. We dropped them straight onto the boat. Then we needed layers.

"It's hot!"

"That's what I thought the first time I sailed overnight, Jerry," Tom's dad said. Four in the morning afloat is cold as can be, even in summer."

So layers it was.

"Dad, you have to be joking!" Tom was holding up a pair of tights.

"Half!"

"Half would be a stocking!"

"Tights under trousers at night keep a layer of warm air next to the skin. Ask Hazel why she doesn't get frozen legs in the winter! You could ask Mum, but she's out!"


It was a westerly wind, as forecast. That meant we were fine at anchor off Abersoch at six clearing away an early supper, hot food, cooked on board. The start had been brought forward to 7pm. A west going tide and an east going wind would create a very unpleasant wind against tide sea in Bardsey Sound, and the race officer wanted to minimise the problems it would cause.v

"This is the plan," Tony told us. "After the start, which we'll all sail her for, we're all on watch until we're past Bardsey Sound. We have a reach to the headland, then it's on the nose to Bardsey, which is why they've brought the start forward. We should go through around 11pm. I want the first watch below to go down at midnight. We're doing three hours on three hours off."

I've no idea why, I'd expected we just sailed all night. I've never tried to sleep in a yacht, not ever, let alone a moving one.

"David, You'll take the first watch on with Tom. Hazel, you'll take the second with Jerry. I'm on call every hour to take log readings and any decisions you need me to take. We know the way to Bardsey, but I'll give you a course to steer anyway as practice. After we're through the sound it looks like close hauled port tack all the way."


The start was uneventful, though busy. There was a fleet of 40 or so yachts milling around for our start, and about the same for the faster fleet behind us. We were able to start under spinnaker, something that meant our timing had to be perfect. Tony planned to stand back and not rush the line. There's no way to get back behind it with a kite up. The bay was sheltered from the west. The Inshore Waters forecast for our area issued at 1800 UTC had it as westerly 6, occasionally 7 soon, 4 or 5 later, with a sea state of moderate to rough, locally rough in the north. And it wasn't going to rain.vi

We also had the Shipping Forecast, which suggested more of the same, all the way across, with one consolation. It said 7 in the west, west, backing southwest later.vii Tony explained how to interpret these forecasts. If the wind backed early enough we might need to hoist the kite at night. He said we'd wake the watch below to help do that.

It was going to be a bouncy night, that's how he'd put it. What he hadn't said was how bouncy.

Kites down as we hit the big waves round the headland, and we came hard on the wind for a leg out to sea. Exhilarating doesn't describe it that well. First we put a single reef into the main. We'd also selected the number one genoa, and, with a reefed main we could just carry it, but Rubber Duck lived up to her name and leaped at the waves, bobbing over the top, sometimes coming down with a thump. Who knew that water could be hard!

We each had a very fast lesson on the tiller on how to steer up and over the waves as efficiently as possible. Every thump lost us boat speed. Along with that we had a new toy. There was a steering compass above the main hatch. We had to learn how to follow the compass and steer a course, and report what we felt we'd steered for the time we were helming. That part we'd practiced in the calm waters from the start to the end of the headland. It got harder in the waves.

At a set time Tony'd also streamed a Walker Log over the transom, explaining what he was doing. Since it was on a long line it was daft to do that before the start. He's taken a lat/long fix from the electronic plotter's GPS system

"I plot compass course and log readings on the chart down below," Tony said. "And I check what I plot with the electronic chart plotter."

"Why not just use the electronic one with the GPS readings?"

"Good question, Jerry. What if the power fails? I need to know where we are."

"'Nuff said. Though your handheld radio has GPS co-ordinates in it." I found out later that Tony was very unusual, and Walker Logs were collectors items, little used today.

"I like you. You think."


Apart from dusk settling on us late into the evening, and red and green lights from those astern and white from those ahead appearing, the trip to Bardsey, while a hard fought beat to windward, was uneventful. The light from the lighthouse was comforting in the gathering dark. I'd only ever seen lighthouses from the shore before. Their purpose was something I knew before, now I felt it. The island it guarded was a place of brooding menace from the sea.

The Sound itself?

What an absolute bugger that place is! We'd been by car to look at it from the very tip of the peninsular, and it looked a remote and magical place.

From sea level it was fierce. The wind was getting up, too.

"We need to change the genoa for the number two," Tony called. "Hazel, take charge of the foredeck, please!"

"Tom, Jerry, jobs. Tom, below, get the number two bag ready. It's coming up through the fore-hatch. Jerry, with me to the foredeck. Clip on. We're going to get the new sail from Jerry, and start to feed it into the twin track in the forestay. I've already got a second sheet for this tack to tie it to. How're your bowlines?"

"Good. I can tie them easily."

"Great. You can see how small a bowline we need from the sheets on the genny up now. Happy with that?"

"Yup."

"You're going to be on the leeward rail. Make sure you're clipped on. It's going to be unpleasant up there and noisy when we start changing the sails. Lucky the spare track is on this side or we'd have to put two tacks in to change headsails."

"So we raise the new and lower the old?"

"Yup. The old peels off behind the new. We'll tack to get it down. And we'll call Jerry up here to help us wrestle it."

"Just tell me loudly what you need and when you need it."

"K! Dad, deck light on please." The foredeck was lit from above, not hugely brightly, but enough to see. "Tom, ready?" She got the acknowledgement she needed. "Right, when I'm ready for it I'll bang on the hatch. As soon as the old sail's out close it as fast as you can. We cant afford a wave to go down through it."

Hazel and I forced our way along the weather rail to the foredeck, both clipped on, one hand for the ship one hand for the task. Two bangs on the fore-hatch it opened and we three wrestled the number two's sail bag up. Hazel tied it to the inner forestay while our world was going up and down at least two metres at a time in very short order. She got the tack shackled to the deck and the halliard to the head. I was struggling with getting the sheet onto the clew. The lee rail was going under a lot but but the old genny was stopping me from falling too far.

"Jerry, put the spare sheet and the old weather genny sheet onto the number two! We'll need to to tack with."

That took me five minutes longer than the 20 seconds it would have done on the shore. At last "Done!"

"UP! UP GENOA!" Hazel had to be loud to call the cockpit. Then to me, "We go aft as soon as it flies well." How she could talk and fight the new sail into the track was beyond me. "Take the bag aft with you please."

Back in the cockpit Tony briefed us. "We need a very short tack to free the old genny from the new one so we can drop it, and drop it inside the old one. I'm going to tack and drop at the same time. Hazel, as soon as we're on the new tack take the boys forward and get the old one down the fore-hatch in no time flat, then straight back here to tack back. Make sure you're all clipped on." He paused. "All of you know your jobs?"

We did.

"Ready about?"

A chorus of 'ready'.

"Lee oh!" and he put the bow through the wind, and set us up on the new tack.

Hazel led us forward. We knew time was limited. We had the rocky shore of the island heading towards us in the dark. We had to get the old Genoa down and tack before we damaged the shore with our bow. If we'd had time to notice, the lighthouse lamp was hidden behind the high rocks, not to appear again until we'd cleared the Sound.

The manoeuvre was important rather than urgent, but the difficulty of handling a wet and heavy sail on a heaving foredeck, while remembering to hold on, that made it feel urgent. And the knowledge that we had only about five very busy and short minutes to complete the job before running into the island maybe five minutes later. The closer we got to the island the more urgent it became. I knew we had an escape route. Bearing away or tacking early with the job unfinished took the very real danger away, but we were racing.

We fought the old sail down the hatch, tacked the boat, and then worked below to bag it and stow it.

I discovered I did not enjoy being down below with the boat pitching and slamming into waves. My brain didn't mind. It was just a job that had to be done, a part of racing a yacht with sail changes needed across the Irish Sea. The problem seemed to be my barfometer. I managed to finish before making a dash up to the cockpit and for the lee rail, which seemed a very long way downhill with the angle we were at.

"Grab the back of his lifejacket," yelled Hazel upwards. "Clip him on. NOW!"

I was rather too busy sharing my supper with the fish in the Sound to have taken care of my own safety right then. It was brief, violent, and pointless, but up I chucked until I could upchuck no more; Then I had a couple of other goes at upchucking.

"It'll pass, Jerry." Tom was hanging onto me.

"Yeah, it just did, but not through the right end!"

"I see your sense of humour's back!"

"I felt like shit just then. I'm ok now." I hurled again. "Well, I'll be ok in a minute! Seems I get seasick!"

"Everyone does sometimes. No biggy."

"Right, lets get back to racing!"

"We haven't stopped!"

Another short but unpleasant period later we were through the confused seas and out into the Irish Sea itself, where the ride turned from bloody awful to a much nicer deeply unpleasant! "Are we doing this for fun?" I asked Tom.

"Looks that way!"

"Apart from throwing up I'm enjoying it!" I was. "It's tough, this yacht racing stuff, isn't it?"

"Not half! Beats a GP14, doesn't it?"

"I'll tell you when we get to Dún Laoghaire!"

"Ok," Tony said. "Midnight. First watch below turns in. Jerry, straight onto your berth. Eyes closed, curl up, pretend to be asleep. I know what a first trip can be like. You will sleep, it just won't feel like it. Don't bother to take the foul weather gear off, get your head down at once."

I tried to take his advice. Tom and I were in the forepeak, right at the sharp end, where our light weight was most useful for trim since RD was a bit stern heavy with five aboard, and, for balance we intended to sleep on the uphill side. That was to port since we'd tacked to try to reach Dun Laoghaire in one tack.

I tried really hard.

I climbed over the lee canvass meant to stop me from falling out. It would have done if I could have got over it. The bloody boat pitched and tossed so effectively that I was half in half out and hit my head on the ceiling and the bunk and the ceiling and the bunk and the ceiling and the bunk, after which I said 'FUCK IT!' very loudly and went and lay down on the main cabin floor where it was rock hard, and relatively free from motion.

Hazel was already snuggled down into her berth on the uphill side of the rather weird double width bunk.

What struck me as I did what I'd been told to do was the sounds. I could ignore the boat noises easily, they were natural. It was the sound of people speaking, somehow distorted to be hushed, compressed somehow, yet at normal volume. This was when information was passed from the watch on duty to Tony. Course steered, Walker log reading, lights they could see, apparent wind strength from the instruments, that sort of stuff. It came into a foggy haze in my head punctuated by the dim red chart table light.

Tony was right. I was feeling ok.

"Hazel, Jerry, time to get ready to come on deck, Watch change! Two fifty a.m.!"

Which seemed like only five minutes since I'd had the adventure with the bunk and lost the battle with it.

Damn it was cold out in the open. Hazel did a handover with David. Wind had been rising steadily. The course Tony'd asked us to steer had become easier because the wind had backed. We were on a very close reach, and storming along. Still number two genny because of the wind strength, but we were to alert Tony if it lessened for a continuous five minutes, or of it backed still further. We might have a sail change decision to make.

"Don't steer any higher than you are, we've got to be up-tideviii of the turning mark to fetch it properly" Tony instructed us. "Course made goodix has to be to the mark so we can round it without any hassle. The tide's so strong around the Irish sandbanks that we need to get it right early. If we screw that up we'll have to sail for ages against a foul tide."

Hazel and I helmed half an hour on, half an hour off. The off period was 30 minutes of getting colder and colder. At some point Tony passed up a thermos of hot soup. That was very welcome. It was also hard to sip carefully with the boat powering into really large steep waves. I burnt my tongue. The soup was good, though.

I found I was chasing the compass the wrong way more than once, watching the numbers move and trying to get them right and making it worse. Hazel caught me and got us back on course. Helming at night's really hard. The only reference is the set of the sails and the motion of the boat. The compass is needed, but very confusing when you're tired. I was tired. This part, especially as it crept towards dawn, was not much fun. The cold seeped into me. I wanted to curl up and sleep when I was off the tiller.


Dawn was a weird colour. The sky lightened pinkly, and hazily, and the early morning settled to a uniform light grey with our watch with an hour to run. As the light level rose the two or three sets of yachts' lights we could see vanished, and seeing the boats themselves was hard in the not really yet daytime light.

Going off watch was welcome. I went below and woke Tom by falling on top of him by accident. "Coming up to six am," I told him. "Cold, grey and no land in sight." Then I went back up until he was ready.

As we changed watch Tony warned us that we might be setting the spinnaker in an hour or so. "The wind's backed a little more," he said, and we're a little further South than I want to be even though we've been steering 310º since we left Bardsey, so we're going to head about five degrees further North now, to make up for it. We need to be between the cardinal buoy North Kish and the Kish Bank Lighthouse. We may be able to fly the kite without disturbing you two. I'll let you know if we need you. Get your heads down. I'll call you if we get close to the finish before your watch. No-one wants to miss that!"

I got my head down. As we were a little off the wind I even managed my bunk! Seasickness was well in the past


I did notice the spinnaker turtle being passed up; hard not to, it was on the opposite bunk up forward where I was, and the hatch was above me. There was some banging and crashing and voices, and a change in the boat's motion and sound through the water. My eyes wouldn't open, though. My brain must have worked out that they'd have shaken me if they needed me.


Almost no time later I heard "On deck please!"

There was a bloody great lighthouse on our port bow when I got into the cockpit, and the big spinnaker was flying well on a broad reach. They'd even got the reef out of the main! And the sun was starting to break through the clouds in places. "Wow! That's huge! Is that the finish?"

"Yes, It's the Kish Bank Lighthouse, much sooner than I expected. We've made amazing time," Tony said. "Seasickness gone?"

"Completely! Thanks." Then to Tom, "How was being out of sight of land?"

"I never had time to notice. I was too busy."

"I keep telling you that you overthink!"

"I don't mind things I know about. Now I know about this I like it."

"Yeah. I was like that the moment I kissed you at the end of that race!"

"You can't leave that there!" Hazel was smiling at us both. So Tom started to explain.

"That's so cute and so romantic," she said.

"There's more soup," David called up from below. "I suggest we keep breakfast until after we cross the finish line. How far off are we, Tony?"

"About an hour off. Soup all round, please!"


It's as hard to tell where you come in a long race as a short one. We knew there were some spinnakers well ahead of us. We could just about see some sails past the lighthouse after the finish, and there were a pleasing number behind us, too. We just had to hang on and keep Rubber Duck driving as hard as we could. As a classic design we expected a load of very much faster yachts to be ahead of us over the line, but they gave us time in the handicap system. They'd have had a far harsher ride through Bardsey Sound, too. That may have weighed against them. it's hard to make forward progress if you're slamming and banging. It was hard enough for us!

"We have to take our own finish time," Hazel told us. "I have to take a bearing of the Cardinal mark and send that in with our finish time, and the sail numbers of the boats ahead and astern of us, and approximate time difference. It's to confirm the YB Tracker time in case the system fails, or in case we forgot to turn it on."

There wasn't a lot to do except watch the lighthouse appear. "Don't steer for the Cardinal, stay on the compass course," Tony told Tom. "If you steer for the mark we'll get swept past down-tide and miss it for ages." Our compass course had us heading way outside the finish line, at least a mile off. "Neither of you boys are used to currents, are you?"

"No, we've only sailed on lakes and reservoirs," Tom said.

"If you watch only the compass, but very occasionally look at the bow and see where we head, you'll watch as we and the finish line start to coincide. We've got about an hour more to sail. We're lee bowing the very fierce tide."x

"'scuse me?"

"Sorry, Tom. The tide's coming onto our starboard side, we're on the port tack. So the starboard bow, our lee side, is our lee bow. Ok so far?"

"Yes..."

"Ok, if we pointed directly into the tide it would just slow us down."

"With you, yes. So... if it pushes against our starboard side we move across it to port. Ok, I'm with that. It's the same as when I was taught to ferry glidexi when I did my RYA Powerboat Level 2 in Devon last summer."

"You got it. Why didn't I just say 'ferry glide'?"

"Because you love yachtie jargon?"

"Brat!"

"So, stay on the compass heading, and if you've got it right we cross the line and Hazel takes the time!"

"I'm going with cheeky brat this time! Yes, exactly. And we'll soon see if I have. Just trust the compass, for now!"


As the hour passed we all insisted Tom stay on the helm. He'd been the one who was nervous about coming in the first place and he was enjoying himself. Tony asked me if I wanted to steer over the line.

"Tom needs to be the one, if that's ok with everyone else, please. This trip was a big step for him. He needs to finish it and get everything out of it."

"It's a first for you, too, you know?"

"Right now it'll make me very happy if the boy I love steers us over the line. I don't care where we come in the race, I need him to feel the joy of finishing. I want him to want to do this again, if you'll have us, not just to do it because I'd like to."

"Losing your supper last night didn't put you off, then?"

"That was just throwing up. I was almost put off by banging my head five times on the ceiling when I tried to get into my bunk."

"Deckhead!"

"I am so not! I'll give you 'dickhead!'"

"Deckhead! D-E-C-K!"

"You did that on purpose!"

"Couldn't resist! Gets folk every time."

"You were right, Tony," Tom said. "We're about a quarter of a mile away and coming into the line area."

"Keep the same compass course. Don't get distracted by looking at the ends of the line. I know it seems obvious but just sail the boat and ignore your surroundings."

"That's really hard to do!"

"You're doing it well so far. Another few minutes and we'll get to the finish. Hazel get... Oh, you are!"

"Dad! You know me better than that!"

"Sorry, I was getting excited. I think we might have done rather well in this race. I just want to get everything right." He made puppy dog eyes at her.

We reached on for a bit longer

"Jerry, take the watch. Time on my count, please," Hazel said suddenly. Then she started a countdown. "...Three ...Two ….One and a half ...One …. Now! Ok, say it out loud and write it down!"

I did both

"Ok, who's ahead, can anyone see?"

No-one could, nor the boat astern.

"Never mind, I'll call our time in to Race Control on the radio, and send them a text, too." Keep sailing on to clear the line. Wow, just look at the speed of the tide!" She pointed to a bow wave round the stationary lighthouse. It was going past like a bat out of hell; the tide, obviously, not the lighthouse.

After she'd finished her radio call Tony suggested that Tom and I handle the cockpit end while the other three dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the genoa. It was to be the number two again. We were quite a way off Dún Laoghaire harbour and it was close hauled all the way.

As we turned for the harbour I gave my Tommy a kiss.

"What was that for?"

"Might have to start a tradition of kissing you are the end of races!"

"I love you. Thank you for letting me do the finish. I'm glad we did this."

"I'm glad about everything I do when it's with you. Have told you I love you recently?"

"Not since we were having so much fun in the dark in Bardsey Sound. Then you threw up and we had opposite watches."

"Have you noticed the sea state's eased?"

"Now you mention it, yes, I have."

The wind backed some as we were about a quarter of the way in. We eased sheets and close reached for the harbour mouth


David poked his head up from the hatch. "Bacon butties, anyone? I got the bacon on as soon as we'd got the kite repacked. I'm rather pleased we're heeling less, too. The galley's on the downhill side!"

No refusals to that. And, as if by magic, mugs of tea appeared as well.


The harbour was larger than I'd expected, big and industrial, a ferry and fishing port, with a big yacht marina, where we were rafted up alongside random boats from the fleet, with many finished already and still more to come in. Skippers swapped war stories! We'd not been the only boat not to enjoy ourselves in Bardsey Sound. We'd been rather too busy to see, but one, Rush About, had been dismasted there, luckily with no injuries, and the Porthdinllaen Lifeboat had been launched to it.

"But she still had an engine?" Tom was curious. "The RNLI is not a roadside breakdown service."

"When the mast goes over the side, Tom," David told him, "a load of wires and lines go in as well, plus the sails. There's a huge danger of injury anyway from falling and flying stuff, plus getting a rope round the propellor is very likely. I heard their Pan Pan callxii, heard Holyhead Coastguard acknowledge it, upgrade it to a Mayday, and send the Lifeboat on its way, and decided we could do nothing ourselves in that sea, so put it out of my mind. They were way astern of us and I couldn't see how we could do anything without putting ourselves into danger. That's a thing we don't do."

"Aren't we meant to assist anyway?"

"We are. If he'd called Mayday first we would have put back. His radio call told us all he was happy there was no imminent danger to life, also another yacht was standing by him. It was the coastguard who upgraded the call."

"Makes sense. If we'd all clustered round it would all have gone horribly wrong."

"Could have, yes. None of us is a rescue specialist, and the RNLI is. Most yachtsmen are very good sailors in their own element. Some have much broader skills, too. Rescuing another yacht in the dark with confused seas and loads of random mast and sails and stuff in the water is beyond most of us." He paused. "Tony, we need to go to the club and see who's come where, don't we?"

I decided there and then that if I ever lived by the coast I'd volunteer for the local lifeboat. Time would tell.


We'd got changed into what David called 'Number Ones' before heading for the rather majestic yacht club. There was a formal dinner there in the evening, and we were already more than halfway through the afternoon.

"One won't hurt, will it, David?"

"Best ask the 'kids', Tony!"

"If anyone asks, you're 18," Hazel told us. "Ever had Guinness before?"

"I haven't."

"Nor me."

"It's one of the reasons Dad and David come over here. I'm not sure they're too bothered about the racing!"

"Nonsense, daughter of mine! It's what makes the racing special!"

"Just let me warn both of you," Hazel said. "It's a pint of deeply unpleasant bitterness!"

"I'll have a sip, dad," Tom, said, "just to say I've tried it, but what I'd really like is lime and lemonade, please."

"You'll soon see what you're missing. Jerry, what about you?"

"I'm with Tommy, David. Except I'd like cranberry juice and soda, please."

Hazel, by contrast, was sitting in front of a large glass of black, creamy, softly frothy liquid, and had a creamy moustache from it.

"Aren't we here for the results, dad?" Hazel asked Tony.

We went to look. A tall board on the wall had the results, boat names in alphabetical order.

"Wow!" Tom grabbed my hand. "Look!"

"I am, I have, I did, we haven't!"

"We so haven't! We haven't come fourth, third or second. We've only been and gone and won on corrected time!"

"I think I'll save kissing the boy who helmed us over the line until we're back aboard!"

"I won't!" Hazel grabbed him and kissed him squarely on the lips. Then she did the same to me. "See! That's something a woman can do that two boys can't!"

"Love it! But I know something two boys can do at the same time that two women can't!"

"What?" She looked quizzical.

"Piss in the same pot at the same time!"

"Boys are just gross!"

"We didn't just win, boys, we won by about 30 minutes." Tony looked like the cat with a bowl of cream.

"How?"

"I think we got some of it with the great course you sailed. Part is that the old girl goes like a train on a close reach, though the modern stuff does too. Part is that we carried a bit more sail that probably we ought to for longer than we ought to have. A load of it is that you two can race! No-one pinched. And Hazel's damned good at co-ordinating foredeck work. I'm just off to the bar to co-ordinate a bottle of champagne and five glasses. Well done all of you. Sorry, David, you're good too. This was about the younger generation, though."

"Yup, they did the Rubber Duck and us proud, didn't they?"

"Yeah. She'd be proud of them, all three. So would Bill, her first owner."

"Oh he would. He'd say 'We showed the natives what was what, what!' I sometimes think he's keeping his eye on Rhubodach, you know."

"I only met him a couple of years before he died. He had a love-hate relationship with this race, you said?"

"More like with Bardsey Sound. He told me once that 'The waves are square, the place is menacing, and even the sea birds put back'. He wasn't far wrong."xiii


"That was one heck of an adventure, Tommy!" We were safely back in Wales after an overnight moonlit passage and a sunny, lazy cruise home in pleasant wind.

"It was a big step, that's for sure!" He was nuzzling my cheek. "I was dead worried at first. Them I thought 'My Jerry'll never let me get hurt.' and then I saw the seas as we got to Bardsey. I wanted to go home!"

"You didn't, though."

"Couldn't. It would have let Hazel down. She's amazing."

"Don't go getting all heterosexual on me now!"

"Maybe a little bi where she's concerned!"

"Brat!"

"That's me. Let's go to bed?"

"That works for me. What shall we do next?

"I've got some ideas."

"Will they be a big step, too?"

"Very possibly. Now take me to bed and kiss me a very great deal!

Footnotes

i Here are the Points of Sailing. Probably not before time! If you use a search engine you'll find more diagrams than you can shake a stick at.

ii Tides and tidal flows are huge topics, but this guide makes a great start at explaining them.

iii The RYA and MCA have formal recommendations on radar reflectors. The race rules also insist that at least a passive system is carried in the rigging at all times. Opinions simply vary on the type and their performance. My personal experience is that radar can see some reflectors and not others of the same identical type and make. This may depend on other factors, such as where in the rigging they are fixed. Rhubodach is using belt and braces with AIS, and both types of radar reflector, but good for them. I would, too.

iv These handheld VHF radios, while they have only a short range, can send the radio set's position automatically and send a distress call automatically, too. The use on Rhubodach of such a set is in the event of needing to evacuate to the liferaft. In a busy shipping area such as the Irish Sea short range is no difficulty, since all vessels within range receive the call. It's also very useful should the RNLI have to search for a liferaft in a heavy swell. They can receive the position directly and at once when in range.

v When the wind is in opposition to the tide or any current it creates a set of steep, often breaking waves. The effect is compounded when underwater obstructions, of which Bardsey Sound has a number, push the tidal flow to the surface for the top of the waves to be exaggerated by the opposing wind.

vi The Inshore Waters Forecast is for 12 miles offshore, obviously not far enough to be valid for the whole trip to Ireland, and has some key reserved words in it such as 'imminent', 'soon', and 'later'. Each refers to a specific time period.

vii The Shipping Forecast deals with sea areas off the coast of the British Isles and Ireland. Same key reserved words. The wind numbers refer to the Beaufort Scale. The left hand column has the numbers referred to in the forecast. Of interest is the probable wave height, which is peak to trough, and is an average. The probable maximum column can be scary.

viii This is a story. Those who navigate yachts in the Irish Sea will check tidal stream atlases and the time taken to cross at around six knots and potentially have an argument about the accuracy of tidal flow and times. Those folk are asked to suspend their disbelief if required. Of course it may not need to be suspended!

ix For our purposes 'Course Made Good' is the shortest distance to the place we need to get to, making allowance for tide, and leeway. It's the course we plan to steer now, to reach our target position at the time we intend to reach it. It involves plotting vectors on a chart, or using a good electronic chart plotter, or, in Rhubodach's case, doing both and checking one with the other.

x Lee Bowing the Tide is a sailor's jargon for Ferry Gliding, referred to in another footnote. There is also a tactical racing technique in close quarters racing known as the Lee Bow Effect which is more than a little different.

xi Ferry Gliding is a very useful technique to move the body bodily sideways while facing into a prevailing current.

xii Emergency calls afloat have two grades. Mayday for imminent and grave danger to life, and Pan Pan for a serious but not imminent danger to life situation. Your author has issued both types of call while at sea. One was when his charter boat hit a rock and started to sink (Mayday) one when someone fell close to his boat from the back of theirs at 10:15pm in the dark while they were drunk (Mayday), one when rescuing someone dangling in the water from the stern of their vessel (Mayday Relay), and one when the skipper of the yacht he was on declared a ruptured appendix and had to be airlifted off by helicopter (Pan Pan). He's been about a bit!

xiii For those who want to know a little about what it's like to sail through Bardsey Sound in an unpleasant blow, I couldn't find any videos that capture it exactly. I did find this:



It's a much larger yacht, half as big again as the Rhubodach, in much less unpleasant conditions, and in full daylight. People do this for fun! I used to! I used to do it on the boat that the Rhubodach of the story is based on, a dark green Hustler 30, owned by a fine man named Bill.

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