View Full Version : Lulu's First Night Out

John R Smith
01-29-2001, 09:32 AM

Well folks, it has been a long while since the last Lulu tale. Fact is, we have been doing no more than getting the old girl through the winter, going down to the beach at least once or twice a week, pumping-out, checking the covers, and running the engine up. But this Saturday last we did actually get on with things a bit, putting up new shelves in the galley and testing the cooker. For our story, though, we will have to cast our minds back almost a year now . . .

Lulu's First Night Out

Only a month after we brought Lulu back up from Devoran, our thoughts began to turn to greater things. We had made several exploratory trips down river, tried anchoring once for tea, and had gained a little confidence along the way. We knew, now, that she did not sink (at least, not suddenly), would move along ahead if not too well astern, and would steer more or less the way we wished to go. So far we had returned to Sunny Corner alive and well, without recourse to flares, mayday signals, lifeboats, or the helicopters from Culdrose.

One great rite of passage lay ahead. Our new craft had a feature denied to us before - a cabin, with portholes and a cooker. Neither of us had ever slept aboard a boat. This was what we had bought her for - endless summer days of cruising on the river, anchoring at night in some idyllic creek, and enjoying a superb meal cooked in our saloon before settling down for the night in cushioned luxury. We could not wait to try it.

Common sense, had we possessed it, might have suggested that the beginning of April was perhaps a month or so too soon. Undeterred by such mundane constraints, we made our plans. We would leave our moorings on an evening tide, motor down the river until we found a suitable spot for the night, and lay our anchor. Then, with Maurice Griffiths as our guide, the cabin would be transformed into a haven on the water. Next morning we would wake renewed, respected by our fellow brethren on the Fal.


It was still early in the year, and there were few boats on the river as we dropped our warps and set off down to Malpas. Herons were the only witness to our passing as Lulu motored past the oak-hung slopes, her jaunty profile mirrored in the flat-calm reach. Dwarfed by the enormous bulk of the big ships at Tolverne, we crept past with charts to hand, tides consulted. Down by King Harry we kept on as shadows deepened, around the sweep to Turnaware, and into Channals Creek.

This had seemed to me to be a most suitable spot for our designs. The creek is wide, shallow, and sheltered from all points but the south-east, which is a rare wind in Cornwall. Our first task was to attach Lulu firmly to the ground. In the centre of the creek was a rather tempting large red mooring buoy, but it was not ours and who knew what might happen if the owner suddenly returned? Besides, this was cheating. No, we must play the game and use our own anchors, even though there was a certain mystery surrounding their proper use. Kate let go forward, Lulu went astern and I hoped we were dug in.

All seemed well. She settled to her cable, we lit the cabin lights and were delighted with their civilised effect. The riding lamp was soon trimmed and set hanging from the boom, bacon was sizzling in the pan and mugs of tea were brewed. This was it, we told ourselves, the Real Thing. And indeed it was. Channals Creek is in truth one of the most gracious settings on the river. Sitting in the cockpit after supper we were treated to a splendid panorama. High above us on the hill was the neo-classical mansion of Trelissick, ghostly pale in the falling dusk. The grounds swept down from the house to the shores of the creek, their grassy slopes set off by ancient trees on either side. On the other quarter was the wide expanse of Carrick Roads, the buoy lights flashing green, and in the far distance the lights of Falmouth and St Mawes. The night was perfectly clear, and above us now the stars were set in an indigo sky. An owl hooted in the woods.


Only one discomfort marred our reverie - the cold. "This is great, isn't it?" we said, teeth chattering. And went below. Despite closing all our doors and hatches, the temperature in Lulu's cabin was little better than outdoors. If we had possessed a thermometer, it would have told a sorry tale. Determined to enjoy ourselves, we pulled on extra jumpers and shared out woolly hats. Thus equipped, we slid into our sleeping bags and prepared for our first night aboard, our breath showing white as the frost settled overhead. The bunk seemed narrow, the mattress hard. The pillow was hardly adequate. And the sleeping bags were old and thin.

Despite everything, I believe I must have dozed for a while. I awoke to a strange noise - glop, glop, glop, glop - gronk. And a movement in our boat. I slid from my bed and peered out from the door. A wind had got up - from the south-east of all quarters - and there were now a few small waves. As it struck the bow, each wave produced a glop. She was ranging about, and as she did so the anchor cable ground against the bobstay with a gronk. How was anyone supposed to sleep? Kate (who never slept at all that night) joined me in the cockpit. Perhaps we needed another anchor to stabilise the ship. No sooner said, than the deed was done. We hauled out the kedge from its lair in the fo'c'sle and hurled it over the stern, making fast to the bitts and hoping for the best. Retiring again to our bunks, things seemed a little steadier, but the glopping noise increased.

We lay sleepless and shivering as the wind moaned in the rigging and rain lashed down on Lulu's decks. After what seemed an age there was a tremendous lurch, a shudder, and another mighty gronk. As one we leaped from our beds and staggered out again into the night, fearing for our lives. Lulu was now lying in completely the opposite direction and worse - we had dragged, there was no doubt. The red mooring buoy which had been a cable's length away was now hard up under our stern.

Hindsight has revealed the truth to me, so puzzling at the time. The tide had turned, but anchored as she was at bow and stern Lulu could not swing to it. Broadside to the wind and waves, the strain became too great and the kedge let go. As she swung, she snubbed the bower cable, turning the anchor which pulled out and dragged back down the creek. Clear now, perhaps, but not so then in darkness and confusion. I desperately eyed the buoy next to our transom. Beside it a smaller buoy bobbed up and down. Aha! There was a chain attached to it, covered in weed and slime. Could this be our salvation? We got the chain aboard and made it fast to Lulu's bow. At least we were moored to something, and etiquette be damned.

We went below again, wet through and adorned with weed. The wind increased. Looking out through the portholes the waves seemed awfully large (which did not reassure), the halyards rattled and our spirits sank in the small hours. It was a long, long night as she pitched and swung in the steep chop, each glop and gronk a harbinger of doom. Eventually I dozed again and woke to a grey dawn. Outside in the cockpit the world had changed once more. The wind had dropped, a mist hung in the woods and the creek was still.


At 5.30am we brewed up a large pot of tea and set to work, hauling in our useless anchors. They came up fouled with thick green weed where we expected mud. Colder, wiser, Lulu's haggard crew had only home in mind. We fired up the Yanmar, dropped the mooring buoy and headed out of Channals Creek. As if to reward us, the river now relented. The sun came up to reveal a perfect morning. The cottagers at King Harry were still abed as we came past, pheasants called in the woods and Spring seemed close at hand. Despite our ordeal we were seduced again, in mellow mood as Mopus Reach swept by. Rounding the channel by our home buoys we lined up for Sunny Corner. For once we moored up there in text-book style, but no-one saw us do it.

Strangely, by the time we had set our moorings, tidied ship and put the cockpit cover on, the night just past no longer seemed so bad. Perhaps it might stand as a benchmark, by which we could measure future trips. Lulu had pulled us through despite our ineptitude with anchors, for had she not taken us to the buoy? At the car we looked back down the beach. Hell's teeth, we had just spent the night in that little wooden box, out on the lonely Fal. She looked very small, but willing, and we began to trust our boat.


Greg H
01-29-2001, 09:53 AM
You've made spring feel a bit closer, thanks John

Dave Fleming
01-29-2001, 12:16 PM
Ah, the end of the dry spell from our talented member from across the pond!
Nice John, will print it out for SWIMPAL to read when she gets home from work and has her
glass of Sherry.

01-29-2001, 02:03 PM
The days get slowly longer. How much longer can the lakes be frozen in? Thanks, John.

01-29-2001, 03:19 PM
Another nice tale, and well told, too. Thanks, John.

Ian McColgin
01-29-2001, 03:33 PM
Lovely tale John.

Three thoughts on comfortable anchoring:

Rig some kind of snubbing line for each side of the end of the bowsprit. Once the anchor is out and happy, you can then draw the rode up to the end and never have bob stay bang again. There's a gazillion ways to rig this, so if you're interested and want an account of one way that's worked for me and about a dozen ways that did not work for various reasons, let me know.

When dropping two anchors, generally have both from the bow. If you do a 360 you'll have to unloop the mess, which means you have to get used to diagnosing it in the first place, but that's generally less stress than mooring fore and aft unless you're in a pretty windless slough and just aligning with a reversing current, in shich case fore and aft is hard to beat.

Especially in esturine situations, there are times when the current and wind work against each other to leave you broadside to the wind and heeled over obnoxiously. Sometimes there's an analogous problem anchoring behind a point and being unable to allign with both wind and swells. You can fix a spring with a taughtline hitch to the rode, then let out a bit so the hitch is a boat length or two off the bow. Now if you heave in on the spring from the quarter, you can swing her off to a comfortable heading.

The world of anchoring is endlessly fascinating since anything works a little and nothing works all the time . . .


B. Burnside
01-29-2001, 07:16 PM
Thank you once again, John, Kate and Lulu. The days are getting longer indeed. My one and only visit to Malpas was in April, and I can smell the primroses again...

Ian, please share the details of your anchoring ideas. And a tautline hitch too, please.

Dave Hadfield
01-29-2001, 10:26 PM
Nice story, John. Sleeping at anchor always takes some getting used too. Beer helps.

My boat is under 3 ft of snow.

I wish it was on the Fal.


John B
01-29-2001, 11:29 PM
Glopping and gronking can be most annoying but you get used to it.
It always amazes me how one can get used to and sleep through all the noises a boat makes, and yet when it really counts, when you really need to, you will be awake and alert to any unfamiliar sound.

Take the penguin which, flying underwater, ( as penguins do) flew into the Waione at anchor a couple of weeks ago. I was up like a shot. I had the torch on that groggy bird for a minute or two as it reflected on it's failure to keep a proper watch at sea.
And then an hour or two later, when I had stopped laughing, I went back to bed, to the glopping.

Glopping is good.

John R Smith
01-30-2001, 09:02 AM
Well folks

thanks very much for your input, and I'm glad you enjoyed the saga. In fact writing it got me really impatient to be out there again, glops, gronks and all.

Ian - thank you for your sound advice, always to the point. I have now figured out a way of pulling the cable up to the end of the bowsprit, using a 10mm line, a block, and a simple snap-link, but have yet to test it.

We kind of circumvented the problem last summer, when I realised that Lulu's magnificent flat bottom http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif was in fact our salvation. Thereafter we simply dumped her on the mud on a falling tide, and enjoyed an undisturbed night free of worries or extraneous noise. Cheating a bit, really.


Charlie J
01-30-2001, 09:16 AM
Cheating? Not at all! Gunkholing in it's truest sense http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif Sounds like a great time, and I too enjoy your tales. My wife, who is also a very talented artist herself, really loved Kates watercolors.

02-03-2001, 09:20 PM
John, I'll stick .02 in here just to bring this back to the top in case someone missed your story.

I know you've been admonished before to submit your nautical writing to a magazine but, ... "Classic Boat", for example, has a couple of sections like I envision for you. Sleightholm can't be beat but tell them I said you can have Niki's place. "WaterCraft" perhaps?


Ian McColgin
02-05-2001, 10:39 AM
Actually, I'm coming to hope John does not write for a magazine. I'm getting used to the idea that he does it just for us just for love. Not only is Lulu special, but we're made special also.

John R Smith
02-05-2001, 11:26 AM
Well, you can bet your cotton socks you're special. In fact, I said to Kate just the other day that our first season "big" ship sailing would have been far more difficult and not half so much fun if I hadn't stumbled on the Forum. Everyone here has been a mine of information and advice, and the Lulu stories have been a way for me to repay the debt a little - and give us all a bit of a laugh in the process.

Even when I'm not posting much, I am still around reading and learning a lot. This seems to me to be a quite extraordinary community of like-minded souls - an "affinity group" if you will - but characterised by an amazing tolerance for diverse opinions. Which is a thing to be treasured in my view.

As far as magazine articles and the like are concerned - I do something else entirely for a living, and it is nice to pen the odd Lulu saga without pressure of deadlines or column inches. This stuff, as I have said many times before, is just for fun. And all you folks are very special, in my book.


02-05-2001, 09:09 PM
John, I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that your "Tales of Lulu" are appreciated and awaited with great anticipation.
That being said, don't sell yourself short! You are a fine writer, and Kate's watercolors take my breath away. Truly good literature is so rare in this hack's world, and I have no doubt that you could easily find a smart publisher somewhere to defray the costs of woodenboat stewardship. Please save your posts, and Kate's art, print out a few chapters and send them around. You might be surprised.

02-06-2001, 12:05 AM
every time I see a story from the LULU files, I want to go out a steal a 30 foot sail boat and head out through the deep blue... http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif

02-06-2001, 08:23 AM
Tony, you may be right about art for the love of it. Is that different from art for art's sake? Which can drift off into navel gazing head trips. I think art needs an audience to be complete. Hacking it out for wages to meet some corporate goal probably isn't the best way to get that audience. Being paid for one's work isn't to be sneered at either. Is there a creative tension there? Could that be good? Maybe "publishing" on the net has a purifying effect? A tree falling in the woods may make a sound but unless someone is there to hear it and to honor the tree's life and death something vital to our lives is missing. Even if there were no God, perhaps the universe would "need" to have evolved us as witnesses to appreciate it. A fine meal that no one eats is a perverse waste.

Labor on, Kate, John, and Lulu. The world is richer for it.

Garrett Lowell
03-09-2005, 05:06 PM
Sailing season approaches! Slowly, perhaps, but inexorably.

John Gearing
03-10-2005, 08:11 PM