As we approached the Essex coast we ran out of fuel. Well, we didn’t run out of fuel, the second tank wasn’t feeding fuel to the engine for some reason. With this in mind the skipper wasn’t happy sailing all the way back to Burnham with no diesel so we made a detour up the Orwell with the aim of pulling in to Levington to refuel. It was closer and the wind was in our favour. Or so we thought. Are you ready for this?
As six Red Arrows flew overhead, we came in to Levington marina with the wind behind us. Now even I know that when coming in under sail with the wind from behind you should be using your genoa. You do this because you can kill your speed at any time by furling the genoa away. Only when the wind is coming from the front of the boat do you use your mainsail. Two of us pointed this out to the skipper but he insisted we came in under the main. We passed through the marina wall and right in front of us was the fueling pontoon, exactly what we were after. Oh, it was just all too easy!
So as we approached the pontoon a man came out from the harbour master’s office and I explained the situation to him. With a line in my hand I threw it to him and told him to wrap it round a cleat because the boat was still moving and it was up to him to stop it. Instead he just held the line in both hands and stood there pulling on it like a tug-o-war contestant, hoping this would stop 15 tons of fibreglass and sail traveling at a few knots. It didn’t, of course. Instead he was yanked from his position, slipping on the wet pontoon and fell back on himself. Meanwhile Dave, the sixty year old crew member, was trying to pull down the mainsail, but couldn’t because it was full of wind. Mark had by now jumped on to the pontoon to wrap his line round the cleat but he too slipped. In this crazy moment I could see two men writhing around on the pontoon in pain, with one of them looking seriously injured, an OAP struggling to pull down a full main sail, whilst the skipper just looked on nonchalantly. As I turned towards the bow of the boat I watched as it ploughed straight in to a parked yacht, sideways on, our anchor gouging a nice line out the side of the boat, denting its toe rail and taking out the guardwire and a few stanchions. Only then did the vessel come to a stand still. I quickly nipped across the other boat and on to the slippery pontoon, watching helplessly as the first guy still moaned in agony, clutching at the base of his spine. For one sick moment I thought he had broken his back but he managed to right himself, explaining that he was not the harbour master and that he was just standing in for the afternoon. I bet he wished he’d never got out of bed that morning. Indeed he took the rest of the afternoon off to head down to the doctors, so painful was his injury.
Twelve days of some eventful boating. As I said in my introduction there were a few lessons to be learnt here, though as an amateur I’m the last person to pass judgement. Even so on a number of occasions I did feel as though the skipper had put us into situations that could have been avoided and I only hope that I do not do the same with my future crew. We all know this is easier said than done.