The One with the Flying Dog (not to be confused with the flying fish…)
Kate, a forty-something British lady, met Marc on one of those typical end-of-university trips to Palma de Mallorca. Marc, who had just graduated in Chemistry, was soon bowled over by Kate’s beauty and personality.
In just one year, and after many long and amorous love letters, the odd trip to London and lots of money spent on phone calls, they decided to get married and live in Chelmsford, an affluent town of around 100,000 inhabitants in the southeast of England. Emma, now eight, and Luis, who’s just turned seven, were born soon afterwards. Ah, and let’s not forget Pearl, an affectionate Maltese dog who plays a major role in the family home.
Last year, Marc decided he couldn’t put it off any longer: he was going to get his yachting qualification. He’d always loved the sea and has fond memories of long hot summers spent in Cabo de Gata sailing and windsurfing with his parents and brothers. University, the move to England and a lack of time had always come between him and his desire to sail. With his RYA certificate under his belt and a bit of extra time on his hands, it was now the moment to follow his dream. After some practice sessions off Canvey Island with the school instructors and his coursemates, he was now ready to take the plunge and charter his first sailboat as a skipper.
Kate was enticed by the idea of sailing. Even though hadn’t done an official course, she had worked with Marc on his nautical chart exercises and even helped him memorise the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs) every night when she got home from her job at the family-run floristry business.
Both of them shared the desire to spend holidays chartering a sailboat, although Kate thought that it might be better to do it with a skipper for the first few days. In the end, after an impassioned after-lunch talk one Saturday chez Miller, they enlisted their friends Sally and Alan on to the adventure. The initial days would entail short outings from the home port to gradually build up their confidence.
Alan and Sally loved Lanzarote, where they’d travelled to on many an occasion but never by sea. As they were already planning to go in the month of November, they decided it would be the perfect location for their upcoming yachting vacation: great climate, guaranteed wind, state-of-the-art yachting facilities and a spectacular volcanic landscape that they would enjoy from their boat. Sally only had a doubt about their son Dave’s age, just two years old, but they all agreed that age should not be a hindrance to enjoying family holidays on board a sailboat, as long as they observed the relevant safety measures, which Alan jokingly pointed out would be making sure that Dave didn’t do a night watch alone or scale the main mast without asking… Much laughter abound.
So here they were in Lanzarote, recently landed from their Gatwick flight and on their brand-new 40-foot boat, a beautiful Dehler with three double cabins, two heads, a lovely galley and an amazing aft cockpit. Each couple chose their accommodation, giving the slightly larger fore cabin to Sally and Alan, as they had to share it with little Dave. The third one, a double aft cabin to starboard, was for Emma and Luis, who were over the moon about having a “floating bedroom” to themselves from which they could admire other boats and the seascape from their window.
Alan, to much amusement and the odd tut, then tried to fit his 79cm hard-shell suitcase into the cabin, practically blocking the entrance and making it difficult to climb over. “I told you not bring a hard case, they’re impossible to stow away”, said Marc.
Later he fetched Camelot, a cute two-year-old Westie terrier, to take him for a walk on the quay. They’d locked him in the day head as he wouldn’t stop howling. Pearl had become Camelot’s one and only obsession, and any human attempt to fend off his canine instincts proved to be pretty futile.
Sally: “They’re going to keep us on our feet during this trip. We’ll be looking out for them constantly and I simply can’t bear this non-stop howling any longer!”
Kate: “It’s by pure chance that he’s on heat, but they’re not even the same breed, so a weird by-product would come out anyway…”
And so they kept on postulating whilst at the Marina Rubicón supermarket to stock up on a never-ending list of food and drink
they’d so meticulously written a few days earlier. That night they headed off to the Italian recommended to them by Ricardo, the check-in guy when they chartered the boat. “Il Commendatore” was just a stone’s throw away from their boat and was the ideal place to chill out after the journey and savour an excellent pizza before their first night aboard.
Marc was the first to rise the next day. He didn’t delay in laying out his full “knowledge base”, including a laptop with bookmarked sites such as Windfinder, WindGuru and the Spanish Met Office AEMET, a paper copy of Admiralty Standard Chart 1862 that he’d bought online, as well as a bow divider, quadrant, ruler, pencil and an old-school logbook that he’d marshalled to take note of all the sailing data and anecdotes that would arise on board. He knew that charter boats are required, just like any other vessel, to carry at least one nautical chart of the area, but he’d also spent the previous weeks learning about the submarine topology, headlands, lighthouses in Lanzarote, distances between waypoints, and the rest of geographical features of the area they were now about to sail around. He also flicked open his iPhone to check that the Imray nautical charts were working correctly. He found it fascinating that he had a reproduction of the yacht’s plotter in the palm of his hand, and the price of just ten pounds was definitely worth it, as the device served as an authentic plotter.
After all the guests had shared a hearty breakfast out on the deck, they got ready to cast off. Marc had studied everything down to the minutest detail and gave the corresponding orders to all the crew. Whilst Kate and Sally were in charge of the bow and stern lines respectively, Alan was poised with fender in hand to make sure that the boat backed out of the berth without any complications. The younger crew members remained in the aft cockpit throughout the manoeuvres with their life jackets on. What’s more, Pearl was lying on the top step of the companionway basking in the sunlight streaming in from between the bimini and spray hood whilst wondering why her suitor Camelot was tied to the mast. It had been an emphatic decision taken by Alan, questioned by the others as to whether it was cruel or not, to keep the dog away from Pearl and try and quash his lovelorn howls if Pearl out of sight.
They’d decided to sail towards Playas Papagayo, just a few miles from Marina Rubicón, as not only is it one of the most beautiful places in Lanzarote, but also because it would be a good way of getting to grips with the boat over a short distance.
Marc chose to sail with the engine for the first few minutes both to test out the boat and to carry out a backwater turn in the widest part of the marina, which would check how the yacht started off and the effect of the propeller turning to port. He thought it would be better to see this now so that upon returning to the marina he could perform the mooring manoeuvres as efficiently as possible.
Once they had the port entrance to aft, he glanced at the digital wind gauge to his left and saw that it was recording a northwesterly apparent wind of just 5 knots on the port flap.
Marc then shouted, “we’re going to hoist the mainsail! I’ll tack the boat and, Alan, when I say so, haul in the mainsail halyard, and I want you, Kate, to watch how the track slide goes up along the leechline. If you notice anything untoward, shout ‘stop’ to abort the manoeuvre. All understood?”
As the mainsail was raised, the boat gained a couple of knots as she was able to heel a couple of degrees. Marc switched off the engine and they all enjoyed that magical moment when the engines are silenced and the only sound is of the hull cutting through the water. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the past few weeks”, called out Kate. “You know”, replied Alan, “that you start to enjoy the journey just when you start to prepare it…”
“Are we going to hoist the genoa?” They all turned in awe to Emma, astounded by the nautical knowledge of a girl her age. Proof that the lessons that Marc had given her before the trip had paid off…
Marc then told Alan to trim the starboard sheet and Sally to open the roller stopper. “Genoa all out, the engine’s working away now”, he added. The wind had built up and a good 7 knots were propelling the boat with an apparent wind angle of approach of 45º on a port tack. “We’ll have to tack”, shouted Marc as he gripped on to the helm wheel. “Everyone into their positions, ready, steady…”, he was saying when Sally screamed and the rest of the crew froze in shock. During the tack manoeuvre, the port sheet had hit the rope that was keeping Camelot firmly tied to the mast, and then, with an almost perfect knot, launched the poor dog skyward, who was now hanging face down from one of his legs. After the initial moments of disbelief and concern, the crew decided to slowly ease off the genoa sheets and Camelot gradually came back down from his unexpected journey.
Several cans of “Tropical” beer were needed to calm everyone down. Fortunately, it was all just a tremendous shock and our friendly little dog suffered no type of physical harm. One thing was true, though, Camelot didn’t moan for the rest of the holiday.