I motored down to Plymouth in mid February, my mind full of the jobs that I needed to attend to before Coral could go in the water—I must build a new hatch cover for the Calor gas locker, varnish the bright woodwork, take the batteries home to recharge them. I must polish the topsides, renew the antifouling, and grease the seacocks. Most important, I must to find out how to adjust the gearing on the Aries steering, which has been pulled out of true when the mooring line got wrapped around it toward the end of last season. I needed some photos that I could send to the manufacturer in Denmark to get advice as to how to adjust it.
It was a bitterly cold but bright late winter day. Light clouds were blowing in from the northwest on a wind that was bringing dry but near freezing cold from Scandinavia. Occasional early daffodils nodded around, and at the service station where I stopped for a stretch I noticed how the feathers on a crow lurking around for scraps of food were raised up by the wind.
The boatyard was packed with yachts parked on their cradles or propped up with lengths of timber. I found Coral hemmed in between an old wooden fishing boat, recently worked fresh timber showing where a repair was underway, and several other yachts. She looked forlorn, with the antifouling below the waterline faded and chipping off, her white topsides grubby and smudged with red from the bootline. I had not been near her in four months. I unlocked the ladder and climbed up to deck level—some ten feet above ground—and stood in the cockpit looking around. Through the jumble of cabins and masts I could see down to the familiar Cattewater—the lower reaches of the River Plym that are navigable. A few yachts were still afloat on the lines of moorings, presumably belonging to brave souls who continue to race through the winter months. Further downstream a cargo ship was unloading at the commercial quay, a crane scooping sand from the hold and dropping it into huge lorries that shuddered under the increasing load.
But now I was high up and exposed it was the wind that grasped my attention, howling through the masts and wire rigging of the hundreds of boats all clustered together. The sounds were layered: a continual low moan was overlaid with wild screeches that built and diminished as the squalls came and went. The howling wind was accompanied by the percussive rattle of halliards knocking against hollow metal masts, a regular beat interspersed with periods of almost hysterical commotion. This sound of wind through metal masts is far harsher than that of wind through trees: maybe the softer surfaces and organic shapes of trees provide a greater range of over- and under-tones. Today in the boatyard I was reminded more of an out of control percussion group, even a banshee wailing, than of the orchestral sounds of wind through treetops.
After opening the companionway I climbed down into the cabin, which was cold and unwelcoming with all the soft upholstery removed for the winter. But I was at least out of the wind, and there were few signs of damp. I managed to do the jobs I came down for, going up on deck for the shortest periods as possible. I measured up for the hatch cover, took some picture of Aries to send to Denmark, unbolted the power lines from the batteries and carefully lowered them over the side and down to the ground. But every time I tried to do something my ungloved hands were soon rigid with the cold, clumsy, and hurting badly when I knocked them against something hard. I did the minimum needed, locked up again and retreated to the car. The big jobs of cleaning up and antifouling must wait for warmer weather.