We are eating breakfast feeling a bit like the damned. Neither of us has slept very well, thinking about whether we will survive Portland Bill this morning, the point of land that sticks out and interrupts the tidal flows, funnelling them into overfalls and a race that is dangerous to man and beast, exceeding 7 knots at spring tides. Cunliffe, in his book The Channel Pilot, describes it as the most dangerous extended area of broken water in the English Channel. We have read all the guides and talked to several of the locals who have told us stories of doom and destruction to the extent we have worked ourselves up into a bit of a state, especially as we are doing it right on spring tides. However, we have no choice but to tackle it if we are ever going to get back to Scotland.
There are in fact two routes around the point – the Outer and Inner routes. The Outer route involves avoiding it all together by taking a wide berth but this adds several miles to an already long passage to Dartmouth where we are heading. The Inner route is a narrow channel of relatively smooth water about 200 metres off the point itself, but navigation needs to spot on or else there is the danger of being swept into the race. To make it even more of a challenge, the Inner route is also a favourite place for lobster fishermen to drop their pots and leave the buoys for hapless sailors to avoid.
We have done all the calculations and aim to be at the Bill at around slack water when it is not so rough. We leave Weymouth in plenty of time and join the south flowing current just out of the harbour, which adds another know to our speed. Before long we see the lighthouse on the point and realise that we are now committed to the Inner route whether we like it or not. We continue to be swept along slowly but surely, and before we know it are passing the Bill and are in Lyme Bay, wondering what all the fuss was about. We have survived Portland Bill, but hardly know we have done it! We know the conditions are very benign today and try to imagine what it would be like normally.
We set a course across the broad sweep of Lyme Bay for Dartmouth 45 miles away. The wind goes around to the north and picks up. We set the sails and the autopilot and spend the day reading while Ruby Tuesday sails herself. This is the life!
I lie on the foredeck in the sun and look up to the top of the mast. It is mesmerising to see the sails stretched smooth by the flow of wind over them, pulling the boat forward. It all seems a world away from the troubled times we seem to be in, from Brexit to the return of authoritarian politics. Why are we doing this?, I ask myself.
The small boy pushes the old tin bath tub into the murky waters of the pond and clambers in, trying not to get wet. The plug he had jammed into the plughole seems to be keeping the water out. The bath had been left behind the shed of the new house his parents had just moved into, and it seemed to be too good not to have a use. The pond, a widening of the stream running through a field at the side of the house, is waiting to be explored, and the two seem to be made for each other, the unused and the unknown. He picks up the piece of wood in the bathtub he has fashioned into a paddle and pushes against the willow tree growing on the bank. Unbalanced, the makeshift boat tips to one side and begins to fill with water. The small boy begins to cry …