ONE DOOR CLOSES by Renee Cuthbertson 

We had been sailing for the best part of thirty-five years so most Friday nights were often spent propping up the bar at the Yacht Club .All the usual crowd were there. “What’s happening at Whitsun?” Terry enquired. “Same old thing, over for the Calais Rally weekend then back” Jerry sighed. Every body moaned. “Seen that, done that, and got the tee- shirt four times” a wag joked. John my husband said “I’m looking to go somewhere different; how about Gravelines? It’s just down the coast from Calais, not so busy, and we can achieve it on one run. As the tide is early morning we will easily arrive on the afternoon tide”.

Saturday dawned bright and clear. We awoke on Catareta our thirty one foot Catamaran, which is a twin hull yacht. At four am we upped anchor, gunned the motor and headed towards Southend pier on the outgoing tide, sails hoisted we turned the motor off and had ten quiet hassle free hours of sailing. We each took a hand at the wheel and with a good southwesterly on our stern we headed for the French coast, a run down the Thames and a reach across the channel. We arrived just before high tide, motored up river for a mile before we reached Gravelines marina, tied up, then sat down for a welcome hot cup of tea. All the other boats reached harbour safely, the tide ebbed and we settled in for a happy and slightly boozy weekend.

Monday morning dawned sunny and bright. Four boats were heading home and one decided to sail along the coast with us towards the Belgium port of Newport for a few days. We berthed one night at Dunkirk on the way. It was an enjoyable and uneventful trip and several days later we journeyed towards home via Dunkirk and across to Ramsgate. 

We berthed at Dunkirk on a fine Thursday evening had a very enjoyable meal and then went straight to bed. We got up bright and early for the channel crossing. All went well the first two hours. Suddenly the slight breeze became a light wind, the sea state increased into a heavy chop and we had to decide whether we carried on or went back to Dunkirk. We chose to go forward. The wind grew stronger and stronger, the sea wilder, the waves began to pound over the boat like Niagara Falls in full flow. The wind roared through the rigging impersonating a pack of demented lions. An almighty crash could be heard over the weather noises. “ What’s that?” I yelled. My husband who had been fighting the wheel called “I don’t know”. There was a long, long pause. “ I think the anchor has fallen of its front mount. Could you grab the wheel while I go forward and see”.  I suddenly became frozen, I could not move, I sat on the cabin step unable to move or help in anyway. John called louder thinking I had not heard. “I can’t,” I stammered. “I’m too scared”. After thirty-five years my nerve had gone. John was nonplussed, he had to go forward but he could not just leave the wheel. “Sit where you are, just hold the wheel tight, you don’t have to move”. I understood, my grip must have been like steel it was the only thing I thought of, hold the wheel, hold the wheel, it was like a mantra. I shouted “John are you there”. No reply. I yelled again “John, John”. Suddenly a head appeared over the cabin roof. “I’m here, I’m here”. I nearly cried with relief.” I thought you’d gone overboard as you hadn’t answered me”. “I could hardly reply while I was pulling up a great big anchor and thirty metres of chain.” he gasped and collapsed on the deck. I still clung on to the wheel. It took him several gasp- retching  minutes until he got his breath back. He prised my fingers from the wheel and regained control, after a few moments of silence he laughed. “ Well done you’ve steered a beautiful course not one degree off, straight as a die”. I didn’t care all I wanted to do was to get home to Canvey. For five more hours John helmed the boat with no break while I sat rigid on the step. Luckily the weather did not get any worse but by the time we arrived at Ramsgate we were saturated, frozen and decidedly very, very miserable.

As we docked I went down below and stripped off my clothes as quickly as possible. But as I entered the cabin I was ankle deep in water. The force of the waves had found a weakness in the boat, so I was cold, wet and miserable and had to bail out the bow of the boat to get rid of lots and lots of water. In my wet underwear and bare footed, I filled and emptied buckets, it seemed for hours [I guess it was for about fifteen minutes]. As we finished with a sigh of relief, my damp foot met the sodden step to the galley; I slipped and hit my foot on the galley unit and acquired one broken digit. Ouch!  

Everything in the cabin was drowned in seawater. We managed to rescue a pair of trousers and a top each that the other boat dried off for us. They walked, I hopped, to the shower and spent half an hour of utter bliss under very hot water, a decided change from the previous seven hours. After a hot meal and a couple of drinks we slept the sleep of the exhausted. Morning arrived with clear blue skies and a pleasant breeze. If only I had insisted we turned back and we had sailed a day later. “Do we sail, or go back by bus?” John asked. I pondered “sail, but for the last time. I’m sorry I couldn’t go through that again I don’t feel safe on the boat any more” I replied. We motored silently towards home and our berth. Six hours later we docked at Canvey. John sadly left the boat for the last time saying “that’s it I will put the boat up for sale”.

One door closes I wonder which door will open?