Boat-testing is an unpredictable business. During one recent outing we lost the use of the engine and had to make our way home and back into our berth without it. We had plenty of experience on board and everything went smoothly. Then, on the very next test, we arrived at the boat – a much smaller one this time – only to learn that the outboard had been removed so we had nothing except the sails; not even an oar or a paddle, though they would have been little help under the circumstances. The boat was on the inside of a pontoon next to the shore, moored with the stern facing the full force of the ebb tide. For good measure there was a fresh northerly breeze helping push the tide down the river. We couldn’t go out forwards because of the walkway between the shore and the pontoon. We were effectively pinned into the end of a cul-de-sac: the only way out was stern-first, against both wind and tide, with precious little room to manoeuvre, only two pairs of hands, the water-level dropping and a couple of boats berthed astern of us that we had to work our way around before we could do anything else.
How on earth do you get a boat out of a hole like that? Well, after a bit of head-scratching, quite a lot of pushing and pulling and using any resources at our disposal (but no engines and no one else to help), we managed. We had a good sail down the river and around the Solent before sailing back up the river and alongside the pontoon despite the best efforts of the strongest gust of the day that pounced on us just as we were making our approach.
This test was from the Beaulieu river. By coincidence, one of our other assignments that involved a cruising yacht with no engine when it might have been useful was also from Beaulieu. On that occasion it was with the intentionally engine-less Lin and Larry Pardey, known in cruising circles throughout the world for building their own small yachts in wood, without engines, and sailing them more than 200,000 miles including twice around the world.
This sort of no-engine improvisation is all part of the fun – when it works – and our delayed departure on this recent test meant we were still there to witness the moon rising over the river.
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