Sail of the century: Andy proves we weren’t all in the same boat over Covid

Were we all in the same boat when it came to coping with Covid? Andy Palmer wasn’t, because he chose to step out of his IT comfort zone and onto the deck of a yacht to take his mind off things!

The 24-foot Muttley was intended to be an antidote to Covid’s complications – and it was, but replaced them with a whole new set of its own.

They started before Kerry had even set foot aboard, when, with the tide falling, Andy got stuck on a sandbank in mid-estuary whilst bringing the boat from Brough. “Sandbank? There’s no sand involved. It’s mud,” said Andy. And he had the evidence to prove it, because unsticking the boat and retrieving the anchor coated him and the boat with a liberal layer of the trademark stinking silt.

That said, that first grounding wasn’t a wasted experience; it taught him how to free the boat from a sandbank – a lesson that was to come in handy when he passed the wrong side of a channel marker and got stuck again leaving ‘home port’ of Winteringham Haven on the boat’s first outing.

But before that, getting into the Haven for the very first time happened after dark. “I had just a tiny torch to guide the way. I wouldn’t say it was eerie, but it was like a scene from Deliverence. I could almost hear the banjos…”

Andy and partner Kerry (pictured) have taken social distancing to extremes, pushing out from the Haven to learn their sailing out on the choppy waters of the Humber.

They began ‘testing the water’ under engine power alone, but even that was fraught with difficulty when, on their first outing, the engine died. “It’s not as dramatic as is sounds,” says Andy. “We were still close enough to the pontoon for me to step ashore and get someone to help us.”

The problem wasn’t with the engine, but with Andy’s inexperience. “I hadn’t put the choke back in. Who knew about chokes? I didn’t,” he said. “Anyway, leaving it out had flooded the engine, and once I’d pushed it in I pulled the ripcord again to start it up. And I pulled it again, and again, and again for about ten minutes. It wouldn’t start, so I fetched help, and he pulled the cord once and the engine sprang into life. If I’d tried just once more…”

Inexperience with the engine caused more problems when it sputtered and died after Andy had unknowingly adjusted the controls so there wasn’t enough fuel. He sorted that one out for himself, having moored the boat on a dredger they were drifting past, and turning to the Honda’s handbook for guidance.

Other problems have been caused by more inexperience – this time with the boat’s swing keel. This is part of the boat that hangs down into the water to help keep the boat on the right course, and to prevent it from tipping over when the wind hits the sails. Cranking it up and down is done by hand, and forgetting where it is, and where it ought to be, brings its own consequences. Is that another sandbank? Oops.

And then there’s the throttle, which sticks a bit, as Kerry found out when she wanted full power in reverse when the boat was already running flat out forwards, still in the Haven. Having left the fenders out prevented major damage when they hit the pontoon.

And fitting a radio – a vital piece of safety gear – shouldn’t involve smoke coming out of the back of the set… Thankfully marine equipment is robustly built, and Andy, who once changed a fuse, now knows the correct way to wire a radio.

The couple’s next outing will involve hoisting the sails, and relying the wind for the first time. So, once all the restrictions are lifted, and you fancy a tour of the Humber’s sandbanks…

But seriously, Andy and Kerry are determined to be masters of their craft, and already have plans to lift her from the water for a new paint job and a new name: Black Lady Thorn, after their late dog.

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