The late summer holiday crept closer with varying reports about the weather raising
all the doubts that sailors have about forecast accuracy. However, last year the
Bewl weather was threatening but the strong wind resulted in some exciting sailing
and although the sky scowled darkly the rain stayed away. So here we were on an overcast
Monday, silly enough to be contemplating a trip almost to Hastings on a bank holiday.
I don't sail much at Aquarius but I always feel guilty about the few who do the work
when I do not help and once again I had not assisted with loading the boats and equipment.
Richard and Co had organised the event, loaded the gear and trailed the boats to
the lake. Even though I had not helped I felt the endeavour needed support and to
go to Bewl was at least a show of appreciation for the efforts of the willing horses.
Jean was not well during Saturday night and so Sunday began as a slow start with
us only leaving shortly after 10 am. The early part of the journey was easy with
light traffic and apart from noise that sounded like an escaping hub cap, our trip
to Tunbridge Wells was quick and trouble free. Just before reaching the TW bypass,
hazard lights flashed ahead and soon all progress stopped. Slowly the car inched
ahead but the average speed dropped from 60 to 6 and Bewl looked to be another 45
Eventually the entrance came into view and the turn was quickly affected. "Shit"
I had forgotten the parking voucher, despite my efforts the gate guard was unmoved
by my tears so I coughed up the £8.00 entry fee. As we swung into the parking area
the sun smiled with gentle amusement from behind the clouds and the day began to
With luck a parking spot appeared close to the club and our trusty steed was stabled
between the lines. The windscreen framed a rippling lake dotted with a plethora of
sailing craft. The journey down had already proved worth the effort.
Bewl Water (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bewl_Wate r) is an impoundment, a lake created
by a dam and is the largest area of fresh water in the south of England. Low ridges
surround the waterway which fills the dales between the hills that slide gently beneath
the surface. The terrain is both grassed and treed with walks and picnic areas offering
an alternative to sailing. Activities on the lake cover all aspects of water sport
but for Aquarius it offers us the chance to sail a long course uninterrupted by riverbanks.
Richard had organised a team to load and tow club boats to the site and his team
(together with Liz) were there to greet our arrival. Roger trundled behind somewhere
with more gear so although we had Signets and Pecos we were still short of rigging.
The Jedi Knights of Aquarius, the Luniss family, were assembled and kitting-up to
attack the wind and waves with purposefulness. Jean wanted a coffee and Richard wanted
bums on boats.
I kitted up and joined Mike Baker for a ride in Easy Over, his Signet. We took off
in a fresh breeze with Mike at the helm which he shortly and foolishly handed over
to me. I moved gingerly in the stern and nervously hardened to weather never once
tacking just to avoid the bank.
We beat, reached and ran across the lake experiencing varying degrees of wind strength.
We went from gunwales under to smooth sailing for about half an hour before being
hit by a gust that threw us on our beam end. My faux pas, I had failed to release
the mainsheet quickly enough and paid dearly with a barked shin and a shame face.
Mike was kind but we still headed for the jetty, sail one over.
By now Roger and Laurie were somewhere towards the far end of the lake, the Luniss
flotilla were widely spread and Richard was under the command of his Mate Liz. I
was off to the club house for lunch and a coffee.
The "Aquarius wives" it's difficult to really decide if sailors are married to their
boats or their women, were assembled in the club house. Coffee cups, cake crumbs
and news papers (well the Daily Mirror) littered the table.
Jean was ready for lunch and knew the ropes so I paid. With plates in hand we headed
for the barbeque where the lunch crew fuelled us with burgers, sausages and salad.
A beer called but foolishly I resisted paying 99p for a "coffee" instead, a terrible
waste of water and 99p. With the inner man satisfied it was time to challenge the
The breeze had stiffened considerably post noon making our Pecos, now Jedi free,
dance and flap excitedly at the end of the jetty. Aided by Laurie I slithered aboard
struggling to untangle the tiller form the main sheet horse whilst holding the painter.
In the struggle I lost the painter only to be rescued by Laurie's nimble fingers.
The Pico bucked from the jetty driven by a half sheeted main and a flapping jib.
Tiller, mainsheet, jib sheet, I had run out of hands and my feet were struggling
to find the foot strap. The half sheeted main was left with the flapping jib demanding
immediate attention. Addressing the jib made the tiller jealous and the boat slewed
angrily to windward backing the jib.
The main now miffed by the lack of attention tugged at its sheet and the hull rolled
threateningly to leeward. Teeth came into play as I bit the mainsheet in defiance,
punched the tiller into submission and found the foot straps. We were off at a gallop,
my first on a Pico. The tell-tales streamed along the jib and the boat tore away
from the shore like a rocket.
I settled down for a long uninterrupted beat up the lake, no north and south banks
close here. The Pico stayed hard on the wind as it gusted and eddied over the water
which giggled excitedly as it slid from under the stern.
Grass and trees fleshed by to port as we navigated past the racing-crews heading
for open water. Gee this was fun! Legs held fast in the straps, back and right arm
trimmed the main whilst the left kept the tiller under control.
The wind eased in the shelter of the trees so a course change was a looming option.
I slid into the middle, short of hands again but although not a racing turn we took
off on port tack without drama or mishap. The Pico found the wind so the left arm
and back trimmed the main, the right managing the tiller with the rushing water giggling
under the stern again.
We reached, ran and beat for an hour that passed in ten minutes. Thinking of the
others waiting for a ride I changed course running back to the club jetty. The approach
was well timed, the jib freed, the tiller up, the bow to windward we kissed the jetty
and hung on for dear life with everything flapping. The end was just like the beginning
except I was now stiff and aching.
A beer beckoned, the coffee was no match, so I creaked to the clubhouse to find Jean.
Shirt and shorts were soaked with perspiration (the wet suit kept the spray off)
so a change was required. All boats were manned and sailing far out on the lake so
I was ordered home.
My satnav Rebecca was no match for Jean when it came to cross country traffic-jam
avoidance so she took command. The Honda eased away from the quay under female command
with me at the helm. The main road was full but moving slowly as we joined the queue.
A left at the first roundabout saw us heading through the village towards Royal Tunbridge
Wells where we encountered little more than local traffic before rejoining the main
road on the other side of town. The highway was moving fast when we reached it and
we journeyed home without incident or unusual hold-up.
I tried to get out of the car but I was stiff, bruised and battered, firstly by a
Signet then by a Pico. Why is God and exercise so unkind to old people? Helped from
the car I was ordered into the shower before a snack, a medicinal red and bed. I
did not lay awake long.
Jean and I, as well as several others had enjoyed a wonderful day very different
from Aquarius sailing on the Thames. The day was possible thanks to Richard and many
others (including Liz) who had organised, loaded and transported boats and equipment
I was not one of the workers so I hope this story counts as my contribution to the
Bewl outing. It is my thanks to Richard and Co and I am sure expresses a sentiment
shared by many who participated. Can't wait for the next encounter!