Sejour in Dartmouth

Dream On
Freddie Alderson
Fri 17 Sep 2010 18:01

The Adventures of Dream On – Back in Dartmouth


Today is my birthday, which means that we have been in Dartmouth for 13 days already. The first days are a bit of a blur, because we were coming in to land from our trip and we were tired. Once arrived of course, the body indulges itself in feeling all the tiredness that’s built up at once, as well as all the scratches, bruises, cuts and other minor wounds one is often surprised to find one sustained at some point during the exertions.  On our arrival the day after the Regatta, the river was full, rafting up to 5 deep on the visitors pontoon, and it seems, everywhere else.



The visitors’ pontoon, completely hidden by boats                       7 boats on one buoy


So we went up-river to Dittisham, and Dittisham still had the post-Regatta excess of boats. So we had no alternative but to take a private mooring as long as the owner stayed away.


Due to frequent communications between our 2 little love-doves, their moves were beautifully coordinated and Jim arrived from Christchurch 5 hours after Sarah did from L’Aberwrac’h, despite a nightmare journey through the Bank Holiday traffic. He was staying the night and we had the last of our lovely French sausages planned for dinner.  They went off to have lunch at the Anchorstone Café, after a cuppa, and we went to rest. Later, they came back when we were still asleep; so they also went to rest. And we all severally got up at various points during the evening and night but somehow never met anyone else, mourned the uneaten sausages and went back to bed.


We briefly saw Michael, the River Officer that first morning very early, embarrassingly just as we were making a pig’s ear of catching the buoy. Fred actually managed to drop the boat hook in the ‘oggin. Mike was clearly very busy as it was the morning after the Regatta, and couldn’t stop to chat. But later, despite being busy and probably tired, he nevertheless found time to help us find a mooring. The owner of our mooring had returned during the afternoon, and he’d hailed us to ask us, very politely, if we could vacate it. We could see a few mooring buoys free as Dittisham had begun to empty. But from where we were, we could not tell if they were for a boat our length, or indeed Visitors’ Buoys at all. Though busy, Mike radioed to suggest a suitable one he’d spotted free before he zoomed off on other business.


Jim and Sarah went to Dartmouth the next morning, to have a look at it, and pick up a few bits. They intended to leave at lunchtime, and were dreading the journey home on Bank Holiday Monday. They had all our sympathy and I thanked heaven for one of the best things about going by boat – you don’t have to use roads or airports anymore. Optimistically Able Saz decided she’d take the dinghy by herself to Dittisham, rather than the taxi boat, - it couldn’t be that hard, she thought!  Most unfortunately and unusually, the outboard took ages to start. Sarah’s arm must have been aching and I worried about her shoulder. Then it sprang into life and off they whizzed, after a slight detour via the back of the boat when testing the gears and finding out which was which. River Officer Keith was highly amused.


Once untangled from the boat’s rear end, off they go, concentrating madly


Back fairly soon, they started packing their things and then all of a sudden, we were losing our Ever Increasingly, Cheerfully If Cheekily, Able Seamanette.  I was glad it happened so quickly as it gave me no time to think about the boat without her. They bundled their baggage and themselves, loaded with stuff, into the dinghy and Fred dropped them at the pontoon. And that really was the end of this part of the Voyage.





We then sank into our familiar torpor, cultivated during our 35 years of marriage, where we see the other not as company, always available do something with, but rather as someone you could comfortably do nothing with. So we finally completely relaxed, reading, sunbathing, sleeping, eating at will, Radio 4, not much talking, music, not always together - Quality Torpor.


The next 2 days are wonderfully hot, and Dittisham Bay slowly empties. A deliciously lightweight duvet of peace settles over the bay, not just because a lot of people had gone. The atmosphere of a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon in summer pervades; it seems there’s an unwritten, unspoken communal agreement to do nothing very much; the odd dinghy burbles by, an occasional yacht ambles in or out; there is hardly any wind, and there is a lot of stillness and silence. It catches you, and makes you sit and stare.









On the 3rd day, reality intruded and then we thought we’d better go down river, and re-provision, clean ourselves, and the boat, do the washing etc where there was water and electricity. The marina tried, successfully in the end, to fit us in. So downriver we went, sadly without seeing Mike again. We’ll hope to another time. There was an amazingly huge ship at Dartmouth. It looked as if they’d built a 7 storey block of flats in the middle of the river; it completely hid Kingswear, and even the Britannia Naval College, perched high on the hill.



Apparently, on our arrival at the marina – and a rather smart one too, on the walkway between 2 major pontoons, even if we do say so ourselves – anyway, on arrival, we learnt we only had one night and they were still working out where else we could go the next day. So the next day, we kept very beady eyes on the Visitors Pontoon, because if we could nab a space there, we could stay there till we were ready to leave. At that moment, yachts were still rafted up there. Eventually, we spotted one, but a fishing boat (a fishing boat?) nipped in - puzzling as they have their own place. So we reckoned it wouldn’t be there too long. Sure enough, our opportunity came and we nipped in and tucked ourselves up neatly between 2 other boats. Someone else then nipped in very quickly and rafted up to us, quite unusual as we are a cat and wide already. They were a young German family, who kept themselves to themselves, I’m sure out of politeness, though we would have been quite happy to chat. And they stuck to us firmly, even when other births became free. We felt like the mother ship.


There followed some days of some pretty radical cleaning and washing and airing. Of course, because we had been so often ‘just about to leave’ in France, we had kept thinking we may as well leave the washing till we were home, so there was quite a mountain of it. We had some really nice weather, so airing the mattresses and duvets was relatively simple. We decided to have the loo looked at as it isn’t quite right and are waiting for the part, due on Monday. We are slowly getting a few jobs done, but enjoying ourselves too. It took us a while to realise that this is the 1st time for years when we could actually do nothing, and we don’t have to hurry back. Previously, my job as a teacher and Fred’s job meant getting back by a certain date – hence our envy of long-term cruisers and the attraction of The Dream. Then, both made redundant, job searching took our time, though our age rendered these efforts fairly unsuccessful. Simultaneously, we suffered 3 bereavements in 3 years, and as we were executors for 2 of them, were dealing with the long-winded process of winding up these estates at the same time as extensively refurbishing our house  That was immediately followed by the hard work of preparing for the voyage. We won’t officially have a berth at Christchurch till the 1st October, so we’re actually ‘freewheelin’ at present for the first time since we got married.  And quite enjoying the feeling that rather than having to hurry back we actually have to dawdle.


Freddie’s great pleasure is to rush over to the French patisserie in the morning in the dinghy to get fresh croissants, cakes and bread, and he often does the shopping at the same time. He is really pleased that the new dinghy tie-up pontoon has been moved from a little way down the river to practically opposite the town centre, on the opposite side of the river to our present berth. Yesterday we explored the Castle bank of the river in the dinghy, with all its secret stairs and little houses.




And we got quite wet as the river is not quite so calm towards its mouth and the sea.


And today we went to look at a Tall Ship that had just come in, the Stavros s Niarchos, 60 metres long, massive masts and yards, and bits of strings everywhere. Very impressive.      


    Freddie next to it                                                                         Freddie next to a fender



Ten inch blocks                                                                              and lots of string


One day, a film crew decided to use the Visitors Pontoon as their set. Perhaps not a good choice as they were getting frustrated (understandably) by having to work round real sailors and real boats coming in and out about their business. The dialogue, relating to 4 people proving to the lady with the boat that they were the one she had to pick to accompany her to the Caribbean, drew some wry smiles from sailors sitting about in their cockpits. And when you see the small motorboat dedicated to this task, you’ll understand why



                                      Abandoned props (below)



One day, I went to get a sketch pad, and the man in the art shop, which sits next to the scaffolding around the burnt out buildings, had had a lucky escape though he had a lot of smoke damage. He said there were 7 insurance companies involved, each with their own assessor, to decide on the cause, and therefore liability; and it looked to be a very drawn out process.


The art shop and the fishing tackle shop next door


Fred in the meantime was talking to the man in the fishing shop next door. He also sells guitars and was playing a 12-string at the time. He is quite a character, as the notice on the window shows, and correctly describes his habits.  That day he was playing guitar, before then he could be found on a chair in the sun in front of the shop deeply engaged with bits of fishing tackle, and since then, no sign of him – definitely ‘someplace else’..




He told us the latest news about the fire, punctuating his conversation with chords on the 12-string. I’d previously heard there were problems with the insurance or the insurers such that blame was being handed round and it was suggested there would not be enough money to restore these historic buildings to their original state. The pictures below show the span of the fire and some of the character of the buildings.




The untouched building alongside testifies to what beautiful old buildings have been destroyed and their ancientness. No, it isn’t the camera making the buildings (above right) look crooked.


The man in the fishing shop said he had just heard the good news that the insurance companies had agreed the cause. An assumption had been that it started in the chip shop on the ground floor, but there was some dispute about this. And, as had been his opinion, it appeared to be faulty electrical cables in the space between the chip shop’s ceiling and the floor upstairs – he knew the building quite well as he had owned a restaurant there some years ago. Initially, because the chip shop was damped down and under control, it was felt the fire was contained at that point. Half an hour later the conflagration was to engulf, almost the whole building, right up to the roof and several shops wide. It is certainly a big step forward to have the cause agreed by the insurance companies.

He also gave Freddie some guitar tips and suggested he look for on-line tutoring. So Fred spent some time on that when we got back and seemed to be really enjoying it.


Also today being my birthday, Fred arrived back in the dinghy this morning with freshly made croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice and real coffee for a really nice breakfast. And then he gave me a card with a painting of boats and water on it, and one of my 2 favourite perfumes and a dishcloth with Dartmouth on it. A lovely surprise! I had some nice birthday phone calls from family, and emails from friends. We’ve got wifi at the moment and it’s lovely hearing from people. It’s good having birthdays. And I wasn’t allowed to do any work!

We were in for a big blow that night, so we hunkered down, after a delicious steak dinner, and listened to the storm.


The bad weather continued through the next week, occasionally quite cold, some rain, lots of clouds and especially strong winds, though they never reached the F8 and 9 forecast, Clearly not the best time to cross Lyme Bay so more cleaning and reading got done.

Towards the end of the week, things calm down and we prepare to go home. Though we have a few days of nice weather forecast, we don’t want rely on that and miss our weather window. We decide to leave on Friday and prepare the boat gently. This river is so beautiful I can hardly believe I am going to leave it - always something happening, always something to look at and even when empty, in the early morning and at night, looking beautiful, lit either by the sun or by all the lights and their reflections.


On Friday, we are up early at 6 getting ready to depart. Fred has a last check of the weather to find that the winds have gone round to the North East and we’d have them on the nose, not boding well either for comfort or for sailing and we were looking forward to a nice sail home. We decide to stay another day when the winds should be Westerly.


We did notice a strange trick of the light and geography this morning because we were up so early.


There was a sunrise, but the sun had not yet cleared the hill behind Kingswear so there was no sun in the sky and Kingswear was still in the shade.




Yet Dartmouth was lit by sunlight, so brightly that its reflection on the windows of the houses and then reflected in the river gave the impression of powerful searchlights on-shore.



Puzzled and amazed by this, we could only conclude that it was coming from a cleft in the hills further downriver and round the corner. Otherwise, it has to be a self-illuminating town. I know I think that Dartmouth is magic, but I don’t think even I can go that far. But it was a really magical effect.


The empty Visitor Pontoon nudges us towards home, and we remind ourselves to banish unbidden, guilty feelings that we also ought to return, and replace them with more unfamiliar smug and contented feelings that we don’t actually have to race back for anything. Nonetheless, we do aim to head for the Costa del Christchurch tomorrow.