westerly wind is ripping through the foresail while sheets of grey fall from leaden clouds above. To starboard, a freight ferry seems to be careering towards us en route for the industrial docks of Harwich, and I’m suddenly aware that I can no longer make out the channel-marking red and green buoys – fingers of fog have descended and I neglected to put my contacts in this morning.
So far, our first passage aboard Elle – the 32ft Hallberg-Rassy my partner Rich and I are tentatively moving from Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex to Woolverstone in Suffolk – is proving far from plain sailing.
But before I can start questioning the returns policy on our 30-year-old cruiser, a curious grey seal appears just port off our bow, his mottled head bobbing up unexpectedly in the salty surf. Soon, another whisker-filled face breaks through the whitecaps. Then another. We watch as two, no three silky sea dancers surface to say hello. And, just like that, I stop fighting the terror of our first ever sailing and start enjoying it. Because this, I realise, is what I’ve signed up for: learning to embrace the rough with the smooth, one of nature’s most valuable lessons. We’ve all just stopped listening.