Thursday, 11 July 2013

Channel crossing, first attempt.

Dreams of mixing the Red Ensign with the French Tricolor
Best laid plans and all that. Last week I had planned to Cross the Channel in company, unfortunately when planning things that are beyond my current comfort zone / experience they usually need a few attempts. Two other boats had agreed to make the passage, Peggotty, from the Isle of wight; another Hurley 20  bilge keeler with her ever enthusiastic skipper Liam and Lapwing, a Corribee bilge keeler from EDSC skippered by Paul.
The loose plan was to leave from Swanage on Wednesday first light and make the passage to either Alderney or Cherbourg depending on wind direction. We had a few simple rules: We'd only go if there were three boats, there would be at least two people on each boat, we'd keep within sight of each other, go at the pace of the slowest boat and assess pace and direction after three hours to see if it was worth continuing.
After a week of all the signs that the weather was going to be great with a high building over the Azores it became apparent that Wednesday was not going to be very nice, with F5 gusting F6-7! Also we were having trouble finding crew for Peggotty.  Also Peggotty wasn't going to be able to plan to go to Cherbourg as Liam doesn't have a passport,  he did agree that we may have no choice as a port of refuge.
We put off the start day until Thursday and agreed to sail to Swanage on Wednesday evening.  Liam had some good news in that he'd picked up a couple of experienced sailors who were prepared to crew for him and had been on his boat before.
I'd arranged to meet Paul at Wetherspoons on Poole Quay on Weds afternoon for a bit of nosh before setting off.  Bad news, Paul's crew had disappeared and was uncontactable.
Liam came to the rescue, His crew were happy to sail Peggotty on their own and Liam said he'd crew for Paul. With boats and crew organised Lapwing and Ciao Bella left Poole around 6pm on Weds evening to meet up with Peggotty in Swanage.
Swanage from Handfast point
It finally felt like we were going to do this, we met up with Liam, rowed ashore and hunted out an Indian restraunt. Time to relax.

Misty start and a change of plan. I had a terrible nights sleep in Swanage and woke up with a splitting headache.  The waves just rolled into the anchorage making for a bumby and noisy night.  I'd also learnt that I needed a cushion between the bulkhead and my head!  I looked out through the companionway to see.. well not a lot. It was pretty darned misty.  We motored over to lapwing and rafted up for a quick discussion. The mist was starting to lift and the forecast was good so we decided to go for it.
Lapwing leaving Swanage with mist sitting across the Dorset countryside.
The weather was quite bleak looking and the waves were choppy, not what we'd hoped for.  We made the best course that we could to the west but beating into the wind in a choppy sea doesn't help with speed over ground.  Peggotty kept falling behind and we had to wait for her two or three times.  Eventually after a couple of hours and with Peggotty nearly out of view we decided we'd have to change our plans.  There was no way we'd make it across the channel at this rate so we decide Yarmouth on the IoW would be our best bet with  a few days spent having fun in the Solent.

Searching for a needle... Here was one of my firsts, usually I'm close to land so navigation is more a case of looking around and pointing the boat towards my destination, with just a cursory look at the chart to ensure there are no hazards.   This time I was out of sight of land with no visual references.  I plotted a course using the the paper chart and Breton plotter.  I set the compass grid to 50 degrees and followed it faithfully with the wind directly behind for the next few hours until the needles loomed out of the mist. We'd made a perfect course.

As we approached the needles the waves really picked up and had the boat rolling.  I was having a nap on the cockpit bench seat when a rogue sideways wave hit the boat, rose up and landed on me... that woke me up!  After one involuntary gybe I rolled away the Genoa, it wasn't giving us much more speed but was drawing attention away from watching the main.  Lapwing had taken a more Southerly route to take advantage of stronger tide but we both arrived at about the same time.  Peggotty was quite distant but still visible. Even down wind she'd been incredibly slow.
Once into the Solent the waves died right down and we had a pleasant sail to Yarmouth.   It was only lunch time but it felt like evening. We'd been up quite a long time.

Yarmouth.. I have a history of being rubbish when maneuvering around pontoons and small spaces, being on a swinging mooring it's not something that I get much practice at. I was even more conscious of this as there were plenty of people watching.  No worries here, I made a perfect approach and was soon secured to the pontoon.
Who needs to cross the Channel anyway? here we were, no more than 30 miles from home surrounded by French and German boats in a land famous for it's Garlic :) We'd gone onto the cheap pontoon which meant we had to inflate the tender to row ashore, poorly thought out when your tender is more of a corrical and the occupants are not exactly small :)
Ashore, I paid the marina fees then we strolled into town. Coffee and Cake at Gossips with John, Paul, Liam and Caroline. Peggotty's crew had fled to a B&B in Yarmouth to do what newly aquainted couples do best, I didn't see them again :) I then went to the chandlers to look for a new cleat for my outhaul,  it had died during the Gybe.  Liam and Caroline went home and said they be back around 12 tomorrow, I left Paul a John to peruse the pubs while I went back to Ciao Bella to replace the cleat.

Entente Cord(less)iale.  The screw spacing on the new cleat was different to the old plastic one.  The boat behind me was a very functional looking metal motorboat and I guess that they might have a drill that I could borrow.  I knocked on the gunwale and was greeted in French.. How do you ask for a cordless drill and bit in French... I know, I say it in ingleesh with ow you say a Fronch acsont.  Well it worked, I was soon furnished with a cordless drill and suitable drill bit.  The new cleat turned out to be a great improvement. I was able to get the sail much flatter over the following few days.
After catching up on some sleep we ventured back into town for food,  the menu at the Kings Head caught our eye, standard pub food reasonably priced and as it turned out... very nice.

Friday Surf and Turf.  I was woken early again this morning,  I could hear a huge diesel engine which then motored past us and then there was the rhythmic thump of a pile driver.. more asprin please.

 As my cool box was stuffed with bacon, sausage and eggs I thought it would be best to get them cooked and eaten.   Paul came along to help get through the mountain of meat.  You can't beat a Sausage, bacon and egg sandwich when boating. I think they went down well.

 Our plan had been to have a short sail to the Folly today and stay there for the night but the want for decent showers, a walk ashore berth not wanting to queue for food had us agreeing to go to Cowes instead.  The tide wouldn't be in our favour until after 2pm so we decided we'd spend the morning walking to Freshwater along the river.  There are two paths from Yarmouth to Freshwater, a bridleway on the East side and a footpath on the West.  I thought it would be nice to go one way then back the other.  It's a real shame, but usually when I sail to the Island I don't venture far from the immediate area of the pontoon.  The island is beautiful to explore and it's compact nature keeps it interesting.
Looking East from Saltern Wood

Kindred spirit :)

The walk to Freshwater was just over an hour and we felt we'd deserved a pint overlooking the bay.  The weather was fantastic, so much different to yesterday. Unfortunately the Albion Inn really doesn't make the most of it's position.  It feels like the owners must be lazy, there is no effort to entice people in, the once in there is no real choice... hence the cider.

the usual suspects
Fully refreshed, we set off back the same way until the paths part at the causeway.  From there it's a gentle walk back along the bridleway and we were soon back at the boats. 

The Causeway
Liam and Caroline were there when we got back.  Peggottys poor performance was put down to the amount of weed growing on her. Shes been in since Feb but even so it looks like the Antifoul wasn't suitable.  After a quick chat we got underway, motoring out of Yarmouth to raise the sails beyond the pier.  There was very little wind today and we were mostly tidal assisted but it was a lovely afternoon for messing about in boats. We were able to sail close enough to each other to be able to chat trade insults :)
Liam and Caroline on Peggotty

Peggotty and Lapwing

Ciao Bella and Lapwing

Ciao Bella off Yarmouth

As we approached the entrance to the Medina Paul and I moved off to drop our sails and motor in, Peggotty had already dropped his sail and was motoring in when he called on the VHF to declare that under Liam's rules, he'd won the race. Liam took Peggotty back to her mooring at the Folly while Paul and I motored into Cowes Yacht haven.

In Cowes Yacht Haven
After the luxury of a shower the evening was kicked of by a selection of Ciders followed by a night in the Anchor. There was a dreadful live band on, we knew to play list as soon as they strummed the first cord.. it was all the old rocker favs.. You aint seen nothing yet. Dreadful band but a good fun night. Back on the boat for a night cap unfortunately I was falling asleep, sorry chaps.

Homeward bound.  Tiffins is an absolute must for breakfast when I go to Cowes, I'm fairly predictable.. sausage and egg butty with a cup of coffee.  I have to say, Paul's milk shake did make me chuckle.. very kitsch.

Paul's elaborate milk shake.
This was then followed by Icecream, all before 9am... Faaaaantastic :)  The haven wanted everyone out by about 9:30 as there was a big event on with Classic boats.  We Left the pontoon, once again without incident; most be getting better at this, at about 10am.  There was very little wind in the solent, what there was was right on our tail.  We drifted along with the tide for a hour but decided we'd need to motor sail if we were to stand a chance of getting home at a reasonable time.

Out of  Hurst Channel and the wind had changed completely.  It was now coming from the SW and was strong enough to give us some forward motion.  The trip back was uneventful, The wind gradually shifted to allows us past Hengisbury head without tacking.  Into Bournemouth Bay and the breeze dropped off again. Paul soldiered on but I decided to motor sail back, we'd caught some mackerel and wanted to get them on the Barbie tonight.

OK, so we didn't go to Alderney, in fact we didn't get close. But we did make the right decisions and our confidence has built.  We now know that the boats can make the required speed, even on a beat so long as the hull is clean. We had a great time and that's what my kind of sailing is all about.