Saturday, 30 June 2012

Over the bar (Tuesday)

The morning in Dartmouth was foggy, breezy and wet. We were clearly in very low cloud. Slowly, the cloud lifted and by about mid morning the cloud base was about 100 feet above sea level. A steam whistle sounded and the Dartmouth  Railway steam train arrived. 

We had to cross the tracks to get to the showers (8 out of 10).

Steam buffs delight
Midday passed and the cloud base hadn't changed. I hailed a passing yacht - 'It's foggy in patches, quite smooth with a SW wind.' came the reply.
I wanted to take Vagabond to Salcombe that afternoon. The tide was right and the wind would be right once we got out beyond Start Point which lay to the South and West of us.
The tide and a few tacks carried us out of the estuary only to find the wind "right on the nose" as we ran down the coast towards Start Point, so we tacked away to the South out into the Channel to give us clearance of Start Point. It became apparent that the tide was still flowing up Channel, so we were sailing away from our destination. Not really what you want to do! We hastily tacked back towards the coast, our course now taking us North and West. But we still had to go South a bit to get round the Point. 

Tacking towards Start Point as it appears out of the gloom
 We found some tide running south down the coastline and tacked within it to keep as far West as possible whilst making progess to the South. At last, we squeezed ourselves past Start Point o find that the tide in the Channel was now taking us West. We still had Prawle Point to pass and then the coast ran away to the North West towards the entrance to Salcombe. The fog closed in - we could just see the lower few feet of the cliffs about half a mile away to starboard but it was impossible to guess how far we could see out to sea. There were certainly no other craft in sight.
Prawle Point
The fog horn at Start Point boomed every minute. I anxiously scanned the sea and watched the AIS receiver for warning of ships. Vagabond has no Radar reflector, so we have to rely on my Mk 1 eyeball and ear combination for collision avoidance.
We passed Prawle point into a very steep set of seas.
By now the tidal stream had bult up and we were experiencing the rough water that forms in tides downstream of a headland. I closed the land to try to get out of the worst and we crept along the coastline.

Salcombe entrance at last
 The fog cleared up a bit just in time to see the entrance to Salcombe. I realised we were a bit close and likely to attempt to cross the bar if we were not careful. This has a fearsome reputation for wrecking the careers of skippers (and their craft) and is rumoured to be the inspiration of the Tennyson poem "Crossing the Bar." I edged to port so that we could make our route into Salcombe right on the Western side of the Estuary.

We called up Salcombe harbour master. 'Orange Buoy No 17, just astern of the Halberg Rassey', he said. We've got to pick up a buoy for the first time, just behind one of  the "Roll Royce" yachts. Ouch. In the end it was remarkably easy. That's the advantage of being in a cockpit that is only about 600 mm * above the sea. You can reach buoys as they go past, without worrying about things like boathooks. In no time at all we were fast to the buoy. Six hours. The harbour master rushed up in his launch, took £15.00 off me for the fees and said 'You can relax now'. Not quite. I have to tidy up first for I have a crew arriving tomorrow.

Salcombe in the evening from a buoy.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


I have always enjoyed sailing into Dartmouth; the entrance is almost hidden from the sea and slowly unfolds in the sunlight as you approach. Sadly, the sun was in short supply on Monday. To catch the tide we cast off from the pontoon in Brixham early in the afternoon. There was little wind and we drifted out of the harbour and pointed towards the English Channel.

The Headland that protects Brixham

Once clear of the headland that protects Brixham, we found the wind - directly against us. I suppose this makes up for the downwind sail that we had from Portland. Several pretty craft were sailing for Brixham - I wondered what they knew that I didn't!
Unwilling to motor the 9 miles to Dartmouth, I set Vagabonds nose out to sea and we went off. It started to rain and did so intermittantly for the next three hours.
Several yachts motorsailed past us.

Motor sailing!
At some point in the trip we did 8 knots (according to the GPS). I wasn't really aware when this was, as I spent all my time concentrating on keeping us going, as close to the wind as we could.
At about half way there was a frission of excitement. A Mayday call from a vessel that was taking in water - in Chichester harbour entrance. Yachts standing by, helicopters summonded, harbour launches to the rescure, all cordinated ver firmly by the Portsmouth Coastguard. The situation was over in an hour - the vessel had been  taken in tow and the crew / passengers taken ashore; the airwaves returned to normal. Vagabond forged on regardless.

The Mew Stone
Several tacks later, we came abreast of the Mew Stone and were able to run to the Dartmouth entrance. Despite the conrary wind, we arrived early. The whole of the Dart river was emptying into the English Channel.

Dartmouth Entrance in the Gloom

Despite full sails, we were doing less than 1 knot over the ground as we went though the narrows.
On came Freddie, down came the sails and we motored into Dartmouth, just in time to see the last Steam Train of the day depart!

A quick glass of wine at the Royal Dartmouth Yacht Club, leaving an undecypherable signature in their visitors book. A discussion on Viral marketing with barman and then back to Vagabond for a fish supper on the quay.

Mussel supper on the Quay

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Beyond the Bill

Next stop was to be somewhere on the West side of Start Bay. This meant getting past the dreaded Portland Bill without being caught in the tide race. We had to be at the tip of Portland Bill catch the tide as it turned to the West. We could then creep close to the ‘Bill provided that the wind (a) not strong and (b) not from the anywhere between South and West. Otherwise it meant adding another 10 miles to the 45+ mile journey, as we would need to several miles offshore of the ‘Bill to miss the tide race.
 June 20, Midsummer day. I woke at about 05:15 and was just in time to catch the shipping forecast on my mobile phone – a first in terms of both technology and mental state at that time in the morning! The  forecast seemed almost too good to be true for the crossing. Wind Easterly 3 -4 freshening to 5 in the evening, with rain by 17:00. The trip should be about 45 miles – 9 – 10 hours. Leave at 09:30 to get to the Bill on time and then rush off with the tide.
Make sandwiches. Pay the bill. Prepare for sea (boat and me).  We needed to be at the tip of Portland Bill by about 11:30 to catch the tide. Cast off at 09:30. Call up the harbour master on Channel 14 to see if we can use the middle entrance. No joy. We have to use the Eastern entrance which makes our voyage at least a mile longer. Ignore regulations about using only the motor in the harbour. Hoist all sails and cruise diagonally across the harbour (it is empty after all) and tack through the East entrance. My timing must be about right, there’s a convoy of at least 10 other yachts strung out behind and ahead of us, running down the side of the coastline. There's also a fishing boat that seemed intent on getting in my way.

Determined to lay his pots....

Let's form a convoy!
Pass all the abandoned Portland stone quarries and their rusting derricks. See spinnakers hoisted on the larger yachts ahead as they round the Bill, accelerate and start to disappear towards the West.
At the Bill at 11:20 – brilliant! Turn on to course to find the wind is directly on the stern. Vagabond’s favourite mode of sailing (not). The sea is too unsettled to repeat the goose wing trick of the Solent. After a few minutes futile efforts to get the jib to set with the wind directly astern, I realised I would have to “tack” downwind. Reasoning that by the time I reached the far side of the bay, the tide would turn and push me north towards land, I choose to tack off the course to the south. It wasn’t a question of following a compass course, it was a question of steering a course to keep the sails set and without unintentionally inducing a gybe.
The fleet spread out – those with Spinnakers following the direct course, others electing for the northerly or southerly “tacks”. We flew along (aided by the tide) at over 7 kn. After about an hour, the sea started to become much rougher, with unpredictable wave patterns and I realised that the course had taken me into the northern edge of the tide race that was streaming SW from the ‘Bill. We gybed (intentionally) to run further on the northerly “task” and were soon into more predictable conditions After about half an hour on this tack we gybed again to resume our original course. The wind was starting to freshen. A few White Horses appeared. Then more raced past us as we seemed to surf along between the wave crests.
And that’s how it was for about six hours (apart from heaving to for a spot of lunch). No photos, because the land was so far. No wildlife. Just sea and sky.The sky looked lowering, so the wet weather gear was donned. A small light shower of rain fell for  half an hour and the sun reappeared. A container ship appeared crossing my path and that of the yacht a couple of miles ahead.  I though it would cross our course between us – it must have been huge because it crossed well in front of our “leader”.
Around five o’clock, we were 3 miles south of our track and I thought it was time to turn northwards to regain it. The wind now seemed to be nearer force 5 than 4 (there were streaks of foam starting to appear on the water); it seemed wise not  to risk another gybe, so we turned round into the wind rather than allowing it to cross our stern.  During this manoeuvre, I realised how strong the wind really was; had we been beating into it, We would have to had at least one reef in the main to be comfortable.
We carried on with all sail, consistently achieving a speed over the ground of more than 6 knots, with the  track taking us in almost the right direction. At 18:00 (a little later than forecast), it started to rain. Not English gentle rain buttropical “beat you into submission” rain.  And it kept it up without let up until we arrived in Torbay. I had had enough. Brixham was the nearest port of refuge and I could just make out it’s lights (even though it was only 7 o’clock) through the gloom. Turning into the wind, I started Freddie, lowered the sails and more or less felt our way into the harbour. We found our alloted berth, secured Vagabond for the night and put the kettle on. I was wet through, but at least it was with soft fresh water.
The weather for the next couple of days looked foul, so I decided to return to home, take the Owners Agent out for dinner and assist with both house hunting and house clearance. It’s amazing how much stuff has accumulated in the 39 years we have lived in the place. Houses viewed from the roadside: 4. Houses viewed from the inside: nil

Brixham is quite a pretty place - in the Sun!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Olympics here we come

I had intended to stay in Poole for a couple of days. The next day, early in the morning, I went off to find petrol (Petrol* stations are increasingly difficult to find when walking and you can't really carry a can on a bus) so I had a long walk. I returned to Vagabond to notice that the wind was Easterly. Not what was originally forecast. A quick down load of a GRIB file confirmed a slight change to the wind forecast: Easterly at first, veering  to the South after midday.  Just what we needed to get us to Portland. Already it was warm and it would be hot in the cockpit with a wind abaft the beam. Shorts would be the order of the day.
There was a hint of cumulus clouds over the coast line to the South West.
“Sea Breeze will set in” I thought, “let’s go”.

By now it was about half ten; the sandwiches and mid trip coffee were made in double quick time and we were off.  I started tacking along in Poole harbour but thought this was wasting time: we needed to get to the sea.  
“The wind will be OK in the entrance channel, and if not there it will be fair once round Saint Albans head, so I’ll be able to sail most of the way. Besides , we had to catch the tide round the various headlands on the way.

On came Freddie; he stayed that way until we reached Portland seven hours later. The wind proved non-existent once we reached the end of the channel from Poole, although some lucky people were drifting in.
Drifting slowly in...
It wasn't any better when we had rounded St Albans head.

Old Harry

So, hugging the coast we went past Old Harry, past Swanage and round Anvil point and heading out to sea a bit to miss the tide race of Saint Albans Head. We then aimed across the great bight between St Albans head and Portland.  Crossing the tide race at St Albans was interesting, for, although We were at least 3 miles off shore (the recommended distance) – we negotiated breaking waves, unpredictable crests a d troughs and, once through,  a  thoroughly confused sea for a mile or so. Nearer the shore, I could see a line of breaking waves.

Layers of Dinosaurs

We saw the Jurassic coast in the distance (this is where dinosaur fossils were first identified as such in the 19th Century) and motored on. Almost, but not quite, in company with a few other yachts. Young Guillemots scooted out of our way, diving if they thought we were too threatening.

Despite being so far off shore, in my attempt to head “straight” for Portland, we obviously were into the gunnery range off Dorset, for the range safety boat rushed up and chivvied us further out to sea. The Isle of Portland emerged above the horizon to the West and then, at last, Portland harbour hove into sight. It’s vast and it took ages to approach it. I’ve found this every leg so far, the approach to the end takes ages. You think the voyage is nearly over and it’s at least another three hours before you’ve stopped.

Once inside we chugged across the harbour (an enormous man made enclosure, about 2 miles square, 30 feet deep, built between the Isle of Portland and the mainland, using Chesil beach as the Western barrier. Just imagine how it must have looked when we really had a real Navy. We followed the marked channel (which goes round two sides of the square) to try to avoid all the dinghies harbour to reach the Marina. None the less we came within 3 metres** or so of a couple of boats bearing the team GB logo as we wanted to different ways round the same buoy. But we missed each other........ I was tired and slightly deaf; my knees were red. The Marina in Portland is vast – I assume it will be full at the Olympics – the snag is that there is no real infrastructure beyond one bar, where I supped a pint of ale whilst watching the light change on the moored fleet. 
For the record, Vagabond was “parked” 500 double paces along pontoons from the shore exit (that’s about half a Roman mile). ***
 I suppose I should really have gone on to Weymouth Town...
For my transatlantic readers 
* Gas   
 **10 feet (imperial / US)
For non Classic Roman readers
***0.5 miles  (Imperial/US), 800 m (metric)

Bound for Poole

Yarmouth in the morning sun

The rain overnight had cleared. It was time to be on our way.  At 09:30 on the following morning, we set sail for Poole. The sun was shining and the wind was from the South West, directly up the Needles Channel.  The forecast was that it would back to South later on.

Leaving Yarmouth (and it's ferry) in the morning sunshineRather than tack in this tideway, we motor sailed out, disdaining the coastal channel to slide past all the gravel grounds on the West of the Channel to the last buoy in the sequence. I thought this would put me in a good position for a long tack to Poole entrance. I was in the company of several other yachts, (well, being overtaken really) and they all tacked off to Port, making for Cherbourg or the Channel Islands. For a moment I was tempted but sense prevailed and we turned to starboard and flew along at 6 knots (speed over the ground) due West.

Leaving the Needles astern

 So we left the Needles astern.

You can tell when Vagabond is flying along; her wake chuckles with delight. It was a glorious morning. The sun shone on the Needles and the cliffs to the south of the IOW. A flight of Guillemots swooped over the bow, flying low in company with us.  They remind me a bit of puffins, their flight seems a triumph of optimism over poor aerodynamics. A lone Gannet plunged gracefully (but, as always looking a bit disjointed on entry) into  the sea off the starboard bow and emerged with a fish struggling in its gullet.
Away in the distance we could see the beach huts at Mudiford (one sold for more than £140,000 this week - good views, no services) and then Christchurch and the houses and flats of Bournemouth.
We hove to for lunch and then resumed out Westward progress. By about 3pm, we had to tack once, to bring us south to the entrance to the Poole Channel.

We suddenly met traffic - a fast Ferry and a lovely old timer.

Here I made a mistake. As the wind seemed to have shifted to blowing up the channel, I dropped the main and drifted up the channel on the minute jib. It took forever and the tide had turned so that Poole harbour was starting to flow out through the narrow channel at Sandbanks. The b++++y chain ferry messed me up too, I had to do a full turn to avoid it and it’s chains. On came Freddy and he pushed us up against the tide to the Town Key Marina. We were both a bit exhausted by the time we reached it and I grabbed the first pontoon I could find. I was asked to move immediately, for a large, brand new, motor yacht had earmarked the pontoon and was even now manoeuvring into it from the shipyard some small distance away.
I looked round and realised that the posh Ferry was really this motor yacht. £11 million to purchase (as I found out later) and burning 1000 litres* of diesel an hour.
And I think my domestic heating bill is high!

Vagabond was allocated a much more menial berth that was quite tricky to get into. Once Vagabond was secure I went off to forage for food and find out where I could buy some petrol. Portland beckons.

* For my trans Atlantic readers, 100 litres is about 250 gal (US)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bound for the Isle of Wight

Vagabond and I had intended to stay in Haslar marina for a couple of nights, whilst I went off on the Ferry to Portsmouth on Wednesday morning to meet with the Elder Sister and her husband for lunch to catch up with family gossip. 
By about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I was back with Vagabond, wondering what to do. I could go to the submarine museum and see if had changed in the 20 years since I was last there
But it was such a lovely afternoon. The sun was shining and playing on the water and the wind was gentle and from the East. It was almost too good to miss. A quick check of the tidal currents showed that there would be tide in our favour all the way to the Needles once we got into the Western Arm of the Solent.
Go for it – or was this the liquid lunch doing the thinking? Of course not. It WAS too good to miss.
Jostling with hovercraft and ferries
Hoist the sails in the marina, scoot through the narrow harbour entrance, jostle with the ferries and hovercraft through the “small boat channel” and turn west, between the Isle of Wight and the Ryde bank.

Passing Cowes to port

The wind was dead astern, so Vagabond was goose winged again and we drifted along at about 3 kn over the ground until we had turned the corner and were abeam of Cowes. Now we were on a broad reach, the tide was under our keel and we were rushing SW at about 7 knots in glorious sunlight. Few commercial craft were about (apart from Ferries);  this compensated by a plethora of mid week races taking place along the edges of the waterway. All too soon, it seemed, we were lowering the sails, firing up Freddie (Mercury 6HP) and turning into the harbour at Yarmouth.

I hadn’t been in there for about eight years. How it has changed. Several new  pontoons with shore access. Solar powered showers! And, for the first time in my cruise so far, boats with people on them!
Sadly, the forecast for the next few days was atrocious, so on Thursday  Vagabond was put to bed (so to speak) and I let the train  take me home to see the Owners Agent,  to  cut the grass and the hedges and even find time to view a possible property (rubbish).
Back to Yarmouth on Sunday., where I discovered the marina was almost empty. "Everyone went home this morning", said the harbour master. "They've been cooped up here by the weather and couldn't wait to leave. It blew 55kn on the pier yesterday afternoon".
I was pleased I'd been home! Now to plot the course for tomorrow. And it's started raining heavily again.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Adieu to Shoreham

I'm writing this on Thursday (14th June if you want the detail); Vagabond and I arrived at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight at about 20:30 last night. It was a bit of a surprise, really which will be revealed to you in a later post.

Swans and Cygnets

How did we get here. Last you heard it was Sunday night and we'd arrived at Shoreham from Eastbourne, where we were greeted by a pair of swans and four cygnets. It then rained in sheets for about 36 hours. I'd left the washing up bowl in the cockpit and at the end of Monday there was about 38mm of water in it*.

By 09:00 last Tuesday we had cast off from the rather rickety pontoon at Shoreham Lady Bee marina (facilities – restaurants nil,  loos 4 out of 10,  a classic industrial vista offset by a cracking chandlers ) and were waiting in the sea lock for it to open and let us go. The passage plan (scribbled with “permanent” marker pen on an encapsulated sheet) said that we were bound past Selsey Bill for Chichester Harbour with an alternative of Littlehampton. Wind forecast was 18 kn from the North East, easing to 10 knots later.
 As the water level in the lock slowly went down, the lock keeper must have become anxious to let us go; suddenly the lock gate opened and a torrent of water poured out from the lock  into the river mouth.  I thought we would be practising for the Olympic slalom canoeing event but the mooring rope held. The water levels equalised and we were off.

Out into the English Channel and up with the main.

After about 10 minutes of crazy sailing, we settled on a very broad reach for Selsey Bill with the jib up and both reefs in the main. I needed to lean out a bit every now and again but wasn’t too worried because, after all, the forecast was for the wind to abate by noon.  White horses trotted along beside us. It started to rain. Again.  We romped along, once achieving 8.9 knots on the GPS, even though there was (in theory) a half knot of tide against us.  
It was cold, so I "heaved to" and put on some more layers. Despite this delay, Selsey Bill arrived ahead of schedule so  there was tide still against us. Navigation accuracy became important to get us in position through the Looe channel so I was concentrating on buoy spotting through the rain showers and a bit slow in shaking the reefs out . A couple of yachts came through the murk from the West, so we must be on the right track. We meandered along at 2 kn for half an hour or so until we were through the narrow bit and I woke up. Out came the reefs, just at the time that the wind backed to the West of North, giving us a head wind up the eastern arm of the Solent. The rain stopped. 
We tacked across the Solent towards Bembridge and found some tide flowing in our direction.  Once we had reached the shipping channel I tacked again but it was clear that we would need to tack a couple more times to get into Chichester. The sun came out.

Portsmouth in the sun
The Spinnaker tower in Portsmouth shone in it’s glory. I realised that the tide was now so strong up channel that we could make Portsmouth almost as quickly as Chichester.  On we went.  Suddenly we had traffic.

A Very Large Container ship came out of Southampton and, mindful of it’s wash, I gave it a lot of room. A cross channel ferry zoomed past. Then we were in the thick of it. Hovercraft ferries, catamaran ferries, ordinary ferries all going between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth. Sailing dinghies, motor boats and large yachts too. All wanting to use the same little channel as Vagabond. It made for an eventful hour or so until we pushed our way through the narrows of Portsmouth, turned left to enter Haslar Marina.

Nine hours, wet almost through at one point and not a single photo to show for it. Average speed 4.5 knots . Another  40 miles off the total. 

Sadly, the decision to get to Portsmouth meant that I didn’t meet up with fellow Swallow boat owners in Chichester Harbour.

I thought we deserved a rest and planned to stay here for couple of nights so that I could meet the Elder Sister and her husband for lunch on the day “off”.

* An inch and a half Imperial

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Off again

The boatbuilder handed Vagabond back to me last Thursday, at one of those incredibly busy motorway services. He misheviously suggested that I should take her to Grimsby and claim a radio blackout....For a moment I was tempted but I took her back to the water at Eastbourne. Then home for the night to return the car and trailer (and miss some awful weather).
The news at home is that we have accepted an offer on our house, so the owners agent is desperately looking for somewhere for us to live.....this downsizing is all very well but does add to the stress of everyday life. Back to Eastbourne on Saturday to complete the rigging of Vagabond and then at 05:30 on a lovely sunny Sunday morning, through the lock and off for Beachy Head and Shoreham by sea.

Light (almost non existant) breeze from the south. Flat calm.
Motor sailed to Beachy Head. Right through the tide rips - not too bad, just a few large waves - after all the ebb was just setting.
The wind picked up once past the headland. From the East. The water was confused, a bit like the "down tide" side of Dungeness the other week.

Off went the motor, the jib was unrolled and we were off. I found that I could get the jib into a stable goosewing out to port with the main about half out  to starboard. It was as if the overspill from the main was filling and suporting the jib. With the tiller lashed, I could steer by shifting my (not inconsiderable) weight! The wind slowly increased and we flew along at over six and a half knots (some of this from the tide, admittedly).

By half eleven, I was tied up in Shoreham lock, eating my sandwhiches whilst waiting for the tide to rise so that I could enter rather industrial harbour. 26 miles on the clock in about 6 hours. I was quite pleased with our efforts

I went for a walk and locked myself out. A borrowed hacksaw resolved that and I was able to buy a new lock from the marina manager!

Then it started to rain and stayed like that all afternoon.  The Owners Agent has not found us somewhere to live - but it is Sunday after all.

Next stop is Chichester/Hayling island. Tomorrow? It all depends on the forecast. I just hope it stops raining!

Only another couple of thousand miles to go.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Vagabond is ready. Swallow Boats will be bringing her to me on Thursday. I've taken the opportunity to have a topping lift added, this will reduce the tensions in the lazy jack, make it easier to stow the mainsail and help get the boom out of the way of the cockpit. A new mooring cleat to fitted in the centre line at the stern as I had found the frame for the stern tent got in the way of the after cleats on each side. This, together with changes to the locations of the aft fairleads should make it much easier to go alongside single handed.
The boat lift at Eastbourne is booked so Vagabond should be back in the water and ready to sail by Thursday evening. The weather forecast for Friday and the weekend is terrible.

Just look this portion of the UK Met Office surface pressure chart for Friday morning- there's a slow moving depression sitting over England, giving rise to F6+ winds in the Channel.

I suspect we'll be acquiring "harbour rot"  in Eastbourne for a few days.

Finally, as a footnote, I received a parcel the other day. It was from one of the on-line chandlers, courtesy of the Scottish Herbalist. She had sent me a solar powered shower.......