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!

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