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.

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