Falmouth – The Hamble

Tuesday, 17 August 2010 – Thursday, 26 August 2010

Well.  It happens eventually… we have to get home!  People to see and things to do.  We stayed around in Falmouth for Falmouth Week, which was great fun (some photos uploaded onto the ‘photos’ page).  We said that we’d head towards home after this, after a day of provisioning, watering (our 3 tanks had lasted until then, amazing, but that’s probably what not showering does for you) and laundry…

Tuesday 17 August

Falmouth – Durgan Bay, Helford River

6 miles, mostly a gentle NW (Force 4) and calm seas

 Plan A this morning was to go to Fowey.  However, our margin for tides meant leaving Falmouth between 10:00 – 12:00.  Rustler were coming to sort a couple of things out for us, and our passage east rather depended on how long things would take with them.  Pete had said that Plan B would be to stay in the Yacht Haven (yes, we’d left the Rustler mooring, and were rafted up a delightful French boat, delightful captain and crew at least) and take the bus to Truro.  However, at some point waiting for the water to fill (it took the thick end of half an hour to drip through) I suggested we head up the Helford and anchor.  Chatting to Craig, and having dissected the advice from a lady in the laundry facilities, our passage to Fowey would arrive at the worst time – when the racing was finishing, which could just add too much stress to the Skipper (and crew).  In the end, Rustler left us about noon.  We decided to make for Plan C.

It was a kind of changeover time at the yacht haven (a really great place to rest up, lots of activity with all boat owners actually on their boats, lots of chatter and kids fishing for crabs… all very sociable).  Two boats eased out behind us, a massive cat came and very elegantly crabbed sideways into a spot.  Our French neighbours had gone for lunch before their very own long passage home, so it was up to us to loosen the lines and make for the seas.  I think it went very well – didn’t hit anyone; didn’t have to fend off (using the fenders to prevent munching of the neighbour’s boat).  Pete used the bow thruster, which probably lessens the success factors in his eyes, but that’s exactly what it’s there for!

Safely off, we had all of six miles to go – rather bizarrely heading west!  Slightly counter-logical for the passage eastwards home, but it made sense given the constraints earlier in the day.  We had a lot of warps to coil after rafting up – we hadn’t been much used to those in a while, particularly the very long lines!  We had a sniff of a breeze behind us, so Pete released the yankee (the front sail) and the breeze blew us gently out of Falmouth Harbour, probably for the last time in a while.  I felt sad about this, because we’d seen some super sailing, events and friends and family there.  I was also looking forward to the exploration of new places, more akin to the reasons for investing in Whinchat.  Durgan Bay would be the first of those, almost a new place (we’ve sailed past it before, and have walked along the coastal path a few times when visiting Pete’s parents), as neither of us has anchored there!  We coasted along with the wind blowing us gently along – only under the yankee.  It was perhaps lazy sailing,  but we were in no rush, only a ‘pastie’ to hurry for.  I was surprised that Whinchat sailed so well… we even hit ‘4.0’ on the speed log (which under records massively), the GPS giving us a speed-over-the-ground of 6.0 knots … in 14 of wind, and one sail!  Impressive.  I helmed us over there, Pete consulting charts down below.  It was lovely.  The bay seemed quiet after all the little boats that had been playing in Falmouth Week; there were nine tankers/container ships, which seemed a lot, but we left them in the bay when we entered the Helford.  Durgan Bay isn’t that far up, so we tucked the sail away and went for the anchorage.  Only the second time we’ve dropped anchor!  The chain markers weren’t that easy to see (again) so more need to be set out.  There is 30 metres of chain and an anchor securing us to the bed.  I was pretty confident that the anchor had bitten, and set about to take bearings to prove it.  First at 14:00 (pasties on and warming in the oven), then a succession every 30 minutes, eventually hourly.  Nothing suggesting that our anchor was slipping.

Pete and I went ashore and walked to Helford Passage (about 2 miles on the coastal path) and back.  The dinghy was reassuringly still on the beach when we returned, and Whinchat seemed to be lying in much the same place.  I had an outboard lesson, taking us back to Whinchat… from starting the outboard, steering (still feels alien) and then landing back at Whinchat’s steps…  All very successfully done, and very satisfying.  Another set of readings taken, all supporting the fact that we haven’t slipped.  Evidence of a successful anchorage!  The sunset was gorgeous, and the wind has now completely died off.  It was fun to be in the midst of things last night, but this is something else.  No street lights, no mobile phone reception.. just a kind of wilderness.  Heavenly.


Wednesday 18 August

Durgan Bay – Newton Ferrers, River Yealm

43 miles, W backing SW (Force 1,2,3, 4 & 5) and slight to moderate seas

 After a very peaceful night at anchor, we were ready to leave at almost 08:30… Continuing my broadening of my engine lessons, I was the one to drive off the anchorage with Pete being the winch wench!  All very gently done, with me following Pete’s heading signals.  There was evidence that our anchor had held well; Pete said that it was covered in mud!  The wind was up with us, so we were able to set our sails and say good bye to Falmouth appropriately, sailing off towards blue skies.  The wind was behind us, a westerly, so we were running, goose-winging the yankee and the mainsail.  What’s more amazing is that AutoDoris was doing the helming, for a large part of the morning (as the second picture shows).

Pete had tied a warp to the boom, a gibe-preventer, in order to prevent an accidental gibe… it was early in the day and we didn’t know how fluky the wind would be.  Of course one of us was on watch all the time that AutoDoris was sailing!

The blue skies were enveloped by increasing banks of clouds, with showers visible over Falmouth, now well behind us.  I went below to extract the foulies from the wet-locker, not before time.  Pete and I foolishly opted to keep our deck shoes on, not realising quite how mad the rain showers would be.  Needless to say, we both opted for drying our soaked feet and getting the full wet-weather gear on.  Oh those summer sailing days!

The weather would trick us throughout the day.  Without any warning, the wind just vanished, disappearing to barely enough of a breath to give us a couple of knots of forward speed.  It was when the GPS gave us an eta of some 8 hours hence that it became silly… so very reluctantly, Pete put the engine on and furled the yankee and released the gibe-preventer.  We were motor-sailing with the mainsail, with the engine doing most of the work.  This was the pattern, unfortunately, for the rest of the passage to Newton Ferrers.  The sea had been slight, a bit rolly but not too bad – I was able to stand in the galley and make lunch with no problems, and no need to gimble the oven, for example.  It was the sea becoming more lively that was the indicator that the weather was changing; it was becoming more rolly and ‘moderate‘ (a couple of metres).  The wind was fluking, and AutoDoris was in charge, until she accidentally gibed the mainsail.  Eek!  This is potentially dangerous, because the strength of the wind ‘slamming’ the boom the other way can snap the mast…  It was a moment that made me take a sharp intake of breath, the sound being like a loud booming crack (a combination of metal and sails), and Pete reassuringly saying that it wasn’t so bad because the sail wasn’t set very widely, and therefore didn’t travel a great distance through the wind.  Even so, AutoDoris was stood down, and Pete and I took turns to helm.  It was quite challenging, given the sea rolling down behind us, but at least the wind had decided that it was going to stick with SW.

At about 15:30 we were heading towards the entrance to the River Yealm, which has its own challenges.  Just as we were motioning to take down the mainsail, there was a broadcast for assistance from Brixham Coastguard for anyone in the entrance to the River Yealm… there were three of us, and we were the only ones to respond.  Pete took instruction from the Coastguard, and we were looking for a rib adrift with one adult and four children on board.  We quickly dropped the mainsail, and I set about scanning the seas (now pretty choppy, with the waves rolling in) with the binoculars.  Nothing.  Pete asked for a more exact location, and it turned out that they were around the headland, beyond us.  We were stood down, and a motor boat “Maverick” went to help.  We saw them being towed in an hour or so later, the kids looking very miserable.

The entrance to the Yealm is challenging, given a large sand bar, but there are clear markers, leading lines on the cliffs ahead, and as long as you obey (and there’s not a strong wind to trouble you) those, it’s fine.  We edged up the river, and I think both of us were surprised to see a space on the visitor’s pontoon… the pilot book warns you that you will have to raft.  Everyone else was pointing downstream, so we went with them.  It felt a bit rushed to get things done – four fenders to secure on starboard and the lines.  We were at the pontoon before I was comfortable, and very badly chucked the bow line… which set up a string of mooring mishaps.  The wind, of course, by now had whipped up and there was a strong current (I read later in the pilot book that it can be up to two knots in places).  Thankfully we had very helpful neighbours – two blokes sweating the bow line to get it through, much bow-thrusting against the wind.  It was all a bit mad, but we got there.  Perhaps it would have been better to go around; certainly better to have longer lines out; Pete reckons we should have set up to do it differently – tricks learnt on his yacht master programme.  Whatever, it’s all great learning.  We also learnt, when we were tied up, that everyone had the same problem… which really made Pete feel a million times better!  By 17:30 we were all tied up, even after my bow line had slipped and we had to drive us back in against the stern (with me doing the driving at this end of the day too).

We decided that we’d head inshore and see what Newton Ferrers had to offer; we were pleasantly surprised.  Three pubs, a yacht club (which we visited for a “we have arrived beer”), a butchers, pharmacy and shop.  Perfect for provisioning needs of stranded yachtsmen!

We have been expecting a bit weather system to blow up all week – the deepening and occluding depression has shifted each day (it was forecast for Tuesday at the weekend, and now Thursday), so expect to rest up until it blows through.  Who knows when that will be!


Thursday 19 August

Newton Ferrers, River Yealm

Shore leave

Pete and I were able to have a shower!  Marvellous!  Another £1 well spent!  We decided that we would have shore leave, so we’ve spent the day mooching about.  When we paid our dues to the Harbour Master, we were given a little guide book about the River Yealm, which has some walks included.  We began our exploration of the Yealm, by taking the long route to Newton Ferrers.  We were able to pick up some provisions (face cream!) and also post Alice’s parcel off to her, as well as some treats (olives, bacon) before we then set to walk around the headland towards the Ship Inn (in Noss Mayo) where we had lunch.  A really super pub, great location on the river with lovely food.  I wondered if it was in our Good Pub Guide – it should be!  We then wandered back, where I had a signal to call up Mum and chat for a while, before heading back to Whinchat.

We decided that we would then take the dinghy upstream, towards the private Kitley Estate.  It became more peaceful as we headed on up the river – Jenson might have described it as being “like the Amazon”, as he had done up the Malpass towards Truro.  Rather surprisingly, we found some wind.  Clearly from a different direction to that of yesterday, because there was very little on our pontoon; we’d meandered upstream and met the southerly winds forecast.  Pete commented that it would be a more bumpy ride back to the boat, as little waves had been formed by the wind.  I was watching the rain up the valley, not really noticing that it was advancing from behind…  We were in waterproof coats, but not legs!  We turned and had a very soggy beat back to the boat… both of us totally soaked from the bum southwards!  Our saloon now resembles a Chinese laundry, with things trying to dry.  The rain has heralded the imminent arrival of the fronts, and it is dark and miserable outside.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring – a sail training boat has just arrived (Pete reckons a naval crew based on the efficiency of their mooring) and from what they’re saying, it sounds like it’s not pleasant out there beyond the river mouth.

Friday 20 August

Newton Ferrers, River Yealm

More shore leave

 Guess what?  The weather forecast is still completely rubbish!  Differently rubbish – the wind strength has been downgraded (although there is barely a breath in our little river location), but the seas are moderate/rough and the visibility is terrible!  When I poked my head out of the hatch this morning, I couldn’t see to the hilltops behind us!  Murky, mizzly greyness had descended from above.   It really never seemed to get light all day.  Pete and I decided that another day in the Yealm beckoned.  Would this sleepy haven be able to occupy us, challenging perhaps given the lack of technological staples of mobile phone reception and internet access.  We had resorted to the Times concise crossword last night (which we were one away from completing… very satisfying). We had to provision, setting off in the dinghy in mist and returning in heavy rain.  The Times then occupied us (remarkably the local post office taking our Times vouchers).  We had lunch on board giving us time to dry out.  It’s actually the worst of weathers, because it’s not actually cold.  It’s very humid, but with the driving rain you want to wear a waterproof, which then makes you overheat.  When we were in ‘town’, I had to get some saline solution, and in the time I stood to be served in the pharmacy, I was positively ‘glowing’.

We decided to go for another walk this afternoon, around the headland, out to the mouth of the Yealm, which would give us views of where we had come in from, but perhaps more importantly, where we would head out to.  We had a very short dinghy ride across to the shore, where the walk started.  Pete was all up for being ecologically sensitive and rowing (threatening to have me row), but the dinghy was wet which would have involved getting a wet bum, so we motored!  I fancy that Mother Earth was having her revenge, as we tried to moor against a set of steps cut deep into the cliffside.  I scrambled out first, giving my sailing boots rather a soaking, and was too busy looking for somewhere to secure the lines to – I nearly caused Pete to tumble in.  He also managed to scramble ashore, getting much wetter, and with a tidal surge from somewhere, it was suddenly all a bit stressy, with the dinghy pounding on the rocks.  With the air of a sit com, we got back into the dinghy, me pushing off, for Pete to re-start the engine, and motor all of 100m away, to another landing place, where we tried the same again.  However, with less wash, and neither of us getting anymore wet, we were able to tie our launch and begin our walk.  We were on a 2 hour circular walk, which was super.  From feeling a bit flat about being weathered in (and not sailing, as was our intention), the walk really lifted us.   We were both intrigued to see the state of the sea.  I was a bit aghast at the sight of a sailing boat rolling up and down into the sea, with Pete declaring it ‘not too bad’!  There wasn’t much wind (later confirmed to us, which could have been the worst of worlds… I am taken back to Corsica, but that’s a whole other story) which made it look like hard work.  Despite neither of us being in very good walking shoes (note to self: pack trainers or walkers next time) we slipped along the paths.  The visibility wasn’t much better on top, but the breeze on the cliffs was welcome at dissipating some of the mugginess.

Pete, within range of Plymouth, was high enough for Vodafone to reach him… He came to a sudden stop – presumably his pocket had vibrated – enough to pick up a couple of messages, one of them being the very exciting news that we’ve got a place on the Solent Rally at RAFYC.  OMG!!!  Suddenly we have a deadline to get back for.  It’s really good news, as we both wanted to do this one, and hopefully Tom will be around to join us too.

We stopped off at the Ship Inn (wonderful pub) for a soda/lime before heading back to the dinghy (still there!) and Whinchat.  We had toyed with the idea of going in search of Wifi at the Yacht Club this evening, but it started raining again.  So instead, we’ve cranked up Whinchat’s heating, delved deeper into the Times (crossword completed, 100%) and opened a bottle of Rioja in celebration of Friday evening.  Pete is making risotto, and we will debate what to do tomorrow…

Saturday 21 August

Newton Ferrers, River Yealm

Guess what? We’re still here….

 The mist hangs in the valley, again!  It’s beginning to be a bit depressing.  The weather forecast isn’t too bad, but it just looks unpleasant.  We opt for an excursion on land to take a shower and get a paper.  It’s always a decision what to wear when you head out by dinghy, because what might be good in a damp dinghy isn’t usually so good on land – full foulies and lifejacket would be desirous on the water, but not on land.  We opted for leg-foulies… me with fit flops.  We went in search of the paper before showering (in case they had run out), and on the way to the village, the mist morphed into pretty heavy rain.  I could have stood in the rain and washed my hair.  We were soaked (admittedly top half only) right through to the skin.  The shower was glorious, six minutes of warm running water, but getting back into damp, no wet, clothes wasn’t such fun.  My hair didn’t dry until we went to the YYC (Yealm Yacht Club) for lunch; lured in by the promise of free wifi, which wasn’t working.  I was very disappointed.

The boat is feeling completely damp, with clothes and towels hanging from hangers.  Whereas things had dried out the other day, nothing is now.  It doesn’t bother Pete, but it’s got to me today.

We continued our walking tour of the Yealm, completing the last walk in the guide book.  We landed at Warren Point (the north shore) without any of the dramas, or comedies, of yesterday and set off up the hill.  The directions in the book extend to about five sentences, and we must have gone wrong somewhere, as we ended up walking along a lane and into the town of Wembury and through a housing estate… not the coastal paths I’d expected.  Still, at the top of the hill, vodafone again found Pete, and we have confirmation that we’re in for the Solent Rally – very good news.  We knew that we had to find a church and an NT cafe; fortunately they were both signposted out of the village, so we took the road down to the coast.  The fog had rolled in, and when we got down to the beach, you couldn’t see across the bay or the Mewstone Rock.  It was disappointing.  We stopped off at the cafe for an expresso and cake to fuel us back up the hill, and onto the path to take us back to Warren Point.  Visibility was a couple of hundred metres at best, and I have the feeling that we really missed out on some lovely views.

Back on the boat, the Harbour Master was there to tell us about a weather change – good for tomorrow, but with a storm brewing for Tuesday.  We have a window to escape the Yealm – not that it’s been a hard place to spend time; it’s charming.  It’s just it’s time to let the wind take us somewhere else.

Sunday 22 August

Newton Ferrers, River Yealm – Dartmouth

32 miles, “cyclonic” (varying from nothing to bit more than nothing) and roly poly seas (flattening around Stark Point)

We left the Yealm having prepared as much as we could to allow us to haul the sails quickly and easily (given that we thought the seas would be lumpy making sail work at the mast unpleasant).  We slipped the mooring lines, watching as the current just moved us sideways… no wonder mooring up was such hard work!  It was quite the reverse, thankfully. With a cockpit full of lines, we headed out into Wembury Bay.  We’d left approaching low tide, and heading into springs (when the lunar effect is greater on our tides, giving a greater tidal range).  We knew we had a GPS track to follow going out to the bay, but it was quite a surprise to me to turn around (I was watching the leading lines off the stern) to see the depth gauge reading 2.3m!  That’s 50cm away from the bottom of the keel.  It was a hold-your-breath-until-it-rises… which it did!  Out past the navigation hazards, I could take in the view that we didn’t see on our coastal walk… just as the rain started.  It was the most torrential downpour, so Pete sent me down below for full foulies as he remained partially dry in his jacket (he was wearing shorts and bare feet). I emerged fully waterproofed, and was tasked to take us to the first waypoint, just out in the bay.   By the time we’d settled on a course, towards the next one, some 10 miles away, the sea was very ‘roly poly’ (sorry Mum, avert your eyes until the next paragraph…).  Pete set AutoDoris on the task of steering, given that there was NO wind at all… just lots of sea.  We both sat for a while, and then Pete suggested standing at the coach-hood… ah; fresh air.  I basically assumed this position until we made it to Dartmouth.  The cockpit was full of warps to be coiled, but I couldn’t stomach looking down, so Pete did them all!

Our passage to Dartmouth felt a long one – watching the coastline disappear and emerge in various degrees of cloud and rain.  The weather always seemed to be better behind us.  The one thing that was consistent was the lack of wind.  “Cyclonic” was the stated wind in the met office’s weather forecast, as broadcast by the Falmouth Coastguard… which neither Pete or I had heard of before.  Pete looked it up in the almanac and it basically means “not sure, could be from anywhere”..  and it really did that.  I’m not convinced that it made any consistency of direction.

Once we had rounded Start Point, the sea completely changed… flattening out to a glassy calm.  It was really eerie.  Pete then told me some ‘lore’ about Start Point, in that locally it is called “Cape Horn” because in Lyme Bay it can be calm, whereas rounding the Point, well, it can be lively.  Now he tells me!  We later heard of a racing crew that came in from the Solent, who, with no wind either, and no sea to deal with, jumped into the bay to have a swim!  Not many times a year that you can do that.  We continued under motor, AutoDoris having navigated us through all the waypoint changes.  She’s done a great job today!  As we approached Dartmouth, we watched a boat trying to fly their spinnaker, perhaps in race training, but there was barely enough wind to fill it.

Pete was hoping for a berth in Dart Haven Marina, but couldn’t raise them on the VHF, so we headed in to the visitor’s pontoon, and tied up… only it was a “no berthing” part of the pontoon… Sighs!  All was not lost though, as the boat just along (and in a legal part of the pontoon) were filling with water and would be on their way.  We almost walked Whinchat along and tied alongside with no hassles.  It was a relief after a long day of motoring!  We knew that rain was in store, but would the gales arrive?  We had a ‘you have arrived beer’ in a terrific pub, the Ship Inn (Kingswear) where a boat crew (rowing) had evidently been celebrating their success in the rowing regatta.  We mused the day and headed back to Whinchat for supper, me very much suffering from roly poly sea-legs, just as the rain began.


Monday 23 August


Shore leave

 There’s a kind of before and after shot to be had of Dartmouth.  The first picture is of Dartmouth in the rain, torrential, which hammered down on the boat all night – it felt like it.  It was actually pleasant, making us feel all snug in the cabin… it wasn’t doing much for lifting the damp of the boat though!  The second is taken about lunchtime, after the rains have come through, and it’s so pretty!

What a difference a few hours makes!  We’ve had shore leave today to do some shopping – mooching shopping!  Including new undies for me as some got destroyed in the laundrette in Falmouth… and since we are formulating new passage plans by the hour, buying new saves risking destroying more in the laundrette here!  That’s my excuse.  I’ve also bought some big fluffy socks – strangely enough most places haven’t stocked them in their summer range, but Fat Face knows better!  Pete also bought some new sailing trousers, so he wasn’t exactly a victim in Dartmouth.  Following a facebook suggestion by Deb, we had lunch in the Dartmouth Arms; lovely!

Back on board, Pete has been planning our next moves, which hope to see us back in the Hamble in two hops, beating the next big weather system that’s due in on Thursday.  I’ve taken advantage of the sunshine and scrubbed the decks!  Seems silly in some ways to get wet, but Whinchat was looking a bit grubby.  The breaking news of the day though has to be that our clothes have dried from the shower escapade of Saturday and our towels have dried in a day.   We’re going out for supper tonight, and will set off at a civilised time tomorrow (09:30) to head for Weymouth.  Let’s hope for a lovely sailing wind.  All things crossed, please!

Tuesday 24 August

Dartmouth – Weymouth

63 miles, W-WSW (Force 5-7) and moderate – rough seas

 Yesterday’s day at sea (some 11 hours) was something else, and I’m not yet certain I’ve made sense of it.  I was exhausted by the time we’d tied up in Weymouth Marina, completely “over stimulated” as I said to Pete.  I think this entry needs to come with a health warning to those sensitive to the seas – just know that we arrived safely!

We had to leave Dartmouth, because it’s regatta time and the yacht haven was booked for racing yachts.  We also checked the weather, and it was scheduled to be breezy, lively, but nothing beyond what we could cope with.  There was very little wind when we slipped out of the pontoon, and we left Dartmouth with the sun shining.  We were really pleased with our exit.

Out in the bay the sea had piled up; so different to the sea-state on our arrival, already lumpy and ‘moderate’.  The wind was also there to greet us!  Quite a lot of it.  I was really pleased that I did all the jobs of clearing the lines and the fenders in the lumpiness, even coiling the ropes without feeling like throwing up.  I mused to myself that perhaps I was finding my sea-legs.

When we set sail, we didn’t know where we’d end up, with a possibility of three destinations given the weather and sea conditions when we got out there – Weymouth, Yarmouth or a long day towards the Hamble.  The wind was more than we were expecting so early – already blowing around 20 knots (4-5) and I joked that we’d be sailing on the stay-sail (the smallest sail we have).    In fact, Pete decided to opt for the yankee, which was the sail that would look after us all day, most of the time with the wind behind us.   In fact, Whinchat looked after us so well all day – I completely love and respect her even more!

Pete keeping an eye on things…

Interestingly, most of the day it was fairly sunny, with great expanses of blue sky… with squally showers at times.  We were in foulies because it was cool; the wind was strong and therefore it just whipped any heat out of the air.  I think this made a massive difference to my perception of the conditions – after all, everything seems better in sunlight!  If it had been grey and wet, well, I think I’d’ve perceived the wind/sea combo as being much worse… silly really.

After a couple of hours, with the winds increasing together with the sea, Pete decided it would be foolish to go for the inner passage past Portland Bill (there are three possibilities, given the conditions, within 100 metres, a central line, and one six miles out to sea), so we headed for the central line.  Lunch can be a challenge, but we’d bought an M&S quiche which Pete had put in the oven.  He emerged from down below looking a bit green at the gills, since he’d also done the hourly checks and log entries…. of course just as the sea had headed towards being rough.  I was the one, amazingly, who ventured down and took it out of the oven and recovered the sprite from the fridge (miracle drink, recommended as essential on all journeys from now on).  We ate it out of the tin, and felt loads better for something warm inside us.  We cheerfully posed for a picture at this point (foulies fully deployed because of a squall, AutoDoris being in control).

AutoDoris was complaining bitterly at the change in conditions, so from here on Pete and I swapped helming responsibilities.  It was actually much better, as the afternoon passed much quicker.  It’s something else to be part of the action rather than watching, with anxieties rising, as the wind gauge records higher and higher speeds and the wave ferocity seems to increase.  We had about four hours where the winds were in excess of 27 knots and the seas were looming large.

This is the bit I’m finding hard to make sense of.  Tell me before hand that it’s the conditions we’d be in, and I would have chained myself to the dock.  The power of the elements frightens me.  I maintain that I was much braver than I thought I would be… and I am very proud of myself for this.  For large parts of it, I couldn’t stand up as the wave motion was too violent, so it was a sitting down wedged in the cockpit… wedged, learned by trial and error, so to speak, as one wave sent me skidding down towards the sea.  Pete laughed, and fortunately so did I!  I also learned to stop watching over the stern, as walls of water piled up!  One particularly large wave shifted the packed dinghy across the back of the boat – I thought it was going to head overboard, as I leapt to do something (what I don’t know) but the guard rails stopped it.  I was given the task of securing it with a rope, the action of looking down and trying to haul it (it weighs around 30kg) heated me up and made me very green… so I was back on the helm.

Perhaps the scariest moment of the day was when Pete noticed the leech line of the yankee had got jammed around the furling gear… and he announced that we wouldn’t be able to furl the yankee until it was freed.  Pete had to go to the bow and sort it out.  I was at the helm, my heart pounding, as he edged towards the bow (clipped on with a safety line to the jackstays) and sorted it out.  He’d had to cut it as it had wound so tightly – I’m not actually sure what that means, but I don’t think it’s dangerous!  From then on, I was the one who insisted that the person at the helm had to be clipped on.

As to the experience of sailing.  Well.  The picture below, we think, gives some indication of the sea:

You can see that the yacht appears to be above us, and that you can’t see its hull.  We reckon the wave heights were around four metres… what you can also see is that the sea looks blue, because of the lovely weather from above!

Anyway.  Whinchat was very solid in the water – without doubt, any other of the boats we’d chartered in the past would have made it feel much worse.  Whinchat took it in her stride – surfing down the waves, sinking and then rising with the next one.  We actually only got wet a couple of times, so she did an excellent job of keeping the water out of the boat.  Handling her was also OK – completely in control.  Sure, you’re being pulled to one side (starboard on the tack we were on) by the wind and the sea, but you point her back to the course and she dives down another wave.  I wouldn’t describe it as fun – I don’t do fairground rides – but it was very satisfying.  The air was a bit ‘blue’ at times, not because it was hairy-scary, but for me it was when I saw a wall of water looming over my shoulder in my peripheral vision…. and you know you’re in for a big surge.  If Whinchat was embodied, I’m sure she’d’ve been whooping!

The other trouble was one of bladder.  I overruled my need for the loo because of a lack of desire to want to go below – for several hours.  When I had to give in (around 7pm, when the seas had slipped back to moderate as we were in the shelter of Portland Bill) it was a mix of pleasure and pain!  I emerged decidedly queasy!  I was not much help at winching in the yankee (now sailing into the wind), because you kind of need to look down at the winch and the motion was sending my system into free-fall.

By the time we were approaching Weymouth, the sea had all but gone and I was enjoying the views towards Lulworth and Durdle Door, picked out in super visibility and lovely clouds.  It was surreal in some ways, given that I had been churned up not so long ago by the very environment that was offering something really spectacular.

At 19:30 we were moored alongside the waiting pontoon in Weymouth waiting for the 20:00 swing bridge opening.  It was a funny moment – the usual routine is that I’m the one to jump off first at the bow to tie on and then run back and take the stern line.  The conditions were so benign, and Pete had left me with about 8 feet to jump to the pontoon (too much!) so he was the one leaping off the stern, and us pulling the bow in.  Loads of people wanted to stop and chat, on the quay, which was lovely… as we set about and tidied the boat from the day.  This wouldn’t be the end of our activities and excitement for the day.  We had booked a berth in Weymouth Marina (my request) and knew it was bows in, starboard tie up (opposite to the waiting pontoon, so I had to flip the fenders and lines over in about three minutes).  We found the berth, and Pete edged us in, with me jumping off with the bowline.  Only, Pete had misjudged the berth length/boat length (we were both tired) and I couldn’t believe it when I turned to see Whinchat stopped, and about to crunch into the pontoon.  I leapt back and pushed her off with all my strength!  I’ve no idea what happened next really, but Pete says that I was brilliant, bringing her in and fending off at the same time.  It hadn’t been our finest arrival, but there is not a scratch on her!  All learning, as Pete said!

We sank a beer and I know I was almost numb with the day, like I said, very over stimulated.  We’ve picked up an updated weather forecast, which has gale warnings in the Portland area.  We’ve decided that we could use a day to recover before heading out for something of the same… We’re right next to a cinema so a matinee of Toy Story 3 beckons!  We’ve also decided to go for the beat to the Hamble tomorrow – so a day’s rest is no bad thing.

Thursday 26 August

Weymouth – Hamble

45 miles, SW-NW (and everything in between) (Force 5 – nothing) and roughish seas becoming flat calm

 We deliberated and cogitated about whether we should set sail or not.  The wind howled all night through the marina, but this turned out to be a kind of funnelling effect.  More disturbing were the gale warnings off-shore.  We scoured every weather source we could, with most suggesting the winds would die off – except for the maritime team at the Met Office, who were crying ‘gales’.

We decided that we’d just have to go for it, but we couldn’t leave until 12:00 – the swing bridge in Weymouth but also to make the tidal gate around the Dorset coast (off St Alban’s Head, just west of Swanage).  Both of us were edgy in the run up to departure – having decided to go for it, we wanted to do just that…. whatever the elements would chuck at us!

It would be a long day in prospect – we were expecting to reach the Hamble around 22:00, so introducing Whinchat to night sailing (of which I have a few hours only, so only marginally more qualified!).  We really didn’t know what to expect, but having experienced wild weather in Weymouth, we knew that it might be a bumpy old ride – all foods ready in snack form and in the galley cupboard nearest the hatch.  It started off pretty rough, but the seas eased throughout the day.

[Mother skip a paragraph…]  The worst sea wasn’t the big rough waves, smaller than the previous day with the occasional whopper, but the ‘moderate’ seas where we were running perpendicular to the direction of the sea.. you’re kind of corkscrewed through the waves, which is very queasy-inducing (at least for me).  Fortunately, there wasn’t too much of this on the passage home.

It was a really long day at sea; grey skies (not that much rain), grey seas, lumpy seas with not enough wind to push us through the waves for much of the time… and that tidal stream?  Well, after an episode of said queasiness (note to Jenson, not actually sea-sick!) I lay down in the cockpit for about an hour whilst Pete was sailing.  It seemed to be heavy going, with the wind fluking and flicking around meaning that the boat just wasn’t gliding through the seas… He went down below to do the 17:00 log entry, and I noted our speed over ground was 1.8 knots!  Almost backwards!  Needless to say, within about 15 minutes of me being on the helm, cursing the wind and the attempted gibes (we had a gibe preventer on, so no actual risk emerged) we had the engine on and our speed had increased to 4.0 knots… still pretty bad.  Pete must’ve made an error in his passage planning, but there wasn’t much we could do about it – other than turn back.  Um.  No.

So, this was our pattern for several hours, for me – well not exactly grim, but unpleasant.  Pete was grumpy with the wind, and that we couldn’t sail.  Perplexed about the tides..  It wasn’t our finest hours.  At 18:30, we were still 4 miles off the Needles, and our eta seemed optimistic…

Then, things started changing and the last few hours of the passage home just flew by.  The sea by now was slight (as the picture above shows) so we could both move about up and below deck without any problems.  The Needles were growing in stature, and I’d never seen them from the sea before.  It’s a majestical sight… way too gloomy and heading towards dusk otherwise there’d be another picture!  We also were now on the disco boat – I cranked up the stereo, set the speaker fade to play in the cockpit, and we had Abba to boogie along to!  Awesome!  Abba selected by the iPod as the battery had gone flat, and I couldn’t get power the change it.  I was thinking a lot of Alice (known to appreciate Abba) and also a resident of IoW as a toddler before her parents sold the house in Totland Bay… Happy days and happy memories accompanied me down the Solent.  The fading of the day brought a different quality to the water – the lights become very important.  It was also eerie because the Solent was so quiet – not many boats about – but also no wind and an almost glassy sea.  Absolutely flat calm.  And, to cap it all, we finally had some tides with us… we were moving about 11 knots over the ground, literally making up for lost time.  I was deeply impressed by the navigational aids – a lighthouse which if you had ‘white’ meant you were holding a good course, ‘red’ meant you were too far to port and ‘green’ too far to starboard.  The lights guided us all the way to the mouth of the Hamble – where someone shouted at us that our port light had gone… not good!

Edging up the Hamble was somewhat of a blur to me, as I set about preparing the boat for mooring… fenders down, warps tied (all upside down in the dark was a new sensation).  We have only been to the marina once, by shore, and neither of us could remember our berth number (a phone call helped us out), but finding it from the water was a challenge!  We have a monster search light, which I swung around until we picked the pontoon.  It wasn’t our finest mooring hour, perhaps not surprising given that it was the first time we’d be there and that we were tired.  Pete hadn’t approached the berth well (by his own admission) and the way you stop a boat going forwards is to welly it in reverse.. but every boat kicks to one side, and Whinchat is to port.  This isn’t the way that’s helpful in our mooring case (starboard tie up).  The manoeuvring meant that Pete was having to fend off against the boat on our port side (because she kicks that way), and he hadn’t left me very close to the pontoon – about six feet short.  He was shouting at me to tie a line on (I was still on the boat looking at the great expanse of water between me and the very low pontoon, and he told me it wasn’t actually at me, but just out of stress).  I basically had to leap from the boat across the water, tie the bow line tight (to stop it dead) and pull the stern in with Pete on board.  I did it, with much yelling.  Again, kept telling me that I was brilliant!  After our epic day, we had arrived… tired, stressed and ready to stop.

So.  Our first passage… Full of experiences and adventures, but not as we’d planned.  So much for stopping in at places along the way.  We very much wanted to visit Salcombe, Lymington and also Exmouth to see Pete’s family.  Instead we stopped long and looked at the terrible August weather and endured some tough sailing conditions.  We’ve learned a great deal, laughed a lot and have totally fallen in love with our Whinchat.  I only hope that she continues to deliver, and that we can live up to her standards.