Homeward bound!

L’aber-wrac’h – Scilies? No, Helford River!

Monday 20th August 2012

SW F2-3-4 with slightly swelly seas, sometimes more, becoming very slight nearer Cornwall

100 M (Cumulative: 755 NM)

After agreeing to an overnight element of the passage home, Pete had calculated that we should leave at 13:00, which would see us in Scily around 06:00.  We’d been in contact with Tim via text, as the plan was to meet them in Little Dove somewhere in Scily.  Tim had told us that they were not going – the forecast was not helpful for them heading west from Mylor, and it was set to freshen up.  I looked at the Met Office’s inshore waters forecast and it was marginal.  Pete had checked Simon Keeling’s Weatherweb, which was OK.  What to do?  At 11:00 we were heading to Scilly, but 10 minutes before we departed, as we were packing up the boat, I checked again online.  The forecast had worsened for Scilly in the noon update.  That was it! Plans changed, literally, as we were untying Whinchat.  I think Pete would have gone, but I said I didn’t want to end our trip wishing that we were somewhere else.  The Scillies are gorgeous – but are exposed and not great in any strong winds.  Tim’s text in response to our change of plan was exact… “You are wise beyond your years.”

So, we left, with Pete changing the route as we exited the channel.  I have to say that as Pete, I’m sure, was feeling disappointment, I was feeling relieved.  I so didn’t want a repeat of the end of the trip last year, when I was almost begging to get off the boat, after a horrid last night at anchor.  Anyway.  One thing that we hadn’t really thought about was that the trip to Falmouth would be 15 NM shorter than Scilly, so the arrival time would be brought forward.  The whole point was not to arrive in the dark, so we were seeking to lose time in the crossing.  Most unheard of for me as a strategy!  The forecast was for very little wind, so we were expecting to motor most of the way.  We weren’t wrong in that.  What we hadn’t really known what to expect was the sea state.  The winds had been so light over the last couple of days, so we were expecting low swell, less than a metre, and by and large we had that.  But it’s still swell, and I wasn’t convinced how I’d be for hour after hour after hour – the relentless aspect of it, which you can’t really escape (except if you can get to sleep).  I was particularly anxious with the transition through dusk to dark.  The horizon is a very reassuring thing, so I didn’t really know how it would be in the dark.  Would it make me feel queasy?  That added dimension of disorientation, which was a bit unknown.  Most of the time, it was a pretty easy motion, to be honest, despite the fact that we weren’t actually sailing.  Whinchat moves through the water so much better under the power harnessed in her sails, but it was OK on the channel, because the swell was low and regular in rhythm.  Don’t get me wrong; we had to have a hand on the boat all the time for most of it.  It was hard to stand without getting buffeted, and at times, it was more bouncy.  Like the time I decided that we should eat!  Why does that happen?  Sod’s law, and all that, but with darkness approaching, I wanted to make sure that we had something warm inside our stomachs.  I’d cooked up a pasta sauce in the morning in port, so it was a question of reheating it, and cooking up the gluten free pasta.  The stove was gimbled, so that it moved with the motion of the boat, and the pans were secured by the brackets that hold them.  Pete was surprised that I offered to make supper – as was I at myself – but I was feeling OK, and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  And do it, I did!  Very satisfying.  I didn’t stand over the hob, but popped up and down the companionway to keep watch.  When I plated up, I even managed to grate some cheese on it!  Fantastic!  We both really enjoyed the meal; just the job.

The strategy for the crossing was to operate a watch system of hour on, hour off.  We began this very early in the journey, after we’d come out of the estuary.  I guess this would have been at 14:00 (French time), and we held that over night…. Almost! This system had worked well for us coming over, and we thought we’d try it going back.  There is enough of a transition to allow something else when off watch.  My approach was to doze!  We’d set up the dozing bunk on the starboard cockpit seat – a cockpit cushion, with the option of fleece blankets, a small cushion and a couple of big coats to keep off the damp.  Pete had read my trashy magazine on one leg, which put him on the edge of feeling OK.  I tried to read at one point, but it wasn’t for me!

The weather was so lovely on the crossing.  The sun was out, making the sea look blue (instead of grey), and it was warm!  We both started out in shorts and t-shirts.  Pete stayed with bare feet for the whole crossing, putting on trousers when it got dark, and a deck shirt at some point.  Not a cm of wet weather gear.  I added similar layers, but also socks.  It was a real pleasure not to have to unpeel layers of clothes when you went down below; usually you overheat when you descend fully togged up, but we could move around.  I really think this helped a great deal.

And how is it on watch?  Well, rather surprisingly, time flew.  When we left, I had a heart sinking ‘oh my goodness, we’ve 18 hours ahead…’, but there’s something about the responsibility of being on active watch that makes the hour zoom by.  We had a ceremonial handing over of the baton of responsibility – the personal EPIRB – an alarm that you activate when in danger, which then triangulates your position, so someone knows where to send rescue to.  Pete wants me to write this… He kept his in his pockets, but I didn’t have any, so my safe place for the EPIRB was wedged in the cleavage created by my sports bra (more comfy to snooze in than the normal wired contraptions).  Anyway….  Back to the point!  The genius that helped time pass by, was playing music.  We haven’t done this before, but it made sense.  We listen to music all the time on the boat when we’re sitting around, so why not do it on watch?  Pete set the fade on the stereo so that it came out of the cockpit, and the genius mixes played away.  I really believe that this helped on so many levels – giving the brain something to focus on, giving pleasure, soothing… Just a brilliant idea on the part of the skipper!

Pete declared at 20:00 that we had left France, and took down the French courtesy flag, so we went into BST and had two lots of 20:00 in the log.  We never changed the ship’s clock from BST, so I thought it would be weird after five weeks not to add on an hour.  Not that it really mattered that night – darkness soon fell, and it was too dark to see it anyway!

The real treat of the night was the amazing sunset, not that we saw the sun slipping over the horizon, as there was a bank of cloud in the west, but the colours that were thrown up were stunning.  Mesmerizing.  I watched it in two parts, because Pete was sleeping as the sun disappeared behind the clouds – it must’ve been around 21:00.  I wanted to see the transition to dark, so I was happy to be on watch at this time.

I’m not sure how much later the ‘second’  photo was taken, perhaps an hour, but this was the more spectacular show.  Just wonderful!  I’m not sure I know what word to give the colour.  It’s so much more than ‘pink’!  This signalled my rest period, and my attempt to sleep.  Pete packed me into the nest on the starboard bunk – and I fell fast asleep.  So much so, that Pete didn’t want to disturb me and he did a two-hour stretch.  I couldn’t believe I’d been asleep for so long, but I felt much revived by it.  Pete was bouncing around when I woke for my shift – the midnight to 02:00 slot – really buzzing.  Partly the music, partly the active watch.  We were crossing shipping lanes, so he was checking avidly for contacts and identifying lights.  He said that the first hour had flown by, and because I hadn’t moved, he decided to do a second hour.  I wondered whether he’d relinquish the baton and allow me to do my watch.  Of course, I don’t relish a night passage, but I will do my fair share.  I have to say; I found the same that time flew by.  I made a cup of fruity tea to revive me a little, and munched on a square of chocolate.  Why did time fly? I’m not sure!  I can’t say that I was gripped by the traffic on AIS – it was all quite far away – although a ship called ‘Oscar Wilde’ on her way to Ireland intrigued me.  I was excited by the glow of the light from Lizzard Lighthouse.  Pete had pointed it out to me on handover, the glow in the clouds from the light source.  It meant that land was in reach, albeit about 30 miles away.  At 01:00, I wrote in the log that we could now see the light itself, which Pete later said you could see from 26NM out – and that you wouldn’t be able to see land from then.  I think that’s about 12NM out (if I remember correctly from my Day Skipper course), I’d be asleep again when we passed through that marker.  The combination of the open space of the sea, and the dark made for great pondering.  I’m sure I resolved several things that night, although I can’t really recall what now.

I’ve said that we were aiming to get to land in the daylight, and having thought that we might arrive at 03:30, thankfully the tide pulled against us, so we were plugging tide, which slowed us down.  But still, we were looking at a 04:30-05:00 arrival, which was still a bit early!  We both thought that it would be a good strategy to slow Whinchat down – we worked out that we needed to add another half an hour on the passage.  There was a sniff of wind in the air, so we set the yankee and sailed for an hour or so, pretty slowly, but that was just fine.  Both of us were on watch for the last couple of hours, with Pete trying to give me lessons in lights.  Rather like the cardinal lesson as we arrived in L’aber-wrac’h, I wasn’t exactly enthralled.  Falmouth was well in our sights then, as were a couple of ships at anchor, lit up like small villages.  You don’t get that in the Day Skipper course – everything is very theoretical, but generally ships at sea are lit all over!  There were a couple of fishing boats, shown on AIS, but in the act of fishing, or trawling, they were lit almost like the Lizzard, sending a beacon of light up in the sky.  Presumably lit so that they could do whatever they do in hauling a catch (if I’d’ve paid more attention in the Musee de Peche, I might know…..) Anyway.  More digressions.

The effect of the tide on our passage is fascinating.  Pete had worked out what course we had to steer as part of his passage plan.  I think it was 355.  The tides run south-east:north-west, meaning that when we pointed to the heading (nearly north), the tide took us westwards initially, and then, when the tides turned, we were carried for longer eastwards.  At midnight, Pete wanted to give a position check, to see that we hadn’t been swept too much west, as we didn’t want to get the wrong side of the Lizzard.  I don’t think he altered course at this point, as he was happy that we were broadly on track.  In fact, overall, our course was about a mile east of target – so over a course of 100NM, an error of 1%.  Bloody marvellous!  I’m so proud of him!  Pete plotted it, and photographed it, so that the perfect ‘S’ can be seen by all….

Rather unusually, there were no ships at anchor in the Fal Bay.  One set of hazards that we need not worry about.  Our strategy had worked in slowing us down, because as we headed into the Helford, daylight was breaking through.  I hadn’t needed to be the lady with the lamp on the bow, spotting mooring buoys and pot buoys, the new day was doing this for us.  We edged up the Helford, thinking about going to pick up a mooring buoy, but there was no one in the anchorage off Durgan, so we decided to just drop the hook.  At 06:00 we were firmly anchored, once again in Cornish waters.  Shortly afterwards, we were in our bunk, embracing the welcome arms of Sleep.