We are just back from a three day cruise to test out Raya post refit and work out the best way to sail her with just the two of us. We were accompanied by Oyster guru and font of all knowledge Andy Willet from Stella Maris where she has been all winter. We had a fantastic time, she sailed really well, the weather despite a dodgy forecast was superb and the crew (Rick and I) did OK. It was great to be out on the water, especially for the first time with a full set of sails and we used them all, in every configuration possible. The boy likes his boat.
We started still tied to the dock working out a man over board stategy using the boom as a hoist, Andy manfully volunteered to be the casualty and the pulley system worked really well and we recovered him back onto the boat without any untoward damage. Chris joined us and with everything safely stowed we set off. We squeezed under the Itchen Bridge and dodging the ferries into Southampton Waters, we unfurled the sails, she handled fabulously. With the sun shining we stopped just off Calshot Spit, anchored, ate a light lunch, lowered the dingy to take the first shots of her out in the water. Then we sailed into the Solent to practice gybing and tacking, our first time not only in such a large boat but with fully electric winches and hydraulic furlers. So for my part at least, as instructions were given, there was plenty of brain crisis as I had to decide not only which sheet or halyard to use but which button to press. We dropped Chris in Cowes and with tide and time against us we headed up the Beaulieu River and tied up at Bucklers Hard. Time for a glass of fizz, we had successfully completed our first day.
Thursday dawned with Rick hoisted up the mast as Andy and I worked out the easiest and safest way to do it when it was just the two of us onboard. This cruise was obviously going to be invaluable, just as long as we could remember it all. An hour later and the odd sight of an Oyster heading straight at the shore line could be observed by the numerous wading birds inhabiting the banks of the river. Over the last week of spring tides we had noticed that Raya was registering zero on the depth gauge at low tide when she was clearly floating, so we decided that the gauge needed recalibrating. A lead line wouldn’t work in these waters with thier soft muddy bottoms so it was decided to do the acid test and see, very cautiously, what depth the transducer read when she actually touched the ground. At the helm this felt a very alien thing to be doing running our shinny new yacht aground, but Andy confidently assure us all would be fine, which of course it proved to be.
Once in the Solent we headed downwind to have a look at the USS Roservelt, a huge American Aircraft carrier currently anchored off Portsmouth, suddenly Raya really didn’t seem so large after all. The police boats surrounding her stopped us getting too close and we turn around to test out the rig into the wind. An exhilarating sail in about 24knots of wind with the odd gust at over 35. With one reef in the main and the stay sail up, we screamed down the Solent at between 8 and 10 knots, With waves breaking over the bow and the port rail in the water she felt as safe as houses. To top it off we reached the Needles as the sun set perfectly over the Purbeck hills. Andy was keen that we got in some night sailing so we continued out into The Channel until darkness fell and then turned back to face the challenge of sailing up the Needles Channel and into Yarmouth harbour in the dark. As we turned the confusing backdrop of the lights of the Solent faced us, we had seen the breaking waves over the shallows either side of the channel as we had passed through an hour ago and just to add a little spice a 200 ton tanker conspired to be at the red marker buoy at exactly the same moment as us. However we made it through and were safely tied up in Yarmouth Harbour by eight thirty, tired, cold and hungry but with smiles on our faces.
We couldn’t believe our luck when we woke the next morning to clear skies and hardly a breath of wind, the sun warm enough to eat breakfast on deck and the air still enough to bend on our new downwind sail. Most of our sailing on our around the world trip will be with the wind behind us and so good downwind rig is essential. With at times only two of us onboard we wanted a safe, reliable system easily controlled by one person. We took the decision to leave the spinnaker at home and instead use a twin headsail system. Once we had set up all the lines we went out into the Solent and with the genoa poled out to port and the second sail sheet run through a block on the prevented boom we were pleased, in the light winds of only six knots, to be sailing at four. The boat was stable and flat and with zero apparent wind and the sun warming us it couldn’t have been more pleasant. Finally back up the Itchen we finished our day with a bit of stern to parking, a good opportunity for Rick to practice his boat handling skills and for me to perfect my rope work. Thanks Chris for being target practice for my rather dodgy throwing. A busy few days with two exhausted sailors, but invaluable. We have come away with another frighteningly long “to do list” but nothing major went wrong and Raya performed brilliantly.