Sailing along the South Coast

Sitting watching the sunset, after a great day, congratulating ourselves on successfully reaching Plymouth.


Monday we set sail from Yarmouth heading for Portland, there was a bit of mist but it was forecast to lift mid-morning and we had the tide with us for an early start. We shot through the needles channel at eleven knots straight into a bank of fog, not a pea souper but enough to make the going a bit percarious. Had it not been for our AIS, a VHF signal that all commercial vessels and now many pleasure boats broadcast, that shows their position, we would have felt quite exposed. But nobody else was stupid enough to be out and the screen was clear.

Then out of the gloom, screaming straight for us came a military speed boat. Trying to squeeze a course as close to our track as possible with the wind on our nose we had strayed into the Lulworth Gunnery Range and they were live firing. We were abruptly instructed to sail 240 degrees for 31/2 miles. So down came the sails and rather sheepishly we motored off. After forty minute we could turn back towards our destination and as if by magic as we arrived at the marina the fog disappeared. We had made it through the first day.

Tuesday it was on to Dartmouth, again the wind wasn’t kind to us but we did manage to sail a bit of the way and at least with better visibility we could enjoy the scenery. We gave Portland Bill a wide berth but the sea was still very choppy and it was cold, we both had on about five layers and full wet weather gear.

Now for you non sailing girls let me now explain what problems this causes. Going to the loo is a nightmare, you put it off and off and off until you just have to go. The boat is bouncing about and often healed over at an angle, just getting to the toilet is a challenge. Then wedging yourself upright by leaning against the wall you start to unwrap yourself.  First comes the fumble to get the life jacket clips undone, then off comes your Musto jacket, a confusion of zips and Velcro and then the dungarees. Now down to your normal clothes a certain urgency ensues, you wish you hadn’t left it so long. If you are lucky you are on a tack that slopes you on to the toilet, if not you have to wedge yourself on and have the added pleasure of the toilet seat snapping at your bum. Finally it’s back on with everything and you return to the cockpit at best sweating and exausted, at worst feeling seasick and swearing not to drink anything more until you reach port.

Although having a reputation of being quite tight fo space we had been looking forward to visiting Dartmouth, we have been many times before, on land, looking out at the yachts wondering how it would feel to arrive by sea and here we were doing just that and it didn’t disappoint. Even the sun came out reflecting off the hundreds of colourful houses that line the steep banks of the Dart river. We had been directed to what turned out to be a too small berth and there was a hairy few moments as Rick had to manoeuvred us out of the small space and we motored up to the end of the visitors pontoon. On the dock, at the only space available, in very big letters were the words No Berthing, Landing Only, but the Marina office was closed for the night and we were off at seven the next morning so decided to risk it.

Wednesday dawned a sparkling sunny day and the wind had veered to the East , making for a perfect days sailing. It was almost warm, the wind was behind us and we made the trip on just three tacks. We arrived at the mouth of the River Tamar at midday, this is another place with connections for us. We waved at Cawsand Bay as we past, the birth place of my Father, his Parents, his  Grandparents and their Parents, as far as I can trace them back and the location of my first remembered summer holidays. We saw the little chapel we had climbed out to perched on the end of Rame Head and we spotted the house on the cliff in need of refurbishment that we viewed as a potential retirement plan before this bigger plan took shape. We had arrived in Plymouth, our first big challenge completed.

Slipped the lines, off around the world

This afternoon at 1.30pm we slipped our lines and set off around the World! The first leg might be quite a modest affair, just three hours out into the Solent and across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. But every adventure has to start somewhere and we can now say we have visited our first island.

The storms of last week faded away Thursday allowing the last minute preparations to resume. Paul from Dolphin Sails arrived with our large awning, especially designed to give us plenty of shade when at anchor or in a marina in the sunshine. (If you are interested you can see us at Dolphin Sails Facebook page where they have posted some photos.) Harry from the Rig Shop came to have a last tweak of our rig and we finally finished stowing all the spares. We had a last minute panic when we discovered a gas leak, but Rick managed a repair just in time for our departure.

Another delay bonus was that we were around to see Rachael when she came to pick up my car yesterday and Matt joined us for lunch. Both are looking forward to joining us at the end of June and it seemed fitting that the four of us were together just before we departed.

Rick woke on this momentous morning to a pair of red feet above his head, there was a large black and white bird standing on our cabin hatch. He not only had red feet but a long narrow red beak too, it was an oyster catcher and we felt that his visit must be a good omen at the beginning of this adventure aboard our Oyster 56.

We waved a farewell to Shamrock Quay as Rick navigated down the river and I dashed around the deck putting away the mooring lines and fenders. Before we knew it we had left. Southampton water and the Solent were extremely busy, at one point we were dodging two huge tankers and their accompanying tugs, hundreds of sailing boats, a good number of motor craft and a handful of maniac jet skiers. Most of the traffic was returning to Southampton and Portsmouth, we relished the thought that everyone was going back to their home ports because it’s work tomorrow, in our direction we were leaving it all behind.

We arrived in Yarmouth at about four and headed straight for the fuel dock, we filled our tanks with 1400 litres of diesel and took a deep breath as we handed over the credit card. But this will last us quite a few months and we are now set to take advantage of the weather window of the next couple of days and get ourselves down the South Coast to Plymouth.

We are on our way!

Just the Two of Us

We’ve just returned from our first sail on Raya with just the two of us aboard.

There wasn’t a huge amount of wind but there was plenty of beautiful spring sunshine and at lunchtime we stopped and anchored off Osborne beach to enjoy it.  

In the afternoon a sea breeze got up and there was just enough wind to sail back to southampton water. We may not have been the slickest team on the water but we managed without incident.

Under Itchen bridge, we returned to Shamrock Quay, where we parked, always the moment of highest tension, almost perfectly, phew!

A good day.

The Boy Likes His Boat

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.