Tuesday, 27 September 2005

The Cherbourg trip

I arrived bright and early at Stugeron Steve’s house after collecting Paul ‘Webbo’ Webster on the way, to find a breakfast of fresh coffee and warmed croissants on the table… a good start. 3 hours later we were at Steve’s boat on the beautiful Beaulieu river, and set about prepping her for sea…. James (jhr) arrived at 15h00 as promised, and after just a few minutes, we cast off, Cherbourg bound…. As we motored up the river, Steve suggested a full sail…. This seemed a bit much to me, and suggested maybe a single reef?….. as we past the Raymarine buoy which marks the outer end of the Beaulieu river, we found a good solid F6, right on the nose, and within a few minutes a second reef was dropped in….. I also discovered the joy of single line reefing…. I want it! 2 hours of really nice beating to wind, and we passed Hurst Spit, and out into the Needles channel. This lived up to its reputation, and threw a steep short sea at us…. We bounced around for a few minutes, but soon passed through. I wasn’t relishing the idea of a 70nm passge to windward, and to my pleasure we saw the wind swing to the east as we passed the needles, and soon enjoyed a beam reach in about 20kts of wind…. Great speed… making about 7kts over the water…..2 hours later, it was definitely getting dark, and sadly the wind veered towards a northerly, and eased to about 12kts. The lows in the Atlantic were throwing quite a swell down the channel, and with a course to steer of 180Deg, we had a dead run, with a quartering sea. Paul started to suffer, and within the hour had succumbed to mal de mer…. A bottle of water, a warm blanket, and he sat in the cockpit looking thoroughly miserable, until at about 01h00 he fell asleep, and we rocked our away along accompanied by his gentle snoring! Navigation proved challenging for two reasons. Firstly, there was a unbelievable amount of traffic. I have never seen so much shipping mid channel, including many many fishing vessels without the correct lights, yet obviously fishing…. And secondly, as the boats motion made anything longer than 30 second stints at the chart table extremely tough on the stomach….. Steve and I took turns in dashing below, logging a position, and if we had the stomach strength, placing a plot on the chart. By 4h00, we had Cherbourg on visual… or at least the huge mass of sodium street lights, at a long range of about 17nm. We were all pretty exhausted by this stage, with helming being a real feat of concentration. The sea state, and wind direction meaning that there was a constant gybe danger, and so we had to really focus on what we were doing. The 30min shifts on the helm had dropped to 10min shifts, and all 3 of the remaining upright crew admitted to nearly falling asleep at the helm, with a resultant 3 crash gybes in total…. As we approached a little closer to Cherbourg, it became very apparent that the two entrances to the Grand Rade were going to be very difficult to pick out against the street light backdrop, and we made a real effort to get plots on the chart to assess our actual course over the ground. It was somewhat eased by being under the Lee of Cap de la Hague, and the sea easing a bit. However, after an hour of plotting Steve claimed complete confusion that despite seemingly good log speed, we didn’t seem to be making much progress…. So I took over Navigation. I plotted for nearly an hour, and became concerned that our course was too far west of the western entrance… in fact, pointing more towards Alderney than Cherbourg! The plotter just plain didn’t agree with us, and showed us passing just east of the eastern entrance…. Confusion reigned!… Steve and I even discussed standing off until daylight as the only safe option….. A deep breath, a spray of salt water, and a self delivered slap in the face demonstrated the danger of being too tired. I went below and realised that Steve had been plotting minutes rather than seconds, and thus the reason why we didn’t show any progress, and I, being used to working on Eastern Longtitudes, had picked 30 Secs and worked east to 34….whereas, we were on the west of the meridian, so instead of plotting on 34, was plotting on 26….. doh! In fact quite scary….. it could have all gone so horribly wrong…. Problem solved, we re-entered plots, and lo and behold, the plotter was bang on…. We corrected our course slightly, and as we approached within 2nm of the Grand Rade breakwater, the entrance showed itself to us. We passed through the breakwater just as dawn broke, a matter of luck rather than judgement, and soon motored through the Petite Rade, and into the marina…. In the 2 hours we had watched the busy entrance, no ferries emerged, and sods law… as soon as we passed the entrance, the first appeared… would have been great if he’d been an hour earlier to show us the way! Tied up by 07h30,l we did a very little sorting out…. Grabbed a cup of tea, said hello to a few people, and stuck our heads down…. We got a much needed 2 hours of kip, before arising again to get showered….bliss…. The much anticipated Scuttlebutt evening party followed, with plenty of wine, and much partying…. Including several memorable (and several unmemorable!) speeches…. After much partying, we mooched back to the boat at about 01h00, and partook of Horlicks, with a wee dram added! We arose Sunday morning, relatively clear headed, and refreshed for a good few hours sleep, and gently cast off at 08h45…. Quite a bit later than many brave crews who had elected to leave at 05h00…. Mind you, many of them had not sailed through the night the previous day…. What faced us, was a truly spectacular sail… one that will stick in my mind for many years to come…. We encountered a beam reach in 15kts… that gradually built up to 22kts…. We held full sail with ease, and the large sea still remained, but this time was assisting us to surf, rather than wallow…. We held up great boat speed, with constant worst case 7kts on the log, and often dipping into 8kts+…. As we cleared the headlands, the sea built even more, and before long we had hit 9kts, then 9.8, and then Steve beat and held the record with a 10.4Kt log reading….. and all this with just white sails…. marvellous stuff! Our passage time was clearly going to be much better than anticipated, and we soon had the cliffs of the Isle of Wight in view….. we altered our course again slightly, to allow for the fact that we had not sailed through an entire west going tide, and by 17h00, passed the SW shingles buoy…. We dropped through the north passage into the solent, not being brave enough (or probably more accurately, too sensible) to attempt the Needles channel…. And by 19h00 were tied up in Yarmouth… One of the best cross channel passages I have ever done…. Truly brilliant sailing, and unlike the outbound trip, people were reluctant to hand over the helm… just thoroughly enjoying themselves…. We dropped ashore in Yarmouth, grabbed a shower again, and then nipped over to the kings head for a pint and a meal…. Lovely grub, and we all looked at one another and realised that we were dog tired…. Falling asleep in our drinks, so we went back to the boat, opened and enjoyed a lovely single malt, and retired to bed with no alarm set! We slipped the following morning at about 09h30, and sailed under genny alone back to Beaulieu…. A lovely 2 hour run, and we were soon tied alongside… back home… We spent a good three hours cleaning, removed the sails for a bit of sailmaker attention, and disappeared of back to the midlands…. I Was home, exhausted by 20h15…. But very very happy!

Miles logged this trip 161nm
Miles logged this season 686nm

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