August 1992 - Ipswich to Falmouth - Page 3

21 August 1992   Cherbourg to St Helier
We left Cherbourg at half past one in the morning for our first night passage in Glencora. No problems, but it was a bit rough entering the Alderney Race where the tide can be up to 5 knots. We had to motor until four am and then sailed most of the way to St Helier. We arrived at half past eleven in the morning.

This was our first time trying watches. I went to bed at seven o’clock before leaving Cherbourg. Glenys put the boys to bed then went to bed at ten o’clock. We both got up to leave the harbour and Glenys went back to bed until five in the morning – a 3.5 hour watch for me then Glenys stood watch until half past eight. It seemed to work well.

The tidal range in Jersey is enormous with a difference of about 30 feet between low water and high water. Consequently, the marina has a tidal gate across the entrance. This gate is raised, as the tide falls, to create an artificial lagoon which ensures a minimum depth of water in the marina. The tidal gate is not lowered until the level of the water outside the marina is the same as the level of water inside the marina.

Heading for Falmouth

We arrived outside St Helier marina at low water, so we had to tie up to a floating pontoon outside the entrance to the marina, to wait for the tide to come up. As we expected in mid-August, when we finally went into the marina, it was very crowded and we had to go on the outside of a raft of boats.

22 August 1992   St Helier, Jersey
Chill out day. We visited Elizabeth Castle, walking over the causeway at low tide.

23 August 1992   St Helier, Jersey
Glenys did errands and shopping and we all just hung about. A few boats left the raft today.

Rafts are interesting things. Most marinas are designed so that yachts can moor alongside a floating pontoon. When the marina becomes crowded, the only place for an arriving yacht to go is alongside a yacht that has already tied up to a pontoon. The second yacht ties ropes onto the first yacht and runs a bow and stern line ashore to take the strain off the ropes of the inner boat. The next boat to arrive has to moor alongside the second boat and so the raft grows. The biggest raft that we have been in was 12 boats deep - you can just imagine the tangle of ropes.

There are several points of etiquette associated with rafts. The first and most important is the safety of the yachts on the raft. It is accepted practice to run lines to the shore from each yacht to take the load off the inner boat. Otherwise the poor inner boat and its ropes could be subjected to forces beyond their design - with disastrous consequences. Boats have had their cleats ripped out of their decks and whole rafts have swung away from the pontoon when a rope has snapped.

So woe betide any yachtsman who ties onto a raft and doesn’t put lines ashore. It always starts with hard stares in the belief that the offender has temporarily forgotten. Then the loud talking starts, “Oh, I’m sure that he will be running some lines ashore soon”. Remember that boats are lying alongside each other and the distance between cockpits is only a matter of feet. If the subtle hints are ignored, then a direct approach is called for. This ranges from the tolerant “Would you like a hand with your shore lines?” to the more direct “Well, are you going to put some bloody lines ashore?”

Living in such close proximity calls for a certain tact and consideration for your neighbours. To get ashore you have to walk across your neighbours’ boats. While it is unnecessary to ask permission to do this, you should always walk around the foredeck - we’ve actually had people walk through our cockpit while we are sitting there having dinner.

The fun really starts when a boat in the raft wants to leave. Let’s say that boat No.2 has decided that he wants to leave a raft of six boats. The first thing that he has to do, is to go, cap in hand, to the other boats and apologetically tell them that he wants to leave. The responses to this simple statement range from a simple sigh to “What? Now?”

Having informed his fellow yachtsmen, No.2 returns to his yacht to lick his wounds and brief his crew on their jobs. Nos. 4 to 6 have to remove their front shore lines so that No.2 can motor out forwards. No.3 meanwhile, has the biggest problem. He not only has to remove his front shore line but has to pass it around the back of No.2 and attach it to No.1 otherwise when No.2 motors out forwards there will be nothing connecting No.3 (and the rest of the raft) to the shore. With me so far?

Once all the bits of rope are in place or removed, everyone looks to No.2 for “The Command”. No.2 instructs his crew to remove the springs from No.1 and No.3. The crowd waits in anticipation. The stern lines are then dropped between No.2 and Nos. 1 and 3. Now the moment of truth. No.2 commands his crew to drop the fore lines and with a cloud of white smoke roars out of the raft. If he’s fortunate, he will have undone all the correct ropes and won’t get a trailing rope wrapped around his propeller. He’ll make a clean getaway.

Not even the language is clean back at the raft. The raft has started to swing away at the front. The crew on No.3 (now No.2, but I’ll not confuse you) are frantically pulling on the shore line which is now attached to No.1. Unfortunately, the fickle wind has decided to play a hand and is remorselessly blowing the raft around. The outer boats are now swinging backwards towards the raft behind them. Nos. 4 to 6 stand on their yachts transfixed by the sight of the crew of No.3 heaving and straining. No.3 are screaming obscenities but to no avail.

Suddenly in a blinding flash of seamanship, No.5 remembers that he has an engine. He starts it and motors forwards pushing the whole raft back into place. Ten minutes later Nos. 3 to 6 have reattached their shore lines and calm returns to the raft, until No.1 says that he wants to go......

24 August 1992   St Helier, Jersey
We woke up to gales and heavy rain. I was a bit of a grumpy bear today. Glenys took the boys to “Living Legend” while I rewired the batteries.

25 August 1992   St Helier, Jersey
There is still a gale and heavy rain. Glenys took the boys to the castle at Gorey while I continued to work on the boat.

26 August 1992   St Helier to Falmouth
It looked like we had a good weather window to go to Falmouth, so we got up early, extracted ourselves from the raft and motored out of the marina just before half past seven. We motored to the fuel dock, where we had to tie alongside a wall.

This wall was at an angle of about 80 degrees and, because it was half tide, the exposed section was about 20 feet high. There was a daunting, slimy ladder that had to be climbed to reach the level of the fuel pumps and the mooring cleats. I managed to tie us up to the wall and then we had a half hour wait until the pump attendant arrived. We had settled down in our saloon, having a nice cup of tea, when I heard a strange creaking noise. I went up on deck to find that the tide had dropped by two feet in about five minutes and Glencora was just beginning to hang by her mooring lines! Until the pump attendant arrived, I had to sit on deck constantly adjusting ropes.

We refuelled and left without major incident (only one glancing blow off a power boat moored by the fuel dock). It was a fine sail, with pleasant winds and skies, past Guernsey and out into the English Channel. By two o’clock in the afternoon, the wind had picked up from the West and the sky became more cloudy.

We whipped out our weather bible - “Instant Weather Forecasting”, which is a wonderful little book. It shows numbered photographs of various skies and explains what the cloud formations mean and what sort of weather can be expected.  After a heated debate, we decided that  it was a Number 1- a cold front approaching and, at this time of year, that could mean a gale within 8 hours.

An hour later, the wind had picked up to 25 knots, so we dropped the main sail and used just the mizzen and a reefed genoa. The children had been made nice and comfortable by building little nests of blankets either side of the companion way under the spray hood. A huge packet of sweets helped their peace of mind. At about three o’clock, Brett said, “Look at the pretty ring around the sun.” I scrabbled for the weather book - a Number 4. Haloes around the sun with hazy cirrostratus - risk of gales within 4 hours...

We were sailing on a north westerly course with the wind coming from the West which meant that we were sailing up wind. The sails were reefed sufficiently so that our motion was fairly comfortable, but night was approaching. A decision needed to be made. Too late to go back to Jersey - we didn’t want to be sailing through the Channel Islands at night in a gale. So the die was cast. We pressed on.

The wind increased and, as dusk approached, we had 30-35 knot winds. We sat there eating our bowls of warm Heinz Irish stew, looking at the sun sinking towards a cloudy horizon. We were beginning to doubt the wisdom of our chosen way of life, when Poseidon, in his infinite wisdom, sent a school of dolphins to lighten our load. These magnificent creatures came to say hello, joyfully leaping out of the water around the boat, and showing us that we were not the only beings out here in the wind-swept waters of the English Channel.

Glenys put the boys to bed in the back cabin, which is where we normally sleep. Totally oblivious to the dangers of the storm raging outside, Brett and Craig were just very excited to be sleeping in Mummy and Daddy’s bed. Meanwhile up in the cockpit, suitably dressed in foul weather gear and with safety lines clipped on, Mummy and Daddy sat holding hands and waiting for the frightening night to end.

By nine pm, the wind was 35-40 knots - our first Force 8 Gale. The skies were totally overcast and as black as the ace of spades. We had two hour watches, and it was a rather frightened Glenys that I left up in the cockpit. I had to rush down stairs, rip off my clothes and jump into bed quickly so that I wouldn’t feel so seasick that I would vomit. I lay there with my eyes closed, trying to relax and fighting the nausea. The waves were pounding the hull and there were clinks and bangs coming from all our stored gear.

Somehow, I nodded off and at eleven pm Glenys woke me. I staggered up stairs, only half dressed, because I was feeling bilious, to find that conditions were just the same - pretty awful. The good news was that we were managing to hold a good course for Falmouth and the wind had backed a little, allowing us to ease the sheets slightly. Glenys dived down below and fell exhausted into her bed. I later found a small prayer written in the log book:

“Before I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep”

I spent my watch sitting on the side of the cockpit staring at the horizon getting the full blast of wind on my face to keep seasickness at bay. Towards the end of my watch, we were entering the commercial shipping lanes. The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and last night was no exception. There was a steady stream of big ships making their way to destinations around the world. We had to cross these lines of ships. Theoretically, we had right of way because we were a sailing vessel, but who’s going to argue with a 500 foot tanker?

The biggest problem was making sure that we were seen. I had fitted a Firdell radar reflector, which is designed to give a stronger radar return. I also switched on our radar to try to see the ships, but mostly because our radar beam would show up on other radars. At one o’clock, I left Glenys to negotiate her way through the shipping lanes and went to bed. Within half an hour, I was back up in the cockpit, giving Glenys moral support as we tried to keep track of the positions and movements of the ships.

We both stayed up for the rest of the night and gratefully sighted land just after dawn. At six am, in the pouring rain, we were sailing into the approaches to Falmouth, but it wasn’t until half past eight that we finally tied up on the fuel dock at Falmouth Marina. During the passage, the pressure had dropped from 1015 to 1002 mb.

The stationary dock felt strange to our sea-hammered senses as we staggered to the very pleasant marina restaurant and treated ourselves to a huge, well deserved bacon and egg breakfast.

27 August 1992   Falmouth
Horrible weather – recovering from the passage from Jersey.

28 August 1992   Falmouth
Glenys took the boys into town. I worked on the boat. Debbie and Steve visited us.

29 August 1992   Falmouth
Glenys took the boys to St Mawes. I worked on the boat.

After our bad experience crossing the Channel, Glenys and I decided that we didn’t want to take the children on a four hundred mile passage across the dreaded Bay of Biscay– September is the month when the autumn equinox storms arrive. So Glenys rang her mum and arranged to take the children up to Liverpool on the train tomorrow.

30 August 1992   Falmouth
Glenys took the boys on the train up to Ceris’ house in Bebington.

John Day arrived in the afternoon to help us cross Biscay. John is an avid sailor with his own 26 foot sailing yacht based in the Thames Estuary, and he had jumped at the chance to cross the Bay of Biscay with us. John loves to work on boats and together we polished off a good number of those little jobs that I was “going to do.”

31 August 1992   Falmouth
John and I worked on the boat and Glenys arrived back, minus children.

We went shopping for food for the trip and are now waiting for a gap in the awful weather.