1 August 1992 Fox’s Marina, Ipswich
We motored out of Fox’s Marina and up the River Orwell to check the engine with the calorifier tank connected. Everything went OK.
2 August 1992 Fox’s Marina
We spent the day settling into the boat. There was provisioning to do and we kept re-arranging the contents of the boat. A simple comment of ‘I don’t like these in this locker’ would mean re-arranging two or three lockers - sort of like one of those sliding puzzles where you have one small space and have to move the sliding parts into a picture.
Brett is so weak that we have to carry him everywhere. We are very diligent about not using sea toilets in the marina so we have to keep carrying the poor child to the toilet block every time that he wants to go - which was a lot today.
3 August 1992 Fox’s Marina
My dad arrived to help us do sea trials and sail around to Brighton. Brett is starting to get better, and spent the day wandering around the boat yard getting into mischief.
4 August 1992 Fox’s Marina
Sea trial. We left at half past six in the morning, sailed out past Harwich and round to Woodbridge Haven for the day. It was only 10 miles up the coast, but it got us out of the marina and into the open sea. We picked up a mooring at Bog End, had lunch and then sailed back to the River Orwell. It was a very pleasant day, the boat’s equipment all seemed to work and I managed not to kill us all.
Just before we stopped for the day, we picked up a man who “swung” the compass. We had to be sure that the compass was showing the correct direction and not being affected by anything on the boat. We went out into the river and he set up an instrument on a tripod in the cockpit. He asked me to point the boat in this direction and then in that direction while he took bearings of landmarks on his instrument. After five minutes he said, ‘Fine compass this one, it’s perfect’. We took him back to the marina and paid him £80 for his services!
5 August 1992 Fox’s Marina to Levington Marina
Today was a bad day because I had to pay the bill at the Boat Yard. I argued about the charges on the engine rebuild because I thought that the engine overheating was their fault - they had their engineers on board for Christ’s sake. After much wringing of hands, Fox’s reduced the bill by about £1,000. I should have argued for more, but all I wanted to do was sail away from the bloody place. The final cost of buying and refitting the boat was £89,637, only £15,000 over budget!
Finally, with only 35 days sailing experience, my family and I slipped away from the dock at Fox’s Marina and headed for the open sea.
Well, actually, we sailed 4 miles down the river to Levington marina ready to go to Ramsgate tomorrow, but at least we had escaped from Fox’s Boat Yard and we were on our way!
6 August 1992 Levington Marina to Ramsgate
We left the marina at half past six in the morning and sailed out of the River Orwell. Our aim is to have a leisurely three week sail down to Falmouth, hoping to arrive at the end of August. We are very anxious to leave the country in early September, before the arrival of the equinoctial gales, which could make the passage across the Bay of Biscay too dangerous (for us anyway!)
Glenys was busy looking after Brett & Craig and I was rushing around, euphoric that we had finally started our great adventure. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t at all fair to us and we had to motor most of the way.
I played with our auto pilot. It was an old Neco system, with an electric motor directly connected to the rudder quadrant. The modern auto pilots that I had seen at the boat shows were sleek, sexy designs that would interface to GPS and chart plotters to completely automate the steering of the yacht.
Not so with the Neco. The control panel is a frightening array of knobs on a black functional panel - no pretty ergonomic red buttons and LCD displays here. Labels such as Trim, Sensitivity and Rudder mark the knobs. I read the manual which suggested a complicated procedure to adjust the performance of the auto pilot, but the thing seemed to have a mind of its own. I eventually set all the knobs to their middle setting and we seemed to weave about a bit but at least headed in approximately the right direction. Anything is better than steering by hand!
We arrived at Ramsgate in the late afternoon, refuelled and cracked open a bottle of champagne - maiden voyage completed at last...
7 August 1992 Ramsgate to Brighton Marina
We left Ramsgate at four o’clock in the morning to catch the correct tide. I managed to navigate us safely through the sand banks of Goodwin Sands and we turned west by Dover.
We had a good 20 knot wind from the east which gave me a chance to set up our inner forestay and pole out two jibs. I have installed a new movable inner forestay, which is fixed about a foot from the top of the mast and comes down to a clamp on the deck at the foot of the baby stay. When we want to run downwind, I move the foot of the forestay out towards the front of the boat where it can be clamped tight. I have two sails with hanks - a storm jib and a No.3 genoa. I can pole out the roller furled Genoa on one side of the boat and a hanked-on sail out on the other side, so that we run down wind with two “goose wing” sails.
To my great pleasure, everything worked as designed, and we calmly sailed downwind. All we had to do was to sit there reading in the sunshine while the auto pilot took us to Brighton.
When we were about 15 miles from Brighton, the wind began to pick up from the South East. I decided to drop the twin running jibs and put up the main sail. Unfortunately, it took longer than I expected. By the time we had sorted out the foredeck, the wind was definitely blowing harder and we were rapidly approaching the overfalls off Beachy Head. We turned into wind to raise the main sail and I had my first lesson in apparent wind. We went from a pleasant 15-20 knot breeze behind us to a howling 25-30 knot near-gale as we headed up into the wind. To make matters worse, we had entered the overfalls, so we now had 6 foot waves breaking over the fore deck. I wasn’t a happy bear as I went forward to raise and then reef the main sail. I got wet through while the children hid behind the spray hood wondering what the hell was happening. After 10 minutes of chaos, we had the sail sorted out and thankfully turned back downwind. Amazingly, and magically, calm returned to Glencora and we had a cracking beam reach to Brighton.
Glenys spotted a dolphin and shouted out. We all dropped our books and rushed to the starboard side of the cockpit to stare in amazement at a school of about ten dolphins. I knew that they like to play under the bow of a boat, but I never expected to see them off Newhaven in the English Channel. I took the boys up to the front of the deck so that they could see the dolphins more clearly. We took loads of photographs, which inevitably came out showing dark, half submerged blobs. All too soon they decided to move on and we were left alone.
We went into Brighton marina and struggled to moor the boat on a 25 foot long pontoon. It took all my ingenuity to put ropes in the correct places to keep us in our berth with a third of the boat sticking out past the end of the pontoon.
8 August 1992 Brighton Marina
My Dad went home leaving a nice message in the logbook:
Many thanks for allowing me to be with you on your maiden voyage. Mum and I are very proud of you both and wish you and your family many happy years on Glencora.
Luv, Mum & Dad xxx.
He also left us a mystery package for the boys, but we decided to hide it and open it later.
As the day progressed, the skies became darker and it started to rain - we thought ourselves lucky that we had managed to pick a good gap in the weather for our sail down from Ipswich. By nightfall, we were in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm with really high winds. I had heard horror stories of boats being hit by lightning and all their electrics being burnt out. I panicked and disconnected all of my expensive electronic equipment. I didn’t know whether it would help but I felt better doing something.
Nervously, we went to bed and tried to sleep with the thunder, lightning and rain pounding the boat. At two o’clock in the morning, I was awoken by a terrific thump on the side of the boat. I leapt out of bed and, peering out into the driving rain, I found that we were being bashed into the yacht next door by the gale force gusts of wind. The wind had changed direction and my mooring ropes were obviously not in the correct places. Groaning, I pulled on my oilskin jacket and went outside to brave the storm.
The wind was blowing us straight off the dock and there was a three foot gap between us and the pontoon that we were supposed to be alongside. The ropes were creaking and straining against the wind and the forces were such that I couldn’t pull the boat in by hand. Eventually, I hit on the idea of tying a rope to the pontoon and using our big genoa winch to haul us back to the pontoon. It worked! I retightened the other mooring lines, muttered an apology to the people on the next boat and collapsed back into bed.
9 August 1992 Brighton Marina
Rod & Beverley Hollands and Dave & Sue Marks from Feedback came to visit us. We went out for a short sail but it was very bouncy, making Beverley and Sue sick, so we went back into the marina.
10 August 1992 Brighton Marina
I caught a train back to Ipswich to pick up our car, which we had left behind, and drove to Carol’s house to drop off some things for storage at her house before continuing onto Ceris’ house in Cheshire.
11 August 1992 Brighton Marina
Ceris and I caught a train back to Brighton.
The bad weather looks like it’s here to stay and we continue to have lashing rain and high winds. It’s extremely miserable staying on a yacht in England in the rain. All the hatches have to be closed and, inevitably, everyone’s clothes get wet and have to be hung up around the boat. This causes massive amounts of condensation and everywhere feels and smells damp. Yuk! Fortunately Ceris, a sprightly 70 year old, can take the children out into town while Glenys and I carry on working on the boat.
12 August 1992 Brighton Marina
The miserable weather continues with lashing rain and gale force winds. I busied myself doing some jobs on the boat. One of the bad design aspects of our boat is that the showers drain down into a bilge sump deep in the keel.
I was in the middle of scraping the stinking soap and hair sludge from the bilge when Gareth’s wife, Fi unexpectedly arrived. She has flown over from the Caribbean where she and Gareth are working on their newly acquired Nicholson 55 called “Dabulamanzi”. They are planning to start doing up-market charters for two to four people and Fi has come back to England to buy things that are impossible to buy in the Caribbean. We babbled for a couple of hours about our respective boats and then Fi breezed out on her way back to the sunny Caribbean.
13 August 1992 Brighton Marina
We’re still stuck in the marina with gales and heavy rain.
The strong winds and the forces on Glencora as she strained against the ropes, started me thinking about our anchors. We have three anchors onboard, a 45 lb. plough, a 35 lb. danforth, and a 50 lb. fisherman. I had intended to use the 45 lb. plough as our main anchor, but I had another look at it (while the wind howled) and decided that it was just a cheap copy of a CQR anchor. I wandered down to the chandlers and bought a brand new 45 lb. CQR anchor - hopefully it will be worth the money.
14 August 1992 Brighton Marina to Chichester
Finally, after 3 days’ rain, the weather cleared and we sailed down to the Solent. We left the marina at midday, with blue skies, light wind and slight seas. We arrived at Chichester Bar at low water springs so had to be very careful over the bar.
We sailed towards Northney Marina and I foolishly went on the wrong side of a marker and went aground. I soon got us off and crawled into the Marina with my tail between my legs. The harbour master expressed surprise that I’d managed to get in at low tide – I said nothing...
15 August 1992 Chichester to Cowes Marina
The next day we decided we would sail to Portsmouth, leave the yacht in a marina and go to visit HMS Victory and the Naval Museum. We managed to find our way out of Chichester Harbour and into Portsmouth without any further incidents. As we approached Nicholson’s marina, I noticed that the outside pontoons were being bounced up and down at least two feet by the wash from the passing ferries. I decided that I didn’t want to leave Glencora there, so I elected to go into one of the inner pontoons.
I checked the wind, which was blowing from the south. I decided that I would turn upwind and dock onto one of the pontoons on our port side. I entered the finger pontoons and selected the furthest one on the port side. In the next berth there was a very pretty looking Nicholson 42. As I turned the corner, I realised that the tide was remorselessly pushing us into the berth. I hit reverse and screamed at Glenys to be quick. Unfortunately, Glencora “kicks” to starboard when she’s put into reverse - this caused our stern to move sideways to starboard and with a big “Crump”, we hit the Nicholson. The owner (who had just stood there and made no attempt to help us) did a lot of ranting and raving in a very affected oxbridge accent. Eventually he stung me for £15 to get a small scratch repaired (“or I’ll get the yard to do it!”) - so much for the cruising community...
We took a ferry across to the other side of Portsmouth Harbour and spent a few hours in the Nautical Museum. We went on the HMS Victory, but didn’t have enough time to spend all day and see the other exhibits, which was a shame. I especially liked the guide on the HMS Victory who was a retired seaman and was very enthusiastic with his commentary. He would mime various parts of his descriptions such as ramming powder home into the cannons. He gave graphic details of the death of Nelson and his ride home in a barrel of rum. The sailors apparently each drank a tot of the rum that was used to preserve Nelson’s body because they thought that they would receive a bit of Nelson’s strength.
Back on the boat, I looked at the tricky problem of how to get out of the tight berth without causing any more mayhem - particularly with the Nicholson close to starboard.. The tide was still pushing us into the berth. We were on the inside of the row of pontoons, with nowhere to go to our starboard side. There was about 50 feet to the pontoons on the opposite side and the berth directly opposite us was occupied. The only way out appeared to be to back out against the current and then swing to port against the starboard kick of the propeller. It didn’t look good and the local residents were settling themselves down with a beer to watch the action.
I decided on my Grand Plan. I would leave a stern port spring to the end of our pontoon and use that to turn the boat to port as I backed up. Glenys was to lengthen the spring until we were pointed at 45 degrees to our pontoon and then she could pull the rope on board. I would then motor in reverse like mad, and hopefully back into a vacant berth on the opposite dock, from where I could leave forwards.
All went well at first. We started to back up and the spring did indeed turn us to port. What I hadn’t counted on was the force of the tide. As we turned more sideways onto the tide, it took hold of the stern and remorselessly pushed us around. We pivoted around the end of our finger pontoon and ended up in the berth on the opposite side of our pontoon, which was fortunately vacant! The good news was that we were now facing outwards, and all I had to do was to motor out forwards. I slammed the engine into gear and with a great roar headed out of the marina. Glenys gave me a sick smile. Ceris looked at me with a worried frown.
Our next stop was Cowes. We wanted to berth somewhere near to the town but the town docks were heaving with boats rafted five deep. We decided to go all the way up the river to a public dock. We motored up the river avoiding the sand banks shown on our chart. Then we went off the edge of our chart...
Just as Glenys told me that it was getting shallower, I felt the now familiar deceleration as we went aground in the middle of the river at low tide. I tried to reverse off, but unfortunately, we had been going at about four knots and were hard aground.
About ten minutes later, a 30 foot yacht pulled up alongside and asked if they could help. I threw them a rope from our bow and asked them to tow our bow around so that we were pointing back down river. As they pivoted us around, I powered the engine forwards and we floated free of the mud bank that had been holding us.
Thanking our rescuers, we tentatively inched our way towards the nearest vacant berth on the dock at the side of the river. We tied alongside and, by asking a nearby yacht, I found out that we were on a private dock - great! We decided to stay there for the night and hoped that the owner of the berth was out for the night. We were just settling down to our dinner when the owners came back and we had to head back up the river to the marina that Glenys had suggested earlier. Fortunately, the tide had risen and we made it to the marina without further incident.
Just before we went to sleep, I whispered to Glenys that her mum must think we’re totally incompetent - we’ve hit another boat and been aground twice in the space of two days. “We are,” she replied.
16 August 1992 Cowes Marina to Southampton
We sailed across to Ocean Village Marina, Southampton arriving early afternoon without incident. We chilled out for the rest of the day.
17 August 1992 Ocean Village Marina, Southampton
Ceris went home for a well deserved rest and the weather took a turn for the worst, so Glenys decided to take the children into town for a walk around. She stopped to look at the ruins of an old church and let the children run around. Craig managed to fall down some steps and split his forehead open. Glenys had to get a taxi to take them to the hospital. Poor old Craig came back with 4 stitches in his forehead.
This was our first medical problem and it made us consider the risks of being on a boat in the middle of nowhere. We took out our medical supplies and checked what we had. We were carrying a wide range of painkillers from simple paracetamol, through Neurophen to our strongest, Antalgin 550. We had thought about taking injectable morphine based pain killers but finally decided that we didn’t have the skill or knowledge to safety inject someone. We had stick-on butterfly stitches and also some thread stitches for real emergencies. I’m was fairly sure that I could manage to stitch the other three, but Glenys is so squeamish that if I needed to be stitched I would probably have had to do it myself!
We had Flammazine and sterile dressings for burns; an emergency dental repair kit for teeth; Arret for the runs; lotion for head lice; eye drops; anti-fungicidal creams; a whole range of antibiotics; antiseptics; a good supply of seasickness tablets; the list went on and on. Satisfied that we had covered most eventualities, we packed it all away.
18 August 1992 Southampton to Yarmouth
The weather was more pleasant today, so we headed out of the marina and went alongside a barge anchored in the middle of the river. The enterprising couple who own this barge have set it up with diesel tanks and a pump and sell diesel to passing yachts. The marinas in the area don’t have fuel docks so the barge does a roaring trade.
There was very little wind and, remembering my appalling boat handling in Portsmouth, I decided that we would do some practice at reversing. We positioned ourselves in the middle of the river and tried slowly reversing.The stern kicked to starboard and we went in circles. We tried reversing hard and found that the stern kicked to starboard. We tried various rudder positions and engine power, but remorselessly the damn boat would turn to starboard. We gave up, and resigned ourselves to the fact that we couldn’t control the boat in reverse. We would turn to starboard no matter what we did.
After our balletic display, we sailed down to Yarmouth and picked up a mooring outside the harbour ready for an early start to Cherbourg tomorrow.
19 August 1992 Yarmouth to Cherbourg
We dropped the mooring at six o’clock and set off on our first international passage. I had spent hours checking tides and putting way-points into our GPS receiver. We had stowed everything away and were fully prepared for anything that the ocean could throw at us.
We motored all the way.... The biggest hazard was the large clumps of weed floating in the water. The weed itself is not really a hazard, but I was worried about going through the weed in case there was any rope or net hidden in it, which could wrap around our propeller. I spent most of the day steering us around these dense little islands of vegetation.
Halfway across the Channel, we decided to get out the mystery parcel that Grandad had left behind for the boys. We made a big fuss about getting the box out, and Brett and Craig were worked up into a frenzy of anticipation. The box came out. Slowly I cut away the tape. We delayed the moment by trying to guess what was in it. Cars? Lego? Big trucks? Toy Boats? I put the box down and let the boys at it. They feverishly ripped open the flaps and found....
A video player and some cartoon video tapes.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a television. Try explaining to a three year old and a five year old that they can’t watch “Robin Hood” and “Duck Tales” because rotten old Mummy and Daddy don’t want to get a television. We managed to calm them down by delving into Glenys’s cupboard of goodies.We made a sign saying “Nice Video, No TV” and took a picture of the boys to send to Grandad. I quietly hid the video and tapes while the boys munched happily on sweets.
To pass the time while motoring across the Channel, I played with “Estimated Position” navigation and found that I was not very accurate when compared to the GPS – I reckon that I didn’t pay enough attention to the actual course steered and I think that our log over-reads. I had to rely on the GPS more than I wanted to.
My nerves were on edge as we entered the huge outer harbour of Cherbourg. Would the Customs be a problem? How are we going to find a berth? In fact, there are big signs directing yachts to the visitors’ berths in a huge marina and the Customs procedure was a simple matter of filling in a form. We had made it, we were abroad.
20 August 1992 Cherbourg
Went into town and mooched about, waiting to sail overnight.
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.
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.