This year, our annual big sailing holiday was to the Channel Isles. After destinations such as Orkney in 2005 and Iceland last year - well, I didn't think it would be too big a job. After all, the crew have had plenty experience of watches, night sailing, strong weather. Little did we know that St Helier would prove to be a bit more of a challenge than we originally planned.
It was decided that we would leave Troon on the Thursday night after work, to give us plenty of time to get the boat down the west coast, stopping in Dublin and the Scilly Isles before a quick hop over the channel to Jersey. Unfortunately, due to me working a bit later than planned, and a few other issues, we ended up leaving Troon Friday midday.
There was a light wind coming from the north east. As we were heading south west, this would put us a dead-run. Robert had bought a cruising chute for our entry in the Scottish Three Peaks Race this year, but it sadly didn't arrive in time. As it would turn out, it was the last thing we needed that weekend, but well, that's another story! Anyway, after some discussion we decided not to try our new toy on our first day ... you know, just in case.
Instead we spent a few glorious hours goose-winging our way towards Ireland. For those who dont know, goose-winging is where a skipper will have his main sail out on one side of the boat, and the foresail out on the other. This effectively presents the most possible canvas to the wind, but you have to be careful to stay perfectly down-wind, or you'll accidentally gibe. Because it can take such great concentration, I've never been a big fan of helming while goose-winging. Constantly looking up the wind vane gives you such a sore neck. Anyway, something was different on this trip. Im not sure if I've suddenly become better, or perhaps just more confident, but I was much more comfortable just sailing the boat, and paying attention to the sails, rather than gazing upwards all the time.
By early Saturday morning, we had made good progress, and were already passing Dublin. The wind decreased slowly, until eventually dying a death. The trip down the west coast was fairly uneventful.
Sunday proved to be a bit more eventful. By 2am, we were well on our way to the Scilly isles, after just leaving the traffic separation zone around Lands End. The wind had built up to around a force 4. Around 6pm, the wind was building force 5, and was now blowing south east, indicating a low was coming through. While I was off watch, in bed, I heard a loud "crack", and waiting in bed, ears pricked, waiting to hear the reassuring thud thud thud of someone fixing something, or the yell of my name! Unbeknown to be me, the wind had now built up to force 6/7, and the starboard genoa sheet had snapped. The crew on watch tacked over, and swapped out the sheet. All sorted - good job guys!
The wind kept building, and when I came on watch later that evening, I remember looking up through the hatch and thinking "oookay ...". We had gone from pleasant sailing to wave watching, and helming ourselves down the back of the big ones. It was going to be a long night!
The ships log misses a few hours of entries, but at some point in the late evening, we heard the chain of the anchor clanging when we hit a big wave. Robert shouted for someone to go check, and he didn't need to tell me twice. I clipped my harness onto the jackstays, and made the awkward trip up to the bow. As I got to midships, I strained my eyes forward to see the siloutte of the anchor at the end of about 6ft of chain, swinging free on the starboard side before crashing into the bow. Not good. Very not good. The wind was now blowing a steady force 7, gusting force 8. The windlass that held the anchor had failed, letting chain out. I made myself comfortable at the bow, steadying myself against the big waves and the movement of the boat. Using a couple of sail ties that I had in my pockets, I slowly managed to haul the anchor up. After being swamped by a couple of greenies, the anchor was finally up, and safely lashed down.
With a non-functioning anchor, 40 knot gusts, and a pitch black night, we decided to not attempt staying in the St Mary's in the Scilly Isles. The strong winds continued all night, right through until 6am, until it eventually began to quieten down. The three of us took 1 hour watches on the helm, while the other two did their best to get some rest in the cockpit. It was a fairly horrid passage, with big waves frequently coming over the boat, soaking all the crew.
By midday on Monday, the wind was now down to force 2. We had all had quite a tough couple of nights, so we decided to put the engine on, and make our way directly to St Helier. The wind thankfully increased around dinner, letting us sail a bit more. We had all had plenty of rest, so it was good to get the whites back out again.
We arrived in St Helier around 9am, and took our place on the waiting pontoon. The marina guys there advised us that a big motor boat was soon leaving, and we could take their place. The sun was beating down, and memories of our gale was already begin to fade as we broke out the first round of beers. Its amazing how different you feel about a tough nights sail once you're all settled in port, beer in hand, and recounting tales of how funny it all was really ... you know ... in hinesight ... now that we here ... with a beer!
In the end, we did the the full trip in a single leg. In fact, the guys in St Helier were a little surprised when we mentioned our "previous port" was Troon. After a bit of confusion, they said that they had never had anyone sail directly from Scotland before! So, as far as their computer was concerned, we sailed from Plymouth!
So, in all, we covered 562.4 miles, in 3 lovely days, 21 great hours, and 5 sunny minutes - featuring 24 night hours.