The Channel Isles holiday is/was somewhat of a big deal for me. I've been an active sailor for seven years, covered thousands of miles, participated in several annual sailing holidays and seen my fair share of nasty weather.
However, this year marked my biggest challenge - to act as Skipper for this years' big holiday, arranging (and be responsible) for all the planning, crew, passages, whilst doing my best to have a good holiday! Thankfully, as ever, I had Jen by my side to make sure I didn't do anything stupid, dangerous, or well ... dangerous and stupid ;-)
Thankfully, I had a great crew, willing to put up with a slightly scatter brained skipper! On the trip this year we had; Jen, Dom, Russ, Lise and (newcomer) Mark. As discussed in my last post, the plan was to sail the boat from St Helier, Jersey back to our home port of Troon, hopefully taking in the sights as we went.
By midday, I had already acheived my first job of skipper, by getting all our crew to the board, in (technically not) a foriegn country. It was amazing how much more relaxed I felt once I was sure we all made it to the right place! I had visions of forgetfulness, delayed flights, and at one point, a mild panic about emails featuring the wrong dates. Anyway, 6 crew and 6 (shared) pints later, I was feeling only slightly queezy at the challenge ahead.
12/08/2007 - Jersey
By Sunday, I think we were all ready to start our sailing holiday proper, by venturing outside the harbour walls of St Helier. Over the previous few days, we had been out and about on Jersey, doing the usual tourist stuff. Sadly, we only discovered Ouens Bay on the west coast on the last day - so we were too late to take advantage of the surfing opportunities. Some of the crew also remarked on a few local areas of natural beauty ;-)
We set sail early Sunday morning, around 7am. Our first job was to fuel up, and after a cup of tea while we waited, we were soon on the way. The weather was good, and we managed to sail pretty much all the way to our chosen destination, St Peter Port in Guernsey - the second largest of the channel isles.
13/08/2007 - Guernsey
It was just a short sail from Jersey to Guernsey, just shy of 21 miles, so we had most of Sunday to spend on the isle. It only took us about 4.5 hours from leaving St Helier until we arrived alongside a floating pontoon at St Peter Port. Sadly, we're too big to fit inside the main marina in Guernsey.
15/08/2007 - Sark
The weather forecast was for force 8 gales, so we decided to stay in Guernsey a little longer than planned, and let the weather pass us by. On Saturday, we took a ferry trip to Sark (I know, the irony isn't lost on me). Sark is a lovely little place. Very err... "quaint". No honestly, it's one of these weird little places that you just have to love. A little tourist centric for my kind of liking, but definitely a favourite amongst the crew.
By Sunday morning, St Peters Port was a hive of activity. As it turns out, we weren't the only boat waiting for the weather to clear before setting off. A lot of the other guys that I spoke to were on their way home, usually to places on the south coast of England. Most seemed surprised that we had come all the way from Scotland, particular in a single trip! Anyway, after a bit of shuffling of boats, we were on our way to Braye, a little bay in Alderney with perhaps the longest breakwater I've seen.
We had originally thought that the passage from Guernsey to Alderney was going to take about 6 hours. However, there are some terrific tides around the channel isles, and if you get it right, and the wind is in your favour, then you can get there in no time. we left at 8:30am, and by 11:30am, we were enjoying a beer in Braye, after catching a mooring buoy.
Alderney is a little different from Sark in that, although its small, the local islanders appear to get on with their own little thing, and tourists are left to do some shopping on the main street, and well, generally keep themselves entertained. The lads all hired bikes and set off round the island. The two girls went for a wander. Bizarrely, come lunch time, we all ended up to the north of island, about 5 minutes from a great wee pub where we caught some dinner. After breaking (at least) three local laws, we thought it best to leave!
Come Tuesday morning, it was time to leave the channel isles, cross the English Channel, and have Dom in Falmouth by Monday morning, when we was due to catch a train home. Sadly, Dom didn't have enough holidays to join us for the full trip.
We left Braye in steady force 5 southerly winds at a leisurely 10:30am. The wind stayed constant for most of our channel crossing, dropping to force 3/4 that evening. Crossing the channel was quite interesting for me, as I had heard so many bad things about the amount of commercial traffic, and the danger of yachts crossing their paths. However, credit to all the tankers and other big ships we came cross, who slowed down, and made every attempt to let us pass. We altered course a couple of times, and did everything possible to make our intentions clear to the big boys.
We finally arrived in Port Pendennis at 16:00pm on Wednesday afternoon, after covering 175 miles. In total we did 32 hours, 9 hours of which at night. The watch system worked well, although, I should have got them started immediately after leaving Alderney, rather than waiting until dusk.
It was a bit of choppy crossing, and poor Mark, who's new to sailing had felt pretty seasick for most of it. Our resident walking medical mirical, Lise, was also a bit worse for wear. During a watch change, she lost her footing while the boat was heeled heavily, and landed in the galley with a worrying thud. Thankfully, she was okay, but her back was really sore, so we packed her off to bed.
We had a bit of job tacking into Falmouth, as the wind was blowing nor'west, exactly where we wanted to go! The sea state didn't help, push us further off the wind that we would have liked. Quite an interesting (if frustrating) exercise for me really. By this point, everyone is ready to be there. We're all a bit tired, both physically and mentally, and I was very aware of the well being of poor ole Mark & Lise. I've been in challenging weather before, but there's usually been someone there to tell me what to do. I took the helm, and managed to pinch to wind as much as possible. I figured if we could get closer to the land, then we might get some shelter from the headland. I had also thought about putting on the engine and motor sailing, to power us through the troughs, but wasn't 100%, so struggled on without it. As it would transpire, Jen confirmed later (over a beer... ahhh!) that my thinking was sound. Good to know that experience really can just "seep" in sometimes.
Anyway, after some "debate" with the marina guys at Port Pendennis, it was agree that they would sort a berth out for us. Due to the recent bad weather, many boats had pulled out of the Fastnet race, and had seeked shelter in Falmouth. As a result, we ended up mooring alongside another boat ... a err... 106ft super yacht, which was "different". We're so used to being the biggest boat in the marina, so to be tied up next to something double our size, was just strange. I wish we had time to get a photo! What we didn't immediately notice was that the 106ft super yacht was also alongside another boat ... a 150ft super yacht. Jeezzz... its like busses, nothing for all my sailing life, and then two on the same pontoon ;-)
Dom left us early in the morning to catch his train home. The weather was due to blow up from the North, which would have blown us down hard onto the super yachts, which wasn't a problem, but the fenders on the boat at the pontoon were now supporting two super yachts, and a little 50 footer. We had also agreed to stay an extra day in Falmouth to let the weather blow through before starting our final leg home, so the marina guys managed to sort us out a berth of our own. The extra day here meant we wouldn't have time to the Scilly Isles or Dublin, which was a bit a shame.
Falmouth is a really interesting place, steeped in sailing history. As a chap in Guernsey said, "those pavements have been trodden by many a mariner". The crew from the super yacht (I wish I could remember its name...) suggested that we pop into the Chain Locker for a few beers while we were in town. This is a legendary sailing pub, which was confirmed when I just happened to spot the example entry in Honu's log book mentioned stopping there for lunch! We opted for dinner instead, which was awesome by the way!
22/08/2007 @ 1005
Wednesday morning marked the sad day when we would need to wave goodbye to Lise and Mark. Lise had gone to the Accident & Emergency, and although she was lucky not to have any broken ribs, everyone agreed (apart from her!) that another 4-5 days hammering up the west coast probably wasn't the smartest thing to do! Likewise, Mark had decided that his poor stomach might not like the hundreds of miles that still lay ahead of us, and due to us being weathered in, we weren't guaranteed to make it up to Troon in time for his flight. So, at about 0930, we exchanged our fairwells, and all of a sudden the boat seemed awfully quiet!
Around 10am, the remaining crew (me, Jen, and Russ) eased our lines, and made our way out towards the bay. After spending the last week or so with everyone around us, coming out the bay felt really strange. Just the three amigos, and one hell of a trek back home. The wind was blowing a steady force 5 from the north, the sun was beating down, and, to be honest, it was fantastic sailing! By 3pm, we were just passing Lizard Point, and the log book had "8 sharks spotted" written in the entry. Along the way we spotted so many sharks and dolphins, we stopped yelling down the hatch to get Jen up.
By 7pm, almost at the start of night watches, we began to round Lands End, and start the slow process of tacking up the west coast.
A quick sailing lesson for anyone who's made it this far and doesn't have any experience of the sea. A sailing boat cant fly directly into wind, and so has to steer approximately 30-60 degrees off the wind, either to the left or right. You then have to zig-zag your way to your destination, unless you're lucky enough for the wind to change. This zig-zagging is called tacking, and as you can imagine, isn't as efficient as going in a straight line!
Partly because of the sea state, we were making about 070 degress (compass bearing) on port tack, and 300 degrees on starboard. Although we were cracking along, we were actually only doing about 3 knots in the right direction (due north). When you've got hundreds of miles ahead of you, that makes you long trip seem veeeeerrrrry long. The secret is to take each watch as it comes, and do your best to fly as close to the wind as you can. If you focus on how far you've got to go, and the fact your doing the equivilent of 4 miles-per-hour, then you'll go crazy. 4mph is uhm.... like a brisk walking pace.
Each watch, we would pray for the wind to shift round a bit to the west, as it had been forecast to, but it didn't really show any signs of doing as it was told. But, as I kept reminding myself, we were still on the boat, still on holiday, and still having a great time. Now that there was just the three of us left, it meant that there was less restrictions on when we had to be there, as nobody had flights to catch any more. Each day, we just plodded our merry way up past Wales, past Southern Ireland, hoping that we would make Holyhead on our next tack.
Thursday night was a busy night. At around 9pm, Russ and I were trying to set the main sail a bit better, when it started making a strange noise. Strange noises aren't good on a boat, because its your first sign that something is wrong, and its up to you to find out what. We couldn't see anything immediately wrong with the mail sail, so we decided to put it away. Its only once we had most of the sail away that we noticed that the outhaul car wasn't moving. The car runs on a track at the back of the boom, and makes sure that our roller-reefing main keeps its shape whilst reefed. I fiddled with it, and managed to get it back on its track. The car then seemed to move freely, so we gave it a push towards the mast, so we could have a good proper look, without having to stretch up to the end of the boom. Unfortunately, unbeknown to us, the stopper at the end of the track had gone missing at some point over the past 4 days, and so the car happily speeded off the end of the track, spilling its ball bearings all over the place :-( Jen and I lashed the car to the boom, and opted to motor sail until morning.
By 1am, the wind has almost died, and Jen and I were pulling out the rest of the genoa. Everything was going to plan, until the starboard jib sheet snapped, leaving the genoa flying free. A bit of panic swept us, as we thought for a few moments that we had also lost the lazy sheet, which would make recovery difficult! Thankfully, it had a locking knot in the end of the rope, so we managed to tack and get ourselves sorted out. We rigged a new jib sheet, but never got a chance to use it. The wind was low, the sea state was flat, so we made the executive decision to whack the engine on and just get home.
It was sad to end up motoring up to Troon, particular after battling our way up the west coast - but to be honest, the difference between 7 knots in the right direction, versus 8 in the wrong ... well ... we didn't shed too many tears. 12 hours later, we were tied up in our home berth at Troon, with a beer in hand! So, the last leg worked out as 529.8 nautical miles, completed in 83.5 hours - 28 hours of which were at night. Jeeeez, it was good to be back!
So, all in all, a great holiday. It always feels a little weird to be back home. After a couple of weeks of life on the boat, I always have that little inner self that screams for us to turn around and just head off somewhere else. In 1968, Bernard Moitessier participated in a race to become the first sailor to circumnavigate the earth alone and non-stop. Although he stood a good chance of winning, he abandoned his effort seven months into the race, and continued on to Polynesia, rather than returning to England. I think I understand some of his logic.
We covered 744.3nm on this holiday, and clocked up an reasonably impressive 36.5 night hours - although most of that was accrued on the last leg!