Thursday, 4 June 2015

A Spring Bank Holiday Cruise

The weather for the weekend looked promising. South westerlies, averaging F4, touching into a 5, mostly sunny and dry, with the exception of a grey start Friday and a bit of damp murk foretold for Sunday. Tides were approaching neaps though, so not as favourable for a down channel jaunt as they had been for the Bank Holiday weekend at the beginning of May. It's hard to guess how long Calstar's legs really are at this point. The 60 mile trip back from Swansea in April didn't count. It was with assistance, under power, and with a very big tide in our favour.

We've done a couple of 40 mile out and returns now, but that has involved going down on one tide and coming back on the other. I'm not totally against sailing in the dark, but I am very aware that our own, for the moment untried, untested inexperience brings with it limits, so if I can avoid night sailing, I prefer to do so for now.

The upshot of all this was that in the week leading up to the last weekend in May, I was watching the forecast closely and prevaricating over where to go and what to do. I'd really like to make Lundy some time this year, and to go back to Swansea, but I think we'd need a decent spring tide to do either easily. Swansea, in particular, is constrained by the lock opening times, which are between 0700 and 2200. With the tides approaching neaps, high water is around lunch time, so getting back from Swansea could've been tricky, or so my thinking went.

Thursday afternoon, Chris and Tess from PCC suggested they were going to try Porlock Weir with Misty Lady. About 40 miles, they intended to leave Portishead around 2300 and sail through the night. Idling on the shore at the sailing club at Frampton a couple of weeks earlier, I'd been nattering about the Bristol Channel and how we'd been getting along with Calstar with a friend, Alastair, when he reminisced about how he'd had really fond memories of sailing to Porlock Weir with his dad when he was younger.

A recommendation like that, and the suggestion that 40 miles in one tide might well be achievable from a boat like Misty Lady with long experience of the area, and we were pretty much settled. Porlock Weir it would be, and if the tide caught us foul before we got there, we'd ride it back to shelter in Barry or Cardiff. To save ourselves the night sail however, I took Friday off work and we planned to ride the morning tide down.

Friday 22nd : Portishead to Porlock Weir
(38.8 miles, 7 hours 37 minutes underway)

Friday morning arrived with the wind around a F3 west of south west, but expected to strengthen and pretty much set to be on the nose all the way down. We locked out of Portishead at 1000, with an hour of foul tide still running, intending to hug the shore and punch it until Clevedon. A little after 1100, under a grey sky, with the wind building, we hauled up the sails, stilled the engine off Clevedon Pier, and beat out on a port tack towards the centre of the channel.

A large car carrier outbound from Royal Portbury overhauled us as we reached the English and Welsh Grounds, so we tacked off to starboard to stay out of her channel.

Within a couple of hours, we were heeled over to 20 degrees, both reefs in the main and the genoa rolled down by a third, on a starboard tack that would bring us down to a layline that would take us between the Holms. In the full grip of the tide our ground speed was touching eight or nine knots, but the seas were getting confused and bumpy as we tacked to port to lay the McKenzie buoy. The hull was now slamming as we fell off the occasional wave between the islands, a noise that would have been unnerving had we not previously been told it was characteristic of a Westerly Griffon and the hull more than built to withstand it.

The wind had now built to a F5, and set against the tide between the islands was creating an energetic and frequently breaking cross sea. It was pretty steady however, and whilst the occasional gust heeled us to a little beyond 30 degrees despite the reefs and the waves were coming from behind as well as in front, Calstar felt comfortable thrashing through the turmoil, the auto-helm holding us steady on the tack, the tough little yacht throwing masses of spray out to either side with each wave she climbed up and leapt over, or occasionally through, washing the decks clean as she went. However, despite the enthusiasm of the conditions, with the spray-hood up and the high coamings we remained quite dry and relatively comfortable, braced in the deep cockpit of the rugged little boat.

Beyond the deep channel between the Holms and past the McKenzie shoals, the sea smoothed somewhat and the wind lessened to a steady F4. We tacked to starboard behind Flat Holm, and as the pace of the ebbing tide picked up, it lifted us beautifully so that we could lay Hurlstone Point and Porlock Bay in one long fetch.

The low clouds enshrouding the headlands of Hurlstone Point and Foreland beyond it were a magical view in the late afternoon light. Reaching Porlock Bay in the last hours of the ebb, the miniature harbour of Porlock Weir wasn't yet tenable, so we dropped anchor under the shelter of Gore Spit and watched the sun slowly fall towards Foreland in the west. The tide turned, and with it, things got a bit bumpy, but the CQR anchor and its 30m of chain held admirably, despite the poor holding of the smooth pebbles of the sea floor beneath us.

By around 8pm we had about 10m of water and I could see the mouth of the harbour had covered, so we set about hauling our anchor back in. As I stood on the foredeck, lively with the still bumpy, flooding tide, hauling at the heavy old hook, the anchor drag alarm on my watch went off, followed my the drag alarm I'd also set on my phone. Hands full of anchor chain, I just had to ignore the distraction. As we finally won the anchor, my mobile rang. Pud the harbour master had been watching us from the harbour quay and had called to let me know there was now plenty of water to enter, and advise on which mooring to pick up.

We made a bit of a hash of picking up said mooring.

Space was exceptionally tight within the outer harbour, the eddies random and unexpected, and there were a number of other boats to bump into, three of them, funny enough, Westerly Griffons like ourselves. On the first attempt, with Pud and a friend of his watching from the quay wall and shouting advice, we got the boat out of line, and putting weight on the riser to try to heave ourselves around, broke it. However, Pud directed us to another mooring at the other end of the line, further in, and this time we won it easily enough, securing the boat fore and aft. The lines were very, very muddy, and I got absolutely covered handling them.

By sundown, we'd rowed the tender ashore, and found Pud and a few of his friends propping up the end of the bar of the Bottom Ship Inn. We brought him and his friends a pint to apologise for making a mess of the first riser, but as we'd not hit anything or anyone all was very good humoured and their welcome exceptionally warm. We drank a few more pints, enjoying the company, and then finally staggered to the tender, rowed out to the boat and then climbed back aboard and hit our bunks. I didn't suffer too badly for it the following morning, certainly not as badly as I deserved.

The mooring, in the shelter of the outer harbour, was absolutely quiet and still. It was a good night's sleep.

Saturday 23rd : Porlock Weir to Ilfracombe
(32.8 miles, 6 hours 13 minutes underway)

Saturday morning, 0730. I tumbled back to consciousness in pretty good form given the number of pints of Sharps Pilsner I'd consumed in the bar the previous evening.

I could tell straight away from the steadiness of the boat that Calstar was still stood on her fins on the harbour floor. Dad, who had been up some hours, confirmed as much as he handed me a cup of tea, and mentioned that Misty Lady had made it in during the night and was lying to anchor out in the bay. Whilst waiting on the tide to fill, I went for a paddle around the harbour in the tender and poked my nose out into the bay beyond the entrance withies.  It was a lovely morning, sky mostly blue and a steadily building breeze.

Cloud was still shrouding Hurlstone Point and tumbling into the bay. Porlock Weir is a very pretty spot.

Back in the harbour, before climbing back aboard, I called at the village shop for some supplies in the shape of a box of matches, some dish cloths, pan scourers and kitchen roll, and dropped our harbour fee through the letterbox of Pud's office.

As Calstar began to lift with the tide, Chris called from Misty Lady. He and Tess had designs on Lundy, but Dad and I had agreed Ilfracombe when discussing it in the bar the night before. Lundy would mean lying to anchor overnight, and with only 30 meters of chain aboard, we'd need to extend it with a warp to get enough scope to hold. We had a warp of suitable length, but it was old and originally brought for Ondine. I did lack a shackle, and whilst the rope would just about feed through the end link of the chain, it would only go once, so wouldn't give the round turn needed for a proper anchor hitch, and the end links of the chain are a little jagged with corrosion.

Fine for an emergency, or to hold to whilst waiting for the tide, but I lacked the confidence in the tackle, and for the moment, my own judgement, to sleep on it overnight.

Besides, Ilfracombe is a pretty town, and would leave us just in range of making it back to Cardiff the following day. Misty Lady is a fin keel and so would need to lie against the harbour wall in Ilfracombe, whereas with our bilge keel, we could just take to the ground again as soon as the tide gave us enough water to enter the outer harbour.

We cast off the mooring and headed out into the bay a little after 1000. Heading over to Misty Lady, we bid Chris and Tess good morning and wished them well for their run to Lundy, then set ourselves close-hauled on a port tack to get out and around Foreland Point. As the bay fell away behind us, we saw Misty Lady win her anchor, hoist her sails and set off herself. She hugged closer to the land at first, pointing higher than us and moving a little quicker. Before long she'd overhauled us and on the back of 1100 we were loosing sight of her beyond the horizon.

As we beat on, the North Devon coastline rose on our port side to tall cliffs, stark and majestic, tumbling to deserted, hidden coves and beaches, the land crowned with fair weather cumulus, like white cotton-candy. Above us the sky was blue and bright, and beneath the sea was a gorgeous, deep aquamarine. The cocoa-hued waters of the upper estuary are home, and I've a fondness for them that some of my friends find incomprehensible, but blue sea is undeniably pleasant, and all the more valued now I spend so much of my time sailing upon waters the shade of strong tea.

By 1400 we'd passed Foreland Point and tacked to starboard. The seas were slight, only rippled with the occasional white cap by a steady F3 coming out of the west. Under full sail, the little yacht leant comfortably to the wind and trotted along smoothly through the water at around 4.5 knots. The tender, partially deflated, was lashed the coach-roof. I called up the harbour master's office at Ilfracombe by phone, and the Harbour Master confirmed there was plenty of room in the outer harbour for us and described how to find the visitor's moorings.

By 1500 we were off Ilfracombe, but too early on the tide. We considered nosing in as far as we could and waiting at anchor, but the weather was just too fine to ignore, and so we spent a couple of hours reaching off and on from the shore in the glorious sunshine, soaking in the view of the coastline and the sapphire sea all around.

A couple of hours later, we started the engine and lowered sail. Putting our nose in and around the wharf, the outer harbour was quiet and the visitor moorings up under the quay wall still high and dry. A solitary figure was tending a commercial catamaran moored up against the wharf, waiting for his passengers. I checked with him that the harbour floor was, as I'd thought, smooth, gently sloping sand, and we edged in slowly, clear of the wharf on the one side and the fairway from the inner harbour on the other, until our keels touched ground. We dropped the anchor, and waited for the couple of meters tide needed to reach the visitor moorings.

We were on the mooring by 1900, and ashore half an hour later, looking for somewhere to eat.

Ilfracombe is a lovely sea-side harbour town. Bustling and busy, with lots of tourists wandering about, but you don't really notice them from the moorings in the outer harbour.

Suitably fed and watered at a little restaurant on the harbour-side, we got back to the boat and hit our bunks early, intending an early start the following morning, to leave as soon as the tide would allow and head back up-channel via Cardiff.

Sunday 24th : Ilfracombe to Cardiff
(52.6 miles, 10 hours 52 minutes underway)

0400 Sunday Morning. I awoke slightly before the alarm I'd set on my phone and rolled out of my bunk. Dad, predictably, was up before me and the kettle was boiling.

The boat was steady as a rock, sat on both her keels on the smooth sandy floor of the outer harbour. The water's edge was a couple of dozen feet away from our transom, still receeding with the last of the ebb. I wasn't completely certain what time we'd have enough back in to float off; I knew the tide times and had worked out the heights expected, but we'd been later on to the berth than I'd originally anticipated, so figured we were higher than the chart suggested.

Low water was expected for 0435, and I figured we'd not float for at least a couple of hours after that. I'd got up at such an unholy hour because I wanted to be sure we'd be ready to cast off at the first opportunity. And just because I'd wanted to see the little boat sat on her keels on the sand in Infracombe harbour. When viewed from below, standing dry on her fins, Calstar has a distinctly cetacean aspect about her.

Our plan for the day was to make it back to Cardiff, to overnight in Penarth Quays Marina, so put us easily in range of getting home to Portishead for Monday. Wind was forecast for a F4 west of southwest, potentially building and veering into the afternoon. After the blue skies and bright sunshine of Saturday, payback was due with rain, possibly heavy, throughout the morning, but brightening into the late afternoon.

The distance from Ilfracombe to Cardiff was of the order of 40 miles, downwind. We'd almost covered that in one tide to windward on the leg out to Porlock Weir, but this time although we had the wind behind us, we were going to be around two hours late on the flood. I knew we were going to get some foul tide, but hoped to make Barry before it turned completely. At that point Barry would be a potential bolt hole to await the next flood if things became to pressed. The alternatives were Porlock or Minehead, but they were on the wrong coast.

By 0700 we'd lifted off with the tide, cast off the mooring and were motoring out of the still quiet harbour. The day was grey and chill, but no rain yet; the wind a steady, westerly F3. Within twenty minutes we'd stilled the engine and hauled up the sails, and were slipping along quietly through the slight, grey sea under full sail. Out into the centre of the channel and in the main flow of the flooding tide, we gybed onto starboard and held a reaching course just shy of collapsing the genoa. The boat speed was consistently better than 4 knots through the water, the unruffled seas smoothed by the wind with the tide. By 10am, visibility was down to less than a mile through the murk, but the rain mostly held off.

Level with Porlock Weir, invisible through the murk, we gybed again. For a couple of hours now we'd been out of sight of land due to the poor visibility, but the plotter app on the Sony tablet did a fine job of tracking where we were, as it had done through the whole weekend so far. Since having had it go flat on us during the PCC Plate Race the previous week, Dad had wired up a USB adaptor that we could plug into the yacht's domestic electrics to keep the tablet charged, and this time I'd been damned certain to be sure to bring an appropriate cable.

The wind was picking up and a sea beginning to run under us, the growing swell overhauling us as the tide began to slacken towards high. Every so often the murk cleared enough for us to see the southern shore, and to just make out the town of Minehead a few miles to the south. The northern shore was much closer, but still obscured in the gloaming murk. A slight patter of heavy rain drops briefly tried to build the enthusiasm for a downpour, and then gave up. We gybed, our speed over the ground now matching that through the water, the tide all but done. The boat was now beginning to lurch uncomfortably in the increasing gusts, so we hardened up for a moment to drop a reef into the main.

A small powerboat, a fishing day-trip charter with customers aboard, emerged from the gloom to the south and cut close by our stern, disappearing in the direction of the Welsh shore. We gybed again, thinking to hug the northern shore, that being the side closest to where we wanted to go. The sea continued to build, running under us, now breaking occasionally as the wind continued to strengthen. The murk held, but the rain held off. The tide began to run against us, we still had 12 miles to go according to the route dialled into the plotter.

Although we were running as deep with the wind as I could without collapsing the genoa, we were barely making any progress against the tide, crabbing slowly towards the Welsh shore. We gybed back to starboard, and began to edge south. The force of the tide, according to the charts was less on that side of the Channel, but it was taking us away from where we wanted to go, the distance to Cardiff, at one point having dropped just below 11 miles, was now once more increasing.

Visibility was improving, but the wind strengthening. Our boat speed generally held a shade below 5 knots, occasionally pushing just over, but griping in the gusts, especially as the bigger waves surged under us. We put the second reef into the main, and the surging of the boat calmed a little. Our speed through the water was unaffected, now passing 5.5 knots on the front of the overtaking swell. Our speed over the ground was barely half that, and not taking us in the right direction.

At 1329, now in the full grip of the ebb tide, we gybed just short of the West Culver buoy. All this open water, and it was quite amazing how magnetic these things were. Without the change in course, it felt almost certain we were going to be pushed right into it. The murk had lifted just enough to now occasionally make out the cooling tower off Breaksea Power Station on the Welsh shore and Minehead on the Somerset shore to the south. It was beginning to look quite probably we'd escape the rain.

The plotter had originally suggested an ETA for Cardiff of 1400, but was now pessimistically guessing closer to 2000. It's a magic little tool to have aboard, but it doesn't know a thing about the tides around here. Minehead was too far out of our way now to look for shelter; we could be there within the hour, but it was in the wrong direction, and was unfamiliar ground. We were now laying Barry Harbour. Dad and I briefly discussed nosing in there to drop the hook and wait out the tide, but decided we'd continue to punch it.

As Dad said, if we kept it up long enough the tide would inevitably give up and we'd win. The autohelm was managing admirably with most of what the weather was throwing at us, and although the wind was supposed to strengthen more into the afternoon, once the tide turned again it would actually feel like it had calmed a little, and the sea would inevitably smooth out. We were not making much ground, but the little boat was doing well. We'd push on.

At 1517, just off the beach at Barry Island, and the waters beginning to subside under the shelter of the Welsh shore, we gybed. The worst of the tidal stream was beginning to ease now, so we pushed up against it in a series of deep reaches, passing the harbour mouth just a little over an hour later at 1620. I don't know why they call it "Barry Island"; insofar as I can tell, an island it is now. By 1700 we passed Sully Island, which is, to port. A RIB shot by at high speed just behind us, the helm giving us a cheery wave. We gybed to stay cleared of a chartered angling boat, anchored a little way out, then gybed again when I was uncertain we'd clear Sully.

Slow going at first, as the tide slackened our pace picked up, and the sea state remained smooth compared to the broiling waters that had chased us from the Culver Bank into the Barry shore. The plotter had revised our ETA to a more optimistic 1830, and only an hour out, the skies had cleared and Steep Holm was in sight in the hazy distance. It was beginning to feel like we were coming home. By 1800 we'd hardened up around Lavestock Spit and were into the shelter of the Penarth Roads, starting the engine and dousing the sails as preparation for locking into Cardiff through the barrage.

Penarth Quays Marina were warm in their welcome, allocating us an easy berth within a very short walk of the shower block.

Monday 25th : Cardiff to Portishead
(17.4 miles, 4 hours 48 minutes underway)

Monday morning 0700; a relative lie-in by the standards of the last couple of days, and the luxury of a warm shower to wake up with courtesy of the marina facilities. The plan was to ride the flood tide back to Portishead, so we cast off at 0800 and, leaving the marina to a cheery wave farewell from the marina's berthing master out of his office window, called up Cardiff Barrage Control on the radio to ask for a lockout and were given a slot in Lock 2 for 0830.

The day began grey, but neither cold nor damp, with a very light wind out of the west. Locking out through the Barrage was uneventful; we shared the roomy lock with three powerboats also bound for Portishead, although for them the miles were shorter, a trip of less than an hour, but, of course, at so much greater an expense of fuel and noise and fury. They were a friendly bunch, and I tried not to feel too smug as we let them slip out of the lock ahead of us.

By 0850 we'd left the Wrach Channel and were in Penarth Roads, stilling the engine and hauling up sail. The small fleet of powerboats were already disappearing off into the distance. We revelled in the early morning peace and quiet of the Roads.

A little too much peace and quiet. The little wind we'd been blessed with was dropping, we scratched along at barely more than a knot, but at least it was in the right direction, and figured once out from the Penarth Roads we'd also have the benefit of the tide with us.

The first time I sailed in these water it was with Hels aboard our old Enterprise "Penny", racing at an Enterprise Open hosted by Penarth Yacht Club, the clubhouse clearly seen off to starboard from where we currently drifted, on the promenade that fronts the Penarth shore. Penarth Yacht Club was established in 1880, and were racing dinghies in the Penarth Roads as early as 1908. These days they still have an exceptionally well supported and active Enterprise dinghy racing fleet. On the day that Hels and I had visited to race with them, conditions had felt similar to today as we'd launched from the gravelly beach in front of the clubhouse, and then we'd passed out from under the lee of the Penarth shore and had been met with the full spite and fury of a Bristol Channel blow.

We coped admirably; although then still relatively new to the boat, we were no strangers to such winds, but strangers to its brutal effect on open water and across a swift running tide. And then, about thirty seconds before the start of the first race we capsized again, for about the fourth time. The dinghy inverted, which in itself wasn't a problem, but as I was pulling her back up, a wave caught us broadside on and the force of it buckled the mast.

Off Penarth, July 2012
We were not the first retirement, nor the last. The race itself was abandoned about thirty minutes later as, despite the forecast for the morning, the winds pushed past F6 and the seas became quite nasty.

Credit is definitely due to the character of the folks at Penarth Yacht Club. We were towed back to shore and had retreated to the bar, defeated and dispirited at getting wiped out on the first day of a two day event that we'd been anticipating all year. But determined not to see their guests so ill used by the fortune of events, our hosts at the club asked around the resident Enterprise fleet and scrounged up a mast from one of the boats not racing for us to borrow the following day.

I've thought of that race, and reflected warmly on the generosity and exceptional hospitality of Penarth Yacht Club, every time I've passed by through these waters since.

By about 0900 the wind all but died completely. Out in the main channel, creeping north from Flat Holm I'd been watching another yacht under sail of about our size, doing no better despite being well clear of land. Behind us, a yacht departing the Wrach speculatively hauled up her mainsail, but continued motor-sailing, not bothering with their genoa. We maintained just enough of a whisper to give steerage, but rarely creeping above 0.4 knots, and so clung on, reluctant start the engine, spoil the peace, and blemish our otherwise clean record of having sailed the whole of our journey over this last weekend. Even Dad shared my reluctance.

But we needed to be home to Portishead before the tide turned, due a little after noon. The plotter's ETA, based on our current lack of pace, was suggesting that we dream on. We decided we'd hold out until 1030, and then if nothing had changed, we'd start the engine. Two hours under power with the tide behind us would make easy work of the 14 or so miles we still needed to cover.

We drifted out across Cardiff Grounds, leaving the outlying shallows to starboard, the tide pushing us steadily north towards Newport despite our easterly heading.

At 0953, Monkstone Lighthouse now falling away from our starboard quarter, I felt the faintest, whispered promise brush against my right cheek. The boom creaked in anticipation, the genoa filled, and Calstar picked up to the now beautifully filling wind, a self-satisfied gurgle finally, thankfully coming from her bows.

Navigation in the Bristol Channel, especially in the upper reaches, is a relatively simple matter of pilotage from one well marked buoy to another. There is still an awful lot of open space, and they're big shipping buoys, designed to weather the violence of the Bristol Channel at her worst, not easy to miss in good visibility. But, akin to racing around the cans with "Buffy" on our home lake at Frampton, it's quite startling how they occasionally jump out and try to hit you if you don't give them due attention.

At 1045, the clear water marker "English Welsh Grounds" suddenly appeared dead in our track as I routinely glanced under our full genoa. To my general remarks of surprise and alarm, Dad, who was below making us a cup of tea, commented that he'd noticed it a while ago and had assumed I'd seen it, but from our heading had figured I'd intended to pass it to port. That would have meant passing uptide of it, which I don't do voluntarily around these parts unless there is about a clean mile between us an the object concerned.

The water was running beneath us at about 4 knots, and our actual track over the ground was at odds with our heading by about 30 degrees, which I guess is what had misled Dad into thinking we were well clear. It was too late to duck below without gybing, so I hardened up into the wind to pass above it, easily clearing the buoy by about half a cable.

An hour later, we were in the Bristol Deep, approaching "Avon" buoy which marks the beginning of the King Road shipping channel. On the VHF we heard a vessel reporting in to Bristol VTS from between the Holms. The "Endeavour" on her way up to Royal Portbury, making 18 knots through the water and expecting to arrive a little after noon. About the same time as us. I recognised the name and smiled at the occasional symmetry of things. She was the same ship that had passed us in the King Road back in February when we'd first brought Calstar up to Portishead from Swansea. Now we were bringing her back from the same direction, at the end of our longest trip so far, and she'd pass us again, in just the same place.

In that particular place, the shipping for Royal Portbury passes within a cable's length of Barrage Point. Dad, who's anxiety levels start to peak if we come within a mile of another boat, pessimistically predicted that was exactly where she'd overhaul us. Looking at the chart, and the four miles we had left to run, I could see he wasn't wrong.

The wind was now at the top end of a F3 but steady with the flooding tide, and the sea very slight. I decided to furl the headsail and deepen the reach under mainsail alone, standing in close to the downs south of Portishead and making the most of the wind bending as it hit the hilly shore to hold our starboard run. Ahead, in Kilkenny Bay we could see a score of dinghies out of Portishead Yacht Club setting up to race. Fireballs and Lasers for the most part, but I was delighted to also spot a Europe amongst them. Watching them play, it was obvious the wind had built behind us; a few were tipping in and capsizing further out in the bay, all but in our path.

As we bore off to a run, standing into the land as planned, the genoa collapsed under the shadow of the main, and I put my hand to the furling line. A few rolls came in, then it stiffened and jammed. Perturbed, I put more weight into it, but it wouldn't budge; if anything, it sprang back, and not with the weight of the sail. I went forward to check the line on the drum, expecting a tangle, but it looked fine. I called for Dad to pull, handling the sail around on the bow, but it still refused to go, springing back whenever we put pressure on it.

Endeavour had reported in again passing "Welsh Hook" and was now closing astern off our port quarter. We were closing up on the chaos of the racing fleet ahead, Endeavour was closing up on us from behind, and I wasn't at the helm. I untied the port sheet from the genoa, and had Dad free the starboard one from the fairleads, then used it to wrap the genoa around the foil by hand. It wasn't tidy, and there was a surprising amount of pull in the wind, given how calm it had felt a few moments ago, but the job was soon done.

Back at the helm, I steered deep downwind to clear the dinghy fleet. They assisted by choosing that moment to herd into the shore and start jockeying for position on the start-line for a race. Endeavour passed us to port at 1210, just before we reached Barrage Point.

Rounding the headland, Portishead Quay hove into sight. A couple of other yachts were ahead, queuing for the lock, and a powerboat was coming up fast under the headland to join us. We called up the marina and requested a slot, then started the engine and downed the main. The genoa was an untidy job, baggy and unruly where I'd wrapped it around the forestay by hand, catching the wind, which had become quite gusty and very obvious now we were no longer running with it. We motored into "The Hole" behind the breakwater for a little shelter and waited on the lock.

By 1245 we were squeezing in with a mass of other boats, a very cramped affair and Dad was a little tense, worn out from the long hours of sailing and unsettled by the fun and games with the headsail. We came alongside the lock pontoon to starboard, astern of a larger yacht that had followed us up from Cardiff. The lock gates closed, as as the waters rushed in from the head of the lock, the baot ahead of us surged back on her warps in the flow. Grabbing a large, "roaming" fender I keep handy for such moments, I slung it over Calstar's CQR anchor that hangs over her bow roller.

It did the job, but in the rush to fend off the boat ahead, I caught my finger on the seizing wire that locks the forestay to its deck fixing. Only a flesh-wound, which given the insensitivity of fingers dulled by a lifetime of strumming steel guitar strings in anger, I didn't actually feel, but I got blood all over the deck (though thankfully not on the sail) which gave Dad cause to roll his eyes.

By 1300 we were into the Marina and heading for our berth. The least said about that the better, perhaps. Exhaustion and an unlucky, ill-timed and over-energetic gust were the sole cause, but I have to say I've never seen anybody try so conclusively to dock a boat into a finger-berth broadsides on before. I got onto the end of the finger pontoon just as the wind pinned us, and by my balancing her stood midships, and Dad's careful use of the throttle, we managed to hold her just clear of the sterns of the two boats to my right and the bows of the one boat to my left, but found ourselves at something of an impasse.

Fortunately, Tony was relaxing with his wife and small dog in the cockpit of his boat a couple of berths along, saw our predicament, and rushed over to help. With Tony taking the bowline, my acting as a human fender mid-ships, we managed to warp her around the finger-pontoon and in to her berth with just a little help from Dad on the throttle and careful use of the helm.

A near miss, but no damage done to ourselves or anybody else; discounting, of course, our pride. But no harm, no foul.

We were safe back in our berth, but not altogether done, as there was still the question of sorting out the errant headsail.

Epilogue : the errant headsail

Secure in our berth, we unwrapped the genoa, and as it flailed in the breeze, Dad tried once more to furl it using the line, whilst I stood on the deck and observed. Looking up, the problem was immediately obvious. The halyard was wrapping itself around the foil as soon as it began to turn, and then seizing the whole mechanism. We released the halyard and brought the genoa down, expecting to find the swivel stuck, or at least stubborn.

To my surprise, the swivel turned without protest. We tried hauling the sail back aloft to have another go, but this time it jammed about a third of the way up the foil. Reluctant to force it, we brought the sail back down. Inspecting the swivel, we could see that the nylon bearing that sheaths the inside of the cylinder had, over the years of being hauled up and down, been somewhat savaged by friction against the foil, and it was that which was therefore clearly gripping when we tried to haul it up.

We struggled with it for a couple of hours, hauling it up and bringing it back down, a couple of amateurs both, trying to work out what the solution was to our seemingly intractable problem. I was convinced that the halyard wrap had been self-inflicted. At some point during the weekend, I must've inadvertently released the genoa halyard, probably whilst intending to release the main. It's the sort of thing you'd think I'd remember doing, but it had been a long weekend. In any case, with tension out of the halyard, any attempt to furl would obviously cause it to wrap.

Ultimately, worn out and defeated, we gave up, stowed the headsail below, made everything secure, and headed for home. The discontent of an unsolved headsail didn't quite dull the tired glow of a fantastic, long weekend's worth of sailing. Our little yacht had taken the two of us to Portishead, Porlock Weir, Ilfracombe, and then Cardiff and finally back, aside from the requisite close manoeuvring at the beginning and end of each day, all of it under sail. The weather had been varied, although overall, kind, and the little yacht had looked after us well through it all.

Re-bending the headsail back onto the foil of the furler would be a challenge for a later day.

Over four days and three nights, Calstar had travelled a shade under 142 nautical miles and had spent 29 hours and 30 minutes underway, of which 25 hours and 23 minutes were entirely under sail.


MarkyMark_cy said...

Spent the waking moments of a Friday am reading through the trip and felt part of the crew.

tatali0n said...

Well, you were very welcome aboard. Good morning ;)