Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Contrary the winds

Back at work after two weeks off, and feeling quite refreshed.

The first week away with Nik was a definite success. She found the 10 hour trip over to Tenby a bit of a strain, but enjoyed the rest day following swinging on the mooring and touring the town. She seemed non-plussed but resigned about the trip back on the Friday, woke up around dawn with the boat halfway across Carmarthen Bay and being thrown around a bit by the swell. She couldn't have timed it worse really, as it was always going to be rough crossing the Helwick Bank. Shortly after crossing, with the boat running down-wind parallel to the outside of the bank and still at the mercy of an enthusiastically quartering sea, we were picked up by a pod of around eight to ten dolphins.

They kept company with us for the next half hour or so, cavorting in the waves alongside and crossing two and fro under the bow. Close enough to lean over and whisper in a cetacean ear, they cured Nikki of any misgivings; she was utterly entranced.

"Grab the camera!" I said, my hands to full of boat to do anything but try to keep her on course, "It's there ready, just on top of the coach-roof"

"No! They might disappear!" was her uncompromising reply.

So we have no photographs of our escort. But we do have the memories.

Of course, it means Nik is now going to expect dolphins every time I take her sailing.

But she does want to come away with us again this next weekend coming.

The following week away with Dad was an equal success. This time, we had an extra on-board as my youngest, Sam, unexpectedly said yes when I routinely asked him if he wanted to come sailing with us.

The weather was restrictive. A fresh easterly, it made for a lively crossing to Ilfracombe on the Tuesday; at its height, the boat was skipping along on a beam reach through a rolling, breaking sea at close to 6 knots despite the double-reefed main and deeply rolled genoa. It was fantastic sailing. No dolphins this time, but I did catch sight of a couple of couple of porpoise as we closed on Ilfracombe.

The wind stayed in the east and strengthened the following day, clocking a F6 and more across the morning, so we spent Wednesday moored in Ilfracombe's outer harbour and amused ourselves ashore in town and with a couple of trips out aboard the local tourist boats.

We dropped the mooring at 0300 the following morning and headed back to Swansea in the dark to make the most of a favourable tide. The dawn was perhaps the most uninspiring I've seen at sea yet, but at least the sun came up. The wind was a fickle thing, still nominally from the east, but faltering and contrary, and nothing like the F4 to 5 that had been promised when I'd last checked the forecast the night before. But we made port in good time, the crossing taking a shade over six hours.

And Sam seemed to have enjoyed himself along with us for the week, so will hopefully come again.

This coming weekend Dad and I bring Calstar back from Swansea to Portishead, and Nik's coming along with us. I've been watching the forecast closely as it's been developing, and I have to say it's been all over the place, one moment a quite manageable F4, albeit from the east, the next an unconscionable F6 or 7, at which point the direction becomes immaterial, we're staying in port.

It's a Bank Holiday three day weekend, and so as long as we get workable weather Sunday or Monday we'll be fine. The tide is too early to make Cardiff in one go on Saturday but would be Sunday (we need to depart a couple of hours before LW, being on Saturday around 0800, but the lock doesn't start operating until 0700), but if the weather looks promising for all three days, we could head to Cardiff via Ilfracombe on the Saturday. Once we're in Cardiff, getting back to Portishead is just a short skip on the Monday. If we get weather-bound, we leave the boat in Penarth Marina, and come back for her when the weather clears.

It's been an interesting few months down in Swansea. I've loved the blue waters and ability to just nip out for a couple of hours sailing ("nip out" if you don't count the close to two hour drive to get there), but have started to kind of miss the familiarity (or more to the point, local convenience) of home and am looking forward to getting the boat back to Portishead.

A couple of things learned:

Wind over tide is significant when said tide is bringing with it a large swell straight in from the Atlantic. The character of the waves down there is different, the shelter you get in the lee of Swansea and Carmarthen Bay significant, and very noticeable once you leave it.

45 nautical miles is a heck of a long day sail once you no longer have the benefit of a six or seven knot tide running under you as we do further up channel. The sort of distances we can cover in a 26' bilge-keeler into wind or otherwise when sailing out of Portishead and using the tide become quite hard work once that tide is more than halved further down along. And whilst it's easy to be dismissive of a couple of knots of adverse flow, it's still enough of a set to halve the speed over ground of a little boat like ours, and so make your destination feel very, very far away,

And range and conditions and durability become a much bigger factor when you have a neophyte crew. The ten and half hour beat to Tenby was really too much to be fair on Nikki. I originally looked at the forecast and 35 mile distance, saw F4 gusting 5 and thought it'd be a bit of hard work but nothing to really sweat about. Passing Worms Head, the sun gone in, the wind freshening against the now hard flowing tide and the seas building, I could see that Nik had had enough and there wasn't much I could do about it except reassure her and nag her to go put something warm on.

In the same place and equal conditions, Dad and I would have just knuckled down and got on with it. The engine certainly wouldn't have been necessary, but under the circumstances as a concession to Nik it was absolutely the right call to make. I was surprised by how much boat speed we lost trying to push into a tall sea with engine alone however. The 25hp Beta Marine will usually push Calstar happily through the water at near enough to her hull speed of 6 knots. Against the swell coming into Carmarthen Bay, we never made more than 4 and were frequently knocked back to just over 2 knots.

The six hour reach over to Ilfracombe through similar wind and sea, but across rather than against, and with the sun shining rather than leaden skies and squally rain blowing in my face, was taxing enough for Sam's first time the following week. But was set just about right. It would perhaps have been a better call for Nikki the week before.

But then again, we loved Tenby. And she utterly adored the dolphins.

[28/08 Addendum] I've been holding off posting this as I'd meant to add in a pile of photos. Couldn't find the time in the last week and am now sat in Watchet Harbour posting other stuff, so to save this getting too out of step, out of context and out of date, am going to press "publish" now, and photos will have to follow at my leisure...

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