Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Calstar: Eddystone

It was a good weekend. Sure, the conspiratorial weather forecast for Sunday and Monday derailed our original plans, but Saturday was as gorgeous as promised.

Bright sunshine, blue skies and a fresh breeze coming into the land from south of south east, the local forecast was F3 gusting 4, more in the west, and expected to build into the afternoon. Wanting to do something more than just sail around the Sound again, I considered sailing out to Looe to the west, but with east in the wind, didn't fancy a long, uncomfortable beat against the tide to get home again once we got there.

The Eddystone Rock is a reef that lies about eight nautical miles off Rame Head (the headland that shelters the western side of Plymouth Sound) and is marked with a significant and quite distinctive lighthouse. Charmed by the thought of leaving the land behind us for a while, Dad and I settled for a trip out to see it.

We cast off a little before low water at 1030 in bright sunshine and a lively breeze. Clearing the Mountbatten breakwater, we had the sails up within ten minutes of dropping our lines, a cautious first reef in the main and a full genoa. The wind was a lively F3 from the south east and the little yacht felt very lively as we fetched across the Sound towards the Western Entrance.

The sun was warm, even if the sky was a little hazy, and for the first time this year we were sailing without our waterproofs on. Twenty minutes later we left the Sound via the Western Entrance, and hardened up on to a tight reach to lay Eddystone, some ten miles distant, and very much still lost out of sight within the hazed horizon.

The tidal flow runs east until HW-3, when it reverses to the west after a period of slack, so for the run out we enjoyed the lift of having the tide on our lee bow. By 1142 we were six and a half miles out, covering 6kn  over the ground, so close enough to hull speed, with a first reef in the main still and now a single roll in the genoa.

As the land fell away astern, much of the other yacht traffic that had surrounded us during our departure disappeared behind. We were briefly overhauled by a J80 with a crew of three, before they tacked off to the east. They seem to be quite popular little pocket racers, there were a few at Portishead and Penarth, and there are a number in QAB. They do look like fun. I like the accommodation and comfort of the Westerly, and really do enjoy just cruising from harbour to harbour in her with Dad and Nik.

But were it not for the regular fix I get on the lake with my Enterprise, I'd really miss racing. The 8m J/80 looks like exactly the sort of little keel boat I'd love to race with. The other one that appealed to me was the 7m Hunter Sonata; Ben and I crewed a race on one in Falmouth a couple of years ago.

Over the next hour, the wind and sea gradually built and the sky greyed over. Chilled, I conceded to the fact that it was still early spring and pulled my waterproofs on for their extra warmth. At 1245, the Eddystone lying abreast of our port beam, we tacked and started back.

Aside from the whole "slack water" thing that I've mentioned previously, there is another aspect to sailing here that is markedly different to sailing in the Bristol Channel. Tacking angle. Making passage from Portishead to Penarth on the ebb into the inevitable south westerly with 7 knots of tidal flow running with you, the tacking angle of a Westerly Griffon is a miraculous 20 to 30 degrees or so, as your course is measured over the ground.

In the English Channel, without the help of a Bristol Channel tide, the tacking angle of a bilge-keeled Westerly Griffon really isn't that.

We'd been set on a close reach to get out here, so I'd half expected anything from a beam to a broad reach would take us back, and was in fact nervous about sailing too high in case the run home became too much of a downwind, genoa smothering slap for comfort.

As it turned out, once we'd tacked through the wind, to lay the Western Entrance and not get caught having to beat back up into wind to get around Rame Head, I had to set the little yacht hard over on a close hauled beat. Cracking off just a point or two added a respectable knot to the boat speed, so I settled for slightly less height to our course in the hope that the wind would lift closer in to shore.

By 1253 I'd put a second roll into the genoa. We were still covering just shy of 6kn over the ground, a little less now through the water as the tide started to turn against us, and Calstar was taking a lot of spray over her bows, soaking her sails and the coach-roof, but she's a very dry, comfortable boat if you're in her deep, sheltered cockpit. Even with the genoa rolled down, she was still hard over and sloughing off to leeward in the bigger gusts, so I gave in to the inevitable and put the second reef into the main. It knocked half a knot off our boat speed through the water, but our speed over the ground hardly dropped, the reduction in leeway we gained by stiffening her up with reduced sail must've more than compensated for the loss of actual speed.

For the first hour of the trip back, the wind was cold, the sky grey and visibility murky; no more than four of five miles at best. It didn't rain, but a lively sea on Calstar's starboard shoulder slapped lots of foaming spray over her. We remained sheltered within her deep cockpit however, and didn't even feel the need to pull the spray-hood up, although I did slid the companionway hatch shut.

As we closed with the shore, the murk receded to haze and the sun reappeared in the sky, easing the chill out of the wind as the land re-emerged from the haze. Still holding a point or two off of close-hauled to keep the boat speed up, our course lifted just enough to clear the headland and lay the western entrance and we re-entered the sound amidst a scattering of other yachts and fishing boats at 1445.

We held our course across the Sound back towards QAB, running parallel with a couple of other yachts and getting ducked by a big racer, close-hauled and screaming through the water on port with a full compliment of rail-monkeys hiking out on the windward guard-wire, the helmsman giving a cheerful wave as he ducked, scraping past our stern with about half a boat length to spare. Dad was below at the time so rather than worrying him by mentioning it, I took a photo to show him later.

We dropped sail at 1500, a little early but straying intentionally onto the conservative side, then gently motored in, dodging all the traffic going with, against and across us. It was an understandably popular day out on the water.

We slipped into our berth at 1524, just shy of 5 hours underway, most of that under sail, and 25.8 nautical miles of water having slipped between our keels since we'd set out that morning.

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