Monday, 11 June 2018

Calstar: Monday 31st Falmouth to Fowey

Thursday 31st May: Falmouth to Fowey
(28.8 miles, 9 hours 38 minutes under way)

The plan was to retrace our steps back to Plymouth, stopping over one last day in Fowey for a final catch up with a few of our British Moth friends who had lingered for the rest of the week after the previous weekend’s racing in the harbour. Then sail direct back from Fowey to Plymouth on Saturday. I had toyed with the idea of stopping over in the Yealm on Saturday night, but the weather for Sunday was, at that point, looking marginal, and needing to be back at work for Monday, we didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

We’d enjoyed a relatively lazy start for the sail down, but now had to work back east, so ideally needed to be underway three hours before high water to avoid the tide turning foul on us.

High water Plymouth was 0737, the forecast F3 from the south-east. There was a case for starting a 0400, but I balanced that against the sun not being up, the joy of dodging lobster pots in the dark and opted for a 0530  start instead. My reasoning was that if we could make Dodman Point before the tide turned foul, its effect on us should be minimal across St Austell’s Bay.

Early hours Thursday morning my alarm went off briefly and I was up, rousing Dad from his bunk for a change. It's normally the other way around, but leaving late on the tide, the need to get of promptly got me swiftly out of my bunk.

We left Nik asleep below and set about readying the boat for departure. Outside, the morning light was thick with fog. I toyed briefly with the idea of delaying our departure, but even having lost my Garmin watch on our first day in Falmouth, we still had at least three different GPS chart plotters aboard, the VHF and an app on both mine and Dad's phones that received AIS data.

The forecast was for a F3 from the south-east and warm sunshine across the morning, so my feeling was the fog wouldn't take long to clear and we'd be too close in to be in the way of any shipping.

We cast off at 0530 and picked our way gingerly through the mooring field and out into open water. A small fishing boat passed us close astern off our starboard quarter, barely visible through the gloaming murk.

We motor-sailed for the next 45 minutes under the mainsail until we passed St Anthony’s Head and left the Falmouth and the Carrick Roads behind. Out into open water, visibility lifted a little, but not much, but the wind filled in. We unfurled the genoa and stilled the engine. The little yacht leaned to the wind and began to sail happily through the grey, murky light.

With the engine now quiet, and nothing to disturb the silence except the chuckle of Calstar's bow-wave, I felt much happier knowing that the sound of anything out there approaching us wouldn't now be covered by our own engine noise. We stood out to sea close-hauled on port for a short while before tacking over to starboard on what, if we were lucky, would be the layline for the still distant headland of Dodman Point.

Although there was more wind than I, perhaps naively, would've expected given the fog, it was still relatively light, and under full sail we weren't making more than about three knots through the water. A fair tide was still helping us along our way however.

It was a strangely timeless experience, with no reference to land. The morning dragged out, the fog not lifting, our eyes aching from the continual lookout needed for lobster pot markers. Unlike the waters around Plymouth where they very often seem to be marked with not much more than an empty bottle and a trail of floating nylon line, out here they almost always seem to be clearly flagged with a buoy, six foot of thin mast and a pennant, but despite that, in this murk they would suddenly loom out of the fog like ghostly apparitions, inevitably directly in Calstar's path, so required continual, eye-aching vigilance to avoid any unfortunate tangles.

Mid morning the wind eased a little but lifted, veering enough to make me thing for a brief while we'd clear the headland easily. It only lasted a short while however, and now it was obvious we wouldn't make it, we tacked onto port and stood out from land.

I could hear engine noise. Coming from somewhere off our starboard beam. Amazing how the attention focuses in such moments.

Dad spotted her first. An ethereal shape emerging from the gloom. A yacht no more than a hundred meters away, under engine and main, moving gently through the water, but heading directly for us. She was under power, we were sailing, so theoretically she was the give way vessel and I was obliged to hold my course.

But there is always that brief moment when you wonder how much attention the other boat is paying.

She drew closer, and I recognised her as a neighbour from the Yacht Haven pontoon. Originally out of Plymouth, like us he'd mentioned he'd be heading back to Plymouth today via Fowey. Not much wind to do anything with if I decided I had to get out of his way after all; I stood by the engine's ignition, just in case. Dad was getting twitchy.

Then it came. She made a definite, distinct alteration to port. A cheery wave as they passed clear astern. Her engine noise chugged gently into the murk, leaving us with silence once again. A short while later I tacked back onto starboard and stood in to the headland again, hoping for an opportunistic lift that would let me clear it.

The sound of a horn. The definite, ominous rumble of something big, seemingly somewhere ahead, in the overfalls between us and the headland, and not where I'd expected anything big to be. The engine noise getting louder, another blast of the horn.

Dad got his iPhone out, and checking the AIS confirmed that a vessel called "Cannis" was between us and the headland, moving our way. Regular blasts of the fog horn. I recognised Cannis as one of the tugs based in Fowey, usually berthed up by Penmarlam. Happy we knew where she was, we tacked off again to stay well clear of her path.

Nearing 1100, the fog began to lift, giving us little glimpses of the headland. The wind also failed, and the tide began to run foul. A friend of ours, a member of the Moth Fleet called Mark, affectionately known, and for reasons I've never completely understood, by the nick-name "New Boy", had said he'd sail his Topper 14 out to Cannis Rock to meet us when we came in. I'd received a text message from him a little earlier asking for an ETA. He'd been out by the rock since 0900 playing with his dinghy.

Conscious that our ETA was slipping ever further in to the distant future as the wind failed, I kicked the engine into life to compensate for the failing wind and get us around the headland and back into St Austell's Bay. Half an hour later and with 20 miles under the keel since leaving Falmouth, we passed Gwineas Rock, clearly visible in the near distance, visibility much improved.

Within twenty minutes, the wind filled in nicely again, so we cut the engine and sailed through the warm hazy light towards Gribben Head and its outlying Cannis Rock on the other side of the bay. New Boy reported he'd sailed someway further into the bay, and was near to a beach that, from his description, sounded like Parr Sands.

A single-handed Moth sailor, the Topper 14 was a new boat for him, and the first time he'd had an asymmetric to play with. You can cover an awful lot of ground going downwind with an asymmetric. It's a bit like sledging, at least as I remember it as a kid. Great fun going down, but as New Boy was to discover that morning, an awful lot of work getting beating back up to the top again.

There was now a steady procession of yachts sailing out of Fowey and in the direction of Falmouth, doubly fortunate in that, for them, the lifting visibility corresponded with a fair westering tide.

We reached Cannis Rock at 1242, and then loitered for about an hour watching New Boy and his crew Olga beat painfully back up out of the bay to join us. "Let's have a beer then!" he called, half jokingly, so I passed him over the last can of Korev out of the ship's supplies to share with his crew as we both sailed back into Fowey harbour.

It may well have been a long morning waiting for us, and a long hard beat to payback the miles downwind they blasted away on the asymmetric, but both New Boy and Olga had massive smiles on their faces.

At 1430 we moored up alongside the Berril's Yard pontoon.

Spot on for nine hours under way, just under two and a half hours with the engine, just shy of 29 nautical miles covered to bring us safe back to Fowey.

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