Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Calstar: five days in June

Despite trying to coordinate our leave at the beginning of the year, we still managed to screw up our diaries, so although I finished work on Friday 14th and had kept the weekend free of gigs so we could get away on the Friday night, Nik didn’t finish work until 6pm on Sunday 16th, which delayed the start of our week away on the boat.

That was fine, as it meant I could race at Frampton on the Sunday afternoon; I won both the Class and Pursuit races in very blustery conditions, a great day’s sailing that finished a seven week winning streak with the Laser by taking the trophies for both of the Spring series. I was quite pleased with myself. Dad, Nik and I then made it down to Plymouth for about 2130 Sunday night, just in time to get supper at a Pizza Express close to the marina before retiring to the boat for the night.

By my estimation, save for the fact I’d had no gigs, that pretty much made for the perfect weekend.

Monday 17th June
Plymouth to Fowey
(23.5 nautical miles, 5 hours 6 minutes underway)

I had originally hoped to head east out to Dartmouth and Brixham and back for the week, but by the time we’d retired aboard Calstar for the evening Sunday night and I finally had time to properly mull over my plans with a glass of scotch in my hand, I realised what I think I’d known all along; a respectable spring tide was running, which meant all the easy tides to catch would be running west.

With the wind predicted F4 to 5 south of south west, I toyed with the idea of Mevagissy, but finally opted against a strange harbour and an extra 10 miles upwind with Dad and Nik, to decide on the comfort of the familiar and settled for Fowey as the first stop on our way out.

High water Plymouth was 0625 on Monday morning, so with a fair tide running west from around 1000, we cast off from QAB just before 0930 and motored out across the Sound under leaden, grey skies towards the Western Entrance. It was surprisingly bouncy despite the shelter of the Breakwater, a surge being driven into the harbour by the wind. As we left the cover of the wall and pushed out past Cawsands, still under the iron spinnaker, the seas got quite large; occasional sets of big rollers looming over our coach-roof as we passed Penlee Point, leaving your stomach behind as the little yacht eased over their crests and fell into the troughs between them, earning me some very dark looks from my wife.

We held our course, continuing under power with the main up but sheeted in tight as we motored directly into the wind until Rame Head opened up well beyond the cover of Penlee Point off our starboard beam. Then we bore away to starboard, unfurled the headsail and, just shy of 1030, finally stilled the engine, laying course for an easy close reach that would clear the headland and, hopefully, lay distant Fowey.

The little boat heeled to the wind and the sea seemed to smooth with the change in direction and speed. Stiffened up with just a single roll in the genoa, she trotted along happily at just over 4 knots, leaving Rane Head to starboard. By 1230 the wind had eased back to a steady F4 and the seas had calmed further; I’d dropped the roll out of the genoa and full sail combined with the fair tide to give us a very respectable 5.4 knots over the ground as we passed the town of Looe.

Despite it being a Monday, we saw lots of other yachts out. Typically overhauling us travelling in the same direction, like us making the most of a fair tide, but bigger vessels so faster through the water.

The rain held off and the sky began to brighten off the pretty harbour village of Polperro. By 1400 we were off Polruan, outside Fowey harbour, dropping the sails and firing up the engine to take us in. Half an hour later we were alongside one of the Underhills  pontoons in Fowey.

At 1600 we moved Calstar over to the Berill’s Yard Pontoon. Having shore access for the night makes life much easier for Dad and Nik and saves me having to get the tender out and inflate it. Having the shore-power hook-up also keeps Dad happy, as it means he can easily and quickly charge his various gadgets. Sometimes it’s a bit like having a teenager aboard.

That night we ate at The Lugger Inn. All three of us opted for the Seafood Salad. They don’t scrimp on their portion sizes. The company I keep are not lightweight in their appetites, but not one of us managed to completely clear our plate.

Tuesday 18th June
Fowey to Falmouth
(23.3 nautical miles, 5 hours 15 minutes underway)

Tuesday’s forecast was F3 from the east, and expected to be wet.

We cast off from Fowey just after 1000, warping the boat out stern first into ebbing tide with a bow spring to get us clear of a rather tight spot on the pontoon between our neighbours fore and aft. With no other close manoeuvring than that once we were free of the pontoon, we kept the sprayhood up to keep the light drizzle off our electrics. Touch screen tablets don’t work well in the wet, even if they are supposedly water resistant.

Out through the harbour mouth, with a light wind off our port beam we hauled sail and stilled the engine. Calstar held a stead 3.6 knots through the slight sea for all of ten minutes before the breeze died. Conscious of the miles ahead, I furled the headsail and, to the relief of the crew, restarted the engine. Of the other boats leaving on the tide with us, most hadn’t bothered with their sails but the one that did had obviously drawn the same conclusions, and like us, doused his headsail and was once more motor-sailing.

I don’t like to follow the crowd but sometimes, what can you do?

Just after 1200 we were clearing Dodman Point having crossed St Austell Bay, cutting in close to the headland because with the sea so slight and tide running with the wind there were no overfalls to worry about. A single porpoise breached off our starboard bow, briefly arcing across the surface of the water before disappearing again. Gannet crossed overhead, their streamlined shapes distinct against the grey sky.

We listened in on a Pan Pan call to the Coastguard from a yacht off Polperro that had lost engine power and was drifting without wind. Too distant for us to assist. In any case, the wind, at some point, would doubtless fill in for him. As, at 1300, it did for us.

With the wind came an absolute downpour of rain, but I didn’t mind. Under full sail, on a port broad reach, we were making close to 6 knots over the ground. The crew were content; Nik stayed below and Dad snoozed beneath the shelter of the sprayhood. I fussed over course and sail trim, ignoring the rain and  happy just to be sailing.

The rain didn’t last. A passing squall, and the sky was already brightening by the time we passed the light on St Anthony’s Head and entered Falmouth.

By 1522 we were alongside the pontoon at Falmouth Yacht Haven, ample space made for us by a departing Brixham Trawler that cast off just after we’d arrived and began looking for a berth. A young lady from a large French yacht in the space astern of our berth helpfully took our bowline. I typically prefer to manage both lines myself when we’re coming in, but it always feels rude to turn down an offer of assistance.

That night we ate at The Grapes in Falmouth at a table looking out onto the harbour. Good food, very friendly atmosphere, good beer and all at a very fair price. You really can’t complain.

Wednesday 19th June
Falmouth to Helford
(7.0 nautical miles, 1 hour 36 minutes underway)

I’d promised Nik a shore day in return for all the sailing, but with the wind turning back around into the north-west for Wednesday Dad and I couldn’t resist Helford, so I traded her a shore day for a morning’s amble around town and coffee, followed by the promise of supper in Helford Passage.

We’ve visited Helford many times, but have never been there with Calstar or stayed overnight.

With the tide mostly an irrelevance for a quick jog across Falmouth Bay, we cast off at 1300 and made our way over to the FYH fuel barge to top up on diesel. Only to discover that they closed for lunch at 1300 and wouldn’t be back for an hour. So we loitered, having nothing better to do.

At 1414, main and reserve tanks refilled, we finally cast off from the Haven and made our way out to the bay beneath a blue sky spotted with skudding, fair weather clouds being blown out to sea from across the land. The wind was F3 gusting to 4, the sea state very slight. Perfect sailing conditions, and fifteen minutes after departing the fuel dock, we raised the sails and killed the engine.

Dad kept the helm, holding the course on a brisk, starboard close reach that took us across the bay, our speed around occasionally touching just over 6 knots in the bigger gusts. At 1520 we entered the Helford River and dropped the sails, at Dad’s request nosing into look at the beach at the bottom of Trebah Gardens, which in 1944 had been used as an embarkation point for a regiment of 7,500 of the 29th US Infantry Division for the assault landing on Omaha beach, part of the D -Day Landings.

We then continued onto the Pool where we picked up one of the blue visitor moorings.

Dad pumped up the dinghy and I fitted the outboard, then ferried Dad and Nik ashore to the Ferry Boat Inn on the beach at Helford Passage where we had an early supper before retiring back to the boat to watch the sun set and settle in for the night.

It was a clear, dry night, not at all cold. Nik and I fell asleep on our bunk in the fore-cabin with the hatch left open, watching the glimmer of stars glittering above in an unblemished sky.

Thursday 20th June
Helford to Fowey
(25.9 nautical miles, 6 hour 3 minutes underway)

My original plan had been to head back to Plymouth via Falmouth and Fowey, but the forecast for Sunday was looking dicey, with 8’s and 9’s in it, all piling in on the nose from the east. So Wednesday night we agreed to pull the itinerary forward, skip a return visit to Falmouth and head straight back to Fowey from Helford.

It meant an earlier start to make the best of the tide.

At 0500 we dropped the mooring, motoring out of the river into the rising sun, a bright full moon still standing clear of the horizon above golden, dawn-touched clouds crowning the shore off our starboard beam. Hardly any wind, the sea only slightly ruffled. By 0530 we’d cleared the Gedges rocks at the mouth of the river and were motor-sailing under main out across the bay.

The wind filled, but blowing with the tide, the sea state remained surprisingly slight in the lee of the Lizard Peninsula. At 0600, I unfurled the genoa, goosing it out to starboard with the whisker pole, and stilled the engine. With wind and sea dead astern, the little yacht rolled a bit, but kept her feet and held her course. Little white caps abeam and astern were the only real clue to the steadily building wind.

At 0830 I dropped the pole and gybed onto port off Dodman Point, staying clear of the headland, wary of its overfalls despite the relative calm of the sea. On a beam reach under full sail, Calstar gambolled across St Austell Bay, our speed never dropping below 5 and often breaking past 6 knots. Gorran Haven and Mevagissy fell away astern, and at 1014 we passed close by the Cannis Rock cardinal beneath Gribbin Head, it’s bell tolling sonorous and loud to the rolling of the sea.

Outside the harbour mouth I furled the headsail to slow Calstar down whilst we waited for a cargo ship laden with china clay to clear the harbour and make to sea, then we sailed in, dropping sail and starting the engine in the shelter of the harbour. We made fast for a couple of hours alongside the Town Quay Pontoon, and ventured ashore for lunch at The Galleon, and then moved the boat over to a pontoon at Underhills.

I was sat in the cockpit with Nik, discussing boats. She’s a saint for putting up with us, but does find Calstar to be a little bit on the cramped side, especially for three. She’s not wrong. I quite liked the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey on the other side of the pontoon from us, but also commented on the Moody 40 rafted up on the boat ahead of us. Cutter rigged, she was very beamy, quite different to the Jeanneau though of a similar size. Were I looking to sail, I’d probably take the Jeanneau, but if I were looking for a cruiser to holiday on with my wife, I think the Moody would’ve had it, hands down.

Though for all I know, I’m probably being unfair on the performance of the Moody. In any case, she'd certainly outperform Calstar.

Nik had gone back down below, leaving me with a drink and my Kindle, when I heard a voice from ahead calling, “Hello, is that Bill?”

Curious, I want forward to discover that it was Rob from Frampton-on-Severn, aboard the Moody.

“Is she yours?” I asked, a little surprised to see a familiar face.


“That’s not a Solo” I observed, sharp as ever, if still caught a little off kilter by the unexpected pleasure of running into a friend down here.

“Well, that’s not a Laser” he retorted, nodding affably at Calstar.

We stayed that night on the Underhills pontoon. To save the slight inconvenience of breaking the tender out again, Dad treated us to a lift ashore courtesy of the Fowey Water Taxi. We had supper at Sams and were back on the boat and settled in for the night just before dark.

Which at this time of year is around 2300. I do love these long summer evenings.

Friday 21th June
Fowey to Plymouth
(23.3 nautical miles, 6 hour 7 minutes underway)

Another early start, albeit not so early as the morning before. We cast off from Fowey at 0605, leaving Rob and his wife still asleep in their lovely Moody, no doubt.

With the wind set south of west, the running sea was livelier than the day before. The waves lifting us up under our starboard quarter caused the boom to swing with each rolling pass and the sail to slap, so I rigged a preventer, pinning the boom out to port. A couple of other yachts departing with us were having the same difficulty; one lowered his main and continued under engine alone, the other sheeted his in, scandalising his sail but presumably reducing the slapping. Bigger boats, they slowly edged ahead and away from us, leaving us to the solitude of a glorious morning.

At 0830, tired of the incessant drone of the engine, I poled out the genoa to starboard and killed the engine, to general mutters of discontent from the crew. When Dad pointedly enquired what that had done to the speed over ground, I carefully massaged the truth, and suggested we were still doing “about” 4 knots. It wasn’t exactly a lie; we’d touched 4, even if the typical groundspeed was more like a 3.1; I equally pointedly ignored any enquiries about the revised ETA, advising them to “let it settle down” first before drawing any conclusions.

The wind had built enough to hold the main out against the rolling of the boat however, quieting the previous slap of sail every time the yacht yawed and rolled to the passing of a wave. With the sun out, it was a pleasant sail along the Cornish coast, distant Rame Head slowly closing down on us.

Finally past the headland and off Penlee Point at 1047 we gybed, dropping the pole, and laid a course to take us in past Cawsands and through the Western Entrance. The wind by now had become quite lively but the sea had calmed significantly in the shelter of the headland.

We beat back across the sound to drop sail and start the engine in Jennycliff Bay, and put into our slip to make fast at QAB just short of 1215.

We had lunch at Chandlers on the Marina site, and then supper at Dad’s favourite, The Village Restaurant in the Barbican.

Saturday 22nd June

On Saturday, the sun shone and the wind blew, and to be fair it looked like gorgeous sailing out on the Sound. However, we stayed in harbour and Nikki got her shore day; we spend the day around town in Plymouth with no real agenda other than lunch in town and supper at Rockfish that evening.

Rested, we set off for home early Sunday morning getting back for around 1230. By happy coincidence, this was just in time for me to grab my sailing kit from home and head straight to the lake at Frampton to race the Laser. A 4th place and a 2nd to start off the Summer Handicap series. Seems my winning streak has drawn to a close. But still a perfect end to a perfect week, by my estimation.

Over five days we sailed 103 nautical miles; a total of 24 hours and 3 minutes underway.

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