Friday, 24 July 2020

Calstar: a belated Fowey shakedown

It’s been a funny old year. As I imagine you’ve noticed. The 4th July came and with it, the re-opening of the pubs and the easing of the restrictions on staying away from home. Dad and I headed down to the boat on the evening of Friday 3rd but, as forecast, the seas outside the breakwater were 3 meters plus and the wind in the 20’s.

Not the weather to pick for a shakedown cruise, so we remained safe and (very) sheltered behind the lock gates for the weekend. Instead of sailing, we took a walk between the rain around the Barbican on the Saturday afternoon, cumulating with a very civilised shakedown pint (for me, gin and tonic for Dad) at a pub overlooking the Sound called Waterfront, one way system, social distancing, table service and all.

My daughter’s pub reopened with the rest on the 4th.  The following Saturday Nikki and I had supper there with some friends. Purely anecdotal, I’d say the average age of the people in the bar has dropped by about thirty years, but they’re doing well business wise, and managing the situation as best can be done. But social distancing doesn’t really exist in any form other than the merest lip-service in a Saturday night bar after around 9pm. But what can you do? The kids (and by that I don’t just mean mine) need to make a living.

The following weekend, Friday 17th, Dad and I headed back down to Plymouth. 

Saturday 18th July: Plymouth to Fowey
(32 nautical miles, 8 hours 10 minutes underway)

The forecast was much more benevolent. Sea-state no more than a meter across the weekend, Saturday the wind was in the west, backing towards the southwest as the day wore on, and starting light but building to 13 to 16 knots by the afternoon. Sunday expected the wind to drop and veer into the over the morning north; high water Saturday morning was 0338.

We plotted a course for Fowey and left early Saturday morning, casting off just before 0630 to catch the tide, which turns to run fair to the west outside Plymouth approximately three hours after high water. Sutton lock was still on free-flow, so all it took was a quick call to the lock keeper on channel 12 to ask him to open the foot bridge for us and we were able to motor straight out. The sky was a dull, flat grey, the air calm in the shelter of the Sound. We raised the main, but kept the engine running and motored out towards the western entrance. It flat and grey but not cold; it felt good to finally be underway again.

A couple of warships were moored up inside the breakwater, and a returning fisherman passed us on his way back in, but we otherwise had the Sound to ourselves.

The wind began to fill in as we approached the entrance, bending to head us as it came around the headland of Penlee Point. Passing Cawsands and leaving the Sound for open water, we unrolled the headsail, stilled the engine, and heeled with the wind onto a close-hauled southerly course standing us off from the shore. The little boat was lively, thumping through the light seas under full sail. Over the next hour or so, Rame Head opened up behind Penlee off our starboard beam, and then as it too fell away behind, the distant town of Looe.

The wind slowly built, some of the gusts touching 16 knots, so we put a roll into the headsail to stiffen her a little, as much for our comfort as anyway. Calstar ploughed on, holding an easy 4 knots despite the reduced sail. That’s really as good as she gets close hauled, although I do sometimes wonder if I pinch her too tight when sailing to windward. Cracking off ten degrees will often add an extra knot to the boat speed. Without actually doing the maths I’m just never sure if that’s worth the loss of height.

With Looe eventually falling onto our starboard quarter, we tacked, beating back into the shore. Across the next couple of hours we occasionally dropped the roll out as the wind eased, and pulled it back in as it filled in again. Closing into the shore, laying Looe Island, the wind backed, giving us a significant lift. I’m still not sure if that was just the forecasted shift coming in early, or if it was just the wind bending under the influence of the land, but we held it as long as we could until closing in on the shallows off Looe Island and the maze of lobster pots you typically find there, we tacked back out again.

We held our course for another hour or so, crossing paths with a cat that passed astern of us on port, and then tacked. Despite sitting in our wind shadow, the twin hulled boat soon pulled ahead of us. The sun began to burn through the clouds, dispelling the occasional drizzle that had beset us until then. Dad, exhausted from the drive down Friday evening and mere three hours sleep the night before (like a kid, he refused to go to bed early) dozed periodically under the shelter of the sprayhood.
The sun teased but didn’t loiter long.

The wind continued to build, and around noon we pulled the first reef into the main. The jack stay is slipping through its clutch, and so when we released the main halyard to pull the reef in, it failed to completely hold the weight of the boom, so our first attempt completely failed to set the leech of the sail. A second attempt, jack stay now lead back to the main winch for support, worked much better. The wind continued to back into the afternoon, and having over-stood Fowey by a little whilst standing back out from shore, after our final tack we were able to ease a little off the wind onto a close reach for the last hour of our sailing, the little boat holding an easy 5 knots, nudging occasionally towards her hull speed of 6 as the gusts came through.

We dropped sail outside the river harbour’s mouth, a little after 1300. The entrance was rolling and crowded with boats tacking out to sea, which kept Dad entertained as we made our way in under power. We timed out arrival perfectly with the start of the yacht club’s first race of the season, so our path towards the visitor pontoons was littered with elegant Troys and pretty Fowey Rivers, all dodging each other and vying for the perfect place on the line. Suzi and Andy in their own River hailed us as we passed the end of the line; they are long time friends, Andy an enthusiastic and accomplished British Moth sailor, very accustomed to being at the front of the fleet.

On reaching the pontoons, there was the perfect space left for us to come alongside at the end of the middle one. Dad turned the boat into the tide and held a ferry glide against the current, slowly creeping in; watching our approach, a lady and gentleman on the boat opposite took the trouble to take our lines for us as Dad guided Calstar to a stop.

Just over 32 nautical miles and a little over 8 hours underway.

We took the water taxi ashore, made our way to the Fowey Gallants sailing club where we bought our first pint of the year off Paula. Andy and Suzi joined us a little later, justly content with their 2nd place won out on the water, and Kate and John once the latter had finished with his duties in the race officer’s box at the yacht club. John has hosted and organised the Moths at the Fowey Gallants for every year of the last decade or so that the event has been run. This year’s event, which should’ve been at the end of May, was cancelled for obvious reasons. We spent some small time regretting its loss and talking of Moths and mutual friends and other events that may yet come once all this present nonsense has passed. The beer was good, the company even better.

Dad and I ate supper at a table we’d earlier reserved at The Lugger Inn. The menu there is always a little limited I think, but the food is always, without fail, cooked to perfection, and excellent value for a very fair price. It was good to be back.

Sunday 19th July: Fowey to Plymouth
(24 nautical miles, 6 hours 30 minutes underway)

There was no winning with the tide for our return on Sunday. Set to turn fair for the east around 1400, with a two and a half hour drive ahead of us to get home at the end of it, leaving the departure until later didn’t seem a good idea. So we cast off early around 0700, and elected to punch our way back against it.

I’d expected a gentle broad reach from the previous day’s forecast, but a check first thing Sunday morning suggested it had gone early into the north and was expected to veer further into the north east after lunch time, with gusts up to 20 knots.

Leaving the mouth of the harbour, everything looked as we expected to find it. Wind coming from the north east, over the land, gusty but not excessive. Clear of the Polruan shore we hauled sail and stilled the engine. Then the gust hit us abeam and Calstar tipped to the wind and surged ahead. Despite the foul turning tide, our speed over the ground hit 6.1 knots, which in a Westerly Griffon feels quite bracing. A couple of other yachts closer into shore were similarly lifting their skirts and charging along.

Then it stopped. The little bit of pressure remaining turned bang onto our nose, the boat tacked uninvited, then as I tacked her back to stand off from the shore, her speed dropped to nothing, the sails slatting listlessly. Conscious of the long hours ahead of us, I gave it ten minutes, but with no change, stowed the headsail and started the engine. The next hour was spent motor-sailing, until passing Polperro the wind filled in ahead of us and we were able to quiet the engine once again, close hauled on port, just about able to lay Rame Head some dozen miles or so ahead of us.

The wind held good, occasionally building to 16 knots, encouraging us to put a roll in the headsail, occasionally dropping back to 7 or 8, but never completely failing. In the gusts, especially once past Looe, the sea would kick up a bit of a chop on the fetch out from shore, throwing the occasional fine, salty spray over us in the shelter of the cockpit. Through the middle of the morning the clouds cleared for a while, bringing the sun out to warm the spray, before the sky overdeveloped again as we closed in on Rame.

With a knot of foul tide against us and the wind becoming desperately in consistent in the shelter of the headland, our course fell away and speed dropped to the point that our tacking angle against the tide off Rame Head became something close to 150 degrees at best. We took the hint, and mindful of the long drive that waited for us once we’d won harbour, furled the headsail and motor sailed the final hour around the headland, across the Sound and back home to Sutton Harbour.

Locking in was an easy affair. Dad suggested it was the easiest lock he’d ever had to manage, and we’ve had a fair bit of practice at managing a couple of them on the Bristol Channel.

Some 24 nautical miles and about six and a half hours underway, and Calstar was home safe again.

As a shakedown cruise for our couple of weeks planned sailing it couldn't have gone better. As our shakedown cruise of 2020 it's about five months too late, but that's understandable under the present circumstances and there is much else in the world much more worth getting frustrated over.

It's just good to be back.

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