Friday, 8 June 2018

Calstar: Friday 25th Plymouth to Fowey

Friday 25th May 2018: Plymouth to Fowey 
(22.8 miles, 5 hours 39 minutes under way)

At this end of the English Channel the tidal flow turns west three hours after high water in Plymouth (Devonport). On the morning of Friday 25th, high water was at 0240 local time, so with the next ten days off work, we headed down to the boat Thursday night with the intention of leaving around 0600.

Mid way between neaps and springs, there’s less than a knot of flow in it, so hard to take seriously after the Bristol Channel, but if your average cruising speed is 4kn, then 1kn of favourable flow is an hour of ground covered over a four hour passage.

Dad and I cast off from our berth at Queen Anne’s Battery at 0625 on Friday morning, Nik still sleeping below. The sun had been up an hour or so, but was mostly covered by broken cloud. It made for a pretty light, and it wasn’t cold, but there wasn’t much wind. Clear of the marina, we raised the main and motor-sailed across the Sound, making for the Western Entrance.

Ever the optimist, about half way across the Sound we cut the engine and tried to sail. I think the apparent wind a boat under power generates makes it hard to judge a sailing wind, but it soon became obvious I was being over optimistic, and as our speed through the water dropped below a knot, we furled the headsail and kicked the engine back to life. The twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand slipped past off our starboard beam.

Fifteen minutes later, out of the Sound and off Penlee Point the wind seemed to build again, and again, to Dad’s amusement, I stilled the engine and tried to sail. Eight minutes later, drifting, we had the engine back on.

At 0738 we cleared Rame Head to starboard, still motor-sailing, the engine turning over a relaxed 1600 rpm. Dad was whistling; he does this often, little snatches of tune repeated and occasionally, unconsciously varied. I can normally recognise them, but this time around I had no idea. At 0744 the wind built back up, veering off our nose and setting our starboard bow. Engine off, headsail back out, we were sailing again.

It was a good wind, under the circumstances, under full sail carrying us over the ground at just over 4 knots. It held for twenty minutes, but then, by 0805, it faded again. We turned once more to the trusty old engine.

I sometimes think it would be nice to just drift and follow the wind and tide, whether the passage took an hour or a day. I’m happiest when we’re under way, and am never in a particular rush to get anywhere. For me sailing is, most definitely, all about the journey, not the destination. In the Bristol Channel we always seemed chained to the ETA on our GPS, constrained by the extreme tides and the need to make the various gates in time.

Actually, free now of the tyranny of the Bristol Channel tide, I’m still chained to the ETA. For me, sailing is a reward in itself, all about the journey, the destination just a consequence owed in payment for the pleasure. For the rest of Calstar’s crew however, it is not the journey, but the destination. The journey is a means to an end, and although everybody is more comfortable when Calstar is under sail, if there isn’t enough wind to get you there in good time, the engine is an acceptable, even necessary compromise.

I don’t mind. It is a compromise I make for the pleasure of their company. I wouldn’t even suggest my philosophy regarding the subject is in any way superior to theirs; I sail, I understand what’s happening when the canvas draws our little yacht along. The boat sings to me. Nik and Dad don’t sail, they can appreciate the beauty, elegance and freedom of how the boat moves through the wind and water under sail, but they don’t understand what’s happening, have little interest or patience to learn, and are therefore deaf to this song. Sailing is a compromise they make for the pleasure of my company. And I’m flattered.

At 0935 we passed the Cornish town of Looe, and a little over half an hour later, the pretty little harbour village of Polperro. The wind stayed very light, the sun was warm and hazy, and Dad had finally stopped whistling. 

We continued to motor-sail, three and a half hours into our journey and 16 miles now behind us. Everything until now between here and Plymouth had been new water to us, but Dad and I had sailed our old Drascombe Lugger “Ondine” from Fowey out to Polperro and back a couple of times in years past, so we were once again back on familiar ground.

Around 1100 I tried once more to still the engine and sail, but again the increased enthusiasm of the wind was a twenty minute wonder and we were then back under engine once more. To the east, just outside Fowey, Lantic Bay looked calm, quiet and inviting beneath the hazy blue sky, but we didn’t pause. Chained to the ETA and the crew keen to arrive in Fowey by sea, we pushed on. 

A call to the Fowey Harbour Master’s office on my mobile confirmed they were quite relaxed as to where we landed on arrival; they advised us to contact their harbour launch on the VHF if there was anything we needed help with, but to otherwise take our pick of any of the many available options when we arrived and then report into the Harbour Master’s office, or just contact the crew on the harbour launch afterwards at our leisure.

We landed alongside the pontoon off Town Quay in Fowey at 1204, just over five and a half hours underway and just shy of 23 nautical miles covered.

Fowey has been an almost annual pilgrimage for us over the last ten years or so, and many, many hours have been spent sailing in her harbour or just beyond, out to Gribben Head, Lantic Bay, or further to Polkerris or Polperro as the weather allowed. But this was the first time we’d arrived by sea.

And it felt very good to do so.

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