Wednesday 17 January 2024

Petrella: Brixham to Plymouth

I ditched out of work early Friday afternoon, met up with Dad at his and we drove down in our separate vehicles to Queen Anne’s Battery in Plymouth, where we left his car and drove on together in mine back to Brixham. The roads were not quiet and the detour to leave a car in Plymouth added an extra hour to our journey, but on account of my skipping the last office hours of the day to make an early start, we still made it to Brixham in time to have a last meal and a beer at The Prince William

Back on the boat, I helped Dad retrieve our pontoon fenders and stored them in the rope locker. After a bit of trial and error I then manged to plot and save a course for Plymouth on the Raymarine installed at the helm. Then I took the cockpit tent down and stowed it in the a locker in the aft cabin to give us one less thing to worry about in the morning.

Despite having the course set up on the plotter in the cockpit, before turning in for the night I then set the same up on the plotter app I’ve always used on my tablet. I’m always more comfortable with as much redundancy as possible when trying anything new.

Although, to be fair, we could easily find our way to Plymouth from Brixham without any of this gadgetry; just head out of Torbay, turn right at Berry Head and don’t hit Start Point.

HW Plymouth was 0658 with 5.6m of water; a new moon and a tidal range of 4.6m between low water and high was slight by Bristol Channel standards, but it was still a spring tide. One that would see a couple of knots of tidal stream flowing past Start Point at its peak and the potential of overfalls, despite the relatively calm day anticipated ahead. 

In this part of the English Channel, the tide turns fair for the west three hours after HW Plymouth, so slack water off Start Point would be around 1100. The wind was forecast for about 8 knots ENE, which would put it dead astern until we rounded Salcombe. 

There was a distinct chill in the air the following morning at 0600 when I reluctantly emerged from my bunk in the dark. Up top, the temperature was hovering around freezing and there was still enough of a breeze left to rattle the rigging, but the swell that had been pushing into the marina overnight and had rocked me gently to sleep had eased. 

The gusty tail of the weather that had blown through the night before was still lingering. I checked my phone and found a message from our friend Dan confirming he was on his way to meet us, so made a cup of tea and set about shortening our lines ready for an 0800 departure.

The sky was beginning to brighten to a dull gloaming by the time Dan joined us a little after 0700. Dad and Dan disconnected and stowed the shore-power. I checked the oil in the engine, switched the battery on, opened the seacock and started the engine. It purred like a contented kitten as I talked the other two through our plans to slip our berth. 

We were moored bows in, starboard against our finger pontoon, with our neighbour against his own berth to our port, a couple of foot clearance between us. The wind was blowing gently in over our starboard bow, pushing us off our berth and towards him. 

Letting the boat rest in the wind on her bow line, I set the stern spring up to slip, the line and cleat more or less within easy reach of the helm, and then motored dead slow against it whist I retrieved the stern line and Dan set the bow line to slip. Dad was assigned to the port side with a loose fender to minimise any embarrassment if I screwed up and let us drift onto our neighbour. My intention was to reverse out and turn with the prop-walk to port, reversing down the aisle towards the marina entrance and the relatively open water of the harbour outside.

The wind put paid to my best laid plans and intentions. I put the engine astern to hold her against the bow line, slipped my stern spring, and then put the engine into neutral and gave Dan the instruction to slip the bow. The breeze was ever so slight, but still enough to take command of the bow, pushing our nose menacingly towards our neighbour. 

A quick surge astern on the throttle gave me rudder authority and a cautious hand on the wheel kept us clear by what to me felt like mere inches but was probably ample room as Dad stood by with the fender. We came out of our berth turning to starboard, despite my original intention. A bit more rudder as the bow cleared and she continued to turn nicely, until the boats on the row across from us encroached.

A quick blast ahead arrested our movement astern and pushed us forward as our momentum kept the boat turning despite the counter rudder. Room opened up aft for me to resume our turn astern to starboard, and then now clear on the bow, I pushed the gear ahead again. As the momentum of the turn began to fade and the rudder begin to bite, I put the helm over to clear our erstwhile neighbour and motored out ahead, the whole thing looking as if it had been planned.

The close manoeuvring under power is certainly getting easier with practice, but it’s still not without its stress. And as we left the marina entrance, I could feel the slight trembling of adrenalin in my hand on the helm. She’s a big (albeit beautiful) lump of fibreglass with a lot of weight behind her. She’s surprisingly docile under power, but she’s still going to take a fair bit of getting used to.

Saturday 13th : Brixham to Plymouth
(40.5 nautical miles, 7 hours 2 minutes underway)

0807 Cast off Brixham

The seas are still confused outside the harbour breakwater from the weather than blew through the previous night. Petrella is a comfortable boat though. I keep the helm, slowing a little before leaving the shelter of the breakwater to give Dan, with Dad’s help, time to finish clearing the fenders and shore lines away. It feels a little strange. For years aboard Calstar Dad has always taken the helm whilst we’re under power and I’ve done the running around getting everything tidy.

0830 Round Berry Head, engine on, motor-sailing under full genoa, wind light and dead astern

The occasional splash of water comes over the bow to wet the decks, the seas bouncy enough to be entertaining. The dawn was just a chill easing of the gloaming, with no hint of the bloody glory over the horizon that graced us the last time we came this way around the same relative hour to the sunrise. That  would've been with Calstar in August 2018. 

But it’s not raining, and visibility is good, so we’re content with the dull overcast as we keep a keen eye out for the many lobster pots that ensnare these waters. Gannets, shearwaters and guillemots keep us in good company as they soar, circle and plummet in search of their breakfast.

0920 204° COG, 5.8kn SOG, 7.0nm logged. Motor-sailing on genoa, wind 8.7kn astern

We’re making excellent way despite what must still be a foul tide set against us. The engine is set at an unlaboured 2000 revs, clearly the wind astern filling our headsail is giving us a very welcome push.

Dan was the first to spot them at about a hundred yards off our port bow: a pod of porpoises broaching the surface in cavorting waves as they make their way in the opposite direction to us. It’s cold, but we’re all wrapped up warm, seeing them puts a smile on all three of our faces and intensifies our scrutiny of the waters around us. 

Then dolphins. I spy a trio following the pod of porpoises, and they clearly spot us, then directly alter their course to make a line for our bow wave, vaulting across the water as they come. As they reach us, they are joined by more of their companions from astern and to starboard, and for the next twenty minutes or so, we are privileged by their playful escort.

1030 225° COG, 7.4kn SOG, 14.4nm logged. 50° 12.9N 003° 36.1W

The sea is choppy, but the overfalls off Start Point are very slight, subdued by the turning tide which should, very soon, turn fair for the west. The sky remains overcast, the wind 10 knots on our starboard beam. I break open the tub of Haribo to keep the moral of the crew afloat. Nelson’s navy might have sailed and fought on their steady ration of rum, we do it on jellied sweets. 

I’m thinking we should be sailing. The balance of opinion is against me, Dad and Dan very happy with the progress we’re making and wondering why I’d disrupt it. But a boat is not a democracy. The promise of bacon rolls from the galley below is vaguely floated to distract me. 

Over the next hour, the wind stays abeam but increases to a steady 14 or 15 knots, sometimes gusting up to 20. We see speeds over the ground, our engine assisted by the headsail, touching 9 knots at times. I’m quietly impressed and just a little pleased, itching to still the engine and see how we do without it. Dad heads below to put the bacon on.

1120 282° COG, 7.0kn SOG, 20.0nm logged. Salcombe off starboard beam

I still the engine. 14 knots of wind abeam, the gusts have eased however. We hold a steady 7 knots under headsail alone, barrelling though the choppy waters, just shy of keeping pace with the waves, but surfing down the face of the occasional bigger one as it lifts us from astern. It is easy sailing.

1230 302° COG, 5.9kn SOG, 28.7nm on the log

Bigbury Bay is off our starboard beam as we head towards Yealm Head and the now just uncovering but still distant Mew Stone. The wind is dropping, 12 knots on the beam but still occasionally gusting up to 20. I’m contemplating the mainsail. Dan is wondering if we should reef if we do raise it. I don’t know the answer; my feeling is that it would be unnecessary, but Petrella and I are still getting to know each other. The bacon rolls were delicious. I’m curious as to how the reefing system on the main would work.

1302 287° COG, 6.8kn, 31.8nm on the log, wind is 10.2kts on the starboard beam, sea state slight

We raise the mainsail. I initially try to do it under sail, my intention to lie-to on the headsail, just above close hauled. But I fail, miserably, to communicate my intentions to Dan on the helm whilst I work on managing the sails, and he puts us head to wind (because, to be fair, that is what you do when you raise the mainsail). As you'd expect, the bow goes through the wind, the genoa backs, we pirouette. 

Nothing damaged but our pride. We could sail out of it, but I start the engine and let Dan hold her head to wind under power. I take some comfort over reassuring myself that the engine starts. Petrella and I are still getting to know each other.

We settle onto a beam reach. I leave the sail a quarter reefed, in part out of curiosity, in part out of caution; we’re still seeing gusts into the high teens. With a quarter of the main still rolled around the boom, the sail covers the fixing point for the kicker. I’ve had this conversation with a couple of Petrella’s previous owners, they are all a lovely, supportive bunch; the general consensus of opinion was that they didn’t bother with the kicker when reefed, but relied upon the aft sheeting of the mainsheet to pull the boom down.

On a beam reach it doesn’t, and although Petrella doesn’t seem unduly troubled by it, I find I just can’t abide the twisting away of the mainsail’s leech. I fish the metal “horseshoe” out from the rope locker. I’d spent ages flexing the rollers at the mouth of the horseshoe back into life with generous doses of silicon lubricant and exercising them; three of the four now run smoothly, but the fourth remains stubborn. But I figure it’ll serve. 

The horseshoe won’t fit on at the gooseneck, especially with the boom set on a beam reach, so I slide it on over the clew of the sail, which involves a bit of what could be precarious balancing on the roof of the aft cabin. I tether the long strop of the horseshoe to the end of the boom to prevent it slipping forward towards the gooseneck further than we would want, slide it up along the roll if the sail to its proper position, and then fit the kicker.

I pull tension on, and the tell-tails flying off the leech of the main set perfectly. I feel very pleased with myself.

1330 300° COG, 5.5kn SOG, 34.0nm on the log. Wind 8 knots abeam

With the wind and boat speed dropping, I drop the reef out of the main. Dan laughs at me, pointing out that I’d originally said if the boat speed dropped below 6 knots I’d start the engine, then revised it to 5 knots, and now I was shaking out the reef, suggesting 4 knots would be perfectly adequate. With 8 knots abeam and full sail, she’s still making a very respectable 5.5 knots over the ground; we can’t have more than half a knot of fair tide under us. I find it very hard to turn my nose up at that, and in any case, we’re still set to get in before dark.

1400 317° COG, 4.6kn SOG, 36.8nm logged

We round the Mew Stone marking the far side of Wembury Bay, it’s shape as familiar and welcome as the shadow of an old friend crossing your doorstep. As the eastern entrance to the Sound comes into sight ahead, the wind comes up onto our starboard bow and we're close-hauled, nowhere near lying the entrance. We carry on a little further for the sake of form, but the wind is failing now, the speed has dropped below 4 knots so, reluctantly, I start the engine and roll the headsail away.

We motor into Plymouth, pointing out the sights to Dan who has visited the town often enough, but never been out on the Sound. Dan keeps the helm whilst I roll the main away. Forgetting to engage the ratchet on the rolling boom, I initially roll it away as neat as you like but the wrong way, so have to re-hoist it and do it all again but properly. Another lesson learned, but I doubt it’s likely to be the last Petrella has to teach me. Sail safely down, I resume the helm and Dad and Dan set out the lines and fenders.

Our berth is D12, bow in, port side to. What’s left of the wind will be blowing direct onto our nose. QAB is a fairly tight marina, so we’ll need to stay on our toes. I’m quite familiar with where we’re going, but brief Dad and Dan carefully on the layout and how I expect our approach and landing to go. Dan leads the bow line back to the shrouds and stands by with the midships spring, Dad takes his fender and stands by to starboard to save any embarrassment with our new neighbour if I get it wrong.

Approaching the Mountbatten Breakwater, dodging the inevitable ferries, I call up the marina to check our berth is clear. They answer promptly, confirm I’ve got the berth assignment correct and that it’s clear, then offer to send somebody down to help take our lines.

QAB the week previous

We round the wave shield and enter the marina. It’s as tight a squeeze as I remember it, so I edge into our row just sliding past the stern of the boat on the end of the pontoon opposite ours. There’s a friendly wave from the chap the marina office sent down to help with our lines. I misjudge our final turn, overshooting by a significant margin, and can sense everybody’s slight concern as we’re momentarily pointed straight at our neighbour. But I arrest the forward motion with a touch of astern, the momentum continuing our turn in the direction we want without my troubling the rudder, then nurse her ahead again. 

Dan makes a heroic throw with the bow line, skilfully caught by our new friend on the dock, who then proceeds to haul our nose in. A little concerned that we might now crash our unprotected bow into the finger pontoon, I subtly steer against him to hold us off, and then when I judge we’re far enough into the berth, put her astern to stop. Motoring against the now secured bow line, the prop-walk nestles us in gently against our pontoon, so I step ashore to secure the aft spring and we’re home.

A shade over 40 nautical miles, 7 hours and 2 minutes underway; only 2 hours and 40 minutes of that under sail, but that’s two hours and forty minutes more than I originally thought we had reason to hope for or deserve from the forecast.

We secured the rest of her dock lines, set her fenders and put the cockpit tent back up. Then we retired to the marina’s bar, our first passage with Petrella now done.

We remain delighted with her.

No comments: