Monday 13 May 2024

Petrella: Fowey and back

On the weekend of the 4th, Dad and I got to the boat for about 2030 Saturday evening. It was a bank holiday weekend, and I'd cut a deal with my wife whereby if I took her and our daughter out to lunch Saturday and then gave Tash a lift back to the hospital to look after the twins, I could go sailing with Dad for the next couple of days.

Nik had to work Sunday and Monday anyway, so my argument was that she probably wouldn't miss me, and Tash and the hospital had between them everything in hand with the twins.

Still not entirely sure how I got away with that.

Sunday 5th : Plymouth to Fowey
(22.8 nautical miles, 4 hours 42 minutes underway)

Sunday morning. 
Low water Plymouth expected 1031, so tide would run fair to the west until approx 1330.
Forecast 11 knots gusting 17 from south south east, showers, 13°C

High Water Fowey 1627 4.9m, low 2248 0.9m.

1017: Cast off Queen Anne's Battery, motor-sail across the Sound under main.

Leaving the berth was relatively straight forward; a series of shunts back and nudges forward with the wheel hard down to starboard, more astern to take the way off, more forward, and so on until I was lined up to reverse down the aisle and out to clear water.

It wasn't what I'd originally intended, as I'd hoped to get enough steerage to turn the other way and leave ahead, but it worked, and the best plans are those that can cope with adaption as they progress.

Our neighbour remains absent, so the only risk was knocking ourselves against our own pontoon. The wind was light on the port beam, so gave no trouble and we made clear water without mishap.

Almost on queue the rain set in and visibility dropped to less than a (very wet) mile.

1059: Penlee Point to starboard. Engine off, full main, 1x roll in the genoa.
COG 244° SOG 6.7kn Log 4.5nm; rain stopped, wind 11kn

We raised the main in the shelter of the Sound as we motored towards the western entrance. The sky was grey and low, the air thick with rain. Dad sheltered under the sprayhood, whilst I kept watch at the wheel, but let the autohelm tend to our direction.

We pushed on out of the entrance, Penlee falling off to our starboard side. At the point when we would've been able to see Rame Head were it not for the rain, I unfurled the genoa, cautiously leaving a couple of rolls in, stilled the engine and let the course fall away onto a heading for Fowey some 20 miles still distant.

As we passed Rame Head the wind veered until we were on a close port reach, but held to a steady 10 or 11 knots or so, so I released the rest of the genoa and we continued along under full sail, the boat making good speed over ground courtesy of a fair tide.

1210: Squall just through. Dolphins. Wind 17kn.
2x rolls in genoa, full main
267° 5.9kn 10.9nm; SE of Looe
Close hauled on port tack

The squall came through quickly and without much warning, the wind increasing and veering further until we were having to fall off our course to remain close hauled as it quickly climbed to around 18 knots. The rain, persistent through out the morning, increased dramatically in a thick crescendo and Petrella began to heel sharply, trying to round up, the autohelm struggling to hold her down to her course.

I let the genoa go, it's loud flogging summoning Dad up from whatever he'd been doing below as I hauled in on the furling line to put a couple of judicious rolls back into the sail. Headsail appropriately reefed, Dad tailed the sheet whilst I ground the slack in on the leeward winch to retrim the sail.

And so I was hunched over the winch, grinding and staring over the leeward rail into the grey sea as it foamed past us when I saw the first dolphin, barrel rolling as it came out from under the hull to stare up at me with what incredulously felt at the time like a cheeky grin.

It's funny how the mood of the boat changes the moment they appear. I went from wet, bedraggled, overworked and a little stressed to childlike delight, the weather and conditions forgotten, Petrella left to tend herself whilst I spent the next twenty minutes clambering around the boat watching a pod of about half a dozen dolphins play.
1307: Close reach, wind dropped to around 10kn, full sail
270° 4.9kn 15.5nm; Polperro to starboard

At some point before they left us, the rain ceased and the wind dropped back down. Once I was confident the weather wasn't going to throw any more surprises at me, I unfurled the rest of the genoa again. Out to the south west I could see the cloud beginning to break.

1402: Sun out, 8 to 9 knots wind, beam reach
280° 4.0kn 19.8nm; Lantic Bay to starboard

The sun is almost as welcome as dolphins on a chilly day, and has almost as an uplifting effect on the boat's mood. The sea was still rolling with about a meter and a half of swell, pushed in by the weather out in the Atlantic, but the wind had dropped and backed to the south. With the tide turning foul now, our speed over ground was falling away.

Past Lantic Bay, we fell further off the wind to make for the harbour entrance. The rolling of the sea frequently shook the wind from the sails, leaving the main and genoa inelegantly slapping.

Ahead a procession of racing yachts crossed in front of Gribbin Head and made for the river mouth. Most would be clear and out of our way by the time we got there.

1427: Engine on, genoa away. Dropped main a little later in the shelter of the harbour

No longer making any serious way, the sails were slapping annoyingly, so we rolled the genoa outside the mouth of the harbour, sheeted in the main and motored in under mainsail. In the shelter of the harbour we found a bit of space and turned towards the Polruan shore to put Petrella head to wind. Dad minded the helm whilst I rolled the mainsail, winding it quickly onto the boom without any mishap or complication.

The harbour master's launched pulled up alongside and, on confirming we weren't part of the visiting racing fleet, directed us to a visitor's buoy in the moor field on the east side of the harbour.

1459: Pick up buoy in Fowey, engine off

As we picked our way through the field of buoys and moored boats, I jokingly called over to the racing crew now relaxing en-mass in the cockpit of their 36' Beneteau yacht on the mooring next to ours not to watch. Dad made his way up to the foredeck with a line and I nudged slowly up into the current towards our mark.

Dad's first couple of attempts to lasso the buoy failed, but on the third try he got the line around it and made us secure. I left the engine running in neutral "just in case" whilst I threaded a second line through the loop on the top of the buoy. The freeboard on Petrella is twice that of Calstar, and something we're going to have to get used to.

We were in Fowey. We got the tender out, Dad inflated it whilst I fuelled the outboard, and within an hour or so we were ashore and enjoying a beer and the brief company of some old friends at the Fowey Gallants Sailing Club, before heading on to one of our favourite restaurants, Sam's, for supper.

The rain held off until just after we were back aboard the boat, and then it began to pour.

22.8nm covered in 4 hours and 42 minutes underway, engine time 1 hour 4 minutes.

Monday 6th : Fowey to Plymouth
(22.7 nautical miles, 4 hours 58 minutes underway)

Forecast 7 knots gusting 11 from north, showers expected from 1300.
High water Plymouth 0445, so tide fair to east until roughly 0745.
Sunrise expected 0544

We got an early night Sunday evening in anticipation of an early start back Monday morning. It was still dark when my alarm went off at 0400, but the wolf light was just beginning to creep into the sky by the time I crawled out of my bunk fifteen minutes later.

I'd deflated the tender and lashed it to the coach-roof the previous evening, and we'd only put the barest minimum of the cockpit tent up; the bimini, sprayhood and the zipped-in centre piece that connects the two, so taking everything down and readying for departure was a swift affair.

0515: Drop mooring Fowey

Departure was simple. Released the remaining line to the buoy, dropped back a little, then set ahead and turned for a gap in the moored boats to take us out into the main harbour and then towards the entrance and open water.

The town was quiet and still, except for the flashing yellow lights of a utility truck doing its rounds emptying the town's bins. The predawn sky was gently lit with subtle streaks of amber from the east.

0545: Sails up, engine off, wind 10kn N
101° 5.0kn 2.2nm; Lantic Bay to port

The northerly wind was not harsh, but had a distinct chill to it. The sea state was ruffled but calmer than the day previous, and our course had us set on a comfortable beam reach to port. The sky ahead glowed orange between broken clouds as the sun threatened to crest the line of headlands stretching out towards the east.

I could see a solitary yacht leaving Fowey astern of us and the glimmer of a partial rainbow above them crowning the receding mouth of the harbour. Five minutes to clear the mouth of the harbour and then they too had their sails up.

A fair tide and a light breeze saw us making good way.

0600: 095° 5.1kn 8.4nm; Looe to port
Close reach on port. Wind northerly 13kn

0605: Dolphins

The dolphins were welcome but brief, too brief for the camera. They circled a few times, playing in our wake and on our bow wave, then returned to competing with the circling gannets and gulls for their breakfast.

A little later, I wrote in the log "0624 pos. Basking Shark to starb?"

It was too big to be a dolphin, and solitary, but arced through the waves like a dolphin so I didn't really think it was a shark. I've not seen one (yet) and whilst I know they're about in these waters, I imagine they bask, as the name implies, and don't broach.

Although large, it was too small to be a humpback, and had a definite, crescent dorsal fin, although again, whilst it had the same curve and elegance, it seemed in wrong proportion, too small and too far back to be a dolphin's fin.

Nattering with Amanda about it whilst later racing the Albacore last Wednesday evening, she, who knows about these things much better than I, suggested it could've been a minke whale. Looking up some photos on Google, I think she might be right. I didn't get a photo, it was a hundred yards or more distant, and broached only twice, so the moment was brief and unconfirmed, but the thought that it could've been a whale does make me smile. 

And reminds me that it's a wonderful, enchanting wilderness out there. Sure, it'll break you or kill you if you don't give it due respect, and yes it absolutely scares me, some times more than others but the caution is always there. But it is always a privilege to be a part of it, for however transitory a moment.

That's enough of my waxing lyrical. Sorry, but cetaceans will do that to a fellow.

0800: 088° 5.5kn 14.1nm, wind 13.5kn N

0915: Passed close to a Dutch frigate outbound from Plymouth and rounding Rame Head, winds whilst passing headland close on port bow and pushing past 18kn. Hands very full managing the boat.

It always seems to all happen at the same time. Approaching Rame Head, we watched a warship emerging from Plymouth, passing Penlee Point and heading out to sea. And then she turned, pointing directly at us. For a moment, we were dead on to each other, then she adjusted her course a few points to port and it we could see that, if we held ours, we'd be comfortably clear.

At the same time the wind began to build and veer, and we found ourselves close hauled on port and heeled to 25° or so, the boat trying to round up towards the rocks of the headland as I tried to eased our course down with the header to stay on the wind, conscious I couldn't bear away much without crossing into the path of the warship.

It always feels, in the moment, more dramatic and compressed than it actually is. I eased the main through the worst of the gusts, which stopped Petrella from trying so hard to round up towards the headland, but kept us straight on our course as the Dutch frigate passed under our lee with about a cable's length or two to spare.

041° 3.0kn 19.4nm; Cawsands on port.  Close hauled on port, foul tide.

The eased wind but gave us a lift, backing significantly as we passed Penlee Point, letting us just lay the lighthouse on the western end of the breakwater. Close hauled in light wind and against a foul ebb tide, we were making progressively less way as we closed on the western entrance. We had a couple of close shaves with some perilously placed and very poorly marked lobster pots but, more through luck than judgement, didn't snag any.

0920: Engine on, genoa away, motor sailed the last short stretch into the Sound, dropped main in the shelter of the Sound.

1013: Alongside QAB

Putting into our berth went without significant mishap. Our neighbour was still absent, so we had plenty of room, but in some ways I think that makes it harder, as I had fewer points of reference to aim for. I came in wide again, leaving the final turn a fraction too late, the wind blowing us off our finger pontoon.

A bit of jockeying with the throttle ahead and astern corrected our line however, and I got the midships spring onto the end cleat a fraction of a moment ahead of Dad lassoing the forward cleat from where he stood ready at the bow.

22.7nm covered over 4 hours 58 minutes underway, engine time 1 hour 23 minutes.

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