It was just after Xmas that Lyn's cousin Paul called to see if I was available to
crew 'Freetime' down to Plymouth at the end of May where she will spend the Summer.
Well, after last years trip around the Channel Islands, reported in this newsletter,
I wasn't going to turn him down was I?
Unfortunately Paul's other crew choice couldn't make it on medical grounds so, no
other crew being available; we decided to take her down on our own. It just means
there's more to do. However less people means more beer to go around, there's always
For those of you that didn't catch my last 'Freetime' article Paul's yacht is a 33ft.
Westerly 330 Regatta which is similar to the Westerly Storm in that both have GRP
hull, deck and superstructure, fin keel, spade rudder and tiller steering but the
Regatta has a much more luxurious interior and a fractional rig The silent crew member
is George. He's the auto pilot who, if connected, can steer a bearing very accurately.
The trip promised late starts and late arrivals because of the prevailing neap tides.
Neap tides are especially weak tides, typically 10 to 30% less than normal, occurring
during quarter moons when the gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun are perpendicular
to one another. Right, enough of the science bit even though it did have a direct
bearing on tide tables and navigation used during the trip.
Day 1: Because of bad weather during the prior weekend Freetime had had to be left
in Hythe Marina so we had to go over on the ferry to pick her up. Hythe ferry is
for pedestrians only and it docks at the end of a long jetty. The jetty has a little
train but guess what? It had run into the buffers the day before and was out of action.
Boy, that jetty's long when you're totting a heavy sea bag.
Anyway, after refuelling and topping up the water tank we left Hythe marina at 14:30'ish
and sailed West, down the coast to Yarmouth. Winds were SW 5 gusting 6 and during
the trip the reefing line, which runs down the leach of the mainsail, managed to
work its way out down the whole length of the sail. We arrived about 16:00 after
recording 25 knots of wind over the boat at times, and spent the night in the boat
yard on the other side of the marina.
Re-threading the reefing line was challenging but a six foot length of stiff wire
and infinite patience seemed to work. A couple of beers at the Yarmouth YC were followed
by a steak at The Kings Head. Over coffee Paul outlined the sailing plan which, depending
on weather would take in Weymouth, Dartmouth, Salcombe and Plymouth, then back to
Southampton by train.
Day 2: We had a leisurely breakfast at The Mariners Café and listened to the weather
forecast which was far from good (overcast, wet, wind 5-7 SE veering SW) so we went
back to the mooring office to see if we could stay another night. About this time
we heard two lifeboat maroons being fired. Once a year the town hosts an event called
"The Old Gaffers" and the coming weekend was it.
One more night then we would have to leave before the harbour was crammed with just
about every gaff rigged boat still afloat on the South coast. During the day we listened
to the RNLI rescue on the VHF radio out around The Needles. A Westerly Consort had
lost her sails over the side and become overwhelmed. We later watched her being towed
in by the Yarmouth lifeboat. The crew looked very tired and happy to be back on terra
firma. We kind of congratulated ourselves on the decision not to leave that day.
We then deflated the dinghy, which was scooping up far too much water when lashed
across Freetimes transom and stowed it in one of the aft lockers.
Day 3: Departed Yarmouth at 11:30 heading for Weymouth passing the first incoming
'Gaffer' as we left it was raining and the wind was out of the South at 15 to 20
knots. We had to reef and de-reef several times during the day and always had Poole
Harbour in mind as a divert port if needed. Thank goodness for my new foul weather
gear this kept me both dry and warm.
We arrived at Weymouth at 17:00 and moored up right outside the harbour office and
the Royal Dorset YC alongside a Starlight 35. Weymouth SC, a past SigneT Nationals
venue, was just across the harbour. That evening after visiting a pub which had no
beer, we dined at a little bistro opposite the old brewery which is now houses small
craft, jewellery and collectable shops. Maybe they should have kept the brewery going.
We then went back to the Royal Dorset for a night cap. This is an old fashioned yacht
club with old fashioned values. Because Paul belongs to the Royal Air Force YC at
Hamble you can sign in to most clubs as a visitor. Within two minutes we had been
greeted by their Commodore and Rear Commodore, who attired in club blazers and ties
had just emerged from a committee meeting. We were made to feel very welcome and
over a scotch mourned the passing of The Cutty Sark which they were quick to explain
was once a registered Royal Dorset YC boat.
In the bar they also have a pennant from the royal racing yacht Britannia which was
scuttled after the death of George III. A member had been in the crew and was allowed
to take something from the boat. When we got back to Freetime we found the owner
of the Starlight 35 wanted to swap places as he was intending to leave at 06:00 the
next morning. We had to stand off and let him out which considering how much we had
had to drink probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but we got away with it. He
even complimented us on our handling!
Day 4: Although the weather was good the prevailing winds were still marginal for
rounding 'The Bill' and crossing Lyme Bay so we decided to stay put. Paul discovered
a small water leak in the engine compartment and our wind direction indicator was
also playing up; always something to do on a boat.
Later we took an open top bus ride out to Portland Bill, walked around the lighthouse
and looked at the sea state we would be sailing through the next day. Arriving back
in Weymouth we discovered Gypsy Moth IV on the berth behind us. She was returning
from her round the world voyage with her final leg crew. She's a lot bigger than
she appears in her pictures and has been extensively refitted.
Paul had worked out the tide and distance figures to get us around 'The Bill' at
the best possible time but they didn't seem to balance. He then discovered the trouble
was the difference between GMT and BST. What a difference an hour makes and everything
fell into place.
Dinner at Perry's on the quay was followed by another visit to the RDYC where we
chatted with Gypsy Moth's skipper in the bar. He told us she was a bitch to turn
which we witnessed when she left the following day. She had to do a multi-point turn,
using the full width of the harbour to get facing the right way and depart.
Day 5: Up at 08:00 and into town for breakfast and some shopping. Returned and moved
over to the fuel barge. Departed about 11:00i'sh on a timed run out to Portland Bill.
It was important we got there at 12:20 just at the point when the tide would turn
and assist us pass the point and around into Lyme Regis Bay. The day before the sea
had been quite rough but as we approached the south coasts Cape Horn it was as calm
as a mill pond.
We even had time to wave back to people as we rounded. It's a 45 mile slog across
the bay to Dartmouth and there is a point when 'The Bill' vanishes astern and Start
Point hasn't yet appeared on the bow and the coast off to Starboard is just a smudge
on the horizon. It doesn't look much on the charts but it's a big bay. The wind was
2 to 3 south veering south-west so the diesel got a good workout that day.
We arrived at The Mew Stone at the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour at 19:30 and dumping
the main headed straight for the Darthaven moorings on the starboard side just above
the car ferry. Dinner that night was in a little bistro above the moorings looking
across the river towards the town itself. Best pepper steak and bottle of Merlot
I've ever tasted but there again we were very hungry.
Day 6: Decided to stay a day. Wandered around the town and did some shopping and
ended up in the Royal Dartmouth YC for a liquid lunch. We then moved Freetime a couple
of miles up river to Dittisham for the night. This was a picture postcard mooring
that Paul wanted to show me and he was right, it was delightful. We inflated the
dinghy and went ashore.
At the top of the hill above the village we dropped into one of Dittisham's two pubs
and took in the view. As we walked back to the harbour it started to rain so we dived
into The Ship to wait it out. Three pints later it obviously wasn't going to stop
so we returned to the boat and cooked up the curry we had bought that morning. God,
sailing’s hell! But someone's got to do it.
Day 7: Secured the dinghy and cast of the mooring buoy at 09:00 for the 20 mile trip
to Salcombe. The Harbour Master at Darthaven had been quite helpful with information
about getting into Salcombe over the bar and accordingly we planned to approach it
with care. Bacon and egg sarnies with loads of coffee was eaten on the run as we
crossed Start Bay. The wind was still 2 to 3 south veering south-west.
We passed Prawl Point at 12:15 and rounded Start Point shortly after. We crossed
the harbour entrance and then turned to Starboard to line up on the entry transit.
This is a line drawn between the left hand red gable of a house on the facing hill
and a red pole standing further down the hill, presumably in their garden. Keep that
transit dead ahead you run in over the bar. This is a sand bar but Freetime draws
1.8m and running aground is so very embarrassing. We finally picked up a mooring
buoy at 13:15 fighting a tide that was flooding out.
The Harbour Master who came alongside a little later was much more dismissive of
the bar. He felt it could be crossed in all but the most shallow tide states, and
if you had local knowledge, probably even then. We were not about to test his theory.
We went ashore in bright sun shine and wandered the town spending sometime in a huge
Aladdin's cave of a chandlery, my kind of place. We had dinner at The Fortesque
Hotel and retired to the boat for a nightcap.
Day 8: Had breakfast on the boat, deflated the dinghy and cast off about 11:00 ish
for Plymouth. During the night the wind had come around to the North and was gusting
4 to 5. Once we cleared Bolt Head we had a straight run across Bigbury Bay to Plymouth
Sound. What a sail! Freetime leant into the swell and we clipped along at 7 to 71/2
knots. Clear blue sky, bright sunshine, just perfect sailing weather. We even talked
about keeping going straight out to the Isle of Scilly.
All to soon Plymouth Sound opened up ahead of us and we turned and beat up into the
Eastern Channel past Renney Point to Starboard and the Plymouth Breakwater to Port.
Next obstacle was the Duke Rock and then on up into the Cobbler Channel which leads
to The Queen Anne's Battery and the marina where Freetime will spend the summer.
We radioed ahead and were allocated a holding berth and finally arrived at 14:30.
Once safely moored up we set about cleaning the boat; Paul inside, me outside with
the hose. Later and after a shower we walked into the Barbican area, just behind
the Citadel to find some dinner. We found what looked like a quite nice place overlooking
Sutton Harbour but unfortunately it turned out to be the worst meal of the trip,
you can't win them all. However just around the corner we did find The Queen's Head;
a real old pub that still sells a pint of Mild of all things. The evening immediately
perked up and we spent the rest of the evening chatting to 'the locals'.
Day 9: Up at 08:00 and ordered a taxi at the marina office for 11:00 to take us to
Plymouth railway station. Had a full English breakfast at the marina café and then
packed. Paul had a lot less than me, but then he can leave a lot on the boat. Finally
we closed the sea-cocks, turned off the batteries, checked the lines and left Freetime
to the care of the marina staff. From Plymouth station we travelled up to Exeter
then to Salisbury and finally down to Southampton where we were met by one of Paul's
sons who drove us back to Hamble.
And finally it was a good trip with some exciting sailing. Paul's already talking
about taking Freetime out to the Scilly Islands sometime during July; now all I've
got to do is convince Lyn it would be a great idea to let me go. What did I learn
. Self tacking jibs take a lot of work out of crewing; stay out of the way of mainsheets,
they may be rope but they hit like a steel bar; how to steer an accurate bearing;
always duck when passing through a hatchway and working in the galley when it's gusting
force 7 and the boats heeled at 40º requires a highly developed sense of balance
and lightning reflexes.