Monday, 31 May 2010

No more single-handed engineless sailing!

First trip of the season... not so good. No crew, but I was keen to try out my new fishing techniques and equipment - if I can come back with some fish, I expect I'll have less trouble finding crew. But a trip like this won't sound attractive to budding crew members... :(

Saturday night, I decided to load the boat and get the ice, sleep on the boat at the mooring and set off for some fishing grounds towards Plymouth that proved productive last year. Not brilliant, but somewhere with fish I can try my techniques. Saturday night isn't a good time to get ice. The ice man bunked off a little early, and I was a little late, so I missed my chance.

Sunday morning, trawlers unloading fish take precedent, and I don't get my ice on board till 10:30. It's blowing force 4-5 in the harbour, but I reckon the wind is gusting round the cliffs and it'll be calmer at sea. It's not easy setting off from a mooring in an engineless catamaran in gusty conditions. I was lucky to get away with it. I'd rigged a rope from the mooring to the port side of the cat, so when I dropped the mooring forward, the boat swung side on to the wind with all sail up. Unfortunately, the flapping jib tangled the sheets together, but the mainsail caught the wind, and we were off, soon picking up speed. With only the mainsail catching the wind, and the jib flapping uselessly, I couldn't help the boat rounding up into the wind and heading straight towards the only thing between me and the sea:

If I tried to tack into the wind, I might fail, and the cat would hit the hulk, or I might succeed, in which case I'd be clear of the hulk, but heading towards the shore and the boats closer in than me, and still with the jib sheets tangled. So I had to try to bear away - which would inevitably accelerate the catamaran. The mainsail alone, unbalanced by the jib was too powerful a force for the rudder. So I let go the tiller, loosened the mainsheets as far as they would go, untangled the jib sheets, and tightened the leeward sheet. All the time we were accelerating towards the hulk, but there was no time to look. With the jib now balancing the main, I was able to dash for the tiller and turn hard to leeward. A motorboat behind me I noticed stop to watch the impending collision. But it didn't happen! The cat shot past the hulk in a tight turn at 7-8 knots, missing by no more than a couple of feet. Once past the hulk, we were in the clear, and I could engage the self-steering and sort out the ropes and fenders as we left Brixham behind at a good pace.

Once around Berry Head, we were hard on the wind, and it was stronger than I'd hoped, so I had to reef the mainsail. We didn't lose any speed, but the boat sailed easier. A quick scan of the horizon:

and it looked safe enough to go below and make some sandwiches. By the time I'd made them and eaten half:

We'd overtaken a 60' schooner under full sail.

Lovely to look at, but they aren't half slow, and they don't seem as able to go as close to the wind as a catamaran. Maybe they didn't have enough crew on board!

In Start Bay, it was wind against spring tides. The tide was in my favour, but against the wind, so the waves were steep and the ride rough. By five o'clock, the tide had turned against me, and the wind began to die a little, as forecast. I was getting tired too, having been up and at it since 5 am that morning. So I decided to have a try at anchoring just outside of Salcombe, which looked nicely sheltered from the west. There was no question of going right into Salcombe across the bar and up the steep-sided river without an engine. But maybe the outside anchoring spot would be shelter enough:

No good! The anchorage near the range was too rough, being affected by swell coming round Bolt Head. And the anchorage in Starehole Bay was too close to the cliff, shadowing the wind, and being hit by gusts from different directions. To risky to try under sail - so I tack back out to sea to try for Plymouth.

No good either! The tide was flowing at 2 knots against me, and the wind was dead against me too, and dying. I tacked back and forth for a little while, but made little progress.

Problem! Very tired, and no prospect of getting into Plymouth till after the tide had turned, and still against the wind, not likely before Monday lunch time. Salcombe anchorage no good. Staying at sea all night alone would  mean setting an alarm to wake my every 15 minutes so I could get up and scan the horizon - there were many ships a few miles south. Even though I was now at the fishing grounds, it seemed I'd be too tired to spend a day fishing and then have the energy to sail back. It was time to turn tail and head back.

I considered anchoring in Start Bay, but the swell was still high, and with the spring tides, I might get 2 knots of current at full flow. I didn't fancy trying to get some sleep anchoring there. And Dartmouth was no good either - too steep sided to allow easy sailing in and out, unless you have a south wind to take you in, and a north wind to bring you out the next day. So it had to be Brixham! And quick, because the dying wind meant I'd be lucky to get there before the tide turned against me again!

By 9 pm, the wind was hardly ruffling the surface of the swells, but my light weight head sail pulled in tight made good use of the NW breeze, managing up to 7 knots with the benefit of the tide.

I got back to Berry Head by 3 am, and used the last of my wakefulness getting to the mooring. Tricky at night, trying to see moorings and boats against the lights on the land behind. I dropped anchor near the mooring, and then used my dinghy to take a line to the mooring, and pulled the catamaran to the mooring. It might have been alright left on the anchor, but it seemed worth the effort to fully secure the boat, so I could be certain of an uninterrupted sleep.

Here's how I pick up a mooring at night in zombie mode, and you can see too the course I took when I left.

It's always best I think, under sail at night single-handed without an engine, to do a little victory loop before finishing the voyage. :)

Next trip, I'll go with crew, or I'll have fitted the little outboard so I can get in and out of harbour.

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