Sunday 23 June 2019

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 3 - Another Decision and onward to Cargreen

Having relaunched AS and completed just enough of the 'must do' jobs on my very long list of never ending boat jobs and after spending a day in Chatham Marina with the family I motored out and of the Marina on the Bank Holiday Monday 27th May bound for Eastbourne for Thursday 30th May, via Stangate Creek for the night and then Ramsgate or Eastbourne where I would have to leave the boat for 10 days and return home to look after Kayha our ageing Alaskan Malamute while the rest of the family were away visiting Sharon's family in North Carolina. I was due to return on Sunday 9th June and planned to depart on Monday 10th June to continue the passage to Plymouth.

On the way down the river I rang Bernie who I knew would be returning from the Hoo Ness club rally to Ramsgate. We arranged to rendezvous in Stangate and he turned up at 2230 after a long slog back. He rafted up and we had a chat and supper of Baked Beans on Toast on AS. He left around 0500 Tuesday 11/6 to catch the last of the flood up to Hoo and I left around 0700 to catch the ebb out and then the next flood around the North Foreland.

We had a very pleasant sail on a lovely day and made good enough progress to make Dover that evening. Moored up in the Marina and had a quick walk around the lower town and docks where I noticed the rather ironic hoardings proudly exclaiming the renovation of the Western Docks curtsey of grants from the European Union! The next day the wind was on the nose and so it was time for the 'new' Bukh's first sustained period of service. For the first few hours all went well and I even emailed all my pals to announce the good news. A fatal mistake! Within the hour the engine faltered and stopped and I was still East of Dungeness with a boisterous headwind. The account of that episode is written up in full on the blog entry “Arctic Smoke and the RNLI”. Despite much advice and help and fitting replacements for the Lift Pump, the High Pressure Pump and the Injector and it proved impossible to get the Bukh back into service.

Time for my next decision. The staff at Eastbourne were wonderful but the marina fees were costing me a fortune and given my complete failure to earn any money over the last six months I had to get out of there. Should I pull out of the Challenge and sail back to the Medway or carry on without the engine and hope to get it going in Plymouth. I very nearly decided on the former. Next to staying put until the engine was fixed it was the most obvious thing to do. However, it seemed to me it was not really in the spirit of the Jester. The whole point it seemed to me was to overcome challenges where possible. There were risks of course but it did not seem to me to be reckless. AS was a sailing boat after all and in days gone by plenty of sailors (albeit far better ones than me) had sailed the route without the aid of an engine. My decision was made. The most difficult part of it was explaining it to Sharon and knowing that she and the rest of the family would now worry even more. To her great credit she took it like all my other crazy sailing decisions and wished me well.

Next I organised a tow out of the marina and at 1530 on Tuesday 11th June, two of the lovely ladies from the marina office towed us out to the safe water mark off Sovereign Harbour. As we moved out a light breeze was blowing from the South. Once I was cast off it died completely and so I anchored to wait for the tide to carry us round Beachy Head. After an hour or so a breeze came in and so got the anchor up and set course to round Beachy Head. The breeze stayed light and fitful but gout round Beachy Head with the tide's help. Light winds and a foul tide meant little progress for the next few hours. A light north easterly was forecast and so I was hopeful we would make progress soon. By 2200 with a fair wind and tide we were making 7k over the ground towards Saint Catherine's Point on the Southern corner of the Isle of Wight. We rounded St Cat's in the early hours and then had a very slow leg to Portland in light winds and a good dose of the inevitable foul tide. The weather was pretty miserable too – wet and cold. My biggest fear at this stage was getting sucked into the Race off Portland and losing all the precious Westing we had made. The Pilot described the Race as “quite simply the most dangerous headland in all England. Ships have been known to get sucked into it never to reappear”! The calm weather meant the Race should not be dangerous on this occasion but I wanted to be well clear and therefore stayed a good five miles off shore. I had contemplated anchoring somewhere to wait for the tide but even if I spend a few hours going backwards it would take less time than the detour to anchor.

That evening whilst still South East of 'The Bill' and barely stemming the tide in light airs a 'PAN PAN' was issued by a yacht to the west of 'The Bill' and a couple of miles further inshore. They had suffered engine failure and were drifting into the The Race becalmed. A tow was organised by the Coastguard and they were towed safely into Portland. This made me extremely nervous and I hoped I was far enough out to avoid the same fate. The thought of calling for help again so shortly after the previous incident was too much to contemplate! I avoided that fate but did indeed spend a couple of hours going backwards. I thought my electronics had gone awry. We were heading South East but the plotter showed us going North!

After getting round 'The Bill' I laid a course to round St Albans Head and the pattern of the previous 18 hours repeated itself with some great sailing mixed in with calms and light airs and once again we were virtually becalmed in a foul tide as we attempted to round the Head outside the notorious overfalls. The Pilot makes the place sound almost as bad as Portland! Again I had to make sure we kept well South of trouble. By 0900 on the 14th June we were still East of the Head and it started blowing hard – around Force 6 on the nose! I put two reefs in the main but left the Genoa fully set. I wanted our windward performance to be as good as possible and I new AS went well under this configuration. I say two reefs but in fact having invested in a fourth reef point in the Canaries the main is now rigged so that the second reef is in fact the first and the fourth the second. Got that?

Sure enough we ran out of fair tide well before the Head. After a tack to the South and in the increasingly shitty night time weather I decided I had had enough and would make for the shelter of Start Bay. I'd lose a lot of time but this was not fun. To my surprise however we made rather more westing on the next tack and for a while it looked as if we might even lay Plymouth. I therefore decided to carry on. In the event we did not get around the Head on that tack but at 1945 had to make another short tack south about 5 miles south of Salcombe in order to lay Plymouth. At 2040 we were able to make our final tack and head directly for Plymouth. The wind gradually eased on our approach and by 2300 I had to shake out the reefs in the main. At 0100 on the 14th June we passed the western end of the breakwater.

I got on the phone to Bernie and discovered he was moored up the Tamar at Cargreen, north of the bridges. When I asked him what his plans were for tomorrow he said to come to wherever I ended up and help me try and fix the engine. What a 'Jester'! With 4 hours of flood tide still left I had enough time to get up there too and so decided to attempt just that. The wind would be fair for the most part and although there was a risk of losing it here and there due to shelter, I reckoned the flood would see us up to Cargreen. Bernie said he was happy to stay up and guide me to a buoy or help me raft alongside Mischief. I estimated we should be there by 0330.

It was by now a very pleasant night and the sail through the harbour and up the Tamar in the dark was delightful. I had a few anxious moments navigating through 'The Bridge' the short narrow channel to the west of Drake's Island and the mainland that provided a short cut for small vessels into the harbour. It was in the lee of the wooded hills and so the wind was light and fitful. Every now and then we drifted on the current before and after 'The Bridge' but got through without incident. There was a decent breeze through the main harbour but that then died considerably after rounding corner south of the (real) Tamar Bridge. I had steerage way but with the wind directly behind us I doubted we would be able to stem the tide in the opposite direction should the need arise. The next obstacles before the bridge were the three chain ferries. At that time of night they should be pretty quiet and so there was every chance I could carry straight on. That indeed proved to be the case with a Ferry commencing its crossing just after I passed. Next up the Tamar Bridge. Plenty of air draft but even with a following wind in can be fluky going through the gap. Bernie recommended going through the central gap but there were two, I went for the eastern one and survived just fine. The current was racing through and the wind picked up two so we shot through like a cork out of a bottle. The Tamar River Sailing Club was on the eastern bank just south of the bridge – they were hosting a BBQ for us Jesters later that night and the Jester Briefing and Dinner on Saturday night.

We continued up the river on the last of the flood and arrived at Cargreen right at the flood's end. Perfect timing for manoeuvring under sail in confined waters. The only problem was the wind was decidedly iffy – sometimes a gentle breeze otherwise nothing. I soon spotted Bernie's lights and he had previously sent me a WhatsApp message to explain he had rigged lines and fenders on his port side. I did the same with the plan being to pass round his stern and turn into the wind and remnants of the tide and drift onto Mischief. Fortunately Bernie had the presence of mind to heave a line into my cockpit as we drifted by because it was unlikely we would have had enough way on to carry against the tide. It was 0400 and between us we shortly had everything squared away. Time for a cup of Bernie's special Hot chocolate and Co Co mix and a chat before a bed that I was really looking forward too.

Passage over!

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