Sunday 23 June 2019

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge Part 5 - Sailing The Challenge - 16th -20th June 2019

Mischief and Arctic Smoke let go our mooring at Cargreen around 1900 shortly after high tide on Sunday 16th June some 8 hours after the start of the Challenge from the Plymouth Breakwater at 1100 that morning. It was a beat all the way down the river into a strong blustery wind and we both had two reefs in. With no engine there were 3 potential hazards I was a little concerned about. The first was the Tamar bridge (or rather bridges – there are two next to each other), the wind can be unpredictable through there. The second was the chain ferries that have right of way. I would need to be extra careful without an engine not to get in their way – particularly given that the ebb tide would be pushing us down river. However the headwind should ensure I had plenty of manoeuvrability. The third was 'The Bridge' – the short cut by Drake's island. It seemed likely the wind would be dead on the nose through that narrow channel. We got through the first two without undue anxiety. The Bridge looked more challenging however. The wind in the Bridge itself seemed very strong – it was out of the shelter of the nearby hills – and was almost on the nose. Outside the bridge there were breakers on either side indicating the shallows through which the bridge cut. The lead up to the bridge was an area of very fluky winds one minute gusting strongly the next almost calm as the affects of the nearby hills and trees waxed and waned. I tacked closer through the gusts and lulls keeping to the west of the entrance in order to try and ensure I had the wind free right up to the start of the channel hoping that if I got headed in it I would have enough way on to drift through on the tide. I looked back to where Mischief was a few hundred yards astern and noted that Bernie was taking an alternative approach – he was getting lined up well before so as to go through on the same point of sail all the way through. Probably a better tactic. But by now I was committed. I would either have to go through from this point or abandon exiting via the Bridge and sail round Drake's Island. I decided to go for it and on a close reach in a gusty Force 6 but initially flatish water, we stormed down to The Bridge at 6-7 knots. At the entrance I hardened up close hauled and within about 30 seconds with white water to Port and Starboard, Arctic Smoke squirted out the other side like a cork out of a champagne bottle and in to the now decidedly bumpy waters of Plymouth Sound. It was quite exhilarating! I looked back as Mischief completed the transit safely too.

After all the excitement I decided to head over to the shelter of Cawsand Bay and heave to to stow the anchor properly and to tidy up the chaos down below. I had neglected to stow things properly including putting the stove on its gimbals and the cabin sole was strewn with various bits and pieces. After completing those chores I made myself a mug of Bernie's 'secrete' hot chocolate/Co Co mix and filled up the non-spill/non-knock over travel mug my Daughter Ursula had bought for me. Unfortunately Ursh, it won't stay upright in strong blow but the contents stayed in until I dropped it later in the passage and lid came off! It's nevertheless a very useful addition to the Galley and was made good use of.

I got underlay again after about 45 minutes and exited the Breakwater at about 2200 hours, 11 hours after the official start. There were a few yachts in the Bay as I left and I guessed that some of them may have been Jesters.

I steered SE close hauled on the Starboard tack under two reefs until around 0500 when I put in a tack to make some Westing. We were heading north of west with the tide against us but at least it felt like we were sort of going in the right direction. The tide was due to turn in around 3 hours and I was hopeful of rounding the Lizard on before the end of that west going stream. The wind eased slightly around this time and so I unfurled the Genoa to its full size.

At 1000 on Monday I put in another tack to head south eastwards once again. My principle objective at this time was to ensure I was well away from the Traffic Separation Zones (TSZ) around the Isles of Scilly by the time the expected calms arrived on Tuesday. At 1300 I tacked westwards again and found I could lay the waypoint I had set south of the southern TSZ. That I hoped would give sufficient margin for drifting. By 1500 I was having second thoughts about that. Progress was slower than I had hoped, the winds were failing ahead of time and the tide was now pushing us north toward the TSZ! Over the next few hours in fitful winds we tacked repeatedly trying to find a course that would enable some progress to be made.

By 1800 AS was going a little better and the tide was slackening enabling us to make some distance southwards. Around 2100 we were encouraged on our way by a pod of Dolphins as we made slow progress southwards. By 2200 were sailing slowly rather than simply drifting on course for our waypoint south of the Souther TSZ. By 0100 on Tuesday 18/6 the wind had died again. At 0300 we had just enough wind to get steerage way but the tide had changed again and although we were heading South we were actually going North! Just after 0400 a slight breeze sprang up from the SE and we were once again moving towards our southern WP. By 0800 the wind had died back to almost nothing again and we moved very slowly southwards.

Things picked up a little during the morning and we rounded our southern WP and cleared the next to the SW of the SW TZS and for a while we had a light breeze from the SE and were goose winged on course for the Fastnet! However, the wind veered during the day and within a few hours we were close hauled into winds north of West and struggling to lay Fastnet. The sailing for the most part was good during the day but the weather was miserable, cold, wet and grey. We didn't see the sun at all and no charge got into the batteries.

We were becalmed again between 0100 and 0200 on the 19/6. By 0330 the wind had strengthened to Force 3 but we had foul tide slowing us once again. This was also pushing us South of west and so we tacked back in a northerly direction. The wind backed gradually over the next few hours and we were almost able to lay Fastnet on the Starboard tack but I knew the tide would start pushing us NE again that afternoon. Around 2000 I noted we were only making 3k over the ground. We still had 60 miles to go to our waypoint west of the Fastnet TSZ by this point but we were once again on course for it and I nursed a hope that we may be able to avoid another dispiriting tack to the SE. At 2100 I again noted our disappointing progress. At the time I put this down to the foul tides being around for longer but I subsequently realised I was probably pinching the boat too much – trying to sail too close to the wind such that the boat's speed is adversely affected. I should have noticed this before but after my long lay-off from sailing AS I was perhaps not as well in tune with her as I once was. Later I also suspected that Angus' wind vane was also working slightly lose in the lumpy seas and that resulted in steering closer to the wind than the angle to which I had set the vane. I got the pliers out later to tighten it up. The wind had also been increasing over the last few hours and I released that I probably also had too much sail up for the conditions. This will naturally force the boat to steer closer to the wind AND lean her over more which can give the impression of increased speed when in fact the opposite is occurring. At around 2100 I therefore eased her off the wind a little and took two reefs in the main and an immediate improvement of 1.5k in speed was apparent. Our track over the ground did not suffer either probably because sailing better she was making less leeway.

At 2300 we had the only close encounter with a fishing boat and had to tack to the SW to avoid her – fishing boats having right of way over sail. Having been forced into the tack, I decided to stay on it for an hour to gain the westing that I suspected we would eventually need if we were going to round Fastnet to Starboard. I had not been in these parts before and was keen to both see the Fastnet up reasonably (but not too) close and to complete the full Jester course and had decided so to do despite the 'additional' hours this would incur. At midnight on the 19/20th I tacked back NW again. The rest of the night was pretty bumpy with the two reefs proving to be a good investment. At 0600 on the 20th I had to tack south of west once more because we were being pushed too far NE by the wind and current. At 0700 I tacked back for the Fastnet TSZ WP again and it appeared we might make it on that tack. At 0800 I noted that the wind had eased and perhaps should shake out the reefs which I did about an hour later. We reached the WP around midday and turned headed for the next North of the Fastnet which we rounded at 1515 and headed East for Baltimore. As luck would have it the tide had just turned in that direction too. Now with the wind and tide behind us we had a most glorious run to Baltimore in the sun and I even got down to shorts and T shirt. The previous night I was so cold I had 6 layers on!

At 1634:30 the Looe Buoy in the entrance of Baltimore Harbour bore due east and we had completed the Jester Baltimore Challenge. Now I needed to find somewhere suitable to Anchor. After stooging around and very nearly putting the boat aground on a bank when we missed stays under mainsail alone, I anchored at 1500 in 3.5 metres off the quay.

Passage over.

I stayed on board that evening and tidied up the boat.

On my approach from Fastnet I picked up an email notification from Marine Traffic giving Mischief's noon position some 20 miles to the East of Baltimore. I new Bernie would therefore have a long final stretch against both the wind and current. He got in at midnight whilst I was asleep but I noticed him at Anchor when I popped my head up at around 1400.

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