Tuesday 30 July 2019

Congratulations to Anthony and Elizabethan Lady...


Elizabethan Lady about to leave Plymouth
Had a call from Anthony earlier - he's made it to 'A Coruna' in Spain. Sixteen days from Plymouth through a mixture of calms and heavy weather. Well done Anthony!

Sunday 28 July 2019

Moon Dust - Reflections on the Challenge

Arctic Smoke's Track (in Yellow - the planned route is in Blue - double click to enlarge)

"We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too." J F Kennedy September 12, 1962.

Now that I'm home, a short Postscript to my Jester Adventure seems in order. 

Ever since taking the decision in Eastbourne back in early June, to continue the Challenge without a working engine, the question of whether that was the right decision has been hovering around. Sometimes far back in my subconscious but sometimes right at the forefront of my mind. One such occasion was when listening into the 'PAN-PAN' from a yacht off Portland Bill, only a mile or so  inshore from Arctic Smoke as we lay becalmed. She had suffered engine failure and was being sucked into the race. Other times were when becalmed off the Traffic Separation Scheme to the south west of the Scillies on the outward leg to Baltimore and off Lands End on the return leg to Plymouth. Previously I had resorted to issuing my own 'PAN-PAN' after the engine failed and I needed a tow into Eastbourne. That was a sobering experience and I was acutely aware of the possibility of similar situations developing should I continue on without a working engine. 

Three main factors informed my decision to continue. The first and over-riding one was simply that I wanted to undertake the Challenge and get to Ireland. The second was that it seemed to me to be entirely within the ethos of the Jester Challenge to overcome such a set back. The Challenge is a sailing event after all! The third was that I was no longer subject to the domestic responsibility of getting home in time to look after the dog that made getting into Eastbourne such a significant consideration and why the alternative of heading for a more distant Port which I could make under sail was so unattractive. In taking the decision however, I resolved to do everything possible to avoid circumstances in which another call for help may be needed.  

Short of deciding not to carry on, that meant ensuring I had plenty of sea room when approaching headlands and the various traffic separation schemes that would be encountered en route. Minimising the number of Ports or anchorages visited would also reduce that risk. That was a relatively easy discipline to keep because by the time I eventually left Eastbourne on 11th July, time was running out to make the Skippers briefing in Plymouth on Saturday 15th July.  I really wanted to get in by the Friday in any case when the first of the social events - a BBQ was to take place. My plan was therefore to undertake the voyage to Plymouth in one leg if possible. I identified a number of potential anchorages en route that I could get in and out of without an engine should I need to take shelter or a rest but they would all entail extra mileage and therefore incur extra time too.

Prior to the Challenge itself, the first obstacle where the lack of an engine would be a significant factor, was Portland Bill. I had cleared St Catherine's Point, the southern-most tip of the Isle of Wight, with a decent breeze and a fair tide which meant, inevitably, that I would approach Portland Bill against a foul tide. I discounted putting into Portland to wait for the tide to turn because by the time I got there I would have to leave again to make the tide. I therefore stayed well out having concluded that even going backwards for a few hours would lose me less time. In the event we just about avoided that but I strongly suspect that had the engine been working it would have been engaged at that point.

The next major obstacles were Start Point and Bolt Head, the headlands either side of Salcombe. The challenge this time was that in addition to a foul tide we were beating into strong winds. I was sorely tempted to make for one of my 'emergency' anchorages at this point. On the evening of 13th June, the fact that Start Bay was only a few miles away significantly undermined my resolve to keep going. I had got so tired after bashing to windward, tack after tack for many hours making only slow progress that I did indeed decide to put in there. Fortunately, having rounded the headland about 3 miles to the North the wind backed and to my great surprise and delight I found I could lay Plymouth and so decided to carry on.

The Challenge formally commenced at 1100 on Sunday 16th June with the start line off the Plymouth breakwater. Bernie and I were both still anchored at Cargreen continuing our battle with the engine and we didn't start until that evening. The first challenge was the beat down the Tamar River culminating in the very exhilarating close hauled dash through 'The Bridge'. On Arctic Smoke, my choice was to either risk it or take the long way round. Bernie had the additional option of motoring through but to his credit he sailed through too. We must have been quite a sight for anyone watching but we made it without mishap.

The traffic separation schemes off the Scillies, when we were sailing the Challenge itself, were the next occasion when the lack of an engine figured significantly in my planning and sailing. Of course, the engine was not supposed to be used during the Challenge but the fact that I knew I could not fall back on it in an emergency meant that I chose to take the long route South and West of the Scillies and the Southern and Western schemes. You will see from the picture at the head of this post (double click to zoom in) that this was not my original plan which was to take the short-cut between the Southern and Western Schemes and so save myself about 50 miles.

The next challenge was the Fastnet Rock. Again I was sailing the Challenge and so would not have used the engine except in an emergency but again without it I had to ensure I stayed well clear of the rock. I could not afford to get set onto it by tides or swells. That meant I sailed a few more miles than I would otherwise have done.

I was very satisfied to have completed the Challenge without the use of or even the option of, using the engine. The lack of such an option certainly added to my challenge.

After the Challenge I had a few close calls getting out of Baltimore and into and out of South Harbour, Cape Clear Island and again off the Separation Schemes and Lands End when we were once more becalmed for extensive periods. The Challenge was over. The voyage to Falmouth took even longer than the longer voyage out from Plymouth - five days compared with four and once again I suspect impatience would have led to use of the engine had it been available. My main concern for a while was the risk of drifting onto Wolf Rock during the long calm period. However, after checking our position and the tidal streams I established that even if we drifted on the current alone for days we would get no closer than ten miles to Wolf Rock.

Tacking into and out of the Anchorage at Falmouth was nip and tuck. At Plymouth George came out in his dinghy and helped me onto a mooring. Getting in and out of Salcombe and Dartmouth was also pretty tight but I had Bob with me then which was a great help. Even with his help it took 6 attempts to pick up a mooring in Poole! The few hours becalmed after rounding North Foreland were probably the most frustrating of the entire trip and I found myself falling into my old habit of loudly cursing the elements for the first time on either the outward and return voyages. Perhaps the most nail biting and exciting experience was beating into Sheerness Harbour against the strongly ebbing tide. Fortunately we had a fresh breeze but even so it was a close call and we had to make use of every square inch of shallow water over the mud flats in order to minimise the effects of the tide. Finally of course, Howard in Latitudes helped us onto Arctic Smoke's mooring at Hoo, but even that was an interesting and challenging operation requiring no little skill on Howard's part.

On reflection, I think my decision was reasonable and justified in all the circumstances but there is little doubt that in taking it I increased the risk to myself and potentially others. However, the only way of not increasing risks is not to bother getting out of bed in the morning. I lived more too. I listened to the recordings and programmes on the Apollo 11 Moon Landings during the trip and I like to imagine that a little bit of moon dust has rubbed off on me, the other Jesters, and all the many far, far, better, more adventurous sailors, than me.


Friday 26 July 2019

More Photos and Videos June - July 2019

To view the videos click on the Page 'Videos from the Jester Baltimore Challenge and return 2019' (see the right hand panel).

Some photos from Salcombe to Hoo are posted below.

Arctic Smoke back on her Mooring at Hoo
Sailing up the Medway towards Hoo (Curtesy of Howard)

The Jester Burgee
Underway after leaving Poole
Yours truly on the passage from Poole to the Medway
Company leaving Poole
Sunset over Portland
Bob at the Helm leaving Dartmouth
Castle guarding the River Dart
Looking up the Kingsbridge Estuary, Salcombe
Starhole Bay, Salcombe
Bolt Head

Salcombe's Beaches

Cottages on the Salcombe Waterfront
Looking across the Kingsbridge Estuary from Salcombe

Monday 22 July 2019

Poole to Hoo, the Journey's end

Another summary written on my phone.

I started writing this post at Anchor in my favourite spot on the Medway  - Stangate Creek on Sunday night and completed it on Monday night, back on my mooring at Hoo after two months away.

My plan had been to stay in Poole until Monday to pick up Mick and Basty for the final legs to Hoo. However, as Mick pointed out on the phone on Friday, the then currently blowing Westerlies would soon dissipate as high pressure started to dominate the weather and it could therefore take many days to get back to the Medway.

With considerable regret I therefore decided to press on single-handed without my new crew the next morning.

The alarm went off at 0445 and I dropped the mooring on a grey morning to catch the ebb out of Poole. It was a beat out of the harbour in a stiff breeze and I almost messed up big time by accidentally cutting across a mud flat. I noticed  the echo sounder reading of 0.3 metres just in time and headed back into deeper water.  A close call. Going aground on a falling tide means being stuck for 6 hours before the tide comes back up!

The wind initially dropped after leaving the harbour and so I shook out the reef. Then it increased over the next couple of hours and the reef went back in. An exhilarating down-hill sail over the next 24 hours followed that with a brief lull off Dover, took me all the way to the North Foreland.  When we had the tide with us we were clocking 8-9 knots over the ground. Even when the tide was against us our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots.

Mick provided a nice touch as we rounded Beachy Head. A shared location notification appeared on my phone. Mick was up on Beachy Head watching our progress although it turned out that to start with he was tracking the wrong boat. After chatting  on the phone he 'found me' complaining that my boat was very small indeed!

On rounding North Foreland the wind died away considerably and we barely stemmed the tide that was against us for the next three hours. Our chance of making Hoo by high water that afternoon disappeared at that point. That was a disappointment and one which affected me much more than the delays experienced during the Jester Challenge. By the time the tide had turned in our favour the wind had made only brief and fickle appearances and we simply drifted for the next few hours. Finally, with two hours of the flood left, the wind returned - dead on the nose and so we had to beat up the quaintly named 'over-land' route. It did back later into the South West which enabled us to make our final approach to Garrison Point on one tack. By this time I was deliberately sailing across mud flats to avoid the worst of the ebbing tide. Annoyingly, we were forced to slow down to allow a ship to enter the port ahead of us. On rounding the point we met the full force of the ebbing tide which forced us sideways across the narrow entrance. For a while it seemed as if the tide would be too strong to stem. Indeed on occasions we were going backwards. However, we clawed our way in via numerous short tacks seeking shallow water as much as possible to avoid the full force of the tide. It took two hours to cover the two miles to Stangate Creek despite creaming along through the water at a good 6-7 knots.

After a delightful evening in my favourite Medway Anchorage, and a much needed good night's sleep, we beat up the river with a favourable tide. It was a great sail and a fitting end to the trip. As previously arranged with Howard, he very helpfully came out in his boat Latitudes, to help me pick up my mooring. The area is pretty crowded and I didn't fancy risking colliding with moored boats that attempting to pick up the mooring under sail would entail. Nonetheless, rafting-up mid river and threading the two boats through the crowded moorings required considerable skill on Howard's part.

We then spent a most enjoyable afternoon together catching up and yarning as all sailors are prone to do. Lunch and then dinner with modest liquid refreshments were included and by the time Howard and Latitudes headed back to Gillingham, we had sorted out all the world's problems and reinforced our belief that sailing was the remedy for all the ills of the human condition.

Journey over!

Plymouth to Poole

I'm writing this on my phone on Monday morning at 0830 before sailing the final short leg up  the River Medway from  Stangate Creek to Hoo where Howard has kindly agreed to meet me to help me onto our mooring - an operation which may deserve a write-up in the full account. This is therefore only a summary Post. Full account to be written and published later.

After picking up Bob from the Mayflower Steps (ok near them) we sailed over to Cawsand Bay for the night. It was a rolly night in the South Easterly wind blowing into the Sound.

Next morning we got the Anchor up at 1100 and enjoyed a gentle beat to Salcombe.

We spent the next day there and went for a long healthy walk to Anvil Point.  Very beautiful.

We sailed from Salcombe to Dartmouth on Wednesday 17th July. The first challenge was getting out of the narrow river in fickle light winds. We ensured we had the ebb to help us down and made it  albeit with a few narrow squeaks. It was great to have a competent friend on board who knew just what was required. A beat in light winds on a very pleasant day followed and once we drew level with  Start Point we had a great sail. Tacking up the narrow river was interesting and once again it was great to have another pair of competent hands. We found the Anchorage opposite the town and anchored safely.

I'd not been to Dartmouth before and so was pleased to visit this attractive town albeit very briefly.

The next morning we left and had a very similar experience to leaving Salcombe.

A long sail to Studland followed and the first half was in light winds and so progress was slow. We dropped the Hook at 0115.

Next day we had a lively short sail under Genoa alone into Poole and made a right hash of picking up a mooring under sail. It took 6 attempts!  Bob then took the water taxi ashore for the train home.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Some Photos from Plymouth and Salcombe


Check out main photo on left hand page

Anthony landing a tiddler in New Zealand

Elizabthen  Lady and Anthony departing Plymouth

Neal and Trina and Lunch!

Neal's Gentleman's Bathroom

PART of Neal's amazing collection

Salcombe from Arctic Smoke

Bob in Salcombe

Falmouth to Plymouth to Salcombe 12/7 - 15/7/19

This is rather summarised due to no working laptop.

Departed Falmouth Friday 12/7 and had a great day's sail to Plymouth, probably the best sailing of the trip this far. Anchored Cawsand Bay for the night and having contacted George, a local Jester I met on the Challenge, made way to Mountbatten where he came out in his dinghy to help me onto a mooring.

We had just finished breakfast when a knock on the hull.

It was a youngster on an Elizabethan 31 a couple of moorings down. He was Anthony, just started out on his adventures from Eastbourne where he noticed AS after we got towed in by the Lifeboat. He had this guide to the Canary Islands on him! What an amazing set of coincidences!

He saw Arctic Smoke in Eastbourne after towed in by the lifeboat and his brother bought him a Pilot to the Canaries and there's a photo of Arctic Smoke in it! Then he saw us pick up a bouy a couple of bouys away from him and was blown away by seeing the boat again. He came over and we had a good chat. He referred to me and Arctic Smoke as "Legends" which tickled me somewhat. Never been held in such high esteem! We went out for Fish and Chips that evening before he set of on the Sunday for the Canaries. Fair winds Anthony.

Met up with my old pal Neal and his wife Trina for a great Pub lunch and then back to their place for a cuppa where Neal showed me his amazing collection of old toys, models and all sorts of interesting artifacts. A quite amazing collection.

On reinflating the dinghy to get back to the boat one of the valves broke and so had to go through the comical palava of pumping up and then getting the dust cap on ASAP before too much air escaped! Just managed.

Then picked up Bob (ex colleague and pal from Logical days) at Mayflower Steps. Sailed back to Cawsand Bay where spent a dolly night. Monday we beat to Salcombe. A lovely sail despite the beating. Dropped Anchor at 1800 after a slightly twitchy run up the river in a fickle failing wind. We ordered a valve repair kit before leaving and hope it will be at the Harbour Master's office today.

Plan to leave for Dartmouth tomorrow and then Poole to drop off Bob and pick up Mick and brother Basty and see Badge and Jane.

Thursday 11 July 2019

A few photos - Cape Clear to Falmouth

Written Log, Cape Clear to Falmouth

Dead Laptop with 90% of next Post on it so..

Apologies to my many readers but that's rather messed things up in terms of providing a detailed account of the last few days. On the other hand you could have had a lucky escape😁!
The dam laptop started blowing the boat's fuses yesterday and today I have tried to charge it up ashore but it won't play. Must have gone on strike in sympathy with the engine.

Anyway herewith a summary of the passage from Cape Clear to Falmouth.

Last Saturday a breeze sprang up from the West at around 1100 - just enough to get us out of South Harbour. A couple of pleasant days sailing followed in gentle westerly breezes which got us down to the west of the traffic seperately zone west of the Scillies. We were visited by Dolphins more than once on both days. On the Monday we were treated to a sighting of Whales breaching and blowing about half a mile directly ahead. They had large dorsal fins, a characteristic I had not noticed on previous sitings and so I must try and figure out what species they were. On the Wednesday morning I saw sharks swimming in the glassy sea during one of the numerous calm spells.

Around the Scillies traffic separation zones the winds became increasingly flukey we basically spent the best part of two days going very very slowly east or north or just drifting with the tide. Each successive shipping forecast which I was now able to pick up on Longwave indicated the possibility of westerly winds arriving later (after 12 hours) and every time a breeze arrived I thought this was it but nothing reliable materialised until mid morning yesterday and we finally were due south of the Lizard at 1330. There were only 15 miles left to cover to get to Falmouth. Once we were moving reasonably again I felt quite ok with the prospect of carrying on to Plymouth but I wanted to visit the Maritime Museum in Falmouth and it's a lovely place anyway. I dug out the last bottle of Pico white whine from 2016 and put it in the fridge to celebrate with later on arrival at tea-time.

What a silly thing to do. No sooner was the bottle in the fridge than the wind died. Not completely but there wasn't enough for Angus and so the electronic tiller pilot was pressed into service.

The Anchor finally went down in Falmouth Harbour at 2000. Passage over. Quite possibly the slowest ever recorded from Cape Clear to Falmouth!

For those hungry for more details I will post photos of my written log shortly (or try to do so at any rate).

Saturday 6 July 2019

After the Jester Baltimore Challenge

The next morning (Friday) I cooked breakfast for me and Bernie and we swapped tails of our respective Challenges. Bernie had it a lot tougher in little Mischief – a light 24 feet. The headwinds and seas were particularly trying foe him and he did incredibly well to get in only seven hours after Arctic Smoke. After breakfast we went ashore and met up with a number of other Jesters – many of whom Bernie had met two years ago when he completed the Challenge on his even smaller boat (lengthways at least) 'xxxxx', a McWester 22'! It was a delightfully sunny day and we had our Guinness in the sun and went for a walk to 'Lots Wife' – the large white Beacon standing above the entrance to Baltimore Harbour. It was enjoyable getting to know some of the others – who I had met briefly at the Skippers' Briefing in Plymouth. A number of us went on the Historical walk and learnt about the infamous sacking of the town in 1603 (or thereabouts) by the Barbary Pirates from North Africa. There's a certain ironic justice to be found in that event. After the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James virtually closed down the navy and as a consequence many ex navy personnel became pirates and set up base in Baltimore. A handy location from which to intercept the returning Spanish and French ships, loaded to the gunnells with ill gotten gains from the Caribbean. Baltimore was therefore an English Pirate enclave for some 60 or so years in the 17th Century. The Pirates were of course officially on the Crown's wanted list, punishable by death! However, the local economy flourished on the back of Piracy and so a knowing blind eye was turned to their activities and very few ended up on the gallows. Eventually, the vast majority were pardoned!

That night was the Pirate Party put on by the locals – a successful piece of historical marketing that bolsters the local coffers today. It was of course great fun and there where many impressive fancy dress costumes in evidence. Photos can be seen on the recent photo post. That night I performed a mercy mission – after I dropped Bernie off on Mischief, I was hailed by John Passmore on his Rival 32. He had locked himself out of his boat. He had a combination lock but his phone battery was flat and he couldn't read the dials. Of course he rewarded me with late night drinks and by the time I got back to Arctic Smoke it was 0300!

The next day – Sunday – Bernie and I were to go sight seeing on Firkin Island but it peed with rain all day as only Irish rain can. I therefore stayed on the boat all day and wrote up previous blog entries and generally slobbed out. Of course I was slightly hung over too.

The next day Bernie decided to make tracks back to blighty and so I cooked us both another fry-up and he left around midday.

Later that day George from 'xxxx' - a lovely one off wooden 30 foot sloop made of teak – and his wife who had driven over helped me get AS onto a mooring. We lashed the two dinghies to the stern and with their outboard motors pushing AS along we were soon on the mooring. I would fly home on Wednesday for a week – my good friend Tom and his wife Nina, were visiting from the USA for a few days. That all went off fine and it was nice to spend time with Sharon and the kids too. We even fitted in a trip to Wimbledon as well as the London sight seeing with Tom and Nina. The Saturday nigh we had large family BBQ on the hottest day of the year.

I had contacted a local mechanic before leaving and was hopeful that he would have a go at the engine but nothing came of it and so on my return to Baltimore on Wednesday 3rd July it was once again to a boat with no engine. To rub it in, my spare key had gone walkies and as it was around 2000 the harbour master who had my other key was not around. Therefore after getting a lift out to the boat from a friendly local I had to break in, making a right mess of the companionway hatch in the process.

Thursday was a lovely day so I decided to get going after settling up with the Harbour Master and enjoying a coffee and croissant at the water front café. A very reasonable £100 Euros was the charge for the mooring for 10 days.

After a quick look at the tides I realised I would have 2-3 hours of the ebb flowing west and would then have to punch the flood if I left at around midday. The winds were light and variable and for a while I was in two minds – was there enough wind to beat out of the Harbour? The breeze picked up and I decided to go for it. We exited the harbour without incident and turned west. The first possible destination was South Harbour, Cape Clear Island – only about 5 miles. Initially progress was good and we could lay our destination but then the breeze faltered and headed us and of course the flood kicked in. We tacked slowly westwards barely making any progress at all at the end of each tack. To start with I was frustrated but then realised that if I just had to drift around for hours so what – I was in no hurry. I just had to ensure I didn't get too close to the coast. Eventually the breeze returned and we picked up speed. South Harbour was extremely difficult to locate even with all my modern navigational aids. It didn't open up until we were right on top of it and for a while I was very unsure.

Eventually we ran in on a broad reach through the entrance which looked like it would be a challenge to beat out of and of course the winds were pretty fluky due to the high cliffs. We rounded up safely and dropped the hook in 8 metres. An absolutely wonderful location. Photos will be posted in a separate post when I get a decent connection. Even this will have to wait until back in the UK because we are shielded from the telephone masts my the high cliffs.

I cooked a decent dinner – a sort of chicken stew and put a serving aside for another day. At least the fridge still works which is a blessing. There were no other boats so I had the place to myself before a fancy French yacht came in at dusk. My night's sleep was not great due the blasted cold I had picked up but I've had a lot worse.

Friday was another gorgeous day and I dragged myself out of bed around 0830. I spoilt myself with hot water for a wash and a shave and started to feel almost human. A light breakfast of toast and my mum's home made marmalade followed and after clearing up I tackled a few jobs. First was a bit of maintenance on Angus the wind vane. The chord that stopped the vane swinging too far had almost worn through and needed replacing. I checked Angus over, applied a little grease on the spindle and put him back in position.

Next I tackled the Navtex antenna. I had not received any report on the Navtex (a weather information service transmitted in text over VHF) since leaving Cuba and even then they had been very hit and miss. I concluded that the most probable explanation was that the cable between the antenna and the receiver had corroded and so whilst I was at home I got some more cable and fittings. I opened up the antenna connection and to my surprise the cable looked fine but it did appear that one of the connections had parted. Some delicate work with the gas soldering iron – Mick's favourite tool – followed and I felt very smug once I had completed the job. At the time of writing however (Friday night 5/7/19) I have still not received any broadcast. I hope it's because we are shielded by the high cliffs around the harbour. Certainly all other forms of radio transmissions are very iffy. I'll have to wait until get off shore to know whether it works. I'll have a day or so beyond the normal Irish VHF transmissions and the UK ones and so it would be helpful if it did.

After a few other jobs I had a sandwich and headed for shore to have a look around. The quay was only a few hundred metres and I thought I could do with the exercise and so rowed over. A 10 minute walk across the narrowest part of the island took me to North Harbour. Amos t a town compared to sleepy South Harbour. The Ferries from various locations on the mainland and Firkin Island use it and quite a few yachts were there too. A proper little harbour complete with Fishing boats, a café and a visitors centre but I was more than happy with the solitude of South Harbour. Civilisation was only 10 minutes away in any case. After a look around I had a coffee and local ice cream and continued on my walk up the hill and across the island by a longer different route. I was rewarded with the most stunning views imaginable across to the mainland and Firkin Island. I'll post photos ASAP.

I got back to South Harbour around 1700 and cadged some water from the local guest house. Back at the quay one of the guests was having a swim. I asked him how it was and he said lovely! I resolved to have a dip off the boat when I got back aboard. Lovely it might have been but it was absolutely freezing – I lasted 30 seconds and was back up the boarding ladder as quickly as I could manage with my dodgy back – I put it out earlier lifting Angus off his perch.

I've decided to take advantage of the predicted North Westerlies due tomorrow and provided they materialise soon enough I'll leave at high tide – a very civilised 0900. The passage back will be the subject of another post. I’ll probably head for Falmouth if weather and tides permit. I should be able to get in under sail. I'd like to visit the Maritime Museum there and possibly see Knox Johnson's boat Suhali.

Postsrcipt: Actually left very slowly a 1115 when a slight breeze from the West arrived.