Jester Baltimore Challenge 2019

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 1 The Challenge

Image result for the jester challenge burgee

The Jester Challenge was conceived and originally organised by WW2 Marine, Blondie Hasler who led crews of Marines in daring raids on enemy shipping in French ports in canoes during the war. A man who undertook amazing acts of skill, determination and courage but did not regard himself a hero. After the war he instigated and took part in a number of the first single handed yacht races across the Atlantic – the OSTAR (originally the Observer Single-handed Trans Atlantic Race) from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island in his modified Junk Rigged Folkboat 'Jester' of around 26 feet in length. However, as the race became an established feature in the yachting calendar, bureaucracy grew and boats under 30 feet were excluded from the event. Blondie established the Jester in response with the ethos being focused on minimum rules and skipper responsibility. The Jester is not a race. After Blondie's death, Mike Richie took over responsibility for Jester and the event. He lost the original Jester at sea and replaced it with a replica. After Mike Richie's death organisation of the event was taken over by Blondie's Biographer, Ewen Southby-Tailyour – commander of the Falklands forces in the 1980's.

The Jester Challenge to Newport is run every 4 years. Recently the intermediate Jester Azores Challenge was added and run every 2 years between the main event challenges. More recently still the Jester Baltimore Challenge was added to run in the remaining empty annual slots. The Baltimore Challenge is from Plymouth to Baltimore in Ireland with Bishop Rock on the South West coast of the Isles of Scilly and the famous Fastnet Rock off South West Ireland left to Starboard. The course is about 250 miles in length (in a straight line). As with all other Challenges, use of an engine is at the skipper's discretion. More engine, less challenge!

Arctic Smoke is three feet to long to qualify as of right to participate in the Challenge but Ewen kindly gave permission for her and other similar sized vessels to participate.

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 2 - The Decision and Preparations

Following her Atlantic Adventures of 2015 and 16/17, I was undertaking a fairly major re-fit on Arctic Smoke over the period Autumn 2017 to Spring 2019 when, over a cup of tea with my pal Bernie, we got round to discussing his progress in preparing his 'new' boat, 'Mischief' an Achilles 24 for entry in the 2020 Jester Azores Challenge. As part of his preparations he intended to participate in the 2019 Jester Baltimore Challenge. He had already completed that Challenge in 2017 in his 22 foot Mackwester but found her windward performance too poor to contemplate using her in the Azores Challenge. Bernie is quite remarkable. An ex merchant seaman who can make or fix just about anything you care to mention and of course a first rate mariner. He has turned Mischief from a neglected river racer into an off-shore passage-maker and has helped me with a variety of jobs on Arctic Smoke when my limited practicable skills ran out of puff. He is an archetypical Jester.

Anyway back to that cup of tea. As we discussed his plans I started to consider the possibility of my own participation. After more than a year's no sailing on Arctic Smoke, I was keen to get sailing again and realised that there was no way I would get Arctic Smoke ready for Iceland in time for sailing in 2019 which had been an objective lurking at the back of my mind. With Bernie's encouragement, I therefore approached Ewen with my request and the rest is history. Work re-doubled on Arctic Smoke including the installation of a replacement Bush DV10 engine and stern gear. The trials and tribulations of that episode can be read in the Arctic Smoke blog.

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!

Arctic Smoke and the Jester Baltimore Challenge - Part 4 - The White Knight, The Engine (again) & the Jesters

In the morning around 1000, Bernie came aboard and we considered our plan for the day. It was Friday 14th and a BBQ had been arranged for 1900 that evening at the Tamar River Sailing Club. Bernie suggested we do battle with the engine for a few hours and then if it was still not going, take Mischief into Mayflower Marina for the night and a taxi to the sailing club. Sounded good to me. In practice I was the Assistant and Bernie the Chief Mechanic. He put a message out on the Jester Facebook group asking if anyone had any suggestions and got a message back from Geoff offering advice and help. He was on a mooring elsewhere on the river and would be heading over to Mayflower Marina later. It was too choppy for any dinghy trips. We had a lengthy chat on the phone and Geoff's suggestions were in keeping with Bernie's approach. We agreed to have another chat later once we had got through all the steps discussed. Bernie therefore set to with a methodical approach and diagnosed that there was still a lack of fuel getting to the injector. The replacement lift pump was suspected at first but there seemed to be enough coming out of that. Next up the fuel filter. Not a lot seemed to be coming out of it. So 'we' took it off and it did appear partially blocked. Bernie blew some crap out which improved matters but another would be required to make a proper job of it. I didn't have a spare – just about the only spare part I did not have. I had assumed the filter was new as the engine was sold as fully serviced, but it was clearly not. The pipes between the lift pump and the filter, between that and the high pressure pump and between that and the injector were also checked and possible partial blockages removed. At this stage the original lift pump was back on following the fun and games I had in Eastbourne. Everything was reassembled and the system bled. An improvement in fuel flow to and out of the injector was noticed but still the engine refused to go. Bernie had also noticed that the engine oil had emulsified. We hoped this was a consequence of fuel leaking into the crankcase from the old knackered lift pump but could not be sure. It would need to be changed anyway. By this time – approaching 1530 we had to head down to Mayflower in Jester so that we had enough time to get washed and to the Sailing Club for the BBQ.

That evening The Tamar River Sailing Club put on a most welcome BBQ and it was a chance to meet some of the other Jesters and for Bernie to meet up with Jester friends he had made a couple of years ago when he completed the Challenge in his even shorter (but more spacious) Mackwester, 'Chantilly'. I discussed the engine with a number of the others I the hope of stumbling across a trick that had escaped Bernie but despite lots of sensible suggestions nothing new emerged.
After the BBQ Bernie and I caught a bus back to the town followed by a pleasant walk to the Mayflower Marina where we spent the night on board Mischief. Earlier in the day we had transferred bags of Bernie's gear onto Arctic Smoke to make enough room for me to sleep in Mischief's forepeak and very cosy it was too.

On Saturday morning we did a little shopping including a long walk over to Queen Anne's Battery in order to buy a replacement fuel filter for the Bukh. On the way we had an excellent breakfast fry up in one of the local Café’s on Union Street. Then it was back to Mischief followed by a trip back up the Tamar to Cargreen and Arctic Smoke where battle with the engine recommenced once again. Engine oil changed, fuel filter replaced, fuel system bled. Nothing, not even a bloody cough, splutter or wheeze. Come 1600 it was time to head back down the river once again for the skipper's briefing and Dinner at the Tamar River Sailing Club. This time with time short the plan was to pick up a mooring off the sailing club and to dinghy ashore from there. So we transferred my inflatable dinghy (which was in slightly better nick than Bernie's) and outboard motor on to Mischief and set off. We got ashore just in time to have a very quick wash-up before the briefing started.

The briefing was conducted by Ewen in his wonderfully laid back, sardonic, self deprecating humorous manner under which one sensed a man of enormous sailing and combat experience who nevertheless took great interest in the welfare of this band of sailors assembled under the Jester banner. We had all signed up voluntarily for this baby Jester and the main theme behind it and all the other was personal responsibility and good seamanship each to his own abilities, capabilities and experience. Turning back in the face of a Force 4 on the nose or continuing into the teeth of a bitter gale were both equally valid decisions. The only outcome that mattered was that we all ended up somewhere safely. The 'rules' were simple, each skipper was responsible for him/herself and boat, no inspections, it was not a race, depart Plymouth from 1100 on Sunday, leave Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly to Starboard, round the Fastnet to Starboard (if that was sensible it the circumstances) and on into Baltimore, or put into anywhere that you wanted to. With that message ringing in our ears it was time for dinner put on by the Sailing Club. Food, drinks, making new friends and yarning followed in equal measure.

After the do, Bernie and I repaired back to Mischief around 2300 and headed back up to Cargreen once again.

The start was at 1100 the next morning but the weather was pretty grotty with strong headwinds from the SW and so Bernie and I agreed we would give that a miss and spend the day doing battle with engine once again and leave either the following morning or later on Sunday. I cooked a hearty breakfast and we (mostly Bernie) set too once again. The last line of attack was the Governor mechanism that linked the throttle mechanism to the high-pressure fuel pump. Bernie suspected that perhaps it was malfunctioning in some way preventing enough diesel from getting to the injector. This was a fiddly operation that required gaining almost impossible access to the back of the engine using a mirror and numerous contortions. After a few hours of fiddling and a lengthy phone call to Mark, the engineer who had helped me install the engine we were not much wiser. I had a workshop manual but it was very difficult to establish with the very limited access whether or not the governor mechanism was working properly or not. At the end of all the poking about Bernie got what he thought was a reasonable if not particularly strong spray of fuel from the injector. The result was the same though. Not the semblance of a cough other than a very feeble one with a good squirt of Easy Start in the air intake. Time to face the fact that if I was going to undertake the Jester it would be without an engine. I confirmed my decision to carry on and spent the next few hours getting the boat tidied up and doing a few odd jobs in preparation for departure from Cargreen at around 1900. The weather had moderated slightly but the wind was still strong. The forecast was – Force 5-6 from the South West for the rest of the day and into Monday with calms then due on Tuesday. We wanted to make as much progress as possible before being becalmed. I was particularly concerned not to drift into the shipping lanes off the Isles of Scilly and be unable to take avoiding action! I then cooked a hearty curry which we consumed before our planned departure from Cargreen at around 1900.

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.

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.

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).

Written Log, Cape Clear to Falmouth

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.

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.

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!

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.

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