Moon Dust - Reflections on the Jester Baltimore Challenge 2019

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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