July 31, 2010

Clyde's Progress

It's my 60th birthday today and I've received this email from Craig!


"We had a pleasant overnight sail to Bangor without incident and Cris was
in good time to catch his flight to Heathrow, then I was on my own until
Janet joined me in Oban.

The sail from Bangor to Ballycastle was pretty straight forward weather
wise but there was a big crash bang in the engine compartment. When I
opened the hatch the alternator and the belt were lying on the floor of
the engine compartment screeching against the spinning pully on the front
of the engine. Emergency shutdown and inspection revealed all three
mounting points for the alternator on the engine had suffered previous
fatigue and cracked and the remaining good metal had just given up.
Disconnected the wires and insulated them wrapped the alternator in a
plastic bag popped it in a locker and carried on on the battery.

Ballycastle marina nothing special small and friendly, I had electricity
hook up so could charge the batteries ok. Next day sailed to a very
pleasant bay and anchorage half way up the east coast of Jura called
'Lowlandmans Bay' arrived 12 noon relaxed to the sound of sheep on the
hillsides interrupted by the drone of the generator charging the
batteries.

Next day sail, 30th, from there to Oban was horrendous, rain, fog, poor
visability, massive tides and tidal races between the rocks and the
islands. 6 knots through the water and 12 knots over the ground bouncing
left, right and sidesways through the boiling torrent avoiding ferries at
the narrowist point between jagged marked rocks. Thank God for the chart
plotter otherwise I would'nt known where I was. Finally met Janet in Oban
in the evening rafted up against 2 large boats against a pier and had to
transfer baggage, food and dog and Janet from boat to boat to boat. Both
of us were pretty fraught after hard days so atmosphere fairly tensesailed
across the bay to the Oban marina, found it chock a block as it was the
Clyde cruising association sailing weekend. They were rafted up 5 deep on
the pontoons. Anchored off in fairly deep water spent the night
disturbed by massive party and fireworks ashore. (Millie dog hasfireworks
phobia so an interesting night).

Pleasant sail the next day through the sound of Mull to a truly delightful
Tobermory harbour on Mull, nice sheltered bay and marina and we are
staying here for a couple of nights.

Hopefully we will get to Skye without anything else falling off, let you
know.

Craig"

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 11:42 PM

July 28, 2010

Motion sickness

While I was not feeling so good in the cockpit of "CLYDE", the 32ft monohull designed and built some 30 years ago, I contemplated how things have moved on and why I had not felt sick when sailing in the VirusBoats V8 catamaran in the Atlantic last year in conditions that were not too dissimilar at times.

What I concluded was that in CLYDE the motion involved a lot of translational accelerations. I was tossed about, this way and that. Up and down with the waves. Forwards and backwards as the boat accelerated down waves then was almost halted when the bow struck the crest of the next wave. And from side to side as the boat yawed and rolled.

In the V8 on the other hand the translational accelerations were much reduced. Because of the wave piercing hulls the boat did not slow down abruptly when the bows sliced into the wave ahead so the forward speed was more constant and consequently higher. There was hardly any sideways movement because the long slim straight hulls cut through the water in a straight line and the vertical movement was confined to the bows of the V8 if it was pitching but we were sitting about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way back from the bow to the stern where the vertical movement was slight.

So in the V8 it was as though we were sitting on a plank that was balanced on a ball. The ball did not appear to move dramatically forwards, backwards, sideways or up and down but it did rotate underneath us. We were able to compensate for this and maintain our balance easily. Effectively we were sitting fairly still on a seat that was rotating and processing. This meant that the contents of our digestive systems were not being flung about inside us, which, I conclude, is the cause of the sea sickness that I experienced on the 32ft monohull CLYDE.

Clearly things have moved on in boat design over the last 30 years.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 04:04 PM

After the rescue

The taxi driver who took me to the railway station in Wicklow and thence to the bus stop (at the recommendation of the stationmaster) had already heard about the lifeboat being called out! Wicklow is a small place and bad news travels fast.

The bus to Dublin was due on the hour and in Dublin the bus to Belfast was also due on the hour (every hour - day and night). Excellent service.

I liked Dublin. I've only been there once before, to coach rowing, and I never saw the place properly. It has a real international flavour about it. A proper capital city with grand buildings and bridges (even one shaped like a harp designed by Santiago Calatrava) and monuments and a river running through it, the Liffey. So I shall return.

My cousins laid on their usual Irish hospitality and after a day looking around a revitalised city I caught the ferry to Birkenhead. This was quite a nostalgic crossing for me as I used to catch it regularly with my father and twin sister when we were children. Our aunts would be waving us goodbye from the quayside with their white handkerchiefs. Of course the ferry departed from much closer to the city centre in those days, not from the modern container port. And in the days of the Ulster Prince and the Ulster Queen the ferry was divided into steerage class and first class, and separated by the hold. No roll-on, roll-off ferries then. A steward would bring Dad a cup of tea and a Rich Tea biscuit in the morning and we would get real orange juice delivered to our bunk above him in which we were head to toe. Portholes were small and round in those days and the crossing took much longer because of the time it took to get into the dock at the Liverpool end. Nowadays there is a large, floating, landing stage similar to the ones used by the Mersey Ferries.

I checked with Craig and he said that the engine had been repaired and that they'd enjoyed a good passage to Bangor overnight at the same time that I had been steaming to Birkenhead. Two ships that passed in the night!

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 03:43 PM

July 25, 2010

Nothing else can go wrong.

At 0915 the skipper, Craig, came down the companionway ladder and gave me a shake. "You'd better go up top. We've an exhaust problem and fumes are filling the cabin. Don't want to get carbon monoxide poisoning!"

"Have you opened the fore-peak hatch?" I asked.

"Yes but it's not clearing the air fast enough." replied Craig.

As I was already dressed it didn't take a jiffy to climb into the cockpit.

I sat down next to Cris and took in the view. Ireland to the left, Wales to the right and the Isle of Man ahead.

Then the engine started to slow down of its own accord. I looked down at the throttle control but nobody had touched it.

Craig snatched away the companionway ladder as he was already down below and quickly removed the engine cover. A huge cloud of black soot and smoke emerged and enveloped him. The engine had been consuming its own exhaust and was starved of oxygen. That is why it had slowed down. We stopped it before it stopped itself. It was quite clear we could no longer carry on under engine power. And there was no wind either. So we were becalmed in the Irish Sea, 14 miles from Wicklow and 18 miles from Dublin.

Craig, never would allow himself to be defeated by any problem like this. He was unable to touch the engine exhaust manifold until it had cooled down but he was already seeking out jubilee clips and Cris was gamely talking about wrapping it in multiple layers of silver foil and gum gum which would set hard as it heated up. Trouble was we had the foil but not the gum gum. It transpired that Cris and Craig had already effected some sort of repair on the exhaust before we'd even set off and had been aware of the cause of the growing smelliness of the engine. I'd just thought that this was normal behaviour for an old engine.

Cris was beckoning Craig to come up into the cockpit for a talk but he was busy, distracted by the engine and its woes. I'd already worked out that this was the end of the road and that it was time to throw in the towel and call for help. Craig just had to be persuaded that this was the only sensible course of action while we still had the battery power available to use the radio.

So eventually he was calling up the Dublin Coast Guard and then he was speaking with the Wicklow Coast Guard on Channel 16. "Clyde change to channel 67." They were asking all the usual questions. What was our position? How many persons on board? What type of vessel was it? What did it look like? What was its name? And so on. All the information that one normally gives out in a Mayday call except that this was not a Mayday. We were not in grave and imminent danger. Simply becalmed and unable to manoeuvre.

"Clyde standby on Channel 02 while we assess the situation."

I had the camcorder trained on Craig by now. After all, this was exciting.

"Clyde. Wicklow Coast Guard. The Wicklow Life Boat has launched and will be with you in 55 minutes."

Time to make a cup of tea said Cris, ever mindful of our bodily needs.

So in due course the Wicklow life boat turned up (complete with an attractive female radio operator) and towed us in to Wicklow Harbour (at 8.5 knots!) where there was a big crowd watching on the quayside.

I've seen this sort of thing a number of times and experienced it myself. The lifeboat service acts quickly to prevent a minor situation developing into a major tragedy. They'd much rather be towing in a stricken vessel in calm conditions than picking up dead bodies later on in a storm.

We could have waited till the wind picked up and sailed in to the nearest port. But it might have been that the battery ran down and our navigation lights went out and the GPS failed and we might have been struck by a ship in fog or darkness and quite unable to get out of the way. Any number of things could have happened that do not bear even thinking about. The best thing was to get towed ashore where the problem could be dealt with in safety. We'd gone to sea in a seive and now the game was up.

So that is it for me. It is Sunday lunch time so nothing can be done today. Tomorrow a welder will visit but who knows how long it might take to fix the engine. Cris has a plane to catch on Wednesday from Belfast to Heathrow as he has to get back to South Africa. I have to get home for my big birthday on Saturday 31st. It is over for me & besides my electric toothbrush has run out of charge. It has been a great adventure but now I am going to nip up to Belfast by bus to visit my cousins and then catch a ferry home.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 02:14 PM

Middle Watch

What a difference! When I came up top to relieve Cris, the sea was calm and the sky almost clear with a bright, full moon in the south reflecting off the water. There were just a few wispy clouds making unusual patterns high in the sky. What a pleasure this watch was going to be.

Cris briefed me. Everything was in order. There was a ship some distance to starboard that was going to pass in front of us eventually. The small lights to port were a long way away. The No 2 genoa was up and was still helping us along although the W wind was much reduced. The tide would become slack during my watch. I was to look out for a cardinal buoy towards the end of my watch and not to hit it.

It is most difficult to stay awake at about 2am. But shortly afterwards it seems to get easier. About this time the wind changed to the east and I changed to a starboard tack. Craig popped his head up to see what was happening. I reassured him that everything was under control.

A succession of coasters headed southward towards the traffic separation zone but we were well out to sea and clear of any danger from them. Away on the port bow I could see the Wicklow Head light flashing very brightly. It was still ahead at the end of the watch but approaching the beam.

Cloud eventually obscured the moon making it darker and easier to pick out lights on distant ships.

To starboard I noticed a twinkle in the sea. I looked again and it twinkled again. Was it phosphorescence? Was it the reflection in the sea of a passing aircraft in the sky? Was it the light on the life jacket of somebody who had fallen overboard? After some thought I realised that the light was not in the sea at all and that in the darkness I had mislaid the horizon. It was actually a lighthouse flashing. The only one it could be was that on Bardsey Island at the end of the Lleyn Peninsula, the north-western tip of Wales, 37 nautical miles away! So even though it was night I was in a place where I could see both Wales and Ireland.

A huge ferry or cruise liner approached from astern, lit up like a candle factory on fire. It came so close I could almost read the name of it through the binoculars. But it was never on a steady bearing so it was safe enough.

Skipper, Craig, took over at 0400 and I went below, fell into my pit and pulled my sleeping bag over me, still with my sea boots on.

Then the engine stopped!. There was no wind so I knew that this was not intentional. Oops! This could only mean one thing. We'd run out of fuel! But that couldn't possibly be true. We had plenty of fuel on board. I sprang to my feet to offer to keep watch whilst Craig resolved the problem.

Only the tank that feeds the engine directly was actually empty. He'd been unable to check it with his dip stick earlier in the day because the deck in the cockpit had been awash with sea water as it was rough. So he'd guessed and had run some fuel from the main tank into it but obviously not enough. Now he was going to have to bleed the fuel lines as there would be an airlock in them. He said it would only take five minutes and to get back to bed. Famous last words! It took him two hours to get the engine going again.

The explanation was that there had been a blockage in the fuel line between the large fuel tank under the port quarter and the tank under the cockpit floor that feeds the engine directly. Consequently fuel had not been flowing as quickly between the tanks as Craig had thought.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 01:46 PM

July 24, 2010

Lands End & Fog in the Celtic Sea

The sea was calm and the wind had now backed from N to W and eased off as predicted. Visibility was excellent as we left Newlyn. There was a yacht anchored outside the harbour. We hoisted the main sail as we motored out to the Low Lee cardinal buoy and before we'd passed Mousehole (pronounced Mouzle) I was asleep again getting some zeds ahead of my watch that was to start at 0100 when we should be passing the Longships lighthouse at Lands End.

"10 minutes," said Cris quietly, giving me a shake at 0050. "There's a lighthouse outside."

I grabbed my camcorder and poked it out of the companionway to record a brief clip of Lands End. Soon I was dressed for the night and in the cockpit. There were a few ships to port heading for the traffic separation zone or to the Scilly Isles and we were in the inshore traffic zone reserved for small craft. I took control and Cris first of all went forward to hoist the No. 2 genoa and then went below and made me a hot drink. My plan was working fine. We had a calm sea and a good tide helping us along at about 7.5 kn over the ground heading due north. We'd soon be in the Celtic Sea/Bristol Channel.

Gradually the Longships lighthouse disappeared astern. A radio mast with a steady red light on it could be clearly seen inland and The Pendeen light at the Northwestern corner of Lands End passed to starboard with the street lights of St Ives beyond.

At 0400, the end of my watch, I handed over to Craig and pointed out all the various ships and lights and pointed to where I thought Newquay must be on the north Cornwall coast, now some way astern. Craig fed the engine with oil. We trimmed the sails and I went below to sleep.

"Steve! Quick! Porpoises. Get your camera." It was about breakfast time and I was still sleepy so after managing to catch a couple of porpoises or dolphins on camera, I couldn't tell, I returned to my pit.

When I emerged later in the morning it was quite a different day. Grey and overcast with a stiff wind from the Southwest that was all part of the plan to speed us up through the Celtic Deep into the St Georges Channel and thence to the Irish Sea. We were making good progress but it was a bit rough and uncomfortable and our speed over the ground had been reduced by the tide whilst I was asleep. This explained the rough ride we had had. Basically there was nothing between us and Florida, which was the direction the wind was coming from. I declined the food that Cris offered me because I was certain that I would not be able to keep it down. All I needed really was to keep myself hydrated and to maintain my core temperature with adequate clothing and the occasional hot drink. I reckoned that I had plenty of fuel in my body still to endure the day until the wind eased. Up to a dozen Dolphins had been circling the boat whilst I was asleep, I was assured.

We were now in thick fog!

A ship suddenly appeared on the starboard bow that was in the traffic separation zone. It sped past us. We really had to keep a sharp look out as there was very little time between seeing a vessel and hitting it if it turned out to be on a steady bearing (collision course).

There were lots of birds out here. The Manx Shearwaters that nest on Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast were in abundance as we motor-sailed (again!) outside the traffic separation zone to stay clear of as many ships as possible. We saw quite a few Fulmars and, later, lots of Guillimots, mainly sitting on the water and diving under the surface as we drew near. I even saw a solitary Puffin before it saw me and dived also. I've never seen one before so I was thrilled. I pointed it out to Craig but he missed it. However, my favourite bird out here was the Gannet. I'd seen a few already on the voyage making their dramatic dives, folding their long wings and plunging into the water at high speed. But here there were lots of them and they were just flying around gracefully with their long, high-profile, black-tipped wings almost touching the water as they swooped among the waves like small Albatrosses; sometimes alone but often in small flocks of 3 - 5 birds.

A Welsh Coast Guard called all ships and asked for any boat on a river that I didn't recognise, although I know the Welsh Coast well, to go to the assistance of a boat from which somebody had been reported lost overboard. This was somewhere in Cardigan Bay and between 40 and 80 miles from our position so we could not possibly help.

We were heading for the outside of another traffic separation zone, this time off the south-east coast of Ireland. Still in fog, we kept two of us on watch without the skipper giving an order. Self preservation! Cris was asleep. When he woke he made some sandwiches and fed us. He is an absolute star at this. He knows that crews need food in their bellies and that without energy it is dangerous when things get tough at sea. I smelled acid at this point but dismissed it as sulphur, perhaps from a match as Cris was lighting the stove to make us a hot drink.

Although we could see blue sky above us the fog was slow to clear around us. Shortly after it did I turned in as I had the middle watch again at midnight.

I woke when I heard Craig cursing that one of the batteries had fallen over and leaked some of its electrolyte. This was the acid I'd sniffed earlier and could have serious consequences. But it appeared to be holding its charge still. He double strapped it back in its place. I returned to my slumber.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 09:18 PM

July 23, 2010

Lizard Point & Radio Scare

The Lizard has a reputation for strong tidal rips and so has to be approached with care. As we left Falmouth the sun was shining and the gentle wind was from the north. It was a beautiful day. Visibility was fantastic and the Manacles, infamous in the days of the Cornish wreckers, represented no threat at all. This was sailing to be enjoyed. Our first experience together of downwind sailing. What a treat. Gentlemen do not sail upwind!

Around Lizard Point we had a fair tide with us and a clear view of the light house with its very bright light - still burning at midday. Craig would love to have carried on around Lands End directly but I had persuaded him that we should rest up in Cornwall's largest fishing harbour, Newlyn, by Penzance, during the period that the tide would be against us and set off at about 10pm when the tide would be ideal for getting around the tip of England. So we motor-sailed (as usual!) past St Michaels Mount and into this workmanlike and friendly fishing harbour.

On the way in I called up the Harbour Master, using the new DSC radio that Craig had fitted in Hamble and could not get a reply. I tried on three different channels. This was worrying. We had tested the radio in Hamble and found we could receive OK but that our transmissions seemed to be received somewhat garbled. Craig thought that this was a combination of the aerial and the cable that links it to the radio so he had bought a new aerial and cable. But rather than replacing the old aerial on top of the mast, which would have involved my going up there in a bosun's chair, and a lot of jiggery pokery trying to thread the new cable down the inside of the mast, Craig had cleverly jury-rigged the new aerial up the back stay using a spare halyard and some washing line. However, we were still a bit worried about this arrangement. What if things were to go wrong in the middle of the Irish Sea? Let's face it, things had been going wrong all along on this trip.

I now dialled the Newlyn Harbour Master on my mobile phone and got through straight away. He told me that the person who would have been manning the radio was on his lunch break. Panic over.

We sent a pleasant afternoon relaxing in the warm sunshine. A spot of sunbathing in the cockpit. A little reading. A walk around Newlyn. Afternoon cream tea! Cornish ice cream. A few phone calls to my cousins in Northern Ireland in anticipation of our impending visit then it was dinner time and sleepy time before the main event, rounding Lands End. Next stop Bangor, Co. Down.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 09:55 PM

July 22, 2010

Repairs to Yacht Clyde in Falmouth

While at Mixtow in Fowey harbour we had not had any shore power and we'd noticed the lights dim rather more quickly than they should have, given the fully charged batteries. Like most yachts, Clyde has two batteries, one of which is reserved exclusively for starting the engine. This means that if we were to run down the other battery with the fridge, fans, lights, computers, charging phones, GPS etc, then we would always be able to start the engine and charge the batteries up again with the alternator.

However, the lights had gone dim rather earlier than Craig, our skipper and owner had expected so he investigated when we got to Falmouth and found that the electrolyte was low. So we had to search Falmouth for some deionised water to top it up. Trago Mills, the shop that sells everything, did not have any. But fortunately a nearby Yacht Chandler did.

One can buy virtually anything for a yacht in Falmouth. A new shackle was easily obtained for the out-haul so the main could be trimmed better.

Most important on the shopping list was something to fix the mounting for the autohelm. Cris came up trumps with a plastic chopping board purchased from, you guessed it, Trago Mills. The yacht Clyde has crossed the Atlantic and Craig has on board every conceivable nut and bolt and tool. In fact it was a wonder to me that the boat floated at all. Craig and Cris are two incredibly experienced and resourceful sailors. I guess this is what ocean sailing does for you. Nobody is going to come and help you fix things when you are out there on the ocean so you simply find ways to adapt things from one purpose to another. In this case, with the aid of a jig-saw that was already on board, the chopping board was chopped up into two small squares that were bolted together and securely bolted onto the boat with four bolts instead of the previous two to make a very satisfactory mounting for the autohelm. Bravo Cris. Proper job.

We had time to do all this and to explore Falmouth a little because the weather was against us for the next part of the trip. We had winds from the west and SW and NW, much of it strong, for a couple of days and we had already decided that we were no longer going to subject ourselves or the boat to the uncomfortable pounding that goes with upwind sailing. Anyway we needed to do these repairs and to get victuals for the forthcoming slog up the Irish Sea.

We all noticed a difference in the character of the boats here in Falmouth to those in the Solent. Here they were working boats. Boats that were used for sailing to and from places. Boats with self steering vanes on the rudders for ocean passages. More often than not these boats were not new and pristine. Certainly there was nobody polishing them, which is what I discovered a young man doing for some motor yacht owner in Lymington - for two days in succession.

A huge cruise liner came into the harbour, turned itself around without the help of tugs and berthed for a few hours before departing again.

I spent a lot of time using my new phone, which has a reasonable size screen and internet access, to seek a window in the weather and to make a plan that would see us safely around Lands End.

Craig wanted to go to the Helford River for this evening but the weather has blown up again and it's not worth the trouble. We'll get a good night's sleep and set off for the Lizard after breakfast.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 09:41 PM

July 20, 2010

Wet through in fog

Up at 5.30, it was a grey foggy day and we knew that heavy rain was forecast for later so we set off as early as possible for Falmouth. We could barely see 75m at first and during the day we were only to catch glimpses of the picturesque, rocky shoreline when we were close to it.

The weather deteriorated and as we were sailing upwind, but not close-hauled, we were going at a reasonable speed for a monohull, about 6.5 knots, and pounding the waves a bit. Enough to break the already twice-repaired mounting for the autohelm again. So I took the helm while Craig cleared away the bits of debris.

After a few hours we saw a ship looming through the fog. It was deceptive. It looked as though it was coming towards us at first. But actually it was at right-angles to our course and was at anchor.

Cris appeared at the hatch with some food and told us we looked like drowned rats. But we were OK. We were properly clad.

As we approached the Falmouth harbour entrance I heard a deep long blast from a ship's fog horn away to port! Then to starboard we could hear the fog horn on the St Anthony's Head lighthouse. As we drew closer we could see two big ships, at anchor, both blasting away every few minutes, which is what they are supposed to do in fog.

We tied up at the fuel barge and took on 85 litres of diesel then berthed at an adjacent visitor pontoon. Then the heavens opened! We'll be here for a while!

I had already made it ashore for a Cornish Pasty at the Oggy café opposite Trago Mills but Craig and Cris got soaked and only made it as far as the Chain Locker, the first pub from the pontoon.

The afternoon was spent doing laundry and at six we all met up again in the Chain Locker with a local customer of mine, Peter Clarke, who lives on the Helford River. There is a naval expression for what happened next. "Swinging the lantern." It means telling tales about the sea.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 03:45 PM

July 19, 2010

Submarines & Eddystone

Brixham has a lovely new Marina with great facilities. As for Brixham itself, I never got to see it as we were up and away straight after breakfast. Once we left the harbour I turned in again because I was still tired and the others seemed OK.

By 1100 I'd recovered and came up top to discover a smooth sea and blue sky with beautiful Devon countryside slipping by. But, of course, we still had to use the engine. We sailed past Dartmouth and Start Point. The last time I was here was 1974 as a young Lieutenant under training. On one occasion I was supposed to be taking bearings and plotting them on a chart but it was during a severe gale, which is not much fun in a little, Ton class, mine sweeper, and everybody went below one by one. The other occasion was in a submarine, which was surprisingly smooth when under water and running on its batteries. But when we surfaced to charge the batteries with the diesel engines and to have lunch the boat was tossed about like a yacht! I remember that walking between the massive diesel engines while they were running was quite terrifying!

We continued past Salcombe, a place I would very much like to have visited as I hear it is pretty and boaty and I've never been.

We saw a yacht about every 20 minutes coming towards us. Quite a lot of fishing boats. Then a warship. Then as we approached Plymouth we could see the Eddystone Lighthouse through the haze. Later another warship, and coming out of Plymouth was a Brittany Ferry bound for Roscoff. As we watched it we also saw a submarine on the surface heading into Plymouth. We sailed on by and the sky turned grey in the west. Bad weather approaching.

We sailed past another two pretty tourist magnets, Looe and Polperro and eventually we turned right into Fowey, one of my favourite places. It was 7 ish and so we berthed for a couple of hours at the Town Quay and went ashore for some delicious fish in one of the nearest restaurants.

Then we motored past the Boddinick Ferry, which had retired for the night already, and past three or four ships waiting to be loaded in the morning with China clay. Opposite these, at Mixtow, was the visitor's pontoon. Cris and Craig regaled me with stories about their interesting lives and Cris told a couple of his father's stories, one about being charged by a Red Russian with lance in Murmansk in 1917! Cris still has the Russian's pistol from this encounter.

And so to bed.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 10:09 PM

July 18, 2010

Avoiding Races off Portland Bill

Whilst making my way to the facilities for visiting yachtsmen in Weymouth I met a morose Craig, our skipper, on his way back from them. He was reluctantly agreeing with Chris's assessment of the wind. "Much the same as yesterday."

But I looked at the weather forecast on my new mobile phone and it was not so bad. So I returned to the boat excitedly announcing that we should get under way with all possible speed and head for Brixham. This lifted Craig's spirits and soon enough we were out of the harbour and motor-sailing in the sunshine.

The races off Portland Bill are infamous. I had been through them only once before, on my first day on HMS Fawn in 1975, and had thrown up over the side! There are two ways to avoid them. One way is to stay very close inshore. However, the tide flows very fast close inshore so it has to be with you or you would never make it.

We had to go the long way round because the tide was flowing up the channel from west to east.

It seemed to take forever to get around the Bill, making about 3 - 4 knots over the ground, but at least it was a pleasant day and whilst it was a bit choppy at first it gradually got better and better. All the sensible sailors though were sailing the other way, downwind and with the current! CLYDE'S progress was tedious.

We were a long way out in Lyme Bay so not much in the way of Jurassic scenery to look at as Portland Bill receded from view.

Eventually the tide turned in our favour. As we approached Brixham the sun was setting behind the cliffs that protect it from the prevailing south-westerlies and we found six big cargo ships at anchor in Torbay. Did they know something that we did not?

We ate on board and turned in early. I fell asleep immediately in what I had been wearing all day.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 09:42 PM

July 17, 2010

Worst Passage in 30 years!

Splash... "F**k!"

"Are you in the water Cris?"

"Yes!"

I leapt over the rail to see somebody from a neighbouring yacht already attempting to hoik Cris out of the water by his arm. I grabbed the other arm and we had him on dry land, cursing politely, in a jiffy. He'd fallen out of the dinghy while attempting to insert the oars! He is 74 years old after all. This was adding insult to injury as he was already damp because his waterproofs had perished in the 5 years since he'd sailed with me in TARDIS and now he was wet through. He was only attempting to row across to buy a new set of oilies from a chandler! This was about 10.30am.

We'd all been up at 01.15 to sail from Lymington. The departure went well. Great fun piloting in the Solent at night. The most significant lights being occulting or quick flashing so that they could be observed continuously. The lighthouse next to Hurst Castle was very complicated, having red, green and white sectors, the white light flashing whilst the others occulted.

The last time I had sailed at night past Hurst Spit was in the hydrofoil-stabilised trimaran, TARDIS, on my way to the Weymouth Speed Week one October and we'd passed the light at over 16 knots! My crew then had been conferring about which buoy was which and were certain that there was a light at the end of the spit. Meanwhile I had been helming using the GPS, in which I had much confidence.

This time though in a monohull we had plenty of time to look at the lights and figure out what they all meant.

Eventually we rounded the corner and hugged the beach by the North Channel as we had figured this would be both quicker and less rough, given the south westerly swell we were expecting to encounter following the previous two night's gales.

So now at last we were on our way down the channel. It was rough but we had the comforting company of another yacht for a while. Before we'd passed Anvil Point Cris had gone below to sleep. A good and necessary decision. Craig, the skipper, and I stayed up top on watch. There was quite a sea running. When I peered over the spray dodger the waves had ripples on top of them and the next stage would have been spray coming from the wave crests. That's not good.

Over the water we were making about 5 knots with the main sail and the iron sail (the engine). Over the ground we were making 6 to 7 knots with the ebbing
tide. But the wind was against the tide and it was getting stronger so it was getting rougher. I kept changing my position and ended up facing the stern and watching the sun rise.

Boof, boof, boof after boof! We were getting a pounding. I burped occasionally and felt my sphincters attempting to relax and empty the contents of my stomach and bowel. This is the body's natural reaction to being shaken and stirred. I was losing body heat, despite my usual layers of clothing and decided eventually to go below to relieve myself and to put on another layer at the same time. I sat at the top of the companionway taking off my life jacket and harness, my hat and sailing gloves and undoing all the Velcro and zips that I could before descending into the saloon. Once one loses sight of the horizon sea-sickness almost inevitably ensues.

Eventually when I'd done as much preparation as I could I had to go down below. So I staggered carefully down the ladder and gingerly made my way forward to the heads, undressing as I went and trying not to wake Cris, who was asleep in my bunk on the port side as this was the lee side - he would have fallen out on the windward side.

"There's a f**cking hole in the boat and there is water pouring in all over the place!", I shouted, none to pleased, as I started to wretch into the toilet pan, at the same time holding my hand over the hole. "Somebody come and help!"

Cris leapt out of bed and soon appeared with a handful of plastic bags to stuff in the hole. My initial reaction was one of despair but then Craig came back with the same bundle of plastic bags and somehow made it work.

Then I emptied all bodily fluids from my alimentary canal into the toilet, alternating one end after the other and then, totally debilitated, I lay down and pulled Cris's sleeping bag over me, determined not to lift my head from the horizontal till it was calm.

Craig came down after the regulation 6 and a half hours on the engine to feed it with oil but spent a little too long down below and threw up over the side upon his return to the cockpit. Meantime the autohelm mounting had broken and Cris was forced to steer by hand. Between them they made the decision that they did not want to sail past Portland Bill and onto Brixham - quite enough enjoyment for one day - and diverted to Weymouth. I heard the rhythm of the engine change and the main sail flap as they tacked and asked what was going on.

Eventually, as it calmed down in the lee of the Bill, I emerged from my sickbed. Nice, white, Dorsetshire cliffs in view. A ship entering Portland Harbour, in which there appeared to be other ships, including naval ships (I thought they'd closed Portland as a naval base years ago). Sunshine all around. The Weymouth Lifeboat disappearing eastward! Somebody in grave and imminent danger obviously. It had been bad out there but now we were safe.

We berthed in "the cove" and started to assess the damage, to the boat, to us, to our morale and to the project - getting Craig's boat to Skye. Later the Lifeboat returned towing a yacht that had been dismasted! We had been luckier than they had been at least.

Cris was complaining about his, so called, waterproofs! He has arthritis in his toes and the walk over the bridge to a chandler was more than he could bear so, still in a temper, albeit a mild one, he pumped up the dinghy, with Craig's help and got in it to row across the Wey instead! He hadn't intended to go swimming.

In the afternoon we had a cream tea and laughed about it all. Cris said that it was his worst sail in 30 years. He's used to ocean sailing!

Now we have a new plan. We'll see which way the wind blows.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 10:15 PM

July 16, 2010

Severe Gales in the English Channel

It's close to midnight and I am nearly falling out of my bunk. I've been allocated the windward side and it is blowing a hooligan outside; Force 9! A bit reminiscent of a car ferry crossing. Similar sort of creaking and groaning. The same sort of shuddering that you get when the ship's propellers come out of the water but in our case caused by mast vibration. The pitching and rolling is much the same too but without the huge, vommit-producing, vertical and horizontal displacements that make you feel as though you're rapidly going up and down in lift whilst simultaneously swerving from side to side on a motorway. So not altogether that bad a motion, all things considered. But it's very noisey with wind howling through the rigging. Thank goodness we are still securely tied up alongside in Lymington Yacht Haven! Things eventually quieten down in the small hours.

It was warm and sunny earlier in the afternoon with a clear blue sky. About force 6 - 7. And we were tempted to leave but the forecast was bleak and by the time I'd finished a 4 mile walk the clouds were already thickening.

We had the good fortune to arrive here on Wednesday 15th July from Hamble. I say, 'good fortune' because on our way here we were within a stone's throw of running aground under the power of both sail and engine! Not on the infamous Bramble Bank (used as a cricket pitch once a year) but on a sand bank (that was not marked on the chart) that sits undeneath the West Bramble Cardinal buoy.

We had been keeping out of the way of a huge container ship that was in the main channel and were right on the course that our skipper, Craig, had chosen. Then suddenly I noticed the tell-tale change in the colour of the water and drew this to everybody's attention. A sharp turn to port, in the direction of the actual Bramble Bank and a similar turn to starboard a short while later and we were clear of it. But it just goes to show that you cannot always trust the GPS and sometimes have to rely on instinct and experience.

We hope to depart at high tide tonight and head off to Land's End against the abating winds.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 03:46 PM

July 14, 2010

Over the sea to Skye

I'm currently sailing from Southampton to the Isle of Skye on a 32ft yacht so there will be some difficulty communicating with me. WiFi in Lymington Yacht Haven where I am now, although free, is very slow, for example, and I generally do not answer my mobile phone when actually at sea sailing but you can leave messages and I'll do my best to help you.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 04:43 PM

July 08, 2010

Busman's Holiday

On Tuesday I'm off to Southampton to join a 32ft vessel that has been sailed across the Atlantic but is currently on a ship on its way back. It's owner Craig Irvine-Smith plans to sail her to the Isle of Skye via Dublin and I've been invited to help crew. Happy Days!

I'm still contactable on my mobile +44 7 985 043 981.

I will definitely be back by 29th July as I have a big birthday on 31st.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 08:20 AM