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Motor Sailor or Yacht with an Auxiliary Engine?

For almost four years I had waited and planned for a second chance to sail Yacht Aurai in the Classic Cross Channel Regatta. We had sailed the event six years ago, failed miserably to get to the start line two years ago, which is another tale and this year 2013 was going to be perfect.

You may recall April was pretty chilly so many planned pre-launch jobs had not been done but I had May and the launch date had been booked for months so whatever!

Which is how a trail of difficulties lead to a bit of sailing in May, but back to dry land for some major works, including a new engine, by the beginning of June.

The Regatta started July 5th and I planned a two week cruise around the South Coast, to get to the start, lining up delivery crew and Regatta crew, which included one (all get a mention later) for the whole trip, an American lady from Philadelphia, an American lady from Washington, two Bretons who knew the French side of the Regatta waters and so on.

I have no criticism of the boat yard, save the elapsed time to sort out a new engine and other jobs took far longer than I thought or anticipated and we launched for engine testing, on Thursday July at 16:00!!

Already, I had fallen out with US1, quite fairly and US2 was not sure she was getting the anticipated deal but my three crew were responsive and ready to go. I had advised the Regatta organisers that I was going to be late, but determined to get there. My Breton boys jumped ship as we were late.

We scrabbled around on the Friday morning and locked out at about Midday. Now, the main instruction for a new engine was to run it hard for the first hours, there are some finer points, and service it after 30 hours.

The weather was calm, not much wind and so with new engine we motored hard down the Medway and the crew trying to get to know each other. Happy to answer questions or provide details on this bit of the journey, but suffice to say we got to Dartmouth at 16:00 on Sunday 7th July. The engine well and truly run in and requiring its first service.

We also learned that very light winds had seen very few finishers in the first two days racing so we were starting level with most of the fleet.

The fleet consists of as many Classic Yachts as the organisers can find and this year it was about 75 yachts, some nearly a century old and some larger than others. At 11m we are smaller than many but not the smallest. One other Nic 36' is always nice to see.

Having got to Dartmouth, there was no time off for my crew on account of good behaviour, we had a crew party to go to, a boat to prepare and I had skipper briefing 1.

Our first race was a mere 110 Nm Channel Crossing with a race fleet, through the Monday night and my crew hardly knew each other. Conor, just turned 20 wanted sailing experience to help with job prospects as a mechanic! Anna, wanted to rekindle her sailing legs after a gap of some years and was the eldest and I am pretty ancient. Then US2 was the same vintage as me and a novice along with Conor, while Anna was effectively a novice though knew boat etiquette and brilliant at housekeeping.

Our race start hardly won any prizes, right on cue a 15kt breeze vanished and we were becalmed with many others and it took us two hours to X the line and the next two hours were hardly scintillating. That was four hours of sail time eating into our energy before we had even started.

My crew had romantic notions that the fleet would sail in one echelon across the channel. Huh! We hardly saw any boats throughout the night, one bulk carrier, one trawler and that was it. The wind did get up and start to move us along and my rudimentary tidal planning and course work had to work as I had no idea what else I could do.

Then the wind really got up and we made rapid progress and were amazed, as the day dawned, and we closed Paimpol to see 20 or so boats behind us, though approaching from all angles. The wind, both speed and direction was getting to be variable and mischievous but we kept our noses in front.

You do have to do this sort of thing to realise how tired you get and decision making can suffer. However, it seemed more wise to pass the entrance channel and cut back on a tack. Other yachts pinched their way in.

Then found out why! You could actually see the tide change and come out to meet us, just as the wind dropped. Here we were, 108 miles of sailing, only two to go and the tide washing us backwards onto the rocks.

Hey ho, whatever, engine on, disqualify ourselves and get in on the tide, we were in good company as, say, 20 boats did the same. Nil points and all that effort. Still, a well earned rest day in a beautiful Breton harbour, sun shining, the following day.

My crew learning the pattern of arriving late, tidying boat, having a shower and then finding restaurants closing, limited menus, getting to bed late and then being woken up by nutty skipper insisting on a full day ahead.

Crew party in Paimpol was fantastic, local flavours and eat your heart out Jonny Depp, we had a real pirate leading his Breton Band with music that was catchy in a certain way! Unlimited house red on the table took its toll of my own crew, but we all got up for race day.

Now you get used to dealing with weather as it comes, but this trip was beginning to hack me off. Nothing to sail with to Dartmouth. Too little or too much seemed to be the only speed controls available.

So a lumpy race morning in steep sharp 4 m seas bordering F6, beating our way around the course, after a rubbish start, was at least rewarded with a 6th place in Class 1, Division 2. Then the sun came out and anchoring in a beautiful rocky bay for lunch with much of the fleet was lovely.

The less said about Race 2 the better, our best start, and a down wind run, making on many boats in our class. Then a bit of navigation trouble and we missed the tidal gate, lost the will to live and gave the engine a few more hours of running in.

Still, a fresh start for the race to Guernsey the next day and only 49 miles.

Except that tides were awkwardly timed, and the wind was from exactly where we wanted to go. As strategist on Aurai, I was quick to realise that lee bowing would help. Remember, the best or faster boats carry full time strategists glued to their laptops.

Not skulduggery, but interesting how boats leave their AIS transmitting and give other boats all their progress information, who happily use the data.

For us it was a hard slog, the lee bowing working well and making the best of wind and tide. At the 20Nm mark, from the finish line, it was looking to be a too long night ahead: that was unfair to push my crew through. More engine running in and Conor and I brought Aurai to anchor, just outside St Peter Port at 0200. We were knackered.

Some boats kept going under sail to finish at 0800, but many had given up with us. The around Sark race was cancelled for lack of wind and so a free day and the final Regatta Party. Held on the ramparts of Castle Cornet, on a very warm summer's evening a perfect setting. Not that we were heavily involved in the prize giving, though 56th from 75 seemed pretty good for us. I had even kept my crew for the whole regatta, just about speaking to each other.

That peace broke with the immortal lines, "she is your girlfriend, you can sleep with her", as one female crew decided sharing a cabin with the other was no longer necessary!

Now all I had to do was get back home to the Medway. US2 had plans to leave and crew Jane was going to catch up so we agreed to do all that in Cherbourg. High hopes for Jane Yachtmaster qualified perfectionist.

Only lumpy seas and sea sickness kept her in her bunk getting intimate with the ship's bucket for the first sail to Le Havre. Crew had been promised less boot camp, more leisure time and time in port. NE F6 soon put paid to that and to be honest this engine running in bit was getting a bit tiresome.

Now some of you may know a chap called Mazlow who has become a management favourite for suggesting people are motivated by their needs. So if you are hungry the priority is food, and so on up in levels, while if you have everything, you seek professional recognition and so on.

This is often illustrated as a graphic pyramid. Well the new paradigm is with us and the basic need is no longer, food, heat and love, but WIFI. Without it we are lost and so crew hit the shore and go on the hunt for free wifi above all else, whatever happened to the cold beer?

Le Havre to Dieppe was windless and we motored, arriving at 23:00 and finding a berth and not even looking for a restaurant, Dieppe to Boulogne was motored and that bit about, look out for the sluice operating, should have been underlined in the Almanac. As we disgraced ourselves and entertained about 300 Dutch and French yachters flattened across several boats!

We had by now improved on our French shore leave practice and had a splendid fishy evening in Boulogne and a few beers. Then it was time for home.

Wow, a wind, wow squared, a wind we do not have to beat against and one we can hold our TSS crossing angle with! No engine needed how wonderful, ah wait a minute. Is this thick fog enveloping us? Visibility down to 1000 m or less in the busiest shipping channel, great.

Crew Jane, now better, called Dover Coastguard who smartly guided us to the gaps in traffic they could see on their radar. The wind still carrying us along to Ramsgate and we arrived in bright sunshine to see the lifeboat racing the other way.

Stayed in port a day then went home, more engine. Total engine hours 130!!! My friends think I have sold my sails, a total of 900 Nm. Now we are home we do use the sails, most of the crew is still speaking to me. Conor got his job with Sunsail, Anna wants to come back and introduce her daughter to sailing and with all that practice we are hoping to race better in our club Autumn Series.

Maybe I should get a motor sailor?

Charles Hessey

Date Published 15th Sep 2013