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Jester Baltimore Challenge 2019

Jester Baltimore Challenge 2019

So this was the first big test of myself and Mischief, 5 weeks to sail from the River Medway to Baltimore in Southern Ireland and back. The plan as it stood was to do final provisioning and boat sort out on 1st June, set off on 2nd June and reach Plymouth on 12th June. The stops en route would depend on the wind and state of Mischief but possible ports included Ramsgate, Dover, Eastbourne, Gosport, Portland. If the weather was suitable most stops would be anchorages.

I had only done one trip of any length, the late May club rally to Ramsgate. While I did manage to dial in the self-steering and had a decent run under spinnaker, with tide against wind the motion was far from comfortable. The sail down to Plymouth was very similar to two years ago, I stopped in Ramsgate, Newhaven and Gosport where I sat out a storm and met up with the German couple I had met two years ago. I also took the opportunity to visit my mother and do a couple of minor jobs on the boat. I set off for the west country and stopped in Salcombe for another storm and the next day sailed up to Cargreen where I rendezvoused with some friends. Then back to Mayflower Marina and the Jester meet up started. Making it to the start was less problematic in Mischief than in Chantilly but this was down to the boat being simpler and having been fitted out for the trip over the past 18 months. Mischief was clearly not as comfortable as Chantilly and the lack of a reliable engine was having an impact such as when I entered Salcombe and the engine cut out 100m from the entrance bar! I was heading into Salcombe to avoid a small storm and the approach was in pouring rain with several other boats also making for shelter. Due to the rain my chart plotter wasn’t viable and due to the physical constraints of Mischief paper based charts weren’t an option. My approach was based on following other boats, not recommended, and then memory and the depth sounder. I restarted the engine after unkinking the fuel line and made it safely to a fore and aft mooring. The harbour master was very helpful but I needed sleep and food after my sail down from Gosport.


The Jester meet up was good but seemed slightly muted compared with two years ago. Tom from HNYC couldn't get his engine sorted and sailed from Eastbourne all the way to Cargreen. We had another go but to no avail. Plymouth start was very windy, Tom and I set off about 9 hours late after a final go at Tom's engine. As I left the sound I turned right and my dinner went left, I spent the first 24 hours feeling ill, a mixture of mal de mer and possible food poisoning, probably from some pork pies that were past their best, I don't have a fridge and so took a risk, I won't be doing that again! The run along the coast was a south westerly force 6, using a bucket for both ends was no fun. Made it through that and the wind gradually died until I was drifting around off the Lizard. Variable winds, mainly SW'lies continued until I was past the Scillies and by the time I was passing Bishop's Rock on Tuesday afternoon the wind was ENE F1. I detected a couple of other Jesters on AIS but not close enough to see. I crossed the TSS west of the Scillies and set a course of NW for the Fastnet but the wind was NW f6! This backed to West but not sufficiently to prevent a land fall off Galley Head, 20 miles east of Baltimore and 30 miles from Fastnet. I made it into Baltimore at 3 minutes past midnight on Friday and again I failed to round Fastnet. The comparison with two years ago was very similar but there was less poor visibility. I was slightly faster in Mischief but 6 hours over 5 days is hardly significant. Also, Mischief has a couple of foibles that were problematic in offshore moderate choppy seas. She was very wet and water found its way into the boat and much of my gear. When beating she almost came to a stop when hitting waves that were breaking over the bow. I tried moving weight aft but this resulted in the wind catching the bow and knocking her off the wind. In most cases the self steering recovered the situation but on one occasion I was beam on the wind and sea with sheeted in main and genoa, albeit on 2nd reef. I thought I was going to be knocked down but the boat recovered but not before taking a lot of water over the cockpit coaming. A bit worrying as I was in the bunk at the time. Despite this and a large dollop of water making its way past the sprayhood, through the gap where the top wash board would normally be, dragging the shower curtain off its rail and landing on my sleeping bag I actually managed to get plenty of sleep. Towards the end I was sleeping in my foul weather gear to minimise the effects of a wet sleeping bag and I didn't want to break out a spare until I had dried things out a bit. Having the engine in the cabin normally increases speed by about 20% but the handling idiosyncrasies seemed to be exacerbated by having the outboard in the cabin and I didn't manage to drain all of the petrol so spent almost four days with a strong smell of petrol and didn't dare light the stove.

After a good six hours sleep at anchor in Baltimore I got up to see who was around and Tom invited me over for breakfast. I arrived in my wet weather gear and he immediately guessed why, wet sleeping bag. We compared notes on our trip to Baltimore and he had arrived a few hours earlier but he had made it round Fastnet. Mischief wasn't living up to my expectations. The accommodation was very cramped but the bunk with the lee cloth worked well. As an example of how cramped I tried a couple of time trials to get out of my bunk and put my foul weather gear on, 6 minutes! The contortions involved moving kit around to enable me to stretch out a leg at a time. This was another reason for sleeping in my oilies. The amount of damp was not a major problem but was a bit dispiriting. Another worry was that when the boat slammed in a short sea while sailing to windward it appeared that the boat was taking on water that was finding its way to the bilge. I am not absolutely sure where from but every couple of hours the electric bilge pump ran for 20 seconds. This equates to about 2 gallons worst case but probably nearer to one. Eventually the pump blew the fuse so I had to hand pump every few hours but this didn't last long. Checking around the boat the water wasn't coming in from up forward or from the hull fittings I had removed and glassed over. The water may have been coming from the aft / cockpit area or from the keel bolts. Upon reflection, the holes I hadn’t managed to fill in the cockpit area were probably the reason for water getting in.

 

Baltimore Harbour


Once restored, I went ashore with Tom and we joined the party. This time the locals seemed to be more welcoming and tolerant of our party attitude. The most senior Jester gave a speech at the sailing club dinner and presented a Jester burgee which were both well received. We then took part in a pirate themed quiz at the Algiers Pub which was good fun. The Pwllheli and Plymouth starters mixed nicely and better than before.

 

The next day, Saturday, we walked up to the Lots Wife beacon and had a very pleasant day ashore. There was an excellent organised history tour around the village pointing out how life was in the days that pirates were prevalent. Sunday, the weather was soft (wet) and most Jesters stayed onboard their boats. On the Monday I set off around midday and headed off towards Fastnet quietly hoping to see some wildlife. I saw a couple of seals and a sun fish but no whales. The wind died and I had to motor across the TSS south of Fastnet. On Tuesday the wind gradually built up from the north east and I was shortening sail to suit until by Wednesday afternoon I had a well reefed jib up and no main. I will need to get a third reef on the main. With the westerly TSS off the Isles of Scilly approaching I started planning my entrance into the Scillies to shelter from the increasing wind.


 

This is my AIS track of the following events

 

Mischief crossed North of the western TSS on Wednesday PM as the wind was veering from N F5 to NE F6.

I attempted to seek shelter in IoS through NW Channel but couldn't make progress against wind which was now E F7. The forecast was still saying NE F5/6 at this point.

Tried again for St Mary's Channel but couldn't get near it. Forecast was now for an extended period of E F8.

Around midnight I changed plans and decided to heave to and consider options. I discussed the option of drifting across the TSS with Falmouth CG but they were not happy and wouldn't issue a Securitie message or allow me to. There was a lot of shipping indicted on AIS but I couldn't see any of it.


At this point heaving to was the ideal option and Mischief behaved impeccability. I got some rest but kept drifting into the TSS so had to tack north. Only starboard tack was viable due to a problem. 

Eventually I painted myself into a corner where the Western and Southern TSSs meet. 


4AM decided to call it a day and sailed north. Near Pol Bank the sea state is the worst I have ever been in and when hove to things were manageable but sailing with about 1m of jib flying I was making 5 knots and being thrown around a fair bit. A recurring thought that I had was ‘would I make it back for my daughter’s wedding!’.


As I passed Bishop's Rock the lee of the islands made things more comfortable and I tried starting the engine, it wouldn't start.


7:47AM I issued a Pan-Pan message and by 8:30AM the lifeboat had me in tow. The reason I couldn't make port tack became clear when I took the tow, the starboard jib sheet was wrapped round the anchor on the fore deck. Very simple to fix but not an option in the prevailing sea state and at night.

 


RNLI were fantastic. Everyone knows that Achilles 24 are wet boats but being towed at 5 knots into a F8 was very wet.

IoS locals and St Mary's HM were very helpful and supportive.


Falmouth CG were correct in their decisions and very professional. I would still call them if a similar situation ever arose.


When Mischief was along-side the Town Quay I went over to the life boat to thank them. The coxain mentioned that he was half expecting his pager to go off when he saw my AIS track the previous night. I had a decent rest in the Scillies where I met some great people. My first encounter was with the owner of the ex Aran and Weymouth lifeboat, Colin, he immediately gave me a cup of tea and settled my concerns about using the RNLI. It was only their 8th shout of the year and he reckoned they enjoyed going out for real situations. Colin lent me a harbour board and was all round very hospitable. I met Didier, a French Jester who was extending his stay with friends. I also met with the chap who had posted my story on Facebook. He turned out to be a great chap and we had a couple of good conversations. The harbour master was also very helpful and his team let me stay next to the quay. A couple of the boat owners in St Mary’s harbour recorded gusts of 50 knots and the harbour was crammed with people hiding from the storm. 

The strong easterly winds continued for the next two days and by Saturday morning the wind had abated enough for me to set off for the mainland. I reached Cawsand bay by Sunday evening where there were other Jesters but I didn’t meet up with them and set off on the early tide on Monday. I was at anchor off Hurst point in the Solent by Tuesday evening. The sail across Lyme Bay was great but punctuated by periods of being becalmed off Dartmouth and Swanage. Off Dartmouth I passed just ahead of the Classic Cross Channel Regatta race in which Lodestar and Aurai were competing. While I did pirouettes in the windless conditions they all charged off under light-weight spinnakers.

The engine wasn't an option for extended operation so I tried various sail combinations during which I almost lost the spinnaker. Due to the light winds I had to hand steer most of the way. My energy reserves were depleted and I was very glad to reach Gosport on Wednesday. Reflecting upon the sail from Baltimore I decided to blank out the rescue until I had got the boat home and that helped me make up my mind to take a decent rest. I left the boat in Gosport over the weekend and then sailed it to Newhaven on Monday / Tuesday. I booked in for at least a week and went home for a rest and to earn some money.

Saturday 21st of July and had made it back from the final leg; Newhaven to HNYC. The passage from Newhaven consisted mainly of broad reaches with force 3 / 5 SW'ly winds. The sea state was slight and the boat ate up the miles. Towards the end there was a force 8 SW'ly but being back in the river Medway this wasn't a problem. This was the best sailing of the whole trip. 125 miles in 29 hours. In Newhaven I met someone who had built their own Hebridean SSWV and I have followed their story on their blog, Tamy Norie. He was on a different boat with a mate going to Holland. What caught my eye was the wind vane, throughout this trip I have been approached by people interested in my wind vane. It is one of the best ice breakers for starting conversations in marinas.


There are some good points about Mischief, in slight sea state with a reasonable breeze she eats up the miles. She handled the very rough stuff exceedingly well and better than me until I started to trust her. From my bunk I can reach almost everything I need; the AIS, VHF, kettle, food, etc. Low water consumption regime worked well, I used less than 1 litre of fresh water for washing dishes in four weeks. Hygiene based on wet wipes worked well and the system of buckets didn't cause any significant problems once I was over the food poisoning. Nothing on Mischief broke, the engine is a lot more reliable since I serviced it in Gosport and with some very minor modifications to the self-steering gear it now works better in light winds. The sprayhood worked well but there are some holes where water gets through. I have noted about 20 improvements and changes I'd like to make to Mischief but without standing headroom, an inboard engine and more space in the cockpit she is never going to be easy to sail on extended trips. I decided to give the boat a rest before I planned what to do with her next.

 

Latest update, Mischief has a new owner and I now have an Invicta 26 which I am preparing for more Jester fun. While my plans for reaching the Azores in 2020 have been put on hold, as has all sailing, it hasn’t stopped me planning more adventures. 

 

Bernie Branfield  

 

Date Published 12th Apr 2020