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Story of my trip from Paimpol

Having decided that a Comanche Catamaran (Made by Sailcraft in Brightlinsea) was the appropriate upgrade from a Telstar, the one I eventually settled on and purchased was in Paimpol, N Brittany. There looked to be a weather window so I packed my handheld GPS, VHF, lifejacket, Reeds almanac, Shell channel pilot and some clothes and set off by ferry from Portsmouth to do the deal and bring Little Big B back to the Medway. Bryan, my normal crew had used his holidays on our recent trip to Brightlingsea so I was going to be single handed.

The previous owner had died suddenly so everything was ‘as seen’, the rig had been reconnected by a family friend and it was in the water and ready to go. When I originally viewed her, the tricolour and anchor light looked dodgy so I had asked that these be replaced with LED ones before the mast was stepped. (This proved to be a good decision)

The engine worked fine so I filled up with petrol and some provisions (French bread and Camembert) ready for the return journey.

Unexpectedly I found that there were no tools or charts in board and the owners friend managed to round some up for me. Charts were for the Channel Isles and were old but would be fine. (1972 based on 1905 survey)

Day 1 set off from Paimpol at first light. Since Paimpol dries I needed to get somewhere where I could set off at any state of the tide as tides are twice as strong in the channel isles and one has to go with the flow.

Found that the outboard cavitated in any kind of a sea so motoring would not be an option except if calm.

The GPS was computer based and so did not come with the boat, the VHF did not work, the mainsail had not been rigged correctly and the genoa was in the wrong position on the furler, only half the steaming lights worked and there was no topping lift. The compass did not read correctly and the wind indicator read 30deg on one tack and then 90 on the other when close hauled, not altogether ideal. Set sail under jib alone and on day one reached Jersey. There was only one 12v socket so had to share this between my HH GPS and my mobile.

Day 2, Wanted to go to Alderney next, however tides would not permit, so set off 05.00 for Guernsey. However noticed the oil light on the OB lever was lit so returned to investigate. Oil level was fine, tried to replace oil filter but my limited tool supply prevented this. The OB manual was in French, asked a neighbouring boat to translate. Light signified that everything was good! Just had’nt noticed it being on during daylight. Set off 4 hrs late for Guernsey, ran into wind over tide outside Jersey and was making no progress, returned to Jersey and had a welcome day off to recharge my energy levels sort out the sails, buy a channel islands pilot book and have a shower.

Day 3, Once again set off for Guernsey at 05.00. The tide was against me initially and progress was slow beating towards Pt Corbiere, I took the outside route to miss the rough seas inshore. However, once past here the tide was good and I had a reach all the way to Guernsey, arriving mid afternoon and attaching myself to a pontoon in St Peter Port harbour.


Day 4, Left 04.00 for Blighty, however it was drizzling so couldn't see a thing so returned to the pontoon and started again at 05.00. Had agonized the previous evening about the best route. It was the top of springs and although the tides would be with me, they could be flowing at up to 10 kn. There were overfalls to be expected in the Alderney race and in the Swinge and I would be going through at peak tidal intensity where there were overalls shown on the chart and nassty rocks sticking out. There was forecast to be little wind and I couldn't see how I would be able either to sail or motor out of their way. Therefore I set of in a northerly direction and went on the outside of another rocky island called Casquets . This worked well as I didn’t meet any overalls and yet still had the benefit of the strong NE flood. Had to motor hard as there was no wind and I wanted to arrive before it was dark. There was a slight haze as I crossed the shipping lanes but nothing significant. I only saw about a dozen other vessels in the whole of the 16 hr crossing.

About 20 miles off England I noticed that the fuel gauge showed that I was down to the reserve level so reduced speed to a fast idle to conserve petrol. Headed for Poole as that was the nearest destination. Ended up entering Poole in pitch dark using the GPS to steer by and found the spot I had identified as a suitable anchorage spot quite easily.

Day 5. I needed petrol in the morning so went to Salterns marina. This was a very tight marina full of very expensive motor boats that were I to scratch one, it would result in a bill more than the worth of my boat. Fortunately I managed to emerge without mishap and was filled up with petrol and with a chart of the S Coast . Set off straight away and motored most ofthe way to Chichester harbour where I dropped anchor at spot recommended by Brian Wright. Entering was not easy as the tide was ebbing at 3 kn.

Nearby there was an inflatable anchored up. This turned out to be a disco inflatuable and the party went on till midnight.

Day 6, Left at 05.00 and set off for Eastbourne. For once some wind, F4 from the NE so managed to sail all the way. At one point I was on a collision course with a fishing boat. Finally it looked as though he would pass just in front of me. When he reached the spot just in front, he turned 180degree , threw a lobster pot overboard and set off again. I then had to avoid this!

Eastbourne marine is very smart. I had to return to work for a couple of days so I booked in till Saturday and caught the train home.

Arrived back Friday evening aiming to return to the Medway over Saturday and Sunday.

Day 7, Set off at 05.00, but then calamity befell me. There were several stout poles sticking up 1 metre in the marine where they had taken a pontoon away. In the dark, I saw one looming up in front of me. I turned to avoid it and promptly ran into the next one to the side. Multis, unlike monos are a bit fragile at the front end. As a result the forestay support which is made from mast section broke. For the second time in as many months I had a disconnected forestay. Since winds were forecast to be light I judged I should be able to motor home despite this problem. Set out from Eastbourne and instantly ran into thick fog. Fortunately, after a while it cleared. Then the wind shifted and at Dungerness once again I had zero visibility. I headed for shallow water and by Folkstone it had cleared.

The forecast now said that it could be windy on the Sunday. Since I couldn't sail or motor in waves, I decided that I'd better get back to Hoo as soon as possible. I therefore took advantage of the ongoing positive tide and motored as far as Margate where I dropped anchor at 20.00 as the tide was now ebbing. I got some shut eye and set off midnight and was back at Hoo by 07.00. Just as well as it was a F6 in the afternoon.

I was pleased that I had achieved my objective, shame I had to be in such a hurry to get home but I was lucky in that I had a whole week of light winds, a rare event in 2012.

Wil Pretty

Date Published 1st Oct 2012