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Gentlemen don't sail to windward

Earlier in the year whilst planning our holiday for August on the boat I hit upon the idea of using some of the free visitor nights from MDL to leave the boat in the Solent until we could get down and head for the south west I had also mentioned this to Barry Gardiner some months ago who kindly offered to crew once we had firmed up the dates. As we got closer to the planned departure I had begun to look at the forecasts and it wasn't looking too hopeful as it was showing the typical constant west or southwest winds.

We decided to bite the bullet in the end and take our chances, so Thursday afternoon  Sharon and I met Barry, Sue and her 2 very well behaved Granddaughters on the boat who quite happily sat in the cockpit while the big people drank tea, after which we said goodbye to Sue and the children. Barry Sharon and myself decided it was time to have dinner so we popped round to the Dockside centre and experienced the culinary delights of the new Zippers Restaurant, we all liked the food we ordered and the price was quite reasonable          ( contrary to what I had heard ). After dinner Sharon went home and Barry and I returned to the boat where we promptly slipped our lines and headed for Stangate for the night where we anchored overnight to get a good start with the tide in the morning. Charisse was also anchored as they were headed for the Hamble prior to returning for the Ramsgate Regatta.

The next day we managed to leave an hour or so before high water at Sheerness so we had plenty of time in hand, the plan was to stay overnight at Dover, Brighton then onto Chichester on the third day. We motored most of the way down to hook spit which we cleared with over 2.5 meters of water under my 1.5 metre keel.

We then managed to get some sailing in with a reasonably light southerly wind as far as North Foreland where as we turned the gentle breeze turned into what seemed like a full blown gale although it was a mere 20 knots, we tacked back and forth for a while and decided that Ramsgate would be a better alternative as we (me mainly)  didn't  fancy much more of this punishment, as we entered the harbour we could see that Charisse had made the same decision and was also heading in, they had endured it longer than we had as they had came down via the Princes Channel although they had left some time after us.

We eventually managed to find a mooring amongst the large number of Dutch boats without too much of a fuss, a short while later Andy & Janet arrived bearing gifts in the form of bottles of beer which we all proceeded to drink in Cathala's Cockpit along with a fair amount of Barry's bottle of Rum that he had brought along.

The following day the forecast was just the same and maybe a little stronger so we decided to sail inshore along the Ramsgate channel down to Dover which in all honesty was just enough, although the weather was very nice eventually the wind did pick up at one point I did wonder if we were heading for ice creams on the beach at Deal!


Not long after leaving Ramsgate Barry decided to put out my trolling fishing line and after a further 20 minutes the device came to the surface with a nice juicy Mackerel attached to the feathers!

As we headed for Dover a couple of waves managed to dump themselves on top of poor old Barry in the cockpit but as a seasoned salty he dealt with it admirably as I laughed it off for him!  After a while a large white yacht appeared off our stern and came reasonably close before tacking back out towards the channel, think he was just saying hello...Barry had a few choice words for him!


Now there seemed to be a difference of opinion regarding the wind strength, my hand held speed indicator showed an average speed of 28 knots with a maximum of 33 knots which I felt was quite strong, Barry's reply was it's no more than a 4 maybe a 5, but certainly no more I am sure this was just Barry preventing me from worrying.

We eventually started to close on the Port's eastern entrance as a couple ferries went in and out, we were about 150 meters off the harbour wall when we were asked by port control to wait outside for a ferry to exit before entering the harbour, as I mentioned the wind was fairly strong and there was a swell outside the entrance which made it all very interesting but we eventually managed to get in and find a berth in the tidal marina where Barry cooked the earlier caught Mackerel which tasted very nice.


The next morning we left hoping to reach Brighton with the option of continuing through the night if we managed to find a favourable wind, unfortunately the wind stayed in the south west so it was more motor sailing or tacking to windward but the weather was mostly bright with a few showers, passing Dungerness we came across a few pods of porpoises on the point that seemed to be feeding and the beach was littered with fishermen.

Once passed Hastings we decided that Eastbourne would be the destination and I started to think that Chichester would be one of those places that I was never going to see....never the less we finished the day with a further 4 Mackerel which Barry cooked up along with a rather chunky chilli-con-carne soup for starters, I told Barry several times on this trip that he would make someone a wonderful wife!

Barry remained positive and we planned to make a very early start the following day and punch through to Chichester come hell or high water! We managed to make the 6.00 lock out from the marina and actually got out at 6.30, the sun was shining as we motor sailed down towards Beachy Head and passed the seven sisters all was well as the race was on to make the Looe Channel in time before the tide turned.


Once round Beachy Head we managed to sail a course just a tad south of west but knew it wasn't going to be enough to get us down to the channel so we rolled up the Genoa and motor sailed south until we were opposite the East Cardinal marking the channel, at this point I was concerned that we didn't have enough time to get through the channel and floated the idea of continuing south to the Owers to play it safe, Barry as always was fairly sure that we wouldn't have a problem but was happy with whatever I wanted to do, I eventually managed to summon some Dutch courage and we cranked the engine up as much as we dare and headed for the channel, I felt a little better to see two other yachts behind who seemed to be heading in the same direction.

We were now pinching the wind with the mainsail and the engine going hell for leather in order to get as much speed as possible so as to get through before the dreaded tide turned against us, the wind was around 20-25 knots which seemed to be producing some quite choppy seas which occasionally got us wet but we were doing well....then disaster struck! Barry was the first to sense that the exhaust was sounding dry and I leant over the stern to see steam coming from the exhaust, the engine was quickly turned off before any alarms came on and I started to check for problems. I removed the strainer from the seacock to find there was little water coming through which seemed to be just due to the angle of heel and obviously not enough for the speed at which the old girl was running. We were almost through and Barry unfurled a few rolls of the Genoa and we managed to sail a course just north of the red and green buoys which got us safely out of the channel.

What a relief! we dropped the main and started the downwind leg towards Chichester Harbour with just the Genoa set, this was the next problem, it was looking like we would arrive at the bar around 1 hour after low water and we were unsure if it would be safe to cross that early with the sea's we were experiencing so we tried to slow her by rolling up some of the Genoa but we were still managing 3.5 knots, we noticed a couple of yachts heading towards Chichester so Barry hit upon the idea of calling them up and extracting some local information which one offered gladly, we slowly crossed the bar and followed the shallow channel round into Sparkes Marina where Sharon had been waiting patiently for us on the pontoon. Mission accomplished.

Gentlemen don't sail to windward and Make sure you have plenty of tide to get through the Looe Channel advice given by another salty seadog namely Mr Tony Chamberlin, Tony I didn't ignore your advice, it was all Barry's Fault, he made me do it!

In all seriousness, again I owe a big thank you to Barry and Sue for all their help and advice.

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Neil Walters

Date Published 13th Aug 2010