So we had the second trip in the cruising Wayfarer 'Hafren' in late April. The plan this time was as follows:
- Leave Emsworth at 13:30 on the rising tide, punch out of the harbour entrance into the Solent
- Arrive at Newtown Creek at approx 20:30, and repair to the New Inn at Shalfleet, to sample their excellent fish menu
- Leave Newtown Creek at approx 03:30, sail round the back of the IoW, arriving in Bembridge at 08:30, and breakfast at the previously tested bakery
- Leave Bembridge at 11:30, getting back to Emsworth at about 14:30.
So a 24 hour trip, interspersed with the culinary delights of the Isle of Wight, and a good portion of dinghy sailing at night.
As so often with these plans, we found we were over taken by events, and needed a degree of flexibility.
We did in fact manage to leave Emsworth by launching in 12" of water at 13:30 on Friday, but then became embroiled in a series of races with cruisers from Chi Beacon to the Needles. Admittedly, the cruisers didn't actually know they were racing, but a 45 mile beat needs to be punctuated with some form of interest, and racing cruisers seemed like a good way to pass the time. Some of them even attempted to steal a march on us by using their engines, but that didn't stop us from giving them a sound pasting (on our calculated handicaps). The only issue with racing cruisers is that it tends to detract from the somewhat more mandatory activities such as looking out for tankers. But we were fortunate in this respect, whilst crossing the deep water channel between the forts, Martin, looking for preferred tidal flows and wind, spotted a container ship that may well have interfered with our passage (by sinking us), and we made a rather brisk change of course to avoid a marine incident.
Lesson 1: Always look out for massive container ships, they can not stop, and move at something near 20knts. 5 hoots is too late.
Anyway, the net of all this racing was that we got to Newtown Creek far earlier than planned, at 18:30. The weather wasn't especially kind to us - a F4/5 SW, so a beat all the way - but the favourable tide meant that we averaged 6 knots over 5 hours, not bad for a 180kg single-reefed Wayfarer. Our early arrival gave us a decision to make - do we push on to the Needles, hopefully making it in daylight, or do we stop and get an early sitting at the New Inn at Shalfleet? In the end, we decided to press on for the Needles. I've never been through the Needles channel, and the opportunity to do it in daylight seemed to make a lot of sense, given the legendary banks and overfalls etc. There were also a couple of cruisers on their way to Yarmouth who had not had a chance to witness our remarkable upwind speed, and Martin was keen to show them our wake.
The wind stayed remarkably constant at F4/5, and we beat up to Yarmouth. It was a neapy sort of tide, and we were reaching the end of the ebb, but the water state from Yarmouth to the Needles was really quite troubled in places. Fortunately, Martin and I grew up sailing on the the River Severn, at Thornbury SC, and so are no strangers to tide induced chop and overfalls. Nevertheless, we briefly considered taking in an extra reef, but discarded the idea once we had settled into this final upwind passage. The channel narrows quickly from Hurst Castle to the end of the Needles channel (only 250m wide at the end), and despite the relatively late state of the tide, we were spat out of the Needles channel at 20:30, just as dusk was falling.
Lesson 2: Never go through the Needles channel in a small boat with any significant degree of wind over tide. It must be absolutely terrifying. Probably not best in darkness.
Now we turned the corner and started heading to St Catherines point, broad reaching. The tide had turned at 21:00, and as we were now sailing wind-with-tide the apparent wind was a F3 or so - we settled into some relaxed sailing as darkness encroached. At this point we realised that a 45 mile beat, even in a rather sedate Wayfarer, has a heavy toll on the crew. Eating and drinking as we went upwind was very difficult, and our necks and upper backs ached through having to survey 360 continuously; we were somewhat jaded and tired. But there is very little to look for on the back of the Isle of Wight, and a broad reach was the perfect point of sailing to recharge. Several cups of coffee, a 'lunch' of cheese baguettes, and chocolate (admittedly not quite to the standard of the New Inn and Shalfleet, but a close second). We also managed a couple of 'micro sleeps', which is really a snooze in the bottom of the boat, remarkably effective.
Lesson 3: Eat and drink before you need to. Just like long distance mountain biking. Embrace the micro-sleep.
Lesson 4: Micro-ground coffee is excellent. Barrister Martin makes an excellent cup.
The charts indicate overfalls off St Catherines point, but with wind with tide we didn't experience anything of note. I should point out that we were flying a 505 spinnaker for 35 miles, somewhat larger than the standard Wayfarer kite, but perfectly suited to these lighter winds. Sailing a straight course with no points of reference took a bit of getting used to, it requires a mix of steering through sail trim, and the occasional confirmation through compass. Not as easy as it sounds.
The next point of interest on our journey was passing through the St Helens anchorage. This anchorage is for large dredgers, container ships and the like. They are lit up like Christmas trees, an astonishing sight. The tidal flow through the anchorage is sufficient to give the anchored ships a bow wave, which gives the impression that they are actually moving. This leads to the next lesson:
Lesson 5: An anchored ship that is showing red or green lights, is in fact not anchored, and will be moving.
So a little excitement at 01:30 as we established a relatively small dredger was in fact moving at pace through the anchorage. But not too close to us and we gave them a cheery, relieved wave.
The rest of the passage back to Emsworth was uneventful, we arrived back at Emsworth Slipper SC at 03:30 and were asleep by 04:30. To summarise the passage:
- 87 nautical miles
- 14 hours, 6.5 in darkness
- Average 6.2 knots
- 10 cruisers given a pasting upwind
- 2 calls of nature per crew member, all rather tedious in offshore gear, and requires heaving-to
- Points to improve on boat: needs carbon cup holders
Our next trip may well be to Lundy Island at the end of July (from the Devon coast, not Emsworth). Thereafter we are looking for a 3 day continuous trip, to try and get the hang of a watch system and sleep deprivation. More reports in due course!