There is something exciting about planning a simple camp cruising voyage. In the preceding weeks leading up to the departure, food stores are bought on a drip feed basis; a ‘little something for the trip’ added to the weekly grocery shop. Jellies with mandarin pieces. Oat muesli bars. The odd packet or two of mixed cashew nuts with dried cranberries and sultanas, a peculiar mix I know, but one that suits my strange palette.
Then there is the passage planning. It starts with a vague notion of wanting to go somewhere. My small craft almanac gets leafed through to find suitable tides and the family calendar checked. Yes, a few days unaccounted for in family life that coincide with suitable early morning and evening high tides. Opportunities to be seized.
Google earth gets pored over. A possible passage route scrutinised for sheltered anchorages, alternative camping sites, interesting creeks to explore, mudflats to avoid.
In the few days before Arwen and I set off, Arwen is cleaned, her equipment and rigging checked and everything unpacked and re-stowed along with the additional camp cruising gear not carried on normal day trips. Her outboard gets started up and trailer rollers are greased appropriately. Food stores are assembled, the galley box packed. The emergency grab bag is opened, its contents individually assessed and repacked.
In the two evenings leading up to voyage day 1, the pilotage and detailed planning takes place, based on the most up-to-date forecasts and tidal information. My little waterproof notebook gets filled in with tide times, sketch maps, buoyage details, important phone numbers and is added to the other pilotage equipment I carry in a small waterproof bag, a plotter, compass, handheld GPS, dividers and a few commercial flipcharts of useful skipper notes and reminders.
And then departure days dawns. June 25th 2018.
A 0730 departure for the local marina QAB, arriving at 0800. Arwen is rigged and checked; everything securely stowed. Ditty bag and day snacks and drink easy to hand. Launch fees paid, a quick chat with boat yard staff, some of whose children I have taught or wives worked with.
Arwen slips off her trailer easily and floats well, her trim fore and aft well balanced albeit slightly lower than normal given the extra supplies. She drifts slowly across the launch ramp to lie alongside the floating pontoon with barely a bump. With little wind and no other boats launching, she is moored with stern and bow warps only and lies there in the sun, a pretty boat often admired by those with bigger boats moored on finger pontoons further along, as they walk by to and from the marina office and local cafes.
After warming up the outboard, we ease out into the Sutton pool area and pass the tourist boats and water taxis. No motoring into Jennycliffe bay today. The moment we clear the old quaysides, sails are hoisted and we set off across the front of Plymouth Hoe, making for a string of large yellow visitor moorings that lie in the lee of Drakes Island. Sailing straight onto the first mooring buoy under mainsail and mizzen in the gentle ESE breeze, I allow myself a fleeting congratulatory moment. The aim of this voyage is minimal use of the motor and objective one has just been achieved. The sail was raised the moment we cleared into the Cattedown. Job done! of course, it will be a proper job done when I raise sails at QAB pontoon and sail out of Sutton harbour. But I have yet to develop the confidence to do that, and yes, I know, if I don't try it one day, then how will I develop that confidence?
Its 9.40am. The little yellow log book says ‘depart mooring cans 10.15 at start of incoming tide’. The heat is building, the sun intense and shade is little. I pore over the chart and the log pilotage notes. GoPros and cameras are checked. A camera mount moved to a new position. A litre of water is consumed; sun cream reapplied. It is going to be a hot ’un. I try to fix in my mind’s eye the passage notes and little sketch maps showing key buoys, bearings, distances and times.
Low tide 1.4m 1052 High tide 4.9m 1654 Low tide 1.4m 2315 Tidal range 3.1m
Small craft moorings to West vanguard starboard channel green can 273 deg Mag 0.5NM with a tidal stream of 090 deg at 0.2kts.
Sails get raised, flapping in the building breeze. We drag the big buoy down the starboard side and unclip and stow the short painter with its Carabiner hook. The jib is unfurled and and we drift off to port, leaving the mooring can behind; rudder and centreboard down we pull away on a gentle reach before doing a gentle gybe onto our first course stage. We are off, powered by gentle 6kt breezes from the ESE. The camp cruising voyage begins.