What is a definition of 'a good day cruise'?
Some would argue that "any day on the water is better than a day in the office"....and all that. But I am never so sure about that. I've had days where in lovely weather but a rolling swell, I have been violently sea sick. Those days were not better than a day in the classroom, I can promise you that!
But, I think, yesterday pretty much hit 'perfect day' for me
The weather was perfect with light winds that built during the day; starting in the SSE and going around to the SW later that afternoon. Sea state was calm with a wind rippled surface and no swell. High tide at 0900 5.2m and falling to low tide at 1500, 0.88m made launching so much easier. in fact, if only I had been able to sail the day before, then it would have been perfect for an overnighter.
And, for a change, I had a plan! Now that rarely happens. More often than not, I just grab an opportunity when it arises without much forethought; but yesterday I actually had a plan and it was a 'nice' plan starting with a pootle up the river Plym, upriver under motor and downriver under sail.
For once all the Cattedown wharves, from Victoria Quay where the china clay ships get loaded to the top most quayside where the giant cement storage canisters are found, were free of any ships. I can't ever remember seeing that before. With fickle shifting winds deflected by headlands and giant ex-aircraft hangers and an outgoing tide starting, sailing upriver was always going to be challenging and time consuming, hence the motoring but it gave me an opportunity to close on Yacht Haven marina to admire the old boats of the Island Sailing Trust and to stick Arwen's bow into the hidden little quaysides and beach areas of Turnchapel on the southern shores. Sadly, most of these beaches are privately owned, despite there still being some public landing steps at each one. And they dry out rapidly on a receding tide.
Reaching the top up near the road bridge, I turn around in the big pool area, and head back downstream passing the little slipway at Oreston. Great little slip; quite steep but it some tying off rings and is accessible 2 and a half hours either side of high water on most tides. Its a pity its tricky to get to and the parking for car and trailer is so hit and miss. Today all the car park places are occupied and the ramp is busy with SUP boarders launching. There are also two speedboats tied up at the rings. So no room at that slip this morning.
Passing the entrance to Hooe lake, I resist the temptation to potter down the narrow channel and into the lake itself. Easy to get trapped in there, the tide recedes very rapidly out of that lake area through the narrow channel leaving you stranded for several hours on thick mud with no access to the shore. Tricky to sail into and out of as well as they have lines of mooring trots down the channel leaving barely any room for tacking. Pity, for there are some nice old wrecks to explore on the north shore and up at one of the quays are some old steam boats and luggers from the old dockyard, still well cared for and resplendent in their cream and black old dockyard liveries.
Down past Turnchapel, the former RM amphibious base, now taken over by marine park businesses and Princess Yachts and out past the huge hangers where boat repairs are now done; their former past as hangers for Flying Sunderland boats, almost forgotten. A place where one TE Lawrence served an RAF mechanical apprenticeship I believe. Now, I'm under sail, a close reach but only just. The changing winds mean I have to pinch periodically to keep a line of clearance of one of the wharf corners. I end up making several tacks back up river to gain a better line of approach. I am heading for a buoy at the entrance to the Sutton Pool area; where I can drop sails and then motor across to my next destination stop. There is no way I could directly sail safely into the area I am heading for. Too restricted and too many boat movements going on to make a safe approach.
Almost an hour has passed on a nice downward sail and its time for a coffee break. Berties should be open on the Barbican quayside behind the big landing stage. Berties (and Gerties) do hot food in once arch and ice creams out of the other. A Latte and great bacon roll for £4. Alas, at 0930 on a Friday morning, Bertie is not open. I feel a strongly worded email coming on - after all the big cruise ship anchored in the sound is busy disgorging its wealthy clientele via the ship's lifeboats, at the landing stage. Mr Bertie you are missing a trick or two here - early worm and all that!
I squeeze Arwen through the narrow gap between restaurant landing and barbican landing stage and then gently motor her towards the public footbridge, making a sharp turn at the last moment to bring her neatly alongside the new floating pontoon. She kisses the floatation chambers with barely a bump. A good approach admired by two paddleboarders sat at the other end.
Confession, I don't really need a coffee and a bacon roll but it is an excuse for trying out the new floating pontoon that the council have put alongside the barbican quayside wall - for dinghies under 4m and SUP boarders. Arwen is a tad over 4m if you exclude her boomkin and bowsprit and it isn't busy, just two Spanish tourists on holiday, sitting on the pontoon side having a rest from their paddle-boarding explorations of the Hoe foreshore. Two arches down a new coffee shop has opened and their latte proves delicious and there is plenty to watch with the cruise ship passengers offloading. The Barbican landing stage, a hive of activity and great people watching opportunities. Throw in water sports students, paddleboarders, dinghy sailors - busy, busy, busy.
After a restorative coffee, Arwen is coaxed out of the little pool area behind the landing stage under motor. I could have rowed out but I am always wary of pilot boats coming in and to be truthfully honest the skippers of the cruise ship lifeboats seem to be speed demons! Sutton pool is not the place to try and raise sails on a busy day! I motor across to that vacant buoy over by Mountbatten breakwater and hook on, raising sails there in comparatively open water and space.
Now I confess, I didn't do a good job of raising the sails. There is a huge crease from tack to clew and the top part of the sail is floppy. A floppy flappy sail is an unhappy sail and all that. As I round Mountbatten I resolve to drop the sail and re-haul it up when we reach open water and space. I think its the downhaul, I didn't give it sufficient slack when first raising the sail and now I am paying the price.
Having come around the breakwater a little to close for comfort, I decide to head deep into Jennycliffe Bay before sorting the sails and it is here as I close on the little green marker buoy that I hear a shout from astern. A lovely small wooden yellow coloured multihull has caught up with me. The skipper is filming Arwen and yells a greeting. We exchange pleasantries and off he heads deep into the lee of the cliffs where he thinks he might anchor awhile. The skipper seems vaguely familiar but I can't think who it is and why I might know them.
I tack around the buoy back into open water, drop and reset the mainsail. The crease is still there but the yard has reached its proper height, the downhaul is better set and the topsail floppiness has disappeared. A mental note to myself - I must get a sail maker to install full length battens in the top as per the plans. I think the advice from the original sail maker about using half length battens for ease of sail furling, have over the years proved wrong.
We spend a lovely hour or two pottering across the sound, avoiding the incoming ferry and the high powered sports boats and cruise ship lifeboats with their insane approach speeds and huge wakes. With winds from the south I can just about keep a close reach which will take me close to Fort Picklecombe but I opt to throw in a few tacks south to get a better approach line into the bay. I also want to balance Arwen's sails so that she sails herself across the sound. which she does, admirably as always. Its just a matter of setting jib, mainsail and mizzen correctly so that there is just a hint of weatherhelm on the tiller. I can then lock it off and potter around the boat with no problem. If she deviates slightly off course, more often than not, as is the case now, I can reach for the jib sheet and just pull it in slightly to edge her bow back onto its course. Wonderfully balance boat, if I get the storage of contents inside her correct.
Cawsand is busy. I knew it would be, a perfect anchorage from the SW breeze, but, Arwen has the advantage. Shallower draft and all that, she can sneak further inshore than the gin yachties. The picnic stop anchor is dropped over the starboard side and for a few minutes I stand behind the foredeck with warp in hand patiently waiting for Arwen to settle into her new temporary anchorage. I watch two or three shore marks and over the course of five minutes, her swinging circle is established, sufficient warp sorted, calculations quickly made for the falling tide and I ensure she can't collide with anyone nearby.
Now, around 24C and sunny and with little breeze, its quite hot, but what about the water? Time for a dip. I may regret this and I'm certainly not going in without a wetsuit. rats, forgotten my rash vest. I use the current sailing top I am wearing. Good job I always carry a spare clothes set even on a day sail.
Cold water shock, what is it the RNLI say? 'Keep calm, try to minimise your exertions; try to float on your back and try to relax your breathing'. Suffice to say all that goes out the window. Although I lower myself overboard gently, using Arwen's re-boarding straps, the shock of the cold water still leaves me gasping and shocked. It takes several minutes of hanging onto her coaming before I have sufficiently acclimatised. Its a brisk swim around the boat but a good opportunity to retest the boarding straps idea.
I stole this idea shamelessly from Joel Bergen - see his video and blog about his re-boarding straps on his navigator 'Ellie'. I can report the straps work but I may need to just lower them a few inches more to make it a bit easier to get my feet into them.
Not the world's greatest swimmer, I always have a yellow floating line to hand, tied off on the boat, so that I can haul myself back safely if need be. I haven't got tangled in it yet but I am always ultra cautious when using it. I ought to get a swimmers float marker or a diver's safety float vest.
Now I feel duty bound here to give a health warning. Getting back in is easy in calm settled conditions. I have no idea what will happen after a capsize in rough weather when Arwen is bouncing around and full of water being tossed about by wind and waves. I also have a transom step mounted on her port transom lower area, so I can get in by stepping onto that and grabbing the boomkin and mizzen mast as leverage as well. Its a more cumbersome entry route but it does work. Some commentators have suggested I just go for the tried and tested rope ladder instead but I always think that is somewhat difficult to deploy after a capsize. Great for a picnic swim, not for a capsize re-entry!
After sponging Arwen out - a wet suits deposits lost of water in a boat, its time for a spot of lunch and 'drying out' in the sun. But the winds have built nicely and sunbathing is boring when you could be sailing. Its time to up anchor and head on north. For all of ten seconds, I give thought to sailing out of the anchorage, but then wisdom kicks in. Its a restricted anchorage and I don't have that level of sailing skill certainty; or confidence in my own abilities. I mosey out under outboard and then oars into open water just beyond the line of moored yachts and raise sails. My little inner voice yells "Chicken"!
The sail across Cawsand Bay, past Fort Picklecombe is delightful with winds from astern and I weave a course that takes me just clear of the fort. Even so, there are one or two heart stopping moments as the centreboard catches on some floating kelp beds, whose fronds have risen upwards from Queener's Ledge below. Keeps the old heart pumping does that!
Winds, now almost due south, give me an opportunity to sail through the 'bridges' at the western end of Drakes Island. Four tall pillars - two red and two green, marking a channel through the rocks and the WW2 anti submarine traps. Only the foolish cut around these channel markers! The tide is in its last outgoing hour so water flow will be much reduced. I plan an approach, sailing on past the channel entrance before gybing back around. Straight through the marks with no problem - great pilotage!
Another gybe, slightly more challenging than the first, sees me onto an approach that will clear the red channel marker just off the north west corner of the island. Were upon an opportunity presents itself. Off the north shore of the island are four very large yellow visitor mooring buoys for very big yachts and the end two are vacant. Time for some sailing up to moorings practice.
I miss it on the first attempt. I'm psyched out by the huge 8m yacht immediately behind me which has set up a line for the outer most buoy, the one I'm aiming for. Its too late to change to the inner one, I'll be pinching so close to head to wind and the tide will just carry me away. I sail on by the buoys. The yacht misses its first approach and goes back around.
I tack around and go inshore of the buoys past the row of moored yachts before gybing back around for the second attempt. With five boat lengths to go, jib is furled and mizzen slightly released. we slow. Mainsail is let out and then pulled in and out by hand. Nailed. A perfect arrival and dead stop w with buoy midships on starboard windward side (not ideal) but I'm stopped and main sail is out fluttering over port side. The yacht passes me and they miss the hook on again - the bow man bungles the rope throwing loop trick. They go around for a third attempt and the bow man misses again, after which they give up and head back into Millbay marina. I'm not gloating or being triumphant but I did nail it second go. Perfectly. It rarely happens that way so there is no gloating or smugness. I was lucky and conditions were tricky - shifting winds, changing tidal flows. It rarely goes according to plan like that for me normally.
I grab a few minutes of peaceful contemplation and consider how to approach the island beach a few hundred metres away. It is crowded with paddleboarders, both in the water and drawn up on the tide line. There are a couple of powerboats anchored a few metres off shore. A nasty looking set of rocks are just emerging either side of the beach. Narrow window of opportunity here! Sail and then row in? Two many swimmers. Motor across and paddle boat in last few metres? Possibly better option. I prepare the anchor buddy, tying it onto the picnic anchor and warp. The plan is simple. Motor across. With seven boat lengths to go - kill outboard - raise rudder. Four boat lengths - drop anchor and then use paddle to get bow onto beach. Jump over the side taking with me the grapnel anchor and its warp - which has been tied to both stern cleat and mizzen mast.
The plan works like a dream. The swimmers didnt move out of the way as I suspected but I hit shore gently and safely and then adjusted the bow warp stretching the anchor buddy. Arwen pulled back off shore a few boat lengths where she drifted laterally two and fro a few metres between bow and stern anchors. She created a little bubble around her where swimmers avoided. Perfect, departure will be simpler as a result.
It is the first time I have ever stepped foot on Drakes Island. the owners now don't mind you landing on the beach but they ask you to refrain from wandering the ruins. They are unsafe and there is a lot of asbestos lying about. Most people seem to be following their instructions. Its nice to spend a few minutes on the beach and see the hoe foreshore from a different perspective. Arwen bobs happily a few metres offshore. The seabed is mix of coarse sand, grit and shingle. There is copious amounts of green stringy weed about. Busy with swimmers and noisy, I don't hang about long. I'll return another day when it is less busy and I can have the beach to myself.
Our departure off the little beach is simple enough. I sort the stern anchor warp, prepare the anchor for quick retrieval, pull Arwen back in and clamber over her port rear side deck. She dutifully heads back out under the springy tension of the anchor buddy. the outboard is started, anchor retrieved and within a minute we have raised sail, heading back across the hoe foreshore to the vacant buoy at the mouth of the Cattedown.
Sails dropped and furled, we motor back into the marina and complete another simple but elegant approach to the pontoon. She glides alongside. Not even a bump! In recent trips i have found it quicker to derig Arwen on the water. Within twenty minutes, masts are down, boomkin and rudder retrieved, everything tied down for towing.
She goes back onto her new trailer with no problem at all. A perfect end to a perfect day and there is still time for a quick tour of the adjacent 'Green electric boat show' taking place in the car park in front of the marina offices. I briefly stop off at the RNLI stand to chat to Chris and we agree for him to come around and see Arwen in the next week or so to do an advisory safety check. Her last one was done in 2012. A free hour discussion at my house with Arwen unpacked about safety issues. Great service. Lovely chat with University of Plymouth students about plastic issues and how they have been doing recycling plastics experiments, collecting microplastics out of the Sound and showing how it can be recycled into clothing, combs and goodness knows what else. Didn't get to chat to the team where there were electric outboards being sold but did stop to admire their 3.5hp replacement one - clever design - the outboard splits into two units - the battery and then the vertical shaft assembly. Has a running time of around 1 hour and takes around 3 hours to charge. Weighs in around 18Kgs - an advantage of being a teacher - over the years you develop a unique ability to tune into several conversations around you simultaneously.
Hats off to Tony Blackmore of Admiral Trailers up at Honiton. The adaptations made by him to the new trailer seem to be working perfectly now. See older blog posts for what they were. Pays to go to a professional doesn't it.
I am gutted. Heartbroken. A stupid sentiment I know but genuinely devastated. Despite a rigorous search of the boat, my dry bags, the car and everywhere else in between, I can confirm that I have probably lost my beloved GoPro Hero 2 overboard. I thought it was attached to the mizzen mast but when I looked it wasn't. The clamp had the screw in place so it hadn't fallen off. In fact I hadn't put it on. I remember having it in my hand when I was hove to early in the day and then I got distracted by something and forgot about it. Later in the day I went to switch it on and discovered its absence. I cruised the rest of the day assuming it was somewhere in the boat but I just couldn't find it.
Alas, that is not the case.
I got this GoPro late in 2011 when they first were released in the UK. It has travelled with me extensively across parts of Africa, central America and Europe. It has been dropped, drowned and even run over and whilst I have been through two protective cases with it the actual camera has never been damaged and continued functioning all these years recording my exploits in 1080p HD.
I am truly bereft as it had such sentimental value to me. I have no idea where it has gone but I suspect I stupidly put it on the transom deck during a momentary lapse of concentration, when I intended fixing it to the mizzen mast, its normal position. Distracted by something I probably then forgot it was there and slowly it slid sideways and off the back.
My absentmindedness is growing worse and my closest family know it but don't say anything. From glasses to credit cards, car keys to tools and the car itself, I am constantly misplacing things. Sometimes they turn up, most times they are gone forever. I'm forgetting words, peoples names and exactly why I walked into a room. I read a page in a book and have forgotten it within seconds of turning the page. Journeys I have made thousands of times in my life, I now have to periodically review where to go on a road atlas. On a recent trip to Iceland, I became so frustrated at not being able to recall or remember things I had taught for over thirty five years. And learning new things is a nightmare because as soon as I have learned a new skill, if I'm not using it immediately and in a sustained way for at least a few weeks after, I forget it all and have to start again. Learning Affinity photo and astrophotography at the moment is genuinely two steps forward and three back.
This all started in my early fifties and it slowly but assuredly gets worse year on year. Ho Hum - I'm laughing and so is the rest of the family. I know it really could be far worse and so count my blessings - but its so damn frustrating!
Farewell beloved GoPro Hero 2 HD. My faithful friend and travel companion, I will miss you.