Trip on Chantan II starting 2011-06-24 in BSAJuly11
L’Aber Wrac’h? Week – report by skipper Alan Howells
Five hardy ones (Alan Howells, Don Hirst, Jeff Birkin, Mike Berry and Phil Watkin) set off in Chantan II, a Beneteau 35S5, with the intention of conquering the Western Channel. Should have been six but one had retired hurt before the trip – in retrospect a wise call. The forecasters had been upping their wind forecasts so it looked like there would be sufficient wind.
Wednesday eve was spent attaching sail numbers, which the notice of race had insisted were essential. These had been obtained from the RYA in accordance with the rules. Jeff will give you a reply similar to the comment of Elizabeth I about Calais if you have the nerve to raise the subject with him. The task of removing cleaning, drying, affixing and re attaching the main took the whole evening. On entering the race we found that they were not insisting on official, or even in one case any, sail numbers. This left me feeling slightly guilty and I made up by cooking even more than usual to compensate for the cost in money and effort by saving on meals ashore.
Initial failure to start the engine was dealt with by a jump start kit after which we were given a slave battery to carry in case a problem arose again. A bit of practice showed that we were able to tack through little better than 120° which did not bode well – very tired headsail. Sailed into Helford for the night’s festivities and entry to the race where we were given a mid afternoon start time. All got very lively and the fizzy wine and barbeque food was offered free later in the evening. The outboard had failed on the trip across but Nick brought us a new one in his rib which was most welcome.
We got a pretty good start but the wind, as forecast, was on the nose. As anticipated from the previous day we could not sail sufficiently close to the wind to make real progress and were being outpointed by the others by 10° - 15°. We battled on in winds that began to exceed the forecast 5 max and rolling the headsail further made things worse. The wind was not forecast to free us so we discussed the position. In about six hours our progress towards L’Aber Wrac’h was 15 miles with no great prospect of improvement. We only had five crew instead of the intended six and visibility was forecast to be fog patches mid channel. This was going to be an exercise in endurance to no real end followed by the prospect that we might have to return into headwinds later in the week so there was a unanimity in favour of retiring.
Shortly after the wind increased to a good 8 and the following seas became big and steep. We took one over the stern and another – about 18’ I estimate - gave us a fair broaching. Most of the larger ones were about 15’ and Jeff, who was helming, asked Don to grade them on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being another 18’ one. I was waiting for the ‘Spinal Tap’ moment - Don’s scream of 11 - but fortunately it did not happen.
At that point we lost all electrics – no lights, VHF or instruments and could not start the engine. It was dark. Using a combination of a handheld GPS and the sectors of St Anthony’s light (visible from time to time) we found the Manacles buoy and headed for just off the Helford River. The intention was to sail into sheltered waters to sort the electrics. The position was confirmed by GPS and the August Rock buoy and I could see the lights of Durgan. Just then a rain squall obliterated them, which would have left us sailing into the river on GPS alone in demanding conditions. Plan abandoned and we headed for Falmouth. The seas eventually reached the point where two of us could manage handling the slave battery and attached it with the conveniently discovered heavy duty jump leads – problems over.
Having failed at fighting the wind we followed it by sailing first to Fowey in a SW breeze. The last few miles were dead downwind but Don said that he had never gained anything from poling a headsail. However, when we did he was reluctantly forced to admit that we were now sailing 2 knots faster and in the right direction. Don is now known as Don the pole.
Leaving Fowey the next day initially in thick fog a SE wind took us to Newlyn eventually in bright sunshine. The new yacht pontoon is fine but it remains a busy fishing port so does not provide modern marina facilities. As long as your expectations don’t include those it is a great place to visit.
An early start gave us a good sail to St Marys though partly in thick fog. Manually updating the position on the DSC is a real pain. The brisk NW wind made anchoring in Porth Cressa the best option and the sky eventually cleared to give a good sunset.
An early start gave us a very fast broad reach in a NW mainly 6 and brilliant sunshine finished by a beat from the Manacles to Falmouth. Setting a finish line of Black Rock to St Anthony’s we did it in 10.5 hours and with two hot meals on the way though cooking the second was epic and possibly more of it was worn by the crew than eaten.