Trip on Shropshire Lady II starting 2009-04-02 in BSAApril09

Cherbourg and St Vaast, April 2-5, report by skipper Jeff Birkin

On Thursday evening, the crew of Alan Grey and Paula Grey, Jill Hunter, Penny Luck and Dave Lloydand skipper Jeff Birkin, arrived to take Shropshire Lady for the weekend. Hand-over was complete by 6:30pm and with the boat loaded, safety briefing done and the prospect of a Channel crossing, we ate at the marina Maprestaurant. The food was fairly good and after a final libation, we all headed for bed by midnight.

Donning numerous layers against the bitter cold, moist and misty morning air, we slipped at 6am, motoring on glassy water at 9kts on the West-going tide. We noticed a smell of ‘overheating’ but an inspection showed nothing to indicate a problem and the smell quickly dissipated never to return. Rounding the Needles at 8:15am we headed South with hardly a ripple in sight. Weather reports promised sunshine but no wind. What we hadn’t expected was the sun just teasing with a possibility of warmth. Without sighting a single ship we arrived at the TSS dispersal area and the sun briefly appeared high in the sky. This heralded a change in visibility – it dropped to just a few hundred metres. Not being equipped with radar we had a tense time as ghostly outlines briefly appeared and then melted back into the mist. Closing the French coast a light wind lifted the veil allowing us to sail. Still shrouded in mist we began a sweepstake to guess when the coast would become visible. All the benefits of charts, meteorology, years of sailing and even professional experience, Dave and Jeff got it wrong and Paula won the competition. Entering a sunny Cherbourg, we were moored by 5:30pm, just 1 hour from first sighting land. A meal ashore and off to bed by midnight to the sounds of a fair in full swing on the adjacent green.

Noon Saturday saw Penny taking us out with Alan navigating. Sailing East to St.Vaast on an east-going tide with SW F4 winds was fantastic. Approaching St.Vaast we made a mental note of all the lobster pots dropped in the main passage south of Tatihou. Passing through the lock we moored in the lovely harbour by 5:40pm. Large numbers of people watched as we manoeuvred although, by the time we went ashore for a meal the town was largely deserted. A lovely meal ashore at €12 per head and we all retired to the boat for a nightcap.

Slipping at 4:40am we headed out into another cold misty stretch of water. Using the bright searchlight we spotted all the buoys as we picked our way out into clear water. After seeing nothing for 20 minutes and satisfied we had enough light, we stopped our sweeps and returned to the cockpit. Just moments later we hit a pot buoy seemingly causing it to disintegrate. What this sounded like to Solent Coastguard (Dave was lodging the passage at that very moment) I can only guess.

Calm sea, clear visibility and bright sunshine allowed us to see dozens of ships – oddly missing on the outward trip. A totally uneventful crossing but for our second contact with Solent Coastguard (off Bembridge Ledge) to let them know we were safe and well. I was asked to comment on reports of thick fog in our location? Immediately prior to the call I had considered suncream but checking with the crew, we dismissed the possibility. Minutes later however, as a portion of IOW disappeared I had to cell back and confirm their report. (They must have serious doubts as to our sanity) That fog chased us, closing all the time as we passed the USS Theodore Roosevelt, (88,000 ton aircraft carrier moored off Gilkicker because it is too large to enter Portmouth) totally hiding the huge vessel minutes after our passing. Fortunately, just after donning lifejackets, the fog gave up and we headed into our mooring in the same clear, sunny weather we had experienced all day.

A great weekend enjoyed by all. My thanks to the crew for their patience, support and good humour.

Haslar Marina  50.7908,-1.1171