Trip on Loxley B starting 2015-05-08 in BSAJune15

Skipper experience trip 8 – 15 May – report by Jeff Birkin

Yacht: ‘Loxley B’ Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 37 chartered from Hamble Point.


Crewed by: Dougal Matthews, Neil Webber, Jeff Woolmer, Brian Adams and Chris Baxendale and OIC Jeff Birkin. 

This trip was specifically to give future skippers the reins allowing them to make all the decisions and organise every part. I was there was to ensure the boat and crew were never put in a position of danger. I can honestly say, letting go is the hardest thing to do and there is a fine line between instructing, guiding and getting too involved. I know I didn’t fully succeed but like the candidates, I gave it my best shot and learned a lot during the trip.

The yacht had a lot of good points and a few bad. The worst general thing was the single-line reefing system. It is designed to make life simple but something went wrong in the execution as it proved (and we were warned) to be anything but. Reefing was a difficult task as any excess line at the back of the boom immediately jammed. We subsequently followed the instructions and had someone at the mast pulling the excess line through each time we reefed. 

Neil took the first passage and we left HambleMap at 18:50. This was too late for an exit via the Needles so we headed to the east and had a good sail in the moderate westerly winds. By the time we got south of the Isle of Wight the wind had increased in strength and we put 2 reefs in the main. The night was very black, wet and bumpy but Loxley B handled it well and was extremely easy to control. However, as dawn broke we were too far East to make Cherbourg and St. Vaast would have involved staying very tight on the wind and having to deal with the large number of pot buoys that litter the approaches with no certainty of being able to enter the harbour. So we sailed off the wind and initially headed for Le Havre then changed to HonfleurMap. With the boat rocketing along at an average around 9 knots (we later discovered the 10.5 knots shown on the log was a little of an exaggeration) and the shelter of the Cherbourg Peninsular flattened the sea, in bright sunshine, we had a fantastic sail towards the mouth of the Seine and made our way to the lock. After just a few minutes wait we entered the lock and were lifted just a few feet then motored toward the inner basin. Again, just a few minutes wait and the crowds and traffic were halted and the bridge lifted. Passing through the narrow channel under the bridge we were greeted with huge applause. We were the only boat so it was nice if a little unexpected. 

After 2 enjoyable nights, under the stewardship of Jeff W we had an early start and headed for St.VaastMap. Unfortunately the light winds gave way to almost nothing and we motored most of the way in bright sunshine. Arriving too late to get shower codes or pay for the mooring, we settled in for the night. 

During the discussions as to our next port of call we decided to check the engine. Good thing we did as the engine bilge now contained approximately 1 litre of what appeared to be engine oil. A check of the engine oil level showed it was very low. With no apparent cause, we contacted Hamble Point and found there was nothing they could do or arrange for us until the following day and that would come from Cherbourg. Therefore, as per their suggestion, we bailed out most of the oil and topped up the oil level. We then went to a pizza place to eat as the rest of the town appeared to be either closed or fully booked.

Next day Dougal took us out at 04:30, sneaking over the sill to make the most of the tidal stream towards CherbourgMap. It was a great sail and we arrived at the eastern entrance at 09:00 nearing the end of slack water. Just inside the breakwater we met a large swarm of dinghies of various sizes who all wanted to head for the marina at the same time as us. No problem and no danger as we let them have the water. By 10:00 we were tied up and made the call to Hamble Point. We then settled to wait for the mechanic who arrived at noon and began to tinker. He found a problem with the gearbox output shaft and believed that was where the oil was from. Once tightened we ran the engine for 30 mins and only a slight oil leak could be detected although he did not believe the repair would last long. After much discussion with Hamble Point, it seemed the best of three options was to head back to the Solent rather than risk a gearbox failure. By now it was mid-afternoon so we had a wander round the town and located a restaurant called Le Plouc 2, where we later ate an excellent meal.

Waking early, we first checked the engine bilge to find another 250cc of oil had left the engine/gearbox during the night. Keeping this in our minds, at 05:50 Neil took us out of Cherbourg and back to the Solent. It was a pleasant mixed passage with some sailing and some motoring. However, we caught the tide just nicely and passed the Needles before heading to Lymington and a night at the very expensive, though superb, Berthon marina. Here we said farewell to Brian before heading to the Kings Head for another good meal and a few beers. 

08:30 next morning, in horrible weather, with adverse wind and tide, Jeff W took us from Lymington back to the Hamble. This was a true ‘crew’ endeavour with Jeff W making an excellent job of buoy hopping and using the lee of the island in the worsening conditions with each of us taking a turn at the helm and enduring the onslaught. Chief shout goes to Dougal for staying at the helm during the nastiest patch of wind/hail and rain.

This was the end of our trip and Hamble Point gave us a fair refund for the lost sailing days. As it turned out, it was the grearbox at fault and this had to be rebuilt. Also, we discovered the only correct way to read the engine oil level was by removing the engine oil filler cap to allow the pressure (or sometimes vacuum) inside the engine to equalise. Something learnt by Hamble Point Marina and to be remembered for all Yanmar engines in the future.  

This was a real test of ability and shows we clearly have good candidates for club skippers in the near future.  My best wishes to all of them.

Hamble Point Marina  50.8518,-1.3099
Honfleur  49.4212,0.235
St.Vaast  49.5867,-1.2626
Cherbourg  49.6471,-1.6209