Trip on RelaX starting 2019-02-25 in BSAMar19
Solent midweek 25.02.2019 – 27.02.2019 – report by Ewart Hutton
Yacht – X-40 ‘RelaX of Phoenix.’
Gordon drove John and me to Gosport on the afternoon of Sunday 24 to rendezvous with Chris, who had made his own way down, and Sue, who had spent the weekend sailing with friends out of Port Solent. The weather was fair, sunshine, unseasonal temperatures, light winds, and was forecast to remain that way.
RelaX, just to remind you, is the Phoenix Sailing Club’s recent acquisition, a light and frisky little number to satisfy the needs of the club’s racing fraternity. A boat which we attempted to re-familiarise ourselves with, with some trepidation, remembering both its performance capabilities and dire tales of mishap and skittishness.
Kit stowed, preliminary checks made, we took ourselves off to Wetherspoons to eat, drink and make passage plans, which we hoped wouldn’t turn out to be fantasies. Low water was at 8.30 the following morning, Gordon had found a forecast that predicted winds of F3-4 from the east, with, of course a westerly flood tide against us. These elements all considered, we thought we had a chance to try for Poole. The tide would be against us, but, with the wind hopefully in the right quarter and the memory of the boat’s performance in light airs, we hoped that we could counter the tide as far as Hurst Point, where it would then have turned to work with us in the North Channel, across Christchurch Bay and into Poole Harbour.
Monday morning brought a sky-full of sunshine and a light stirring of pennants in the marina, which the optimistic among us thought might herald a real breeze once we were out on the open water. After a leisurely breakfast on Chris’s porridge, (which was to sustain us every morning on the trip), we reminded ourselves how the rigging worked and left our mooring shortly before ten o’clock. We hoisted the mainsail outside the marina, with everything feeling a bit stiff and reluctant due to the boat not having been out for a while. It’s a testament to how soft and fluffy the wind was that, with our knowledge of how light and perky this boat was, we took out the two reefs that were in place, and set forth with a full and mighty mainsail.
But first an excursion upriver to get a closer look at the new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was moored at the naval dockyard. And this thing is big! A few statistics – 65000 metric tonnes, which is somehow made up of 64000 long tons and 72000 short tons. It is 280m long, the equivalent of 5.4 Nelson’s Columns, 39m beam, or 0.75 NC’s, at the waterline, and 73m, 1.4 NC’s overall. And currently the flight deck is covered by what look like vast party marquees. As it didn’t look like we were going to get an invitation to go aboard to join in the festivities, we turned downriver and left before one of the hovering police launches got too twitchy,
So, it was then down the small boat channel to pick up the transit onto the Swashway, with a short interval to let an Isle of Wight ferry come in unimpeded, before we headed forth with Ryde church in our sights. Then it was roll out the genoa, trim the mainsheet, knock off the engine, and we were sailing. And very pleasant it was. 8 to 10 knots of wind from the east on a broad reach, anything from 4 to 6 knots over the water, gently gybing up towards Cowes with the sun shining and the sea tranquil. Perfect for February on the Solent. But… And there’s always a but… We soon realised that, at this rate, we weren’t going to make it to Poole. We had a decision to make – whang on the engine, motor up to Hurst, and then take the tide to Poole – or just keep on sailing and tie up in Yarmouth for the night.
We entered Yarmouth late afternoon with the sun still shining. The wind had died and we’d had to motor for the last hour, but we’d had a lovely day’s sailing. Later, spruced-up and refreshed, we headed for the yacht club, where the skipper had offered to treat us all to a gin and tonic, but, unfortunately, it was closed, and we ended up in The Wheatsheaf for a meal, and to continue working on the plan for Tuesday, which was for an anticlockwise circumnavigation of the island to end up in Cowes the following night.
The only fly in the ointment was the possibility of fog in the morning, but we woke to another bright day, with a light wind (F2) from the east, and we got off to an early start to catch the last of the east flowing tide to take us past Hurst, and then out to the Needles. We had the sails up, still fully rigged, a light breeze behind us, but the big breakers over Shingle Bank foretold of slightly heftier things to come out here.
We changed course at Bridge Buoy to sail as close as we could to a south easterly heading, with the wind building, and the sailing getting more exciting. At one point I came up to the cockpit to find, the boat heeled over to the toe rail, Sue on the helm, a look of exhilarated terror on her face, repeated cries of “I’ve just hit 8.9”, and obvious relief when Chris offered to take over. By this time the wind had reached F4, gusting into the bottom end of F5, and it was fairly evident that we were wearing too much sail. So, with the aid of the engine, and very little drama, we managed to put in three reefs, and then continued in a more comfortable, but still very speedy fashion, (Gordon managed to achieve 9.1 knots during one of his spells on the helm).
We put in our first tack when it was noticed that we were soon about to run off the chart, and, since none of us had brought passports, Honfleur wasn’t an option. We worked our way around St Catherine’s Point and Ventnor with a series of big tacks, and then onto a north easterly heading up the coast past Shanklin and Sandown towards Bembridge, with the wind fading, and eventually we had to turn on the engine and motor to the marina at East Cowes, where we tied up on a hammerhead.
We dined well in the Lifeboat that evening, noticing that two Clipper yachts, out on a training exercise, had tied up at the hammerhead behind us. This came into deeper focus for me when we were in the Lifeboat later and I’d was idly finishing my first pint, contemplating the next, when I saw, through the window, the crew of these boats approaching. Thirty people at the bar! That galvanised me. I was up there, beer poured and paid for as the first of these thirsty folks came through the door.
Wednesday morning and another forecast of fog. We decided to have a leisurely start, perhaps do some boat handling, and then tootle back to Gosport. While we were getting ourselves ready a Coastguard Mayday broadcast came over the VHF. A boat with fifteen people on board was reported sinking off Fishbourne, and any vessels in the vicinity were requested to lend assistance. It was a chilling moment, especially when it became clear that the boat in distress was the Clipper yacht CV5 that had been moored close to us the night before. We weren’t in a position to assist, we could only listen as the skipper of another yacht reported that he was close by and on his way to assist. Then, slowly, it became apparent, that the Mayday had been transmitted by mistake. A very sheepish and shamefaced skipper had to broadcast publicly and apologise that it had been part of a training exercise, and somehow the distress had gone live. There’s a warning there somewhere, probably to keep fingers well away from DSC buttons, but it was also very reassuring that the Coastguard Service was so clearly on the ball, and that other boats were prepared to drop everything and rush to the aid of fellow sailors.
Following that we did a bit of boat handling in the river, then, with no wind worth the effort, motored back across a fog-free Solent to Haslar, tied-up, tidied-up, and then drove back home despite all the attempts of the traffic in Gosport and Fareham to hold on to us.