Trip on Cleo starting 2019-04-26 in BSAMay19
The Tour that Wasn’t and The Tour That Wasn’t – report by Jeff Birkin
The inaugural plan for this trip was 2 boats, Cleo and Phoebe, skippered by Alan Howells and Ian Collins respectively, spending 9 days making their way around the small ports of the Normandy and Brittany coast. Unfortunately in early April Alan was advised not to travel so, after approximately 3 years since his last trip as skipper, Jeff B (me) stepped in. (This refers to skippering a BSA charter - Jeff has of course skippered many times during the last 3 years during sea trials of OscarLine – Secretary’s note.)
Both crews met a week before departure and an itinerary involving possible 4 French ports and one stop in Guernsey, Channel Islands, was decided. Unfortunately we forgot to invite the weather to the meeting so our intended departure on Friday night/Sat morning was delayed by the storm force winds battering the UK. So on that first Friday night we all met for a great meal in the Clovelly and followed it up with a relaxed breakfast in the Bridge before bumming around for the day whilst waiting for the howling winds to abate.
During Saturday evening Cleo crew squeezed into the Clovelly for a meal and finally, around 21:00 as per the forecast, the winds were dropping and the decision was for both boats to leave at midnight. With 3 reefs in the main we followed Phoebe into Plymouth Sound at 00:05 on Sunday where a turbulent sea awaited accompanied by a still strong W wind. Although we planned to sail together, as we turned to our chosen course for Guernsey we immediately lost sight of Phoebe who likewise, lost sight of us due to our lack of a tricolour.
The night hours were not the smoothest but Cleo sailed extremely well and we immediately let out her full headsail to make excellent progress with both a following wind and sea towards Guernsey. As the gloomy morning hours opened out into a grey day and with Nigel and Rob now taking substantial turns at the helm, Jeff B did what all skippers must occasionally do - the un-wholly trinity. First clean up the heads so they can be used again, followed by the sink so we can have our first hot drink and then the decks so we can handle the lines without coating them in unmentionable goo.
As we closed the Guernsey coast the crew were kept busy with bearings to various marks which made for an interesting interlude before arriving at St.Peter Port. At 16:40 we approached the visitors’ pontoon and were assisted by the crew of Phoebe who had arrived, unseen by us at any time, just 30mins before us. 96NM covered at an average of 5.75 knots.
Night time and the Crows Nest beckoned followed by a good meal in the Taj Indian just a few doors down.
Monday morning’s lazy start split us into various groups with our boat first paying a visit to the historic Victor Hugo’s house - which we couldn’t get into - so we continued our historical adventure in the Cornerstone pub.
Whilst Jeff W visited the wartime museum (and recommends its cold dark tunnels) the rest of us decided to take the island bus clockwise around.
Information - you can take a bus that circumnavigates the whole island for £5 but get off just 1 stop before you arrive back at the bus station and it’s just £1.
Monday night both crews met for a delicious meal in the Pickled Pig gastro pub - one to be recommended.
Tuesday we slipped early (before Phoebe’s crew had emerged) on a still and sunny morning to take the north-going tide up the Little Russel. Here we tested the many years of firm friendship between Nigel and Rob by having them steer the back transit. To say they got a little testy with each other would be an understatement as divorce papers are in the post. The remainder of the trip was a mix of motoring and sailing with a ‘hove-to’ for lunch. We timed our arrival at Carteret so we were 1 hour before high tide. However as we approached we received the message from Phoebe that they were stuck on a pot buoy. We tried to help with various attempts using tow lines but it was too much for our little boat and, with the certain knowledge they were reasonably safe, we headed back to Carteret in the hope of our first night in a French port.
There’s a golden rule amongst sailors that states;
“never enter a drying port, at least for your first time, on a falling tide.”
However, the tide tables and charts indicated we should have plenty of water in the maintained channel so confident in the predictions we entered. My nerves were severely tested as the depth kept falling below predictions. Within 100m of the marina entrance a few slight touches indicated mud where none should be. Completely ignoring the 5knot speed limit we made a very rapid exit and throughout the interminable return to sea I had visions of photographs of us high-and-dry on mud in the local press. Jock’s reaction to 2 BSA boats in trouble at the same location was not something I wanted to experience. Finally, as the depth increased to a point where I knew we were safe I relaxed my grip on the wheel and once the nervous shaking had stopped, we consulted the charts and chose a spot to anchor approx 3 miles south of Carteret. 53 nm for the day and during a very welcome evening meal we learned more of the trials and tribulations aboard Phoebe and were happily assured they were safely off the buoy and at anchor not too far away as we settled down to spend a very comfortable and peaceful night.
Wednesday, May 1st, - the French bank holiday we all overlooked.
Because I needed some meds for my now well established cough and cold - think Lee Marvin singing ‘Wandering Star’ - and entering Carteret required a pre-dawn entrance with no certainty of a pharmacist’s, we slept in then made our way on a windless sea to Jersey. Passing through the many pot buoys giving each an extra wide berth, we saw many floating cuttlefish bones and decided to capture one as a souvenir for Jeff W’s daughter, Lucy.
Entering St.Hellier and not wishing to leave at an unsociable hour we took a spot on the outside visitors’ pontoon. 23nm
Later we did a few practice mooring manoeuvres and contacted Claire Turner. There then followed a thoroughly enjoyable night in the Royal Channel Islands Yacht Club.
Thursday morning, after some shopping, fuelling, water tank topped and with our latest stow-away (Claire) aboard, we headed out of St. Helier, initially against the tide, to go clockwise around Jersey for Carteret.
This time both Jeff W and I fully and extremely carefully checked the tidal information. We both calculated figures for high tide Carteret within five minutes of each other. (Mine was the earlier time erring on the side of caution) Knowing we wanted to begin our entrance 1 hour before high water - not taking any chances with the mud - we settled into what was a really fantastic day’s sailing and arrived outside Carteret in bumpy waters just prior to one hour before high tide. Nervously making our way towards the marina we were relieved to finally tie up at our first French port. Imagine our surprise to discover we did not enter 1 hour before high water but nearly 1 hour after! No matter how you check it, the published times at Carteret are seriously at odds with those contained in Reeds. 40nm
After tying up and a brief reunion with the crew of Phoebe we quickly make our way to Le Cap restaurant for a fantastic meal and a very convivial evening.
Friday, with the forecast showing strong northerly winds and not wanting to push our luck, we both motored our way to Alderney to be as far east as possible for the trip back to Plymouth. 26nm
After another good meal at the Georgian PH we said goodbye to Claire and took the water taxi back to the boats.
Friday morning arrived and our intended 04:00 departure had to be delayed due to the earlier and stronger than expected NE winds making Braye harbour very uncomfortable. By 07:45, with no chance of getting off the boat and no sign of any change in the weather, we decided to leave with the option to return if all proved too much. Three reefs in the main and with the working jib set, after the exhilaration of the turbulent 4-5m seas immediately outside, we had a fast crossing as we headed NW to Salcombe.
Although the passage was mostly in bright sunshine it was incredibly cold - probably no more than 5℃ - which was utterly draining. Furthermore our delayed departure meant a late arrival in Salcombe with the prospect of nothing more than a night swinging on a buoy. Crew decision made, engine on and we motor sailed for Plymouth. Mooring quickly at 23:00 in a totally still marina we hurriedly made our way to the Boringdon where much needed warming drink or four was taken. Returning to the boat for a nightcap we finished off the wine and pasta before settling down for our last night aboard. 84nm total 322nm for the trip.
Sunday saw a last breakfast in the Bridge before final tidying up and fuelling the boats and our return trip home.
In terms of achieved destinations, we failed. In terms of sailing, Cleo had some of the best sailing of my career. In terms of friendship and camaraderie, I thought this was one of the most enjoyable trips I have been privileged to be a part of in a long, long time. My best wishes to all involved.
As a skipper, my continued nagging about pot buoys will not now, or at any time in the future, ever become relaxed. In fact, many old adages will be brushed off, polished, carefully ordered and made available for use in the future.