Judith and I, together with our invited guests, Nicola and Andy, departed Shamrock Quay 1100 on Friday 16 May for a leisurely sail with a mainly fair tide towards Cowes for the start of the Island Packet Cowes Rally 2014. A VHF radio call to Cowes Yacht Haven gave us our assigned berth. As we arrived, smiling faces and helping hands were there to greet and welcome us.
No sooner had we settled down when we were invited to celebrate, on the Vivamus pontoon, Carol’s birthday with bubbly and cake! The sight of all the Island Packets was one to behold. Amongst the participants were the Island Packets Amadeus, Andante, Baybreeze, Bounce Back II, Hecamede, Island Girl, Island Swan, Jess, Lady Cressida, Seraph of Hamble, Sonar Too, Starfish and Vivamus. All were beautifully maintained.
The informal evening drinks and hot buffet dinner were held at the Corinthian Yacht Club, preceded by a number of welcoming speeches by the organizers, Celia and Colin. As a newcomer, early in the proceedings, I was, needless to say, singled out for special attention! Quite predictably, dinner conversations revolved around travels, boat maintenance tips and jokes!
We all met up the following morning with the intention of racing around a few marker buoys as was the tradition. However, as the wind proved fickle, several plans were mooted – amongst them was to motor sail eastwards with the tide to Osbourne Bay (NE of Isle of Wight) or beyond, to anchor for a leisurely lunch and then to return with the afternoon tide. We followed a small group to Osbourne Bay.
When all boats had returned to the marina, it was prize giving time! But prizes for what? There was no race! It was a credit to the organizers in devising token prizes for almost every boat and quite a few individuals. There was one for the boat with a crew with the oldest combined age as well as for the youngest; there was one for the newcomer (myself); one for the youngest individual, and the youngest individual to drink champagne; one for the most number of Island Packets owned by a single individual, and so on. All delivered with great gusto, humour and fun.
The evening was spent at a formal dinner at the New Holmwood Hotel overlooking the Solent just as the sun was setting. The food and service were excellent and the speeches entertaining and informative. Our table was graced by an expatriate American looking to gain some sailing experience on before, possibly, buying an Island Packet.
The next day a scheduled group photo was taken, one while standing on the Cowes Yacht Haven balcony and the other taken from the balcony with the marina and its Island Packets in the background. After thanking the organizers for their tireless and meticulous efforts and bidding farewells, one by one the boats departed on their homeward journey.
Baybreeze departed Cowes at about 1100 hours for another day’s sailing, then finally anchored in the upper reaches of the Beaulieu River for an extended lunch before berthing at Buckler’s Hard for the night. We set off the next morning with a fair tide for the short hop to Shamrock Quay.
[Epilogue: The author would like to convey a very special thanks to the organizers Celia and Colin (in particular Celia) for their dedicated efforts in making the rally a great success. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We were particularly touched when, having made it known to the organizers that one of us suffered from a gluten intolerance, gluten-free cake was specially prepared and offered. Not only that, we now have the recipe!]
I had marked 1 May 2014 in my diary to sail out, possibly single-handed, from Baybreeze’s base at Shamrock Quay, to Hurst Point at the western end of The Solent accompanying Len Hiley with his boat Scallywag II as he set off to Plymouth for the start of the Jester Challenge. I went down to the boat a few days earlier to do a few chores, one being trying to figure out why the shower drain pump wasn’t working. [The pump appears fine – somehow the pump was ony receiving about 1v instead of the required 12v, so there must be source of high resistence, possibly due to corrosion, somewhere along the power cable. This is not critical since, as a temporary measure, I could disconnect the drain outlet and let the shower water drain into the bilge and the bilge pump would automatically take over].
In the meantime, I was mulling over whether I would be able to manage the promised journey single-handed as it was my first. Len, with his boat located a kilometer or so downstream, had planned to leave at 12 noon at high water so as to travel with a fair tide. The weather was fair though overcast. I spent the morning preparing the boat and when 1100 hours approached the decision had to be made. I was almost prepared to forgo the trip but I knew a quick call to Len would help me decide. Len sensed something amiss and immediately said: “Are you a little anxious, Cecil?”. That did it! Perfect! I acknowledged that to be the case and, with it, immediately said: “Yes, I’ll be there!”. It was now or never!
I had been preparing for months to be self-sufficient. I had a personal locator beacon attached to my high performance lifejacket and a portable VHF/DSC radio (fully charged!) handy. If I were to fall overboard, I’d have a good chance of being rescued before hypothermia set in, etc, etc. The boat was also in good shape. With preparations made, I had to decide on how best to manoeuvre out of Baybreeze’s marina berth single-handed. Baybreeze, being a long-keeler, had a bow thruster to help. The manoeuver wasn’t the best since, in reverse, the stern prop-walked to port a little which put the boat in an awkward position. With gentle persuasion, I managed to coax her out and was underway.
I caught up with Len as we entered the Solent. The breeze was a light nor-wester and we both tacked a number of times staying as best we could in the deeper parts of the Solent where the tides would be running fastest. I set the mainsail and staysail initially. The wind was sufficiently light to warrant deploying the genoa but when I tried I discovered there was insufficient scope on the furling line as there were too many turns on the furling drum. I then set Baybreeze on autopilot, headed for the bow and rejigged the genoa furling line. I was able to deploy all sail on the final tack as we headed to Hurst Point.
We arrived at around 1700 hours and dropped anchor in the shallows in the bay on the eastern side within 30m of each other and about 150m offshore. [I monitored the depth below keel through spring low water where it registered about 1.1m – more than sufficient]. I invited Len to join me for dinner on my boat after we tidied up on our respective boats. Len said he would do so by inflating his dinghy and rowing across. When the time came his dinghy pump proved defective and so we decided to raft the boats together where they stayed for the night. After a pleasant dinner and conversation, lovely music, a nice rainbow, sunset and calm conditions we parted company at about 2230 hours.
It was my first time on Baybreeze at anchor so I was concerned as to how well the anchor would hold. Len assured me that he had anchored there many times before and that the ground was good. I set the anchor watch on my smartphone for deviations in excess of 100m (although I was only 150m offshore!). As the night progressed the wind picked up to a strong north-easterly and the mast and rigging were starting to howl noticeably. Every bang, scrape and rattle would not go unnoticed, particularly if it was different or unusual. I went on deck several times during the night to check that the anchor chain snubber I had deployed was doing its job in relieving the load on the windlass. I also kept checking the smartphone anchor watch for anchor drag regularly but it always was found to hold firmly. I had to try to put a stop to my overly-frequent monitoring and so set my smartphone alarm to wake me in an hour’s time. I was determined to get some sleep. The attempt failed. Eventually, out of sheer exhaustion, I fell asleep at about 0400 hours and woke at about 0700 hours. The anchor held nicely, even with the two boats rafted together. Soon after, Len joined me for porridge, a bagle and a coffee for breakfast. He hadn’t had much sleep either mainly because of the cold. His last Atlantic crossing began in August – this one was to be in May and a little colder.
The plan was for me to catch the rising fair tide back to Shamrock Quay at about 0800-0900 hours while Len would wait till around slack water before negotiating Hurst Point westward on his onward journey to Weymouth and beyond. We bid farewell and I gave Len (a fellow Australian) an Aussie boxing kangaroo flag as a parting gift. Len then de-rafted and anchored close by. I was set to go again single-handed. I had the engine started, removed the anchor snubber line and then, while at the helm, tried to engage the electric windlass to hoist the spade anchor. The windlass seemed to rotate, but the clutch wasn’t engaging. Damn! I should have serviced the windlass. It was next on my list! I went to the bow to investigate further. I tried using a winch handle as a manual override but that didn’t seem to work either. To pull the chain up by hand, I’d have to set the boat driving forward on autopilot to relieve the load before trying. And all this with a lee shore beckoning! Fortunately, Len, being close-by, offered to assist. He re-rafted and was soon at the bow trying to sort out the problem while I slowly powered the boat forward. He wiggled the chain whenever it got stuck until it was all in. “Just a little twist in the chain – you need to get yourself an anchor swivel”, he said. I set Baybreeze on autopilot, helped Len de-raft, and was off homeward.
My return passage to Shamrock Quay was along a very similar route to the one I took out. However, the NE wind had strengthened to a Force 4-5 and there were gales forecast east of Selsey Bill due to complicated developing lows. Running the genoa was out of the question. The journey back was fine but the preoccupying question I had now was ‘How would I manage single-handedly manoeuvring Baybreeze back to her berth?’ Preparation was the key. While motoring up Southampton Water on autopilot, I set fenders and mooring lines, three on each side with lines leading aft to the cockpit. As a precaution I called the marina office to ask for berthing assistance. The conditions were relatively benign with a head-on light breeze and no tide. It should be straightforward I persuaded myself. Paul was waiting to assist when I arrived. With the gentle help of the bow thruster and engine, she glided in beautifully. “What were you worried about? Perfect!”, Paul said. I was both relieved and delighted. What a lovely single-handed trip for a first-timer!