Channel Islands Revisited

At the Southampton Boat Show, Len Hiley entered a competition and was soon informed that he had won  a couple of free nights at each of St Peter Port and St Helier Marinas. Rather than have them expire, Len kindly offered them for use on our planned 7-14 day voyage to the Channel Islands and back. The two of us set off at midday on 11 October catching the fair tide for the 4-5 hour journey to Hurst Point at the western end of the Solent. The plan was to  anchor there for a few hours rest until the tide ebb again set in.  That would mean a 2300 hour departure for the overnight 12 hour 60 nm journey to Braye Harbour in Alderney.

Having departed at mid-night, as anticipated we arrived at Braye Harbour at midday having experienced an overcast sky with gusting F4/5  NNE wind for the entire journey. As the tide was with us when we arrived we could have continued on towards Guernsey or Jersey but decided to stop at Braye for a rest. It was probably not the best idea! As Tom Cunliffe notes in The Shell Channel Pilot, 7th Edition, p314:

Braye is safe in all weathers except strong northeasterlies. When these are threathened, only the ill-advised, the desperate, or the certified madman would come here. It can be generally uncomfortable with winds anywhere in the northern quadrant, but with this borne always in mind it is otherwise an all-weather, all-tide refuge of unique character.

We radioed the Harbour Master and was warned to double up on the mooring lines for the night. Quite a bumpy night though no more uncomfortable than anything experienced so far.

The wind continued from the NNE but picked up a little to F5/6 by morning. After checking in with customs we headed out about 0930 around through The Swinge towards Jersey. Seas were slight, the weather fine and visibility good. Lovely downwind sailing.

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Hawk-eyed Hiley surveys the scene as we round La Corbiere on Jersey’s south-west coast.
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Inside the St Helier marina. The sill at the entrance is  tidally operated requiring no additional power.
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Memorial to the Second World War occupation of the islands.

We arrived in St Helier on the Island of Jersey at around 1600 and found lots of visitor berthing space as we were well past the peak season. We made good use of the marina and its facilities with our two-day free pass and strolled through much of the port. After a pleasant two days’ stay we departed 0640 on Thursday morning taking the inner route south of the island while heading west and around La Corbière towards La Grande Grève, a bay on Sark’s west side separating Little Sark from Big Sark via the narrow connecting strip of La Coupée. The wind continued from the NNE at F5 strength so the lee of the island with its high cliffs afforded a tranquil shelter.

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Baybreeze anchored at La Grande Griève, Sark.
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The steep climb up the slopes to the road atop La Coupée.
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Vehicles are forbidden on Sark – only horse-drawn cart and tractors!

We arrived at about 1045, anchored and used the dinghy and outboard to explore the bay in more detail including Havre Gosselin and the Gouliot Pass. We climbed up the steep side of La Coupée and spent much of a day walking around the island and finding out about its colourful history. From around 1830 to 1842 many silver mines were cut, some from land initially then out to sea under the sea bed. During storms, miners could hear the rumblings of boulders on the sea bed above!

As the wind persisted from the NNE, we were in no hurry to be heading back across the channel towards the Solent as it would mean a tiring amount of tacking against headwinds.  However, a short sail across to St Peter Port in Guernsey would mean winds just forward of the beam – a much better option. Besides we had a second two-day free pass, this time for the St Peter Port marina!

When to depart our anchorage was a key question for our passage plan for arriving at St Peter Port. Neptune software (for passage planning) indicated the best time to be around midday of Saturday 17 October, yet Tom Cunliffe’s The Shell Channel Pilot indicated a departure of around 0500 being the best given the state of the tide. This appeared to be very puzzling. We opted for the accumulated wisdom of the Channel Pilot and departed 0500 and found ourselves arriving much sooner than the Neptune software had predicted. I think this is definitely a failing of the Neptune passage planning software. It appears unable to accurately predict passage times in tidal areas over short distances, most likely due to the paucity of tidal information.

The journey took an hour and twenty minutes and saw us alongside the fuel pontoon awaiting opening time. Once refuelled and with the tide sufficiently high to navigate the sill at the marina entrance, we motored into the virtually empty marina. We stayed a couple of days taking the opportunity the travel around the island on a bus for the cost of a single pound – a journey which took only a couple of hours.

We headed out of St Peter Port on Monday  0700 19 October with smooth seas, light winds and continued persistent NNE winds. Our destination was for a sheltered bay on Alderney’s south coast or, failing that Longy Bay on the island’s NE coast. Needless to say, with the wind direction as it was, we had to tack and sometimes motor most of the way. On approaching we opted for the anchorage at Longy Bay as it brought us nearer to home for the final leg. Telegraph Bay on Alderney’s south coast appeared less inviting.

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Longy Bay, Alderney looking south with La Rocque Pendante clearly visible.
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Longy Bay, Alderney, looking north towards Fort Raz.
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Longy Bay, Alderney, looking south west.

The bay is quite small as it is bound by submerged rocks towards the north. It afforded only marginal protection against the NNE winds especially during the flood tide when the boat would turn beam onto the waves as it refracted into the bay.  Nevertheless, quite a pleasant couple of days were spent anchored here waiting for a change of wind. Eventually, the forecast indicated a veering to the NW in a couple of days time and so we headed out from our anchorage towards the Solent on Tuesday 2000 20 October. Initially the winds were light, but by 0300 winds starting becoming westerly as forecast. It was plain sailing again. It had been a persistent NNE wind for the past 8 days! In fact, our speed was better than expected and we feared arriving well before the Needles tidal gate would allow. Nevertheless, it turned out well, having arrived just as the tide was flooding.

The rest of the trip was plain sailing with both a fair tide and a wind behind us. We arrived at Shamrock Quay at 1300. Another lovely trip. Total sea miles: 278 nm. engine hours: 11.3, over 10 days with 21 hours of night sailing.