Azores Shake-Down Cruise / Ferry Gliding

My two crew members, Len Hiley and Tony Stattersfield, turned up Wednesday 22 April at 0730 as planned for our two-day shake-down cruise around the Solent in preparation for the Azores trip in June-July. The objective was for the crew to familiarize themselves with the boat and to note any deficiencies that may require attention. No sooner had they lodged themselves and their gear on board when Len asked the inevitable question: “Well, What’s the plan? You gotta have a plan!” “Yes, I have”, I said. “The plan is this: we head off in about half an hour when we’re at low water. It will take a couple of hours to sail out of the Itchen River and Southampton Water and then the flood will start to take a hold. An early start will give us more sailing hours.” I figured this wasn’t going to be good enough and surely Len would have a trick up his sleeve. Right I was. “There’s not much of a tidal stand at low water after which the tide will strengthen quite quickly. As we’re in a spring tide, Southampton Water exhibits a nice mid-tide stand which today will be around 1000-1100. I suggest we wait till then. We’ll have far less tidal current against us”. It was a matter easily settled, especially when ever-generous Tony offered to treat us all to a cooked breakfast at the Yellow Welly.

We left the berth at the scheduled time and were sailing soon after. On reaching the Solent we headed east towards the Nab Tower with fair two knot tidal current. On showing signs of weakening we then headed west towards the planned overnight anchorage at Newtown River. Within half an hour, the instruments showed the tide was again assisting us by at least a knot and strengthening. The timing could not have been better.

Our journey was generally uneventful and accompanied with the usual sharp lookout for passenger ferries and cargo ships. One incident worthy of mention was an accidental gybe (before a preventer could be installed) when, as helmsman, I was distracted by the goings on on deck. Fortunately, the gybe was without excessive force and no damage was done.

I have expressed concern a number of times now about the difficulty of manoeuvreing a long-keeled vessel via a dog-legged path into the marina berth that Baybreeze had been encumbered with. Getting into the berth stern-first appeared to be out of the question. I expressed this concern to my experienced crew. Len suggested ‘ferry gliding’ in during the flood tide and suggested I get some practice on a buoy. We chose a yellow research buoy just north-east of Newtown River and we all took turns to practice. It looked like a pretty nice solution to my berthing problem – at least on a flood tide. It appeared that the marina itself was conspiring to make me a better skipper by allocating such a berth. “Infamy, infamy – they’ve all got it in for me!”*

We arrived at our planned Newtown River anchorage at about 1600 and settled down for the evening. Len and I got out the guitar and mandolin while Tony got out his earplugs, we shared a bottle of wine and later a chilli con carne meal prepared by Tony. It had been a pleasant day with blue skies and a lovely sunset though perhaps a little chilly. Overnight a little rain set in and the wind piped up. As it was too early in the season, the dawn chorus of nearby migratory birds was absent. The following day turned out to be much the same weather-wise – nice and sunny with blue skies. Great – but this was England after all!

We weighed anchor around 0900 and set off with the flood tide eventually sailing downwind up Southampton Water. By the time we reached the Itchen Bridge the tide was flooding in at about half a knot with a gentle cross-wind. It was time to put ferry-gliding into practice.

Ferry gliding into berth: the plan.

The plan is outlined in the schematic above. I was to manoeuvre the boat to the marina entrance then motor against the tide but holding my position. This meant that the boat was travelling forward through the water in relative terms and so was relatively easy to steer. A slight reduction in revs meant that steerage was maintained while the boat slowly moved backward through the entrance. When the time came to ferry glide, the revs were increased slightly while turning to starboard. At the end of the glide, she was steered back directly against the tide and allowed to gently move into her berth stern-first.

At the start of the manoeuvre, I was anxious to have at my disposal the bow thruster just in case it was needed in a tight situation. I soon discovered it had been turned off.  I was about to turn it back on when “No, that’s not allowed” exclaimed Len. “You can’t have that on” reiterated Tony. It seemed like yet another conspiracy! It appeared my crew had metamorphosed into a couple of rabid sea-dogs adamant in preventing me from using the bow thruster! Help!

Anyway, the manoeuvre turned out pretty well and went as planned, even without the bow thruster, although with a tiny half knot tide the going was slow and a slight cross-wind didn’t help. Critical during the ferry glide was to maintain sufficient room forward and aft and this was achieved quite nicely.

Shake-down cruise outcome

Early on, there was a problem with the Raymarine autopilot which displayed an ‘AUTORELSE’ error message. This meant that the autopilot rudder sensor was not aligned to the actual rudder position. A loose jubilee clip turned out to be the source of the problem.

The Air Breeze wind generator worked beautifully cutting in when the batteries dropped below a specified voltage and cutting out when the batteries were fully charged. It was also nice to be able to switch off the generator using the stop switch which meant that the generator blades rotated about once a second irrespective of wind speed.

The out-haul traveller on the boom appeared to stick but was soon loosened. I put this down to the four months of inactivity while on the hard.

Other than these minor problems all systems appeared to work well.

Travel statistics

Distance covered: 70.4 nm; engine hours: 2.0 (most of which was used in practicing ferry gliding). Had we covered the distance by engine alone and without sail, we would have required at least 15 engine hours (at 5 knots).


Recommended reading:
Jerome K Jerome: Three Men in a Boat

*from Kenneth Williams: Carry On Cleo.