Erith Yacht Club
The finest sailing water on the tidal Thames
Club Ship 'Folgefonn'
Erith, Kent, DA8 2AD
Tel 01322 332943
Secretary Tel 0208 310 2686
email - email@example.com
The cup of tea felt warm and welcome as it was passed to me over the wheel. I brought the rim to my lips and could feel the heat. Next moment I was wearing a good portion of it over my face - a glance at the wind-speed indicator showed 47 knots had just gusted by. Nevertheless, the first mouthful was good and hot, the second (10 seconds later) not so, and the third, stone cold. It is quite amazing how a freezing wind at gale force 8 can cool a cup of tea in less time than it takes to drink it. Still, I wasn't complaining, I was lucky to get a full cup at all. Tom had performed a real balancing act as he made his way back along the wildly bucking cockpit inclined at 35 degrees, dodging the tangle of lines still cluttering the floor and the heavy bundle of reefed mainsail swinging violently just above his head.
We were making our way East out of the Solent towards the old Sea-Forts at about 3.30 am, having left Cowes an hour earlier. In the shelter of the River Medina, it was hard to gauge the wind strength in the main channel. The weather reports had been wildly over-stating the wind strength all day with scare-mongering of a severe gale force 10 that never materialised. However, this time they seemed to be spot on, and the force 9 decreasing to force 8 was about right. As the skipper for this passage to Eastbourne, I had chosen to reduce the size of the mainsail by putting in two reefs. It was now obvious that three or even four would have been more appropriate as we thundered along making over 9 knots on mainsail alone, barely under control, with salt spray pelting out of the darkness into our faces.
Before passing the forts (one of which was unlit and hard to see in the darkness despite its considerable bulk) I gave the instruction to lower the mainsail and go on headsail alone. The headsail is a lot easier to control, and with the wind behind us, we had the constant danger of the boom swinging across the cockpit unexpectedly with the heavy pitching and rolling of the boat in the rough seas (with potentially lethal consequences). With just a handkerchief-sized piece of headsail unfurled, we continued on our roller-coaster ride at 9 knots in the wild cloud-and-star-strewn night.
We were in Inspiration, a 42 ft Sweden yacht. We had sailed her before, but had felt cheated on that occasion at having such a beautiful and capable yacht when there was hardly any wind to sail her in. The wind must have heard our protests, because for the last 24 hours we had been 'grounded' at UKSA with instructions that no yachts were to venture out while the forecast was for force 8 and above. I'm not sure why we got clearance when others didn't, but we were cleared to go that morning if the wind dropped to force 8 and we felt comfortable about going. Now out in the Solent with the cold wind whipping at my senses and the boat alive beneath my feet, I had a grin from ear to ear as I steered this beautiful craft through its element. John, our instructor, commented on how happy I appeared, but I could see from his own face that he was loving every minute of it too.
The next morning saw us sailing along the white-cliffed south coast past Brighton and on towards Beachy Head and Eastbourne. The winds were lighter now but the sky was grey and threatening, while the sea was rough and wild with white-caps all around. Inspiration was making about 7 knots with a bit more headsail and no mainsail. Sometimes ploughing through the waves, soaking the deck; at other times surfing on top of a wave before breaking behind in a cascade of foam, she was sailing beautifully with very little input from the helm. She was fitted with an auto-pilot, but steering by hand was so much fun we had no use for it. The grins still stretched from ear to ear.
This was our final passage before we leave for a month in the Caribbean on a 67ft Challenge yacht. We actually broke the boat before we got to Eastbourne, but fortunately, with the generosity of the local boat-yard who lent us a rivet gun and an electric drill, we got her fixed up for the return journey which was a delight in lighter winds and clear blue skies. Matt was skipper for the return journey so all I had to do was cook and grind a few winches - much easier than navigating!
On the final morning, back at Cowes and UKSA, the frost lay thick upon the deck and even thicker on the pontoons as we set about cleaning the boat and taking the remains of our tinned food ashore, A timely reminder that Christmas is just around the corner. Before then, we have to learn ocean navigation using sextants in preparation for flying off to Antigua on December 29th to join Albatross for at least three 600 mile passages. One of the instructors wished us luck and hoped we would survive new-year in Antigua! Does he know something we don't?? --- You'll have to wait for the next instalment (some time in February) to find out ..
Merry Christmas to you all, I will try to see as many of you over the festive week as I can, but I only have from 21st to 29th and then it's the Caribbean!! Where do you get sun-bloc at this time of year!!!!
Have a good one every body,