The Inbound Journey
Just a Thought part 2 – The return leg.
I won’t bore you with what I ate and drank while at Praia da Vitoria except to say that it was in very good company, sufficient and varied but not too excessive.
All good things come to an end and we decided to make a mass start (all four of us that were returning to England/France.) We followed the tradition of painting our boats names on the inside of the breakwater and were then (and only then) cleared out by the Immigration Office on the jetty. The 10th of June dawned a beautiful sun
ny day with just enough wind from the southwest to make an easy passage. We were glad of that because a few days earlier a SWrly 5/6 had swept the beach into a sandstorm. Now I understand why they have to dredge the marina at frequent intervals.
I left my berth and was, once again, ‘handed’ out until I was clear of the inner berths. How was it that I was first off the marina but last out of the harbour? Oh, I’ve got two masts to hoist sails on. Well, that’s my excuse. That was the last proper sunny day I saw until I got into the Bristol Channel. Hardly had we cleared the harbour before the wind dropped and so had I dropped my sails to stop their slatting and banging. I was still in the lee of Terceira but the others, ahead of me, were still going away, albeit very slowly. I could now propel when I used the engine to charge my batteries but I didn’t intend to use up precious fuel so early in the voyage just to get a few miles closer to home.
The weather was a right mixed bag. There were lows moving NE but they were, in the main, staying well to the west. The wind was rarely above Force 6 but I made several diversions, mainly to the NNE of my track but once to the SSE for comfort and to avoid stronger winds.
A few days after leaving Terceira I gained a sore throat. The “Vocalzones” and Lemsips
seemed to keep it at bay for a few days but it eventually went onto my chest. Now I went on the hard stuff – Ibuproffen and spoonfulls of honey. Over a prolonged period my local health centre had denied my repeated requests for a prescription so that I could buy Amoxicillin (Amoxycillin) from a proper company in the UK midlands. Cursing their intransigence didn’t affect a cure so I gave that up and, after dowsing all sail, wrapped myself for winter and got into my sleeping bag. I had also peeled and chopped a large onion, given it a liberal coating of sugar and left it in a safe place. this is an “Old Wives” concoction, the liquid of which to be drunk on rising. I swallowed the lot! The bronchitis, or whatever it was, was pushing up yellow phlegm for a few more days but I think I quelled the fever.
Despite the diversions to avoid the worst of the weather it still tried to upset my homeward plod. On the 15th June I got two reminders of who was boss out here.
After slowing down and tacking away from a Low the day before the first reminder was a huge wave on the port beam. I had just slipped below to put the kettle on when the boat was “body-slammed”. I was treated like a rag doll as the boat first hurtled towards me and then, when I bounced off the port furniture, thrown to starboard where I ended up doing an involuntary head stand on the bunk. It must have happened very quickly but it seemed like slow motion and I was left with my legs and one arm flailing about trying to right myself. Gravity being what it is I was not freed until the boat came sufficiently upright.
I feared for the rig and made for the hatch only to have to fight my way through a cascade of sea water pouring across the hatchway as the wave finally let go.
A quick check showed that everything was still in the right place except for the port side of my spray hood and the cockpit dodger. Of course, some of the water came down the hatch but just flooded the galley area (or so I thought.) I later found that I had lost the use of the grill and one burner on my cooker. Back up top to grab the dodger and note that two stanchions were being held up by the safety lines. I dragged the cockpit covers out of the after cabin and rigged a temporary hood with just a small slot through which to keep a lookout in inclement weather. Next, a wipe down, clean dry kit and lunch after bailing about 20 litres out of the main bilge sump.
I didn’t have to wait long for the next reminder – that very afternoon. This time the wave was from almost right ahead. The boat dipped and rolled into it but no slam or bang just the sound of water overhead and along the side decks. How can water turn through 180 degrees? The hatch was shut but the water, albeit much less this time, still managed to creep forward and liberally sprinkle the chart table, radar, battery-box, etc. I didn’t get too wet this time but when I opened the hatch I found myself looking AFT through the sprayhood windows. Now that is serious but more so was the sight of my inflatable dinghy disappearing over the starboard side. By the time I got to it the only thing stopping it leaving was the transom caught between the lower safety line (guardrail to some!) and the toerail. As I knelt (In the ocean again) I cursed the person who had failed to deflate it properly, lash it properly and leave it forward of the mainmast. Me, of course but I needed to be angry, I needed the strength to get a line on it and heave it back onboard. Nothing fancy, several lines twix the mast and various points on the dinghy and not in it’s stowage, just back inboard. As I made my way aft to change into yet another dry pair of trousers I spotted something important in the bottom of the cockpit. Lifejacket and Tether! Oops. Its not the first time I’ve done it but not in weather quite so bad. If I had gone overboard then even if I had taken the dinghy with me it would have been a 450 mile paddle to the Iberian Coast. Thanks, Guardian Angel.
One problem with sailing to keep out of the strong winds is that you don’t have to go very far to get no wind and that’s how the next few days passed. One minute 5s and 6s, the next 2s and 3s with the sea/swell left over from the passing of the Low. (A bit like normal for the Bristol Channel?) To prevent some of the wear and tear on the sails in the lighter winds I left the Main in the lazy jacks and often part furled the genoa. I still hadn’t shaken off my bad chest and spent longer periods resting. Sometimes when moving about it felt a bit unreal so I was not fit to go dancing on the coachroof if I had a snag when hoisting/lowering the Main. As well as keeping out of the bad weather I seemed to be keeping clear of other vessels. Nothing on the AIS for days and only one alarm from the Mer-Veille (Radar Detector) and that was for a ship, unseen, passing well astern.
Sunday 19th June – Happy Birthday Doug, 73 today! At about 1000 while planning my birthday lunch there was a kerfuffle of sail and a lurch off course. The first indication was that the rudder had jammed hard-over. the second indication, on looking over the stern, showed the real reason – the Aries paddle had snapped at the weak link! I had no spare so it was hand steering while I considered the options. I could get her to steer herself on a NWrly track, OK for a meal break but that’s not the way home.
By tea time I realised that, as well as being wet and cold from hanging over the stern, I was feeling very tired from the hand steering, etc. The Parachute Sea Anchor was easily streamed on about 200 feet of 18mm octoplat but the effect wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Sure, the motion was better and safer head to wind but there were little sets of cross swell from both sides slapping and throwing water over me. A quick hot meal (Curried chicken, mixed veg and fusili all in one pot) and then to the safety and comfort of my bunk overnight only getting out to ease-the-nip on the rode.
At daybreak, much rested, I realised that recovering the Sea Anchor against the Force 6 even using the engine would be difficult. As the swell was beginning to abate I left the job until mid-day and even then it required a lot of effort on the Sheet Winch to shorten the rode until I could go fwd and use the trip-line for final recovery.
Only 500 miles to go! A doddle. Well it was when I motor-sailed during meal breaks. For anything else I usually hove-to. That’s fine if the wind was blowing down my track she would fore-reach towards home. I made the mistake (only once!) during a rest period of heaving-to after a prolonged sail with a tail wind. My normal procedure was to set myself in the centre of the chart-plotter before lying down. I don’t know what woke me but I glanced at the plotter and got a rude shock – my circular marker was just showing the top half as it was disappearing off the screen. While resting I had lost about 7 miles back down the track. After that I just furled the genoa and trailed a drogue over the bow. At least that way the wind would blow me homewards while I slept.
Except once when I awoke to find I was going East but no problem – I was still 200 miles from the nearest land.
To keep clear of most of the traffic entering the Bristol Channel I had drawn my track straight up the middle, so to speak. It worked. The only vessel I was aware of during that last 500 miles was a French STC/Tall Ship, the Bel Espoir/FVJB who spent most of one day overtaking me. All was fine until I was about 40 miles West of Lundy Island (and about 40 miles SW of Milford Haven. At the end of a (bunk) rest period I started the engine to charge the batteries (and propel) but when I engaged Ahead the engine stalled. (?). After a second attempt and a second stall I looked over the stern and saw the reason why. I had collected some rope on the rudder and, after “drifting” overnight it was just waiting for the unwary me to wind it around the prop. I crawled down and through the after cabin and rotated the shaft by hand. ¾ of a turn in both directions so it felt as if it was just a bight around one blade with the rest securely snagged on the rudder. No problem, I can still charge my batteries while I looked for a suitable place to go for a swim.
Although I have sailed all the way into Dale (Milford Haven) several times I always had the engine to fall back on. Ilfracombe would be OK until I got to “Verity” (The Maid with the Blade). No, Tenby Roads was the safest option. I could anchor and clear it from the dinghy or dry out on the beach. I didn’t want or need to round Caldey Island and enter Tenby Roads in the dark and in any case I wanted to be as fresh as possible for the job.
As I was beginning to fall asleep at the wheel despite popping a “Pro-plus” I decided to anchor off. Well off, like 2 ½ miles ESE of St Gowans Buoy in 50+ metres. Easy, 30 metres chain plus 200 metres of my big octoplat. I was, by now, well practised at heaving the octoplat on a sheet winch but it still took me a fair while to get the anchor back on deck just after daybreak.
I had advised the Coastguard of my intentions and was not surprised, on rounding Caldey to see a big RIB approaching. It was the range safety boat which sped away again after hearing that I was not going to be any bother. I declined an offer of help – there’s not much he could do at that stage of the tide and it is operated by a commercial concern – and they might want some form of remuneration or even “Salvage”.
After anchoring I decided against an immediate assault on the rope because the weather was a bit inclement so I opted for an early lunch. I was surprised to get a call on the VHF from the Harbour Master who told me that he would be out in the big lifeboat to take me alongside for high water. I wasn’t unhappy with my position and I had not asked the coastguard for any assistance but it seems they had spoken to the HM/RNLI.
Seems it was good PR for the RNLI as there was a large captive audience forming a queue to board the boats to go to Caldey Island. I say ‘seems’ because I didn’t ask (Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth?)
Well, that was it. Back in the UK. Tired but happy and willing to go again. 2 more tides and I was back in Cardiff Bay and well in time for the Food Festival which I missed by one day last year.
PS My Doctor and the Consultant Surgeon didn’t want me to go on the challenge
because I was awaiting an operation to repair a hernia. It was stressed upon me that if the hernia became strangulated I would have but four days to get to a hospital before the build-up of toxins in my body killed me. They quite obviously don’t understand the mentality of the life-long sailor.
Anyway there have been times in my life (36 years at sea, Military and Mercantile) when I would have liked 4 minutes (or even 4 seconds) warning of life-threatening danger. 4 days – Pshaw! Besides, it would be another 4 years before the next JAC and I could be dead by then.
Doug Pingel “Jekeeda 2” Westerly 33 Nr 191