That jelly fish; it was, I subsequently discovered, a Barrel Jellyfish with a mild sting that can grow to a metre in diameter. These ancient bizarre creatures have drifted through our oceans for over 500 million years, despite lacking a brain, heart or blood. Their soft bodies are over 90% water, and they move in a mesmerising pulsing motion operated by a simple set of nerves whilst consuming plankton. The Barrel jellyfish is the UK’s largest, with a diameter of up to 90cm and can weigh as much as an incredible 35 kilos. In summer and autumn they may swarm off the UK coast, sometimes washing up in large numbers (information from buglife.org.uk).
A friendly quayside chat before Pippin slipped out to sea – rather well I thought smugly for there are always onlookers – into a blue-sky afternoon. I had met new friends Muriel and David, he a tough tiny man with impressive moustache but appearance can be deceptive. I should have guessed from the very workmanlike layout of their boat, but it was as he was telling me about sailing into St. Helena deep in the south Atlantic, just the 2 of them aboard, that I again felt very small indeed. Modest, unassuming, they would be lost in a crowd, yet twice the person of all they passed.
At the last minute I chose to round Old Bill close inshore, because I had never done it before, it was a benign day and I felt my frequent passages through the moody Swinge off Braye had provided useful experience. Pippin simply shrugged off the occasional irritable salty challenge as she powered through at 8.5 knots, and I triumphantly managed to press the right button on the camera for a change.
Portland Lighthouse and west end of the Bill
The light SSW wind pinned Pippin close inshore round the sweeping curved edge of Lyme Bay as the afternoon turned into evening, but I was determined to sail. Incredibly, despite a wind that never topped 8 knots true, Pippin and Hercule the wind vane managed just fine, jogging gently along even if it wasn’t where I wanted to go. Deep in a locker, my stew simmered gently in the slow cooker, sustenance for the long night ahead. Meanwhile the female England footballers did better in their international match than their male counter parts ever seemed to do, even if their victim was Scotland, for I have split loyalties being ½ Scottish. An interesting phrase of the commentator describing a player had me musing;
“She is a big unit. Yes, a big unit for sure.”
That remark came from a lady and whilst I could wax lyrical about its possible meaning, I decided it meant she was probably a girl I would not wish to cross. I wonder what a little unit might be like?
Iron discipline provided the resolve not to eat dinner before 1900 but patience was quite another thing. As the sun gave up for the day, Pippin continued to zig zag deep in the bosom of Lyme Bay testing my patience, as I tacked and tacked again to make progress west. I felt better considering that very British hero, Horatio Hornblower whose bluff bowed square rigged ship would never have managed what Pippin was doing, i.e. sailing close to the wind, but nevertheless I did not want to take 2 weeks to reach Plymouth as he might have done.
Once at sea, you adopt certain routines, one of which for me is bucket and chuck it mode, which can pose messy challenges in strong weather, though I shall spare you further description. Suffice to say I was often busy during the long night, for I had eaten a suspect boiled egg earlier, which didn’t help my frequent need to also tweak sails and alter course.
Light wind sailing is in many ways quite as challenging as strong wind sailing, particularly if you’re a pretty average solo sailor as I am and want to maintain progress towards your destination. It tests the patience and lacks any of the thrill that speed and a foaming wake provide. But I persevered as lightening lit up the now dark horizon and fishing boats took up station around Pippin, invisible except as blobs on the radar screen. I set the guard zone on the radar to warn me of anything that came within its range and was alerted twice as busy inshore fishing vessels slipped slowly close by.
Pippin’s ‘flight deck’. Radar top right, purple ring represents the guard zone
At around 2300 I wrote in the ship’s log after yet another tack;
“I should be able to hold this tack through the night”. Never tempt fate. An hour later as the wind became indecisive and Pippin could do no better than head for Paris, I furled the foresails and motor sailed for a couple of hours before sailing again as the fickle wind backed north of west. As dawn came the engine came on again and I decided to pause in Salcombe to rest whilst the next blows came through, before making for Plymouth.
Start Point, early morning
I like Salcombe and had sailed there before but you need to concentrate to avoid the sand bar as you enter the harbour, especially with a lump of lead hanging down 1.5m from underneath your boat. Unflustered as ever, Pippin chugged happily upstream and a friendly harbour official passed my line through the ring on the mooring buoy and back to me. I had travelled around 85 nautical miles at an average of a little over 4 knots, which I felt was no disgrace though the ratio of effort to knot was unimpressive. The Channel is a dangerous place, chock full of other vessels and swept by strong tides such that there is no possibility of sleep, which is why I try to keep Channel passages under 24 hours; this short passage had taken 20. Snug in the calm waters of Salcombe, I joined Gollum deep in the caves of sleep for 10 hours dreaming of rotten eggs and buckets, as torrential rain and strong gusts buffeted Pippin.
Salcombe from Buoy 127
Poking around my lockers this morning, checking for leaks (none – yeay!!) and reminding myself what was where, I considered essential stores never to set sail without. Take my wife Angie’s flapjacks, which lasted a week (very delicious), and the fruitcake made inexpertly by me to Mrs Woodman’s recipe. Previous experience had taught me that one cake should last 750 nautical miles, about a teaspoon per mile. Not to be eaten except when out at sea, I now broke the rule justifying this breach on the basis I had not left the boat in over 2 days and the weather had been crap for the past 24 hours and remains so. Call it a morale booster – anyway, one of the joys of being solo is that you are always the boss; so there.
Salcombe, looking back towards the entrance (round the corner left)
Cousin Sarah and husband Roger live close by Salcombe and I am going to join them ashore this evening. I’ll be in touch next time from Plymouth, unless …..
Cornish Crabber 30 (too modern for Bristow’s Book of Yachts 1973/4)
P.S. no apologies for ‘boaty pics’