Summer Wanderings – 2

On board Pippin sits a very calm little donkey, a symbol of my homeland and good luck charm for this skipper.  It is telling though, that since he has been there, I have been nearly sunk, rammed once and rescued twice  …. still I wouldn’t swap him for the World, though I do wonder what will happen to me next.  I haven’t used my life raft – yet, but I won’t tell him that.  His brother resides rather more comfortably aboard a very superior vessel, under the command of Skipper Pete Goss and his first mate Tracey, currently somewhere exotically hot and sunny.  But I won’t tell my little chap.

Mascot oversees operations

Anyway,  I get twitchy waiting for a weather window, even harder to live with.  It is not as if I ask much of one – just a soldier’s wind, a sea of fun not challenge, and a destination to look forward to.    I don’t even mind rain, or cold.   By the time this one came along I sensed my ever so patient first mate was understandably relieved to deposit me on the dockside, festooned as ever with rations and old carrier bags – packing Willis style; it generally works, but where was my phone and charger?

Five telephone boxes I tried; true I haven’t been in one for decades, but not one would take my money each informing me it only ate phone cards.   It seemed a little over the top to then call home 2 miles away on the SATCOM, via a satellite probably hovering a zillion miles above the Arctic, but this was a communications emergency.   The ever patient first mate didn’t seem to mind, driving back to the dockside with phone, but she’s used to it by now and it did mean I would finally disappear  for a few days.

0750 saw Pippin scampering up the Little Russel tail ending a convoy of zippy 40 footers like a small boy in shorts chasing after the big boys in long trousers across the playground, destination Alderney, home of my ancestors.   An Ovni forty footer soon slipped ahead bound for Cherbourg up the Race, but that was fine as displacement vessels are subject to the science of hydro dynamics, which when subjected to a mathematical formula involving waterline length produces an absolute – the maximum speed of that vessel, given that it is not being hurtled by a wave in a storm, which of course was unlikely in my weather window.

Condor Liberation off Alderney


Condor Liberation off Alderney

The Condor high speed ferry sped out of the North, passing 1/2 mile off and trailing a disappointingly large cloud of light ochre coloured smoke pollution, as the red and white striped Casquets Lighthouse on its reef  stood clear ahead, a feature I always view rather like an old friend, not just because I have passed it so many times; but also because a relative once stood watch there in the 1890s.   Sensibly his wife (my great grandmother) eschewed the on site accommodation, preferring the comfort of a house in Braye, unlike her predecessor, married to one Monsieur Houguez a generation before.   He clearly was not overtaxed by his Casquets Lighthouse duties for he and his wife created 7 children on that rock, and one daughter was immortalised by the alcoholic and flagellistic poet Swinburn.   He describes how she falls in love with an Alderney carpenter, but finds the stress of life ‘in the big smoke’ too much for her sensitive soul and flees back to her Casquets home.  Personally, I can’t help but think that the carpenter had a lucky escape!


The dreaded Casquets Reef and its lighthouse


Burhou from the Swinge (above)

By now I had Pippin nicely lined up on the jaws of the Swinge, that moody body of water that can make a mockery of the mathematics of boat speed, easily doubling it.   I noticed a larger light weight Frenchie off to starboard and felt Pippin was holding her own nicely, which generated a familiar warm feeling of smugness.  


Fort Tourgis from the Swinge (above)

Sometimes art can defeat science – my wife calls it local knowledge, the art of being in the right position, at the right time for the right reason.   This was just such an occasion, for as Pippin entered the point at which she would gain maximum effect from the science of the Venturi effect, my rival was having to beat hard in a welter  of spray to gain position.   Picked up by speeding tide, accelerating through the neck of the Swinge, Pippin shot ahead at 11 knots.   The light weight Frenchie now seemed to sense local knowledge,and followed my track into harbour, where Pippin parked at Buoy 12.  Too idle to inflate the dinghy, I made use of the water taxi, that runs from May until September, much more convenient and with the added bonus that the driver is often a source of interesting gossip.  This time the driver told me he was ‘there for the birds’ (feathered), as an ornithological warden, a job he did for love not the miniscule salary; to make ends meet, he drove the water taxi so I didn’t mind when he over charged me by 50p.


Braye breakwater from the Swinge (above)


Like the Casquets, Alderney also has a special significance for me, it having been home to assorted Willi from 1822 for nigh on a hundred years.   To be honest I am grateful we are no longer there for I derive as much pleasure from leaving the rock as arriving on it; nonetheless a quiet moment with the ancestors in St Anne’s churchyard is a must whenever I visit.  Today was a pleasant day to greet the ancestors in the quiet deep of St Anne’s churchyard, before a good lunch at the Georgian House (seafood risotto recommended) followed by  a museum visit.   Expecting little, I came away with gold, a contact who just might be able to answer certain genealogical queries I have.   A good excuse for another visit if one be needed.

I am a believer in fate, which lessened my surprise when, back aboard, I opened the latest copy of the Alderney News to see a story of the evacuation of the infirm and elderly ahead of the Germans in 1940 involving a ship, the Courier, which my grandfather part owned.  But that’s another story.

Dawn starts seem to be a fixed feature of Willis passage plans, and so it was as I slipped Pippin’s mooring and sailed quietly out of Braye to be met by the full force of sweeping tide.   The wind then decided to take a nap and on went the little Yanmar, chortling merrily away for the next 10 hours or so.   The shipping lanes were busy, but proved little problem, our closest encounter being with the SSI Magnificent that shot past 1/3 of a nautical mile off.   I had taken a number of bearings on her, both with compass and radar, both of which confirmed we would not meet messily.  And so it turned out.

Ship mid channel.2019

My new and inquisitive 4 year old neighbour in Weymouth was intrigued to learn I was a Grandad, as he didn’t have one, only a Grandpa.  However, his was infinitely superior being no less than 800 years old.  At a mere 64, it was obvious I could not compete – that’s the thing about sailing; you meet so many great people of all ages – and just occasionally, not so great.  His dad was an ex soldier, so clearly a good chap.

Busy.Weymouth.08.2019 (2)

Big yachts rafted in Weymouth on  Bank Holiday weekend (above)

Bank Holiday Weymouth was heaving – and it was quiz night at the Slug and Lettuce; still, it was good to dine with family and catch up with news of nephew and niece.   Next day in the harbour for me was the nautical equivalent of musical chairs and with a departure set for 0630 next day, I was not the most popular guy in town as yachts poured in for the weekend, most much bigger than Pippin.  Ten years ago, I rarely saw a yacht over 35 feet.  Here in Weymouth, three 55 footers were moored astern of Pippin and up by the lifting bridge was a gaggle of 50-60 foot motor and sailing vessels.  Unbelievable. 

Trawlers came and went, one large one unloading shellfish at the fish key causing quite a stir as hunky East European crew members did their stuff, fully aware of the very appreciative young female audience, whom I joined for a few minutes.   I reckon it was the snake hipped pony tailed chap with broad shoulders and, I felt sure, a girl in every port, who attracted  most attention.  He was clearly wasted on a trawler, but perhaps it was a way of escaping shall we say, ‘complications’.

Quite how the Weymouth Harbour staff kept their cool during this melee I don’t know, but they did, remaining unerringly courteous and helpful until they went off duty late in the evening.  Just as things settled down, 4 inshore trawlers tucked themselves in behind Pippin’s raft of yachts for the night, though fortunately they would be away before me.


Fishing boats park close in Weymouth (above)

Sure enough, as dawn approached, I was wakened by the throaty throb of powerful diesels, as the fishing boats set forth for their day’s work and I brewed tea with the smell of diesel smoke strong in my nostrils.   I was pleased and honoured to be rafted amongst members of the RAF Sailing Club, for  I suspect their code of practice includes courtesy and assistance at all times to all.  So much so, that one member took it upon himself to rise at 0600 to see me off – though perhaps he just wanted to make sure my Rocna tipped bowsprit didn’t smash something on the way out.

Heaven is made not just of chocolate and Rioja, but especially a beam reach through sunshine, over peaceful seas for 12 hours or more and God delivered all that and more that day, as Pippin surged past West Shambles Buoy, pushing up against the boundaries of the science that constrains her.  Operating my usual rewards based system aboard, I celebrated Heaven with fried Spam, potatoes and eggs, followed by heart stirring espresso in the cockpit.  Sipping my brew, I looked back at the Jurassic coast, and looked again for I thought I saw a mirage.  No, my binoculars confirmed it was in fact real – an oil installation under tow, crabbing ever so slowly towards the coast, a remarkable ungainly sight.

Oil rig under tow off Weymouth.2019

Oil installation under tow of the Jurassic Coast

So calm and balmy was the day, that little inshore fast fishers bobbed mid Channel, chasing shadows on their Fishfinders; it was galling to think they could cover the ground I had just made in a 6th of the time Pippin and I had!

Mid Channel fast fisher.2019

Fast fisher mid Channel

The steady throb of massive diesels overcame my tinnitus mid Channel suggesting the presence nearby of ocean going monsters long before I saw them.  Gradually they began to emerge from the mess of their pollution that stretched across the horizon and the haze of the day, marching in orderly column of route, 3 miles between each.  By now Pippin was satisfyingly ahead of schedule, but not so much that our progress might yet be pegged back by surging Channel island tides, if I got the timings wrong.

Sailing nirvana means your cup doesn’t fall over, your lunch stays on the plate and no unwelcome salty guests joins you in the cockpit and so it was as the miles foamed by, until the Casquets loomed up ahead and I started the little Yanmar to restore the batteries that had powered the fridge largely unaided for 3 days, and now the hungry radar, its screen recently alive with the shadows of monsters.   The wind eased moving a little towards the SW in the last 10 miles, so I engaged gear and set Hercule the wind vane to work in harmony with Hastings the autopilot , which they did most satisfactorily, rattling and wheezing away.

Casquets ahead.2019

St. Peter Port was over flowing with waiting boats, so Pippin and I puttered gently round to – appropriately enough – Soldiers’ Bay where I dropped the hook in 5 metres of water to await the tide.  I have worked out that sea gulls are afraid of the dark, so waited until sun down to deposit my supper food leftovers over the side, by which time my personal flotilla of feathered scavengers had fled home to the security of their beds.

Since ‘E’ Numbers and deadly but tasty flavourings have been banned in the interests of our health, I find tinned meals to be invariably disappointing though my first mate suggests that it might actually be because my taste buds are shot, so much have I abused them.  Whatever, it is not like the days when the tragic Nigel Tetley sailed in the original Golden Globe Race with amazing tins of things like whole roast chicken in red wine, pheasant, sea food and proper manly stews all sourced by his wife.   Interestingly, for me at least, his widow Eve spent her later years teaching at the Alderney School, before her death no so long ago.


Inky black night from Pippin’s red lit wheelhouse

No matter how much local knowledge you have, setting sail in moonless inky darkness is not for the fainthearted and though it was but a few hundred metres, I was relieved to enter the brightly lit harbour and cross the marina sill with 0.2 metres beneath the keel.  I put Pippin to bed well chuffed with the day.

Proper job.




By ajay290

Summer Wanderings Part 1

In July, infirmity forced me to retreat home from the Jester Baltimore Challenge with tail between my legs.  Disappointment hit me hard, but it had its benefits, for I was able to attend a family reunion at the Baytree in Broadstairs, a hotel  owned by Angie’s cousin ( .   Noone fell out or fell over and it was good to catch up with people we see rarely.   Back in Guernsey I careened Pippin to remove the Irish weed along her waterline, looked at the full larder aboard and charts of distant places – and felt that familiar itch.

In the meantime, it was Heaven to set sail knowing I could be comfortably home for tea – no more 36 hour solo marathons, at least for now.   A series of day sails and mini trips seemed just the job.

One day it was gusting no more than 18 knots as I slipped Pippin’s lines, enough to have fun without being overwhelmed, the sort of conditions where I would pull in a reef if out on a long passage for comfort’s sake.  Powering down Guernsey’s East coast, a mile offshore, a down draft off the cliffs caught Pippin aft of the beam, powering up the main sail; even with the mainsheet dropped as far to leeward as it would go, Pippin slowly turned her bowsprit inexorably to windward, straight at a little fishing boat.  To be honest I hadn’t expected this, as Pippin stuck to her guns ignoring my instructions and charging shoulder down, as the fisherman stubbornly held his right of way whilst he tended his rods.

It only lasted seconds, which was a relief for I had no immediate plan, before the gust eased and Pippin swung back on course, and I wondered if that fisherman had known how close he had come to a bowsprit through his wheelhouse.   Pippin soon cleared St. Martins Point, where the sea state generally worsens, but the wind unsullied by cliffs is usually more predictable.   I set Hercule the wind vane up and brewed a pot of espresso and wondered whether I should just keep going – it was tempting.

The number ‘7’ has great appeal aboard my little ship – it is Pippin’s hull speed in knots; well, it’s actually 7.13, though the 0.13 tends to get lost.  It’s nice to ‘do a 7’ unenhanced by waves or tide and it always elicits a childish ‘whoop!’ from her skipper and Pippin gave me a 7 that day.

An hour and a half later, I tacked and set Pippin as close to a course for home as wind would allow.   It actually set her bows towards the clear water between 2 mega cruise liners anchored in St. Peter Port Roads, 7 miles off.   Small fishing boats clustered over ‘the Great Bank’, a yacht or 2 passed heading for Jersey and a large motor boat guzzled off towards wherever.   I was having fun, but home wasn’t far off – perfect.

I retrieve all my warps less my spring lines when I leave my home marina.  It means I always have them available, wherever I go and once I have the spring line on its cleat with engine in slow ahead, I have all the time in the World to reset my warps when I return.  I prepared for harbour, going through the drills  not quite like an automaton, for I was in truth already a tad rusty.

You don’t have to go far to have fun and being close to home, I could also enjoy the pleasure of sailing with company.   So Angie and I planned our first little cruise of 2019.

There is a magic in eating fish and chips on the poop deck (with Ketchup for the skipper’s chips), in warm evening sunshine as we did that evening, before setting off on our little adventure to Dielette, via an over night stop in Dixcart Bay  on the East side of Sark .  Our plan was modest – to leave Dixcart next day as the tide turned North around dawn, our destination the little port of Dielette in itself a nowhere sort of place.  But that isn’t the point, because you come from somewhere, and need to harness tide to safely make that destination, and arrival converts even a nowhere place to somewhere special.  Furthermore, I have found that Dielette will reveal its magic to those who seek, in time.  

Then there is the pleasure of the route, enjoyed in slow time at 5 knots or so,  the wonderful scenery of wild Sark and the warm, low contours of pretty Herm providing a gorgeous if potentially dangerous backdrop.  The journey – any journey – closes with that special moment, when you lift your first glass in smiling celebration of a destination safely gained.  It would be a perfect gentle reintroduction for Angie to Pippin – that was the theory at least; how wrong I was.

There was a logic to the plan too, for Dielette can silt badly and I hadn’t been for a while, so an early start from Dixcart meant we could arrive safely on the top of the tide, providing the skipper got his course correct, for the fierce spring tides meant 40° or so of leeway, which could send a careless sailor North to Cherbourg and beyond.

Barclays Castle Breqhou

The Barclay brothers Breqhou Castle



Anyway, it was a pleasant windless evening as Pippin chuntered contentedly towards Sark, swinging tight round L’Etac, the rocky carbuncle hanging off Sark’s southern tip and on past Moie de Bremiere Rock, until we could see the hole back through it, then 22° avoiding Avocet and Baleine lurking to starboard, and on to join a flotilla of 14 yachts anchored around the bay.   I dropped the faithful Rocna anchor 13 metres down at high water and ran out 50 metres of chain, to hold Pippin tight under the dark cliffs, in perfect shelter from the light NW breeze.   Pippin rolled gently through the night playing her quiet tune of slapping lines and water music, as her anchor lantern swung in rhythm, and the crew whinnied and snuffled in sleep.

Somehow my passage planning invariably condemns me to a pre-dawn start and so at 0430 I went on parade, straddling the foredeck like a portly colossus to weigh anchor, the first mate sensibly still abed.  I had checked everything and I mean everything before we set out and all had been well, until I pressed my toe onto the deck mounted anchor winch button, once; twice; three times – nothing!  Not a peep.   I pressed the other button, the one that lowers the anchor; instant action!

Sx@t!!!F@xk!!!”  I felt Lady Luck had kicked me where it hurts and Sod was also being a little unfair, with 50 metres of chain and a 15kg Rocna, 11 metres beneath me; but there was no option but to get on with it, so I puffed, heaved and cussed like a good ‘un.   As I caught my breath and took the helm, I actually felt quite chuffed; I always try to stay positive and decided it had been a useful demonstration that at 64, with a knackered back, I could still do it – just.

Soon Pippin was puttering off to clear North of the Blanchard Shoals through a breathless dawn over a still sea, so no point in raising sails to needlessly flog; Sark gradually faded as dawn broke and the low coastline of France began to merge from the haze and the First Mate dozed on.

Dielette Pippin

Pippin posing in Dielette outer Harbour

It takes a few visits to discover Dielette’s charm and it was no surprise to find friends also visiting, with whom we dined and wined, burning off the excess with a coastline walk – and a bun (prune tartlet in my case – keeps me regular) with tea.

Dielette & First Mate

Dielette (2)

Dielette First Mate Pippin

The first mate – Pippin’s right there

It was quiet with a light SW wind as we slipped our lines and left the port, aiming to be in the right position when the tide turned to sweep us SW down the Russel.   All went well, motor-sailing gently, when our peace was disturbed by silence.  Once again I went to work on the fuel filter just as I had done in the Celtic Sea, whilst Angie took the helm looking worried, with Sark and the ominous Humps off Herm looming disturbingly ahead.

A Worried First Mate.2019

A worried first mate in a dangerous place in bad weather

It was soon clear that I was not going to sort the fuel situation this time, but we had just enough wind to sail and I wasn’t going to ask for assistance, until I had done everything I could to reach safety.   I informed Guernsey Coast guard of our situation and swung Pippin to port onto a safer heading down Sark’s East side, sailing with the tide towards L’Etac, updating the Coast Guard on VHF 20 every 20 minutes.  Sometimes the tide and swirling eddies above shoals and reefs overcame the power of the sails, taking Pippin in their merciless grip, rendering the rudder completely useless for seconds at a time – most disconcerting.

Sark Pt Robert

Sark Dangers (2)

Point Robert and the view back towards Sark Harbour

With a prayer and much judicious tweaking of course and sails, we just cleared L’Etac and its shoals inbound for Guernsey, and for a while it looked like we might make it past Lower Heads 4 miles or so from port; but we had taken so long the tide had begun to turn, and the wind now dropped below 5 knots.   So strong was the tide here that Pippin, though aiming for St. peter Port, was slipping sideways down the Russel back towards France: not brilliant – ironically, had the weather been less benign with more wind, Pippin would have had the power to conquer tide and sail home to the harbour with honour intact.

So, 1.5 miles from the Lower Heads, I called the coast Guard this time for a tow, a request quickly answered by a 6 metre RIB, but Pippin’s 8 ton weight was too much and in any case, his fuel consumption rocketed so much, he would have run out before he reached port.

RIB Takes the tow

Towed Home


A fishing boat now came across and took over, taking one of my lines and heading for harbour, barely slackening his pace;  “It happens” said the fisherman with a shrug as I thanked him, before turning back to his lobster pots, as if towing an eight ton boat home was the most natural thing in the World.

As we headed home, a French yacht with 5 aboard radioed for help, for they too were slipping engineless down the Russel into danger and an hour after we were safely alongside, they joined us.  Next day their rescuer, a local chap, popped over to check they were ok; that’s the way of the sea – you help each other.

All things considered, I felt perhaps immodestly that we had done well to sail 20 nautical miles in very light winds, defying the rocky dangers and perfidious tides to get within nearly a rope’s throw of harbour.  But to be honest,  I would have preferred a little less drama, a feeling heartily endorsed by the First Mate.

Condor in SPP

Condor arrives just after Pippin

Next day the engineer managed little better than I had to clear the fuel blockage, so connected a temporary fuel tank directly to the engine’s fuel filter.  Back alongside, other engineers set to work and soon we were back in business none the worse for our experiences.

Pippin Awaits Repair

Pippin safely alongside awaiting repair

I hadn’t intended to subject the First Mate to such excitement on her first trip in a while, but it just shows that anything can happen at sea anytime no matter how well prepared you are.  I hope, for her sake, our next trip will be a little less fraught.

The following day I thanked the Coastguard for their unerringly courteous and professional service and rowed out into the harbour to the fishing boat that had rescued us, and dropped off a thank you note and a modest contribution towards the cost of the extra fuel he must have burned.

Finis et bonum idem est.


By ajay290