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 (https://www.baytreebroadstairs.co.uk) . 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.