Eileen of Avoca is on her way to South America!

Swedish training ship?

It took more than three months (don’t ask, it’s a sorry tale of bungling incompetence), let’s just say better late than never… Eileen is now officially on route for her trans-Atlantic voyage. Hurray!

Leaving the Solent at the first available weather window, Eileen raced for France. Stiff northeasterly winds over a spring tide made for a lively crossing but a Yarmouth23 in Force 5 conditions or above is in its element.

Arriving in Cherbourg, I spent the next few days carrying out some thorough boat checks, as this was effectively Eileen’s first sea trial after refit.

Small issues abound, but none are show stoppers, so I’ll spare you the details and just go about sorting them out on route. I’m late enough heading south as it is and can’t afford to stay any longer in these northern latitudes.

I said my goodbyes to family and friends, took a few obligatory tourist photos of statues, churches and interesting boats, before making haste for Camaret (some 170NM away).

On the subject of interesting boats, above is a picture of a Swedish tall ship that arrived before noon. Despite my best efforts (often claimed by others to be somewhat half-hearted), to track down the young crew for traditional Nordic offerings of raw herring and vodka, I had to settle for an evening dining alone. Pork stew, some local red wine and only my plastic nodding dog for conversation. Woe is me… 🙂

Keeping warm at sea

Things started to get a little more interesting on route to Camaret. With weakening Force 2 to 3 northwesterly winds, I motored from Cherbourg through moderate seas and on into the night.

Now you may wonder, what does one do, (from moment to moment) while sailing all alone for several days at a time.

Sailing blogs usually describe similar voyages as rough, uncomfortable, uneventful or with words to that effect, which really does little to shed light on what it’s really like out there, especially for an audience of landlubbers. Well, here is my attempt to demystify the going ons at sea during all those lonely hours.

We do nothing…

Well, as close to nothing as is feasible. There is lots of work leaving (or arriving at) port with ropes to tend to, sails to hoist, fenders to stow away and auto-pilots to set, but that takes all of ten to fifteen minutes if you really try hard to savor the tasks and move with sloth-like speed.

So, what happens next?

I may be giving away a trade secret here but I suspect that most skippers just try to look confidently busy…

My own strategy is to play around with my hand-held GPS making an indefinite series of unnecessary 3 degree course corrections at the tiller-pilot. I follow this up with occasional visits to the navigation table where I scribble brief log entries like so:

Time Order Steer Log Wind & Weather Baro Fix Remarks

01:30 230° 230° 81.8 NW F2 Choppy 1019 49°15′ – 003°30′ Warship!

Moving about from one seating arrangement to another is also a favourite pastime of mine. My behind can really only take so many hours in any one position, so having a short lie down below deck with occasional “Jack-in-the-box” style getting up to look outside, features prominently in my “things to do at sea” repertoire.

It's alive! Kill it....

If it’s not too rough, I have a go at cooking… On route this mostly involves adding more of whatever I have (rice, potatoes, broccoli, or anything else that might go off soon due to the lack of refrigeration), into yesterdays unfinished stew, then boiling it to kingdom come. Kills anything that was attempting to grow in there of its own accord and keeps me warm. After several days, if I still think it might spontaneously crawl out of the pot despite regular high temperature disinfection, I add lots of hot chili or Indian spices for good measure. Let’s see what can live through that!

Ah yes, keeping warm, another great sailing pastime up north. As it gets late, surprise surprise, it gets cold, and I have to keep adding layers of clothing if I am to stave off pneumonia. Usually by 4am I am twice the girth I was during daylight hours and layered like a babushka doll!

So apart from the other two necessities in life, the physical gymnastics involved being a subject I’d rather not elaborate on, that’s it. No mobile phone, no “I’m just ducking out to the shops for a moment”, and no taking the dog for walks. Exciting isn’t it? Now you know why nobody usually bothers to write about it…

Having said that…. odd things do happen on route breaking the monotony.

Take that extract from my logbook detailed above. It’s 1:30 in the morning. There is no evidence of any shipping on my radar detector or newly installed AIS receiver when suddenly I’m called up on the VHF radio and ordered to identify myself to a French warship! Peeking out of the companionway I see the ominous grey silhouette of an unlit vessel to starboard and check my position on the GPS to see if it really is me they wish to talk with. Apparently it is!

It turned out to be little more than a check to see where I had come from, where I was going, and if everything was well, but it did have me worried for a moment.

Water spout in The Channel

Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you about the tornado… Or should I say, waterspout (to be technically correct). That beast passed within a mile of Eileen earlier in the afternoon…

There I was, just three miles NW of Alderney, when a solitary dark cloud started producing twisters in what was until then, just a beautiful sunny day!

I didn’t think these things happened in the Channel. I had enough time to take a couple of snapshots, with my camera, but you will have to excuse me for not waiting for a better closeup. I had a few details to tend to before it reached me: Getting my sails set for storm winds and battening down the hatches for starters. Just when I was ready to go below and tell my newly dubbed plastic nodding dog “Toto” that we might not be in Kansas anymore, the monster unwound itself and disappeared. Freak weather anomaly and untold boating episode from “The wizard of OZ” over in a matter of minutes.

To my great relief I did nothing more than the “nothing” described above for the remainder of my trip to Camaret.

Entering the Belgian canal system

Nieuwpoort

Nieuwpoort

Tuesday the 10th of April

At 7am I made my way through two locks to get to the VVW Westhoek marina (far right of the photo). Entry to the first lock is dependent on the tide (+ or – 3hrs HW) but it was a simple matter to call the lock operators on the phone to arrange everything (in English).

Until the end of April the locks are not attended on Sundays so for a while my travels will be restricted to Saturdays. My Belgian itinerary will be something like Nieuwpoot, Brugge, Gent, Antwerp, Turnhout, Hasselt, Liege, Namur and Dinant. Then it will be on to France and the Med.

GPS Track

GPS Track

Taking down the mast

Monday the 9th of April

Yarmouth23

Yarmouth23

An afternoon at the marina packing and lowering the mast using Mr Boyall’s concise instructions posted on the Yarmouth 23 user group and quoted below:

I dropped the mast on Eileen of Avoca as follows:-
First the gooseneck was disconnected. Then the gib and stay sail.
The forestay was next and a block attached to the lower end. A rope
was then rove through the block and from there to one of the bow
rollers, the biter end was made of on the bits. The free end was taken
back to the cockpit via the other bow roller and round the winch. The
lower bolt in the Tabernacle was removed, the upper one loosened and
the mast lowered by using the winch. QED

This can be done single handed but a little help to position the mast once lowered helps. Eileen of Avoca was now ready to enter the canal system.

Celebrating a safe arrival

Sunday the 8th of April

To celebrate a safe arrival, this day was spent sailing in light winds with friends and mum. With nothing more to do than potter about just outside the harbour entrance among a plethora of other vessels, I could not think of a better way to enjoy the fine weather.

Eileen arrives in Belgium

Saturday the 7th of April

Nieuwpoort

Nieuwpoort

I had arranged for a friend to join me for the last leg to Belgium and he arrived by train just in time to leave by the first opening of the lock at 13:28. As there was still little in the way of wind, I motored to Nieuwpoort. The complimentary tidal stream coupled with occasional use of the foresails provided a brisk 8 knots SOG giving us an approximate ETA of 19:30. Navigation was a cinch and involved little more than following the shipping channel buoys (keeping the line of red buoys to starboard). With innumerable sandbanks and accompanying shallow water, I imagine this must be a tough trip in unsettled conditions. The scenery is nothing to write home about and the only event of note other than the occasional passing freighter was a visit by the French coastguard, who seemed content to look me over before speeding off to do more important things. They probably left me alone because I wasn’t flying a British ensign.

There are no formalities when entering Nieuwpoort, just motor in and follow one of the visitor signs. While KYCN are still furiously renovating for the coming season, I chose their offering in the old harbour (keep right) and had no regrets with the decision (see http://www.kycn.be/en/home.html).

Dover to Calais – The bootleg run

Friday the 6th of April

Calais

Calais

I would have been happier with a little more wind but Friday was certainly a beautiful sunny day. The passage to Calais could not have been easier. I followed a course of 140° and the tidal stream did the rest. All I had to do was watch the P&O and Sea France ferries race each other across “La Manche” while I sped along a close to 6 knots. Upon arrival I didn’t have long to wait before the lock / bridge opened at its scheduled time and with enthusiasm I joined the ensuing rush through to the marina and onto the visitor pontoon (immediately to starboard). Note that there are mooring buoys outside the lock if you arrive early. See http://www.harbourguides.com/harbours.php/Calais

The marina office was closed (public holiday perhaps?) but lock opening times were conveniently posted in the adjacent window. Other visitors zealously carting cartons of alcohol to their vessels provided me with the codes to the entrance and facilities.

Eileen reaches Dover

Thursday the 5th of April

The high pressure system finally decided to move south and both wind and waves miraculously disappeared. I followed the fishermen out at sunrise and motored all the way to Dover on a good tide and smooth seas. It was so calm that I was able to round Dungeness by less than a cable.

The only challenge was the mandatory call to Dover Port Control and squeezing through the western entrance on a rapid tidal stream. I spent the night in the tidal harbour but the small craft moorings by the beach were a tempting option given the good weather.

For those interested, the Dover Marina website is: http://www.doverport.co.uk/

RNLI rescue Belgian fisherman

Wednesday the 4th of April

The clear sky and tranquil conditions within the marina were certainly a contrast to what awaited outside the lock today. After an hour of battling the elements I decided to abort my plan to visit Rye and turned back to Eastbourne. I had endured enough of this the previous evening. Using the beaching legs would have to await more accommodating weather. I spent the free time catching up on some rest, drying bedding, buying that sorely missed ski mask, checking the weather forecast and visiting the RNLI (who had apparently just returned from rescuing a Belgian fisherman).

Under bare poles in heavy seas

Tuesday the 3rd of April

A late start predetermined my next destination so with the mainsail reefed; I set off at midday for Hastings in (surprise surprise) blustery North Easterlies. Near Beachy Head conditions could only be described as awful. The wind frequently gusted to Force 7 and I was forced to motor around the headland under bare poles in the short heavy seas. Eileen does not have a spray hood so the water splashing over the deck equated to plenty of water splashing over me, my eyes and inevitably my clothes despite having appropriate foul weather gear.

Pocket warmer

Pocket warmer

I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between regret for not having brought a ski mask to self congratulation, for having brought my pocket warmer (a must if you do not use LP gas, see http://www.hakkin.co.jp/)

With the safety line securely fastened I motored on, trying without much success to dodge the larger waves, a strategy that did little to ease the rollercoaster ride. Eileen apparently likes to bob around like a cork. Unfortunately this motion was making me decidedly queasy and I was not happy about going below to plot my hourly fixes on the chart. I was also unhappy about approaching Soverign Harbour by night, especially at low tide, but these concerns abated when it was clear I’d reach the safe water mark just before sunset. The marina office has a camera trained on the buoy marking the entrance channel and I’m sure Eileen made a sorry sight bobbing about there in the twilight. As I called up on the radio the duty officer was quick to give useful directions and before long we had entered Soverign’s impressive lock.

Lock

Lock

Interestingly, I found another Yarmouth 23 “Moo of Cowes”, berthed in the marina. I had seen her at Yarmouth Marine Services a few weeks earlier so apparently I was not the only one making an early start to the sailing season (unless she had made the trip on a trailer). For those planning to come this way, the marina hosts an excellent web site (see http://www.premiermarinas.com/pages/Sovereign_Harbour).

The weather worsens

Monday the 2nd of April

At daybreak the wind was still predominantly from the NE, but it had moderated considerably. I took the opportunity to experiment and quietly left the marina under sail. I am no expert with the Gaff Rig, quite the contrary, and a misleading bit of rigging confidently placed by a Dutch colleague (who should have been the expert) necessitated scandalizing the mainsail to tack cleanly. A quick call to the yard sorted that nuisance out as I set a course through the submarine nets and on to the Looe entrance under a combination of motor and sail. Just before reaching the entrance buoys Eileen’s travels came to an abrupt halt as one of the innumerable lobster pots caught hold of the skeg. Thankfully it was not the propeller (My boat is not fitted with rope cutters). Some moving about the boat and plenty of energetic prodding of the float on my part, (with whatever came to hand) saw Eileen freed without having to resort to fastening my bread knife to a broom handle; an exercise that would undoubtedly have left me in the same predicament minus one bread knife.

It was a pleasant sail as far as Selsey Bill but shortly thereafter the winds strengthened and it became a long wet slog under power (wind on the nose) to reach Brighton by sunset. I must say how pleased I was at how well the Yarmouth 23 handles poor conditions (this pleasure is tempered only by how poorly she goes astern), aside from a little propeller cavitation on steep waves, Eileen appeared to be untroubled by the worsening weather. As no response was forthcoming on the radio after numerous calls to Brighton Marina, I simply entered the grey monolithic breakwater and took my place on the visitor pontoon just inside the entrance. The compulsory visit to pay dues at the marina office would have to wait ‘till morning as there was not a staff member in sight.