Newlyn to Milford Haven

Day 3 - Thursday 18th May 2017 

I woke with the alarm at 0320. Too excited to roll over and fall back asleep, I put the kettle on and got dressed. Waking Mr & Mrs Skipper with a mug of tea I then donned my sea boots & oilskins and went topsides to see to the mooring warps. 

There was a light breeze on the starboard side and we were berthed port side to the finger. The skipper's plan was to reverse out into the fairway. We needed a long bow spring and a short stern warp. I walked the boat back a metre too so the bow would be clear of the walkway when​ we made the manoeuvre. The fenders at the aft end wouldn't be needed so I used some of them to protect the bow.

The instrument lights were blinding in the surrounding darkness. When skip changed the settings from 'daylight' to 'night' it helped & dimmed down the backlight. We talked quietly so as not to disturb the visiting French sailors sleeping in the neighbouring yachts. 

With the three of us knowing exactly what to do, we slipped the stern line and gently motored ahead against the bow spring. The bow went in and the stern came away from the pontoon finger just as planned. With the engine now in reverse, we slowly made our way astern towards the fairway. My bow spring went slack and I slipped the line. As the long rope fell into the water, the skipper was careful not to use the bow thruster. The light wind on the starboard bow helped to turn the boat and line it up along the middle of the fairway. With a short pause in neutral, then forward gear, we were off.

We weren't the only boat to leave Newlyn at 4am. Several other fishing boats were off to their fishing grounds. I love the feeling when I'm leaving a sleepy town behind in the dark. Early mornings and sunrise are my favourite times of day.  

The weather forecast was correct with a light westerly wind, sunshine and an occasional shower. We motored into the wind and ocean swell, slamming from time to time down a bigger wave. My crewmate Erni wouldn't like that as he tried to sleep in the forecabin. Seeing sails ahead and ships to the side, it was an ideal time to familiarise myself with the yacht's radar system. I went down below to find Erni putting his seaboots on, muttering "cannae sleep up there, like bouncing around on a trampoline!" 

Yachts hove into view, with colourful spinnakers flying in the morning dusk. We'd stumbled upon a race and the two leading yachts were almost neck and neck with the next three close behind. They gave me plenty of practice on the radar. The downside to this was the dreaded 'mal de mer.' I was feeling distinctly queasy down below and popped a couple of Stugeron with a swig of water. 

Our timing was bang on as we rounded the southern point of Land's End. Altering course to pass Longships lighthouse well to starboard, we unfurled the mainsail from inside the mast & trimmed the sail for a close reach. Our boat speed increased by half a knot. The genoa was unfurled too, leaving 3 rolls on the foil and we watched the boat speed increase again. The skipper's wife turned in when Erni came on watch. An hour later now with full genoa, we trimmed the sails and turned due North. Longships was on the beam & looked stunning below a slowly rising sun.

We headed for a waypoint off Cape Cornwall, giving the dangerous rocks and lee shore a very wide berth. At 7am we reached the waypoint and altered course for Milford Haven, trimming the sails again. It was 91 NM away and our course to steer had to include many hours of tidal streams.

I had drawn the tidal vectors on the chart and made a note of the resultant tidal set and drift. Applying this to our intended course over the ground, we estimated a course to steer of 12 degrees True. Someone once said to me ""True Virgins Make Dull Company". Adding 2 degrees for westerly variation made 14 degrees Magnetic but subtracting 10 degrees estimated leeway gave us a course to steer of about 5 degrees Magnetic. Compass deviation was unknown because the compass had never been swung. So using the hand bearing compass, we set a course of 5 degrees. The ship's compass read 23 degrees. This told us that the compass deviation at this heading was approximately 18 degrees west. Great, we'd now gained some valuable information. 

I turned in next and slept solidly for 2 hours as Cornwall receded into the distance. Skipper and Erni were on watch. When I woke, we checked our position on the chart & had a mug of tea. Ernie then got some rest and skip made himself comfortable in the cockpit, closed his eyes and slept solidly for an hour. Kathryn and I kept a good lookout as we passed a number of creel marker buoys. Kathryn spotted a fishing boat way off​ the starboard bow so I turned on the radar, keen to get more practice when I could. 

When the skipper woke, he and Erni took the next watch. Kathryn turned in while I looked at the chart and tidal stream atlas to plan the next leg of our voyage. After a while, Ernie's shout of 'dolphins' had me donning a lifejacket and going topsides to admire their antics and shoot some video. 

Halfway into the journey, we assessed our progress to see if we needed to revise our course to steer. All was well despite being a little faster than anticipated. We decided to remain on the same course for the time being just in case the following few hours were slower. The wind backed to the south west but remained mainly force 3 occasionally rising to 4 on the Beaufort scale. We decided to review the situation in a few hours.

With 3 hours to run to our next waypoint at Turbot Bank west cardinal buoy, we amended our course to steer. We'd made excellent progress, faster than anticipated, which meant we would have less of a tidal drift to push us back to our destination. All was well.

Before long, the Welsh coastline was sighted but so was a ship that seemed to be staying in the same position. AIS confirmed that it was anchored. The skipper altered course to pass astern and I sat down with the detailed chart of Milford Haven to draw up a pilotage plan for entry into the sound. With a choice of anchoring or going into the marina, we chose the latter in order to fill up with fuel and water ready for the next day.

By 8pm we'd contacted Milford Haven pierhead on VHF ch.14 to request a lock-in. The marina staff were there to meet us and take our lines as we berthed alongside. We were safely tied up with the engine off by 8.40pm.

After such a wonderful day's sailing a glass of wine went down very nicely with dinner that evening. 

What did we discover next? Find out on day 4!

Round the Lizard, Britain's most southerly point

Day 2 - Wednesday 17th May 2017, Mylor to Newlyn

I woke early and looked at the pilot book and charts. The distance from Mylor to the Lizard was about 20 NM and Newlyn about 15 or 16 miles beyond. How long will it take to get there & what is the cruising speed of Wind Song? The forecast Wind direction was 'on the nose' so we would probably have to motor.

The book said the best time to round the Lizard was two hours before high water Dover. It also recommended a call to Newlyn harbour master to find out if they had a berth for us. It even had a phone number just to make life easier. Once the skipper was up, we established the cruising speed was 7 knots, taking about 3 hours to get to the Lizard. So we planned to set off at noon, 5 hours before HW Dover. 

Now I could relax and enjoy a healthy meusli breakfast and tea. 

Whilst Erni filled the boat's water tank, I looked at a plan for rounding Lands End for the following day. We'd have to set off early from Newlyn to catch the start of the flood tide off Cape Cornwall. It would be a slack tide at the Longships lighthouse, just west of Lands End. It also made sense to head straight for Milford Haven rather than a detour to Padstow. With the pre-planning done, it was time to get ready to leave for Newlyn. Skip had called the harbour master. He was very helpful, saying there would definitely be room, even if we had to raft alongside another boat. Skip had also done the engine checks and showed me round the engine room.

Leaving Mylor was uneventful. The boat manoeuvres very easily, as a lot of modern yachts do and this boat also has bow and stern thrusters for greater control in tight spaces or on windy days. Fenders and mooring warps were stowed in the cavernous lazarette locker at the stern and we were underway at long last, threading our way through the channel into the River Fal.

We passed a cardinal buoy making safe passage round the Manacle rocks and into the long Atlantic swell, passing ships at anchor along with tiny fishing boats darting about laying pots and lines. Once round Lizard Point we set a course for Newlyn and called the harbour master, as requested, when we reached Low Lee east cardinal buoy. 

Newlyn is a 'no frills' harbour with a myriad of small fishing boats and some large ones. Interestingly, a lot of them had 'riding sails' at the stern, to steady the boat and make their work more comfortable. 

Dinner ashore again, Italian this time, spicy king prawn linguini. Over dinner we discussed the best departure time for tomorrow's long trip and who would be on watch for the duration of this 18 hour voyage. Erni drew the long straw and got to stay in bed as we prepared the boat to leave at 4am. 

Find out what happened on Day 3 soon!

Morecambe to Falmouth

Day 1 - Tuesday 16th May 2017, Travelling to Mylor Yacht Harbour

Deirdre dropped me off at Morecambe station in time for the 0823 train to Lancaster. I bought a coffee & waited for the crowded 0857 southbound to Crewe. It felt like a day off with no charts, pilot books or almanac to plan the voyage. So I settled in with my notebook to write a short story about the trip for our blog.

The skipper, his wife and crew Erni met me at Crewe for the onward leg to Falmouth by hire car. Their yacht is a Gunfleet 43 sloop and it's about to leave Mylor for a summer season sailing in Scotland. They've asked me to sail with them & provide some coaching during the passage.

In the car we talked about possible routes for the trip. Should we sail up the west coast of Wales or the east coast of Ireland? The choice would depend upon the weather, so forecasts for the next few days would be important. The skipper favoured XC Weather whilst Erni used Meteo Weather. It's strictly a personal choice based on ease of use and graphics, as most of these internet weather sites are using the same 'GFS' weather computer model. Magic Seaweed, Windguru, Windfinder and Passage Weather are other sites favoured by our clients. 

The Met Office surface pressure charts showed the UK between two highs and two lows, what meteorologists call a Col. This would bring light and variable winds. Due to the uncertainty of a weak high pressure and a not so deep low on this chart, my concern was that this forecast may not hold. There were two cold fronts marching across the UK, from NW to SE and we were certainly in the warm sector ahead of them. Rainy, drizzly, misty dreich sort of day with poor visibility. The passing of the cold fronts would bring showers overnight and through the following morning, becoming dry and bright in the afternoon. Would that be a good time to set off? We'd have to look at the tides and pilot book to find the best time to round the Lizard.

Should we go to Newlyn for the night, it would be a closer, but when was the best time to round Lands End? Should we head for Padstow before going up to Milford Haven? Newlyn is a fishing harbour, do they have room for us? Padstow has a cill, when can we get in and what is the latest time we must leave? Would we make it in time after rounding Lands End? It was obvious we had some work to do once we reached the yacht at Mylor.

The car journey passed in a flash, thanks to Erni, a very interesting octogenarian who'd fished and sailed around Scottish waters for many years. As an artist, he'd travelled throughout Scotland looking for stunning views to paint. We shared our experiences of beautiful anchorages and remote places.

What, Mylor already? Time to get out of the car and stretch our legs. We stowed the gear and food and got to know about the domestic arrangements onboard. The heads have an electric flush and unusually, use fresh water. A pee requires a little flush but the big flush button is for big jobs! And it will need two or three flushes to clear the pipes. Gas is turned on via two solenoid valves, but the electric circuits have to be switched on through a computer screen that controls and monitors all the circuits onboard, including batteries, fuel and water.

The skipper gave us a safety brief before we headed off to Castaways restaurant for dinner. 

I sat up for a while after the others turned in, writing notes and catching up with business emails whilst I still had WiFi. 

Check back on our blog for the next chapter, coming soon!

Unexpected MOB On Day Skipper Course

We were on Bolero IV, a 41' Hanse sailboat, practicing picking up moorings under sail off the Kames Hotel at Tighnabruich. There was a light breeze and we had a reef in the mainsail to show things down. The wall to wall sunshine was glorious for our Day Skippers. The sailing in Scotland can often be so lovely.

Having tacked & heading back to the buoy, Chris on the foredeck shouted: "My hat, I've lost my hat!" As it blew off his head and landed in the water next to the boat, we all looked over the side as his sporty baseball cap floated by and away past the transom.

John on the helm looked at me expectantly. I just shrugged my shoulders knowing we were short of time and said: "We'll have to ignore that and get on with the exercise." 

As John steered the yacht towards the mooring, Doug was on the mainsheet spilling and filling. Everyone was concentrating hard on the task but a little voice in my head kept saying "Get the hat, get the hat!" Halfway to the buoy I turned to John & asked if I could take the helm. "I just can't let that hat go!" I explained.

Using the classic 'reach - tack - reach' method, we sailed away, then turned back towards the hat. Stephen found it difficult to keep the hat in sight as it was waterlogged by now and only just on the surface. 

As we tacked, Shirley shouted "watch out for the ropes" and Stephen ducked. Taking your eye of the MOB just for a moment is all it takes to lose sight of it. Stephen was so disappointed, feeling like he'd let the side down. However, I felt that the close reaching course may get us close to the hat. My greatest concern was that the hat might sink before we got there. 

Sure enough, as we got closer, Stephen caught a glimpse of the hat from his high vantage point next to the mast. We luffed up, spilled wind from the sail and stopped right by the hat. 

Having recovered the sodden thing with a boat hook, Chris put the wet hat squarely on his head grinning from ear to ear!

We tow our rubber dinghy on cruising holidays, especially if we're using it frequently. It would be a pain to deflate and stow it away each day.

But towing the tender causes drag & will slow a sail boat down. The drag puts extra strain on the painter too, so I fitted 2 D rings on our dinghy, one on each tube, to spread the load. I found it also helped to lift the bow and reduce drag.

In certain conditions, we can also reduce the drag by towing the dinghy on a long rope. We set the length of the rope so that as the yacht goes down a wave, the dinghy is also is going down a wave. In other conditions, we find having the dinghy very close to the stern of our yacht with the bow out of the water works better.

An inflatable dinghy is prone to flipping over, especially in stronger winds. So we always remove the outboard, seat and oars before towing.

If we want to sail faster, we stow the inflated dinghy upside down on the foredeck lashing it down securely.

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