A September Passage to Remember
Being pragmatic and adaptable is the name of the game with sailing. It's always wise to prepare for the curved ball, avoid complacency and stay safe. With that in mind we passed through the Cardiff Barrage and into the ripping tide of the Bristol Channel on route to the River Orwell in Suffolk. The curved balls were few and far between and a wonderful, interesting and relatively smooth passage was ahead of us. Early feelings of sea sickness for some gave way as the messy waters around Cardiff subsided and Moana settled into her downwind routine. The ebb provided a boost to the easterly wind behind our poled out, gullwinged rig. Moana was now recording speeds over the ground in excess of 12 knots in sight of Hartland Point. We were well and truly on our way.
Once sunset approached the wind strength subsided and the tide started to flood back into the Bristol Channel. It was time to motorsail, and eventually motor, through the night. It was quiet, only a few fishing boats on the AIS. We reached Cape Cornwall by dawn and watched the sun rise above Lands End. Over the next two hours the first of many dolphins came to play around us and a 'False' Killer Whale (or possibly a Minke Whale?) breached twice on our port side. The wind had dropped completely and we had 24 hours of motoring ahead of us to Haslar Marina in Gosport before a new front would bring a fresh south westerly breeze. The sea was flat calm and a beautiful, sunny day beckoned. In spite of the calm weather there was no shortage of action playing out on the VHF. A French Mayday, Dover Coast Guard warning of suspicious vessels crossing from the continent due to the benign conditions, HMS Lancaster & HMS Northumberland on live military firing exercises nearby, a fishing boat sunk with a man overboard in the Solent and a Torbay fisherman doing impressions of Jim Trott from the Vicar of Dibley as he towed another stricken vessel into port. After witnessing a second spectacular sunset, Brad reminded us all that the International Space Station was due to pass overhead. It was perfectly on time and sped through the twilight sky when only a couple of stars were visible.
During the early hours George was blessed with dolphins playing in our phosphorescent wake and by first light the Southern Coast of the Isle of Wight came into view and we started our approach into Gosport. Brad was due to return to Worcester and Ferg was joining us for the final leg to Ipswich. George helmed Moana through his old stomping ground of the Portsmouth approaches and into the Haslar Marina in Gosport. Great job. First leg completed and a comfortable night on a finger berth before setting off the following morning. All being well favourable tides and a strong SW wind will mean a daylight arrival at Fox's on Thursday morning.
We were back in the Solent just after 1000 and the wind was blowing in excess of 20 knots once out of the lee of the Isle of Wight. Soon Moana was flying again with poled out yankee to port, gullwing and broad reaching her way towards Beachy Head. Above the din of a helicopter rotor Moana's name squawked out of the VHF and it was the local HM Coastguard asking if they could carry out some training by dropping a winchman onto our aft deck.
Instructed to go on to a port tack, and lay out the main, we were soon ready to receive a weighted line which would be used to guide the winchman on deck during his final approach. After 20 minutes of hovering and buffeting about in the Force 6 conditions the pilot eventually admitted defeat and he radioed through that the risks were too high in the current conditions, "it would endanger the winchman and the boat". It was a little disappointing not having our visitor drop in for a cuppa but a bonus experience on an already exciting trip.
With a bit of luffing of sails we were soon past Beachy Head and back on track for Dungeness and eventually a busy rendezvous with the Port of Dover around midnight. Wind speeds were lingering at a feisty 35 knots. George and Gordon doubled up their shifts to deal with the high traffic volume and numerous fast ferries which were dipping in and out of Dover before we reached the Gull Channel passing west of the Goodwin Sands. The apparent wind angle moved to port as we eased north and west towards the windfarms now littering the Thames Estuary. Once through the 'Black Deep' we were well on the way to Harwich, Felixstowe and then on to the entry to the Orwell. The weather had held so far but the clouds were building from the west and becoming heavy with rain. A drenching came just before Felixstowe, along with 30+ knot winds. By the time we entered the Orwell the sun was out again and the shelter in the river bought flat calm conditions. Pin Mill was idyllic, nettling on our port side before we passed under the Orwell Bridge on the final approach to Fox's Marina. Only some tight manoeuvring between several unnervingly expensive boats lay between us and a well earned breakfast on dry land. Credit to the Moana crew, a magnificent job and our spirits have once again been elevated by the elemental power and beauty of the sea.