A Spooky Day (and Night!)

15th September

08:00 – So, as planned, I set off first thing Tuesday. In keeping with the rest of this trip, it didn’t go entirely smoothly. Overnight two other boats had arrived. One berthing directly astern of me and the other directly ahead. I had about two metres at the bow and stern. I didn’t think this would be too much of an issue as I could reverse on a stern spring to push my bow out then drive forward out past the boat ahead. Great in theory! Of course the current on the ebb tide had other ideas and no matter how much I got the bow out, as soon as I started moving forward and slipped the spring I was drifting forward to the boat ahead. Eventually I thought that I’d just have to be bold and get the bow out as far as I could then “gun it”. Well, that looked like it was working until my starboard solar panel just clipped the liferaft canister hanging off the back of the boat ahead. This resulted in the panel being pulled from its mount and the cockpit of the other boat being suddenly filled with angry Frenchemen in various states of undress! So now with one hand I’m holding onto the panel to stop it falling into the water, with the other hand I’m steering in the narrow channel, with my third hand I’m trying to retrieve the stern spring line before it finds my prop and with my fourth hand I’m trying to throttle back (remember I’d “gunned it”!) all the while being chased by the deputy harbour master shouting at me to stop and return to the boat I’d hit. You couldn’t make this stuff up – Frank Spencer’s got nothing on me lol! After a short while I had everything under control and returned only to be told that there was not even a mark on the other boat and that I could go. With my best “très désolé” to the french boat I turned around and headed out.

08:30 Successfully navigated out of the channel, following my chart plotter and the sector light. Of course I was far more aware of the hazards this time and it was quite nerve wracking to see just how close the many rocks in the channel were. Once clear of the channel I turned North. There was quite a bit of fog but I imagined it would clear as the morning warmed up and I got north of the Brittany peninsular. Yeah, about that…

A short while later I gained a little escort…

There were almost a dozen of them and they followed my for about twenty minutes – maybe they were making sure that I was leaving!

There was very little wind and I was still motoring. I stayed on this heading for just under ten miles before altering course to 015 degrees. At this point the wind got up a bit and I raised the sails and motor sailed for a bit longer, every so often taking the engine out of gear to see if there was enough to sail. Eventually the wind got up to around 12 knots and I finally shut the engine off. Ahhhhhh….

I set the windvane and went below to check the AIS. There was no traffic that would cause me a problem so I made myself a coffee. Still the fog persisted. In fact it was getting thicker. And so it continued all day! Occasionally I’d hear a ships fog horn off in the distance and I kept a close eye on the AIS but by sheer luck I threaded through all the traffic without having anything come closer than about 5 nautical miles.

I settled into a bit of a routine. Check the AIS every fifteen minutes. On the third check, if all clear take a fifteen minute catnap. That seemed to be working pretty well and so the day progressed. As night fell the wind started increasing, eventually getting up to around sixteen knots with occasional stronger gusts. Moon Shadow was flying along at almost eight knots across the ground. Eventually though I started to feel a bit uneasy about going at this speed in thick fog so decided to put the first reef in. That calmed things down considerably although I was still making six knots.

About 01:00 the fog completely cleared and I had a magnificent view of the stars with Mars shining brightly and the Pole Star just off my port bow. Perfect. It was short lived however and I soon ran into more fog.

As predicted the wind started veering until it was almost northerly making it impossible to maintain a heading of 015 and I had to bear away. I decided to do this rather than tack as I’d then be punching tide. If I waited another couple of hours I could tack to the west and I’d have the tide with me.

It was around 02:30 that, when checking the AIS, I saw a whole bunch of fishing boats strung across my path two of which had a Closest point of Approach (CPA) of under 0.3 nautical miles. That’s was too close for comfort so I called them on the radio just to make sure they were aware of me and proceeded, straining my eyes through the fog to try to see them. The first, a French boat, was ablaze with flood lights so was quite easy to spot. I got out my powerful lamp and shone it on the sails to make myself more visible and I noticed the fishing boat swing one of his lights in my direction so I knew he’d seen me. I estimate we passed about 300 metres from each other. The second boat I never saw but I had him on my AIS the whole time and our CPA never decreased but I continued to illuminate the sails. After that I was in clear water and was able to return to my catnap cycle.

At about 06:30 and about 40 kilometres south, south west of Start Point I eventually sailed out of the fog and I made my tack to port just as the sun rose.

sunrise at last – that was a loooong night!

You can still see the bank of fog I’ve just sailed out of.

I decided to set a course for the Eddystone lighthouse and planned to sail past by a few miles until I could get a good angle to tack into Plymouth sound. The wind had died away considerably by this point so I shook out the reef but was only making about 4.5 knots. It was very pleasant however and I disconnected the windvane and hand steered – not least in order to keep me awake! It was a very nice sail and great to be back in familiar waters.

I rounded Eddystone at about 09:15 and arrived into Cawsand Bay in the south west corner of Plymouth Sound just before midday and dropped the anchor right on schedule!

Journey’s end!

Once I was sure the anchor was good I went below and crashed out for a couple of hours.

Later in the afternoon, with a forecast of strong easterlies arriving during the night I moved over to Jennycliff Bay on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound and inside the breakwater. I saw my pal Richard anchored there and called to him. He rowed over but stayed in his dinghy a few yards off (at least two metres!) and I told him of my passage.

I then made myself some dinner and had the last of my French beer whilst watching my first sunset back in the UK.

Sunset over Cornwall

So there we are. The end of my first attempt at world domination!

My GPS track – you can see how the tide is swinging me

I’ll be making a few modifications to Moon Shadow over the winter in light of the experience I’ve gained this year. The first will be and AIS transponder that I can link to my chart plotter. Currently, I only have a reciever which is integral with my main VHF radio and the display, whilst it worked well on this passage, is pretty small. A transponder will also transmit my position, heading, speed and boat details to other vessels (all commercial vessels have to have AIS by law). Another job will be the relocation of the solar panels onto an arch above the cockpit. Not only will that get them out of the way and less vulnerable but they’ll also provide some shade for when I get somewhere hot and sunny 😉

I’ll write another post shortly detailing the projects I have planned.

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