Messing about in boats – last sail of the summer?

The dawn of a week ago last Thursday was damp and slightly foggy in Bucks but the forecast for Chichester Harbour looked good – sun and 6 to 8 kn breeze. Martina growled round a surprisingly quiet M25* and then down the A3**. The mist thickened until,as we breasted the last hill before setting down to the coast, the weather was transformed.  The Sun shone, the temperature rose to 18 degrees – set fair then.

We arrived at Northney by 11. There was a breath of wind from the south. In the water before 11:30.. Now came the test – the red light. My regular reader will recall the oil pressure light on Freddy was flashing as we came to rest on our last outing. The oil level was checked and found adequate. Freddy was fired up and cheerfully buzzed away in the well. A mystery then

We cast off and wafted out of the harbour with the outgoing stream. Up with the main as we left the harbour entrance (I’d held the topping lift tight to scandalise the main whilst I hoisted it). It was about half tide. With the main sheet hard in and the jib taught, Freddy was shut down and we were just able to point close enough to the wind on the starboard tack to waft down river with the tide. At the first major mark, at the confluence with the channel to Emsworth, we had to drift over to the far side of the channel before tacking. Several tacks later (I didn’t even try to count) but in seemingly no time, we reached the marker for the main Chichester channel. We could either start the motor and head out to sea or sail up towards Chichester. The wind would have been “bang on the nose” for the entrance channel, and I din’t fancy the noise of Freddy II, so we went exploring towards Chichester.

So far in our voyage, we had seen few other craft. Just, a couple of Drascomes running up river before the breeze – where on earth were they going for lunch? One was towing a heavy looking dinghy. We turned to port, round the yellow and black buoy and headed east, on a broad reach, past the anchorage tucked in behind East Head. About a dozen craft were anchored there whilst the owners snoozed in the warm sunshine. We overtook a small Crabber, despite not paying much attention to the trim of the sails.

Although very pleasant and warm, this was becoming a bit tame. I had noticed that there were several mooring buoys lying unused in the trot of moorings near the sailing club. I thought I’d see if I could pick one up under sail, rather than power. We turned round. I noticed the wind instruments had given up discriminating between True and Apparent Wind. And, come to think about it, I had seen any evidence on the chart plotter of an AIS transmitter on any of the boats at East Head. Some of them were (a) newish and (b) biggish. They must have been fitted with AIS transmitters yet they hadn’t been detected.

Either some wires had come disconnected behind the cockpit bulkhead, or something had happened to the GPS/Chartplotter. Perhaps the programming of the comms channels had reverted to “default” for some reason. The former was beyond investigation but I reckoned I could have a look at the latter, if I could find the manual…….Abandoning the tiller for a few minutes (having lashed it roughly in position) I dashed below and rummaged through the ships paperwork.  With it in hand I returned to the command position to find us heading for a sand bank. We manged to miss it and resumed our normal course.

A quick scan of the manual showed me how to find the comms channels in the various menus (I find Garmin menus to be far from intuitive). Sure enough, both the in cchannel (for the AIS)  and the out channel (for the true wind) were off. Simple! Fixed. I now knew where other big ships might be and what the true wind speed was (6Kn). I wonder what had caused the system to revert to the default. Then I remembered. I had been making the plotter talk to my phone, so I could consult the plotter from anywhere in the boat – it’s not that I need the functionality (like most of the stuff on the plotter) but I just wanted to know how to make it work…..Unfortunately, at some point, the App on the phone had downloaded the latest version of the plotter software and, unknown to me, had then uploaded the stuff to the chart plotter……and this had reverted to “default” settings. Or, at least, I think that’s what had happened. The wonders and pitfalls of connected technology. Just spare me from an intelligent fridge or, for that matter, a smart electricity meter.

Where were we  – oh yes, looking a for a buoy to tie up to. By now the tide had turned and was starting to flood. Wind and tide were now both coming from the south. So, if I could come into the wind with a little way on just by the buoy, the combined effect would stop the boat and we’d drift down to the pick up point. Simples. Where’s the boat hook – I lashed the tiller again and ransacked the cabin, only to realise that I’d left it in Martina.

Never mind, let’s try it out anyway. After a couple of false starts (mainly because we had too much way on and drifted to far from the buoy) we made one pass with the main scandalised again (I’m getting quite keen on this way of de-powering it). This was spot on: I was able to reach down and touch the buoy pick up  rope just as Riff Raff came to rest with the buoy alongside the cockpit.

‘Of course, had I had the boat hook, I could have picked up the pick up rope, grabbed the end of it and walked forward to tie it on’ I said confidently (probably out loud) , and it was deemed that we’d passed the test.

Now, as the wind was light and there was really no other shipping about, I thought We’d have a go at flying the asymmetric. I had already secured it’s bag to the foredeck (the sail was in the bag) and tied all the extra halliards, sheets and what have you to the right bits of the sail. I’d even brought the sheets aft, so I didn’t have to scrabble for them on the foredeck. In a trice*** (now where does that expression come from) the two halliards were lead through blocks held in place by the aft mooring cleats and we were ready to go.

Now, I’d not done this before..

The jib was rolled up, the asymmetric halliard hauled in, and up went the sail, only to wave about in the breeze and then set on the wrong side of the boat. It pulled us round to port. The main gybed with a thunderous crack (fortunately I had ducked) and we were rapidly approach the sandbank at the side of the channel. OOPS.

The halliard was let go, one of the sheets was pulled in, the sail was recovered  and stuffed into the cabin.20181005_150133

A slightly more controlled gybe got us away from the sandbank, so we had another go, this time launching the sail from the cabin. That  was surprisingly easy but I discovered that I’d routed the asymmetric sheets between the jib and the main mast, rather than between the forestay and the asymmetric halliard. And, although the sail sort of flew, it still pulled hard to one side – this time in the other direction.This sequence of events repeated itself a few times until I gave up. Or the wind had dropped. Or something. So back to the Marina and on to Terence. The end of sailing for this year?



*For non British readers the M25 is the London orbital motorway, well known as a car park at certain times of day. ** The A3 is a feeder road to the M25, with the same sort of reputation.

***I have no idea but I can think of a quote using it:

‘ And I was wandering in a trice,
 Far from the grey and grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street,
 O’er sapphire berg and emerald floe,
 Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
 Of everlasting Polar night’

It’s from the Ice Cart by by Wilfred Gibson.