Phil Kirk and I continue to gain Wayfarer voyaging experience, this time with a two-night sail, which turned out to be 40 hours. We chose Lyme Bay as relatively benign, thinking that if things went badly we’d be on Chesil beach, with a long walk home, and we left from Weymouth , to add a serious tidal gate, in this case Portland Bill.
Arriving early on a Friday morning at Weymouth Sailing Club, we threaded along the narrow waterfront to the club compound and were ready to go two hours later at 1040; so much kit to cram in!
Portland Bill is worthy of note; you may know it. The headland extends six miles south of Weymouth, channelling the water in Lyme bay to the west and Poole bay to the east to go around it on each tidal cycle. From the almanac:
“South of the Bill lies Portland Race in which severe and very dangerous sea states occur. Even in settled weather it should be carefully avoided by small craft.......The Race occurs at the confluence of two strong tidal streams which at springs run S down each side of the Isle of Portland for almost 10 out of 12 hours. These streams meet the main E-W stream of the Channel, producing large eddies on either side of Portland Bill and a highly confused sea state with heavy overfalls in the Race. The irregular contours of the sea-bed, which shoals rapidly from depths of about 100m some 2M south of the Bill to as little as 10m on Portland Ledge 1M further N, greatly contribute to the violence of the Race. Portland Ledge strongly deflects the flow of water upwards.....The Race normally extends about 2M S of the Bill, but further S in bad weather. The Race can be avoided by passing to seaward of it, i.e. 3-5M S of the Bill; or by using the inshore passage if conditions suit.
This passage offers relatively smooth water between 1ca and 3ca off the Bill (depending on wind). Do not use it in onshore winds >F4/5, nor at night under power due to pot floats.....From W or E, start close inshore at least 2M N of the Bill to utilise the S-going stream; hug the Bill to avoid being set into the Race.”
We were considering sailing within the race, to gain that experience. In an email exchange, the Weymouth Lifeboat Coxswain, Andy Sargent, had these sage words to veto that notion: “ You are no doubt aware of the difference with the seas in the 'Race' as opposed to other open water. In the Race the water moves, not just the energy. The seas associated with this area can achieve well in excess of 15' and coming from different directions. You are correct in stating the depth of water is such that your mast may not bottom when a capsize occurs, & that the tide will eventually take you clear, however the time in these conditions would not be pleasurable to say the least!
Maybe it was the “when a capsize”, rather than “if” that swung it. So, avoid the race and take the inshore passage. Hug the Bill it says, so that’s what we did, and beat into a light south westerly, a few hundred metres from the shore, then closer as we reached the Bill. With wind on the nose at just 8 knots and three knots of foul tide, the beat around the end meant several short tacks to within a few metres of the rocks with not much progress. . We did that thing where you arrive back with the same guy fishing from the shore, several tacks in a row. Soon enough we were into Lyme bay, fog arrived and the visibility dropped to a few hundred metres.
During the day it was sunny and warm and at one point the was no wind. A Sadler 32, motor sailing across Lyme Bay came to investigate us. “What are you doing out here in a Wayfarer” – a cue for lots of flippant responses. We should have got them to take a photo of us.
We drifted in circles without steerage and a light breeze came up as darkness fell.
For me, sailing at night is intense spiritual joy. I paraphrase a recent feature in Yachting Monthly: Between the sun dipping in the west, and its opulent rise in the east, everything is transformed. The soft wind sings on your skin. Senses heighten . Away from land’s gauzy dazzle, you’re an outsider, a nomad, with a quest beneath a billion starts that gossip in galaxies as shooting starts slide and shriek across the majestic roof of night. Ships become a complex choreography of lights , light houses sweep and wink across this private cosmos. The sense of being away from it all , living an adventure, is utterly exquisite. In a dinghy the experience is greater still.
We had a quiet night, saw a few fishing vessels and not much else, and slowly went west.
Lights. Nope, we don’t have lights. As a vessel under 7m we don’t require them, but that’s not the reason. In practice, in benign conditions, we can see and hear for miles,. At any close encounter we can light up the sails with one of the torches, and we have white flares to hand. Does a Wayfarer have any sort of a radar signature? Should we have a radar reflector, maybe combined with a masthead float? AIS ? Any views?
Our core voyaging question is “So how long can one stay aboard a Wayfarer, and what are the limiting factors? “ The answer seems “indefinitely; limited by supplies...as long as you can sleep.”. So it’s about sleep. We already know one cannot sleep on the first night- we’re too excited, but on this trip we got about 5 hours each, lying on a Karrimat in our oilskins. We are agreed to cut out the thwart sometime soon, to make sleeping easier. So on a longer trip, what proportion of the time is going to be within the sleep-able envelope, which we now know to be force three or less, and if it’s on the nose, no short chop? Then again, if you are tired enough maybe you can sleep in any conditions?
Fishing did not go well. The drag of the mackerel line was enough to think how it must be slowing us. We stopped testing the weight of the line for a couple of hours; when we pulled it in there was one small mackerel, and the weight and all the other feathers were gone. Chucked him back. Need to think harder about this before sushi becomes regular Wayfarer fare.
Cooking and hot drinks on board is working well; the single burner aluminium box stove we’ve swung under the thwart works in almost all conditions. We even had a cold beer when it was sunny.
I have been successful in keeping scurvy at bay. I got Phil to join me in eating a fresh lime, and without any Tequila.
This length of trip necessitated bodily functions that.... [section deleted, photo rejected, Ed.]...and felt much better for it.
Next day we made landfall at Start Point, about 60 miles from Weymouth. We’d only been 25 miles offshore, but from such a low position the horizon is pretty close. We battled the tide on to Prawle point and into the entrance to Salcombe, then it was time to return, if we were to make the tidal gate at Portland. A much faster passage back; Phil has found us a 5O5 spinnaker and has made a nice over-length pole in carbon. A lovely set-up. Half way across the bay it became clear we might make an earlier tidal window at Portland – but in the dark, not daylight as planned.
Same Portland plan as before; close with the Bill at least two miles north of the end, then sail down and around, hugging the rocks. The wind was dead astern and strong enough for the boat to surf, with a three or four foot sea building. The latest forecast had said (what, Phil?). We took the kite down to slow down a bit, then back up when we redid our tidal calculations and realised we need the speed. Next puzzle: how close to the beach are we? It was a black night, but the lights of Weymouth town and Portland were obvious. We have a brilliant GPS/chart plotter, and we mark positions hourly on the plastic cover over a paper chart, but it’s interesting to estimate. At the point I thought I could hear the surf, Garmin says 3.6 miles still to go! The clever light on Portland flashes 4 every 10 seconds, until you get nearer the Bill from the West, then it has sectors, which take the flashing down progressively from four to three to two, and at one, it’s time to turn. Whilst the spinnaker allowed us to close fast with the land to meet the tidal gate requirements, when it came down we needed the first reef. Phil has optimised the reef lines and cleats with a skiff sailor’s eye to efficiency , and this reefing is now easy, even n the dark, downwind, with a sea running.
I must say the rounding felt dramatic. We could not see but certainly could hear the race boiling away to the south, and we judged distance off the end with the GPS. This was a fast reach, so the challenge was navigating, rather than sailing. One moment the lighthouse was a dot of light, next moment it’s a robust dalek with us sneaking past beneath its eye line.
Arrived Weymouth at 0330, a Saturday night. A few revellers were left on the seafront and some snoggging was getting done on the pier. We coasted in as it got light. The club was locked up but we found another slipway and were gone by 0600. Driving back after so little sleep is probably the most hazardous part of these trips.
As a last word, we entreat you to use the Coastguard’s CG66 registration and then passage notification, if you aren’t already. This free registration on their data base is the modern equivalent of leaving a note on the windscreen. When notifying them of a passage, either by phone or VHF, with us they are courteous and helpful, if sometimes incredulous, when we respond to “what length is your vessel?”.