Passage To Alderney
Distance Sailed: 123.85 Nautical Miles
Duration: 26Hrs 8 Minutes
Average Speed: 4.74 Knots
Maximum Speed: 9.82 Knots
Weather: Winds W-NW 1-5, Sea State Slight-Moderate, Visibility Very Good-Poor
I’m writing this sat on deck in glorious sunshine as Gleda rocks gently on a mooring buoy in Braye Harbour on the island of Alderney. Right now I can’t think of anywhere better we could have chosen for the destination of our first proper passage.
It was an epic 26 hours that tested us both physically and mentally but we both came through unscathed. For me it was about keeping us safe and getting the best performance I could from the boat, for Gail it was a tough introduction to proper passage making and she proved herself stronger than I could have hoped.
We dropped of the hook at 6am on a still clear Thursday morning and motored down the Truro River into the Fal, past the still sleeping King Harry Ferry, around Turnaware Point and into Carrick Roads. As we motored out I hauled up the sails and ran through my mental checklist for the umpteenth time. The familar sights of Falmouth Town, St Just, St Mawes, Pendennis Castle and St Anthony Lighthouse slipped past one by one and I found myself wondering when we’ll see them again. I’ve always considered Falmouth to be my second home and after spending the Winter there I think Gail does as well, and over the coming years as we cruise far afield, “Falmouth” will be the answer we give to the question “Home Port?” Bye bye Falmouth it’s been good but we’ve got some horizons to cross.
So as we cleared the harbour I turned off the engines, pulled up the engine boxes and relished in the quiet as my ears tuned into the sounds of the breeze in the sails and the water lapping past the hulls. Just off Zone Point I got the boat heading ESE towards Alderney some 120 miles away and started paying attention to getting ‘Gleda’ sailing. The forecast had predicted winds as W 3-4 but we had WNW 2 for the first few hours. The sea was still a bit sloppy from the previous days of stronger winds and this made progress a lot slower than I’d hoped for. With the wind from dead astern I was working hard to get 3 knots and little did I know how many hours of this I was going to be doing over the next 24.
I’d intended to start experimenting with ‘Lewis’ the self-steering so as to get some relief from the helm but the conditions made it nigh on impossiible. I should have got it sorted before we left but I didn’t and I paid the price.
I already knew that ‘Gleda’ performed poorly dead downwind and that it’s down to a combination of things. My budget hasn’t allowed me to purchase a cruising chute but I’m beginning to think it’s essential. My sails are heavyweight, new and stiff and the mainsheet blocks hanging off the clews give resistance that’s not desirable in light airs. But the major factor has to be my own performance as a sailor, I’m out of practice and in any case the Wharram rig demands a different set of skills, but I learnt a lot during this trip and it’ll be a continual process. Anyway I spent hours experimenting, I dropped the jib and tried going wing-a wing with the main and foresails, I dropped the foresail and tried with the jib and main, I tried different tensions on the gaff peaks, different tensions on the mainsheets, varied the positions of the mainsail traveller and the twin foresail mainsheets and eventually ended up with one of the foresail mainsheets taken out to the centre beam ends, the mainsail against the shrouds on the other side, and the jib also sheeted out on the beam end but only drawing now and again. Of course if I let the wind come in over the quarter and towards the beam then it was a different game and ‘Gleda’ responded accordingly, that’s where the maximum of nearly 10 knots came from. In hindsight maybe I should have tacked downwind but I was fearful of negating any speed advantage with increased distance. Maybe next time.
As the coast of Cornwall started disappearing astern Gail was about to experience her first time being out of sight of land on a small boat and I began giving her hints that this was going to be an overnight passage. I’ve already admitted to her that I was somewhat economic with the truth about how long we were likely to be out there. Even on Gledas most favoured point of sail, a beam reach, we’d be doing very very well to average 10 knots and with a distance to run of 120 miles the math speaks for itself. With a following wind I knew that our average would be way below that and so I was fully prepared for a 24 hour trip and I’d already decided that if Gail was struggling at any point she could just go below to bed. I knew that in my hyped up state I’d have no trouble helming for the duration and in the event that’s what I ended up doing. Once again though Gail proved herself stronger than I’d have believed and although she cat napped in the watch berth she kept me company the entire time. She’ll no doubt be writing her own account of the trip on www.landgirlafloat.com but suffice it to say she just found being at sea tedious, I hope that will change with experience and when she is able to participate more in driving the boat.
At least the sun shone and, once we’d passed a few beam trawlers and some NATO warships on exercise, we soon found ourselves the only vessel in a 360′ horizon. I love that feeling but it was another first for Gail and understandably she wasn’t sure how she felt.
For the remaining daylight hours not a lot happened. Gail read, I helmed, she took the wheel now and again while I checked our position, updated the chart and wrote the log but basically we bimbled along at 4-5 knots with nothing to see apart from the ocassional Gannet plunging missile like into the water. It was just us, Gleda and the sea and I felt happier than I’d done in years.
Gail did a fantastic job in the galley despite the moderate seas pitching Gleda about a bit. We ate and drank far better than I’ve generally done at sea and even as darkness fell my energy levels felt fine. It was a dark night despite the relatively clear skies, with a new moon and a dark sea and sky the horizon all but dissapeared. The wind seem to pick up a lttle and with it the sea. every now and again a foaming wave would rise and hiss past Gledas quarter only to vanish into the darkness, Gail put her head down and I started thinking about the next challenge that lay a few hours ahead of us. We were about to cross the Traffic Separation System off the Casquets. It’s one of the major junctions in the English Channel where some of the largest ships in the world are compressed into two lanes just a couple of miles wide and separated by a ‘central reservation of similar width. We’d have to cross the Southbound lane first, take a breather and then cross the Northbound before reaching the safe Inshore Traffic Zone on the other side. It wasn’t long before I started to make out the shape of a massive container vessel way off in the distance. A look at the AIS showed it to be some 7 miles off and moving at 17 knots across our projected path. For those that don’t know AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. All commercial vessels over 300 tons are required by law to operate and AIS transponder and on Gleda I have an aerial and black box that can receive these signal and display them on the laptop chart plotter. You all know that I’ve restricted the equipment on Gleda to those I think essential and after this passage I can confirm that an AIS reciever definately falls into that catagory.
I have a simple rule when it comes to dealing with large ships and fishing vessels at sea and it’s this. I work on the assumption that they don’t know we exist and I take whatever action is needed to avoid them. It’s possible to spend a lot of money on supposedly efficient radar reflectors and smaller versions of the AIS transponders used by larger vessels but both require there to be a) someone on the recieving end and b) someone on the recieving end willing or able to take action accordingly. Personally I don’t want to delegate responsibility for my vessels safety to such unknown quantities so for the next few hours I strained my eyes to spot lights, work out their tracks, check on the AIS and then altering our course to pass astern everytime. It was quite intense but all went well apart from one case. We’d cleared the Southbound and Separation zones and I spotted a Northbound vessel coming up fast, I wanted to take the usual action and alter course to starboard to pass astern but this time there was another smaller vessel probably a fishing boat seemingly doing the same as us and crossing the TSS at right angles. He was a couple of miles astern of our starboard quarter and turning to starboard would have put us under his bows. I was running with just the masthead tricolour light but to try and ensure he’d at least seen us I switched on the lower level nav lights as well. We all carried on along the same track for a while and then, just as I was getting ready to bail out to port and make a big circle astern of him he altered course to starboard which gave me searoom to do the same and soon after I watched the lights of a huge tanker fade away Northwards. We’d made it across.
The next couple of hours were the hardest for me, after the adrenaline of crossing the TSS had faded away tiredness started hitting home and although I never once felt my eyelids drooping I did find it harder to steer a staright course and even hallucianted that one of the deck dorades was a little hooded eskimo waving at me! It was time to get safely into harbour.
Unbeknown to us Jake over on Alderney had been ringing my mobile throughout the night trying to find out how we we’re doing. All he knew was that when he got the mobile unavailable message we were still in the middle somewhere, but around 4am we got back into mobile range and we were able to give him an ETA. I could see the loom of the Casquets light on the horizon but the wind had died off once again and with the sloppy sea our speed had once again dropped down around the 2-3 knot mark. I was knackered, the sails were slatting back and forth, we weren’t getting anywhere, we were both getting a little edgy and so I decided to get the engines on.
The conditions were far from ideal for motoring but I got the boat speed up to 4-5 knots and as the sun came up we were making progress past the fearsome looking Casquet rocks and looking at the outline of Alderney. An hour out I looked astern and saw a line of mist rolling in behind us and by the the time we’d picked up our mooring in Braye the visibility had come right down. I have no regrets about pulling the sails down and motoring. Jake was waiting for us in the harbour entrance on the Mainbrayce water taxi RIB and after shouted greetings he lead us to our mooring and helped us tie up. My tiredness all but vanished, it was replaced with a wave of satisfaction and relief as I hugged and kissed Gail. We’d finally got this adventure properly started, we’d done it.
It took a good hour to wind down with a cuppa as I tidied the boat and told Jake about the trip as he dropped by between taxi runs but pretty soon we were down below and crawling into bed and I can tell you this, it felt damn good.
As I finish writing this post we’ve been on Alderney for 4 days and it’s been incredible. I’ll tell you more next time but for now I’ll leave you with these photos of Braye Harbour which may just give you a taste of what’s to come. If you look closely you can see ‘Gleda’ and Jakes Tiki 26 ‘A Roamer’ in the first shot.