Saturday July 1 2017

A better day but still too unsettled for a run to Portland Bill. LOA friends, Steph and Sheila in Shearwater decide to head further into Lyme Bay and spend the night either at Lyme Regis or Bridport.

I finish off and despatch the weekly blog in the morning.

In the afternoon, a trip up to Berry Head provides excellent views and I resist the urge to break into "Abide With Me" passing the grand house of composer, Henry Lyte. It's now the Berry Head Hotel and looks very inviting.
Back to Dark Star via the Blue Anchor pub and Tesco Express. Meal for one tonight is beef lasagne with garlic bread followed by an early bed.

Having had several tries at a passage plan, in which the tidal choke point of Portland Bill is the focal point, the decision is made to leave at 6 am and butt the adverse tide across Lyme Bay until it turns favourable at 12.30.

The tide within Lyme Bay is not very strong but by 12.30 I should be well placed to run down past Portland Bill by 14.30.

The original thought is to pass well off Portland Bill (and its famous Race) and then backtrack around the Shingles Bank to reach Portland Harbour for the night.

However if I reach Portland Bill around 14.30, there will still be four hours of strong tide sweeping down the coast. This would carry me on towards Poole. Brixham to Poole is some 70 miles. That would be an achievement.

Sunday July 2 2017 Brixham to Poole 70 miles

Leave at 6 am with a north westerly driving me nicely out of Torbay and across Lyme Bay. It's slow going, just 4-4.5 knots, but it's easy travelling, with the wind behind on my port (left hand) quarter.

For the next 9 hours, the course followed is 90 degrees, hardly challenging navigation!

The wind increases and swings around to the west until it's almost directly behind and I am running downwind. This is probably the most difficult point of sail and the autopilot is struggling.

A bit of engine is used to help take the pressure off the steering. The mainsail is taken down completely.

After 12.30 things really take off. Soon 6.5 knots appears on the GPS and the wind is now gusting over 20 knots. Right on schedule, Portland Bill is abeam some 3.5 miles to port.

The GPS now shows 7.5 knots and arrival at Poole is forecast for 18.00. What's the point of stopping at Portland Marina now? However the ride becomes wilder as the wind gusts more frequently and the swell builds.

With a full genoa unrolled, there is too much sail up, but I delay making any changes until Dark Star turns hard to port and north, up the Purbeck Peninsula towards Swanage and Poole.

Around 16.00 as I turn broadside to the westerly wind and swell to head north, it's blowing 20/25 knots and Dark Star begins to roll. The furling genoa mechanism sticks and I cant reduce the sail.

I know the solution - ease the tension which has built up on the halyard which holds the genoa up the furler - but it means going up on deck. Not a good idea for a solo sailor on a rolling boat.

I bear away a bit and soldier on until Swanage Bay is abeam and the headland begins to provide shelter from the swell. Easing the halyard allows the genoa sail to be rolled away.

Under much reduced sail I tear on towards Poole and Studland Bay with 7 knots still on the GPS.

Dead ahead I can see Old Harry Rocks guarding Studland Bay where I intend to anchor, but I am not sure if that is feasible in this wind which shows no sign of dropping as it often does towards evening.

Sweeping round Old Harry Rocks, Studland Bay anchorage opens up - an oasis of calm and in the space of 100 metres, the swell is left behind.

It's best to get as close in to the beach at Studland as possible, but even on a Sunday evening, there were plenty of boats still there. Dropping the anchor single handed in the gusty wind is a challenge.

I stop the boat but by the time I reach the foredeck and the anchor, the bow has blown off downwind and I am too close to other yachts.

Eventually by leaving the engine in tick over and the boat inching forward, I nip up to the bow and release the anchor and chain. I am surprised how quickly the anchor (Danforth) digs in and holds, but the holding is reportedly good in Studland (sand/mud).

Studland Bay is an excellent anchorage in anything but wind from an easterly direction. On good weather weekends, its packed and bustles with craft sporting outboard engines of every size, causing noise and wake.

On this Sunday evening it's tranquil and a delight to be there after a 70 mile, exciting, 12 hour trip in blustery conditions.

Monday July 3 2017 Poole to Portsmouth 35 miles - Complacency = Trouble!

All night the wind has caused anxiety over whether I will be able to raise 15 metres of 10mm chain and 15 metres of anchor warp. There is no windlass on Dark Star and anchor retrieve is by a human (elderly).

I manage to use the genoa winch to retrieve most of the warp. Then by pushing the boat forward with the engine and nipping smartly forward to lift the chain as it falls slack, the anchor is soon stowed, with great relief and no pulled/torn muscles.

The short 14 mile run from Poole/Studland Bay to The Needles, the westerly end of the Isle of Wight, is one I have done several times in the past, albeit in good weather.

It's familiar territory and I am now within "one sleep" of finishing the whole journey.

Becoming complacent produces four mistakes, even before the anchor is lifted.
1. Not checking the latest met office weather forecast which now carries a strong wind warning.
2. Deciding to give the new Simrad TP10 tiller pilot "a rest" and mounting the older, reserve autopilot.
3. Not appreciating that the swell pushed up by yesterday's wind had not died down overnight.
4. Expecting the tide to turn in my favour before arriving at the IOW and entrance to the Solent

I do make one good, possibly redemptive, decision, not to raise the main sail. At 10.00 leaving the calm of Studland Bay, it's like joining a river, with swell running up from the south west and increasing as I lose the shelter of the land.

The wind is force 5 (about 20 mph) still behind me, west, north west. I unroll the genoa a little and set off downwind. The tide is ebbing out of the Solent, against the wind and conditions are pretty lumpy.

My plan to arrive at the narrow, Needles entrance channel to the Solent/IOW as the tide turns favourable, producing much calmer conditions, is soon in tatters.

The wind is pushing Dark Star at nearly 5 knots instead of the expected 4 knots and we will arrive too early at the Bridge Buoy which marks the Needles entrance channel.

Early arrival means that the ebbing tide will still be pouring out of the Solent against the rising wind and swell. In this area the chart carries this warning:

"Needles Channel. The section in the vicinity of The Bridge is subject to dangerous overfalls during heavy weather, at all stages of the tide"

By 12.00, the wind and swell have increased considerably. The older autopilot cannot cope. I have the engine running which takes some pressure off the rudder and tiller.

However I am now hand steering and concentrating hard on keeping Dark Star running before the waves. The wind is gusting to Force 6 (about 25 -30 mph) and waves are steep and breaking.

Its imperative to prevent being swung round broadside to the seas and swept by a breaking wave. The wind is swinging round to the west/south west and from time to time the genoa "gybes", swinging back with a crack which shakes the rigging.

There is not another yacht in sight in this normally busy area. In the distance, Bournemouth, Boscombe and Christchurch sweep past.

There is another entrance to the Solent which involves sailing north east across Christchurch Bay, missing Christchurch Ledge and almost onto the beach at Barton On Sea where water depths are a mere 6 metres.

The advantage of this route is that a yacht receives protection from the Shingles sand bank and avoids the terrors of "The Bridge". I am in 25 metres of water with breaking waves and just about coping.

Sailing over depths of just 6 metres to take the alternative route feels above my pay grade.

I can just see the red South West Shingles Buoy indicating the edge of the Shingles sand bank. I must enter a channel about a mile long, but just 350 yards wide, between the Shingles sand bank to port (left) and the Bridge Buoy to starboard (right) which marks the sand bank and rocks off the Needles.

Ahead lies the safety of the Solent, Hurst Spit and Castle on the left, the cliffs of the IOW on the right.

Then Dark Star enters the "overfalls" and all hell breaks loose down in the cabin as the yacht is rolled violently and pitched down the biggest breakers I have seen on the trip.

At one point as a wave rears up underneath Dark Star, I look forward to see the wave that passed earlier, appear just under spreader height. It's scary but hard concentration on steering to avoid a broach, produces a kind of tunnel vision.

Dark Star is 40 years old this month. This is a pretty unkind birthday present for the old girl, but not a drop of water gets aboard!

Within half an hour, the worst is over and we surf down much smaller waves through the narrows at Hurst Castle and into the Solent "proper".

At the first opportunity I nip down into the cabin to pick up and install the newer tiller pilot and gain respite from hand steering.

In over 1700 miles, the cabin has never descended into the chaos which greets me. Stuff that never moved in all that time, has been flung about all over the place.

The newer autopilot copes easily with the following swell as we fly down past Yarmouth, Lymington, Newton Creek, Beaulieu river and Gurnard Point with 7.5 knots on the GPS.

Off Cowes, turning to starboard almost 90 degrees, more towards the wind, the speed never drops. This is well known territory and it feels like pulling on a favourite pair of slippers.

Beyond Osborne Bay loom the car ferries from Portsmouth to Wooton and the hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde.

All are successfully avoided as Dark Star crosses the shipping channel towards the entrance to Portsmouth and wisely gives best to a small tanker, heaving to until the latter passes.

By 16.30 Dark Star is safely tied up in a very familiar berth in Haslar Marina, India 15. Just one "sleep" and the trip will be complete, but please, let tomorrow be easier!

Tuesday July 4 2017 Portsmouth to Shoreham By Sea - 37 miles - Voyage End

There is no need for an early start, since high tide at Shoreham By Sea is not until 21.00. A quick trip into Gosport for a haircut seems a good idea. The barber had closed when I popped into Gosport last night for a long anticipated Big Mac.

Last time I was here, Robin Knox Johnson was wandering around the high street, tucking into fish and chips, surrounded by a band of young followers, looking every bit the marine Pied Piper.

I leave Portsmouth's Haslar marina at 11.30 with just 37 miles to sail to Shoreham. Fingers are crossed that a favourable south westerly will provide a memorable sail on the last stage to the home port.

It does require engine power to get across Portsmouth entrance channel and through the gap in the submarine barrier at the "Dolphin".

Just after 11.30 a south westerly sea breeze arrives! With full main and genoa and in blissful silence (no engine) Dark Star leans over and sets off. It's been a long time since full sail was carried.

By 14.15 the Looe Channel is behind us and Bognor, Littlehampton and Worthing slip easily past. The course set from the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill is a steady 90 degrees which gives a great angle of sail with a 225 degrees south westerly wind.

Unfortunately off Worthing it's necessary to change course to 70 degrees which puts the wind almost directly behind, a slower point of sail and by 18.00 the sea breeze is fading.

For the last half hour, the little Beta 16hp engine, which has performed faultlessly all the way round, is asked fittingly "to do the honours" and delivers us safely into Shoreham By Sea, at 17.00, after a memorable trip of 1792 miles, including 142 miles from Brixham in last 3 days.

It was lovely to see my amazingly understanding wife, Valerie, too! It has been a trip that lived up to all my expectations - and more. At times it was more difficult than I imagined, but Dark Star looked after me well without any major problem or drama.

I have enjoyed writing this blog and sharing it with family and friends and I hope you have also found it interesting.

Thanks for reading and sharing.