Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A small wander across the Biscay..........and back

Well over half way through October and it has been a bizarre time. After various wanderings between friends and harbours we finally thought we were ready to go. We had sailed back down to the Helford for a last few days with Nige and Jude and much of the time was spent setting up their wood store for the winter, a project we both thoroughly enjoyed and they seemed to appreciate. In our curious off-grid world we seem to inhabit, the sight of row upon row of neatly stacked rows of logs seems to represent security, comfort and enormous pleasure even if they aren't ours!

A week or so before we left a junk rigged boat came into the anchorage and anchored across from us. I rowed over the following day to meet and chat. Mike had recently returned from the Caribbean and we spent a very pleasant few hours talking about boaty bits and common friends. All the usual suspects cropped up of course, more, I think, a feature of the unusual nature of our respective boats than our personalities. Junk rig does interest me; the simplicity of the rig for one thing and certainly the way Mike handled the boat on this and a subsequent occasion we met made it all seem desirable. Not least, in my view, was that Mike is 75 and still able to handle the rig.

Watching the weather we spotted a small window of chance to run south. A last meal with Nige and Jude and on Wed Oct 9 we slipped their buoy and headed off down river to the accompaniment of fog signal toots from Nige on his verandah. What he hadn't realised was the enormous struggle we had gone through in trying to convince ourselves that we really wanted to be doing this, to be setting off after so little time with family and friends. More importantly Bee needed to come to terms with her mum's death and, we later established, felt she wanted to remain close to home for that process. But the habit of the last decade or so was deep and we reluctantly decided we'd head off and that, like so many times in the past, our misery would dissipate and we'd settle into the trip. Not so this time. 50 miles into the trip we knew we had made a mistake and that we should have stayed...our problem now was the northerly wind and following seas made a route reversal very difficult. We pressed on. The following morning I felt better but Bee didn't and as the day got older so our mental positions changed about. We might have turned for Brest but didn't, all the time hoping that: a) our moods would lift and b) we would make it around Finisterre. As each day passed it became obvious that our chances of actually getting around Finisterre were becoming slim as winds eased and our reluctance to motor meant we would cover less than 100 miles a day. On Sunday 13th Oct - the day we actually began owning Hannah in 2000 - we heard from a passing ship that the string of northerlies were over and that we would see SW winds begin the following day, building from 4-5 to 7. We tacked for a while and got to 70 miles from La Coruna but with the increasing wind and a powerful current it became clear that our only prospect lay to the east and about 140 miles away - Gijon. The last thing we needed to do was to get pushed further east and end up where we really didn't want to be so we turned for home. With the wind behind us again, the seas quickly built up. That night was glorious, a clear sky with stars everywhere. The next day dawned grey and gloomy with the forecast of increasing winds. We prepared; setting the trys'l rather than the main and once the wind hit we quickly opted to heave to as the seas made it difficult for the self-steerer to cope. Worse may yet be to come we thought as in order to enter the English Channel you need to cross a substantial bank where the seas bed rises from 4000+ metres to around 100 metres and can give rise to massive waves with the wind and tide in the right direction. We would see. The following night we spent in the company of pilot whales who "sang" to us for hours. We could hear them clearly through the hull as Hannah sailed on at 5 knots towards Cornwall. The day dawned, the sun shone, the barometer was steady and all was well aboard. The hours passed. The only thing that interrupted life was the huge number of ships that pass between Finisterre and Ushant.... with AIS of course life has become much easier as ships are clearly identified by name and will respond when you call. One such ship did respond and assured us blithely that things were fine and we would pass starboard to starboard. And so we did, but we watched with some concern as he passed about 600 metres from us. I doubt he would have done that with a bulk carrier or indeed any other ship.

On the morning of the 17th, with 60 miles to go to Helford I came up on deck at sunrise to look around...all seemed well until I glanced aloft and saw what looked like a ribbon of moonlight glinting along the sail. I stared harder willing; what I believed I was seeing to be untrue. But no amount of head shaking, squinting or turning away and looking back could alter the fact that we had a one metre split in the main between the second reef and the gaff making it unusable. The "moonlight" I was looking at was the sky through the rip.  Not a good  moment as the last forecast we had received warned that the SW winds would switch to SE. and then back again to the SW. Well we're a ketch and under mizzen and a couple of heads'ls Hannah will romp along happily...indeed we ran from Grenada to the DR under just that rig. BUT if the wind backed further to the east we would lack enough oooph to keep us moving along our course and we would end up sailing north rather NE as we needed to. Coupled to that came a drop in the wind and speeds fell to sub 2 knots as the current began to turn against us. OK enough is enough and the decision was made to motor, as we did all the way back. By playing the current we were able to make a reasonable speed and the batteries got a decent charge into the bargain. As we closed the coast we were able to get some credit onto the mobile and warn Nige and Jude that we were about to reappear in their lives. Visibility was poor as we made our way toward Helford - ships would appear less than 4 miles away moving very quickly at 15 knots but weren't visible until 3 miles or so from us. From the Manacles to the entrance we bucked the ebbing stream but eventually made it into the Helford and threaded our way through the buoyed boats towards our mooring. At some point I had noticed that the audible clunk we hear when we engage forward gear had gone and, naively, I put it down to the engine getting a good workout. We approached the mooring, tide running against us and engine in neutral. Bee was on the fore deck ready to grab the "pick up" As we were doing 1.8 knots I dropped it into reverse and revved to take the way off the boat......we went faster! Not believing what I'd just observed I did it again (file under idiocy) and, surprise surprise, we picked up speed. At my end I worked out that we had no reverse, that somehow the gearbox was stuck in forwards and we had a bit of an issue. From Bee's end she suddenly saw us closing rapidly on the boat upstream of our mooring, wondered if I had completely lost the plot and pointed out that she had asked to slow down. As luck would have it she hadn't grabbed the "pick up" so I was saved the embarrassment of Bee either bringing the boat to halt by refusing to let go or more likely being whisked over the side by the inertia generated by our forward motion. Because the tide was running against us we we easily able to manouvre away from the boat ahead and made our way into the anchorage. Once we had anchored we found that the cable had come adrift from the lever attached to the selector and so we were permanently in forward.

And so we found ourselves back on the Helford after an, almost 900 mile trip, to nowhere. Interestingly fellow sailors had been following the weather and all wrote to us whilst we were at sea expressing doubts that we'd make it before the weather turned against us. One, Mike, in a phone conversation later, said had it been him he would have motored but as he knew we wouldn't he also knew we'd end up short! But we're back in the UK, Bee will get to spend time with her sister, I'll see my family and, hopefully, my grandson and next year is another voyage.

Since we installed the Air-only vent the company that produces them have introduced a 12v fan as an add on and when we bought the second vent we also bought 2 motors to go with them. We're great fans of these vents as you may know. Despite shipping water across the deck the one installed at deck level hasn't let a drop in even though it has remained in the wide open position. The motors however simply take the unit to another level. With a 2-speed switch and built in light they improve air flow enormously and the light warns you that the unit is left on, although its consumption is so low as to be negligible - 1/10 amp. But the light also acts as an effective night light allowing us to move around below with vision whilst not disturbing the off watch. If you are thinking of new vents then these really should be top of the list. 

A month or so back Bee wandered into a charity shop and found a cd she thought we might like. It had been very popular when first released but had passed us by. Anyway this track is from it and is sublime, an absolute gem. No doubt many of you will know it already so bear with us.