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Leisure 27 Dark Star's Channel Islands Cruise 2018

Alderney, Studland Bay, Isle of Wight, Shoreham by Sea

Sunday July 8th
Alderney to Studland Bay, Poole. 70 miles
route Alderney to Poole

Today is Andrew's birthday (my son) and suitable birthday greetings are texted and I hope he enjoys the framed painting of "Chloe McCoo" by Scottish artist Stephen Brown (Chloe is Andrew's daughter).

The forecast looks favourable for the long (13 hour) 70 mile crossing of the Channel back to the UK. Very little wind is forecast which means that the sea state should be what the Met Office call "slight".

On a long passage on a small boat, it's the constant motion of the boat which causes most fatigue, especially for a solo sailor.

The only problem in the forecast is the mention of mist and fog patches. There are two lanes of shipping to cross on the trip. The first shipping lane on the French side, large ships will be crossing at right angles, sailing up channel from left to right.

The second shipping lane on the English side, ships are sailing down channel, from right to left. The normal practise is to keep clear and pass behind whenever possible. However it can take a ship 15 minutes to pass across your bow while you have slowed down. Slowing for just four ships can add an hour to the passage time.

Mark One Finger Range Finder
Without a radar set, passing in front or behind large ships is somewhat fraught and relies on the "mark 1 finger system". Line up the index finger to block out the sight of the oncoming ship. If the ship then quickly appears to the left of your finger, the ship will pass safely ahead and you will pass round its stern (if both vessels maintain their present course and speed)

If the ship appears to the right of the finger, maintaining present course and speed, you will pass ahead, across the bows of the ship. However there may not be much margin for error!

If the ship stays stubbornly hidden behind the finger, both vessels are on a collision course and avoiding action must be taken. It becomes more difficult when a procession of two or three ships appear.... The presence of mist or fog is a real concern.

However the hot sun has burned off mist quickly and the decision is made to go. Leaving early is not an option since the strong tide ebbing back around Cap La Hague will block any progress to the east.

Setting Off Across The Channel
Low water at Alderney comes around 11.00. I hope to catch the first of the new flood tide and use it to propel Dark Star well to the east. Then when the tide turns around 17.00, we will be pushed back west towards Studland Bay near Poole, but not Portland Harbour, much further west!

This is at least a 13 hour passage and arrival in the anchorage at Studland Bay, near Poole, will be after midnight, in pitch dark.

It's pretty slow going as I clear Alderney with only 3.5 knots on the screen, heading north east at 28 degrees, but within two hours, the tide turns favourable and a speed of 5.3 knots is showing steadily.

It's a very hot, almost windless morning. I am motoring steadily, but I have hoisted both main and genoa. The forward motion of the boat creates just enough "wind" to fill the sails. This gives a little extra speed and keeps Dark Star quite steady, eliminating the roll which is ever present under engine alone.

Crossing The Shipping Lanes
At 13.45, the east going shipping lane is evident from the number of ships looming over the horizon to my left. There are more in sight than when I made the trip over. Three ships are on possible collison courses demanding avoiding action which adds around 30 minutes to the passage.

However Dark Star is doing 6 knots on a course of 45 degrees. Three hours later, at 16.45 I re-enter UK waters and reach the half way point. Unfortunately mist is now appearing and the sun is losing its strength. This is a worry since the west going shipping lane is next on the agenda.

Sea Mist At Halfway Point - Time For Highlanders Broth
At 17.45, visibility is not good, but I can see ships approaching from the right fairly well. However there are presently three ships in close convoy and they take around 20 minutes to clear across Dark Star's bow. While waiting, I manage to heat up and consume a tin of Baxter's Highlander's Broth (Val hates the stuff).

At 18.45 another convoy of three ships causes further delay, but they appear quite late into view through what is now quite moderate visibility.

The tide has now turned to ebb west and course is altered to 20 degrees which I hope will allow Dark Star to "crab" across the tide to arrive behind (to the west side) of the Isle of Wight. My other hope is that the tide running west out of the Solent will push me nicely towards the final destination, Studland Bay.

Speed has also dropped to 5 knots and with the ship avoidance delays, arrival looks more like 01.30 am.... However around 20.30, a westerly breeze springs up and Dark Star is back up to 5.9 knots, motorsailing well. An hour later I need to reef the main in the now boisterous westerly force 4 plus.

The Isle of Wight is in clear sight now to starboard (right,) with the St Albans and Durlston headlands to port. Dark Star is heading for the gap in the middle.

Sunset in the Channel Sailing At Last - Into The Dark
The engine is switched off and Dark Star pushes north west at over 6 knots on a lovely beam reach. This continues for over an hour but as the sun sets spectacularly around 21.15, the wind drops away and it's back on with the engine to maintain progress.

To my surprise, the speed jumps to 6.8 knots as the tide ebbing from the Solent, pushes Dark Star west towards Studland Bay. Onwards we rush into the gathering darkness. The main concern while sailing close to the coast in darkness is the presence of lobster pots, nets and their accompanying lines.

Catching them on a spinning propellor usually results in a lifeboat call out. Could this stuff not be made visible at night with some solar lighting? Suggestions to the Royal Yachting Asociation please.

Trust The Little Android Chartplotter
The outline of The Foreland and Old Harry Rocks loom up in the darkness but the course suggested on the chart plotter appears to head Dark Star towards Poole Harbour far to the right.

The chart plotter is using the wonders of Marine Navigator software with GPS, to calculate the effect of the strong tide pushing Dark Star sideways. I have learned to trust the blue line on the screen. It got me into Alderney safely in thick mist.

Now I can clearly see the twinkling lights of the yachts already at anchor in Studland Bay. It usually pays to get as close into the bay as possible, but I don't fancy creeping in pitch darkness through rows of anchored yachts when all that's visible is the little anchor light at the top of each masthead.

Studland Bay Anchorage Anchoring In The Dark
I slow up on the seaward side of the yachts at anchor and let the anchor go in 4.6 metres. I use a Danforth anchor with 12 metres of 10 mm chain so there's plenty of weight on the bottom, before also letting out plenty of nylon anchor rode. Time is 23.45 A thirteen hour trip and 70 miles covered. Pretty good considering the time lost dodging ships.

Monday July 9th
Poole to Yarmouth via North Channel - 20 miles
Poole to Yarmouth

A good sleep and a full english breakfast on a beautiful sunny morning, at anchor, in scenic Studland Bay - fantastic! This being a Monday morning, peace reigned.

Unfortunately at weekends, the quiet of this idyllic anchorage is usually destroyed by jet skis and RIBS (Retards In Boats, I have heard them shamefully called).

I always tend to forget that Studland Bay is over twenty miles from the Needles channel entry to the Solent and the Isle of Wight. There is no hurry to leave until the tide turns around 11.30. I then enjoy a grand sail with a south westerly force 4 pushing Dark Star across Poole Bay, Bournemouth Bay and Christchurch Bay.

It's cooler and cloudier than of late, but very pleasant sailing. On my return last year from the trip around Britain I got quite a fright going through the Needles Channel in tide against a strong wind conditions.

I knew then that there was another entry to the Solent, the North Channel, which is strongly advised in poor conditions, but ignored it.

Conditions are ideal today so I turn Dark Star towards the channel which sweeps north behind the notorious Shingles sandbanks. The sandbanks take the sting out of the waves and swell to seaward, while you sail in calmer water under their lee.

Solent North Channel However you are required to sail north until nearly landing on the shingle beach, before turning sharp to starboard (right) around a green navigational buoy, then sailing parallel with the beach.

Solent North Channel Solent North Channel At 14.30 Dark Star passes round the turning point at the green buoy, entered the channel - and took off. Never mind the Alderney Race the water in the narrow North Channel is pushing us along at 8-9 knots.

Being so close to the beach and finally to Hurst Castle which marks the end of the channel, it's quite exciting.

Hurst Castle marks the point where the North Channel joins the incoming tide coming straight down the Needles Channel. Where the two channels "collide" there is much confused broken water.

For a moment steerage way is lost as Dark Star is caught in the melee, but soon she is out, surging east towards Yarmouth Harbour, the next destination.

By 15.15 Dark Star is safely tied up on Harold Hayles pontoon at the back of Yarmouth Harbour. It's become a bit of a favourite stopover, just out of the busier main harbour - and you can book the berth in advance.

Tuesday July 10th
Yarmouth Harbour - Cowes (by bus)
Dark Star in Yarmouth

Up early on a coolish, breezy morning which is a relief from the heat of yesterday afternoon. Brandishing my "OAP bus pass" I make my way to Cowes (changing at Newport) in about forty minutes.

The thing I have noticed about islands, is that public transport (bus) seems to work so well.
My quest is to interview Steve Bryant who runs and has a shop in Cowes High Street opposite the Red Jet Ferry Terminal. I hope to write an article for Saltings, the magazine of the Leisure Owners Association.

Two hours whizz past as two enthusiastic sailors go head to head, but Steve has a business to run and I try not to overstay my welcome and head off back to Yarmouth with plenty of material.

On the bus it strikes me that Steve appears to be a cross of Duncan Bannatyne (entrepreneur, judge in Dragons Den) and James Dyson (innovator, bagless vacuum cleaner)!

I get a great TV picture on the berth here in Yarmouth. No running around with the aerial and I watch France ease Belgium out of the World Cup in the semi finals, whilst a beer washes down a beef curry (tinned) and rice (microwaved). It is not too bad. I need to eat what's left in the ship's stores before heading home!

You may wonder why I didn't sail round to Cowes and berth there. I have sailed there so many times and now find it too busy. Besides the berthing master at East Cowes Marina was one of the rudest encountered. Maybe he has retired or moved on by now?

Wednesday July 11th
Yarmouth Harbour
Yarmouth Harbour

Another hot day in prospect and I spend the afternoon compiling this blog so it won't all have to be done at the weekend when I hopefully return to Shoreham By Sea. The tides and weather look good for arrival back home with the high tide on Saturday or Sunday with a stopover at Portsmouth (Gosport) on the way.

England Crash Out!
Another reason for staying put Yarmouth, is the excellent television reception. The World Cup semi final with England playing Croatia has the whole country glued to their sets.

This time it's ecstasy followed by agony as the tough Croatian side prove too experienced for England's young players. Never mind, manager Gareth Southgate has performed a miracle, taking over after the national team lost all credibility when knocked out of "The Euros" by Iceland in 2016.

Thursday July 12
Yarmouth to Portsmouth 18 miles.
Yarmouth to Portsmouth

Another warm day is forecast with very little wind. An early-ish start is required at 08.00 to catch the rising tide all the way down the Solent to Portsmouth.

The tide in the western Solent is much stronger than in the east. Soon with the engine just burbling away at 2,400 revs, 7 knots appears on the screen.

Just before reaching Cowes Roads, a change of course brings Dark Star into the much wider expanse of the eastern Solent and the effect of the tide recedes, with just 5 knots now showing.

The central and eastern Solent are much busier. Liners, container ships, car ferries and yachts of every size appear on this fine morning.

I Have Been Run Down!
The radio bursts into life with a yacht skipper relating to the Coastguard that a hovercraft has nearly run him down before roaring off without stopping. Asked if he is in any distress the skipper replies "No, except for my brown underwear".

Apparently the incident has been caught on video by a passing boat. The incident occurred near the Browndown Buoy which is just south of the MOD facility at Browndown where marines do landing craft practise.....?

Dark Star is not involved in any drama and practically finds her own way nowadays into Portsmouth's Haslar Marina, berth India 6. Ah - it's occupied. Never mind India 4 is free.

Saturday July 13th
Portsmouth to Shoreham By Sea 34 miles
Portsmouth To Shoreham

Friday is Dark Star rummage and cleanup day before an early bed. To catch the favourable tide home to Shoreham tomorrow means being up and about by 5 am, with departure an hour later. High tide at Shoreham is 13.15.

Stuck Fast In Haslar!
It's a beautiful morning and by 5.30 am, the engine is running and I am ready to cast off. I move the tiller into position, but it seems very stiff, almost immovable. First thought is that an old fishing net or similar has become entangled round the skeg and rudder.

Cautiously I try to move the tiller from side to side and look carefully over the stern into the water. A cloud of mud drifts backwards and all becomes obvious. Dark Star is aground in the soft mud of Haslar Marina!

At present we are on spring tides which produce very low and very high tides. Unfortunately low tide today is at 6 am so the tide has another 30 minutes to drop further. Dark Star is stuck fast for at least an hour and a half until the tide returns. a half!

By 7 am I can just feel Dark Star starting to rock free as the tide slowly rises. I cautiously pull her out and around the finger berth towards deeper water, before jumping onboard and reversing down the entrance channel. Fortunately there's no wind to complicate the manoeuvre.

For the next five hours, Dark Star motorsails steadily into a little south easterly headwind, past Chichester, Selsey Bill (bumpy as usual), Bognor and Littlehampton.

Tillerpilot Shade Around 12.30, off Worthing, the tide turns against and soon the speed drops to 3.7 knots. It's very hot and a parasol is needed to keep the autopilot (Simrad TP 10) from being baked into electronic meltdown.

Fortunately the sea breeze backs to the south west and this following wind pushes the speed back over 4 knots to ensure a safe arrival in Shoreham By Sea at 14.00.

I have been away for a month, but it seems much longer. The Channel Islands cruise covered 405 miles and proved a bit more challenging than I anticipated.

The weather was so much better than the round Britain trip, but those Channel Islands mists and strong tides kept me alert!

Grateful thanks as always to Valerie for putting up with this nautical nonsense and for my warm welcome home. It's good to be back!

Many thanks for reading this. Feel free to pass the link to any friend who has trouble getting off to sleep.

Kevin Gilroy, Dark Star, Leisure 27.
Sailing Solo Round Britain
Portsmouth, Cherbourg, Guernsey
Guernsey, Sark, Alderney
Alderney, Isle of Wight, Shoreham By Sea