It was the night before the cruise and Cap’n Greg’s email was a wee bit gloomy – each skipper needs to look into their own deep, dark souls and decide for themselves if to sail in the wind conditions prevailing…………’ . I heard that wind whistling through the shrouds and did not sleep well……
But I was far more optimistic when I got down to the club on Sunday morning. The sun was brightly shining – which always drops many knots off one’s interpretation of wind speed don’t you know !
Ray – the first of my old pal crewmen to arrive – appeared ahead of schedule and we joyfully agreed that with a couple of reefs in the main we’d be absolutely fine. Next crewman – Tony – arrived a few minutes later looking pretty sprightly and once togged up, we headed down the causeway in very good heart.
I had brought a few beers with me and Ray had a stash of some of his wife’s famous brownies in his bag so together with my emergency aged fruitcake in the locker on the boat, I knew that we would last out until we got to the Hoyle bank burger bar…………..
Ray and Tony have experience in sailing but not on my boat, so we probably took more time than usual in rigging up. However, we did well and got off down the channel not very long after Tango. We were the last one out and I was a bit nervous of the shallows as it was a very neap tide. Also – I have never really got the hang of my ancient depth sounder ! ( in fact I turned it off – it bleeps so much !) Last year we did ‘bump’ a little on the way out and so feared getting stranded as, in that event, provisions would certainly not last !
Well – we kept good and close to the green channel buoys round the dogleg. I bless whoever it is who puts those buoys in there ! We made good safe progress out to Dee 1 buoy before turning starboard to Dee 2 buoy ( why has that one got vertical white stripes on it by the way ? ) to collect with the rest of the fleet in comfortably deep water by this time I realised we were darn right to put two reefs in and deploy the smaller jib !
Before too long Greg got us lined up in a row and we were off – total magic.
We took a pretty straight line ( close hauled) down the channel between Hilbre Island and the Hoyle bank. Keeping an eye on the other boats and the line they took – we seemed to be ahead but were very mindful of getting too close to Hilbre.
Tango, Twilight and Misty Blue all tacked to port as they got to Hilbre main island. We waited to do that until later. We made a total mess of that tack and it cost us dear. In hindsight I feel we would have made it through the channel without tacking as the tide would sweep us through , or at least leave tacking until we knew we couldn’t clear Hilbre – a skippers error (mia culpa).
Inevitably we got overtaken by Tango and Misty Blue leaving Hilbre but kept an optimistically good chase and started looking for the far buoy. All boats got the direction a little bit wrong on that – we should have gone about 5 degrees east of North rather than North. I think Misty Blue spotted the buoy first and bore off those few degrees towards it.
Spookily the wind then decided to get behind us and we all were on a training run towards the far mark. It’s funny how all is peaceful with the wind behind you. The chop / swell out beyond Hilbre was demanding or thrilling, depending on your point of view, but a very good experience for me personally as it showed me how the helm on Trio responded to a swell coupled with a gusting wind – very confidence building for a newcomer to the art of sailing.
Greg – very thoughtful sailor that he is – went east of the channel to avoid the main thrust of the outward tide. His boat can point closer to the wind however and he used that to good advantage. Could we have used that line ?
Twilight was behind us but gradually making ground and it was on the leg back to Hoyle bank that Twilight raced smart and won the cup. I looked at their sails and they were beautifully set compared to ours. They were gaining on us relentlessly. We did our best to tune things by adjusting the angle of the main sail but – again in hindsight – we should have reefed more effectively before setting off. Had we done that we could have safely shaken out a single reef ( as the wind had lessened a little) and put that bit more pace on.
As it was with our ill tangled main, to do so would have been risking a slip off deck into the cold and briny deep . Actually, the combined age of our 6 knees is ( a bit like the compass rose) 360 years, so this was a very real possibility !! Inch by inch Twilight caught us on the return leg and pipped us on the line by two seconds. Frustrating, but hugely well done to them ! and, many, many thanks to Gareth for the wonderful photo he took of Trio on the out leg. I will get that framed – quite memorable !
On arrival at the bank, feeling pretty hungry after our exertions, we grounded rather than taking anchor. Look – I’m a novice, I was tired, hungry and I’ve never anchored before so give me a break !. (As it turned out a later departure from Hoyle bank made no difference.) Soon we stepped ashore to well earned food an drink ( Many thanks to Dave on the barbecue for the well grilled grub).
Although very sunny, my crew and I felt a bit chilled ( old bones soon get cold) so after beers and burgers and hotdogs we repaired to the boat for a lie down out of the wind and a good cup of tea ( laced with a bit of whiskey) and a rest and reflection on a most enjoyable race.
Tootling back was relaxing (apart from me flooding the outboard on re-launch ) , but we needed care around those dogleg corners with the shallow tide……….. Interesting to see some cats grounded with crew casually wading and pulling their boats through the shallows only a few yards away.
Back at the moorings we came up carefully to our buoy but 10 feet short we grounded, a last surprise ! I chortled out loud ! all the tricky stuff we had coped with but my own muddy, shallow patch had caught me out ! Soon we packed stuff away and were brought ashore so thanks to you rib folk ! ).
So………… an enthusing experience and thanks to all our fellow sailors. Looking forwards to next years cruise !!
Glyn Jones (Cruiser Fleet)