Two rules on setting sail:
1. Never set sail on a Friday, or so it is often said; and
2. Depart when the weather is right not when your plan says you should.
After a slight delay to give a presentation on aSwtS at the Southampton Boat Show, I had set my departure date for Thu 20 Sep. Yachts are never fully ready and there is always something to do, however, Coralee was in pretty good shape and I did have to leave the UK at some point. Keeping an eye on the weather – it wasn’t looking good with multiple lows moving across the Atlantic – I looked to slip out behind the first low pressure system and hoped to get around Brest before the second came in.
There were some suggestions that I should stick to the Thursday, ‘make a show’ of leaving, (after all a lot of people had come down to see me off) but then slip into the Helford River for a few days to let the weather pass. Others suggested that I should delay until the Monday when lighter winds were forecast. After a lot of thought I decided to slip the departure by a day to get slightly better weather, go straight to sea and suffer a few days’ bad weather – after all I’d been in much worse. So, I was departing on a Friday and leaving when the plan said so and not when the weather was best for it – breaking both rules in a single stroke.
Departing Falmouth the wind was a constant 25kts and with working jib and mizzen I was making 6-7kts heading SW across the Channel. Throughout Fri I made good progress towards Ushant and although feeling the effects of the swell – it always takes me a few days to settle into bad weather – I was pleased with my track and speed.
The Hydrovane was steering Coralee well and the DuoGen was being towed, making lots of lovely electricity. As the day turned into evening, the weather dropped off and the wind moderated to 15-20kts, so I set the AIS alarm and started my 1hr sleep routine. With the boat heeled over, and the weather requiring full foulies getting into bed was a waste of time, so I put a cockpit cushion between the saloon table and starboard-side bunk and slept comfortably on the floor, jammed snugly between the two – after all I was going to be up every hour.
The AIS alarm sounded often (the danger-zone settings have since been changed from 2 nm to 1 nm) and so an hour’s sleep was hard to get. Come Saturday morning the wind was beginning to show the effects of the new low-pressure system arriving and I could no longer make a Southwesterly course. I had the choice of heading in towards the shipping lanes, or out into the centre of the low. I chose to heave-to instead and sit out the F7 (gusting F8) until the wind direction changed and allowed me to progress in a more favourable direction.
This is where I made a mistake! The DuoGen is very stable when being towed but Coralee slips heavily sidewise and slightly backwards when hove-to and this motion caused the DuoGen mounting to sheer and the whole system was discovered to be lost when I checked that morning. While the Hydrovane rudder had its locking pin in place and was also tied on, the pin worked loose in the seaway and the anchor hitch that tied it on surprisingly didn’t hold either, so that was lost too. I have since changed the locking-pin design to be a stainless steel key-ring design, which [while still removable] should not come loose in any seaway, and spliced a loop in the rudder’s safety line, so it can’t undo.
When in the shed on Hayling Island, I had often thought of removing the boat roller assembly completely as it seemed overly complicated; instead of a single fixed roller, a large metal frame hinges forward to lower the anchor down and pick it back up again on the hoist, while keeping it forward of Coralee’s stem. The problem being that there was no locking mechanism so the roller assembly and anchor could crash up and down when the bow dug in – as Coralee understandably does when beating to windward in a F7. This bouncing caused some damage and I have since designed a fix to secure the roller assembly as well and tweaking the anchor locker to accommodate the anchor, so not to leave it on the bow rollers at sea.
Come Saturday evening, I was concerned over the anchor roller’s seaworthiness (and it causing further damage), I was missing my self steering rudder (but still had the Autohelm, which needs power), and had lost the hydropower generator (so I was no longer topping up the batteries). With all of that considered, as much as I wanted to carry on and my pride was telling me that turning back wasn’t an option, that ‘still small voice of calm’ was telling me that a return to Falmouth to repair the issues was in order.
What was meant to have been my departure from the UK turned out to be a 48 hour / 200 nm heavy weather shake-out sail, with many lessons learnt. I have spent the last few weeks repairing Coralee while working at Turn to Starboard, helping them out in the office. The Silver Lining to all this is that as I look forward to heading off in the second half of October to re-start my journey, I’ll be much more confident in the boat, how she handles in heavy weather and the robustness of the equipment on board. All being well we should still make an Atlantic crossing in December.
John & Coralee