Back in the game!!

The sail back to Plymouth from Fowey was absolutely perfect. It was over two hours quicker than my journey going the other way. It didn’t start like that though. I left Fowey slightly ahead of a lovely wooden yacht and uncannily, exactly the same thing happened as it did when I had all the boys onboard. The rain came, the wind stopped and then there was nothing (and I do mean FA) for about twenty minutes. The wooden yacht was drifting down and closing on me as I was faffing about achieving absolutely nothing with sails that were just hanging. When he was about 100 yards away, his sails filled and all around him I could see white crests on the waves. The wind was back! All of a sudden we were 100 yards apart, both with full sail in 20 knots of wind and lovely sunshine.
‘There is only one thing to do here mate isn’t there’…. The race is ON! I don’t care if this is called cruising and I can’t speak for the girls but if your prefrontal cortex is to be found stuffed down the front of your trousers, this is the only possible outcome of a chance encounter like this. He knew and I knew it! We raced all the way to Plymouth and I have to say it was close. Would I be talking about this if I had followed him into Plymouth? Probably not but I can’t help that, I’m only a man. The race kept us both fully entertained for three hours and in the end, over 20 or so miles, my AIS was telling me that I was 0.7 of a mile in front. Close, fun and an absolute cracker of a sail.

Something felt very strange as I approached Sutton Marina in Plymouth. I felt a bit sad and it suddenly dawned on me that for the last 7 weeks all I have done is go to new places that I haven’t sailed to before but I knew this place and I think subconsciously it felt like I had turned around and was starting to work my way back. Once I had fathomed (like what I did there?) this out I felt better and in fact this return journey marked the picking up point of my new crew member. Oh, may she be pretty, competent, quiet (no offence Sarah), low maintenance (again, no offence) and respond well to my finger (errr no Mark, don’t even think about it).

Monday the 22nd May.
Good morning Dominic (from Marine Electronics Plymouth and my new personal hero). Laden with boxes and a tool bag, work commenced. My contribution had been to remove some of the old stuff, make sure the cable runs were all ready and to be of any assistance wherever and whenever needed along with many questions.
My Dad was an engineer and one of those old school utterly capable sorts who could just do things. I was the utterly annoying little boy hanging around in the garage or in the boat that he was building saying ‘Why, what, how, where’ on an almost constant loop! My Dad never once got impatient with this continuous line of enquiry (other than the time I was hiding under Mum and Dad’s bed but there is neither the time nor the space here to summarise the psychological effect this had on both father and son). Hang on, where was I going with this? Oh yes, Dominic was now getting all the what’s, why’s, where’s and how’s.
I try to do as much as I can on my boat – you have to be as self sufficient as possible if you own a boat but whenever something is beyond me I aways want to be involved in the process. However, not many of the people that you pay to work on your boat want this. Instead, they are difficult to tie down and say things like ‘Just leave the keys in a safe place for me and I will been there on, well I don’t know yet, but it will be done at some point’! They just don’t want someone over their shoulder but hang on, this is my toy and I want to see what goes on and exactly what you do to it. Dominic, as I explained in a previous blog, is not like this. He was happy to explain and walk me through everything and we went through the installation together which went remarkably smoothly. The preparation work that I put in paid off and Dominic had the ‘Its not a problem, its an opportunity to think of another way round it’ kind of attitude that you simply have to have with boats.
Credit where credit is due and I would recommend Dominic to anyone. He did exactly what he said he would do, exactly when he said he would do it and believe me, it is very difficult to find people like that in the marine industry. He is a rare twinkle in a rather large pile of shite. People like him deserve all the success they get and its a real shame that in my experience he is indeed a rare find. Funny isn’t it that he was recommended to me by another diamond in the rough that I have met along the way, Andy of Yachting Solutions in Burnham. A long distance recommendation but a great one. Cheers.

So. On Tuesday morning I was up early and out of Sutton Marina at 07.00. The new autopilot started doing its own sea trial configuration as soon as it detected that we were on the move and once a couple of ‘Task complete’ messages flashed up I tentatively fingered the button!
If anyone was to compare my track on the Vessel Traffic app for my journey to the Helford River with any of my journeys over the last 6 weeks or so, this would tell you all you need to know. My new crew member can steer a better course than me. Perfect, YES!!!!!! We’re back in business and my journey to Helford included a leisurely lunch, some comfortable comfort breaks and even a bit of reading (autopilot instruction manual of course). What a difference.

So, Helford River; absolutely bloody beautiful. Totally unspoilt with a feeling of heavenly isolation. I anchored for two nights just inside the entrance and had my own little beach to land on or alternatively, a mile along the shore is the Helford River Sailing club where you can get ashore using their pontoon and then visit the Shipright Arms which is a stunning little pub overlooking the little inlet there.
This place is another good example of why it is so important to have a pilot book. I don’t know why exactly but there is no legal requirement for this river to be marked so the navigation marks are all privately funded by a committee of local sailors. This is great but whilst all marked, the buoys are not lit so a first time entry after dark would be difficult and dangerous and the pilot book warns about this. Furthermore, whilst the entrance is deep and hazard free, just inside there is a large extension of rock that is marked but not that obviously owing to the costs associated with such navigation marks and the pilot book warns of this too. I have tried to show this hazard in the photos below. Apparently it has caught out quite a few visiting boats and that would not be a good welcome to this otherwise beautiful little sanctuary of a place. The other source of information that is proving invaluable, but depends on access to the internet, is the Visit My Harbour website. This too provides step by step instruction for entry inclusive of potential pitfalls all in layman terms.
I have already seen enough to say that whilst these pilot books / almanacs and the Visit my harbour website are very cheap resources when compared to the purchase of paper charts, are they equal in value? Put simply, you’re god damn right motherf*ker. Sorry, I think its about time I had someone here to adjust the dials and knobs (ok, so just one) to keep me in balance.

And… if by magic later today, probably at bout 9.30pm I will have a stowaway. United States of Canadia is coming down for, wait for it it, 10 days! Stand by your bed Max, its inspection time……No actually its not that at all. Its cuddle time, for you at least. Since I last saw Sarah she has attended (and passed) the RYA level 1 sailing course. I don’t actually know what that means but what I do know is that officially makes the score 1 – 0 to Sarah as far as sailing qualifications are concerned. I’m going to have to knock the wind out of her sails before she tries to knock me off my Captain’s perch. Right, where is that totally uncoilable rope? It worked before so it can work again…….
Sarah is getting the train down to Falmouth and having departed the Helford River yesterday I am already anchored just over a mile away from the marina in a place called St Mawes. St Mawes is predominately a retirement place and the pace of life here is good! Albeit useless information, the lighthouse at the entrance was the one used in the Fraggle Rock kids tv show.

Once I get to the marina there are a few jobs on this list to get ready for the next 10 days. We need some help from the wind gods for this next part. The plan is to leave Falmouth bound for the Isles of Scilly, stay for four or five nights and then set sail for Ireland. Sarah has a flight booked out of Cork next Monday so without taking any weather related risks, we need to try and make this happen. In preparation Fiesta needs diesel, food stores, a thorough check over and a leap of faith as this is going to be a proper field test for the new auto pilot.
Its about 60 miles from Falmouth so not too far although the sail to Ireland is 150 miles. That will be a 24 hour affair when for the first time there will be some shift work going on. Both Sarah and I will get left to our own devices when the other goes for a kip. This next part is exciting!

And another thing!
Somewhere on this blog I wrote something about being honest about any balls ups so……………..
Last night I got a rude awakening at 2.30am owing to a mathematical schoolboy error. Because of the rockiness of the sea bed in this area it is important to find a nice sandy or muddy bottom to anchor in because rocks do not make for good anchor holding. Along with the incredible amount of information given on a chart, you also get little letters dotted over the chart that abbreviate the characteristics of the seabed. Where I am now it says S.Sh which means Sand / Shingle which is good. There was quite an easterly wind funnelling down the anchorage when I went to bed last night so I set my anchor drift alarm which is linked to GPS via the chart plotter. All you do is set the amount of drift that you are happy with and go to bed. If you drift further than the distance you set, the shrill alarm goes into meltdown indicating that the anchor has lost its grip and you are on the move. However, this does assume that you set the correct length! I have 150ft of anchor line out so in my tiredness last night I set 170ft just to give a little wriggle room. What a total cock! Strangely enough, the tide did what it does fairly regularly and turned during the night so I drifted 150 ft back to where the anchor was set and then 150 ft past until the line went taught the other side and Fiesta stopped again securely. During this entirely natural process, one complete prick was on deck rocking out with his cock out in the cold easterly wind in a semi (no not that kind) awake panic shining the torch on shore to see if we were dragging and what were we going to hit or drift on to. By this time, the anchor line was tight and we had just drifted the full length (look, it was cold alright) of 300 ft that I should have set on the drift alarm. I went back to bed, got looked at with utter contempt by Max while I recited a simple equation. 2 x 150 = 300, 2 X 150 = 300.
Got that, you bellend?????

The race


P1020387War games on the way to the Helford River

View from Helford Sailing Club



Lovely little anchorage


Let’s see you try and sneak up behind me here then….


Is this normal?


Now you see them


now you don’t


Simply lovely…..


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