I’ve just spent three weeks living aboard Emmelène; a fantastic “window” in the year, full of light and enjoyment. However, my original plan, which was to sail to the Frisian Islands in Holland, had to be postponed, because the UK has been languishing under an Atlantic high-pressure system for absolutely ages. It’s an unusual summer: very hot, very sunny and absolutely windless. Sailing was difficult.
That’s just part of cruising, though: you have to adapt to the conditions. I’ve learned over the last few years that it is far more common to have light winds – or none at all, than to have too much breeze and be forced to reef the sail (reduce the sail area).
That’s where my split-junk rig sail is a good solution for the Newbridge Coromandel. It’s a bit oversized and thus overpowered, so very good in a light breeze – but obviously easy to reef, like all junks.
But a light breeze is not the same thing as “no wind at all” and that has been the scenario! So my cruising plans for this summer were trimmed down.
It all started with a message from Richard aboard Tammy-Norie: he was in Chichester Harbour with an engine problem. As I wanted to sail with him anyway, possibly even across the Channel, I decided to sail to Chichester Harbour and meet him.
On the way across from Bembridge, Edna the Hebridean got her first real sea-trial. Although it took me a while to set her on the right course, she soon did what she was told and we were off towards the West Pole (the entrance to the harbour channel) at a compass-bearing of exactly 62°. It was gratifying to observe Emmelène effectively “sailing herself” and I realised how much this simple technology is going to extend my horizons.
Edna steered us in a straight line, and we ended up, exactly on target, at the West Pole:
Then in past the Bar Beacon and Winner buoy, and in no time I had sailed up, next to Tammy-Norie. It took me two goes, because I wanted to avoid using my outboard – and although there were plenty of other yachts at anchor behind East Head, I was able to tack between them and throw a line to Richard, on the second try. Soon we were rafted-up and having lunch in my cockpit.
After lunch, a friend of Richard’s, called James, arrived on his kayak; by coincidence, he was anchored not far away and had immediately noticed my junk-rig, which led him to our boats. He later cooked us dinner aboard his palatial 33 ft Colvic yacht – very luxurious indeed. In the past, he has sailed several junk-rigged boats and is keen on them.
Sunrise came and I realised that I had not chosen the most perfect place to anchor: when I awoke in my bunk, my feet were higher than my head!
Before long, the tide began to flood and we were in business to make the most of the breeze and sail up to Bosham. This harbour sailing (as opposed to sailing on the Solent) turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding of the entire cruise.
Following a very pleasant day’s sailing, we anchored just east of Pilsey Island. I chose the worst spot… as the tide ebbed, I was marooned on the old sea-barrier (clearly marked as an obstacle on the chart). Richard, meanwhile, had done his homework and Tammy-Norie sat gently on the mud, slightly to my north. I moved Emmelène around midnight, on the flood tide, to a better anchorage, just 100m south.
Next morning, I watched Richard (still engineless) sailing very skilfully out of the Thorney Channel, against the tide. I followed and soon we were having another good sail, in a decent wind, towards East Head where we ran our boats up onto the beach and anchored for lunch.
After lunch, we decided to head for Tammy-Norie’s “home” in Fareham Creek – the engine issue looked serious enough that we would only be able to take a proper look with the outboard removed from the boat. Richard had already done all the diagnosis possible from the cockpit.
We sailed out of the harbour on the ebb, and then westward towards Portsmouth. There appeared to be a huge fire near the entrance to Langstone Harbour; this dry weather had made the grass tinder-like and something had set it alight.
Predictably, the wind died as the sun set, and Emmelène towed Tammy to Fareham – it took almost 8 hours. Richard informed Portsmouth Harbour of our arrival on VHF channel 11, and the Condor ferry reported that they had a “visual of the tow”. Once through the entrance, we “borrowed” a buoy and enjoyed a midnight dinner of delicious cassoulet.
We finally arrived in Fareham Yacht Club at 0345h and needless to say, sleep was welcome. Next morning: breakfast on the pontoon and major dismantling of Tammy’s outboard!
The outboard-engine problem turned out to be probably caused by a partially-blocked idle jet and Richard resolved it with a squirt or two of carb-cleaner. Now it idles perfectly again.
By now, the wind really was very weak and our plan B – to sail to Poole instead of Holland – turned into Plan C – let’s just see if we can sail at all! Under sail, it was extremely difficult for me to get steerage way in Fareham Creek, so I chose to motor down to Portsmouth-Harbour entrance, which was very busy with summer boaters, especially round the fuel barge; not my cup of tea.
We sailed out to Fort Gilkicker and round to Lee-on-Solent, where we anchored in a dead calm. The tide changed and still no wind. This was, I confess, a low point for me as my expectations had to adjust to the fact that the cruise just wasn’t going to get out of the Solent, given the time constraints and lack of wind.
This is where cruising with another boat (as opposed to alone) is such an advantage; Richard soon cheered me up, and on the rising tide we headed for Ryde Harbour, where we would have stayed if there hadn’t been a major festival in full swing, with the main concert-stage only metres from the yacht pontoon! It looked like noisy fun – but we were tired, so we repaired to Bembridge under motor. It took an hour from Ryde, cutting somewhat across the sands.
Next morning, we worked on our boats. Richard inflated his new canoe and was able to use it to help me remove the bottom rung of my stern ladder, which will facilitate the movement of my wind-vane, when in use.
Richard also taught me a new knot!
We lowered Tammy’s mast for Richard to work on his mast-head light arrangement.
For me, one of the most important tasks was to fine-tune the balance of Edna the Hebridean. Richard was very kind in spending some time sailing Emmelène with me and adjusting the counterweights to reduce friction in the mechanism to almost nothing. The vane counterweight needed fine-tuning in the closed cabin, to ensure no interference from the wind.
He also worked up on deck, on improving my rig, mainly to reduce halyard chafe and folds in the raised sail.
We enjoyed a very pleasant day anchored in Priory Bay, near Bembridge, in perfect sunshine and crystal-clear water – but no wind! It was like being on a Mediterranean holiday. I swam round Emmelène and read my book. It was the hottest day of the year.
The following afternoon, Richard’s nephew, Thomas, joined us and was excellent company.
All too soon, it was time to go our respective ways, with our Holland plans only postponed, and not cancelled, by any means.
There was just time to get my Dad down to Emmelène, as I was buttoning her up – naturally on the first day of wind for a month, it suddenly blew force 6, gusting 7, and we decided not to risk going out. Instead, we visited the HMC vessel, “Nimrod” – getting a tour of the bridge in the process. We were lucky she was in port at the same time as us. An interesting visit, aboard the biggest RIB we’d ever seen – 19m or 62 ft!
In summary, it wasn’t the July cruise that I had expected, due to a complete lack of wind. But on a positive note: Edna the Hebridean wind-vane works really much better, each time I sail; and we had a nice “sociable” mini-cruise with Richard, to whom I send thanks for his company and mentorship.
Let’s see if we can make a longer voyage soon!