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Eastbourne 8th July

Yacht Quintet
at anchor
Eastbourne Bay

8th July, 2005

<-Boulogne 7th July Brighton 9th July->

'A bright and clear dawn, with sunshine dappling the ripples on the water as a gentle northerly breeze presaged a day of idyllic sailing across the English Channel' would be a great way to start the report of our departure from Boulogne. Sadly the truth is somewhat different.

Having spent most of a week listening to the wind howl and the rain beat down, making quick dashes to the Capitanerie or the internet café for weather updates, we were ready to go. The weather reports were showing a high pressure system and light to moderate northerly winds on a slight sea, so it looked like it was time to go, at last. But when we woke this morning, it was just another day with howling wind and driving rain.

Over breakfast of fresh orange juice, coffee and croissants, we discussed what to do. Everybody around us was leaving or had already left. We had already tried everything on the menu at the Bar Hamiot. We decided we had to do it. None of our neighbours had left and then returned, so conditions were obviously not that bad. It was 11.00am ship's time, 12 noon in France, when we motored away from the dock, checked that the port control lights were in our favour and ran down the channel into the outer harbour.

Click for a larger imageBut it was as bad as we feared. The wind was gusting to the top of force five and waves were surging into the harbour.

Clive turned and ran back in to the flatter water so that we could hoist sails. We shouldn't have bothered. Within minutes, waves had broken over the bow and I was soaked through and we were still in port!!!!!

Sails up, we motor-sailed out beyond the breakwater and bore away for the run to the English coast. Engine off, we settled down and were making a brisk four and a half knots when the rain began. The log records 'seas much lumpier than forecast'. This was going to be a lovely day!

We entered the easterly shipping lane and dodged a few leviathans. We had one scare when a vessel kept turning towards us every time we bore away, but we tacked and he went behind us, probably going into Calais.

Click for a larger imageThen it rained harder. We put on the masthead navigation lights as visibility dropped to three miles or less. Notice from this picture how we are prepared for sailing during the hot, European summer. Notice also that Clive has developed a technique of protecting his eyes from the stinging rain by keeping watch through his eyelids. Apparently, with practise this technique can also reduce the effects of tiredness on those long watches!

We made fair progress but with beam seas the motion was not very comfortable. And after being port bound for nearly a week, stomachs were a little rebellious. Lunch was ginger nut biscuits and a mouthful of water. Standards are starting to drop.

By 6.00pm the weather was clearing, so we switched off the masthead lights and prepared to remove heavy outerwear. We unrolled the reef in the main, but before 7.00 the cloud came in again and the heavens opened. It was going to be exciting in the westerly shipping lane with visibility down to a mile or so. Then the wind came up and we put a small reef in again.

We decided that we would abandon Brighton for the night and head for an anchorage off Rye, or Pevensey Bay. We would still not be in much before midnight though.

By 8.00pm we had westbound traffic all round us, warships, container ships, bulk carriers, so we tacked away and let them get clear before we resumed our northward voyage.

I opened a can of the best French cassoulet, with sausage and chicken, or possibly rabbit, and cooked some new potatoes. We ate in shifts while the other one kept a lookout for vessels intent on hitting us.

Around 9.30 we started to get lots of interference on the radio. I was trying to get an hour's sleep but the radio noise was horrendous and even with the squelch right up it was making a horrible noise. So we investigated and, after half an hour finally concluded that the battery power was probably low. We therefore decided to drop the mainsail and motor directly for an anchorage to the northeast of Eastbourne pier.

This sail drop was not the best of my career. We luffed to drop the main and managed to put her through the wind and back the headsails. By the time the main was ready to drop, we were beam reaching on the opposite tack with the boom pressed against the running backstay and the sail immovable. Freeing the headsail sheets allowed us back, head to wind, but by this time I was being repeatedly struck round the head by the block on the clew of the staysail. So I dropped the staysail and was nearly dragged over the side by it.

Bear in mind that it was pitch dark, the engine was running so communication between management and staff was fragmented, the bow was rising and falling three or four feet, I was tired and I don't swim. Oh, and I should point out that I am a wimp. On Quintet's foredeck, the points to which one can clip one's harness are cleverly positioned so that one can reach the mast and halyards or the forestays and sails, but not both.

And then, when we were finally in a position to drop the mainsail, I had forgotten to put the plate in the bottom of the sail track and all the slides dropped out and the mainsail headed rapidly for the leeward rail.

It took a little while to gather up the errant sail and replace the slides. The sail was secured in its gaskets, and we resumed our course, motor-sailing under yankee jib.

Click for a larger imageAs we located Eastbourne pier and our chosen anchorage, I went forward to drop the yankee. There seemed no reason to luff up again and I freed the brake on the halyard winch. Normally the weight of the sail would apply pressure on the halyard, keeping it in tension as the sail slides down the stay. But by releasing the halyard downwind, the wind continued to hold the sail up the stay. Unfortunately, freeing the brake on a Merriman wire winch, without applying some downward pressure to the halyard means that the wire slackens on the drum, filling the space between the winch drum and the cowl beneath the drum, and jamming solid.

It jammed solid.

It was quite a bit later, one in the morning, that we were anchored, all sails down and secured, the anchor ball and light prominently displayed in the bow, and the gentle hiss of a beer bottle cap being levered off.

We sipped our beer as I counted my bruised and broken fingers. Sailing is great, isn't it?

Les Sutcliffe

<-Boulogne 7th July Brighton 9th July->