Our First Passage (My View)
This last week, we have completed our first proper passage on Gleda. We were heading to Alderney in the Channel Islands. We left the Truro River at 6am Thursday morning and took 1.5 hours to motor down to the open sea at Falmouth.
We were a week behind leaving when we wanted but the weather wasn’t right for an inexperienced/less than competent crew (me) to get us to Alderney to pick up Jake, our crew, who is coming with us across the Bay of Biscay.
The weather forecast for the day of our trip was just what was required. West/South Westerley winds blowing 4-5, a good to moderate sea state and good visibility.
In hindsight, I have to say that weather forecasts should be treated like a horoscope. If they fit the outcome after the event you can say they were right and be amazed at the skill of the forecaster. Generally, however, they should be treated with a degree of scepticism if not outright distrust.
We barely had wind at 2-3 which ensured that our speed was no faster than a brisk walking pace. Braye Harbour on Alderney is 115 nautical miles (bit shorter than land ones) from where we started and at that rate, it was going to take over 24 hours. Neil, it turns out, was not quite honest with me about the length of the trip. I was planning for us to meet up with Jake in the Sailing Club bar at 6pm on Thursday evening for a beer. Not until we were into our trip did Neil say that we would be out overnight! As you may recall from an earlier blogpost (In the Night Sailing), I do not like night sailing.
After sailing for 5.5 hours, we had only done 21nm. The Cornish coast still looked so close you could chuck stones at it and not miss. At the 9.5 hour mark, we had done 42nm. The trip, during the day, as far as being on the boat sailing was fine and the winds did pick up a bit for a few hours but still our average speed was just over 4knots (bit slower than 4mph). It was a nice bright sunny day, blue skies and the sea state was OK, a bit swelly but fine. I read for a bit, but thought I should be “looking out”, as that was about all I was doing. I did take the helm (steer) while Neil checked charts, faffed with sails etc but the wind was coming from directly behind us and steering, even for Neil, was difficult.
It felt a bit strange when we lost sight of land completely and there were no other boats in sight and you start thinking about the miles of nothing around and below you. It was the first time I had sailed when we had lost sight of the coast. I could make a cup of tea no problem while sailing and I had already made the first set of sandwiches before we left. I had a lie down in the watch berth for a couple of hours at about 7.30pm. When I came back out, not that I slept, we were just hitting the shipping channels. It took 4 hours to get across both lanes, in the dark! Neil did brilliantly and praised his AIS (automatic boat finder thingy) to assist in knowing the course and speed of the big ships he had to navigate around.
I had another lie down between about 12.30 and 3.30. Again, didn’t really sleep. I have never been awake for over 24 hours before. As a teen, I was always the first to bed and I only ever saw dawn once following a party, in May so dawn was about 5am and I certainly hadn’t been up since dawn the day before. At 4am the phone rang, that was a surprise in the middle of nowhere. It was Jake to see how we were getting on. In fact, we had slowed and although we could see Alderney it was miles away. Neil bit the bullet and put the engines on. However, our boat is not a motoring boat and a couple of the swells had the propellers out of the water for a second or two and our speed only maintained at 4knots.
At 8:08am on FRIDAY morning we motored into Braye where Jake was waiting to greet us and help us moor up. If you had asked me at this point if I wanted to continue, it would of been a resounding “no”: Not because I was sick, scared, wet, cold or the weather was bad but it was just so tedious. All those of hours of nothing. Mind you I will take tedious over being scared witless if it was a rough crossing.
As it turns out it really was an average of walking speed although we could not of walked carrying all our possessions, unlike the boat. All my admiration goes to Neil for staying alert and physically for having to helm all the time due to the wind and sea state. Our self-steering is not yet tested and operational. Neil kept awake, got us across the shipping and kept me safe.
After 26 hours sailing I probably didn’t appreciate that very much. I was just pleased to of made it to civilisation (showers, shops, laundrette) but we had a few hours sleep after tidying up sails, ropes etc then had some lunch. That evening Jake picked us up at 5pm to go ashore where we had a shower then met him in the Sailing Club for that pint. A full 24 hours after I had expected to. By then however, I had realised that the sailing is a means to an end. We were in a new country and able to explore and really appreciate that we have started our adventuring.