The home run – Bristol to Northney

Re-joining the crew on board in Bristol after a week at home, we ‘locked out’ at high tide early on Sunday morning to carry a favourable spring ebb tide down the Avon.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The turgid, brown water of the upper Severn Estuary gave way to clearer seas as we headed west. Having the luxury of a crew of 3, the overnight passage was a breeze with a one man, 4 hour watch system working very well in the settled conditions there being little traffic to trouble us.  We sailed after rounding Land’s End but the 220 mile passage to Fowey was mainly under engine.

Fowey is still one of the most attractive destinations on the south coast but, even before the school holidays had started, it was very busy with pressure on moorings.

Fowey viewed from above Polruan

The crew from Bristol were John and his son Tom. They have been friends since we both owned Parker 31’s in the Solent with children of similar ages. Perversely, our sons found themselves together in a Law tutorial at Durham University having not met each other for over 10 years. John’s son Tom actually left Durham to take up an offer from the Fleet Air Arm and is now a Sea King helicopter pilot. Having him along for a few days was a refreshing presence with the most interesting anecdotes. John’s wife, Birgit had stayed on Hejira in Bristol before my arrival and not only victualled for the following week but left John with a menu for every meal including the cooking instructions.

John’s unexpected culinary skills

She was clearly worried that Tom might be undernourished if it was left to us alone. In the event John took the task to heart and he dominated the galley producing a wonderful variety of excellent food. Thanks are probably equally due to Birgit as well as John.

Tom at the helm

Fresh winds from the East prompted a short motor sail along the coast to take refuge in the river Yealm where we picked up the first substantial visitor mooring buoy. Staying on board (the food being very good) and not venturing ashore we were fascinated by the visit of the blind sailing association as they navigated past us on their way up river to their rally assembly, wonderful to see such concentration and obvious pleasure!

After a mixed passage of motoring and some gentle sailing in bright sunshine, Tom left us in Torquay to prepare for his imminent posting to Afghanistan. He contributed greatly to the cruise, providing the most interesting anecdotes and insights into the Armed Forces of today and the challenges of flying a 50 year old helicopter in combat – would you believe that the clock on the flight deck is clockwork and needs to be wound up?

It became clear from Birgit who had been tracking our progress on the internet, that we had not transmitted our position on AIS since Fowey. We had been receiving AIS positions onto our plotters so we had not thought that anything was wrong. Re-booting the system in Torquay restored our position and I have a theory as to the cause of the problem. We had sailed after Land’s End and we could not connect to shore power in Fowey to charge the batteries but we were still indulgent with the electrical services. We were ‘hemmed in’ on our pontoon berth and liberally used the bow thruster to help extricate ourselves. With low batteries, this ‘pulled down’ the voltage to such an extent that some systems alarmed and I think that this ‘dropped out’ our position transmission. In similar circumstances in future it would be prudent to re-boot as a matter of course. I intend to replace and supplement the AGM batteries over the winter and this should help.

John’s other contribution

A long romp from Torquay under the Parasailor took us to a late anchorage in Studland Bay. Being that much closer (we had considered anchoring in Weymouth) we were able to plan an optimum Solent entry at Hurst Castle. We again carried the excellent Parasailor through the Solent, close reaching and then gybing at West Pole into the Chichester Channel, finally, reluctantly, snuffing the chute at the entrance to the Emsworth Channel

So, we are moored back in Northney with a long list of jobs to be completed before next year’s more adventurous plans but in the mean-time, I hope to find time for some less ambitious sailing over what remains of the summer.

As a retrospect on the UK circuit, crew organisation presented some challenges but this did not detract from what was an immensely satisfying experience in which I enjoyed destinations I will probably never visit again. Hejira could not be faulted and her sailing performance continues to impress. The new Parasailor has been a revelation and I am absolutely sure that it will pay back its considerable purchase price on future extended downwind passages. The enlarged third rudder has also been a real boon providing control of the stern in close quarters handling and enabling large sail-plans to be carried off the wind with no perceptible lack of grip.


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