Our intended passage from the NW corner of Brittany was to sail towards Guernsey overnight, pick up a signal for a weather update, and carry a favourable tide through the Alderney Race with a slingshot into our channel crossing – best laid plans…
Coming on my watch at 2am, making good speed under sail alone for the first time, I heard a broadcast by the Cherbourg Coastguards to keep a watch out for a missing yacht out of Plymouth, heading for Paimpol in North Brittany. Plotting the last known co-ordinates, I noticed that it was about 10 miles away, behind us to the north. Soon after this, a helicopter circled us and hovered very close over our stern, kicking up a cloud of spray, shining a spotlight into the cockpit and making an awful din – I wish I had taken a photo as it was very ‘Close Encounters’ . Subsequent exchanges on the radio established that we were not the yacht they were looking for and they flew off into the distance. Some time later, we had a call by name from the Cherbourg Coastguards (presumably we were identified on AIS) asking us to call a yacht named ‘Royan’ or at least, that is the name I thought I had heard. I called Royan and then further discussion with Cherbourg suggested it was called Royany so I called that, all with no response. Cherbourg then asked us to go to the last known co-ordinates of the yacht to search for it. At this, I called Carl and Peter up from their slumbers, we dropped the sails and motored back into the wind towards the last known location, keeping our eyes peeled and a close watch on the radar. Updates from Cherbourg of their best estimates of their position (they knew their course and that they were doing 1.2 knots) revised our search pattern but nothing was showing on the radar. After one of the VHF exchanges with Cherbourg, we were called loud and clear by ‘Bryony’ which was the yacht we were looking for and who could not reach Cherbourg on their VHF but had heard our half of the conversation. We learnt that they had set out two days ago and had experienced engine problems (it also sounded as though the crew were badly seasick) so I established their situation and position and relayed it to Cherbourg. There were two people on board and they intended to reach the approaches to Lezardrieux and arrange a tow and didn’t need any further assistance. I passed on their position and their request to phone their families (who I assume registered the alarm at their non arrival) with the news of their safety. Cherbourg had many more questions and information which I duly conveyed and we were finally released to resume our passage. As a retrospect on the incident, it would have been helpful if Cherbourg had phonetically spelt the yacht name, then they may have responded sooner and our passage may not have been so compromised.
Unfortunately, having lost several hours in our diversion, we were going to miss the window for the tidal benefits of the Alderney race and had to resign ourselves to a course to the west of the Casquets and a later arrival in Chichester Harbour. We intend now to slip into the harbour, probably quite late and pick up a mooring buoy for the night, making the passage up the Emsworth reach to our Northney Marina destination in the morning.
I can report on Carl’s health which is sort of ‘mixed bad’. We pressed him into fulfilling his cooking obligations and he reluctantly rose to prepare a very curious chilli con carne (I’ll let him explain when he recovers sufficiently to write) but he has taken to his bed again. He was roused in the night to help scan the horizon but took a tumble down some steps in the saloon, aggravating an existing hip injury. He says he ‘will never play squash again’ – drama queen!