I had booked Good Report to be lifted out of the water mid-August, with the laudable intention of making good use of the ongoing fine weather, to spend a week or two doing much needed external painting, varnishing and deck maintenance in the boat yard.
However at the last minute, Kate and I spontaneously decided to go for a little adventure together instead…and sail to the Channel Islands. This would not just be a first visit there, but also the furthest east I’ve ever taken Good Report – my previous furthest-east-point being Dartmouth !
I just needed a quick trip to the ‘Sea Chest‘ bookshop to buy a pilot book and chart, and then to the supermarket to stock up with fresh food (I still have loads of the surplus tinned and dry food that I took down to the Azores…and then brought back again,12 months ago) – and we were good to go. It’s a rather novel and refreshing experience to be able to leave with such minimal preparation or planning….but also hard to avoid a nagging sense that I might have forgotten something important!
Getting away was not completely plain-sailing however: Firstly the winds were not helpful being easterly – which blows Good Report sideways across her trot mooring towards the shore. It makes getting off our mooring really difficult. Plans A, B and C (which include trying to use the dinghy and outboard to pull Good Report’s bow or stern off the mooring into the wind) all failed. Eventually we conceded that we would just have to move the mooring stringer line to the windward side of the boat and depart up the very narrow lee-ward, shore-side channel and hope we didn’t run aground.
Our relief and sense of smugness at avoiding doing so however was short lived. Half an hour later, we were just motor-sailing past Plymouth Breakwater when the engine’s low pressure alarm started bleeping as we reduced revs. I shut down the engine and we tacked slowly into the nearby Crownhill Bay where we dropped anchor to take stock. The engine’s oil and water levels both looked fine (good) and there didn’t seem to be any issues with the cooling water intake (also good). A quick read of the Troubleshooting section of the engine’s Maintenance Manual suggested that a change of oil and oil filter was probably in order – something to do as soon as we arrived. In the meantime, we re-hoisted sail and finally set a course for Guernsey
The 97.4NM passage to St Peter Port, Guernsey was relatively straight forward, albeit slow – taking 261/2 hours (av. 3.8kn SOG). Overnight the wind fluctuated between F2 and F5 – but always from the east so we were beating into it as we headed SE – sometimes struggling to hold a course, sometimes making good speed. The weather was fine and sea generally calm however and we had a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
In between I had a very busy night crossing the mid-Channel shipping lanes. There were alot of ships about so I was kept on my toes, alternating between closely monitoring my AIS screen and peering out into the darkness to watch lights come and go. Twice I called up converging ships which looked like they were going to come too close for comfort. Credit to both Eli A (a 11403t Liberian registered container ship) and Alsia Swan (a 5717t Malteese registered oil/chemical tanker) – both of whom courteously responded to my VHF calls and then altered course to ensure greater sea-room between us.
By dawn the wind had completely dropped and I fired up the engine, keeping a close eye on the oil pressure and temperature gauges. Kate emerged from the cabin and relieved me for a couple of hours which enabled me to get some much needed sleep.
We continued under engine for the rest of the day through a calm sea, just leaving the main up as a steadying sail. I really don’t like motoring out at sea. Its noisy, smelly, polluting, expensive…and slower than sailing if there is any sort of sea running. It just feels unnatural for a sailing boat. I begrudgingly accept it as a unfortunate necessity when there is no/little wind. On the positive side it does enable you to progress in the direction you actually want to go AND you can charge every device you have !
The Channel Islands are famous/notorious for their strong and treacherous tidal streams. Our initial approach to Guernsey was slowed by the ebb tide so it felt like it took an age to close the island, but as we finally did so we got the benefit of the flood tide and swept along the southern side of the island, finally entering St Peter Port shortly after 18:00.
There is a serious sill between the outer harbour and the marina at St Peter Port. A Harbour Office launch initially directed us to a visitors pontoon to wait until there was sufficient water to enter the marina.
St Peter Port is a really interesting harbour, with lots of different parts. We got a great berth in the centre of the visitors marina (£30/night incl electricity) which is in the heart of the town…albeit were slightly dwarfed by bigger boats around us.
Wherever I lay my laptop (and can get a decent cup of coffee)…is my workplace.
A key reason for coming to Guernsey was to visit friend and fellow-Jester, John Willis – who had done the JAC’21 with me in Pippin. It was so lovely to meet up with John and his wife Angie, and they treated us to a lovely meal out in the very excellent Taj restaurant on the quayside – (which I got the slight impression was John’s second home!). My only regret is that we didn’t take a photo.
Apart from socialising, working, doing an engine oil change, and dog-walking…we did very little in St Peter Port, and were content to leave plenty of things to do/visit next time. Kate did however (of course) find a beach in the town to go swimming from.
After four days in St Peter Port – we decided to up-sticks and find a quiet anchorage for a few days before we had to head home. We took advantage of Guernsey’s VAT-free status to refuel (£1.13/litre), then motored over to the east side of the nearby island of Herm seeking some shelter from the predominantly westerly winds.
Belvoir Bay on Herm was a good sandy anchorage with a lovely little dog-friendly beach. Despite being on the sheltered side of the island, we did suffer a bit from tidal current generated swell at night. Whilst we were there we bumped into Hamish Southby-Tailyour and family on SV Equinox…who just happened to be anchored next to us. We also had a flotilla of some 60 swimmers circumnavigating the island come by – each with their own kayaker escort!
Kate swam from the beach to Good Report a couple of times…with a doggy escort !
….and we walked the 6mile coastal path around the island
At the end of the week we headed home. Initially there was very little wind so we had to motor again, punching into a short sharp sea of small waves which was not very comfortable and a bit slow. Kate and Kelpie retired to their bunks and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the passage.
We motored until about midnight when there was sufficient wind (F4) to sail, close-hauled on a course towards Plymouth. We again crossed the main shipping lanes overnight and if anything it was even busier than the passage over. Several times the ships seemed to come in a group of four in close formation…and there was no way I was going to thread my way through them – even if I had ‘right of way’. I just hove to and let them pass. Another time I changed course to work my way around a pair of fishing vessels that were slowly crossing our path. Just as I thought I could return to my desired course, one of them called me up on the VHF to warn me that they were about to do a complete 180 deg change of course…and I would need to effectively go back the way I’d come. The detour took me an hour and I lost several miles of hard won upwind position. Grrrrr.
Morning dawned over-cast, drizzly with the threat of heavy rain ahead. Kate obligingly roused herself to give me a couple of hours of much needed sleep, and in light winds we slowly continued to Plymouth arriving back on our mooring around 13:30 without drama.
The 98.4NM return passage had taken us just over 24 hours (av. 4.1 kn).
Heavy black clouds welcomed us back to Plymouth.