2 July 2010

Three days afloat 50nm (209.2nm total)

The weather was set to be fair, so I took three days leave and went sailing on my own, mid-week. It is always a nice time to sail in Poole as the harbour is uncrowded. On summer weekends you are never alone. Even in the  narrowest, shallowest creek you are likely to find a couple of kayakers suddenly popping up beside you, or a flotilla of those odd, stand-up-and-paddle surf boards barging into you.

On the first day I tried to get into the beautifully named River Piddle. This is the second river that runs from the Harbour up to Wareham, but it is not much used by boats. I found out why. I could not find the channel, and kept sticking on glutinous soft mud flats. Far too soft to push off from or to stand on. I had to resort to running the engine in reverse through the liquid mud, which is not a good policy, but it got me off and the motor still seems to run OK. On a windless day I may try to row up in my dinghy to see if I can find the channel, if there is one.

Then I stormed back down the harbour. There was a F3-4 southish wind blowing all three days. I generally had a single reef in as the boat just handles better. I was also experimenting with sail balance to see what worked and what didn't. The wind carried on into the night, so I anchored close in to the north shore of Brownsea Island for shelter. Not that quiet as it is directly opposite the Town Quay and there is a roaring from the docks all night, but it is interesting to sit there and watch all the navigation lights coming on on the  buoys.

In the morning I was firmly aground whilst I got breakfast ready, which makes it very relaxing. Once afloat I headed out of the harbour towards Swanage, a couple of miles down the coast. But the weather was odd. Bright hot sun over the Harbour, but I could see fog banks blowing over the  headland beyond Swanage. The Isle of Wight was also completely hidden under fog. On the VHF radio I heard a couple of yachts south of Swanage asking other yachts with radar if they could follow them. I turned tail and raced back into the Harbour, making well over 6 knots most of the way. I passed the little Shilling gaff cutter Margerita, which I saw last year. A beautiful boat. The skipper shouted out

"Where have you been?"
"Nowhere in particular."
"That's where I am going too!"

Hope he didn't get fog bound.

I anchored for lunch in the Harbour off Redhorn Quay, on the inland side of the Studland peninsula. I rowed ashore and walked over to the beach and went for a very short swim. Still cold water so didn't stay in for long. The heathland is lovely, a very unusual landscape. I kept an eye open for Dartford warblers, which are usually easy to see here, but there is concern they will have been killed right back in the cold winter. I didn't see any.

I tried sailing off the anchor just with the mainsail, but with the board up I couldn't steer and ended up on the beach. Unfurling the jib swung my bow round and then pulled me off. Then set out around Green Island, which involved lots and lots of tacking against the current in a very narrow channel. Takes a long time, but very rewarding. I was shadowed by a large French yacht which was motoring slowly behind me, leaving me plenty of room. He eventually dropped his anchor off Cleaval Point. I stormed on to Shipstal Point, which is a lovely anchorage, but again, it is exposed to the strong south wind, so I turned tail and sailed back to almost the same spot north of Brownsea Island as the previous night. Brownsea is the only island which is big enough to give you certain deep water shelter from a southerly wind.

On the second morning I took advantage of my new marina location. It is directly opposite Brownsea Island, so I motored across and tied up to the waiting pontoon to refill my water tank. Then I got my folding bike out of the car and cycled into town to do some shopping and have a coffee at the Lifeboat College.

Back at the boat the wind was strongish F4 so I thought I would try sailing just jib and mizzen and experiment with that arrangement. It is slower, but still acceptable. Tacking is tricky and requires working both sails, otherwise the mizzen tends to stall the tack. But reaching under this rig is a delight. The boat runs like it is on rails. Even going into the cabin doesn't upset the balance enough to knock her off the wind.. This gave me an excellent grandstand seat to a whole series of lifeboat high jinks.

The Lifeboats were out in force. Three offshore boats and three inshore, going through many training activities (Poole is the HQ of the RNLI and the Lifeboat College is the main national training centre). One offshore boat kept pushing up against one of the daytripper boats, so a crew man could jump on board. Then it would back off and around and push up against it again, so the crew jumped back whilst another jumped on. This went on till they had all had a go. One of the inshore boats was capsized and a training crew chucked in the water and told to get it back upright. I was sitting back watching it all as Daisy G sailed herself.

Up near the Harbour entrance a new Drascombe Drifter 22 came out for a sail. It looked like a very new boat. It was sailing well with the jib partially reefed on a roller reefing spar. It looks a heavy boat for the rig, I don't know how fast it sails. I wouldn't like to have to reef the mainsail's gunter rig in a blow. I presume it has to be fully lowered in to the cockpit to refit the halyard. Or does it have three halyards? There are a lot of Drascombes in Poole Harbour, but this is the first of the new Drifters I have seen.

I carried on sailing round the harbour channels. Had the rather embarassing experience of clobbering a starboard marking pole and breaking it off. Not very seamanlike.

I have been using the new Admiraly A3 tough charts and have been impressed. Much easier to read in the  cockpit than the bigger paper ones. They are ring bound into a set and made from a plastic paper which doesn't crumple when wet. And they just fit neatly into my chart holder inside the companion way.

Heading back to the mooring I caught up and overhauled a Cornish Shrimper on a close reach. It had about a half mile lead and it took me about 15 minutes to catch up. The wind was dying so I shook out each reef. I can shake out a reef in under a minute and under full speed. It takes about three minutes to put a reef in, largely because you have to turn up into the wind or heave to first. But it can all be done from the cockpit, which I don't think can be the case with a gunter rig.

Finally motored onto the mooring and I spent half an hour just watching the sun going down before the long drive home. Hope for more days like this during the summer.

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