Monday, July 23, 2007

Plymouth to Exmouth

We had a quiet night anchored in the lee near the entrance to Millbrook Creek and we left the anchorage shortly after 0830 on the morning of 17th July 07. The inshore forecast was for a south westerly wind of force 5/6, decreasing 3 or 4 for with showers. As we sailed across Plymouth Sound we felt the full force of a southerly wind. We could hold a course for the eastern end of the breakwater and beyond near the shore where we put in a tack taking us outside the Mewstone off the entrance of the River Yealm. When clear of the fearsome looking rock we bore off on a course to windward of the Udder Rock. There was a large swell to the extent that for seconds at a time we could not see our companion boat. The wind increased to force 5 and perhaps 6 and showing no sign of abating.

Our boats were absolutely amazing; they never gave us occasion for alarm, although waves lifted and attempted to topple them. I kept the hatch of ‘Faith’ partially open, but I noticed Al was sailing his boat from inside, completely sealed from the elements. With the help of the flood tide our little craft frequently touched five knots and Al told me his GPS registered a top speed for a brief moment of eight knots! His miniature yacht must have surfed down a wave at the time.

At Bolt Head and Bolt Tail the spring tide was ebbing fast, causing the seas to be very confused. This was more awesome than we had expected, bringing about a situation of true adventure sailing. Had we known the weather forecast of decreasing winds was badly out we would not have sailed that day. Squalls shot over the hill tops and down the valleys laying our boats on their sides. We fair scooted up the narrow entrance with high granite cliffs and rolling hills either side. Further in, beyond the sandbar we passed grand hotels and large mansions. While approaching the public pontoon we downed our sails then used the yulohs to come alongside. The harbour master’s assistants were very helpful by providing us with information and also allowing us to stay at the pontoon longer than the permitted two hours. I shopped for a new peaked cap, as I had lost two when they were blown into the water. Retrieving such a small item when underway in windy conditions is always tricky because an eye has to be kept on it while the boat is being turned around, then a smart manoeuvre is required for plucking it out of the water before it sinks or it is lost from sight in the waves.

High water that evening was approximately at 2100 hours and therefore we waited until the incoming tide had slackened before beating to the beach at Splat Cove near the entrance to the River. We made the mistake of thinking we could settle on the beach for a quiet night, but in the event the surge brought about by the boisterous winds caused us some anxiety as our boats bounced on the appropriately named beach. Eventually we were left high and dry. At 0400 I laid out the anchors for our boats, placing them much further from the high water mark so that we would be able to pull our craft clear as they floated.

By 0700 we were afloat and anchored leeward of the beach for breakfast before setting off against the incoming tide. As there was so little wind we had to scull or paddle beyond Salcombe’s infamous sandbar in search of wind. It was the morning of the 18th July and yachts motor-sailing passed us on their way to a point where they could safely round Start Point. Al and I had agreed a waypoint well south of the Race and there we changed course for Berry Head, which was just visible in the distance. With the wind and tide behind us we made excellent time, but when we arrived near the prominent steep-sided sandstone cliff the tide turned against us and the wind dropped, so it was back to our yulohs again. Gradually we made progress towards the centre of Torbay where the effect of the ebb was less and where we were likely to pick up what little wind there was in the shadow of the land to windward. We were surprised at the strength of the ebb current as it moved southwards past Brixham Harbour, but by sailing well to the north before doing a final tack we gained access the Harbour where we moored at the Sailing Club pontoon.

The skipper of ‘Oronso’, a grand 31’ Moody yacht, made us very welcome. He and his crew had been stormbound for many days on his way from the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel - even 9 frustrating days he spent at the tiny Cornish port of Newlyn. He had wisely chosen not to sail the day our little craft had arrived at Salcombe.

The Brixham Yacht Club staff and members received us warmly by making their facilities at our disposal, including the use of their showers and afterwards by providing a cooked meal at a very reasonable price. One member even made his dinghy available for us so that we could get ashore from the pontoon.

Thursday, 19th July.

It was one of those gorgeous, calm sunny mornings as we cast off from the pontoon at Brixham Sailing Club. Al led the way by efficiently sculling ‘Little Jim’ while I paddled ‘Faith’ rather more slowly behind him. I wished my yuloh had been working properly so that I could have kept up with the leader. I had not made the pivot hole in the shaft sufficiently wide to allow me to rotate the blade properly.

Even beyond the promontory of Berry Head there was little wind. Al’s racing car green boat with her tan sail was almost a dot near the horizon by the time a zephyr stirred ‘Faith’ into action. Gradually I made my way towards the south while Al took his boat northwards for the shore, our courses converging until the situation was reversed. I maintained a track parallel to the coast well to the south, clear of the land, while Al searched for onshore breezes near the beach.

Creamy cumulus clouds floated above the land and directly overhead the sky was a perfectly pale blue; seaward there was a thin veil of dark grey cloud with a hint of thunder. Both boats slowly sailed to the east. By mid afternoon ‘Faith’ lay abeam of the seaside resort of Teignmouth, unmistakeable for its high bluff of dark red coloured cliff to the west the river Teign. Beyond, 45 degrees from the port bow lay the tiny seaside town of Dawlish and beyond I could see the sand of Dawlish Warren pointing in the direction of Exmouth. I frequently looked at the changing map on my Garmin GPS to confirm ‘Faith’ was heading towards the Pole Sands, a constantly moving sandbank that we hoped to cross because our boats only required a few inches of water. By doing so we would save a distance of nearly 3 miles.

When abeam of Dawlish Town I was struck with the beauty of the place from seaward. There were outcrops of sandstone cliffs carved and sculpted into attractive abstract shapes by the action of sea and wind. They reminded me of the works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, both of whom were influenced by the beauty of natural forms moulded by wind and water.

Approaching the Pole Sands both boats found themselves partners again after sailing different courses and the intrepid Al took the lead again. We called out the depths of water as it gradually began to shallow; then ‘Little Jim’ came to a halt causing Al to jump over the side to float his boat clear. The same thing happened to ‘Faith’. Little by little we worked our craft over the sands as the water rapidly ebbed. Behind we observed breaking wavelets before solid land suddenly popped out of the water. The action was instantaneous and all of a sudden we were trapped while water rushed by as if charging down a rapid. Al had already laid his anchor when he waded towards me to help me lay mine. There was no danger, just a delay as we waited for the flood tide, taking the opportunity for cooking an early evening meal.

While we awaited the return of the water a young man dressed in a black wetsuit lazily sailed and dragged his Topper dinghy with the sail number 33347 towards the beach at Exmouth. Two open catamarans moved slowly beyond the sands on the seaward side of the Pole Sands and a man looking rather concerned for our welfare stood on the Warren beach. He was beyond hailing distance; therefore we could not reassure him that we were perfectly happy with our situation. Tripper boats, fishing launches and numerous small craft motored in on the incoming tide that charged up the main channel between the off-lying bank where we were stranded and Exmouth town beach. Waves from their wakes disturbed gulls searching for food at the water’s edge.

When the tide obligingly lifted our boats we used the current to whisk us beyond the harbour, then by the lifeboat and into a sandy cove adjacent to Imperial Park near the slipway we were to use the next morning. At this point Bill Churchhouse appeared wading in a pair of blue welly boots; the tanned spritely figure introduced himself and in no time we were chatting about boats as if we had been friends for years. He had entered the 2006 Jester Challenge Atlantic Race and was an entrant for the 2010 race. His boat with the name ‘Belgean’ was aground nearby on a raised level of sand. To anchor there cost nothing and as he was living aboard his Westerly 22 during the summer months he was appreciative of the facility. She looked the part with a self-steering gear and a transparent observation dome.

True to his word he turned up in his tender before high water on Friday morning (20th July) to help us retrieve our boats. Al took his ashore first because he could winch ‘Little Jim’ onto the trailer from very shallow water without getting the wheels of his trailer wet. Putting my boat on her trailer was more problematic. By the time the water was deep enough the incoming tide was intent on whisking her to one side, but as I held her centrally on the trailer Al winched in the boat. I quickly jumped into the car and pulled the trailer clear by using a long length of rope. Bill Churchouse and Al chocked the wheels so that the trailer would not roll down the slipway and I released the rope and backed the car for attaching the trailer to it.

Another interested party in our Paradoxes, by the name of Mike joined the ensuing conversation. He had been busily taking photos of the retrieval events. These photos he would send to me via the Internet and he also told me his Seawych bilge keel yacht was for sale, whereupon I said I would gladly add an advertisement on my web site. The journey home by road was very tedious because it took 7 hours on account of the volume of traffic, it being the first day after the schools had broken up for the summer recess and because the rain was absolutely torrential, causing accidents and breakdowns. Road works added to the delay in getting home.

In retrospect, Al and I had enjoyed a fortnight’s cruise despite the bad weather and we made tentative murmurings that we might have another attempt at the Scilly Isles next year after seeing the start of the Jester Azores Challenge Race at Plymouth. For such plans so much depends upon personal circumstances and the vagaries of the weather.

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