Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cruise of the ‘Ishani’, a 26’ Eventide – Part 15

We had made up our minds that it was time to set off for home. Ahead, lay the Western Approaches; these are the waters at the western end of the English Channel - La Manche (The Sleeve) according to the French. You can in fact imagine the Channel as having the shape of an old-fashioned sleeve with a wide-open cuff that is shaped like the open end of a fishing net. The Brittany peninsular protrudes into the Altantic at the southern extremity of the Channel, and to the north, the southwest Cornwall peninsular pokes its nose out into the Ocean. At the eastern end of the Channel there is the Strait of Dover, or the Pas de Calais, the narrow stretch of water between England and France providing access to and from the North Sea. This is perhaps the busiest shipping channel in the world.

The relevance of this geography may be grasped as the story of the next phase of our cruise unfolds. Our objective was first to sail west, then north, so as to arrive without mishap at the Scilly Isles. ‘Without mishap’ was absolutely crucial to our success, because our small ‘ship’ had to cross the paths of large ocean-going vessels entering and leaving the Channel. By natural design there are places where these vessels will come together, such as when rounding L'île d'Ouessant, a small island to seaward of the extreme end of the Brittany peninsular. If these vessels were not constrained, the consequences would be unimaginable. For the sake of safe passage, shipping separation zones are marked on the charts. These zones separate ships travelling in opposite directions, and the International Rule is that motorized vessels when heading towards each other must pass port to port so as to avoid colliding with one another. That simple rule is inadequate for keeping vessels apart where many of them meet at the same time; therefore at such confluences artificial ‘roadways’ or ‘separation zones’ are drawn on the chart to keep vessels well apart. Infringement of the rules can result in severe penalties for ship owners and catastrophe when ships collide.

Why did we first need to sail west before going north? Quite simple really, because we had to get around the end of the Brittany Peninsula which was one and a half degrees further west than the Île de Groix. We also had to make even further to the west if we were to gain safe sea room between us and the land. Our prime purpose was to avoid being in the thick of numerous ships that pass through the separation zones off L'île d'Ouessant. It is always preferable to cross at right angles to avoid any element of doubt as to intentions. By first heading west we would cross the paths of southbound and northbound ships at right angles. At our latitude of 47 degrees 35 minutes north, there was a better chance that gaps between them would have widened.

On the morning of Tuesday, 30th January the weather forecast was good, predicting a Force 1 or 2 from the north – ideal for sailing west. By heading out to sea, we avoided the rocky coast of Brittany and the notorious Raz du Sein and the Chanal du Four. Both of these passages have fast flowing currents and hazardous rocks. In addition to avoiding those dangers, we were not tempted by seductive French sirens intent on luring unsuspecting matelots Anglais to their death.

For the first time during our cruise we set full sail including our light weather cruising chute. ‘Ishani’ was hauled along in great style at a good three to four knots. Several French warships were out on exercise. By early afternoon we could see the The Glénan Isles to the north, and at nightfall we were approaching the first of the south-going ships. Dodging a stream of ships at night is not a light-hearted task. We had to keep our wits about us and be prepared to use the engine if the need should arise. The powerful light from the Île de Sein helped us plot our position and progress.

Text for the Day

1 Corinthians 3:31 ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’

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