Here is a report of our first coastal passage sail at the end of May 2003.
This is the story of the landmark voyage of Little Jim. It is a story of high emotion, of elation and despair. It has its high points and its low points (especially during the lumpy bits off St Albans head), but mostly it is the story of a journey travelled during a rather nice bank holiday weekend in May.
We sailed from Poole harbour to Portland harbour and back again. According to The Shell Pilot To The English Channel this is 27 nautical miles each way. During the 4 day trip the wind was constant F3-4 S to SW. For a map of the area see here
We launched, just after lunch, into the river at a boatyard to the north of Ridge, near Wareham. Flushed with the success of my previous trips into the harbour I immediately hoist the sail and made a fool of myself by completely failing to sail down the river. Having disentangled myself from the bank I continued down river under oar power until we reached more open water where a much more successful attempt at sailing was made.
The trip through the harbour was pleasant, and uneventful, except for a shower of rain which gave me the opportunity to try out the main bad weather feature of the Paradox design. I popped down inside and shut the hatch. Almost immediately a drawback made itself apparent. It was hot and humid, and the windows quickly steamed up. This later proved to be less of a problem on the open sea, but in a busy harbour it was a bit of a worry. I managed to avoid everything, however, by employing another feature of the paradox design and moved out of the channel into the shallows where the other boats couldn't go.
The rain soon passed and we continued through the harbour, south of Brownsea island, and anchored behind a point to the south of the harbour entrance. Here disaster struck. I found I had not replenished the coffee jar since the last trip. Would there be enough to last the whole journey? Only time would tell. To relieve my depression I went ashore for a walk. a pleasant exercise as most of the south side of the harbour is a nature reserve, and is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
In the night it rained quite hard, but I remained snug inside. We were underway by 0537(GMT) and were dodging the chain ferry in the harbour entrance at 0550. It was not till later that I realised I was still operating under 'land' rules, and that as a seaman I should have been on the move a couple of hours earlier.
We ran on a broad reach with a favourable tide past Handfast Point. Off Swanage are the Peveril ledges, a nasty bit of water when the tide is running, but easily avoided as there is a red can buoy off the end. By 0730 we had rounded Durlston Head and Anvil Point and were close hauled but heading away from the land. At about this time I was sick. This is not a reflection on the Paradox, merely an arrangement that I have with Neptune and I have to pay my dues every trip off-shore.
The next feature of interest along the coast is St Albans Head. This is what the Channel Pilot has to say about it. "Off St Albans Head there is a considerable tidal race ....... It extends some 3 miles seaward except during southerly winds when it lies closer inshore. It may be avoided by giving the land a berth of 3 miles". Peter Bruce in his book Inshore Along The Dorset Coast has this to say about it. "[The race] is well known to experienced navigators for its ferocity at spring tides, This is created by a four mile long precipitous underwater ledge, which, by halving the depth, can throw up furious breaking waves on the tidal lee. Even when the surrounding area is flat calm a boisterous sea develops to be heard at some distance. this can be a chilling sound at night. As might be expected the race is at its worst with wind against tide".
As we approached the race we were about 2 miles off: but it was near to neap tides and the wind was onshore(ish): but it was wind against tide. Well, its too late now anyway. Then someone threw a bucket of water at me. After they had done it again I took the hint and retreated below. Green water was regularly coming right over the top of Little Jim, but we never really felt in any danger and were still sailing well. When I finished Little Jim I applied a boot topping and a sheer line with 2 inch wide PVC tape. At some point about now the front 4 feet of sheer line on both bows was washed up over the deck! If it hadn't stayed stuck at the stem it would probably have disappeared altogether.
During this time not a drop of water came through the hatch, but I could hear water pouring in somewhere! Further investigation showed it to be water running in the deck vent into the vent trunk, and then out through the drain. In fact throughout the whole trip there was hardly enough water in the bottom to soak up with a sponge, and I think most of that came in on my shoes when going ashore on the beach.
By 1200 we were past Lulworth and on the home straight with less than 8 miles to go. But by now the tide had turned, and although it isn't strong in Weymouth bay it was no longer helping me as it had been up till now. Perhaps it is best to draw a veil over the next 8 hours except to say that I spent 3 of them within 2 miles of the harbour entrance. I certainly wished I had an engine then (though would it have started after going through St Albans Race?)
We anchored in the SW corner of Portland Harbour, just north of the Helipad and had a very peaceful night. Before dropping off to sleep I was fascinated by the selection of noises coming from the water lapping under the transom. My favourite was one that sounded just like a sink plunger being thrust into a basin of water.
In the Morning I sculled up the beach and landed to use some public toilets. I then made contact with a friend of a friend who had an interest in Paradox and we talked for half an hour or so. As the wind was now coming up again I decided to get straight off and by 0900 was clear of the harbour with the boom well out to port and the water chuckling under the bow. What a contrast the return trip was after the hectic sailing of the day before. The wind was steady from the SW and the tide was against us so we kept close inshore and admired the scenery. It should be stated here that steering Little Jim both upwind and downwind consists of checking the course every 5 minutes or so and perhaps tweaking the control line a fraction, so this was a very relaxed time.
The pilot talks of a reverse eddy close to the shore. I could not detect this, but equally we were not being affected by the main current further out where yachts were passing to the west at quite an incredible speed. By the time we reached St Albans Head again the tide had turned in our favour and we popped through close inshore in a bit of a chop, but no water coming on board.
As we had approached the headland a Drascombe Lugger had come out of a bay (Chapmans Pool) and had gone through ahead of me under motor. He now hoisted main and jib and I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were overhauling him (the first time we have overtaken anything!). Leaving him in our wake we rounded Durlston Head, gibing the boom across to the starboard side, the only sail adjustment needed so far.
Only once round Handfast point and running close hauled up towards the harbour entrance did the true strength of the wind become obvious. We timed the chain ferry just right and shot through the entrance in grand style at 1555. We tacked up though the harbour and anchored for a satisfied and fulfilled night at the top of the harbour at 1910.
The next morning, before the wind had picked up, we sculled up the river against the tide. Being a river the flow is nearly always out, except on the spring flood. Again I was wishing for a motor, although perhaps the answer is to launch further down the harbour. After breakfast at the boatyard pontoon I took my time over hauling out and was back home in time for lunch followed by a long bath.
We did it! The feeling of satisfaction is incredible. I now know that we can go anywhere we like around the British coast. The seas off St Albans Head were worse than I would have liked (especially as I was still a bit queasy at that point) but as Little Jim looks after itself most of the time it got us through safely, and I got the feeling that we could have taken much worse without serious consequences. What a great boat, thanks Matt.