Here is a report of our second coastal passage sail in the middle of September 2003.
Yes!!! It's official!! It's a new world record! The fastest ever crossing from Poole to Cowes in a Paradox!
Actually it is the only ever crossing from Poole to Cowes in a Paradox and it happened last week (22nd - 26th Sep '03).
I had been wanting to make the trip for some time, and suddenly work and home life meshed and I had a week with no pressing appointments, so I packed up and set off. The plan was to launch into Poole Harbour and sail across to the Solent (about 15 miles of open water), visit some of the harbours and anchorages and have a leisurely wander back. One of the primary objectives was to visit Ryde harbour and meet Jeff so that he could see Little Jim before he builds his stretched version.
For a map of the area see here
The launch on Sunday 22nd was uneventful and I spent a comfortable night anchored near the entrance so as to have an early start in the morning. As it turned out this trip was characterised by me being too early. As the weather was getting autumnal I had the boat shut right up for the night. I now discovered a disadvantage of putting a window in the hatch - condensation. Just as I was dropping off to sleep I felt it dripping on my head. The solution was to leave the hatch slightly open and wear a woolly hat. Fortunately we had no rain in the night during the entire trip.
The 0500 forecast for Monday was: S-SW F4-5 locally F6 veering NW-N F6 locally F7, later backing NW F4-5, sea state slight to moderate. The F4-5 I was ok with, but the F6 and F7 were getting a bit much, but any north in the wind would mean it was coming off the land so the sea would be calmer (thus the slight to moderate?). Anyway, I trusted the boat so decided to go for it. The tide would be against me (about 0.5kn) across to the Solent, but should have turned by the time we reached the narrows at Hurst Castle and we should have a favourable tide (up to 3kn) the rest of the way. That was the theory anyway ....
My usual practice when sailing in open water is to wear a lifejacket and harness fastened to a hard point on the deck. My feeling is that the harness is more important than the life jacket as it is not much use to be floating safely in your lifejacket as your boat sails out of sight.
With the sail reefed half way we headed for the harbour entrance and out into the bay. Although it was now 8:30 there were few other boats about. The wind was not particularly warm so I went into cocoon mode with the hatch shut. It still surprises me how much the comfort level goes up just by getting out of the wind. As we moved out from the shore the sea got rougher, but they were regular waves (about 5-6ft) and we rode over them easily with just a little spray washing over the deck. At least LJ rode over them easily, at 9:10 I was seasick. This is normal practice, and is the price that Neptune extracts from me for passage over his domain. It was not long after this that I noticed that the topping lift had got tangled round the end of the boom. This would make reefing a more difficult business if it became necessary.
As we got closer to the entrance to the Solent I had hoped that the wind would have moved round to the NW, but it was still resolutely from the SW with the seas getting steeper and more confused. LJ was going like a train. The normal angle of heel is about 20 degrees but gusts were regularly pushing us to 40 degrees. On at least two occasions the rail went under (50 degrees?). The pilot book tells you that as you approach the Hurst Narrows in a south-westerly that some of the force of the sea will be broken by the Shingles Bank. I was looking, without much hope, for evidence of this when I saw it, that one rogue wave that we all dread. It didn't look too bad at first, but it just kept on growing. By the time it reached us it was a vertical wall of water about 6 feet high. It just picked us up and pushed us over, and we kept on going until I could see water rising up the hatch window. You remember I mentioned about my safety harness? Well because the strap is fastened onto the aft deck the hatch doesn't close completely. It is amazing how much water can come in through such a small gap. We must have gone over to 80 or 90 degrees, but by the time I had recovered and could look around again LJ was sailing on as if nothing had happened.
Let me make it clear, I think I made an error in starting out that morning. I am also sure that in any conventional boat of similar size I would not have completed the journey, but the fact that I did complete it gives me confidence that, as long as I am not so stupid again, LJ will take me wherever I want to go.
An hour later we were well into the shelter of the island and entering Hurst Narrows. We were too early! The tide still had an hour to go before it turned in our favour so for the moment we had a wind-against-tide situation with all the bouncing about that that entails. Once that was behind us, and we were in the relatively quiet waters of the Solent I was able to take stock.
The only casualties appeared to be the kettle, which had acquired another dent, and the contents of the starboard forward shelf. The Paradox is designed with 4 bins in the living area which go down into the bilges, and are accessed by holes in the side panels. Over the bins are shelves. The forward starboard shelf was the home of all those things which didn't yet have a home. Some of the smaller items ended up on the ledge under the port window. Most of the rest ended up on the port shelf. The mobile phone and my electric shaver neatly popped though the hole into the side bin where they could mix gently in the bilge with the 2 or 3 litres of water which came in the hatch. (Note for Christmas list - Lots of waterproof bags).
By 3:30 we had reached Cowes. As we were doing so well I considered going straight on to Ryde, but then decided I had had enough and picked up a visitors berth. This turned out to be one of my better decisions as 15 minutes later the wind swung ninety degrees and a squall came in from the north which had the boats on the outside of the pontoon rearing like wild horses and squads of people trying to control them. A 40 footer near me took a lump out of the pontoon with its bow roller as we tried to tame it, I was glad I wasn't out in that! When it had all calmed down an hour or so later I was chatting to the owner of said 40 footer. He was there with a friend in a similar boat. Three of them had started from Lymington but one had found the Solent too rough and had turned back. "And where have you come from?" he asked. He went very quiet after that, but I have to admit that it did my ego no harm.
Total distance from Poole anchorage to Cowes pontoon 28.4NM. Time 7:20. Average speed 3.9kn.
The next day the wind was still quite strong, and was still blowing straight into the harbour so I decided a day seeing the sights of Cowes was in order. I also gave LJ a good inspection and found that both the tack tie down and the furling line were showing signs of chafe. The tack tie down was not too much of a surprise as the load is always in the same place, but the furling line was more of a worry. This was the first time I had sailed reefed from necessity, and the line was worn about half way through where it had come through the deck. It would, of course, be under much more load when reefed. Clearly a better fairlead is needed for this line. I had just bought more line, and replaced the damaged bits when Jeff arrived from Ryde and had a look over LJ and took some photographs.
I still hoped to get to Ryde, but the next morning the wind was very light from the east, and as the morning tide was going west I bowed to the inevitable and headed west. I first had to scull out of the harbour as there was not enough wind to make against the incoming tide. With one or two knots of tide, a nice gentle breeze and a sun which was shining we had an almost idyllic sail along the island coast to Newtown Creek. As I approached the entrance there were two dinghies out and both approached to ask about LJ. I am beginning to think that Jeff is right and I should get some flyers made to hand out at times like this. Once tied up at Newtown Quay I went ashore to stretch my legs. When I returned there was a note from fellow Dinghy Cruising Association member, Archie Campbell, being complimentary about LJ. Thanks Archie, sorry we missed each other.
As it was still early afternoon, and the creek seemed to be filling up, with more boats arriving by the minute, I decided to set off for Keyhaven at the far NW of the Solent. Getting out of Newtown demanded more use of the yuloh as the entrance is narrow and what wind there was was blowing straight in. Once clear of the entrance however the tide was still with me and there was enough wind to give me control of where we pointed. As we passed Yarmouth I was privileged to see the Waverly, the last ocean going paddle steamer, pulling up to the pier. As if this was a signal the wind finally died and I started 'motor' sailing. I was approaching Keyhaven via the channel called Hawkers Lake. When I arrived at the entrance I saw all the moored yachts were aground, but there was still just enough water for us to scull in and up to Keyhaven.
Having phoned a report home I then had to consider what to do next. I could wait for the yacht club bar to open and spend a convivial evening in the warm or I could heed the warnings of the weather forecasters and get while the going was good. The Forecast was for E-SE F3-4. W-NW later. As east or south-east was ideal for the crossing back to Poole I chose the sensible option and sculled down the channel in the fading light and picked up a mooring near Hurst Castle to be ready for the crossing.
The tide though the narrows was not due to turn in my favour until 10:40, and I had intended to go ashore and look at it from the land first. The morning was dull and cold and I couldn't see an easy route ashore near the narrows so after breakfast we just set off to see how we got on. We made good progress round the point and were moving slowly past the castle, punching against the tide. Then, level with the central round tower, we stopped. We moved further offshore, we moved further inshore, it did no good. An hour later I was getting tired of that view when suddenly we started creeping forward. By the time we were clear of the castle we were doing 2kn over the ground and accelerating. From then on it was perfect sailing. A nice wind, sea as calm as the open sea ever is and the sun came out. Perfect!
A few miles short of Poole entrance we started to experience an odd slapping noise. I had heard people talking about these flat bottomed boats slapping but had never experienced it myself. While I was trying to see what combination of boat attitude and sea state was the cause I was hailed from a boat with the word GUARD down the side. It appeared that crossing my path was a seismic survey vessel, towing two cables 1.5 miles long. Could I please go round rather than across the cables? No problem, I turned onto a reciprocal course to the survey vessel. As it passed the slapping became a banging that sounded as if someone were hitting us with rubber sledge hammers. This faded away as the ship went past, then a few minutes later two yellow pods, like submarines with tall fins, went passed. We were then able to continue on to Poole entrance where, being a bit early, we had to wait for a couple of hours for the tide to turn so we could get in.
The next day started calm so we just stooged around the remoter corners of the harbour. At Gold Point I landed to stretch my legs and disturbed a herd of deer. If I had known they were there I would have stayed afloat and watched them, but they were invisible until they moved. In the afternoon the wind sprang up from the NW and we were able to sail up to the mouth of the river Frome. We then took advantage of the spring rise to help push us up the river to the boatyard. Just as dusk was falling LJ was lifted out and we headed home.
This was my second long distance trip, and the first trip where I didn't have a tight timescale. This made for a much more relaxed outing, though it didn't noticeably improve the decision making. I shouldn't have gone with the forecast as it was, and I hope I don't make that mistake again, but it is comforting to know that, in future, if we are caught out by a sudden deterioration in the weather LJ can take it.