I woke up at 3:30am, why does every departure have to start at such an unsociable hour!
Early morning tasks include eating 4 wheetabix, yoghurt and making a cuppa tea with generous helpings of sugar. Over a cup of tea I quickly check on the weather forecast, thankfully no hurricanes are forecasted. The forecast was for wind and rain later, but hopefully I’d be in Brighton before then. Then I start to layer up on clothes, no thermals required, but baselayers, a decent jumper and waterproofs were my main weapon of choice. I then tidied the boat up, I like to see everything cleared away to minimise projectile objects flying around. Instruments and lights are switched on. Prepared tea and snacks are loaded into the cockpit lockers. Handheld vhf is switched on and clipped onto one of my pockets. I also carry a rescue knife and a PLB (Personal Life Beacon) that I can activate should I get in trouble to alert the coastguards. Finally all hatches are closed, bilges checked, quick engine check after starting her up. Interior lights switched to red, predator mode. Washboards in. Chartplotter and instruments dimmed and set to night mode. Lastly nav lights on, oh but wait, we don’t have working navigation light on the bow…I quickly replaced a blown fuse and still it didn’t work. I put the mast tri-light on instead. Technically this is not allowed as I would be motor sailing, but with only an hour before sunrise I decided to take the chance.
The marina was devoid of wind so I decided I would get the main up whilst still moored up and put a third reef in. I wanted to stress the boat out as little as possible, but still have enough sail up to add a bit of stability once I got out there.
My aim was to leave at 4am, but in reality I slipped the lines at 5am. I have no idea where the time went as I’m sure I awoke at 3:30am!
It was still dark as I came out of Fecamp. I got a bit cocky and tried to set up Alfred the autopilot up a bit too soon, and at one point set a direct course for the breakwater when coming out.
Once clear I set Alfred on his course. Had a scan around and then hunkered down and wedged myself under the sprayhood.
Before long I could start to make out the difference between sea and sky as dawn was on its way. I saw a really dark squally looking cloud in front that moved straight across my bow about a mile off.
There was really not much to do for a good few hours. I had a routine of taking 5 minute naps, getting up, looking around and then resetting my alarm clock for another snooze.
By 12 O’clock I came to the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme). The TSS is much wider than the one between Dover and Calais, each lane is about 5 miles wide. My AIS showed 5 vessels all evenly spaced out spanning the entire width of the lane. I decided my tactic would be to just keep at a right angle as required and potter along and hope the cargo ships would alter course accordingly. The spaces between the vessels on the chartplotter looked close together but in reality they were at least a mile apart. My tactic may sound like a suicidal break for freedom, but if it was obvious I was getting too close I would just change course and head in the direction of the traffic.
I crossed the first lane and once into no mans land I got phone reception and called home to say hi. Unfortunately it had transpired that I had not turned my AIS transmitter on, so as my folks were unable to contact me they decided the wisest thing to do was to contact Falmouth Coastguards, a momentary wave of anger came over me, and soon disappeared. Apparently Falmouth Coastguards were all to happy to have a quick look on their systems, and reported back to my folks that I was doing well and just crossing the TSS, I’m still not sure how they knew this if my AIS transmitter was switched off, but no rescue helicopters were dispatched, or Navy warships so no harm was done.
Taking down the courtesy french flag had to be abandoned, the cord had got wrapped around the flag and my bread knife gaffa taped to a pole attempt failed miserably.
Crossing the second TSS lane was a repeat of the first, all the tankers etc were all lined up and I just headed straight out and comfortably missed each one by an acceptable distance without causing any havoc along the way.
From there on I could see the coastline which was really satisfying, home!
My fuel gauge stopped working at the beginning of the journey, and as I don’t know the size of my fuel tank I make a point of refueling every 10 hours of motoring. Once clear of the TSS is was time to refill. Refilling Excalibur involves taking a 20 liter jerry can down the starboard side of the boat, which is cumbersome and awkward. Adding to the fun of the task I have to use a pair of pliers to open the fuel cap. The fuel cap isn’t secured by a chain, so the fuel cap becomes an extremely invaluable item once I’ve removed it. Heeling over, I’m always worried that a wave is going to drench me and fill the fuel tank with something other than diesel too. Heeled over on the leeward side I successfully topped her up without incident. I guess I could have gone downwind to avoid filling the diesel tanks with sea water, but I was eager to keep going and in reflection wasn’t perhaps the wisest of choices.
The wind started to pick up as I started to close in on Brighton, and it seemed having 3 reefs in the main and little under half of the genoa out was a nice little setup given the weather.
Until now the waves were nothing to look at, but I was surprised to see them building in size. The waves weren’t exactly Atlantic crossing size, but sizable by my standards. They rolled in, Excalibur took them on her port side, the toe rail on leeward side would dip under the water. If the rigging could just keep up that would be lovely. The wind was putting stress on the affected side of the boat, but I was so close now to Brighton I made a mental note it wasn’t going to break now, not this close to Brighton!
I eventually arrived just outside Brighton marina. Arthur kept Excalibur into the wind whilst I took down the sails, this inevitably made for a roly poly experience. I’ve never had a pleasant experience coming into Brighton, but with the wind coming from the west I knew as soon as I got into the shelter of the western breakwater I’d be in seventh heaven.
I let a boat go in first and watched his path as they negotiated tide and waves. They appeared to me to drift too far to the right. I decided to take a more suicidal looking approach and headed straight for the western tip of the breakwater to counter the easterly flowing tide. Once past the wall that extends out, you’re immediately protected from westerly winds, so it’s a very surreal experience battling with the elements to suddenly find yourself in flat calm water, the contrast from struggle to serene is immediate.
Once in I did my usual and setup fenders on both sides, warps as well. There were a few people watching, but I was now feeling pretty confident in handling Excalibur, there was acres of room. It was surprisingly windy in the marina and after a long day I really didn’t want to cockup at the last hurdle. Patrick and Liz had kindly offered their berth to save me a few ££’s so I took Excalibur around to the berth, the berth was occupied so back I went to the first visitors pontoon you come to when entering the marina.
Well I expected to moor up looking like a boss, the wind was going to blow me onto the pontoon and everyone watching would give me a respectful nod. That didn’t happen. I came at the pontoon at too much of an angle, so the wind blew my nose around and smacked the pontoon with my bow. I can only imagine people around me were bemused at my apparent head on ramming tactic. I backed off and a couple of guys asked if I needed a hand, which I gladly said yes to. As Excalibur is a long keel and hates going astern I had to circle around in a manner which must have appeared as if I was heading back out to sea!
As I came around on my second attempt I was parallel but nowhere near the pontoon. If my pathetic attempt wasn’t humiliation enough the engine cut out. At the same time the guy waiting to take my warps shouted out “I think I know why your eng..” I lobbed my perfectly coiled warp at him, which was probably the best throw I’ve ever done. Next was the midship line, which was again probably the best throw I’ve ever done…again. The guys pulled me in, and once tied up it became apparent my bow line was no longer flaked nicely along the guardrail, and was instead nicely coiled tightly around my prop. Skills. After all the commotion I did the honest thing and thanked the guys for saving my bacon with a bottle of wine.
There’s nothing better than being moored up on a filthy night, lying in bed as the torrential rain lashes down and the wind howls. All of a sudden there was a BANG! One bang and I’ll check it out tomorrow, then there was a second BANG. Someone was hitting my anchor! I donned on a jumper and went out into the pouring rain to see a couple of French guys mooring up in front of me (in the process bumping Excalibur a couple of times), saturated they had just arrived from Treport on a wet and windy night. Rather them than me, it was horrible in the marina, I can’t imagine what it was like out at sea!
Anyway no damage was done so I turned in.
Trip Stats Miles: 67 Total Miles: 536