Salcombe – Poole – Lymington – Gosport

The logistics of getting down to Salcombe where we’d left the boat was a bit of a faff. We don’t have a working outboard at the moment and the water taxi’s don’t run late in Salcombe, so as we didn’t have any way to get from the harbour to the boat, so we booked an Airbnb for the night in Totnes.

We took a train down to Totnes after work on Thursday night, and were met by a lovely woman called Pauline in her Japanese campervan. She told us about how she visited the refugee camps in Calais and brought much needed supplies before it was shut down. People now live in the woods and are much worse off, and more vulnerable than before. Having heard that and then being shown the 17th Century cottage which was our bed for the night makes you think how lucky you are.

Totnes is where all the hippies live. We perused the shop windows and had a couple of drinks in a pub before heading back for an early night.

The next morning we grabbed a taxi and headed to Salcombe. Trina did a food shop and I paid our mooring fees, the princely sum of £70.

Once on board we had to work out when we were going and what time we’d leave. We kept out destination fairly open. Either we’d get round Portland Bill and then stop off in Weymouth, or continue on perhaps to Poole or even Lymington. Either way, we had to first cross the bar at Salcombe, and then get to Portland Bill as the tide turned to carry us on our merry way. One thing I definitely didn’t want to do, was to turn up at Portland Bill whilst the tides were set going west in full flow. The planning stage is quite fun, we checked tides, tidal atlases and weather reports from xcweather, zygrib and of course the shipping forecast. A deep low was hovering around Ireland, and the shipping forecast predicted a F7 at times, but that was mainly around the Scillies. Still, we had a 20-25 knots of wind predicted blowing from the S/SW and backing SE the following day. We figured we’d need to leave at 6pm, so had lunch and tried to get a few hours sleep in before our night passage.

I’ve been meaning to get some hot water bottles for night time passages, and as we watched Project Nim recently (great documentary!) I bought two monkeys.

We got up, and got going. We’ll eat dinner on the way we thought. It was quite windy outside, and the rain was beginning to come down, a fine spray brought in by gusts of wind. We passed one guy on a swinging mooring who shouted over “Rather you than me!”. We motored past the town as the church bells rang out. Further gusts of wind were forcing their way along the river, a few reaching nearly 30knots. The lights on the shore looked inviting, and I did contemplate just picking up one of the visitors moorings and calling it a day. But we kept on going, and passed a boat coming in. I wondered if we looked like professionals heading out to sea, or just plain idiots. We decided to keep on going, and at least stick our noses out. We approached the bar and those string of lights on the shore looked more inviting than the dark clouds and seas in front. My gut was saying call it a day, nothing so far had happened so we kept on going. After we crossed the bar, the seas were steep and short. I would have loved to have seen what Excalibur looked like from shore as we rode up some of the larger waves. My nerves were flailing somewhat. We couldn’t get the main up in these seas, and going beam in the direction we wanted would have been a mistake. We had a few waves that gave me cause for concern. I could hear the propeller getting some air, and keeping Excalibur straight into the waves was becoming challenging. We agreed to keep on going, and see if once we got out into deeper water the situation would improve. All the time I was waiting for one last big wave to be the one that signaled it was time to retreat. It didn’t happen, and I was thankful the engine got us through the worst of it.

Once we got into deeper water the waves were more orderly but still boisterous, it was calm enough for Trina to get the main up. I’ve always clipped the main halyard onto the end of the boom nearest the cockpit, so when it’s time to raise the main, you unclip it, and walk it forward along the deck with one hand on the boat and one using the main halyard to steady yourself. This seemed like good practice until this evening. Trina wasn’t able to unclip the main halyard, carry a winch, and unclip her harness to clip into the jackstays all at the same time (funny that!). I’ll never forget seeing Trina swinging from the main halyard, feet off the ground, holding on like Captain Jack Sparrow as she passed in front of me whilst I was on the tiller. I grabbed her as she swung from port to starboard in the cockpit. Lesson learned. After a year of sailing together this was the first time my system caused a problem, but I think we’ll leave the buccaneering halyard swinging to Johnny Depp (or is it Matt Damon) from now on. The main halyard will stay at the mast in the future. A smooth sea never made a skilled skilled sailor don’t they say?!

With the main up, and genoa out we started sailing through the night. There were no stars, no moon, the sky was engulfed in one continuous veil of dark cloud. Excalibur was storming along. We hit an incredible 9.6 knots at one point heading round Start Point!

The mood on board was quiet. We were both fighting sea sickness. The lack of food, and the dark night which prevented us from seeing the waves probably didn’t help either. We didn’t talk much.

Trina fed the fishes. She broke her vomit record. I believe she hit 8 voms on this trip.

With both of us feeling god damn rotten, it was time to test out the Hydrovane for the first time since it was installed just over a year ago. I never thought I would end up testing it in the dark, on a night like we were having. I got the wind vane on, pointed it to the direction of where the wind was coming from, and pulled the pin out. I’ve always known the Hydrovane is a superb bit of kit, but I was very relieved to see it working immediately after pulling out the pin.

Trina headed to bed for some rest, and I threw off my Helly Hanson jacket down below. There’s something about being sea sick, you just don’t want to wear heavy clothes, eat risotto, or stick a hot water bottle down your top. I was cold but hot. Whilst hunkered down under the spray hood I heard a rumbling roar behind me, and a wave hit the stern and filled the cockpit with water up over my ankles. We’d seen phosphorescence in the water earlier, and now the cockpit had it’s own little fish tank of them. My sealskinz failed, and for an hour I sat slightly shivering, cold and unable to go down below to get a jacket.

I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of dolphins zipping around through phosphorescence. Some white birds zipped around the boat in the darkness,  playing with the wind and the waves.

Trina woke up at 3am, vommed on awakening, and we swapped over. Still rough I climbed into bed to the sound of the anchor grinding and banging away above me. We hadn’t secured the anchor down tight, so it rattled away. From below I tried to get some sleep, imagining  the noise was the life raft cradle coming loose, or we were towing a lobster pot from the bow. The noise was incredibly loud!

Our timing for Portland Bill was spot on.

Trina went to bed at 8am.

We decided we should just carry on. In any other circumstance I would have enjoyed the morning sail. The sun was out, the winds were favourable and we zipped along nicely, but my stomach felt like shit.

By 12pm-ish we were heading past Studland Bay and approaching Poole. The ebbing tide is seriously strong, and it took a while to get into Salterns Marina, which was the closest marina we could find!

Once in we replenished our energy levels with ice lollies, Sanpellegrino lemonade and mars bars.

In the evening I had a steak made of water with the tough consistency of an old boot, and had it replaced with a chicken burger. I do not recommend going to the Salterns Harbourside Hotel. The staff are friendly, but the food is awful and comparing it to a beefeater is unfair to beefeaters across the country.

Sunday

We left early, took the inner passage out of Poole and headed for Lymington. We listened to some BBC World Service podcasts, which were a bit dull.

The only thing of interest about our final leg of the weekend was the Shingles Bank at the Needles. We saw ferocious wave after wave crashing along the bank, like something out of a surfing movie. I’ve never seen anything like it before! Definitely gave you the judders!

Following weekend

The following weekend I took Excalibur from Lymington to Gosport on my own. Managed to sail pretty much all the way with just the genoa up. Had to get the marina to pull me out of my berth first off though….as the wind was blowing the boat onto the pontoon. We tried springing off the bow to get he stern out, but the wind was too strong. I didn’t fancy springing off the stern to get the bow out as I had a tight turning circle, though next time I might give it a try. In the end a member of staff pulled me out at the midship cleat with this dory which did the trick.

Me muttering away, recording a video for Oliver, who was sailing in Majorca. Worlds apart!

So now Excalibur is in Gosport. We’ve decided to take Excalibur back up to London, to St Kats.

Author: Tim Butler

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