Bridport or Bust

Why you may ask? Well, why not!

We have sailed every week since we were allowed out this season, but mainly round the bay. I've lost count of the trips into Lulworth, Chapmans pool, round the liners etc.. They have all been pleasurable especially with visits from the local dolphins, and have given much radio practice talking to the "Range Patrol". However, we just wanted to go somewhere else for a change. With a very small window of time available, the options were limited. A few weeks back we did the "round the Shambles" navigation exercise with great success. We debated doing the same again since the tide times were agreeable, but the lure of "Rounding the Bill" was calling.... so more of a navigational exercise than a voyage, we set sail for Bridport.

The "we" comprised myself as skipper and proud owner of "Winter's Maid", a slightly older, well used, but much loved boat built in 1974. A Van der Stadt Trintella 29. Not the fastest by any means at nearly 5 tons for her length, but very seaworthy. My daughter Elizabeth completed the crew.

We dropped our Weymouth Sailing Club moorings late morning, and with a westerly wind, a nice reach down the east side of the bill was experienced. A little "shifty" due to the land and steep cliffs, but being used to dinghy sailing on an inland lake, a 30 degree shift is nothing.

We expected to have to motor through the inshore passage as the wind would be on the nose, but as we were very slightly early for the tide change, we put in a couple of short tacks to keep close in to the Bill. This used the time perfectly and we were able to pass through the inshore passage close hauled and no engine. We found this most satisfying as after all we have a sailing boat not a motor boat!

With the Bill retreating in to the distance we continued across West Bay with the Chesil Beach creeping slowly nearer until our arrival at Bridport.

As mentioned earlier, we were short of time, so a quick motor into the harbour, some snaps to record the event whilst doing a u-turn and heading back out again. There's not a lot of depth in the harbour at low water, and as we didn't want to have to arrange a deeper water berth for just a flying visit, we anchored just outside, off the beach for a meal as the sun began to set over the harbour.

It has become a habit to chuck the fishing line over the side when anchored... and on this occasion reeled in about a dozen decent sized fish. We're sailor not fishermen so I can't tell you what they were, other than the fact that they were dinner fish!

As with many things the time passes quicker than planned, so with the excitement of catching dinner, we needed to weigh anchor, and prepare food underway. So whilst I sailed the boat on a course for 3 mile south of the Bill, my daughter gutted and filleted fish, then proceeded to cook and serve dinner. Very good it was too! So was the huge orange moon that crept up from behind Weymouth.

The miles dropped away quicker and quick as the tide turned in our favour and the wind strength rose steadily. Now with a good F4 and rising, that had swung round to the NNE, and the third hour of the tide we were, for an old sailing boat, "motoring" along.

The Portland Bill light house flashing away was soon on our beam as we turned to head up the south side of the Shambles. The distinctive light sequences of the west and east cardinal bouys made it feel like we were reading out of a text book. Now although the wind was by now into the NE and we were close hauled, the strong tidal currents pushed us up wind very nicely. 9.5 knots was seen on our basic GPS.... not bad for a boat with a theoretical max hull speed of 7 knots!

The downside of the good tide effect was of course we now had wind against tide conditions and the waves began to rise up in front of us. After tacking to start passing up the east end of the Shambles we were met with some fairly large seas. Much care needed as in the dark, the waves aren't so visible until you hear them approaching... then as the bow points at the moon the black hole after the crest of the wave is seen, before we plunge down into the depths again! Pretty exciting stuff, with the dark giving that extra menacing touch!

With the Shambles east bouy behind us, we now headed to Portland harbour were we planned to anchor for the remaining hours of the night.

There are always lessons to be learned: having been on top of tidal vectors, headings and tracks over the ground etc. we were on the home straight... the red and green lights of the North Ship Channel in sight, I started to ignore the compass and steer for the entrance. All seemed well until suddenly with no warning the NSC lights went out! Quite a surprise... yes it looked like a large ship had moved into our path... but with no lights at all, really? Well it looks like a ship in the gloom... wait a minute that's the fort on the east entrance not a ship! Of course the more experienced of you will know that having started a visual approach to the NSC, no allowance was made for the tidal set to port, so we had been following a curved arc towards the entrance not a straight line... when the "lights went out" they were in fact just obscured by the fort.

Once we were not sure, we had tacked to starboard for safety, so in a few minutes the NSC lights came back into view and we were able to get back on course. The view through the east entrance was a mass of very bright lights, lighting up the water in the harbour, but spoiling your night vision, so everywhere else looked really black. So we decided to head for the lights and go in the east entrance for a change. Once inside the harbour the water was flat and we sped across to Castle Cove at great speed. Looking out for the mooring bouys, we found a spot to drop the hook at 3am.

0305 sleeping like logs!

With fresh (pretty fresh) fish for breakfast we then had an uneventful short passage round the corner to our mooring in Weymouth harbour.

Submitted on Friday, 18th September