2020. Didn't quite go as planned.

Lazy May dayKiting into WeymouthLet's see PlymouthFun!Upper reaches of the YealmSunset over Old HarryReturn from the SolentGoosewinged past Hurst

Well I didn’t expect that!

At the end of 2019 I had a quite specific objective for 2020. Having raced in the Junior Offshore Group (JOG) on and off since 2016, most of which has been on Arcsine, I decided that I wanted to do a full JOG offshore season. Of course that would have meant trying to find another boat or boats for those times that Kathy is double handed with someone else. I had a few leads ranging from a very laid back J120 to a class winning 1969 Sagitta 35.

Obviously these plans did not include a global pandemic! And as lockdown came and eased I reconsidered. JOG was cancelled for the foreseeable (and there has been no offshore series in 2020) but it gave me the opportunity to get out on my elderly 25ft cruiser.

It had been in the council marina over winter, so once we were allowed out I had a week in the Cove, as lift ins hadn’t started yet (thank you moorings team!). This coincided with the really hot week at the end of May, so I was out in the bay 6 days out of 7. Whilst people were tombstoning off Durdle Door I was seriously socially distanced at anchor off burning cliff or in Lulworth Cove.

And pretty soon I fell back in love with my own boat. June and July didn’t see too much action due to work, but in August I spent 10 days visiting Teignmouth, Salcombe and the Yealm with my BFF Evie. Obviously, if going to Teignmouth, you take the inside passage round Portland Bill. As we approached the Bill I said to Evie “I’ll start the engine, just in case” It wouldn’t start! But conditions were perfect for sailing around it, so we carried on without problem. After changing all the filters and bleeding everything I noticed that the stop cable outer housing had jumped out of it’s restraint. D’oh!

An F4–5 northerly gave us a great passage over to Lyme Bay, where we were met by Evie’s son Ben and 2 other concerned fishermen who didn’t think it was possible for a 25ft boat to cross Lyme Bay!

The rest of the cruise was incident free, and by day 8 we were chilled enough to fix all the things that were broken. Leaky, slow punctured tender, check. Engine stop, check. Wind instrument, check. Electrical glitches, check. Internet coverage in the Yealm is (insert your own description) “poor”. By putting my 4G mifi thingy into a drybag and hoisting it on the spinny halyard I managed to provide the whole pontoon with coverage. This worked really well until I dropped it in the water bringing it down to charge it. D’oh!

The return trip from the Yealm was one of those “will it or won’t it” gambles on the wind. There was a huge hole in the wind but none of the weather models agreed where it would be or when it would get there. I decided to head off, and make the final call based on whether we were sailing at Start Point – if not we would head round to the anchorage at Hallsands. As it happened we rounded Start Point under spinnaker at about 5pm so decided to carry on. The wind died as the sun went down at about 9pm, but we had just enough diesel to make it home, so carried on. The hot and calm weather had lead to a lot of horrible orangey brown algae, which looked like pollution by day. But during our night passage back it came alive. The bow wave of the boat was glowing green with phosphorescence. That was nothing compared to the light show we had when joined by a pod of dolphins, who were more visible by night than by day, creating their own unique underwater light show. Even the squally showers we encountered were preceded by the sea lighting up green just before the rain hit us.

There’s always the “I’m home” feeling when reaching the Shambles. I tend to placate the feeling and remind myself that there’s at least an hour to go by cooking dinner, or in this case breakfast. Boiled egg on toast and a glass of Pinot Grigio that day.

I started sailing to go cruising, and somehow have ended up doing much more offshore racing than cruising. The best thing I ever did to enhance my (limited) sailing abilities was joining WSC, but I’ve always been a bit disappointed with the cruising side of the club. Offshore racing is sort of cruising but you get there faster with disastrous hair and quite a lot of broken nails! So I was out of the habit of looking at the cruising section of the website, because (to be brutally honest) a trip to Swanage or Burning Cliff is not very exciting!

But when I saw that a group was planning to go to Dartmouth for the August Bank holiday weekend I decided at the 11th hour to tag along. No crew was forthcoming, so singlehanded it was! Ray has already written the trip up, but I had a great time. First round the Bill (when your boat is as slow as mine you get going early!), before being passed first by Moonshadow carrying an obscene amount of sail, then Crystella, but a storming trip across Lyme Bay followed by a couple of days of great fun, and found what must be the best deck shoes in the world! The second night we all ate on Crystella, using up the frozen food that was keeping everything else cold. Imagine my embarrassment when, deep in conversation with Lesley, I dropped a large freezer bag full of stew onto Crystella’s carpet. I thought I’d got away with it, until I lifted the bag leaving the stew on the carpet. “Oh my god, I am so sorry, what shall we do?” I said. Quick as a flash she said “Get a spoon and put it into a saucepan, no one will ever know”. I think we came clean to Mike and Trevor after several bottles had been finished, and Ray is still speaking to me so the carpet must have survived!

The return trip was fairly boring motorsailing, and although I would probably have made the inside passage in time I decided to go 3 miles off and cut inside depending on conditions. It was flat, flat enough to go straight over the Shambles. 8M Steve Fraser, if you’re wondering.

Having said that I was always disappointed with cruising in WSC, it would be churlish not to support things when they happen. So many thanks to Ray Capp for organising some great trips, and sorry that I cottoned on so late. Possibly the final cruise of the season was proposed to be a western Solent trip – Lymington & Yarmouth over the weekend of 18th - 20th Sept. When I looked at the forcast (and having done plenty of delivery trips to race starts in the Solent) I realised that if the wind is blowing from the Needles to Anvil point there is no way my little boat would make the trip in one tide. So a Wednesday afternoon pootle round to Studland, pick up a buoy then over to the Solent on Thursday morning would work for me.

A 20 knot north easterly kicked in overnight, and Studland was quite bouncy. I wouldn’t have stayed there if there were no buoys – the thought of dragging the anchor is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. The wind angle on Thursday morning meant I could sail to SW Shingles, but would struggle to make North Head. So SW Shingles and motor up the needles channel was the choice. I’ve had better days at sea, and got to Newtown Creek at about 11.30 feeling like it was bedtime already! I felt sorry for anybody trying to do the whole trip from Weymouth in those conditions.

Meanwhile back in Weymouth the sensible decision to cancel had been made. Even Arcsine wasn’t headed up to the Solent for the JOG inshore season finale!

I had a leisurely trip from Newtown Creek over to Lymington on Friday (it’s only 6 miles, why would I even bother to get the jib out?), where I met Ray and Lesley for lunch.

Which (probably) only leaves my last singlehanded passage of the season. I really was expecting the worst – the sort of day where the tiller pilot just cant cope and you can’t leave the helm, strong wind dead behind and rolly seas. I had a day’s provisions to hand, food, drink, vape. The course to steer for each leg was taped to the bulkhead. The main was reefed before I slipped. I mean I was expecting it to be so bad I didn’t even have any wine handy!

To be fair it was a bit blustery in the Solent and apart from the reefed main I had about a third of the jib poled out as I goosewinged past Hurst. But the sea was flat! So flat that by the mid shingles buoy I’d decided to go straight over the bank. And I was getting bored! After the reef got shaken out of the main and the jib was all out I was still bored. So up went the kite! By this time I had full tide and 8 kts SOG felt good. I knew the north easterly was going to get funnelled around Durlaston Head but I was enjoying myself too much. Passing the measured mile marks after Anvil I was hitting 10.5 kts, which may not be a grand surprise to some but in an elderly fat bottomed small cruiser is exhilarating! Obviously I was a tad overpowered, and getting the kite down on your own can be a challenge. Fortunately I used the “rope burn and dump it in the sea” method. I just hope that the NCI at St Albans didn’t video it, and that nobody ever hears about it!

As I rounded St Albans the range safety boat spoiled my fun. The asked me to head south because this was one of the 6 weekends per year they fired. And as expected as soon as I got to the 50 34 line they announced firing for the day was finished. D’oh. The wind had dropped and the kite went back up. At least it’s dry – but by the time I got to the cruise ships the iron sail had to be deployed whilst I cleared everything up. So glad I went, so glad I got back in time to race on the Sunday!

So my plan for a season of offshore racing morphed into just under 600 miles of day sails and cruising. I’ve spent about a month on board, met some lovely people and had some great times. I guess every Covid cloud has a silver lining!

Andrea xx

Submitted on Sunday, 27th September