May the wind be always at your back
Mad we were !
After some pages of what Brian styled ‘nancying about’
the appointed weekend drew near. The weather didn’t offer good conditions on the Saturday and we thought of an alternative plan involving camping on the South Coast, cream teas in Dorset, that sort of thing…
Paul and I blasted from Portsmouth to Yarmouth on Merlin in 25 minutes
, fuelled up, noted the brisk south-westerlies (forecast F5) and met Crew Voodoo and Team Just Looking. We got our jaws around a few sandwiches while we waited for Cruise Captain Pete 7. (Note: Pete is getting used to the idea that as a newly married family man he will never be on time for anything ever again.) Old Spice stormed into Yarmouth, flung a few gallons of diesel-flavoured spray over innocent ferry passengers and topped up the tanks. We compared passage planning (for us : Yarmouth; Needles;heading 210 ish to Alderney and go round the back of the big steamers) and decided we would check at the Needles and slightly beyond whether the trip was feasible. Having endured a few long wet slogs to & from Alderney in the past I put on the drysuit and helmet and settled in to helm the first half.
Hurst narrows was choppy but wind was with tide so the Needles area was quite manageable. We anticipated the full SW wind to hit us and give an idea of true conditions beyond the Needles. However, once out there (@ 10.30 a.m.) the other three boats were delivering enthusiastic thumbs up and my personal mirage of cream teas in a pleasant rose-swathed Dorset caff vanished as we knuckled down for the hammering ahead.
That’s an excellent video-clip ‘Just Looking’ but it certainly was shot in a calmer period! Hours of hard work followed as every wave had to be dealt with and the GPS was miserly with the distance covered. Take your eye off the ball for a second and the punishment was immediate! A painful landing in one of the holes following the peaks or a bucketful of cold water over the top!. Every so often we all held up to regroup in formation and it certainly was immensely reassuring to be in the company of the other three boats.
For those who have asked about the boats :It is reasonably well-documented that Pete’s Pac will tractor on through anything! The Ballistic lads (typical windsurfers) seemed to revel in the air-time and courteously never referred to the fact that their boat would have been able for a faster speed (& more comfortable no doubt at times.) All you RIBcraft 585 owners out there will be happy to know that Steve didn’t hold back and his propeller was a frequent sight as that sturdy RIB tackled the conditions with aplomb. OK occasionally I personally regretted ever surfacing from under the duvet that Saturday but as we pushed on through we were impressed with Merlin’s performance also. Our Solent dealt with the waves beautifully and although she does enjoy a speedy blast on chop, seemed to relish storming on through these heavier seas. I kept the engine almost on the transom and Merlin felt enormously stable and capable despite being only 6.5m. The most alarming sight was when Old Spice became fully airborne on a few occasions! All in all I was very glad to be on a RIB and fully endorse their reputation as ‘landrovers of the seas’.
We made half way and with huge relief I handed over the helm to Paul. It was physically tiring (note to mental self; a few previous gym visits wouldn’t have gone amiss! Or even several hours on a pogo stick as helpfully suggested by tcwozere!!!!
) A brief stop and a drink of coffee was welcome although we didn’t dare approach each other as the waves threw us around. Gunmetal skies lay ahead but occasionally sun broke through (serving only to highlight the extra trouble in the waves in front). The wind occasionally gusted even stronger but there was no turning back now. We had an emergency stop as we travelled over a floating rope but the prop was clear so we pressed on. The miles counted down painfully slowly but the team seemed remarkably cheerful and the boats didn’t miss a beat. We were averaging 11-12 knots and as a dark line on the horizon finally announced Alderney, we had to keep the speed on to avoid the eternal shame of being overtaken by a yacht!
As navigator in the second half, I kept myself amused by noting which big boys in the shipping lane might speak English in case we needed to ‘phone them. I dismissed the great orange hulk ‘Grimaldi Lines’ (as it’s probably owned by the gArfish) and recalled one of Whiteshoes cross channel runs which involved an engine breakdown, boarding a Chinese ship who offered to take him to Holland, politely refusing the offer then phoning the French coastguard and paying a fortune for their help by taking them all out to dinner that evening etc. It could only happen to ‘Shooz….couldn’t it? To be honest even the best of you planners out there wouldn’t automatically think of taking lessons in Chinese before going to Alderney but it’s a true story!!!!
Dehydration, muscle fatigue and general delight at seeing Alderney emerge from the rock & roll seas meant we headed for Braye Harbour in a slightly delirious state. Just for good measure the wind had swung round to the west for the previous few miles to ensure it had a clear swing at us.
And it wasn’t all over yet as the Swinge (one of the vicious guard dogs of Alderney along with the moody Alderney Race) unleashed herds of white horses to broadside us as we pressed on towards the distinctive harbour wall. The sea pasted us every inch of the way until we finally turned (nearing 4.00 pm) into the relative shelter of Braye Harbour and the familiar yellow cans. A single herring gull swooped in welcome.
The pink champagne was popped to celebrate the bravery and cheerfulness of first timers Vivienne and the crew of VooDoo and Just Looking. As usual the more paperwork you carry (up to and including your 25m swimming certs and various school reports) sod’s law dictates no-one ever asks for it. Customs were in the pub like any other sensible person on the day. Nautibuoy rang and checked on us, promising to update RIBnet & Solent Coastguard (thank you) & we had encouraging texts from Robin et al.
Despite having all the camping gear on board, we decided to search for B&Bs for Pete, Viv and ourselves. The others had booked in advance which was a good call on a windy, rainy day. By some miracle of good fortune I asked a carpet (and Interiors and general Household) man with a big van for the number of the local taxi. He took pity on us and loaded bags, myself & John on board and drove us round to all the B&Bs until we found the extra rooms. (Beware-it is mentioned on this thread way back somewhere they tend to charge PER PERSON in many of the Inns and they’re not generally cheap). As seriously tempting as it is, the new hotel in Braye Beach is far too expensive. (Note :However the manager says watch for deals e.g. free flights included in their leisure breaks advertised in South Coast press. At least you could arrive not feeling like you’ve gone ten rounds with Muhammed Ali. They were very polite and gave me two free plasters for my throttle hand).
Accommodation sorted, Roger the Van Man from heaven then drove us back to the port for the rest of the crew and then delivered each of us to the door of our hostelries. Thank you Sir Lancelot of Alderney whoever you are!!!!
Dinner at eight at the Belle Vue was a chance to laugh at each other for our madness and Pete and ourselves couldn’t keep up the pretence for long that it was just a regular trip for us. Some newbie Ribsters had morphed into old sea-salts in a day and we immediately upgraded everyone to Yachtmaster and Coastal Skipper and everything else we could think of. No-one had collected Brian’s phone number before we left and little did we realize that he spent the evening searching every Inn and restaurant on the island looking for us. (Note: In Ireland this type of Thorough Search is commonly referred to as a Pub Crawl
Bed was never so good. Sunday dawned. Luckily the Full English is a brekkie staple on Alderney. A pain au chocolat just wouldn’t have got us out of bed. The sun shone, winds looked lighter and we made ready for departure. A cursory glance in the Estate Agents’ windows meant we were actually considering becoming residents rather than face the return trip. Brian had tracked us down and told us Alderney tales over coffee (make that sugar with a splash of coffee for Brian!) in Braye. Alderney has a unique beauty. A tiny island that feels bigger than its boots in a way. The legal system under the Bailiwick of Guernsey is fascinating as are the healthcare advantages and of course taxes. It is pretty and brave and unspoilt, a place where you can carry all sorts of weapons but mobile phones can get you in trouble! It must be interesting to live in such a small community Brian and imperative to get on with the neighbours as it’s a bit hard to get away from them! People were immensely friendly and the scenery is magical. We set off in good spirits, all regretting we hadn’t taken an extra day for the trip so we could have chilled out & annoyed the natives a bit.
Phil insisted that one of his windsurfing mates had phoned to say he was rigging up a 4metre sail on Wittering because of a savage North Easterly but we soon realized he just wanted to enjoy the look on our faces! Off we set, the wind at our backs to roll back throttle-free on a lovely soft following sea. Logically we were all from the Eastern Solent so the shortest route back was chosen (straight for St. Catherine’s Point and round to Sandown). The mid channel stop was an altogether more civilized affair and we were just admiring St. Catherine lighthouse and the rocky southern face of the Isle of Wight when we gradually realized that Pete 7 was trying to drown his new bride in diesel (‘Channel No. 7’) and then seawater before tying one of his own ropes around the prop to see what would happen. Paul boarded Old Spice as spanner man while Pete nonchalantly changed his prop as if it were a daily occurrence.
We headed for Portsmouth having waved off the intrepid crews of VooDoo & Just Looking and swanned in past QHM just in front of the St Malo ferry which had been a friendly shape on the horizon all day. Just before we entered the harbour another herring gull swooped by us as if in acknowledgement of a successful trip. A few jobs remained (helping Steve land at the Camber, thank you Nauti!) before we headed home.
(We attempted some video work but the only clip we probably have is when we discovered Pete 7 had his trousers neatly tied with boat rope, proudly announcing it was in a reef knot. Vivienne has not yet confirmed that he fastens his PJs in the same manner but she did manage to say that she can’t open reef knots. I know just the book for you Viv.)
Lulworth Cove wasn’t a bad idea last weekend either. And to all skippers who stayed on the pontoon, well that was a smart decision too. But all in all fellow ribsters we had an excellent adventure. Nice one Cap’n Pete! A tale to be repeated at the Churchillian all winter!!! Thanks for the excellent company all.
Kathleen & Paul
(planning a weekend in Dorset soon