Stirred But Not Shaken

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 16 Sep 2011 02:51

Carol and Jon returned as planned from N Ireland on Wednesday 7th to rejoin Arnamentia in Plymouth.  Bob had worked tirelessly with a couple of agencies to get the VHF radio sorted and Andy Anderson joined us as planned on the morning of Thursday 8th.  Carol’s sister, brother-in-law and niece (Pen, John and Alys respectively) drove down from Pembrokeshire to see us off and we all we all hooked up for lunch with Andy and Fiona Bristow who were aboard their yacht, Atlantis, in Plymouth harbour whilst Andy was on a quick break from the joys of Kabul.  

The weather was fine and sunny, wind SW Force 4 but the forecast was distinctly unusual.  We hauled down a large number of GRIB files (detailed diagrams showing anticipated wind directions and strengths).  The picture was clearly that over the next few days life was going to get pretty exciting in the English Channel but that the Bay of Biscay was to become a haven of serenity.  Andy Bristow and Jon discussed this pretty counter-intuitive situation over lunch and came to the conclusion that this was as good as it gets and that crossing the Bay should be a doddle. It ought to be recorded (so, it is) that Peter Bruce’s clear advice by e-mail was that, as far as sailing was concerned, the next few days represented an excellent opportunity to catch up with land-based friends or see those films you’d always meant to see.  But, honestly, what would he know?  So, off we set, despite the minor irritation that, although the VHF radio and antenna had been replaced, the cockpit VHF handset was still faulty.  

The wind was SW Force 4 or 5 to begin with.  Then it backed to S and gradually eased.  By lunchtime on Friday we were rounding Ushant, the wind had died away to Force 1 or 2 and visibility was poor.  We can’t be more precise about wind speed since the B&G anemometer, having been thoroughly serviced prior to departure, decided to pack up in the early hours of Friday morning.  By 1830 the wind had backed to SE and freshened to Force 5 and then 6 - enough to spill the gin and call for a reef.  We had a lively beam reach for the rest of that night in what is absolutely Arnamentia’s weather.  But, enjoyable as it was, this wasn’t really part of the script.

As Saturday morning dawned, we were about 150 NM SW of Brest and a couple of things became apparent.  First, we’d lost a liferaft in the boisterous seas of the previous night.  For complex reasons, we had been carrying two liferafts and had had to re-site our 4 man raft from its stowage forward of the companionway to a bracket on the pushpit.  It had been secured with the standard lashing straps in the normal way in which such straps are rigged.  The loss of the raft was a rather expensive way of re-learning the lesson that no amount of sales blather will prevent what looks like an unseamanlike lash up from being one.   

The second problem was that the French meteorological authorities reported on Navtex that Hurricane Katia had decided to go ‘extra-tropical’ and embark on rather more of a walk-about than had been expected.  The previously predicted S Force 2 in Biscay was now to be replaced by a SW gale Force 8 or severe gale Force 9.  We apparently had until sometime that evening to do whatever we were going to do about it.  That couldn’t involve making for a safe port – Brest was the nearest and there was no hope of making that in time.  Confidence in predictions having been severely dented, we decided to go the whole hog in preparing for the windy stuff.  The roller headsail was removed completely and the mainsail was dropped and stowed inside its cover, with plenty of sail ties around it all.  The boom was browsed down to the deck.  The storm jib was hoisted on the inner forestay and the trysail on the mast.  The gale duly arrived that evening and we beat into it for the next 24 hours or so.  We’d probably overdone the preparations a bit but weren’t sorry about that.  Mainly we dealt with Force 8 winds and the associated gusts of Force 9 or so. The waves were fairly large and the sea very confused.  So, life aboard was pretty uncomfortable as we rocked, rolled and slammed our way to windward.  Mostly we relied on the Raymarine autopilot.  Obviously it wasn’t particularly clever at looking ahead at waves and weaving up and over them as you ought.  So, we shipped a bit of water and slammed more than we might have done.  But, it did a lot better than a tired helmsman would have managed.  

Around midnight on Sunday the wind eased to a very manageable Force 4-5.  Monday dawned clear and bright and we put up some decent sized sails.  A secondary low pressure system and associated trough passed through on Monday afternoon, serving up a series of squalls.  But it was pretty much business as usual and thoroughly enjoyable sailing along the stunning coastline of northern Spain.  By early evening all that had passed and we arrived in La Coruna at 2050 to berth in the Marina Real close to the town centre where we could rest, repair and recuperate whilst drying the boat and ourselves out.

Yeah, yeah, we know we said we were going for Bayona originally.  But, that plan had been blown away somewhere mid Biscay.   But, hey, we’ve sharpened up our heavy weather procedures and our confidence in Arnamentia’s ability to take the tough stuff in her stride has been further boosted.  Were she a horse, you’d certainly describe her as honest.