One boat's story

The fleet? Three club members’ boats – two setting out from Plymouth (Mother Often (MoT) – and Toroa) and one from Lymington (Passim) with a total of eight crew.

Destination? St Peter Port, Guernsey

This is Toroa’s story…

The Plymouth plan was for MoT and Toroa to convene at anchor on Saturday evening (10 June) in Cawsands Bay ready for an early start on Sunday. Toroa, being single-handed, would accompany MoT for the Channel crossing. We would keep 2-hourly contact via channel 75 which worked until distance and until gremlins got into the electronics.

Playing catch up, Toroa arrived at Cawsands having started from her mooring in clear weather and heading straight into a bank of sea mist a few hundred metres from the anchorage.
The mist didn’t let up until after midday on Sunday. It was warm & windless motoring across Bigbury Bay and past Bolt Tail in less than 1 mile visibility. Fog horns were clearly audible, presumably from the military who were also out there – somewhere! Thank goodness for the reassurance of AIS.

The plan was to decide ‘go’/’no go’ – for Toroa at least – around midday, by which time we were some 5 miles south of Bolt Tail. As luck would have it, this was just the time the mist started to clear and the SW wind picked up. So ‘go’ it was, and we were fully under wind power alone after five hours on the donkey!
The west going shipping lane was quiet, and with cruising shoot aloft, MoT started to pull away. It was fine, easy going sailing, with the pleasant distraction of a pod of dolphin that visited MoT before heading to look us over as well.

Both boats eventually parted ways near the east going shipping lane, MoT having to dodge some upcoming traffic and handle communications from a slightly edgy ship’s watch-keeper, clearly audible over Channel 16.

Light faded and the wind increased for Toroa after passing the east bound lane. Concerned not to arrive at the head of the Little Russel before the turn of the tide, it was time to practice heaving-to. Success was achieved at the second attempt; a good job no one was watching. T then drifted NE at just over 1kn and the relative calm allowed for an hours-worth of sleep and r&r. Back in the cockpit, refreshed, it was still dark and the mist had come down again. Sadly the wind soon dropped so it was back to the donkey in the dark. The gentle throb accompanied a pastel and muted sunrise through the mist. Guernsey was out there somewhere and eventually deigned to appear as T reached the top of the Little Russel; quite a relief!

Toroa eventually rafted up alongside MoT at St Peter Port around 0900, 2 hours after they had arrived and we were treated to a most excellent fry-up courtesy of MoT. Happy landings!

The following 24 hours were spent relaxing on board coupled with trips ashore to wine, dine and wander. Particularly memorable was a guided visit around Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House where he spent much of his time while in exile. Fascinating and well worth the walk uphill through the town.

Passim arrived from Lymington on Tuesday morning, after a long night passage and some motor sailing if I remember right. Cause for natural celebration later in the day after the crew had rested, with aperos on board Passim and an all-crews trip into town to Da Nello, an excellent Italian restaurant.

There was little opportunity for the Plymouth chapter to over-indulge, however, as the two boats had selected a midnight departure as offering the best time to cross back over The Channel before the winds died (again).

So it was that half past midnight found Mother Often and Toroa motoring back up the Little Russel in the dark, turning to the NW as we rounded the Platte Fougere and setting a course for Plymouth. Our paths started to diverge as dawn approached, MoT heading more to the north (eventually passing by the mid-Channel buoy?) and Toroa heading for home port. The east going shipping lane was busy, though once passed there followed a brief interlude of gentle but delightful sailing … until the wind died (as predicted) and it was back to the donkey once more.

By the time land hove into sight it was mid/late afternoon. Rather than keep plugging on to Plymouth, Toroa, altered course for Salcombe, eventually dropping the hook in Starehole Bay, a delightfully sheltered anchorage outside Salcombe. Thanks to a mobile phone call with the ‘shore party’, who had been following proceedings on Marine Traffic, it became clear that MoT had reappeared, heading across Salcombe Bar not 40 minutes further ahead!

Herewith a confession.

The stay at Starehole was initially planned as a few hours break before heading out at midnight to join the newly west going current back to Plymouth. A double check showed up a significant error; the tide would not turn until early morning. Poor excuse and not surprising as it turned out that Plan A had been based on Dover rather than Plymouth/Devonport tides!

The error turned into a blessing as after an unexpected & excellent good night’s sleep. The early start was rewarded by a delightful sail under the cliffs between Bolt Head and Tail. Yes, the winds petered out again across Bigbury Bay but gentle donkeywork in an increasingly warm morning, with the autohelm doing its thing, took T past the Mew Stone and on into Plymouth.

Had Toroa stolen a march on Mother Often? There was no sign on the AIS (gremlins again?) and few boats about, yet as the picture shows, the familiar hull reappeared off the Mew Stone. Both boats had set off on Sunday within half a mile of each other and finished the same way the following Thursday. Couldn’t have done that if we’d planned it!

The trip ended with some challenging moments as Toroa’s mooring bridle had become twisted solid while we were away. Just one of those many things. It was well-sorted by the Torpoint Yacht Harbour staff and in no way took the shine off what was a very fine trip.

Postscript. As far as we know, Passim set off back to Lymington 24 hours after the Plymouth contingent had departed (minus one crew member, I believe, ‘who had business back in town’*), stopping off in Alderney overnight before crossing.

All told a highly successful club rally. All three boats arrived at the same destination as planned – not something we managed to achieve in 2022! – and returned to tell the tale.

Here’s hoping we can repeat the achievement in future years!

Morley Potter/ Toroa

* Bob Dylan. ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’

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