Posted by: Ray | August 10, 2009

Cork to Falmouth, crossing the Celtic Sea to visit the Isles of Scilly. Caught on Lobster pots!!

Passage: 214M, 3 new harbours visited, Max wind F6

Crosshaven Marina, Cork, Ireland

Crosshaven Marina, Cork, Ireland

 

Noel, Ian, Audrey and myself left Crosshaven Marina, Cork, Ireland at 7 am on Sunday 9 August. I was pleased to have a balanced experienced crew with me for this long passage across the Celtic Sea to the Isles of Scilly. My friend Noel is a Yacht Master Instructor and runs Moonfleet Sailing School in Poole. It was great to have Noel join me for one leg of my cruise.

 

Crosshaven

Crosshaven

 

I completed all my RYA sail training with Noel and without his patience and help I would not have gained the confidence and experience to embark on my 2-year adventure in support of the charities. Ian and Audrey both had gained their RYA Day Skipper qualifications and had some experience of sailing.

 

 

Our 140M, 30 hour passage would closely follow that of the Fastnet Race. In fact the race was taking place at the same time we were making our passage, I was in the lead!! 🙂  Of course I did have the benefit of leaving from Ireland rather than Cowes on the Isle of Wight! 😉

It was interesting planning this passage as it raised a few issues not normally needing consideration on shorter passages across the English Channel. Mid-channel we would be 70M from shore and out of contact with the CG VHF. Unlike many other yachts I did have my Amateur Radio SSB and could make contact with some of the thousands of amateurs in the UK and world-wide who regularly use and monitor the frequencies at all times. In the past I have run RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) radio license training courses that are required to operate an amateur radio station. A few of my students were sailors who planned to sail across the Atlantic or on Ocean sailing and who wanted the longer range communication using SSB.

Weather would be a major consideration as we would would be 12 hours from a safe harbour should the weather change for the worst mid-channel. These can be dangerous waters with large seas in gale force winds as the Fastnet disaster during the 1970’s demonstrated with the loss of so many sailor’s lives. I had kept track of the Irish and Met Office forecasts throughout the week as our passage approached. The forecast looked good for our crossing with light winds from the W or SW and with moderate seas (waves up to 2.5m). The possibility of light or no winds, or the wind heading us from the SE, raised another issue. The fuel capacity of Christine-Marie would be near limit at 140M should we need to use the engine to make the passage.

The rest of the passage planning was routine. Once clear of the Irish coast there are few dangers across the Celtic Sea until we approached the Scillies, other than the Gas Wells 15M off the Irish coast and other shipping. We would need to keep a watchful eye around us throughout our passage day and night, I planned a 4-hourly 2-on / 2-off watch, with Noel and myself as watch leaders. Tides are weak and only of importance leaving Cork and on approach to the Isles of Scilly. I planned to use the NE going tide on the Irish coast on leaving Cork to push us northwards to clear the Gas Wells. I had tidal charts marked up for the duration of our passage and a pilot plan for entry to New Grimsby Sound, Tresco, to the NW of the Isles of Scilly.

During my 2-year cruise I have experienced sailing in some very strong winds up to 45Kn, rough seas, including the large swell in parts of the Irish Sea during July. Christine Marie had handled these well and I had been tested earlier on my passage with jammed and cut wind /VHF radio cables in my mast and loss of engine whilst sailing up the E coast last year. This would be the longest offshore passage I had made and I don’t mind admitting that in the weeks leading up to this passage it seemed somewhat daunting. But I had prepared thoroughly and as we left the Irish coast behind us I was relaxed and quietly confident.

Ian, Noel and Audrey relaxing leaving the Irish coast.

Ian, Noel and Audrey relaxing leaving the Irish coast.

 As we left, the latest forecasts from Irish and Met Office conflicted somewhat. Stronger F4/5 winds were forecast from the W/SW, with the possibility of them backing S or SE (heading us, not what we wanted).

But there was no wind and mist surrounded the coast as we headed out to sea on our course heading 145 degrees true under engine power with full main sail raised.

 

Would I be able to sail later in light winds using my cruising chute, and what strategy should I use to conserve fuel if necessary?

I was on watch with Audrey when at 1000 we started to feel the wind increasing, a gentle F2 from the SW. I deployed full headsail, shut off the engine and trimmed the sails. We were sailing, making 4 to 5Kn …. that would do us. 🙂 As planned, the tide pushed us north of our Rhumb line and by 1100 we sighted the gas wells to the south ahead of us. At 1400 when I handed watch over to Noel and Ian the wind was F3 and we were making good progress.

We soon lost sight of the Irish Coast and the oil wells to our stern. Visibility improved although it was an overcast day with showers and rain forecast later. All we could see was the ocean all around us and throughout the passage we did not see a single ship. Noel and Ian did have a little excitement when a Hercules aircraft approached us and circled the yacht checking us out. I guess they were on routine flights associated with the Fastnet race.

Audrey and I took the watch at 1600. By 1700 the wind was increasing F4 and had backed to the S. We reduced headsail. By 1800 Christine Marie was rounding to windward so we reefed the main, further reduced headsail and trimmed the sails close hauled to maintain our course. We were now making excellent progress under sail.

Navigation Table on Christine Marie.  Amateur Radio SSB receiver LHS, Marine VHF top.  GPS and Navtext to left of VHF.

Navigation Table on Christine Marie. ICOM Amateur Radio SSB receiver LHS, Marine DSC VHF top. Garmin GPS and Clipper Navtext to left of VHF.

Before leaving Ireland I had made contact with the Irish CG and informed them of our passage plan and estimated arrival time at Tresco. We were to report to Falmouth CG on arrival the following day. We had lost contact with both CG on VHF.

Off watch and half way to our destination I took the opportunity to make contact on amateur radio. I had loud, clear contacts with five UK amateur radio stations from position N50 deg, 57.11 min W07 deg 14.83 min.

G3VOT (George), G4LYM (John), G3ZOE (Richard), G3KTC (Ron) and G3KGM (Don) …. all gave me strong signal reports. I was transmitting 100W SSB signal on 3.757Mhz using a sloping 35 ft wire from the stern of the yacht to the top of the mast.

Audrey and I came on for our first 4-hour night watch at midnight, it would be 4 am before we could get some sleep. Not long into our watch it started to rain, the wind increased F5 at times gusting F6. We recorded speed of 7Kn through the water and at times Christine Marie would round to windward, we would soon need to reef again. When we came off watch at 4 am Audrey and I were wet, tired and ready for bed. I handed over to Noel, briefed him on the situation and retired for 4 hours. Winds increased to F5/6 and Noel put the 3rd reef in the main during his and Ian’s watch. With the strong winds we had made excellent progress and were approaching the Isles of Scilly ahead of schedule at 0900 on Monday.

The swell was increasing as we approached offshore of New Grimsby Sound, so we handed the sails and made our approach on the leading lines on engine. The swell increased on our port beam and it was difficult on the helm, I was concentrating hard to keep Christine Marie on transit through the channel, surrounded by rocks. A characteristic of the Isles of Scilly needing careful pilotage and navigation. Ahead of us, a fishing vessel was right on our approach. On the helm I made a slight course change to round his stern, the fisherman gave us a friendly wave as we passed close to him and we waved back. Concentrating on the transit approach in the fast running swell, the crew warned me of lobster pot ahead. I made a course change to successfully clear the buoy, but then we saw the line under the water. It was a long line, just under the surface, there was no way of vessels seeing it, or for us to avoid it! I slammed the engine into neutral ….. as we caught the line. We were caught on the lobster pots in a fast running swell, just outside New Grimsby Sound surrounded by rocks!

We assessed our situation, if the rope was round our prop and we cut ourselves free we might seize the engine and drift towards the rocks in the flowing tide. We had our anchor to deploy if necessary, but for now we were going nowhere, firmly attached to the pots. I called the fishing vessel, who appeared to be going away from us, on Ch 16 VHF. No reply. As a precaution, I advised Falmouth CG of our situation. They were very professional and helpful, they informed Tresco HM of our situation and stood by monitoring our position as we checked out whether the rope was caught round the prop or rudder. Whilst in communication with the CG I was informed that the fishing vessel had returned and was waiting close by to assist us if necessary. He told us to cut his line and he would give us a tow into the harbour if our prop was fouled.

I wanted to check out the situation a little before we cut free. The rudder was free, we needed to check the engine. I turned the engine off and using the stop lever to decompress the engine, turned it over in gear with the starter motor whilst Noel and Ian used the boathook to pull the rope … there was no movement, the engine was turning.

Whilst we were doing this we heard the fishing vessel in contact with the CG advising them of our situation. We heard him tell the CG that he had suggested we cut ourselves free and he would tow us in. From what he could see we were an ‘elderly crew’ who he thought were hesitant to go over the stern of the yacht to cut ourselves free!! That was the last straw at the time for all of us, especially Audrey who must be in her early 30’s. 🙂 Badly marked pots with long lines close underwater, no warning, laid very close to transit lines into a harbour …. his ears must have been burning’ ! 🙂 We later saw the funny side of it, many sailors in the harbour later mentioned that they had heard the contact with the CG. 🙂

I started the engine,clipped on my safety harness and went over the stern to cut the buoy free; we were still caught. We cut the long line returning to the pots free and brought in on board. We were free and I proceeded into New Grimsby Sound with the Fishing vessel closely following. We appreciated him coming back to stand by and assist us if necessary.

New Grimsby Sound, Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

New Grimsby Sound, Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

Safely secured to a visitor’s buoy off Tresco, we contacted the CG to advise them of our safe arrival and to thank them for monitoring our situation. We slept for the rest of the morning.

Later we inflated the tender and tried to shift the rope jammed on our rudder without success … it was jammed solid. We took the tender ashore where we visited the New Inn pub where we had a much needed shower and drink in the bar! 🙂 

Moorings New Grimsby Sound, Tresco.

Moorings New Grimsby Sound, Tresco.

 

We met the friendly harbour master, Henry Birch, who had kept in touch with our position and was ready to assist us if necessary. He gave us a discount on our moorings as we were sailing for charity, that I have donated to the charities. Back on the yacht we had a meal and retired early.

 

 

The next morning was a bright sunny day once the early morning mist had cleared. Henry, the HM, came by to say hello and we were visited by the fisherman who told us we might consider drying out alongside the harbour wall to remove the rope jammed on the rudder. Henry gave us permission to go alongside to dry out on sand that sloped towards the end of the quay.

With a fin keel I have only dried out alongside once when visiting Wells during the passage up the E coast in 2008, although I have read articles in YM and PBO about precautions to take. The main halyard should be taken ashore and secured to ensure the yacht leans inwards towards the quay, lots of fenders and watch for the yacht pitching forward or aft if the bottom slopes! Tides were right now to go alongside with a falling tide and just enough water. We could dry out, remove the rope and enjoy a walk around the island of Tresco and early evening meal ashore whilst waiting for the tide to float us off.

We had 0.5m under the keel as we came alongside the quay and made fast. We secured the halyard from the top of the mast to railings on the quay and winched it tight. As we waited for the tide to fall and ensure Christine Marie had settled on her keel, large groups of tourists started arriving on the opposite side of the quay and we were generating a lot of interest. I saw the opportunity to put out my charity banner and collection boxes. We collected a lot during our stay there as boat after boat came in with 50+ tourists coming/going from the quay! Something good often comes from adversity! 🙂

Christine Marie was soon aground and leaning nicely into the wall on her fenders. We started to relax and to chat to the many tourists and sailors who were asking us about the charities and what we were doing.

Dried out alongside Tresco Harbour Quay.

Dried out alongside Tresco Harbour Quay.

Christine Marie then started to tilt towards her stern …. we were settling down on her rudder. At an angle of 45 deg Ian took the anchor forward on the beach and jammed it behind a large rock, Noel and myself winched the chain tight to reduce pressure on the rudder. The tide went out!

It was quite spectacular. I sent photos to a few family and friends, one asked if my brakes had failed!! 🙂 A worrying time for a while.  

Lobster Pot rope jambed around Christine Marie's Rudder.

Lobster Pot rope jambed around Christine Marie's Rudder.

 

A reporter from BBC Radio 2, visiting Tresco, had seen the yacht at an angle and interviewed me on the quay. Our story might be covered on the Terry Wogan show, or on Saturday morning 15 August. We successfully removed the rope where a knot had jammed tight at the top of my rudder.

View from Island Hotel, Tresco

View from Island Hotel, Tresco

 

 

Noel and I spent the afternoon walking round the island with a cream tea at the luxurious Island Hotel with it’s stunning views across Old Grimsby Sound.

In the evening Christine Marie was afloat and we visited the New Inn for a shower and enjoyable meal. Everyone was very friendly and other sailors came up and asked if they could donate to the charities. 

Crew enjoying a meal in the New Inn, Tresco

Crew enjoying a meal in the New Inn, Tresco

 

We met Sue who was visiting from Ireland and insisted on buying the crew large drinks. Noel and I kept to soft drinks knowing we still had to get the yacht back in the dusk, fast getting dark!

Even more important, the tide was falling fast and we needed to get off if we did not want to repeat the day’s procedure at night!! Sue was lovely and gave me a big hug, we said our goodbyes and took the yacht back to the mooring for the night.

 

Crew in their bunks, I had a late night completing the passage plan to St Mary’s across the Tresco Flats at high water the following morning.

Bryher, Isles of Scilly from New Grimsby Sound.

Bryher, Isles of Scilly from New Grimsby Sound.

 

We had spent two days at Tresco, a lovely Island, with tropical shrubs and trees and stunning views, before making the short 3M passage early Wednesday on the last of the rising tide across Tresco Flats, a drying shortcut to St Mary’s with many rocks to avoid.

 

 

Tresco

Tresco

I had planned the passage carefully the night before noting all transits and shore marks, as well as plotting the passage on GPS and detailed admiralty charts. Position of dangerous rocks were noted and ringed on the charts.

In the morning we awoke to find mist surrounded the coastline, making most of the transits impossible to see. We would be dependent on our GPS, compass and depth to navigate.

Old Grimsby Sound from Tresco.

Old Grimsby Sound from Tresco.

 

 

I considered changing plan and taking the longer passage W of the Scillies, but I had prepared carefully and felt confident in navigating the short stretch of drying water. If we went hard aground there was only one way we were going, on our side!! 

 

Gardens at Island Hotel, Tresco

Gardens at Island Hotel, Tresco

 

We were not able to pick out many of the transits and used depth and GPS cross-track error to navigate across the Tresco Flats to deeper water. The depth stayed above 2m below my keel (3.6m of water), although Ian was a little concerned at times, clearly seeing the bottom in the crystal clear water around us! 🙂

St Mary's, Isles of Scilly at low water.

St Mary's, Isles of Scilly at low water.

 

 

 

By 0900 we had entered St Mary’s Port and were moored on a visitor’s buoy. We spent the day ashore visiting Hugh Town and stocking the yacht with essentials for our 64M passage to Falmouth the following morning, including 4 very large freshly made Cornish Pasties for our lunch on route! 🙂  

Beach at Porth Cressa, Hugh Town, St Marys.

Beach at Porth Cressa, Hugh Town, St Marys.

  

 

In the morning we left St Mary’s Sound early in mist, with coffee and breakfast on passage after we had navigated safely away from the rocky coast of the Isles of Scilly and set course due East towards Lizard Point and Falmouth. We would cross outside, but close to the end of a TSS (shipping channel), so a close eye was kept out for large shipping and ferries. 

Passing Lands End on passage to Falmouth.

Passing Lands End on passage to Falmouth.

 

We saw many large ships heading North ahead of us, but were soon clear of the TSS and making passage in sunshine. Around us many yachts were making the passage whilst the weather held. I could tell I was getting closer to home!! 🙂 Winds were very light on our stern and we deployed the cruising Chute for a time to get in some sailing. 

 

Arriving at Falmouth.

Arriving at Falmouth.

 

We rounded Lizard Point at 1500 and by 1815 were moored in Port Pendennis Marina, rafted alongside a racing yacht. It is Falmouth Regatta this week.

In the evening we explored Falmouth a little and searched out the station and bus stop for the crew who were departing early the following morning. My thanks to Noel, Ian and Audrey for joining me on this eventful leg of my cruise! 🙂

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