The final stages of our Brittanny cruise last year was the short passage from Jersey to Guernsey in very poor visibility, the long cross channel passage from Guernsey St Peter Port to Salcombe and the coastal hop from Salcombe back to Plymouth. For this section I had been watching the weather carefully as i fully realise that the little Liberty isn’t a true offshore boat and that we would suffer if we had a tough passage . There seemed to be a brief weather window with the wind mainly westerly and ‘ok’ but with a trend to go more northerly so i decided to leave early and take the best window available : it did also look as though we would have to miss out on cruising the smaller islands of Herm and Sark.
It was actually a nice start from St Peter Port with a gentle run down the Roussel and then turning onto a fetch to start the long leg straight across towards Salcombe, in fact light enough that we motor-sailed for a couple of hours.When the wind did fill in it was more northerly and the fetch tightenned a bit : ok at first but even then the larger offshore boats coming past us were just marching by compared to the times i can pace them downwind. I knew that my navigational strategy must be to try and arrive slightly uptide and upwind of my destination so i tried to stay ‘high’ of my course When a strong spring ebb kicked in things became rapidly more and more uncomfortable with a short chop over a larger swell which the boat just didn’t like although the ebb did allow me to gain some extra windward offing . To maximise progress we didn’t slow the boat but rather reefed in the increasing breeze and used the motor to keep up maximum hull speed over the waves. The boat did then slam quite a bit and throw spray aft. It just got worse and worse until the tide turned but then with another wind shift and the new flood we couldn’t lay the course into Salcombe and hours later made landfall somewhere down near start point but with a very strong foul tide against us and only being able to make 1 or 2 knots over the ground so eventually i sent my partner below feeling very rough by then and motored flat-out with only the reefed mizzen sheeted in hard and with me standing in the companionway for shelter. It seemed hours later when i picked up the salcombe bar light and went in on that but some 4 or 5 hours later than our earlier ETA and i must say cold and tired….even i succumbed to the dry heaves but only after we were in the river.
In the river i called my partner back up and we groped around until we found an empty but very large looking mooring, secured to that, had something warm and then collapsed in a heap below until we were woken a few hours later by a very genial kiwi harbour-master who was highly amused that we had tied up the largest mooring in the harbour. Very kindly he didn’t charge us at all especially when i told him that we would be leaving as soon as we had our breakfast. Once again it was a nice start out of the river and a beat along the coast mainly on one tack but ending up dead to windward against an awkward chop and so somewhere near the mewstone i gave up on slamming to windward and used the same motoring tactic using the reefed mizzen to steer the boat. The final sting in the tail within Plymouth sound was the harbour-masters launch who stopped us from going up to the town : i was going to tie-up for a while but declared that the whole of the sound was essentially closed due to an airshow but did relent and allow us to cross the sound dead upwind to the bridge and so enter the river. It was that kind of trip that wherever i turned from then on the wind just followed me resolutely dead to windward until we got into the shelter of sandacre bay where it just stopped as though a switch had been thrown.