Fair stood the wind for…(insert title here)

WABI’’’ real time : alongside the quay at Port Launay. May 2019.

After Lantic bay I quickly motored into Fowey early the next morning on the flood and carried the tide all the way up to Golant where I know the shallow moorings are over a bottom of really nice sand.  My plan was to do a walk around and inspect the hull as I haven’t been able to do that, top up with water ashore and then be all ready in my jumping-off place for a very early start to begin the long passage across the channel. My passage plan was to either make for Roscoff or L.Aber-Wrach depending on what wind and tide actually did.  From Fowey both are about the same distance, around 110 miles and both have a fairly extreme cross tidal vector to deal with.  If anything Roscoff is the easier option because the tides around the north-western tip of Brittany and into the Chenal de Four can be a real problem to a small boat and even then the entrance into L.Aber-Wrach is much longer and more difficult that into Roscoff.


So, for those readers unfamiliar with the passage and it’s challenges here goes.

Distance. As I have said the distance to either port is about the same, ie about 110 sea miles. Roscoff is around 30-40 miles east of L.Aber-Wrach so the course I would be able to make on say an easterly wind would make Roscoff a tight one and L.Aber-Wrach a steady ‘easy’ reach.  

Weather. The forecast was for mainly easterly light to moderate winds but with a period of brisker south-easterlies : that could easily make Roscoff an uncomfortable beat.

My biggest problem in passage planning would be the very large spring tides that would be running across my track for the whole passage .  The tides were almost at springs and with a small boat like WABI’’’ it’s somewhat difficult to predict my passage speed well enough to calculate where I would be in terms of tides, near the French coast, when I would be most likely to be having to deal with the entrance into the Chenal de Four.  A contrary tide there would (and did) add hours of discomfort to an already long passage.   I have done the passage from the south-west coast (Falmouth) to L.Aber-Wrach in my previous boat and that was a much better offshore capable one.  Even then the passage took me some 40 hours and I was so fuzzy when I got down to the Libenter shoal off L.Aber-Wrach entrance that it took me some real time and concentration to work out the channel lights inward….even though they are actually very easy.

The seamanship problem(s) is really then staying sharp and maintaining an effective watch for that amount of time, I predicted at least 30 hours passage time and crossing first the main shipping lanes and then the potentially much busier inshore traffic lane that would the running around either way to and from the rounding of Ushant (Isle de Ouessant).  Having the tillerpilot working well was absolutely essential as it would allow me to not have to hand steer and also allow me to keep watch from the shelter of the companionway .  I find that getting into a regular routine straight away is the key to a successful solo passage and for me that means a ‘360’ look around the horizon at 20 minute intervals, an hourly look at the course/speed and waypoint bearing and around that time to get some fluids down to stay hydrated.  At first the combination of course made good and bearing/distance to waypoint isn’t so important as long as I am going down a close track to where I want to be….it really becomes critical in the last 12 hours ie the last 2 tides as it’s then that I need to be in the right place in relation to the tides.

I feel that I should say a few words about solo passage making so here goes :

First, that I’m not an expert, nor am I a hugely experienced long distance solo sailor.  This cross channel passage would be only my third solo 100+ mile trip although I do sail a lot on my own, that I would claim is one of the critical elements of my own and my boat’s preparation.  In that boat and personal preparation  I have set everything up as best I can to be done solo and I have done everything I need to do at sea on my own during shorter trips, and I am now very familiar with the boat.

Far more experienced sailors than me have written just about everything that needs to be said about solo voyaging so I can only add some personal notes and observations. For the real deal about small boat, long distance sailing go and read any of Roger Taylor’s work…he has modified a boat not much larger than WABI”’ into a genuinely capable ocean going craft and stays out there for 7 weeks a trip !

 I wouldn’t chose my own boat as a long term, long distance offshore voyaging boat because it just isn’t that : the little Liberty just doesn’t have the stability or the ‘legs’ for long passages and yes I know that even smaller and less suitable boats have been used.  Last year, as readers will be aware, I did a lot of work to find a better compromise boat, one that had greater hull speed, much higher stability and that would also do what I want in accessing the ‘thin water’ that I am in some of the time out here and in the UK.  I thought then and still believe now that I found better compromise solutions but because this boat didn’t sell when I put her on the market I couldn’t then move up a notch to a slightly more suitable boat.  I won’t go into that discussion all over again because the boat that I have got has done the job, is doing the job and is now a great boat for ‘over here’…..if a little tight on the accommodation now that my partner is sailing with me.

I have set up one genuine miniature ocean going boat as a long distance solo voyager and that of course was my Frances 26, once again I’m not going to say much about WABI’’ because I am going to be talking about her and a similarly set up boat that I saw right here in a future blog post.

I could and should make some comments about solo voyaging in very small boats because that’s essentially what I am doing all the time out here now and I am making coastal passages, sometimes challenging ones quite frequently. Brittany is a very satisfyingly challenging place to sail and I can see why Breton sailors, and fisherman have to become such good seamen.

  Just recently, during this voyage as an example, I set the boat and stores up such that I was completely independent of shoreside facilities for a 9 day ‘trip within the trip’.                That so far is the longest I have spent solo and ‘alpine’ by which I mean I am carrying everything that I need.  I could have stretched that to about 14 days without too much difficulty, my main problem then being fresh water : beyond that this boat would need a different approach in terms of stores, water and food.  The kind of sailing that I did during those 9 days was mainly coastal and inshore passages and anchoring or beaching but it does indicate that I could set up a boat of this size to at least support me for that time.  Nine or ten days at sea in a boat this size would possibly just about get me to the Atlantic islands and that is something I will be talking about in a future post.

For the passage making side then I will add a few comments about what I now regard as essential in the boat and it’s owner’s set-up and preparation.  I have divided this into a few sections and they aren’t in any order of priority so….

1.Watchkeeping.  Watchkeeping is probably the solo sailors fundamental problem because it just isn’t possible to maintain a continuous or even regular look-out beyond about 35-40 hours, at least in my experience.  I happen to know from my night  jobs as a specialist nurse that I can be decently ‘sharp’ at night and can fairly easily adapt to a quadriurnal sleeping/waking cycle.  The same experience tells me that I am reasonably ok out to about 42 hours although that’s the stage so far when I seem to get very fuzzy.  That is a problem in that the end of a solo passage is often the most demanding navigationally : that was certainly the case on both of my passages to L.Aber-Wrach.    I think now that the boat needs to be set up so that watch keeping is easy rather than hard and sheltered rather than not.  On the Frances I modified the old high engine box to a much lower one which made a comfortable seat directly under the hatch and spray hood, there I had near all-round vision and could spend a lot of time there.  On the little Liberty I find so far that the best watch-keeping position is standing in the companionway with the hatch pulled most of the way back.  That keeps my entire body in shelter and once again I have all-round visibility.  Obviously standing for long periods is tiring so one minor addition at some time will be a watch seat that I can mount in the companionway to give me a similar position. I’m not sure that a sprayhood would work on WABI’’’ due to the sprit sheeting although a small rigid cover might work well.

2.Steering/self steering. I will happily state that some form of self steering should be the first and most important addition to any solo or short handed boat.  I would go on to say that the most important ‘tools’ on the boat for this kind of minimal cruising are , first, the self steering while at sea and secondly, the anchoring gear when not sailing.  On the Frances I had the best wind vane self steering that I could buy, and it was excellent.  For this boat I have had to fit a tiller-pilot because it would be very difficult and hugely expensive to fit a wind vane.  The tiller-pilot that I have got has struggled a couple of times and that’s been mainly in very light weather but with enough wave action to knock this very light boat off course.  What I would add to this set-up if I could work it out would be a remote control so that I could alter the course from the hatch.    Alongside self-steering I must mention boat balance because I find it to be absolutely the case that the boat must be sailed in near perfect balance to allow the self steering to work.  My tiller pilot definitely could not cope with a lot of weather helm or lee helm so, once again, it’s essential that the boat is easy to balance and achieve near neutral balance under sail.  The Frances did have near-perfect natural balance with the combination of sails that I bought for her, the Liberty is a strange boat in that it’s balance changes quickly from lee helm in light weather to firm (even heavy) weather helm in brisk conditions.  Recent experiences now tell me to reef the boat in reverse order in many conditions ie reef the mizzen first….especially when reaching.  However and whatever…my experience is that self steering requires close attention to balance and that also means paying close attention to boat trim especially the fore and aft trim.

3.And I just realised that what I should be writing about in this post is my own cross-channel passage so lets leave number 3 in the list as being ‘simplicity of function’ that being that all the gear has to do it’s job and ideally as simple and directly functional as possible.  I for one have always tried to keep my sailing systems as simple as possible, an example being handed on jibs rather than roller-furling and slab-reefed main rather than in-mast…..but whatever works and works every time should get you there. The real point here is simple, functional and familiar which is to say that the skipper has to be able to do it all without really having to think about it.  With that I think it should be possible to set things up so that the more difficult jobs can be done from a good position….with the Liberty that means being in the cockpit or the hatch, with the Frances it also meant at the mast and on that boat’s excellent foredeck.

Ok.so…I didn’t intend today to start writing a long post about long distance, solo sailing so I’ll leave the next sections until it’s more relevant to talk about those subjects in the blog.

Meanwhile at sea :


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