A 5am alarm call… on a Sunday!!!
…and a check of the forecast…
…this has us thinking seriously about moving at all. The 24 hour inshore forecast is suggesting S or SW 4 or 5 occasionally 6 later. That bit is OK and should see us in Poole quite nicely before anything heavier but…the outlook for the following 24 hours is now suggesting that ex hurricane Ophelia may make her presence felt with gales suggested. Our concern is that things change quite quickly and sometimes the forecast winds arrive sooner than expected. A review of the options….stay put in Dartmouth, although this would be wasting the opportunity for a good 12 hours of easting, or head out with some bolt holes available. Lyme Bay has nothing to offer by way of shelter, but once round Portland Bill, Weymouth is a good safe harbour in a blow and Poole itself is also good. Both are down wind to ease any pressure on us and the gear.
In the end, with enough alternatives should the forecast change, we decide to go. We head out down a dark river with the ebb under us, scanning the gloom for moored boats and for the comfort of the Check Stone and Castle Ledge buoys and the ease of open water at night. With a cautious reef in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa we spot the southerly cardinal marks taking us safely round (yet another) Mewstone and the charmingly titled Shag rock…great birds. After that it’s 80o for the next 8 hours or so to Portland Bill. The tidal lift east stays with us slightly longer than we expected and we are averaging well over 6 knots over the ground. Out across Lyme Bay and the land quickly disappears into the lightening haze. The sea is quite lumpy and this increases and shortens as the tide turns against us and the wind. The autohelm is working hard and we once more think about the benefits of installing wind-vane steering. We opt to run a loose watch system and take turns to catch up on some sleep.
The morning trundles on with Heydays scudding through and sometimes surfing down the front of waves. We disturb a flock of gannets who were spending a peaceful Sunday morning bobbing around until we came along. We pass a couple of cargo boats anchored but other than that not another soul although, presumably, plenty of sole…apologies.
We are around 6 miles from the Bill when we suddenly see the unmistakable dorsal fin and once more we are joined, all too briefly, by a pod of common dolphins.
It really does lift the spirits (not that we were down) to have these wonderful creatures for company. As if encouraged by them, the sun comes out (albeit in a watery kind of way) and we finally get sight of the Bill itself. We feel like we have entered the final countdown now with only St Aldhelms Head and Anvil Point left before home. We round the Bill just on slack water with Heydays still making around 5kt despite some easing of the wind.
With the Bill comes some data connectivity and a forecast update. Ophelia is tracking slightly further east and while Ireland will bear the brunt, Portland and Wight both have gales forecast over the next 24 hours. There is no need to run for Weymouth, but thoughts turn to our final leg from Poole to Lymington. A quick calculation and with a favourable tide east for the next 6 hours and a decent wind, we can make the tide gate at Hurst Narrows before it turns foul at 8.30pm. The lure of our home port ahead of the final sting of Ophelia is attractive and we encourage Heydays with a bit of engine to support a slackening wind which is now just around F3. Oddly it comes round to the SE and this was definitely in no forecast we have seen…
With connectivity comes the curse of knowing what else is happening…Yee Tak has taken Chris to see Saints against Newcastle and James’ phone pings irritatingly (can’t bring myself to turn it off…) as Newcastle score. Heydays is now creaming along at 7 or 8 kts through the water and with a favourable tide we pass St Aldhelms and Anvil Point with indecent haste.
Another ping and Saints are level….followed by another ping within the minute and the ‘Toon army are back in front…. The point of sailing is to get away from the anxiety…as they say, it’s the hope that gets you. Once more we are surrounded by haze and we see no sign of the Isle of Wight or Bournemouth as we cross the Dolphin Sands at speed. A final ping settles matters and Saints get a draw…at least Chris saw a good game for her first ever time at a premier league match. Yee Tak is spitting with frustration….
John plots a course in close to the beach and the north passage, instead of the Needles channel which can get very lumpy. It also goes past his flat up on the cliffs… The final sunset on our journey brings mixed emotions and a curious red sun courtesy of dear old Ophelia dragging Sahara dust and Portuguese wild fire debris in our direction.
…elation at an achievement for a couple of old gits, but also a sadness at the end of a chapter and an adventure. We’ll do a final reflective post later…
The haze finally clears and the Needles light is clear as it steers us clear of the Shingles bank. We make the North Head buoy with about an hour to spare and can just about make out the line of Hurst Spit. We lose the jenny and take the last of the flood through the narrows and in to the warm embrace of the Solent. We can be cavalier with the channel markers, cutting corners with aplomb (hoping that the mud has not moved in the last 2 years) and watching the lights of Lymington drawing us in. 14 hours after leaving Dartmouth we are tied up on the harbour master’s pontoon and we’ll stay the night there before finding out where they will put us for the winter while they dredge our own mooring. Back on dry land we are still swaying around like a couple of drunken sailors…but that bit will come later. The welcoming party will arrive tomorrow, so after a drink or two we tuck up on Heydays for the final night (on this trip).
Dawn brings confirmation that it was the right decision to come straight to Lymington from Dartmouth and it is amazing to wake up in the familiar surroundings of home.
We motor out down river in increasing gloom thanks to Ophelia and are ‘met’ back on the pontoon by Yee Tak and Chris…
…there can be no better excuse for fizzy pop at 11 in the morning.