Sunday forecast is true to its word and blows up windy and wet. The crabbers are absent (no staying power!) and so are we from any meaningful activity for most of the morning. We are booked into the bistro above the yacht club for lunch and eventually heave ourselves out for a walk around town to create an appetite. Rothko in his grey period would have been inspired but we eventually run out of expletives at the British bank holiday weather and head for lunch. There is little to add here apart from wondering why an art shop would have a painting of Jacob Rees-Mogg as the centre-piece in its window…he doesn’t even represent this constituency. We are not sure whether it is iconic or ironic. We don’t engage them in the politics of Brexit…it is Sunday after all.
We are planning to do the hop from Dartmouth to Lymington in one go…about 85 miles. There are two tidal gates to consider; the first is Portland Bill, the second is Hurst Castle Narrows. We are just about at spring tides and can expect an adverse current at each of those points of around 3kt. This is OK ish, but with a SW wind we would have a classic wind over tide chop set up with some heavy overfalls which are best avoided…and not just for comfort.
We can leave around 10 on Sunday evening but get the tail of the F7 which has been blowing through all day or 4 on Monday morning. This latter option is OK but it means plugging the ebb from Lulworth or so and across Christchurch bay to get the first of the flood through the narrows. A 3.30am alarm call it is!
Leaving the mooring is another tight one with a strong flood up river. Heydays behaves and steers impecably astern and we thread out in the darkness past the deserted crabbing quay. The only anxious moment is when we make the turn and find ourselves broadside on to a rather long bowsprit attached to an old lugger. The propellor bites and we are off down a dark river trying to spot moored boats and not being tempted just to head for the lights. We are always mindful on these occasions of what we would do if the electronics failed. We have noted the lights we need but pot buoys and unmarked moorings are another matter…
We make out Check Stone, Castle Ledge and then the southerly cardinals of West Rock (flashes 6 plus one long) and Mewstone (very quick flash six then one long). These last two need careful recognition as it would be easy to head for the Mewstone too early…and pile up on West Rock.
We head out across Lyme Bay but no lovely sunrise today, just a gradual lightening of the sky ahead of us. The morning remains grey and overcast and visibility is poor. Soon we are once again in our own little puddle of greyness above, below and all around. The tide however is our friend for now and we are easily managing our target of 6kt. We are tacking downwind as an easier point of sailing, but the occasional wave still conspires to knock us off course. We have rigged preventers on the main and this keeps things stable and managed. We get to Portland ahead of schedule and keep a respectable distance off this time. As we head out across Weymouth Bay, the tide slowly but surely begins to slow and then start in earnest to head us. Progress past Lulworth and Durdle Door slows to a stately 2.5 or 3 kt despite still making over 6 through the water.
We continue to tack downwind, and get closer in to Anvil Point than planned…
The picture does not do it justice, but suddenly we are in a real frenzy of overfalls and breaking seas. It takes all our concentration to keep Heydays on track and to avoid a broach. The autopilot cannot cope with this and even with a sharp eye on the wheel we still conspire to get great gobs of green stuff rushing down the side decks. We inch interminably slowly toward the promised land of flat water just round the point and seemingly in touching distance. Some other boats are also ploughing up and down, occasionally being lost behind another hissing breaker from astern.
Finally…we’re through and cruising out gently across Christchurch Bay. We repeat the exercise once more off Old Harry Rocks. We have sailed this way many times but never quite seen the sea boiling this way at this point…another lesson learned about spring tides and the aftermath of a near gale blowing through albeit nearly 24 hours earlier.
Across the bay the log reaches a ‘momentous’ numerical milestone…
It is too bumpy to toast it now but will open a bottle later.
The Isle of Wight appears and we start to close the north channel as the tide once more stops being peeved with us. A boat is approaching from Poole and we gybe round the mark to head for Hurst just behind them. We are about an hour too early and there is still about 2kt of ebb through the main channel. They plug on gamely to the usual mark of NE Shingles. We have done this before and with a careful eye on the depth we keep within 50m of the castle and find a counter-current of about 1kt …in the way we want to go! In the space of 15 minutes sailing round Hurst we are now about 30 minutes ahead of them heading up the Solent.
We take one last look at the old castle and reflect on a summer cruise which was not spectacular or ground-breaking but which took us to places we’ve not been to before…and to old friends as well.