Dolphins and Moonlight. On the same passage.

September 21, 2014 at 9:52 pm

I got as far west as Helford before my time started to run out… I’d decided to keep Duet in Plymouth for the winter, and I really wanted to do my first solo night passage to round off my season.

So I decided to do Helford to Plymouth overnight.  It’s a straightforward run, with the Eddystone Lighthouse to keep me company most of the night. At 42 miles I figured it would take about 11 hours at least. As there were no headlands to round and the tide atlas said the streams weren’t that strong I decided to ignore the tide and left at 5pm so I would have a good few hours to get off past Falmouth and the lobster pots before nightfall at about 8.30pm.  This should get me to Plymouth after 6am, when it would be light and I decided to head back to Cawsand to anchor and catch up on my sleep.

The forecast was for variable becoming NW 4, then 5 later and it was pretty calm as I motored out of the Helford River. Engine on then.  But at least I could lash the helm and relax a little.

Old Gaffer.  No horizon.

Old Gaffer. No horizon.

As I got a little way off Falmouth I found I was motoring through acres of sea birds bobbing about on a mirror sea.  I thought they were Guillemots, but it turns out they are actually Manx Shearwaters. There were acres of them and I amused myself playing wildlife photographer for a bit:


Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater



Manx Shearwater

More Manx Shearwaters…

And then the dolphins came… Please forgive my “whoop” in the video.

The dolphins are coming!



Just after sunset, but before the light was completely gone some wind came in from the North West and I was soon humming along to a f4 and a really big moon (turns out it was the harvest moon), still amusing myself mimicking the shearwaters taking off (if we ever meet, do ask me). However, in the dark I realised that the light behind my handheld GPS did not stay on permanently and I could not see the compass as it was unlit and did not even glow in the dark! Effectively I was sailing blind and for the first time ever I wished I had a chart plotter.

There were also lots of fishing boats on both sides of me that kept me on my toes all night, presumably they were out of Polperro and Looe and running at right angles to the shore as they seemed to keep crossing me at right angles and then turn and run parallel to me before going off back inshore. I found their presence a comfort though as I wasn’t totally alone but could see their course and direction clearly with their lights, and with the engine off I could tell from their engine volume how close they were. Yes they kept me alert in the small hours!

But the moonlight on the sea was pretty mesmerising.  I do love night sailing.  Was pretty exhilarating on my own too:

But sure enough the wind went a bit over the top, and the sea was starting to feel quite big in the dark, so at about 3am I dropped the main and continued under a reefed genoa. We were well into a Force 5 and the moon had gone so it was pretty dark now. I was also a bit ahead of schedule and by 4am I was less than 10 miles off Plymouth but I didn’t particularly want to approach in the dark. About this time I checked the battery and it was running low even though I’d turned the VHF off long ago and was running only with the lights and the windometer (there will be another blog post about this!). I definitely didn’t want to approach in the dark without lights! So it was a little before first light at 5am that my navigation lights died completely and I went into ‘stealth mode’. But in any event I put the engine back on as it was clear that I couldn’t point high enough to get me into Plymouth which was now dead upwind. Dawn also showed me I was now in a fairly significant swell and the wind was still a good Force 5. Of course with no lights on the fishing boats all were now on a collision course with me, and I turned to run parallel with one trawling at right angles to my course turning back to my course once I was well astern.

But you know, we bashed to windward, the dawn broke and I was exactly where I expected to be, and now visible again to the fishing boats… Anchored at Cawsand at 8am with no power for the depth sounder feeling pretty pleased with myself all in all. First solo night passage, and the longest of the season.

Fitting a new depth sounder

August 20, 2014 at 8:56 pm

11 hours yesterday, from Salcombe to Plymouth against a NW f4-6 and a 2m swell.

Pretty tiring… I could have saved a bit of time going into the Yealm, except the depth sounder packed up a few weeks ago.

(A working depth sounder is kind of a navigational/safety basic… I know, I know…. I’ve got away with it though by only following bigger boats ;o)

Fingers crossed this time – this is the only bit left that hasn’t been replaced:

Start Point

August 20, 2014 at 10:28 am

I left Dartmouth wearing full oilies, in accordance with the forecast. But these soon came off as it was an oil slick calm and I was in full sun.

Then we got some wind, but of course it was from totally from the wrong direction…

Then the sea whipped up (I’d left in time to be taken round on the tide of course, so we had wind over tide)

It took 6 hours to cover 21 miles and I was in time for tea, so no big issue really.

Just annoying:  the weather forecast said NW 3-4 which would have been perfect.

What we got was nothing, and then a SW 4-5 (so dead on the nose).

Look at the sky, it was pretty squally. What can I say? I like to sail… that is all.

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