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.

Rounding The Bill – Tactics

August 13, 2014 at 12:53 pm

So since buying Duet 3 season’s ago, our big goal has been to work towards getting round Portland Bill, and the notorious Portland Race which I have read is the most dangerous piece of British coastline (though perhaps not as dramatically named as Cape Wrath or The Doom Bar it’s still known as ‘Poor Man’s Cape Horn’).  Even the Trinity House website describes it as a ships graveyard.

It is dangerous because the geography causes an acceleration of tide down each side of Portland Island to the tip, and there the sea bed shelves steeply to just 10 metres on a ledge just off the tip, which causes a tidal race (dangerous waves, eddies and currents), and there is also a big sand bank called The Shambles to avoid.  At all states of tide, and in most conditions there is churning water at some position, and this moves about as the tide changes. The severity of the race is also affected by the weather conditions and also where we are on the Spring/Neap tide calender.  It is not to be underestimated.  Even quite large ships have been known to be dragged into the race and just disappear (presumably from being lifted and then grounded hard in the shallow water in a big sea)

There are potential 2 passage routes round The Bill: The inshore passage and the outside passage, shown in the diagram I stole below.  Both have benefits and disadvantages: The inside passage is a lot shorter, but can only undertaken in good conditions and needs careful timing.  There is a danger of getting caught on one of the many lobster pots laid round Portland.  I also don’t think its for the faint-hearted as you need to pass less than 100m from the shore and potentially between the shore and plainly visible churning white water.  The offshore passage is arguably safer, but to take a route outside The Shambles and then pass at least 5 miles south of The Bill adds at least 15 miles to your passage (and it is recommended that in bad weather you pass at least 10 miles south).  It also needs careful timing as tides run at over 3 knots on Springs.

portland routes

Image courtesy of (great website for reference, but double check against your own expected speeds and a tidal atlas!)

It has always been my intention to take Duet West, as I live in Bristol and it’s easier to run up and down the M5 than hike across to Weymouth on the A37, and also there are more options for destinations when cruising out of, say Plymouth.  So, over the past 2 years I have asked pretty much everyone I’ve ever spoken to on a boat in either Portland or Weymouth, whether they take the inside or outside passage and to be honest there was no real pattern.  I also have had lots of opportunity to go and look at it from the shore in lots of different conditions.  Here is a video I shot back in May:

Ultimately though, no-one has ever been able to fully convince me of the prudence of taking Duet round the inshore passage, and I have never seen conditions on The Bill that do not show at least some element of risk going inshore.  Because Duet is 22 foot long with an outboard motor there is the risk that we would not be able to resist the strong tidal currents be dragged in to the race. Also I would be single handed, so there would only be one pair of eyes to watch for lobster pots.  If we caught one on the prop then we would be immobilised pretty near the shore and all of those associated risks, and again I would be single handed to sort it all out on my own.  Also, and this is probably the biggest deciding factor; there was my own inexperience of both singlehanding, and knowledge of my boat and how she behaves in various conditions. So on balance I did eventually, finally decide that the safest passage for me at that time was always going to be out round the outside. But with a bigger boat, or crew, or even just more experience I might have decided differently.  All depends on the weather though…

However, once round The Bill there is then the not insignificant matter of where to head for.  Traditionally most cruising yachts head straight across Lyme Bay to either Brixham or Dartmouth, which are 40 and 45 miles on after The Bill.  I plan passages for Duet at a speed of 4 knots (which is to be honest a bit optimistic) so to travel 40 miles would take 10 hours. However, the tide changes every 6 hours so some of this will be against a foul tide and extra time needs to be added on for that too! Adding on the time to get round the Bill I reckoned that it would take at least 18 hours to get from the mooring in Portland Harbour to Brixham, which is a fairly significant passage singlehanded (and without any means of self-steering!).  Remember also, that the furthest I’d ever been was Poole, in good weather, and that Portland to Brixham is as far as, and at least equivalent to, a channel crossing.

I discounted Dartmouth as a destination as a little care is needed with times of arrival due to the river flood and it looks rocky and narrow.  Brixham is an all weather fishing port, and also its 5 miles less (and I’ve been there before!)

But then, whilst waiting to buy some petrol at Portland Marina, I overheard 2 chaps discussing the passage (yes it’s avery popular topic of conversation round those parts!) and one guy said he always goes to Bridport, which I had never considered as it has only relatively recently become a viable stop off for yachts after the new breakwater was built in 2005.  Turns out that Bridport is only 16.5 miles from The Bill so reduces the passage by 23.5 miles (which at 4 knots is nearly 6 hours). The only consideration is the depth, but as Duet only draws 1.1m (3’9″) this was not really an issue, and speaking to the Harbour Master it seems that most yachts can be accommodated on Neaps, it is just getting towards Springs that care needs to be taken. Always best to call ahead and check though.

So Portland to Bridport, round the outside it was to be… And then Bridport to Brixham is a straight leg of 30 miles on across the bay.  Sorted.

Dartmouth Boat (and Cabin) Porn

August 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

So, I’ve traded at The Royal Dartmouth Regatta a couple of times with the Stripes so I know the town quite well, but I’ve never actually visited by boat before…

I left Torquay and meandered into a very light South Westerly (on the nose again!), tacking a couple of times and then got cornered the wrong side of the Mew Stone …and then the tide had changed and I was down to 3 knots  …and then 2 knot something …and then 2 knots …average …and then it started to threaten rain and I realised that everyone else had overtaken me with their engine and mainsail combos and I was soon to be totally alone. So with a mild sense of defeat I started my engine too and motored in and up the river to pick a buoy up at Dittisham. I didn’t dare go any further as the depth sounder had stopped working, but it’s a very pretty spot and was only £11.50 on a buoy for the night (including harbour dues).   (Note- I’ve since opened up the depth sounder display and poured out about 1/4 pint of rusty water, cleaned it up and dried it out and it seems to work fine now!)

Dittisham East Bank

Dittisham East Bank

Somewhere right in the middle of me spotting a vacant buoy with an easy looking approach, getting a rope out and preparing to pick the buoy up, stalling the engine rather than turning it down to idle and then actually breaking the boat hook ‘grabbing’ the buoy, two chaps on a Hurley 24 waved at me enthusiastically as if to beckon me to raft up but I already had my boat hook in one hand and my eye on the prize so to speak.  (And if there is one thing that I have learnt about mooring: it is not to change your mind at the last minute! You have to prepare well, and then just commit.)

However, I’ve just managed to log on to the internet for the first time in 2 weeks and realised that there was a Hurley Owners Association rally there at Dittisham the next evening so they probably thought I was there for that.  So, for the record, Seal, I’m really sorry, and I did think you were going to come over when you got in your dinghy, but you went to the pub instead.

Dittisham West Bank (and Hurley 24 "Seal")

Dittisham West Bank (and Hurley 24 “Seal”)

Oh and also for the record, the engine restarted first pull and I managed to get the rope through the ring and then tied to the front of the boat without too much more drama! First attempt too.

But anyway, back to Dartmouth… it’s pretty, eh?  Lots of lovely boats there too… I took lots of pictures. There does seem to be a bit of a theme with these boats I’ve photographed though: They all seem to be wooden!  If you know what they are, please do tell us in the comments. (#6 is a GRP Cornish Crabber, I know that…)

(And if you like cabins too, and you’ve not seen the Cabin Porn website yet you should probably check it out… I promise you it’s safe for work.)

Boat Porn #1

Boat Porn #1

Boat Porn #2

Boat Porn #2

Boat Porn #3

Boat Porn #3

Boat Porn #4

Boat Porn #4

Boat Porn #5

Boat Porn #5

Boat and Cabin Porn

Boat and Cabin Porn

Dartmouth Harbour

Headed out for a cracking sail!


Looking very promising indeed!

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