Weather Forecasting (or not)

August 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm

The weather’s turning rubbish, eh? I’ve had a few very chilly nights, and it seems every time I go out I end up beating into 20 knots of wind, regardless of what the Met Office has forecast. In fact I’m starting to grow distrustful of the Inshore Waters forecast as it seems to be often very wrong. For example for Salcombe-Plymouth I was forecast SW 3-4, but got a NW5!

Windguru seems to be more on the money though, and has the benefit of giving you 7 days and is localised. I’ve also just been recommended WeatherWeb which seems promising too…  Apparently there is a high coming at the end of next week, but it will be short lived unfortunately.

It is all very changeable though. Yesterday I saw 30 knots, while today the wind have been very light.  Looking last night I was going to try to make a dash for Fowey tomorrow morning (Wednesday). The tide is favourable after 6am (and it’s a Spring) and it’s 20 miles so should take 5 hours ish. Looking at this there is a window. The winds have moderated and would be from behind, and the wave height is lower (and this is really important for a little boat).

Apparently the Tall Ships Regatta is on in Falmouth this weekend, and it would be good to get there for that. Either that or I’ll be stuck here til next Sunday by the looks of it.

Watch this space…

I’ll be watching the weather…


Courtesy of

Rounding The Bill – In Practice

August 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm

This was the forecast on the morning of the 30th of July, the morning that I finally felt ready for The Bill.

North 3 or 4 backing West 4 or 5, veering NW 3 or 4 later.
Smooth or Slight.

I was coming to the conclusion that the sea state is more of a deciding factor for 22 foot Duet, rather than wind speed, and we’d been out in a f5 a couple of times so I was confident that well reefed she’d behave.  I had already decided that I would take the outside passage and planned waypoints to take me to The East Shambles buoy and then a position 6 miles South of Portland Bill which would hopefully keep me well clear of any race or overfalls, and the predicted force 5 confirmed my decision more. And we were near a Spring tide.

Looking at the tides, I worked out that I would need to be at the East Shambles buoy just before High Water (HW) Dover in order for me to catch the strong tide that would whoosh me quickly, and safely clear round The Bill.  I calculated that to get there would take 2 hours, so I would need to slip my mooring in Portland 2 hours before HW Dover which was to be 14:00 that day.

My passage plan was to leave at midday and head out to round the East Shambles buoy which is 7 miles from the harbour mouth.  I calculated that there would be half to 1 knot of tide with us so I should arrive at the buoy at 13:30 just in time for the current to turn west at 14:00 (which was HW Dover, remember?).

It would then be 7.5 miles to the next waypoint, set 6 miles south of The Bill.  On this leg I would have a 2-3 knot tide lift which would help me alot. I estimated then that I would reach my offshore waypoint at 15:00 and turn northerly to travel the 20 miles to my Bridport waypoint.  Once I was back in the lee of Portland Island (ie 6 miles North again) the tide would still be with us, but not so westerly and it would gradually weaken to turn against us at 19:00. I estimated arrival at Bridport to be 20:00 (probably at the earliest).  HW Bridport was due to be 21:30 so we would have plenty of water to enter the harbour on a rising tide, and it should still be daylight when we got there.

portland routes

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

I spent the morning quietly preparing myself and the boat.  As there was a f5 in the forecast I put 2 reefs in the main sail and I also gaffer taped the inside of the front hatch (the fastening’s are original and I don’t particularly trust them).  As a precaution I prepared a grab bag with the flares, the handheld VHF, my ships papers and passport, a spare set of thermals, a bottle of water and a bar of chocolate.  Perhaps a little excessive as I would never be more than about 7 miles from the shore, but it all helped emotionally. I also prepared a good packed lunch and made sure my waterproofs were within reach of the companionway and my sailing gloves, the winch handles, the binoculars and the hand-bearing compass all went into a bucket in the cockpit along with a written copy of my passage plan in a waterproof pouch.  Everything else was tidied away securely.

So, at 1215, with a dry mouth, I called the coastguard to log my passage plan half expecting him to tell me not to go (he didn’t, but wished me good passage), and then slipped the mooring in 10 knots of wind (a lovely f3). We were off!

Once clear of the moorings I raised the reefed main and rolled out a full genoa, and was able to pretty much immediately put the engine to neutral, though I didn’t actually switch it off until we cleared the harbour entrance at 12:35.

We had a fabulous sail down to the Shambles buoy, logging well in excess of 5.5 knots (helped of course with the tide).  However the wind was starting to rise, and was from the West already. At 13:30 I logged that the windvane was showing 16kts and I put 3 rolls in the genoa, and then we rounded the Shambles buoy at 13:45 and were unfortunately dead into wind so I rolled away the headsail and put the engine on to motor sail out to the offshore waypoint which was 7.5 miles away. My waterproof went on here too.

The Shambles East Cardinal Buoy

The Shambles East Cardinal Buoy

I was already glad that I’d put 2 reefs in and not settled for the one, and this was pretty much the point of no return as once West of the Shambles buoy, and HW Dover, the tide would turn to run strongly West and it would be very difficult to get back. At about this point, I took this little video:

In hindsight, that must have been still slack as although the wind is picking up the sea state is looking OK isn’t it…

Not long after this, at 14:10, the wind backed more South and I was able to put the headsail back up (with 3 rolls as it was now showing 17kts ) and turn the engine off again. We made good time to the offshore waypoint, logging around 5.5knots over the ground all the way.  However, the wind rose quite a a bit and by the time I reached the offshore waypoint at 15:45 we were seeing a sustained 22kts (f6) and also, as the tide got going westerly the sea state deteriorated and we started to experience the effects of wind over tide (or maybe race?).  As I had the wind on the starboard side I was able to bear away from my waypoint to try to get further off to what I hoped was calmer water (if it was a bit of race).  I know we passed more than 6 miles offshore.  But whatever, Duet coped pretty darn admirably and she was well reefed and we felt in control. I am always surprised by her motion in a sea. Because she’s heavy, and got a fuller keel she does feel like a much bigger boat. There was never any slamming, and she kind of plunges forward and then comes up slowly. It’s all quite controlled.

So after turning North level with, but a little way South of, the offshore the waypoint we turned to now have the sea and wind on the beam and by then were seeing pretty big waves that were breaking on the tops. If I’m honest, my friends, at this point I did briefly attempt to turn back, kinda ‘just to see’ but I was also concerned that the sea would be this big over by Bridport and I wouldn’t be able to get in (and once over there, there is literally nowhere else to go and you’re on a lee shore!).  But by this point the return journey was more intimidating than continuing on.  Turning downwind, we then had 20+kts of wind behind us, as well as a big sea, so our direction was pretty unstable and we risked an accidental gybe (as I couldn’t easily get off the tiller to get the preventer on) or even a broach.  Also, we went from a speed of nearly 6 knots to just 1.8 knots with the tide against us …So with the advice that someone had given me earlier in the week ringing in my ears to ‘push on through it’, I turned back towards Bridport and we did indeed ‘push on through it’.

Now, I’m not very good at judging wave height, and I’ve found it especially hard to judge from Duet’s cockpit where the cockpit sole is pretty much water level, so your head is a bit over 1m above the water and everything looks pretty massive. I also have no pictures so you’ll just have to trust me…

At 17:00 I recorded a position of 50° 26.817’N 02°32.074’W with a speed over the ground of 5.5kts, wind speed of 22 kts and the comment ‘BIG SEA!’. As we had the wind on the beam I had a certain amount of directional freedom and was able to weave in and out of the breaking waves. At one point I misjudged it and looking up I remember being surprised to see this big lump of flying emerald green water leaping over the hatchway to hit me right in the face.  Amazingly, I think it all missed the open hatch! However, my phone, which was in my pocket, has never since shown any sign of life…  It also gave me a mild panic as I didn’t think it was going to drain away, but I managed to tap dance the sheets, reefing lines and main halyard out the way and clear the drains.

I do remember at one point asking myself if I was scared, and deciding quite coolly that I wasn’t. I had my life jacket on, was clipped on, we had 2 reefs in the main, a little scrap of headsail out, they were well trimmed, we were making over 5 knots over the ground, I had my grab bag ready, the forehatch was gaffer taped shut, I’d logged my passage with the coastguard and they knew I was out there and I also had some comfort in that I could see other boats in sight (although they were Eastbound and clearly struggling against the tide to make the next tide gate).  There really wasn’t anything more I could have done to prepare, and we were in control, and making good progress.

Sure enough, as we got into the lee of Portland, and progressed along Chesil Beach the wind slowly began to calm and the sea state definitely calmed down.  By 19:20 the wind had dropped back to 17 knots (only a f5!) and I even managed to eat my sandwiches!

By the time we reached Bridport it was a little after 21:00 and the light was starting to go.  Bridport is a small harbour, with a narrow entrance, with a long breakwater on one side and a beach and cliffs the other.  I was tired and had salt in my eyes and I found I couldn’t easily see the entrance even with binoculars as it all looked like a continuous dark line …so I held off to take the sails down and prepare the boat for mooring.  There was also still a pretty rolly sea breaking scarily on the beach so I didn’t want to get too close.

But there was a Drascombe leisurely tacking backwards and forwards, so with a certain amount of impatience I lingered waiting for him to go in first, and also muttering ‘put the lights on, put the lights on’ under my breath (meaning the harbour lights to go on and show the way).

Eventually, the leading lights went on and I followed the Drascombe in too. And the entrance was not where I thought it might be!

We tied up at 21:30 and I logged off with the coastguard feeling pretty triumphant. I also had to find someone on the quay to borrow their phone to call my shore contact (mum) who also knew I was out there, as my soggy phone would not boot up.  Thank you, again, to you.

Bridport's Outer Harbour

Bridport’s dredged outer harbour. Duet’s in the middle with the entrance behind.

Bridport's Inner Harbour

Bridport’s pretty inner harbour. This dries.






The Plan (Version 0.1)

April 18, 2014 at 10:16 am

So, I’m planning 3 months off work so I can go sailing.  I know I’m really lucky in that I’m freelance so can be flexible like this.  I have found a house sitter who is known, but not too close (he’s my Chiropractors brother) and is willing to stay 3 months for a contribution towards the bills.  The dog is all set to go to my Mum’s for the summer (and I think it will be nice for them both), and my good Mother is also willing to look after the order fulfillment side of my business while I’m gone.

I’m trying to figure out if I can possibly go cruising and carry on working 2 days a week.  All I need is a hookup for the laptop and WiFi. I can tether my phone (which has unlimited internet) and this has been tested well on land.  The problem is the hassle of trying to get to a Marina for electric hook up 2 days a week, and the impact of that on my sense of freedom.  Who knows what will happen with the weather this summer and I can imagine myself just worrying how I’m going to get to a marina berth for *next Tuesday* and whether the phone signal will be good enough.  I can see it being a bit of a nightmare to be honest, though of course the income would be nice.  I’m still deciding on that one…

However, my manager asked me the other day if I was going to be checking in with the Coastguard on each passage, to which I of course replied a confident, “Yes, of course!”.

Now, I hate using the radio. Probably something to do with growing up in the Solent and sniggering at all the posho’s asking Solent Coastguard if a F7 would make them spill their G&Ts.  “This is Yacht Elvira” said in Received Pronunciation was a very long running family joke…) and it is a few years (maybe 4?) since I did my VHF course so I admit I’m a bit rusty… So I’ve made up a prompt card which will fit nicely on the back of the Mayday card I’ve already done.   It’s more of an ‘aide memoire’ rather than a verbatim script though, and I’ve added the “Prowords” out of the Almanac for a bit more confidence/authority.

I have also registered with the CG66 scheme, a voluntary safety registration scheme where you record your details and a contact of someone ashore.  Details of this scheme are here

So. The (current) plan is to launch around the end of May, have a shakedown to Poole maybe with some stops at Worbarrow Bay and Studland (and I may go to Cherbourg from Weymouth if the weather is absolutely right. I think it would be good for confidence as I do know Cherbourg quite well), and then head out West across Lyme Bay to Brixham and hop down west all the way to the Isles of Scilly.  Then round and up across the Bristol Channel, definitely stopping at Lundy. I would like to get across to Ireland also if there is time.

There’s a great article in this month’s Yachting Monthly, “How to sail around the British Isles” with a great map.  The pink areas are what they call “Primary Cruising Zones” and the green areas are “Wilder Holiday Zones” (and I do like the sound of that….).

I have circled my hoped cruising area for this summer in red.  Fingers crossed for decent weather now.

The Plan

Scanned from the May 2014 Yachting Monthly Magazine


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