We are ready to set sail. With high hopes and only a few backward glances, ready to cross the English Channel…for the second time this year.
The crossing should be good. The wind is not forecast too strong. Our crew members arrive and we hoist the dinghies aboard. The wind is light to start the voyage and we are motor sailing out of Plymouth Sound. Luckily I notice a change in the exhaust note and realise there is a blockage in the cooling water intake (seaweed). I stop the engine and clear the filter. This has never happened before but 12 years ago the guys I bought South Star from said there was a piece of stainless steel rod to clear such problems. After all the renovations somehow It’s still sitting there, in the bilge next to the water intake – Handy.
We cross the channel without incident. The wind pipes up a few hours after leaving and we switch off the engine. South Star sails onwards into the darkness. I love moving 50 tonnes of boat with the wind and not burning any diesel. It really is what it is all about. Bryony goes below with Bryher and settle down to sleep while the crew sail the ship.
We have dolphins surfing the bow wave in the darkness. The phosphorescence is bright as this time of year as the water is at its warmest. Each surge of the boat throws glowing water each side and it feels magical. The dolphins (could be porpoises or mermaids to be fair) glow like ethereal beings and race this way and that. Bryony comes up on deck just at the right moment to see this for the first time. You cant film it or photograph it. You can only hoover it up with your eyes and mentally store it up as one of those oh so sweet moments in life.
It’s great sailing with Niki Crutchfield again. We talk of old times on the salt marshes in North Devon. He used to come down to South Star for tea and see the massive hole I was in. He tells me on this trip how he used to come away feeling sad that I was in such a terrible place with this massive rotten boat. He thought we were doomed and quite rightly so. To see her powering into the darkness sailing so well 12 years later is to come full circle. I am so happy to have made it.
The auto pilot is holding us on course well. It needs some tuning as it’s hunting this way and that each time the boat rolls. But it works and I can work on the detail later. It does sound like a life support machine as it turns this way and that. I guess it is supporting our life. It’s just a shame it can’t see ships. The night passes with watch changes and coffee. It’s such a glorious night that nobody wants to come off watch.
The sun comes up and it’s a new day. We are on our way. Behind us is the hard work and problems – ahead lies adventure.
In these easterly winds we plan to stop on the Isle of Ushant. This island off of Brittany is out in the wild western approaches. It’s the Island famous for the picture of the lighthouse becoming engulfed by a massive wave as the keeper opens his door. But in settled Easterlies it has a protected bay on the west-facing side. Lampaul.
We arrive at sundown and drop the sails so to motor in. The autopilot holds us nicely into the wind and waves as we tame the canvas. The Bay has free moorings, one of which we pick up. The sun fades and the big lighthouses sweep errie lights over the sea and us. The night is crisp and clear and the drama of this place is on full show. As we sit below sipping beer a loud noise and splash are heard outside. We go on deck to see a huge dolphin swimming around. He’s producing lots of noise and making his presence felt. During the night, Nick says he can feel him pinging him through the hull with his sonar. This creature knows we are here and is either happy or not about it. Bryony and Bryher also hear him through the hull and felt as though he was calling to them through the planking. It seemed he was aware of Bryher’s presence and she could feel him….
The next day is sunny and warm so we decide to stay a while and explore the island. As soon as you go ashore there are little cottages on the harbour side for sale in need of renovation and repair and my heart-strings twang. Oh how lovely would it be!
The island is pretty. Dramatic views abound but there is also an edge to it that we cant quite put our fingers on. Maybe the sadness of the long winters lingers. Maybe its the souls of the lost sailors….
The weather changes. The wind picks up. We realise it was a mistake to linger on. We wait a day or two and then go out to see how it looks outside. I pay little or no attention to the tides and we get caught with the tide on the nose. Were making 2 knots. The sea is pretty big too. I decide to turn round and head back. Once turned we are doing 8 knots! Strewth the tides are strong out here. As we turn back in to Lampaul a huge wave pushes us sideways and we fall into the trough behind it.. the next one hits us and South Star rolls more than I think she ever has done. Everything goes flying. Everyone goes flying too. We limp back in..whooped. Tidying up later I discover a full can of expanding foam (It’s not for fixing boats, honest) has punctured and emptied itself on the engine room floor. It looks like a brain and Bryher refuses to go near it.
Two days later the wind is looking good and the swell has dropped. I work out the tides (ahem) and we leave. We sail off the mooring and at this moment the big dolphin comes charging into the bay again. He’s leaping out of the water straight at us. He reaches us and does a massive jump diving down under us and that is the last we see of this mysterious creature. This passage turns out to be a cracker. There are many dolphins leaping around our bow. Were all leaning over and singing to them or drumming on the bulwarks. Nick even starts playing his harmonica to them. Bryher is wrapped in a blanket in my arms waving to them and shouting ‘More!’
We sail on and the sun goes down. I am always a little apprehensive just before the dark out at sea but once it comes it’s not so bad. In fact it’s easier to see ships because of their lights. And lobster pot buoys can’t be seen so you don’t have to worry about them either. The moon comes up and sends it’s light out ahead of us and Nicki is singing ‘Were sailing down a fucking moon beam!’ It does feel really special. Everyone has had a great time together and this sail is a proper treat.
We manage to sail almost all the way to Douranenez only motoring the last bit at 3am as the wind drops off. We anchor off the Island of Tristan and fall asleep. Well the boys don’t – they drink and giggle as they have done when at rest all the way here. Dawn sees them still up on deck happy to have arrived. An hour later and Bryher thoughtfully totters into the saloon and wakes them up.
The next day we radio Port Rhu and at high tide we go in. This is likely to be our final trip. We must accept that the weather windows are getting smaller. Our crew will return home and wont be able to come back. Douarnenez will be our winter port. We made it south – just not somewhere warm.