Saturday morning around 0930, heading towards Mount Batten Pier with a following wind.
All morning, Plymouth Longroom has been delivering a Mariners Notice of an impending powerboat race in Plymouth Sound, warning other boats to stay clear. There are few boats out. I am heading towards Mount Batten pier, preparing to downsails in the spot I usually use when solo so that I can motor back to the mooring.
I start to wonder if today woould be a good day to sail the nautical mile, if not onto the mooring, at least close to it. Could I sail single-handed in restricted waters without making a complete scallops of it?
This is a 25 foot boat with just me on board. There is a wide S bend to negotiate but enough width in a river that takes commercial shipping. The wind is southerly but will differ in the river. It will be heading me as I turn towards the Yacht Haven and it will be gusting in the river. The tide is still be dropping, and is towards the end of its run. There’s certainly enough wind tot take me over it. Depth may or may not be an issue. The traffic is minimal . . . And I would like the experience.
There would have been a time when I would have done it without asking the questions. The trouble is, the more I know . . .
So, now, decision taken, I am almost too far to the right of the end of the pier, the foresail is goosewinged and a gybe looks likely before I clear it. But as we get closer, the wind backs slightly, blowing along the pier, and we slip round the end with at least thirty yards to spare.
There are three or four boats emerging from Sutton Harbour and a racing yacht circling as the crew work on the mainsail.There’s is plenty of room for Blue Mistress if we keep to the right of the fairway.
The wind is now blowing downriver, more south easterly, with enough south in it to keep me outside the line of mooring buoys. Round the green fairway buoy, hardening onto the wind towards Victoria Wharves. A large yacht – (white, tall sides) is motoring downstream, passing swiftly astern. A fishing boat, closer to the Plymouth side, looks concerned, slows, turns to head us, (perhaps thinking I may tack early), realises I won’t, then passes well astern.
By now, I am adjacent to the entrance to the Wharves, and the wall is coming up. Still plenty of water below us. A glimpse of a man above, hosing equipment. Foresheet to hand, tiller hard over, Blue Mistress comes about, sails flap, I drop the port foresheet, haul in the starboard one quickly before the wind fills the sail . . . and we are bounding up and across river. I ease the foresheet slightly to give more belly. Hauling the sheet in just before the sail fills is very easy but, in my enthusiasm, I tend to flatten the sail.
The wind is coming in gusts now and we dinghy-sail, bringing her head up when the strength of the wind allows and noting the slight variations in direction. It comes across the Yacht Haven straight down this section of the river, and then begins to back a little as it draws across Turnchapel. We’re heading towards the moorings of boats of a similar size to Blue Mistress. There is plenty of depth of water here but I don’t want to get in among the moorings.
A strong gust, we heel, head up, and then go about. This time I am more gentle on the helm, deciding not to push it hard over but to see whether being less forceful will still bring her about but keep momentum up. It seems to work and Blue Mistress moves smoothly onto the next tack. Despite my concerns about the rudder, it does the job.
This is the narrowest section. We are head on to a corner of the river wall. It is approaching swiftly. At low springs, there is a rocky reef exposed off this point so, although there is probably enough water, I give it room, go about and head up towards what the chart designates as a ‘turning area’ for the larger commercial ships. Now Blue Mistress and I have navigated the S-bend in the river and have opened up the stretch towards Oreston and beyond.
In towards the seaward end of the Yacht Haven, and we are headed upstream, slowing as we head into a more sheltered stretch. It seems the tide is running a little stronger here.
When I put my head out of the hatch just after 0600 this morning, ‘Stability’ was docking at Cattedown Wharf. We pass along her starboard side.
I bring Blue Mistress head to wind. . .
and, just as I let go of the main, we get caught by a heavy shower of rain.
Roundly cursing having to stow wet sails, I notice the lazy jacks are still led forward. Not only are the sails wet and slippery, but the mainsail is now in an untidy heap. I have sail ties in my pocket, but, by the time I have gathered it into a fairly neat bundle, tied it, let the foresail drop to the deck, and stowed it (wet) into its bag through the forehatch, the tide has taken us back down the river the whole length of ‘Stability’. Engine on, motor back to where we were and finish cleaning up.
Then back to the mooring to complete the task.
Single-handed, a lot more forethought is needed – forethought comes from experience.
The lazy jacks should have been put back before we rounded Mount Batten Pier. I won’t forget again.