#1 2018-10-23 21:57:15

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'Guy Warner - Ruby Star - Single-handed to SW Ireland but not alone'

Guy Warner – Ruby Star
Single-handed to SW Ireland but not alone

28 May to 20 June 2018 (all times BST)
Ruby Star from Port Solent to Bantry Bay and back again
1000 nm in my Victoria 34 cutter

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I had planned to circumnavigate Ireland in my Victoria 34 cutter Ruby Star as part of the 2018 Royal Cruising Club (RCC) Rolling Meet – preferably with several crew for some or all of the legs. However, many expressions of interest melted away as the planned departure date drew near – rather like snow on the desert sand!  So I decided to go single-handed which I was happy to do as the yacht is well set up for that and it makes the victualling easier!  However, it turned out that I had to be back by 21 June to assist with a domestic health problem. I could make the Glengarriff sunflower raft-up with the Cadets in Bantry Bay scheduled for 12 June but would then have to abort and return home.

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Cockpit for a single-hander

I could not depart from Port Solent before Monday 28 May and wanted to make the Royal Cork Yacht Club Dinner on Saturday 2 June – the first event of the Meet. I had boldly invited friends Sam and Sue Poole to supper onboard in Dartmouth on the Tuesday with aperitifs to be dispensed at 1930. They were to find Ruby Star berthed on the Town Quay. It would have to be overnight down past Portland. I managed a few hours of sleep anchored in a benign Alum Bay and got off to a flying start out of the Solent with the first of the ebb around midnight.

Fortunately, the wind was a light easterly and such was our progress that we made Dartmouth about 1430. A friendly harbour master’s rib then directed me to a free floating pontoon to await the Town Quay availability at 1700. The Pooles turned up by car at the Town Quay with a new acquisition – a dog called Murphy which behaved immaculately on his first time afloat. After a boisterous supper, I was pleased to be up for a Wednesday departure soon after 0500 – necessary to ensure making my next destination in daylight; the Helford River, some 80 miles away. With the wind still in the east, albeit light, I made good progress, although I was not up to flying either of my two spinnakers. I anchored off Saxon Beach, just inside the Helford to the north west, in the early evening. I was too tired to do the tidal calculations and we seemed safe in 5 metres. Some sixth sense woke me at about 0500 to find the beach a few yards away.
Hurriedly weighing anchor with just a few centimetres of water under our 1.6m keel, we hastened on our way, now remembering that it was spring tides. An early start would anyway be good for our big non-stop push round Lands End and across the Irish Sea to Cork with a possible Friday arrival giving us some time in hand.   

We were past the Runnel Stone at 1225 and abeam the Longships at 1315 but visibility was down to a few hundred metres in thick mist and very little wind. My trusty Volvo 40 hp engine was pushing us along fairly well but there were many horns going off from the nearby shipping lanes and I added my contribution too – which I can do from my VHF at the binnacle. Going up the small boat passage, AIS was a massive help. My radar only displays on the plotter at the chart table below – in fact, rather than bounce up and down from the cockpit, I turned it off and relied on the AIS on my helm chart plotter. It would be just too bad if we met a non-AIS vessel!.  2000 found us clear of the shipping lanes and motor sailing across the Irish Sea with a Johnny Cash CD wafting out from the cockpit speakers to enliven supper. I did not really have a rigid cat-nap sleep system but preferred to doze off almost horizontal on a cockpit bench with half-closed eyes on the chart plotter and bulkhead mounted instruments plus autohelm remote in hand. This seemed to work as there was hardly any shipping in the middle of the Irish Sea and visibility was still very poor anyway. Rather sooner than expected at about 1200, thanks to our relatively powerful engine, Roches Point hove into sight in improved visibility. From there we found our way gently through the Crosshaven channel to the Royal Cork Yacht Club Marina. A friendly VHF voice directed us to our designated alongside berth where we found a sign saying, ‘Reserved for Ruby Star’ – a nice touch from the local organiser.

I was cordially invited to drinks on Naida (Donald Tew) who was with his brother Malcom, a part owner, and a gathering of several RCC members. Some 18 RCC yachts were present in the marina. Paul Heiney kindly invited me, as a fellow Victoria owner, to Saturday tea onboard Wild Song. He had James Morrow from the East coast as crew. The Saturday evening dinner in the Royal Cork Yacht Club was a most convivial affair with particularly generous portions of fine fare. It was accompanied by briefings on the forthcoming sunflower (‘just obey instructions if you can’) and on features of the Irish coast. A few remaining members came to lunchtime drinks in Ruby Star the following day but many of the yachts had already wandered upstream to anchor in the lovely Drakes Pool.

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Ruby Star leaving Crosshaven

On Monday 4 June, after filling up with fuel with Sandpiper’s assistance – she was on the fuel berth awaiting an engine repair – I set off for the short sail to Kinsale. This was uneventful and a kindly marina manager found me space on the visitors’ pontoon, most of which was reserved for the Round Britain & Ireland Race fleet. Only a few of the race yachts had arrived due to lack of wind in the Irish Sea. After a solo supper ashore and a good breakfast, I departed for an anchorage in Castletownshead in a corner of Glandore Bay.

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Round Britain & Ireland early fleet in Kinsale   

I was sailing happily along but then disaster. My autohelm, chart plotter and instruments (which are all linked) suddenly ceased to function. I could manage without the rest but the autohelm was essential as I did not have a windvane back-up. Examination of Reeds Almanac and the ICC Sailing Directions revealed a pontoon at relatively nearby Courtmacsherry, a remote looking place up a tortuous very shallow channel but well buoyed. I might get help there or have a go myself. There was space on the pontoon for 3 yachts and I managed to squeeze alongside. On enquiry, it emerged that Stuart, a local engineer who did engines, was my only hope. Stuart was persuaded to have a look at my autohelm. He took the binnacle apart and then dived into the cockpit locker to look for the course computer. He removed a panel there and pointed out that what I thought was the computer was in fact a junction box. He emerged after fiddling about with wires and put the binnacle back together. On switching the power back on everything worked. Stuart would not take any money or alcoholic reward for his seemingly miraculous work – he told me he was paid as the local lifeboat engineer, mainly responsible for the diesels!

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Ruby Star at Courtmacsherry

I made the Castletownshead anchorage the following day much relieved about my now functioning autopilot. There I found Malo 36 Stardust who helped me back into Ruby Star after my small dinghy had slid away from under my feet. They then kindly took me back to their yacht for recovery drinks.  I reached Baltimore on the Thursday around lunchtime and found space on the pontoon there. Two of the charter yachts waiting for the Cadets were on the inside. There was electricity and water on the pontoon. Ruby Star was the only yacht on the outside but others came alongside briefly for water while anchoring in the Bay. There was a choice of five pubs/restaurants just up the road but I discovered they were all under the same ownership with similar menus!  I slipped at midday the following morning bound for Cape Clear Island and the new marina on the west side. On arrival this turned out to be small and crowded with space only alongside a high wall. I duly exited and went round to the established anchorage in the south. There I found Pastime of Innisfree skippered by RCC member Anthony Wells. We were the only occupants of the bay which we all agreed was quite lovely over several drinks together.

The RCC fleet had diverged but several yachts emerged at Crookhaven, my next anchorage. Northern Light was hosting early evening drinks but I had yet another accident with my unstable dinghy. This time it turned over and I ended up in the water (with lifejacket on) entangled in the attachment lines. I was unable to free myself to climb up the perilous ladder on my counter stern. Quite a few dinghies responded to my cries for help but it was Nick and Margie Chavasse  from Wild Bird who finally got me back on board and invited me to a sympathetic supper after drinks in Northern Light. I did not use my dinghy again!

Next day was Sunday 10 June with the weather still benign and wind south easterly F3-4. It was ideal for rounding Mizen Head, the most SW corner of Ireland, and venturing up Dunmanus Bay which tends to be bypassed, thus missing Kitchen Cove, a lovely if remote anchorage. We were joined there by Robin of Cowes (Hamish Wilson). Hamish and Elin came for supper in Ruby Star with just our two yachts in the cove. However, I foolishly left all our electronics on overnight without isolating the engine battery. In the morning I could not start the engine. Hamish came over to help but he was having difficulty in pulling up my anchor by hand and there was not much wind to sail to a suitable destination to charge. I then had an amazing stroke of luck - a rib with 4 youths going fishing appeared from nowhere and were persuaded to return ashore and bring back a portable battery plus jump leads. My engine was duly started and again my Irish saviours refused to take any recompense
By this time I was running short of fuel so made for Lawrence Cove marina on Bere Island at the entrance to Bantry Bay. With the wind just abaft the beam I overtook the Bowman 40 Wild Bird who was close to the eastern shore whereupon they broke out an asymmetric spinnaker to put me in my place!  The small marina was a delightful and friendly venue well placed for a leisurely sail up Bantry Bay to Glengarriff for the sunflower raft-up.

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Cadets’ sunflower plan

For the sunflower, I had been asked to arrive in a time slot on the Tuesday afternoon. Two Cadets in a dinghy duly appeared to shepherd me into position rafted on David Wilkie’s anchored Moonlight and prepared us for the arrival of Sandpiper (Stephanie Connor) who would be anchoring the other side. The whole affair was very well organised by the Cadets, masterminded by Will Whatley. I had been told sunflowers were often a disaster, especially with some twenty yachts, but this one was superbly executed and Bobby Lawes in his 50 ft Discovery Huahine could be very proud of his Cadets. They enjoyed it too. One told me, he had no idea that a meet up with the old fogies could be so much fun!  While munching a BBQ burger in Huahine, I found myself next to an Australian called Trevor Robertson.  As I had not seen his yacht Iron Bark before, I asked him where his last stop was – the Falklands he said nonchalantly. Although he was a fellow single-hander, I did not feel we had sailing experiences in common!

The sunflower dispersal was equally competent and most yachts went off to anchor independently further up the Bay as I did. I was conscious that I had just over a week to get back to Port Solent and the weather forecast was dire for the next few days. A 0530 start on 13 June saw me motoring down Bantry Bay into the teeth of a south westerly F6-7.  I thought about seeking refuge in Lawrence Cove marina on Bere Island but turning south would see the wind on my starboard side and less in my face so I pressed on. However, on arriving at the Baltimore pontoon I was met by the marina manager who waved me off saying that a F10 was due and he was not accepting any yachts. He told me to anchor or pick up a mooring in the Bay, preferably in the lee of Sherkin Island opposite. I was not happy about either of these alternatives but made my way across and then spotted a small pontoon on the Island. I managed to find room there alongside with one other yacht. We both then hastily doubled up all our lines. A short walk up a path led to a local pub which controlled the pontoon. The bar tender assured me we were well sheltered and would survive without damage - he then poured me a pint and gave me the food menu. He was right about the shelter!

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Shelter from the west at Sherkin Island       

It was still blowing hard on the following day but consistently from the south west so I opted for a dash to Kinsale. There the visitors’ pontoon had room and was not too exposed. I spent the evening debating whether I should make for Crosshaven and leave the yacht there while flying back from Cork. If I was to sail back in time, I would have to tackle the Irish Sea from Kinsale. It was still blowing SW F6-7 early on the following Friday morning, but the forecast for the weekend was better. So I set off hopefully with two reefs in the main and staysail only. There was an impressive residual swell from the F10 which had materialised over the Wednesday night but had blown through.

I cannot pretend the thirty hours passage across the Irish Sea was easy. I found myself buffeted by rolling waves from starboard and manoeuvring to avoid gas installations. I was eventually rather too close to viciously breaking seas on the rocks surrounding the Longships. I chastised myself for poor navigation taking me so near a hostile lee shore. I was too busy to take what would have been an impressive photograph. The weather and swell moderated after rounding Lands End but I was glad to get into Newlyn marina in Mounts Bay around lunchtime. The small number of berths were already occupied and I was forced to raft up on a fishing vessel – one of the many in the harbour. I then lapsed into a long sleep.       
       
The passage up the Channel was uneventful with the wind down to F3-4 and still from the SW. Stops at Fowey, Dartmouth and Portland allowed me day sails. The friendly Fowey harbourmaster’s VHF directed me to the fuel berth (credit card payment) and an alongside pontoon slot just ahead of the lifeboat. The Dartmouth Town Quay saw the Pooles arrive again  bringing supper and the dog Murphy. They expressed some surprise that I had managed to get to Bantry Bay and back alone!  The marina in Portland Harbour was new to me and I was astonished to find how large it was. It made an ideal jumping off point for Port Solent with favourable tide up the Needles Channel. I arrived back about teatime on Wednesday 20 June – just inside my deadline of 21 June.

Spectacular anchorages, enchanting shores, convivial meet ups, generous hospitality and some sailing challenges – what more could one want!  Moreover, it was a most satisfying cruise to have completed single-handed but I was lucky several times. Autohelm repair at Courtmacsherry, flat batteries rectification at Kitchen Cove, finding shelter on Sherkin Island and rescue from the water at Castletownshead and Crookhaven were all fortuitous. The abundant generosity of fellow RCC members and the Irish people were much in evidence.

Truly, I was not alone.

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Reflecting on my good fortune

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