#1 2019-11-04 18:04:30

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PIPPIN - THE Challenge, Breakdowns and Rescue

This year Pippin and I stayed closer to home, not entirely by design, but more than enough drama found me anyway, so I can’t complain.
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Pippin in Braye

IThe Jester Baltimore (Eire) Challenge seemed a suitable warm up for 2019, though of course Pippin is bigger than most of the real Challengers, but no one objected to my entry.  It’s not a conventional race, more a gathering of fellow solo eccentrics, with minimal rules, no checks – just a start line and a destination.  This is right up my street, for the Corinthian ideal has a strong appeal, and I haven’t got the first clue about yacht racing, though I am prone to an occasional competitive urge: so a gentlemanly result would suit me, somewhere near the back of the field but not so far back as to do irreparable damage to my pride.  Not that the Jester Challenge is about results of course.

There is another attraction to the event and that is Baltimore Pirate Week, which by design happens to be the week after the start, to be enjoyed by any Jester Challengers who get there in time.  Back in the bad old days, Barbary pirates ransacked Baltimore (I can think of better places to pillage), taking away many of its population to be sold into slavery and in typically Irish fashion, defeat has been turned into cause for celebration.  Actually the British Army are quite good at that too, for my old unit, 7th Armoured ('Desert Rat') Brigade (then a division) celebrated the WW2 battle of Sidi Rezegh where they got stuffed by Rommel; it was at one of those celebrations that I discovered gazpacho and brown bread ice cream, but I digress.
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Les Casquets on a fine June day

My voyages  starts from my home in Guernsey, usually with a little cross Channel warm up before ‘the main event’, and as May opened, I was blessed with one of those oh-so-rare days, when Pippin stretched her wings gently for 14 hours across the Channel on a single tack, the galley almost horizontal and sunshine filling the cockpit.  It began too early as ever at 0300, 1st June when Pippin left St. Peter Port, the wind gradually backing from ESE to ENE and building during the day to a very satisfactory 13 knots.   From Platte Fougere to Weymouth Harbour Hercule the Hydrovane took charge and I barely touched a thing, and by 1700, Pippin was snugly rafted 4 out against a busy Customs House Quay.   76 nautical miles at an average of just over 5 knots almost all on one tack and half a book read was fine by me!
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The operations’ centre

In Weymouth I caught up with family and met new friends Muriel and David.  They were tiny, modest and unassuming septuagenarians on the face of it, but appearances can be very deceptive - though the workmanlike layout of their ocean going boat was a bit of a giveaway.   Whilst chatting on the pontoon, David quietly told me about sailing through a storm into St. Helena deep in the south Atlantic, just the 2 of them aboard, as if it was nothing of consequence.  That amazing pair would be lost in a crowd, ignored by the average ‘yachtie’ at the Club bar, yet twice the person of all they passed. 

I am a fan of Weymouth as I have often said and was delighted to see Service crews arrive there during their Cherbourg regatta; it was incredible to realise that their Victoria 34s were all the wrong side of 30 years old, yet they looked immaculate.  Before leaving, I visited Fort Nothe again and discovered the amazing matchstick fleet – yes, every item you see in the picture from ships through gun barrels to carrier borne aircraft was made only with match sticks - incredible!
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Fort Nothe Weymouth

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Fort Nothe’s incredible matchstick fleet

I waited for a summer gale to blow through and left Weymouth at the civilised hour of 1400 on 9th June, rounding Old Bill close inshore, simply because I had never done it before, it was a benign day and because I felt my frequent tussles with the temperamental Swinge off Braye had in some way have qualified me.  Pippin wasn’t bothered at all and simply shrugged off the occasional irritable wave as she powered through at 8.5 knots, and I triumphantly managed to press the right button on the camera for once.
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Portland Race in benign mood & its lighthouse

The light SSW wind pinned Pippin close inshore round the sweeping curved edge of Lyme Bay as the afternoon turned into evening, but I was determined to sail.  Incredibly, despite a wind that never topped 8 knots true, Pippin and Hercule the wind vane managed just fine, jogging gently along even if it wasn’t where I wanted to go; deep in a locker, my stew simmered quietly in the slow cooker, sustenance for the long night ahead.  Meanwhile the female England footballers were doing better in their international match than their male counter parts ever seem to do, even if their victim was Scotland, for I have split loyalties being ½ Scottish.  An interesting phrase of the female commentator describing a player had me musing: “She is a big unit.  Yes, a big unit for sure.”

Whilst I could wax lyrical about its possible meaning, I decided it meant she was probably a girl I would not wish to cross, and I wondered what a little unit might resemble.

As the sun gave up for the day, Pippin continued to zig zag deep in the bosom of Lyme Bay testing my patience, as I tacked and tacked again in an effort to make progress west, a portent of things to come.  It did help me to think of that very British hero, Horatio Hornblower, whose bluff bowed square rigged frigate would never have managed to sail close winded as Pippin was doing; nevertheless I did not want to take 2 weeks to reach Plymouth as he might have done.

I persevered as lightning lit up the now dark horizon and fishing boats took up station around Pippin, invisible except as blobs on the radar screen.  I set the guard zone on the radar in order to rest a little, and was alerted twice as busy inshore fishing vessels slipped slowly by.  At around 2300 I wrote in the ship’s log, after yet another tack: “I should be able to hold this tack through the night”.  Wrong!  Half an hour later the  wind became indecisive and Pippin could do no better than head for Paris, so I furled the foresails and motor sailed as the fickle wind backed north of west.  As dawn came I decided to pause in Salcombe to rest whilst the next blows came through, before making for Plymouth and at 0800 10th June, I was met by a Salcombe harbour official in his little boat, who kindly tied Pippin to Buoy 127, in a quiet spot on the calm waters of Salcombe estuary.  After a solid  ‘fat boy’s’ (breakfast fry up), I joined Gollum deep in the sleep caves for 10 hours, dreaming of rotten eggs (I had found one in ship’s stores) and buckets for some reason, as torrential rain and strong gusts buffeted Pippin.

It’s always sensible to have a Plan B, so long as you have a Plan A of course, but complications arose after a convivial evening ashore with family on the Salcombe water front, for indecision - not a usual Willis characteristic - set in.  Merrily back aboard Pippin, the Willis Plan A had the most attraction, as it promised longer in my green maggot (sleeping bag) - but then Plan B had a tad more margin for error.  So to bed with Plan A in my head; but the Angel ‘Elf and Safety’ visited me in the night and placed common sense in my brain, so it was Plan B that got me up at dawn on 12th June, just as the fishing boats were all preparing to leave - so clearly Willis Plan B had something going for it.
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Salcombe fishing trawler(above) & Frigate 334 showing off (below)

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Deep in Bigbury Bay and sailing well in 8-13 knots of wind from east of north, tea and toast staved off starvation in the chilly morning air, as a sinister looking patrol boat came up astern and sniffed like a curious Rottweiler looking for sport; fortunately it clearly found Pippin of no interest and roared off to find entertainment elsewhere.
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Cawsand Bay

As Pippin closed a strangely deserted Cawsand Bay, my designated Plymouth finish line, Frigate 334 came in from starboard gathering way fast, burnt kerosene from her gas turbines trailing in a translucent plume from her funnel, evidence of effort and power.  It’s sensible in such situations not to argue the toss about right of way: instead, the old unwritten but universally understood adage, ‘might has right whatever’ was the order of the day I felt, so I hove to and had a go with the camera as Pippin sat quietly, wholly unimpressed with the racy grey ship roaring past.  By 1015, Pippin was snugly tied up in Berth D6 in the Mayflower Marina, 23 nautical miles out at an average again of just over 5 knots – I should explain here that Pippin was probably the slowest Francis 34PH out there, for she was lugging 8 spare jerry cans of fuel plus enough ship’s rations for an Army – but then, that’s cruising Willis style.  Whatever, this wasn’t the best set up for the Challenge – though of course it isn’t a race!

There is no peace for the wicked and I had VIPs coming to visit me in Plymouth, so Pippin got a wash and brush up before entertaining Royal Marine nephew Ed to lunch aboard.  I am not sure quite where Ed's genes came from, as he is everything I am not from the lofty crown of his head (which I can’t see) to his six pack stomach with good looks to boot - oh and he is bright and sporty; I reckon he got a full house when God put him together.  He does share one thing with his diminutive curmudgeonly Uncle John though - he does like his scoff.
A little culinary resupply was therefore necessary after Ed left, though I was most disappointed to find that Lidl do not stock Gentleman's Relish - indeed the lovely shop assistant had never heard of the stuff, and I found it hard to describe it in an appetising way ("it’s a sort of smelly fish paste"), judging by the look of utter distaste on her face.  "Ugh! Sounds like Marmite but MUCH worse" she said, curling her lip in disgust.  She was a strawberry jam sort of girl I suspect.  Fortunately friends Pete and Tracey Goss came to my rescue bringing a resupply of Gentleman's Relish proving they know a thing or two about morale, but I would expect that from an ex-Royal Marine.  After a convivial supper at Jolly Jacks, Pete looked me in the eye, crushed my hand in his huge paw and wished me luck for the Challenge, due to start 2 days later.
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Pippin graces Plymouth – Mayflower Marina

Whilst in Plymouth I was honoured to visit Victor and Amanda Tetmar aboard Hummingbird and it was good to share notes about our respective Francis 34PHs, though I suspect I banged on a little too long!  Apologies to you both if so.

On 15th June the Challengers gathered at the Tamar Yacht Club for the pre-race non-briefing on a blustery evening the day before the big ‘off’.  The whole occasion was wonderfully understated, professional but laidback, with the onus very firmly on each skipper, just as it should be: as we soldiers used to say on the firing range; “gentlemen, in your own time, carry on”.  It was also clear there were some seriously well prepared boats and not all smaller than Pippin: I felt at home, focused and ready.

Sunday 16th June, start day, arrived with the promise of SW 18-25 knots pretty much from the direction we all wanted to go.  Not wishing to poke Pippin’s bowsprit through another boat, I tucked her comfortably in the lee of Plymouth breakwater, mug of tea in hand, and crossed the line in solitary splendour several minutes after everyone else.

“Nicely done.  Comfortably at the rear of the fleet – in fact, plumb last!  4 knots close hauled, 2 metre seas, Pippin as comfortable as it is possible to be” I wrote in the log.
 
Some skippers sensibly peeled off into the welcoming arms of Cawsand Bay to await better weather but I kept Pippin’s bows pointed out to sea where a small cloud of white sails was fast disappearing.  Soon Pippin began to gain on a Challenger, which set my competitive juices flowing, even if it was Andy Lane’s 12’ boat; it didn’t matter, an overtake was an overtake or does that sound a little like racing talk?!  I tacked Pippin west, north of Eddystone, unlike almost everyone else, but was soon overhauling a 27’ ketch though this was a wholly uneven contest - but who cared?  But an overtake is an overtake and I don’t do that often, so there!
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Plymouth breakwater

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Rough start to the Jester Baltimore Challenge 2019

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Pippin overtakes a Challenger or two

The wind was gusting over 25 knots now, the seas rough for smaller boats but Pippin was very comfortable with a reef in the main, sheet down the track, and a few rolls in the yankee, though I realised it was going to be a very long hard slog.   Personally I wasn’t quite so comfortable and I don’t know my racing lines from my tram lines, for I am more of a sailing tramp, which perhaps explained my lonely course – I couldn’t see anyone else and I was only a few hours out.  Where on earth were they?  What did they know I didn't?!

This next section should be called “the battle for the Lizard”, now pretty well directly upwind.  It was very hard going indeed for me, for I am a little soft round the edges these days and Pippin was shipping a lot of water over her cabin top, but I couldn’t complain for most were fighting it out in smaller boats.  I am not sure when, but Pippin ascended a particularly big daddy of a wave, like an elevator heading for the 30th floor before descending for the basement, and somewhere around the 15th floor, my breakfast porridge ejected forcibly from wheelhouse door across the cockpit.  I am very rarely sea sick and this did not feel like that malaise for I felt fine, before and after, but this continued at regular 3 hourly intervals as I fought Pippin west through the gathering darkness.  At 1900 I wrote testily: “Crash, bang, wallop!  Slow, painful.”
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The Lizard on the calm return journey

It was hard to tack and tack again into strong winds and big seas, vomiting everything I had inside at regular intervals, whilst Falmouth glowed tantalisingly in the darkness close off my starboard beam,  seemingly for hours; but I had told myself I would do this.  No-one else would stop there, so why should I?  Or would they?  No Willis – you keep going I told myself in no uncertain terms.  At midnight, Pippin was making a cracking 6 knots in winds gusting 23 knots, though I had to dodge 4 large static vessels before finally passing Falmouth; once past I thought no more of giving up. 

At 0600 on the 17th, after 18 miserable hours and well behind the leading Challengers, I finally had the Lizard 5 miles off starboard beam, though I still could not eat.  At this point I didn’t care about anything except to keep going, so I set Pippin on a course hoping to clear south of the Scillies and Bishop’s Rock lighthouse, 50 nautical miles away, wishing it would all end.   To ease my woe a little, I removed two jerry cans of diesel from the cabin and somehow stuffed them into a cockpit locker.

At some point my projectile vomiting stopped, but I wasn’t in good shape and was weak from lack of proper food, though I munched nuts, dried fruit and chocolate and kept hydrated.  Amazingly I managed to write up the log at regular intervals throughout the entire passage and of course was able to spend almost all my time snugly inside.  Meanwhile imperturbable Hercule didn’t give a toss about my predicament, for he had a job to do and together he and Pippin managed just fine, as I groaned in misery and cursed the god of the SW wind.

The wind was easing by evening Day 2, 17th June, and by 1900 was a minnow of 10 knots from the WSW/SW.  This made tacking along the Scillies much more comfortable, though it was dispiriting to lose ground on each tack south, but by now I was steadily closing St. Agnes in the Scillies.  As a light evening mizzle came in, 30 sleepless hours after the crossing the start line, with Pippin now close in shore and Bishop’s Rock just ahead, I broke almost the only the Jester rule. 

My final tack would be achingly short of clearing the lighthouse …. unless.... so, on went the little engine, just enough to harden closer to the wind and clear that damned rock for I gained little or no speed.  To starboard and behind, two other Jester Challengers close inshore, were also struggling such that they gave up on Bishop’s Rock and slipped through a Scillies Sound for Eire instead. 
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At last!!  Bishop Rock conquered

Anyway, no excuses for using my engine; but there are times when safety and good seamanship dictate the use of all means at your disposal, like now for I was weak, unwell, exhausted and wanted to get off a nasty lee shore before dark. 
A little later, with my back to the Bishop’s Rock and the light SW wind, and with Eire 120 nautical miles north across a choppy but quiet Celtic Sea, I gave Hercule his instructions for the night and slept, guarded by the radar alarm.  Twice it woke me and twice I watched a ship pass, safely distant.

It took a day of light SW, Variable and then NE winds, sailing anywhere between 2.5 and 4.8 knots to get less than half way across that wretched Celtic Sea.  Sailing in such conditions I find sometimes harder and more dispiriting than blasting along in a good breeze, except perhaps for the boat’s motion, for it demands so much of the skipper if progress is to be made.  Not being the greatest at choosing the best course, I was grateful to have my ‘Garmin Inreach’, through which my wife Angie kept me updated on weather matters.  She advised of a coming wind shift to the NW, building in strength so I made as much westing as I could during the night of 18th June.

I always see dolphins in the Celtic Sea, which I have now crossed alone or in company at least 6 times, but this time I was amazed to see Risso's dolphins with their big blunt beakless white faces.  Mind you I had just ditched the best Willis stew ever made, completely untouched, just before they arrived; I do hope they are all right though for they didn’t come back for seconds. 

At daybreak on 19th June, I reefed the main sail as the wind, now NNW, was nudging 15 knots and would probably increase and I wanted comfort more than speed.  Meanwhile activity in the galley remained limited, very rare aboard my ship, for I still had no appetite but knew I had to keep my strength up.  I am not a huge fan of pot noodles, but in my state, they were something I could manage and they gave me a noticeable boost, along with bread and Marmite and cold baked beans – still tucked away for real emergencies of course, were my 2 Army ration packs.

I found it quite uncomfortable in the wide-open reaches of the Celtic Sea on the last day, for there was an irritating beam sea running, stirred by 18-20 knots of NW wind battling with the tide.  Searching waves licked over the cabin top as Pippin, too heavy in the stern, lifted her bows for a good spanking by an occasional larger oncoming wave, which she nevertheless shrugged off with little or no loss of speed.  So far she had been leak free, but searching salty fingers of wind-blown sea eventually found a tiny entry point in the fore hatch, enough to irritate but insufficient to seriously dampen anything.

The tide now began to give up its fight with the wind and turned in the evening gloom to head east, though rollers in from the Atlantic still made it a lively ride.  Talking of comfort, apart from my sickness, I must have been better off than most other Challengers;  I even managed to read  a couple of books, as well as sleep and rest in my snug cabin, whatever was going on outside, whilst the radar stood watch, and Hercule the hero steered without complaint.

A final tack before I whooped in petty self-indulgent triumph as Pippin passed the infamous Fastnet Rock in darkness and ran on past Clear Island towards Lot’s wife, the tall stone beacon dominating the eastern entrance to Baltimore, until I could see the welcoming flashing green light of the Baltimore channel marker.  Pippin began to ride the new east going tide driven by a soldier’s wind, cork-screwing gently on the quartering sea, but in the right direction with Hercule, imperturbable as ever, in charge of operations.

In the gathering darkness I saw 2 other Challengers crawling west close inshore to round Fastnet, before returning to Baltimore, motor sailing after a long hard bash I suspect, for they were directly into the wind.
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Lot’s wife, on the morning I left for Cork

I was weak and knackered and it was very dark, so decided not to sail into the narrow Baltimore entrance and furled the sails as Pippin rolled in the gusty darkness, carelessly ripping the mainsail in the process; otherwise, Pippin had come through everything unscathed and done all I asked of her with dignity and grace: I couldn’t say the same about her feeble skipper.

A 30 foot Challenger followed me as I groped my way in to drop the Rocna in the lee of Sherkin Island with 2 other Challengers that I could barely see, even with binoculars.  Choosing my spot, I stood astride the foredeck in the pitch black night, but struggled when the anchor chain jammed in its locker and I felt my old back injury stir ominously.   But just then I didn’t care - it was around 2330 and I had finally arrived, 363 very slow, difficult nautical miles and 3½ days out from Plymouth, stirred and shaken, relieved and swearing “never again”!  I had only averaged 104 miles in 24 hours, which is just 4.33 knots per hour – but given everything, I was ok with that.
4 or 5 Plymouth starters were ahead of Pippin, though really it mattered not for to finish was enough and I felt my honour was intact – we had done our best, Pippin and me. 

(There are no Jester results lists, but it seems 14 or 15 managed to finish from Plymouth , 9 retired and several decided not to cross the start line (others came in from Pwllheli).  Two were later rescued by the RNLI, one with engine breakdown off Cork and one towed in to shelter from a gale in the Scillies).
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Jester finishers rest in Baltimore

After a few hours’ sleep, I made a difficult decision – I would leave the following  morning, 20th June, for I had no usable mainsail, the wind was due to turn east and harden with scattered showers, and I had 24 hours before my back might make sailing impossible.  No Pirate party for me – I didn’t even go ashore, as I was physically unable to manhandle dinghy and engine, though I swapped notes with a couple of passing Challengers.

Well before dawn, I weighed anchor swinging the Rocna up into its rest on the bow, full of Baltimore sand, and secured it tightly with its tether; it was 0215 on 20th June and Lot’s wife slept atop her dark headland as I pointed Pippin's bows for the moon, which hung conveniently over the Baltimore entrance.  Essential cuppa in hand, I set course for Crosshaven 54 nautical miles to the east; it was a limp sort of morning: the ensign hung limp, the Jolly Roger and Irish flags hung limp, the wind hung limp and I hung limp.  Only the sea was alive, rolling lazily in from the Atlantic despite a local forecast (VHF 23) of west 3-4 decreasing and becoming variable.

It was a simple easy passage and I kept Pippin close inshore, passing my old friends Galley Head and Kinsale Head and it was approaching lunchtime, at the turn of the tide as I swung into the River Owenabue, bound for the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven.  The
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Sherkin Island ruins, Baltimore
river runs fast and the channel is narrow, so care is needed particularly when tired, or you could suffer a very public and prolonged grounding on a mud bank.
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Eire sunrise
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Cork’s narrow Harbour entrance

I knew that Shaun and Ita Hunt were based in Crosshaven with their Francis 34PH Red Magic and, incredibly, as Pippin swept round the final bend heading upstream to the Royal Cork Yacht Club, I saw the unmistakable stern of their lovely red yacht.  Even more amazingly Shaun was aboard that very afternoon, between trips to the Middle East!  Helping me dock, he promised to send a man to fix my mainsail and we viewed each other’s F34PHs like nerdy train spotters.  Boats like the Frances 34PH, essentially hand built, low volume, all have idiosyncrasies and mine is possibly the only ‘galley up’ version (?), set up to suit solo me – they say a dog takes after its owner, or is it the other way round?  Frances’ are much the same, I think.

As predicted, familiar back pain began to overcome me, though at least I knew precisely where to find the town, a good café with delicious homemade cake and a supermarket, for I had been there before.  So I hobbled painfully off and became so absorbed in coffee and cake, that I returned like an injured squirrel, full swag bag over shoulder – but minus the principle item for which I had headed to town; milk.  But hey!  This was Ireland, where people smile and actually open their mouths to say hello, even if I can’t understand what comes out.  In the Club bar, I regaled the bar lady with my plight, she the sort whom I would happily have in my platoon as chief logistics officer: I reckon she could have sorted out the Duke of Wellington’s Army, never mind a litre of milk for me.

Back aboard, with 2 litres of milk at no charge, I watched a large light weight Frenchie (Irish crew) broadside the sterns of 6 others, remaining pinned there for 30 minutes by wind and tide, before escaping thanks to the efforts of ½ a dozen people and miles of warps.  All down the shiny grey side of the yacht were deep scratches and, no doubt, massive dents in several egos.

This set me off another rant, for the incident had been nothing to do with seamanship.  It was much more about being aware of your environment, noting what the tide is doing, understanding what effect it will have on your boat and countering that with a sensible plan.  And, of course, you won’t succeed under engine if you faff and tickle the throttle as that skipper had done – no; you go for it and boot that damn throttle and if that doesn’t work, you’ll make new friends as you swap insurance details and regale others later in the bar.
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Royal Cork Yacht Club (Crosshaven)

Dick turned up, just as Sean had promised, accompanied by Barry to remove Pippin's main sail for surgery and I winced with back pain as I watched Barry lug the big sail onto his shoulder and stride off, promising to be back in a day or two.  No big deal, except this was race week where every sailmaker within a zillion miles was flat out serving the demands of racing teams.  Dick, a sprightly septuagenarian who used to own UK Sails in Crosshaven, personally stitched up Pippin's main sail working as long as it took and brought it back, complete with a beefy Irish rugby player to refit it and the reefing pennants.  All I had to do was get in the way and make tea.

It’s never dull when you are journeying.  Next evening, I was hobbling slowly back from town when I was stopped by the driver of a British registered motorhome, his mature female passenger lounging with bare feet up on the dashboard (no painted toe nails).  The florid male driver asked me the way to somewhere, to which I could only reply that I knew the way to nowhere and then he said; "Not surprising as I see you are also an old git!"  I sensed an insult, but before I could pull him out of the cab and thump him I looked at where he was pointing, for I was proudly sporting my Old Git badge on my jumper, presented by my daughter Sarah, a perceptive judge of character.

The weekend swept wetly in and I listened to an early morning symphony of Irish rain loud on the cabin roof, and decided that the ‘Willis rain award’, first awarded in 2015 in soggy Dublin, would henceforth remain with the Irish, in perpetuity.  So grotty was the weather that even the bar at the yacht club was empty, and no dinghy was launched from the slipway all weekend.  It didn’t help my mood, for I had now been at Crosshaven for several days and really had no idea when I would be able to sail again.  One thing was clear though - the original Willis master plan of heading north after the Jester Challenge was now wildly over ambitious.  So, whilst the rain exhausted itself on boats and pontoons I decided to head home direct, once my back pain and the weather had eased sufficiently.  I won’t pretend that this did not hit me hard – I was very disappointed and upset, but you cannot muck about at sea and I did not wish to invite disaster.

Pausing later on a pontoon to view the overcast in hope of seeing a little blue, I noticed a ripple in the water, a ripple soon pierced by 2 elegant smooth curved grey backs, and then 2 achingly pretty little curious whiskered heads.  They were otters, which I had only seen once before in the far north of Scotland.  They live here in the river which runs through Crosshaven and empties into Cork Harbour, a spot well known to be home to Heron and otters, which are members of the weasel family and the Irish for otter is "madra uisce", which delightfully means “water dog”.  Famously elusive and reputed to have assisted St. Brendan in his journey, the highest concentration of otters in Europe is here in Ireland.  They are not just cute, but fast too, capable of swimming and running faster than most humans.

By 2000 that evening as I finished supper, ½ a ton of beefcake and testosterone had gathered aboard the rod rigged, sexy black racer next door - at least it was sexy if you like that kind of sexy.  With millimetres of hull below the sea and towering topsides, the racer relied on a lead bulb hanging on a thin column below the waterline to stay upright, assisted of course by the efforts of the beefcake.  By comparison, Pippin looked like Mrs Tiggywinkle, but neither she nor I cared about such things; I knew which vessel I would rather be in and anyway, I doubted they had rhubarb crumble and custard aboard.

Time passed with much competitive bicep flexing and swapping of notes on girlfriends, but after a while eyes turned increasingly impatiently to the shoreline, scanning for something.  At 2045 the ‘Henriettas’ finally arrived, fashionably late, all giggly twitterings and flashing smiles, completely oblivious to the urgency of departure.  10 minutes later they were all gone, off to a race week somewhere up the coast; I wondered if they knew a gale was marching towards them, and what it would be like to handle that careering racer in high winds and challenging seas.

The RCYC sensibly makes use of an army of smart looking teenagers to perform the basic daily tasks around the place and a cheerful, helpful bunch they are too.  Next morning I was grumpily limping along a pontoon, snapping some early morning pictures when one slouched past.  I greeted him politely, and received the classic teenage Neanderthal grunt, which could have meant anything from "Sod off oldie!" to "Howdy, man!"  I assumed the latter, as we were in charming Ireland.

More in hope than expectation I slowly began to prepare Pippin for sea and turned my attention to passage planning, the art of knowing roughly where you are going, how and when, but for me it’s a joy  in which I will happily engage for days prior to departure.  If it’s a tricky route out to sea or back into port, I'll ensure I have a good mental picture for recall when half asleep and of course, I will put my tea mug on the galley top ready for filling pre departure.

The passage plan is but an intention, invariably to be altered as soon as the start line is crossed, but let’s be honest, travelling at 5 knots or so with land 100 nautical miles off, changes ‘en route’ make little immediate difference.  You tell your loved ones you'll be home no time soon and set off in the direction of, rather than to a fixed destination following a set timetable; that's for motor-boaters.

Finally, after 10 days in Crosshaven I decided I could manage the trip and so Pippin slipped away from her dock, pushed by the ebb tide at pretty well exactly 0900 on 30th June, a month after leaving Guernsey.  It is alarmingly shallow in places, heading out of the vast Cork harbour - if you prefer a mile beneath your keel as I do, so I took it steadily.  Once again I had the narrow channel out to sea to myself and made the most of it, plumb down the middle, Pippin pushing hard into a very short sea, her speed barely 3.5 knots.  It was at this point I realised the forecast was on the optimistic side of reality, as I watched the pilot boat head out to shepherd an incoming tanker, rearing and diving, throwing spray high over her bows.  I had expected winds from the west, 12-20 knots and an overcast day.  The reality was 16-25 knots, with the wind eventually WNW/NW.

In the relative quiet of a bay I put a reef in the main and a few rolls in the yankee, and headed out in the direction of Land's End 130 or so nautical miles away.  It was on the rough side for smaller boats, as shallow seas so often are, and the waves were hitting Pippin on the beam, but she rolled and dived comfortably and charged off at an easy 6.5 knots - what a girl!  Once again I had the feeling that her passenger wasn't as happy as she, though I had discovered my previous nausea to have been caused by anti-inflammatory medications that I had since stopped.

The master plan was to make direct for Guernsey if I managed enough sleep or Penzance if not, for it is not easy to sleep much in these waters.  Well I managed plenty of rest, but little sleep for the motion of the boat was lively, though I did consume almost a whole book by journey’s end.  During the day the west wind nudged 25 knots and the sea was confused, not that Hercule the Hydrovane cared - it was business as usual, come what may for the old trooper.  I saw a few trawlers and not many ships but as dusk fell, a little modern gaff rigged red yacht passed half a mile off, her skipper standing high in red oilskins, battered by the elements – I think it might have been that incredible micro yacht builder and sailor, Sven Yrvind.  Whatever, this was a tough guy, for she was a very small boat indeed, but going well despite the lively conditions.  The only other yacht I saw was a biggie heading rapidly south, west of the Scillies so I guessed for Spain or France.

I always look out at the weather and review the sail plan before nightfall and usually put an additional reef in for the dark hours, so much safer to do in daylight, and at 2000 I did just that.  It didn't slow Pippin and perhaps the motion was a little easier and my radar alarm only disturbed me twice before dawn, though sleep eluded me as I tossed and rolled with the motion.  By daybreak the wind was a puppy of 16 knots, though it peaked at 19, before dropping to 8-10 knots when I shook out the reefs.  As I had suspected, Pippin's bowsprit was aimed at the Scillies 40 nautical miles ahead, so I tacked east to close the Cornish coast, eventually crossing just north of the Scillies TTS.

I was just beginning to think things were going pretty well when the engine, which was running to charge the batteries after a long day and night powering the radar, coughed and died.  I knew exactly why - the primary filter was clogged with the crap I had inherited from a small garage in Spain last year.  I had checked it, and guessed - wrongly - that it would see me home.  These lovely diesels don't demand much from their boss; just clean oil and fresh diesel and they'll run forever, and I had failed it.

Well, I have never changed a filter or bled a diesel at sea but I was going to give it a damn good try, though you can imagine the chuntering going on in that wheelhouse just then.  The boat's motion was all over the place and lifting off the heavy engine box, getting at the fuel filter under the navigator’s seat and trying to find the right spanners, which I knew I had somewhere, was taxing for an old git with a bad back. 

Fortunately the filter was a new Racor, which I had watched being installed and on which I had been given a verbal brief.  The engineer had also fitted an electric lift pump for bleeding and boy was I glad he had.  Trying to remember all this, whilst bent over first a smelly fuel filter and then an equally smelly hot diesel engine, combined with Pippin imitating a horse in the Grand National caused the inevitable result - I was violently sick, which also didn't help.  I changed the filter and fortunately as I cracked each bleed nipple in turn and flicked on the electric pump, first bubbles and then pure fuel flowed in seconds, something that could have taken half an hour or more with the pathetic little Yanmar manual lift pump - if you could reach it at all.

The joy, oh the joy! - followed by a celebratory vomit, as the engine coughed and ran as sweet as a nut, though I don't know why a nut is considered sweet in that sense.  Of course the skipper's amazing brilliance was captured in the log and later I gushed about it to my long suffering wife Angie.  If I’m making much of this, it is because though my theoretical knowledge of basic engine stuff is ok, my practical experience is zilch and my confidence not much better.  But being out there alone is a pretty good motivator, and I want to finish my sailing days without a visit from those great guys in their blue and orange boats, the RNLI.
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Mount’s Bay inshore trawler
The last hours of the journey down past Longships and round Land's End into lovely Mounts Bay was a 50:50 motor-sail, both to charge the batteries and to make quite sure the engine was running just fine - which thankfully it was.   Later I wrote; “Thank God I have the tide as friend, not foe.  Lovely evening, but can’t wait to finish.”  I needed a sleep and it was good to tie up in Penzance at 2145 on 1st July.  Pippin had travelled 186 nautical miles, once again at an average of a little over 5 knots, though it had been a little too exciting for me at times.

Chaucer's saucy Canterbury Tales went down as well with my English class of pubescent boys as any set book at school can, but I held the distinction of being the only boy I knew who both enjoyed and read all of Milton's Paradise Lost - even my English teacher thought that odd.  He then introduced us to Oscar Wild's the Importance of Being Earnest and I was fascinated by the fictitious character Bunbury, designed to be used as an excuse to avoid unwanted engagements.  So it was that my ears pricked up when a very posh, languid voice rumbled over the airwaves announcing the arrival of yacht Bunbury into Penzance - well, I like to consider boat names, ready as ever to criticise, but what genius!  No shame in calling the RNLI with that name!

At 0600 on 5th July I said goodbye to Bunbury (a Sadler 34, in case you just might be wondering) next morning as Pippin slipped through the narrow lock and out into Mount's Bay, where I saluted the early morning with sails erect and set Pippin on course for the shadowy Lizard, visible across the Bay through the morning haze.  You must keep on your guard here, as lobster pot markers are numerous but there was still time enough to get the espresso on and enjoy my pre-breakfast Gentleman's Relish.  It was a diamond morning, even to an old grump like me, and Pippin responded picking up her skirts and cantering across the Bay, guided by the ever inscrutable Hercule.
I often see large tankers at anchor in odd places off England's South coast, as I did that day, and always wondered what they were doing.  It seems some anchor until the price of the fuel they are carrying has risen, to maximise profit; fair enough I suppose.

The wind was pleasantly in excess of the forecast for now, perhaps boosted by the cliffs and I felt again that there is something about the soft quiet of sailing; the gurgling wake, creak of the boom, rasp of rope on wire all sounds of sailing - sights and sounds that make it special, particularly with tea and sunshine.  Pippin greedily gobbled the gusts in Mounts Bay and surged on but not for long, for the wind eased as we emerged from the shadow of the cliffs, whilst astern I watched chasing sails and a little inshore fishing boat scampering out to tend its pots.

I like to mark milestones, big or little, and to operate a rewards based system aboard, all in the interests of morale, and the conquering of the Lizard - SO much easier that day - was just the moment to award myself an 'Army Fruit & Fun' (puree); in my soldiering days, it would have been a tin of pears or prunes.  Still, it's good stuff.

Unfortunately the fickle wind teased and promised but never came for the rest of the journey, so I settled the sails in harmony with the little Yanmar for a long motor-sail under autopilot.  At the back of my mind was the concern that once again the engine would stop, choked by Spanish sludge, something that I really, really did not want in the midst of the shipping lanes in darkness.  I am not a great worrier but nevertheless, this spoilt my enjoyment of the return leg.

Monsters began to appear as I settled Pippin on course for Les Hanois, full and low in the water, pushing aside walls of sea as they dragged their fat bellies along, bridge wings sticking out either side like ears on long faces.  These huge vessels can seem static when viewed by eye, but in fact they're coming at you at perhaps a mile in 3 minutes, not long to get out of the way when you're flat out at 5.5 knots.  A little later, I awarded Army issue oatmeal digestives a 7/10, which was rather better than the Willis score in 1974 for hard tack biscuits and cheese 'possessed', which scored a minus though I could always find a sucker (even if I had to pull rank) to swap with.

I had never known the Channel so calm or the water such a light shade of green, its oily surface un-punctured by ripples as the sun shone and the little diesel chuntered on, pushing Pippin's pretty bows in the direction of the Channel Islands.  The tidal effect over 24 hours or so would be roughly neutral, so Pippin's course would become like an S shaped snake with the vague plan that she would reach the Hanois at just the right spot on the wings of the tide, not in conflict with it.
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Channel traffic
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Magnetic Channel trawler

I seem to have magnetic powers of attraction for trawlers and that day was no exception, all of them seemingly hell bent on possessing the very patch of sea on which Pippin and I pottered.  It isn't always easy to work out their direction, for often at night their navigation lights are hidden by powerful deck illumination and they move so very slowly.  These days I recognise many of them and wonder if they do Pippin, thoughts that accompanied chicken sausage and beans for lunch.

I was amazed to see a lobster pot marker 60 nautical miles from shore - 200 years ago kegs of smuggled brandy from Guernsey might have lain at the bottom of its tether, awaiting collection by Cornish smugglers (school project c.1968!).  Maybe today it might also be some elicit cargo of a less savoury kind, for this skipper at least.

The English Channel is a marine super highway, one of the busiest in the World and it was no surprise to see 27 ships captured on the radar screen, most of them unseen by eye though the long dirty brown cloud bank of pollution, that stretched from one horizon to the other, marked their physical presence.  It is said that just 30 of the biggest ships in the World produce more sulphur emissions in a year than all the cars on the roads everywhere.

This is believable when you realise that the engines of one of these nautical behemoths are big and powerful enough to probably provide the electricity needs of major towns.  The largest container ships for example, carry up to 1,6000 x 20' containers, and are powered by low revving 2 stroke diesels of up to 108,000 h.p. a mere 4,000 times more powerful than Pippin's little motor.  These engines are 27 metres long and 14 high, weigh 2,300 tons and each guzzles 1,660 gallons an hour of the cheapest, filthiest, high-sulphur fuel - the thick residues left behind in refineries after the lighter liquids have been taken; the stuff nobody on land is allowed to use.  Pippin's engine by contrast, is about 3' x 2', burning 0.5 gallons per hour of automotive grade diesel!  There are apparently 25 of thee humongous engines roaming the high seas today, with another 86 planned for the near future.
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A quiet Channel dawn

Three times during a night of sometimes painfully slow progress, I took compass and radar bearings on an approaching leviathan and checked again minutes later, each time satisfied that though it would be close, the ship would pass by safely enough.  During the trip I heard panicky transmissions from a few other yachtsmen, all of whom were ignored.  I have a sort of 6th sense, when looking at approaching ships, a sense that told me that this particular ship was fractionally altering course; sure enough, it swept round Pippin's stern, 1/2 a mile off, before altering back to its original course.

It is my possibly controversial belief that ships are unlikely not to keep a proper watch in this manic marine highway, and are much more able to be able to calculate whether a collision will or will not occur than you are.  On my many solo Channel crossings I have found the best tactic is always to be seen and to maintain course and speed at 90° to the marine highway, and not complicate matters by constantly altering course.  I have also come to believe that the king of instruments in such environments is radar, which I personally prefer to AIS.
Of course there is no chance of sleep deep in the Channel, a good excuse to exercise the espresso machine and to keep a good book going.  Dawn broke pink over a pewter sea and 5 nautical miles off Les Hanois dolphins came, feeding lazily nearby, occasionally breaking off to play in Pippin's wake - not that there was much of one at 51/2 knots.

How nice to finish a long journey at a gallop, riding on the wings of a charging near-spring tide, more happy coincidence than brilliant passage planning if truth be told; so very much nicer than slogging into a bully of a tide at barely 3 knots, harbour tantalisingly close, yet hours away.

The Hanois reef, its black teeth that morning still partly uncovered despite the new flood tide, is a wicked place to be on a bad night as the unfortunate captain and crew of HMS Boreas found in 1807.  Despatched to rescue a Guernsey west coast pilot cutter, she had taken it in tow when she struck the Hanois reef with fatal consequences for 120 of her crew.

Meanwhile the Guernsey pilots, seeing the danger, cut the tow and rowed furiously for the shore, which they made safely, not bothering to raise the alarm, behaviour not typical generally of my fellow countrymen I like to think.  Of course they may have been Jersey born, or perhaps French - that might explain it.

Today the reef slept, as Pippin puttered close by, her engine having not missed a beat, I thought proudly, recalling my vomit stricken hour deep in the Celtic sea, clearing Spanish sludge from her filter.
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Les Hanois – early morning

Pippin slipped through St. Peter Port pier heads at coffee time on 6th July, 129 nautical miles out, having averaged a pedestrian 4.4 knots.  Overall, Pippin had covered 913 sometimes bruising nautical miles, though my sailing plans had been foreshortened by injury - but at least I could take some satisfaction in having joined that hardy band of Jester Challengers and the Jester Burgee hangs proudly in my cabin.

My summer sailing didn’t end there of course and after a couple of short trips back to Weymouth and Alderney during the rest of July, I persuaded my long suffering wife Angie that a little voyage up the Big Russel to Dielette in France, about 5 hours away, on a lovely sunny day would be just the ticket.  She hadn’t been out sailing for quite a while and this, I convinced her, would be just the job to reintroduce her to the joys of sailing on such a fine little ship.  I even checked the state of the fuel filter with the engineer, and we agreed it looked good for plenty more hours; nothing could go wrong…….

And so on 1st August, at a sensible hour, Angie and I pottered harmoniously out past the Lower Heads Buoy, up the Big Russel towards Sark, without a care in the World – even my back was playing ball.  We took Pippin round Sark’s Bec du Nez and half way down its east coast to join a small armada off Dixcart Bay, where I dropped the Rocna to rest the night so as to arrive in Dielette on the flood, for I hadn’t been for a while and it can silt up around the entrance.

It was still and calm as I stumbled up to the foredeck to raise the anchor at dawn.  But things didn’t go as planned – there was not a peep from the anchor winch, so I had no option but to haul 55 metres of chain and our 15kg Rocna, hand over hand with much silent grumbling before I could turn Pippin’s bows towards France.  Angie joined me as we closed the French coast and we docked in the outer harbour.  We met friends, walked and dined and enjoyed a local harbour carnival, until it was time to cast off and head for home 2 days later. 
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Dielette breakfast venue

The wind was SW, due to drop during the morning from 13 knots to less than 10 and by lunch time we were motor sailing towards the Big Russel, the islands of Sark, Herm and Jethou with their attendant hazards clear ahead.
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Angie and Pippin in Dielette
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Carnival time in Dielette

Suddenly the little Yanmar coughed and died and as Angie took the wheel, I flung myself to the wheelhouse floor and set to once again – but this time to no avail.  By now Pippin was in the grip of the Spring tide and I had no wish to tackle the Russel without power, and with little wind in the lee of Sark.  We were not in imminent danger, so we
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Sark hazards

unfurled all sail and sailed as best we could round the east side of Sark, making  pretty good progress, whilst I called the Coast Guard to alert them to our situation and agree a 20 minute radio schedule on VHF 20.

As the afternoon lengthened Pippin eventually cleared L’Etac, the southern tip of Sark and headed in the direction of St. Peter Port.  But it became clear that we would not make it into St Peter Port Roads before the flood began, though Pippin amazingly had managed to claw her way to within a mile of the Lower Heads Buoy.  But leeway was now close to 90°, and we were going nowhere except sideways back up the Russel to France, so it was time to ask for assistance and soon the fishing boat ‘Just Right’ joined us.  I thanked him profusely as I tossed him our tow rope; “it happens” said the single fisherman with a shrug, before turning back to cleaning and gutting his catch, as his boat chugged the
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Fishing boat ‘Just Right’ with Pippin in tow

three miles to St Peter Port, where the harbour dory took over and nudged us alongside.  An hour later we were joined by a French yacht with 5 aboard, which had also been towed in with an engine problem, by a local power cruiser.

A couple of days later, I inflated the dinghy and rowed out to the little fishing boat that had towed us in, which was moored on a swinging mooring in the harbour.  I left a waterproof envelope in the wheelhouse, containing a note of thanks and a donation towards the additional diesel he had burned.  He had of course not asked for or expected anything, but I felt it the right thing to do. 

As I write these final words on summer 2019, Pippin’s fuel tank has been cleaned, we’ve put another hundred miles under the keel and yes, Angie will come again – but meanwhile I’m itching to set off on a little autumn trip, for I keep Pippin in the water most winters  – perhaps I’ll pop down to Jersey as I’m that desperate! 

The end.

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#2 2019-11-05 07:25:48

Duncan_Hill
Member
From: Dun Laoghaire, Ireland
Registered: 2017-03-14
Posts: 55

Re: PIPPIN - THE Challenge, Breakdowns and Rescue

Cracking read smile

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#3 2019-11-05 09:55:43

Charles_Grossie
Member
Registered: 2017-08-10
Posts: 39

Re: PIPPIN - THE Challenge, Breakdowns and Rescue

Great bedtime reading. I really enjoyed it too. Nice format and great content.

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