A late autumn voyage

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We tend to think of all sport as competition. But it is not always like that. Often it is about personal achievement or simply doing something of a sporting nature.

That final definition applied when I was asked to bring a 33ft sailing yacht from Poole Harbour in Dorset, back to Rye. 

Blue skies, calm-ish sea and a fair wind on the way to Eastbourne

Although not itself new, the boat had just been purchased and therefore was new to both me and to my friend Chris, a relatively inexperienced sailor, who was with me. Stored on land in a boatyard for the last year or so, we had it lifted into the water and had just one afternoon to get to know where everything was, where all the ropes lead to and how the various gadgets – mainly navigational – worked.

The following morning, as soon as the tide allowed (Poole Harbour is enormous but very shallow for the most part), we made our way under engine to the harbour entrance until the engine, for no apparent reason, just stopped. It turned out to be an airlock, but it was the next morning before it was finally sorted and we could get on our way again.

Sunset over Rye Bay – the sort of view you only get from the sea

The first day’s sail, on leaving Poole, was deliberately intended to be a shortish one – over to Yarmouth on the western end of the Isle of Wight, where we sat out the remains of storm Brian. In a reasonable amount of comfort, as it turned out, with Chris getting to grips with the yacht’s galley and providing roast duck and a rather good red wine. But we couldn’t hang about too long and the next destination was Bembridge, at the most eastern end of the Island where we were tide-bound for a further 24 hours. The approach to the harbour is along a twisting and very shallow channel and as high tide was in darkness the following day and I was not prepared to try and find my way through an unfamiliar and unlit channel in the pitch dark, we stayed where we were, finally getting away at first light the next morning, when it was just possible to see the buoys marking the channel ahead of us.

Finally home at Strand Quay

The intention had been to make the next stop Eastbourne but with a strong (and very cold) north wind together with choppy seas and continuous flying spray, we decided by mutual consent, that the marina at Brighton was far enough. Leaving Brighton the following morning, the day was intended to be the last with another early start and arrival at Rye timed for shortly before high tide at around 5:45pm. However it was not to be. The sea was much calmer when we left Brighton but the wind died almost immediately and it soon became obvious the we were not going to make it in time for the tide and so another night on the boat, this time in the marina at Eastbourne. This did, however have the advantage of being within easy distance of our final destination.

With a flat sea and no wind, we had no option but to turn on the engine and motor the final leg, arriving at the entrance to the River Rother shortly before high tide and just as darkness was falling (the clocks had changed the day before). Making our way up the river guided only by the flashing lights of the channel markers and then finding the very narrow entrance into Rock Channel, was a nerve-wracking business, but we made it without major mishap and finally tied up at Strand Quay (the boat’s new home for the time being) at about 7:30pm.

So was the trip worth it? Absolutely. We both learnt a lot about the boat, Chris learnt a lot about sailing and I have compiled a long list of things to be done before the spring – not the least of which is to discover how the hot air central heating works and to get the pumps working efficiently that deliver the hot and cold water to the galley, heads and shower. Planned for four days, the voyage had taken exactly a week, which I suppose bears out the old adage that ‘sailing is a means of getting you nowhere, very slowly’. Good fun, though. 

Photos: Christopher Horodyski and John Minter

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