St Vaast, Volvo and AIS

Trips to St Vaast are usually a treat and the May Bank Holiday excursion was no exception.


We’d signed up Shearwater months ago when Graham Broadway first mentioned the possibility of a club rally but as the date grew closer, doubts about our ability to take part grew. The problem was our engine. At Easter, we discovered our trusty Volvo Diesel to be a little less trusty than usual. Lots of smoke, a lack of revs and an inability to push Shearwater convincingly against even a very slight tide meant that it really couldn’t be trusted at all. 


It turns out that finding good marine mechanics in April and May on the Solent is a little problematic. So it wasn’t until a week before the St Vaast trip that I finally managed to get someone to take a look at the engine.  The good news was that the problem turned out to be a simple one: a blocked exhaust elbow. (You didn’t realise that engines had elbows? Or that they could be blocked? Me neither). The relevant part was back-ordered, worldwide. 


Fortunately the Internet is a big place (I’ve still not reached the edge, despite hours looking) and using the power of Google, I found a fake non-Volvo substitute part which our mechanic was able to fit on May 21st, just one day before our planned departure.  Along the way, we also had AIS fitted, of which more later.


So on Friday 22nd we arrived at Shearwater and established that the engine did, in fact, appear to work properly and at shortly after 8pm, we left Haslar and headed towards one of the nominal starting points for a “fast cruise” - the Bembridge Ledge east cardinal, hoping that the very light north-westerly might be sufficient for sailing. It wasn’t - or at least it wasn’t if we wanted to get to St Vaast and back in the same weekend. So the motor stayed on and we enjoyed a straightforward night crossing of the channel. Off Barfleur, what little wind there was disappeared completely and we ceased even the pretence of motor-sailing and dropped all sail, tying up next to Graham’s chartered “Trinco” which had arrived in St Vaast shortly before us.  Our new exhaust elbow had done us proud: I think this is the first time I have had to motor the whole way across the channel, so it is just as well that it did.


Unfortunately we were a little too late for the Saturday market, so our plan to buy some bread turned into a quick visit to “La Criée du Tomahawk”, a seafood restaurant with a fishmongers attached. Or perhaps the other way around. Either way, if you like fish, it’s worth a visit. Crab, langoustines, home made mayonnaise and wine followed, then back to the harbour just in time for more snacks and drinks on board Trinco.  Then some quick rest and recuperation before heading out for dinner with the crew of Musyk on the terrace of La Marina. Dinner was great and the company convivial but the temperature took a dive after sunset so we headed back to Musyk for digestifs.


Not surprisingly, we slept well on Saturday night, waking to early Sunday morning mist that quickly gave way to cloudless blue skies and proper summer holiday temperatures. A tour of the town resulted in the ingredients for breakfast (brioche, fresh strawberries, coffee) which we barely finished before heading to the club picnic which seemed to include everything you could want: wine, cheese, ham, salami, salads, fruit, cakes…


All too soon, it was time to head back to Shearwater and make ready for heading back home. This time, we had high hopes of actually being able to sail.  There was a decent breeze from the west as we left St Vaast, following the coast northwards towards Barfleur to make the most of a favourable shove to the north from the tide. After a brief period showing us exceeding 9 knots over the ground at times, we settled into a comfortable reach heading north.


The forecasts hinted at a veer sometime during the night, together with possible fog patches and rain and even an increase from our force 3-4 to a 5. Not knowing when the veer would take place made judging the optimum course a matter of guesswork so we steered more or less due north to allow for tide and possible wind shifts as we closed the Isle of Wight.


We ran into fog in mid-Channel and the AIS turned out to be quite entertaining as we watched the LED triangles representing ships pass in front and behind us at around half a mile distance, but without seeing any of them for real. One of them even changed course to avoid us, which was nice. If we’d not had the AIS, I would have concluded that the Channel was empty.


We were close inshore near St Catherine’s Point when the wind first died away then returned with some more vigour from the north giving apparent windspeeds in the high twenties for a while, so a reef was in order as we pottered past Sandown towards Bembridge and watched the sky gradually lighten. 


The weekend was a great success, so thanks to Graham for organising the rally, and to Bill Lewis of Musyk for organising dinner on Saturday evening. Our sleep deprivation was considerable since there were only two of us on Shearwater, so apologies if our conversation flagged or was even more incomprehensible than usual. 


I look forward to next year!

Andy Ormsby, 27.05.2015 | More from Andy Ormsby’s blog