The St Vaast Rally
Five boats were entered to go to St Vaast for the late May Bank Holiday. On Friday morning I called in at the local supermarket to acquire the essentials for the pontoon party and was rather late leaving for the coast. On the way I stopped for some lunch and found an email telling me that Juno, the boat I was crewing on, had developed a leak around the saildrive seal and would not be able to cross the channel. This caused a minor panic as I had a boot full of supplies (some perishable) and no means at arriving at the pontoon party!
A quick phone call and Andy Ormsby kindly offered me a place on Shearwater and so with a change of waypoints in the car sat nav I arrived at Haslar marina early afternoon. John Newland arrived shortly after me and was soon followed by Piers Bullock, Robin Whaite and Andy Stallard, a friend of Andy. After supper in the restaurant at Haslar we cast off our moorings at 2000 and proceeded out of the eastern Solent in a flat calm under engine.
The visibility in the Solent was hazy to say the least but as we sailed south from Bembridge Ledge we could see the lights of Ventnor which was about 8 miles away and St Catherine's light showed faintly.
The shipping lanes seemed very quiet with no lights visible in either lane although the AIS showed some ships a long way away from us. At some time in the night the "Harmony of the Seas" passed on her maiden voyage. I was off watch at the time and missed it but the other watch were mightily impressed by the light show.
As we approached France it became clear that the visibility was not clear! In fact the first sight of France was Le Gavendest buoy just outside of St Vaast. We were about 10 minutes too early for the gate but our attention was taken by the sight of a large motor sailor with an enormous bow wave, approaching our transom with a crazy crewman in the bows waving madly at us. We were just about to rig boarding nets and preparing to fight off pirates when we realised that she had a LSC burgee and ensign and that it was Patrick MacCullock on the bows of Windhummer trying to attract our attention.
Whilst this was happening the gate opened but was not heralded by a mad charge of fishing boats leaving as is normal, the French fuel strikes must have affected them, but by AIS targets passing inwards through the gate. Shortly after we berthed Wolverine arrived and moored just behind us.
John Strode in Gull failed to appear. It turned out that he had been put off by the strong northerlies forecast for Sunday night and had elected to go to Weymouth instead. And so the LSC fleet was reduced to 3
Lunch was had at the Marina restaurant where all of Shearwater's crew were injured with shrapnel from an exploding crab and this was followed by a visit to M Gosselins and then to the pontoon party, in bright sunshine, where all of the LSC contingent assembled aboard Shearwater. This was followed by dinner for all participants at the fish restaruant across the gate.
Sunday dawned with bright sunshine once again. After a croissant and a cup of coffee all of LSC assembled in the cockpit of Wolverine, a much bigger cockpit, for the picnic which consisted of meats, cheeses, pates, salads and tartes of the local region which was washed down with a small drop of Calvados.
All boats left around 4pm. As far as Shearwater was concerned the forecast northerly was closer to NW generally around 14 to 16 knots true wind speed. With the ebbing tide our COG was around 355°. At around 11pm, just as the tide was turning east, the wind veered to the northe east so we tacked onto starboard and our COG continued on 355 to 360º. Early in the morning the wind increased to about 25 knots for a couple of hours which involved a double reef but soon eased back to arund 19 knots true. We made landfall just off Shanklin Bay and tacked on to port again to catch the last hour of flood tide which carried us NE past Bembridge. Somewhere south of Langstone Harbour we put another tack in and the new westerly tide carried us through the forts and back to Haslar where we tied up at 0745 in time for breakfast on the mooring.
Just as we tied up Ireceived a text from Windhummer who was safe in the Hamble river and we could see Wolverine on her mooring in Haslar.
My thanks to Andy Ormsby who allowed me on board at the last moment and enabled the pontoon party to take place.