It’s nearly Christmas, and I’m sitting in front of the fire at home. The boat is safely ashore, and I’m looking through the boat’s log as I write this account of our sailing season. I’ve included an update on new equipment and repairs, for those that may be interested in such things.
Our Plan for the 2021 Season
With the gradual easing of Covid restrictions, we launched and left our home Port of Shoreham in May. The boat then spent a couple of weeks in the Solent while we both got our second Covid jabs.
We decided to stay on our side of the Channel this year. Like many other south coast sailors, we headed for the West Country. Although we have visited Devon and Cornwall many times by car, this was our first time by boat. Our plan this year was to try and spend as much time as possible out of marinas. (I.e anchored or on mooring buoys). On a rough night, there’s nothing so good as a snug along-side marina berth, but they do tend to all blur into one after a while. Also, anticipating a certain amount of overcrowding due to the increase in “staycations”, we were hoping to avoid the hot spots in high season. So, to make the boat more independent of the shore, and specifically independent of marina power hook ups, we have invested in a new “secret weapon”. More on this later….
We made a Solent stop in Yarmouth, and then on to Studland Bay. With a good forecast we set off for Portland and then round the Bill in good weather at a cautious distance off to avoid the worst of the Race. Once across Lyme Bay, we settled into a slower-pace, spending several days in most ports. We reached the Isles of Scilly at the end of June. It’s one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.
Our son Alex was working out there, so we had a happy family reunion! The key point about Scilly is that there is no safe all-weather harbour. Therefore, you have to keep a very good eye on the weather, and be prepared to move around to find shelter if the wind shifts. By all accounts, we were lucky to get there on our first attempt, as many boats have sat in Penzance waiting for a weather window until they run out of holiday. That said, our visit was shorter than we wanted, as deteriorating weather forecasts encouraged us to get back to the mainland after a few days. Having seen some of the pictures in the press of the results of the storm that blew through Scilly later in the summer, I’m even more of the opinion that it’s not a place to take liberties with…..
We visited 25 different places this summer in the boat. The real stand-outs for us were :
Fowey, Falmouth, Helford River, Cawsand Bay, Polperro, Scilly, Lamora Bay, River Yealm, Dandy Hole, Malpas, Dartmouth, Worbarrow Bay. All wonderful places which were lucky to have visited by boat.
On the return trip we nervously braved the inner passage round Portland Bill for the first time which can get quite exciting as you need to be around a stone’s throw off the beach. We were followed round by another yacht who we met up with in the harbour and they proceeded to thank us for showing them the way as it was their first time and they had been rather glad to follow an experienced boat round…. we didn’t tell them…….
We also attended a Cruising Association Rally in Plymouth which coincided with the British Fireworks Championship. Two nights of good company and the most spectacular firework displays over the harbour. The Rally Organisers managed to get us all into Queen Anne’s Battery right by the breakwater, where we got the best view of the fireworks that you could possibly wish for. Excellent! Thank you SW Section CA!
Wally the Walrus
Much has been written in the press this year about Wally, the Walrus who somehow came too far south. After visiting western Spain, France, Wales and Ireland, he spent much of the summer in the Isles of Scilly. Like many other boat owners, we had our own personal encounter with Wally. On our first day in St. Mary’s harbour, we went ashore in the dinghy. An hour or two later, a text from the Harbour Master warned us “Walrus on your boat”. We rushed back to find him gone. Mercifully, he had done no more damage than to stretch a few guard wires. Yes he somehow manage to get into the cockpit ! and I still can’t believe we got off so lightly. See picture below which was kindly taken by a photographer on a nearby boat. (Acknowledgement to George Edwards) It seems Ovnis are pretty tough old boats! Later that day, while we were on-board, he came back for another go. He got onto the bathing platform on the stern of the boat. Wally and I stared at each other. He’s a big lad! Fortunately, our fog horn scared him off and he found another boat that was more to his liking for an afternoon snooze. Once we’d got over the shock of our close encounter, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He was a lost creature a long way from home, with none of his own kind for company. Possibly a victim of global warming, as one theory is that he drifted south on an ice flow that had broken away. Happily, he is now reported to be in Iceland. Unfortunately, others were less lucky than us, and Wally has racked up a lot of damage this season.
We saw several pods of Dolphins this year. Mainly round headlands in the West Country. But most notably, inside Poole harbour just beyond the Sandbanks Ferry, where we saw two quite large Dolphins. Much to the delight of the passengers on the Brownsea Island Ferry, and nearby boats. Not sure if they are regular visitors here, or if we were just extremely lucky, but it was a magical encounter.
We also saw a seal on the Helford River.
Our boat is pretty well set up for living at anchor or out on a swinging mooring. We have good anchors, decent sized water tank, fridge etc. However, the one area where we were lacking was power generation. Even with LED lights and a well insulated fridge box, we still had to resort to running our engine after about 24 hours at anchor to keep the batteries up. This is a very inefficient way of charging batteries, takes a long time, burns fuel and creates heat and noise. We have been debating alternative charging methods for a while. We looked at solar panels and wind generators. But concluded that you need a fairly large area of panels in our part of the world, and wind generators are great when it’s windy, but typically you try to avoid windy paces when anchoring. Also, the installation and fabrication of mountings etc. adds quite a lot to the overall cost of these options, and they add considerably to the windage of the boat. We considered a small portable petrol generator, but IMHO these are a bit antisocial when other boats are nearby. Also, I’d be loath to leave one running un-attended. We then looked at methanol fuel cells. These tend to be used more by motorhomes and long distance racing yachts. But after doing a bit of research, we concluded that they actually suit our coastal cruising pattern of usage rather well too. The installation is very straight forward and unobtrusive.
So this year we invested in an EFOY fuel cell. The model we have weighs less than 7kg, is about the size of a domestic sewing machine, and I’ve installed it in our stern locker. It comes with its own wiring harness and fixing kit, so installation is pretty simple. It’s connected to a 10L container of methanol, and it just switches itself on when it detects our service batteries falling below a preset voltage threshold. It will charge the batteries at up to 6.5 A. This isn’t a huge charge current, but it’s enough to keep pace with demand from our fridge and lights. Basically, you just switch it to automatic mode and it looks after the batteries 24/7. The noise is no louder than a computer fan, and the only emissions are water and a very small amount of co2. We spent weeks at a time this summer away from mains shore power, and never once had to resort to starting the engine to charge batteries. We used about 25L of methanol all summer. On the downside, the fuel is expensive, and EFOY will only guarantee the unit if you use their fuel cartridges. The fuel may also be difficult to obtain in areas where there is no dealer network. But for us, it’s a winner. No solar arrays or wind generator adding windage to the boat. No petrol generator noise and fumes. Just continually charged batteries! We have been delighted with ours so far. A top piece of kit!
After the premature failure of our Raymarine plotter a couple of years back, this year it was the turn of the HD Colour Radar Scanner. It was returned to Raymarine at the end of the season, diagnosed as faulty, and repaired for about 1/3 the cost of a new unit. It was purchased in 2014, and like most sailing boat radars, is not in continual use. Like the plotter, I had hoped it would last at least 10 years, But at least, unlike the plotter, repair was economically viable. It’s now back on board. I have to say, Raymarine’s repair service in the UK is pretty efficient.
All harbours / overnight anchorages visited in 2021
St Mary’s (Iles of Scilly)
Plymouth (QAB, Mayflower, Torpoint)
Dandy Hole (and St Germans by dinghy)
I’m working in the boatyard, going through the winter job list, and hoping things might open up a bit more next year. It was, necessarily, not the most ambitious season. However, we managed to be away for several months, and visit places we had never sailed to before. And considering what was going on in the world, I think we were very lucky.