The trip to France seemed somewhat ill-fated from the beginning... The departure date kept needing to be moved, meaning there was less time sailing, and less time for error. The circumstances for the delay were unavoidable, and certainly not a sore point, but when you're as eager as I am to get sailing, every wasted day seems like the end of time.
Our initial plan was to sail into Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, and then head off at around 3am the following day (dependent on tides) and head past the Needles on route to Cherbourg, France. Once we set off from the River and into the Solent, the wind would have been right on our nose over to Yarmouth, so we skipped the prospect of beating for the next several hours, and sailed into Cowes for the night. It was at this point that Rob realised his passport was still sitting in the top draw; at home. Determined for France, we sailed back early the next morning, retrieved the passport, and I climbed the mast to try and figure out what was wrong with my new VHF radio.
I couldn't see any corrosion or broken connections, and I still couldn't hear Solent Coastguard from the river Hamble, which I'm sure I should be able to. Not convinced, I borrowed a 3watt handheld radio, and we departed with the tides around the East side of the Isle of Wight, readying for an all night sail across the Channel.
Progress was slow, and as night fell, I turned on the boat light, only to see the mast light was flickering badly. This couldn't have happened at a worse time, as we approached the Nab Tower, a major navigation point for shipping into Portsmouth and the Solent. It is also a tanker anchorage, and traffic was heavy. A pilot boat motored past and enquired about our lighting situation, as I was down below with a head-torch trying to amend the situation in a crowded electrical box. The loose connection was not in the box, and I couldn't locate it anywhere - Our only thought was it was a bad bulb connection, meaning there was no real chance of fixing it while at sea. At this point Rob was rightly concerned about crossing the Channel without proper lights, and a seemingly short-range VHF radio. We still had the handheld, but large ships usually only monitor DSC calls, as opposed to the Channel 16 ship-to-ship we could have achieved on the handheld.
As we sailed away from the Isle of Wight, on a near dead-on South course, the GPS was reading '29 hours to go' at 2:30am. Rob made the exectutive decision that we should turn back, and I think he was squarely in the right. There was no need to take risks crossing the Channel with limited communications, and being nearly impossible to spot due to a lacking mast tri-light.
We turned and headed for Portsmouth as the sun came up. The night was cold, and the seas were quite choppy in the Channel, and I must admit, it was reassuring and calming to see light. Winds eased, and we slowly headed into the wind. Arriving at 9:30am at Haslar Marina, we slept till 2pm, walked around the fishing docks and sailed back to Hamble at 6pm, beating in moderate seas and entering the river at night - An experience I didn't particularly relish. The tide was ebbing, nearing low water, as Rob navigated us through the lights - I helmed and tried to maintain contour depth, and as you can see, we're alive, and the boat didn't sink.
It was disappointing not making France, but the entire trip was highly educational, and sometimes things just don't work out to plan. In this case, we made an unfortunate decision to turn around, however I think it was probably the right one - The trip in reality was not a failure, because we made decisions based on conditions at the time which proved safe & successful.
Moored up in Cowes.
Fishing docks, Portsmouth
Hamburg is still on the go, with a prospective departure date of the 2nd or 3rd of August. Delayed by a few days for a very good reason - More on that another time!