I left yesterday in perfect conditions for Newtown, the Isle of Wight. As the conditions were so favourable, I spent most of my time 'noodling' about on my own, trying to get the gist of how best to handle things singlehanded. Sailing alone is hard. It's also harder when the boat is not really setup for it. My main track is on the cabin roof, the winches don't self tail, needing to jammed on what seems the wrong side (in terms of ease), and hanking on sails (as opposed to just rolling them out on roller reefing systems) when the wind is up, and you're running backwards and forwards from the tiller trying to keep nose onto the wind is a pain in the ass. Even things like the fact I don't have a lazy-jack mainsail bag, mean dropping the sail is every bit that: Dropping it on the deck and having it howl around with a life of its own.
But back to my Newtown trip. I sailed over and into the river succesfully, and tried to lay anchor for the first time. I came in at dead on low-water, meaning I needed to figure out how much chain to lay, keeping in mind the now rising tide. It's the little things that get you, like forgetting to work out how much chain you actually have. Well, I know now, and I'll also endeavour to make metre-marks on the chain so I know how much I'm paying out. I've always been nervous about the theory of anchoring - To me, it just seems impossible that the anchor will actually dig into the seabed properly. As such, I woke up reguarly during the night to check the boats nearest me for movement: My nightmare was the anchor letting go, me hitting a boat downwind, and having the opportunity to test my 3rd party insurance.
I work up this morning to a howling wind. I don't have a wind speed indicator, but I would guestimate 25-30knots, maybe gusting more. I thought my smallest headsail and a reef would do, but I came out of Newtown and nearly (ok, it felt like it) inverted the boat. Struggling to keep the nose into the wind, I put another reef in, and tried again: Not as bad, but still way too much heel. The contents of my 'house' found its way onto the lee side of the cabin... In the end, I dropped the damned mainsail altogether, and of course spent way too long trying to tie it down. Everything takes so long to do by yourself. I kept creeping towards the Newtown gravel bank, which I naturally wanted to avoid. I didn't fancy grounding at the minute, and motored well away to keep flailing about with my sail.
In the end I was getting 8kts of speed over the ground, around 2kts of it was tide, yet I only had my smallest foresail on. As I came closer into the 'precautionary area' of the Solent, I began to worry. I navigated into Newtown with the chart in my hand, but today it was just too difficult. The seas were choppy, and the tiller needed constant attention. Yesterday I had been playing about by laying hove-to, and I wished I could do it again and just work out what I was doing. I couldn't though, having only the headsail up and no main to counter it. I went into a mild panic, crossing the big ships channel, and getting closer to another hazard: A large sandbank in the middle of what seems like a very big piece of water. I decided to turn around under motor, and to drop the foresail and work things out. This is the bit where I wished I had roller reefing. Nose into the wind, the bow breaking into waves, I sat down and pulled the headsail down, while getting almost entirely submerged into oncoming waves.
Eventually it was all down, and I motored back on course, and continued on. The lifeboat RIB on its way to Cowes came past and asked if I was ok - I must have looked like drowned rat, the mainsail tacked on and flapping about enough to catch their attention!
The moral of this particular story is, sailing a boat that is not setup to be sailed by one person is hard.