Winter Sailing Staff Trip – By Charlie Wintle

Datchet  Watersports & Yachtforce End Of Season Yacht Trip 2014

IMAG0580Whoever said that planning a week long Yachting trip in December isn’t plain sailing?! – Not our hardy staff members who joined us on our annual end of season yacht trip. Buster, Paul, Charlie, Rosie, Rich and new crew member Steve took on the challenge! See here Charlie Wintle from Datchet and our new crew member Steve enjoying the flat water blasting in the lee of the Isle of Wight.

For years Paul has dreamed of a yacht trip from our Hamble base to his native Guernsey, and each attempt has thus far been foiled by the good old British weather. This year things were looking up; with a week to go the forecast was ideal – the perfect wind direction for a fast downwind cruise over to Alderney on the Sunday for fish and chips at the harbour and short stay before heading on to Guernsey; just in time for the wind to veer round and guide us smoothly back to Southampton at the end of the week on another fast downwind leg. Too good to be true springs to mind – and that it was!

IMAG0581By the Monday morning we were looking at a forecast of a steady 40 knots gusting 60 at the crux crossing times! And once again Paul’s dream was dashed. To say nothing of our pasta meal when he accidentally let it hit the floor! No Channel crossing for us this Christmas and my hopes of Moules in Roquefort sauce for lunch on Tuesday in foreign ports fizzled away!

But we didn’t let that stop us going out and having ‘fun’.  Having made it safely across to Bembridge on the Sunday evening (with the asymmetric kite up flying along in the flat downwind / down tide in the dark) we decided the following morning, after re-checking the forecast,  to venture out of the lee of the Isle of Wight heading Southwest and onwards towards Poole to experience the excitement of the impending weather and – more importantly – test out our new storm jib! We set out round towards St. Catherine’s point in fantastic sunny weather and a great reach sheltered in the lee of the land and then hardening up towards the infamous ‘overfalls’  (flippin’ big waves) under the stalwart steering on the helm of our new crew member Steve, which gave us all a pretty good soaking, but when the adrenalines going and you’re imagining you’re in the Volvo Ocean Race – it’s great fun! Our experience on the windward side of the Island was somewhat different to the East leeside / sheltered side! Big waves and big winds, clipped on sat in the cockpit floor leaving Steve to take the face plants whilst doing a marvellous job on the helm!

Our revised Plan B was to make it all the way across to Poole, Plan C was to duck into Yarmouth and it turned out Plan D was Berthon at Lymington… (Great Showers that stay open all night! – from this point onwards the trip did become ‘Datchet’s Guide to Great Marina Showers 2014’) A well earned night’s sleep and many sampling of shower cubicles later we set off to Poole, the wind was starting to get up – we had an average of 35 knots once we had got out past the Needles! We made good time – despite having to perform several man overboard attempts when one of our fenders decided to go for a swim (‘several’ I hasten to add was due to Paul not being able to get the boathook through the 2’’ bowline loop on the fender  line– he then changed tack and  twizzled the line around the handle for greater and successful friction! Perhaps he should get a job as a boton twirler?) – and were in Poole just in time to get a great view of the spectacular new ‘Twin Sails Bridge’ opening accompanied by a myriad of differing Lifeboats coming back from manoeuvres on their way home to their Lifeboat berths at the training centre.  IMAG0586

Wednesday was the supposed ‘day of reckoning’ in terms of the forecast, so we stuck to the relative seclusion of Poole Harbour for some passage planning and pilotage practise followed by lunch in Studland Bay. Whilst peacefully tucking into our soup and sandwiches down below, the Special Forces all dressed in black turned up along-side in one of their uber-quiet black stealth boats and requested that we move ‘over there 70 metres’ and then  they started jumping out of planes into the water and driving around in monster RIB’s – very, very Bond! Rosie was quite taken with it all!

After some night-time man overboard drills under storm jib and 3 reefs in Studland Bay we returned to Poole under Rosie’s excellent night-time pilotage buoy hopping in the dark up to Dolphin for the night and were glad of the excellent shelter, the wind had been building throughout the day but that evening we had gusts of more than 45 knots – all VERY glad we were not on the return leg of our intended Guernsey trip! Buster took the opportunity to do a well needed laundry run – well needed by me that is as I (Charlie) only came aboard equipped with the one set of pants… oops, note to self!

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We ventured ashore to a restaurant known as ‘Hot Rocks’ where you are presented with an searing hot slab of granite and items of your choice to cook on it, Surf’n’Turf was the most popular option with a enormous beef steak accompanied by loads of fresh prawns and scallops to cook as you please – it was fantastic! After the meal a quick sampling was required of the various whisky’s in the Kings Head (Steve had mentioned Oban 14 yr old and Buster knew a place that served it!) alongside the roaring log fire and very ‘friendly’ dog that took a shine to any available leg…We returned aboard to a bit of a blow and watched the effect of a yacht ‘side to’ the storm force winds. Gusts of 60 knots came through with huge amounts of rain and it really made it quite interesting – wouldn’t have wanted to be out there in that lot! – but we were happy chappies and safely moored and slept soundly.

IMAG0595By the Friday morning the wind had blown itself out so it was a much gentler sail back to the Hamble from Yarmouth, a perfect opportunity to get the two Spinnakers out and make Rich and Charlie sweat out the remains of their previous nights alcoholic endeavours on the foredeck under the watchful eye of foredeck guru Paul! Asymmetric up, down, up, GYBE! GYBE! GYBE! Asymmetric spinnaker down, now Symmetric spinnaker up! GYBE! It was all very entertaining watching from the cockpit, as Rich and Charlie dive around like monkeys raising a sweat and overheating, with Steve on the helm, Rosie on the sheets and Paul overseeing the technical aspects on the fore-deck.Buster certainly enjoyed it! And afterwards there was just time to chill out with an orange juice and lemonade (might as well pretend it’s the summer – Charlie was quite content to hang around in his one pair of pants for the week cooling down after his exertions)IMAG0607 before we reached the Hamble where we sailed onto the fuel berth with Rich on the helm, refuelled and motored up to Mercury and the end of our trip.

Despite Paul sulking about not getting to go home, we had a fantastic week’s sailing! We, and the boat, were pushed to the limits by the heavy weather but loved the challenge and the best bit was it didn’t rain – which made it all the more enjoyable! Steve, who joined us for our staff outing, has enjoyed his sailing so much that he has signed up for the Fastnet campaign - see what he has signed up for.

Thanks very much to Buster and Paul for another great trip!

Next social sailing weekend 14/15 March – and the temperature is rising!…

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