The day had arrived. Everything was looking good, north easterly winds and smaller tides which were ebbing from an early morning start and then turning when we should be just past the sleeping Portland Bill monster. The small hop from the bill to our planned overnight anchorage would then be against the new flood tide but it’s a weak flow in Lyme bay so our forecast north easterly should push us over it ok. A well deserved sleep outside of Lyme harbour at anchor should see us fit for the last leg along the coast and into the Exe with the afternoon flood. We were ready to go for it. We were pumped.
The alarm went at 04.30. I leapt out of my bunk and checked the weather out of the companionway. The weather was dark. I remembered it was still early March and set about making tea and sandwiches for our get away. There was no sign of any movement anywhere as I went up on deck, which was nice as I had done no night sailing to speak of and didn’t want any ferrys or fishing boats confusing my already overloaded brain. The tidal calculations I’d done the previous day had been assembled, along with a theoretical route along which we could check our progress at intervals by taking bearings at certain times. If all else failed, we had the little hand held garmin gps to back up any dodgy results.
I shattered the peaceful blackness surrounding our bobbing caravan by hauling up the anchor chain and detaching ourselves from Poole harbour for the final time. The chain was fed down through the fore deck and the anchor was tied on it’s chocks in case it made an unwanted break for freedom. The last hour of the flood tide was still gently pointing us at the chain ferry and entrance as I clunked Idris into gear. We slipped out into the main channel and away. I didn’t set the genoa until we had got most of the way to the fairway buoy but I could already feel the mainsail heeling us over and taking the strain off of the motor. That easterly wind that had been blowing for days had gone north easterly and gave us a perfect reach, I shut down the engine and didn’t start it again until we reached Lyme some thirteen hours later.
After the first hour from the fairway buoy and at each hour after that, I was intending to get a fix to check our drift wasn’t going to take us too far sideways to the west. There were a few things I didn’t want to get close to and although I’d spent a long time over the tidal atlases (yep all three of them), and charts, it’s best to be sure. First we had to miss Old Harry and his little race, next it was the far more serious St Albans race, then the Shambles, then finally the Portland Bill race. Trouble was, after an hour of blasting along in the dark, it really didn’t seem to be getting much lighter. I couldn’t get a fix and couldn’t see any navigation lights so I resorted to the gps. After a few minutes of panic it fired up with a fresh set of batteries. It seemed we were being pushed west a fair bit more than I’d anticipated, hmm….better keep an eye on that then. An hour later it had finally got light, but not very, due to what seemed to be a thin fog or mist all around us. In fact we weren’t to see land at all until we closed on Lyme Regis at around tea time. This was a bit disappointing as I’d really wanted to see the Bill as we sailed past, even at a distance. Oh well, just have to keep the old Garmin on I guess.
We made good time all the way to the Bill and were covering ground at just over 7knotts when the ebb was at it’s strongest. The wind was fresh all day and the swell was rolling us about uncomfortably. Having realized the tides were stronger than I’d thought, I held onto our original tack out of Poole all the way until we were a safe five miles south of the Bill at exactly slack water. The original plan was to change our heading more Westerly once out past St Albans race, but as the tide swept us sideways faster than ever it became clear this was unnecessary and wouldn’t get us the required clearance around the shambles. We just skirted the edge of St Albans race as it was, and the sea state was worrying me. It probably seemed worse than it was due to the foggy disorientation and our tiredness, we felt pretty sick. We also felt cold…. really, really bloody cold. There was none of the suns warmth getting through that gloom and the whole bleak grey landscape chopped, whistled and slapped around us relentlessly. A lot of therapeutic eye spy was played despite there only really being sea, waves, fog and various biscuits for ammunition. Just as we were rounding the shambles, we had a fantastic diversion in the form of a family of strange sparrow type birds that fell on our decks and spent the next few hours exploring every crevice of the boat and stealing our biscuits. I still have no idea what they were up to, but a bird expert of ours has suggested they might have been migrating north across the channel and decided to hitch a ride. They were great fun to watch and landed on each of us at some point, including Orla.
Idris went beautifully in these conditions. Once clear of the Bill, at around 13.00, I could point her at Lyme and have a leisurely ride with no further scary obstacles to worry about. The wind had by this time veered futher east which gave us a near downwind sail all the way to the harbour. Good news then? No, not really. A tail wind towards Lyme also meant the wind would be driving straight into our anchorage all night. The sea was throwing us about again and there were no sheltered harbours, bays or headlands within reach unless we wanted to risk drying out against a wall in West bay. Bearing in mind our lack of experience with this, and the strong possibility that West bay (and Lyme for that matter) would already be fairly busy after this weeks conditions, I resigned myself to another sleepless night at anchor. Even this, however, was a long time coming. Although the tides across Lyme bay aren’t that strong, they were now firmly against us and our progress slowed. Eventually though, the familiar cliffs materialized through the fog and we gratefully began to pick out various features.
Anchoring as close to the harbour breakwater as I dared with this wind, we were chucked about inside the boat mercilessly. At night I had to put the lee boards up to keep us in place as we attempted to get some rest. For the first time on the whole trip little Orla was really scared and wouldn’t leave my bunk, which didn’t really matter as there was no way I was going to be able to sleep through this anyhow. So, after wearily walking Orla on the beach and bolting down the last dry remnants of our weeks food, I spent the rest of the night being beaten against the woodwork of my boat whilst trying to work out if the anchor was dragging towards the rocks and disaster. Another fine lesson learnt.