Portland to Dunkirk/Dover

Day 2

Little did I think that today’s sail would take up almost two whole pages in our log book – without even getting to our intended destination – Dunkirk.

Starting out

Things started out well. Andrew’s birthday presents and cooked breakfast done, showered and changed, we had a pleasurable and leisurely start to the day. Even the low cloud, muggy air and occasional spot of rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. Finally we were setting off for France.

Our midday departure timed to get us the best out of the east bound tide to get us up the channel. And just as we left the harbour, a big bee came buzzing onto the boat – I’m convinced it was our stowaway come to see us off.

Slowing down

Progress was slow, with little wind. We gave a wide berth to the Lulworth Firing Range. The range safety officers on the radio were kept busy, constantly asking other yachts and boats to move out of the firing area, which was in use that day. As a result we ended up motor sailing for the first 5 hours or so.

Yes – dolphins!

Andrew spotted the dolphin leaping and travelling backwards first – perhaps it was giving him a birthday display! A pod of around 5 dolphins then came and played around the boat for about 5 minutes. We managed to get some footage – and yes, I did the dolphin squeal – and yes we can now say the word dolphin and not ‘d’ as this was one of our best and closest encounters to date.

Dolphin display for Andrew’s birthday

And we are sailing

Finally the wind picked up, around 5.45pm, and we could turn the engine off and sail. Slowly but surely we started to pick off St Albans’ Head, Poole Bay and harbour, the Isle of Wight (in the dark) with St Catherine’s lighthouse shining her light on us as we past, and the lights of Portsmouth in the distance. And the never ending wind farm off Brighton, that took literally hours and hours to pass.

Birthday dinner was cooked on the move, another tasty Abel and Cole receipe of mushroom, pepper and feta fajitas. Andrew took the night shift, while I put in the earplugs and a pillow over my head to get some sleep. Andrew reefed the main, as the wind picked up, and the seas grew bigger. At around 4am he saw the false dawn, and when I joined him at 5am – the sun really had come up!! He then took himself to bed.

Past Brighton, in the early morning daylight, and then Beachy Head around 9am. A weird mirage seemed to appear of a large city in the middle of the sea, an illusion that turned out to be Dungeness nuclear power station. A huge complex which took an age to get to and to recede into the distance. At this point we were up to just under 10 knots and the wind and the seas increased.

From about 2pm the wind and the seas continued to increase, and our speed maxed out around 11.8 knots at 3.15pm. At this point we made the decision to err on the side of caution, and not press on and cross the channel to Dunkirk – which would have been at least another 5 hours and with the wind pushing us dangerously.

Seeking refuge

And so it was that we sought refuge in Dover harbour. With its heavy ferry traffic we had to call ahead from 2 miles out to get clearance to enter, and then again 200 metres out. We struggled to lower the main sail, in a confused sea state outside the harbour entrance. It was the closest we’ve ever come to white water rafting in Crystelle Venture. It reminded me of our white water rafting days in the Ganges, except if I fell out this time, there was no river bank to be washed up onto.

Shelter from the storm

As the near gale raged on outside the harbour walls, we found peace and calm within the inner harbour at Dover marina. After checking in, and having showers, we had a short stroll to the nearest supermarket (in a petrol station). I had forgotten to stock up with brown sauce for Andrew (!) and the orange squash rations also seemed to be running very low very quickly. Strange place Dover.

Our daily stats

We were both so exhausted by the end of our passage, that we couldn’t agree on exactly how far and how long but the following is more or less right. We were under way for just over 28 hours, covering 160 nautical miles, we motor sailed for just under 6 hours, and sailed the rest. Our average speed on the first day was around 5.2 knots and on the second 6.6 knots. We used 4 gallons of fuel. You can see our route on the AIS chart below. If you want to find out how you can track live, check out the chart on the Crystelle Venture page.

Updated AIS image (as it only covered 24 not the full 28 hours) showing our route from Portland to Dover


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Dartmouth to Portland

Day 1

With the weather not looking its best, we opted not to leave Dartmouth on Sunday, but to take our chances on the right kind of wind, in the right direction, on a cloudy rather than wet day on Monday 17 June.

Andrew preparing to slip our mooring at Darthaven Marina, Kingswear, Devon, UK

8am sharp

As a stream of 7 naval picket boats entered Dartmouth harbour, we motored past in the opposite direction, hoisting our mainsail by Dartmouth castle at the mouth of the river, and out into the open sea by 8.30 am. With engine turned off, and our genoa hoisted we set our auto pilot to 77 degrees for the 55 or so nautical miles to Portland harbour, across Lyme Bay.

Knots and knots

Our speed at Mewstone was 8.2 knots, with Andrew claiming top speed of the day at 9.1 knots at around 10 am. It was then time for Suzanne to practice her knots, notably the bowline, which is the most useful of knots according to Andrew. With a watch change each hour, our new AIS to play with and get used to -all that beeping when another vessel was within 5 miles range had to be stopped(!) – time passed quickly.

Our first sighting

At around 1130 we had our first sighting of a dolphin or porpoise. As it was on it’s own, swam under the boat and carried on its way – we think it was probably the latter. Dolphins tend to travel in groups and swim alongside the boat. However Suzanne’s theory that sea birds can often be an indicator that a ‘d’ or ‘p’ – our boat code so we don’t jinx the chance of a sighting – is nearby worked again. Watching an elegant lone sea bird, with a slim silhouette similar to a swallow, led us to see the ‘d’ or ‘p’, otherwise we would have missed it. It came and went in the flash of an eye, and far too quick to catch on camera. Next time we hope!

Rounding Portland Bill

Portland Bill has something of fearsome reputation amongst the sailing fraternity. Lyme Bay is littered with wrecks, it has notorious tidal race which is where a fast moving tide is constricted by some kind of land or sea mass. It looks a bit like the sea is bubbling and boiling. The Swinge was the first of these notorious races that we’ve managed to sail, when we visited Alderney. We’ve learnt, give them as wide a berth as possible. And so it was we were safely past and into Portland Harbour.

Berth for a night

By 6.30 pm we had tied up in our berth for the night, Q15, on the outer pontoon at Portland Marina. A fantastic facility, surrounded by numerous sailing and racing facilities, no doubt boosted by them hosting the sailing at the 2012 Olympics (which we were lucky enough to attend). After dinner at The Boat That Rocks, we took a stroll on the incredible Chesil Beach.

A stowaway

As Andrew went to pack away the stay sail, he discovered a large bee resting in the folds. Clearly exhausted, with no energy to fly away, Suzanne fed it sugar water until it revived. Flying and sounding like a B52 bomber, after half an hour our stowaway took its leave.

Our daily stats

We were underway for 10.5 hours, sailed for 42 miles and motor sailed for 12, with around 2 engine hours, using about 3 gallons of fuel. Our noon position was 50degrees 25.5 N, 02 degrees 56.2 W. You can see the course we steered in the screen shot from AIS below.

After a rest day, we’ll be setting sail for France!