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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t forget you can not only read about our travels, but also listen to them on our podcast – Two in a Boat. We update our blog with details when new episodes are or will be available here. So why not subscribe and see how we are getting on? We’d love to have you on board.