Monday, 18 August 2014

Ipswich to Portsmouth - the shakedown cruise

We left Fox’s early on Monday morning (waving to our shore party, who dutifully reported how fast and beautiful Auriga looks under sail). The Thames Estuary is familiar to Igor and me, but, following an inshore route to avoid the worst of the winds, it was the first time either of us took the opportunity to sail through an offshore wind farm, and we got the opportunity to introduce Auriga’s wind generator to her bigger sibling.
With everything going as planned, and luck seemingly in our favour we were hit by a squall off Ramsgate and tore the small number 3 jib. It is not clear if this sail is past its sell-by date, or it was a small pre-existing tear that spread. Either way, we have had the sail repaired this weekend. With the broken sail, and worsening conditions we decided to stop for the night, where we met one of the early retirees from the Round Britain and Ireland race, who, with their much more expensive racing yacht, prove we are not the only sailors to have given up that night.

Pushing the 50m exclusion zone a little
to get this photo...

Leaving Ramsgate, the strong headwinds persisted. We got up at 5 am to catch the tide out and through the Dover straights, but then entered a long period beating against the tide towards Eastbourne. Our anemometer (wind speed meter) works, but is not calibrated. We have termed the readout it gives as “arbitrary wind units” (AWUs) and we are getting a good feel for interpreting AWUs. It turns out 16 AWUs is very windy (recordings from met office channel buoys later confirmed, it was gusting at 36 knots), and this was enough to tear the mainsail. We have a spare, but mains are not meant to be changed often, and knowing it would take some faffing to get it set up, we decided it was safest to keep the boat moving and under control, and as such headed downwind under dual storm jibs. By the time we were ready to turn around we had undone 3 or 4 hours of upwind progress, so we again decided to rest for the night, this time in Dover. To save a little money we anchored behind the harbour wall, for the worst night of sleep in our wildly rolling boat (the waves refract around the harbour wall, ending up coming to the yacht on the beam).
The damaged number 3 from the first night
Igor fixes the main in Dover
At this point, I should say I feel positive about our boat. We were making good progress up wind into a full gale. However, it has not been without fault. There was a persistent leak through the deck, directing water onto the chart table and surrounding electronics. Doing any navigation required mopping the table before getting out the chart, and I got an electric shock when I tried to turn on the chart table light – not a good sign. Further, the forepeak hatch was poorly sealed, and each wave was throwing quantities of water onto our remaining clothes and gear, preventing us from ever getting ourselves dry when off watch.

To try and ease the conditions, we planned on an inshore route through Rye bay. As conditions improved, we heard the radio:
“Blue yacht heading into Rye bay, this is Rye bay range control, over”
I replied “errr, hello Rye bay range control, this is Auriga, over.”
“Auriga, are you aware you are heading into an active firing range, and are required to maintain 1.5 mile clearance? over.”
Pause… “I am now… Um, Ok, I’ll be changing course then…”

So the military having ruined our plans for a sheltered route, we went back out into the channel where the met office further spoiled our day. They forecast 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Igor presumes they put the comma in the wrong place and meant “4 or 5 occasionally, 6” I’m not sure what we got, but it was 13 AWUs. By night the refusal of the wind to die down even a little bit, and the continuing damp got our spirits down enough we decided to stop in Eastbourne.
A pleasant and sunny passage from Eastbourne to Portsmouth brought an end to the shakedown cruise. Our luck with the weather improved, and the wind veered continually during the early evening to take us directly into Portsmouth, while huge lightning storms either side of the channel gave a good display, with the sky remaining clear overhead.

Eastbourne airshow was taking place as we sailed past the beach

The plan was for an easy trip from Ipswich to Portsmouth, as fast as possible, and from where we would start our trip, and our adventure properly. Of course, things never work out quite like that, and somehow this shakedown cruise has felt longer and tougher than I expected. It has been good to test out the boat though, and as I sit here writing we have just spent a weekend in Portsmouth fixing and making changes to the boat, adapting and improving from the lessons we have learnt. Giulia also took one last opportunity to join us before we finally disappear, and with the 3 of us epoxying and sikaflexing all weekend it has been a nice weekend, a bit like being at Fox’s, all over again. 

In Haslar marina we moored right across from the bar, and have met a variety of people walking about. It has been nice to see how many people take an interest in our yacht, and in our trip and offer friendly advice, or just a chat.

I’m very excited to set off on the next leg now, and cover some ground further south, to where the weather is warmer!

Also, I promise more videos in the next update. We will start using the gopro, and I have a waterproof case for my camera now, so I can take it on deck when conditions get a bit more interesting!


  1. Great post! I'm very much looking forward to following your adventure. Must admit I'm a bit jealous :) Fair winds and following seas (from now on)

  2. The winds built earlier than forecast and pushed me back into Wells-next-the-Sea after a fun and bumpy ride. Giulia was set to come with me but she was definitely better off helping you fix up Auriga.