1 May 2012

[Captains Blog] Channel Island Cruise

We have had our first shake-down sail of Jay Jay recently when we took her down to the Channel Islands for a few days. Sailing down to Guernsey took us 17.5 hours, leaving in the evening, and doing most of the journey in the dark. Having recently had AIS (Automatic Identification System) fitted, I was really looking to test this tool. It proved to be invaluable crossing the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheem - something resembling a motorway system for commercial vessels which we have to cross at right angles to the oncoming traffic). This was Debra's first exposure to night time TSS traffic and she passed through it admirably. Given that there were three of us on deck, Me, Debra and Phil (Chuck) it's amazing how being under pressure to avoid leviathons wighing several thousand tonnes apiece that are continuing at full speed in their chosen direction brings out the team spirit: Debra was on the helm, Phil with the binoculars glued to his face, and I was interpreting the AIS overlay on the chartplotter.

Once through the TSS things settled down somewhat and I was left on watch for a time on my own as we neared Guernsey. Just before dawn (the darkest hour) the temperature dropped, and I was feeling a bit cold, but Debra came back up to relieve me and I hit the duvet to warm up. Pilotage into St Peter Port worked like a dream, and soon we were approaching the waiting area for the marina. We decided not to go into the marina after all, and opted for a tide-unencumbered place on one of the visitors pontoons in the harbour so we could leave at any time for Jersey.

We spent an enjoyable couple of days wandering around the island, taking the buses to remote areas and walking back over the coastal paths to civilisation. Then we were off to Jersey. The trip was short, and we outpaced some French sailors (much to their annoyance, no doubt) to arrive in St Helier. Having radioed ahead to make sure we had a place in the marina, we polled up and passed through the marina entrance gates. The original place we found was apparently too shallow for our draft, so we had to move into deeper water further along the same pontoon. All seemed very quiet, and we went into the town to explore. On our return, the marina seemed to be much busier, due to the fact that there were two separate French races/rallies and over 150 boats had joined the throng, some rafted up 4 and 5 deep in very tight confines. We only had one boat rafted against us, and Judi could not get her head around the fact that the neighbouring crew members had to cross our boat around the bow to get to the pontoon. I tried to explain that it was standard etiquette, and that they were being as quiet and as unintrusive as possible, but she still looked at them with daggers drawn as their lower legs passed the saloon windows.

We left Jersey half a day earlier than planned to make the most of the wind, and returned to Guernsey for another night. We had checked the GRIB files for the weather forecast, and determined that the best time to leave was going to be 3am to get the best of the tides around Guernsey and the winds across the channel. At 3:10, we slipped our moorings and departed in the dark. Three sightings of Dolphins added to the crossing, as did the arrival of a Spotted Flycatcher who decided to have a rest on the deck for a while. When it had recovered a bit, it flew around Jay Jay twice, landed on the dinghy about a foot from my shoulder, looked me in the eye as if to say "Thanks for the lift", and flew away towards England.

Shortly after that, the winds dropped and we had to motor the last 4 hours back into Plymouth. All in all, Jay Jay performed brilliantly, and we are very pleased with her. We are now looking forward to doing much more aboard before setting off in September.