Our Yachtmaster student takes the helm on the return passage from the Channel Islands

Day 28

Guernsey to Dartmouth

Today I was given the exciting task of skippering the boat and crew from St Peter Port (Guernsey) across the Channel to Dartmouth – a whopping 70 miles. Sorted out two watches, each watch with a watch leader, navigator and general crewmember. Tim was my navigator and Howard my crew.

I really enjoyed the trip, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I noticed an amazing difference in the crew after the great sleep last night, everyone was much happier and morale was high again. At last it seemed that we all had our sea legs and had settled into life onboard. Everything would have been perfect had the wind been a bit stronger. As it was, with less than 5kts of breeze all day we had to motor sail for the majority of the passage.

The first few hours passed effortlessly, with those on deck sunbathing and enjoying the first great day of sun. As I helmed, the others amused themselves by practising their knots, testing each other with flag cards and grazing on snack food to keep energy levels up.

We all got very excited when we spotted a dolphin about 15 miles off Guernsey. Unfortunately it didn’t want to play and soon disappeared. We switched on the stereo later in the afternoon to kill the droning sounds of the engine and had a great time listening to Andy’s CD collection. I then turned into a bit of a dance party with the crew dancing on deck as the sun set.

We passed effortlessly through the traffic separation scheme, at all times watching ships passing and monitoring their speed and course on the radar. This boat has loads of great toys onboard which makes the navigation interesting and allows games of ‘guess how far the ship is’ to be played.

Thankfully last night’s stopover enabled the guys to mend the gas oven and our bangers and mash dinner was rescheduled for tonight. Sam had fun negotiating the sausages in the tiny oven and we all found it most amusing when the tray fell out onto the floor and 24 sausages went flying!

Thanks to the appearance of a sea breeze at 2200, we finally managed to get the headsail out and turned off the engine. Three hours of proper sailing was an absolute dream! I realised how gorgeous it is to sail at night, under the stars, listening to the sound of the waves and watching the moon . While one watch was resting the others were on deck drinking hot chocolate and chatting.

Rob looked after the pilotage into Dartmouth which was great because behind the helm the entrance into the harbour just looked like a confusing mass of lights. At 0230 we picked up a mooring buoy and my skipper passage came to an end. It felt really great to have succeeded in my first full passage and I had loads of encouraging feedback from the crew. It was fantastic to have had the opportunity, albeit brief, to sail and I felt pleased that everyone else seemed to enjoy the day’s sailing too.

Day 29

Dartmouth to Yarmouth

Had a quick wander around Dartmouth and re-provisioned the boat before filling up on diesel and heading out again on our next passage. This time Howard was skipper and our planned route was to Lymington, via Weymouth.

Yet another day of light airs so we had to put the motor back on. No sign of any seasickness in fact the seas were practically dead flat. Knew that we had a long passage ahead so made the most of my first off watch period to get a few hours sleep.

Woke up to a happy crew relaxing on deck and caught the last few moments of sunset. Had the interesting task of cooking spaghetti Bolognese with Sam, which turned into quite a mission as the cooker started playing up again and limited our use of hobs. Eventually after about an hour and a half we produced an edible meal, which we thought, was slightly disappointing but which delighted the rest of the crew immensely, you would have thought Delia herself had made it!

While I had been busy cooking, the crew on deck were chatting eagerly about the conditions and I soon realised that we were making very slow progress. We had headed into heavy tidal waters around Portland Bill and were experiencing 5 knots of tide against us, making a slow 2 knots of progress per hour. For the next three hours we frustratingly crept along the headland. It was at this point that Howard made the sensible call to abandon the stop in Weymouth and continue straight onto Lymington.

Got back into bed at midnight and handed over to the next watch. I’m slowly starting to get use to sleeping on demand, which is great, definitely spurred on in the knowledge that at 0300 I was due back on deck. My next watch involved taking over the navigation from Sam and taking us into the Solent. Great news as just as I took over the watch the wind picked up and the motor was switched off for some much-needed peace and the chance to sail again. Time passed quickly as I fixed positions on the GPS every 30 minutes and advised whoever was on helm when to tack and the best sailing course for our passage. Felt fantastic to be sailing again and even though it was early in the morning our spirits were high. The sunrise was stunning and the mood on deck was surprising jolly. Usual cups of tea and hot chocolate were a constant ritual every 30 minutes.

The motor went on again at the Needles and Andy made the decision to change our destination to Yarmouth instead of Lymington. I did a quick pilotage plan and guided us in at 0800. All of us were quite awake and didn’t waste much time in heading to the showers to freshen up. All grabbed breakfast and headed back to the boat at midday for some boat handling exercises. We practised mooring up to buoys against the tide and learnt how to moor in between piles.