Single-handed in fog from the Hamble to Brixham

‘Equinox’, a Cornish Crabber 24, took part in the OGA50 ‘Round Britain Challenge’ in 2013 as one of the Relay boats, making a nine day cruise from Chichester to Plymouth and back in celebration of the skipper’s forthcoming 62nd birthday. We bring her story in three parts, starting with this one where the skipper reflects on the Royal review in the Hamble and the challenge of single-handed sailing in fog on passage to Brixham.

Locking out of Chichester Marina, the short sail to Swanwick Marina up the Hamble River was a little pleasant diversion, a shake down sail before motoring down to Warsash the next day, my wife driving down to join me for the evening. I never need much of an excuse to sail up and down the Hamble River, so much to feast ones eyes on.

As a Solent OGA member I would be joining yachts that had sailed down from the East Coast where the OGA Round Britain Challenge had set off a few weeks earlier. After a wonderful meal at the RAFYC and not too many ‘sharpeners’ in the bar we motored back to ‘Equinox’, a Cornish Crabber 24, in the tender, hoping our trusty 45 year old Seagull was not making its presence felt interrupting too many dreams. The following morning, after breakfasting and saying goodbye to my wife, her nursing commitments sadly taking priority over our sailing, the Duke of Kent, looking as he always does, immaculate, motored past to salute the OGA gathering, receiving a rousing chorus of fog horns, the fleet appropriately dressed overall. After which, most of us leisurely cast off to sail down Southampton Water, Pat Dawson earlier passing custody of the ‘East Coast Token’ to me for the leg down to Plymouth.

In near perfect sailing conditions, we provided quite a spectacle for the Duke, Tom Cunliffe, Robin Knox Johnson and a gathering of dignitaries lunching ashore. My plan immediately afterwards, was to sail to Yarmouth joining others assembling there for the night. A plan thwarted almost immediately, when I decided to start the engine to charge rather tired batteries. With the fridge stuffed full of provisions and Speckled Hen, I thought it prudent to keep it on. Within a couple of minutes of starting, my little GM20 Yanmar buzzed me to say she was hot! The exhaust note sounded hollow and a quick glance over the stern confirmed copious quantities of steam was venting out, but no water. Switching off immediately, I decided to divert for the night to Newton Creek where I stripped down the pump finding nothing amiss. The belt tight, the impeller perfect and new, fitted barely a month or two back. Whatever the problem was, it appeared to disappear, as after reassembly she purred and pumped away as normal.

Just before 7am and to coincide with high water, on the 7th May, in the thickest fog I’ve sailed in for years, I set sail from Newton Creek with a plan to make Brixham, the engine behaving perfectly as I crept quietly out of the Creek without a single visual references; except other moored boats in the creek and I can’t remember ever having to use a GPS for such a simple task before. Out in the Solent, trust in my radar reflector, fog horn which I blew every five minutes and my Raymarine Plotter was absolute!

I also had running, and was thankful for, an App on my iPhone which turns it into an AIS  – ‘Boat Beacon’ – knowing that all commercial traffic including ferries and fishing boats could plot me; assuming of course they were out and about! It’s some 105 miles across Lyme Bay to Brixham from Newton Creek, so fog horn in hand and glaring ahead, eyes and ears searching for threats, I set off with visibility under 25 yards with barely enough breeze to keep the dripping sails filled; the tide as it does that end of the Solent providing plenty of early momentum.

The engine silenced once out of the Creek as my ears were, by far, the best anti-collision system I had on board. All was going swimmingly until in the Hurst Castle narrows, when at the very last moment, I first heard, then spotted another yacht motoring in the opposite direction so took appropriate avoidance action. We passed within easy hailing distance of one another. He with his engine running and sails furled looked considerably more shocked and surprised than I did as my fog horn blared away at close quarters. I’m convinced he hadn’t seen me until he heard me! Eventually the sun broke through when Portland Bill was behind me.

As the last of the fog cleared it looked very green and pleasant. Crossing Lyme Bay, in my experience is rather a tedious affair; the coast too far away to be discernable and the prevailing wind picking up the sea making it uncomfortable. Made worse this time by a light mist returning again as evening approached, visibility dropping to a few miles.

At 10.05pm with help from the last of a 9-11 knot breeze ‘Equinox’ entered Brixham Marina under engine; a long day, the batteries getting a much needed top up.

Contributed by Solent OGA member, Simon d’Archy

Solo circumnavigation in ‘Equinox’: 2010