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Darting to Dartmouth…

I make a plan to go to Dartmouth and anchor in the river near Ditisham. On Sunday I start to mull over the possibility of saving some distance by cutting in close to Portland Bill through the race, something I have not done before. The wonderful Trinity House web site has this to say…”Portland Bill and Chesil Beach are the graveyards of many vessels that failed to reach Weymouth or Portland Roads. The Portland Race is caused by the meeting of the tides between the Bill and the Shambles sandbank about 3 miles SE. Strong currents break the sea so fiercely that from the shore a continuous disturbance can be seen…”

I consult my neighbours in Weymouth Marina about the advisability of taking the infamous inshore route round Portland Bill. They happen to be live-aboards, they have done the transatlantic circuit and their home berth happens to be Weymouth. Looking at the weather forecast it could be doable but there will be “wind against tide”. This means what it says – the wind causes waves to build up and go in the direction of the wind but the underlying tidal stream is in the opposite direction. This causes choppy and confused seas. When planning a passage you normally plan on having a fair tide – so if there is “wind over tide”  you will not only be sailing into the wind but in choppy seas. This makes tacking even more tedious and tiring.

I check the forecast again on Sunday evening its getting worse F7 SW winds. I can hear my Mother’s voice saying “discretion is the better part of valour”..I resolve to take the offshore route.

Monday 20th dawns and I set off in time for the 1000 bridge. its good to be sailing again. The route from Weymouth to Dartmouth is around 65 nm. So at a planning speed of say 5kts that should take 13 hrs. Leaving at 1000 I should be in Dartmouth by 2300 hrs. As I leave the river I set 1 reef in main and genoa even though the winds are quite light – perhaps even F3. As I set off past the eastern side of the Bill the winds pick up – its as if they accelerate around the bill and hit you head on. the winds are from the SW – and I have to sail – yes you guessed SW. I tack out to sea at 60 degrees much worse than the normal tacking angle of about 50 degrees. Tiresome. The seas are moderate to rough. Again, sea state is a technical term, care of Vice Admiral Sir Percy Douglas. Much to my dismay, even though the winds are strong, there is quite a fog reducing visibility to about .5nm. I cant work out why the fog doesn’t get blown away!…This is going to take longer than planned.

The fog persists but I still sail as hard as I can tacking through the headwinds. Finally, as the day fades to night, I approach Dartmouth its 1am – its pitch black. The fog has lifted and I can see countless stars, and the sky divided by the Milky Way. I wonder at the Egyptians who would have studied this same celestial display 12,500 years ago when they built their tribute to honour Osiris and positioned the pyramids around the Nile to represent the  Milky Way dividing Orion from the constellation of Leo. Strange how my mind works when I get so cold my blood turns into a raspberry slush puppy. The boat has slowed to a crawl now that I am fighting the wind and the tide. Its freezing – but its too cold and bouncy to go and get any other clothes – luckily I have my wet weather jacket on – but no socks, thin sailing trousers, a t-shirt, no gloves – believe me it gets so cold you don’t even want to move. You spend 30 minutes debating with yourself whether you should move or not. Eventually you lose the argument but are still too stubborn to move. A bad loser.

I am doing 2kts. The wind drops and the sea is calm as I close the harbour entrance. I stir the bones to get fenders and lines ready, trusting the autopilot to steer us up the river. There is no point radioing anyone – the whole town sleeps the river is black, the sky is diamond studded, the air is now still. I motor passed the Darthaven Marina – there are boats moored all over the place – they loom up unexpectedly and I have to be careful to avoid just crashing into one. I pass through the town and up past the Naval College. There is no chance that my anchorage at Dittisham will be free with this many visitors…I turn back and head into the anchoring area just by Kingswear. I drop the anchor, and go down below to get warm and collapse. 15hrs that is the longest single handed trip – so far.

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Old schooner – on collision course – they got right of way.. Anchorage area in middle of River Dart
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Looking down on the Darthaven Marina and anchorage At anchor River Dart
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3 egg omelette celebration breakfast View from the breakfast table
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Not many choose to anchor – thankfully… View to Dartmouth town

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