Aliya begins her 50th birthday year with a Channel crossing, 11-14 January 2018

Aliya begins her 50th birthday year with a January Channel crossing, sunrise a long way southNearly a nice day on the return trip; mackerel cloud announces the bad weather to follow

Not having moved from the pontoon for a while, ‘Aliya’ was already keen to sail as we got down the harbour on Thursday morning and I unfurled the main; the chill NE wind filled it, the boat heeled and gathered speed and the fact that it was five thirty in the morning mattered little as I bore away round the end of the pier, let the jib out and began a rapid beam reach out of the bay, with the old moon lighting the way ahead out to sea. Dawn at the Shambles was a great sight, though always the coldest moment at sea, and by the time the sun rose we were well on our way, making six knots with a fairly flat sea.

The shock of our good friend Andreas’ death has reminded me that we none of us know what time we have, and life is for living not postponing; a strong reason for not refusing the modest window which offered itself for a first trip across the Channel this year. I knew Andreas would have approved, and the memory of his enthusiasm and infinite cheerfulness was warming company on an empty sea.

With such meditations we seemed to get down to the traffic quickly, and then the autopilot decided it had had enough – I have got through several in my career, so it came as little surprise – the Raymarine ST2000 is clearly built to last as long as the three year warranty! Out came the bungee, which I recommend to everyone as a way of getting control of the helm in such a situation; tied round the tiller and cleated off on either side, it can even sail the boat for a while. I learned this at a tender age from my father, who had strips of elastic tied across in front of the stern thwart in his Falcon, and every boat I’ve owned has had this as an option. It makes very light work of helming as well if you get the adjustment right.

Arriving off Cherbourg as the light began to go after a pleasant if chilly day at sea – the wind fairly constant at 12-15 knots till it died just before dusk – I was followed by the Customs launch who sounded their horn to say it was them on the radio; having just started motoring, and being keen to get in on the tide, I had been reluctant to stop, but had a brief conversation with them, and then they roared off towards Cherbourg themselves, in order not to be late knocking off from work!

A couple of days is not long to spend catching up with people and shopping; I had gone over for the AGM of the Cherbourg yacht club, and was invited to have dinner with the committee beforehand, which was a good chance to see friends and then listen to the usual things at an AGM; it is striking how small a budget the club operates on, and how considerable its achievements are; the Sporting Director (Alexis Loison) was unable to be present to read the sailing report, as he was not yet back from coming first in class in the Sydney-Hobart aboard the JPK 10.80 ‘Banque de Nouvelle Caledonie’ (formerly ‘Courrier de Leon’).

Present was the young man who led the team which won the national match racing championship in 2017, and some of the crew of ‘MacDo de Cherbourg’ who came third in the J70 Nationals at Hendaye last year also. WSC got a round of applause for the representative who sailed to the meeting, and people are looking forward to the next Transmanche, for which we aim to have a solution to the problem of handicaps.

Sunday had to be the day to come back, so I was watching the forecast to check that there was no shift in the timings of the gale which would be following me – if the risk of having to motor is that for some reason the engine fails, it is important to know that the next wind will be favourable to minimise the risks inherent in being at sea in January. In fact soon after I cleared the passe de l’Est at 0500 the E wind filled in and blew me along till it got light, by which time I was in sight of the E-bound traffic, and then motor-sailed as the wind came and went.

The sea gods sent a couple of dolphins to accompany my return for some hours, diving backwards and forwards under the boat, till some way off the Shambles when the wind died away completely, and the sun nearly came out. I arrived across the bank just as the flood began, and was carried up towards Weymouth with the returning fishing boats. A light breeze from the south announced the beginning of the new weather, and I was glad to arrive and tie ‘Aliya’ safely up again after her first and very successful outing of 2018.

Sailing in January one needs to know one isn’t going to get cold on deck especially if condemned to helm all day! I found the following necessary, from among what is always on board in the way of clothing. I felt a bit encumbered, but did not get cold:
Head – thermal balaclava, fleece hat and fleece-lined hood of waterproof jacket
Body – thermal base layer, t-shirt, fleece, waterproof fleece-lined jacket, heavy fleece, waterproof top jacket
Legs – thermal base layer, trousers, fleece trousers, heavy fleece overtrousers, waterproof trousers
Feet – socks, heavy fleece socks, seaboots

Steve Fraser

Submitted on 15th January 2018