Dark Star's Single Handed Channel Islands Cruise 2018
Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, Alderney
Saturday June 30th 2018
St Peter Port, Guernsey to St Helier, Jersey 30 miles
The north east wind has been blowinbg force five to force 6 (25-31 mph) for the past few days and there has been
little movement in the marina.
Each morning has started with thick sea mist which is burnt off by the sun by mid morning and then dispered by the strengthening wind which seems to peak mid afternoon. However today does look more promising with nothing worse than force five (19-24 mph) in the forecast on Friday evening and as I am going south, the wind will be pushing Dark Star from behind.
Saturday morning dawns with just a little sea mist and less wind. The plan is to sail 22 miles south to the west cost of Jersey, finally turning left at the bottom at La Corbiere point, for the 8 mile run along Jersey's south coast, to St Helier harbour/marina which is entered via a tidal sill.
By 9 am Dark Star is ready to leave her berth when a passing sailor calls a greeting. Fellow Shoreham yachtsman and Sussex Yacht Club grandee, Tony Curtis, passes aboard a friend's boat. We have evidently been in St Peter Port at the same time, but in blissful ignorance of each other!
There is a large cruise ship anchored off and passengers are being brought ashore by relays of tenders. All very "memories of the Caribbean".
Turning south under full sail, as I pass the south end of the island, the wind picks up and Dark Star is soon overpressed. One reef in the main is not enough, so down comes the main and I continue for a time under full genoa.
Strong Wind Warning. North Easterly Force 6 Imminent!
In a force 5 from just off the stern quarter, Dark Star is usually well balanced and easy to sail under genoa alone. Now however her stern is being pushed sideways by the growing swell and the autopilot is struggling, but coping.
The VHF radio bursts into life with a coastguard warning "Imminent Strong Wind Warning, ENE Force 6, gusting 7". Wow this is above my pay grade but after an hour and half, to try return back against the wind and swell is not an option.
I manage to roll the foresail away to a third of its normal size and run the engine around 2,500 revs. Things settle down. The autpilot copes much better and we are making 5 knots in the right direction but Dark Star is rolling heavily.
I can hear things falling and sliding about down in the cabin. A quick look reveals nothing really untoward except that the cooker is swinging wildly in its gimbals and needs to be secured.
Out of interest, I turn off the engine, detach the autopilot and steer by hand. Dark Star feels easily balanced under the small foresail but the large swell building as the tide turns to flow against the wind, brings waves breaking on the beam with spray flying but nothing serious getting aboard.
Clouds have now formed and it's become quite cold. Within a short time I have added a jersey, fleecy and full set of "oilies" over the lot. Extraordinary when the country is baking in 28+ degrees.
Under sail alone, Dark Star's speed drops under 4 knots. The strong wind and swell is pushing her around 2 knots sideways off course (leeway to sailors). At this rate I will miss Jersey altogether!
So it's back on with the engine and the autopilot. Speed increases to 5-5.5 knots and a look at the chart plotter confirms that the sideways drift has been corrected. I only have to put up with this for another three hours when I should get a respite from the large swell as I sail into the lee of the west coast of Jersey.
And so it comes to pass. Jersey looms up and as I pass down it's coastline, the wind still howls, but the waves are now puny (blocked by the island) and Dark Star treats them with contempt. For about an hour, I switch off the engine, unroll the foresail and enjoy a carefree sail down Jersey's rugged west coast, mighty relieved that the worst is over?
At the bottom of the west coast pops up the famous Corbiere Point Lighthouse safeguarding an area that is littered with wrecks. The most recent was the inter island Fast ferry, St Malo, which hit the rocks near La Corbiere in 1995, but all 300 on board were rescued.
It's unusually lonely out here, not a sign of a yacht or fishing boat. Mmmmm.
Dark Star gives La Corbiere a safe offfing and turns sharply to port (left) to sail the remaining 8 miles along Jersey's south coast to the marina at St Helier. Then the wind really hits.
The east north east wind has "bent" around the island into an easterly, so that Dark Star now meets it head on. The foresail is quickly rolled away. The main sail is raised with one reef and pulled in tight. The engine is cranked up to maximum 3500 revs and Dark Star does what Leisure 27's do so well, motor sails to windward like a good 'un.
Spray flies across the deck and drenches the sprayhood under which I sit happily (and dry), knowing in two hours Dark Star will be safe in St Helier by 3 pm.
Entrance into the marina is not available for another two hours until the tide rises sufficiently. Dark Star rafts up to the flotilla of around thirty boats already parked on the waiting pontoon.
The wind is shrieking through the rigging but this is a well sheltered spot. The sun returns and it's a quick change back to t-shirt and shorts. Once again as the smallest boat, I am pulled from the back of the flotilla and guided first into the marina, to a snug north facing (into the wind) berth on E pontoon.
Sunday July 1st 2018
St Helier, Jersey (population 100,000)
Had a good long sleep after yesterday's antics, but am out and about quite early to report to the
Marina Office and pay my dues.
Both St Helier and Guernsey charge about £28 per day for a 27 footer, including electricity. However they seem a lot more laid back here in St Helier, no customs declaration and no marina assistant banging on the hull asking for payment, brandishing a portable card processor.
St Helier is certainly different from Guernsey's St Peter Port. It's larger and more upmarket. St Helier is a bit like Torquay whilst St Peter Port is more "yer Brixham". St Peter Port and Brixham do still have the authenthic, old style "port ambience".
In St Helier, banks, investment companies, insurance giants soon swim into view. The marina proves to be just 100 yards from the main bus terminus and 200 yards from Tesco Express (called Alliance here), M & S, a Coop and Burger King. Conway Street is the route to these goodies. I am not quite sure where to turn first, when the bells ring out.
The Call of the Bells
The bells come from the C of E "Cathedral Church" of the Islands. I haven't had a good sing since visiting the Scilly Isles last year. C of E may be the "wrong" church but they usually sing the "right" hymns, so I slide into a pew, in hope.
A gentleman of about my age alights beside me, bids me welcome but before we can chat, the organ strikes up and the choir (elderly, 6 female, 1 male) processes in.
First hymn announced is Charles Wesley's "Love Divine All Loves Excelling". I am off, charged with enthusiasm after a long absence from singing.
The chap beside me gives a sideways glance before joining in. Boy, could he sing. After the first verse he whispers "tenor" or "bass". "Bass" I reply. "Great" said he before launching into the tenor line for verse two. I need no further hint before launching into the bass line.
And so it goes on for the next four, well known hymns. We have great fun. Never did hear the choir. Afterwards it emerges that my "singing partner" is also a sailor and sings in a local choir. It is all quite oddly uplifting, but probably a bad dream for the rest of the sparse, elderly congregation.
In the excitement, I forget that they come round with the plate in the C of E and being quite close to the front, the plate is thrust in front of me before I have time to think. Reaching into my pocket I can only feel four crisp twenty pound notes.
Panic! If I fumble for long enough the bearer of the plate might move on. No luck, I look up and the plate is not moving. So a £20 note hits the plate and I break out in a sweat.
Monday July 2nd 2018
St Helier Marina, Jersey
Three ports in 5 hours
At least here, it seems the weather is breaking down and overnight came torrential rain with heavy mist in the early morning.
While the rest of the UK swelters under a huge high pressure system, a low pressure system has moved in over the Channel Islands with squally winds.
An early start (well 9.30) for the bus termimus, results in the purchase an £8 one day pass for unlimited bus travel. I would like to see the other harbours on the east and south coast of Jersey and the first stop is Gorey. Public transport (bus) in both Guernsey and Jersey is excellent.
Gorey harbour completely dries out and this picture of the moorings is taken close to high tide. There are a few visitors' buoys outside the local moorings, but for twin keel boats, getting closer in to dry out, is preferable. The bottom is clean, hard sand which makes walking ashore pretty comfortable.
There is no place for visitors against the harbour wall, but I did notice a floating pontoon used by a couple of fishing boats which could be used for a short stop over. Gorey is not an enclosed harbour and is open to the the south east.
The harbour is ringed by cafes and hotels with plenty of choice for eating out. It's an attractive spot overlooked by the ridiculously scenic Gorey Castle, or Mont Orgueil as it is officially known.
The Most Expensive Angling Spot in the World?
St Catherine's Bay is not a true harbour, but like the island of Alderney it has a remarkable, 600 yards long, curving, massive, granite breakwater. It was built between 1849 and 1855 by the British Admiralty, as the first of two proposed enclosing arms of a huge harbour. This would allow the British Men O War to contain any French threat before the enemy could reach the English Channel.
Unfortunately the bay began to silt up as the breakwater was being constructed. Finally sail was giving way to much larger steam driven ships which could not be accommodated in the harbour.
The construction cost £250,000 in 1855 (prob about £6 million in today's money)and since then has served only as a great spot for sea anglers. One large, but good cafe is the sum total of shoreside amenities.
There are moorings and it is a spot well sheltered from south west through to north east. The harbour dries only about half way down the breakwater so you could spend a comfortable night, still afloat, in quiet conditions.
Don't make an exit too close to the breakwater on the ebb tide. The water sluices seawards like a river producing lively overfalls at the end of the breakwater, even in calm conditions.
The yellow buoys across the bay mark the 5 knot speed limit. The breakwater does support a business providing sea trips in fast ribs.
St Aubin's Harbour
St Aubin's Bay has St Helier, with its marina, at it's east side and St Aubin's Harbour on the west. It's a totally enclosed harbour and provides complete shelter, but as the photograph show, the tide goes out a long way. The harbour is rammed tight with fore and aft moorings but there is some space on the harbour wall for visitors.
The average height of tide here is 10 metres (33 feet). That's a long climb up a vertical slippy, iron ladder to get shoreside when the tide is out. "No for me" as Dr Calum would say.
Tuesday July 3rd 2018
St Helier Marina, Jersey
There was thunder and heavy rain through the night and the marina is shrouded in sea mist in early morning. However the sun soon burns it
Just across the main road from the marina is a large collection of buildings with the name "Normans" emblazoned in yellow across each one.
Handy Diesel Source In St Helier.
Here you can hire a car, buy paint, building materials and all sorts of power tools large and small. Unfortunately I spoke to three employees, two Eastern Europeans and one Glaswegian and none of them spoke English. However outside the car hire building stood a diesel pump where they happily filled my two cans with 20 litres of red diesel for £16.
Getting diesel in cans is a real problem in the Channel Islands marinas. The the fuel pontoons sit outside the marina locks/sills/gates. When the gates open there is a rush for the fuel pontoon and things get heated.
Jersey War Tunnels
A visit to these was highly recommended and the bus delivers me to the door. The tunnels were built by the Germans when they occupied the Channel Islands in world war two.
Originally they were intended as ammunition stores but as the war turned against the Nazis, they were fitted out as casualty hospitals.
Much slave labour, mostly Polish and Russian was used to excavate the tunnels into the side of a hill. It was largely a waste of time. When the Allies invaded France, the Channel Islands were ignored and basically starved into submission.
The Jersey War Tunnels tell a harrowing story of life under German occupation with details of concentration camp and death for those islanders of Jewish origin and also for any islander who bucked German authority. There are tales of collaboration, impossible moral choices and "revenge justice" meted out after the German surrender.
They have a clever ploy to get visitors into the cafe and shop afterwards. With the admission ticket, you receive the ID card of a war time resident of Jersey. In the cafe you can find out what happened to that person when you return the ID Card.
I receive the ID card for Dennis Philip Le Cuirot, and shamefully I still have it. As I leave the exhibition.I realise that a bus to St Helier is due and just catch it. I later Google Le Cuirot and discover he was a very brave man who managed to escape by boat early in the war and survived. However his experiences appear to have made his hair stand on end.
England win penalty shoot out!
A large boat has moored beside me and largely scuppered my TV signal. I watch a crackly picture of the England V Colombia game whilst chasing the aerial around and listening to the commentary on radio Five Live. Amazing result. From despair to exultation in seconds!
Wednesday July 4th 2018
St Helier, Jersey to Sark 25 miles (Sark population 495)
Leave St Helier Marina at 09.15, bound for the little island of Sark and head back much the same way
that I came in horrible conditions four days
In the inner harbour, i get the fenders and ropes stowed away and the main sail raised as another yacht motors past. Finally I follow, but as I approach the exit, a siren blasts off accompanied by red flashing lights, to my left.
I am so busy concentrating on the red flashing lights on the left that I nearly miss the big Condor ferry over to the right, ready to depart!
Carribean cruises do have a use. You learn that nothing happens until the shore lines are released and a glance showed that Condor ferry "Commodore" is still tied up, with the line handlers standing by. Dark Star has time to carry on and motor to the edge of the channel, out of the way.
Condor ferry "Commodore" cruises past, gathering speed, trailing burnt diesel fumes. Ahead the yacht which had left before me crewed by husband and wife, is blissfully sailing down the channel unaware of the charging ferry.
Inevitably five very loud horn blasts (internation signal for "get of out the xxx way") catches their attention and they jump to take evasive action.
That about sums up the drama of the sail to Sark. It's a dull morning with a gentle quartering wind which kindly moves behind Dark Star as she sails west along the south coast of Jersey then turns sharp right (starboard) to sail north towards the tiny island of Sark. This gentle sail could not be more different from the journey endured last Saturday in force 6 winds.
It rains for a couple of hours, but we are on another tidal magic carpet and shifting along, with 6.7 knots constantly on the log. At 11.15 Sark is in clear sight along with the islands of Guernsey and Herm off to the left (west).
The tide is pushing Dark Star strongly sideways in the channel between Jersey and Sark. To counteract this amd prevent Dark Star from being pushed past Sark, the chart plotter indicates the course to follow is 15 degrees different from the compass course....
Sark - Keep Off!
The sun comes out as I arrive in Havre Gosselin at 13.45, a small anchorage on the west side of Sark. In fact there is no room to anchor since the bay is filled with a dozen mooring buoys, most of which are already occupied. However I spot a free buoy, stop exactly in the right place and go forward with the boathook to pick up the floating mooring strop.
Beautifully done, I haul the strop aboard and make secure. Then looking more carefully at the big moooring buoy, in faded painted letters appears "Keep Off. SYC club mooring". Well I am a member of the Sussex Yacht Club. Never knew we had moorings down here. Hey ho.
The dinghy is launched and I head ashore only to get involved with helping some sailors who had tied up their dinghy to the landing steps on the cliff side at high tide and spent the day ashore.
The tidal range is over 30 feet (11 metres) here and their dingy now dangles 30 feet below, with the painter (securing rope) caught fast on a rock!
It takes half an hour to sort out successfully, although they had lost one oar and paddle slowly back to their yacht with the remaining oar. In hot sunshine, I dutifully climb up the countless steps in the cliff to reach the monument at the top.
The grand view of the yachts below emphasises how much of a tiddler Dark Star is (second from left) compared to the 35-40 foot yachts which are now the norm.
Sark has less than 500 inhabitants. There are no cars, only tractors and horses provide transport. It's getting towards 17.00 and too late to venture much further than the nearest "village" and expect to find anything open.
In any case, most of the "action" is on the other (east) side of Sark. However I fall in with a local man from the village and we set off back towards the steps down to the bay.
It turns out he owns a very nice Pacific Seacraft yacht, kept on a permanent mooring close in by the landing stage. The steep climb which left me hot and breathless, he often does once or twice a day.....
Dark Sky Spectacular.
Dinghy retrieved I row back to Dark Star for dinner and and sunset. Sark has no light pollution and is the world's first designated "Dark Sky Island". After 23.00 when it gets properly dark, the view of the night sky is quite spectacular.
You can't believe the number of stars, planets, satellites up there. However pick up a pair of binoculars and the scene become quite breathtaking.
The view of the night sky, with Dark Star anchored in an official Dark Sky site, sounds idyllic. It isn't. A persistent ground swell creeps into the bay and all night Dark Star rolls from side to side. Anything not secured bangs and bonks around, producing ever more frustrated leaps from the sleeping bag, to stop the noise.
2018 Sark to Alderney 24 miles (Alderney population 1,900)
18 miles in thick mist and two tidal races!
I don't leave Sark till 9.30 to head to the island of Alderney, but I have been awake since dawn on the not-so-gently rolling Dark Star.
The famous Guillot Passage, a well known tidal race, just 100 yards wide, lies just to the north side of the anchorage, dividing Sark from the even smaller island of Brechou. It's a short cut out to the north but the tide races through the narrow gap fiercely.
I have not seen any yachts leave via this route, but yesterday the local sailor assured me the if I get the tide right, just as it turns north, it's a grand, exciting short cut. The easier way out is a mile detour around Isle Brechou.
The extra distance is not a problem, but I would always know that I had "bottled it" by opting for the outside route.
Calculations made, Dark Star drops the visitors' buoy and sidles across the bay to have look at the "Guillot". It looks quiet enough and the tide appears to be turning north. Dark Star noses in, the speed shoots up to 8 knots and within what seemes like a couple of minutes, we are spat out the other side into slight overfalls, kicked up by tide against wind.
Looking back, to the right, up on the tiny island of Brechou, the Gothic Castle built by the reclusive, billionare, Barclay twin brothers positively gleams in the morning sun. Enlarge the picture to view the castle.
Companies owned by the Barclay brothers include the Daily Telegraph, Spectator, Littlewoods, Shop Direct, Yodel, Claridges, Connaught and Berkeley hotels. Oh yes, and the 40 million dollar, 60 metre superyacht, "The Lady Beatrice".
It's a glorious morning as I sail north to Alderney with just a light wind, but (there always seems to be a "but") after 10.30 sea mist advances quickly to envelope Dark Star. Fog patches are not uncommmon and the sun usually burns them off. Not this time! After an hour the mist is even thicker with water dripping from the mainsail.
Another tide race, an unfamiliar harbour and visibilty is very poor
I can barely see 100 yds in any direction but must keep a sharp lookout for other yachts or ships. I have no radar, but do have a good radar reflector so most ships should "see" me. It's other yachts in a similar predicament that present the bigger hazard.
On my Marine Navigator chart plotting software I have already set up many fixed "waypoints" to steer towards and it's comforting to know that if I keep Dark Star on track, we should end up in Alderney, mist or no mist! I have opted to travel up the east side of Alderney and approach Braye harbour from the north east.
However this side of Alderney contains the famous Alderney Race which is already propelling me north at 7 to 8 knots. At some point I need to turn sharp left (port) and step off this tidal magic carpet if I am to reach Braye harbour. We push on through the mist towards the crucial turning point. Alderney is close to port (left) but hidden in sea fog.
At the determined way point, I turn sharply left and skid off the "tidal race". Things quieten down after half a mile. A couple of yachts quickly appear out of the fog and just as quickly disappear. I radio Braye Harbour warning of my "blind approach" and asking if there any ships may be about to leave port. "Nothing leaving Dark Star, you are safe to proceed and pickup the first vacant yellow visitor's buoy".
Yellow buoy! I can't even see the walls of the harbour's huge granite breakwater, but my chart plotter indicates I'm passing it to starboard. Then suddenly up pops a green navigation buoy and I know I have safely arrived!
I cheer out loud with relief! Within seconds moored yachts swim out of the gloom and the harbourmaster's launch is soon alongside to guide Dark Star to one of the few vacant visitors' buoys.
On the the twenty two mile journey, seventeen miles were sailed through bad visibility, swift tides, cross currents and rocky headlands towards a harbour I had not previously visited. It was made possible only by the wonders of GPS (global positionig service) by which a sailor can fix his position in the world to within a few metres.
The only drawback with GPS is that it can't tell you whether any other sailors and yachts are also within the same few metres.....
Friday July 6th
Island of Alderney
Like the tny island of Sark, Alderney has no marina. There are nearly 100 mooring buoys, sheltered behind a huge granite beakwater
which thrusts north east into the English Channel and was built for the British Admiralty between 1847 and 1869. Hang on, haven't we
been here before? St Catherine's breakwater on Jersey - the world's most expensive angling spot?
In fact the same contractor was in charge of both projects, the Alderney breakwater being built at a reported cost of £1.2 million by 1869. Alas, in the twenty years of it's construction, sail had given way to steam and Queen Victoria's government had no further interest in the project.
However the people of Alderney now had a tremendous asset, a safe (relatively), deepwater harbour. It's main disadvantage is that it's open to winds from the north east, when the harbour becomes untenable.
It costs a fortune to maintain the breakwater. Rememdial work is non stop and is reported to cost nearly one million pounds per year - on an island with just 1,900 inhabitants!
This morning the harbour is again covered in mist which does partially lift, allowing for a jaunt round the island on an electric bike. It's a pretty hilly island but in no time at all, I had clocked up 11 miles. Pity the mist still shrouded much of the west of the island.
I stopped off at the tiny airport - it really is something from another era - for a welcome stop for a mug of tea. The place was at a standstill. The 16 seater aircraft which connects the island to Guernsey was grounded - sea mist!
Unfortunately for elderly yachtsman, the very pretty town of St Annes is a nearly a mile from the harbour, straight up a very steep hill. Getting provisions from here is possible only by taxi.
However there are two good stores just a couple of hundred yards from the quayside, one selling Waitrose produce. Neither store sells alcohol so for beer its a taxi ride to to St Anne's. What's all that about?
Mainbrace Chandlery is very helpful and diesel is available in cans. Water is available on the quayside, again only by container. The harbour offers three nights for the price of two, 40 euros for three nights. A really delightful place. It's just the sea mist....
On arrival, the harbour assistant taking the rent money sung the praises of their new toilets and showers. "Best I have ever seen" he declared.
I went with great expectation for my first shower in three days. There is no dividing curtain between the shower and your clothes hung up on the door! Result, the shower is good and hot, but the spray bounces all over the hanging clothes. I wonder which sub committee designed them?
Saturday July 7th
A beautiful day, with the sea mist quickly lifting. A quick dinghy ride into the harbour for water, fresh bread and snacks for the
England game this afternoon.
The problem with hanging off a buoy is the absence of electrical power. However while the sun shines, the 100 watt flexible solar panel just about drives a cool box, laptop and television.
Unfortunately Dark Star swings all over the place on a buoy which means moving the aerial to re-align with the signal mast and doing the same with the solar panel to catch the sun. Restful it is not!
Never mind, still enjoyed the game, the score could have been 4-0, but I thought Sweden were a bit disappointing.
The weather and tides might be right for a dassh back across the channel towards Poole or Weymouth. Fingers crossed!
Thanks for reading this.