Dark Star's Single Handed Channel Islands Cruise 2018

Shoreham by Sea to Guernsey

Wednesday June 13 2018
Shoreham By Sea to Portsmouth 37 miles
Back home in Shoreham By Sea

Never having visited the Channel Islands, it seemed an obvious target for this year's sailing antics. After bashing around Britain over the past two seasons I hope that it proves a much easier cruise and more of a "holiday"....famous last words.

Leave Shoreham at 9.30 and arrive Portsmouth/Gosport/Haslar after a 7 hour, 37 mile bash to windwward, at 4.30. The south westerly wind is only a force 4, but the wind against tide conditions gave the usual uncomfortable ride through the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill.

Thursday June 14 2018
Haslar Marina, Gosport/Portsmouth

The plan is to set off from Haslar today for the south end of the Isle of Wight and anchor overnight in Sandown/Shanklin bay. Then early on Friday day, make a 65 mile, cross channel dash to France. Alas that plan is put on hold after problems with the roller furling gear emerged on the passage from Shoreham.

Friday June 15 - Monday June 18 2018
Haslar Marina

High winds resulted in a few days stay in Haslar, which is just as well since there is much to organise on Dark Star get her back in top cruising fettle. In any case I wouldn't have been able to cross the Channel, single handed, in strong south westerlies.

Father's Day on Sunday brings a nice surprise when grandaughter Sasha and boy friend Gary turn up in Portsmouth and we have a very nice meal in Gunwharf Quays. Surprise is complete when I discover Sasha has settled the bill....!

Tuesday June 19 2018
Portsmouth to Shanklin - and back! 30 miles

How not To Depart For France Isle of Wight
Decide to carry out the original plan and head in the afternoon down to the Isle of Wight, to Sandown and Shanklin bay, intending to anchor there and sleep overnight, ready for a cross channel dash to Cherbourg.

The wind is SW 4/5 but provides a good sail as far as Bembridge. Thereafter it is straight on the nose as I turn south west to head into Sandown and Shanklin bay.

Any thought of anchoring there overnight is quickly dispelled. The wind whistles through gaps in the higher bits of the land and the bay is full of swell.

It's now blowing a good SW force 5. What now? A glance at the XCweather.com site shows yet another change in the forecast. The expected high pressure is taking longer to build and tomorrow now promises more SW 4/5 winds instead of the original SW 3/4.

For 3 hours I have sailed 15 miles south, but the only sensible decision is to sail back and wait for another day. Turning north to Portsmouth I run straight into the now fast ebbing tide. A force 5 wind now pushes me along, into typical wind over tide conditions.

Dark Star rolls uncomfortably and very slowly back into the Solent at less than 2 knots, getting caught in overfalls off Whitcliffe Bay and Bembridge Ledge. It's a painful lesson. Later research showed that nobody tries to anchor down there in anything but zero wind and swell.

Back at Haslar Marina, Gosport, on my usual berth (India 6, luckily it has not been taken) I reflect glumly that I had covered 30 miles to no purpose.

Wednesday/Thursday June 20/21
Haslar Marina, Gosport

Again too much wind and I enjoy the delights of Gosport. I decide if I want to take the shortest route to Cherbourg, it should be from the other (west) end of the Isle of Wight, via Yarmouth and the Needles Channel.

I think subconsciously, I had such a torrid time in the Needles Channel last year, that I am trying to keep away from that nasty bit of water. However in the right conditions, surely my fears are unreasonable?

Friday June 22
Portsmouth to Yarmouth 16 miles

The decision is made to leave Gosport/Portsmouth on the high tide at 6.30 am and west head straight down the Solent to Yarmouth, ready for the 65 mile, cross channel dash on Saturday.

It's a bright cold morning with a northerly force 3 breeze. Well wrapped, up I head out of Portsmouth entrance turn sharp to starboard and head out to Gilkicker Point.

The forecast is for a lovely day and I am surprised, when I turn west into the Solent proper, that not a yacht is in sight!

Dark Star climbs straight on to the magic carpet of a strongly ebbing tide, I motorsail as far as Cowes, but by 8 am, Dark Star comes onto a broad reach as she heads down the Solent to Yarmouth harbour.

With engine silenced and under the slightest breeze, Dark Star glides along at close to 5 knots for the next two hours. Dark Star will enter Yarmouth at 9.30 am if I keep the engine on, but that's far too early. This sail is one to enjoy and savour.

It's pretty warm when Dark Star pushes into Yarmouth. The berthing launch is soon alongside, but I explain that I have already pre-booked a berth at Harold Hayles Yard pontoon, at the back of the harbour, close to the road bridge.

With such a good weather forecast, Yarmouth will be jammed tight this weekend. I need to get clear early tomorrow, without the complication of boats rafting up on Dark Star. Something I well remember from an earlier visit to Yarmouth.

Dont Get Caught Short Here
Harold Hayles' yard pontoon has power and water and is nicely out of the bustle of the main harbour. However there are no on site showers and toilets. It's a walk back across the lifting road bridge to the main harbour office block. Don't get caught short in Yarmouth!

A jaunt into town morphed into a visit to the very pleasant bar of the Royal Solent Yacht Club. It has a fantastic view over the Solent, plus a huge pair of mounted binoculars which provide an good close up of the super yacht Amaryllis, anchored just off the harbour. Wonder what they are charged for anchoring?

Back to Dark Star to get everything ready for the run to Cherbourg tomorrow. High pressure has set in and the forecast looks good.

Friday June 23 2018
Yarmouth to Cherbourg 71 miles

The Needles IOW Leave Yarmouth at 5.30 am. It's a beautiful, still morning and heading for the Needles Channel is quite an armada of yachts! There are at least two groups led by retired ex RAF or Naval types who are wuff wuffing away on the radio with lots of "Roger that" and "Affirmative old boy" and finally "My good lady has just got the eggs and bacon on"......

However nearing the Needles Fairway Boy, most yachts turn to port heading south, but on a diversionary course from Dark Star. Pretty soon I am motorsailing at 6 knots into a lovely force 3 south westerly, but now I am completely on my own.

Channel Tide Capers
Crossing the English channel at an average of 5 knots takes a small yacht at least 12 hours, which takes the yacht through two tide cycles. For six hours the yacht is pushed sideways by the tide down the Channel, from a straight line in one direction and six hours later, the reverse happens.

To complicate matters, the tides are stronger on the French side. However the nugget of information I gleaned from Tom Cunliffe's book was "Steer 180 degrees south on the compass and ignore the tides"

"Pay no attention to electronic chart plotters, GPS sets or any other gizmos. Do nothing more until some ten miles from the French coast and the correct the course if necessary."

In mid channel, the wind dies completely. In a flat calm, Dark Star pushes along gamely under engine, heading determinedly 180 degrees south. However a glance at the excellent Marine Navigator/Visitmyharbour.com chart on my android tablets show I could miss the Cherbourg penisula completely!

The Shipping Lanes
Every commercial ship sailing to/from the UK or Europe passes up or down the English Channel, in clearly defined lanes. Departing ships move left to right on the English side and arrivals sail from right to left on the French side.

Visibility is good and I can see ships clearly which made avoiding them fairly simple. Forget power giving way to sail. I just keep well clear and always pass to the stern of any ship that appears.

Enemy Coast in plain sight
At 15.30 pm, the French coast appears in plain sight and I am definitely not heading for Cherbourg! Resisting the temptation to change course from the 180 degrees compass course, patience is rewarded as the tide turns strongly to push me back east.

At 18.30 Dark Star heads for the huge outer harbour of Cherbourg - and I have not once altered from a compass course of 180 degrees course in twelve hours! Thanks, Tom Cunliffe and the "Shell Channel Pilot".

No Room At The Inn!
Alas, arrival in the marina at 19.00 on a Saturday night found every visitor berth taken and yachts rafted up on the outer, alongside berths.

Two friends from the Leisure Owners Association, Sheila and Steph Harrison, had arrived in Cherbourg a couple of days earlier and they gave a running commentary, by text, on the rapidly disappearing available spaces.

Eventually Dark Star finds a space on the outside, hammer head at the end of G pontoon, a long way from the marina facilities, but at least it's a walk ashore berth.

Sheila and Steph turn up soon after and march me back to their yacht, "Shearwater", where Steph serves up a grand "Coq Au Vin". It's an enjoyable meal, but I suspect Sheila and Steph have delayed an extra night in Cherbourg for our meeting, after we had earlier missed each other at Portsmouth and Yarmouth.

They planned a dawn departure next day, so it was not a late night. Just as well as I was whacked. Sheila, Steph sailed past Dark Star at 6 am on their way to the Channel Islands, but I was dead to the world.

Sunday June 24 2018
Yarmouth to Cherbourg 71 miles

Cherbourg Marina I sleep till 9 and settle for a celebratory "full english", whipped up on board. However on this berth, Dark Star is the last yacht passed by every departing boat and the wash and noise is a pain.

Supermarket closed on Sunday!
An exploratory walk into Cherboug to locate the large supermarket falls flat. Le Carrefour is shut, as is the whole shopping complex. The secular French take Sunday seriously, in a vey puzzling way.

However, on the walk around the outside of the marina, it's clear that many boats have left and there are lots of spaces on the visitor pontoons, N, P and Q. Dark Star is soon moved from it's exposed berth and tied up on a finger berth on P pontoon, complete with mains power.

Cakes with the bill
cherbourg marina A visit to the Port Offices to pay up, is rewarded with the usual printed brochures, presented in an attractive little bag which also contained a pack of almond Petit Fours. A nice touch.

Diesel Rage
A return trip to the Port Offices to fill up a couple of cans with twenty litres of diesel, was not so happy. They operate a self service fuel pump, operated by credit card.

Just when you are about to give up getting the pump to deliver any fuel, the damn things springs into life and diesel pours everywhere, but not in the cans....

England's world cup match against Panama is shown on the TV within the Port Office complex. With England 5-0 ahead at half time, I head back early to Dark Star and listen to the second half on the radio whilst sorting out the passage plam for tomorrow.

Monday June 25 2018
Cherbourg to St Peter Port, Guernsey, 43 miles

Channel Islands Missing out Alderney.
Travelling west from Cherbourg past Cap La Hague, the first Channel Island to appear is Alderney which has no marina, but a big, wide harbour with lots of mooring buoys.

Unfortunately the harbour is exposed and uncomfortable in winds from the north to the east and this high pressure which is settling in nicely, is bringing brisk, north easterly winds.

The plan is therefore to bypass Alderney and head straight south to Guernsey, via the infamous Alderney Race. The tides on this coast can be among the world's highest (10 metres) and fastest (up to 7-10 knots+)

Arrival time at Cap La Hague for the 90 degree turn to port and south, needs to coincide with the change of tide at the headland. "Leave Cherbourg at least three hours before high water Dover" is the general advice.

At 6.45 am on a beautiful morning, Dark Star slips out of Cherbourg via the Petite Rade and the Grand Rade, along with about twenty other yachts with the same plan.

At 27 feet, Dark Star is a tiddler in this fleet and soon drops a little way behind, but we are all riding a strong tidal eddy which is pushing us west towards Cap La Hague. Further out the tide is still streaming strongly east.

Into the Alderney Race
At 9.45 Dark Star shoots past Cap La Hague, with a lovely north easterly F3/4 providing a beam reach. The tide is now running south and the wind is blowing in the same direction. There should be no overfalls or nasty breaking seas in the Alderney Race this morning?

Mmmm... All the other yachts have moved much closer to the French coast and I am alone on my chosen course. Well if I have screwed up I will just have to take my lumps and batten down the hatches.

Alderney quickly slides past to port and the speed over the ground rises to 8-9 knots. Under just the full genoa (main sail still tied down) Dark Star fizzes along for the next three hours, providing delightful sailing on this tidal "magic carpet".

I am so fortunate to be making this notorious passage in perfect conditions and by 14.00 Dark Star is heading into Guernsey's St Peter Port just as a Condor Express Ferry makes a noisy exit.

St Peter Port Harbour Entrance A Bun Fight?
Entrance to St Peter Port Marina is governed by the height of the tide and yachts arriving early tie up to a waiting pontoon - which has already disappeared under some forty yachts, many rafted two and three deep.

Alongside Dark Star appears a marina/port workboat. A pack containing a customs declaration form, plus the usual port brochures, is tossed aboard. Having confirmed my draught, the order is given to raft up right at the front of the queue. Sometimes it pays to be a tiddler.

At 15.15 the tide has risen sufficiently to allow safe passage into the marina, but there is no mad dash. Each yacht is called forward and led by the workboat into an allotted berth. A very civilised ending to what had promised to be a stressful day.

Tuesday June 26 2018
Guernsey, St Peter Port Marina

A strong wind warning (north east force 5/6) provides a good opportunity for a day in port and the chance to look around.

St Peter Port Marina Have struck it lucky!
The inner marina at St Peter Port sits right in front of the main road and the town centre. Less than 200 yards away I find a Marks and Spencers food hall. Sheltered berth, water, power and a M&S next door. It does not get much better for a solo sailor!

Wednesday June 27 2018
St Peter Port, Guernsey

Thick mist greets the opening of the hatch around 7.30 am. By 10am the mist is dispersing but the wind has really built up. Another day in port it is then.

Public transport on Guernsey gets a big "thumbs up". Taking a no 91 or 92 fom the terminus near the marina provides a complete circular tour around the coast of Guernsey. No 92 goes anti clockwise and 91 the reverse.

Round the Island that's £1 please Sir
The surprise was the cost - £1 for any length of bus trip! You can get off anywhere and resume the journey on the next bus, but it does cost another £1. Only a true Scotsman could sit tight the whole way round.....

Met interesting people on the bus and also on the little tourist train which provides a commentary while rattling up and down the very steep, sloping streets of St Peter Port.

No Inheritance tax, capital gains tax and usually zero corporation tax
It's no surprise that banks, investment houses, insurances companies are thick on the ground. Specsavers has it's head office here. Property prices are high - 3 bedroom semi for around £600,000.

No Health Cover!
Unlike the island of Jersey, Guernsey offers no reciprocal health service with the UK. Call for an ambulance here and the costs are eye watering. Private health insurance is a must.

No waiting at A & E in Guernsey!
A visit to the hospital Accident and Emergency department costs £55 before 6pm. After that it rises to £110 and after midnight it's £165. The charge is for assessment only. Any treatment required costs from £5 to £340 depending on severity. I imagine it's pretty quiet in A & E..... Food for thought.

Thursday June 28 2018
St Peter Port Marina, Guernsey

St Peter Port Outer Pontoons Ugh, low cloud, thick mist and yet another strong wind warning. Another day in port, but do have the prospect of watching the world cup England v Belgium match. If England win, they top their group and could face Brazil in the quarter finals. If they lose and come second in the group, England progress to the next stage, but could face Sweden in the quarter finals. An interesting dilemma.

Uncomfortable outer pontoons
Had a good look at the visitor pontoons in the outer harbour. Nowadays, they are now connected to the shore and seem an attractive option since they offer all tide access whilst marina access is restricted to some 2 hours either side of high water.

However in the prevailing north easterlies, yachts are steadily rolling and pitching. It does not look very comfortable. On the other hand, if the wind is from the west or south west, I would imagine the pontoons would be much calmer.

Keillers Old Marmalade Factory Guernsey Guernsey, Dundee Marmalade and TV star gardener, Monty Don.
Every Scot knows that marmalade was invented in Dundee around 1795 by local jam maker, Janet Keiller, from a batch of Seville oranges purchased from a Spanish vessel visiting Dundee harbour.

However not every Scot is aware that her grandson Alexander Keiller moved the now big time marmalade production, to St Peter Port, Guernsey in 1857 to avoid the new Sugar Tax imposed by the Uk government.

In Park Street, St Peter Port, a factory employed over 200 people for over twenty years until 1879, exporting 1,000 tons of marmalade per annum world wide. When the Sugar Tax was repealed, the factory closed and production moved to Silvertown in London.

The original James Keiller building still exists but now known as Borough House, a suite of offices.

And the star of TV, Monty Don? Apparently he is the great, great, great, great grandson of Janet Keiller, the "mother of Dundee marmalade". How do I know all this. Well, I bought a jar of Dundee Marmalade from Marks and Sparks in St Peter Port.... Anyone still awake?

Off to Jersey in the morning - weather permitting.

Thanks for reading this.