Brighton and Back

16 Aug 2015

This weekend was my first cruise away. A race both ways, Littlehampton to Brighton on Saturday then back again on Sunday. Skippers note their own start and finish though the race officer did specify a Saturday start time of 1000 or later. He'd laid a mark out near the club's easternmost cruiser mark, Steel Can, and the finish point as a buoy outside Brighton Marina.

Keen to take advantage of the incoming tidal stream which would help me towards Brighton, I'd planned an early getaway and moved Elsa out of her berth the day before and out into the river on the AYC hammerhead so I didn't need to wait for the tide to float me off. Stuart joined me and we left the river 0915 on Saturday morning with the keel up, creeping out over the shallows at the river entrance. Hoisting sail outside, we were off and crossing the start line mere seconds after the 1000 earliest permitted start. Looking behind us the bigger boats with deeper keels were at least half an hour later getting going.

Then it became a fairly long but pleasant sail with a gentle SWly behind us. The others never caught us up. Passing Worthing and Lancing the wind fell away almost to zero but with the tide behind us, and with a bit of optimism, we decided to keep sailing and we were later rewarded by a fresher breeze. We took turns on the helm and were pleased with the progress. It's interesting to see the Sussex coast slide past,  Worthing Shoreham, Hove, Brighton. Some of the six boats making the voyage were concerned about the lack of wind and arriving late so started engines and got ahead of us but would be scored as retired from the race.

Off Shoreham we encountered another fleet of yachts having their own race, spinnakers flying.

Saturday was VJ Day which might explain the various flypasts - we had a Blenheim, some Spitfires, and suddenly the huge sound and spectacular shape of the Vulcan on its way somewhere!

I'd programmed in some waypoints so we could watch the journey tick past. Steel Can to Worthing Pier 5 miles, then to a south cardinal mark off Hove another 5 miles, then the final mark off Brighton another 5 miles.

As you approach Brighton you think you're nearly there but the marina is on the other side to the East so it's further than you think. We passed the finish point after 4 hours 32 mins elapsed time. The wind behind us had freshened and as we turned into the wind to drop the sail we suddenly found we were in a F4 with a fair chop, lots of boats around us, and the concrete wall of the marina behind. The outboard was roaring as Elsa's stern lifted out of the water over the waves. After a few minutes of flapping we sorted ourselves out and I used my mobile phone to ring the marina office for berthing instructions. Stuart had been here before and helped me find the entrance, once inside we found our friends on their big yellow boat waving to us so we moored alongside, at 3pm.

(Total time at sea for Elsa was 5.5 hours, distance covered 19.2 nm)

We were pleased with our time and the early start had meant we'd taken more advantage of the tide. 2 other boats sailed the whole way to score a result but they'd taken 45 to 60 minutes longer than us.

Eventually all six AYC boats were moored together - from left to right Pipit, Charlotte Russe, Remiga, Elsa, Monty and Sea Lady. Time for a rest, a visit to the marina office to pay for the night, and a shower before the 13 crew members of the 6 boats assembled aboard the biggest boat Remiga for drinks and snacks in the evening sunshine.

We were booked into a nearby Italian for dinner and we had a very nice evening, the food was excellent and the night air was mild as we walked to and from the restaurant which was a couple of minutes walk outside the marina. 

My first night afloat in Elsa was peaceful. Took me a few minutes to get comfortable on the narrow berth in my sleeping bag (Stuart had a berth on Remiga so I was on my own with Radio 4 for company). I was directly below the marina office so I zipped my sprayhood cover over the companionway, which helped keep the draught out. 

A cool night but calm water in the marina, warm in my bag I slept pretty well from 10pm to 7 am. In the morning I sat in the cockpit with my pot of instant porridge then stepped up aboard Remiga where Jenny had generously provide more coffee and a bacon roll. There were some tender heads around after the previous evening but all seemed in good spirits.

We'd all agreed to aim to set off back to Littlehampton around 0900 on the Sunday. Some of the bigger boats had to be back close to high tide. The boat Monty was continuing East on a separate adventure so there were 5 boats for the race back. From inside the marina it was hard to tell what conditions would be like outside but the forecast was light winds in a favourable direction. Elsa was first to motor out and we saw Pipit, Sea Lady, Charlotte Russe and Remiga coming out close behind. Hoisting sail and crossing the start line at 0917 we set off for the reciprocal trip. 

Winds today were even lighter and we were against the tide for the first half of the trip. Very sunny but no flypasts today. We noticed the other boats all started engines after a while and motored past us but we had faith that the tide would eventually help us and with Elsa's lifting keel we were less worried about the arrival time. We drifted along on port tack most of the way picking up the occasional burst of speed when the wind picked up. We used the pole to goosewing the genoa for a while when the wind was dead astern, though it did shift round to the south then the southwest so was almost on our nose towards the end. 

Worthing Birdman was in progress and we were running quite close inshore so we could see lots of activity on Worthing Pier.

The only boat to sail all the way to the end, we crossed the finish line at Steel Can after 4 hours 53 minutes elapsed time. 

Realising we had a chance of being back before the lunch in the clubhouse was over, we started the motor once we'd finished the race and drove back to the familiar entrance of Littlehampton harbour, and back into Elsa's berth at 2.45pm. The GPS logged 19.1 nm total distance, 5 hr 45 min at sea for the journey home.

A great weekend and I'm very pleased to have done it. Early indications are that our crafty early start on Saturday meant that we got first place on the way there, and as the only boat to sail all the way back that's first place as well. So my first race victories are in the bag at last!


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