Saturday, 10 October 2009

What everyone should do...

is practice safety drills. It's what you're tested on on every pracical sail training course I've ever been on, but I have to confess that we'd never done a man overboard drill on Robinetta before. I decided that we should definately do some this weekend, no wimping out, so that was our intention when we left Shotley, heading out to Pennyhole Bay.

The forecast was good for October, force 4, WNW, with sunny spells, and we had a good sail out into the bay with main, jib, and staysail. We were doing well over four knots over the ground, against the tide, and soon passed Pye End. I was helming, and began to feel rather overpowered, she had a lot of weather helm and kept trying to round up no matter how I trimmed the sails. Julian had put the cornish pasties in the oven, so I told him to turn them down and come back on deck; experience said that Robinetta needed reefing, so we put a couple of turns around the boom. I love how easily she reefs now we know how to do it! The key is to unhook the topsail from the topping lift and let it hang down. Otherwise the topping lift tries to wind the topsail yard into the reef! We also furled the jib away, thinking that would slow us down nicely while we had lunch.

Sea state was slight, but increasing, and the wind kept getting up. We were tuned to Harwich Harbour VTS, and several people asked for wind information which they reported from the Landguard cardinal (very close to where we were) as 20-25 knots WNW, which is force 5-6. Helming was still hard work, and I decided this was not the place to risk our best bucket and fender doing man overboard drills! I gave Julian the helm and we tacked round the Pennyhole Bay buoy before heading back into the Harbour.

Yachts were racing out of the Walton Back waters, some spinnakers flying, and once they rounded Pye End they came our way, heading for Pennyhole. Julian steered us nicely through the pack, and we were soon in the relative shelter of Harwich harbour.

We had to tack up the Stour, and Julian took us in close to Halfpenny Pier while I made a cup of tea; there was a shanty festival on, so we became a photo opportunity!

Wind over tide made the main channel a bit rough; Robinetta was dipping her bowsprit in the water on a regular basis which I hadn't seen before, but she felt perfectly safe, and not even too uncomfortable! We had not planned to do the drills there as it would have been a very antisocial place to mess around, but I was glad to reach the more sheltered waters of Erwarton bay. It was nearly high tide so there was plenty of water there, and our bucket and fender man went over the side.

Julian had first go, under sail, and we did get the bucket back on board, but it took us two goes to get there and we did not quite stop. I did it under motor (by dropping the peak and loosening the stay sail halyard to de-power the sails) and got back in one, but had similar problems staying still. We both need more practice.

The other drill we decided we should try was heaving too. I've done it successfully in Bermudan Sloops, but knew it would not work with a self tacking staysail! We unfurled the jib, and backed that, with the helm hard over, and she hove too making 2 knots of lee way. We got that down to 1 knot by loosening the staysail halyard, but we were drifting back into the main channel, so we called it a day, rolled away the jib, and headed back to Shotley.

We should do man over board drills more often, conditions where someone might end up overboard and more likely to be like Pennyhole than Erwarton, but you have to start somewhere....