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Osprey 1123 – Richard Russell, Steve (Tig) Williams
Osprey 1262 – Keith Willis, Julie Willis and 11yr old Liam Willis
Elshin (support) – Duncan Wright, Peter Bennett
The whole venture really started Friday evening with a final meet to discuss the weather, and to get the boats as fully rigged and close to the slipway as possible so that all we had to do in the morning was take the cover off, load up and hoist the mainsail!!!
The following day was an early start we arrived at LTSC at 4:15!! It was still dark as we were taking the cover off!! Just as it was starting to get light (5am) we set off down the river, with the sun making its first appearance as we sailed down the Solent. As we got to Hurst, Duncan and Peter radioed to say that they were just leaving the pontoon at Lymington, they caught us up just outside the needles, by this time the wind was rising quite quickly along with the sea state!!! By the time we were only a couple of miles out from the needles we were getting double figure surfs and the wind was still building, we carried the kites for another 10 miles, by this time the wind (gusting 20+) and waves (confused) were at a point where sooner or later somebody was going to go swimming, this early into a trip like this that would have been stupid so we dropped the kites and carried on white sail. Eventually, although the sea state stayed pretty horrible and confused, the wind did moderate enough to go back to spinnakers as we were approaching the shipping lanes. As it happened in the shipping lanes although there were a fair few ships around we only had to drop the kite and wait for one east bound ship to pass before carrying on.
Visibility was pretty good and we spotted land 12 miles out, by this time the breeze was heading and we were back on white sails eventually fetching into Braye from slightly east of Track at 15:45 leaving a few tacks to make before reaching the slipway by Alderney Sailing Club. Where amazingly we were met by 2 gentlemen who had seen us entering and managed to find us trolleys which, were hugely appreciated!!!!
By this time we were all pretty shattered so after the formalities of visiting customs and the harbour office. Richard, Julie, Liam and myself ordered a taxis, and headed for the campsite, while the others headed for their hotel.
Sunday was a very leisurely day, eventually we all met at Alderney Sailing Club at 12:30 for Beer and to meet the Commodore who very kindly presented us with a Burgee, after studying the weather for the following day and deciding all was go for the return we went to eat at the Georgian up in town who served us a most excellent lunch, it was also a Birthday celebration for Julie.
The following morning saw a slightly later start than we had hoped, in some respects this was no bad thing as there was quite thick fog when we first woke up, luckily this had burnt off before it was time to leave. We had too much kit to walk and the taxis company didn’t start work till 7, so eventually at 7:30 we managed to get afloat and paddle out of the harbour. Once out of the harbour the wind did increase a bit but not much, it was a close fetch but very slow and for a very long time the GPS was showing an ETA at the needles a long time into the following day!!
The previous days forecast had suggested the wind was going to head all day and that if we stuck to the Rhumb line by the end we would not have laid the needles, so we deliberatley set off slightly to the west of track to try to allow for this. Unfortunately the forecast was wrong, and the wind didn’t shift as expected, the situation was also not helped by our average SOG only being 3-4kts and a reasonable West going tide!!! By 12 midday we were still less than 20miles out from Alderney and 8 miles west of track, this was looking like it was going to be a seriously long day and well into the night before we were back!!!!! Again only one ship affected our crossing of the shipping lanes which was good as our speed was slow enough without having to alter course for shipping!!
Eventually the wind did start to shift, but it went the wrong way for our plan, but at least we could get spinnakers up which helped the ETA a little. At this point Richard and Steve produced their secret weapon, a huge masthead asymmetric!!!! We also now realised that with the way the wind had shifted and the prospect of the tide turning further on down the track we needed to get back towards the rhumb line or we would end up too far down tide later on. So after a brief radio conversation between Richard and myself, we gybed back towards the east. With their big spinnaker they were dramatically quicker than we were, luckily they had started out from a long way behind us, so we actually managed to cover a lot of ground before we thought we were too far behind for safety and asked Duncan to give us a quick tow to catch up. It would have been nice to have got them to wait, but at this stage the ETA’s were still looking so late we thought it better for us to be towed to catch rather than them wait.
By now it was 6pm and we were still 20 miles out from the needles but at last the breeze was starting to build quite rapidly, and before long the speeds were into double figures again. As soon as the wind started to build Richard and Steve changed down to their proper Osprey kite and the boot was back on the other foot, we were quicker!!! We kept the kites as long as we could but it was quite a tight reach by now so we went back to white sail, but it was still very quick as the winds were gusting above 20kts, we covered a lot of ground quite quickly and managed to get within 3-4 miles of the needles before the wind started to drop again!!! Finally at the Needles the wind failed altogether and with the tide turning against us we decided to call it a day and get a tow through Hurst, but not before Richard and Steve had threaded the Needles!!!! The time was 8:30pm!!
A quick tow in the failing light saw us arrive back at the slip in the dark at 10pm, to a very pleasant welcome from our faithful shore supporters.
A wonderful trip which has been in the planning for a very long time, a special thanks go to Duncan and Peter for supporting us in such an incredibly patient way, allowing us to do all our own navigation and decision making but always staying close enough to be there if we needed them.