For most, including me, the thought of sailing anywhere in the dark can be daunting ….. as navigating becomes harder …. there are more dangers, more risks….. which is true, but with a bit of preparation, care and having taken the time to get to know your boat, sailing at night is a truly magical experience that you will never forget!
The beginning of this month brought us the Annual Bournemouth Air Show - having heard rave reviews about the previous years displays, it gave us the perfect excuse to hoist the sails, head back to Studland Bay and watch the display from one of our favourite anchorages!
We invited our amazing friends Simon & Jo along for the weekend and decided to set off on the Friday evening for what would be a cracking night sail!
We slipped the lines just after 7pm, made our way down the Lymington River just as the Sun was starting to say its farewell for the day, then as we emerged into the Solent we were treated to the most incredible fiery sunset that burned with an intense glow…. at this point there was only a whisper of wind and there wasn’t much forecasted for the night ahead either - but with tide in our favour we hoisted the sails and turned off the motor!
Heading towards the hurst narrows the wind built slightly (as it always does) and the night really started to creep in with just a hint of sunlight still coming from the far west - but with an almost Full Moon casting the most brilliant ‘night light’, the reality is you can still see quite a bit and all your other senses really come to life!
Through the narrows and approaching the Needles our night took a surprising twist!
(Keeping a good look out means also looking behind you too!)
As we looked back down the Solent towards Cowes we could see swathes of Red Lights (navigation lights) - we all looked at each other and said ‘are they really all navigation lights’ - because when we had emerged from the Lymington River, there was only ourselves and a couple of other boats for as far as the eye could see!
However, unbeknown to us, this was the day of the RORC Cherbourg night race!
and they were sneaking up fast behind us!
It was a beautiful sight as we watched this sea of navigation lights get closer and closer.
It’s always nice to be overtaken by a fast race boat, carrying full sail & fully powered up - and with the last of the sunlight disappearing - these huge race boats were just majestic as they silently glided past with all their racing crew perched on the rails!
Cold racers perhaps not thrilled at the incredible smell of dinner emanating from our galley (kitchen) Sarah was busy rustling up a delicious dinner of roast mackerel, roast vegetables and rice!
So out came the cameras and we did our best to capture what we could of the Race fleet.
We continued along the deep water channel that leads you clear of the solent staying firmly between the red and green channel markers and once clear of those we made our turn right towards Studland.
Having left the shelter of the Solent the wind quickly built to over 20 knots (not forecasted) and with a two metre plus swell, we decided it would be safest to put a first reef in the main sail.
To explain: when you reef a sail, you are reducing the size/surface area of the sail - you do this in strong winds to take some of the pressure off of the mast, rigging & boat. You can sometimes find that your boat speed will increase even though you’ve reduced sail as the boat will be better balanced and more well behaved.
And that is what happened for us - having reefed we were still clipping along upwind at 7.5 knots through the water, taking waves over the bow!
Looking back towards the Needles lighthouse we could still see the RORC race fleet strung out over many miles, heading off South in the dark with a bright moon and stars above - What a great night for a race!
With an incredibly clear night it wasn't long before we could see the anchor lights of boats anchored in Studland Bay, even though we were still over 8 miles away.
As the wind was blowing from the North West, the closer we got to Studland, the main land offered more protection from the wind and the sea state began to drop, making things less wet and more comfortable.
A couple of short tacks helped us get to where we wanted to be and we were soon crossing the Poole channel, engine on and almost ready to anchor.
It's never ideal to anchor in the dark, but this was a familiar, favourite spot and we knew from experience where the good holding was. It was a nice clear night with plenty of moon light, the moon casting it’s beady eye upon the boats which hadn't bothered with an anchor light…..
Sarah went to the front of the boat to get our 20kg Rocna anchor ready to drop from the bow (we also have a back up Fortress and a small Bruce on a tape real for kedging etc so GIVEN TIME is well equipped in the Anchoring department!)
Having taken longer than usual, Sarah came back to the cockpit, "No windlass" (the windlass is an electric motor that grabs the anchor chain and rotates to either drop or pick up the anchor)
Simon took the helm and I nipped below to make sure the switches and breakers were all in the right place - frustratingly they were all correct, which meant something was broken…
Coming back on deck I went to the bow with Sarah and tried reconnecting the windless remote - still nothing….
As we had sailed across in big seas, waves had been crashing over the bow and we had taken a lot of green water (sea water) over the bow. All I could think was that sea water had gotten in somewhere sea water shouldn't!
A few mutterings under my breath later, I had pulled about 20 metres of chain through the windlass, by hand, and we dropped the anchor in the planned position! Phew!
Sarah set the Anchor alarm, then we all went inside for a well deserved cup of tea and collapsed into our beds.
Morning broke with clear sky's and bright sunshine and it was warm from early on. We made breakfast and had a cup of tea and the sun felt really good!
We were excited to watch the Red Arrows, who were lined up to start Saturdays entertainment at the Air Show - and they didn’t disappoint! We have seen them quite a few times before, but we are always blown away by the skills the Red Arrows pilots have, truly amazing!
With a gap in the Air Show entertainment, Simon and I gathered up the tools and went to see what was ailing the anchor windless. One of the things we had already fixed before launching in May was the windless control, as it had been picked up in the original survey. The line to the thermal cut out inside the motor was badly corroded and at the time we had debated moving the windlass controls inside the forward head (bathroom), but with a long list of other jobs at the time, we repaired what was corroded and decided to move the controls at a later date.… jobs like this have a habit of reminding you that it’s ‘still on the to-do list’, at the most inconvenient of times!
I climbed into the anchor locker, took the cover off the little ‘waterproof’ box which held all the wiring, and there was my answer, staring me right in the face…. Sea water had gotten in and had completely dissolved one of the connection posts that the control wires attach to…. grrrr, but on the plus side at least it was an easy fix for now and I didn't have to spend hours chasing Electrical Pixies around the boat!
Once fixed (all be it temporary) we tested the windlass and all was good….. We wouldn't have to pull up the 20kg anchor & the 20metres of chain up by hand when it was time to leave!
As a post boat work treat, we decided to take advantage of the sunny warm weather and clear water in the bay ‘rare combo in the UK’ and have a swim!
With the water so clear it was the first time we had been able to dive on the Anchor and see how she was set…. sat in a patch of sand our Rocna was dug in well!
After a brilliant day relaxing and swimming, we were all far too chilled, so planned to stay another night.
We knew the weather was due to build a little through the night and into the next day for our journey back, with the wind due to switch to a South Westerly - so we should have been nicely protected in the bay overnight… but, the ocean had better ideas and the swell was wrapping around the headland and into the bay, turning our boat into somewhat of a washing machine!
The anchor alarm Sarah had set, had also squawked a few times during the night … the wind and sea swell had forced the anchor chain tight and as we swung around with the change in wind direction, the Anchor had also flipped around and reset - so the boat just tripped outside the warning perimeter on the alarm - sending Sarah’s adrenaline gland into overdrive - she then altered the perimeter alarm to compensate but by then she said goodbye to the prospect of sleep!
By 4am, the waves had built and they were crashing all around us, so a good nights sleep was not had by all!
Despite our lack of sleep, we all had to be up relatively early on the Sunday morning so that we could ‘work’ the tides at the entrance to the Solent - otherwise we would be fighting a rather large current!
The wind had built to over 20 knots overnight, so we decided to set off with the first reef in the main and hoisted it before we pulled up anchor, this was the safer and easier option as we were still in the relative shelter of the anchorage.
Once ready we picked up the anchor (with a working windlass!) and we set course for the solent channel entry at the Needles.
Out of the relative shelter of the bay, we were thrust into some rather large waves and sailing directly across them at about 50 degrees to the apparent wind.
Sailing on just the main sail, even with a first reef taken, we were whizzing along at more than nine knots….. Simon was at the helm and Jo, Sarah and I were huddled under the cockpit screen chatting away, when one rather large wave crashed over the front of the boat and came hurtling towards us at the back of the boat!
“Woohooohoo, that was huge" said Jo, forgetting that we were nicely protected under the canopy, we all looked back at a now very soggy Simon, who was just laughing, having taken the wave right in the face!
GIVEN TIME was again remarkably well behaved sailing across the prevailing waves and with the windward ballast tank filled we were sailing fast and flat. In a little over an hour we were at the Needles and ready to head back into the Solent.
Having had a rough nights sleep and taking a bit longer to leave the anchorage, we were a bit behind in our goal of reaching the Needles before 10.30am, not by much, but enough that the tide had started to switch.
So with wind blowing against the direction of the tide, some mighty waves had formed… which made for some fun ‘surfing’ as we came back through into the Solent. YeeHaaaw!
By the time we reached the Lymington River, the rain had been pouring for quite sometime, leading to some very cold and soggy sailors! So the moment we were back on the dock we were straight round the local pub, for a pub grub lunch (thanks, Jo!)
Each time we take the boat out in new and more challenging conditions, she just seems to shrug it off - Given Time is truly remarkable which just adds to our growing confidence in her!
We just can’t wait to do some more night sailing and are planning some longer 24+ hour journeys to start to develop the watch keeping practices we will need next year when we set off.
If you are a keen sailor and have never experienced the beauty and excitement of a night sail… make sure you do! It is a truly magical experience you will treasure forever!