Fun & Games Around Alderney Race

0430. What I call an early start. We needed to be up this early to catch the turn of tide at Cap de la Hague to take us into Alderney Race. If you’ve sailed this stretch of water then you understand how important it is to get the timing right. The tide is so fast in this area that if you arrive an hour late you could find yourself sailing backwards. The approach was rather choppy too with 2m waves coming at us from every angle. All the while BB coped well, though Jon struggled to find his sea legs so I dealt with anything to do with down below whilst Jon took the helm and navigated us perfectly through the Race. I got to grips with the Yeoman – a damn useful bit of kit!

barnacle-fortWe started well through the Race but the tide was taking us outside of Little Russel (the passage between Guernsey and Hern). It was proving too strong so we altered course for Great Russel. The tide was still too strong so we altered course again to go round the bottom of Sark! If you look at a chart you’ll see this is quite a detour, but we just didn’t want to risk being taken by the tide towards the rocky coast line.

What didn’t help, however, was the autohelm playing havoc with the steering. It kept locking up! It was starting to get so bad that it was taking over the steeting of Barnacle Bill, often pointing us in the direction of immediate danger. As we approached the south of Sark, heading towards an eastern cardinal warning us of very shallow water, we decided to take drastic action. In one swift motion Jon undid the steering wheel after I pointed BB as true as possible. He then unscrewed the autohelm (it’s a belt-driven mechanism fixed directly to the steering wheel), and lifted the mechanism off, using his arms, legs, head, stomach, teeth…any part of his body that was free…. to get the damn thing off. All the while the boat was pulling over to starboard, heading straight for the eastern cardinal. To make matters worse we were swinging round into the wind. At this rate we were going to accidentally tack with no steering but at the last moment we managed to get the wheel back on and swing the boat back round just as the tack was about to happen. It was actually quite a comedy moment but if we’d have hesitated any longer we would either have run aground or dismasted the boat. It sounds drastic but when your steering suddenly locks up like that I’d like to see you cope with the situation as coolly as Jon did!

We came round the bottom of Sark with Guernsey in sight, and saw Tim and Sharine fly overhead (they were to meet us in the marina later on in the afternoon). We waved but they didn’t see us.

We arrived in Guernsey at 1410 to overcast weather but were cheered up by Tim and Sharine’s presence. Sharine had flown over from Antigua to spend the summer with Tim. We hit the town and drank beer, ate fish and chips and danced in some dodgy clubs.


barnacle-sharineSharine, who had already stated that she didn’t like the water, was to spend a week on board Barnacle Bill. So the incident that occurred on her first night aboard didn’t help build her confidence. It was a classic “get the timing wrong whilst getting out of the tender onto the boat” moment. Tim had expertly steered the tender from the pub to the boat and I was the first to climb aboard and make fast the long painter (the rope that ties the tender to the boat). Anyone who has done this before knows that a decent length of rope must be left between the two vessels to compensate for movement. I turned round to assist Sharine out of the dinghy, one hand grabbing hers, the other holding on to the shroud so I could lean over the side for a better purchase. Unfortunately none of us had thought about holding the tender close to the side of the boat so as Sharine stepped out, one foot on the tender and one on the toe rail, Tim and the tender disappeared off into the night on a lengthy bit of painter, leaving Sharine doing the splits between the two. Now, despite Sharine’s slight body weight, I didn’t have the arm strength to lift her clear of the water. Neither did Sharine have the angle to use her feet to hoist herself aboard. Instead the two of us were frozen in motion, me holding on the shroud for dear life as Sharine ran in mid air, cartoon-like, with Tim a giggling wreck somewhere off in the darkness. All I remember of the incident is Sharine’s desperate face, looking painfully up at me, as the strength slipped from my arm. As my arm gave way Sharine started treading the surface of the water as fast as her little legs could move. She was getting heavier and heavier – my arm just lowered her still further until first her ankles were submerged, then her shins, then her knees until eventually half her body was now thrashing around in the cold, dark sea. At this point Tim had pulled himself together and made his way back to the side of the boat to rescue his half-soaked damsel.

I suppose in hind sight this was a potentially dangerous incident, not least because Sharine can’t swim that well, but we couldn’t help laughing about the situation. Sharine took the whole thing on the chin.

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