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  • Writer's picturePeter

Crossing the English Channel

With a doctor's appointment for Ingrid in Spain, I was left to my own devices for getting back to the UK – fortunately Stuart is still with me, and so we planned this leg together.

Slipping out of our moorings from Cherbourg at 0500; it was an inky black night and we had to navigate through the complexities of the harbour by using both the buoyage system and the boat's chart plotter. The chart plotter is an electronic map of our location and the GPS fixes our actual position on it - just like a GPS in a car. The chart also shows the position of other vessels, so there is a good amount of information to avoid a collision with the shallows, harbour walls and other vessels.

Having said this, my depth perception at night is not so good and sometimes it is hard to believe the markers are really where they are and not somewhere much closer and you really need to trust your instruments. The route to the Isle of Wight is complicated as it is critical to plan your arrival time to be with the right tides as there are strong currents, races and shallows to be aware of. Back calculating, we needed to arrive at about 15:00 for optimum conditions at The Needles at the western end of the Island. This resulted in a trajectory with an estimated 6 hours tidal current in a westerly direction, followed by 4 hours in an easterly direction. A curve (dog leg – Grit, thank you for your contribution) was planned to arrive at the Needles without any changes in direction, other than allowing the tide to take us as we sailed. We had to have the usual vigilance to avoid the shipping as we slipped between the tankers & cargo vessels and hope that the building storm clouds would deposit their rain elsewhere, as we dream of coco beaches and warm tropical seas without massive tides and currents.

Though the tidal currents were 2 time greater on the French side of the channel (Up to 5 knots), our plan worked and hit the bulls’ eye from 60 miles away. Sailing past The Needles, it was great to have the local knowledge of Stuart as the tides and currents can be quite treacherous in the narrow straights between the Needles on one side and the Shingles (exposed at low tide) on the other side. The water was rough and lumpy - but generally in our favour as the wind and the tide were with us in the same direction as we were sailing - as we watched a boat go in the opposite direction, we were glad that it was not us.

I never thought that I would ever do this journey of sailing past the Needles and into Cowes - there was a good sense of achievement as the sailing skill level over the last months has greatly increased.

Once we arrived in Cowes, Stuart decided to head for home – yes we actually arrived well ahead of schedule, so he could catch public transport and hopefully give his partner, Monica, a good surprise, rather than arriving home tomorrow as originally planned (with vessel finder there are no longer any secrets for sailors).

Now is the time to plan for our next steps, do some maintenance, some work and visit my mum on her 89th birthday – the main reason to come to Cowes.

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