Tramontana spent five weeks sailing from east to west along the English Channel during the long hot summer of 2014. Along the way she dodged gales, attended the year's most numerous gathering of Harrison Butler designed boats, and became a last moment attraction at the Plymouth Classic Boat Rally. Assorted crew came and went; at times her passage was with only her skipper aboard. This is the Captain's Log of the voyage.
Week 1 : Beaten by a storm
From Ipswich Haven through the Dover Strait and onward towards The Solent
2014 : June : 30th : Monday
It's pleasing when a voyage commences on schedule. At 2 pm, as planned, I piloted Tramontana out of Ipswich Haven Marina. My annual berthing contract had eight hours to go before it expired at midnight. I'm a Scotsman and so like getting value for money. Ipswich had been a marvellous home port for over a year, but it was time to move on.
“Slow ahead” down the Orwell for the last time; a beautiful day on a sparkling river. I was in no hurry. School had finished; all teaching done. I was at the start of a five week voyage aboard my Harrison Butler designed boat, Tramontana. My destination was the Bristol Channel, but that was incidental. It was in voyaging itself that the interest lay; of being “at sea”.
I kept a sharp lookout as the Orwell, on the ebb, carried Tram seaward. I soon spied Rose of Arden, another Harrison Butler designed wooden yacht and picked up the adjacent swinging mooring. There was no one aboard the Rose of Arden but that didn't matter. I opened a beer and drank it slowly, enjoying a fabulous sunset.
Rose Of Arden on The River Orwell
2014 : July : 1st : Tuesday
The last of the morning ebb carried Tramontana past Pin Mill to Harwich where-upon the start of the flood took her up the river Stour to a favourite spot, a swinging mooring off Wrabness Point. Since buying Tramontana 18 months ago I had been here several times, twice sitting out a gale in this safe spot. The shore is sandy with wooden, ramshackle, holiday huts behind. Today it was warm, quiet and calm. I spent most of the day asleep. After dark I unwrapped my new Lowrance chart plotter, a 54th birthday present from Helen. I secured it to a bulkhead and wired it up to the 12 volts battery supply. It already had all UK charts installed, and briskly located and displayed my location. The latest technology in an 80 year old boat!
Harwich, with Half Penny Pier (full of visiting yachts) on the right
2014 : July : 2nd : Wednesday
Within ten minutes of waking up at 4.30 am, Tramontana was zipping back down the river Stour toward Harwich. There was no wind, although a heavy swell rolled in from the North Sea. A day for engine powered passage making. Only after 15 hours had passed was there sufficient wind to make it worth hoisting sails. At 9 pm I noted that in a light Easterly breeze, progress was at a rate of 3 knots due South toward the Dover Strait. A third of this was from a favourable tide.
Kentish Knock revealing direction and strength of tide
2014 : July : 3rd : Thursday
An empowering Force 3 from the south-east resulted in a night of tacking between the Goodwin Sandbanks to starboard and the Dover Strait's main shipping lane to port. With a foul tide, the morning passed with far too much time spent looking at white cliffs. By early afternoon, however, I'd passed Dungeness nuclear power station. With the sails lowered I then drifted in Rye Bay to snatch a couple of one hour sleeps. That evening, in a stiff westerly breeze, I had my first exhilarating sailing of the voyage, beating to windward, and tacking far off shore to get past the Royal Sovereign Shoals.
2014 : July : 4th : Friday
At dawn I was becalmed and had six one hour sleeps as the boat drifted. An afternoon of tacking in light airs resulted in no effective progress westward and so, as early evening arrived, the sails were lowered and the motor engaged. Late evening saw the weather deteriorate at an alarming rate. The seas became steep and Tramontana's engine worked hard to push through waves coming at her head on from the west. It started to rain and the Force 5 winds, also coming head on from the west, were forecast to increase to Force 6 during the night.
2014 : July : 5th : Saturday
At 4 am the tide joined in the onslaught of wind and waves, all coming from the west. The boat was only nine miles from The Solent. Alas, Tramontana was not making any headway. The sea state, described as “moderate” in the forecast, was nasty. At 6 am, having burnt many litres of diesel for no gain, I turned the boat around to run with the storm rather than into it. Shortly after this I switched the engine off to conserve fuel, and streamed a bucket astern on the end of a long warp to slow my drift. Without lee cloths on the bunks (it's on the to-do list) it was not possible to sleep. Instead I rested on a mat on the cabin sole as the boat lay a-hull. At 10 am I decided to motor through the ongoing rough weather back to Brighton. The pilot book said the enterance would be bouncy, and indeed it was, but at 2.30 pm with the engine on “full ahead” I got in. Exhausted I fell asleep. In my dream I heard Russian sailors singing in unison words I did not understand but which filled me with dread and foreboding. I awoke to the real world sound of wind howling across Brighton Marina and, incredibly, could still faintly hear the Russian chorus. It made no sense. Eventually, I realised I was hearing the sound of Tramontana's automatic bilge pump running dry, jammed in the “ON” position.
Tramontana seeking the safety of Brighton Marina
2014 : July : 6th : Sunday
Mike Wade, my crew for the coming week, arrived late afternoon. With the wind howlling outside, we stayed up late playing cards.
Week 2 : A grand gathering of Harrison Butler designed boats
Tramontana's week in The Solent
2014 : July : 7th : Monday
The morning passed fetching supplies of diesel and food. Mike cooked his legendary Three Bean Soup for lunch, and we then slipped our berth and headed out to sea. A blustery Force 4 greeted us with extra bumpiness from waves made angry by the previous days of strong wind. By sundown we had ideal sailing weather except, for us, the wind continued to come from the wrong direction. With much zig and zag we made progress westward.
2014 : July : 8th : Tuesday
Surprisingly, the ships battery was flat after a night of powering the LED navigation lights whilst we sailed. More than a simple recharge, it needed replacing. We spent the morning zipping along under sail but knew we were between depressions. The blue skies at dawn gave way to grey by lunchtime. By 5 pm were in the Solent, off Chichester Bar, lowering sails in strengthening wind and rain. A Force 6 meant it was too rough to cross the bar, so we motored on for four hours to Portsmouth's Haslar Marina. With full-on gales forecast we booked in to this safe haven for three nights.
Dr Mike Wade, helming Tramontana as she makes
a dash from Brighton to The Solent between gales.
2014 : July : 9th : Wednesday
Although windy, the day was dry. Mike and I looked over Nelson's warship, HMS Victory. The experience complemented the book I was reading, “Master & Commander” by Patrick O'Brien. I bought a TV ariel from the chandlery to replace the previous one that had been carried away by a wave four days ago. £90.
2014 : July : 10th : Thursday
Another dry day, with Mike and I thankful to be sitting out an English Channel gale in a comfortable marina. We visited "Explosion ! - The Museum of Naval Firepower" which is excellent and very informative. I bought a replacement ship's battery from the chandlery. £200.
2014 : July : 11th : Friday
Under engine, Mike and I piloted Tramontana out of Haslar Marina at 4 am into a calm and windless Solent. Five hours later we were attached to N°2 buoy on the Newtown River. We were the first to arrive. At lunchtime, Askadil sailed in and, a little later, Cobber followed by Lindy II. Carefully, Cobber worked her way up a narrow channel to a visitor buoy on Clamerkin Lake whilst Lindy II rafted up to us. Robert & Mandy Griffiths invited us aboard for tea and biscuits. Their boat is a varnished beauty; in immaculate condition both above and below decks. They introduced us to their cute dog, Flint, named after the Captain in Treasure Island.
As evening fell, Mike and I launched Tramontana's tender and rowed over to Askadil where Simon & Penny Richardson invited us aboard. This was Askadil's first sail in twelve years. The Richardsons are highly experienced sailors who had taken Askadil across the Atlantic prior to their twelve year break from sailing. I did my best to learn as much as possible from their relaxed, welcoming and enthusiastic nautical conversation, for they were clearly delighted to be afloat once more.
2014 : July : 12th : Saturday
On a rising tide, more Harrison Butler designed boats arrived. John-Henry, the Chairman of the Harrison Butler Association, and his wife Marilyn, used Cobber's tender to visit us on Tramontana. They marvelled at the fact that Tramontana had two sinks in her galley, clearly surprised at how spacious Tramontana was compared with Cobber, their Z4. At noon on a sunny, warm day all crews made their way to the nearby beach for a BBQ. Robert Griffiths, who had organized the event, was clearly delighted when Vindilis unexpectedly sailed in. She took the total number of boats attending to nine, the most numerous gathering of Harrison Butler designed boats for many years. The final roll call was; Askadil, Caracole, Cobber, Lindy II, Little Kingfisher, Mary Gray, Sabrina, Tramontana and Vindilis.
I spent the evening aboard Sabrina with Craig and Kate Nutter, and Richard and Helen Framer (from Vindilis). A leg of lamb was being roasted aboard Little Kingfisher, which was rafted up against Sabrina. With the resulting mouth watering aroma as backdrop, salty tales were told, wine drunk and snacks consumed. On Little Kingfisher, Hannah and Dan tended to their new born child, Alexandra, periodically checking on the roasting lamb and on how the party next door was progressing. At evening's end I rowed Richard and Helen back to Vindilis not quite appreciating that it was against a strong current all the way. Exhausted and full of wine, I slept well that night.
Red hulled Tramontana, surrounded by four other
Harrison Butler designed boats on the Newtown River.
2014: July : 13th : Sunday
A cry of alarm at 10.15 am brought me scurrying up from below Tramontana's decks in time to see Cobber execute a couple of high speed turns. She was in pursuit of Caracole's unmanned tender that was being carried swiftly away up Newtown River on the flood. It was a valiant rescue attempt, abandoned at the last moment as the tender was swept over a shoal that would have seen Cobber aground had she followed.
From Caracole a youthful figure dived in, swam after the tender, caught up with it, and hauled himself aboard. Then, to much applause from the crews of the other boats which were all watching, Terry Musgrove rowed it back to Caracole.
How had Terry known there were oars aboard with which to row the tender back? It transpired that it was he who'd let the tender's painter go whilst untying it, getting ready to hoist it aboard Caracole. So, losing the tender would have been an own goal but for the beautiful save !
The entertainment over, Mike and I slipped our mooring at 11 am. The in-flow of sea had by then made it deep enough for Tramontana with her draught of 7' 3" to exit Newtown Creek. Once in the Solent we zipped about under engine to take pictures of Askadil and Cobber under sail. We then raised our own sails, turned the engine off, and enjoyed a four hour wind-powered ride to Lymington Marina. To celebrate the end of Mike's week afloat aboard Tramontana, we dined out in an Indian Restaurant.
Week 3 : The Busy Ship's Carpenter
Through the Needles Channel and onward to The English Riviera
2014 : July : 14th : Monday
Solo, I left Lymington one hour into the ebb tide at 2.30 pm. A Force 5 was forecast from the south-west but I wanted to get going, even if I had to head directly into it. Under engine Tramontana managed 2 knots through the water. That water, however, was surging along at 4 knots over the sea bed. So that was 6 knots in the desired direction. However, I was soon mulling on the fact that with wind against tide it was foolish to thread my way through the eye of the narrow Needles Channel in such blustery conditions. The sea was rough with no other boat doing what I was doing; not a good sign in the normally crowded waters of The Solent. It was a tense hour as tide plus engine going west fought to overcome wind plus waves going east.
Once through the channel, there was no question of putting the sails up. There was too much wind from directly ahead. I gave up on my original, unrealistic plan to head out to sea. Instead I ploughed through a rough sea across Pool Bay, knowing that the headland to the west would start to give shelter once more than half way across. It took a long time to get half way. The forecast of a Force 5 was wrong. I was ploughing directly into a Force 6.
At 8 pm, as I had picked up a swinging mooring in Pool Harbour, I noted in the ships log, “ordeal over”. The day closed with Tramontana's trusty Taylor's paraffin stove cooking tea and drying charts.
2014 : July : 15th : Tuesday
I awoke at 6 am to find a blue sky above, and a strong current flowing out to sea below. Seizing the moment, within half an hour I was underway. Once at sea I hoisted Main and Genoa. The wind was again from the south-west but now a managable Force 4. I began a long tack south with four hours worth of tidal assistance. Then, with six hours of foul tide, progress west was slow. However, even this could not spoil a perfect sailing day. With Tram sailing herself I passed the time reading O'Brian's “Master & Commander”. Eventually the tide turned and I shot west, passing Portland Bill Lighthouse at around five miles off-shore. When the tide again turned foul, I again tacked south. With darkness coming, I wanted to be well away from land.
Under full sail in a Force 4.
Tramontana throws the waves aside. as she zips along.
The depth sounder shows there is 87.4 metres of water under the keel.
2014 : July : 16th : Wednesday
Tramontana sailed at a brisk pace through the night. At dawn, with Torquay 28 miles away, the wind died. If the tide were against me this would take ten hours under engine but I had four hours of favourable tide. Over a calm sea, sails down, diesel flowing, I raced onward. Drizzle set in, then fog. Magically, it cleared for the final half hour of my approach to Torquay Marina. I'd done the 28 miles in five hours. I booked in for four nights on the Town Dock for £65. The boat was still damp from the tempestuous crossing of Pool Bay so getting heating on was a priority followed by food, drink, shower, and sleep.
2014 : July : 17th : Thursday
I made and fitted three smart, thin, wooden shelves for the galley. Once the varnish had dried I stuffed these full of snack bars, sweets and biscuits. Paul & Hans from “Sea Feather” called in and discussed the self-steering-under-sail system they manufacture and install.
2014 : July : 18th : Friday
Another day of woodwork, this time building a sturdy bracket below decks to hold the new 3.5 hp outboard motor for the tender. This engine had been purchased in Ipswich, just before leaving. It had spent the voyage to date tucked up snug, like a perpetually sleeping crew-member, in the quarter-berth. Now it could be properly stowed, and the quarter-berth again used as a place to sleep.
The highlight of the day was talking to David McCabe aboard his converted Irish Fishing Trawler, Ros Ailither. He'd made the mast for her himself, first walking through a forest to find the right tree, felling it, and then whittling it down with a chain saw. He suggested that Tramontana attend next week's Plymouth Classics Boat Rally in Ros Ailither's place, because, with more major work about to be done on Ros Ailither, he was not able to attend. As the dates fitted with Tramontana's existing plans, I phoned up and booked in.
Ros Ailither tied up ahead of Tramontana in Torquay Town Dock
2014 : July : 19th : Saturday
The ship's carpenter tackled two jobs in The Heads today. The first was a permanent open box fixed to the floor for the storage of toilet rolls and cleaning products. The second was a large shelf for oblutions materials. Guy, Biza, Ella and Jack arrived at 6 pm to find dinner on the table. They were crew for the coming week. With five on board, the boat was suddenly full of life.
2014 : July : 20th : Sunday
A willing crew arose at 8.30 am to a weather forecast of clear weather and light winds; perfect conditions for a day sail across Torbay and into Brixham. I left the inexperienced crew to it more than I should have done, and suddenly realised that Tramontana was passing through the middle of a fleet of racing dinghies. The little boats skillfully tacked back and forth to avoid us, one intentionally missing us by six inches in order to pass the nearby race marker buoy correctly. I fear those that lost time due the the emergency manouvering will have cursed us in the bars of Torbay that evening. For our part, we celebrated an otherwise idyllic first day of sailing with Brixham fish and chips that included scallops and squid.
Week 4 : A tropical paradise: The West County
Tramontana at The Plymouth Classic Boat Rally 2014
2014 : July : 21st : Monday
We vacated our Brixham berth at 10 am and slowly (Oh, so very slowly!) sailed around Berry Head. It took us seven hours to cover 5 miles under sail but, as it was a lovely day, no one minded. Teenagers Ella and Jack fished, Biza took the helm, and Guy and I sorted out the Harrison Butler Association burgee, getting it to fly properly from the top of the mast. In bewitching evening sunlight we motored up the river Dart to the Anchor Stone where a swing mooring was aquired. I cooked the crew curry for tea which, pleasingly, they devoured with tremendous enthusiasm.
Guy sweating a halyard, Biza on the helm, and Ella (intentionally!) going overboard
2014 : July : 22nd : Tuesday
A mid-morning water taxi took Tramontana's four crew down river to Dartmouth leaving the skipper aboard. With the afternoon to myself I secured the new outboard to the tender. In tropical sunshine I sped off up the Dart to see if I could find Zenocrate, a Harrison Butler Z4. About three cables above the Greenway Landing (for Agatha Christie's house) I found her, engine running to recharge batteries. New owner Graham Room, a Professor of European Social Policy at the University of Bath, welcomed me aboard with cider and cake. He bought Zenocrate because she was built for the English philosopher and historian, RG Collingwood (1889-1943) who had written his autobiography (about his ideas) in a three month period aboard her in 1938. Graham told me that he relished sitting in Zenocrate's cabin, writing where the great man had done likewise all those years ago.
Once back on Tramontana, Guy cooked a gourmet delight of fresh sea-food. The several courses included crab, cockles, scallops, prawns, monk fish and squid. Tastes of the sea !
Graham Room aboard Zenocrate on the river Dart
2014 : July : 23rd : Wednesday
At 7 am, under engine, Tramontana headed down the Dart and out to sea. A stiff steady breeze and slight sea had us skipping along, sails aloft, at 4 knots. We arrived off Salcombe at low tide but, even so, I encouraged Jack to helm us in using the well established “two pole transit” to get us over the bar. By 11 am we were secured to a buoy and heading for Whitestrand Quay in a water taxi to look around the town's Art Galleries and Maritime Museum. More fresh sea food was bought so that Masterchef Guy could again cook for us. We ate on deck as dusk fell and the songs of the Wurzels wafted across the moorings from a shoreline pub where they were playing live.
2014 : July : 24th : Thursday
Once again, a willing crew arose early to that we would catch a favourable tide. Plymouth bound, there was sufficient wind to sail at 3 knots. In the early afternoon, warm rain set in. Jack and Ella, teenagers in waterproofs, embraced the wettness and cheerfully helmed while the elders, myself included, sheltered below. Biza took over when the rain stopped. Finally, Guy took Tramontana confidently through the lock on free-flow into Sutton Harbour Marina. This was voyage's end for Guy, Biza, Ella and Jack. To celebrate their highly successful week afloat we ate out of doors at a nearby restaurant in the dry, hot and sun-bathed evening air.
2014 : July : 25th : Friday
With my crew gone, I set about making Tramontana presentable as an attraction in the Plymouth Classic Boat Rally 2014. I replaced corroded screws on the folding companionway door and made two information boards so that visitors could read about Tramontana's history and current voyage. I hoisted signal flags that spelt out “Plymouth is ace” although I suspect that nobody noticed; there were thousands of flags being worn that day!
Tramontana's Signal Flags at The Plymouth Classic Boat Rally 2014
They spell out “Plymouth is ace”
2014 : July : 26th : Saturday
After looking around the other boats on display, I explored the local shops, wrote and posted postcards, and fetched in supplies. Steve Adams, my crew for the coming week arrived. He was keen to visit the Isles of Scilly on passage to Milford Haven but this necessitated getting under way tomorrow. Steve cooked pasta for our evening meal whilst I fretted over the weather forecast which had a Force 6 in it. The evening passed playing backgammon and drinking Tormore single malt Scotch whisky.
2014 : July : 27th : Sunday
In company with the other Plymouth Classic Boat Rally yachts, Tramontana locked out of Sutton Harbour Marina mid-morning. They were going to race each other but Steve and I headed out to sea. The Force 6 had been dropped from the weather forecast to be replaced with a Force 3 and a sea-state described as slight. A long tack off-shore took us to within five miles of the Eddistone Lighthouse before our zig became a zag. With the steady wind continuing to blow, Steve was up for making good use of it to sail through the night. So, rather than stop off in Fowey, we pressed on for Falmouth.
Week 5 : Via The Isles of Scilly to Milford Haven
Pussy Gallore, Prime Minister, Dolphins and Atlantic Swell
2014 : July : 28th : Monday
It was with satisfaction that Steve and I successfully made our first time Falmouth entry in darkness. At 5 am we secured Tramontana to a buoy off the Prince of Wales pier. We celebrated our arrival by cooking ourselves a full English breakfast, then sleep. The afternoon passed reading, sleeping and admiring the view of Falmouth from our mooring. At 7 pm Steve's step-daughter, Gen, her boyfriend, John, and their friend, Ali, arrived in a speed boat to take us ashore. Clutching a bottle of Prosecco, they came aboard Tram for a quick look-see. Later, in a pub, John revealed that he is an officer in the Royal Navy Submarine Service. A most enjoyable evening ensued quizzing him about life in a submerged tin can. His speed-boat was called Pussy Galore because it was used in the James Bond film chase on the river Thames. Our return to Tramontana in Pussy Galore at the evening's end was fast, 007 style.
2014 : July : 29th : Tuesday
At 8 am we slipped our mooring and motored south to the Lizard. There, a stiff Force 4 from the north-east filled our sails. In one long run we made directly for the Isles of Scilly, arriving off Saint Mary's sound at midnight.
2014 : July : 30th : Wednesday
The pilot book advised against a night entry, so we stood off, waiting for first light. Dawn's arrival saw Steve on the tiller, as I used the GPS and three transits to get us into St Mary's bay where we picked up a buoy. We slept until 1 pm, then launched our tender to get to town. With soap, shampoo and towels we walked down the sunny main street, taking in holiday sights as we headed for the public shower at Tourist Information. I used this first while Steve swam in the bay. Then I wrote postcards whilst Steve showered. The Isles of Scilly were my first off-shore destination as a skipper.
Can you spot Tramontana in St Mary's Bay, Isles of Scilly ?
We bought sandwiches for lunch and set off on a Zen walk to see what we could find. Our legs took us to a delightful church surrounded by graves that, unexpectedly, included that of the late British Prime Minister, Lord Wilson. We climbed a craggy torr and walked the coastal path, admiring the other Islands and their golden sands. A pub meal of Scampi & Chips concluded our step onto land before we returned to the boat and a game of backgammon. I lost in spite of plying Steve with the last of the Toremore.
2014 : July : 31st : Thursday
To catch a favourable tide, Tramontana was underway at 5 am. Thunderstorms were about but we dodged them, instead making good progress under sail northward. As we crossed the Celtic Deep a record depth of 107 metres was noted. With the Atlantic Swell rolling us relentlessly we gave up trying to cook and had cheese sandwiches for breakfast, and then again for lunch. At 7.30 pm I decided we needed a proper meal. Steve took charge above decks whilst I enjoyed slowly cooking a chicken curry with warm nan bread down below. Eating this boosted our morale which the incessant rocking from side to side had started to sap.
As dusk fell we were surrounded by a pod of a dozen dolphins which jumped around the boat as they raced us north. For half an hour we were entertained before the sea emptied once more and night enveloped us.
2014 : August : 1st : Friday
A steady night wind from the west continued to power us northward at around 4 knots. Sleep below was impossible because of the swell and a lack of lee cloths on the bunks. Steve tried but was catapulted from his bunk. In Tramontana's fridge the fresh milk had churned into butter.
A 3 am squall sent the boat surfing forward, out of control. With life-jacket on, I took the Genoa down on the bucking fore deck. In the dark I noticed that the inner forestay had broken. The outer still supported the mast but I took this as a cue to get the main sail down too, get the engine on, and head directly for Milford Haven.
By mid morning the wind was a gentle and warm Force 3 and the dolphins were back. Our difficult night passage over, we could enjoy entering Milford Haven and a slow gentle potter up river to the security of the marina at Nayland.
2014 : August : 2nd : Saturday
Steve cooked me a breakfast-in-bunk before packing up and heading off to the railway station. I spent the day writing postcards, reading and enjoying the fact that, after a month at sea, I was in my new “home waters”, The Bristol Channel.
The following week Helen (my other half) and Zeta (our dog) arrived for a month of family time aboard Tramontana. The remains of Hurricane Bertha kept us in Milford Haven for a week during which we walked the dog and explored the surrounding countryside. A two day dash between gales to Penarth Marina, Cardiff, concluded Tramontana's voyage. Here she spent the winter. I knew she'd been here many years ago, for I have an old photograph of her racing at Penarth Regatta in 1959. I'll close this 2014 ship's log with that photograph.
Tramontana racing at Penarth Regatta in 1959.
Taken from an original photograph belonging to Peter Ward.
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