Record-break­ing voy­ages

While Laser dinghies and kitesurfers don’t nor­mally fea­ture in PBO’s cruis­ing sec­tion, we couldn’t re­sist shar­ing th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary feats of en­durance… Dinghy odyssey Dave Birch pushes him­self to the lim­its on a non-stop 150-mile sail across the English

Practical Boat Owner - - Cruising Notes -

With the rise in life-lim­it­ing ill­nesses, I’d de­cided to raise funds for Les Bourgs hospice in Guernsey. Hav­ing crossed the Chan­nel once be­fore on my 9ft Laser Pico, this time I in­tended to go fur­ther.

I’d cir­cum­nav­i­gate both Ed­dy­s­tone Light­house and Roches-Dou­vres in Brit­tany, be­fore tak­ing a dog­leg to St Peter Port. This way, I’d be bat­tling night sails and shipping lanes in the widest part of the English Chan­nel, and sail­ing a dis­tance of 150 miles al­to­gether.

The boat and kit

I chose the Laser 1 as it was the next step-up in dinghies from the en­try-level Laser of my pre­vi­ous chal­lenge. As dinghies of­fer no pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments I had to choose cloth­ing that wouldn’t be too hot in the af­ter­noon sun, nor too cold in the depths of the night.

So a dry suit was a must, along with lots of Imod­ium!

An­other is­sue was tak­ing enough nu­tri­ents and flu­ids for 40 hours so I could be fully self-suf­fi­cient, and stor­ing them in my tiny footwell. In the cramped con­di­tions my hunched up body would soon be cry­ing out for a re­ally good stretch!

I also chose to do my own nav­i­ga­tion. Armed with a so­lar-pow­ered com­pass, bat­tery-op­er­ated speedo and hand­held GPS, I suc­cess­fully plot­ted my course even with changes.

Leav­ing Fal­mouth

I set off from Fal­mouth on a calm sum­mer’s morn­ing. It took all day to reach Ed­dy­s­tone Light­house, where the Navy was mid-ex­er­cise with a new air­craft car­rier. Con­di­tions were just as fore­cast, eas­ing me into the marathon sail ahead. Past the Ed­dy­s­tone Light­house, I was graced with many dol­phins, all vy­ing for a place un­der the bow of my small dinghy to es­cort me into the Chan­nel.

I pushed my hand into the wa­ter with my GoPro cam­era firmly gripped, hope­ful that I might cap­tures some un­der­wa­ter im­ages of my trav­el­ling com­pan­ions.

Into the evening and get­ting fur­ther off­shore, the sea state in­creased, as did the winds, un­til I found my­self surf­ing down 6ft waves in a con­fused sea. My brother, Brian, and safety team on board the 34ft sup­port ves­sel were never more than 100m away keep­ing a close

eye and mon­i­tor­ing my alert­ness and progress. Through the night I picked my way through fish­ing ves­sels and con­tainer ships, which kept me on my toes.

As day broke, so the wind faded away. It was just un­for­tu­nate that right then I was upon the ap­proaches to the east­bound shipping lanes that had five large con­tainer ships in­bound. Creep­ing along at just 2-3 knots, I broke out the pad­dle to in­crease boat speed and out of the path of the never-end­ing stream of ships pour­ing into the Chan­nel.

It was a relief to be clear of shipping but ahead I could see dark rain clouds and a squall ap­proach­ing, which speeded up my progress, al­beit briefly.

When it fi­nally reached us, it brought just 20 knots of wind but it was truly ex­hil­a­rat­ing surf­ing 8ft rolling swells at speeds of up to 10 knots.

As dark­ness drew in again, I found my­self run­ning deep down­wind, which meant a high prob­a­bil­ity of cap­size in the con­fused swell. I took the op­tion to change course from 145° to 180°, bring­ing the wind just aft of beam and a safer ride. A cap­size in the dark was not some­thing I wanted to have to deal with, es­pe­cially in the vicin­ity of fish­ing ves­sels and con­tainer ships. With care, I ac­tu­ally man­aged to avoid cap­siz­ing for the en­tire voy­age.

With a change in course, I cal­cu­lated my po­si­tion and the point to which I needed to make the turn to Guernsey and equiv­a­lent in miles so that the to­tal would equate to 150. Al­though it was dis­ap­point­ing not to ac­tu­ally reach Roche Dou­vres – it would have been great to ‘round’ the mark – my voy­age was re­ally all about cov­er­ing the dis­tance.

At the point I made that turn, I was on the home straight. Tired­ness was play­ing a part af­ter 24 hours at sea al­ready, but with Guernsey just over the hori­zon, I was filled with new drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion. The fin­ish was in sight!

Heavy-weather han­dling

There wasn’t much I could do to cater for heavy weather. The sails couldn’t be reefed like a reg­u­lar yacht. I did, how­ever, pre-rig a drogue so that if I was hit with a squall, I could sit safely with it de­ployed from the bow. This also served a sec­ondary pur­pose. When de­ployed, it al­lowed me to eat and rest. I used it only once in the early hours of the morn­ing for 15 min­utes to rest my eyes. Sleep was not pos­si­ble with the boat bob­bing around like a cork and I needed to hear break­ing waves ap­proach, alert­ing me to the po­ten­tial for cap­size.

The se­cond day at sea was slow along with winds lighter than fore­cast. As dusk drew in, it seemed to take for­ever to reach the Hanois light­house at the south­west­ern point of Guernsey. By now I was un­able to eat the pro­tein bars as I could no longer stom­ach the taste – I never ever want to see an­other pro­tein bar for as long as I live!

As night en­gulfed us again, the wind faded to noth­ing. With just a cou­ple of hours of favourable tide left, there was no pos­si­bil­ity of reach­ing St Peter Port un­der sail for some time. Af­ter 143.2 miles, I took the last re­sort of tak­ing a tow to the fin­ish, just 10 miles away.

The tow was in­ter­est­ing in that sleep de­pri­va­tion had a strong hold of me and it was a strug­gle to re­main fo­cused. My hal­lu­ci­na­tions were bizarre. I saw cows and goats rolling in the wake of the tow­ing ves­sel and then a cas­cade of glis­ten­ing gold coins flow from the tow­boat cock­pit door­way. For­tu­nately my brother was keep­ing a close eye on me.

In St Peter Port, I dropped the tow line and took a very slow sail to the land­ing beach at the back of the har­bour. I jumped off the boat and into the shal­low wa­ter but could barely stand, only stag­ger.

As well-wish­ers helped me pull the boat up onto the beach, I was show­ered with bub­bly to mark the achieve­ment. I was filled with joy: a new UK record! I had sailed my Laser ra­dial non-stop, sin­gle handed and un­aided for 143.2 miles over 37.5 hours… al­though ar­riv­ing at 1am had not been part of the plan. If only the winds had been as fore­cast...

Later that day, af­ter just six hours’ sleep, I was faced with lots of me­dia in­ter­est, in­clud­ing in­ter­views with BBC ra­dio, ITV and lo­cal press. Af­ter just over a year of plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, it all came to a head. I was over­whelmed with feel­ings of ac­com­plish­ment and the achieve­ment of hav­ing raised much-needed funds for Les Bourgs Hospice. n Find out more about Dave’s voy­age at epic­sail­

‘Sleep was not pos­si­ble with the boat bob­bing around like a cork, and I needed to be alert’

For his Chan­nel cross­ing at­tempt Dave Birch up­graded his boat – from a 9ft dinghy to a 14ft one!

RIGHT Thumbs up for com­ple­tion of a record-break­ing voy­age

ABOVE Drogue de­ployed from the bow al­lowed rest stops to eat

ABOVE Dave Birch set a new UK record

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