Should I stay or should I go?
Former RYA Chief Examiner James Stevens looks at a classic skipper’s dilemma, considering the skipper, the boat, the passage and the weather
With strong south westerlies approaching, would you leave your exposed anchorage, and where would you go?
Arthur’s crew for this summer’s cruise of Brittany and its Atlantic coast is Ben, a friend who sails with him regularly. After a very light wind cross-Channel passage the night before, Arthur and Ben have reached the Île d’Ouessant off Brittany. They’re anchored off Lampaul, a small harbour at the top of a long bay facing WSW, which their pilot guide says is fine in settled weather. The intention is to continue to South Brittany with a 45-mile passage to Audierne, whose entrance faces south, though other possible destinations are Camaret (27 miles away) and Douarnenez, (42 miles). The tides are coming up for springs, and between Lampaul and Audierne is the Raz de Sein tidal gate with a maximum spring tidal stream rate of 6.5 knots. It runs south through the Raz de Sein until midday.
Arthur, 67, doesn’t have a single RYA qualification to his name, but he does have nearly 60 years of sailing experience since learning as a child. He usually cruises the coast from his home port of Milford Haven, actively avoiding marinas and even popular anchorages. He takes care of all the maintenance on his 30-year-old, twinkeeled Westerly Centaur, which has a slabreefed mainsail. As her skipper is no fan of technology (he’ll never own a smartphone) she’s sparsely kitted out with a handheld VHF radio and a much-loved transistor radio, a handheld GPS and paper charts, along with flares, lifejackets and horseshoe buoys. She has no AIS or liferaft, but sails with the dinghy stowed on deck.
On Monday evening there’s a light northeasterly breeze, but it’s hazy with some high cirrus in the west. Arthur fires up his trusty tranny and tunes into that evening’s shipping forecast to jot down the following:
General Synopsis at 1700UTC
High 1022 Cromarty, expected N Utsire 1021 by 1200 tomorrow. New low 1008 200 miles W of Fitzroy, expected Shannon 995 by 1200 tomorrow.
Biscay: light & variable becoming SW 5/6 later, slight becoming moderate later, rain later, moderate occasionally poor.
Sole: light & variable becoming SW 4/5 veering W 5/6 later, slight becoming moderate & occasionally rough later, rain later, moderate, occasionally poor.
With that forecast and those plans, what would you recommend? Should he stay or should he go?
Arthur's venerable Centaur has fewer instruments than we see here, but he does have a battered wireless and tunes into the shipping forecast Thanks to Simon Rowell, the British Olympic Sailing Team’s meteorologist, for his expert input in devising the weather scenario
Lampaul is open to the southwest so staying at anchor is not an option. Arthur wants to get to Audierne today, but is that wise?
The twin-keeled 26ft Westerly Centaur, designed in 1968 by Jack Laurent Giles, is one of the most popular boats in Britain, with over 2,400 built. She is tough and seaworthy, but not close-winded