Fighting the wind from the Solent to Scotland
John Welbank and his new boat were put through their paces on a delivery trip from the Hamble to the Clyde in spring.
After 10 years without a boat it was about time my wife Sylvia and I finally got ourselves a new ship. I spent around two years trawling the Internet for likely candidates. The criteria were price, sailing ability and size, and nothing too old. I wanted a proper sailing boat, not a floating caravan.
After a few highly speculative offers a sensibly-priced Beneteau 40.7 from 2000 called Space Race came on the market. Although fully race kitted, she also had all the cruising requirements; furling jib, autohelm and nav system. She seemed to fit the bill.
The boat had been well used but the key components of rig, engine and keel had all been well maintained. The main hurdle was that she was on the Hamble but my chosen cruising ground was the Clyde in Scotland as we live in North Lancashire. From viewing the boat to the delivery trip was only three weeks, but getting anything done on the Hamble in April is near impossible. Our broker used every contact he had to get minor, pre-delivery trip works done before Space
Race was launched. As a Scottish cruising boat the one essential I did require was a sprayhood. Tecsew managed to measure, make and fit one for me within two weeks. In the end this proved critical to the delivery trip, given the conditions we faced. Launch day was Friday 28 April. The plan was for me to drive south on the Thursday night loaded up to the gunwales with gear and food, launch the boat 0930, rig her mid-morning, then head up to Hamble Point for the night to meet the crew. What could possibly go wrong?
In the end, mainly due to our broker Simon Walworth, nothing actually did. The first leg crew, friends Dave and Charlie, landed Friday night for a Saturday morning off, which, despite a few minor technical issues, we achieved. The first day we had a full-on champagne sailing run down the Solent and on past Portland Bill to Brixham: 105 miles averaging over eight knots. Not bad for a cruiser. Unfortunately this was about the last time the weather played ball.
Charlie, a non-sailor, had his first taste of helming, rattling along at up to nine knots down the Solent. Unfortunately he also had his first experience of mal de mer. Even a pod of dolphins off the Needles couldn’t distract him for long.
That night the Met Office was forecasting a gale from the south-west. Not wanting to push our luck we stayed in Brixham. Despite the pouring rain and the distraction of the Brixham pirate festival the gale never materialised. We did, however, sort various minor boat issues. Next day we set
‘It was going to be unpleasant but safe, so we crashed on’
off into a lively Force 5, which quickly built. By Start Point we were beating into steep, four-metre swells. Three hours trying to round Start Point had the crew, if not the boat, suffering. The plan was to head for Falmouth but that was adjusted to a ten-hour run to Plymouth. This also allowed for a simpler crew change; Charlie off and Richard and brother-in-law John on.
As we had already lost a day in Brixham I was keen to push on. At 0400 we were off again. Conditions were very benign with light winds and blue sky. A pleasant chug across to Land’s End saw us turn the corner north by early evening. That night provided a very pleasant motor north into the Bristol Channel but by the early hours the wind was building again and as usual from the worst possible direction: this time, the northeast. The choices were either to run for Milford Haven or keep bashing on to Holyhead in North Wales. It was a difficult decision but the boat had clearly proved her sailing abilities. Although it would be unpleasant it was still safe, so we crashed on, beating up St George’s Channel took a further 24 hours, but we made Plymouth to Holyhead in 56 hours. Thank goodness for Tecsew’s sprayhood!
By the time we reached Holyhead we were ready for some proper food and a few hours’ sleep. I was going to spend the night in Holyhead but a good forecast of easterly Force 4-5 spurred the crew on. Six hours after getting there, we were off again. The easterly 4-5 turned into a north-easterly Force 6-7. A triple-reefed main and a handkerchief of jib saw us bowling along at over seven knots to windward. The boat was just incredible in these conditions. That big, heavy keel not only reduced leeway but also nullified the worst of the motion from some fairly steep, rolling seas. In the early hours, off the Isle of Man the wind finally eased and we had a stunning and slightly more comfortable blast up the North Channel under starry skies with three knots of tide.
After dodging a few ferries coming out of Loch Ryan we finally headed into the Clyde. Surprise surprise, the wind also turned the corner and headed us all the way north but by this stage I didn’t care. Cloudless blue skies over Arran and a short chop weren’t going to stop us now. We finally picked up a mooring off Great Cumbrae Island at 2100 at the end of our 27-hour run. Cold beer and hot food on a flat table were very welcome.
After an early start the next morning, we finally motored into James Watt Docks in Greenock at 0900, exactly seven days and 641 miles since leaving the Hamble.
John gets to grips with his new Beneteau First 40.7
Brother in law John, with Long Ships in the background
Ailsa Craig to port on the final leg
Race had proved her worth by Holyhead