PLYMOUTH TO LA CORUÑA
TALL SHIPS RACE
By Charles Dalglish
Onboard: John Scatchard (Skipper), Charles Dalglish (Mate), Pat North (Navigator), Marianne Hatchwell (Bosun), Kate Scatchard, Alan Hatchwell, John Williams, Julia Everard, Veronica Thornton and Anna
By 19:00 the crew is here, the Kapp bicycle in the forepeak,and the Brown baby gear in the lazarette (for later cruises). But a westerly gale keeps us in Brighton for a further 33 hours.
At 07:00 Sea Scamp (a 50 square metre sister ship) arrives, having been to Fécamp – no problems apart from the engine!
At 04:40 we slip our mooring, laying a course for Alderney. At 09:00 we set three watches in a lumpy sea, with a west Force 4 but bright sunshine. By lunchtime we can only lay a course to Barfleur. As time is running short we beat down the coast towards Cornwall.
At 20:40 the Plymouth breakwater is abeam, but the mainsail will not come down. We anchor, and Marianne climbs the mast to shift sail to another halyard, the wire main halyard having jumped its sheave. At 21:50 we are finally alongside at Queen Anne’s Battery. We’re among the earliest in, luckily, for now a southerly gale is coming up.
Amid the snapping of Cutty Sark pennants, ensigns and battle flags appears our liaison officer, Derek and the STA man. The first brings T-shirts and badges; the second brings a long list of more serious equipment to check. Much of our stay is busy with mending radios, masthead sheaves, fitting aft jackstays, an EPIRB, fuel shut-off, and with obtaining more flares and our liferaft certificates.
In between these preparations there are jazz bands, discotheque, skittle evening, fireworks and other demonstrations of Plymouth hospitality. Kate arrives to complete the crew. Our sponsor arrives, equips us all with free silk garments, and photographs the results. Sam Coles arrives to crew the yacht Vintage Champagne.
At 09:45 we slip our mooring, and motor into the Sound, which is crawling with sightseers and Tall Ships. We find our place in the parade, make a U-turn in front of the many thousands on the Hoe, dip to HMS Penelope, and wave to the Princess Royal on her quarterdeck. Despite the cold, grey weather the atmosphere is tremendous. After lunch at anchor in Cawsand Bay, we reef the main and head into the mist. At 14:40 we cross the start line, but can see very little ahead. The passage to France is uneventful: drizzle, a southwest Force 4 with visibility down to 150m at times.
By late afternoon we are groping along the French coast, against wind and tide, longing for an exact fix. RDF, Decca and radar all refuse to help. The chart denies the existence of the only buoy we find. We find it again. This is dispiriting. At 19:50 suddenly everything goes wonderfully right: the mist clears, the wind eases and veers west and Ushant appears on our port bow. We make more sail and head into the Passage de Fromveur, for which the tide is now favourable.
We sail close to Ushant, into the sunset and the Bay of Biscay. The next 36 hours are heavenly: quartering winds, blue skies, dark blue sea, dolphins and a long Atlantic swell.
We overtake the yacht Arethusa, who informs us of our position, from which we revive the Decca. HMS Penelope rushes past us for mutual admiration and photos. We report positions to her twice daily, and she broadcasts the race positions.
By 09:00 we are 400 miles from Plymouth, and over-canvassed in a northeast Force 5. We are surfing down white waves in bright sunshine. By 11:15 it’s Force 6 and we shorten sail yet more. At 13:40 it is a Force 6–7 and land is sighted on the port bow.
At 14:00 we heave to and hand the mainsail. It’s stuck again. We motor to point head to wind (which we must later report to race officials). Still stuck. We hand the working jib instead, partly scandalise the main with the topping lift and hope for the best. It’s gusting Force 8, and a couple of waves flood the cockpit. Landfall is identified, but now the wind is reaching its height. The crew are quite alarmed, but nothing gets carried away. The wind eases to a Force 4 as we follow the coast southwest.
At 19:20 we cross the finishing line at Cabo Prior lighthouse, 14th of 21 in class, 30th overall. The crew celebrates with Cutty Sark and a hilarious dinner over the last 10 miles to La Coruna. We anchor, drop the main and are moored alongside Overlord inside an old fishing dock by 22:30.
We meet Kate, our liaison officer, and fall into the pattern of our five days in La Coruna: work on Marabu and the jury main halyard, visit yachts, parties, shopping, hangovers, ever observed by crowds of friendly Spaniards, and tormented by the same dreary tape over a loudspeaker system, until some kind soul disconnects the speaker cable with a knife.
Skipper sprains his ankle playing fraternal basketball.
The crew visits Santiago de Compostella (known as the resting place of St James the Apostle), then spend the afternoon preparing for a joint ‘Square Metre’ party with Overlord. Girls make themselves 1 square metre costumes while boys have to make do with half a square metre. At 18:00 the party starts. By 18:30 both boats are packed, and crews still arriving, many only half clad and singing.
By 18:45 a water fight is started by Duet. At 19:00 Duet’s crew are chucked overboard by our Royal Artillery neighbours. Decks are treacherous with fruit and beer cans. By 20:15 the party is over. We then weave our way to an enormous civic picnic in the park.
After the compass adjuster’s visit we motor off for a peaceful afternoon at anchor, where the Skipper slings a hammock under the mizzen boom. The crew employs mizzen sheets and topping lift and jettison the Skipper, in a seamanlike manner into the briny.
At 20:00 we parade ashore, for speeches, a Marabu crew dinner and fireworks.
In the morning we swap our six ‘cadets’ for one Pole and five Russians from other ships. At 15:00 we slip our mooring, parade through the harbour and start the Cruise in Company. In actual fact, the only company thereafter is when we meet Sedov at dusk, two days later when she gives us our position. Changing headsails in northeast Force 5 finishes off Igor and Genja, from Sedov. The sea also carries away an ill-secured boathook and sail bag.
The next few days are alike – clear skies and dusks, dolphins, noon sights, and a
constant east-north-east wind to head us. We soon resort to two watches, due to seasickness, inexperience of the crew and language problems.
Today mostly spent trying to get air out of the fuel supply.
Planning conference. We have made good only 180 miles towards Gironde. We decide to press on rather than divert to Santander or Biarritz, which would have taken us to the wrong place at the right time. We now expect to be at least one day late in Bordeaux. We are exactly in the middle of the Bay, in the expectation of the wind backing northeast. At 18:00 the wind does back. We shake out reefs and can lay Gironde on a course of 100 degrees.
Skipper's watch mistakes Venus for a masthead light, as did the Mate’s watch yesterday. Another grim session working on the engine, which will not now charge. Success by lunchtime, so henceforth we motor. Our new crew are getting accustomed to Marabu and everything edible starts to disappear.
At 16:12 land is sighted, exactly four days out, and in the right place thanks to Pilot Pat (and the Mate’s noon sights). However, we are seven hours late for our rendezvous. At 20:20 we reach Polnte de Grave and decide to attempt the Gironde in one tide, so we punch the last of the ebb with land getting closer with each passing moment. At 23:40 we find our convoy weighing anchor, and join it.
Alongside the locket Bordeaux at 05:15 we are greeted with croissants, and moor up at 06:00. The weather starts to get very hot. Finally, our voyage over we hand over to John Kapp for the next cruise.
Race Result: Plymouth to La Coruna
Place in class 14/21, place overall 30.