Sunseeker chapter 1
Sunseeker’s North Atlantic cruise began in early May, over the weekend of the Victory in Europe celebrations. In the very early hours of a promising spring morning she left the safety of Glasson Dock and, under engine, made her cautious way seaward, at the top of the tide on the River Lune. Carefully following the buoyed channel in the wake of her buddy yacht, a beautiful yawl rigged Nantucket Clipper. Black Swan, with her crew, skipper Martin and ship’s dog, spaniel Benjie, was to share a month with us in the Firth of Clyde.
On the final reach of the river, as we approached Morecambe Bay and the Irish Sea, we made sail. Rene took the helm while I made my way forward to hoist our lovely new tan sails. Close-hauled on the starboard tack we were, at last, on our way. Our dream was materialising! As we stood out across the shallow waters of Morecambe Bay the wind, blowing directly from the Isle of Man, our hoped for destination, increased in strength to a good force five. The shallow sea became very uncomfortable with short, steep waves and after a couple of hours we both felt weary and a bit demoralised. With the wind on the nose it promised to be a long, long passage to Douglas.
The radio message from Martin was very welcome. He had, very sensibly, decided to put into the anchorage at Piel Island in the Barrow channel. We had no detailed chart of the area but decided to follow Black Swan as Martin offered to pilot us in. Turning north to find the river we were now on a beam reach, the sun was shining and, although the swell was just as before, it was now at a different angle to us and much more comfortable.
Another lesson learned. Don’t fight the weather if there’s an alternative! Courteously, we thought, we paused a moment, allowing the Fleetwood to Belfast ferry to pass ahead of us.
Another couple of hours saw us lowering sail in the sheltered water of the river. Twenty minutes later, after three times making a pig’s ear out of picking up a mooring (entirely due to the caution of my approach), we were safely and peacefully tethered to a mooring buoy, overlooked by the picturesque ruins of Piel Castle. Piel Island is a Kingdom in its own right. Whosoever owns the only pub on the island is deemed to be the King. The pub houses an impressive throne and, by tradition, whoever sits upon this, and is not the King, must buy a round of drinks for everyone in the pub.
On the following day, after a thirteen-hour passage westward, we arrived in Douglas, Isle of Man. With little or no wind most of the day had been uneventful. Around lunchtime we had successfully dodged an entire fishing fleet and, with Black Swan still ahead of us, our thoughts turned to food. We saw Martin disappear down into his cabin. Moments later we stared in disbelief as Black Swan turned sharply to starboard in a complete ‘U’ turn. She passed Sunseeker heading back towards the Lancashire coast. We called Martin on the VHF radio, enquiring if he had forgotten something in Glasson and was he returning for it? We could only imagine and smile at the ‘mild’ exclamation before he came back on the air to thank us for our call. Later, over a drink in Sunseeker’s cabin at passage end, he confessed to setting up the Autohelm and going below to prepare lunch. Unfortunately he forgot to switch it over to automatic!
About six miles northeast of Douglas, at about seven in the evening, the promised northeasterly force five materialised. The wind and sea built gradually at first; the sailing growing ever more exciting. Eventually we realised that the waves were becoming proper waves and the wind was serious. With full main and genoa Sunseeker was carrying too much sail. Rene, once more on the helm turned Sunseeker’s head into the wind as I struggled to reach the pitching, tossing foredeck. After a fight I managed to lower and stow the mainsail and reduced the genoa to about a quarter size. The wind was now screaming down the east side of the island. Back on course for harbour Sunseeker rode the waves before the wind. Ahead and over to port Black Swan had reduced canvas and was a fine sight as we raced for shelter in Douglas harbour.
By nine o’clock, despite the heavy swell rolling into the harbour, we were both tied up alongside the wildly bucking pontoon with all our fenders out. After helping each other to make our boats secure we all four of us, Rene, Martin, Benjie and myself, made the long treck around the harbour to check in and pay our dues.
End of Sunseeker chapter 1