|Our Hydrovane (minus wind vane), securely bolted in place|
Although the installation boiled down to bolting a lump of metal onto the transom (back of the boat), it took absolutely ages to actually do, as everything had to be perfectly aligned, due to the huge forces that the device will be put under while steering the boat. Plus, the hard wood that we used lived up to it's name i.e. it was hard. Very hard. Cutting, filing and sanding it to the exact shape required, by hand, took over two days alone!
|Our nice anchorage at St Just, where we waited out strong winds|
Once we no longer needed to be in a marina, to avoid additional mooring fees, we motored a few miles to a lovely little bay at St Just and dropped the anchor. We carried on doing boat DIY while waiting for howling gales to pass.
As it turned out, we didn't quite wait for the strong winds to pass completely before we left to cross the Channel. We could only leave at two times each day, as we needed to arrive at the Chenal du Four, in France, going with the tide. There was only a small break in the weather followed by even worse weather, which would have kept us in the UK for at least another week. As we were frustrated with how little progress we were making, having been in Falmouth for three weeks already, we decided to leave during the tail end of the high winds, allowing us to catch the tide in France and be over there before the Channel turned back into a maelstrom with renewed vengeance.
|Once the storm was over, Kate filled in the log book retrospectively|
So it was that we left Falmouth with stronger winds blowing than we would usually choose to go out in. As soon as we left the shelter of the land, it was as though we had sailed into a tumble dryer, except that it was a 'tumble wetter' instead. The wind was forecast to be Easterly, which wouldn't have been so bad, but it was actually South-Easterly, which meant that, as usual, we were close hauled. While sailing west down the Channel, we would have loved a S-Easterly, but were always battling against S-Westerlies. Typical.
The short of the long is that we were on an uncomfortable point of sail, heeled hard over, bumping up and down the biggest waves we've ever seen. They might not have seemed like much to seasoned cruisers, but to us, on our first international journey, in little Firebird, it seemed like sky scrapers were rolling towards us. The funny thing is that we got caught up in a yacht race as we left the river mouth. We happened to cross the start line just as the start horn went off and for a short period, it seemed like we were doing OK. I had visions of being presented a huge golden cup, showering champagne everywhere.
|Firebird in France|
It soon became evident that there was no way we were going to keep up with the racers, who had full sail set and went thundering off into the swell with their crews sitting dangling their legs overboard on the upwind side. Although a request to Kate to leave the relative safety of the cockpit and sit facing the full fury of the watery onslaught might have helped improve our speed, I suspected that it would have more likely ended with me being dragged along behind the boat by my safety harness, so I thought better of it and retired Firebird from the race, setting our Hydrovane to point us due south.
Even through the rough and tumble of those first few hours, it felt great to be finally heading south. What didn't feel great was eating, or, in fact, being alive at all. We were both soon feeling as rough as the sea state and took it in turns to feed our sea sickness tablets overboard to the fish. Fat lot of good those did us!
|Hoisting the French courtesy flag|
To make matters worse, as daylight faded, we got engulfed in fog. Luckily, the wind had begun to die down by this point, but the waves were still large and neither Kate nor I felt like doing much, especially not dancing a tango with a French trawler whose engine I could hear chugging away through the gloom but who I couldn't see. He tried calling us on the radio, but didn't say much and just ended up confusing the matter more. In the end, as his engine noise grew ever louder, in something of a panic, I turned us round and headed on a reciprocal course for a while. Retracing our hard-earned steps through the bumpy sea was the last thing I wanted to do, but that seemed preferable to turning Firebird into flotsam on the fishing vessel's bow.
The next daunting item on the menu was the shipping lanes. Luckily, by the time we hit these, the fog had cleared a bit and the wind and sea had continued to calm down, so playing real-life Frogger went well and we didn't end up getting squashed by a super tanker.
|I wonder where the blue part came from?|
Also, has anyone seen my favourite blue t-shirt recently?
As we approached French waters, it was time to put up our courtesy flag. We hadn't originally planned on going go France, so before leaving our anchorage in Falmouth, we had to quickly turn an old Italian courtesy flag we had into a French one. Kate did a fantastic job and I don't think that even a sharp-eyed French official will spot that we are actually flying a tattered Italian flag, with the green stripe patched over with part of a t-shirt!
By the following morning, the wind had died away altogether and we had to turn the motor on. By the afternoon, the sea was flat enough that we could think about eating for the first time.
We dropped anchor at Camaret, in the gloom of the late evening, about a day and a third after leaving Falmouth. We are very glad to be here!
|The only thing missing from this French scene is a beret. Maybe some onions as well|