Sailing the Atlantic, Cruising the Caribbean - Avalon of Arne

By Phaon Reid

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Setting Off - Poole to Falmouth

We had two leaving parties, one in London, where we were working, and one in Poole, which was Avalon's home port. They were both good occasions, although our last few weeks before departure were incredibly frantic. This was partly our own fault, as we finished work on the Thursday, had the London party on Thursday night, recovered on Friday, drove down to Poole on Saturday, had the Poole Party on Saturday night, and set sail on Sunday. In retrospect this seems lunatic, but in the event we survived it. Anyway, setting sail with a hangover was to become something of a theme during the voyage..

The Poole party was on board Avalon tied up alongside Poole Quay. Some friends of ours, Chris and Liz, tied their boat "Rival Spirit" alongside; they were due to set off the following year, and we had seen a fair bit of each other while getting the boats ready in the yard. We decided to have a Caribbean theme, so vast quantities of rum punch were mixed up in plastic buckets and duly consumed. In the early hours of the morning, a number of comatose figures lay asleep on deck while the "hard core" were slumped around the cockpit, consuming whatever alcohol could still be found on the two boats. In the meantime, some kids on a large motor cruiser a few berths carried on making a noise and playing loud music until at least five in the morning.

After we had surface a friend of mine, Simon, took Avalon's foghorn and, to the obvious approval of the other boat crews nearby, gave the offending boat a loud wakeup call through the open window. They left shortly afterwards.

My parents came down a bit later to see us off, and had a cup of tea aboard Avalon. This was the first time they'd seen her, other than in photos. They're not boaty people and probably found the whole concept of the trip rather baffling, but it was good of them to come down and much appreciated.

UK South CoastEventually, around mid day I suppose, it was time to set off. My parents and other landlubbers waved us off from the quay, while the boaty set piled aboard Rival Spirit to escort us out. It was a pleasant day with a light breeze, and once out of the Stakes channel we hoisted sail and gently tacked out of harbour, with some help from the ebbing tide. Once past the Haven, Avalon showed Rival Spirit a clean pair of heels, so we turned back off Studland for a last wave. Then, hoisting BYE in signal flags, we headed off.

Not that we were going very far. After our symbolic departure, our intention had always been to put into Weymouth for the night, so (fortunately) we only had a 30 mile potter up the coast, which we had done so many times before that we could have done it in our sleep. Maybe we did...

Coming round Anvil point the wind died, so we rolled in the genoa and put the motor on gently. The autohelm went on, and we gently motored along the beautiful Dorset coast. The sea off St. Alban's head, scene of many excitements in the past, was flat calm. In a sailing sense, it was boring, but we weren't sorry. So, a few hours later we dropped the anchor into the calm sea in Weymouth Bay, had a bite to eat and went to bed. We had an early start in the morning to round Portland at slack water, so it seemed like too much effort to blow up the tender and go ashore.

The next moring we woke up early, but refreshed. It was another calm day, so the engine and autohelm went on again, with the main up for decoration, as we headed off round Portland Bill. This, like St Alban's, can be a very scary place but, on this day it was as calm as I've ever scene it, with just the odd swirl and eddy breaking the smooth surface. After rounding the Bill, we set a course for Start Point, and decided to try our hand at fishing.

Sarah and I have never had much success at fishing from boats. So, before leaving Poole, we commissioned Chris from Rival Spirit to choose some fishing gear for us, which he duly did. This was nothing elaborate, just an handline with a variety of lures and a paravane to hold them underwater. Anyway, we duly dangled this device over the transom, and very shortly were rewarded with a plump mackerel. And then another, and another, and so on. We thought we had stumbled on the recipe for successful fishing, but this was not so. During the reminder of our 10-month trip the line was aired on numerous occasions, but never again did we catch anything. A boat nearby might be hauling in tuna and kingfish as though they were going out of fashion, but not Avalon.

So we gently motored across Lyme Bay, past Dartmouth, and headed into Salcombe for the night. I've always preferred Dartmouth personally (and resented having to pay to anchor in Salcombe), but we wanted to make progress while the going was easy. We fried up the mackerel (delicious) then went ashore for a drink in one of the many pubs. The first time we had dropped the anchor, it dragged; when we tried again it had dragged, then held. The follwing morning, hauling it up, the reason became apparent. We had caught a Seagull - not the feathered variety, but a British Seagull outboard. Having had some personal experience of these contrivances, I can entirely sympthise with somebody throwing the thing over the side. Nonetheless it didn't look as though it had been down there long, so after establishing that nobody nearby had lost it, I resolved to try so salvage it.

And so, while we motored along, I did my best to clean the thing out and get it working. Anyway, a breeze soon came up from the South West, so we could actually SAIL, so the bedgraggled Seagull took a back seat (on the pushpit) as we hummed along close-hauled on the port tack.

We arrived in Falmouth around dusk, after nearly getting run down by a fishing boat outside the entrance, and tied up on the visitors pontoons. This cost us 10 pounds a day, but was necessary as we had a lot of errands to do ashore to get Avalon ready for Biscay. We had most of what we needed on board; we just had to get it sorted out.

Falmouth, in summer, is the British "service area" of the Atlantic circuit. There are always a number of long-distance cruising boats passing through, distinguished by their windvane steering gears, wind generators, solar panels or (in some cases) rusty bicycles. It was in Falmouth that we met Chris and Carole on Wild Rose, who were to become good friends along the way. We first spoke to Carole, who had a rather world-weary and blase air about her. They had set off a year previously, but had turned back from Spain because they had argued too much. They had put the boat on the market, but not had any takers. Wild Rose is a Carter 33, and Chris, a skilled carpenter, had refitted the interior in a manner that would have done credit to a Swan. Anyway, this year they had decided to try again. Some people never learn...

We had quite a few jobs to do - partly just provisioning the boat and stowing everything securely, but also a few electrical jobs, plus connecting the Aries, lashing down the liferaft, rigging the storm jib on the removable inner forestay, mounting the radar reflector on the backstay, and so on. In four days or so of concentrated work, we felt we were ready to go. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, so we stayed in Falmouth for about a week loger thatn we had intended, while in Biscay the gales blew. During this time we sailed over to the Helford River to test the storm jib and the Aries. I also did some more work on the Seagull, and somebody actually bought it, which paid for a few days mooring fees.

It was difficult to obtain any weather predictions for the whole duration of our crossing, but eventually the conditions began to improve, and we decided that it was time to depart.