a season rescued from COVID chaos Title
A consolidated log of our efforts to recover Arkyla from Cherbourg, cross the channel to Portland, and then sail onward to cruise the coast of Devon and Cornwall. We detail the problems that COVID presented us to access and launch the boat, and tell the story of our 3-week cruise of the South West. The account has a balanced mix of sailing highlights, locations visited, (severe) weather experienced, and equipment issues impacting our plans. There is an underlying theme on the flexibility needed to sail successfully in a BREXIT/COVID-altered UK cruising environment.
A season for expectation management...
Its fair to say that our 2021 sailing season aboard Arkyla, our 2008 Regina 43, did not go entirely as planned; with medical, family, and equipment-related problems alongside the more universal impacts from COVID and BREXIT, our year is probably best characterised as one of ‘making it up as we went along’. Indeed, whilst there is undoubted wisdom in the adage “fail to plan, plan to fail”, this past year’s sailing has proven equal sagacity in the old military maxim “plan early, plan twice”!
Boat and owners separated by the Channel…
Our initial hurdle in 2021 was simply getting access to the boat. Keen to cruise the Mediterranean unhindered over coming years, at the back end of 2020 we had moved Arkyla from her Solent home to Cherbourg where, wintered ashore on BREXIT day, we had protected her EU VAT-paid status. In hindsight this foresight was flawed in one major respect…international travel or, more specifically, the lack of it!
2020, as it transpired, was just a warm-up for COVID; 2021 gave the pandemic a whole new bag of evil tricks to mess with our cruising plans. Arkyla was originally scheduled to be re-floated in April but, even early in the New Year it was clear this date was not so much optimistic as totally unachievable. We had little idea however just how delayed the start to our season would be.
Both double-vaccinated by mid-May, we had every confidence that international borders would open in early-summer allowing us to recover Arkyla from France. We had faith that, despite having to delay our run-to-the-sun by yet another year, we would at least enjoy a fair season of French, Channel Island, and West Country cruising; this optimism was misplaced! The UK didn’t want us to leave, the French didn’t want us to come and, for a while, the EU wouldn’t recognise the validity of my India-batch Oxford-Astrazenica jab! Even Brittany Ferries plotted against us by cancelling several of our foot passenger bookings. With us now in mid-July, we next faced conflict with the Fastnet race of all things! Cherbourg was overflowing with competitors unable to stage pre-race in the UK with the consequence that both our lift-in and berth at Port Chantereyne had been stolen! Aside from having to reschedule ferry tickets for a 4th time, we were also vagrants with contracted cat-sitters now in our home. Thankfully, the generosity of friends in lending us their Southampton crash pad meant we weren't reduced to sleeping in doorways and, on 2nd August, we finally boarded a ferry, crossed the channel and landed in Cherbourg just in time for the rescheduled launch.
The lift-in was uneventful and, considering she had been stood on the hard for eleven months, Arkyla was in remarkably good shape. Having put the boat back together, our escape was delayed waiting for a minor engine part and a suitable weather window. This however played in our favour as, that week, UK quarantine restrictions eased for travellers returning from France. This was important as, with no marina on the south coast able to guarantee us a berth, leaving the boat if we had to quarantine at home was an issue that we had not yet found a solution for!
Our extended stay in Cherbourg did however mean that we were unexpectedly able to experience the buzz of what was building to be a challenging and most exciting Fastnet race. We were privileged to witness, from the comfort of Arkyla’s ‘ringside’ cockpit, the evening arrival of the Maxi multi-hull Edmond de Rothschild. As first line finisher into Cherbourg, this incredible foiling machine had left all other competitors literally lolling in its wake as it’s unmatched turn of speed made it the only yacht to escape the near calm conditions that beset the remainder of the Fastnet fleet.
Four months late, we cross the Channel…
We slipped lines just before dawn the next day, 10th August, wary that a dark exit from an unfamiliar port is not ideal when trying to remember how to sail, navigate and operate all onboard systems, mechanical and electronic! As we exited the Grande Rade, and set a north-westerly course to clear the corner of the Casquets TSS, dawn was slow to break with a persistent drizzle keeping visibility below a few hundred yards. As we crept up the breakwater toward the western entrance to the Grande Race, I called to Jenny to come back up on deck… “there’s something here you should see”! Out of the gloom ghosted a large grey shape; AIS identified the looming beast as the Ultime Trimaran Actual drifting in as second placed line finisher some 9 hours behind the Rothschild machine. Fortunately I gave Actual plenty of room as, with her chase boat escorting her in, she tacked directly in front of us forcing a crash tack to safely clear the racer’s stern; it felt a real privilege to be up close and engaged with one of these incredible racing machines.
Our destination across the Channel was less dictated by weather, but more by the best odds of finding a berth to leave the boat for 12 days whilst we retreated home to wait on our next set of house-sitters. Not one marina would guarantee us a berth for a single night much less a fortnight, but we had most confidence in the Portland Boatfolk team, stating “we’re fully booked, but we haven’t turned anyone away yet”, so we set a course for Weymouth Bay. The crossing was a proverbial game of two halves. A total lack of wind for the first four hours forced us to chug along under engine. Despite the calm, I was very glad of the flat seas as I had nagging doubts about the integrity of our fuel. With all but 40 litres of Arkyla’s 360-capacity tank filled with diesel now the better part of 2 years old, the last thing I wanted was a rough passage to stir up any potential bug or water! Once past the west-bound TSS, the wind filled in nicely and we cracked along under full main and genoa at a respectful 8.5 knots in what remained, thankfully, relatively calm seas.
Approaching the Bill the wind freshened significantly but we held our sail plan until outside the entrance to Portland Harbour whereupon we rolled away the genoa and headed into wind to furl the main on the electric winch. During the process, the Raymarine autopilot alarmed with a ‘low power’ warning and set itself to manual; this was a new occurrence and I logged the incidence as an ‘item of interest’ hoping it to be a one-off glitch. Boatfolk were incredibly helpful in juggling their berthing plot, and squeezed us in for our requested 12 days. I took the opportunity to commission their engineering team to supply and fit a Marine 16 ‘Diesel Dipper’ during this stay as, aside from the worry of the old diesel in our tank, I thought it wise insurance against the new regulatory changes to increase levels of bio-fuel at UK and EU diesel pumps.
We decide to head west…
New house-sitters in residence, we returned to the boat on 21 August for three weeks of sailing - our destination, however, still undecided. In the event, COVID again hampered our original intentions of heading back across the Channel to hook up with friends already cruising the Channel Islands; although Guernsey and Alderney fell within the UK COVID Common Travel Area, the bailiwick had additional testing & isolation protocols that would add unwanted complexity, not least a delay to meet a mandatory 14-day break since leaving France. We therefore reset our goals and decided to explore the West Country before hauling out in Plymouth end-season as still nowhere could offer a winter berth for a 45’ boat.
We had hoped to spend a night in Lulworth Cove but, with an unfavourable forecast for anchoring, we instead exited right out of Portland Harbour aiming to round the Bill south of the race. Before making our turn west, we heard HMS Prince of Wales, the newest and largest of Her Majesty’s warships, broadcasting on Ch16 and spotted her out on the horizon. Coincidently we were catching a pretty little sloop, later identified as the classic Nicholson 36 prototype Janessa, and it felt odd to be sandwiched between this David and Goliath pairing to port and starboard of our bow.
Mid-way across Lyme Bay, with the wind a gentle north-easterly and the boat coasting under full main and genoa, I decided it was the perfect moment to fly my new Mavic Mini2 drone (for only the second time!). Full of retired-RAF Biggles bravado, I dismissed the wife’s advice to practice a bit more on land before launching from a moving, rigging-strewn, platform; so up the little aviating fella went! As the drone shot backwards off the stern, it dawned on me that, with the favourable tide, we were in fact cracking along at quite a respectable speed over ground; the Mini2, devoid of any tracking capability, was struggling to keep up! Filtering out a repetitive stream of “I told you so”, I finally managed to recover the drone to within spitting, if not catching, distance of the boat. Landing it however was quite a different story; as the battery gauge was depleting faster than a bottle of rum at sundown, action was needed soon to avoid committing my tiny nemesis to Neptune’s watery kingdom… grimacing, I pushed the stick forward for a ‘controlled' crash into the back of the cockpit and hoped for the best. It survived thankfully and, for the price of a few extra heartbeats, I was rewarded with a couple of respectable shots of Arkyla under sail!
The rest of the passage went without incident and we made our approach to Torbay well ahead of schedule. Mindful that it was Dartmouth regatta week, and with anchoring off Torbay if not untenable in the easterlies certainly unwise, we thought it prudent to pre-book a berth before departing Portland. With Brixham full, only MDL Torquay had a berth available for our size; this came at quite a price though, lightening my wallet of £75 for a night! A case of beggars not being choosers, and intent on getting our money’s worth, we plugged in to shore power, set every electrical device charging, and headed off for hot showers until our skins blistered!
Simple economics dictated a move the next day; despite the doom-mongers’ prophecies of never getting into Dartmouth during regatta week, we decided to chance our luck. Sailing conditions were great; we set full main and self-tacking jib as soon as we cleared Torquay harbour and headed out past the cruise liners anchored in the bay. With Berry Head behind us, I spotted a colourful dot off our stern; out came the long lens and I captured a distant shot of the National Historic Ship Pilgrim of Brixham resplendent under her red gaff-rigged canvas.
Entering the mouth to the Dart, we were buzzed at low level by a CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter weaving its way between the steep sides of the ria. I spent time on the Chinook force during my RAF career, and the unmistakeable ‘wokka-wokka’ of the CH-47 still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. With Arkyla proudly flying her light blue RAF Sailing Association ensign, defaced with eagle and roundel, it felt extra special as the aircraft flew past directly overhead.
Hailing Dart Harbour on the VHF, we were warmly welcomed and swiftly rafted onto one of the deep water mid-river visitor pontoons; the nay-sayers were proven wrong! Breaking out the gin as the sun dipped below the Britannia Royal Naval College clock tower, we settled down to observe all the evening festivities of the royal regatta - you can’t get much more traditional, maritime, and British than that!
Dartmouth regatta week…
Dartmouth is a delightful place at any time, but during regatta week it has an extra buzz to it. The town had a real air of excitement with visitors and locals alike cheering on the various races and frequenting the many street food and craft tents lining the harbour. From the comfort of our cockpit, we had grandstand seats to the starts of the rowing heats and were able to toast home the returning yacht crews from the coastal sailing events. To add yet more nostalgia, every thirty minutes we were treated to the whistle and clickety-clack of the restored Great Western locomotive hauling its Pullman coaches packed with steam enthusiasts between Kingswear and Totnes.
Onwards to Cornwall…
After three days it was time to move on; intent was to explore Falmouth, the Helford River and, potentially, push for the Isles of Scilly if the run of easterlies continued; the boat gremlins, however, had other ideas! Under blue skies, and with a fair wind, we set course for the west. All was great until, having rounded Start Point, we were beset by a worrying set of electrical issues; an autopilot low power warning, a low voltage alarm from the electronic morse control, and the needle of the newly replaced tachometer dancing like the funky chicken. We made some frantic phone calls to engineers as we were abreast Plymouth and established two things; first, these occurrences were unlikely random and potentially all an alternator-related issue and, second, at 1600hrs on a bank holiday Friday, nothing was going to be done until Tuesday at the very earliest! With a forecast for continued sunshine over the next few days, we were confident our solar and wind systems would provide enough power to hang at anchor short-term, so we rejigged the plan to continue west to Fowey, enjoy the long weekend, then double back to Plymouth where the Mountbatten Boathouse team were willing to help us out. We continued our passage west, less concerned but still cautious, and were rewarded with the highlight of crossing wakes with the classic pilot-cutter Mascotte as we passed south of Talland Bay.
Crossing wakes with historic pilot cutter Mascotte off Talland Bay
Chilling in Fowey…
Arriving in a busy Fowey, we rafted to another cruising couple on a visitor buoy adjacent to the Royal Fowey Yacht Club. After the equipment stresses of the day, we established ourselves in the cockpit, broke out the drinks, and sat back to watch the dusk arrivals as the lights of Fowey and Polruan reflected off the water.
The next morning we took the dinghy ashore to Fowey where there was stark contrast between the calm of our cockpit and the bustle of the streets filled with holiday trippers. After an excellent tapas lunch at Pintxo restaurant, we retreated to the tender to escape the crowds. We untied from the RFYC pontoon, then instantly found ourselves within a swarm of sailing dinghies; a loud blast from the yacht club confirmed our fears that we had inadvertently joined the line-positioning melée of the bank holiday regatta races! Weaving between jostling racers, we re-boarded Arkyla where we watched the chaotic display of coloured sails and varnished hulls of the local one-design Fowey River and Troy classes.
From a photographer’s perspective, Fowey is the quintessential Cornish town that just keeps on giving. Moored in the harbour we were treated to a daily feed of nautical tradition and colour, no more so than the coming and going of Pettifox, a classic wooden gaff cutter resplendent in her red, white and blue Scillonian livery.
Gaff cutter Pettifox of Scilly, running charters from Polruan, added yet more magic to Fowey harbour
Even under their covers, the local dinghies deliver charm and colour to the harbour.
Plymouth for repairs...
With the long weekend over, and boatyards back to business in Plymouth, we said our goodbyes to our new alongside friends, slipped our mooring and headed back east for Plymouth Yacht Haven where, we hoped, Mountbatten Boatyard would cure our assorted electrical and charging issues. As suspected, a failed alternator was diagnosed and, with good fortune, a replacement Balmar unit found that could be shipped to us within a few days… ideal as we had planned a rendezvous with friends in Dartmouth that Friday to introduce them to the joys of life afloat!
As luck would have it, the new alternator was delivered and fitted with just enough time for us to catch the tide gate to get comfortably across the Yealm bar for a short night stop. This was a pitstop with significance as it was 3 years to the day that we had first seen (and consequently purchased) Arkyla on her then mooring on the Yealm; it was also the first time that we had taken her back to her ancestral home!
Back to Dartmouth...
We had an early start the next day to get us safely out of the river and to ensure a Dartmouth arrival in time to greet our friends battling the motorway traffic that Friday. There had been a definite shift in the weather overnight, and we woke to a distinct autumnal feel to the air. However, what the clouds stole in the way of heat, they also gave back in the form of some spectacular light displays with sunrays breaking the patchy cover and illuminating the sea and its headlands.
Despite an initial favourable reach and swift progress past Bigbury Bay, we soon faced our own battle to round Start Point; with the wind on the nose and the tide set against us, progress was painfully slow so, with the danger of our weekend guests being abandoned to a car park for several hours, we swallowed some pride and hoisted the iron mainsail to motorsail the remainder of the passage. Passing seaward of the Skerries bank, we made the welcome turn to land once past its northern red can marker and headed for the Dart entrance. The prolonged set of easterlies had kicked up quite a swell in the approaches to the Dart; as we closed the entrance, we regretted furling our mainsail quite so expediently as Arkyla rolled quite aggressively until we were well within the shelter of the harbour.
There was a very different atmosphere to Dartmouth from just the week before as, with the regatta over, things were very much quieter. There was no need to raft now as the mid-river visitor pontoons were all but empty. Having collected our guests from the Kingsweir side of the river (where it’s very much easier to park a car mid-term), we set about exploring both the town and the river in relative tranquility. We were now approaching mid-September, and we noted a greater variation in the daily weather with misty or foggy mornings preceding sunny afternoons.
Sunny afternoons first had to break through the fog and mist of the mornings.
The exodus of boats that had amassed for regatta week gave us more opportunity to explore further upstream. We motored Arkyla upriver to Dittisham where, although there was no space to drop the hook off the Anchor Stone, there was a choice of visitor buoys suitable for a 45’ boat. We enjoyed paddle boarding, drinks in the Ferry Boat Inn, and were even honoured by the visit of a curious seal to our stern ladder!
Dittisham provided a somewhat more gentle experience to the bustle of Dartmouth.
Going West (again)...
We dropped our weekend guests back to their car, and made a push for Salcombe on a glorious, if windless, morning. Motoring out of the Dart, we passed close to the tall ship SV Tenacious; not, as one might think, a relic of a bygone age, but a modern training ship launched by the Jubilee Sailing Trust as recently as 2000! This majestic vessel is unique in that she was specifically designed for disabled sailors to participate as crew, not just passengers, alongside able bodied shipmates. As we coasted past, I noted the extent of the rigging and vowed never again (or at least so much) to complain about the cost in maintaining Arkyla’s halyards, lines and sheets!
SV Tenacious: uniquely designed to allow able and disabled crew to work and train together; I vowed not to complain about the upkeep of Arkyla's rigging going forward!
Out in the bay, the sea was almost like glass as we motored south once more outside the Skerries. A pod of dolphins was jumping in the distance but, against our hopes, did not come to play on our bow wave. Once round Start Point, the wind filled and we hauled out the sails. Soon after setting the main however, we again experienced an autopilot ‘low power’ alarm. We correlated the incidence to using the power-hungry electric winch; when back in Plymouth, it was later confirmed that our domestic battery bank had also to be replaced to match the new alternator. Philosophically, I’m glad it all happened this season rather than next year with us half way across Biscay!
Coasting along under full sail once the wind filled in past Start Point.
Salcombe holds a special place in my heart as, in far off days of childhood, it was often to here that my dad would trail the family GP14 dinghy for our summer holidays. Sadly the old man passed away this year after a decade suffering both stroke and dementia; it will always be a regret that he was never well enough to sail with us on Arkyla. Returning to Salcombe was, therefore, as much a nod to the old salt who first taught me to sail, as a desire just to visit this iconic boating town in our own yacht.
When we arrived in the estuary the wind had strengthened to a steady F4-5 and was forecast to remain so. We had hoped to find decent shelter anchoring in The Bag, but were told that it was already pretty much full. The harbour master however found us a suitable buoy to hang off; welcome as it was, it wasn’t the most comfortable of locations as we were exposed to the wind and, when it was against the swift spring tide, Arkyla never quite settled. Nonetheless, it was by no means untenable and we stuck in for sundowners… with Salcombe Gin from the local distillery naturally!
It would be a crime to toast sundowners without the local Salcombe Distillery tipple;
the rosé version is highly recommended by the Arkyla crew!
With time marching on, and with house-sitters soon to depart home, we needed to make progress toward Plymouth Yacht Haven where we had managed to secure a berth for the remainder of the month to leave the boat unattended. En-route to Plymouth however, we planned to spend a last couple of days back in the Yealm. Our day of departure was heralded by an intense blood orange sunrise. The tidal gates for exit over the Salcombe bar and entry into the Yealm dictated a carefully timed early slip of the lines. As several other yachts and local trawlers motored past us as we wre making our preparations to leave, we heard the odd distant rumble of thunder. The forecast was for isolated thunder storms but, as the current weather still seemed favourable and we did not have far to go, we decided to press with our plan.
The dawn light on the morning of our departure was stunning, if ominous.
An electrifying passage...
Little did we know what lay ahead of us… nor I guess did any of the other yachts we saw departing that morning. Safely across the Salcombe bar and round Bolt Head, from astern we noted the rapidly darkening skies all the while accompanied with more frequent rolls of thunder and occasional flashes of sheet lightning. The threatening clouds clearly signalled the potential for heavy rain and strong gusts in the squalls.
Whilst hopeful that the storm would track away from us, we nonetheless fully rolled the genoa and left all but a scrap of mainsail to maintain some stability as we motored on. It soon became clear that the storm would chase us down and, within five minutes, we were hit by gusts of 30 knots and more. More worrying was the increased frequency of lightning flashes, some now forking to the sea. At this point we enacted our electrical storm plan; the handheld VHF, mobile phones, and tablet (with Navionics loaded) were despatched to the oven, safe headings noted, our position plotted on the paper chart, and navigation lights illuminated. Soon there was no boundary between sea and sky, and all visual references to land were gone. Sheet rain blasted us in the cockpit and we counted at least six lightning strikes that I estimated hit the sea within a mile or less of us. This was no ordinary storm; this was Thor throwing each and every one of his godly hammers from his celestial cot at us with full on vengeance. Jenny asked me, on a scale of one-to-ten, how worried I was. As I saw the colour drain from her face, I now know that “nine” was the wrong answer; "oh" she replied “I was thinking maybe a seven”! We passed close to a large yacht, remarkably still under almost full canvas, beating her way east. Jenny remarked that hopefully any lightning might strike their taller mast rather than ours… again, maybe I shouldn’t have said out loud that our stick was made of metal, theirs of wood!
It was perhaps the longest 40 minutes of my sailing life until the storm finally passed over us. With less than 5NM to run until the sanctuary of the Yealm, we congratulated ourselves on surviving what was a truly terrifying experience; I thought we had dodged maybe twenty lightning strikes, Jenny put the number closer to forty! The weather gods however had not finished with us yet; with us just 1NM away from our northward turn round Yealm Head, the sky once more darkened and the land disappeared again from sight as another storm cell swallowed us. We pressed on however and were grateful that when within Wembury Bay we were able to make out our transits, first on St Werburgh church to clear us of the West Ebb Rock, and then on Misery Point to guide us safely past the Yealm bar. Secured to our mooring, the harbourmaster drew up alongside to collect our dues for the next two nights. “That was some storm hey; knocked out the power to Newton Ferrers village twice” he remarked. “No sh*t” I replied!
The River Yealm...
The Yealm really is a special place and our one-night pit stop a week earlier was far too short; hence our desire to drop in properly before heading back to Plymouth to haul out for the season. By now the weather had fully turned the corner from summer to autumn; with fog, mist, showers and a definite chill in the air we decided against inflating the paddle boards, and opted for taking the dinghy ashore to visit Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo, and to explore the surrounding coastal, woodland, and riverbank walks. Options are limited for leaving your tender on the Noss Mayo side of the river, but you can always squeeze the dink amongst the crowd of local boats at the Newton Ferrers dock as long as you keep the short stay pontoon and harbourmaster launch spot clear. A phone call to the harbour master will also confirm when the causeway between Newton and Noss will emerge from the depths of the creek, so you can safely time a visit to The Ship Inn for lunch and still get back to your boat without getting feet, ankles, thighs or worse wet!
Scenes from Noss Mayo... pictures taken between sips of Guinness courtesy of the Ship Inn.
Whether 0, 2, or 4-legged, there is no shortage of wildlife to be seen on the woodland, river, and coastal walks.
Aside from the wealth of things to do ashore, when onboard there is always something to interest the eye when moored in the Yealm (anchoring is forbidden anywhere within the bar), and having the luxury of a deck saloon, like our Regina 43, means you can sit and watch the aquatic world go by whatever the weather! In our all-too-short stay, we witnessed all manner of animal and bird life, brushed off a bout of fitness guilt watching the local ladies’ rowing teams train, and marvelled at how the ever changing light morphed the river and its environs into new scenes practically by the hour.
Alas, time was now very much against us; we had a deadline to tie up in the safety of a marina so we could go home to feed two hungry cats. Before darkness fell on our last evening, we craned the outboard onto the transom bracket, packed up the dinghy, and prepared the boat for another early start the next day.
The last leg...
It was with a touch of melancholy that we slipped our mooring on a damp, grey and blustery morning for a last, short leg round the Great Mewstone to finish off our 2021 cruise in Plymouth.
The Yealm to Cattewater is a short hop of less than 7NM and we decided, partly through laziness but mostly on wanting to burn some more of our ageing fuel, to motor round the Great Mewstone and into Plymouth Sound. In hindsight we should have set at least some of the mainsail as, with a significant swell rolling into the Sound, some extra dampening would have made for a far more comfortable passage regardless of its short duration.
With the sailing season drawing to a close, many boats were now back in their home marinas and, still too early for most to consider hauling out, the problem of finding a temporary berth beyond a few days remained as acute as when we first crossed from France. Fortunately, the kind folk at Plymouth Yacht Haven were very accommodating and agreed to take us for three weeks on the proviso that, if the boat had to be moved between berths whilst we were away, there would be extra charges. Happy just to have a home for the rest of the month we readily agreed; in the event, the boat remained where we left her. All tied up on the outer ‘P’ pontoons, we prepped the boat for leaving her again.
The ‘P’ pontoons are more exposed than the inner berths at PYH and so, with significant snatching on her dock lines, we decided to purchase extra in-line compensators for the bow and stern lines to complement those we already had on the springs. We noted that most local boats on the pontoon were similarly equipped, so considered this a wise investment, and small price to pay, for the peace of mind!
Before departing, the season gave us one last nautical treat; the historic gaff yawl Moosk, now an RYA training yacht, was positioning herself adjacent to the pontoon in the Cattewater ready to drop her sails to moor up. It was a wonderful sight just to see this lovely classic boat, but it was also great to see another light blue RAFSA ensign flying from her stern. With that, we set the de-humidifier, closed the hatch, and wheeled our bags to a waiting taxi.
Historic gaff yawl Moosk, flying a RAFSA ensign, gave us a final nautical treat before leaving.
We returned to Plymouth late September to finish preparing the boat ready for her haul-out scheduled for 1st October. With the engine serviced and a new battery bank installed, again by the fantastic team at Mountbatten Boathouse, our key task was to unbend the sails as the MDL Queen Anne Battery boatyard will not lift any boats with any form of canvas still rigged. We made a good decision to return early in the week; the weather forecast up to haul-out day was dreadful with significant, and persistent, wind from the SW. Lowering the twin genoas was my main concern as, with even the slightest of breeze, this is a real handful. Fortunately we hit a small window of relative calm and, with the assistance of Hemisphere Rigging, all four sails were swiftly dropped and bagged ready for winter storage in the Highwater Sail Loft.
By early afternoon on haul-out day, the stormy weather had thankfully blown itself out and we were blessed with ideal conditions to motor across the Cattewater and execute the lift. We already knew that at 13.8m LOA Arkyla was stretching the length, if not weight, limit of QAB’s 40-ton Wise travel hoist, but we were quietly confident that we wouldn’t have to uncouple the forestays to conduct the lift.
Dropping the twin genoas is a handful, even in calm weather. Arkyla was a tight fit in the hoist,
the main problem being the height of the wind generator pole at the stern.
We filled the diesel tank to brimming, then manoeuvred the boat onto the waiting pontoon where the yard staff took over loading Arkyla into the hoist. We negated the forestay issue by reversing the boat into the crane, but this still left a problem in finding enough clearance for the wind generator at the stern. Lifted, pressure-washed, and set in her cradle, we left the yard team scratching their heads as to how to extricate the crane now sandwiched between mast and generator pole. We’re not sure what black arts they used, but an hour later we returned to find Arkyla safely secured on the hard, just as she was in Cherbourg not two short months earlier. The season really was at an end.
“It was the best of times it was the worst of times”… I don’t think Charles Dickens necessarily had COVID-challenged mariners in mind when he penned these words, but they nonetheless ring strangely true when put in context to this past season. We have faced many and varied issues and problems to overcome; international travel restrictions, equipment failures, and berthing challenges the most significant. However, despite this minefield of challenges, it has been a good, if all too short, season. We have explored a new cruising ground, met friends old and new, crossed wakes with many beautiful and historic vessels and, significantly, got to know our boat just that little bit better before we head off for more extended cruising next year. We are even quite glad, in some paradoxical way, to have suffered the hassle and expense of the equipment failures that we did over the summer; far better to have identified and fixed them now, in home waters, than next year when half-way across Biscay heading to foreign lands.
What has been all too evident however, is the dramatic impact that the post-BREXIT positioning of Her Majesty’s Revenue against yachtsmen is having on the ease, enjoyment and, it could be argued, safety of cruising in the UK. The steadfastly unfair stance taken by the Treasury and its HMRC henchmen against boat owners with respect to enforcement of the 3-year Returned Goods Relief rule is, I believe, an existential threat to our lifestyle. The regulations are misplaced and inappropriately applied against a cohort of yachting folk; we are explorers not exporters! There is a real need for a coordinated effort across the entire boating community to increase pressure on government to address the absurd threat of second VAT payments on boats who’s owners have done no more than use their vessels as designed; sail oceans to distant lands. Without action, next year we will see yet more boats return from the EU, and fewer boats leave the UK for extended world cruising; the result will be a deepening of the berthing crisis, both seasonal and long term, that will inevitably lead to higher marina costs and many priced out of the sport that they love.
Arkyla and her crew...
We have been sailing together since 2005 when we took our first bareboat charter, in the Ionian Islands, aboard a Bavaria 34. Since then, we have sailed further in the Med (including Greece, Turkey, Croatia, the Balearics, Straits of Gibraltar), the Caribbean, and the Australian Whitsunday Islands.
James first learnt to sail with his dad in the family GP14 dinghy before, during his teens, racing solo in the OK class dinghy. Before retiring from the RAF in 2007, he used resettlement grants to qualify as Yachtmaster Offshore.
Jenny used to crew aboard her family’s motor cruiser during her childhood years when the family was based in Norway. She completed her Australian Competent Crew certificate in 2004, and has since gained her RYA Day Skipper ticket.
Arkyla is our first yacht, having purchased her in 2018. First launched in 2008 (when she was the Regina af Vinö showboat at Southampton), she is hull number 40 of forty-five Regina 43 deck saloons so far built by the Swedish yard now named Regina Yachts. We have equipped Arkyla for extended cruising and hope to finally begin our twice COVID-delayed run-to-the-sun in 2022… our wider cruising plans beyond next year will depend on HMRC and VAT legislation.