The Maiden Passage
The thrill and terror of making our maiden voyage on Arkyla, our Regina 43, from Newton Ferrers along the south coast to her new homeport of Lymington in the Solent... our first story of yacht ownership.
The closer the moment came to slipping the boat from her mooring, the more our mood swung from barely-contained excitement to, if not abject fear, one of certain trepidation. We were now owners of Arkyla, a 2008 Regina 43, and, aside from an all-to-brief sea trial, this was our first proper sail in her. And not an insignificant passage either moving her from Newton Ferrers to her new home in Lymington; 150NM, mostly overnight, across unfamiliar waters, and at the tail-end of the season.
Although having a collective 30 years of yachting behind us, including a brace of Yacht-master Offshore and Day-skipper tickets, our experience until this point was almost exclusively of sub-40’ charter boats sailed mostly in relatively benign waters of the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Australia.
This was our first foray into boat ownership, and we had jumped well into the deep end by purchasing a full-up blue-water cruiser weighing in at 17 tonne and just short of 46’ end-to-end. The previous weekend we had travelled to Plymouth to complete the handover from her previous owner. Aside from fully registering the exponential scaling-up of all rigging, fixtures and fittings for every extra inch of boat length over 40’, we were a little overwhelmed after the handover by the array and complexity of systems onboard – this was not like any charter production boat we were used to! A little crazy we may have been, but stupid we were not; recognising our limitations (and the potential for us to quite literally sink all of our floating assets) we made our wisest yacht-based expenditure to date and secured the services of John Eustace (of JE Marine Ltd) to support us on our delivery passage. More about John and his contribution later.
A bit about the boat first to set the nautical scene before the story of the passage. We had actually first stepped onboard Arkyla when she was the Regina display boat at the 2008 Southampton show some 10 years previous. Green-eyed we had put aside any hopes of ever owning one of these beautiful designs as our pockets were nowhere near deep enough to afford her. Indeed the pockets are still far too shallow to buy a new one but, by a chance of foul weather and a cancelled cross channel trip from Lymington, we dropped by our contact Alan McIlroy in the Berthon brokerage who tempted us with the news that ‘an exciting opportunity’ was about to come on the market; this fateful mix of weather and location was indeed to play a role in permanently challenging our bank accounts from that day forward (without regret we should maybe add – at least so far!). Anyhow, I digress much like a Ronnie Corbett shaggy dog story so, to bring us back on course… Arkyla is a solent-rigged raised deck saloon which basically ticked our key wish list features for a boat. As of September 2018, she still had her original set of sails (fully vertically-battened furling main, self-tacking jib, and genoa) and original electronics including helm and nav-station Raymarine E80 chart-plotters, AIS, and radar. The survey had not found any fundamental issues with the boat, so we let our hearts rule over any basic economic sense from the head and we changed our lives forever! Scene set, let’s get on with the passage…
As luck would have it, a good weather window coincided with the weekend that we had planned to move Arkyla to the Solent. Climbing over the safety lines onto Arkyla as she lay to her Newton Ferrers mooring, the doubts started to surface as to whether me and the wife hadn’t bitten off a little more than we could chew; 46’ now seemed like an awfully big bunch of boat for a couple to take on. At this point we were really glad to have John both literally and figurately onboard; John was recommended to us by Berthon and, with an impressive CV from Discovery Yachts, he comes with a pedigree in working with, on, and supporting high-end blue-water cruisers. We took an hour or so to familiarise ourselves with the boat, and John found, activated, and explained many of the systems that I had already forgotten (or only half-understood) from the handover just a week before (fortunately Arkyla does not leak like the sieve that is my brain!). With time and tide not hanging around for us, it was not long before the engine was on, the line was slipped, and we were navigating past the bar that guards the River Yealm from the waters of the English Channel.
With only a light breeze from our port quarter, we pulled both the main and genoa out, but continued with the engine for some extra drive. We still had several hours of daylight left so, the helm on auto-pilot, we took the chance to re-survey the boat with John from stem to stern; I can’t overstate how valuable an exercise this was. The addition of a professional onboard to ‘prod this’ and ‘poke that’ as we methodically worked our way over the boat not only gave us a much better understanding of how all the systems on board worked, but also enabled us to compile a comprehensive and prioritised list of all the jobs to be done to keep the boat looking and functioning at her best. It was always my intention to suck John’s brain dry during the passage in terms of both south coast sailing, and boat maintenance knowledge; although the 18 hours of the passage wasn’t nearly long enough to download a small percentage of his expansive knowledge, it was certainly a huge education.
Comfortably in her stride still under both motor and sail, Start Point passed on our port beam late afternoon. A small group of dolphins appeared close by but could not be tempted to ride our bow wave on this occasion. The light started to fade as we set deeper across Lyme Bay and we were treated to a spectacular sunset of reds, mauves and pinks behind our stern as we bade farewell to the West Country. As dusk turned to night, the wind became a little less predictable. For the most part we were still getting some additional drive from the genoa so kept it flying as we continued to motor sail. However, during the times when the breeze dropped fully off, we wound the cloth in to save the sail from flogging. For the initial hours of darkness the three of us stayed on deck chatting before we set into an informal watch system to allow some degree of rest. Little of any note occurred as we made our way across the bay at a steady 7 knots; there were occasional random movements of lights in the distance, which I assumed to be fishing vessels, but none ever presented any danger to necessitate a change of our course. In the very early hours we were in perfect isolation, alone in the sea, with no external references; any clouds had by now fully dissipated and, when alone in the cockpit and looking skyward, I could clearly make out the glimmer of the Milky Way set against the brighter of the night stars.
The hours steadily advanced on the clock as did Arkyla eastwards; gradually the dim loom of the Portland lighthouse became more distinct and we once again formed an attachment with the land. I was again a solitary man in the cockpit for the early hours before dawn; by now we were abeam Anvil Point but, heading into the westward set of the tide and for the best part of an hour, it felt like the boat made barely any progress against the lights of Swanage and Bournemouth beyond.
Darkness was soon to turn to dawn as we approached the Needles. Before this point I had never sailed the south coast much less the approaches to, and waters of, the Solent; this was perhaps the foremost reason why we had taken the decision to employ a professional to support us on this maiden passage of ours. The wisdom of this expense was made no more apparent when, somewhere abeam the Shingles, the picture from chart-plotter at the helm turned a magnificent shade of black! It had always been in my mind when making our offer for Arkyla that the nav kit would need to be replaced in the near future and, although the display soon flickered back to life, this confirmed my intent to upgrade the electronics over the coming winter months.
We had timed our final approach into the Berthon Lymington marina perfectly with the first early morning light of the new day. We tied up to a vacant berth, cut the engine and, still before any wider signs of life had appeared in the marina, went below to get some sleep.
I fully expected John to jump ship and bid us farewell when we all re-emerged from the cabins around lunchtime; not so. After helping us to wash down the boat, check her over, and finalise the list of snags and things to do, he took me on a tour of Lymington to introduce me to the key rigging, electronics and other assorted specialists in the area. Whilst I was meeting this new set of fine people to empty my bank account into, Jenny had been despatched to M&S to stock up on fizz and beer for an impromptu celebration to officially declare ourselves members of the yacht-set. We dragged Alan McIlroy out of the Berthon brokerage office (without too much resistance we might add) and welcomed onboard Solent ‘royalty’ Peter and Sandy Bruce, who’s Lymington Air B&B we had randomly stayed in the night before ahead of our trip to Plymouth. True to form John stayed to make sure the beer was up to blue-water boat standard for which we owe him many thanks for his dedication (and owe an equal measure of apologies to his better half Kirsty for keeping him from home!).
So that’s it, the first instalment of our new cruising life. The boat was hauled out for the winter and the first of the mods commissioned to prepare her for our longer-term passage plans. A big thanks to all who have helped us so far…