The Devon and Dorset coastline, east of Brixham, is pretty undiscovered for us. We’ve spent countless weekends around Dartmouth, Torbay and if time permits we usually head west towards Cornwall. Craig and I had a week off and planned to sail to Weymouth where we would meet up with his parents and travel together to the Southampton Boat Show to try and pick up some bargains. We had a few days to get to Weymouth so decided to coast hop, stopping in Teignmouth, Exmouth and finally Beer.
Leaving Beer, we motor-sailed across Lyme Bay to ensure we got to Portland Bill at the right time for the tide. We had got this wrong on a previous trip where we were ambushed by the Portland Race. It was scary experience, exhilarating and probably worth a post of its own. For the non-sailors out there, the race is an area of water off of Portland Bill (a headland) that can get particularly rough at certain times of the day due to the effect of the tide. Fortunately though, we were well prepared! Everything was stowed down below, we had our lifejackets and safety harnesses securely fastened, we’d made sure the stove was secure, as this detached itself from its mounting point on our last rounding of the bill!. Finally, we’d had a good lunch, a stubby beer and a final cigarette… after all it could well be our last.
Our second rounding of Portland Bill was a bit of an anticlimax after all of that preparation, it was flat calm and passed by uneventfully. However, the sea gods are fickle in nature and as we were praising our own planning brilliance, we began to realise that we weren’t actually making any forward progress in relation to the land that we were following. For the next couple of hours, we faced a far stronger tide than I had predicted, only travelled about half a mile despite a boat speed of 5-6 knots. Cue boredom.
We were having a beer when the radio started buzzing and we picked up a distress call from a yacht that had a engine failure, they were concerned about drifting into the now heaving Portland Race, and were requesting immediate assistance. We responded frantically, taking down the vessels position and working out our distance to it, only 2 miles! At this point it seemed that we must be the nearest people to the stricken yacht and that we helped by towing them into Weymouth then we would save the lifeboat a job. Now I’ll level with you here, we then proceeded to have a pretty lengthy conversation about whether we might receive a Pride of Britain award for our endeavors. I could picture us, up on the stage, embracing a grinning Carol Vorderman (Craig a little more vigorously than I) and graciously accepting our award.
Deciding that we were pretty much guaranteed an accolade, we radioed up Solent Coastguard and offered our assistance. They were happy to accept our offer and they asked us for an ETA to the yacht in distress, which by now had secured itself in position with its anchor. A quick speed, distance, time calculation that factored tide told both us and the other yacht that despite the past five minutes of exciting chatter on the VHF, we were all in for a couple more hours of tedious waiting. So the decision was taken to crack another Guinness and begin working on our Pride of Britain acceptance speech. Time dragged on and we occasionally kept in contact with the other boat, assuring them that although it had been an hour and a half, we were still on the way. Acceptance speech finished, we spent some time coming up with theories about what could have happened to the other boats engine and at some point one of us suggested that they had probably ran out of fuel. We laughed at this, the notion that somebody would be stupid enough to have run out of fuel, when it dawned on us that after the past few hours on the engine we may have a slight problem.
Pulling open the port locker we found our fuel gauge bouncing perilously on ’empty’. This provided us with another few minutes of desperate excitement as we both swayed around on deck, trying to coax the flow of diesel from our jerry can in the general direction of the fill pipe, with mixed results.
Refueled and with the tide slackening, we made good progress and were soon alongside the other boat, a 30-odd foot Halberg Rassey with two people aboard and a little dog. After a brief shouted conversation (no idea why we didn’t use the VHF) we had agreed how we wanted to handle the tow and we put out a number of fenders and tied up alongside them. We only had a couple of miles to Weymouth and we had decided that a side by side tow was going to be our best bet.
Helming whilst having another boat attached to ours was an experience. You turn the wheel the the left, and watch as your bow heaves away from the others. The line securing the bows goes taut, resulting in your bow violently bouncing back towards the other boat, simultaneously causing the sterns to jar away from each other. This cycle repeats itself until you completed your turn. The lines connecting us took a real battering… fortunately though, they weren’t ours.
If keeping a course was difficult in the open sea, it was nothing compared to parking our makeshift catamaran. This was effectively a parallel park maneuver whilst being stood 10-15 feet away from the curb and having next to know steering control. With the help of the harbourmaster and the nervous direction of Gareth who owned the Halberg Rassey, we got alongside with the lightest touch against the dock and minimal fuss.
We’d got to know Gareth and his partner Jen a little on our slow motor in to Weymouth. Soon discovering they operated a ‘dry boat’ policy (imagine that!) but they keenly made an exception and had a few drinks on the journey. When we got to Weymouth they insisted on taking us to the nearest pub and it turned out this guy really could put them away. Most likely, the dry boat policy was in place to save him from his own drinking abilities.
After being drunk under the table, we returned to Joint Venture and our holiday carried on without any further incident.
We are still waiting for the people from Pride of Britain to get in touch.