Lutine Goes West

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Words: Tom Seaman

The format was straightforward.  Take the club’s professional skipper (James), an exceptional first mate (Tim) and a motley crew of varying abilities (everyone else) and sail west to undiscovered harbours, treacherous rivers and uncharted ports*…

*(or places Lutine had not been yet)

After weeks of meticulous planning, the crew mustered on a grey Saturday morning in Haslar, fully prepared for the adventure ahead with ample supplies of pork pies, red wine and Doritos. Heading out of the Solent, it quickly became clear that the first leg would not be exactly routine.  With the wind gusting to 40 knots, the waves approaching 5 metres and day turning to night It was going to be lively.  James and Tim sensibly looked for a sheltered port to see out the storm, but there was no room at any of the inns (something to do with the Fastnet starting the following day) so Lutine sailed on.  And as the saying goes when the going gets tough the tough get seasick…

The crew for the outbound leg, heading West.

It was decided that day 2 would be a ‘rest day’ in Weymouth and the crew spent the time repairing their dignity and watching the start and – for many – finish of the Fastnet race on YouTube. Weymouth old harbour was at its beautiful best and the pizzas and red wine were very welcome.

The destination for day 3 was Dartmouth.  The crew by now knew each other probably better than they had first intended, and the going was brisk with everyone finding their sailing legs.  As Lutine approached Dartmouth rounding the Mew Stone rock, the cliffs opened up to reveal the Dart estuary, home for the night.  Following a lengthy debrief (including an excellent lasagne and more red wine), the crew retired and fell asleep to the gentle sound of the lapping tide.

The approach to Dartmouth

The first encounter with dolphins was mid-morning on day 4. They came alongside initially to watch the entertainment as Tim was waterboarded by a well-timed wave while asleep on the aft deck, but they stayed with the boat for a while as Lutine tacked to the southwest.  At Plymouth there was a crew change, with 2 heading for home and 2 more joining the crew with resupplies, which was good timing as the red wine had run out.  

Lutine moored up in Plymouth.

In the morning Lutine cruised past the Golden Horizon, the largest sailing ship in the world, and narrowly avoided becoming involved in a dinghy race series in the harbour as she headed out on a southerly course headed for Fowey – the first stop in Devon, and proper ‘West Country’.  After 6 hours of now very pleasant sailing conditions and a few more encounters with dolphins, Lutine cruised into Fowey, ready to dock – nowhere. As once again all the marinas were full (at least for a 55-foot yacht).  This necessitated using a mooring buoy, a procedure which many of the crew were unfamiliar with.  This became very clear after 3 aborted attempts to moor up, but as James said subsequently, everything is about learning.  Although those were not his exact words at the time…

Day 6 saw Lutine sailing on towards the southwest on the last upwind leg of the week, re-provisioned with pasties the size of turtles and a little more red wine.  The plan was flexible as the skipper’s confidence in the crew’s abilities grew – albeit from a fairly low starting point.  The destination was Helford River, the furthest west the Lutine has ever moored up (apparently, but please feel free to write to the editor).  With the main moorings looking like the car park at Westfield, the decision was made to drop anchor and motor in to one of the small, secluded coves along the estuary and go in search of a pub.  At the end of a bracing trek through what seemed like sub-tropical jungle, the crew arrived at the chocolate-box village of Helford and ate and drank a little too late into the night.   Unfortunately, no-one had given too much thought about how to get back in the dark along the forested cliff path in boat shoes, with all the torches back on the Lutine. But thanks to Jackie’s path finding skills, Tim and James’ helming abilities and the fact that 2 of the crew were ex-paras, the intrepid explorers made it back to base…

Lutine entering Helford River.

By day 7 word had spread in the dolphin community that Lutine was the gig to be seen at.  There were loads of them, leaping out of the water, diving under the boat and generally making a beautiful nuisance of themselves.  The weather was fine, the wind was up, and the spinnaker was raised – Lutine was heading home. Landfall was Dartmouth and the following day was a rest day, so to get a brief respite from boats the crew got on another boat and headed over to Dartmouth town for some shopping, sightseeing and more pasties, ahead of the 110 NM overnight leg back to Haslar.

At dusk, Lutine sailed from Dartmouth with the sun setting beyond the cliffs.  James had planned an ambitious run back, heading direct across Lyme Bay, past Portland Bill and on to the Needles before heading Northeast into the Solent.  The sails were raised and as the lights of the harbour faded in her wake the second watch retired for a 3-hour rest and eventually the dolphin groupies did the same.  The night sky began to emerge with Jupiter and Saturn appearing to the south, then Venus in the southwest, and eventually the Milky Way arching across the sky. Despite many of the crew sailing at night for the first time, fuelled by chocolate, coffee and of course more pasties, Lutine entered the Needles channel comfortably ahead of the planned ETA.

For the final push the crew gybed Lutine up the Solent, passing a few bedraggled Fastnet boats on the way and leaving others in her wake.  As she rounded Port Blockhouse the sails came down for the final time, the fenders came out and Lutine motored to her mooring.

The crew had turned into a team, and Lutine was home.

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