Sailing an open dinghy around the Isle-of-Wight is a significant undertaking and requires careful preparation. These include:
- The crew.
- The boat.
- Additional equipment and supplies.
- The day before.
- Safety Briefing
The Wayfarer Association guidelines are that the crew should be either two or three in strength. It is also important that all the crew are competent in a Wayfarer. There is no room for passengers, especially if something goes wrong. We opted for three. This was to give both more options in terms of rest, and the safety of more movable ballast.
We planned the trip with myself, my wife Lydia and my son David. We all have RYA level 2 and a number of seasons experience. However, none of us had sailed round the Island before. Indeed most of our experience has been racing rather than cruising. So we took care to seek out advice from those who had.
The key question with clothes was whether to wear yacht sailing gear, or wet suits. The advantage of yacht gear is that it is relatively comfortable whilst giving good weather protection. It is not so good if you end up in the water. Wet suits are good if you end up in the water, give good weather protection, and are less bulky, but can become uncomfortable, and are a serious inconvenience if you need to go to the toilet.
In practice, this decision was largely taken for us in that we had wet suits, and buying new clothes would have been a major expense. As it turned out, we did not find them uncomfortable, even for the extended period we were in them, and only one of us needed to relieve themselves, although that was awkward.
So our clothing list was:
- Swimming costume/underwear
- Wet suit
- Wet boots/sailing shoes
- Splash top
- Buoyancy aid
- Baseball hat
- Sailing gloves
Our Wayfarer is a Porter's Mk II. It was originally used for training, as many Wayfarers are, and its previous owner had used it for racing. So it was not set up for cruising. Further we had sailed the boat for 3 years without doing anything significant to the boat and so I had planned a refit of the boat during the winter.
The set up of the boat before the refit was:
- GRP hull and deck
- Wooden seats, rubbing strip, centreboard and rudder
- Jib, Genoa, spinnaker and main sail
- Furling jib
- Reefing by rolling round the boom
- Rear sheeting
- Kicker brought back to the thwart
- Outhaul and downhaul at mast end of boom
- No self bailers or pump
A number of the improvements made were directly to make the boat more suitable for such a passage. These were:
- Install a slab reefing system so that the main sail could be easily reefed at sea (two reefs)
- Install self bailers and a stirrup type pump to get the boat dry again in the event of a capsize
- Replace the rather old centre board and rudder with GRP ones
- Add an outboard bracket and outboard motor (Mariner 3.3 HP)
- Give the boat a buoyancy test
- Check the rigging
In addition we had the following done:
- Rubber fendoff to replace the wooden rubbing strip
- Centre main
- Outhaul brought back to the thwart
- Bow launch for spinaker as for Wayfarer World
- New launch and recovery system for spinaker pole
- Compass Check and fix fittings and hull
- Measurement certificate
All this was more than I had time or skill to do myself, so I had the work done by Porter Brothers who are reasonably local to us.
Additional equipment and supplies
Additional equipment and supplies included
- Anchor - 5 Kg Plough + 30 m of warp
- First Aid kit
- GPS (Global Positioning System) - Garmin GPS 48
- Mobile phone and important phone numbers
- Charts and tide tables
- Food (snacks worked best)
- Drink Petrol/two stroke mix
- Tool kit
- Spares for outboard
- DriTek bags
- Jug and bucket for toilet provision
- Waterproof disposable camera
With the boat and crew sorted out, the other part is planning the passage itself. The Wayfarer Association organises the event as a cruise of independent boats. This means that each boat has to have their own passage plan, and whilst it might seem quite easy to sail round an island (just keep it on the same side of the boat until you get back to where you started from) in a boat like a Wayfarer, making sure that you are sailing with the tide rather than against it can mean doubling or halving your speed over the ground.
I had no previous experience of navigation, so I started by getting a book, in this case "The RYA Book of Navigation" by Tim Bartlett - recommended for people in a similar situation.
The Isle-of-Wight is the shape of a squashed diamond off the south coast of England. Hill Head Sailing Club is on the English coast more or less opposite the northern tip. For going round the Isle-of-Wight, the first thing to decide is which way round to go. Now the tide flows from East to West as it ebbs, and from West to East as it rises. Since the passage can reasonably be expected to take 12 hours, it is desirable to undertake the passage in daylight, and you want the tide to flow with you this decision will take itself. In our case low tide was at about 10:35 at the Needles - the western end of the island - and we were starting from Hill Head - more or less opposite the northern point of the island. The prevailing wind is south westerly, so it is as well to assume it will be a beat down to the Needles. The tides were neaps, which gives an average tidal stream of about 1 Knot. So the last figure required is an assumed speed for the boat through the water - we assumed 4 Knots and the rest is geometry or vector maths. I arrived at a start time of 05:30. So our start time and direction of circumnavigation were fixed.
Since I was taking a GPS with me I calculated and entered waypoints for each hour of the journey as planned, plus one for each corner of the island, so that I could judge progress relatively easily without resorting to charts on the way round.
The complete passage plan is provided here.
It would not be sensible to set out on such a passage with so much new kit that was untried. In particular, the slab reefing and the outboard motor. So during the early part of the sailing season we tried them out.
Slab reefing and sail plan
Slab reefing is wonderful - at least the system Porters installed for us. It is easy to set up before you go out, and easy to take in or let out a reef on the water. Another thing we discovered was that the boat still sailed in a well balanced way with the jib/Genoa furled, especially when the main was reefed. (Note: partially furling a jib/Genoa does not work, as it does on a yacht, because there is no metal rod that does not twist to stop the sail partially unfurling.) This gave us a considerable potential range of sail plans:
- Genoa and full main
- Genoa and single reefed main
- Genoa and double reefed main
- Jib and full main
- Jib and single reefed main
- Jib and double reefed main
- Furled jib and full main
- Furled jib and single reefed main
- Furled jib and double reefed main
Moving from Genoa to jib was roughly equivalent to taking in a reef, as was furling the jib. However, changing the Genoa to a jib is difficult, particularly in the conditions in which you are likely to contemplate it. So we opted to set out with the jib in the first place. With furling the jib being equivalent to taking a reef, this left the following as our plan for shortening sail:
- Jib and full main
- Jib and single reef
- Furled jib and double reef
- Jib and double reef
In addition to this we would carry a spinnaker.Given that we had three crew, rather than two with which you normally race with, we considered this sufficiently conservative for the passage contemplated.
None of us had used an outboard before, so there was a lot to learn. Mounting the outboard on the bracket was straight forward. The system installed provided a base bracket on the boat on which an extended pad could be mounted when an outboard was required, which in turn meant the outboard could be left mounted on the bracket, even when sailing.
The Mariner 2 stroke engine had the throttle mounted on the engine, as most smaller engines do. This means to operate the throttle you need to sit on the "boot" of the Wayfarer. This is OK, but not comfortable for long periods. We therefore purchased a piece of plastic water pipe to act as a tiller extension to give comfort when using the outboard for extended periods. Another advantage this gave was that when not in use, this could be put in a vertical position, like a flag pole, which had the effect of preventing the main sheet from snagging on the outboard when tacking or gybing.
The next trial was discovering just how many things you had to do before the motor would start:
- Engine in neutral
- Air inlet on petrol tank open
- Petrol on
- Choke on
- Throttle part open
The first time we went out I spent 5 minutes trying to start the motor with the petrol switched off! However, once we had learnt the drill we were impressed with the ease of starting. The engine gave plenty of power, with half throttle being adequate to push the boat briskly through the water.
The day before
The day before setting out we rigged the boat as far as possible to save time the next day, and checked our stowage and that everything we were carrying was tied on in case of a capsize. In the evening it was off to the safety briefing.
Pat Dollard, who organised the cruise, ran the safety meeting the night before the cruise (many thanks) and ran the operations room during the day - counting us all out and counting us all back.
There were 10 boats taking part in the cruise. The others were all departing from Calshot, the other side of Southampton Water from Hill Head. Key elements were:
- Weather Forecast (Wind WNW increasing force 2-4)
- Phoning in drill for each corner of the island
- Boat names, numbers, crews, phone numbers
- The usual safety matters and warnings for any cruise (its your own fault if anything goes wrong) W8684 Salsa
Finally we were ready! Find out how we did here.