This is part two of Carolyn’s account of our fast cruise on our Class 40, Fortissimo. If you missed the first part then you can find it here. In this part we join the cruise in Dartmouth on Wednesday morning.
Wednesday 6 April: Dartmouth to Poole
We decided to have a relaxed morning in Dartmouth: Fortissimo was due to touch the mud at midday so James calculated we could set off at 1.30pm. So we explored the ancient maritime quarter of Bayards Cove and walked out to Dartmouth Castle, catching sight of the steam train puffing its way up river on the opposite bank from the ferry back to Kingswear.
The sun was shining as we slipped out of Dartmouth and hoisted the main. But there was a squall on its way from the north west – the sky turned grey and as we lost the shelter of the land the seas kicked up. Suddenly the boat came alive and we headed off on a broad reach, the waves swirling behind us.
Fortissimo settled on a course about 150 degrees to the wind and we took turns on the helm, easing her over the waves and competing for the maximum speed surfing down. I managed to get to 16 knots, but Alasdair took top honours with 20 knots. We sped across Lyme Bay, but as the wind was dead behind us we had to keep gybing, and soon the tide was against us too, so progress was slow.
In between the squalls the sun came out, and manx shearwaters, petrels and gannets swooped around the boat. The waves swirled around the transom, and the very large ones sometimes washed around the cockpit. The sun started to sink behind us, and as we passed seven miles south of Portland Bill we had a choice, head in for Weymouth or push on to Poole and accept some night sailing. We voted for Poole, and James put the lasagne in the oven, handing it round in bowls as the sun set. We all added layers as the temperature dropped.
The wind stayed brisk at 20-25 knots north west, and the sea was still lively, so we took a course well south of St Alban’s Head and were able to stay on port gybe all the way. Anticipating a tricky bit of night navigation into Poole, I had a rest below. Coming to an hour or two later, the instruments showed we were still making 12 knots over the ground, and the plotter had us just rounding the corner heading for Swanage. It felt rather like waking up on a long distance plane flight, a sensation compounded when I came up the companionway and caught sight of a sky full of stars, and the lights of Swanage floating past at speed.
Ash kept an eye on navigation into Poole down at the chart table and I peered ahead doing my best to distinguish the cluster of red and green flashes at the entrance to Poole. We caught sight of the silhouette of Old Harrys Rocks black and unlit against the sky, and then we were zooming towards the Channel.
In the shelter of the Isle of Purbeck, the waves were quieter – Alasdair said later he was just using the stars against the shrouds to check the heel of the yacht. At 12 knots of speed and with 20+ knots of wind the chill factor was significant – I soon found it hard to unclip my lines to go below as my fingers were not working.
Passing the chain ferry in the entrance, we headed North in the pitch black to follow the channel round to Poole Yacht Haven, finally arriving at 1230pm. Berthing was a challenge with strong tide and a stiff breeze behind us, but with some teamwork we were all tied up and tidied away at 1am. Gary went on a mission to find some beer to toast our passage. The crew finally keeled over just after 2am.
Thursday 7 April – Poole to Portsmouth
Another sunny morning, and we motored gently out of Poole, past Brownsea Island and out to the bay, hoisting the main as we approached Old Harry’s Rocks. We had just a few hours of favourable tide before it turned against us, so had decided to go south of the Isle of Wight rather than take the Needles Channel. James had asked me to do the navigation, and it looked like we needed to keep to a course of 105 while the wind was 295 – about WNW.
I helmed on a broad reach on starboard, keeping Fortissimo around 150 degrees off the wind, and James coached me through bearing away as the waves lifted the starboard bow. Below 160 degrees the power disappeared, but under 135 degrees it became hard to control. The wind was 15-18 knots and Fortissimo was happily cruising along at 10-12 knots.
James felt we would make better progress by replacing the staysail with the spinnaker. I stayed on the helm while Ash and Gary went forward with the bag to set it all up. Once the kite was set there was an explosion of speed and I soon felt the power was too much for me, so surrendered the helm to James.
The wind built to over 20 knots, and in the gusts we powered forward at up to 22 knots, the bow ploughing through spray. It was exhilarating, but there was a rigging problem with the snuffer, so James decided that we had to drop it. With the snuffer this should be easy, but instead we had to resort to the manual method. Ash and Gary went forward to heave down the vast sail while I waited underneath the fore cabin hatch poised to open it and pull the endless folds of crispy spinnaker down below.
Fortissimo settled down on a broad reach with just the staysail and main as the wind built to 25 knots. The tide south of St Catherine’s point was 4 knots against us, so we had to go almost as far south as the shipping lanes before gybing. As the tide slowly diminished our speed on the next leg built to 12 knots over the ground. The sun came out, lighting up the cliffs of the Isle of Wight as we headed for Bembridge.
The wind dropped suddenly as we came into the lee of the island, and we had to start the engine to keep up our speed on the final run into Portsmouth. Back in Royal Clarence Marina James totted up the mileage before signing log books as we devoured rich homemade ginger cake: in four days we had covered 350 miles.
It was a whirlwind cruise, visiting some beautiful harbours, and experiencing a range of weather. Fortissimo was always well behaved, even in some very testing conditions, with stiff breezes, squalls and big seas, and most of the time the helm was very light and manageable. But the sheet loads are significant and the winches very hard work. Between the crew we had a fair amount of dinghy, keelboat and yacht cruising experience, all of which was valuable.
Fortissimo handles like a performance dinghy, requiring accurate helming and good sail trim, while the navigation and passage planning is similar to a cruising yacht, albeit with double the speed and range. She’s not as luxurious as a cruising yacht below, and there is little privacy, but perfectly comfortable if you are staying in marinas with good facilities. A great way to have a taste of ocean racing, but with a relaxed meal and drink in a cosy harbour pub at the end of the day!
What will remain with me are the vast skies and seascapes, the dolphins and the seabirds, the views of the coastline, and the lovely harbours we visited. And of course the thrill of the speed surfing down a wave, or when a gust hits the spinnaker.
- 5th-6th August – Weymouth or Poole
- 10th-14th August – 5 Day Channel cruise to France and/or the West Country
- 19th-21st & 23rd-25th September – London
- 1st-2nd October – Weymouth or Poole