James Stevens considers a problem sent in by a Yachting Monthly reader who wants to know whether to cross the Channel with a poor forecast
Kate is skipper of an 11m cruising yacht currently in Braye Harbour on the north coast of Alderney. She sailed from Guernsey, 23 miles away, yesterday in a fair SW Force 4 wind. Braye was calm then, but today the wind is WNW 5–6 and the yachts, which are all on moorings, are rolling, some heavily.
Kate would like to sail back to the Solent, which is about 70 miles on a course of 022º True. The forecast is WNW 5-6 becoming 4-5, veering NE 6 later, with good visibility. The wind will then be a fresh northeasterly for several days.
To the north-west of Braye is a very disturbed area called the Swinge which has overfalls in the wind-against-tide conditions. The tide turns to the east in an hour, and by scanning various wind predictions she’s established that the northeasterly is due in about 15 hours.
If Kate decides not to attempt the cross- Channel passage, her options are to stay in Braye, or return to St Peter Port or Beaucette, the marinas in Guernsey that face east.
There are anchorages on the south and
west sides of Guernsey but in winds of Force 6 they are not very comfortable. Cherbourg is sheltered and 23 miles to the east.
She has three crew, who have some sailing experience but no navigational knowledge. What would you do?
Should you cross the Channel with this forecast?
Braye is going to be highly uncomfortable in a north-easterly Force 6, so it would be a mistake to stay. The Guernsey marinas would be preferable but they face east so they too would not be ideal and neither would anchoring. Cherbourg is safe and comfortable but there is a tough sail back in a northeasterly unless Kate has time to stay.
I would depart for the Solent at slack water. The strong tidal streams around the Channel Islands are rarely still but at the turn of the tide they should be manageable for
an 11m yacht on a beam reach.
It’s going to be quite lively for the first part of the trip but as they sail away from Alderney the sea state should improve. The mainsail will need to be reefed and a working jib or partially furled genoa set.
It should be a fast sail and reasonably straightforward on a beam reach all the way across, but quite tiring. Kate needs to set a watch system ensuring she is on deck where the shipping is busy.
During the first part of the trip the wind will be with the tide which will moderate the sea state. The wind is easing as they cross which will also improve conditions when the tide turns. Assuming the forecast is correct, Kate should be in sheltered water off England by the time the wind veers.
If the wind veers to the NE before they reach the Solent an option is to tack and aim for Poole about 15 miles to the west.
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