Asking Kevin, both mate and the yacht’s mate and the most competent of my crew, to take the wheel I headed below. Sure enough there was about two inches of sea water washing around; lifting a board confirmed the bilges were full and it wasn’t simply water off crew oilskins. (Note 1). My heart started to beat faster as the crew expected me to sort it out!
I turned on the electric bilge pump; nothing happened. I shouted to John in the cockpit to find the manual pump, to make sure the tube was out of the locker and to start pumping. My mind began to fill with a thousand things I should do …… and they were all ‘NOW’! Where’s the pump? Saucepans please! Put a position on the chart, note in the log. Where are the flares? Is the life raft easily ready? What about life jackets? I had never felt the necessity of always wearing a life jacket on a yacht – but sense these days with smaller less-bulky ones available that might be an out-dated practice. But I knew down over the lee rail was the coast of Arromanches, with its rocky shallow foreshore extending far from the beach and we were on a falling tide. (Note 2) “Oh! Shit! The club’s flagship might go aground! Explain that to the Committee!” Then at last the first and only important question: “Why was there water inside?”
The crew formed a saucepan chain (you know what I mean!) and bailing began. Waves were breaking over the bow and it was unpleasant below and on deck. I needed to get the yacht in a more stable state so took the helm, brought the bow through the wind without changing the jib sheets and hove to. Wonderful! Suddenly the movements lessened and there was less noise.
Rudder tries to turn the yacht towards the wind; wind on the foresail resists
I hope none of you have had to heave to in an emergency; I certainly hadn’t before but had demonstrated the technique to those learning to sail. I had likened the sails to two hands around a bar of soap. Squeeze – tighten the sails and the wind has to accelerate through the narrower slot – the soap and it shoots out – and the boat moves forward. When you take the bow through the direction of the wind, and leave the foresail untouched, the mainsail and rudder try to move the boat forward and the headsail resists. The yacht simply sits, slightly head to wind, and if the sail areas are well balanced, hardly moves.
I have sailed on many wooden yachts that let water in, as the planking opened a millimetre or two beating hard to wind. The 30 sqm and 50 sqm yachts at the British Kiel Yacht Club (see PC 106) were particularly wet below and it was essential to have all your spare clothes and sleeping bag wrapped in black rubbish bags to keep them dry! But St Barbara III’s hull was made of GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) – God help us if we had somehow cracked the hull on some high bounce as we left the harbour!
Dismissing this nasty idea, my thoughts then turned to the anchor stowage. A more stable yacht meant less water was breaking over the bow ….. and finding its way below! I knew from experience that if the Kedge Anchor was not exactly positioned in its locker, with even a centimetre proud, the hatch cover would not fit and lock properly and water would seep in, and in rough conditions flood in. Turning on the foredeck lights, I took Hew with me and, clipping on at each stage, we made our way up to the bow.
Generic ‘anchor stowage’
Sure enough, we could make out the anchor locker lid was not flush with the deck. In their haste and in the pouring rain, coping with a pitching deck as we motored out through the harbour entrance, the foredeck crew hadn’t got the anchor properly stowed. It took Hew and I about 5 minutes to get it fitted properly and, as we made our way back to the cockpit, we hoped that the level of water on board would begin to reduce. After ten minutes that was noticeable and there was much relief all around.
I was a bit of a stickler for writing up both the daily log and the journal so, as we set a revised course for The Solent and Gosport, wrote up both whilst the emotion was running! Somewhere in the archives of the Royal Artillery Yacht Club are that log and the journal entries.
Google Earth showing The Solent, with the Isle of Wight on the bottom left and the entrance to Portsmouth top left
As is often the case when sailing, conditions can change quite rapidly. From our rough start from Trouville in a Force 7, the wind had gradually decreased as we crossed The Channel. We shook the rolls out of the mainsail and changed up to the No 1 Jib. Abeam of the Nab Tower, the wind dropped completely, the sea strangely calm and the last few miles were made under engine.
The Nab Tower at the entrance to The Solent
It was quite a relief to tie up alongside the pontoon in the Gosport Marina mid-afternoon and switch off – in every sense!
Richard New Year’s Day 2021
PS A Very Happy New Year to all my readers
Note 1 Gallows Humour is often part of a crisis and this was no exception! I was reminded of part of Tales of Old Dartmoor, a radio sketch from The Goon Show (February 1956). To cut to the chase (It’s all on You Tube so if you have never listened to it, do so!) Dartmoor prison had somehow become HMS Dartmoor, a floating prison ship (!), and the crew were looking for the ‘treasure of the Count of Monte Cristo’. Rumour had it it lay under the floor of Cell 626. They lifted a flagstone.
“Ah! Look! Water.”
“Look! There’s more of it! It’s coming in.”
Note 2. After reading PC 209 Jonathan sent me this photograph of his great uncle Harold Hickling briefing Churchill at the Mulbery Harbours off Arromanches. June 1944