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Dartmouth Meet Afloat
September 6 - September 8
From a personal perspective, my sailing programme was late starting this year. Those of you who have tackled the Westerly Headlining Droop will be all too familiar with the effort required and the extent of the aftermath and clean-up operation which follows. Consequently, my sailing season started much later than I had planned and so the Dartmouth event was Sangelai’s first WOA Meet Afloat in the 2019 calendar.
As the date approached, we the crew of Sangelai were full of anticipation especially when it was looking like a good weather window was opening up after a period of unsettled weather with high sea states. However, there was a risk of yet another weather front coming through the South West during the afternoon of Friday 06 Sep, which drove the decision to slip from our mooring at Torpoint on Thursday, a day early. The plan was to make for Salcombe where we would moor overnight which would then leave us with a short passage into Dartmouth ahead of the weather front.
As it turned out, there was a good South Westerly wind gusting around 22 kts on Thursday, which increased to 29 kts on Friday with a following tide surge. Leaving Salcombe on Friday morning I left the Main and Mizzen sails firmly folded onto the respective booms and unfurled about 80% of my Genoa. With Sangelai surfing the waves at 6.6 kts I didn’t see the need to increase the risk by adding more sails. Damian, my fellow crewman on this outward leg to Dartmouth helmed most of the way and his constant grin reflected the exhilaration he was gaining as he skilfully kept Sangelai on the ‘Step’ and so it was that we surged into the River Dart well ahead of the midday target I had set ourselves.
After proceeding up river to the visitor moorings in Dittisham, we did a quick boat count and confirmed that we were probably the fourth to arrive out of the twelve who were expected on the day. The anticipated weather front came through mid afternoon shortly after we welcomed the arrival of Drongo who rafted with us. From this position I could observe the arrival of the rest of the Westerly flotilla but it was also time for me to say goodbye to Damian who stepped ashore to be replaced by my daughter Alexandra (Alex). The final flotilla count consisted of:
Phil and Sally – Senyol
Andy and Liz – Drongo
Chris Taylor – Aurora
Paul Moorhouse – Firebird of Fingest
Gail and Gerry – Breeze
Bob and Alex/Damian – Sangelai
Julian – Hecate
John and Sparks – Sea Daisy
John and Gwendolyn – Blue Star
Mike and Avril – Sorcerer
The weather front quickly dispersed, and we proceeded ashore for drinks and a snack. Chris Taylor on Aurora was the organiser of the Dartmouth Meet Afloat and he guided us to the Dittisham Sailing Club a short distance from the visitor moorings. As the sun began to settle in the evening sky, it was good to see the South West Group picking up conversations from whence they last met and for me it was over 12 months since my last meet afloat and hence there was much to catch up on.
Saturday morning was a leisurely start to the day and an opportunity to make use of the facilities in the Dittisham Sailing Clubhouse. Just before 10am, following Chris’s instructions we assembled on Drongo and Sea Daisy, bilge keels being the order of the day to navigate the shallow and confined waterways to Totnes. I think it is safe to say that we were all relieved that Chris leading the way in Sea Daisy was not just a very able pilot to navigate the upper reaches of the River Dart to Totnes but also a very knowledgeable guide of the surrounding areas as we discovered when he boarded Drongo to lead the return journey.
The scenery along the Dart at this point was magnificent and there were points along the river bank where the trees dwarfed the tall masts of the two Westerly yachts as they gently navigated around the shallows in a majestic tapestry of river bends and green foliage. From the stern of Drongo, Alex suspected that we were being followed and closely watched. The odd plop of water, ripples in the wake of Drongo accompanied by the occasion inhalation of air gave rise to speculation and a twist of mystery to the surreal scenery we found ourselves in. A bend or two later in the river and the mystery stalker surfaced momentarily to breath and presumably to fix a bearing on Drongo’s transom. Much to the delight of Drongo’s crew and passengers the mystery stalker was revealed to be a seal, which continued to maintain a close trail in Drongo’s wake as we meandered slowly towards Totnes.
Sea Daisy arrived at the Steam Packet Inn in Totnes to find the jetty empty and promptly manoeuvred alongside to tie up at the Inn. Drongo came about behind Sea Daisy and settled in outboard of Sea Daisy. Conscious of the tide now on the turn and starting to ebb away, Chris reminded us not to delay ordering our lunch. I don’t recall a time when the WOA South West Group ever needed to be asked twice to head for the bar and this was no exception, with perhaps a little more haste than usual on this occasion. The lunch menu was predominantly made up of fish options but conscious that we were heading back for an evening BBQ, most of us chose our lunch wisely but the Steam Packet Inn was not about to introduce portion control just for us and so with full stomachs Chris was urging is to return onboard while there was still water under the keels. I couldn’t help thinking that after the lunch the draught of each vessel was likely to be more than when we had arrived. Any fear that we might be sitting on the river bed was soon dispelled as we pulled away from the Inn with ease. Chris had transferred to Drongo and it was now time for Drongo to lead Sea Daisy back to Dittisham.
The return passage was uneventful other than Chris using his years of experience on the Dart to tease Sea Daisy by piloting Drongo across some short cuts in the river bends but I noted that Sea Daisy was cannily not heeding to Chris’s gentle tease.
Safely back on the moorings in Dittisham before 1500, there was time rest before the evening BBQ at Dittisham Sailing Club. Andy and Liz Truscott kindly invited Phil and Sally Loynes, Alex and myself to remain onboard Drongo for tea, which we were pleased to accept.
We all arrived at the Dittisham Sailing Club for 1800 to find that Chris had already suitably stoked the Club’s BBQ ready for us to demonstrate publicly our respective culinary skills. With Alex taking a backward step at this point it was down to dad to draw on his gastronomic weekend family BBQ feasting achievements to ensure we were both suitable fed amidst the esteemed Westerly BBQ chefs.
The Dittisham Sailing Club is a wooden two storey structure which is nestled into a clearing of tall trees close to the river bank. Painted green, the structure merges nicely with the backdrop of trees behind it. And so it was that the WOA South West Group sitting in a circle and exchanging tales of the sea and light-hearted experiences with the faint woodland fragrance and dying embers of the BBQ would have been more reminiscing of Canadian camping scene but this was Dittisham and we certainly enjoyed the tranquillity of the setting – Great choice Chris, thank you very much.
With the Autumn night drawing in early, we broke camp and headed back to retrieve our tenders. Alex and I were keen to use the last light of the day to pack away our tender and prepare Sangelai for an early departure to Plymouth at sunrise on Sunday. Phil and Sally in Senyol were also planning an early departure to Plymouth.
At 0650 shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning we slipped our mooring leaving Drongo firmly tied to the mooring – I hope. As we gingerly manoeuvred Sangelai through the flat calm moorings we noticed Senyol entering the channel ahead of us and I smiled in the thought that Sally was spot on with her assertion that a 4am departure planned by Phil was probably a tall challenge. As we nudged into the deep-water channel of the Dart the only disturbance in the water was the decaying wake from Senyol ahead of us. As Dartmouth slept the two yachts made open water and turned towards the South West to pass Start Point. With light winds veering between Northerly and Easterly we made the best use of full sail and engine whilst Senyol was clearly on a mission and was over 3 miles ahead of us as we passed Start Point. Behind us, we had left the rest of the group to wake and have a leisurely start to the morning with a meet ashore for coffee before dispersing for their respective home ports.
It remains for me to use this opportunity to thank Chris Taylor on behalf of the Dartmouth Meet Afloat Group for organising a wonderfully enjoyable weekend and I am personally pleased on many counts for the opportunity to join in and benefit from Chris’s local knowledge. Thank You Very Much Chris.