Crossing the Channel - 50° 47' 53" N 01° 07' 11" W

Our first overnight passage aboard Chinook and we set off from Cherbourg, bound for Gosport in England.  The lines have officially been cast off!  We had to do a bit of planning as this meant leaving France (and the EU/Schengen) and checking into the UK.  We had to manage the strong tidal streams in the Channel and enter Gosport on the right tide.  The route required us to traverse the busiest shipping lane in the world!  And just to make things interesting, we were slipping across in a weather window between two storms.  Too easy! (yes, Lynda, my brain is definitely going to mush!!)

Tidal Streams in The Channel
The first number is the speed for Neap Tide and the second is for Spring Tide - in tenths of a knot.
Spring Tides occur about 36 hours after Full and New Moons.

Gosport is approximately 80nm NNE of Cherbourg.  We anticipated it would take us somewhere from 12 to 14 hours.  With the moon in a waning crescent phase (the new moon is on Monday 8 April), the currents would not be as strong as on the Springs but we still anticipated them to be running around 2kn.  Because it would take us about 2 tides to cross, one tide would push us sideways and the other would push us back so it wasn't a significant factor in our passage.  

However, entering Gosport, which is the west side of Portsmouth Harbour, we needed to time.  We wanted to arrive so we had enough water in the marina to leave our centreboard down.  It is much easier to manoeuvre. We also wanted the favourable current up the east of the island as we entered the port.  This meant we needed to arrive 3 hours before or up to high tide.  High tide was either 21:10 on Friday night or 09:21 Saturday morning.  We could enter the Portsmouth Harbour, one of the busier UK ports, at night or in daylight!  Not surprisingly, we chose daylight so planned our departure for around 17:00 noting that we gained an hour as France is UTC+1.

Tidal Streams around The Isle of Wight

We checked the weather.  The winds were 15 - 23kn from the S-SW.  This meant we were on a run, a dead run so some gybing would be required!  The waves were moderate and there was (surprisingly) no rain on the forecast.  Excellent!

Checking out of France was the next thing.  This involves completing a form and submitting it to the Immigration Police.  As I am not an EU citizen, I needed to hoof it down to their office and get a stamp in my passport as proof I have left the Schengen area.  As Sean has his handy-dandy Irish passport, he is not required to get a stamp.  But while I was off doing that, he was getting our receipts stamped at the Customs Office so we can claim back our VAT.  Our poor, battered bank account will rejoice!

We lodged the paperwork for entry into the UK.  We also booked a berth at the Gosport Marina despite imagining ourselves to be intrepid and at anchor most of the time.  This was because another storm was rolling in and, on The Solent, you pay to anchor so we figured we may as well be safe and snug in a marina!

With that all in place, we ran through our pre-passage checklist, waved goodbye to H-Dock and slipped our lines!

Farewell Cherbourg, and France!

The conditions were lovely as we skipped along with two reefs and the solent.  As it was getting dark and the wind was forecast to build, we opted to be conservative - and we are yet to receive our downwind sail. We managed to avoid the ships chugging their way up and down The Channel.  This is made a little easier by the Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS). These are used to keep ships apart in busy areas. There is one in the Dover Strait, one mid Channel and several off Lands End.  Basically, ships are required to stay 'in their lanes' through the TSS. This results in the ships being in a 'lane' all the way down the Channel.

The pink areas are the TSS

We are the little boat making the purple trail. Almost all of those other ships are at least 150 meters long and hundreds of tonnes. Thank goodness for AIS!

Crossing in front of a multitude of ships at night is a little daunting.  AIS (the Automated Information System for marine vessels) has made a huge difference.  All these ships are required to have AIS, and we do too so they can 'see' us! AIS transmits what type of boat it is, its speed and direction and how close it is going to come to you.  We give these big boys plenty of space and if it looks like we are going to pass within 2 nm of them, we will generally duck behind. We can also raise them on the radio (as they can us) and they will often change their course slightly to give us a bit more space.  The vast majority are most obliging. 

We were slipping along beautifully doing 2 hour watches.  Cherbourg was just light on the horizon and we were passing through the eastbound ships when the first gale warnings were broadcast.  Now The Shipping Forecast is a British institution. It has been broadcast since 1861, initially by telegraph then by the BBC since 1925. It follows a specific format and if you are unaware of the terminology, it makes no sense at all! 

The Shipping Forecast

There are 31 sea areas covered by The Shipping Forecast.  We were sailing in Wight which is basically the central Channel from France to England. The first thing stated is if there are any gale warnings. Yes there was - SW Gale Force 8 expected later - what??? To translate, this means that a gale is expected from the south west which is Force 8 (34 - 40kn) on the Beaufort Wind Scale. Later means in 12-24 hours.  

The wind is Force 4 (11-16kn) to Force 6 (22-27kn) increasing to a Force 7 (28-33kn) or gale Force 8 (34-40kn) in 12-24 hours.  The sea state is moderate (1.6-2.5m) to rough (2.5-4.0m).  The worst sea state is Phenomenal or greater than 14m!  It gives you an idea of how rough the North Sea can get.  But back to us...  

Fortunately, the 'later' allowed us to slip into Gosport and tie up snuggly well before the gale hit.  It is actually rather fun watching the wind gusts when you are tied securely to a pontoon. 

So we are happy to have our first passage under our belt.  We found our favourite watch positions and figured out the cockpit at night. We both slept really well when off watch, confident in the boat and each other.  Once we made landfall, we headed for the local pub, enjoyed fish and chips and a pint and celebrated.

...and according to The Shipping Forecast, we will be enjoying what Portsmouth Harbour has to offer for the next few days!

The Shipping Forecast for Wight 8 April 2024


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