I meant to send this off to see if anyone wanted to publish it but I ran out of time and it’s now nearly 2 years out of date! I’ve posted it here to capture it before it gets lost on my pc..
The one that makes it all worth it
Waiting to lock out
It was ten thirty on Friday evening after a day at the office. We had just stowed our crew’s gear and were locking out of the Cardiff Bay Barrage to catch
the midnight tide out of the Bristol Channel. The furthest we had been so far was Milford Haven so our aim of the Scillies was ambitious but we felt it was achievable. We had twice attempted a passage to the Isles of Scilly two years ago but both were abandoned. The first time we had to turn back, barely making it past Flat Holm after 2 hours of battling the wind and waves. We went back to work feeling very despondent but re-booked our leave for July –unfortunately the weather meant we didn’t even make it out of the Bay this time, instead opting for a climbing holiday in Italy!
So here we were, my husband and I on our Vagabond 47, Chula, with my parents, brother and mother-in-law as crew, all very excited that we might actually make it to the ‘S’ word. The Scillies are an important place to my family and marked the start of our journey with Chula. In 2007 my partner and I decided to buy a boat, we took a trip to St. Mary’s, where I had spent 3 seasons as a dinghy sailing instructor, so see a CT54, Taloa, which I had sailed on six years previously. Taloa is owned by the local sail maker and my previous boss, so we had a good chat and a nosey around her. We realized she was just too big for us but she was based on the smaller Vagabond 47 which might be more suitable.
We looked at a few yachts based in the UK and 2 months later we took a flight to Florida to see a Vagabond 47 alongside
many other yachts that we thought might be suitable. It was a bit of a gamble as the broker would not guarantee that Chula would be there when we arrived –they wanted a deposit to secure our viewing! We asked many questions through email and double checked to see if there was anything we should know before coming over ‘no, no, I’ve told you all you need to know’ came the answer. Chula was the second boat we saw –immediately we found why she was still on the market –she had been hit by lightening and patched up by her previous owner. Why the broker decided that was not worth us knowing I have got no idea!
We saw about 12 yachts in our week in Florida. In hindsight, the trip was very well timed, the recession had hit the States but not the UK, everyone we spoke to was concerned about mortgage payments so there were lots of boats for sale. We made an offer on Chula as soon as we got back to the U.K. and after a little negotiation it was accepted a week later. She needed too much work to sail her back so we had to budget for the cost of the boat, decommissioning, road haulage both sides of the Atlantic, shipping and VAT. My husband did a sterling job organizing her to be de-masted and made ready for the trip to Miami and then Southampton. We used a VOIP company (Rebel) so that our phone bills were manageable! Joe was constantly on the phone to both haulage companies and Chip who decommissioned her.
Emotions were strong when we finally met her in Southampton after her trip across the Atlantic. We followed the haulage company back to Cardiff where she was lifted into the boat yard. It was a real reality shock –we had actually bought a 47ft boat and the realization of the work involved was quite daunting!
We spent 9 months working on her while she was out of the water. The main job was to treat the hull for osmosis & repair the lightening damage, luckily we have a GRP expert in the family who advised and helped throughout. On top of this we replaced the American sockets to British, replaced all the rusted stainless steel tanks, removed all the skin fittings and completely washed the bilges.
We were ready for launch in July 2008 –we managed to pick the wettest day, but luckily it was not too windy –we had to hire a site crane as there are no cranes in Cardiff that will hold her weight!
Our first sail in Cardiff Bay was an amazing experience –it did make us appreciate the skill involved in handling a boat of this size. We were both experienced dinghy sailors and have crewed on other yachts but never skippered a yacht of this size! For the first few outings we made sure we had an experienced skipper aboard, we managed Swansea in 2008, but ripped our stay sail off the choppy Nash Point.
Cardiff Bay is an excellent place to hone your boat handling skills –throughout the winter months we took Chula across the enclosed Bay to Mermaid Quay with its almost deserted pontoons. Doing this in all winds was an excellent way to practice, at the same time I started driving the local party boat and worked towards a commercial Boatmaster’s License. In between these trips we were able to see what works and what needs further work both for cruising and to make her comfortable. So in 2009 we had our first trip as our own skipper –we had an excellent sail to Portishead and into Bristol. 6 weeks later and we were on our first solo trip –just the two of us over to Watchet on the North Somerset Coast. We had managed to get Chula well balanced under sail so Joe joined me up on the bow spit, where he got down on one knee and produced a ring! It was an ideal trip to choose, our first on our own so it was a very momentous trip and extremely satisfying when we got to Watchet to celebrate!
Work never really stops on Chula, she had been sitting untouched for around 5 years in Florida and not much had been done before to keep her up to date. We have carried out a majority of the work ourselves, first aiming to get her in the water, then sailing, then short hops but the final aim is to get her back to her bluewater cruising potential. After the trip to Watchet we shrink wrapped Chula to start work on her teak decks, nearly 9 months work! We unwrapped her just before our wedding in July 2010. Chula is very much part of our lives, we have spent a long time working on her around our ‘normal’ work but we are rewarded by knowing her inside out.
So, four years, a trip to Florida and plenty of work later we found ourselves proudly sailing Chula bound for Land’s End.
The start of the voyage was tough. The Bristol Channel has very short, steep seas which just seem to stop Chula’s 23 tons in her tracks, this time we were lucky, the wind was just enough to continue her momentum through the waves but still gave us a very rough ride. It was a north westerly, wind against tide.
By sun rise we were off Hartland point, we had a lovely sail down the north Devon and Cornwall coasts. We sailed past Padstow in blue skies and under full sail with a strong sense of satisfaction. Approaching Land’s End we passed under a front and into dusk. Due to the NW winds we were aiming for the southern approaches between St. Mary’s and St. Agnes, we were under power by now and took the tide down the Lands End side of the TSS before crossing it, letting the tide take us south. We crossed the TSS at night, which was advised by the guide book and we felt happy doing so, the only cause for concern was some fog that was due with the front. In fact it was more reassuring seeing the shipping traffic, when we couldn’t see anything we didn’t know if it was because of fog or just no traffic! We saw two ships on each side, all well spaced and easy to cross. We approached St. Mary’s at dawn with very low visibility, just enough to poke our nose into
View from King Charles’ Castle -Chula in foreground
Porthcressa and drop our anchor before a well deserved breakfast. We had spent 32 hours at sea and arrived at 6am, in fact exactly as the passage plan had predicted!! We normally sail Chula on our own so it was nice to have a full crew to help with the passage and feel the excitement of reaching land.
I spent the rest of the day shell shocked that we had actually achieved our dream of sailing our own boat to the Scillies. We were all immensely proud of Chula and she looks great after the four years of hard work we have put in, not only in preparing her but also in learning how to handle such a large boat.
We had an absolutely amazing holiday, we moved to The Cove on St. Agnes, then St Helen’s Pool before New Grimbsy Sound. The weather treated us well and bought back lovely childhood memories. We returned to Cardiff via Padstow and Lundy.
The whole trip felt like all the blood sweat and toil was definitely worth it. Next is to start the list of jobs to enable her to go further offshore and plan our next trip!!