Diary of a Tall Ships Novice – Part 3 Days 5-7

Day 5 – “tight turns and mud”

We were not leaving Weymouth until late morning; waiting for the eastgoing tide, but were still up at 0630 hours. Completed mess duties by serving breakfast of eggs, mushrooms and bacon or sausage. Cook does a great meal despite difficulties, with half the diesel stove not working properly. Just the washing up and that’s my mess duties done. Free to explore Weymouth and I had a good mooch round, including a visit to Britannia, a nautical antique dealer who you’d never find if you didn’t know where he was. When the owner realised we were the crew of Royalist, he invited us up to his private museum above the shop.

Back to the ship for departure to Yarmouth. The captain took us further into the harbour to the turning area, which despite its extra size looks tight for the length of the ship. The plan was to turn under engines using the windage on the yards and swing round on the anchor. I didn’t see much of the manoeuvre as I’d volunteered to hang over the anchor locker and flake out the chain as the anchor was hauled aboard. It was only after I’d offered, that the bosun told me it would be well covered with mud and oh boy, it was! It seems the turn was spectacular and we were off and away back to Yarmouth, but motor sailing as the wind was slight. We noticed HMS Bulwark, with ribs and landing craft, standing guard ready for the Olympics. They took an interest in us and came closer to take photos. Probably glad to relieve the monotony.

Our watch was on duty and as starboard lookout I was given the same instructions as the cadets on how to report anything I sighted. Eg. “Captain - starboard lookout” (wait to be acknowledged) “green 020 ° small vessel far – near – close”. But there was little out there to report. We continued with a mixture of sailing and motor sailing, encountering a small Hallberg Rassy yacht with the CEO of Royalist aboard. More photos were taken as we returned to the Solent via the Needles Channel. The visibility dropped but we picked up the Needles light (one long and one short flash) followed by the sectored lights of Hurst Point.

Gammon steaks for dinner, eaten underway as we headed up for Yarmouth. We waited for the ferry to leave so there was more room to manoeuvre. The plan was to head into Yarmouth, dropping anchor just before the entrance, swing round on the anchor so we go stern first through the entrance and come alongside the jetty starboard side to. We needed the space left by the ferry for the bowsprit to overhang. Royalist is almost 97’ long including bowsprit, and the harbour entrance is not much wider. Bit of a tight squeeze but executed perfectly.

Came alongside, stowed sails (I’m on the bowsprit again), tidied up, then ashore for a shower and guess what – a pint at the pub, then back to Royalist for a cheese fest and bunks…..however the crew member sleeping below me turned in early so he got his bunk alright. Trouble was there wasn’t enough room to put mine down without crushing him and waking him up. So – discretion being the better part of valour, I decided it was my turn to sleep on the floor. It’s actually just as comfortable and you don’t have so far to fall.

Day 6 – “fog and farewells”

Up at 0600 hrs – sails were left hanging in their gear last night due to late arrival so there’s no need for yardsmen and climbers to go aloft. Left Yarmouth as soon as the ferry had departed – easy exit having turned the ship round last night. Porridge and toast for breakfast as we headed for Beaulieu River and Bucklers Hard. Visibility very poor and on the helm I had to steer by compass as we motor-sailed, as there was nothing visible to aim for. Not easy, as the ship’s response to the helm is slow, and I’m just thinking I must be turning the helm the wrong way when she starts to respond and then I’m in danger of over correcting. Much more difficult than all the yachts I’ve steered. Guess I need more practice with this lady.

Orders are given to close the watertight bulkheads as we entered the Beaulieu Channel. I assume the bottom must be a bit close to the top or maybe it’s a precaution in case of unknown obstructions on the river bed. Lovely trip up the river - haven’t been there for years. Just enough room for us to moor on the pontoon below the houses on Bucklers Hard before going ashore for a mooch around and photo shoot. We found a new apple orchard planted behind the houses with lots of traditional varieties of apples. It’s good to see these being kept going. Returning to the ship we moved up the Beaulieu towards the boatyard for another excellent tight manoeuvre, turning on the anchor and heading back out to the Solent with the first of the ebb. Sailed for Cowes and moored up in the yacht haven for a quick coffee and cake, then away to Gosport.

Entered Portsmouth by the Swashway but didn’t stick closely to a transit on the monument and block of flats. There was obviously enough water to cut the corner, as for all of her size, Royalist doesn’t have a deep draft. Arriving safely at Gosport we swung round to moor starboard side to on Petrol Pier ready for the next departure.

Time for a last tidy up. I’ve long realised that if you have your harness on you’ll get the most interesting jobs, so I’m ready to follow yardsman Nick up the starboard ratlines, onto the platform and out on the yard, to hand and harbour stow the top’sls, then out onto the course yard which is much wider. Nick was standing well out over the pontoon and made the comment that it was a scary position to be in – if he fell it would be a much harder landing than in the water. We hand and harbour stow the forecourse, then upward to the t’gallants. I’m getting very warm in full foulies. Despite being called a “coffin dodger” I am still agile enough to go out on the t’gallant yard and deputise as port yardsman. I’ve no problem now tying one handed blind clove hitches half way behind my back. All stowed – it’s time to come down to deck exhausted but exhilarated. I’d expected there’d be a few more hands up top as there was much more hard work to do than this pen-pusher had realised.

Down below for dinner – chicken with brie wrapped in bacon. I’m late from working aloft so it’s kit off and straight into the food. I could have done with half an hour’s rest before eating to give my blood time to move from my puny muscles to my stomach, so I didn’t do justice to the meal for the first time this week.

Some crew members were leaving tonight, so more room for the rest of us. A good night spent at the pub which would have been empty except for us and an Irish folk band, then back to the ship for the last cheese fest and bunks.

Day 7 – “back to blighty”

“Call the hands” at 0630 hours and our final breakfast before saying our goodbyes. We fell into our watches for the last time and the captain said with a wry smile that we’re the best crew he’s sailed with this year. Later I remembered that as the relief captain, this is probably the first time this year that he’s captained the ship. Ah well! A response to the captain’s speech from the port watch leader made mention of the success of the “coffin dodgers” on the trip. I exchanged looks with the crew member who had coined the phrase, but didn’t let on.

Instructed to stand in a circle and turn right, we were told to slap the person in front of us on the shoulder with our right hand and shout “well done shipmate”, then handshakes all round with our newly made friends and off to blighty.

I reflect that the changeable weather, far from spoiling the trip, actually made it more interesting. Although we didn’t get to cross the Channel to foreign parts, we probably had much more interesting and varied sails than a downwind Channel crossing.

So if you’re one of those sad, unadventurous people who think sailing is sitting on the foredeck in the sunshine sipping a G & T, then perhaps Royalist is not for you. But if you’re up for pushing yourself, some great teamwork with a bunch of likeminded guys and girls and you ever get a chance of a charter on Royalist – then give it a go – you won’t regret it.

Author – Dee White

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