Sailing to the Channel Islands
The 2017 sailing trip returned at the weekend from an absolutely outstanding week aboard two of The Tall Ships Trust's 72ft Challenger round-the-world yachts where two teams pitted themselves against each other in a series of challenges on the high seas. Not only did they have to learn the ropes (literally), they had to cook, clean, steer and learn to navigate and record the logs.
Departing from Portsmouth on Sunday afternoon, Challenger 3 and Challenger 4 sailed around The Needles to anchor up in Freshwater Bay just off the Isle of Wight. After what seemed to be a very early start on Monday, leaving Freshwater Bay just as the sun peeked over the horizon, the teams made their way accompanied by pods of dolphins down through the busy shipping lanes to the Channel Islands, mooring up in the bay at St Annes, Alderney. The crews had an explore onshore before taking the water taxi back to the boats for dinner.
Tuesday saw a really good day of sailing from Alderney down to Guernsey, practising man-overboard drills on the way before arriving in St Peter Port mid-afternoon and spending a little time ashore before settling down for an early night.
Wednesday made Monday's "early" start seem like a walk in the park. Each crew split into two "watches", and while the late watch got to stay in bed a while longer, the early watch had the boats ready, rigged and setting sail not long after 4am. It might have been unfeasibly early, but sailing away from Guernsey in the pitch dark under a blanket of stars was an amazing and unforgettable experience. It took nearly 13 long hours, a number of watch changes, naps and lots of hot tea, but just after sunset the two boats moored up in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.
Thursday morning dawned cold and foggy so after a more leisurely breakfast the crews went up against each other in a rubber dinghy paddling race. By lunchtime, the fog had cleared and they spent a beautiful and calm afternoon motoring back towards Portsmouth and Gunwharf Quay. On the way the two boats pulled level with each other, cut the engines and the crews assembled on deck for the Great Main Sail Race. It was all Claires Court hands-on deck (no Tall Ships crew allowed) and a straight race to get the mainsail up. Two minutes of heaving, hauling and cries of "cheat!" and Challenger 4 had won, by just a single second! Then, before finally turning into Portsmouth Harbour, and not to be beaten by the gauntlet Challenger 3 had thrown down on Wednesday, Challenger 4 took the opportunity to see who could climb out over the water to the end of the spinnaker pole. Once safely back in the marina the final, and biggest, challenge was on - the 100ft mast climb! Everyone (staff included) took turns to climb the masts, all making it to the top and the reward of an outstanding view.
Friday was clean-up day, with both crews ensuring that the boats were left spic and span for the next crews, before receiving their coveted RYA Competent Crew certificates. Heading home, everyone looked back with great memories and forward to a warm and comfortable night in a bed that didn't rock!