Sharon Day

Maurice Hughes

I have always meant to keep the club informed about what we have been doing in Sharon Day, which has carried the Royal Northumberland burgee and pennant for many years and miles.

Thinking the other day about where we have been and what we have done, I realised that we have done about 12,000 miles in the last few years and have circumnavigated the UK about four times. You would think we would know exactly how many times we have been round, but sometimes it has been a broken journey and we have gone back on ourselves. When I say ‘circumnavigated’ that is not strictly true as we have always used the Caledonian Canal. There are two reasons for this: firstly the trip round the top is hazardous and I would have to wait for very good weather before I attempted it; the other reason is that we always have a number of friends who would like a trip but do not fancy the open sea – especially the North Sea. The year before last we took our son and his family through the canal. There was a three year old and one of ten months. Luckily the weather was fine but you would not believe the amount of clobber the baby took, with her push-chairs, high chairs, baby baths etc. However it was thoroughly enjoyable.

This last season we had an excellent trip to France and the wooden boat festival at Brest, but unfortunately there was no-one there from the Club – at least we did not find anyone. We left the Clyde and went down the Irish coast on the Eastern side of Ireland which we like better than the Western coasts of England and Wales – anyhow the beer is better. It was an uneventful trip as far as problems were concerned – only pleasant sailing. When we arrived in Penzance we found that we were among the boats that had been at the Bristol Festival and who were also going on to Brest. There was a fine party atmosphere which lasted for two days. When everybody left we were on the outside of a six boat raft, so we left as well. When we got out of the harbour I did a few sums and realised that if we set out for France we would arrive at the North end of the Chanel de Four at the right time for the tide, even although it would be in the middle of the night. This again was just pleasant sailing in spite of the fact that we were a crew of six, one of whom was 6ft 4ins and another about 16 stone. Luckily the Chanel was enjoying unusually fine visibility and we had no problems picking up the navigation buoys. There were however a few minor problems here as there were a lot of small fishing boats about, so we kept on identifying buoys that then moved. Also there are a number of channels all with there own navigation buoys. So you have just decided that you are going on course with the red ones to port and the green ones to starboard when you see a red one off on your right and you have a moment of panic before you realise that it is another channel.

We passed on to Cameret where we stayed for two days. There we met a group of young Norwegians who had their own traditional Viking craft and had sailed and rowed it from Trondheim. There were six young men and six young women all in their mid twenties. They were delightful – open and friendly. The crossing to Shetland had taken them three days and they had had a rough time. Although one watch of six normally slept while others sailed or rowed, during this part of the trip the ‘watch below’ had had to bail. Everyone had their own bucket which was used for everything, including bailing.

From Cameret on to Brest where the fleet was gathering. There were altogether about 2,500 boats, and on the night before the festival started they fed all the crews. Allowing a minimum of three people per boat, that was an awful lot of food. Not only food but drink as well – as much beer or wine as you wanted. It continued in this vein for four days. It was just one long party and the arrangements for the boats were good as well. We were all on trots with excellent arrangements for getting ashore. There were a number of rigid inflatables operated by very competent lassies which seemed to arrive as soon as you stood up and waved your arms about. Ashore there were stalls, folk dancing and singing, rock bands, shanty competitions and lots and lots of lovely boats to look at.

On the fourth day the whole fleet left for Douanenez – what a sight. A nice sailing breeze and sparkling sunshine. The festival at Douanenez was a bit of a disappointment. The part ashore was as good if not better than Brest since it was smaller and more self contained, but the arrangements for getting ashore were not very good. They were not using rigid inflatables but small fishing boats which were operated by club members who did not know their boats. I sustained a couple of nasty scratches.

We left Douanenez a day ahead of schedule and sailed round the coast to Aber’vach. A very pleasant little place but with a very nasty entrance where the tide runs across the channel rather than along it. We stayed a couple of days and left about 0900 on Sunday when the tide served. It was rather foggy but we had been assured by an Irish boat that had just come in that it was clear outside. As we moved out the fog got thicker and thicker but we were travelling a parallel course to a local open boat that seemed to know which way to go. This was OK until he turned off onto a different channel. However we kept on expecting it to clear at any moment. But it didn’t – not for 35 miles and by then everyone’s eyes were just about hanging out of their sockets. The consolation was when it did clear it turned out to be the most glorious night I have ever experienced. There seemed to be more stars that I had ever seen and the phosphorescence was absolutely superb. We could see fish swimming alongside outlined in light.

We arrived at Penzance about 0900 and that is where the holiday got complicated. We had only been in about quarter of an hour when we received a phone call to say my wife’s sister had died. Not only was there the stress of bereavement and the funeral to attend, but my wife is the executrix with all its attendant difficulties.

When we got back to Penzance we had a pleasant sail round the corner to Padstow, but there the weather broke. However Padstow is a lovely place to be stuck and we enjoyed walking and cycling, both on our own and with grandchildren and their friends. When they left us we set out for Milford Haven but only got about 2 miles when we had to turn back because the engine overheating. A core plug had gone so we were losing water fast. Luckily I had spares on board so in two days time we set out again. This time we got four hours out before the engine overheated again. We had a glorious sail back to Padstow where I again descended into the engine compartment. The next time we got out it was for an evening and overnight trip of about 14 hours to Milford Haven. When we were about seven hours out and therefore halfway – up went the engine temperature again. Visual examination showed that we were low on fresh water so we filled up and set off again. This time it was about 30 minutes before we had to fill again. Next time it was down to 25 and then progressively to 20, 15, 12, 10 minutes. All this time we were enjoying a beautiful starlit night but without a breath of wind. I thought that the Coastguard should know that they were liable to have a 10 tonne yacht slopping about off the South West tip of Wales with no engine and no control, at 2 o’clock in the morning. They were very helpful and polite and asked if I wanted the Lifeboat, but I said no I was still coming in. The intervals between stopping and filling got shorter and shorter till it was down to under 2 minutes. At this point I said yes please to the lifeboat. It was all very low key, no Maydays or anything, and when the Angle lifeboat arrived they just passed me a line and set off carefully at what they obviously thought was a reasonable speed – eight knots. I expect the hull was nice and clean by the time we got in to Milford Marina.

Everybody in Milford was kind and helpful and I was recommended a really first class mechanic to work on the engine. I took out the engine and it has been completely refurbished. I have also found the cause of the trouble – a leak in the heat exchanger between the fresh and salt water sides. This also explains the core plugs going as the salt water goes for the mild steel. This year, 1997, when the engine is complete and back in again, I will be bringing Sharon Day back to the Clyde before going on to Skye where we have a wedding in July which I am really looking forward to.

I learnt quite a lot from this experience. One rather distressing point was when I wrote to both the RNLI and the Coastguard thanking them for their help, from their replies I gathered that it was a little unusual for them to receive thanks, especially the Coastguard. I would have thought it was just good manners.

Next year we hope to go to the Netherlands to visit friends and be with some of our children on their holidays. When we return I am seriously thinking of overwintering on the NE coast so I will be able to visit the club and meet old friends.