CLEAN SWEEP - APRIL 1996 (or THE SEA TRIED TO HAVE THEM)
Town Quay Marina, Southampton.
Captain Stone - Phil
Seaman Barker – Mike
Seaman Philips – Bob
Seaman Jones – Bob
Seaman Woolven - Spike
At about tea time on Friday, following a brief introduction by the owners agent, who looked more like a permanent staff computer programmer than a nautical person, the folding prop snapped open, bit into the murky waters and gently pulled Clean Sweep and our heroes away from the pontoon for another weekend's adventure. Clean Sweep was a racy looking craft known as a Sigma 33, 33 feet long, some 10 feet in the beam, 6/7 berths a gimballed cooker and a kitchen sink - the heads were not gimballed which would prove to be a slight problem at anything more than 30 degrees of heal, a small price to pay.
With Captain Stone at the tiller Clean Sweep gently eased away from Town Quay Marina in Southampton Water and nosed out into the channel for an evening "getting to know the ropes sail". The wind was a brisk Force 3 from the North East which meant with any luck it would be a broad reach out and a fetch back, or the other way round, depending on the angle of dangle. The No 2 Jib was chosen and together with the main, set to perfection, Clean Sweep managed a creditable 6.3 knots, the only problem logged was that Seaman Jones complained about the milk leaving the carton at an angle of 30 degrees when making the tea, Captain Stone was well pleased so far with the initial shakeout.
The setting sun peeked out below the alto cirrus in the west and gave a warm glow just before it was lost behind the stacks and tanks of Fawley refinery. The stench from the plant, together with Seaman Phillips' Gauloise, would have been enough to trigger the gas alarm on board Clean Sweep if it had been left on, however a previous decision had been made to immobilise the alarm for other reasons.
Clean Sweep sailed majestically down Southampton Water past towering ferries, cranes, container ships, wharfs, rusty hulks and sinister looking objects. Occasionally a passing hulk would set up a wash which would roll Clean Sweep alarmingly. On one occasion two ocean going tugs came by with a bow wave which resembled a tidal wave and slowly rolled towards Clean Sweep, the shout went out warning all crew members to brace themselves for a little turbulence, with Seaman Jones at the helm and Seaman Barker standing on deck holding nonchalantly onto the shrouds, the tidal wave lifted Clean Sweeps bow skywards, she perched momentarily on top of the wave and nose-dived into the trough, Seaman Barker anticipated well the wave breaking over the craft and leaped into the air, while he was airborne Clean Sweep was heading up the next wave and Seaman Barker landed in a crumpled heap on the deck considering himself lucky that he had got away with nothing more than wet feet and a bruised ego.
Just short of Caishot the crew performed their first tack and headed back to the marina. A practice reef was put in and shaken out with no particular problem. This first exercise proved to be a vindication of Captain Stone's confidence in his crew, which was somewhat surprising as already Seaman Jones had asked to be excused tasks that involved pushing, pulling, bending or stretching due to a recent back problem, Seaman Barker was seeing bubbles floating around in his eyes which impaired his vision and Seaman Phillips had twice nearly gone overboard when trying to light another fag, usually hanging over the pulpit or the transom. The crew gently brought Clean Sweep back in to her berth under power and tied up.
A slight worry for Captain Stone was that Seaman Woolven was yet to join the crew as he had been delayed by a prize giving ceremony at his local flower arranging society, Captain Stone was somewhat concerned that Seaman Woolven had missed this first trip and was worried that the rhythm would be upset but was sure that he would mould very quickly. A mild celebration in the local hostelry was called for. Seaman Barker had noted that two Aussie females with bare midriffs and a mountain bike were moored close by and enquired as to the location of a suitable place. They appeared to be well informed about the local facilities and directed Clean Sweep's crew to a nearby inn which offered beer, food and music, what more could they ask for. Following moderate amounts of alcohol and a pleasant meal, the pleasantly mellow foursome joined in the singing which was all late 60's and early 70's vintage, Captain Stone was particularly vociferous on most of the numbers, and they left with a warm glow and a goodnight kiss from the Senorita of large proportions who appeared to be the landlady.
At about 10.30pm Seaman Woolven duly arrived dwarfed by his overnight bag and seemed rather disappointed that he had missed the fun so far. After much squeezing of bodies into small holes and triangular slots, Seaman Barker was first to drop off, his recent anti-snoring operation had not yet had time to take effect. The night was interrupted by the noise of various crew members clambering through skylights and small holes, followed by the pitter patter of light showers. Captain Stone called for a 5.30am roll call and a 6.00am departure in order to catch the tide. The crew didn't understand fully why this was necessary but didn't question the order.
At 5.30 am, one by one the crew surfaced and somewhat reluctantly crawled out of their sleeping bags. The air was cool and fresh, not a breath of wind and the water was like a mill pond. Clean Sweep quietly slipped her moorings trying not to disturb her fellow mariners and with a steady throb from the Volvo diesel headed out down Southampton Water bound for Poole Quay. Captain Stone checked every yard of the way with the GPS which proved to be a remarkable piece of kit, the crew taking it in turn at the helm had no problem following the course ordered. Clean Sweep motored gently round Caishot Spit and into the Solent, past Cowes, Yarmouth, through the narrows at Hurst Castle along the shingle bank past the Needles and out into the Channel. Seaman Barker was making mental notes all along the way as he and Captain Stone would soon be making the same journey in Smashey on their planned trip around the Isle of Wight . The 59 metre deep holes around Hurst Castle gave rise to menacing looking whirl pools which had been known to swallow up small dinghies.
Up till now visibility had been somewhat limited and landmarks and buoys were proving difficult to find in the mist, a great deal of faith was placed in the GPS which time and again proved itself with unerring accuracy. The wind was now beginning to pick up which was a force 2/3 from the East, Captain Stone ordered up the main and the No2 jib, cut the engine trimmed the sails and Clean Sweep was at last in her element. The gentle rise and fall of Clean Sweep as her bow cut through the slight swell lulled the crew into thoughts of a life on the ocean wave, dusky maidens and distant lands. Seaman Woolven who by now had moulded well into the crew scanned the horizon through the binoculars and alighted on a block of flats on Boscombe Cliff, his imagination got the better of him as to what he saw through the windows.
Chalk cliffs were spotted in the mist off the starboard beam, Captain Stone informed the crew that it would be Hengistbury Head, this was a perfectly reasonable possibility. However Seaman Jones who had once visited a Pub and walked his dog on Hengistbury Head didn't remember any chalk cliffs. He scanned the cliffs for something recognisable and came to the conclusion that it must be Old Harry rocks, Seaman Woolven did the same and came to the same conclusion as both of them had sailed Nicey just a bit too close to those cliffs just the previous year. Captain Stone was informed that his assumption as to Clean Sweep's position was ever so slightly not quite right and would it be OK if they were indeed the Old Harries.
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday". The radio, which was monitoring the emergency channel crackled into life. "Distress message received on 121 decimal 5, light aircraft gone down off Bournemouth, 5 persons on board, Swanage and Poole lifeboat launched, helicopter airborne from Eastleigh, Poole Coastguard to co-ordinate". The crew scanned the horizon for a downed aircraft eager to assist but visibility was still only a couple of miles and all they could do was monitor the emergency, jot down the details in case they could assist with radio messages, as per standard procedure. The radio exchanges continued until helicopter India Juliett gave up the exercise as the downwash nearly capsized a few yachts in the vicinity. This incident thankfully turned out to only an exercise.
Clean Sweep was now heading into familiar water past Old Harry across Studland Bay and into Poole channel. Captain Stone ordered the sails down started up the engine and headed into Poole Harbour. The chart for Poole harbour was closely studied by all members of the crew as Clean Sweep needed at least 1.5 meters of water and some of the channels were narrow and shallow. Captain Stone decided that he would take the narrow channel to Poole Quay thereby avoiding the M25. Five pairs of eyes scanned the depth sounder shouting out the diminishing clearance. Seaman Phillips was more vigilant than the others. Approaching Will's channel, which was marked by a line of green sticks, Clean Sweep buried her keel in the sand, Captain Stone threw her into reverse gear gunned the engine and broke free. Another 100 yards was made when the same thing happened, this time no amount of throttle would budge her. Captain Stone was not unduly concerned as he was sure it was a rising tide.
A few moments of thought were given to the predicament. Captain Stone ordered all hands to the port side in order to tip Clean Sweep thereby allowing the square on the adjacent side which would be less than than the square on the hypotenuse to solve the situation, it only worked when Seaman Barker, who didn't initially grasp the mathematics, was ordered to join the others in the correct position hanging over the port side, another triumph for Captain Stone and Pythagoras.
As Clean Sweep approached Poole Quay the crew got friendly waves from the natives. With a gentle nudge on the throttle Clean Sweep was made fast with springs,bow and stern lines. The crew considered themselves lucky that they were able to moor directly on to the quay and not rafted to another craft. Captain Stone said that it was too early in the season to worry about lack of mooring space, as most mariners were not nearly as hardy as Clean Sweep's crew. It was now some 48 hours since the crew had a decent shower and shave etc. Enquiries were made to various natives who directed our dishevelled quintet to the nearest facilities which turned out to be closed or disgusting, not very suitable for Seaman Barker who was used to tasteful surroundings when abluting. The crew, somewhat disappointed returned to Clean Sweep who now had no less than 5 other craft moored to her starboard side. Crew members from the other 5 yachts were clambering over Clean Sweep's decking in order to reach the quay, not a very good prospect for a quiet night thought Seaman Jones who immediately set off to find a bed and breakfast for the night. He tried a number of Hotels and Guest Houses which were full up, but undaunted finally chanced upon the Crown Hotel which could oblige with a twin room, provided that he could put up with 18 females also staying that night.
Seaman Jones returned dangling a key to a room with a comfortable bed in a quiet part of town and excellent wash and shower facilities; he pondered the reaction from his crew mates. Would they keel haul him, hang him from the yard arm or draw straws for the spare bed.
Captain Stone understood Seaman Jones' desire to get a decent night's sleep but declined the offer as he, as Captain would stay with the ship. Seaman Barker, very considerately also declined, Seaman Phillips sportingly also declined as he could see that Seaman Woolven was itching to accept, provided that Golfer Gatfield didn't get to hear of his desertion. Seaman Jones informed the crew that the Crown Hotel also offered good beer, food and shower facilities. This was accepted by all, and all crew members set off with wash bags, towels and deodorants in search of the Crown. One by one they emerged into the bar feeling a little less like sea dogs. Over indulgence took over. Ice cream and cream teas which were consumed not an hour previously were forgotten, like ravenous wolves they set about the menu with not a thought for the tasks of the following day.
Following a night of shouting and screaming by 18 females and their consorts in the narrow streets outside and loud conversations in the corridors of the Crown Hotel, Seaman Jones politely asked the culprits to put a sock in it, by 4 am things finally went quiet, until copulating seagulls outside the window broke the brief silence. At 7.00 am Seaman Barker was the only other crew member to report for breakfast, announcing that the night aboard Clean Sweep was probably worse than experienced in the Crown, as fellow mariners had been dancing on the deck all night and a Welsh male voice choir had performed the finale on the quayside. The reference to a Welsh Harp at breakfast, which Seaman Woolven found somewhat hilarious, is not worth a mention in the log.
The forecast for the leg to the River Medina on the Isle of Wight was quite promising, a force 2/3 from the north initially and strengthening during the afternoon. Following a leisurely morning for the crew, Clean Sweep cast off at about 10 am and motored towards Poole Harbour entrance, this time taking a deeper channel. Captain Stone pointed out the dinghy racing going on which were already capsizing in the strengthening wind. With Seaman Barker at the tiller, Clean Sweep squeezed through the narrow gap at the chain ferry sharing the diminishing space with a 4 million ton cross channel ferry and a variety of other craft, Clean Sweep's keel cleared the chain by 1.7mm although no one on board was aware of it.
As Clean Sweep cleared the narrow channel Captain Stone ordered head to wind, hoist sails and cut engine, this was carried out with some skill as by now the crew beginning to gell. The course was set for the first way point, but the wind was now beginning to die and difficulty was experienced in holding course. The wind occasionally returned, only to die again, the GPS indicated that Clean Sweep was drifting South on the tide and would probably end up in Guernsey if allowed to continue. The sea was glasslike, the sun reflected intermittently off the slightly undulating surface and the occasional zephyr would flap the main sail which was left hoisted in case of a larger puff, a somewhat romantic situation prevailed for a short time which made certain crew members dream of pipe support brackets. Reluctantly Captain Stone ordered start engine in order to regain the planned track.
Tea, coffee and biscuits were served once more on the poop deck as Clean Sweep gradually regained her track. Ripples were spotted in the distance which indicated that wind was on the way, the sails filled and started to pull as the engine was cut, this time Clean Sweep was able to make reasonable progress with the tide now turning in her favour. The course was set for the Shingles buoy which marked the approach to the Solent, accuracy was called for at this point as danger lurked on either side. Photograph sessions were held as Clean Sweep-gathered pace in a strengthening wind past The Needles, Captain Stone ordered a course as close to the wind as possible in order to avoid tacking later on. Clean Sweep was beginning to show her pedigree as she sensed a bit of excitement. With the crew taking turns at the helm, Captain Stone reluctantly agreed that a reef was called for, Seaman Barker brought her head to wind and with sails and ropes flapping violently a reef was put in the main with some difficulty. Clean Sweep snapped back into the groove and began to heal at uncomfortable angles, Seaman Woolven and Phillips demonstrated their well-practiced pinching techniques, explaining to the captain that it enabled them to gain ground to windward, Captain Stone would have none of it, demanding that sheets were hardened up, hold the correct course in the gusts and the devil take the hindmost. White horses were beginning to appear all around, the wind now at 20 knots over the deck and Captain Stone riding Moby Dick defiantly, Clean Sweeps crew were exhilarated, worried sick, hanging on for dear life, and trying to light another fag, respectively. Seaman Woolven fought desperately to hang on to the tiller as gust after gust tried to wrench it from his white knuckled grasp, his cries for help went unheeded as he lost his footing, his crew mates were too preoccupied with other things to notice him struggling to regain control - his training and lifelong experience of extricating himself from impossible situations saved the day.
Shrouds were screeching in the wind about to reach their elastic limit, bottle screws strained to contain the charging beast, another reef was required but too late, Seaman Jones stepped into the sink, which was now on the floor as he jokingly offered to make a cup of tea. All crew members bar none surprisingly accepted the offer. Clean Sweep raced up the Solent on the heels of other yachts, which were unable to avoid tacking, probably as their Captains chose the softer option. As Clean Sweep approached Cowes brakes were applied, sails lowered, engine started, kettle boiled and an air of "what was all the fuss about, let’s do it again" descended on the crew. A leisurely chug up the Medina River to a tranquil scene at the Folly Inn followed. The wind had died, the birds were singing, the blossom was out, the sun was setting and the Pub was open. The crew expertly tied up to the pontoon moored outside the Pub. Phone calls were made to loved ones in distant lands from a phone box up the lane.
Seaman Jones opted to eat on board, as two nights of indulgence had taken its toll. The rest of the crew decided to indulge once again and ordered bizarre mixtures together with yet more alcohol at the Folly Inn. In front of Seaman Phillips was curry, rice, chips, salad, horseradish sauce and Guinness. His judgement was somewhat impaired when choosing from the menu as he tried to avoid the attentions of a rather shapely lady seafarer on the next table who seemed rather bored with her own crew mates. Little did Clean Sweep's crew know that she was in fact Mabel, a Captain's wife, who suffered from splinters in the shoulder blades.
The crew retired early and spent a peaceful night aboard Clean Sweep. Mabel was very disappointed. Dawn broke on the Monday, a modest breakfast of cereal, toast and marmalade was enjoyed by all. The forecast was again a force 2/3 from the North East. The plan for the last day was to sail up the Beaulieu River to Bucklers Hard, and back to Southampton with a stop for lunch and refuel on the Hamble River.
Clean Sweep with Captain Stone at the helm motored gently down the River Medina out into the Solent and headed for the Beaulieu River. A keen eye was needed on entering the River as there was little clearance at low tide on the approach to the river mouth; Seaman Phillips was once again particularly vigilant as he was not keen to be stranded by the outgoing tide. A watchful eye was kept on the depth gauge as the channel was narrow and poorly marked. Bucklers Hard came into view, Seaman Jones caught sight of the Builders Arms through the binoculars but alas it was closed. Clean Sweep performed a 180 degree turn and retraced her steps back to the river mouth, skated over the shallows and turned to port. The wind was now freshening and Captain Stone once more ordered haul on the halyards and cut the engine.
Captain Stone had hoped for some time now that there would be an opportunity to set the spinnaker, this was the moment. He had already positioned the spinnaker pole, halyard, outhauls and sheets, so it should, he thought, be a simple matter for his crew to perform a smart spinnaker hoist. Following a string of orders which went somewhat over the heads of his willing crew, much shouting and hesitating and pulling took place, "What the hell is he up to now" thought those crew members who were paying attention. After some while it became apparent that Captain Stone was using the spinnaker pole to hold out the jib and as the wind was directly astern, gullwing up the Solent. "What a shrewd Captain we have" went through the minds of his crew, "it’s a shame he forgot to tell us of this cunning ploy".
The spinnaker bag came out, at last this is the moment thought the crew. Sure enough all were given strict orders as to their task. After some last minute launch holds, up went the multi coloured balloon, and what a sight she was. All crew members stared aloft in wonderment at this majestic sight, including Seaman Barker who was on the tiller, who should have been looking where he was going.
A few final tweeks on the controls down with the jib and 6.9 knots was registered on the speedo. Following a photo session, down with the spinnaker as the course now desired precluded the use such a sail.
Clean Sweep headed back up Southampton Water under main and jib and saw off a number of attempts by other yachts to head her. Seaman Woolven was by now mustard at the tiller. As Clean Sweep approached The Hamble River the order was given to drop the jib and continue sailing on the main. With Seaman Woolven at the tiller, Captain Stone, Seamen Phillips and Barker prepared to haul down the jib. Seaman Jones was left to release the jib halyard, Captain Stone gave the order but Seaman Jones released the main halyard instead in order to check how quickly the others were at spotting the error. The three tugged on the jib to no avail, Captain Stone immediately spotted the problem and hauled down the main explaining that sailing on the jib was by all means acceptable thereby sparing Seaman Jones' embarrassment.
Clean Sweep entered the Hamble River and was made fast to the pontoon moored off Seaman Barker's sailing club. A lunch of beans, bangers and sandwiches was prepared in the cabin at the same time as the spinnaker was being stowed. 10,000 yards of sail and 5 hungry crew members somehow managed to perform all the tasks simultaneously without setting fire to the spinnaker.
Seaman Barker explained that he really shouldn't have eaten the beans as he had had a previous experience of stomach trouble caused by beans; this unfortunately was to prove the case and even more painful for his wallet.
After replenishing Clean Sweep with water and diesel at the fuel barge our heroes set off on the last leg back to the marina. They motored out of the Hamble, turned Clean Sweep into the wind, hoisted sail and set off on a beam reach for the last few leagues. The wind was unusually chilly from the South but had little effect on our windswept, chisel faced seafarers as they headed for their home port. With Seaman Woolven at the helm, numerous orders were given to bear away in order to sail closer to the ocean liner mooring quay . Seaman Woolven unsighted by the sails repeatedly refused or more likely was unsure of what bear away meant and brought Clean Sweep into wind instead. This insubordination was noted by Captain Stone.
Clean Sweep and her crew arrived at the mooring pontoon with not a little satisfaction, tidied up, swilled the decks and checked for stowaways and rats. Seaman Barker had asked to be excused duties as the beans were beginning to hurt and disappeared in the direction of the toilets. About an hour and a half later he staggered back on to the pontoon and collapsed. Seaman Woolven was particularly sympathetic and considered that anyone who had given birth to Africa was entitled to feel somewhat liverish. Seaman Barker was in no mood for jokes and once again staggered off to the bogs. He was found about another hour later by Seaman Phillips on the floor of the disabled toilet. Luckily Seaman Phillips was able to drive him home clutching his bucket. An unfortunate end to an otherwise successful trip.
Bob Jones 2015