Winter Sailing: Why You Should Go For A Salty Winter Sail
This Time Of Year
This is always a bit of a funny time of year. Winter sailing isn’t always at the top of our mind.
Instead there’s Christmas. Spending a lot of time with family. Societal pressures to buy stuff, spend money, eat too much, drink too much.
And then comes New Year and the overwhelming burden of reflection and fresh starts. Even the gap in between, when some go back to work and some don’t, is just a bit odd.
Now salty sailors, what’s the best thing to do when it all gets a bit much?
Just Say Yes
My 1935 25ft gaff cutter Deirdre is in Plymouth for the winter. She’s still in commission in the water, as I plan to take her out in the spring for her annual refit. And she had a nice new engine in her refit this year, so I’m still enjoying the novelty of being able to use that.
My friend Will, who is home nearby in Totnes for Christmas, sent me a message at 22:43 on Wednesday evening. It said this:
“Hey jelly. Blowing 3s tomorrow and no rain. What’re you up to?”
XC Weather said something a bit different; it would be 1 degree celsius until midday, where it would peak at 5 degrees and then start drizzling. I tried to talk myself out of it on that basis but didn’t last very long.
Fine, it’s winter. And what? OK, let’s go sailing.
Sailing On A Sunny Winter’s Day
Will came down from Totnes, and a really good friend came too with her 4-year-old. Will and I looked at each other and muttered something about sail training!
We headed out late morning, and slowly drifted around Plymouth Sound.
Our mainsail went up, the staysail was hanked on, engine turned off, and we ‘sailed’ down with the current to Jennycliff.
Hoist The SaltyJobs Flag
There was also a new piece of cloth to fly – yep, the SaltyJobs flag. It’s MASSIVE. I’ve previously flown it from the flag halyard, which runs parallel to her shrouds, alongside in a marina. But never from Deirdre’s rig whilst sailing.
But this time, with the main up, Will suggested flying it from the topsail sheet. This is a long line which runs from the deck up to a turning block near the gaff jaws, along the gaff right out to the end, where the topsail clew sheets to. It comes down from there back to the deck.
Anyway, perfect SaltyJobs flying flag halyard. Who needs a jackyard topsail when ya got a flag pole and 8′ flag?
Yes it’s bigger than me.
Flag flying, happy skipper, happy crew.
A British Winter Adventure
The plan was to anchor for a cup of tea, but there really was no wind, and we could see a little patch of wind further south…
So we boiled the copper kettle, put on the stovetop coffee, and went to find the wind.
The weather was beautiful. A real crisp winter’s day, late December, on the rugged south west coast of the UK.
The sun kept the temperature up, and when it started to go down – at about 2pm – we began to notice the chill.
We gybed round but our new tack was not the making tack… the tide was still taking us south and we were being beautifully swept out through the eastern breakwater in Plymouth Sound.
This is Fort Bovisand, guarding this eastern entrance:
Heading Back In
It was time to turn the engine on. I still appreciate the fact this is an option; Deirdre’s engine was new this spring 2017. Its predecessor, Duncan (a single cylinder, air cooled, 9hp Ducati whom I started to write about here, but he deserves his own post), was legendary but not always for the right reasons.
Without Deirdre’s new engine – a newly reconditioned, marinised 10hp Beta which perfectly filled Duncan’s boots – we wouldn’t be in Plymouth right now. Even if we were, a calm windless sail like this would suddenly become quite long and cold.
We gave the engine a good run back to the marina, so it’s not sitting stagnant for months over the winter. It’s easy for time to pass you by if you don’t make an effort to use and maintain boats and their machinery.
I did an engine check before we headed out and whilst the oil still looks good, I’ll change it again in the spring to keep it fresh and give the engine a good start in its new life.
Midwinter Gaffer Spotting
On our way back, we saw another gaffer pass in the distance.
It was very quiet out; we saw only a few other vessels underway. This included a pair of kayaks in Jennycliff (confusingly one was red and the other green) and a gig rowing skiff taking advantage of the flat water and distinct lack of marine traffic.
We tried to work out who the other gaff boat was, but we’re not sure. It looked like a beautiful pilot cutter, about 40ft on deck, with a blue hull. Full sail including a topsail, and to top it off, a yard with square sail. They headed out of the Sound into a cold setting sun, the reflections literally ripples on the horizon. Look how clear the water is here, even in our wake. Who could it have been? They might like the photos we took of them.
A Fantastic Day
It was brilliant to get out on the water. A perfect time of year to just be out there and feel the freshness of it.
All three of us adults commented that being out there, with such stunning weather and little other company, felt totally surreal. It’s these mindful moments that really give us the chance to stop and breathe in our lives. Everything else is just small stuff; the world is immensely great, and we only have the present to enjoy it.
Thanks to Will for his message and enthusiasm. Thanks to my friend for these amazing photos (too modest to be named). Thanks to Ashley and Ben for helping me fit the new engine that got us out there (and back!). Friends: you are awesome, and you are welcome to invite yourself over for a sail at any time.
Back To Work… Oh Wait
Right then. Enough of Christmas holidays and sailing adventures. Back to work.
Wait… this is work. This is why we do what we do. Boats aren’t just a job. They’re a dream. A passion. A lifestyle. All-encompassing.
And totally addictive.
But for now, it’s back to winter: we’ve got 7 days of wind gusting 35-65mph. And then hopefully a gap in the weather, a beacon on the horizon, a sea change, another chance to get out there and get salty.
Will we see you out there?
Can’t Get Out On The Water?
If you can’t escape to the sea right now, don’t despair.
Any kind of mini adventure outdoors is a fantastic thing to do to clear your head at any time of year, but especially right now.
These adventures can be extra special if you pick a fantastic location in the right weather. Even if it gets cold and starts raining, as long as you’re prepared, just experiencing weather can be an adventure in itself.
Adventures don’t need to be expensive, and there are lots you can do alone, or with friends and family depending on your mood. From coastal walking to forest trails, pick that place you’ve always wanted to explore – even if it’s only down the road – and go for it.
Leave a comment below and say hello.
- Have you managed to get out on the water over Christmas?
- Going to plan your own winter adventure?
- Or desparate to find a job on a boat again?
Say hello and let us know. We’ll see you out there.
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