The end of an era

It turned out that 2021 was our final season with Aurora. Though Niki and I had a very pleasant stay aboard during the summer, she had become very frustrated with the lack of internal space and it was clear that if we are both to enjoy sailing, a bigger boat would be needed.

I was just getting my head around the idea of parting with Aurora, when someone contacted me through the class association, asking if I knew of any cape cutters for sale… Long story short, Aurora has moved on to new adventures with a new owner and we are now the proud owners of a Cornish Crabber 26, called Molly of Mylor. So this will be my last blog post of Travelling Aurora, so thank you to those of you who have told me you enjoyed reading my ramblings and encouraged me to share my experiences. I hope you might follow my new blog Meandering Molly and share our travels in the new boat.


The close of the season

Aurora is safely tucked away now under her cover, but yesterday I had the chance to see how a larger boat is prepped for the winter haul out. A friend at the my sailing club has a Crabber 26, Perrantide, and although the rigging has a lot a similarities with the Cape Cutter, everything is on a much larger scale!

When I de-rig Aurora, I generally leave the sails, running rigging and shrouds in place. However, as Perrantide will spend her winter in the yard, the sails and rigging must all be removed, so both they and the boat can be cleaned. This process was completed on a pontoon berth prior to lift out and was pretty straightforward and we first removed the main sail, gaff and then boom. This was followed by the staysail followed by jib. The running rigging was removed as we went along, apart from the jib halyard, which was needed to lower the mast.

Lowering the mast took three people. First, the bowsprit was raised until its water stay was almost vertical, so that its far end was as high as practical and this provided the angle to lower the mast. A line from the bowsprit was secured to the tabernacle – this was to prevent the bowsprit from falling once the mast was lowered. The bowsprit stays were tightened, to prevent lateral movement of the sprit. The jib halyard ran from bowsprit to mast head and then to a deck winch. Whilst one person tailed the winch, two of us guided the mast downward – at first it needed a little encouragement to begin moving and the winch had a lot of control over the mast. As the mast lowered, the control diminished and we two guiding the mast prevented any lateral movement and lowered the end onto the pushpit (protected with a sturdy seat cushion). The weight of the mast was considerable and the trickiest moment was when it was necessary to move from coach roof to cockpit. This task was accomplished on a very light wind day in a sheltered location at low tide under the lee of the quay.

I did not think it would be possible for two people to carry the mast, but the weight of rigging is very considerable and once all of the running rigging and blocks had been removed (and labelled) and particularly also the shrouds, it was perfectly possible to carry the mast, through it needed a third person to assist whilst lifting the mast off the boat. It was also quite interesting to guide the mast around corners on the pontoon and across the car park! Nevertheless, the mission was accomplished in good time. That only leaves the cleaning and varnishing…

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Aurora exterior

Photos showing various external features of Aurora, as well as towing preparation.

Starboard locker – I keep warps and fenders in here. The lockers open to the cockpit at their lower edge, so the locker contents so get wet. Not one of the best design features of the cape cutter. Also visible is one of the feet for my wooden boom crutch.
Port locker, where the fuel tank is stored. There’s also room for an additional 5L fuel tank
Stern view of Aurora. I have adapted the main sheet by using a floating block on the red line over the tiller; the stock arrangement has the jamming block on one side of the boat, which makes it very hard to cleat the main sheet on one tack and my arrangement improves the bad habit of tangling when gybing too. Also visible are the wooden boom legs (aka “the scissors”) – these lock the boom when at anchor/harbour. Aurora is fitted with a swim ladder: to me this is an essential safety feature, as it would otherwise be very hard to climb aboard if someone fell overboard. The securing line is deliberately long to assist climbing aboard.
The lazy jacks and peak halyard can be led around the end of the boom. This allows the sail cover to be fitted quickly, without disconnecting any rigging.
Lazy jacks and peak halyard led around a cleat on the boom end. The halyards were recently replaced and the end is spliced into a loop to save tying a halyard hitch each time. Also visible is a double length of black shock cord which runs along the gaff and is used to quickly and tidily stow the main sail.
Cockpit, port side. The two lines are the staysail and jib halyards. Also visible are the spinlock swivelling jib sheet jammers. The left hand one is a larger size, so can accommodate a 12mm sheet for the genoa (more comfortable to haul). Also visible are the electronic and magnetic compasses.
Cockpit, starboard side. Visible are DSC GPS VHF radio, GPS repeater and depth/log display. I put the radio mic in the pocket when not sailing. There is a winch on each side of the cockpit, but it is very rarely used. I keep the winch handle down below and I can’t remember the last time I used it! The three lines you can see are the peak (red) and throat (yellow) halyards and the lazy jacks (black). To achieve this, I upgraded the double jammer to a triple. The stock arrangement is for the lazy jacks to be cleated on the boom, but I wanted a single line to quickly lift the boom above head height before dropping the main.
Coach roof, starboard side. The green line is the downhaul for the staysail. Also visible is the triple turning block for the main halyards and lazy jacks. Next to the tabernacle are the connections for the mast head lights and vhf aerial.
Cockpit looking aft. Many owners are not aware that the washboard slots out of the way behind the outboard (not fitted in this shot).
Outboard well. I replaced the stock outboard bracket, which was a single block of iroko, with a laminated piece of reclaimed teak. Several owners reported their bracket splitting in half, so the laminations of my one will prevent that.
Coach roof looking aft
Anchor well. The Honnor anchor gives great holding and I carry 10m of galvanised chain with 20m of warp. The bitter end is not tied on in this photo, and I would not go to sea without securing the end! The bowsprit is not fitted in these photos.
Starboard bow. The boat name was hand painted by a canal boat artist, local to us in the midlands. Note the stainless cheeks, which have been fitted over the strake, which prevent rubbing, especially when strapped for towing.
Chain plate. I also had amidships cleats fitted, to make it easier to tie springs when in harbour.
Main sail removed. This sail is original to the boat and shows signs of wear and also some fading, which was present when we bought the boat. The sail still performs well though – we managed second place out of nine at a recent rally.
Prepping for towing. After dropping the mast, this roller makes it easy to move the mast so the foot is over the bow.
I use a section of drain pipe to protect the mast when towing. The tabernacle is an excellent place to secure the mast for transit.
Mast head showing modified mast cap, fitted with NASA LED tricolour/white lights, wind indicator and (only just visible) VHF antenna. The latter gives much improved range over a hand held unit.
This looks untidy! The lines are about to be fed into a bag. Note the short strop from the hounds to the staysail halyard block. This prevents the staysail fouling with the forestay if using a furler. Also visible is my mast crutch.
Cockpit view. Tiller secured, halyards tidied in a bag and boat secured with a ratchet strap. The main sail is removed in these photos, but I usually leave it on. Note the boom remains bolted to the tabernacle when towing.
All prepped and ready to tow away (after removing the wheel lock!)
Ratchet strap over the bow, through the fairleads. Mast foot secured to cleats in the bow.
Stern view. LED lighting board, swim ladder and mast crutch. Mast is secured using the main sheet.
The trailer tyres are all new (including the spare). The brake pads were also replaced this year during the trailer service.

Aurora interior

Interior views of Aurora. I have a brand new set of cushions but they are still in their plastic wrapping, so the images show the old cushions.

Forward view, showing vee-berth, storage pockets and storage below. Two people can sleep on this berth, but they need to know each other quite well! There is a 12V socket to starboard (not visible in photo). As supplied, there was a solid cover for the storage below the bed (which I still have), but the open hatch I made makes this a good place to keep often used kit accessible. The port side has a stainless bowl and a whale manual pump. The LED lighting is also visible.
Interior of bow locker, looking aft, showing depth transducer, water tank and flux gate compass
Bow locker general view
The hatch is modified so it is hinged. This makes it much easier to access the bow locker when there is bedding etc in the fore peak
Stbd quarter berth, showing instruments panel/bookshelf. Clockwise from bookshelf: fused circuit breakers, nav/anchor light switch, brass hooks, GPS bracket (Garmin gps72 not shown), 12V charging socket, battery monitor, MPPT solar charge controller.
Galley on stbd quarter berth. Gimballed origo stove, cutlery/crockery storage and drawer. Note double socket, used with toaster, kettle or electric heater when on shore power. The galley makes the quarter berth a little shorter, but Niki sleeps here happily and the galley is quickly removed if needed.
View of companionway step. Note storage under companionway- useful for items needing to stay dry but be in easy reach when underway. 12V socket in tray.
Port quarter berth. This is my preferred sleeping location. I’m 6’4” and find this space ample. Note the bracket for sighting compass and storage pocket.
trip logs

Back to base

Bye bye Cowes

The wind had been consistently in the NE, so we knew our passage back to Gosport would be a beat. However, with the recent full moon, we had the assistance of strong spring tides. The tide was early, so I left Niki sleeping(?) down below and slipped the warps on my own. I had been concerned that it might be tricky getting off the berth, but conditions were not like they had been the previous day. For one thing, the NE wind which had rocked the boat most of the night and created the usual chorus of halyard slapping in the year, had died. For another thing, it was low water and the tide in the harbour was slack. I motored out of the Eastern entrance to the harbour and set all the sails. The first tack was to make some offing and though the wind was light, the sea was calm and Aurora moved out into the channel to catch the tide. Once I was sure that I could fetch down the island shore, I tacked away and began to move towards our destination. Progress was good, aided by about about 2kt of tide, but the wind increased from f1-2 to f3-4, with some bigger gusts. Sadly Niki came on deck just as I needed to tack and we were heeling considerably in the gusts, which she does not find comfortable. It also emerged that she had not had a good night’s sleep either, and was not enjoying the proceedings. Having tacked, I heaved to, took in the Genoa and reefed. It might have been better to have proceeded on Genoa and main only (perhaps with a reef), but discretion suggested reefed main and staysail. After all, there was plenty of tide. Aurora does not have the weight to push through even a light chop, so progress was much slower, which I alleviated by firing up Henry Honda. By the time I reached Gilkicker Point, there seemed little point in sailing on, so I dropped the sails and motored directly for the Harbour.

This was the end of our trip, but the early start gave us most of the day ashore, which gave us time to have a walk and do touristy things. It also provided Niki an opportunity to use the club sewing machine to make some repairs. She skilfully repaired the stitching on the sail cover, as well as some small fraying to the boom tent and even to rescue the rather worn Cape Cutter Association burgee.

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Cowes again

With the wind set in the northeast, Cowes was the most sensible destination, being a simple run down from the Hamble. It’s a short distance and Niki fancied a wander around the shops. Although Hamble Point marina seemed quiet, there was a bit of Hamble Scramble”, with a procession of boats making their way out through the narrow mouth. There are five marinas and countless moorings in that two-mile stretch of water, so there’s always a lot of traffic.

A container ship in the distance
Same ship five minutes later

Once in Southampton Water, it varies between a training run and a reach down towards the Solent. We were entertained by the flotilla of little dinghies in the sailing school at Calshot, commercial shipping, ubiquitous ferries and numerous pleasure craft. The water was rather choppy and confused with wind over tide but we made good progress with reefed main and staysail only.

Cowes evening

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First time in the Hamble

Leaving Bembridge

We’ve been sailing in the Solent area on and off for the whole time we’ve had Aurora, but have never been up Southampton water. Most of our passages have been East-West, but the North-Easterly currently prevailing makes North-South passages more appropriate.

So it was we went to Bembridge yesterday and chose the Hamble as our destination today. Matt, skipper of Skylark, has his berth on the Hamble and gave us some encouraging recommendations.

Our floating palace

We left Bembridge as soon in the morning as there was sufficient water for us over the bar, which meant we left before the main procession. Having motored out into the main channel we hoisted all the canvas in the NE f3-4 and beat clear of the shore and then fetched past the edge of Ryde sand. At this point we were able to bear away onto a comfortable reach, which took us right across the shipping channel, past Gilkicker point and along the shore by Lee-on-Solent. It was just as well we were on a favourable point of sail in smooth water because the wind had moderated somewhat. Nevertheless we made a steady 6kt with about a knot of tide under us and enjoyed the views over Southampton water, with beach huts on the eastern shore and the industrial vista of Fawley oil refinery on the western side.

Tenacious in the distance

We spotted the square rigger Tenacious on her mooring; she had been out and about in the distance at the weekend. We could see that most of her yards did not have sails, so she would sail on no more than two courses and topsails, though we hadn’t spotted her with more than one sail set. I wonder how many crew she needs to set the sails? Perhaps that’s why she seemed to be mostly under motor.

On reaching the mouth of the Hamble, we began to beat up the channel, but the strong ebb made for particularly slow progress, so we proceeded on engine. Once in Hamble point marina, which seemed quiet, we were able to enjoy some much welcome sun, after a hitherto rather grey and cool day, followed by a pleasant woodland walk into the village and a lovely dinner at the Victory pub.

Aurora dwarfed as usual
Walking home through the woods
Hamble Point at night
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Aircraft carrier and Bembridge

HMS Prince of Wales

We were pleased to meet up with fellow Cape Cutter Skylark in Bembridge. As we left Portsmouth, we were treated to the spectacle of the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales leaving port. I had heard a “pan pan” warning that the channel would be closed, and as we nipped out, police boats were stopping traffic coming in and we were among the lash boats allowed out.

Niki helmed us reaching back and forth among the many other boats in the shallow area south of the channel waiting to see the carrier squeeze through the narrow harbour entrance.

The previous day, we had visited the excellent Portsmouth museum and I was fascinated to discover that in the great days of sail, warships would have their guns unshipped in order to pass into harbour, which is why the fleet would usually anchor outside at Spithead off Ryde. It was a lovely thought that this most modern of warships would pass out of the same narrow passage at high tide as it’s illustrious predecessors such as Nelson’s Victory with lies within sight of Prince of Wales.

The carrier left harbour assisted by a fleet of tug boats and all other shipping paused. The island ferry paused and even a large container ship held far out in the main channel. Prince of Wales made a fine sight as she emerged and soon moved off, leaving traffic to return to normal.

Traffic returning to normal

We had a fine sail down to Bembridge – a training run with all three sails. We were able to sail our way all through the channel right into the inner harbour before motoring to find our berth on the far side of the pontoon and meet up with Matt, skipper of Skylark.

We spent a sunny afternoon chatting in the cockpit as the water drained away around us to reveal the mud and signal dinner time for the waiting birds. We had our own dinner at the Vine pub, after a pleasant walk along the stone wall across the lagoon and up the hill into the village.

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A night on the pin

East Head is one of our favourite anchorage sites- its only a couple of hours sail from our home berth and is a serene and beautiful site. Last night we had a wonderful downwind sail in a gentle F2-3 and ghosted into Chichester harbour. Choosing our favoured spot to drop the anchor, Niki expertly helmed us into position under sail, so we don’t need to fire up Henry Honda.

Leaving Portsmouth – a landing craft
Three-sail run

The anchor on the Cape Cutter gives great holding and we felt very secure, just feet from the edge of the sand. It was a lovely evening to drink a couple of glasses of wine, watching the night fall. We could hear the birds around us and the gentle rippling of the water.

There was a fair bit of traffic mid-evening which made us roll from time to time, but after that it was supremely peaceful – the light wind died completely and the water’s surface was mirror smooth reflecting the lights on the boats at anchor. The full moon rose late in the night and all I could hear was the sound of water flowing gently under the hull and the ever present sound of distant waders.

I awoke early, just after the tide turned. We had just touched the bottom at low tide but by the time I was ready to leave, there was plenty of water. Niki repeated her helming trick and we sailed off with troubling Henry again. The wind had swung round to the SE but was very light, so progress was very slow at a dead run. Niki went back to bed and I persevered for a couple of miles and then put the engine on and motored back to our berth.

Still of the night

Portsmouth – Chichester video

Almost exactly a year ago, during a lull in the pandemic, I managed a trip on Aurora with my friend John Kingsley and I shot some nice video clips with my phone and with my drone. I edited the video some time ago, but my “production” lacked a sound track. I decided that a sea shanty was needed and so I modified the words of a traditional song to suit “this fine boat” and recorded myself. Click on the picture to see the result.