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SAS Charity Event - Portland Harbour 19th September 2004

3 separate accounts...

Windsurfing with a purpose

Today we really knew where we were going – This was the Day when you didn’t just blast back and forth, (great though blasting back and forth is). But were to navigate and transverse the blue- grey waters of the English channel, conquer the hardships and depravations of the journey, Then finally make landfall on the remote beach at Overcombe, an awesome 5 miles – ish distant.

A fine early morning drive down, leaving the rain in Weston (it was welcome to it). Not a whole lot on the road, and not one single lorry or tractor pulling out in front of me. As I dropped down the Hill into the village of Grimstone I spotted a windsurfing Vehicle in the rear view mirror. A Grey / silver car pulling a grey / silver trailer loaded with boards encased in grey / silver board bags. Is this taking colour co-ordination to extremes?? But no - low down on the right side is a board in a black bag. As they close in on me I eventually determine its Chris and Gerry – hey we got us a convoy, all the way to the boatyard.

Park the car next to Keith’s motor, get out and find Viv, Steve, Geoff and of course Keith already there. Out in the harbour white caps were the order of the day, with the wind blowing a solid force four - definitely looking good. In short time, or perhaps they were already there and I didn’t spot them, the remainder of the crew arrived. Adrian, Al, Mike, Pierrette and our honorary Nomad Ivor.

route map

Wind direction was pretty much South West which meant Broad reaching from Portland to Overcombe and fair degree of pointing upwind on the return from Overcombe to Portland. So be It.

Skippers meeting planned for eleven o clock. - Oops Not everyone quite ready so put the meeting back to 11:20 and then back again to 11:30 - last call - this was it - we were going.

Eight Nomads had kitted themselves up for the expedition. Geoff and Pierette manned the safety boat, linking up with Ivor in with his luxury speedboat. Steve had graciously volunteered to drive his car around to Overcombe so as to provide transport back for anyone who needed it, and act as a carrier for the groups lunchtime fare. The plan was to sail to the harbour entrance (approx 2 miles away) in several reaches, meet up with the other sailors and the safety boat, then go on to Overcombe.

Didn’t quite happen that way. As we were rigging up the wind was dropping, resulting in us setting off in a force 2 and a half, with occasional gusts coming through. With sails ranging from 5.5 to 8.5 and boards from 130 to 250 litres, there was quite a difference in the pointing / very occasional planing abilities of the various combatants and their kit.

Now Portland Harbour is pretty big, some 3 - 4 square miles and its all too easy to loose sight of other windsurfers especially on different tacks and at different speeds. In and out of the moored boats, avoiding fleets of racing dinghies and skiffs (its bloody busy out there in the middle of the harbour). Sure enough, within a short space of time and reaches, It’s apparently just me and those bloody big ships, out there in the far south bit of the harbour.

So far there has been no real chance of me planing (a mere 7 mtrs on a big floaty board) but perhaps I think there may have been a remote possibility for those with bigger sails.

The further out and the closer to the harbour wall the bigger and steeper the waves become. Making for interesting sailing as you catch a wave / swell, speed up for a moment then sharply slow down as you run into the back of it’s predecessor. Oh for as few more knots of wind - this displacement sailing is not so easy after all. Still there’s nothing wrong with a little falling in getting wet type of activity, is there? But eventually it’s up for the final stately reach in the harbour, toward the north entrance / exit. As I look around I see Gerry behind me (at least think it’s Gerry) and in front of me a sailor who I identify as Keith as well as another sailor on a different tack who is a little too far away to recognise.

These two go through the harbour entrance and I duly follow as does Gerry. Outside in the open sea the water state improves dramatically, no real waves just gentle rippling swells. Still no planing wind but much more comfortable sailing.

Lost sight of what I believe is Keith but can still see t’other sail ahead in the distance heading for overcome, check and yes Gerry is still behind.

photo of chris heading away from the harbour
Chris heading away from the harbour - aided by the downhill sea

Sun is out, Overcome clearly in view and a pleasant sail ahead. Ahhh life is so good and all’s right with the world, that is, until Ivor pulls alongside in his speedboat and informs me the other Nomads were still waiting for us in the harbour entrance. Oops - Bugger - the sailor I thought was Keith had disappeared from sight and the other sailor later turned out to be a complete stranger. Not the most impressive bit of looking out for your fellows on my part, but revenge was served on the beach, as I was universally elected to do the write up. Ivor did a quick about turn and sped of back to tell them all the good news about us sailing off and leaving them.

As Overcombe drew closer, so did a gust or two which became three or four and suddenly I’m on the plane - Yeessss at last just what the doctor ordered, but a minute later I’m off the plane again as the gust dies for me. Not apparently so for Adrian as he flies effortlessly past me as I wallow. Ah well isn’t it marvellous what a light floaty board, a big sail and a huge dollop of skill can manage.

The wind hasn’t finished it’s vagaries yet and up it comes again to give a decent run on the plane this time. All the way in I hope, but no, I successfully find the lull, try too hard and to long to keep the run going and fall in some few hundred yards from shore. As I shove the sail around in the oggin, Gerry passes with a huge grin on his face planing all the way to the beach.

Following on I get to the shore to find the beach almost deserted, just a few hardy holiday makers well wrapped up looking at us with puzzled expressions. Steve arrives in his motor shortly after, making four at Overcombe. And before very long there was five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven nomads on the beach, really giving the onlookers something to puzzle over. A splendid lunch and group photo followed with the now obligatory cake being dispensed to all. This washed down with coffee and served with recounts of the sail over (and a b***king in my case for not waiting).

Lunch over and the wind had picked up. So it’s all eight sailors to sail back to the Boatyard. This

al & brian heading back from overcombe

time with the wind picked up there’s no problems to get on the plane – just as well cause it’s upwind work now.

A few long sweet beats in the open sea which is still pretty pleasant and it’s time to face the harbour entrance. Not a pretty sight The walls are big, ugly and offset, with the angle of the wind forcing you to point well upwind or make a tack or two in the jaws of the harbour entrance.

Approaching from the north on the plane I go for broke on the point high option, but as I get close a yacht appears from behind the wall taking up the route I had planned. - Bugger - bear away into his path to try to pass in front of him or luff up behind him and risk getting to close to the wall and loosing the wind. Luffing up was the call, and sure enough, I sailed right into the wind shadow of the harbour wall and fell in.

The harbour entrance is not a place to hang around; Traffic, currents and Flukey winds are the order of the day. So it’s quickly back on the board and try to plough through the gap off the plane Three wet and nervous tacks it took to get through but once inside the harbour wall then it back to a more conventional and reassuring method of sailing. In the straps, hooked in and super long enjoyable beats up and down the harbour to get back to base. The closer to the beach the more comfortable the sea state – the chop really does get steep and large over by the harbour walls.

But it’s a most pleasant feeling to arrive back at base, sailing through the midst of the Back and Forth brigade pleasantly pooped, knowing you have just sailed from a far far distant location from where only a relative few have sailed. All eight Nomads who sailed to Overcome got back safely, most sailed back but a few took advantage of the covering boats for a lift through the harbour entrance.

On the beach afterwards everyone had a story to tell and there was even time for an hour or so’s blasting before the slow pack up and drive home. An exceptional day packed full of interest, excitement, challenges and achievements as well as pleasure and camaraderie. Extending to the drive home where a fair number stopped at the Windmill pub on then way back to indulge in a beer or two and really talk up the exploits of the day.

Grateful thanks to all who took part – remember this was a Charity event – to raise money for Surfers against Sewage, especially those who forewent the pleasure of sailing and provided safety cover, Geoff, Pierrette and Ivor in the boats and Steve in the car. An Epic event !!

Brian Derrick

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What a great sail !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

photo of Geoff with "Ever Freddy"

The main reason for writing this is to thank Geoff ever so much for bringing EverFreddy to Portland to give safety cover for the Portland to Overcombe sail. Also many thanks to Ivor for support in his boat as well.

I was a bit dubious about doing this sail – don’t know why really. But since Geoff was making the effort to take his boat down I thought I should at least support this and give him someone to rescue. I also only fully decided to go during the Saturday evening beforehand, having had a particularly good afternoon at Axbridge – about 3 hours of planing conditions – and feeling up for more.

I was down in the boat yard by about 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Didn’t look too promising – dead offshore – but was supposed to pick up. Of course there was only one board to use – the Cat plus 7.5m. - ideal for all the upwind work to get back again. It was only when about half way across the harbour that the wind picked up a bit and started giving some nice planing broad reaches.

Found Geoff at the harbour entrance and waited for others to catch up. Then out through the entrance and planing every now and then down to Overcombe. Luckily got directed to the right beach otherwise I would’ve headed much too far East.

Cake by the beach - thanks Steve. Then the return trip – all upwind. Really good planing conditions. Didn’t bother with the dagger board - my newly repaired fin was working well. Had a few blasts up by the harbour wall while waiting to see if everyone made it to the entrance. When I saw that Chris, Viv and Mike were going to get a lift back I did the getting back through the harbour entrance bit – not too bad only one tack. The waves inside the harbour were very interesting on a raceboard – a short board would’ve been easier. It’s the first time I’ve had the Cat completely clear of the water. Seemed to take ages to get back to the beach but I think it was only 3 or 4 tacks but using the whole width of the harbour. But then I hit a rock in the shallows and lost my fin – many rude words. – and ended up walking the last bit.

Then to finish the day’s sailing as you should – 2 pints of RCH Pitchfork in the Windmill, Portishead with a bunch of happy windsurfers.

But thanks again for the safety boat cover ‘cos I certainly wouldn’t have tried this trip without it.

Keith Shepherd

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What a great day !!!

Well the forecast was perfect, wind from the West. In discussions during the week we decided that we should be able to make it both ways, so out went the email in the hope of encouraging fellow Nomads out for our first Nomads run charity event.

Not too early a start, as you may already know I’m not too good at mornings (especially Sunday mornings) so this was an added bonus. The trip down was uneventful, though I was unusually nervous, with the odd butterfly.

We arrived at the boatyard to discover the wind was not quite as promised and was coming from the South West, which seemed to agitate the small winged creatures in my stomach still further. I wasn’t the only one as it turned out and Brian was sent out as a probe to see if the trip was on or not. He came back looking much happier than when he went out, so we all shot (or lurched in my case) into rigging action.

There was not too much wind so I chose a 6.0m and our Fanatic Bee 144l. I had intended to sail the Snake, but discovered that we had forgotten the dagger board, it has a piddlingly small fin so I decided that the Bee was a better option, there was going to be a lot of upwind work on the way back.

Ivor & motor boat

The support team deserve a special mention; Steve came back from a business trip to Houston on Saturday and coping with jetlag, volunteered for support duty on land and the job of “land photographer”. Geoff and Pierrette were in EverFreddy, Geoff’s inflatable and last but not least was Ivor in his motorboat. I would not have attempted the trip without this level of support and would like to thank all of the support team, especially as I availed myself of their services on the return trip! Pierrette also had the task of sea photographer, she did a great job, especially considering the amount of movement in the boat. Some of both Pierrette’s and Steve’s photos are sprinkled throughout this writeup.

Finally, after a fair amount of faffing, we were off, zig zagging (technical term!) our way to the northerly harbour exit.

The distance to Overcombe, as the crow flies (should that be fish swims?), was about 5 miles, but with a couple or three tacks in the harbour it was considerably further. It was very different deliberately sailing downwind, I am usually paranoid about keeping myself upwind, so this was a little out of my comfort zone, but quite enjoyable none-the-less; I need to do this sort of thing more often.

Going through the gap in the harbour wall was also interesting, keeping out of the way of the other

sail traffic (much bigger in close-up!) and away from the walls. Once out of the harbour the sea state was much smoother and when out of the wall’s wind-shadow, the sail to Overcombe was very broad with planing conditions, by far the best part of the trip for me. My only worry was where exactly was Overcombe? I stopped to ask Keith who pointed further East, fortunately Ivor and Adrian appeared in Ivor’s motorboat and gave us a good landmark to aim at, quite a bit West of where Keith was aiming for!

From launch to photo at tea break took us about 1 hour 20 mins, but this did include a bit of a wait

the group take a break at overcombe
Hot tea, cake & sunshine at Overcombe

for Adrian, Brian and Gerry who didn’t regroup before leaving the harbour. It was surprisingly difficult to spot people in such a vast expanse of water, fortunately I recognised Gerry just as he disappeared through the gap and Ivor was able to chase after him and the others and report back that all was well.

The stop at Overcombe was very pleasant, hot tea, cake, sunshine and plenty of talk! Until, at last, the trip back. This started well, it took a fair old time to get back upwind to the gap in the harbour wall, but gave the opportunity for more photos. By the time we got to the gap, the wind was up and the tide was on its way out. The combination of the two made getting back into the harbour very difficult. At one attempt I thought that I would make it only to find that the wind would most likely put me on the rocks inside the harbour wall. I tacked inside the gap right next to the sidewall and came back to my start point, despite slogging upwind for all I was worth, oh for the Snake with a dagger board!

I watched Chris do exactly the same thing and we ended up sheltering from the wind to the South of the gap. Lifts were offered by both safety boats and discretion being the better part of valour, we both accepted. As we set off through the gap Mike was sitting by the harbour wall, he'd had the same problem and had decided to wait for a safety boat to return. In the end Adrian sailed Mike’s kit back – an 8.5m sail in those conditions must have been interesting!

The journey back in the boat was very choppy and quite an experience in itself. A minor mishap flipped my sail onto the back of the boat, which lost me a panel. Eventually Geoff dropped both Pierrette and myself in the shallows. We were wading our way back to shore chatting, not noticing that the water was getting deeper again, when the Portland Harbour Rescue boat appeared to “Rescue” us! It turned out that Geoff had dropped us off on the wrong side of the boat channel. Apparently at that stage of an outgoing tide, crossing it would be pretty difficult, if not impossible. So I had to suffer the indignity of being rescued a second time, but this time only a few tens of metres from the shore. My name is now in their rescue book, along with my age (no, I have no idea why they asked for my age, but I bet I put their average up!)

The sail has since been repaired at Bristol Sails, who did a superb job, I had to look hard for the mend; they even matched the white with blue trimming next to the luff tube, which we all know is absolutely essential to the aerodynamics. This is about the fifth time we’ve had sails repaired at Bristol Sails, they always do an excellent job and they give club members a 10% discount, which can’t be bad.

The event raised £5.00 from each participant. We have also had donations from the support team and several club members who couldn't make it, making a total of £85.00 to date.

A great result after a great day’s sailing; can you help us to make it a nice round £100.00?

Viv Powell

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photo gallery...

Al setting off
Mike struggling
adrian setting off from overcombe
chris & viv
chris & viv hit the wind shadown of the harbour wall
chris & mike back in the harbour



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This page last updated: 3rd Sep, 2021.