Lord Nelson was sailed back to Southampton from Milford Haven on 13th December following her extended stay in the dry dock. A small group of fourteen volunteers (idiots) was on board together with thirteen JST crew.
Departure from Milford Haven was on the afternoon tide. A small group of well-wishers was on the pierhead to wave us on our way, including Wilma the guide dog belonging to John who was sailing with us.The forecast was for a relatively quiet start to the following day, Friday,with the wind expected to rise to a Force 8 south to south-westerly. The first leg across the Bristol Channnel was completed under engine power and sail was set as we bore away after Land's End. The wind increased through he evening and sail was reduced to the fore course, fore topsail and a main staysail for the night.
The writer was relatively fortunate in not having a night watch but this does not mean that I had a sound night's sleep. The sound of waves and loose items on the move within the ship saw to that. When I came back on deck at about seven-o-clock the next morning, the Force 8 had matured into a Force 10 southerly with wind speeds of 50 knots being shown on the anemometer. The ship was sailing at over 9.5 knots and heeling at about 30 degrees. Getting dressed to go on deck was an acrobatic feat. For the first time ever in my experience, the Galley was reduced to serving Bacon Butties. This being the only dish that could be prepared and served safely.
I went on watch at eight-o-clock. St Catherine's light on the south side of the Isle of Wight was dimly visible through the murk. We stood on to clear the island and carried sail until the fore topsail showed signs of splitting. All hands were summoned and needed to clew up and secure the two square sails. Althought the operation was well orchestrated by Chris, the First Mate, it was not easy with the motion of the ship and the occasional sea coming green over the foredeck. There was an unfortunate incident at the end when Ian, one of the volunteers, slipped and damaged a knee. He was subsequently evacuated to the Bembridge lifeboat as we passed the Nab Towers and taken onto a Portsmouth hospital.
The wind dropped very quickly as we entered the Solent and the Nelson was alongside Berth 104 in Southampton Docks by the early afternoon. The average speed for the 320 miles was calculated at 7.4 knots!
The voyage needs to be set in context. It was a delivery trip and not a normal voyage. The small crew with one exception had all sailed on either Tenacious or Nelson before. The weather forecast had been for a Force 8 and not the higher winds that ultimately arrived. It demonstrated the excellent sea-going capabilities of the ship. The decks remained dry for most of the time and the motion allowed life on board to continue albeit with everybody wedged into corners or assessing the distance to the next handhold. As has often been said, the ship will last longer than the crew.
Phil Watts Watch Leader