Sunday, 19 July 2020

A post lockdown Cruise - July 2020


Queenborough - windy sunset


It has been a slow start for sailing this year, first a back problem, then no access to the Marina during strict lockdown and then the wait to be allowed to overnight on my ‘second home’ Snow Goose.  The latter was restriction relaxed on the 4th July so on the 5th I headed out. Originally this trip was to be with Stefan on Shuda, social distancing still requiring only individuals or individual households on one boat, but he was unable to come having run into a groin on the Ovens Buoy Race the week before damaging his keel. So it was a single boat, single handed trip and none the worse for that. 

Just under a week on the boat in variable wind and weather, characterized by the remains of a low bringing strong winds at the beginning of the week and a weak high after that. Rain and mixed weather mid week meant I didn’t go to as many places as I expected, finding it better to be based in Brightlingsea but that was fine.

Day 1. Sunday 5th July - Gillingham Marina to Queenborough Harbour, late afternoon.



Flying down the Medway under just a reefed genoa


1630-1805
W 15-30kn

Having delayed starting out by a day to avoid very strong winds crossing the Thames Estuary this sail down to Queenborough was double quick (one hour and 35 minutes) under reefed genoa only, with winds westerly 15-20 and gusting 30 knots. A beautiful sail, although I was a bit preoccupied about whether I would be able to pick up a buoy at Queenborough in wind this strong. I needn’t have been, all went smoothly.  No-one else was about - or mad enough to sail today.  Halfway down I had a private aerial display of a Red Kite harried across the Medway by seagulls – they don’t seem to get on. The usual sea and marsh birds everywhere, they have had a quieter spring and seem more apparent this year perhaps as a result. 

The usual warm welcome at Queenborough.

Day 2 Monday 6th July – Queenborough to Brightlingsea, afternoon







1300-2030
NW 15-20kn

Setting off at lunch time - as soon as the tide allowed - and hoping to get to the Spitway to catch the change in the tide at around 1940. A good plan but the wind was so good I shot up there and was well early. Its always hard waiting to get off and inevitably I did so a little ahead of schedule - seen off from Queenborough by a seal and later welcomed into the Colne by another. A great wind on the quarter and then on the beam made the leg up to the Whitaker both fast and simple with 2 or 3 other boats for company, which although quicker than me seemed to end up coming into the Colne at roughly the same time. Sailing on the tiller pilot for long periods produces a remarkably straight line on the Navionics track, it’s a good sailor ironing out the gusts and wave adjustments better than I do.  Beautiful skies and sea colours changing through grey to green to brown as the light changed with great boiling clouds in the latter part of the day.  Coming up to the Whitaker and then the Spitway at least an hour and a half ahead of plan meant we were head on to strong wind and the spring tide as we turned North West towards the Colne Bar. I could have carried on sailing and tacked in laboriously but instead I opted to motor, itself quite enjoyable now that I do properly trust this engine, and my servicing. As it is we came round the Colne Bar buoy and up to the Colne as the light dropped and were treated to a spectacular sunset as I arrived into Pyefleet Creek and dropped anchor alongside Talisker 1 with James Tomlinson of Samingo Sailing, blog and You Tube video fame. A wave between skippers is as close as we get to forming a relationship. Interesting how isolated one is at anchor even if there are other boats nearby.  That is usually a good thing. This time I was almost the last boat in and had a brilliant quiet meal at anchorage watching the sun go down in the northwest. 

A lovely afternoon wind


Day 3-5 Tuesday 7th-9th July – Brightlingsea


In a gathering westerly breeze the Pyefleet anchorage can get uncomfortable as the boat dances around trying to decide whether to obey tide or wind directions. So At Midday I went across to Brightlingsea for a pontoon berth, after a seemingly impossibly large cargo ship came slowly out between the moorings from the last working quay in the creek beyond. Visited Tony O’Donovan and his new boat Malibu (grand name) on the pontoon at Morgan Marine, a part of Brightlingsea I didn’t know, at the top of a large and dusty marine related industrial estate – a mine of expertise and resource no doubt.  Morgan Marine seem to be the dominant players in Brightlingsea. 

Resting in Brightlingsea and enjoying a simple life on the boat, painting, reading, cooking and generally looking about me.

Pyefleet - windy clouds


Brightlingsea - watching the tide 

Brightlingsea Egrets


A fine potter up the Colne to Wivenhoe at high water on a windless grey afternoon. The Bert Prior tied up to Ballast Quay is a sight worth seeing. The Prior coasters have been plying the Thames Estuary between the Colne and London for many years. When fully laden the gunwales of these boats are astonishingly low on the water and must have to be careful of their draft going up and down the Colne. On Thursday an enjoyable visit from family, Zephyr and Emily came down from Cambridge in a Zipcar for a walk and lunch on board.




Day 6 10th July – Brightlingsea to Queenborough


0800 1530
WNW 5-20kn

A delightful sail back across the estuary in variable winds on virtually one tack all the way, goosewinged out to the Spitway and then a beam reach becoming increasingly close hauled towards the Sheppey shore.  No wildlife visible today but otherwise a lovely day of trade wind skies and green-blue water. The wind rose through the day and by the afternoon I should have reefed but didn’t bother. I wonder whether I would have done with single line reefing and lines all brought back to the cockpit – probably.  Snow Goose builds weather helm with increased heel and I am conscious that I am slowing progress with the rudder but I’m never sure how much especially when these have been such quick crossings anyway.  Bearing away a little helps reduce heel and of course speeds the boat up. 

I sailed across the Spitway ½ hour before low water with never less than 2.1m below the keel – we had less than that nipping over the end of the Whitaker Spit. Then one long tack all the way to the Isle of Sheppey. The wind was strong enough to throw everything around in the cabin, I must remember to secure it all more effectively next time…

There is something about these day long journeys, sailing buoy to buoy and almost out of sight of land, despite being in shallow water for much of the time. It feels like a rite of passage, I wonder whether it always will. 

A short motor round Garrison Point and into the Swale. Again made welcome at Queenborough and had an excellent Pizza ashore at the Admirals Arms following their quite thorough distancing protocols.

Crossing the Spitway

Day 7 11th July  - Queenborough to Gillingham




1105-1340
NW 10-20kn

Probably the best sail of the trip. A ‘technical’ upwind beat, getting the most out of the boat and concentrating on luffing up in the gusts to gain ground particularly round the headlands. Really satisfying. Only a couple of tacks needed, making it only about 4 tacks in the whole week!  My old Gibb winches are slow to operate and sometimes hard to haul in tight in a strong wind but I like them enough.  And I still sail mostly on the wind vane at the masthead rather than looking at the instruments - tougher on the neck but better for keeping an eye on the sail trim at the same time - and somehow more real. I came in very close to shore round the Napoleonic fort at Darnet Ness only to find another boat passing inside me unseen behind the genoa. Good to know there is depth there I suppose. 



This has been a lovely week. The Essex shore is easily accessible for me single handed even in fairly strong winds, although timing and tide management is important. The boat has behaved impeccably and the recent installation of a NASA battery monitor makes life a lot simpler and gives one confidence to use electrical power more freely. Although Snow Goose is not quick she is an ideal boat for this kind of sailing and for me. I was fortunate to buy such a boat so inexpensively when I did and to be able to gently tweak her into performing as well as she does. Here’s to many more trips.







Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Notes from an Anchorage - 2019 GYC East Coast Cruise

Evening anchorage skies

So as we sail our way towards the end of the Greenwich Yacht Club 2019 East Coast Cruise and I sit watching a seal pup on the bank opposite this idyllic anchorage in the Roach its time to write some notes on the experience.  This has been the fourth year I have looked after the GYC ECC and it is my last in that role, but certainly not the last ECC I will take part in. Over the last four years I have thoroughly enjoyed the planning, the talking, the honing of options for destinations, the help from various people and of course the trips themselves. This year we have had strong winds followed by decidedly not strong winds.   A week in the Thames estuary seems to always provide us with a broad spectrum of weathers although in recent years they do seem to have got hotter.  My intention has been to plan routes and destinations which can be got to by all sizes of Greenwich Yacht Club boats.  I know these can feel a bit tame for the larger and speedier boats but it ends up working reasonably well for all. Most of those destinations are not exactly new, there is only so far you can get in one tide in the Thames estuary, and despite ambitions for more adventure our furthest point is usually the excellent Royal Harwich Yacht Cub in the Orwell, ever hospitable and picturesque, an ideal rest day place. I had hoped to get into the Deben this year but a 27kn wind on a difficult bar and river entrance was not going to allow that to happen - maybe next time....

Snow Goose flying into Felixstowe, goose winging in a brisk southerly wind

I am struck by how Sailing in these waters can quickly change from the serene and peaceful to the comparatively extreme, with steep chop, breaking waves and strong winds. Despite this our boats and most their occupants seem to cope. That said, it is important to respect this coast; it’s shallowness makes it nasty at times and planning to suit the tides is essential. Wind over tide chop is something most of us are familiar with and it’s not always fun.  But most of the time the sailing is good and getting the most out of our boats, coaxing that extra half knot out of sail trim or choosing the route with just enough depth and that bit more wind becomes a pleasurable obsession. The other huge pleasure is the wild-life. This year I haven’t seen a single porpoise which is unusual but we have seen seals everyday and great bird life, particularly in these creeks. Here in the Yokesfleet Channel off the Roach there are not only the usual, terns, egrets, gulls and all manner of unidentifiable small shore birds, but also big flocks of starlings doing their weird murmurations - drawings in the sky - why do they do that?  

Pin Mill doing what it does best

Wildflowers on the Orwell

Every year I have been on the East Coast Cruise has the company been excellent, a true GYC mix of light heart and earnest mutual support. Almost daily there are situations where one of us needs to ask the advice or help of another and this along with the beer, the wine and all that is very bonding. Somehow you get to know people better by doing things with them than by just talking.

This year we had around 15 boats take part ranging in size from the 22’ Seagull, a sea capable shoal draft ketch, to the 44’ Isandra lll, a mile eating fast cruiser, and the usual assortment of boats in between. I sometimes wonder what is the ideal boat for the East Coast Cruise, but the sheer diversity of our boats is what makes it interesting.  As long as they are sound, with good engines capable of getting us out of difficulty and comfortable enough for a coast hopping week it’s probably not the boat that is going to be under test.  Of course skippers put time into preparation of boats and kit to ensure the best chance of a trouble free week, but that said there is always the unexpected, be it engine failure, or in my case in recent years - a tiller breaking or a gooseneck parting, (both happily fixable en route). 


  



Navigation and passage planning are of course the responsibility of each skipper and although I have planned each day with the fleet in mind some boats just do get there quicker than others. The East Coast Cruise has developed a strong culture of informal group support with meetings and briefings when needed through the week at which we can pool our planning knowledge and experience for common good. These briefings and the 2-3 meetings in the months prior to the cruise are essential, to develop a sense of ‘family’ and ensure good communication. Perhaps there should be more of this in future years, more morning briefings and more formalised buddying between inexperienced and experienced sailors. And perhaps we will go further afield, or some of us go for longer - We will see.

To the next year...... 

Early morning mists on the Crouch

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A new tiller for Snow Goose


Having snapped off my original Macwester tiller last summer at an awkward moment at sea its time for a new one, the old repaired one becoming a spare. The new tiller might as well be properly made in laminated hardwoods. This time it will be a little longer to aid single handed sailing and more comfortable to hold.

The problem. The solid wood tiller broke along the grain at its weakest point
The design for new tiller with a Snow Goose's head
7 laminates of alternating Ash and Sapele on a jig to match the original curve. (The cling film separating the base board from the gluing tiller essential with this indestructible Resorcinol glue)
Glued....
...and sanded ready for shaping

Rounded, tapered and the Snow Goose head carved....

...with dark hardwood eyes
The new tiller completed and ready for installation
Snow Goose has a new ergonomic (and zoomorphic) tiller

I used Resorcinol two part glue for the first time, instead of epoxy, which is excellent stuff although you can see the brown colour in the joints a little. The intention was to suggest the goose's head rather than do a more literal carving and ensure that the resulting shape was good to hold for hours on end at the helm. The dark hardwood eyes were satisfying to do. It remains to be seen how it performs.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Greenwich Yacht Club - East Coast Cruise 2017

The 2017 Greenwich Yacht Club East Coast Cruise was organised again this year by yours truly. The 35+ strong group of skippers and crews on 15+ boats that make up the fleet are a wonderfully friendly, mutually supportive, cross section of the Yacht Club; good to sail with and to pass the time with. This year the annual week of estuary crossings and port hopping combined with delightful stops in Kent, Essex and Suffolk rivers was blessed with good weather and wind and all who planned to returned. Most of the fleet started from Greenwich and were joined by some, including Snow Goose, in the Medway and others from elsewhere along the way.

My own log of the cruise on Snow Goose with my crew for the week Jim Grady and Ian Blackie is here:




Day 1 29.7.17  Gillingham to Queenborough


1400-1630
Wind SW 5-10kn
Distance 8.9nm
Max speed 4.1kn

Late starting due to a blocked heads outlet. What a glamorous beginning to the cruise.  I try in vain to fix it from within the boat before we set off, barking knuckles and getting hot and bothered bent double under the heads to no avail.  Try again later!

We finally set off, starting with an interesting time in the Gillingham Marina lock watching (with some sympathy and anguish) another boat struggle, their mooring lines tied firmly to the quayside bollards while the water level dropped.  I turn round only to find one of ours is caught up and is also taught and getting taughter. Some swift action and all is well. The other boat did not fair so well with horrible cracking sounds from the cleat fixings and the owner rather unreasonably blaming the lock keeper!  Anyway off we go for a gentle sail down to Queenborough raining a bit towards the end but nonetheless enjoyable. We are received by most of the fleet already tied up after their uneventful journey down in the morning.  The weather a bit unpromising for a barbeque but we go ahead anyway. Less boats have arrived than expected, several failed to get away from Greenwich and one or two off station boats have not appeared but that makes the cruise a bit more manageable so no real regrets there.

Day 2 30.7.17  Queenborough to Brightlingsea





Taking the northerly route round the wreck of the Montgomery


0700-1600
Wind W 10-22kn
Distance 36nm
Max speed 9.0kn
Average speed 4.6kn

A windy early start so we put two reefs in the main (for the first time). This gives us  confidence in the strong wind but soon proves unnecessary so we shake them out and keep going at good speeds. The fleet splits either side of the Mongomery wreck at the mouth of the Medway with most taking the northerly route and sticking together reasonably well for the whole day - Blue Moon and Snow Goose within biscuit tossing range and sailing neck and neck for much of the time. The cruising chute gives a big boost to morale and speed during the lighter wind middle part of the trip. The skipper is made a bit seasick kneeling on the foredeck dealing with the cruising chute in a following sea. Hopefully my sealegs will return soon!  A good broad reach eventually turning into a beat as we start to head north for the Spitway in 20kn of wind. We arrive into Brightlingsea, marshalled into various moorings by the harbour master with characteristic efficiency and go on shore for the customary fish and chips and pints at the Yachtsmans Arms.

                                                                                     Ardent and Blue Moon heading for the Spitway




Day 3 31.7.17  Brightlingsea to West Mersey

The day starts with Snow goose beached on the Hard to clear the blocked heads outlet from the outside.  A peaceful wait for skipper and crew while the tide drops and with only one wetsuit on board my crew opt to sit it out while I scrub the bottom as the tide drops and eventually get to the heads outlet which is well blocked between skin fitting and seacock but proves to be easily unblocked and is soon sorted – phew. The propeller is encrusted with barnacles (after only 4 months in the water) so it’s a good chance to clear them and polish up the prop.  French Marine advise not coating a propeller on the grounds that nothing will stick to it at 1500rpm but cleaning it a couple of times a season instead. So it goes back in the water unadorned and now drives the boat considerably better.

On the Hard at Brightlingsea

Barnacles - after only four months in the water


0300-1530
Wind SW 12-15kn gusting 20 occasionally
Distance 6.8nm
Max speed 6.8kn

We get away after lunch for a lovely afternoon sail westwards to West Mersey into the scintillating afternoon light, gorgeous and quite fast close hauled sailing in sunshine and an invigorating wind with occasional exciting gusts. The boat performs excellently making 5.5kn into 15 kn wind. In hindsight we should have been reefed for this wind but somehow we don’t leaving us with a fair amount of weather helm as the boat heels over to 30degrees quite often.  Snow Goose will do this but seldom seems to go over much more than 30 degrees. We arrive at the beautiful and busy moorings at West Mersey, where we are well looked after by the WMYC launch, finding places for all of the fleet.  Snow goose does well, we are put on a swinging mooring close to the jetty. Not close enough however for a tired crew to row my tiny tender in after the outboard refuses to start. We give in fairly easily and opt for a very pleasant self-sufficient evening on board while other members of the GYC fleet are entertained by the commodore of WMYC on shore. Lovely mooring amongst birds and mud banks covered in samphire.

Day 4 1.8.17    West Mersey to the Orwell

0900-1500
Wind SW 5-15kn
Distance 31nm
Max speed 8.8kn
Average speed 4.5kn

A light wind leaving West Mersey, the creek is like a millpond, but the wind freshens to 8-12kn as the fleet leaves the Blackwater. Another good cruising chute day and up it goes taking us at a brisk pace up most of the Wallet. The wind keeps us flying along through the day in excellent sailing conditions.  As usual wind and sea tend to get up a bit as we round Naze Head.  At this point, in a choppy moment I fall quite lightly onto the tiller and it snaps off at the base. This is surprising (and painful) and leaves us in a bit of a fix but not at any real risk.  After a bit of a struggle to get the boat into the wind with only 9” of tiller left and very little steering ability, we get the sails down.  Nothing for it but to motor into the Orwell steering carefully with what is left of the tiller. I decide we are not sufficiently disabled to warn the coastguard as we cross in front of Felixtowe Docks and Harwich, and we safely motor on up the Orwell to Royal Harwich Yacht Club and the usual friendly helpful reception. After tea and a tidy up we set to and repair the tiller with three bolts and epoxy to give it maximum time to cure before setting off again on Thursday. The repair seems sound and I feel that if it is going to break again it wont be at that point. We’ll see, but clearly it’s time to make a spare tiller, perhaps this time in laminated timber rather than a single piece of hardwood which the original Macwester tiller is.

Snow Goose flying the cruising chute at 6 knots




The broken tiller



Day 5 2.8.17    Royal Harwich Yacht Club/Pin Mill - Rest Day

A day of various minor jobs on the boat and general resting. Significant amounts of rain come through in the afternoon so the cockpit tarpaulin makes an effective and sociable shelter as various people drop in for a drink and give advice on the outboard, all well intentioned, not all absolutely relevant. In the end Jim and I dismantle the carburettor, clean it out with fresh fuel and the engine runs – jets blocked with old fuel it seems. Now we just need a decent sized tender to go with it. Next on my shopping list.

We are guests of the Pin Mill Sailing Club for the evening for a thoroughly convivial  barbeque on their veranda under a spreading oak tree – what a spot. Pin Mill is a simple place, the lane running down to the hard with houses and boat yards on either side. It is perhaps a pity that the Butt and Oyster is now a ‘smart’ pub, but that’s progress.





Day 6 3.8.17    Royal Harwich Yacht Club



Wind bound again!  The GYC fleet meets on the lawn in the morning for a serious talk about whether to leave today or not, there are very strong westerlies forecast and the Wallet can be tough in these conditions. It turns out not to be a difficult decision, and we all decide to stay a second day in the Orwell. I regret this a little and decide to go for a sail down river anyway. It proves windy 10 knots gusting at one point to 39 knots(!) which nearly knocks us over, and that still in the relative shelter of the river. Sailing speeds in these conditions are not particularly high due to having to concentrate so hard on controlling the boat but occasionally we do go over 6 knots. We sail back to RHYC for a more sensible afternoon of maintenance and resting. The outboard is now working well so is perhaps safe to put away for the time being.  The trouble with kit like that is that it only gets used once in a blue moon. Maybe the ideal would be an electric outboard. One day…

Day 7 4.8.17    RHYC/Orwell to Brightlingsea

1200-1900
Wind SSW-SW 10-20kn morning dropping to 3-8 afternoon
Distance 35.7nm
Max speed 7.6kn
Average speed 2.7kn

An exciting start to the day with good winds across the bay to the Naze and into the wallet but dropping to not enough wind in the afternoon. Tacking up the wallet is fine, if slow and it proves difficult to point accurately in the confused wind over tide seas and we often lose speed. Coming up to the Colne we opt to cross the Colne Bar on the rising tide, watching the depth as it gets less and less.  I have been aground here before so we are cautious. All is fine though and we slightly anxiously watch a deeper keeled boat than Snow Goose follows us, unwisely perhaps across the shallows. Coming into Brightlingsea at 1900 we opt to anchor in Pyefleet channel rather than go into the harbour, so as to make an early morning start easier. This is a good choice, delicious supper anchored in serene peace listening to the birdsong and gently gurgling water.


Day 8 5.8.17    Brightlingsea to Queenborough

0500-1300
Wind SW-W 3-8kn
Distance 32.7nm
Max speed 6.9kn
Average speed 4.3kn

A very early start with most of the boats leaving the anchorage just before low water at 0500. Others join us from Brightlingsea and it turns out needn’t have worried about depth in the channel; they all get out, apparently the channel has been dredged this year.  It is dawn twilight so we are sailing with the navigation lights on (for the first time for me on Snow Goose).  A hearty breakfast cooked en route gets us going and we motor sail and sail with others to the Spitway.  There is not much wind all day so unlike the purists in the fleet we motor quite a bit and give the engine a good airing and then in the breaks when the wind does get up we sail and drift in peace.  It is strangely rewarding crossing the estuary like this, with a strong sense of the journey we are taking. Well out to sea a seal bobs up close by to take a look at us.  We opt to take an inshore course along the Sheppey coast and take a look at Sheerness but there is even less wind here. It is interesting anyway and when we finally come round Garrison Point we are edging along close to the jetty. The entrance to the Medway is busy today and we pick our way round the ships and into the Swale. We get some warning blasts from the shipping suddenly leaving the dock but keep well out of their way. Finally we arrive at our mooring on the Grey Buoys at Queenborough where we raft up 6 deep for a sociable and relaxed afternoon. A huge thunderstorm suddenly arrives with lightening striking one of the massive wind turbines, apparently harmlessly. Some of the fleet have witnessed this storm as they came in and are a little wet on arrival.

Snow Goose heading out to the Spitway




Rafted up and resting at Queenborough

Day 9 6.8.17    Queenborough to Gillingham

0900-1300
Wind W 10-15kn
Distance 10.7nm
Max speed 6.0kn

The majority of the fleet heading to Greenwich leave at 0700 while we dally for an hour or so before setting off up the Medway. It is slightly sad to be suddenly on our own and not heading up river with the rest but it is all made up for by a near perfect sail up the Medway in bright sunlight beating into steady winds.  We practice tacking and pointing the boat, not so high as to stall and not so deep as to loose way.  Snow Goose likes to sail at about 45degrees to the wind with the windex just outside the ‘box’.  I am also starting to get used to using the wind instrument rather than looking up at the windex on the masthead all the time. I am not sure whether this is a good habit to get into but it does allow for more precision as the helm does not have to keep looking up. It’s a lovely morning and we see our first porpoise of the cruise. Then on the last tack of this last morning of the cruise I notice the genoa halyard is slack and see that it has come free of the sail at the head. A timely gear failure, time to get the sail down and the webbing which has broken free of its stitching to the sail fixed.