Ramsgate for Dunkirk Little Ships weekend

imageOur standard each year is to go down to Ramsgate or across the channel for Easter. Easter was early this year and the weather awful so that put paid to that idea. We have also just had the navigation upgraded and wanted to check this out including the AIS so we also thought that a flip down the coast and across the Thames would be better than trying to negotiate the M25 of large container ships to cross the channel with unfamiliar systems.
We chose the May bank holiday which coincided with Dunkirk Little Ships weekend. As usual Maria called, emailed and reconfirmed on the day of departure! She likes to be sure she is getting her favourite spot.
We were set for Northerlies all the way down so it looked like we would get a good sail down. At this stage the forecast was also for southerlies home so perfect.
The River Orwell is considered one of the prettiest rivers in the UK but at the start of a journey it adds one and a half hours to your journey. To reduce this we decided to leave the evening before and pick up a mooring buoy opposite Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington. The wind and tide are both quite strong but we had become quite dab hands at picking up these buoys even with the high freeboard that Mariadz has. We decide that we will go into the wind as we approach the buoy because it should help us to slow down…..that was my first mistake. The tide was running against the wind and Maria had no chance of stopping Mariadz. Maria has the line perfectly and I am in position with boat hook in hand. I hook the line for the buoy….that was my second mistake. The third mistake was saying it was Maria’s fault we hadn’t stopped dead when she had no chance. So there I am holding, with one arm, a boat weighing twenty tonnes travelling at 1.5-2 knots (why didn’t I wait until the boat had stopped!). Needless to say, using all my strength, I dropped the boat hook which hung onto the line for a few seconds before falling gracefully into the muddy water – a bit like Jack at the end of Titanic! That is our only boat hook so we will need to move on. Maybe halfpenny pier at Harwich will have a space? Nope two boats have moored in the middle and there isn’t quite enough room at either end to fit us in, we could ask them to move but that sounds like a lot of stress at 7:30pm and there was no guarantee they would move for us. Our final option is to anchor opposite Parkeston Quay, there is lots of room (the weather isn’t that nice) but we have confidence in our shiny Rocna and the sixty metres of equally shiny chain I put out and settle down for a peaceful night.

The next day we are up early and set off early and are at Languard cardinal, where we generally consider any voyage to begin, by 5:30. Ramsgate is about 45 miles away via Medusa through Black Deep and Fishermans Gat. There is a slightly shorter route through Foulgers Gat and the wind farm but we have never liked that route, it seems a bit tight especially when sailing, and we generally cut the corner at Fishermans Gat anyway. We put the sails up and we are pushing along at 6 or 7 knots slightly against the tide. Normally we have less sail out than most people. Although Mariadz is a strong boat she is quite happy with less heel and still goes quickly as we had found on our first weekend with her. There is a sudden gust and Mariadz heels a little bit more, we now don’t have the safety margin that we like and so decide to reef in the main and headsail. We reef in a lot and Mariadz settles into a lovely sail as the wind is building over 25 knots. We make the turn into Black Deep and we are now with the tide and a good wind, Mariadz is now hammering along at 9 knots but all is comfortable. Our sailing continues without incident through Fishermans Gat and we are approaching North Foreland. I have been working most of the way down producing a report and answering emails. It is decided I have to join a conference call at lunchtime to help people understand that a deadline is not a moveable feast and we need to make sure we hit it. We are now approaching Ramsgate having achieved an average of about 7knots throughout and I am still on the call so we decide to keep going and double back once I am ready. Fifteen minutes later I am off the call and we can make the turn through the lumpy waters back up to Ramsgate which is a bit of a slog. Sails are down and Mariadz is being readied for the pontoon as we call in to the port control for passage through to the Marina. Having got permission to proceed we speak to the harbourmaster and agree that we are at the end on the outside of the long pontoon, they are expecting a few other boats in so we need to be right at the end. Maria brings Mariadz in and performs a manoeuvre like a handbrake turn when someone skids and parks against the opposite curb or like Captain Ron but she doesn’t leave the wheel or switch the engine off before we’ve stopped. The super fast 180 degree turn is finished and Mariadz ferry glides sideways to the pontoon with a little bow thruster to keep her straight in the strong winds. A friendly Polish crew offer to take our lines and we are nicely settled right at the end of the pontoon. It’s a glorious day but with a strong cold wind so we use parts of the cockpit tent as a windbreak and settle down to finish our work. The Dunkirk Little Ships are starting to come in including MTB102, the last remaining operational motor torpedo boat from the war.image
That night we have booked ourselves into the lovely small Thai Orchid restaurant in the arcade on the hill overlooking the Marina.image To get there you work up an appetite by climbing several flights of steps. We have another lovely meal and return to the boat since we are both quite tired.
The next day we have a leisurely start to the day before heading off to explore town and have an authentic Italian meal for lunch. On our way down the pontoon, we see a Swiss boat that has a small float attached to a line attached to their anchor. Isn’t it always the case that the brilliant ideas are the simplest. Using this float means that you and everyone else knows where your anchor is so hopefully no-one lays their anchor across yours. It also means that if there is a problem with the chain (ours is a little rusty but fine), then you know where your anchor is and can retrieve it. We love the idea. We pop into the alladin’s cave of a chandlery full of really useful new and second hand items rather than a selection of nautical mugs or clothing. I ask about a boat hook. They have a second hand one that is a little sized by salt at the end but the stainless steel tubes move (our old one didn’t) and you can extend it. He also has another one which is less than perfect, but perfectly serviceable. We decide to go for both with our new float and twenty metres of line (20 metres- where are you thinking of anchoring!). We leave it at the shop and will collect on our return. We head into town and see a butcher with lots of offers. Despite the fact that Mariadz has limited refrigeration and freezer capacity we decide to stock up. Since we are heading to the Italian for lunch I suggest that I take all our shopping back to the boat first and sit Maria in a nice pub near the sea front with wooden panels and people for her to talk to. It takes me ages to get back having carried 10-15 kg of meat, two boat hooks, a float and twenty metres of line. A thank you to the baby sitters, quick drink and then off to the italian for a later lunch than we had planned. This wouldn’t be a problem but we have booked to go to the French Restaurant La Magnolia imageadjacent to the Thai that everyone raves about for dinner. During our gorgeous lunch we recheck the weather. The Northerlies are here to stay and although quite strong at the moment are strengthening to 35-40 knots on Monday. Having rechecked the forecast elsewhere we decide that we will go home a day earlier when it is not quite as bad. We eat too much at lunchtime and decide we have to cancel the French dinner (we have still not eaten there yet). We will also leave early on Sunday recognising that it will take a long time to get home and mostly in the face of a strong wind under engine.
On our return to the boat I set about the chores of freeing up the second hand boat hooks using boiling water, lots of cold fresh water and some silicon. It doesn’t take long for me to return the boat hook to new condition but it is not going in the anchor locker with salt water to seize it up!
The return journey on Sunday is the same routing but takes 50% more time against wind and tide for most of it. We get back to our home berth and decide that Mariadz has been good to us and deserves a thorough clean down.

The summer has arrived, let’s hope that isn’t the whole summer!

Over the last few weeks we had a crisis of confidence with the engine due to the overheat in our first shakedown.  As you will have seen from other blog posts regarding the engine and engine room, we had gone through a process of regaining confidence and this weekend was to be our shakedown, sea trial and last of the configuration of the new equipment including the pilot which we are really missing, one doesn’t hand steer if one can avoid it.

We decided to leave on Friday afternoon which was a little delayed by meeting new friends on one of our friendly neighbours boats.  We eventually left the lock and motored down the beautiful River Orwell to our overnight destination of the mooring buoys opposite Suffolk Yacht Harbour.  As we went Maria took some photos of the river…

The pick up for the mooring buoy is uneventful and we settle to our overnight resting place.

The previous night we had arrived at the tackle shop shortly after it closed but they reopened to serve us.  Having recently lost some of the fishing gear through broken lines, Maria was keen to replace it and buy some bait.  The advice from the shop was fantastic, apparently it is no surprise we are not catching anything, we are using the wrong stuff…. So we buy some fancy anchoring weight with twin hooks that I am sure will change our luck!

Back to our evening outside Suffolk Yacht Harbour and Maria baits the hooks with ragworms and then goes downstairs to prepare dinner. By the time she returns, she wants to check her fishing tackle.  This is a regular occurrence when Maria is fishing normally followed by “something has eaten my bait” or bringing up a crab that is trying its best to eat the bait before it falls off the hook with Maria swearing at it.  imageShe reels in to find two whiting trying to wriggle off the hook.   Please note that I think Maria has very cleverly angled the rod towards the camera to give the perspective that the two fish she caught were huge, I don’t recall them being this big!  I then. He led my rod and found another fish, this one had the hook in its lip and it as easy to free it and return it to the after to live another day.  As night fell we discussed anchor lights, we were on a mooring buoy in a known area along a straight part of the river.  The River Orwell has some documented examples of commercial traffic dragging yachts off their moorings accidentally on some of the bends in the river and some people suggest that an anchor light is appropriate. Then, one of the ocean scout vessels that come from Ipswich circled us closer and closer, we decided to help them know where we were by putting on the spreader lights! That left them in no doubt… These vessels have a bit of a reputation unfortunately and although we have never seen a problem, we decided to stay safe. They picked up a mooring buoy a few down from us and left their anchor light on!  We decided that we definitely didn’t need to do so since anyone would see them and know we were there. The next morning was glorious and still. We got up early and enjoyed a hangover-cure breakfast before setting off back up river to collect Olly from Seapower to get the last few things working. We collected him off the fuel pontoon st Wolverstone and spent a happy hour driving around in circles like a family in sainsburys car park on a Saturday morning looking for a space.  This helped us to configure the autopilot, check the forward facing sonar and also for further explanation of image

the fish finder “frogger” screen. She does get excited when the torpedos go across. We also discussed how happy maria was with her lights and agreed some other minor works to go with the solar power we are intending to have installed. We also remembered that the log wasn’t working, a not uncommon experience in the Marina until you free it up manually or by manoeuvring. At this stage Olly mentioned that he generally removed this before lifting to avoid any damage, and it won’t read much speed in the bilge! Olly and I addressed this, more precisely I started it and Olly finished it when I had it the wrong way round in the dark!

We then dropped Olly back and decided to go back out.  One of the targets of the day was to check all of the sails and lubricate anything that needed it.  This was why we were keen to do this weekend on our own so that we could get these chores out of the way without any guests.  We sailed through

imageFelixstowe and out to the North Sea seeing some friends on our way on Tortola and on their way to the Deben. We came out into the North Sea and turned to the North to get some sail up in 8-10 knots of Easterly wind. Getting the sail up was a little problematic and we needed to lubricate, using silicon spray, the track for the main and the furlex drums for the stay sail and the Yankee.  Eventually we have full sail up although Mariadz needs a little more wind than this to really get going.  We decide after an hour to return to the rivers because we will anchor overnight at the anchorage in the River Stour opposite Harwich Parkeston Key. Maria’s step-mum lives in Harwich and so we decided we would drop the rib and surprise her.

We start to prepare the rib for lowering and go to lower the swim platform as our means of access. Nothing, the swim platform doesn’t move and we find that the small hydraulic fluid leak that had not been fixed (absolutely no reflection on anyone currently working on the boat), had now lost enough fluid to stop it working, grrrrh. However, we will think our way out of the problem. Mariadz being a larger Moody has quite a late freeboard, probably four feet (I haven’t measured it!), so clearly getting into a lowered rib is going to be tricky.  In theory we could lower the rib, detach it, walk it around the side and board using our fender step. Still a large step but possible. But….how would we get the boat back on the davits to return home. At this stage I decided that I could be lowered, and walking down the stern like Batman, could then get into the rib, Connie, bring her round and we are ready to go. That sounds like a plan, I have even knotted a rope to help with my descent! We attach the topping lift to my life jacket and start to lower me into the boat, success! I am now in the rib, but I didn’t bring the keys with me, muppet! It’s ok, Maria will find them and pass them to me…..

Who leaves the keys to a rib in their motorhome??? Why would you want rib keys in a motorhome anyway. I don’t either but I now know that is where they are. Maria finds the spare key and also the kill cord that has come from the smaller Tamaha engine that we have. What we didn’t know is that the part of the kill chord that keeps the kill switch in the out position is a different size and will not work with our Suzuki set up. So how can we rig something to work for the kill switch? Maria comes up with a hair band and wonders whether that, bound tightly would do the job – no harm in trying and the engine starts, more importantly it keeps running, were in business! We had already checked the fuel and far from being full, there is more than enough for our little jaunt and a spare can available too.

To be fair, Maria by this stage had made no secret of her apprehensiveness about boarding the rib from the midship gate.  People who know Maria will know that she will not have hidden these concerns from me and we both know whos fault it will be if anything untoward should happen. It is quite a large step. She also has a handy line to help her and gets in with no problems so I live to see another day.  We are ready to go.

At this time of the evening the wind had picked up a little and was in our faces as we head off to Harwich.  The tide is also coming in so we are against both wind and tide. This doesn’t lead to the most comfortable couple of miles in the rib. This is not helped by a stutter and cut out after 100m! There was enough fuel I am sure…..Maria asks if the hairband has slipped and is absolutely right. Removal and reattaching and we are ready to go.  I am trying to make the journey as comfortable as possible but it is difficult in the conditions until we get quite close to Harwich halfpenny pier. We order a taxi and go to surprise Maria’s step-mum.

It must have been a surprise to see two windswept and spray covered sailors clinging to their lifejackets and waterproof bag standing at her door, but I’m sure Jean was pleased to see us and we had a nice time for a couple of hours with Jean, Maria’s sister Natalie and her dog Ginny.  It is getting late and we have yet to get some food before braving the return journey which we would prefer not to do in the dark, although we are armed with a torch to help us find our way.

For food, we decided to try the Alma, where we have had a drink before but never eaten.  The food was amazing, their fish, steaks and lobster are fantastic!vwe leave full and happy as the light starts to go.

Fortunately, we haven’t been out so long for the tide to have changed so the journey back is very comfortable especially as the wind had died down a little too. In the dark we are even able to reverse the procedure to get the rib back up on the davits and me returned to the deck using the topping lift. What was shocking on a beautiful warm night, with little wind was that there was no-one near us, we expected this area to be full for the first good weekend of the year and it was wonderful to have the spot to ourselves.  Maria was so happy she felt the need to sing accompanied by me, I guess it was fortunate we didn’t have any neighbours.

On Sunday morning, we woke reasonably early to find the hoped for wind hadn’t materialised. Our hopes of having a great sail were dashed. A change of plan then! We will take our time and get home early afternoon.  We can then spend the afternoon cleaning the outside of the boat and the rib, boy do they need it. The roast can be cooking while we do all this.

A very sedentary trip back is only broken by having to evade a yacht who tacked and then didn’t point towards the wind at all.  I had adjusted our course so that when they tacked they would pass on our starboard side for some reason, they decided to cross right in front of us and we had to take avoiding action.  They had the look of people who were quite prepared to hit us because they were the stand on vessel. The river isn’t very wide at this point, near the Orwell bridge, and it was annoying to have this happen. I will have to remember to not let us be put in that position again. We dealt with the evasive action quickly but it was an unnecessary stress on a gorgeous day. Still he was probably the only vessel under sail in the whole day that we didn’t photograph so his loss!

We arrived at the lock when they had the level so we could motor straight through and it was nice to see our favourite lock-keeper Clive, who has always been so friendly.

It is such a shame that he was banned from playing music, some of his choices for different boats were hilarious and it’s a shame when people like this who make things fun have to stop.  He has certainly made it a pleasure when we go through the lock.

Once through the lock, we decided to find a nice berth where we could moor stern to so that we could drop the rib, clean it, clean my footprints off the stern (sorry, Mariadz) and do all of this without inconveniencing too many people by blocking a pontoon. Maria has history with cleaning the rib, she once very elegantly fell in when trying to fix the cover on the old Avon rib. That was in August when it was warm, not a feat to be repeated in May. We get everything clean, especially me – note to self, don’t trust Maria with a hose pipe, you WILL get very wet. We finally returned to our home berth to finish off the clean.  At the end of it Mariadz looked great and we felt we had done something for her after she does so much for us.

Then a gorgeous Sunday roast in theimage cockpit for two exhausted sailors.

Somewhat unusually for the UK, we had a hot and sunny weekend and then it rained for the next few days. However, much more expected was, despite using a little sun lotion, both Maria and I had sun burn after Sunday!

Sorting the engine – step 2

Then Lindsay said, “Let there be light”; and (after Olly had done his magic) there was light. Lindsay saw that the light was good; and separated the engine from the darkness.

imageSo the Seapower marine double-act have continued to give the engine room some much needed TLC.  It was impossible to see anything in the engine room, no matter what time of day, without additional lighting.  We agreed that if we really want to know what is going on we will need some LED lights to brighten the area and show up the dark and sinister secrets.

In the last two weeks, imagethe engine has also been run for approximately 10 hours with no overheat issues which has been reassuring.  With a clean engine room floor, we would also be able to see if anything was coming out of the engine and so far we seem to be in a good place.  It now means that Maria is confident again

Step 3 is a thorough going over of the engine itself which will replace old and wearing pipe work and check that we are in a good place for the future and our dream trip.