Our 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.
That night we have booked ourselves into the lovely small Thai Orchid restaurant in the arcade on the hill overlooking the Marina. 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 adjacent 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.