We had such a good time at Easter that we have been keen to get the boat back out again. This bank holiday weekend coincided with the sad anniversary of the death of Maria’s Dad and so we decided we wanted to be close to Harwich where her step-Mum lives.
Early in the week, the weather prediction was for a light northerly, turning southerly on Friday. We decided at that stage that Halfpenny pier or anchoring in the Stour would be our getaway this weekend. We would hopefully be able to persuade Jean, Maria’s step-Mum, to come on the boat and possibly even go for a gentle sail down the Stour – it would be her first time on the boat and I believe her first time sailing. So our plan is to leave on Friday, go to Halfpenny Pier for the night, pick up Jean on Saturday morning and take her down the Rover Stour, anchor for lunch, little bit of fishing and a relaxing sail to back to Harwich. If it is too busy, we will anchor close and the next day, I will take her in on the rib bback to Harwich before heading back to Ipswich during Sunday. This will be in time for Kristy, our daughter, to see us Sunday night and Matthew, our son, to come round on Monday. A sort of busy, relaxing family weekend if you know what I mean.
Whenever we go to the Stour, Maria wants to go fishing, and I don’t mean the dating app for any youngsters reading! This normally means that I end up spending between £10-£20 on bait, we either don’t fish or don’t catch anything and end up feeding the crabs with the rest of the bait at the end of the weekend. However, my cunning ploy for Easter weekend was to buy frozen bait! Maria didn’t fish at all that weekend but that means that I don’t need to buy more bait this weekend in a place she traditionally likes to fish.
During the week, we had Lindsay from Seapower over to review the engine after her weekend workout and also to discuss the next stage of our engine refurbishment – replacing the fresh water and raw water hoses which are original and have clearly had some heat through them (at least once by us when the fresh water system was inadvertently drained when the hot water boiler was changed). This will be in a later blog post. Needless to say our Yanmar got a clean bill of health and we are confident that she is in good shape now (touch some wood) and will be even better when we have finished our fettling of her!
So, it’s Friday night and I return from an afternoon meeting for some frantic running around prior to getting through the lock and down to halfpenny pier. We are closing on low water which should mean the tide is reasonably slack when we arrive. We have a lovely sail down the Orwell as the sun reaches the horizon. In fact Bonnie is taking her “watch” very seriously keeping a look out for traffic and dangers. However, we are late and sunset, in our wake, is a full half hour before we arrive.
When I’d called earlier in the day, the pier was clear and I had been told that we should moor on the west end of the pier. Now we arrive there is a 40 foot boat on the pier where we should be with two other smallish boats taking up the rest of the space. I am able to call out to the boat and explain the situation. They tell me that they have also been told to moor here but I suspect that this is a bluff. We explain that will be fine and we will raft our 54 foot against their 40 foot boat! Alternatively they can raft up next to us, much more sensible. They decide to come off the pier to raft up to us but eventually decide to occupy the ferry berth. Since we are a little bit later than expected, we decide to approach the pier into the incoming tide, but with strong winds blowing us off the pier it is a tricky approach, especially in the dark. There is also a small yacht on the other half of the pier so we only have a smallish gap to aim at. Maria is taking her time, and the people from the other yacht come over to help us. They ask us to throw them a line and I am loath to until Maria has manoeuvred Mariadz nearer the pier but eventually throw a mid line with instructions to tie it to the bollard at the end of the pier so Maria can use it as a spring. It gets tied off half way down the pier on a railing and too close to the other yacht to be of use, if Maria powered forward and relied on it to get her into the pier, she would hit the other yacht. One of the other yachties asks me to throw a bow line which I do. In retrospect I should have asked for that to be tied further down the pier so that we could use that as a spring but instead the yachtie gives an almighty pull on the bow and nearly makes us hit the pier. Maria hears my call for the bow thruster and pulls the bow away from the pier. Eventually, and it does take some time, Mariadz gets manhandled closer to the pier and I can get onto the pier and sort out how I think we get her in properly. I am able to bring a second mid line with me and I get this on and Maria can then use this to bring the stern in. We are now on the pier and safe, with some tidying up to be done of the lines. This is all done quite quickly and we are comfortable. It is late though, at nearly 9:30pm we are late. Too late to cook. We have been meaning to go back to the Thai on the Quai, which is excellent, but unfortunately they are refurbishing until mid-May 2017, so we decide on a Chinese, but that is a twenty minute walk away and for some reason, despite their website saying an 11pm close, they will not be able to fit us in unless we arrive in ten minutes. So fish and chips it is then, since we are going to the Alma on Saturday.
The next morning, I am up reasonably early and I get to spend a little time chatting to Mike, one of the harbour masters and also the person that I had spoken to the previous day about berthing on the pier. We mention what happened the night before but the other yacht has got away early and didn’t bother to pay, hmmmm the problem with the honesty system I discussed during our Easter trip. Mike remembers us from previous visits and reminds us to make sure the boat is locked with the keys away, not because of any crime issue in Harwich, just because he likes Mariadz and would be tempted to take her out :). Mike’s also part of the RNLI at Harwich which is one of the charities we always give to, hopefully not for selfish reasons! We hope we never need their help but what they do, and the bravery they show, is amazing. I mention to Mike our plans for the weekend with Jean and he says he will put out the “no mooring” signs so that our berth is protected if we go out. The wind is blowing a southerly at 15-20 knots, perfect for a little sail down the Stour and back, but it will be Jean’s first time on the boat and we don’t want to run before we can walk.
At lunchtime on Saturday, Jean arrives and begins to get acquainted with the boat, we’re having a pleasant time and so we decide to raincheck the day sail and do it another time. At this stage we are the only people on the pier. Toward the back end of the day Queen Galadrial, a Thames barge, takes her place on the outside of the pier. Apparently she is normally at the west end but today she takes up the space between us and the ferry berth. As she is coming right at you with the battering ram that is her bowsprit, you hope that they stop before they hit you. Needless to say there is nothing to worry about and she finishes a metre off of Mariadz’s bow.
We always have a lovely time in Harwich, it is a wonderful old town with lots of back streets and pubs :), similar to Queenborough, that we visited a few weeks ago, or Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. The local fisherman also come in with lobster and crab. We are strangely conflicted here because the lobster will be amazing but when you are sailing you have to be very careful of the, sometimes poorly marked, lobster pots. So one minute you are celebrating the fishermen and at other times you are cursing them. On the whole though, the lobster is too good to miss out on, and the fishermen are always very good with their boat handling, so respect and gratitude is due. Today in Harwich, we had another “water-user” too. A group of jet-skis came in from the sea entrance. In common with a lot of things, there were two types of person in this group. The responsible, considerate person wearing a helmet and the idiot with the fountain of spray from their exhaust, that didn’t seem to notice or care, where their spray or wake went. One thing we have learnt is that this second type of inconsiderate person are always around, unfortunately. They go without causing too much noise or trouble but it is unusual to see the two types of person in one group, in an often criticised form of water sport. Other yachts, and passers by, come and go and we also have the regular ferry journeys to Felixstowe and Shotley. It is always interesting to catch up with these people and to understand their stories as well as discuss our hopes and plans. Around about lunchtime on Sunday, Jean has to go home, but we all agree it has been a nice time and a good first meeting with Mariadz. Jean has promised to return and we will take her sailing and also get her behind the wheel.
I had spoken to Mike earlier in the day, and it looked like the weather was going to get worse, no rain, but the wind was increasing. Maria and I decide we will leave early afternoon and sail up the river with the gusty south easterly behind us. However the winds are gusting well over thirty knots and so we decide that we will only have a third of the main and the headsail out, this means a little slower progress but also means that a strong gust will not overpower us. As we enter the River Orwell, we make the turn past Felixstowe towards Levington and the wind is nicely on our beam. Even with little sail, and no engine, we are bounding along at eight knots with just a little help from the river. As we go up river, the wind angle does present some challenges though. One of the things we have been taught, and learnt well, is to rig a gybe protector. This is required if the wind is behind you, because a relatively small shift of the wind can catch the other side of the mainsail, smashing the boom across the boat. This is dangerous for people – do not get your head in the way of a flying boom – and also for the boat, because of the power being thrown around and the potential impact on the rig. So we tie a line from the back of the boom tightly to the forward mid-cleat on that side which is enough to stop the boom crashing across if the wind shifts. Of course coming up a river with hills, trees etc, there are lots of wind channels that can throw the direction of the wind so we always rig this as a precaution. We are having a lovely, and safe, sail up the river, in fact we are working quite hard, as we tack the headsail around from time to time, sometimes goosewinged, with the two sails on opposite sides of the boat, and sometimes sailing with both sails on the same side. Progress, since that first tack with the wind on the beam, is slower and we take a couple of hours to get up the river. Obviously not so slow that another cruising yacht overtakes us….Maria wouldn’t stand for that but still slower than we are accustomed. As we approach the lock there is no let up in the gusts, which means that Mariadz is being pushed away from the pontoon in the lock, but Maria has it all under control.
During our time sailing we have listened to many people for hints and tips. When seeing Queen Galadrial, the other day, I had seen a line from the bow being put on the pontoon cleats first (a bow spring), which then allows the helm to steer away from the pontoon, bringing the stern in while the bow is held close to the pontoon. This gives lots of time to get the other lines on irrespective of what the wind is doing. I have seen this done before by many people and it avoids the problem of “losing” the bow, or stern, without the need for a bow thruster. This is a development on the technique we were taught early on of getting a mid-cleat line to shore first because it will limit the movement of the boat and act as a pivot point. It would also have helped us out with the mooring at Harwich earlier in this trip. I decide that I can test this technique without jeopardising our normal mooring technique.
We enter the lock, Maria has Mariadz positioned beautifully as we approach. Unfortunately the line I chose for the test had a shock absorber, which is heavy rubber. This stops me being able to get the line on a cleat, so I quickly abandon the experiment and we moor as usual without any stress.
Today, because we have had a winter of using the generator, we have to fill up with fuel which means going onto the fuel pontoon which will have the gusting wind directly behind it. A second opportunity for a test :). As we come out of the lock, Maria is going slow so I can swap the lines and fenders to the other side. I decide to experiment again but change the line to one that does not have a heavy rubber weight. As we approach the fuel pontoon, there is a large (50-60 foot) motor boat at the end which limits our space to approximately 60 feet, and we need that much just to fit on without hanging off the end. Again Maria is in control as we bring her in and the approach is nice and slow. I am able to step off the boat onto the pontoon and put the bow spring on. Unfortunately it is too long and would not stop us before we hit the motor boat but I have quickly put on the mid line, as usual and we are soon in and tied off, waiting for fuel. While we are waiting for fuel I review the length of our bow spring and adjust the length for our third and final attempt of the day. With an additional 470 litres of fuel on board (2/3rds of a tank), we pull off the fuel pontoon with help from Tim, who fuelled us, and Maria gets Mariadz away from the pontoon and ready for the approach to our home berth.
It is true that Maria may have “mentioned” two failed attempts to “try something new” and had raised whether it was sensible to be trying this on a gusty day with the wind blowing us away from our pontoon and onto our very nice neighbours boat. People who know Maria will probably have an idea of how this was “mentioned”. That said, Linda and Peter next door, had set their fenders and had told us not to worry about laying alongside them while we sort ourselves out. However, we don’t want to be in that position if we can help it and I know that the bow spring will help….if I can get it right. Maria approaches our berth and is perfectly positioned. One of our other friendly neighbours, Mark (we are lucky on B pontoon at Ipswich haven) comes to offer a hand. I give him the bow line while I step off with the spring and mid line. As Mariadz starts to get caught by the wind, I have the spring line on, and as previously discussed call for Maria to go forward and turn away from the pontoon. Magically, the boat moves closer to the pontoon and stops going forward as the stern comes in. The mid line is now on and I go to the stern to get the line to finish tying her off. We are in perfectly and haven’t touched our neighbours, despite strong 20+ knots of cross wind. We also have another new technique for bringing Mariadz in that we know works – I mark the line to make sure we know where it needs to go to get the manoeuvre right in future ;).
It is the end of the sailing for this weekend, and now for some family time 🙂