With the boat back in the water and Maria’s upcoming workload as her projects go live, we had worked out that the only opportunity we had to get out for a few weeks was going to be the first weekend of August. It had also been a long time since Lisa Jones had been with us and so we made arrangements to all get together. Lisa took Friday off work to come to the boat with the intention of getting out early for a nice weekend away.
The weather forecast was a little changeable with an element of Westerly in the wind prediction for most of the weekend. Although the temperatures looked pretty good there was also some rain expected over the weekend so it was more with hope than expectation that we prepared for the weekend. As usual, Maria wanted me to go to the fishing tackle shop and buy her some worms so that she go fishing over the weekend. I may have mentioned before that this is a common request from Maria and most times there isn’t much fishing being done. The result is I feed a lot of worms to the crabs and would have had better value for money at the fishmonger rather than the fishing tackle store! All of the other provisioning has been done, including unloading lots of stuff from the motorhome, and the boat is ready to go.
The girls are both very keen to go to Burnham or Osea Island but I am trying to tempt them with heading North for the first time. Maybe Lowestoft or Great Yarmouth would be good destinations to try out?
Unfortunately, Maria is incredibly busy at the moment with a go live on her projects at the end of the week and so there is no let-up in her work. So Maria is going to have to work on the Friday. However, if she can get a free thirty minutes, we can get through the lock and she can continue to work while I sail Mariadz down the river. We can then tie up at Halfpenny Pier in Harwich, anchor in the Orwell, moor on a buoy at Levington or start heading to our destination depending on the time. Maria doesn’t get ten minutes to herself all day so we are stuck in our berth waiting for a window in her workload. By 6pm, we can leave. The first stage of the plan will therefore be a stop down the river. We decide that a mooring buoy sounds like the best plan and head down the river at a gentle pace following a new large Fairline motor boat on its way to Southampton. In just over an hour we are tied up to a mooring buoy, the Prosseco has been broken out and the girls are starting to relax. We settle down to watch the sunset over the River Orwell as our pork chops cook in the galley. At the age of 72, Adam’s Dad has discovered Facebook. His regular posts on the recovery of Adam’s Mum from a stroke in March, help us all understand the progress and the difficulty of these long term recoveries. It is clear from his latest update that today has been a hard day and we agree to facetime him to have a face-to-face chat over the internet. Two hours later, dinner has been switched off, alcohol has been consumed and we are all still chatting but Dad is in a better place and his favourite daughter outlaw (in joke I’m afraid) is now past eating. A few more drinks and a bit more chatting and it is time for bed before we head to Osea Island the next day – I never get my own way 🙂
We are up at a reasonable time the next day but inexplicably seem to have run short of milk so I have to deploy and hop in the rib to pop to the shops before we can go anywhere. Fortunately, the chandlery at Levington has a small selection of food and drink including milk so I don’t have to go too far and I am back on board and rib stowed before the girls have finished getting the rest of the boat ready for sailing.
I have an easy way to remember the tides in the North Sea, where the area fills from the North and empties to the North. That means that prior to high tide the flow is south and after high tide it is North as the water levels lower. We are ready to leave at pretty much high tide in the morning so we will be fighting the tide all of the way. However, the wind seems to be staying North Westerly so at least we will have some wind helping us even if it means we are slightly wind against tide with the issues with nasty waves that can be a result. We are also getting a little more wind than the 8-10knots that we were expecting with the wind getting up to the high teens. We are keeping the engine on and motor-sailing to ensure that we can continue to make sensible progress and will arrive early evening rather than near to sunset. Our friends in motorboats don’t suffer from the tides like we do. When you average seven knots, adding or subtracting up to two knots can add a lot of time to your journey. This isn’t quite the same at 20 Knots where the impact is 10%. We have found before that a journey that can take a couple of hours with the tide, can take four against it so we are always very watchful of the tides and try to have them in our favour whenever possible.
It doesn’t take long to get out of Harwich when you start at Levington, and we are soon heading South towards the Gunfleet windfarm and the wallet, the stretch of water between Gunfleet and the land. We are making good progress with a full mainsail out, the staysail deployed and the running backstays setup to ease any stress on the mast. Mariadz is sitting comfortably in the water as we progress through the wallet heading towards Brightlingsea. Its about lunchtime and we have a perfectly serviceable meal from the previous night, thanks Dad! Maria heats and freshens it up and the pork chops swimming in gravy come out with mash and veg. It is wonderful.
As we approach the Colne Bar, the clouds are getting a little more menacing and they are some squals in the air. One of the squals is a little too close. The rain and wind come suddenly and the wind strength rapidly goes to 40+ knots, not comfortable at all. We try to point the bow to the wind using the autohelm so that we can take the power out of all of the sails since we still have a lot of sail out but we are heeling over quite a lot as we get there. The self tacking staysail is the problem since it adjusts itself to get the wind unless you are pretty much pointing at the wind. As we get close to the wind direction, I free the staysail outhaul so that I can go and reel it in. In the time it takes me to get to the stern to pull it in the leech of the sail (the edge of the sail furthest aft), has thrashed itself against the outhaul line and torn the ultraviolet protection strip. Not a disaster but annoying and will need a repair. The main goes in a little messily but is reefed in safely and we are back under complete control and safe. A lightening bolt and a huge clap of thunder are very close to us but this misses us by half a mile and so not a problem for us or the couple of other yachts that we can see nearby. Then as quickly as it came onto us, the squal is gone and the wind is back to how it was. We had been a little bit complacent about Mariadz’s capability and not as observant as we should have been but the boat had handled it fine (and safely) and we had a minor repair to remind us of our mistake. On checking down below, all is good, so we must have stowed everything away well enough to handle a lot of movement, and the cats are not too worried.
After this bit of excitement, it takes a little time for us to get the confidence back to put more sail out again and for the rest of the trip we are very careful with a watchful eye on the sky. There are no further surprises and we can get back to enjoying the trip. At Mersea island, we have a choice of whether to anchor in Pyefleet Creek which goes around the North of the Island or head the two hours further down the River Blackwater to Osea Island. We agree to push on through since it is likely we will be arriving at the anchorage prior to 6pm. If it is full, it can be very popular, then we can head back to Pyefleet. This may also be difficult with the Brightlingsea festival on this weekend but we will see.
The River Blackwater is a lovely wide river at this point which is better for avoiding other boats than the Orwell which can be quite thin with a number of options where people could tack. In the Orwell there have been a number of occasions when I have had to alter course multiple times to avoid a boat tacking towards me when they have tacked at unexpected points. This is not a problem on the Blackwater where the courses are quite predictable and there is less traffic. Although there are quite a lot of buoys that are not on the charts so you need to stay observant or you will find one going past within a few metres…..
When sailing, we always observe a radio watch on a local channel if required but also one channel 16. This can be fun when you hear people saying “over and out” (one or the other please 🙂 ). Some of the boats calling each other can be quite amusing too, “this is ocean dream calling St. Tropez, over”……. off the Essex coast on a bit of a dreary day! But you also hear other calls, a pan pan because someone is stuck on a sand bank but not in immediate danger and another boat that has lost their mast and rig. A busy day on the radio and you are constantly chaning channels to see what is going on, and also to offer help if you can 🙂
Further down the River Blackwater as we make progress past Bradwell power station and Mersea island, there is a ship anchored with a red hull and a large radio mast. This is the Ross Revenge which is the boat that used to broadcast Radio Caroline in the North Sea during the Eighties. This was after the first Radio Caroline ship, Mi Amigo, had sunk which is remarkably similar to the story for the “The Boat That Rocked”, although apparently this is a coincidence! So a little bit of history to enjoy as you sail past. There are then a large number of moored boats before you get to the anchorage at Osea Island. We arrive shortly before 6pm, right on low water, and with only five other boats spread around the anchorage find a good spot and start to drop anchor. In one respect arriving at low water has the advantage of simplifying the calculations for the anchor chain although it does mean that we did not benefit from the tide at any stage!
We anchor in a shade over three metres of water with another three metres being added for high tide. We deploy about twenty five metres of chain and our long snubber although on this occasion I forget to attach the anchor ball to the anchor to help with location and retrieval in an emergency. Time to relax again, as the sun goes down and out comes the Prosecco and the raspberry gin – hmmm, theme developing here. Our friends are at Brightlingsea listening to music and send us a video, the singing doesn’t sound the best if we’re honest and doesn’t compare to the band we can hear on Osea Island where there must be a wedding or large summer party. It’s a lovely, still, warm evening as we settle down. For the second night, the fishing rods are shut firmly in their carrier and my Dad FaceTimes us and we talk for ages and Bonnie chills on deck.
Later that evening, Clyde is practicing his party trick. Maria has taught him to do a high five for treats, he likes to practice this a lot and he has the girls wrapped around his little paw! He gets treats.
It is an earlier night since we had a late one the previous night and lots of sea air and we are falling asleep long before midnight, although Clyde is now being a bit cheeky and trying his “come to bed” eyes on Lisa!
The next morning is clear with very light winds, which is pretty much as expected. It looks like we will have to motor-sail most of the way home. Leaving at a similar time as the previous day means we will gain the full benefit from the tide in the wallet, although we are keen to get away a little earlier so in the river we will still be fighting the tide. The wind has picked up a but and we have a quite useable 15knots of wind which will be directly behind us as we go up the wallet. So the plan is to motor-sail up the Blackwater, tiptoe around the Colne Bank before switching off the engine and sailing all the way home.
We set off and are accompanied by jetskis for the first part of our journey, this is one of the disadvantages of the anchorage as well as the water skiers, but they don’t do it for long and it just spoils the tranquility for a short time. We are making good progress and arrive in the wallet as the tide turns. For a short period the water is confused and fighting both itself and the wind but it soon works it all out and with engine off and tide with us we are sailing up the wallet at 7+ knots. There are a few boats around us and Maria is not a racer by any means but similar to Gandalf – “You shall not pass” – when she is sailing. There is one boat behind us with their coloured cruising chute out but they are falling behind as we start to catch up with a couple of smaller boats ahead of us. We travel up the wallet passing Walton, Frinton and Clacton which all look very different from the sea.
We are starting the turn towards Felixstowe and the wind is now directly behind us which gives an opportunity to get the sails out on both sides and sail goose winged. We always have a gybe preventer on our main if the wind is behind at all. This stops the boom smashing across the boat which is dangerous for the crew and also not healthy for the rig. It is something we were taught early on and it is now a habit that we have got into. We are still going past boats and Maria is smiling and waving, she does enjoy a nice relaxed sail. The channel from the wallet to Felixstowe is Medusa and this is pretty much due North to the entrance. The wind has picked up and with another change of course is now more on our beam. I had seen this coming and had reduced sail substantially because we had noticed that the wind had been growing during our sail up the wallet. It is now blowing between 25-35 knots which doesn’t feel so bad when you are running in front of it but after turning you suddenly feel the full force and after yesterday’s fun and games, no risks are being taken. We are bobbing along nicely with half our main out and about the same from the headsail as we are being crossed by several boats going towards the wind, a lot more uncomfortable, bouncy and heeling over with lots of sail up. We’re grateful that we don’t need to worry about that for the rest of this journey but as we enter Felixstowe harbour, my mind does start to wander to an hour and a half away when we could be trying to get into our berth with a gusting 25-35 knot wind! One to worry about closer to the time. This is also the time that Maria likes to get the roast dinner on, a couple of hours later we will be ready for it…
There is a large modern Southerly yacht, trying to catch us as we gently sail up the Orwell but Maria is having none of that and we hold them off until they take their sails down to go into one of the river marinas. Its a lovely sail up the river with the wind starting to die but we are able to keep the sails up until we get close to the Orwell bridge. Some people get frustrated at the time it takes to get through the lock and into your home berth but we find this all part of the fun and there is no major delay although we are asked to let one of the commercial boats, Orwell Lady, go into the lock first. They must be more worried about hitting us than us hitting them :). The two boats are the only ones in the lock and the wind has died down completely now so I had nothing to worry about. I also clearly didn’t have anything to worry about as Maria completes the turn towards our berth and brings Mariadz home nice and gently. I am able to get the lines on easily and the engine is off very quickly.
With the boat tied, tidied up and everything settled down, I dropped the worms over the side and fed the crabs …… again 😦