It is unbelievable that we are already in the middle of April and there hasn’t been a single good day for sailing! Normally we would have had a few, potentially chilly, eeekends by now. I remember from when I played a lot of cricket you would always get some unseasonal warm days early in the season, normally just before a May was rained off completely though.
In previous years we have gone a reasonable distance too especially at Easter, maybe to Ramsgate or across the channel. Going to France is more tricky now because then the cats couldn’t come.
So, at last, our sailing season has started even though it is really late this year. The weather for this weekend was meant to be cool with a very light Southerly wind so not much to get excited about sailing-wise but a great opportunity to get out, check the boat is working well and have some chill time. So we decided to head down river and anchor in the River Stour that is the border between Essex and Suffolk,
We were hoping to get away early on a Friday but unfortunately I arrived back too late from work so we couldn’t sail down to Harwich to see off our friends Lars and Laura on Sweet Dream, a beautiful Island Packet, as they set off to Norway before starting a trip round the world in January 2019. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat………, sorry Clyde! Since we hadn’t had the opportunity to properly say farewell, we decided to drive to Harwich and meet them for their last supper before they left at the Alma. The Alma is a lovely pub that sells very fresh lobster and beautiful cuts of beef, all listed on a blackboard, when it’s gone, it’s gone! The food as always was really nice. We had a cracking evening chatting which was capped off beautifully with a quick dance to a live band – Lars and Laura know how to make an exit. The obligatory exchange of a few presents including our crew t-shirts for our friends. In the picture is their very own “Anne Plummer”, she’s a very popular artist, don’t you know!
After a good nights rest, we decide to be up early to get our chores done prior to going out on the boat. We have refilled with water and fuel as well as running all of our pre-trip checks. One of the jobs since it was our first trip of the year was to go around all of the blocks lubricating them. Last year we noticed that there was a lot of power required to bring in the head and staysail. This year I have lubricated everything I can reach including all of the guides for the furling line that runs it from the bow to the stern. Let’s see if that helps. So Mariadz is well lubricated, no change there, and we are ready to go. We have timed going through the lock just before high tide which means that we can go through the lock without stopping, with permission of course and only on the green light.
The engine hasn’t had a proper run for six months or so and is slightly smokey, we will need to keep an eye on it but I suspect that this just needs a good run.
At last, after six months of confinement to Ipswich, we are out and heading down the river and it is a pleasant daynot much wind but nice to be out. The trip down the Orwell is uneventful and we make the turn into the Stour. Now what little wind we have is right on the beam and so we decide to get all of the sails out to check that they are ok. Everything comes out fine but we are against the tide with little wind and so keep the engine running to ensure we can make a sensible pace. Of course the key will be how they go away and whether I need to use all my strength!
The cats are incredibly comfortable and also grateful that we have got them such comfortable new seating in the cockpit. This of course means that the two seating areas that we had set up seem to be feline spots. It does amaze us though how comfortable the cats are on the boat. No matter what the conditions, they seem happy and relaxed. When it is bad they stay quite close to us for reassurance but when it is a nice day like today they stretch lazily and chill. We have a number of friends who have commented that they don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation but if they did, and could choose, they would like to return as Maria’s cat – spoilt isn’t the word!
After an hour of motor sailing, we are approaching our anchorage at Holbrook on the North side of the river under the watchful eye of the magnificent Royal Hospital School. It is time to get the sails away so fingers crossed. The smaller staysail flies back in with relatively little effort but the real test will be the much larger headsail. The difference lubrication makes is amazing, the sails go back quite easily.
So the sails are away and we can now think about anchoring. Maria selects the spot as I am forward preparing the anchor, anchor float, snubber line and the anchor ball. The anchor float that tells us where the anchor is located is fixed with its ten metre line to the anchor itself. This has the added advantage of acting as a trip line if the anchor gets fouled. Maria is pretty much ready so I decide to ease the anchor off it’s stowage using the wired remote. Nothing, not even a click of a solenoid. Hmmm. I know I have flicked the switch on for the windlass down on the electricity panel -that is normally what I have done wrong when something doesn’t work! I immediately go back to Maria and explain the situation and also to check the anchor controls at the steering position – let’s at least try and isolate the problem. The issue I have here is that when we got the boat, as mentioned previously, pretty much everything needed fixing….. except the windlass that brings the anchor chain in. That had been replaced at great expense just before we got her! So with some trepidation I press the button on the steering column and the windlass springs to life and the anchor starts to deploy. Huge sigh of relief, it’s “only” a remote that I need to replace! However, we like to deploy the anchor in stages so I need to be back on the bow while we do this. We quickly agree some obvious hand signals for up, down and stop. I think Maria has some hand signals of her own planned too!
It is quite high tide and we are in a nice spot with about seven metres of water so we will be perfectly safe even when the tide is out. We start deploying the heavy rocna anchor and our the chain in ten metre increments letting the boat settle after each one. This helps with getting the anchor set and also stops piling a lot of chain on top of itself is a cone or on top of the anchor. Despite it not expecting to be windy, we deploy thirty metres of chain so we can be confident that Mariadz is going nowhere. As we get to thirty metres I put a hook attached to the middle of our snubber line through a link of the chain and tie it off on both bow cleats. This takes any pressure off the windlass hopefully meaning we won’t have to replace it in the future! It also balances the load across both bow cleats and means that the anchor chain doesn’t rub against the hull as we get pulled around the anchor. Lots of great reasons to do that then. Letting a little more chain takes the tension off the windlass. I can then tie, three further snubbers onto the chain which can take the pressure even if the hook falls off the chain. Probably a little too much redundancy but you just get into the habit. The final job is to raise the anchor ball that tells everyone during the day that we are anchored. This is attached half way up a spinnaker line run down to the deck, we hoist it about ten feet up so that it is easily seen. Obviously at night the anchor light at the top of the mast is illuminated so that people know where we are. These signs usually work very well and people know where you are and keep clear. Unless of course they are a blue hulled scouts boat, in which case you need to switch on the spreader spotlights and everything else you have got before they hit you!
Mariadz is settled nicely, there is a very light breeze and a gentle soothing movement of the boat, it’s mid afternoon. We decide to stay up in the cockpit as Maria prepares the feast of fish which is our lunch and dinner, or so we thought. As you can see from the picture, Maria has a little furry friend. Now Clyde is rather partial to prawns and demands them as an almost daily treat. When Maria brought the platter up, Clyde stirred. Ah, treat time and wow what a great selection. What shall I have first mummy? Maria of course obliges and starts feeding him lobster. LOBSTER! Is there another word that is more than spoilt… hmm a very lucky cat.
Anyway, let’s just talk about the weather…..when the weather is good on a yacht, there is no better place. In the winter we are cooped up down below catching up on films and box sets. In the summer, the TV is rarely on and we sit up in the cockpit listening to music. This is the first time that we have had the opportunity to use the cockpit properly with the cushions that James has made us, one word – excellent.
So the music is playing as we chat.
Today is the day of the grand national though and the one day a year when Maria likes to gamble – except for the lottery and the annual trip to the casino. We choose roughly nautical and lifestyle names for the horses and we have our four. Last year Maria won so she is relaxed and confident. Obviously our interest in the race is over by the first circuit and as the winner wins by a small margin, Maria announces that she was going to choose that one….that’ll be my fault then!
It’s getting to the end of the day and we have been anchored for over six hours, usually at this stage the electrics, such as the fridge and freezer, have started to take a toll on the batteries but not tonight. With our new solar power set up our batteries are at 100% as the sun goes down – we like that!
The sun is going down and as we look down the river we see lister Light with the young Thompson family on board. yeah that ones for you Sally 🙂 you owe us. So our neighbours who are 250 metres away from us in Ipswich are the same distance from us in the stour. But wow doesn’t their boat look great in that light.
While the Thompson’s have their own great evening, we are settled down listening to music. It’s a lovely evening with a variety of music and we go to bed at a reasonable time. Of course with Maria that is any time before 4am – but it was early even by these standards!
It’s not an early start, which gives an idea of how late the previous night was, but as we get up we find that there is a thick fog with 50-100 metres visibility. So we will need to put the fog lights on and continue to drive at 70+ miles an hour! Not quite.
A very thick fog means it is a day for AIS and radar. AIS is great, it tells you the course and speed of larger ships, whilst also telling you how close how close they will get to you. We have an AIS transponder so we are sharing the same information with everyone else, if they are looking out for it, going through a major port it does gives some reassurance that we are suddenlyWe leave it till noon to go so that there is a chance to burn off and it does seem to clear.
Until we get to Felixstowe. Pea souper. Fifty metres visibility with no idea what big ships are moving. Radar is helping and ais is also sounding but the hardest is finding the buoys so that we know where we are – thankfully we know this area quite well.
But of course this could be about to to get much worse in the Orwell where the vessels aren’t very big with no AIS transponder or a big radar shadow. This is going to be very stressful. But as we move away the fog lifts and we now have a few hundred metres of visibility before it lifts again and we can see up to a mile. Stress over.
The return journey is all under power and the engine is a lot happier now, not much smoke for a start. Mariadz has a split exhaust which means we still get people frantically trying to stop us at the dock because of the lack of water coming out of the exhaust. It does help when we motorsail too when people are amazed at how fast a larger yacht can go with so little wind. 🙂
We come up the river and arrive at the lock gates. While we wait for the water levels to equalise, we meet a couple with a new to them boat who will be staying at Ipswich. We recommend b pontoon – best, beautiful and boozy! All the “B”s.
Coming in and Maria has everything under control. I have set up dual lines on the bow prior to entering the lock so I have swapped over the mid line, the first line we generally get ashore. Linda our very helpful neighbour comes over to give us a hand and takes the mid line for me and I glance aft to notice that the stern cleat is bare, I haven’t moved that line. What a wally! I’m sure there would have been panic in our first few years of sailing but I tell Maria the situation, not that she can do anything about it and quickly swap the line over. Lasso the cleat from th deck of Mariadz and we are back where we should have been.
We get into our routine of adjusting lines and getting the power on and we are all tied up adjacent to our steps. The other boat we have just seen has been put on b pontoon and so we give them a hand before settling down for food.
The weather has brightened up noticeably and so it must be bbq time. Obviously that changes the weather and of course it starts to rain but not before I get the rail mount fitted and the bbq fitted. Really convenient, now if only the food would cook quicker!
So a weekend away and as is common on a boat, a list of maintenance jobs: stereo needs replacing, the usb charger in saloon has stopped working and the remote for windlass. Ah sailing life, going to beautiful places to fix your boat!