A midsummer weekend of fun and games

So we have had a hard week after returning from a stunning holiday.  The previous weekend we returned from Antigua which you could have called a beach holiday or us doing a recce of suitable anchorages. Maria always seems to have ants in her pants and this was no exception with the holiday being punctuated by two trips around the island on a sailing catamaran, two days driving around the island, two visits to Shirley heights with dancing all night, two trips to an adjacent hotel, a tour of English Harbour, kayaking and sailing a hobbie cat! Very restful, not!

This holiday had arrived at a good time after the tragic news of Maria’s youngest sister passing unexpectedly. The funeral was scheduled for when we returned which of course meant it was going to be very hard emotionally. On Thursday, Natalie was laid to rest in a very fitting ceremony. On our return to the boat on Friday, I felt that Maria needed to get away from it all and so told her to pick up some bait from the fishing tackle shop – yes, that’s right, time to feed the crabs again!

This weekend was also the Thames Barge Match and last year we found a fantastic spot to watch the races of these glorious old sailing ships. We were lucky to get some fantastic pictures of these last year so let’s do that again. The wind forecast was for a very light northerly wind.

As we cast off our lines on Friday afternoon, the wind seemed quite a bit more than the forecast 10 knots but that shouldn’t be a problem. I am still working as we head down river and I have to disappear to the fore peak to do an important call for work. When I emerge we are at the moorings opposite Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington. 8546A289-8AD8-439E-A2E2-564702BE5BB3Maria has flicked Mariadz round to go into the wind which is gusting in excess of 20 knots. I am ready with the boat hook in hand and a line ready to thread through the buoy. We communicate quite well and Maria gets the boat perfectly positioned for the pickup. I have grabbed the pick up line and haul it up to the deck to thread our line through. So far so good. Our line is through and it is then that I notice that our line is in between the guard rail lines, that help to keep us all in the boat. How did that happen? I have a technique where the lines are run around the outside of the boat to avoid this so clearly I have messed up badly here. So I have to keep hold of the buoy with the boat hook, while I unthread our line, pull it out of the guard rail line and rethread it. All while Maria holds Mariadz on station against a strong current and now 24 knots of wind. We are now broadside on to the wind which rather limits Maria’s options and we are struggling. I decide it would be best just to start again. The line is dropped but the boat hook is snagged on the buoy and won’t release. I am being pulled by twenty tonne of sailing yacht away from the buoy and I am desperately trying to hold on to the boat hook. Maria is able to moneouvre us a little closer and I can extricate the boat hook. Let’s try that again….. the approach for the second attempt isn’t quite as smooth as the first, the wind seems to be stronger and gusting, definitely not what is on the prediction. We get close and I have grabbed the buoy again. I know the line is right this time but I can’t get it through the buoy, I am still holding on as the gusts get the better of Maria’s boat control and we are getting dragged further away from the buoy. It’s ok, I have got it….. my shoulders, back and forearms are protesting as I try to manhandle the buoy close enough to get the line through. And then I can take no more, I let go and get to watch our third metal extendable boat hook disappear into the River Orwell. I strongly suspect we are making a little pile of these down there! Maybe a metal version of Jenga. I am sorely tempted to dive down one day before we leave and retrieve the stockpile.

Anyway, we are not having that! The backup boat hook is called into action! This time we will get it right. There is, of course, an argument that when you are being given a hammering by the elements and Lady Luck, it is probably best to cut your losses. That’s not how we roll on Mariadz, although maybe in future it will be. The interesting thing about the backup boat hook is that unlike the primary one, it floats….you are probably wondering how I know that. Interestingly, I only discovered this today on our third attempt at the same buoy. At least it seemed that the boat hook floated as it remained attached to the buoy after I had been forced to let it go (again). Retrieval was going to be an interesting lesson in boat handling as Maria approached the buoy from astern with me on the swimming platform.  After a couple of attempts, we had mastered the approach and I was able to retrieve the boat hook. I guess this really didn’t prove that it floated since it was still attached to the buoy. The floating theory was proved on our next attempt when the boat hook was let go again, and disconnected from the buoy and floated off down the Orwell with us going astern chasing it down! Maria was getting adept at going astern to pick up boat hooks so we don’t go too far to get it back. Ironically, we caught up with it adjacent to another buoy which we were alongside for ages, but on the wrong side!

The reason we were struggling was the design off the hook itself which worked well at picking up the buoy but rather less well at letting it go again after I had threaded our line through it. I couldn’t get it off even though I had the line through. One last attempt or we are going to anchor somewhere! We are nothing if we are not stubborn! Once again, Maria gets the approach spot on and this time it is textbook. Buoy is pulled up, line threaded through and boat hook disconnected before walking to the bow of the boat to tie off the end on another cleat!4D61189A-0C4B-4BAC-BF9C-D3C7C7C8FB4E Of course this would have happened the first time, and I would have saved a boat hook, if I hadn’t had the line twisted through the guard rail wires! We can now lick our wounds, despair at our losses and get a well earned beer – we must have burned enough calories to justify that!

As we gently swing around the mooring, we start to set ourselves up for some relaxation with the table and chairs out and Maria starting to get her fishing gear ready. 510B0FB3-7862-4D5B-8DFD-2D014747CF45

I may have mentioned that Maria had visited the fishing tackle shop, where she had been able to entertain them with her stories of catching fish including the infamous “three skate” at Osea Island. They are suitably impressed by her prowess but do point out that if she catches sea bass this weekend she has to throw them back. That’s typical. Nothing is going to stop her having her fun though.  At least the wind seems to be dying and the sun is out so the perfect opportunity to top up our Antiguan tans!

Maria has the fishing rods out of their bag but, unfortunately, one of the reels doesn’t seem to be working correctly and there is a metallic rattle coming from within it.  Maria has decided that it is time to take the reel apart and sort it out so that she can continue fishing. Now those that know me well, will know that I was a bit of a whizz with clocks in my youth.  You could bring me a broken clock and I would take the whole thing apart meticulously, find the problem and put it back together again. As an added bonus you would even get a few spare parts in  addition to your still broken clock. It was therefore with some apprehension that I serviced the winches last year but that seemed to go ok and they all still seem to work 🙂 How hard can it be….

Fishing reels are probably more like a clock than a winch….. certainly having looked at the diagram. 2A2DE7F7-0FE1-48B1-A09D-1E2C4CC37B69We start to take it apart and I lay the pieces out in order on the deck to remind us what order to put them back in. As we get to the body of the reel, we have undone the screws and as the body cracks open a spring pops out…. Any idea where that came from darling…..Nope! Oh dear, this has got clock written all over it! We continue to try and understand the problem and it appears that a couple of screws have come off. Problem understood it is now time to put everything back together again. But we still have no idea where the strange shaped object and the spring go. E7AD5D31-31CD-4DDF-A2C1-D87EAF0250CBThe diagram isn’t really helping either. After some time the obvious solution comes to me and I can see how the shaft fits through the body and therefore where it needs to go. Mystery solved, I set about putting everything back together. To be fair this has probably taken over an hour by now, there will be no more fishing tonight! Having established how everything should go back together, actually putting it back together correctly keeping all the parts in place seems to be a different matter all together. Eventually I succeed in getting the body closed and it seems to be right. Either way, I am not taking it apart again and all of the parts seem to be back in place.  Ten minutes later it is the moment of truth….and the mechanism is working. Let’s see how well it does tomorrow.

Dinner is a quiet affair in the cockpit with the sounds of the water and various bird life twittering away. It’s a reasonably early night and we know, after the week we have had, it will be a good night’s sleep.

The next morning there is the light northerly breeze that we were expecting and it is bright with some sunshine. Excellent conditions for the Thames Barges and I suspect that we will see a lot of sail up today. Maria starts fishing and miraculously the reel seems to be working better today. Maybe all those years with clocks wasn’t a complete waste of time! She is still not catching anything though with most of her bait being eaten by snails or crabs. We also discover that our friends Amanda and Mark were at Levington the previous evening and witnessed the entertainment, particularly us chasing our second boat hook back up the river, backwards. So there will be no bending of the truth in this blog….

It’s closing on 10am when the racing is due to start but not before we get the opportunity to experience an amazingly thoughtless motorboater. I saw him coming up the river for a little while on the plane with a huge wash behind him.

He decides to cut the corner of the river and fly through the moorings causing havoc behind him. Unfortunately the boat had no markings and you know they would not have been listening to the radio.  Just a shame they were so inconsiderate of everyone else.

We hear the first horn at pin mill for the start of the first race of the fastest barges.  These are large with a lot of sail and it is all flying today. Another commercial barge, hydrogen, is following them down the river offering great views of the race. They are also well positioned so that they don’t get in the way of the photos tho :).

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The second race is a very close affair at the start with another viewing barge Thistle right in amongst it. Unfortunately this meant that there was little chance of getting really good pictures until they were past us.  To be honest I was just happy that Thistle missed us as they pass close enough that we can talk to their guests without raising our voices.

After the last race has gone past us, we decide to go. We could have waited for the return of the barges as the race finishes in the late afternoon, but decide that we would rather head to tonight’s anchorage in the Stour rather than waiting til late in the day. The weather and the barges have certainly brought out a lot of boats though as I happily snap away at anything with a sail up!

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Like yesterday, the wind is very gusty and varying from 1 knot to 18 knots. It’s a bit tricky to set a sail for that! We are also against the tide and having spent an age around Harwich tacking and making little progress, we decide to motorsail down the river so that we can arrive a few miles up the river before dark.

Once anchored, which goes without a hitch, Maria is back to fishing for crabs and snails…. sorry I mean fishing, but catching crabs and snails! EC8EAE4D-E8F0-4F6F-9697-0AAC03D15E6EAn afternoon of chilling is disturbed by the arrival of our friends Stig and Widya from Wild Dream II on their rib. They are playing about on the water and come on board for a quick chat and a small drink. 569BC54E-7F60-40B0-86AD-933A21CD776CWe sit out on the aft deck chilling, chatting, drinking a glass or two and eating nibbles. What a lovely relaxing time.

You’ll notice that the cats haven’t featured prominently so far, this is because they have been asleep all the time.  C8ED0D4C-4194-4732-92C3-F94A6E8910F7They must have been running around while we weren’t here because they seem shattered now. Eventually Clyde stirs but it will take a lot to get Bonnie to wake up before early evening. Of course she will then be a terror during the evening as she prowls the decks.

It’s getting to evening time and we need to start thinking about dinner. Firstly Maria 12A6A14F-1FC9-47A7-8165-8C21E37AFFA4gives the cats their treats, licky licks for Bonnie and a couple of prawns for the boy, he really is a prawn monster – can’t get enough of them. That wakes them up. Just in time to hassle us as we have our grilled meats and salad for dinner. We stay up in the cockpit until late and at this time of year it is 10pm before we see the spectacular sunset over the Royal Hospital School.

EE4B152F-F159-4E0F-B4E2-DEC562B16755

One advantage of the long sunny days is that the solar power works amazingly well. On this day we pull in more than 5KWh of power and the batteries are fully topped up despite using the kettle, microwave, ice maker and water heater from time to time during the day.

Sunday morning is another glorious day and a day for watching England in the World Cup finals as they play Panama at lunchtime. We decide to leave at about 10am to be back in good time. The boat is prepped quickly and having remembered to switch off the anchor alarm, I go forward to raise the anchor.  Normally we are half a mile down river when we recognise the alarm going off saying we are dragging our anchor so it is good that we have been able to remember it this once. The first step is to remove the deck snubbers that protect the windlass from any snatching of the chain. The chain is then lifted a few metres to ease the tension on the main anchor snubber which normally takes the strain just below the waterline. This acts as a shock absorber, eases the load across our two bow cleats and protects our top sides from a rubbing chain. So far all good. The remainder of the chain is lifted and the anchor breaks the surface. Maria gets the signal that she has control but no bow thruster since the anchor buoy is still in the water. Normally I stow the anchor before removing the buoy line that is tied to the roll bar, which also acts as a trip for the anchor if necessary. I try to stow the anchor which is coming up backwards for some reason.  It will normally flip as it comes through the bow roller so I am not concerned. Not this time though. The anchor steadfastly refuses to twist to its correct position despite my constant attempts to lower and raise it. I can’t understand what is going on, but one last try and the anchor starts to turn but then jams across the bow roller. It’s stuck fast and no amount of pushing or leaning over the bow and pulling is budging it. While I think this through I decide to retrieve the buoy and suddenly the culprit is uncovered. The buoy and the line are covered in six feet of thick seaweed. That doesn’t sound so bad but I can not lift it! This pull against the top of the anchor must have stopped it turning. There must be in excess of thirty kilos of seaweed attached. I tie the line off with the buoy next to the bow and retrieve my trusty boat hook to start peeling the layers of seaweed off, it is a difficult job at full stretch but eventually enough comes off for me to lift the buoy and clear the rest by hand. I can now detach the buoy from the partially but solidly stowed anchor. We’ll be bow to the pontoon in our home berth so I will sort this out later. It must have looked quite strange as we returned up the Orwell to Ipswich.

There really isn’t enough wind for Mariadz especially running with the wind so there will no sailing today 😦 05E7ACD1-0B18-4ACD-A5C6-107720788D89The weather is glorious C1ACFC4F-E030-43A4-BDD6-5D734F0C8EFEthough and a lot better than the two predictions I had shared with Maria so we are quite happy as we motor back at a steady 5-6 knots. We arrive back at Ipswich lock and it has gone 12:30, less than 30 mins to kick off. This is going to be tight. As Maria moneuvers Mariadz into her berth, Fraser, who runs the committee boat for the barge race comes to help us tie up. He does a great job and also resists the urge to point out the jaunty angle that our anchor has taken. What a lovely man. FB_IMG_1529915449828We set up the tv to watch the game from the aft deck and the teams are coming out. We have made it just in time.

The game is a great success for England who lead 5-0 at half time. Now to sort out that anchor. With five minutes of effort I am able to manhandle the anchor and unjam it. It settles down perfectly for stowing since it no longer has a load of weight dragging it the wrong way. At least that isn’t a big problem! For the second half we are joined by Amanda and Mark who regale us with tales of watching two numptees make a hash of picking up a buoy on Friday night…. oh well that is undeniable then. I point out the near gale force winds, the full speed of the tide and Maria’s valiant attempts to balance Mariadz on a sixpence but they don’t stop giggling at us. The England game comes to a satisfactory conclusion at 6-1 and the drinks are flowing.

For some time, Maria has been nagging for a paddle board. I have resisted the urge to spend a lot of money on this until she has absolutely demonstrated that she can use one.  We were due to have a trial in Antigua but this fell through. Considering everything else that we did, this probably wasn’t a bad thing. Discussing this with Amanda and Mark provided an interesting insight, Amanda loves it but Mark didn’t get on with the paddle board at all. To the extent, that he would gladly sell his board. So Maria gets to try a board and I have been stitched up again.

Maria does have to test drive the board though after a few drinks…. this should be funny! Firstly, Amanda shows how it is done and gracefully paddles around the Marina. Next up, Maria. Getting on the board from the bathing platform is pretty good but the next stage is key. Like surfing, you have to get up onto your feet and balanced, except surfing wasn’t too easy when we tried it eighteen months ago in Australia! Like a sprinter, Maria wiggles her bottom before getting to her feet, and she’s up! On the first attempt. Step two is to paddle and Maria is settling into this before deciding it is time to stand up. The last words before she face-planted into the water were – “I think I am getting the hang of this”. No amount of words can paint the comedic picture effectively. So here are a couple of videos:

So the end of a fantastic weekend with lovely sailing boats, relaxing times, no fish being caught and then the entertainment. It was good to get away from everything.

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