It has been a tradition over the last ten years (wow ten years already!) that Mariadz starts her summer season at Easter. There was memorably one Easter when we were sailing in company with Easily Led on a still, scorching Easter. Since then the weather hasn’t been quite so good, especially when Easter has been early.
So with a late Easter this year, we were planning on how to spend it and as it got closer, it seemed the weather was going to smile on us. The boat hadn’t been out of the water for over a year and so before our season started, there was some essential maintenance that needed doing. This was all planned and booked months in advance to be done a few weeks prior to Easter to avoid any risks. Unfortunately, Ipswich Haven has limited large cradles and in fact because of the number of boats out of the water long term, they only have one cradle available for large boats. One of our friends decided to come out the week before us, and booked for three weeks….. that was cutting it tight. Fortunately, they were back in time for our scheduled three day maintenance window. Of course the late reschedule meant that the people that were going to help us with the work on the boat weren’t available, so we were late coming back into the water but more on that in another blog. We made it in time, which is the important thing. So where to go…. we had previously spoken about returning to the North Kent coast, maybe Chatham, the creeks or Ramsgate so with some strong winds predicted for the start of the weekend, we decided to start in Ramsgate. We will see where it goes from there.
I had some work to do which required some quiet time, two reports to write, so had decided to work from home the Thursday before Easter. This meant that Maria decided that we could sail to Ramsgate on the Thursday while I worked, she does like to start the weekends as early as possible. This, of course, works fine unless I have a call to do and of course I had a call to do at exactly the time we would be coming into Ramsgate! We would have to work that out but it really depended on how well we were doing. We agreed that we would need to go early with the tide so that it didn’t mess up the day but unfortunately I was late back on the Wednesday night and so barely had time to do anything except the last bit of getting the boat prepped and fall into bed, ready for a 4am start! I hadn’t checked the engine, which isn’t normally a problem. Although we do these before any long journey, there seems to be little difference in oil or coolant levels and I rarely have to tighten up the belts. So that shouldn’t be a problem…
So we are up at 4am, it’s dark. Pre-engine checks show we are low on oil…..we top it up and check coolant levels which are a little low but fine. I have spare coolant anyway so that shouldn’t be a problem. The loss of some oil is something we will need to look into though. Unfortunately, this delays us until nearly 5am and with a low tide we are another 30 minutes in the lock waiting for the levels to balance out. This time we have decided to take the “inside” route down black deep to fisherman’s gat and then south-ish from there to Ramsgate. The wind is in a favourable north easterly direction and with a good tide, we should take about six hours from our standard passage start point of the langard buoy outside of Harwich. It is about 43Nm and we would normally expect this to be about six hours which puts it right in the middle of my only work call scheduled at lunchtime. Typical. We make reasonable progress down the river, out of Harwich and through the Medusa channel. We are always incredibly observant here because we have seen fishing nets across the channel as well as a minefield of lobster pots which could trip us up and ruin our weekend! This time everything is fine and we get to the top of Black Deep. At this stage, we will surf with the fast running tide and wind so we will fly down the channel. So far a really uneventful trip with nothing to report apart from the large tanker following us down the Deep which caused us to slightly adjust our course to avoid causing them any trouble. We are making good time and can tell the difference a clean hull is making to Mariadz’s speed, compared to the end of last season when she sported a hula hula skirt of speed-sapping weed. I am busy working away and Maria has done her job hunt and gets the needle and cotton out to repair our fender covers! Anyone that knows Maria will recognise a bored Maria right there! Maria does a fantastic job with the fenders, repairing holes and stitching in new elastic to neaten them up as I finish the first of my reports. Now to send it in before the deadline…. but we are several miles offshore and I have no mobile signal. Ah, I hadn’t accounted for that! But there is a silver lining since I have an IPad from 3, my personal phone on O2, a work phone on Vodaphone and a boat Mifi on EE – one of them has to work ;). I achieve the deadline and we have turned south on approach to the Kent coast as it gets to midday. That means arrival outside of Ramsgate in the middle of my call as feared. So how to slow us down….Maria had been keen to arrive early at Ramsgate to get a good spot and chill for the afternoon after an early start. This meant at this time we were motor sailing so I can slow us down a bit, and with a slight adjustment of course to give us a longer approach to Ramsgate, I can get the call done before we have to get busy.
In the end my work call finishes a little early and so I have lots of time to get the boat ready for the entrance. Before I do though, we have a visitor. A little bird decides to take a rest on Mariadz about four miles offshore. Maria is so confident of my knowledge of these things that she asks me what it is called, after a swift check I decide that it is Samuel which I found highly quite amusing, but Maria not so much. We eventually find out that it is a Siskin from the north, maybe trying to get back there for the summer and maybe a bit upset that I am going the wrong way. Obviously not as upset as it will be if Bonnie or Clyde wake up and notice it there. It sticks with us for about 20 minutes while the cats sleep.
The approach to Ramsgate can get a bit lumpy in the confused seas just outside the entrance. This can mean putting on fenders and lines is a bit of a challenge akin to a bucking bronco ride. The water is cold too. However, we are ready early so I can get the fenders on now, perfect! Except…. I usually adjust the fenders by touching the water, lifting a little tying off. This works really well and makes sure that the fender is perfectly set for the pontoon. The problem with doing this in a one metre swell is that “touching the water” is not quite as low as usual. And I didn’t notice! We are set for our approach, have called into the port to get permission to go through the outer harbour to the marina area and are on approach. Since we are at a good time, we have the choice of the outer long pontoon, which is perfect for Mariadz and where we normally go. This did need a little persuasion though to stop us being put into the tight area of the marina (at least tight for a 54 foot plus davits yacht!). We always do the turn in the harbour ( avoiding the submerged sand back) so that we are facing the entrance which makes the stay more comfortable. As we approach, we realise that the wind is quite strong and north Easterly, blowing us onto the pontoon as it always does whenever we are in Ramsgate. We’re all set to dock, with our fenders a little high, as Maria swings Mariadz round to approach the long linear pontoon at the end closest to town. The wind is strong and Maria touches the pontoon about ten metres ahead of where we need to end up. So we will need to move the boat backwards. Now normally this wouldn’t be a problem but there is a strong wind blowing us onto the pontoon and I may have mentioned the fenders not being optimally positioned. Maria tries to go straight astern and of course this squeezes the fenders against the pontoon. Being set too high they start to pop up. Now normally in this position, Maria is able to get Mariadz pretty much moving sideways off the pontoon. In forward, she turns into the pontoon which kicks the stern out and then uses the 10hp bow thruster to push the bow off the pontoon. In astern of course, the wheel is reversed…. you need to turn away from the pontoon and still use the bow thruster to stop the bow hitting the pontoon. This is our first trip out this year so we are a little rusty and it takes a few minutes for us to get this right. In which time our beautifully polished hull is rubbing against the pontoon, causing some scuff marks. I have told Maria and, since she can’t see it, she is fearing the worst. Actually it’s not too bad and will clean up fine but neither Maria or I are looking forward to telling Terry, our GRP expert, who did all that fine work a week ago!
This is an opportunity for us to get our pop up steps out which makes the step down to the pontoon so much easier. We’re now set up and I have a few hours of work to do writing reports and it is warm in the cockpit tent despite the strong, cold winds outside.
Maria settles down to start planning the weekend in detail (I.e. has a drink), thinks of a few ideas for food and since we will be here a couple of days, maybe some touristy stuff. We’re sure that Ramsgate has put its prices up since it is nearly fifty pounds a night for Mariadz – no wonder the marina is empty! I finish work and we have an early evening on the boat chilling listening to music, watching TV and playing with the cats. Dinner will be a return to our favourite Thai up in the arches, the Thai Orchid, which is excellent as always. There is some lovely food and a few drinks so the evening doesn’t finish early 🙂
It’s Good Friday and time for the holiday to start properly but as always with Maria on the first night away, there are a couple of sore heads the next morning so it isn’t an early start. We take a look at the top ten tourist attractions of Ramsgate, an eclectic mix to say the least….. the marina is right up there, as is the sailors church right next to the marina and the maritime museum next to the marina! It’s not going to be a long walk! Maria has already discounted the mile and a half stroll to the next bay to see the Viking ship. In one respect, I am disappointed but you know you will have walked for thirty minutes to see some wood strapped together on a concrete plinth which could be quite underwhelming. I hasten to add that we haven’t seen this so I could be doing it a huge disservice. One day we will go and probably be really pleasantly surprised – but not this weekend. There are also the tunnels which have history from the war which could be interesting, if we can find the entrance….but I guess the hidden entrance is why they were useful during the war! It’s early afternoon and we decide that some food is in order before we get going, but neither of us can work out what to do. We wander round the front seeking inspiration. There are a couple of pubs for a great hangover cure like sausage, chips and beans. There are some good seafood places, that’s a maybe, and of course the really nice Italian opposite the pier that we like so much. We keep wandering around until we finally stroll into Little Ships, this used to be a bar until six months ago and the menu looks quite good. As we walk in a large bowl of mussels is being delivered to one of the tables, that looks excellent. There’s also salt and pepper squid which is also a favourite so that is the starters sorted. There’s a good selection of mains, Maria is thinking of the fish and chips while I look at the seafood pasta. There is also a Chicken Kiev, now when was the last time I had one of those? The decision is made more difficult when they tell us that their fish supplier is late and the last of the mussels has gone out, we missed it by ten minutes! We make our choices but there is no rush and we are enjoying sitting there and chatting. After our oysters, didn’t I mention those, the starters are amazing. The chef is really talented. We decide to have a bottle of wine with our dinner but I can’t choose so I ask if it is possible to try a couple before making a final decision. The management bring over a couple of small(ish) glasses of wine, as Maria start to open a conversation with the table next to us – doesn’t sound like Maria, does it? I try the more expensive one first which is very light and crisp, definitely drinkable. The lighter coloured second wine is the house white. The first sip is enough, this wine is dangerous and should come with a health warning, far too drinkable! We have decided to go with this, living life on the edge. We are now having a lovely chat with the group next to us since Maria broke the ice. They have just come from a cruise, where they are used to striking up conversations with strangers, so this is no different. Food wise, we have gone with the fish and chips and a Chicken Kiev. I have to say it is probably the best fish I have had, very thin crispy batter, succulent fish and the thick cut chips are gorgeous. It’s been a relaxing lunch break but it is now beyond 4pm by the time we clear out. So off to the museum which we soon find closes at 4:30pm…oops, they are closing up and so we will have to do that another time. Not before the lovely lady gives us a 15 minute history lesson on the difference between Greenwich Mean Time and Ramsgate time, sounds like an excuse to be late to me! So not much touristy stuff at all for us today. Having had our fill at lunchtime, the evening will be a quiet affair where we will sit in the cockpit and watch TV. Quite relaxing actually as I nod off! We will also need to plan the rest of the weekend since Maria has been unable to make a decision. We consider our options. We actually really like Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey and the creeks nearby, it’s a proper old maritime town and we know some people don’t like it, but we have only had good experiences there and the people who run the dock have been really friendly. We could go further down the river to Chatham, and check the historic dockyard since we haven’t done that before. We could pop up to the Crouch and stay at Burnham which has always been a nice spot. There is also of course an anchorage, which is probably our preference having been marina bound all winter and the last few days. So Osea, Pyefleet, Hamford Water, the Deben or the Stour. The wind is still blowing a fresh N going NE and this maybe even going easterly as the weekend goes on. This will mean an unpleasant trip back on Monday into the wind from Chatham or Burnham. Based on the strength and direction of the wind, we decide to go closer to home and stay in the Stour. Although if the wind goes Easterly, it may be a little bumpy, Mariadz will be more than comfortable riding this out.
Our standard route home from Ramsgate would be to head North to the Fisherman’s Gat and then North East through the Deep before turning North again to Harwich. The expected wind would be on the nose for the whole trip which would be slow and mean no sailing. There are a number of sandbanks in the Thames Estuary which splay out like fingers in an open hand and point north easterly. As mentioned our normal routing is to cut across one of these and then go up the gap between two sand bank fingers. The alternative is to go around the outside of the finger tips. This is not something we have done before and this may allow us to sail close to the wind but at least at a faster and more comfortable pace. Although this route is slightly longer, I suspect today it will be faster.
The Northerly is still blowing us onto the pontoon and so we can’t use our usual method of coming off the pontoon sideways with an angled rudder to kick the stern off and the bow thruster to move the bow . This would also be complicated by a border patrol vessel which is moored in front of us and is twice our beam so blocks the route outquite a bit. We can’t just steer off the pontoon or spring off the stern because of the overhang of the davits, rib and solar panels which would go three to four feet over the pontoon. So it will be springing off the bow as usual then. We are becoming quite experienced at this as I tie four fenders to the bow and a line from the bow to a cleat adjacent to our mid ships on the pontoon. Maria has checked in with port control and we are good to go. As I take the other normal mooring lines off, Mariadz is already starting to move her stern off the pontoon. Maria turns the wheel into the pontoon and in tickover eases the bow in and onto the fenders as the stern slowly moves away from the pontoon. With Mariadz at about 45 degrees to the pontoon, Maria straightens the wheel and slips into astern. I loosen the spring line and a quick burst of the bow thruster pushes the bow even more off the pontoon and starts to straighten Mariadz. We are now perfectly positioned parallel to the pontoon and ready to go as I retrieve the lines and put away the fenders. As we leave, another larger border patrol vessel, Searcher, is also readying to leave. Everything is stowed before we come out of the harbour and before we hit the rough patch of water outside of Ramsgate which throws us around. The weather is fine, if a little cold, and in the distance we can see another warship in the channel, probably a frigate. So with that and Searcher behind us, we are feeling very safe! As we turn North East to our first waypoint, all hell breaks loose on the AIS. There is a fast moving vessel on a collision course about a mile away. This is an RNLI lifeboat returning to Ramsgate but clearly with our escorts and now a rescue vessel close to us, we are beginning to worry that someone knows something we don’t!
We have been able to put main and staysail up but have also left the engine on at low revs to keep driving us through the water because we are a little tight to the wind and we don’t want to arrive too late. We are getting a good push from the wind and tide so we are belting along at a reasonable speed. When the wind is in the right direction, we passage plan at about 7 knots and we are able to keep up with this.
Bonnie and Clyde as usual are with us all the way and stay in the cockpit. There is sun so they are either rolling around in the warmth or hiding from it. Clyde just moves to shady spots but Bonnie has now taken to going under her blankets and hiding, including sometimes making a tent!
Having taken the long way round we pass Rough Towers and are able to turn towards Harwich which also gives us an opportunity to switch off the engine and enjoy the last few miles of the sail. As we reach the langard buoy, it is seven hours since we left Ramsgate which is exactly the same time it took to get there but it had probably been quicker than returning the way we had come.
It is now early evening and we are keen to get anchored in the Stour, still our destination for a couple of days. There are a number of anchorages in the Stour but we decide to go further down than our first stop of the weekend opposite Harwich Parkeston Quay. In fact, we are going to go close to Holbrook Bay, the shallow bay under the Royal Hospital School. This is a common spot for us in the summer because it is so quiet and we intend to spend the whole of Sunday here before sailing gently back on Monday in the expected north easterly winds.
As we proceed down the river, the wind dies so we are back under power and starting to take the sails down as we prepare for the anchorage. Maria selects her spot and I follow our anchoring routine. Anchor ball up, anchor buoy down, anchor down, long snubber deployed and short lines to hold the chain and protect the windlass from snatching if all else fails. This is all done quite quickly and we are able to sit down with the anchor alarm on and have a well earned drink!
Dinner is quite relaxed and we catch up on a couple of serials on the TV that we put up in the cockpit. Tomorrow is another chill day.
Easter Sunday dawns clear but with quite a cool breeze so the cockpit tent stays closed up so we get the heat of the sun but not the chill of the wind. Early in the morning Maria breaks out the fishing gear having had another lesson from our tackle shop – and been taught another way of setting up the rig with guaranteed results. Hmmm, we’ll see!
We’re both chilling and chatting when the first of three fish is caught and Maria has
clearly got the gift again despite the first couple of hours of just catching large clumps of weed. They are all too small to keep with the first one being especially keen to return to the river as he flies out of Maria’s hands. But not before a kiss!
It’s a Sunday and Maria will always prepare a roast dinner irrespective of where we are and she is enjoying pottering in the galley getting dinner ready. As always it is a feast, I’m sure she is seeing double as she prepares the food and cooks for four rather than two. Anyone who has eaten Maria’s roast dinner will know it is gorgeous but you will never run out of food!
It’s been a relaxing day which, with my work being hard and the stress of Maria looking for a new job, is a good thing. It has been sunny all day and the batteries are full with the solar having soaked up 4kWh of power or 330Ah of power at 12V. It’s fantastic but as the evening comes, the wind starts to make us cold. We decide to start the generator so that we can run the heating, heated blankets etc as well as getting the water piping hot for a lovely warm shower.
During the evening, we have decided to leave reasonably early and catch the tide on the Orwell to arrive at the top of the river while the lock is on the level. Bringing the anchor up reminds me of the amount of weed in the river and the problems this can cause. The anchor buoy works well as a marker for our anchor, a tripping line should we need it (which is unlikely) and a way to retrieve the anchor if our chain failed. However, we did suffer once in this anchorage where the weight of the weed on the buoy actually stopped the anchor turning around and stowing properly. It jammed sideways on and had to be shaken out when we docked. Last year, at Osea, I had swam to the buoy to clear it and struggled to get back. I certainly wasn’t going to try that in an East Coast river in April. My solution was to retrieve the anchor until there was only ten metres of chain left. The buoy is on 10 metres of line. This means that, as it hangs off the anchor, it goes in the same direction of the tide as Mariadz. So the buoy is quite close to our bow and using a boat hook, I am able to clear the weed from the line and reduce the weight pulling on the anchor. The last part of retrieval goes perfectly and we are ready to start our sail home.
Overnight the wind has turned Easterly and reduced a little but we have plenty of time and so we deploy the main and stay sail and decide to tack up river. We remember from our courses the shouted instructions and responses which feel quite redundant when you have a self tacking stay sail which means the only think you need to do is turn the wheel. It doesn’t stop us calling out anyway even if all it does is inform the other that we are about to change the way the boat is heeling – which can be quite important. We make unspectacular progress up river, there isn’t really enough wind to get Mariadz going and we are going against the tide with the wind driving right down the river at us. At some stage I go below and as I pass the instruments I notice something strange. We are in fantastic sunshine but we are pulling out 30A of power. My first thought is something must be wrong, we should be using 8-12A which is more than covered by the solar and allows us to run the boat (fridges etc) and have all of the navigation on. I am looking at the panel and start switching off areas to see if I can trace it. After some time, I find that the large switch for the winches and bow thruster seems to be culprit. This is adjacent to another switch for the domestic which has had an issue recently. We at least know what circuit it is but I could do with the winches and we are only going up river with a lot of battery power so we should be ok. It is one that needs fixing quickly though.
As we enter the Orwell, we only have just over an hour to make it all the way to the top of the river before high tide. As we make the turn at the end of Felixstowe, the wind picks up and is right on our beam, perfect. Mariadz moves like she has been kicked and probably has a little too much sail up but she is sailing well and we are flying along at well over the motorised speed limit of 6 knots. After this section and when you make the turn at Suffolk Yacht Harbour, the wind is less steady and the contours of the land can make this a bit variable. We persevere most of the way up the river before taking the call, as the wind drops even more, and decide it is time to get ourselves back.
Sails are down and engine is on as we approach the Orwell bridge but there is a new person on the lock gates. We are told that we will have to wait on the waiting pontoon rather than going straight through on freeflow. We had been hoping not to have to tie up to the pontoon but it now looks like I will have to rig fenders and lines on both sides, once for the lock or waiting pontoon and once for our home berth. As we get closer it is clear that the gates are open so there is nothing to worry about. It would just have been easier if that had been made clear at the beginning – still another lesson learned.
The advantage of free flow, or on the level, is that there is no delay going through the lock and so we are tied up in our berth early afternoon giving us enough time to clean Mariadz down. It also means that we can clean off the scuff mark that we have from Ramsgate and we are as good as new.
Now to go through the snagging list from the shakedown tour including that pesky 30A draw on our power!