This is a sad time of year for Maria’s family since it combines the anniversaries of the funeral of her father, Chris, and the death of her younger sister, Natalie. The later was only last year so it is still very fresh in people’s minds. So we decided that we would spend some time with Maria’s step mum on the anniversary, Friday, and hopefully get some time over the weekend on the boat, something that Chris and Natalie would both have loved.
Weather-wise the weekend was to start quite breezy but this would die down with potential occasional showers. I had booked the Friday off work so that there would be no distractions on the day and so we decided that we would head to Harwich on the Thursday evening once I had finished work. This would mean a 7pm departure with a couple of hours to get to Half-penny pier. In preparation, Maria spoke to Nick the harbourmaster and checked that the outside of the pier, which is the only spot we can go, was clear and he confirmed that there was nothing there and nothing expected. I have to say that all of the harbour masters at Half-penny pier have been really good to us whenever we have been there. They’re really friendly and want to help although I believe that the RNLI station may have been told to rename our boat “likely call”…
I arrive back from work at about 6:45pm and Maria has the boat ready. There is a strong North-Easterly wind blowing at 15-20 knots as we prepare to leave. We are untied and as Maria slowly inches Mariadz out of her berth, it seems particularly gusty. The wind is blowing us off the pontoon which is great but also closer to our neighbours a few feet away. It is the first test of the new bow thruster and everything works fine as Maria controls the bow and exits the berth. We will need to go into the lock to get down the river and the water level is high, which also means we are a little exposed to the wind as we enter the lock. Once again we are being blown off the pontoon as I call down the distance to the pontoon from the hull. At 50cm, I step off, one never jumps…. ;), I have a mid cleat line in my hand. I am able to get this attached but as I reach back for the standard second line, the aft line, it is not in reach. I ask Maria to tick over forward and steer away from the pontoon which should point the bow out, move Mariadz forward and with the mid line holding her bring the stern into reach. A quick bust of bow thruster speeds this up and I am able to get the aft line on, tighten up the mid line and stroll forward with the bow line in the knowledge that Maria can control this with the bow thruster anyway. We are tied up even if it was a little more exciting than normal 🙂 . The other thing we have done is successfully tested the bow thruster, which had already been done in the berth before setting off but there is nothing like a real test. This whole process reminds Maria why she likes to have the bow thruster available.
We start to head down the river after a cheery wave from the lock keeper. Maria phones up half-penny pier to reconfirm and we are fine. Nick asks us to phone him after we arrive just to confirm that we are there safely – now that’s service…or maybe he’s worried about whether we will successfully make it! We have some sail up although it is gusty and we are doing over 7 knots down the river. Unfortunately the wind picks up and gets more gusty which just makes the journey uncomfortable so before long we have reduced sail a little.
As we round the turn to Felixstowe, I have booked us for some food at the Thai up at the Quay, our favourite Thai restaurant. As we approach half-penny, we can see it is clear and the wind is blowing down the pontoon so we will turn Mariadz around and face Felixstowe rather than down river. After the experience at Ramsgate, I am taking no chances and I rig most of our nine fenders on the starboard side and at the right height but I needn’t have worried.
Maria approaches the pontoon at a sensible speed and the first thing she has to do is a ninety degree turn in a tight spot, adjust for the flow of water and then flick the bow out using the rudder as Mariadz settles against the pontoon and I step off to start tying her off – Mariadz not Maria! Parked like a boss though! Interestingly, Maria didn’t use the bow thruster at all. It should be said that Maria doesn’t over use the bow thruster normally but she has used it markedly less since its replacement which means more concentration beforehand to get the boat in the right position rather than relying on a correction. It’s impressively done with no fuss whatsoever. I decide to move Mariadz back a little so that we leave some space at the front of the pier but it seems that we will be alone here this evening. It’s 8:50pm and we have ten minutes to retrieve the cats – you know Clyde has jumped off as soon as we touched land, shut the boat down and get to the restaurant.
We are big fans of Thai up at the Quay, it’s a family run business which is normally quite busy, to the extent that probably 50% of the time we can’t get in last minute like this. Today we are in luck. We take some recommendations for food, the staff always know what’s best, and our faith in them is justified as the food is excellent. The service is excellent too, with the son being our main person today and being both efficient and friendly.
Now the problem that Maria and I have on holiday is that we are normally quite happy when it starts and the first evening is a bit of a “celebration”…. this normally means a late night and some alcohol resulting in sore heads the next morning. It doesn’t seem to matter if this is a fortnight away, a long weekend or even, sometimes, a normal weekend away! Tonight is no exception but at least our plans for Friday are to arrive at Jean’s at lunchtime so we have some time to get ourselves sorted.
We have brought food with us for lunch with Jean, a lovely fish platter but without oysters this time, not sure she really enjoyed them last time. We have some drink with us too so we can toast Chris and Natalie and before long we are in the taxi to Dovercourt. We spend the afternoon with Jean and have a great time although I am asked to demonstrate my IT skills by fixing her computer and setting up a new video player on the computer, no rest for the wicked! Also, they probably don’t know that there are loads of people who do this where I work so I don’t get my hands dirty normally.
My computer jobs done and after a really nice afternoon, it is time for us to return to Mariadz. The cutoff point for half-penny pier is 4pm prior to which, it is free to moor. On our return to the boat, the wind is still blowing hard but all of the forecasts confirm that this will drop over the weekend so we plan to anchor down the Stour for a couple of days. We expect the wind and tide to pull us off the pier quite nicely but just in case we are set up to spring off the bow as usual. As the mooring lines are removed, Mariadz gently drifts off the pier so I loosen the last bow spring line and we are ready to go. Martin, our yachtmaster instructor, caught us out a few years ago when he was beside the Orwell as we sailed down. He spotted that we had the fenders laid out on deck rather than tidied away. When we had the granny bars, or mast pulpits, fitted we decided that this would make a safe storage location for our fenders. Not least of all because if we needed to access the mast, we could easily move the two inside fenders around so that the bars could serve their true purpose. It does reduce visability a little from within the cockpit but works for us. Another change I have made when putting out the fenders is to tie them at the bottom of the stanchions and then run the line to the top of the stanchion to tie the knot. This puts the pressure point for the fender at the base of the stanchion, it’s strongest point, and hopefully avoids us bending stanchions if a fender gets caught as we approach a dock. However, these two decisions mean that it takes longer for me to stow the lines and fenders after we come away from the pier. We are a fair way down the river Stour, as I rejoin Maria having tidied everything up. There’s some wind but we have decided since we are going less than two miles, there is no point in packing up the boat to sail and getting the sails out just to put them away again quite quickly. As we approach, Maria is checking the chart for where to go and sees a large anchor sign. We both momentarily forget that this is a marker we put down in the raymarine plotter to signify a good spot. Normally, there are other boats here so it is nice to go to one of our favourite spots on the edge of the bay but away from the channel. The anchor routine is the same as always and we are settled down with the anchor alarm on but also having checked transits that will point to any problems of us moving. That isn’t normally a problem but better safe than sorry. It is still quite windy as we settle down for the evening but during the night this dies down.
We wake the next morning to find ourselves in a mill pond, there is barely a ripple on the River Stour. It’s gonna be a lovely chilling day and the cats are particularly ready for it as they rest and rest some more.
Maria has decided that today is a fishing day having bought rag worms during the week and fresh from her recent success of catching three small sea bass. She will need a bucket however which is when I find that the builders bucket and the two soft plastic buckets have all got holes in 😦 . The builders bucket is particularly galling since I have had that for several years, with it’s rusty handle, and never expected my old faithful to fail me. It means that Maria’s source of water is an old washing up bowl rapidly filled from a leaking bucket. I also need to ask Alexa to add a bucket to the shopping list. I guess it is just all part of the constant refresh cycle on a sailing boat, nothing ever stays fixed for long.
Maria is fishing all day and constantly changing her bait as the combination of weeds, crabs and fast running water remove the worms from her hooks. This is despite reverting to the internet half way through the day for another guaranteed way of baiting your line.
Still Maria is happy and that improves further after I shuck some oysters for lunch, that also explains why Jean didn’t get any!
Its late afternoon in the middle of May and that would mean the FA cup final which, this year, has my team, Manchester City, playing. The TV is set up in the cockpit and I have checked the aerial adjustment to make sure that I will not have the same problems of not watching the game that I suffered for most of the last day of the premiership! The game is a nervy affair to start with but this quickly goes as City continue to score goals and approach a record final victory. That isn’t bad, especially when you consider that the last time they played a similar placed team at this stage they got beat! The football result helps my good mood as we realise that the whole day has gone and we have been really lazy and done nothing all day!
The evening is clear and still. The river is like a mirror which only worries Maria since the first time Bonnie ever jumped off the boat was when conditions were like this. She was young at the time and I think she learnt her lesson but it doesn’t stop Maria worrying. Clyde is also being cheeky, he knows the rule of “no toes on the toe rail” and has heard it often but it doesn’t stop him leaning over the side hypnotised by the water.
One day we will put up “brat nets” as a safety precaution and they are already acquired and waiting to be fitted. We are not sure we will like the aesthetics and want to leave it til as late as possible. In the interim, we always hang a couple of covered fenders off the aft quarters of the boat. At anchor, we are always facing the tide so if they did fall in they would be pulled backwards towards the stern. We are hoping that should the unthinkable happen, they would be able to grab the fender and climb their way back up to safety. The alternative is of course that Maria would immediately dive in after them, while I worked out a way to save everyone!
Another good nights sleep on a flat calm river heralds another day when we will need to up anchor and return home. As we come up on deck, I look at the cockpit tent to see a mass of bird droppings. These aren’t little ones either, as the boat is covered in elephant sized droppings. That means we will have to give the boat a good wash down today but at least the weather is nice,
We’re contemplating leaving so that we can get a good push from the tide up the Orwell when one of our friends, John from Brigand, pops over in his jet rib from his catamaran deep in Holbrook Bay. We invite him on for a drink and I suggest to Maria that she lower the swim platform for him. Now we haven’t used this since last year, and having told Maria which switch to use, we are both confused as the swim platform doesn’t move. That is until we see that Maria is happily switching the lights on and off…. of course, the swim platform is controlled from the steering binnacle not the stern of the boat. When pressing the correct button, the platform goes down easily which is a relief. Over a cup of Tea, which is very refined for us, John gives us the benefit of his local knowledge by explaining where a channel is in the Bay that would allow us to come in closer to shore. Definitely one to be explored next time we are down.
John leaves to put Brigand onto the mud to change anodes and we are set to head back up river and home. Retrieving the anchor is no problem although clearing the anchor buoy takes some effort – it is unbelievable how much weed goes through this river! Our new weed clearing technique of leaving ten metres of chain down so that the buoy is adjacent to the boat for cleaning, works a treat though. We have remembered to take down the anchor ball up in the rigging and proceed down the river to the gentle buzzing of the anchor alarm telling us we are dragging our anchor at six knots…. why do I always forget to switch that off? This can be seen perfectly on the anchor track in the picture.
We’re fighting the tide and a light wind with some very light rain up the Stour which slows us down but we know this will all change when we hit the Orwell. There isn’t much wind so again and we will do this under power dodging anything sailing down the river. Despite the light drizzle, I get the opportunity to take boat photos for the first time this year so we have some pictures of other boats on the Orwell.
We’re closing on high tide but it looks like we will miss the lock being open by ten minutes but at least we won’t be in there for long. As we wait in the lock, another couple have come in and one of them catches the same train as me in the mornings from Ipswich station. Not next week though as he is away on holiday on the boat and I try to hide my jealousy. I must have a recognisable face though 🙂 Once again, Maria gets Mariadz into the berth with the minimum of fuss and it isn’t long before our standard post-voyage routine is done and Mariadz is in her usual position with shore power.
This time, though, she is sitting there looking expectant, if that is possible, because SOMEONE has to clean her up! That, as you can imagine, is a blue job! I don’t mind though as she looks gleaming at the end of it.