The journey south begins in earnest

It has been two weeks at Burnham-on-Crouch rather than the four we had planned originally but it is time to depart and to start to head South so that we can be ready for Biscay in a month’s time. One month, wow, it is getting real now.

Maria has been hard at work on crew seekers and has found two people who can accompany us on the Biscay run and we agree that they should meet us beforehand so that we can be sure we won’t all want to throttle each other in the middle of the Atlantic, well the eastern part of the Atlantic.

First up is Richard, who has lots of sailing experience and is studying for his yachtmaster, for which our trip can act as his qualifying sail. His acclimatisation trip will be burnham to Southampton via Eastbourne over a few days.

Richard is due to arrive on Friday and I am frantically going through the last of the items on the list that we need cleared before we go. It is all looking good and by 4pm on the Friday, with Richard due at 7pm, I only have to lift the rib onto the davits. What could be simpler?

I get a chance to do this in a spare half hour in my busy work schedule, when I should be having lunch. I get the rib over to our new davit wires, as fitted by myself and Richard from evolution rigging amidst much swearing and grazed knuckles a few week’s previously.

I fit the davit wires to the new rib lifting points, which are directly in line with the davits to avoid chaff. I start to lift when the 4mm wire connected to the bow gives way and drops the bow into the water. My disappointment is compounded by the certain knowledge of how difficult it is to replace the wire. This also seems ridiculous since the breaking strain of that wire is over 900kg and the whole rib is 150kg with the bow the lightest bit! Clearly there is another problem and we will need to understand what caused the breakage before fitting another wire and finding that breaks in a short period.

A frantic call to Richard at evolution rigging and we have two new wires being produced … in Ipswich…. over an hour away…. on the day before a bank holiday weekend…. with no car….

An old school friend of Maria’s (no she isn’t old, they have known each other a while!) is visiting and wonderfully offers me the use of her car so that I can collect the wires and have them ready. This is especially helpful since we are leaving at 5am the next morning and it would be even trickier to get these from Eastbourne or Southampton without a car. I hope in the car and three hours later I have driven to Richard, collected the wires and got back to the boat, just to late to be there to greet Richard. It is also a baptism of fire for Richard since we still need to get the rib up and there is no way we can replace the wire quickly. Fortunately, as part of our pasarelle setup we have a 6:1 pulley system which will fit to the davits and allows us to lift the bow while the stern is lifted using the davit motor.

The rib is now stowed and we are ready to go first thing in the morning but it is late and we haven’t eaten yet. Maria has knocked up one of her original curries with a chicken balti, gorgeous mushroom and courgettes, rice and breads so Richard has his first taste of Mariadz cooking which seems to go down well, certainly by the number of times he returned for more – a very polite person!

The next morning and the weather forecast that we had checked proves to be absolutely right with little or no usable wind for our journey. In common with everyone who sleeps in the forepeak, Richard has woken refreshed and raring to go. So it is a quick setup of the boat and we are ready to go.

Originally we had talked about stopping at Ramsgate but we have decided to skip that and do the journey in one hit to Eastbourne. We expect this to take about 14 hours since it is in excess of 100NM but we should just about make it in daylight. I have decided l am keen to make sure that Mariadz is ok since this is her first major trip since all of the work has been done. It means I am on watch for the whole trip which in retrospect was probably not the wisest decision with two very skilled sailors with me.

We have caught the tide early and make reasonable progress across the Thames estuary seeing all the familiar sites. These are happy hunting grounds but it does seem strange to know we will never sail here again.

We reach North Foreland as the tide changes which means it gets quite lumpy. It also means that the journey to the far side of Dover will be fighting a strong tide. we have made good time but it is slow going past ramsgate ( see ya for the last time 🙂 ). We go on the inside of the Godwin sands even though the tide is stronger here because the detour to go on the outside adds even more distance and time.

As we approach Dover, I can see a number of vessels crossing our path as the ferries come in and out. I have a good view of them and we are making good speed under power. Unfortunately I have forgotten to check in with Dover Port Control (channel 74) because I will be crossing the entrance within a mile of shore. A schoolboy error and if by mentioning it here I get someone to radio in to make their intentions clear then I will have paid my penance. A very nice lady calls us by name, having seen our AIS track. To be fair, she was very polite considering I have completely ignored the correct protocol but I explain that we are on passage to Eastbourne, make my apologies and we continue on our way.

We are now starting to pick up speed but it is getting later. Our 14 hour estimate is looking hopelessly optimistic as we pass Dungeness and can finally see our destination, even if it is still three and a half hours away.

It is now starting to get dark and in the bay before Eastbourne we start to see a lot of lobster pots. To be fair these are very well marked but it fast becoming the kind of slalom that would be challenging for a skier never mind a 54 ft yacht! After what seems an eternity and with the light disappearing after sunset, we finally arrive at Eastbourne. Richard and I jump up to do fenders and lines, setting up both sides since we are not sure which side we will be on in the lock – we later remember that both sides are setup so you could have gone with either!

Unfortunately, maria has become slightly disoriented by the darkness and misses an unlit green buoy, easily done, which means Mariadz is outside of the channel. Fortunately it is all corrected quickly with no drama and we are able to proceed. It doesn’t do Maria’s nerves any good though especially as we are tired after a long day. However, normal service is resumed as Maria negotiates the lock perfectly. The discussion with the harbour master isn’t great since despite assurances previously we are told we can’t have a hammerhead and have to take an inside berth. That is a trickier manoeuvre especially as we had set up for the hammerhead but we get in after a little bit of fun and games. We are now tied up and can relax for the evening or so we thought.

Since we will be in Eastbourne for less than twelve hours I go to the office and check in. Having paid for the berth and received some excellent advice on when to leave in the morning, especially as it gave us more sleep, I return to Mariadz. On my return, I am told that Clyde has gone for a walk and has left the marina which is about a 150m walk. We are in no mood for this!

The search for Clyde takes a lot longer than you expect and I have been all of the way to the waterfront before eventually finding him aimlessly wandering around a housing estate, clearly lost. When I call him, he hears, turns and comes strolling over to me before doing his usual of walking on the heel most of the way back to the boat. Richard, who has also been on the search with me, is taking no chances, and walks a little behind Clyde in case he changes his mind and runs off again! As we get on board, Maria has cooked us a home made lasagna to a recipe she gleaned from our Italian neighbours. It is lovely, even if she does admit to a mistake when making it!

It’s late and we have another long journey tomorrow so it is time to get to bed. For another good nights sleep before a hopefully easier day and fingers crossed a chance to show Richard how Mariadz sails.

No turning back now.

This year we will delivering Mariadz to southern Italy and the journey has now well and truly started. Having been in Suffolk Yacht Harbour for most of the last eighteen months, the majority of the boat jobs are now done. There are a few things left to do, most notably the toe rail which we had hoped to have redone perfectly before we left but looks like it will need to be started again unfortunately, more of that in another post.

On a boat there is always a long list of jobs to do and as you will find out over the coming weeks as I catch up on blogs, a lot of these have now been done on mariadz. In fact the usually extensive list has very few items on it!

We left Suffolk yacht harbour at Levington mid-April, a little later than we had hoped due to over-running works and headed to Burnham-on-Crouch. This was to be our base for a couple of weeks, while Maria got to spend some quality time with our granddaughter, Isabella. Since this was our last time in these waters we decided to break up the journey and visit a familiar haunt. Hanford water wasn’t possible due to tides and our need to do a long journey so we decided that Osea Island would be our anchorage for the night before moving onto Burnham.

The sail down the wallet to the top of the river black water was uneventful and we were able to get the sails out but had to keep the engine running due to the lack of wind. This wasn’t too bad since we are trying to get through our first 50 hours on the new engine and want to do this before we attempt the “big” crossing later in the year.

All is going swimingly until we decide to take the sails in. Mariadz has in mast furling which a lot of people swear at rather than swearing by. We have always got on with it and in eight years have not had a sail jam. As part of the refit, we had the in-mast furler completely refurbished. During our test sail we had noticed that the looped line for the furler hadn’t been gripping the jaws of the furler well enough so we had that changed for a thicker line that would grip better. We were somewhat dismayed to find that during the unfurling of the sail, this line had jumped off of the furler completely! I believe I may have been responsible for that. The furler has two modes: ratchet and free. Previously, we had always had the furler on ratchet which basically meant that the sail was always controlled by the furler and we could reef the sail or let more out using the furler and under control. After the refurb, the sail will furl in ratchet mode but seems to be locked for bringing the sail out. I realise this only after the line is under some tension and hence is quite a bit thinner than usual. I suspect this helped to throw the line off the furler. I am able to store the sail by going to the mast with a winch handle and doing it manually, tiring but successful. However, I can’t do that every time! I call Richard at Evolution Rigging and we are both at a loss. Clearly it needs to back but it is a small aperture and I have no idea how I will get the thick line in there – I really hope I don’t need to cut the line at the join of the loop and redo it. The internet is your friend in these situations and I discover that the furler is working exactly as designed, even if that isn’t as good a design as our previously faulty set up allowed. So I know what I have done wrong but not how to fix it, yet.

Osea island is quiet, as you would probably expect for April but it is nice to say goodbye, even if we refrained from singing Rehab from the bow this time.

The next morning, and the pull of Isabella is too much for Maria to resist. We are up and away early and back past Radio Caroline, heading to burnham. I am not letting the furler problem stop us using our new sails so we are flying along to burnham and arrive nice and early.

Prior to arrival, we have been told that we will be on the hammerhead at the entrance – “your usual table, sir?”. That would be lovely, and as we enter the marina, there are even some people there waiting. How kind, they are here to take our lines….. nope, the boat in front of us starts to turn back into us to go onto the hammerhead! I swiftly call out that the harbourmaster has told us to berth there, to be told they are just picking up their friends! Errrr, do you want us to wait here while you do that? Or maybe find somewhere empty to pick them up. The decision is made to take the berth and let the other boat pick them up elsewhere, something they handle very well so clearly know how to handle their boat. Maria demonstrates that she can handle Mariadz as well by “Captain Ron”- ing it. For those who don’t know the film, which is a classic Kurt Russell film, this approach to berthing is basically to aim at the hammerhead at speed and then, at the last minute, throw the wheel over, put her astern and let her drift gently onto the berth. This works well when there is a lot of tide or wind. Maria’s attempt was not far off the film although thankfully her crew knew what she was doing so there was no panic 🙂 well not much…

We are now berthed in Burnham for two weeks before the first of our crew members for Biscay, Richard, comes on board for the start of the trip south to acclimatise himself to the boat and us! Now where’s that list to clear some more items off it!