Plymouth and the Mayflower

When we arrived at Mayflower Marina, we had already had a number of things delivered to the office including a new Engel portable fridge freezer, as recommended by our daughter Amie. To be fair, especially since we weren’t even there, we took up far too much of the space for parcels in the marina office. the staff at the marina have been incredibly welcoming and friendly including meeting us to take lines when we arrived. We have also met one of the team that helped build Mariadz back in 2001. Paul Roach from GRP Services, recognised his work as soon as he got on board, little did we know we would be needing his services ourselves but more of that later.

We had spent some time with my cousin and also caught up with most of my extended family in Devon, I’m sorry Michelle that we didn’t see you this time, when we are back in the UK we will come to see you. We had a lovely time though seeing family I haven’t seen for ages apart from last year on our tour in the Motorhome. This included a family game of cards with eight of us playing dirty girty, or Black Maria as others know it. Apart from a number of new rules, that my side of the family hadn’t played, it was the same vicious game with players who had equally grown up with this. It was all nip and tuck with me on a very low score and my lovely aunt scoring in the hundreds until my cousin Gina, who I previously liked, decided that I needed to be targeted. Fortunately this coincided with my unilateral decision to throw the game and let my uncle win…. We had a great time chatting away and everyone made Maria feel part of the family, which of course she is. It was a late evening though and we were tired after the one hour drive back to Plymouth in our hire car.

One of our tasks in Mayflower was to refuel and having seen the fuel pontoon at low tide, we knew we should do this at high tide, hopefully when the water was slack.

When we had come into the marina, they had asked us to come quite a way down L pontoon for visitors with a number of cats on the other side of the water. We had come in perfectly and had already plotted our exit route, we were going to spring off from the bow, go astern towards the other side and then flick her to come straight out of the exit. Easy and we had done this many times. This plan was destroyed by a large brand-new catamaran, a TS5 racer cruiser, coming adjacent to us.

So our revised plan was to come off sideways from the pontoon using the steering lock and bow thruster and then straight astern to the turning point at the bottom. All great in theory. However, there was a fair wind blowing us off and a strong tide running despite being just after supposed high water.

We started the manoeuvre but with not enough revs on the engine to counter the tide and provide drive astern. This was quickly recovered but then as we came out, we hadn’t taken enough of the steering off and were veering towards the bavaria behind us with a friendly couple who we had chatted to a few times. There was a slight touch but fenders and a light push was enough to avert a problem. We were now back on the pontoon two boats behind where we started with the owner of a beautiful classic 120 year old wooden boat looking very worried and suggesting we should stay where we were or at the very least go nowhere near his boat. We started again in the same vein but trying to make sure we didn’t make the same mistake again. That of course if the kiss of death, as we overcorrected were caught by both tide and wind, sending us straight at two catamarans opposite. We don’t have as many fenders on this side and we land on the smaller one with our bow touching a wider one and my cousin Simon trying to use a fender to protect the boat. Neither owner is on board but this doesn’t seem to stop a number of quite angry people coming out. At this stage, Maria’s confidence is shot and I am instructed to get us out of this predicament. Some have suggested we come back and rest on the smaller catamaran but actually that means more manoeuvring, it seems easier to go forward and rest solely on the large cat which then puts us pretty much on the right track to go straight back. This course of action is discussed with the marina team who can’t advise but don’t suggest that it is a bad plan. Despite understandable protestations from the other bystanders, which to be fair with our recent track record we can understand, we come off the smaller cat clear of both before resting gently, with lots of fenders on the large cat. Stage one of the recovery safely negotiated. When I say protestation, one in particular, was shouting vociferously without actually offering anything useful, in fact most of his “advice” was patently wrong. More of him later too! We are resting against the larger catamaran, when I notice some damage, unfortunately our initial rendering before the move wasn’t adequate and the corner of their swim platform had been resting against Mariadz’s hull. It has rounded off the edge of the swim platform by a couple of millimetres and left a nasty mark on our bow. As I look back I can also see some minor damage on the top sides of the smaller cat where the prop of our rib marked it and a wrecked horseshoe buoy holder. I am somewhat apprehensive as, on instruction from I start the manoeuvre backwards, but not as apprehensive as the owners of the currently unmarked catamaran next in line, who are frantically moving fenders. Anyway, ye of little faith, this time we came off the large catamaran sideways and then straight back using the bow thruster to steer. We successfully get out of the spot without anymore drama.

Maria takes over so I can reset fenders and lines as we go to the fuel berth. She continues as we go in negotiating her passage through some thin alleys and then brings Mariadz beautifully in to the fuel pontoon as if nothing had happened.

As I start to refuel, this has taken its toll on Maria who is upset at the damage to us and the other boats. She is reassured that everything will be taken care of and not to worry but needs a little cry to get over it.

Refuelling takes a while since mariadz is half full and I want to fill our spare cans too. This is over 400L of diesel and I also top up the rib fuel so we are now completely full. Some people are waiting as I finish up paying and so we setup to leave, basically the same way we wanted to originally before the cat arrived. We spring off the bow to get the stern off and then go into a full turn backwards with a burst of bow thruster and she is turned 180 degrees in little more than her length. As we head back to our berth, we agree that we will not go all the way in and also that we will go in astern to ease our exit at the end of May.

That all sounds great in theory but the tide is coming through the marina even faster now and I am approaching a Marina with the wind blowing me away from the pontoon and whenever I slow down I lose all steerage because the tide is moving at the same speed as the boat. In retrospect, I should have gone past the spot and gone in forwards or even waited outside until the tide had changed but we had things to do, our confidence and calmness is shot and we just want this boat back attached to land, now. Fortunately, a couple of people have come along to take our lines which is really nice but one of them was the irate person who was barking ridiculous orders earlier. He continues his form by telling me to slow down in astern which of course loses me all control of the stern which drifts off with the wind. I am now at the third attempt whilst having to avoid a large motoryacht and the pontoon in the centre with lots of hull scratching metal poking out. On this attempt there is a loud bang from the bow thruster which sounds like something solid has been sucked in. This operation will be even more difficult without a bow thruster! I get close but again go too slow as I get close to the pontoon, I don’t want to hit it, and we drift off. The fourth and final attempt allows us to get a stern and a mid line ashore and the boys can sweat Mariadz in with a little help from me behind the helm. We are finally there and I say thank you for the assistance, even the obnoxious guy, who just tuts and walks away – and we didn’t even get near to his boat!

I then go to inspect the damage to the two boats we hit which is remarkably light and limited to what I had seen earlier. Earlier Maria had spoken to Paul who had reassured her that these things can be fixed and he would get it done for us. So we go up to the office, before going out for the evening, and ask the marina to give our contact details to the owners of the two boats so that we can apologise and explain how we intend to fix the problems.

A short time later, one of the owners calls and I make our apologies and explain that Paul will come on board and make it like new. He is relaxed, apparently this happens a lot there because of the whirlpools and eddies at different states of tide. I am reassured especially as it seems our mistakes have not caused too much damage and it is superficial.

Unfortunately, it is not the same conversation when the second owner appears. The obnoxious man from the incident is apparently some kind of ambulance chaser and has persuaded her that her entire hull can be repaired because of the knock we have given them. Maria overheard this and suggested I go over and speak to her. Again I start by apologising vociferously and explaining we will repair the damage we have caused. I ask permission to come aboard to show her the damage. After this, she says that the whole side has been damaged by us. I look over to see what she means and she identifies a patch on the hull which she claimed wasn’t there on Saturday. I peer over the side to see a dark mark no more than a foot over the waterline. I take a look at the profile of Mariadz which clearly comes in quite a lot and explain that it is impossible for us to have caused that since it is too low. She is adamant and now blocking my path from her boat. Clearly my apology has not worked and she is upset and has been wound up by someone else. Maria tries to placate her, we are all upset when our pride and joys are hurt and, as we have said, we will resolve it. As we walk away, obnoxious man shouts, if you need a witness… but he is quickly quietened by his wife since we have already explained what has happened.

Anyway, a few days later and most of the damage including ours is fixed and Paul has had the opportunity to work on one of his Moody 54s again.

A week away from the marina is opportune and a chance for Marina to get her Isabella fix and I miss the little one too. We can also deliver the cats to Lisa, who is going to have them for a time, while we get the boat to Italy.

On our return I am disappointed to be required back in London for work, which means I will have to go on Monday night and arrive back on Tuesday night. This doesn’t leave me much time to do the last preparations for the voyage but at least I will get to see My work colleague Rachel and her wife, who have kindly offered me a bed for the night, meaning I avoid the outrageous prices of London in Half term week coinciding with the Queen’s jubilee celebrations. I am just about to leave on Monday when we decide to reset the lines on the boat. As I am dealing with the bow, Maria calls me to point out that the aft cleat is lifting a quarter of an inch from the deck and wobbling around. That’s not good! Something else that needs to go on the essential list before we leave.

On my return from London the next day, the cleat is the top priority but it means emptying one side of the lazarette. It is the last day before we leave and I have a full work day so Maria and I agree to get up early and deal with this. While Maria gets ready, I address a faulty light in the bunk room, although we don’t think they will be used much, best to have everything working.

Fortunately we only have to empty half of the lazarette but this cleat is the same side as the gas locker and is actually behind the gas locker. That is going to be awkward to get out. A quick inspection confirms that the cleat is held in place by two doubled nutted bolts which are loose to the touch, at fingertips. They are also just a little larger than the largest spanner I have on the boat so the variable will be required.

The princess yard team have arrived to work on the big princess yacht and they ask what we are doing. We laughingly mention that Mariadz was built by them and 20 years later I have a wobbly cleat – call that build quality…. They offer lots of friendly advice including explaining that they would cut through the gas locker if access was a problem and then sort that afterwards. Oh no, let’s hope that isn’t required or Mark will want me to drop it a couple of inches so that she can get larger gas bottles in. They also confirm our approach of sealing the deck and tightening the bolts.

The first thing is to make sure the cleat is sealed to the deck so that we don’t get any water ingress, not a huge problem with the lazarette which has its own, very powerful and recently replaced, bilge pump. However, we are nothing if we are not thorough and so I fill it with CT-1, a great sealant that will help the cleat stay watertight and also hold it in place nicely.

I crawl into the smallest part of the lazarette, it’s lucky I’m not claustrophobic since my head is jammed between the bulkhead and the gas locker, my shoulders can’t move and my arms are locked in. That said I take a minute to get used to this position before starting work. Fortunately I should be able to move my hands and forearms enough to add some loctite and do the bolts up. However, I decide to buy new loctite at the first opportunity since this one has been open for a while.

I am able to tighten the first nuts on the bolts first by hand and then nipping up with the spanner and the then the second, locking, nut is tightened to hopefully prevent any slippage. I can now try new extricate myself. A quick check of the cleat, and a clean of the surplus CT-1 and it is solid although we won’t use it for 24 hours to ensure everything has locked down nicely. We will need these in Italy so we need them to work properly.

The lazarette is refilled and we are sorted and my work day is about to begin. One last day of work and Gerald and Richard, our crew for Biscay, arrive late this afternoon.

Now it is time for Maria to go through the last of our provisions and do a whole load of cooking so we are comfortable for our trip.

It’s getting real now.

Portland to Plymouth

Having met our first Biscay crossing crew member, Richard, on a previous trip, it was now time to meet our second, Gerald, a part time vet in Ireland. Gerald had flown in earlier before staying with one of his many daughters, in Bristol. He had then travelled down to Portland where his cousin, also a keen sailor, dropped him at the marina – oh the advantages of a large family.

Gerald arrived with a suitcase and we were reminded of our honeymoon when we arrived for our yacht charter with several suitcases! We were away for three weeks was our excuse, and they hadn’t sent us the branded bags that would allow us to pack in the way they wanted. Fortunately that was a large boat with several rooms so it all went somewhere. We found a place for Gerald’s too but agreed he should leave his stuff on mariadz and take the empty case away with him. Hopefully he would return with a bag suitable to return his belongings but that can also be stowed.

We decide to leave in the morning which was the best time to pass Portland bill and also give us a favourable tide for most of our journey to Plymouth getting us there much sooner. There promised to be a little more wind than when Richard was with us so hopefully more of an opportunity to do some sailing. It is a glorious day with enough wind to get us going and before long we are under sail and going wonderfully.

Now I may have said this before but we are not racers, however, Maria, sees herself as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and “you shall not pass!” Is definitely her attitude. So as we round the bill, I am quickly on the AIS, as I say it is all Maria…., and looking for potential victims to be caught and overtaken by a beautiful moody with full new sails flying. It is another glorious sail and like from Southampton, Mariadz is enjoying a nice breeze powering her through the waves and with the tide, we are eating up the miles.

One of the new devices that Maria has acquired is a pinger, which is used by fishermen to keep dolphins away from their nets, and stop them eating all the fish. We have yet to see these in action but clearly Maria doesn’t want to do this for dolphins since this is what she has been looking forward to for the entire trip.

You may also recall that Maria was promised dolphins on this trip – yes you Lynne Fisher! Now in Lynne’s defence, I had seen a dolphin on the approach to Portland Marina but Maria was busy getting us into the marina and missed it. Prior to that, the human pinger that is Richard had also resulted in no dolphins in our trip from Eastbourne (sorry Richard).

However, we now have a vet who is clearly like Dr Doolittle and can call dolphins up at will or have we. Gerald, AKA the Dolphin Whisperer, doesn’t seem to be too confident.

We are half way across the bay chasing down other yachts when we see a pod of six dolphins off our starboard bow. On the right hand side at the front to the uninitiated! They see us and make a beeline to Mariadz like they are hunting us down. At this stage, Maria can only be described as squealing with glee although she has fallen short of making up a song about dolphins, unlike her fishing song from a few years ago which had parental advisory lyrics.

We are all very excited, there is no danger anywhere near us and Mariadz, under autopilot is just bounding along fine, so we all head to the bow to watch the show. I don’t think anyone has ever adequately explained why dolphins love to play in the bow wave of boats but it is surely a wonder to behold. Our only previous experience of dolphins in the wild was on a pleasure boat in Australia a few years ago when we were seeing Amie, but there is something special about it being your own pride and joy they are playing with.

Time stands still as you watch these playful dolphins and I genuinely dont know whether it was five minutes, ten minutes or thirty minutes before they decided to move on and probably catch some fish. It was fantastic and we all stood in awe watching and filming away. However, too soon, they are gone but for next thirty minutes all we can do is watch the videos and talk about the experience. Clearly the dolphin whisperer has some talent!

We have only just stopped talking about it, and Maria stopped crying tears of joy, when there are some more fins and another over-excited pod is on their way to see us. Dolphins playing in this way does not get boring and we are back out there. Clearly the dolphins have got overexcited themselves since, as I look aft, I see a little juvenile dolphin frantically swimming to catch up and join in the fun. They must have forgotten about junior in all the excitement and you can imagine him chasing them saying wait for me as his little body propels him as fast as it can. This has really passed the time and it seems no time at all until we are approaching Salcombe, our stop for the night.

We came to Salcombe by land last year when we met up with my work colleague, Rachel, and her gorgeous wife Louise. At that time we looked longingly at the bay and said one day Mariadz will be out there in all her glory. We thought we would be able to anchor but the area is covered in moorings. Our experience in the east coast is that these can be quite lightweight and close together, not suitable for a boat the size of Mariadz. As we call in hoping for a berth for the night, they politely don’t laugh at us when we ask will the mooring be able to take us! Don’t worry we take much bigger than you. We are told our allocated anchor ball but now are worrying about our ability to pick this up and put our line through it. As we arrive we can see this isn’t going to be possible because they are huge but the harbourmaster has come over to help us by taking a line, threading it through and handing it back. Maria is all over this as she approaches against the tide, stops Mariadz adjacent to the mooring before a little dab of bow thruster allows me to pass the line to the harbourmaster, no uncouth throwing of lines here. He gives it back and I tie us off. I have no idea if he was impressed by the boat handling but I was. His help also probably saved me another boat hook, since I kept dropping these at a mooring ball opposite Levington for years. I always intended to get the dive gear and go and retrieve the four or five that are down there…

We are now tied nicely up and it is clearly time to pop in for a quick drink and explore. We don’t even have to get the rib down since there is an excellent water taxi that will pick us up and drop us back. We really like the staff here who are friendly and helpful. A cracking end to a great day of sailing, dolphin watching and chilling.

The next day is the short hop to Plymouth and after a good nights sleep and breakfast we are ready to rejoin the “race”, identifying a few likely victims early on. We are having fun and making great speed but today there are no dolphins.

However, we are now approaching Plymouth, home of a lot of the British navy and workplace for my cousin Simon who we are looking forward to catching up with. We negotiate the west entrance of the wall that protects Plymouth and start to go around Drake’s Island in the harbour. We won’t go through “the bridge” a shallow area on the inside track past the island, just a bit too tight for us and we would rather take a little longer and be safe. As we approach, the east side of the island, there are quite a few yachts in front of us circling around and a tourist boat with 40 or so people on the top deck watching. A rib, at high speed, approaches us and vigorously waves us to get out of the way as this is clearly some kind of race. At this stage we are on the left hand side of the channel just inside the red buoy and can’t go outside this because of the spectators. I politely wave back and then go about my business, we are nowhere near any of these yachts and the race hasn’t even started yet – I also wonder whether they would have said the same to a Type 23 frigate, that often goes through this channel, I suspect they would have been shot for approaching at high speed!

We approach the mayflower marina and head towards the visitors pontoon having been guided there by the staff. As we approach two members of staff are waiting for us to take lines and help us get settled, how nice is that! The start of another stay at a new marina for us as we prepare to leave England for the last time on Mariadz.

Blog updates

A note to any readers out there. I am trying to catch up on all of the refit and some of the sailing we have done. There will be quite a few blogs going up over the next few weeks including:

Stainless anchor and chain
Safety gear
Teak cockpit seating
Rig and sails, refurb of twin headsail
Toe rail
Fridge freezer control panels
Frameless windows
Tensile awning and cockpit tent
Hull work – copper coat and gold stripe
Engine room refurb
New soleboards
Various saloon wood improvements repairs
Toilet pipes and toilet servicing, in and out pumps
Whale manual pump servicing
Water pump – Marco
Grey waste pump service
LEDs with dimmer problems in forepeak
Extra sockets with usbs in bunk room
New tap and water filter
Water maker
Hinge replacement
Locks on lockers
Lithium batteries
Cockpit tent and tensile awning
Teak decks
Motorhome sold

I will try and put these up in a rough chronological order but it does mean that some news will start to appear down the list a little, especially as the list gets updated regularly.

So, happy reading and I hope it is enjoyable and useful.

To the heart of Southampton via the Isle of Wight

We have had a watershed moment on Mariadz. For the last twelve years, we have played on the East Coast. Generally going back to the same places and our favourite haunts with the occasional diversion to find a new favourite. We know most of the anchorages on the east Coast, have been across the channel to Ramsgate and the north coast of Kent.

As of last Saturday, we left Eastbourne, where we were two years ago, and in future years that is the last time we will return to a marina or anchorage that we know. It’s all new from here. That is exciting and worrying in equal measure.

This was also the second half of our weekend getting to know Richard, who will be part of the crew for the Biscay trip. We had decided, well more precisely Maria had decided, that we would like to do the Biscay crossing with additional crew. One of the reasons for this was to give Maria and I time together. If it was just the two of us and we each slept for six to eight hours then we would only have eight to twelve hours a day when we were both awake since someone needs to be on watch at all times. Having people with us will make that easier, us less tired and make the whole thing more fun. Maria had gone onto crewseekers to find people and had been inundated with offers. It was a hard job to whittle down to two people and we are confident that we will have a crew that will get on and complement each other.

Leaving early means that you are in a lock with a lot of fishing boats, something we prefer to do at the end of the day when they are laden down with a catch where we may be able to negotiate a purchase, however, we meet nice people wherever we go and Simon, who runs one of the fishing boats, was really interesting and friendly. A nice start to the day.

We left Eastbourne after a much shorter stay than last time, not even twelve hours but enough time for us all to get some rest. It has also given time for Clyde to do a runner with me only finding him wandering around a nearby housing estate, clearly lost and happy to see me when he heard the call. He trotted back to the boat with me but Richard, who had also been searching, walked a few metres behind us in case Clyde changed his mind.

In the morning, we come out of the lock and follow the fishing boats through the channel a little while after low tide. We don’t want to be dredging a new channel again even though it is mud and not too damaging. We are all good with no frights and we can then head south to beachy head ready for the turn west towards Selsey Bill and then Southampton.

Unfortunately, there is hardly any wind and the easterly means that it will be right behind us again for our journey and not enough to power the sails. Poor Richard has missed out on Mariadz scything through the water with no noise but there will be other opportunities.

During the entire journey we are able to get the sails up for a short period, when the wind picks up, which helps our speed as we are motorsailing but at least Mariadz has shown herself in all her glory.

I felt I had hogged the autopilot remote the previous day because I was worried something would go wrong on our first long trip since the complete overhaul. So today, I am keen to share the load and Richard takes control of Mariadz for the journey. Our timing after negotiating beachy head is perfect with a tide pushing us along. We also wave at where we think our old anchor is that we had lost a few years ago.

These are familiar waters for Richard and we have only sailed these a few times and local knowledge is really useful. Rather than heading into Southampton, we agree to anchor on the North side of the Isle of Wight since there is no wind and we should be able to expect a pleasant night. We anchor just outside the water ski area at Wootton Rocks away from the ferries. If we are honest, the wash from passing traffic made this slightly uncomfortable but at least we were rocked gently to sleep. The anchor alarm is on and we have enough chain down so there shouldn’t be any problems.

We all sleep well despite the occasional rolling of the boat and the next morning sees us up on a very still day for the few short miles to Southampton Town Quay.

The route into Southampton is well understood which combined with our dislike of shallow water on a falling tide means we take the safe route in. With a number of boats going the same way, it is easy to follow the route anyway but you have to keep your wits about you as they approach from all angles. When there is no wind and smooth seas, this is exacerbated. These are the conditions the fast motorboats love and even when Mariadz is hammering along at eight knots, these guys are approaching at 20 to 30 knots. The boats are one thing to avoid but the wash from these is quite extreme and so we are rolling again! As you proceed up Southampton water, you pass the river hamble where most of these motorboats seem to live and suddenly it is all a lot easier and less stressful. The last few miles up to Southampton are actually quite pleasant and as we pass the ferry terminal where titanic departed, we can see town quay.

We have agreed to come in to the marina and come astern onto the inner part of the outside pontoon. As usual maria is nervous but pulls off the operation perfectly with Richard and I nonchalantly stepping off the boat and strolling down the pontoon as Marina brings her a way back towards the office end.

That is the end of our introductory weekend with Richard which has been very successful. Now for a week in Southampton when we need to get the engine through its first service and also get the watermaker finally working as it should.