Tuesday 29 May 2012

First solo cruise - The Pyfleet and back via Black Eyed Spit

Black Eye

For those familiar with the Thames Estuary, that's not a typo in the title but a reference to what I looked like when I turned up at Medway Hospital on Sunday afternoon to visit the latest members of the family who'd arrived earlier in the week .....

Black Eye

Charles, my eldest and the girls proud father greeted me with,  "Hi Dad, why've you got a black eye?" "I haven't", I replied slightly puzzled my this strange greeting. I know he hasn't had much sleep recently but... "Oh yes you have - here take a look" he replied as he produced the latest smart phone widget - an electronic mirror - what next?

Having only just (and much too late to do anything about it) re-connected with shore norms, I was now even more concerned at my appearance. Straight from a weekend's sailing, I now sported a black eye to complement my scruffy sailing garb, and would not exactly be setting a good example to the new arrivals. Good job the always elegant, Mrs Fisher wasn't with me - I would probably have had to wait outside!


This is them - and very cute too!

Tiana and Angel!

To the Pyfleet

That's enough of that - back to the sailing.

It was Saturday 19th May and I thought it was about time I tried my first solo cruise on Arctic Smoke. The forecast was for light South Westerlies becoming North Easterlies on Sunday, so despite the threatened rain and fog patches it seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. HW was about 1230 which is when I wanted to at Garrison Point to catch the ebb up the coast. Had a cuppa with Tony at the Hoo Diner and he then gave me a lift out to the boat (I must get a hard dinghy to ferry myself out). Got sorted and dropped the buoy at 1050; exactly when the nice breeze that had been blowing  from the East or thereabouts up to then decided to die. So motored down the river hoping that the breeze would return. It never did beyond fits and starts so the engine stayed on.

Approaching Sheerness Harbour passed the gorgeous sight of the now fully restored Cambria under full sail.


My Dad was a sailing barge enthusiast and owned two barge yachts in his time, both converted ships life boats - 'Tessie' a full spritsail ketch complete with leeboards added by Dad. She was lovely but her hull was soft as putty and her Lister engine was a museum piece that would decide to work every now again and would even more frequently decide to stop working. I learnt the lost arts of kedging and warping on Tessie. The furthest we ever got from Portchester on the south coast, was Bembridge! A few years later in the mid 70s, Dad found 'Chlamys' at Hoo and bought her. Having since rediscovered the Medway, I'm not sure why he decided to relocate her to Portchetser but he did. Chlamys had been converted by a local Woodwork teacher with the help of his pupils and was built like a tank - double skinned clinker and rigged as a standing gaff cutter. She was beautiful and went to windward a little and could be persuaded to tack if you were patient! We got as far as the Channel Islands in her - but Dad consumed a large part of the UK Gin stock getting there. He was far happier creek crawling which is why I don't know why he didn't stay on the Medway! Anyway back to the present.

As we crossed the Thames the mist lifted and the sun came out and I was down to my T-shirt. The wind returned for a few of hours just before Maplin and we enjoyed a pleasant sail to the entrance to the Colne. We crossed the Spitway an hour before low water and recorded a minimum of 2.2 meters under the keel (I think - but I must check the echo sounder).  The wind then gradually died again and soon the engine was on for the last mile or so up to the Pyfleet. Just as we arrived it then freshened considerably. I didn't see anyone else the whole trip but there were a few other visitors in the Pyfleet. There was plenty of space for another though and I let go the anchor around 1800.

The trip had gone without a hitch and I was feeling confident about my ability to handle Arctic Smoke on my own. Little did I know that tomorrow would prove a little more challenging.

The Pyfleet is a delightful spot, so I soaked up the atmosphere for a while and then prepared dinner. I had provisioned for two hoping that Howard would join me but he was under the weather - so I gorged myself on steak with tomatoes and mushrooms, new potatoes, and broccoli, washed down with lashings of red wine. Lovely!

Next I had to plan the return trip. Up to then, I'd forgotten to factor in the time needed to get back out to the Whittaker before the flood commenced, so the 0630 start I'd assumed became 0500 which meant getting up at 0400! The hight of tide would be a little lower, but I calculated we should still have enough water to get back over the Spitway at low tide.

The wind had got up quite a bit from the North by 2200 so I let out some extra chain and set the anchor alarm before turning in. The alarm went off once when the tide turned as I half expected it would but we were still where we should be and I quickly went off to sleep again.

Return to Hoo

I was up at 0400 on Sunday and whilst there was a breeze building from the NE and the sky was overcast, the dire weather threatened by the forecasters had not arrived. Weighed anchor an 0500 - my first experience of using the winch. Discovered that the lead of the chain forward to the chain locker rather than straight down made for extra work but it was manageable and I got the anchor up  without too much difficulty and amazingly enough for the Pyfleet it was as clean as a whistle!

We motor sailed out to the Whittaker in order to ensure getting there before the flood headed us. Recorded 1.7 meters over the Spitway - this time the shallowest water was nearer the Swin Spitway rather than the Wallet Spitway as on the way out.

Turning south west we had a mostly fresh breeze behind us heralding a rather busy run down the coast as I tried to keep the boat on course and the sails working effectively. I was disappointed that despite her long keel AS would not hold a course for long despite lots of attempts to balance the set of the sails. After a while I enlisted the help of George AS's ancient self steering system. I gave up after an hour and a number of uncontrolled gybes. George stubbornly refused to co-operate.

The following weekend whilst attacking the long list of jobs with Mick, he tactfully pointed out that I had installed George's motor back to front! It was also only having returned that I realised that not being able to lock the wheel/rudder was probably a major cause of the hassle being metered out. The following weekend therefore I spent the majority of the time dismantling the locking mechanism. This included 4 hours on Saturday afternoon in the blazing sun trying to retrieve a spanner I dropped to the bottom of the steering pedestal. I had one of those clever tools for retrieving small objects - a push plunger at one end operated a claw at the other. It was like playing one of those fun fair games with the grappling hook that looks like it should be able to pick anything up but actually fails to do so. I'm sure my shrieks of frustration must have been heard on both sides of the river. Eventually after the sun had gone down and I could see what I was doing I managed to retrieve the blasted thing. The next day I finished getting all the bits off only to have my suspicions confirmed - the shaft itself that is supposed to turn a screw thread that then drives a 'car' that squeezes clamps against the steering column - was completely an utterly seized up. I'd even rowed ashore to buy a blow torch that turned out to be completely useless given the need to hold it upside down.

Still, despite the constant too...ing and fro...ing from the helm to the sails (including a failed attempt to rig the spinnaker pole to goose-wing the Genoa) and to the chart table we enjoyed a cracking sail down the coast. A minor hic-up crossing the Thames - I thought we needed to take avoiding action to get across the approach channel quickly so stuck the engine on and tried to furl in the Genoa, but all the flogging had tangled the furling line and it took much faffing and cursing to set things back to rights. Whilst all this was going on the strange looking vessel that I was seeking to avoid had hardly moved and as we drew closer going up the Medway approach channel, it turned out to be nowhere near as big as I feared. And then back up the Medway. The down-poor never arrived - just a couple of light showers and the wind, may very briefly, have gusted to F5. By the time I picked up the buoy at about midday the sun was out.

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