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.

Monday 14 May 2012

Monty Zoomer

Are the men of Kent bonkers or what? At the mouth of the River Medway lies the 2nd world war wreck of the Richard Montgomery an American munitions ship. The wreck is so dangerous that the authorities decided the only option was to leave it where it was and keep their fingers crossed. The Isle of Sheppy and Southend have lived on borrowed time ever since!

Mick at the Helm

But the men (and women too) of Kent are made of stern stuff; so Hooness Yacht Club organise an annual yacht race/game of chicken - a race that if you want a chance of winning - means sailing as close to the wreck as possible before scarpering back up the Medway for a well-earned beer at the club to calm those nerves.

Approaching Queenborough Spit

AS joined the fun this year and wonders of wonders was second over the start line at 1000 with 2 hours of the ebb left to run. Once again however Charles in his Nic 32 'Aurai' stole a march and within a few minutes was leading the fleet down the river towards the USS Richard Montgomery.

The breeze freshens...

It was a gorgeous day - the first summer day of the year (not counting the March heat wave) and layers of oilskins and winter clothes were gradually shed as things warmed up. Mick, who joined me as crew, navigator and race tactician, was soon regretting donning his thermals. The wind was NW varying force 2-4.

Aurai stayed ahead (possibly behind ANO Hooness boat) and extended her lead over the rest of the fleet. However, she got caught out by a wind shift rounding South Kent and had to put in an extra tack and so we gained on her for a while. She stayed in front though and then extended her lead (swapping places with the other boat that was possibly in our fleet), she passed Garrison Point and headed for the wreck.

As AS got to the first wreck mark the wind died to almost nothing for a while - thankfully the last remnants of the ebb took us safely past and in so doing saved the Isle of Sheppy from what could have been a very big bang indeed.

Once past the wreck the wind picked up and we sailed back up the river on a slightly freer tack than the one we had come down on. We started gaining on Aurai again at this point and for 10 minutes or so thought we might catch her. It was not to be however - the combination of wind shifts and the bends of the river brought a return to more close hauled work and Aurai once again lifted up her skirts and was off.

...and Chica closes for the kill

Worse was to come. We had left Will Pretty (who managed to combine racing with Race Officer) in the Trimaran CHICA, trailing in our wake on the way down the river, but inexplicably Chica started to overhaul us on the way back. From Darnet Ness onwards, Arctic Smoke and Chica were engaged in a close quarters duel through the moorings. The occasional wind shift required us both to harden up for brief periods and during these, Chica's relentless progress was briefly halted. Soon however, we were prow to prow. In a last desperate bid to hold her off, we dodged through the moorings into the channel in an attempt to get more tide under the boat. Then we aimed directly for Buoy 30 and the finish line, hoping to force Chica to round our stern. No doubt a veteran of numerous such duels, Will held his nerve and smiling pleasantly also held his course directly for the buoy! With yards to go there was no longer any doubt that Chica had her nose in front, so - not wishing to sink our race officer - we gave way, and Chica got the nod in 4:20:54 against AS's 4:21:00.

Must be one of the closest finishes on the Medway!

Monday 7 May 2012

May Bank Holiday 2012

A bit blowy. Crew - Ian. Saturday; Hoo - outside Isle of Sheppy in a fresh NE, 2 reefs. AS went well to windward in choppy conditions. Thought about Ramsgate; went to Harty Ferry instead. Lots of seals in the outer Swale. Forgot my charts of the Medway and Swale, but remembered enough. Picked up buoy and dined on board. Very bouncy night with gale from the NE. Little sleep. Sunday up the Swale to Queenborough. Cold. Good ale and food at the 'House and Home' - very friendly. Monday sailed out to Richard Montgomery, back to club mooring at Hoo. Great sailing.
Ian at the Helm

Traffic in the Medway

Action man!

Going well up the Medway, but ...

...couldn't catch Charles in his Nic' 32 ..wait 'till I get full sized genoa!

Very smart