Saturday 14 September 2013

The final leg - Dover to Chatham 16/8/13

There had been much discussion the previous evening (which I should have included in the previous post) about timing our departure to ensure we worked the tides in our favour as much as possible. Whilst the last leg was to be a relatively short one we would leave the English Channel and enter the Thames Estuary when we rounded North Foreland . That meant we would move from one body of water moving in one direction to another moving in a different direction. I'll draw a veil over my attempts to get my head around the permutations and simply say that it was largely the Mate's analysis that prevailed.

Once account was also taken of the possibility of being held up in the harbour by Ferry traffic we decided on a departure time of 0700, this it was calculated should see us carry a fair tide up to the Foreland before bucking the second half of the ebb leaving the Thames and then carry the flood up the Medway. The mate was still sceptical about whether we had allowed sufficient time to get out of Dover and therefore round the Foreland in time to make maximum use of the flood to Chatham but I was confident that we had.

We actually exited the marina at 0745 and contacted Dover Port Control for permission to leave by the Eastern entrance. We were told to proceed towards the entrance and stay well to the south and to then wait for further instruction. In the event, we had to wait for three ferries to leave first and therefore we didn't leave the harbour until 0830. The mate was overheard to mutter "told you so" type comments as a consequence.

The first part of the leg to the Foreland would give us a following wind once again and I looked forward to flying the spinnaker. For some reason the rest of the crew were not so enthusiastic and they dawdled over breakfast as I fidgeted impatiently. Anyway after some debate over which side of the boat to fly the chute during which the mate had to remind me of the geography of the land mass we were passing and the angle it presented to the wind, we finally got it up and proceeded at a reasonable pace in very pleasant conditions along the coast towards Ramsgate.

As we draw closer it became increasingly evident that there was at least one yacht race underway and that our course, if unaltered, would take us right through the middle of the fleet. We soon concluded that Ramsgate Week was in full swing. To make matters worse the blighters were sailing a triangular course and we would clearly plough through the middle of the fleet twice! The fleet would consist of stand-on vessels as we crossed the first leg and we would therefore have no choice but to give way. Technically, we would have right of way as we crossed them on the next leg, but that would have been very churlish and anyway I might want to visit Ramsgate one day. I therefore decided we'd get the spinnaker in before we got to them and get under power so that we were both as manoeuvrable as possible and would give them right of way the whole time. We picked our way through both legs of the course without incident but were considerable delayed in the process. Of course, once we were through the wind died too and we were now in danger of missing the tidal gate at the Foreland. The mate was looking particularly smug at this point!

After twenty minutes or so I swallowed my pride and started the engine and we motored for the next hour or so. By 1200 we were rounding the Foreland and the wind had also returned and so despite having to buck a foul tide for the next hour or so, off went the engine. Of course our angle to the wind changed significantly and we were soon close hauled  across 'the flats'. The wind also freshened to 20+ knots of wind and in smooth water and were going like a train. If this keeps up I thought at the time, we should have no problem holding the tide to Chatham. I'd previously declared an ETA of between 2000 and 2100 and had to postpone plans to meet up with Howard and others for dinner at Chatham thinking we would be in too late. I now wondered whether I should have left those plans in place. The Mate soon announced his prediction that we'd be in Chatham lock by 2000. Cocky bugger I thought.

Close hauled across the Kent Flats.

The good sailing continued. As we closed Margate Hook (our first anchorage on the outward passage) we had to put in our first tack and then a few more to get through the Eastern end of the Gore Channel.

Whilst we still had a way to go before Spile Bank, Mick and I both recalled some very similar sailing in 2009 in Zoetje - my old Folkboat. We'd moored up at the head of Oar Creek having times our arrival perfectly for lunch at the Shipwright Arms at the top of the tide. On our return to the boat the engine refused to start and Mick eventually diagnosed a knackered starter motor. After some debate we decided to beat out of the creek but were undone by the poor directions in the Pilot that said keep close to the red buoys. We did but went aground on the deep water side. An uncomfortable night aground in a succession of thunder showers was followed by us paddling Zoetje with the dinghy oars into deeper water at about 4 in the morning. Later we set out round the outside of the Isle of Sheppy in a stiff breeze.

We were beating round the outside of Sheppy in a Force 6 when in the midst of a tack the jib sheets tangled up and instead of tacking anyway I tried to untangle them first. As a result we ran out of water and hit Spile head-on at six knots! For a minute, as her keel pounded on the hard sand below I was convinced Zoete was going to break up but fortunately we were able to wear round and get off. Poor Zoetje, she never had the tightest of hulls but she was even more sieve like after that experience!

Anyway I didn't need any reminding not to make the same mistake again as we beat through the Gore Channel. Fortunately the Genoa sheets didn't get tangled up either.

As the wind increased still more to around 25 knots (27k was the highest reading I noticed) we were enjoying the best sailing of the whole trip. On our passage from Aldernery to Lezardrieux we had two reefs in the same wind, but in the flat water here I held on to all sail. AS was in her element (a truism I know) and I wanted to enjoy this last leg as much as possible. True she probably was slightly over canvassed but she could clearly hold on to full sail for 'longer' than I had previously realised. In 25 knots of wind she took an odd splash of water on the side decks but her rail never went under and we were completely dry in the cockpit. To cap it all we were lucky with the rest of the weather too. We'd had the odd light shower and there was clearly rain about - indeed we could see it falling both behind us and in front but for the most part AS stayed in the dry and sunny patches.

As we closed with the Medway we listened to a drama developing over the VHF. A MAYDAY came over the radio. A 23 foot Yacht was aground in heavy seas near  a wind farm and taking in water. The poor chap clearly wasn't entirely certain where he was and the Coastguard had to go to considerable lengths to establish his whereabouts. The proximity to a wind farm was not immediately established and when it was he (the yacht) was unable to confirm which wind far it was. There are two in the area. We had left the Kent Flats one behind us but 30 or so miles up the coast was the Gabbard wind farm to the east of Brightlingsea. It was not clear to us (nor I think the coastguard) which wind farm he was near. When he announced he was going to let off a flare I had the crew keep an eye on the Kent wind farm just in case he was over there. Meanwhile the coastguard had mobilised the Gabbard wind farm boat to look out for the yacht. We saw no sign of a flare around the Kent wind farm nor it seemed did the Gabbard boat. There followed a series of communications between the stranded yacht and the Coastguard with the skipper sounding understandably anxious. He confirmed that he and his crew were pumping and bailing hard but were only just able to keep abreast of the incoming water. Occasionally his crew would come on the radio - probably the skipper's wife - and when she did the situation didn't sound quite as desperate. Eventually the Gabbard boat did locate the yacht and got alongside. Soon after that the lifeboat also arrived with a portable pump and they were able to tow the yacht into Brightlingsea. The skipper was understandably grateful to the Coastguard and clearly mortified that he had to call on them (as I suspect I would be in similar circumstances); in response the woman who had been coordinating the coastguard operation simply responded with the words "that's all right sir, it's what we do".

By the time the drama had concluded we were approaching the Richard Montgomery. It was about 1830 or so and we still had plenty of light and tide so elected to keep beating up the river. We made such good progress that we wouldn't have done much better under power. Abreast of Kingsnorth Power Station the webbing strop in the clue of the Genoa parted (there because the sheets were too tick to both go through the clue). It turned out that my reef knot was not secure! Just to be on the safe side I decided to start the engine while we sorted things out but for the first time on the whole cruise the engine refused to start. Eventually it spluttered into life but did not sound too happy. I sorted out the strop and we were sailing again in ten minutes.

By this time we were approaching Darnett Ness and debated whether we had sufficient water to take the short cut around the back of Hoo Island. I checked the chart and concluded that the shallowest bits we were likely to cross had drying heights of 2 meters. I then checked the height of tide (with the Navionics App on my phone - a very useful tool) which was 2 meters. I then added 2 and 2 together and got 4 and merrily declared we had plenty of water - a minimum of 4 meters. So we turned right and commenced our beat around the back of the Island. We had to make much shorter tacks than I expected though and I couldn't work out why there was so much mud around. Finally it dawned on me that that a drying height of 2 meters plus a height of tide of 2 meters equalled zero meters not 4! Still the tide was still rising I reasoned and so things would only improve and if the worst came to the worst we would float off before long. We did though have to do a lot of tacking. We had a few close calls but we got through without mishap.

As we approached Chatham I attempted to start the engine again but encountered the same reluctance as before. Eventually it spluttered into life again but this time it sounded even more unhappy than before. The same thing occurred in the lock - which we got to at 2000 much to the mate's delight - but thankfully we were able to get to our berth without incident. A couple of weeks later I bled the fuel lines and all was well after that.

Rough key stats:

Departed Dover 0830 on 16/8/13
Distance over the ground = 62 nautical miles
Average Speed - 5.4 knots
Engine hours = 2
Sailing hours = 9.5
Total passage hours = 11.5
Arrived Chatham 2000 on 16/8/13

We were moored up by 2030 and I made arrangements to berth AS in Chatham permanently.

Bernie cooked up another great meal and the next day we made our way home. It had been a great end to an enjoyable cruise.

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