Friday 28 July 2017

Nearly there!

We motored out of Sutton Harbour just after 0900 on Wednesday 19th July and shortly afterwards set sail for Salcombe. After a few hours gentle and uneventful sailing the wind died and we motored the last 6 or so miles to Salcombe. Salcombe like the River Yealm, has a bar across its entrance which we got across without any issues against the falling tide. Initially we picked up a mooring off the town but were soon moved on by the friendly Harbour Master due to it being a private mooring. Our next option was to moor up on the visitors’ pontoon in “The Bag” an arm of the harbour valley a little further up ‘river’. River is in quotation marks, because whilst the harbour at Salcombe is comprised of a river valley, there is apparently no river draining into it.

Unfortunately, we cocked up our approach to the pontoon – the strength of the ebb tide was misjudged and we came to a premature halt only inches away from our neighbour to be. It takes a long time to stop Arctic Smoke and just as long to get her moving again and so by the time she did start to move forwards in response to increased engine revs, the tide had already pushed us alongside the other boat and so we slid and scraped along their topsides! It might have been better to have allowed Arctic Smoke to come to a rest against our neighbour before trying to extract ourselves from the rather embarrassing predicament, but we would have had to have been very quick with a spring to stop the tide sweeping her backwards and at the time that option did not in any case occur to me. Instead, with forward momentum restored it was now a case of frantic fending off by both crews to minimise the damage. Arctic Smoke was clearly scraping along the other boat but we seemed to be avoiding any serious entanglement until I noticed the leading edge of her port side solar panel advance remorselessly towards the back edge of the other boat’s anchor. I shut my eyes at that point and simply imagined the tangle of broken panel, bent stanchions and railings that it seemed to me would be the inevitable consequence. I did however console myself with the thought that their anchor and push-pit appeared not to suffer any damage as we bumped and scraped past her bow and onto the pontoon in front. Only to aware of the risk of the ebb tide sweeping Arctic Smoke back onto the other boat, I kept the power on to prevent it. Unfortunately, our fenders which had been placed at the widest part of the boat were therefore in the wrong place to prevent Arctic Smoke’s forward topsides from scraping alongside the pontoon This was despite the helpful efforts of another boating couple to fend her off. By now we had clearly demonstrated our complete incompetence because our new helpers then proceeded to provide advise on how to go about mooring up the boat. Understandable in the circumstances. I briefly considered a retort along the lines of “I’ve just sailed across the Atlantic you know” but thought better of it and tried to persuade them, that despite the very clear evidence to the contrary, I was in complete control of the situation and was quite capable of tying up by own bloody boat! I don’t think they were convinced!

I could not have blamed our now neighbours if they had reacted with indignation over our antics but they were very calm and polite, even as we took the shine off their newly restored top-sides (as we later discovered).  After a close inspection of the damage they announced there was nothing that a good polish would not sort out. Nevertheless, I felt very abashed and provided my contact details should they later change their assessment. To date they have not done so.

I then turned by attention to Arctic Smoke to assess the damage to her. The poor thing. She’d got us across the Atlantic and back without damage despite the skipper’s numerous short-comings, only to be unceremoniously scraped in home waters.  To my surprise and relief the solar panel was undamaged and there were no bent stanchions!

The all-too ‘flexible’ Heath-Robinson installations I had rather hastily cobbled together for the solar panels had come into their own. The attachments of both the port and starboard panels comprised a horizontal stainless-steel tube with the wire guard-rail running through it between the push-pit and the original rear-most stanchion supported by two additional stanchion tubes I had bolted to the toe-rail. The panels are suspended from the horizontal tube by via plastic mounting brackets on the inside edge of the panel that allow the panel to swivel up and down/in and out. The panel is prevented from sliding backwards and forwards by the simple but effective addition of jubilee clips around the stainless-steel tube at the front of the forward plastic bracket and the back of the rear plastic bracket (Mick’s innovation). A simple/crude telescopic tube is attached to the toe rail and the outside horizontal edge of the panel (from which it can be removed to enable the panel to be stowed in the vertical position). Finally, in an effort to provide additional rigidity to the whole installation, I had also added a diagonal strut at the front and rear of the port and starboard installations, between the additional stanchions and the toe rail.

This last addition was, it turned out, thankfully, only partly successful. Rather then the panel crumbling under the impact as it was forced onto the boat’s anchor, the diagonal struts pivoted under the pressure and the ‘T’ connections between the horizontal tube and the additional stanchions popped off, allowing the whole panel assembly to flex under the pressure and move away from the point of impact. All I needed to do was push everything back into position and tighten up various screws and bolts and the panel was back in its original position! I could have sworn I saw the point of the anchor drag across the surface of the panel but I couldn’t detect even a minor scratch. The rather flimsy Bimini installation reacted in a similar way – the push-fit joints between the various tubes simply popped apart under the impact leaving the tubes undamaged. All that was necessary was to re-insert the tubes into the joints and the Bimini was restored to its original shape without a scratch or distortion. The only casualty in the vicinity of the solar panel was the plastic back-rest suspended from the guard-rail.

However, the gel-coat on Arctic Smoke’s topsides was badly scratched as a consequence of scraping along the pontoon. There’s no structural damage but at some point I will need to make-good the gel-coat.

After we had recovered from the escapade, Tony and I went ashore by water-taxi to explore the town. I was last here in 1976 when sailing my Dad’s old Gaff Cutter back to Portsmouth after spending that wonderful summer in the west-country.

The surrounding countryside is still beautiful with the numerous sandy beaches providing a lovely scene on a bright summer’s day. The town is also still attractive with its many original old buildings and more recent developments sympathetically undertaken. It has however, been turned into something of a chocolate box town with a multitude of trendy restaurants, outfitters, and Art shops/galleries. There’s only one small general store (plus a trendy Bakery and a Butchers) and not surprisingly prices are high – central London levels! The Fish & Chips served up by my local Chippy in Penge are significantly cheaper and tastier than those we had in Salcombe. It gives the impression of being a town entirely dependent on tourism without any indigenous industry or trades. On the up-side it’s re-invention as a 100% tourist town demonstrates that the traditional British summer holiday is in rude health. It must though, be a very quiet and strange place in the winter.

In fact, all the west country towns we visited (with the exception of Plymouth which is still a real working town where normal people live and work), i.e. Falmouth, Fowey, and Salcombe, have enjoyed/suffered the same chocolate box experience. It’s interesting to contrast them with Eastbourne and Ramsgate (where I am writing this) which whilst also sea-side resorts have retained much of their original character and clearly cater for a more diverse clientele. Mind you I managed to plonk myself in probably the trendiest bar on the harbour front and paid £4.50 for a pint of Italian larger. Also in Eastbourne, in the rather soulless retail park by the marina, I had quite the best cream tea since arriving back in the UK. The scones and jam were both home made and the portions were generous!

Another comparison that occurs is with the Caribbean on the one hand and the Azores on the other. It's a gross generalisation of course but so much of the Caribbean is tourist centric and it's difficult to imagine what one would encounter if there was no tourism. The major exception being Dominica, where tourism was much less intrusive and was therefore somewhere where one got a real feel for the indigenous culture. All the islands in the Azores I visited gave me the same feeling. There local communities clearly had their own indigenous lives to lead. Tourism played a part but it did not overwhelm them. 

I'm putting the finishing touches to this post in a chain pub in Ramsgate with probably the largest flat screen TV I have ever seen. Perhaps unsurprisingly a Darts match was on, featuring the usual over-weight white males strutting their stuff. I can't stand televised Darts...The food - a medium rump steak was surprisingly good. The desert options included the obligatory chocolate fudge cake which I love but as usual it came with ice cream rather than cream. I nearly asked if they could do it with cream but the computer managed menus in these places can seldom deal with any variation and even if it could I 'knew' the best I could hope for would be that disgusting squirty stuff. I went with the off-the-shelf option. It was fine. Whilst consuming my last land meal of the cruise I found myself pondering on the comparison between this pub and the once upon a time 'real' pubs in the west country towns. There is no doubt that those pubs for me provided a more pleasant physical environments. But which was more authentic? I concluded that the Ramsgate Pub was. There were holiday makers there but locals too. The clientele was diverse. In the west country pubs, in their lovely old buildings, it didn't seem like there were any locals. Indeed, I'm not sure if there were any locals to patronise them! I'm probably letting my new found prejudice get the better of me, but I pretty sure the 'landlords' were all ex-city Bankers who had retired early to the country after making their millions!

So to sum up with marks out of 10: 

Dominica 10, BVI 0
The Azores 10, the Caribbean 5
Plymouth, Eastbourne & Ramsgate 7, Falmouth, Fowye & Salcome 5 (countryside excluded)
West country sea-side pubs 5, Chain Pub in Ramsgate 7
Real life 10, Theme Parks & Virtual Reality 3

That's enough of my pontificating, I'm probably slightly tipsy anyway...

My brother Sebastian arrived the following afternoon – Thursday 20th July - and Tony cooked a quite splendid lamb stew. The next morning Friday we were up early and departed the pontoon at 0800. Our poor neighbour noticed us moving about and came over to help us off!

I was hoping to make Chatham for the weekend and so the plan was to continue through the day and least the following night. We sailed on a broad reach under full sail until the mid-evening when two thirds of the way across Lyme Bay the wind died and so we switched the engine on. Tony was finding it difficult to find his sea legs and as is so often the case the slackening of the wind did nothing to ease his discomfort. The swell from the quarter continued to roll the boat around and with no wind to steady her, the motion, was if anything, even more uncomfortable. Tony and I split 3-hour watches between us with Basty doubling up for the 2nd half of one and the 1st half of the other watch. I did 2100 – 0000 and 0300 to 0600. When I got up for the 0300 I notice the wind had returned so we started sailing again under full sail. By 0800 when 10 miles south of Selsey Bill, the wind had freshened considerably and so we put three reefs in the main. The wind was generally from behind the whole time and so we ran under goose-winged rig first on one tack and then the other as the wind backed and veered. The boat’s motion did not improve and poor Tony was still feeling less than chirpy! Basty however was feeling much better 

Brother Basty in repose - Gill his wife did not recognise him!

and able to help Tony out on his Watches. Even with 3 reefs in the main, Angus was struggling to cope in the gusts when the increased weather helm over-whelmed him and so someone was required on the helm to help him cope. After another hour or so I therefore decided to put the fourth reef in.

This was the first time I had attempted it with a fourth pennant already rigged – previously I had had to transfer one of the existing pennants to the fourth rear cringle (the pennant is the piece of rope that goes round the sail to pull it in when one reefs and the rear cringle is the eye at the back edge of the sail through which the rope passes). The existing reefing pennants run down from the rear cringles into a pulley at the end of the boom and the run inside the boom to the mast where they can be hauled in/let out. I had to add the fourth one on the outside of the boom by attaching a pulley block to the end of the boom. I used the only piece of long line I had spare, which was thinner and of course longer than the existing pennants. My new system was a complete disaster. The combination of the new pennant’s length and thinness caused it to flap about wildly when I lowered the sail to reef it and it ended up in the most horrible tangle with the other pennants. I therefore had to spend even more time on the pitching and rolling coach-roof to untangle it than I would have, had I simply used the previous approach of transferring an existing pennant. Anyway, the job was finally done and we were able to set off again. With the boat rather more manageable and Angus far less stressed I was able to let Tony and Basty get their heads down for a few hours.

By the time we were approaching Beachy Head, Tony was feeling slightly better and said he was happy to by-pass Eastbourne and continue onwards. 30 minutes later the coast-guard issued a gale warning over the VHF and so we decided to put into Eastbourne anyway! We continued to storm along with the freshening wind behind us until we got to the Fairway buoy when on turning we had the wind right on the nose. The little Bukh could not make headway against it and so we had to motor sail and tack with the aid of a partially furled Genoa. The last mile must have taken more than an hour, but we finally through the narrow entrance without mishap and moored up in the marina at 1950.

We had a meal ashore and the next morning tidied up the boat before heading off home by train. Tony and Basty had finished their stint. I was returning home for a few days to see the family and attend a cousin’s wedding celebrations. I would return on Wednesday 26th with the intention of setting off again on Thursday 27th.

It was a strange experience being back on a train and travelling across so much dry land. Sharon met me at East Croydon and back home we went. It was great to be back and to see the immediate family (except Stephen who’s currently living and working in Stoke on his GP training) whom I had not seen since March when they all came out to Jamaica. Other family members were in London for my cousin’s wedding celebrations which we went to on Saturday and it was great to see them again too. On Tuesday we had a gathering of family members at our place and it was lovely to see them all again after 9 months away. My mum, Stepmum and Stepfather were all in good form and my brother Richard brought along some of his kids and Grandchildren. Mick came over too and the family enjoyed hearing his recollections of our crossing to the Caribbean. The star of the show however was my beautiful baby Granddaughter, Maliyha, first born of my beautiful daughter, Ursula. 

Hmm, not a very good photo - sorry
Whilst at home I also started the task of looking for work and have found a couple of leads. Going back to work will be the strangest part of my re-entry programme I am sure! Keeping in touch with the new boaty friends I made whilst away will be a two-edged sword. Most are continuing their sailing adventures and so I will probably become rather jealous of them once the novelty of dry land luxury has worn off. Some will be visiting the UK in the coming months and others have, or will be returning and so there should be a number of opportunities to meet-up again and introduce them to the family.

I had an early start on Thursday, the marina at 0700. The first hour or so was calm and so I motored Eastwards to begin with. The forecasted strong westerly winds began to build from about 0830 hours and by 1000 we were making 4-5 knots against the foul tide. My passage plan was to push the tide to Dungeness and arrive there for around 1100 at slack water. We arrived an hour or so ahead of schedule after being warned off the firing range by Range Control on the VHF. We were now significantly over-canvassed in the still freshening wind and so after rounding Dungeness I hove-to and put three reefs in the main and 2 in the genoa before carrying on.  

The wind continued to build and I hoped we could get past Dover without having to take avoiding action to dodge the numerous ferries operating out of there. Doing that with a poled-out genoa single-handed would be a right pain. As it was I was already a bit frazzled having had to gybe several times in order to stay on course. Thankfully there was no traffic as we passed about a mile off-shore. After Dover we held 10k over the ground for quite some time – the highest sustained speed I have ever seen. We must have been doing 7.5 knots through the water and all with a dirty bottom. The boat was though difficult to control once again and we really needed that fourth reef back in but I couldn’t face the hassle and rationalised that we’d be in port soon. The wild ride continued up to the approach to Ramsgate, when once again we were faced with the strong headwind and a foul tide. Again, I had to motor sail in the confined waters in order to get in the narrow entrance. It was hard work and quite nerve-wracking. To top it all it was Ramsgate week and there were therefore very few berths available and I was allocated a berth designed for a much smaller boat. Getting in to it was a little tricky. Fortunately, someone noticed my approach and helped me in.  I was very glad to make it without incident.

I had intended to recommence the journey today (Friday 28th July) but the forecast included the possibility of westerly gale force winds which would have made going West across the Kentish Flats very trying. As I write this it does sound as if a full gale is blowing and the boat is shaking in the wind in her marina berth.

A gloomy Ramsgate

 It should have moderated by tomorrow morning and there’s the possibility of a more southerly component. I therefore plan to leave at about 0800 to catch the last of the ebb to the North Foreland and then the flood across the Flats to the Swale. I’ll have to be careful not to go aground especially if I do have to beat across the Flats!

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