Sunday, 23 June 2013

Turning Southwards!

Seagull Feeding Frenzy
Lossiemouth at latitude 57 deg 43.41N looks as if it will be the furthest north Temptress will get, we spent a comfortable if odd night in this small harbour. The trip from Whitehills to Lossiemouth was not exactly eventful, initially we sailed for a couple of hours until the wind died completely. With a flat sea and no wind it was finally ideal conditions to recalibrate the autopilot, a task outstanding since March when the new rudder was fitted so a couple of miles offshore we slowly steered in circles. The instructions are to circle at least twice at under 3 knots in circles that take at least 2 minutes to complete each. Easy? No but it did give a chance for a mackerel to catch up with our lure just to complicate things!

These mackerel are lot larger than their southern cousins
Soon we had five large fish gutted and in the fridge, curried mackerel for supper (one fish each) to accompany the planned veggie curry & rice already planned. By late afternoon the sky was darkening with the forecast rain so we made haste and put on the mainsail cover as well as tidying away the spinnaker sheets & guys.

Lossiemouth entrance is a tight squeeze
The entry into Lossiemouth was a tight one - a shallow narrow granite walled channel then a sharp left turn into the basin with the L-shaped visitors pontoon on the left meaning a full 180 degree turn to get in. Alongside the wall that ran across the the top of the L was a converted ships liferaft, now a fishing vessel judging by the accoutrements adorning it, between it and a yacht berthed on the pontoon was a fifty foot gap, just big enough for us. Except we ran aground on the approach and our anchor nearly took out the over height light and services box on the pontoon edge. Susie scrambled over the bow to hold it off whilst Kevin managed to get Temptress moving again. The rising tide soon meant we were tied up parallel to the pontoon. All of this was watched over by the older couple who owned the yacht in front. Their loud commentary was not helpful, "You won't fit in there", "The boat that was in that berth earlier was on about 28 feet", "Don't you xxxx hit my boat" and so on, husband and wife both shrieking.

Final stages of AIS installation
Eventually they apologised but it didn't make for a very warm welcome so after supper we took ourselves off to the pub. Well we had to go to The Steamboat anyway as it acts as the harbour office out of hours! The pub wasn't busy and we were made welcome. The jukebox seemed to have a selection of bag pipe tracks and similar Scottish music which made an interesting change. Live music was promised with the band coming on at 10pm ( a bit late we thought) and the promise that by the the place would be heaving. Not certain what other Friday evening entertainment there is in Lossiemouth but a large part of its RAF personnel seemed to be crammed into the place by nine thirty. The band turned out to be one man and his guitar, the back tracks were better than him but everyone was having a good time when we left before closing time.

The next morning we left early, the grotty neighbours up to watch over their craft as we departed without incident. They did have the graciousness to congratulate us on our boat handling and wish us fair winds so perhaps they weren't so bad after all but it was an extraordinary attitude to have and one we hope we won't come across again. Most yachties are pretty easy going and let a skipper handle his own boat without comment.

Grey Seal
On to Inverness, having done all the calculations, when could we get out of Lossiemouth (now!), when was the sealock open (office hours but not for the two hours either side of low water so last lock about 4pm) and how far was it from Lossiemouth (30 odd nautical miles) we realised it was a bit of a tight squeeze. There was no wind (that period of calm before the forthcoming storm as the barometer was dropping like the proverbial stone from 1016 to 992) so yet again we motored. The mountains on the north shore finally came into view as the Firth narrowed, we were in effect heading west as down a large funnel. At the end would be the Kessock Bridge with its narrows and rip roaring ebbing tide. For now though the views of the sand dunes to the south and tree clad hills to the north kept our interest. Grey seals were added to our nature list. The first appeared to be a black bin bag floating on the surface ahead until through the binos the seal yawned! Unlike the guillemots they hung around as Temptress approached so we managed to get a few pictures.

Oil rig underway
The new AIS showed up an oddity - not one but two rigs seemingly moving slowly up the Firth at under 2 knots... when we got closer they were under tow by two huge ships each and indeed moving towards us. We also got a potential collision alarm from yacht anchored and acting as the committee boat for some dinghy racing off Findhorn which amused us briefly. We were never going to be that close to them but had altered course to avoid a large yellow and blue striped rig support vessel.

We watched the rain move down the mountains ahead and onto the water coming towards us with the sky shades of darkening grey as we made our way through the dogleg in the Firth at Fort George and beyond into the much shallower waters which mark the approaches to the bridge. We both donned oilies in preparation. When the rain hit us it was really heavy but only a slight breeze. Underneath our keel there was now only four or five metres compared to the 30 to 70 there had been recently. Ahead we spotted a familiar boat, the very yellow Dutch aluminium craft we'd last seen heading round into The Wash off Cromer!
Fort George on the south bank

Chanory Lighthouse on the north bank
Rain approaching from Kessock Bridge
The sun is still shining back there!
By now the tide was ebbing fast and the yellow boat virtually came to a standstill ahead of us as the Firth narrowed at Kessock. By keeping to the southern shore in the shallower water Kevin kept Temptress moving. Our boat speed through the water was over seven knots but we were creeping forward at times at less than four. we were running low on diesel and Susie wondered idly what would happen if the gauge was less than accurate as it already showed red and there was no real wind though with the fast ebbing tide we probably could have sailed in the apparent wind back the way we'd come. Slowly through the gloom of the rain Temptress overhauled the Dutch boat then executed a series of ferry glides sliding sideways through the water to keep us off the sand bank to the south but tucked in behind the bulk of the bridge pillar which deflected some of the stream, we are after all river sailors at heart and have had plenty of practise at this sort of stuff in our Enterprise dinghy on the Thames.

Under the bridge (rain drops on the lens)
Temptress passed under the bridge right under the orange upside down triangle which marks the centre, as always there was that moment when you wonder if there is sufficient clearance for the mast, then the road is overhead and we were through. We managed too to miss most of the rain run off teaming through the drains and cascading in to the water below. Again Kevin kept us towards the shallows, zigzag-ing to keep out of the worst of the foul tide and ignoring completely the advice of the pilot notes which was to stick to the north bank in the deep water. Soon we were tucked up in the lock.
In the sealock

Looking back - where's the water gone?
The keeper gave us a warm and hearty welcome with plenty of advice on line handling as well as talking us through the procedure for getting a Caledonian Canal licence. As the rain faded away the Dutch came round the corner and tied up behind us. The gates rapidly shut, it was the last lock of the day and by the time we 'd been raised up the 3 meters or so to the next level the shallow southern shore of the Firth was completely uncovered. On paying our canal dues less a WHYW discount we found we could berth free of charge in Seaport Marina for one night. Through the next lock and just a few hundred meters along the green grassy banks onto the first vacant hammerhead berth at Seaport. Suddenly we were in rural surroundings, freshwater below the keel and no longer at sea.

Yellow boat entering the lock
On the same pontoon there were Fiddlers Green, Seahawk and Moana from Whitehills. The "yellow boat" (whose name we still don't know) found a berth further on alongside a fellow Dutch yacht. We caught upon news, shopped in the big Co-op literally next door to the marina (having got our bikes out they really weren't needed) then after supper eight of us retired to the local real ale pub for an enjoyable evening of swapping yachtie tales and learning one another's life stories.

The others are all moving on on Sunday eager to see more of this amazing canal. Fiddlers Green is aiming to be back in Essex by August having completed their canal transit and circumnavigated the rest of Scotland, Wales and England so doesn't have time to linger. We though want to complete a few more boat jobs so will be taking advantage of the large chandlery just along the canal and it would be great to have time to explore Inverness a bit although the weather forecast is not encouraging. We've heard from Seahawk's crew that there is an amazing secondhand bookshop to explore and Kevin needs to wait for the Post Office to open on Monday morning.

So we've five days to cruise Loch Ness and the rest of the Caledonian, 50 nautical miles or 60 statute miles of mountains and lochs (and locks) before exiting at Corpach on the west coast of Scotland. Two locks completed just 27 to go plus a few swing bridges to negotiate. Ten miles a day sounds just what the doctor ordered after the headlong passage to this part of the world, it will be nice to just slow down.

Whitehills - Lossiemouth 22 nautical miles logged
Lossiemouth - Inverness 37.4nm logged  593 nm total

Thursday, 20 June 2013

New Friends and Birds of Passage

Gannets galore!
All in all our trip north was a relatively easy return to long passage sailing, the only thing we've decided was next time to try a three on-three off  watch pattern in the hope of better quality sleep. We were both so tired on Tuesday evening that we went to bed early and slept in late the following day! And we ached all over - both from the exertion of all that sailing and our cycle trip up the hill to the chip shop. So a few days rest is called for and we've found just the place Whitehills Marina - a little paradise of a place a few miles west from Rattray Head on the south coast of the Moray Firth. A quiet tiny but well equipped harbour with a warm welcome.  Kevin has taken up his two big boat projects the solar panels and fitting an AIS B whilst Susie has been busy with oddments of repairs and rope work.

Fiddlers Green
One of the joys of cruising is meeting people. Here in Whitehills apart from Harbour Master Berty, who is a real character of a retired fisherman, we've met Whitehills taxi driver, a local lad but brought up in Portsmouth cos his dad was in the Navy, so he's got a Hampshire rather than an Aberdeenshire accent! He seems to come down to welcome all the harbour's visiting boats. We've also met several other locals all keen to say hello and pass the time of day, offer advice or simply chat. Whitehills is a community project owned by the village who basically decided a few years ago that viable fishing boats were getting too big for their tiny harbour and rather than let the port die turned it into a marina. There are cafes, a restaurant and a pub plus the usual village shop, post office and a good fishmongers attached to the fish processing place.

We should also log a few "birds of passage" people who may crop up in these pages from time to time if they are heading the same way as us. Mike on Seahawk, an American who is gradually circumnavigating the UK, John, skipper of Fiddlers Green a gorgeous Maurice Griffith's Eventide yacht, who has set himself the challenge of sailing from Essex to Essex via most of the UK before he is 66 (he's 65 apparently). John currently has his brother in-law as crew, we met them on the pontoon in Peterhead as we arrived there and yesterday they rafted alongside Temptress in Whitehills. Today both boats headed off west to Lossiemouth but we're sure our paths will cross again.
On the seawall Whitehills
Entrance channel over the Skippers left shoulder
 In Peterhead we also met a Norwegian Oceanis 40 "Njord" with father and son aboard making their way to Inverness to pick up the rest of the family for a cruise down the Caledonian Canal. On our sail from Peterhead Njord left before us and a little while later we found her hanging around with her sails down, we wondered if they'd a problem so sailed over. Whales! Or more precisely a single minke whale longer than Njord was swimming alongside their boat. We watched from a couple of hundred metres or so away in amazement until the whale decided to head off somewhere else entirely.

So here we are and we'll be enjoying our temporary home for a day or two more.

Kevin admiring 80 years young Ron's Morgan

Whitehills Inner Harbour

Masts over the seawall

Peterhead - Whitehills 32 nautical miles logged, 533.5nm total

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Trekking Northwards

Sunday June 17, the Broad One Design (aka Brown Boats) regatta at Royal Norfolk & Suffolk had a better morning for racing than Saturday's howling winds and torrential rain. They kept us entertained both leaving the marina and on their return - pretty, engineless gaff rigged keel boats looking a bit like Dragons that were sailed in and out of the harbour almost effortlessly by their crew of three. There were a few moments when the unwary took down the mainsail on their return and were blown towards the harbour wall in the southerly wind. Paddles out to push off then paddle frantically, the crew had obviously done it all before.

The tide was about to turn north and it was time for us to leave, shortly after 1pm we were under sail. With just the genoa picking our way up the channel between the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts to our left or port hand and the sandbanks to the right or starboard, more pilotage but of the very easy kind, basically steer north keep the red buoys to port and the greens to starboard!

Inshore the coast was flat, green above sand with holiday camp after holiday camp, famous names from Susie's childhood like Yarmouth, Caister and Hemsby. Isn't California here too somewhere or is it further up the coast?

Nelson's Column
Nelson's statue on a column in the centre of Great Yarmouth is almost dwarfed by wharf buildings and holiday camp rides. A coaster hovered around waiting for the Yarmouth pilot to board then turned south and executed a U-turn into the River Yare. A very yellow quite large Dutch flagged steel or aluminium sailing boat "overtook" us inshore off Yarmouth but by Hemsby we'd motored past him as he continued to sail up the coast. Later we spotted a pillar box red catamaran heading south - obviously the Dutch have something about primary colours for boats!

SBS - Special Boat Services?
To our left the Scroby ( we said it "Screw-bee" but it could be "Scrohw-bee" sandbanks were uncovered and initially appeared to be heaped in seaweed. Seaweed on sand?  Closer inspection through the binos revealed a sizeable colony of seals.

Another windfarm
Crossing the Wash was amazing, so many birds, another big windfarm inshore of us, and gas installations all around - rigs of various sizes with a variety of lights including orange flares of burning gas after dark. Plenty to keep the crew from falling asleep. Later in the night a horizontal line of green lights had us confused for a bit until we realised it was probably the leading edge of a helicopter landing space on a big rig inshore of us. By now we had got good at distinguishing fulmars from gulls, started to find guillemots amusing birds and were being amazed by the formation flying of groups (skeins?) of gannets as they swooped along in a line inches from the sea's surface. We'd even spotted a couple of puffins bobbing around some fifty miles from land. Here ships, no longer constrained by the lanes of the English Channel, would appear from random directions a sharp lookout was needed. We'd hear their radio officers calling one another up to check on intentions as they approached ends of sandbanks or rounded the wind farm but without exception they gave way to us. 

Seal Colony
The watermaker did three hours work during which time we switched from sail to motor as the wind died. In fact by the time we reached Peterhead our number two (largest) water tank was over two thirds full of fresh drinking water produced by our newest gadget, much nicer tasting than the tap water from Southsea, we love our watermaker!

After supper we switched to watches, two hours on, two hours in the saloon's roomy and comfortable porthand sofa wrapped in a duvet. Though neither of us really slept well though that first night. The one on watch wears a Raymarine "Life-Tag" which will sound a piercing alarm down below if they stray too far from the boat (actually one of our two tags will go off if it reaches the anchor on the bow!) and we always wear lifejackets at night and are clipped on to a strong point before we leave the companionway steps. That way the one "off watch" sleeps better, knowing that no sound does not mean their fellow crew has fallen over the side.

Dawn, Monday
The on-watch puts the kettle on just before waking the off-watch so the new watch can make themselves a hot drink. Around midnight and 06:00 the on-watch makes a note in the log and at 00:40 and 05:20 they listen to and write down the Radio 4 shipping forecast. Motoring through the night with little shipping and few waypoints to alter course for life is not onerous for the on-watch but it was cold, icey cold. Kevin counted the layers Susie was wearing and came to seven; thermal t-shirt, fleece shirt, fleece lined salopettes (apparently counts as two layers due to wind proof outer), smock top (ditto as salopettes),  chest high oilie bottoms... plus a neck warmer, thick socks, boots and a fleecy hat. At least we didn't need oilie jackets, the night stayed dry and windless.

Dawn broke still windless, a flat oily sea coloured pinks and purples by the sun and lots of guillimots. They are funny birds, they seem to go around in pairs or family groups with two or four adults shepherding a group of four or six smaller but fully fledged youngsters. Black backs and stout white fronts, they look round over their shoulder at the boat whilst paddling so fast their tails waggle rapidly from side to side. Then suddenly they turn their heads the other way to look at each other and perform a synchronised dive under the water just like a duck dabbling, except you rarely see them return to the surface. At first the pairs doing this were amusing but when we spotted a line of six or eight little black and white birds looking for all the world like they are in their best bib and tucker for a ball frantically checking over first one shoulder then the other and back before upping their tails and disappearing below the waves they made us laugh out loud.

The Skipper put the watermaker on again for an hour or so at eight whilst the First Mate took advantage of lots of hot water from all that motoring and had a welcome shower. As long as you can stay upright with your eyes closed whilst shampooing your hair, balance on one leg to wash a foot with one hand whilst bracing yourself with the other or sit on a wooden seat when covered in showergel all in a rolling bathroom then it's easy! And the end result is worth all the stumbling round in a small space.

Late in the morning the wind finally decided to play ball and blow a bit. We festooned Temptress in extra lines - sheets and guys - and hauled our big blue and white spinnaker out of the forepeak for an "airing". We were a bit rusty but it soon ballooned in front of the boat and we were doing 4 knots in something like 4 knots of breeze! 

Just before 1 pm on Monday the naviguesser worked out we'd now covered around half the distance to Inverness from Southsea. However the wind was both dropping and going further forward of the beam. Temptress' speed dropped to just under 3 knots through the water, the spinnaker pole soon was as far forward as possible bringing the sail almost parallel to the hull. Not long after we were under white sails and within 30 minutes we were using the iron sail to propel us northwards. At six pm the log recorded "Still motoring. Two ships, few birds. 143nm to go"but an hour later we were sailing and some 50 nautical miles (nm) to the east of Alnmouth. It was amazing how long it took to get dark now, in fact it didn't actually get dark, the sun set late and rose very early but the horizon remained light right through. The only noticeable change being that the picnk afterglow of sunset gradually moved eastwards to become the pink of the dawn.

By midnight we were motoring again and our lower starboard navigation light was out, The First Mate switched to the tricolour at the top of the mast and turned the steaming light off so we weren't mistaken for a trawler but still very conscious of all the stick she'd given other boats for "wrong" lights in the recent past! At 1am it was noted that there wasn't much change in the Shipping Forecast - gales in Thames, Dover & Wight (now areas well behind us) and SE 4 or 5 occasionally Variable 3 - we seemed to be stuck in the latter, light shifty breezes scarcely enough to disturb the surface of the sea.

Dawn - Tuesday
Day 3: With breakfast (chopped fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey) came the breeze, we poled out the genoa using the spinnaker pole and a guy to goose wing our way onwards. Goose winging or wing on wing is where the mainsail and the foresail are on opposite sides of the boat like a birds wings. Five point six knots and puffins! Life couldn't be better. It continued on through the morning until with the south going tide starting to really run the sea began to build, big rolling seas but thankfully not like our trip along the southcoast, just pleasantly rolly and no breaking wavetops.

A small temporary passenger
Somewhere in the early morning we crossed the Meridian, east to west and soon found ourselves west of Southsea. A line down along 1 degree west from where we were passed through Hartlepool & Reading to Portsmouth! Forty eight hours at sea was celebrated with pasta, a Tesco spinach and ricotta sauce, canned tuna and peas for lunch (our frozen peas are holding out well in the little ice box as are the two pairs of pork loin chops we put there in Lowestoft).

Approaching Peterhead on Tuesday afternoon
Ahead of us and inland as we closed the coast the sky became gloomy and overcast but we enjoyed some sunshine though the wind was bitingly cold. Land Ho 15:12 on Tuesday 18 June! Scotland looked rather misty and rainy but after over two days at sea and over a day since we lost sight of Cromer we were pleased to see terra firma again. We needed to motor again to make it round Buchan Ness into Peterhead where we got a warm welcome in the misty mizzle (if you don't know what this is ask a Cornishman!) from the harbour staff and other cruisers. Later we dug the bikes out and cycled up the hill to find ourselves a tasty fish and chip supper.

Lowestoft - Peterhead 315 nautical miles logged, 501.5 total

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sleep Deprivation - Living Dead

Gull - a west cardinal BYB
Sometimes you wonder why you decided to do things the way you did...

Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Passage planning is much the same - how are you going to get off the berth and leave the port, the bit in the middle where you sail to wards the destination and the usually more complex part of completing the journey by arriving at an unfamiliar harbour.  The first and last parts are known as pilotage, close eyeball stuff when a keen lookout for buoys and lights is vital, the middle is usually more relaxing just ensuring the helm is steering the boat more or less the right direction taking account of wind and tide.

A distant wind farm
Dover to Lowestoft - the start was simple enough, a roomy marina to back out of the berth, tidy up the fenders & lines, put up the main, call port control for permission to leave and once clear of both entrances, head north-ish towards the channel inside the Goodwin Sands.

The litany of buoys from Deal Bank (a quick red) onwards lays testament to the fact that the next few hours were pilotage or buoy hopping around the sandbanks of the Thames Estuary - Goodwin Fork a south Cardinal to starboard, Downs Fl2R (ie a porthand red can) to port, W Goodwin FlG (green) to starboard, S Brake Fl2R to port, NW Goodwin west cardinal to starboard, Brake to port, Elbow (off North Foreland) to port, Thanet NW to starboard (the eastmost tip of Thanet wind farm and the one mark we never spotted), Kentish Knock, Long Sand Head, North Shipwash then a 23 mile pause during which we ate our sausage risotto supper. Then the final part, pilotage into Lowestoft through the sandbanks there - E Barnard an east cardinal flashing 3 white in the dark, Newcome Sand quick flashing red both left to port, pass to the south of S Holm south cardinal and to port of Stanford and SW Holm. Finally, when the harbour entrance bears 295, head for it asking permission to enter as it is narrow with little room for even two yachts to pass in a swell.

Crossing the Thames Estuary
The wind was up and down during the afternoon so some motoring with the watermaker on and some sailing under main and poled out genoa, until the wind backed a little so we furled away the genoa and continued under main alone as it was easier to manage the gybes (moving the sails across the boat to alter course with the wind behind you). The sea was relatively flat, the Thames Estuary scenery was of wind turbines on both sides and in the early evening we spotted the RORC race fleet taking part in the East Coast race. Piet Vroon's Tonnerre passed us first, beating south eastwards with none of the rest of the fleet in sight. We'd spotted her on the horizon, recognised her familiar shape quickly as she approached and then identified the race! Soon the chasing pack appeared flying spinnakers up to a cardinal off to the west of us then beating down around us with a few cheery waves, they faced a long cold night. Much later we found from Facebook that Tonnerre's early lead gave her crew victory.

Poled out Genoa
During the pause between North Shipwash and East Barnard the tide turned and even with a relatively light wind against tide, conditions began to get choppy. Shortly after supper Thames Coastguard issued a gale warning for the area "Gale 8 soon". The Skipper decided then that we'd changed sail plan from main only to jib only. In the bouncing seas we did a creditable job of folding the main tidily onto the boom and settled down to a comfortable run under half our genoa. "Soon" in this case seemed to be within an hour as it was quickly very windy and the seas got rougher as the ebbing tide increased. The night was black, the quarter moon faint through the cloud, no stars for Temptress tonight. Great though to watch the flat coastline slide slowly by, guessing the names of the brightly lit towns before checking the chart. We were doing 7 knots through the water but only 5 over the ground. Sizewell B was lit like Blackpool Promenade, miles and miles of sodium lights, then darkness. The loom of Lowestoft appeared ahead and we started to hunt for E Barnard so we oculd make our approach. It tried to rain so we huddled in full oilies past midnight with cups of oxo or hot chocolate to warm our hands as George the autopilot steered us onward. No time for an off-watch for either crew.

Still smiling

RORC East Coast Race fleet passed us
The skipper took the helm as we approached the Stanford Channel and the First Mate scurried up and down the companionway from time to time matching the lights he called to the chart. Then she brought up the whiteboard list for the final approach and peered at it by torchlight. The tide was swooshing north south past Lowestoft, another ferry glide approach towards the IPTS lights on the wall, so bright in their green white green configuration permitting us entry that we could hardly make out the red and green on their curvaceous pillars either side of the entrance.

Sizewell B - the small dot on the horizon
Was it lack of sleep? Or were we in the possession of a nightmare or about to enter Hades? In the harsh glare of the port's sodium lights it appeared that the entrance opened onto a low dark, dank brick wall, a dead end. Everything too seemed to be in miniature only a few feet above the waterline. We later realised in daylight that everything here is small and neat, no huge French sea protection in concrete as at Dieppe or Fecamp or Boulogne. Lowestoft's workaday harbour walls are mostly Victorian brickwork reaching six or eight feet above the highest of tides mostly channeling the river so that it is navigable right through to the Broads.
Ships that pass....

Another rough entrance, the Skipper working hard to keep the boat off the walls on either side on the very narrow gap filled with a turmoiled sea. Once inside it all started to become a bit clearer but still dreamlike to our sleep deprived brains - brick walls opening out to the left into a spending beach, the main channel not quite straight ahead. Further on there was a channel to the right which we knew led into the trawler dock and a little further on an opening at the start of a long low concrete structure on our left.

Our choosen marina was the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club, so we took the left opening. It was a sharp turn into the bottom right corner of a rectangle, an extremely small space full of long pontoons that makes Southsea Marina seem spacious. The visitors pontoon ran immediately at right angles to us poised in the entrance just a few boat widths from the protecting long weirdly sculpted concrete wall. At the head of the triangle we could see an  attractive domed building that is the yacht club itself. The pontoon was almost full of mainly Dutch flagged boats. Somehow the Skipper executed a 180 degree turn without the First Mate whose head was in the locker or busy tying on fenders being aware of how. We could then back down the run in control and decide where to moor.  There were no spaces long enough for our 47 feet so at 3 am in the morning we rafted alongside a Bavaria Vision 46.

Susie went ashore over their foredeck to take the shore lines fore and aft, it was a long way down to the pontoon from the chunky (I'm being polite) Vision's midships and due to their crew's  poor mooring technique there were also a few feet of water between boat and pontoon, desperate to get to bed she took a flying leap, landing safely with a loud crash. 'Serve them right if they get woken up'. Then she discovered that this high sided yacht was impossible to climb back up in full oilies, the Skipper to the rescue, he hoicked her up bodily via a convenient electricity box struggled back on himself and after a quick boat tidy we retired to bed.

Should we have organised a shorter passage? Maybe but the human body is a marvellous thing and we recover from lack of sleep pretty quickly. The only lesson learnt was that perhaps 84 nautical miles of almost pure pilotage was a bit much especially at the end when we were both very tired. The things that worked were the preparation of a seemingly endless list of buoys, some of which we used as waypoints but having written out all of them at least once we knew for the most part what we were looking for and could identify each of them as they appeared. And the second plus was our serendipitous foresight in swapping to genoa only when we heard the gale warning rather than waiting, taking a mainsail down off Lowestoft would have been very hard if not impossible for the pair of us given the wind against tide conditions and the small amount of searoom amongst the sandbanks outside the harbour.

Dover to Lowestoft  - 84 nautical miles logged, 186.5 total

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Long Journey East...

The Skipper happy to be underway
When you set off from half way along the south coast of England for Scotland you can either turn right or left, either way its a long old trip. We decided to go left about partly because we have rarely sailed the east coast of England and partly because the Skipper has had a long time desire to "do" the Caledonian Canal which runs from Inverness to Fort William. Inverness is a mere 620 nautical miles from Southsea, about as far as the course of a Fastnet Race, of which both of us have had plenty pf experience. At 6.5 knots (our usual passage planning speed) the entire trip should take around 96 hours or four days. Of course we never expected this passage to take just four days, there were places to see, contrary weather and possibly things that needed fixing enroute.

So having motored out of Langstone Harbour on a grey mid-morning on Wednesday 12 June to take the tide "up" the coast through the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill we soon found the wind building, not unpleasantly so and behind us. An hour or so later the batteries were fully charged and there was sufficient wind to make sailing faster than motoring so Temptress' big genoa was partially unfurled. Broad reaching, almost running before the  southwesterly wind the mainsail could have been a hindrance with the boom liable to swing around in the already lumpy seas and anyway it would not have increased our speed through the water much so was left tightly stowed on the boom.

First Mate enjoying the sailing
Boulder and Street sound like a business founded by two elderly Victorian gentlemen but are in fact respectively starboard and port hand channel markers, one green, one red. The magic of navigation is that a yachtsman can locate this lonely pair in the tumbling seas a few miles south of Selsey Bill and take a short cut through the rocky reef that extends out south and east from the Bill itself. Familiar to all who regularly sail from Brighton to the Solent and back, they are responsible in part for my (Susie) love of the skill of navigation and I'm always thrilled to spot them when on passage this way.

Beachy Head making its own rain cloud
An hour of sailing and we were reduced to motoring again for a couple of hours to make progress in the moderate seas. Lunch was eaten (homemade pea soup) and the wind started to build. The leaden skies told of rain to come and it did. By the 16:30 coastguard weather broadcast the wind was either blowing old boots or the square root of nothing. The cheery man at Solent CG read out a list for our area where the "perhaps gale eight later" from the morning forecast had become a definite gale warning and "perhaps severe gale nine". Did we want a night at sea in that? Nope, not if we had a choice! Beachy Head was appearing in the murk, the sun even tried to put in an appearance late in the day and then came torrential rain. Eastbourne's Sovereign Harbour looked increasingly inviting so we altered course for there.

Sailing downwind in a near gale, tide with us is one thing but in worsening conditions with the tide about to turn to make the sea state rougher a safe harbour is a much better place to be. One other boat joined us to lock in, a racing boat that had been out for some evening crew training, they looked like drowned rats and presumably so did we, a torrential downpour had soaked us all in the last few miles from Beachy Head. A makeshift supper of potato wedges, onion quarters and chipolatas baked together in the oven was served with a tin of Baked Beans eventually.

Wind blown wave tops - definitely F7 according to Beaufort
It blew hard over night but didn't exactly blow through, the wet and windy weather remained in the forecast as Atlantic lows did their stuff to the east of the UK moving slowly north and east trailing weather fronts over the whole country. The tide turned east about 09:30 so thirty minutes before that Temptress was in the lock waiting to depart. The only occupant except for the empty rib used by the RNLI to reach the lifeboat moored outside. The 06:00 am inshore forecast for North Foreland to Selsey Bill I'd noted down as "SW5/6 inc 7/8 for time per 9 in E, fair ltr".  We decided to carry on regardless, our planned course was downwind, with the tide, close into the coast and the coastal forecast was for much less wind more fours and fives increasing sixes and sevens perhaps gale eight later. Lowestoft was our ideal goal but Dover would be a good refuge if needed.

Our scrap of jib viewed through the sprayhood
It was a great sail, a tiny scrap of jib, grey mounting seas. Only really rough off Bexhill where a shallow bank extends its influence south westwards for several miles off the coast and again at Dungeness Point. There was little rain despite the forecast, mostly we got wet from spray as waves slapped up on our starboard quarter and the wind whipped their tops across the cockpit. The coast came and went through a veil of misty drizzle but we identified Bexhill, Hastings, the squat buildings and the lighthouses of Dungeness, spotted the fishing boats pulled up on the stoney beach just beyond the power station and later Folkstone and the White Cliffs of Dover hove into view. 

Two metre waves rolling in from behind us
Gale warnings for almost the whole south coast and the Thames Estuary were issued during the course of the morning and by lunchtime we'd decided tackling the channel inside the banks of the Goodwin Sands and across the mouth of the Thames in the dark and a gale was not good seamanship. We set a course for Dover.

At some point, whilst the First Mate was down below on hands and knees by the companionway steps retrieving a tin plate from a locker to use serving our porkpie lunch, there was a huge roar followed by a lot of seawater tumbling down on top of her. Shaken and soaked she scrambled up the steps to see the Skipper still gripping the helm grinning hugely, he'd been up to his knees in water as the cockpit was filled by a rogue wave that broke into the boat from behind. Temptress had been pooped for only the second time in our ownership, in much the same conditions as the first time back in 2001 off the Portuguese coast. The aft heads was drowned as water flooded in through the open porthole set low in the forward edge of the cockpit. We congratulated ourselves on having the foresight to move the drying laundry to the forward heads be setting off. The water poured away through the large drainholes at rear of the cockpit almost as quickly as it had entered. The shower pump dealt with the water in the heads and the saloon floor could be mopped with fresh water when we were in port, it needed a wash anyway!

Soggy Saloon Floor
The evidence of the breaking waves around us told us it was very windy probably blowing a gale but the boat's anemometer firmly maxed at 20 or occasionally 22 knots but mostly it indicated wind speeds down in the high teens. Puzzled we'd look up and see the little plastic cups at the top of the mast almost stop or reverse as the waves caused Temptress to screw her way forward. Eventually we had to gybe to make the harbour entrance. With the south westerly wind and waves now fine on our port quarter the wind instrument produced readings closer to the visual evidence of the sea state, F7 (around 60 km/hr) touching Gale 8 (around 70 km/hr). The erroneous readings on the other tack must have been the result of the wind spilling up from the billowing jib reaching the offset anemometer.

You can't just enter one of the busiest ferry ports in the world, first you have to call from 2 miles out to ask permission to enter stating which entrance you intend to use, either the South (the more westerly one) or the Eastern entrance. The latter is used by a near continuous stream of cross channel ferries. The former by cruise ships. Both entrances are easy to spot from a distance even on a miserable grey day due to the large white light tower atop each of the pierheads. Dover Port Control said to call again 500m from the entrance so knowing we'd be busy handing sails and starting the engine the handheld VHF joined us in the cockpit and in fetching it the companionway hatch got left ajar.

Entering Dover in Confused Seas -
taken by fellow cruisers who kindly shared thir photos with us
Waves, if you did any basic physics at school reflect off things to either cancel one another out as they meet up or double the size of the incoming wave. The sea off Dover yesterday was a life sized illustration of this,two metre wave heights suddenly becoming three or even four metres and when they met at odd angles due to the cliffs and the harbour walls running out into the sea at not quite 90 degrees to the south westerly wave train, great pyramids of water would rise up and break noisily around us. The approach to Dover was going to be wet and confused. With the tide rushing eastwards up the Channel the Skipper had to head the boat more and more northerly to ensure we reached the harbour at the gap between the walls and didn't miss it completely or end up pinned on the eastern arm. Effectively he was ferrygliding 12 tonnes of plastic and mast under sail and engine into the safety of Dover using wind and tide to slide the boat sideways through the water.  The First Mate ground in the sheet to trim the jib as we hardened up to almost beating.

Confused piles of grey English Channel rose up and broke on either side of the bow simultaneously, tumbling down the side decks, under the false deck on the cabin top and entered the cockpit by any means they could. Large quantities of grey wet stuff found its way onto and into the boat in the final few hundred metres of our approach. Then suddenly apart from a large swell it was over, the calm waters of the harbour were reached and the wind could whistle all it liked in the rigging, we and our boat were safe. Quickly the jib was furled away and the engine took over. The little VHF radio, binoculars and the crew were soaked as was the floor at the bottom of the companionway again and later we discovered that down below our once almost dry laundry wasn't much better as water crashing over the deck had found its way in through the airvent in the forward heads hatch. Ah well we'll treat ourselves to a session in a laundrette somewhere further up the coast.

Next time too we'll try to remember to put the plug in the heads airvent before we sail and perhaps even close the companionway hatch properly even putting the single 6 inch high washboard in place to seal up the saloon before tackling our next rough port entry. For the one thing that is certain June 13's dramatic entrance to Dover will not be the last we'll experience. For now though the forecast has improved and we await a fair tide northwards. North? Yes we've made the eastern corner of England, from here on our course is mostly northwards to Rattray Head when we'll turn west and then a bit south towards Inverness.

Southsea to Dover via Eastbourne - 102.5nm logged

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Finally....Waiting for the Tide

Warbarrow Bay, Dorset
It is almost 3pm on Thursday 6 June and virtually all our preparation is over, the mechanic has left us, the rig has been checked whilst the water maker and newly fettled engine were given a full testing on a short trip up and down beyond the Fairway Post this morning. Everything we wanted from our Dubai shipment has been stowed on board, just a trip to the supermarket for provisions to do this evening.

Then with our weekend crew Paul March on board, we'll be waiting for the tide to have sufficient rise over the Southsea Cill tomorrow morning, probably around 09:30 and saying Au Revoir Southsea Marina, our berth for the umpteen years for the last time for a while. Over the past couple of weeks we have been very fortunate to say farewell in person to many of the wonderful friends we've made here, it has been quite emotional but we are sure our paths will cross again one day. We'll miss the Southsea folk especially the E & F Pontoon Crew. Fair winds to you all!

Our first tentative steps will be a week or so cruising around the Solent and Dorset Coast to ensure everything is working as expected. We plan to head for Swanage to meet up with Susie's parent who are holidaying there, Warbarrow Bay (if Lulworth Range is clear of firing) and perhaps as far west as Portland. Life will be at anchor and, with the current forecast, plenty of sun and gentle winds from the North. After that we'll turn east and start on the 600nm voyage to Inverness and the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

All In A Weekend - Solar Panel Supports

Temptress' nether regions....pipes all disconnected
A sketch on the back of a to do list, a few angles measured with the navigators protractor, an online order placed with Sea Screw for stainless steel fittings, various lengths of pole and more, then drilling two holes at the top of the boat stern to roughly fix a couple of stainless steel angled pole bases. Had the skipper completely lost his head? Did he know what he was doing? 

Trying for fit

Fitting a pole end piece
Turns out he did, brilliantly his design allowed for the backstay angle, the wind gennie pole and for any minor variation in angle or level of the bases of the new frame. Seems he has some real engineering talent!

Looking down on an upper pole support
The upper two upright poles are fixed to the sloping stern using angled bases either side of the pushpit opening, the lower rear pair of uprights are further apart and attached via "ears" so they can swivel on their fixing bolts to the correct position. A top rectangular frame which will eventually support the solar panels stretches out on either side of the two pole sets and as the T-shaped connectors can fixed anywhere on the frame the whole thing was easily made symmetrical. Even working out where to cut the rear uprights to ensure the top frame ended up horizontal wasn't too hard to do. The ears were tacked in place with screws temporarily, the poles attached but free to swing then the rectangle of tubes was placed on top of the upper poles with the lower ones inside it. Loosening the grub screws that held the frame in the upper pole connectors allowed it to swing up or down until a spirit level showed it to be pretty close to horizontal. Tighten up the grubscrews, ensure the lower poles were vertical and mark off with a pen where they poles needed to be cut. Finally replace the screws with more permanent bolts.

Top Frame Mark I - far too wide
The top frame was initially assembled using two 2m and three 1m pre-cut lengths but as this resulted in an area large enough to mount a double bed and our solar panels would have had difficulty lying across the gap two of the1m lengths were cut in half so the rectangle ultimately ended up as 2m wide by 0.5m deep.

The most difficult part of the installation was accessing the netherworld that is Temptress' so called services area. This wedge of space behind and below the wheel is where the steering quadrant is located plus (deep breath) the eberspacher diesel heating unit and its main 100mm duct, the air inlet and  outlet for the engine room (two 100m pipes), the autopilot ram, the throttle and gear cables, the supply pipe to the cockpit shower and a miscellany of other pipes and cables. Light isn't a problem, the kevlar hull is thin enough above the waterline for an eerie yellowy orange gloom to pervade the space complete with the moving reflection of the ripples on the marina surface outside.

Final top frame assembly
To reach the backs of the new fittings the heating and air ducts had to be disconnected and various cable ties cut as you go in. Assuming you don't suffer from claustrophobia, you wriggle through the hatch at the foot of the starboard aft bunks on your back immediately turning left between the steering gear and the bulkhead over to the port side and then right again to lie under the gas locker. Once in position tools, supplies and a torch can be passed in before the other crew member heads up on deck to turn the screw driver once the washer and nut are started on the bolt and a spanner is in place below. Only one bolt gave any problem - it was just out of reach of the skippers arm, a longer bolt quickly got over the issue. Aside from the tight space, the netherworld victim is lying on raw fibre glass; no matter how well protected, your flesh gets prickled and spiked by it. A shower is essential afterwards and the skipper's t-shirt was a right off after day 1.

End of Day 1 - how do I get out of here?
Day 2 and the lower ears were easier to bolt on - only two bolts rather than the three for the upper bases and being lower down the stern steps there was more space to work in, though the skipper had to own up to much of it being done by feel as he simply couldn't get his head at the right angle to see. Finally the ducts and pipes were reconnected and cable tied back into  place and the heating tested to ensure the warm air reached the crew in the cabins and not any passing ducks who cared to gather on the stern of Temptress.

Top frame tied to  lower aft poles for fit
Emptying the aft cabin again

Refitting the heater pipework

Bits and pieces
Tying on the string
A last step for the day was to stiffen the structure using diagonal poles between the front and back supports and temporarily, some dyneema to secure the whole to the pushpit in the hope of preventing preventing sideways movement. The Seascrew system of endpieces held in place by grub screw means that assembly of the poles into the shape required is relatively straight forward, no welding and easy to change the shape if need be.

Now the initial design is in place we can see that it needs some sort of permanent fixing to the push pit so Kevin is going to consult the Sea Screw catalogue again for ideas. The overall height may need lowering to reduce windage. At present the platform for the solar panels is above the supports for the wind gennie but it might have to come down a foot or so meaning the inner wind gennie support will have to pass through the rectangular frame reducing the area available to support the solar  panels. Only when the solar panels arrive on Tuesday and we've had time to try them in place will we know what the best compromise is between fit and windage. Meanwhile the ensign has a new temporary home high up (too high?) on the port aft upright and we've realised that the framework together with the outboard propeller completely obscure the stern light so the light too will have to be moved to sit on the frame.
Job Done! For now...