Wednesday, 29 December 2010

End of the year

The weather has been horrible for the last fortnight, snow on the ground, and the temperature hovering around freezing. A week earlier it hit -15C in our garden. It finally crawled up to 5C today, so we headed over to Robinetta, despite quite thick fog.

The repairs look good, and the extra fastenings on the other planks at the bows should stop them from springing even if we get more iron nail sickness. Julian dried the bare wood off with a heat gun, and then got it under-coated, while I did the stern quarter.

We had taken the wedges out from the mast and soaked them in Cuprinol for a fortnight, and on this trip we put them back, painting the inside of the mast hole with Curprinol. We need a better method of sealing the mast boot..

We rigged a tarpaulin over the cabin top and cockpit to try and keep the inside a bit drier, then headed home. The days are really short at this time of year!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Professional repairs done!

Got a phone call from Paul Drake today: He's finished the work we commissioned! Robinetta should now be water tight at the bows, with no rotten planks, and the starboard stern quarter is back in one piece. We need to leave about a week for the putty sealing the caulking and the screw heads to harden, then we'll head over and give the bare wood a coat of paint.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Running Rigging

Went up today and measured Robinetta's running rigging. Its over 10 years old and showing chafe in a lot of places.

There is some 8 mm buff polyester (must be polyester, it sinks):
  • topsail downhaul
    • from a ring on the top of the throat of the gaff to a cleat on the mast. 20'
  • shroud tensioners
    • four off 8' (actually 7' + manrope knot)
  • Total
    • 52' = 16m
There is some 10 mm  buff polypropelene (it floats! - Hempex or Hardy Hemp):
  • topsail halyard
    • runs through sheave in mast. 730 cm from sheave to bottom of cleat so 14.6 m
  • back stays
    • 16'6" plus loop round blocks and eye splice each say 40' or 12m
  • topping lifts
    • hypotenuse of luff and foot of mainsail + tensioning length plus loops round boom + splicing length
    • hard to measure without taking the sail cover off, but in good condition – not necessary to replace
  • Total
    • 14.6 m + 12 m = 26.6 m
    • We could buy 30m of this or just do the back stays and buy 15 m. The topsail halyard might be better in Dynema so we can use it to go up the mast safely.
There is a lot of buff polypropylene, probably 12mm but could be 14 mm:
  • Jib halyard
    • purchase on deck with knot to block dependent from wire rope and back to cleat on mast. 2x23'=46', say 50'
  • peak halyard
    • eye splice on horse to block on mast 21'. up, down and back to cockpit 52'
  • throat halyard
    • eye splice on horse to block on mast 20'. up, down and back to cockpit 50'
  • main sheet
    • 17 m
  • Total
    • 64 m, buy 70m
There is some 12 mm Braid (not measured):
  • jib sheet
And some 6 mm braid (not measured):
  • roller furling line
  • staysail sheet
  • topsail sheet

Monday, 22 November 2010


Its been really hard finding the time and motivation to go to the boat this autumn. We have been a couple of times and achieved:
  • drilling out and filling the stem post
  • removing the rotten rear starboard bulwark. Found some rot in the top hull plank too
  • drilling out the old depth transducer
  • putting on a coat of underwater primer
Today, Alison went up there and met with Paul Drake, recommended by Keith and Julie. He's going to use some Siberian larch to repair the popped and rotten planks that have been letting all the water in. Hopefully that will be done by Christmas.

Biting the bullet

We finally decided what to do about the rotten plank and sprung plank in the bows. We need to replace the rotten one, and that's a job for a professional. Julia recommended Paul Drake who did some work for them on Maryll, and he came to have a look at her today.

We are going to get the rotten plank replaced with Siberian Larch which is more resinous than ordinary larch which is the other simple alternative. Pitch pine is almost impossible to source, and Paul has a suitable piece of Siberian Larch in his yard.

Paul will also rake out the caulking and check the fixing of the other planks around the sprung one so we can be sure that this problem will not happen next year too.

The other job we've asked him to tackle is refastening the rubbing strake in the starboard stern quarter, which requires stabilising the wood beneath it. That's the most problematic repair, because we have no real way of knowing how much work needs doing. Hopefully not too much!

So long as the weather holds out he hopes to start work the second week of December. It would be great to get it done before Christmas!

Sunday, 3 October 2010


We went up to see Robinetta today and check on how she looked out of the water. Pretty much as expected, except for one tiny little difference.....

Sometime after Julian went down to get the rope off the propeller at Shotley one blade fell off! We knew there might be a problem when we checked the state of the sacrificial anodes in June, but we did not really expect our three bladed propeller to turn into a two bladed one! Julian will order us a new prop, and we'll get the yard to change it for us since we don't have the tools to get the old one off.

I totaled up the engine hours since its last service in Feb 2009; 108 which is a pretty low percentage of our total on board time.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Out of the water

West Mersea Marine took her out today (or was it yesterday?). Now to find the leak and fix it.

And the stem post ...

And the VHF antenna ...

And the echo sounder ...

And the beading ...

And see if the planks are coming loose again by the starboard bow ...

And do something about the nail sickness on the port bow ...


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Heading Home

Our mud berth held us firmly fixed in place, with Robinetta only floating off two hours either side of high water. The first high tide of the day was at 03:30, and while some boats left then we decided to have a lazier day and take the afternoon tide home.

We helped clear up the Little Ships Club, and got a cooked breakfast in exchange, then Julian had a look at Robinetta's stem post. He had put in some ronseal wet and dry rot hardener yesterday after we got to Maldon, and hoped it would have stabilised the hole, but the wood was still very flaky. He tipped more in, hoping it would harden in the two hours promised on the tin, then worked on the piece of oak we had brought with us to make a peg to fill the hole.

I cleared up in the cabin, and as the tide came in I began to hear water trickling in through the hull by the bows. Not a comfortable noise! The stem post repairs were not going well either; it looks as though we should get Robinetta out earlier than we hoped and work on her ashore.

We were floating by 14:00, and decided to leave even though high tide would not reach Maldon until 16:10. There was enough wind to make against the tide, and we would reach West Mersea with plenty of time to get onto our mooring.

Robinetta was floating, but when we cast off to back out we realised that she was floating in her hole; the mud at the stern held her in place. Julian ploughed through it, and we were off down river.

I got the bowsprit out and the jib raised for a run down river. We left the reef in the main, and the staysail covered and made relaxed progress (about 2 knots against the tide) until passed Osea Island when we turned to a broad reach and the tide began to help us. We sped up to 5.5 knots, and had a lovely reach down to West Mersea.

The wind began to pick up by Bradwell, and the sun went in. We got the sails down by Mersea Quarters, and the tide was running hard against us as we headed up to out berth. It suddenly felt a bit grim, then I took my sunglasses off, and it wasn't so bad!

We picked Worm up from our mooring and tidied Robinetta up before heading home. This was probably our last sail for a while, a lovely gentle end to a hard season.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Parade of Sail

Originally uploaded by isobar1968
As the parade of sail is a non-handicap "race" we decided to relax a little and put a reef in. We'd dropped the jib for lunch as it had got raised without enough turns on the furler. It took a while to sort and we got it in the water which made us a little late starting but we had everything working and we kept ahead of Jacinta and another smallish gaffer.

The wind never really dropped.
We followed Gwenilli in to Maldon. The Maldon Town Regatta is a wonderful event for contrasting views of watercraft.

As promised, our berth was ready with someone waiting to usher it in for us. A much more relaxing experience than two years ago when we hadn't booked anything.

Race 1

The forecast is always important, so we were awake at 07:10 for the latest weather report. Force 5-6 SW, certainly enough wind for a good race!

We were off the pontoon by 08:05, without taking time for breakfast. It was still over an hour till low water, but even so space was tight to turn Robinetta round and the wind was pushing the bow back up-river. The bows touched the mud. Julian backed her off without problems and got her facing down channel, then I took the helm while he got the sails ready. Every boat we say was reefed, but as we had learned on the East Coast Race, Robinetta needs all the canvas she can muster.

The race started at 09:10, with the smacks going off ten minutes earlier. The committee boat announced radio silence at 08:50, and we did not hear another thing! We saw the smacks start their race at 09:00, but did not know how they knew to go, so had to watch the others in our class to know when we should start. Not the best way to get a head start! It turns out that the start was controlled purely by flags, while we were expecting sound signals.

The course set was the longest on the card. "A", starting up river then turning out to sea again for a long broad reach along the south shore, before turning back for a close reach towards Mersea, then crossing the river again to a buoy by the power station breakwater and another by the entrance to Bradwell Marina, then Thurslet, and the finish at Osea Island pier.

With full main, jib and staysail, Robinetta kept up with the other back markers for most of the race. The reaches were all quite long and we had plenty of time to trim the sails on each one. For once, we got the peak well up and tied the topsail to the boom which meant we could let off the topping lifts and the backstays and get a really good shape on the main.

Originally uploaded by isobar1968

On the broad reach out of the river we had very strong winds and serious weather helm. It was tiring enough that we took turns at the helm. We haven't worked out yet how to get any more power in to the fore-sails to counter the power in the main and reefing would have slowed us down.

We debated whether to tack at the buoy - the long way round, but as Julian came onto a dead run the main became controllable and we managed a nicely controlled gybe. When we came onto the close reach we had lee helm. It should have been possible to tune this out, but we didn't manage it.

I wanted to tack early and get the most of the tide into the river and some of the bermudans tried this but we decided we would fall too far off the wind and left it a bit. Once we did get into the middle of the river the waves made us very uncomfortable. It was now wind over tide and very lumpy. Robinetta buried her bows in several big swells and that slowed us down. Some of the boats ahead of us headed for the shelter of the shore but without a depth gauge we did not want to risk the shallows. Once past the power station the swell decreased and we tacked steadily up the river to the finish.

We made all the marks, did not run aground, or retire, and we crossed the finish line properly, but when we looked at the results we were down as not having finished, which I DO NOT UNDERSTAND!

Lots of boats did retire due to the wind which gusted 8 occasionally, and the swell that got up once the tide started running strongly against the wind. At least one of the boats that stayed inshore to stay out of the swell ran aground in the shallows and retired.

The most dramatic retirements were also very sad. Cormorant got a very good start, (she won a prize for first boat across the start line) but her race came to an end by the first marker buoy in an incident which also resulted in damage to Charm and a modern bermudan called Bewitched.

It was a sad day for the Old Gaffers with two of its most competitive boats badly damaged, and there was a lot of commiserating done with both skippers during the Sail Locker beer reception and that evening in the Little Ships club at the OGA dinner.

Low Water

I put Worm on the roof rack to head off to West Mersea, but got something wrong. She kept shifting on the way there, so Julian opened the sun roof to help hold her on. Not the safest way to anchor a load!

We got there in the end, late and hungry, and headed down the pontoon to find a trolley. The normal one was there, but there was something else missing. Water. We knew we had arrived just after low water, and we knew it was an extreme tide, but did not realise that meant that the pontoon would be aground, with the water over ten foot away across an expanse of mud! We gave up the idea of eating on the boat, and went and got fish and chips while we waited for the water to come back.

We were settled on Robinetta by midnight, but the evening's lack of water made us very aware that we needed to be off our mooring before we went aground on the next low water. I was up at 03:00 when the tide turned to stop Worm knocking on the hull, and Julian got up too. We got Robinetta ready to move off the mooring and onto a space we had noticed on the pontoon between two pilings, knowing she should not go aground there.

We moved Robinetta onto the pontoon at at 06:00, as soon as it was light, then went back to bed for another hour.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Too much or none at all

Gary from the workshop at Shotley took 5 minutes to fix the gears - he just decompressed the engine and pushed the fan belt round and it cleared. Keith had suggested something similar but I would still have been nervous about leaving even if we had managed it.

We locked out more competently this time at 09:30, got the sails up and ran out towards Harwich breakwater in company with the Thames Barge Edme under full sail. Once past Landguard point the wind dropped and the cross-swell made everything very uncomfortable. The waves were not big but we had to lash all the blocks tight to stop them banging around and getting damaged. We motor sailed for a while but gave up and got all the sails down somewhere between Pye End and Walton Pier.

A Gaff ketch - probably Gwenilli valiantly kept sailing, much further out to sea. With the motor on, we left Edme behind. After a while I tried heading nearer the Gunfleet and found some ripples and a touch of breeze so we raised the main again. It pulled increasingly well and by Holland on Sea we were able to stop the motor and sail properly, everything set, all the way to the Nass Beacon.

I'd forgotten what gentle sailing was like.

I tried getting the top sail down while on port tack as an experiment. It can be done, but I ended up needing to untie every line to the sail before it could be fully lowered and stowed, so it is not a casual alternative to tacking or gybing onto starboard!

We tied up at the mooring and pumped up the flubber and loaded all the kit into her and then Alison rowed us ashore in Worm, towing the flubber. It was just past high water so we landed at the public hard and Alison got the car round while I stowed the flubber and we backed onto the hard, loaded the boot and lifted Worm straight onto the roof. Much easier than any other way of coming ashore and loading up!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Time to go home

The 7am forecast still said F6-F8 for the morning so we abandoned the idea of catching the morning tide to West Mersea.

I could get a bus and train home and get to work on time for Tuesday or we could try and push the tide or go in the evening and have a very short night.

I managed to get online on the Shotley Wifi with Alison's netbook and check my diary - Tuesday was clear so I sent an email to work saying I'd be a day late.

I'd been worried about the VHF - we hadn't been hearing the Walton MSI broadcasts or Transcur's Sunday briefing so I called Thames Coastguard for a radio check. They could only hear us on high power so I'm sure there is a break in the cable to the antenna. Another thing to go on the list.

We mooched around and had a chat with Neil by his just launched Oysterman 16 - a very nice little boat - and then had lunch at the Bristol Arms.

We finally took the time to go around the Ganges museum. The establishment was huge in its day.

By mid afternoon the wind had dropped and the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. Tuesdays forecast was for almost no wind so we decided to go with the evening tide after all. We had an hour's doze then got fuel and went to lock out. I messed up completely while docking and dropped the aft mooring line, got it stuck round the prop and jammed the gear lever in forward.

The lock keeper walked us round to the working dock where we were found by Keith and Julie from Maryl. They hung around and provided really great moral support while I went into the water wearing my mask and snorkel and freed the prop but we couldn't shift the gear lever. We're really green with marine diesels and I wanted the yard to take a look so we stayed on the working dock overnight.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

More wind, no racing

Sunday morning brought more gale warnings and the President's race was cancelled. We came up with all sorts of tasks to do on Robinetta and Worm but we both felt more like being lazy.

I did decide to give Worm a maiden sail, even though we had no rudder. I got in and found another disaster - the rear thwart had come unglued. It hadn't been the best fit and the wetted area was not ideal but it was a real blow. Luckily we had the cordless drill and it was quite firm with four brass wood screws fitted.

Then I started rigging her. The four parrel beads I had made from the old teak hand rails were not quite enough but worked well with a half-hitch between each one as a spacer. I couldn't remember how the plans used the two sets of holes on the boom jaws but using the aft ones for sail lacing and the foreward ones as a combined parrell line and downhaul worked well. I made a kicker and a horse and a loop to attach the sheet to the boom and it all seemed workable.

The one cleat I hadn't fitted yet was the one on the yard for the halyard as I was still experimenting with how far up the yard the halyard should be tied. Too low and the yard would fall upside-down when raising. Too high and the boom was too low. I compromised with the boom at decapitation height - ducking will be required!

Iain recommends a topsail halyard bend for attaching the halyard but I couldn't find instructions so I just used a clove hitch. It worked fine, partly because Hempex is nice and rough and knots well.

It was really windy so a good opportunity to reef. The only problem is that the eyes are too big so there is no way to easily fix the pennants to the sail. The reef went in really easily but makes it necessary to move the halyard bend further up the yard. At least the boom can be raised more out of head's way.

Next came trying the leeboard. We were surprised how bouyant it still is, even with the lead fitted. This turns out to be a good thing for lifting it out of the water but a bad thing for getting it to stay put. I think a little more lead is best, but not too much.I rowed to the end of J pontoon next to Melvyn's smack's boat. Melvyn and Julia were on board Elen and agreed to give us a lift to the dinner so we told Shotley we would stay another night.

The wind was really flaky there - coming from all directions. It was clear that the sculling notch and oars are not an alternative to a rudder, at least in their current incarnation. Eventually, with some help from an oar - as a paddle and a fender - I got down-wind and out into the open area beyond the pontoons.

I had a play with the leeboard but never got the boat under control enough to see it working. But in its current state its quite easy to move from one side to another. Lots more experimentation and practice will be needed to be able to move tiller, sheet and leeboard effectively when tacking. I guess when gybing the board should be up before the gybe.

The wind was more predictable beyond the pontoons and things became more stable. I won't say I ever had the boat under control, but at least I know approximately what it would do next. When I ran out of room I furled the sails and rowed back to Robinetta. Not a successful sail, but a very good experiment with lots learned.

Furling the rig for rowing turns out to be easy. You drop the yard and raise the boom so its against the mast and tie things up with the halyard. the mast doesn't foul the single person rowing position at all. As it is pretty much impossible to sail other than single handed, this is fine.

After lunch, mostly we stayed in the cabin and read.Around 4pm a huge line squall came over and threatened to take the jib away. We dropped and stowed it, glad not to be on the way to Levington!

Alison got me to make a slide show of some of the photos and we put her netbook on a table in the bar for people to look at before the meal. The food was better than last year and we had some fun prize giving, good craic and a safe journey back in Melvyn's car.

Even the two Pete's are thinking of moving next year's cruise to a different week!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Thorn Race

We carried straight on from the Two Rivers race into the Thorn Race which I skippered. I felt we did OK but we didn't make the leader board. It was great fun going way out near the banks of the Stour and hoping there was enough water. We only fell a little way behind Gwenilli but Martin was single handing the big ketch.

I wanted to sail up to the key at Mistley but Alison wasn't keen and it was a bit close to the wind so we put the main down on the way in an motored. Martin managed to hit Swan Island, allegedly at about 6 knots! It took the combined weight of several committee members and "hangers on" to shift Gwenilli, and earned Martin the coveted Bowlocks Maximus for the year!

We had a fine tea of beer and sandwiches and divine brownies at the Quay and headed back. Brian warned us that the forecast over night was northerly F7-8 and not ideal for Wrabness so we snuck into Shotley for the night.

The Two Rivers Race

We raised anchor at 09:10, then motored down river, raising the main, top, and stay sail as we went. Today was scheduled to be the Two Rivers Race, and it was actually going to happen as planned! The weather had turned dull again, but it was dry, and the wind direction gave us a run down the Orwell against the tide, then a beat up the Stour with it helping us; much better than the other way round!

We had to tow Worm today since we were going to anchor at Wrabness rather than return to the Orwell, and I felt slightly nervous about racing while towing, but people do it all the time and it did not cause any problems although we did need to keep an eye on it.

We got a good start at 10:00. Fourth across the line, and although we immediately fell back from the leaders we kept our place against the other boats with a similar handicap until we rounded Shotley Horse, narrowly missing it with Worm, and began the beat up the Stour.

Starting near the front and being slow put us in the perfect position to snap lots of the boats. Lots of pics here.

Maybe someone took one of us.

We got our topsail down smartly, but forgot to make sure that our gaff peak was fully pulled up so we did not have a good sail shape. That’s when the other boats all pulled away from us again, and we crossed the finish line, the Lee Buoy at Wrabness, last at 13:50.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Scandanavian Seaways Race

Thanks to Julian’s heroic efforts yesterday Robinetta was ready to compete in the Scandanavian Seaways race. We left Levington at 09:40 in light drizzle, tied Worm on a mooring buoy just outside, and were ready to race at 10:30.

We were well back at the start having turned too far up river to put up our top sail, but it was a run out of the Orwell, and we kept up with our little group until we reached the Pye End buoy and began the beat back in. We then fell back, having made some bad tacking decisions (mine, since I was skipper and helm). We were quite slow to get our top sail down, and top sails hinder rather than help on a beat. I gave the helm to Julian (which I should have done before since I was obviously tired) and we crossed the finish line by 14:30, just before the tide turned and made beating up the river a nightmare.

We collected Worm from her buoy, then headed up river to Pin Mill to anchor. We set the hook at 15:00 as the sun came out for the first time today. I rowed Worm all the way to Pin Mill hard rather than face a muddy walk back, then we had a pleasant walk up to the shop of the main road then back to Pin Mill sailing club for the evening’s barbeque and briefing. It turned into a beautiful evening to be on shore, no wind, bright sun...

Worm was too far up the hard when we wanted to head back, but after we had struggled a bit another OGA member came and helped Julian carry her down to the water. I had a lovely row back to Robinetta in bright moonlight with the plough clear in the sky, and once back on board we checked our position on the GPS (which we had left on). Everything was good, and we rafted Worm alongside .

I woke up in the night when a wind shift made Worm start to knock against the hull, so I let her hang off the stern instead, and waited up until we swung with the tide to make sure she did not run up against us again. All was fine, so I went back to bed.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Model Boat Racing

In the afternoon we gathered for the model boat racing. This should have been at Woodbridge but we did it outside the Lightship.

We hadn't had time to build anything - too busy mending Robinetta! But I did take some photos with the waterproof camera placed at waterline level to try to get a "being there" feel. All available on Facebook

Here is the start line


It rained. Julian got Mike to come have a look at the stem head, and at the stern where a mainsheet attachment point was pulling out. Julian then spent the rest of the day mending Robinetta while I did what I could to help.

A coach was laid on to take us to the Ramsholt Arms where we had the usual good meal. Beef stew or chicken curry (many of us had both) and a perfect fruit crumble for pud. There was a huge cheer when Pete announced at the briefing for the next day’s race that it would be shorter than Wednesday’s.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Ladies Race...

We woke to bright sunshine and light winds, such a contrast to yesterday! After a relaxed morning we tied Worm to the buoy, took Janner’s dingy off them and tied it on too, then headed down to Levington to start the Ladies/Young helm race. A third class quickly formed from boats that had no ladies or young people on board, and that was run as the Pennyhole Bay race which should have happened on Tuesday.

We got a bad start as we did not reach the line in time (12:30) and beating out of the Orwell was a disheartening experience as all the other boats disappeared into the harbour. The staysail kept sagging, as though the halyard was slipping, and the third time it happened, by the Dovercourt Breakwater, Julian went forward to see why.

The staysail downhaul ties off on a metal hoop that also holds the furling line blocks. The hoop forms the head of a spike which should screw down into the stem post, only it was waving loose. We immediately got the staysail in and decided to retire. The sun was long gone, and the idea of trying to beat out into Pennyhole Bay without the staysail made no sense; turning onto a run back up the Orwell was a huge relief.

Julian called up Suffolk Yacht Harbour as we went past and booked a berth, then we headed back to Pin Mill to collect Worm. The wind was very light by now, and we were making less than a knot sailing against the tide. Julian put the engine on as it began to drizzle and I got my oilskin trousers and sea boots on as well as my jacket before taking down the sails.

It began to rain in earnest as we picked up Worm, not so easy with two dinghies on the buoy, then we headed back to Levington, very glad we had reserved a berth! Unfortunately it did not really help, as the berth holder came back before we got into it, and we ended up rafted against Quintet.

We had thought of eating out at the pub a mile down the road, but by the time we had the covers on and had a cup of tea the thought of leaving Robinetta to go out into the down pour did not appeal and we ate on board.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gales and what not.

Weather looked a little better, but too windy for racing, so the fleet set off for Walton Backwaters, not racing. Being at the inside end of the pontoon we were near the back of the group, and needed a lot of boats to move before we could. That meant we were not at the lock out of Ipswich dock until free flow started at 1200; not a problem!

With gusts forecast of up to force 6 we decided to reef more than we ever had before, and untied the sail from the first hoop and reefed all the way down to the second. With that and the stay sail we had more than enough sail up to make over 6 knots down river with the tide, but in the calmer airs we only made 3.

Once past Pin Mill the wind steadied, and we were broad reaching on a lovely point of sail, but by the time we were at Levington we were very glad of the small sail area. We spotted Nancy Blackett heading back up river and shouted over as to why, and were told it was very rough and windy in the bay. She was not the only one returning, and after we saw several other boats turn back we decided to abort our trip to Walton too.

We were just by Fagbury when we turned for shelter, and Bernard from Molly Cobbler said he recorded 37 knots of wind there. I think we had something similar. Pete on Transcur used a hand held anemometer on the deck out in the harbour, and measured 43 knots. Only one boat, Rely, a 20 tonner made it to Walton. Everyone else turned back after experiencing the seas near the Dovercourt breakwater and took shelter.

Beating up the river against the wind and tide was no fun, and once we were mostly headed we got the sails down. We had just done that when we were hit by a rain squall that felt more like hail and reduced visibility to almost nothing. That left us making very slow progress up river on the engine, so we got the stay sail back up, and crawled back up to Pin Mill where we dropped the anchor close to five other gaffers at 1520 and had a cup of tea.

The anchor dragged once in a really strong gust, so we reset it, then cooked the dinner we had planned for Walton. The wind had eased considerably, and the anchorage was sheltered so it felt comfortable. By the time we had tidied up it was nearly low water, and we wanted to wait to see how Robinetta swung on her anchor. After she had swung round, clearing the closest moored boat by a good ten foot, we got into Worm and headed ashore. The plan was to beach the dingy then walk to the Butt and Oyster pub at Pin Mill.

Worm rowed as beautifully as always and we easily reached the rather muddy shore, then pushed her anchor into the muddy sand well up the “beach” near to a marker bucket left by one of the other gaffer’s tenders. Apart from not finding the best way up onto the short path, so getting a bit muddy going round the seaward side of the houseboats everything went to plan and we joined a pub full of gaffers full of their stories of the day’s rather hectic sailing.

We were back on board Robinetta by 2230, and I put on the GPS to do a final check of her position since the triangulation marks I had picked for my anchor drag checks were day marks only. The position looked a little odd, as though she had skipped a couple of meters while the GPS was switched off, but Julian watched it for a while and thought it was just acquisition error. I went down to brush my teeth, and suddenly Julian called me to come see. We were very close to the moored boat we cleared easily before rowing ashore.

We had a lot of chain out to cope with the windy conditions, but we were obviously not securely anchored, so Julian pulled up the chain and found out why we were dragging as he did. A loop of chain had wrapped round one of the anchor flukes and pulled it out. Given how late it was we motored off and found an empty mooring to pick up instead of re-anchoring.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The first set back

We were supposed to be doing a pursuit race to the Walton Backwaters, but the weather report of force 6-7 meant the fleet stayed put. Ben headed home by train and we had a lazy day in Ipswich, with a bring your own meat barbecue in the evening at the yacht club, followed by an Old Gaffers quiz in the upstairs bar at Issac’s, a “Coffee tavern” on the other side of the dock. We won the quiz, together with The Quiz and Quiet Days.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Regatta day

The classics regatta is great fun, but Robinetta only moved from one side of Ipswich Dock to the other and back. Being small we were on the outside of the rafts and had to move first, before anyone else, then we hung around idling on the motor until there was another boat big enough moored up on the quay for us to raft against.

We moved Robinetta back after the fun and found ourselves right inside near Avola and Transcur. Much easier to get to the pontoon!

Alison had a go at the downwind flubber sailing,

While Ben and Julian and Banjo's grandson fought valiantly in the football
There are more silly photos on Facebook.

There was a pay bar and barbecue for us at the yacht club. Highly organised as they fed 100 people in an hour.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Passage Race

0710 Saturday morning we got the weather forecast, South Westerly four to five, perfect for heading up to Harwich, but a very stiff row back to the pontoon to get the rest of our things and move the car! High water was at 1040, so we did some essential maintenance, then moved Robinetta instead, to pick up a mooring just opposite the pontoon. Ben stayed on board in case the owner of the mooring wanted us t move, while I rowed Julian ashore.

After a trip to the chandlers for a new cleat so we could use the jib we got the inflatable dingy from the car, and Julian loaded it into Worm while I took the car round to West Mersea Marine where it would stay for the week. On our way back to Robinetta we were passed by Rob on Maid of Tesa on his way out.

We cast off at high water exactly, and headed out through the moorings, getting ready to get under sail as we went. Ben had the helm through the moorings, but once we got up the reefed main and stay sail I took over while he put the kettle on then helped Julian bolt on the new cleat. Julian needed to re-serve the soft shackle on the jib sheet too, so we were not ready to begin sailing properly until just before the Bench Head buoy. We began our passage race there, at 1206, sailing on a broad reach in rolling seas with a noticeable amount of weather helm.

Once we rounded Colne bar and passed North Eagle we eased the sheets still more to head on a very broad reach. Half way up the coast we were practically running, with the jib doing nothing, so we furled it away, and ran all the way up past Walton pier where we gybed round to head into Harwich. A lovely sail!

We called up Harwich VTS and asked for a wind speed check on Landguard. They told up 18-21 knots SW, and it certainly felt like the 21 knot end of things! Robinetta was getting hard to hold and there was no way to get another reef in while holding our course; there was just too much power in the sail, so I put her head to wind, and Julian and Ben did it in no time! Soon after that another boat asked for a wind check, and got told 21-23 knots.

The wind decreased up the Orwell, so we got the jib out, but left in the reefs. Then it decreased still more as we got into the shelter just before Pin Mill and we had to start tacking, in light winds, to pass the finish line at the end of Pin Mill hard. Janner and Elfrida appeared to this point, then disappeared past us as we carried on under sail until we reached the Ipswich dock lock gates.

We locked through at 1845, then rafted up on Maid of Tesa at Ipswich Haven Marina.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A late start

It seemed like a long time since we had sailed Robinetta when we set off for the August Classics week. Ben came with us for the first weekend, so we put the repaired Worm on the roof, and set off on Friday night with a full car.

We got to West Mersea at about 2200, just forty minutes before high water, and got Worm in the water, but the outboard engine would not start. That meant we had to row, in the dark. There was about eighty percent cloud cover, but with the Colchester street lights reflecting off the clouds, and the occasional glimpse of moon we could see enough to miss the moored boats. Ben and Julian rowed out first with most of the essential bags, then Julian came back for me, and the rest of the things we needed for overnight. It was half one in the morning before we were ready for bed.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Worm that turned

We thought about spending Saturday night on the boat but left it too late. We got away nice and early this morning and were at West Mersea by 9am. We couldn't find a trolley to borrow so we made yokes and walked the Worm to the pontoon and motored to Robinetta. It was heading towards low water so we wasted no time dropping off the mooring and promptly went aground turning round. The Ray channel is very narrow.

I managed to reverse off and we had another go and did the same thing again and then finally motored off towards the Blackwater. The forecast was westerly backing south west, so we decided to head up the Blackwater. That way we'd have only an hour of foul tide before it turned to help us up river against the wind and then the wind would help us back to West Mersea. "Towards Osea" was duly entered in the log.

The wind seemed much stronger than we expected so we started with one reef and the staysail. It was plenty, so although we got the jib out after about an hour under sail we soon decided to furl it away. We beat happily up the river in gorgeous sunshine with occasional gusts that needed careful handling.

There are two anchorages at Osea Island, one at the west end where we had lunch on the Maldon Regatta a couple of years ago and one east of the old pier. I decided there might be some shelter on this one so we dropped the hook. The plan was to take the Worm ashore and barbecue some bacon on the beach for a late lunch.

The wind was so strong at the anchorage that we decided not to bother going ashore and I made BLT's. We rested up for a bit and then hauled up the anchor and began to run home.

The wind was still very strong so we reefed a little more and had a nice sail. Elfreda passed us heading up river under motor, and gave us a wave as we passed the Marconi sailing club buoy.

As we neared Mersea Quarters we spotted two canoeists and then saw one on them capsize. We headed towards them and they asked for help so we put Robinetta head to wind, started the engine and dropped the sails. We threw out our new safety line and after a bit of faffing the guy who had capsized made it into the Worm. The other canoeist caught the capsized canoe and tied it and his own to the throwing line but he then capsized too. We managed to get him on board Robinetta and then the Worm was turned over by a big wave so we got the other canoeist into Robinetta too. Another yacht had stood by us until everyone was safe.

Towing two swamped canoes and an upside-down dinghy was too much for the engine, but with the staysail up we managed to make progress. We tried to right the Worm but couldn't manage it, then it happened all by itself and we made it back to West Mersea. We dropped Jed and Neil and their canoes at the pontoon - so now we know we can get Robinetta to the pontoon at high water. They helped us bail the Worm and we rushed off before the falling tide stranded us.

We didn't make a very good job of this rescue, but we managed it and learned a lot, as well as helping out.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sunday Sailing

We were supposed to go to the Holbrook rally this weekend, but the weather forecast made us decide against it. There was hardly any wind expected on the Friday and Sunday, and it's a long slog from West Mersea to Wrabness and back under motor. Instead we decided to just go to check on Robinetta on Sunday lunch time.

Julian made bagels for a picnic, and Alex decided to come too. He doesn't like sailing, but he loves bagels!

Having rowed and towed  Worm last weekend we decided it was time to try the outboard on her. It was also an opportunity to try her with 3 people on board. It was two hours before high water when we got to West Mersea and a long drop to the water at West Mersea Marine so we borrowed a launching trolley and took her to the public hard. I then rowed round to the pontoon while Julian and Alex took the trolley back.

Worm carries three nicely and motors just as well as she rows. Alex had fun on the helm experimenting with the throttle. At speed the balance shifts but she's quite steady.

When we reached Robinetta there was enough of a wind to be worth sailing, and since it was nearly high tide enough water not to worry about going aground. We only put the engine on to let us back off the mooring buoy (where we left Worm) then left it on to recharge the battery as we sailed down the Ray Channel and Thorn Fleet. The channel is a bit crowded for sailing, but we only needed the engine in gear once to help us clear a moored yacht.

Once past Mersea Quarters cardinal we headed for Bradwell, and when we were in deep water we furled away the jib and went onto a broad reach up river while we had our picnic. Julian and I took it in turns to helm. We were sailing beautifully, but only making 2.5 knots against the tide, just the right speed to get us to Thurslet buoy by the time we finished eating!

We tacked round Thurslet, unfurled the jib, and close reached on one tack all the way back to the Nass beacon, doing 5 knots over the ground the whole way. Alex worried about our angle of heel, but he always does and it was really quite gentle, especially compared to last Saturday's race!

We ran most of the way back up the Thorn fleet, but there was a little too much wind for me to want to try picking up the buoy under sail, especially with Worm in the way, so we motored the last little bit.

Sunday afternoon sails don't come much better than this. Blue skies with fluffy clouds, hot sun but enough wind to sail well without needing the top sail, good food and good company. Bliss.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Heading Home

The Hog Roast ended with nothing left but the bones by half six, and the Old Gaffers started to drift back to their boats. We wanted to be away as soon as we could since we were heading back to West Mersea, not Brightlingsea, but we had to wait for the boats outside to leave first.

Quintet had had some problems coming in, since she had not reversed when she should, and when Clive tried to motor off from outside us he discovered that something had gone wrong with the engine-gear box linkage. We waited until the whole raft ahead had left, then with a lot of help from people ashore and Steve Meakin in a rubber flubber with outboard Quintet was moored against the pontoon ahead.

We ran down the Colne in company with Black Rose a large gaff ketch and almost kept up on full main and staysail. We rigged a preventer in case of an accidental gybe, but never needed it, and once we were in sight of Bateman's Tower we flew the jib and picked up speed. We were managing four knots with the tide under us, but it would be against us once we turned up the Blackwater, so we thought we'd need the engine to get home at any reasonable time.

We passed Bateman's tower at 2025, and the ketch headed in to Brightlingsea, leaving us the only sailing boat we could see. The wind was quite light so we raised the top sail the instant we gybed onto the starboard tack, just before Colne no8, then had an absolutely wonderful sail up the Blackwater in very gentle swell. We were only making 2-3 knots over the ground, but it felt like we were making good progress so we put off putting on the engine as long as we could. The wind kept decreasing though, and when our speed dropped below 2 knots we had to give up, and turn the engine on.

It was already gone 2130 and the light was going, so I got all the sails down, and stowed while Julian helmed. We could just about pick out the Nass Beacon once we found its light, (quick flashing white three), and we were very glad of the clear sky and half moon as we picked our way between the moorings in Mersea Quarters and Thorn Fleet.

Once we got to the piles at the start of the Ray Channel Julian started to have problems seeing where he was going. The bright moon light caste reflections of the pilings on the surface of the water, but that surface was totally flat, and practically invisible, so the piles just looked incredibly tall. Nothing moved except us, our engine and some disturbed sea birds made the only sound....

Then I got the boat hook out and the head torch on, so we could find our mooring buoy. We were safely moored at 2250, and glad to be there. We packed up as fast as we could, got our belongings into Worm, and I rowed us ashore after a challenging and greatly enjoyable weekend's sailing.

Floating in the sky

The wind dropped to nothing as we slid gently into Mersea Quarters on the engine. The sky was mostly clear with some light in the west, some fluffy clouds and a bright half moon.

Our wash was the only movement on the water as we picked our way through the moorings. In the more open stretches the water acted as a perfect mirror, so we were looking down, as well as up at the clouds. It was eerie, and beautiful.

Looking forwards, there was absolutely nothing to indicate the surface of the water. It felt like we were motoring along in the middle of the sky. It was a really special feeling and worth staying out for, although I wouldn't get much sleep (early plane next morning).

When we got to the run of piles that marks the start of the Ray Channel it looked even weirder. There was no bend at all between the piles and their reflections, so they looked like really long piles I could see both ends of. It was almost impossible to tell how far away they were.

A stunning end to a great weekend.

Parade of sail

We had a slow start to Sunday after the hectic race day, spending most of the morning messing about in rowing boats on the very shallow boating lake at Brightlingsea. Julian carved a new end for the flagstaff over lunch time so we could fly the ensign during the parade of sail, and we cast off the pontoon with Worm astern at 1400.

The parade of sail was due to start from Bateman's tower at 1430, and we were all ready with fully reefed main and stay sail to follow Victoria up river. We kept up with the first section for a long time, taking careful note of where people were tacking. It was only an hour after low water, and the Colne up to Wivenhoe gets very shallow on the edges!

As we beat gently up the river we kept seeing boats going aground. They all got off again quite quickly, either with the motor, or as the tide came up.

Our GPS kept telling us we were not in the centre of the river, while the buoyed channel we could see told us we were, so we could not trust the GPS to be accurate enough to stop us going aground. I engaged my land form reading brain and concentrated hard. I know I annoyed Julian with some of my tack calling from the helm, but we only touched bottom once, when I already had the helm over to tack. A good result.

Once we got up river, and into a narrower channel the larger boats drew ahead, and since the wind was dropping with the shelter we shook out all the reefs and unfurled the jib before we reached Wivenhoe. Julian took the helm for the last mile, and managed to sail nearly all the way to the Sailing Club pontoon where we rafted up between Random and Quintet at 1615 before heading to the promised Hog Roast.

The weather now was in total contrast to yesterday, or even this morning, with bright sunshine and hot still air. Perfect eating outside weather!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

East Coast Race

The morning started dull and windy with the forecast F5-6, occasionally F7. No-one was sure we would get to race at all, but we made our way to the start line by Bateman's tower. As usual, the hard question was how much to reef. I decided on one turn round the boom. This mean't we were carrying much more sail than most of the boats our size but Robinetta is heavy and deep and needs all the pull she can get.

We tacked back and forwards avoiding other boats, sometimes by a very small margin. We didn't manage to tune into the right channel to get the race advice but we heard the guns and it got off to a really good start near the front of the pack. The fast boats soon left us behind and we found ourselves in a little race of our own with Plum and Ellen. Julia on Ellen told us it was course 2 which was basically out to Clacton and back, but not going out to the Spitway buoy where it could be expected to be rough. Nominally an 18,5 nm course. The sun came out and there was lots of blue sky so although windy it was really very nice and calm running out of the Colne.

Our little pack jockeyed for position, sometimes getting very close indeed. Colin, single handed on Plum easily kept up with us, or led. We found ourselves on the outside turning at Colne Bar and the others got ahead but we kept up pretty well. From Colne Bar to Clacton Pier was a glorious reach – heaps of wind with the tide pushing us along – we hit at least 7 knots over the ground and Alison got the sails trimmed nicely so the helm was really light.

The big smacks had started 15 minutes behind us and passed us soon after Colne Bar. It was a fantastic sight. Pioneer looked particularly fine, carrying her topsail over reefed main.

The turning point was a specially positioned race buoy which we had the accurate position of, but along with most of the boats we just assumed it would be near the pier. As we got nearer, we saw the leading boats crossing in front of us and realised the mark must be further out. We adjusted course and this helped us recover some of our position relative to Plum and Ellen. In fact, we rounded the buoy just behind Deirdre, Plum and Ellen and in front of the pretty little lugger Constance.


Suddenly the wind came up and the seas became less friendly. Of course, we were now heading into the tide component of the waves. We immediately felt less comfortable and considered another reef. I tried putting one in but we didn't want to slow down and I only got a couple of inches in. Alison was getting tired and I took the helm. We were really heeling now and the water was coming in under the leeward bulwarks but it felt safe.

The leading classic bermudans who had left 30 minutes behind us now passed us. Not all the bermudans caught the gaffers today. The only upwind leg was the final beat up the Colne to the finish line so the theoretically better downwind performance of the gaffers was working in our favour.

The reach back to Colne Bar was a bit more stressful than the outbound leg. The wind was stronger and we had the tide against us so the seas were also less friendly. We very gradually gained ground against Deirdre and Ellen but it was hard work.

We now needed to plan where to turn up-river. Many of the leading boats seemed to be going a very long way up the Blackwater. I knew we needed to go some way, since the wind would be on the nose going up river but I couldn't understand why they wanted to go so far. I didn't want too many short tacks – Robinetta had shown us again last month in the Crouch that short tacks are her weakest point – she needs a decent amount of way on for the main to start to pull.

Then, as we approached Bench Head we came under a nasty rain cloud. The wind came up and the seas knocked us back and it became very hard to control the boat. The others were having problems too but they were already reefed down quite hard. We dropped the peak to kill the power in the main and let off the staysail halyard. The wind was too strong to think about furling the jib without going onto a run and we were still racing! I gave the helm to Alison and reefed the main right down to the bottom hoop and then she went forward and pulled the staysail down properly and made it fast. Luckily, that was enough to bring the boat back under control. It was definitely blowing a steady force 7 for several minutes. We had managed this without actually stopping but we still had to decide when to tack. Deirdre was still heading west and Ellen had fallen off the wind towards the Buxey sands. There was a line of boats coming in on a shorter line and we decided to go with that.

Then Alison noticed the frapping line was wound round the port jib sheet. We couldn't tack until that was sorted. It took a while and we didn't manage to sail properly while it was being sorted. When we did tack we found ourselves heading straight back to Colne Bar so we kept that one quite short. The squall had passed so we put up a bit more main and raised the staysail again. During all this messing around, we were caught up and passed by Janty.

Luckily, the tide was now pushing us up the Colne, and we managed several reasonably long tacks up the river, making on both legs. We had a little race with Janty for a while, but she decided to go much further on the east tack than we did and we lost her. With no working echo sounder we used a combination of the GPS chart and Alison's geologists eyes to decide when to tack. It seemed to work well. Suddenly we spotted Ellen again. She had taken a very different line but after a tack or two, we found ourselves heading NW towards the No. 8 buoy with Ellen just in front.

We now had a real race to the finish. Melvyn and Julia are good friends, but a race is a race! Melvyn put his big staysail up and we beat into the Colne, neither boat giving any ground.

The port winch was giving its usual problems and the handle hit me in the face twice, but Robinetta was tacking really well. We did slightly shorter tacks than Ellen and had to put in one extra one but I think this must have kept us in the main tidal stream because we ended up in front. The river bends to the left past the entrance to Brightlingsea creek so the last tack left us with a straight reach past the finish line. We finally heard the horn and then one for Ellen a few seconds behind. I don't know who has the lower handicap – I wonder where we come on the final ranking!

When we got back we heard that many boats had retired from equipment failure or because they were too light for the wind conditions. We felt very pleased with our boat, and for once, happy with our seamanship.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Back in the water

Robinetta was craned into the West Mersea Marine wet-dock around 1630 and we launched our new dinghy Worm over the seaward side and then walked her into the dock to tie on behind. The first great bit of news was that Worm did not leak!

We left the dock as quickly as we could, at 1645, and got ready to sail while under way. It's not the best way to do things since the sail cover is difficult to take off when the topping lifts are on! Worm towed beautifully, and we were sailing along Mersea flats by 1730. It was high water so we did not worry about depth despite not having a working depth gauge, just used the GPS charts to be sure of where we were. There was a nice steady force 4 blowing, but the weather was overcast and cold.

Quite a bit of water was coming in through the bows when I checked, and I realised I had not turned the automatic bilge pump on after Robinetta was put back in the water. When I did she started pumping immediately. Not the best sign after only being out of the water for five days!

We were taking the sails down for entry into Brightlingsea harbour by 1850, and had just finished when a large wake from a motor boat made the boom swing wildly. I had restored the ensign mount to its place on the rudder while Robinetta was ashore, and put it on the wrong way round, so that the ensign pole stood straight up, rather than raked backwards. The boom still cleared the head of the pole, but the top sail yard didn't. The flag ended up in the water leaving part of the flag pole in the mount. We fished the flag out of the water after more goes than we should have needed (my fault, as I failed to reach it three times when I was helming, while Julian got straight to it when he took over!)

Brightlingsea harbour master had gone home by the time we tried calling him up for a berth, so we rafted up alongside Quintet, on the first pontoon we came to, then got the water taxi ashore to collect our race numbers for the following day.


Robinetta has been in the water for nearly a year, and I did not manage to get all the above deck painting done that I wanted to before leaving Shotley, so she was looking a little shabby. I checked our schedule, and realised that if we did not get her hauled out in June we would not have a chance to do it before the August classics, so I talked to the yard.

Last year Robinetta was out for a month, this year I decided to be quicker about it, and she was hauled out on Monday and had her anti fouling pressure washed. I then hijacked Alex and a friend of his and got her anti fouled, the top sides filled, under and top coated, the decks painted, two coats of varnish on the bowsprit, the bulwarks touched up, and another coat of varnol on the cockpit cap-rails. All this happened in three days! Alex and Luke worked hard, and the weather was perfect for the job, with only one really hot day to dry her out.

We wanted the sacrificial anodes renewed, but on inspection they seem rather odd. Julian re-wired what was left of them to the prop shaft, and we'll see what's happened to them next time we get her out.

The yard put her back in the water at 1600 on Friday, and we headed straight off for Brightlingsea and the East Coast Race on Saturday with the cleanest bottom in the fleet.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Back home

Coming back from Fambridge we decided to cruise in company with Quiet Days, a classic bermudan that has a mooring in West Mersea. It was yet another early start to work the tides, so we were off the pontoon at 0605. It did feel too early after the night before, and with dreary weather all day the trip back felt very long. The only high point was taking pictures of Quiet Days while they took pictures of us.

After coming through the Spitway we separated from Quiet Days, since she could point much higher than us on the beat up the Blackwater. We furled the jib rather than fight with the port winch, and ended up motor sailing with double reefed main and stay sail. The wind over tide was pretty horrible too; not the best sail of our lives!

We were back on our mooring at 1245 after a tiring trip, so we got the bed back out and went to sleep again. I think I'm glad that the Crouch rallies are over for this year!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Racing on the Crouch

We woke up to a weather forecast of 4-6, occasionally 7, and were not sure that the race would go ahead, but it did. Several boats decided not to start in the conditions, so in the end only 7 of us idiots were on the start line. The plan was to run down from Fambridge to just before the start of the Burnham moorings, then beat up river nearly to Fambridge, run down river again, then beat all the way back to the start line.

Julian had invited a work friend to join us as extra crew since we had retired last year exhausted after the short tacking on the beat up river, and after Dave joined us we left the pontoon and picked up a mooring to get Robinetta ready to race. We reefed fully in response to the forecast, which was probably a mistake on the first leg, since we were at the back of the fleet after quarter of an hour despite getting a good start.

After we rounded the first buoy and began the beat back we got very discouraged. Robinetta did not want to tack round, and the winch we had repaired only last week went wrong again. We had to use the engine to help us tack, which made retiring from the race inevitable.

The boats looked great crashing through the waves - we were in a narrow river - really!

The evening barbecue back at North Fambridge made up for the disappointment of the race, with the Gaffers providing their usual quality of entertainment. Only two boats had entered the passage race, and Robinetta and Whisper were declared joint winners.... a first ever "win" for us!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Fambridge Again

We set off for the second Fambridge OGA gathering even earlier than the first, at 0510. Partly this was down to the tide being an hour earlier, but also because I was afraid that we would be aground if we left it later. We got off alright, and raised sail before we reached the Nass Beacon at 0545. We used that as the start point of our passage race, and headed out to the Spitway as fast as we could, even raising the top sail at one point, although we took it down after half an hour, and had to put a reef in only ten minutes after that!

By the time we reached the Spitway at 0800 it was just past low water, and without a working depth gauge I did not really want to tack, so we used the engine to get through as quickly as possible. After that it was engine off and ride the tide all the way to Fambridge. The wind was in the perfect direction for reaching in passed Ron Pipe, and we were moving over the ground at over 7 knots a lot of the time. We got onto the pontoon at North Fambridge Yacht Club by 1150 after a great sail.

The weather was dull all day, and by 1500 it was raining. The Old Gaffers gathered in the club house, and settled in for an evening of beer, and fish and chips, but I'd had too early a start to stay long, and headed to bed soon after the music started.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Aground Again

We arrived at the boat around an hour before low water and as expected she was aground again. This time she was lying with the bow pointing to the head of the channel so it wasn't just the east wind. We came off about an hour and a half after LW.

I'd planned to go into the water and try and get the mud off the depth transducer but it was deep under the mud. I did get a chance to really scrub the weed off, and see how much paint was missing. In fact I was in the water twice. The second time on purpose. The first time the leaky dinghy pitched me into the water as I was handing Alison the outboard. I got very cold and had to warm up in the cabin before going out again.

We discovered a very unfortunate side effect of her grounding. The motor boat on the next buoy down river nearly touched us. I'm sure it does touch if Robinetta is on the end of the rope when she grounds. This is how near it came.

It was a lovely evening.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Pete asked a really interesting question about how we picked up the buoy on Saturday.

We were running on starboard tack up the Ray and we turned to port to pick the buoy up.

Pete wanted to know why we gybed instead of tacking.

I had to think really hard about the answer, and then just as hard about how I actually made the decision at the time!

Here are my thoughts on the theory.

We were doing about 3 knots up the channel. If all of this had been due to the wind then we would have had 3 knots of speed to kill. So we would have wanted to go well past the buoy and beat back up to it. For this, we would have wanted to be in the middle of the channel so a tack to starboard, followed by a fine reach and then turn up at the last moment to stop dead would have been the right approach. Thats what the theory says, and its great for man-overboard and for picking up a mooring at slack water, or in the Med', Baltic, Caribbean, ...

In fact, our 3 knots were a mixture of tide and wind. And the tide had kept washing us towards the buoys so I knew it was setting a bit across us, starboard to port. The sail set told me that the wind was similar.

So by turning to port and going round more than 180 degrees we ended up head to wind and head to tide with the tide now subtracting rather than adding to our momentum. We were effectively already on that very last bit of the track with the tide washing us away from the buoy and the last of our momentum taking us towards it and the wind bringing us to a halt.

Turning to port put us in danger of going aground. It was OK because we didn't have far to go.

The gybe was very gentle because the wind was light and the apparent wind was even less because the tide was subtracting from it. (Add the wind to the tide to get our progress over the ground, subtract to get the speed of the wind over the boat).

How much of this did I work out at the time, consciously or unconsciously ? I remember thinking that the wind and tide would both be slowing us down once we turned. I also know I wasn't worried about what the sails were doing. Another way of putting it would be to say I decided it was a tide dominated situation and I pretty much ignored the wind.

It worked - maybe I'm starting to get the hang of it.

That's one of the things I love about sailing, it's seat of the pants classical mechanics!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The first perfect day of the year

Alison's brother-in-law Pete fancied a day out. High water was around eight in the evening and we didn't expect to start early so I concocted the idea of going to Bradwell for dinner.

In fact we were a little earlier than we had feared but when we got to Robinetta we found her hard aground. This was not expected. We had been told we might touch at low water springs but this was neaps! In fact we were aground for a full hour either side of low water. The main reason was that the wind was from the east, so we were lying between the buoy and the bank, not into the channel. But according to the UK Tide Gauge Network there was more water on that low tide than either the one before or the one after.There was a small effect due to the high pressure - about 30 cm at Harwich, less at the other places I looked. So we will have been aground for at least 4 hours and probably more in the last 24.

The prevailing winds are westerly so this won't happen most of the time. But its not what we were promised.

We had lunch, scrubbed the weed off and bent the fore-sails on. We didn't really have to wait long after we were ready before she was afloat, but we had to take care motoring off the mooring to keep away from the mud!

We raised sails around the Mersea Quarters cardinal and beat out towards the east. She felt heavy and sluggish at first but much better later, so I think we had a fair bit of mud stuck to the hull that gradually washed off.

We had a lovely sail, marred only by the continued absence of readings from the depth gauge. This meant we took shorter tacks than we probably needed to but it didn't matter. The weather was lovely and there was a gentle sailing breeze, enough to make progress against the tide without raising the top sail.

Eventually we decided to head for Bradwell. As we got near I called them up on the VHF to see if they had anywhere for us to tie up but they were full up. Not surprising given the perfect weather, but they didn't come across as very friendly.

We headed back to West Mersea. The wind had veered so we were able to broad reach all the way up the Thorn Fleet into the Ray and pick the buoy up under sail. Pete helmed, Alison was forward with the boat hook and I just called the turns and got the sails down once we were stopped. A good pick-up under sail always feels like a real accomplishment.

We had a lovely dinner at the Oyster bar. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Bosun's log

We don't know, but we assume Robinetta's bronze winches are original. They are very light, single speed and not self-tailing but they work well. Alison read that winches should be serviced annually so she took the port one apart, removed what looked like dog-hair, cleaned it up and greased it with white marine grease and put it back together.

On the trip back from Burnham it was slipping uncontrollably – one of the major factors that made us give up trying to sail into the Spitway.

I knew absolutely nothing about how winches work. Alison found a couple of really good references on the web – a great cutaway drawing of a modern winch in "This Old Boat" and a thread on the WoodenBoat forum about fettling an old bronze winch. We learned a new word – "pawl". Alison understood this, having already looked inside. I made sure I noted what was being said.

So we know next time, I'll try and explain how our winches work. There are two ratchet mechanisms. One at the top allows the handle to rotate backwards and then locks in the forward position so the rope can be wound on. One at the bottom allows the winch body to rotate forwards and then locks in the reverse position to maintain tension on the rope. The two ratchets share a common design. The rim of the cylinder or body of the winch is toothed and the pawls are metal bars which are pushed into the gaps between the teeth with springs. The bottom pawls are joined by a single spring and slide into a square hole through the centre of the axle. The top pawls each have their own spring which sits between the pawl and the axle. The "lid" of the winch, which incorporates the handle, has a slot for the top pawls to keep them in place.

When we took it apart again several things became apparent. Firstly the grease in the pawl slots was too viscous for the springs to push against. Secondly the whole inside was still quite dirty. Also the pawls and the teeth were quite worn, in a way perfectly described in the forum.

We cleaned everything up and used a small file to de-burr and take off the deep pits in the pawls. I didn't want to take any metal away from the teeth so we did the very minimum to them. I eased out the springs a little, partly because they looked very compressed, and partly to compensate for the metal I had removed from the pawls.

Then we used engine oil to lubricate the pawls and a different marine grease (the one that we squeeze into the propeller stuffing box) which is translucent – like thin Vaseline (and won’t have a chalky residue like the white stuff) – to pack the axle. We made sure that the pawls would spring out when pushed in and were running freely in their slots.

When we put the whole thing back together it clicked reassuringly and seems to hold fine with a load on it. Hopefully a success! We will do the other one if we have no more problems with this one over the season.

Sunday, 16 May 2010


The main reason for moving out of Shotley was to have a different set of options for day sails. We love the Stour and the Orwell and we had really only started to explore the Walton backwaters but there are other great places too. There are lots of other benefits and quite a few negatives – more on that another time.

West Mersea is a lot like Shotley in one sense – there are lots of places to go nearby. Of course our first departure was to Fambridge – not that nearby! We definitely wanted to go out today but there was not much wind forecast and the port winch was not working and we couldn't leave home until about 9:30.

We also wanted to get diesel. We used quite a lot on the way to and from Fambridge, as well as some getting to West Mersea at Easter. The nearest places to get diesel from a pump straight into the boat are Bradwell Marina and Tollesbury Marina, both really nearby. Tollesbury is a long way up a drying creek and is really only accessible to Robinetta at high water springs. Bradwell is a little easier. Today was springs and high water was around 2:30pm – the perfect opportunity for a trip to Tollesbury to get diesel and lunch!

By the time we got to the boat, it was gone noon. There was a lot more wind than forecast but not in a great direction for getting to Tollesbury. Then the depth gauge decided not to give any reading, which is not great for beating up a narrow channel so we decided to just motor. It might be the first time we have ever gone out with no intention of raising sail! We did get the cover off and set up the topping lifts and the peak halyard just in case we had engine troubles. Time was getting on so we left fixing the winch until we got back.

The trip was uneventful. We entered the marina at five past two with the gauge on the sill reading 8'6" of water. There was a boat moored on the fuel dock but they helped us raft up and we fuelled with no problems and went for lunch at the Cruising Club. It’s a small marina with a good chandlers and the welcome at the CC was excellent, as was the "remnants" of the carvery. The chap at the bar wasn't sure there was enough left as they had been very busy but they managed to pile our plates high! The Maldon Gold bitter was in excellent condition and we even got a discount for coming by boat!

The was 9' over the sill at 14:30 so I reckoned we probably had two hours before we had to get out but we still had that winch to fix and the weather had cheered up a bit after having been resolutely dull all morning. So we dropped the mooring around 15:30 with 8' over the sill. We had the engine idling to give us steerage way over the tide and got pushed out of the creek at 3 to 4 knots. The channel markers were bent nearly horizontal with the strength of the tidal stream and by the time we passed the outer tidal gauge it said 7'. I'm not sure the rule of twelfths applies here! I must look at the almanac.

The return journey was also uneventful, and we had some blue sky and a little warmth from the sun on our backs. All-in all we had a very pleasant little trip with everything going to plan. Surely we can't have been out in a boat ?

Monday, 3 May 2010

The view from the foredeck

This is my recollection of the struggle into the Spitway. After dropping the sails, we tried again under motor alone. It was really hard to make any progress at all. The GPS told us our speed was usually between 0 and 0.3 knots over the ground. After a while we put the staysail up to try to steady the boat. Under full tension it was pushing the nose around too much but with the halyard let off to scandalise it we decided it was worth having. After what seemed like ages we noticed that the jib was coming lose in the forepeak and we had some lines trailing in the water. I clipped on and went forward to fix it. The seas were quite rough by now and I lay on the deck tying the sail down more securely. After about 10 minutes I had things stowed but I was thinking we really weren't going to make it and I was going to suggest to Alison that we give up. I turned to go back to the cockpit and saw the Swin Spitway buoy far behind us! While I was forward Alison had caught site of the Wallace Spitway buoy on the far site of the cut and this had given her the confidence to make progress. Suddenly going forward seemed as easy as going back.

Through the Spitway, just...

By 7am we started preparing the boat for sailing, in case of a fair wind. The 7:10 forecast came on the VHF and the Force 7 was only expected in the south of the area! Where we were the wind had abated from 5-7 to 5-6 so we decided to go. We cast off at 07:35, following Deirdre down river. She already had her sails up, while we raised them under way as normal, and we never caught her up. We were sailing well by 08:00 though, on fully reefed main and jib, heading out of the Crouch as close to the wind as Robinetta would sail. I had the helm and decided sail trim while Julian navigated and did all the deck work; we kept that division all day, and it worked well.

Emma Hamilton motored past us just after we tacked between the Crouch and Outer Crouch buoys, and hopefully took our picture in the swell. The seas were not too bad until we were past Ridge at 09:50, but after that they got up a bit more and knocked Robinetta back. She was making a lot of lee way too, so we put the engine on to compensate after 10:00, and it stayed on the rest of the day. The top sail was rolling about in the lazy jacks, so I asked Julian to tie it to the boom so we would not lose it.

We got to Whitaker 6 at 10:25, and saw Cormorant catching us up. She had spent the night at Fambridge, and like us used the tide to help her down river. She doesn’t have an engine but caught up with us, without needing one. We sailed in company up to the Whitaker channel buoy, then we tacked together at 10:51 towards the Swin Spitway buoy. That was when everything got very difficult. It should have been possible to just sail into the Spitway on that course, but the seas made it absolutely impossible to get past the buoy. The flood was running now, pushing us west onto the Buxey and we tacked about for 45 minutes, making very little headway even with motor assist. Robinetta's port winch kept slipping which made hauling in the jib sheet in on that side very tiring and we had a couple of nasty moments when the angle of heel got a bit worrying and I couldn't hold her on course. I would have felt totally incompetent, except Cormorant could not make the buoy either; after three or four approaches Cormorant gave up, and turned to run back towards the Crouch. That was her only option without an engine, but Julian decided we should persevere.

The jib would not furl head to wind, I turned Robinetta onto a short run and we tried again. It turned out the Wykeham Martin gear was jammed, so Julian had to go on the foredeck to get the jib down. We were already wearing our life jackets, but Julian got his safety strop, and tied himself on; the first time we’ve felt the need for that precaution on Robinetta. It turned out that the furling line had taken a turn around the bottom of the spool but Julian did not spot it at the time, and had to lower the sail and lash it down on the foredeck.

We finally got the jib down, then motored head to wind to get the main down. I asked Julian to tighten the topping lifts to raise the boom out of the way, but they would not shift, so after that I had to keep ducking under the boom. Luckily I did not need to shift from one side of the boat to the other very often, and it did mean I could just stretch up to see over it when I needed to.

We had managed to get within forty metres of the buoy at one point, but it took nearly an hour to motor back that close after our short run, and we did not reach it again until 12:44. Julian offered to make lunch, but I only wanted a slice of bread and butter and an apple. Without a gimballed stove, there was no way to heat water for tea, but I could not have spared the concentration to drink one anyway. Julian raised the staysail to try to steady us, but the wind was too strong, so we kept it slack while we crept up on the Swin Spitway buoy at less than a knot under full engine. The seas were huge (for us in our 22 footer anyway) and confused. Robinetta’s gunwale went under the water at one point with the pressure of wind on our slack stay sail, and steering was an aerobic exercise until we were past the Swin Spitway buoy. I really regretted Robinetta’s flat seats as I slid around all over the weather side, but it was possible to brace myself against the other side with my feet, and I never felt in any danger, despite the times when the spray broke over the coach roof, and the gunwale was only four inches clear of the water.

I finally spotted the Wallet Spitway buoy and had something to steer for, on a course where the stay sail could work (even though it was still slack). We went from 1 knot to 4, and with the staysail steadying us steering became less of a battle. Julian had to go back to the foredeck to tie down the jib which had worked lose, and was surprised by our progress when he came back to the cockpit. He tried hauling the staysail halyard tight, but unfortunately our lee way meant I had to round up to make the buoy, and I could not hold Robinetta on the course. We had to slacken the staysail again and bash through on the motor. The seas around the Wallet were as confused as those around the Swin, and it took us until13:30 to work clear of the Spitway.

Julian gave me a course to steer once we were clear of the Spitway that still made it impossible to use the staysail, but as soon as we were far enough into the Wallet to be safe from being blown back onto the Buxey Sand we turned northwest and could “sail”. It’s amazing how much easier everything becomes once Robinetta is doing the job she was designed for; once Julian hoisted the stay sail properly we throttled the engine back to save fuel and still made 3-5 knots depending on how hard the wind was gusting, and he stopped worrying about us getting onto our mooring before the tide turned against us.

The seas moderated after we passed Knoll (not very close) and Julian wondered if we should put the main sail up again, but the stay sail was enough for me, and we were both too tired to want to work harder, so left it alone. We only had to tack once, to clear NW Knoll at 1427, and I pretty much kept us on our outward track without trouble. The relief when I finally spotted the Nass beacon was immense. Once we were past it at 1533 I suddenly realised my neck was getting stiff from being in one position too long. That normally happens after only an hour of sailing, proof of how much I had to move around to keep her on course!

I handed the tiller to Julian, and he threaded his way through the moored boats. It felt like a long way to our mooring in the Ray Channel, but I picked it up at 1606, and we tied on with two mooring lines. I put the kettle on while Julian tidied the foredeck, and we had a very welcome cup of tea, the first since seven in the morning! The wind was still blowing hard, and it was very cold, with no shelter on the top of the tide, but the water started draining while we tidied the decks and by five we had shelter. I discovered why the topping lifts would not work when I found the sail tie we had used to secure the top sail to the boom jammed into the main sheet block so the sheet would not run. I had to unthread the main sheet to free it, not something we would have wanted to do while under way in rough seas!

Neither of us was in a hurry to get in the dinghy, so we pottered around getting Robinetta tidy, after which Julian heated up some soup and we had soup and sandwiches for afternoon tea. We repacked our bags, and left a lot of things behind so we only needed to make one trip in the dinghy, then finally left Robinetta alone on her mooring at about six, after the hardest day’s sailing Julian and I have ever experienced.

Robinetta does not have a wind speed gauge, so we can’t be certain what winds we were actually sailing in, but the gauge on Cobmarsh Island, West Mersea, recorded gusts up to force 7, and average wind speeds of force 6 about the time we started trying to get into the Spitway. It’s good to know we can handle that sort if wind, but if we’re going to make a practice of it I want storm sails!