Wednesday, 21 April 2010


Julian was supposed to be working abroad for a few days, so I decided I would stay on Robinetta for three days and do some painting and varnishing while he was away. Then a volcano in Iceland began erupting, and his flight out was cancelled, so I changed my live aboard plans to day trips.

Since I was going alone I took the small dingy that we got with Robinetta rather than our new larger one. It is a lot quicker to pump up, and the outboard engine fits on it more simply. It is just about big enough for me and the painting equipment and I've grown quite fond of it now we've got the outboard. Starting the motor is still an adventure though, and I broke my left thumb nail on my second pull of the starter cord. Luckily a couple in an inflatable dingy with an identical engine came past as I was cursing my stupidity, and the very nice gentleman started it for me and I headed for Robinetta.

Once on the boat I had a look round and decided on my tasks. Some of the varnish on the foredeck cap rails had been rubbed, so I touched that up before starting on my main redecorating task for this season which is to strip the Saddolin off the cockpit and replace it with Varnol. I got one of the cockpit cap rails done before calling it a day and getting into the dingy to head back to the pontoon.

I got the motor started, but forgot to warm it up properly (we are still running it in) and it died when I put it in gear. It would not start again, so I sat there for a while, waiting to recover my strength for pulling the cord. At that moment the West Mersea Marine launch came by to put a motor yacht on the buoy next to Robinetta. They very nicely gave me a lift back to the pontoon. I must get my outboard engine skills up!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Big Move - part 2

The morning started hazy but with the wind as forecast. By 8 am it was clearing nicely and we fuelled and locked out as planned, leaving Alison at the lock.

I hadn't given much thought to a safety briefing for Alex - the forecast was good and I decided Alex needed to know what to do if I were to be injured or taken ill. I got him to fit a life jacket and to make sure he knew our course and destination and how to use the VHF to call for help.

Alex helmed as I raised sail. Robinetta's sails are really easy for one person to raise. It doesn't work quite so well if you forget, as I did, to tie the foot of the stay sail down! Before long we had turned off the engine and were running out past Harwich breakwater pushed by both wind and ebb and under a perfectly blue sky.

We headed straight for the Pye End buoy. It was now slack water but the wind was picking up. Alex was having trouble steering and I realised that there would be even more wind once we reached the Wallet so we put her head to wind and reefed the main. Things now became much easier as we headed for Walton pier.

As we neared the Naze a little bump made me aware that I should have been paying more attention to the depth! I quickly put the engine on and turned out to sea and we bumped gently two or three more times and then made it into deep water and got back on course and turned the engine off. In the bright sunshine I couldn't really
see the echo sounder and I had the chart plotter zoomed out too far.

The wind freshened even more as we passed Walton pier and we were doing well over 6 knots over the ground - the flood had now started - we had got the tides just right.

As we had the tide in our favour I decided to play safe with the wind and stopped to reef some more. This time I didn't even ask Alex to helm and just kept the tiller centred by standing in front of it as I furled the jib, dropped the peak and the gaff together and then hauled in on the reefing line. The 70 year old reefing gear works as well now as it did for Rayner in '37 and '38. I tightened up the throat and then the peak and got straight back on course. The whole process took perhaps one minute.

I was glad I had as the gusts kept getting stronger and we were still doing 5-6 knots over the ground (we don't have a log so I don't know what the water speed was).

With the north westerly wind coming straight off the land there was no fetch for the waves to build up and the sea state was very comfortable. The sun was still shining and it was very pleasant.

Before long we were being slowly overhauled by another gaffer. I think it was Avola. They passed us around Clacton pier and then another gaffer also passed us. This was good as it gave me a line to steer to clear the Colne bar.

It did cloud over, but stayed dry and there were still pockets of blue.

I got a bit confused at this point as the paper charts made me think I should already be able to see the North Eagle (and I thought I could) but it was nowhere to be seen on the chart plotter. I followed the other boats and eventually the buoys came up on the plotter. This is one of the bad things about small-screen chart plotters - it just isn't possible to set them up for the right level of detail at different zoom levels. In some waters they will be too cluttered and in others you need to zoom in to see any detail.

As soon as we got to the vicinity of the North Eagle the sea state got much worse. The fetch was now all the way across the Virley Channel and kept knocking us back.
It was quite uncomfortable, but quite safe. It didn't help that now we were turning towards the Blackwater the wind was coming ahead of us.

In the end I got irritated by the lack of progress and the effort of steering and put the engine on. This helped to move the apparent wind aft again and made it feel like we were motor sailing. Ideally we should now have started beating up the Blackwater but I was tiring and it was clear that the sea state would not make cooking lunch pleasurable so we punched through it with the motor. I left the sails up as going head to wind would have been uncomfortable and we were in the shallow channel between the Colne Bar and the Gunfleet Sands and I didn't feel we had much sea-room.

The first gaffer had disappeared by now and the second one headed up the Brightlingsea Reach towards the Colne. We headed up the Virley Channel with Bradwell Power Station as our main navigation mark.

We picked up the Nass Beacon and checked the route in on the paper chart. The plotter was useless - there are bugs in the overlap between captured charts on the Garmin here. We dropped sails by the Nass and continued into Mersea Quarters. Eventually, zooming well in on the plotter have us a good indication of the channel and we threaded our way through the moorings past Packing Shed Island and into the Thorn Fleet.

Alex made a really good job of picking up the temporary mooring we had been allocated and we tied up and pumped the dinghy up. Alison then turned up in the water taxi which took Alex ashore and Alison and I got the outboard set-up and headed off for a well deserved late lunch.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Big Move - part 1

We decided last year that a change of scene would be a good plan. Shotley is a great base, but expensive and we tend to repeat ourselves a lot on day sails. Also, the Old Gaffers have lots of events in the Stour and the Orwell and we miss out on the passages to them. We'd also like to venture across and up the Thames, so a more westerly base seemed to have a lot going for it. We'd looked around and decided on West Mersea. It's nearer home than Shotley but takes about the same amount of time as the roads are not so good.

So the plan was hatched to move on Easter Monday after the OGA Easter Rally at Shotley. By Good Friday it was clear that the weather window was on Sunday and the Saturday weather made us want to stay at home so we went up for the meal on Saturday afternoon.

Our new mooring is quite a way from the jetty at West Mersea so we have invested in an outboard motor. A hard dinghy is under construction but more on that another time. We spent Saturday afternoon at Shotley working out how to fit it to our unusual flubber and running it in.

It we had a fine dinner and a nice chat and a good send off from the local Shotley gaffers and not too bad a night on the boat - just a little chilly.

The forecast was holding for Sunday, WNW 3-5 most of the day. Good for a reach down past Clacton.

The plan for the day was for me to take the boat to West Mersea while Alison took the car. I had our younger son Alex with me as crew and Alison would fetch our other son Ben and his fiancé so we could all have afternoon tea at West Mersea.

We had worked out the tides and low water was 09:30 at Harwich so we planned to lock out around 8 to catch the ebb out to Pye End and then pick up the flood all the way to West Mersea.

Less predictable was the wind.