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!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

What Sun day

Last evening over thirty Old Gaffers got together at the Fambridge Marina Bistro, a short walk from the Yacht Club, and had a good dinner and chat. The rain was still just drizzle, and walking back in the dark not too difficult. Even on an overcast night in the middle of the country the lights of Southend lit up the sky enough to see by.

Just after we got to bed it started pouring down, and hardly stopped all night. I already knew that Robinetta’s cabin roof is not water tight, but by ten the next morning a lot of new drips were making themselves known. It was also bitterly cold, with a northerly wind blowing 10-26 knots. Just like the forecast. The main event for the day was supposed to be a sail up to Battlesbridge; it was too shallow for Robinetta, but Deirdre draws a foot less and had offered to take us. In the end only one boat, Mike McCarthy's Emma Hamilton, a shallow draft motor boat, actually headed up river, and the rest of us travelled by car. The barbeque turned into an inside event at Toad Hall, lasagne or shepherd’s pie in front of a roaring log fire, with music from the gaffers band.... Not a bad way to spend a freezing afternoon!

After we got back to Fambridge most of us followed the plan and dropped down river to Burnham to moor for the night, with drinks and food at the Royal Burnham Yacht Club. It was an hour of very cold motoring to get there, but shortening the next day’s journey seemed like a good idea. The forecast was bad, northerly 5-7, occasionally 8 in south, with rain, and neither Julian nor I were sure that taking Robinetta out in that was a good idea. We decided to leave the decision until hearing the 07:10 forecast in the morning, and going straight away if it had eased at all.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Off to Fambridge

The weather looked a little dodgy for the May Day weekend, but we decided to go to the Fambridge rally anyway, as it would be our first sailing event with the gaffers this year. It was also our first trip out from West Mersea, so I was a little worried about how we would load Robinetta up with food and bedding, and the other bits and pieces we needed for a three night stay on her.

Julian took the Friday off, and we worked on the wooden dingy together for most of the day, before heading to West Mersea at six. The car seemed quite full, so we were expecting to need two trips to get everything across. Julian filled up the inflatable dingy and headed out with most of the luggage, while I took the car round to West Mersea Marine where we would leave it for the weekend. Finding a space to park was not easy, and in the end I parked near a caravan (which I must not do again, because I accidentally blocked someone in despite being careful). I then headed back to the pontoon to wait for Julian. Unfortunately I had asked him to bring the big box of paint/varnish back from Robinetta, which meant that I should not have taken the car away when I did.... After a walk back to the car with the paint box I got in the dingy with the rest of the luggage, and Julian and I headed out for our boat. We got there just before it got totally dark at nine o’clock, and I heated up some bean stew and bread for dinner. After that we planned the passage, and decided to try to leave at 06:30 next morning.

I slept awkwardly, and ended up with a stiff shoulder, and consequent headache, which did not lift until the afternoon, but that was not going to stop us, so we cast off the mooring at 0650, and Julian took us down the channel. It was two hours before low water, so there was very little water, and a lot of boats sitting in it. West Mersea is a crowded place! Because of leaving so early we did all our sailing prep while under way, so we were not really sailing until 08:00, having eaten breakfast and put all the bedding away while moving. We knew the winds would vanish in the afternoon so we made the most of what we had, with full sail including the topsail. We were in the Spitway by 09:30, being very careful to keep in the centre of the channel as it was low water. Last night I had written out a list of buoys to look for, and after we left the Spitway I expected us to head for Whitaker 6. Julian did some panning around on the GPS chart and started heading straight for the Whitaker beacon. That felt wrong to me, so we had a look at the paper chart, and compared the depths on that, the GPS chart, and Robinetta’s depth gauge. The GPS chart has some serious issues with its depths, so Julian soon changed course to the one we’d decided on last night!

I helmed for some of the time, but the head-ache would not go away, and once we were well into the Whitaker channel inside Foulness sand Julian suggested I should have a lie down, and try to sleep it off. That felt like a plan to me, so I went down and shut my eyes while Julian helmed in the increasingly light winds.

A while later I heard Julian laugh, so I went on deck to see why. We were getting near a buoy we needed to honour, so he had tacked, and discovered that even with all sails up the only reason we were moving was the tide. After tacking we were supposedly heading in a different direction, but the GPS reported that nothing had changed in our vector; we had cleared the buoy but we were drifting sideways down the channel at a knot and a half! That ended our sailing for the day, and we furled away the jib and put the engine on to give us steering way. I took the helm while Julian made himself a sandwich, but I did not feel like eating, and after Julian finished I lay down in the cockpit to soak up the sun while Julian helmed again.

Once we got to Cliff Reach, where the river runs NW, we did try sailing again, but there was not enough wind to steer us, so we motored the rest of the way to Fambridge in bright sunshine, eventually tying up alongside Toby's and Hugo's new boat Janner on the yacht club pontoon at about 15:00. It had been a totally pleasant day up to that point, but rain was forecast, and by 1600 it began to drizzle. I should have thought about putting on the cockpit cover, but getting on and off Robinetta with her cover up is a pain, even though Janner is a good boat to more alongside height wise for us.