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.