Sunday, 17 June 2012

Weather strikes again!

When I checked the OGA website for details of the RHS rally we were meant to be going to this weekend I discovered it was cancelled due to poor weather, with winds forecast to gust over 30knots. The forecast was spot on, so we did not head for Robinetta until Sunday mid morning when the wind should have been lighter.

We dropped into the chandlers before launching Worm, and bought some new rope. Julian wanted to get some for the peak tensioner, and a smaller gauge to tie the stay sail onto its new club foot. I'd given the new spar a couple more coats of varnish during the week, so it's had enough to last the season now.

The weather's been pretty wild recently, and after our last abortive trip I've worried about the way we left Robinetta. It was dark by the time we tidied her up, and we only meant to leave her for a day, not over a week. As I rowed towards her I could see that the cockpit tent that we tied on as a sail cover had vanished.... Julian and I started talking about claiming it on the insurance, but we realised almost immediately that it was still there, just not covering the sail as we expected.

More damage became obvious as we reached the bows; there was no sign of Robinetta's bobstay. Julian investigated, and, like the cover, it was still there, just not where it should have been. The brand new shackle holding the chain to the ring had vanished, but the tricing line held, and held the chain up out of sight.

We lost another shackle too, the one holding the stay sail halyard against the shrouds. The halyard had wound itself round the rigging, but was still in easy reach, so no real problem there.

What with restoring the shackles, replacing the peak tensioner rope, and bending on the stay sail there was no way we could get to Tollesbury for high tide at 1145, which had been our tentative plan. We got Robinetta sorted out instead, and watched the dinghies coming past to race in the shelter at the top of the Ray channel.

After lunch on the mooring we headed out for a short sail. The wind had eased, and the sun was shining as we headed down the Ray, and we got the main sail up before we reached the packing shed. We flew the No. 1 Jib, and were sailing soon after we passed the Mersea Quarters cardinal.

I made tea as we reached across to the Bradwell shore, with the sea so smooth I almost forgot to put the fiddle bar round the hob, and it seemed like we were in for a pretty idyllic afternoon sail.

We tacked up river to beat against the tide, and the wind increased as the sun went behind a cloud. We were close hauled on that tack, Robinetta began to heel, and our speed became exhilarating. So far, so good. I was glad I'd remembered the fiddle bar though!

She felt a bit heavy on the helm, and every now and then the jib would flap horribly as there was a lull in the wind. Julian took the helm, and had the same problem. We decided to change down the jib, so I went forward to do it.

By the time the No. 2 jib was ready to fly the wind had increased still more, and the sky ahead was black. I took the helm while Julian put in a reef, but the wind in just the stay sail was enough to give us steerage way against the tide.

Looking back we could see sun shine over the wind farm, while there seemed no fun continuing up river. We turned to broad reach down river, and Robinetta flew with a reefed main and stay sail. We never did fly the No. 2 jib....

By the time we got level with the Nass beacon we knew we were never going to catch the sun, and with a strong blustery wind sailing felt more like hard work than pleasure so we decided to head home with plenty of time before low water. The sea was kicking up a bit in the Mersea channel with wind over tide, and I began to regret not dropping the main before passing the beacon, but the sailing felt quite good again...

Dawn had anchored close to the Mersea Quarters cardinal and her guests were watching us sail in, so we decided to give them more of a show, rounding up just past them to go head to wind and drop the main. Julian got the sail down beautifully in less than a minute, and then we sailed off again on just the stay sail. I don't know if they could tell we also had the engine on!

The wind was so strong that most boats were lying to it, rather than facing into the  falling tide. The long keel boats could feel both, so lay across the channel, making picking our way up the Thornfleet more challenging than normal. Most of our power came from the  stay sail, and I kept the engine in very low revs, just enough to keep us safe if the wind dropped.

Passing the piles I put the engine in neutral, wanting to get a feel for how the tide would slow her as we neared out mooring. The answer? Not a lot, we were making against the tide with stay sail alone by at least two knots...

Worm lay on our mooring heading into the wind, and the channel felt too narrow to turn round in at that state of the tide, so I decided to go straight for the buoy rather than rounding it. Julian headed forward with the boathook, and I dropped the stay sail as we passed the motor boat on the mooring closest to ours. We could always use the engine to reach the buoy if the tide stopped us short. In the end I had to use quite a lot of reverse to stop us over running the mooring!

Julian and I put the new sail cover on. It turns out I should have put on more tapes, so we used some sail ties as well. We do not want a repeat of last time! While re-flaking the sail for a proper stow Julian discovered something really annoying. Our brand new main sail now has a rip in it. Not a big one, only about 2cm long, but still... It looks like the same high winds that almost took the boom cover off made the shackle on the gaff span chaff persistently against the sail cloth. This time Julian tied it down separately.

The wind was up again, and I dreaded the row back to the pontoon, but it was not too bad in the end. The tide was right out, so no taking short cuts across the shallows, but Julian hunkered down in the bottom of Worm to reduce windage, and it was surprising how much difference that made.

Not a great day's sail, but it blew the cobwebs away. Fingers crossed next time will be better. I need to mend the main sail first though....

Friday, 8 June 2012


Got up at 0500 to get to West Mersea before 0630 so we could row over and move Robinetta to deeper water before low tide. We then intended to head over to Brightlingsea for the East Cast Race tomorrow.

Julian had spent yesterday making a new club foot for the stay sail, while I did some more work on the sail cover, and we were going to fit both on the way. We knew the weather would be a bit dodgy (it was why we headed straight home from the Swale) but it was not until we reached Mersea that I realised how bad it actually was.

The strong wind and rough chop off the pontoon made launching Worm a major undertaking, and trying to row out to Robinetta unsafe. We left the dinghy on the car, and drove over to Brightlingsea instead.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Flushed through the Swale

We worked out that low water would be between 9am and 10am and that we could take the first of the flood into the Swale and maybe stay in Harty Ferry overnight then sail back to the Blackwater on Thursday. This was a slightly risky plan. We didn't know the Swale and there was a chance of grounding. The forecast was OK but with F7 in the future. We decided that if the 13:00 weather forecast didn't look good for Thursday we would carry on, maybe through the night and get back across the Thames before the bad weather started.

Alison went ashore to get some milk and ran into Yvonne from Kajan. We really should have told her we were coming but we didn't have her number. Yvonne is lovely and dashed over to Robinetta to lend us her tide tables and give us some piloting advice. She really wasn't confidant we would make it so close to low water.

When we got to the Kingsferry bridge the bridge-keeper thought we might get under without a lift. We chickened out at the last minute and the bridge openned for us.

Once through, and round the corner we put the mainsail up, although we kept the engine on in case.... After a minute we reefed - not quite all the way down. We shot along the channel at between 5 and 6 knots until we got near Elmsley Ferry where there is an old causeway which dries to 20 cm. We scandalised the sails and tiptoed over, with the engine in reverse...

... and made it without a bump. Further on it is very shallow near Conyer Creek, but we slid over that danger too.

We got to the entrance to Faversham Creek at 1145 - hours before we expected. With the weather so favourable and the outlook so bad, we decided to carry on for the Blackwater. The wind was really strong and we reefed down as much as possible - including untying the first hoop. We made it across the Thames at about 4 knots over a rolling sea with only a couple of not quite intentional gybes.
The run continued up the outside of Foulness to the Spitway which we reached at 1715. A barge over-took us there and passed through and up the Wallet towards Harwich. Perhaps it was returning from the Pageant to Ipswich. Turning into the Spitway it looked like it touched the corner of the Buxey sands. Maybe just the leeboard.
Once in the Spitway we had the tide strongly against us for the first time all day. We slogged up the Blackwater against it with really strong winds under the rainclouds but we were now sheltered by the sands from the Thames fetch and the seas were really gentle.

Unfortunately we got to West Mersea bang on low tide. We thought about picking a buoy up and waiting but instead we edged up the Thorn Fleet passed the Gut and went gently aground at the entrance to the Ray at 2040. Alison rowed over to the nearest buoy and tied us to it and we went below for some food and waited to float off. About 90 minutes later we inched up to our own bouy in the Ray and put Robinetta to bed, rowed ashore and drove home after a fantastic sail.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Through the Havengore

We always considered the Havengore to be impossible for us but today was a really big tide and Trevor thought we might be OK. Alison thought a trip up the Roach might be nice anyway so I suggested we have a look. We had a lovely sail down to the entrance to the Roach and then motored in against the wind. A bermudan ketch Sea Orchid caught us up under motor and then anchored outside Yokefleet creek. We rang the bridge and they said there should be enough water for us at 13:00. We crept towards the bridge, going aground in soft mud for a couple of minutes once.

The bridge lifted for us and we went through, trying to follow the instructions the lady controlling the bridge had given us. The sea in Havengore Creek was quite choppy. Sea Orchid came out behind us and overtook, looking like they knew what they were doing so we snuck in behind them. A few motorboats came in from the sea giving us more indications of the right route.

Going over the Broomway was scary - even with the high spring tide we were not sure we wouldn't bump but we got over it without mishap. It seemed to take forever to get across the Maplin sands into deep water but it all went well. We motored all the way, to make it easier to back off if we grounded, but we had the stay sail up to steady us a bit.

We hadn't really planned what to do next. We had a choice of going down river and back into the Crouch or Blackwater or hopping over to Queenborough. Once we could see the chimney on the Isle of Grain it was too tempting. We set sail and turned the engine off for a choppy but safe journey across the Thames, and arrived right by the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, an obstruction we hear about all the time. We sailed most of the way in but it started raining and we decided to motor to Queenborough.

We rafted up against two big yachts from Canvey on the pontoon and went to the Flying Dutchman pub for a nice dinner.

Monday, 4 June 2012


We had the Crouch/Fambridge rally race scheduled for today. Wonder of wonders the weather was dry, bright and a decent amount of southerly wind and the race went ahead at 1500.

Five boats raced, us, Otter, Mary Richie, Baldric, and Greensleeves, on a course down to Cliff Reach and back. Wonder of wonders we had a reach down, and a reach back, with no beating against the tide!

The new sails did well and Otter, who we have raced on the Crouch before, and lost to, couldn't get near us.

Otter did look good finishing.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jubilee Regatta

Got up early to make bagels. Robinetta is not the ideal bakery but everthing worked and our picnic was set. Smashing bacon and egg roll breakfast courtesy of the Fambridge Yacht Club. Mike McCarthy gave us a lift to the station and we set off for our prime viewing location on Chelsea bridge.

The regatta was really great. Got back and had a beer with Barry and then turned in.

We went to St Katharine's dock first. I fell in love with Suhali. There were huge TV screens showing newsreel footage from the Queen's reign. Great stuff. Then we made our way to Chelsea Bridge and found a nice spot to plant the stools right behind the press enclosure. They blocked the view a bit but were very accomodating and it spoiled the photos more than the actual view.

The rowed boats were fantastic. My next favorite were the small steam powered pleasure launches. The sea cadets held their diamond formation very well - Red Arrows beware. The rain held off until the narrow boats section. The narrow boats had their headlamps on - very atmospheric.

Afterwards we went to look at the avenue of sail. This was disappointing. I'm not sure I know how to make it better though.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Crouch Blues

Rubbish weather - too much wind to race, too much rain to enjoy the outdoors. Only good thing the company.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Flaming June!

We cast off our mooring at 1130, and headed down the Ray under engine while Julian bent the staysail onto its mended clubfoot. The weather was dull, with very little wind, but we raised the main once we were clear of the Nass, and motored towards the Spitway buoy.

We saw another gaffer over on the Bradwell side, and as she seemed to be heading for the Spitway I thought she must be going to the Fambridge  Rally too. By 1230 the breeze had freshened enough to let us make 3 knots (with the tide under us) , so we turned the engine off and sailed. The other gaffer pulled away from us steadily after that! (turns out to be Deirdre, and they were motor sailing)

A bermudan yacht, called Chantilly sailed up and past us, hailing Julian by name and taking photos. We didn't recognise them but it turns out it was Julian's colleague Dave who raced with us on the Crouch in 2010 on his friend Bernie's boat. They sailed with us to and through the Spitway, which we cleared by 1415. They then sailed past us and disappeared.

The wind went even lighter, and died by 1430, and with the tide now against us we turned the engine on, and headed for Ron Pipe. Julian went below as he was not feeling well, and it began to spit with rain.

The channel to the north of the Swallowtail is buoyed now, but the visibility decreased, and I was very glad of the cockpit mounted GPS and the depth gage to help with the navigation.

The wind began to freshen again and I loosened off the main sail. We were running at 3 knots, so I turned off the engine at 1505. Having it on had warmed the cabin up nicely!

We ran all the way to Burnham, gybing occasionally to stay on course between the buxey sands and Foulness. There were seals hauled out on both, and we saw one in the water. We were making 6 knots once the tide turned and the wind got up a bit. A lovely sail, marred only by the weather. Poor visibility, drizzly rain, and cold for the time of year.

The gaff span jumped out of its lower cleat position at some point, possibly on one of the gybes. It was not a huge problem as the span was still held at the top, but we could not set the sail well, so once we reached Burnham we went head to wind, got the sail down, re positioned the gaff span, and raised sail again for the reach/run up to Fambridge. We tied up on the pontoon at 1900, fitted the half made sail cover I've been working on this week, and went to get something to eat.