Sunday, 9 September 2018


I got to Tollesbury about 10am and met Paul, the manager for Tollesbury Saltings and Max, a friendly  Labrador who is, I think, really in charge. We looked at several berths but with Alison's broken toe the one on the path near the car park was the obvious one for now. I rang Alison and explained how to get to it.

Alison got Robinetta off her mooring at Salcott at about 11am and motored the 3 miles round the corner. I waited by the entrance and when she got near she called me on the phone and I guided her to the entrance.

I walked along the decking towards the gut, paralleling Robinetta.

There is a narrow gut to get through marked by leading marks. I shouted over to Alison and she guided Robinetta through the gut and around onto our berth.

 We got her secured and unloaded most of what was to come off and then went for a fine lunch at the Cruising Club. That meant we could go back and see how she went down into the mud. Less than an hour after high water we were aground. I'm not sure we can get in and out of this berth at neaps!

This is the gut at low water.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Ramsgate to West Mersea

We got down to Robinetta yesterday afternoon. Separately as Alison wanted to get there early and I had to work in the morning. We had a nice dinner at the Thai restaurant near the Royal Temple and an early night.

Our destination was Tollesbury but we can only get in there around high water which this weekend was around noon and midnight. So we could try and leave about 3 am to get to Tollesbury around noon or we could go somewhere else today and have a shorter journey to  Tollesbury on Sunday. We chose the second option and decided Brightlingsea was a good idea.

The tidal streams dictated a departure around 8:30 am and we got off on time with several other yachts. There was very little wind until we got past North Foreland but then it filled in to a really nice broad reach so we turned the engine off. With the tide under us Robinetta was doing 5-7 knots over the ground. The other yachts were much faster of course and seemed to be heading further north through Foulger's Gat towards Harwich.

We got to Fisherman's Gat an hour before high water and were at the Sunk Sand with so much water under us we just ignored it.

Of course it couldn't be perfect all the way and once we were in the Barrow Deep and trying to head back west towards the Spitway we had to fight the strengthening ebb. The wind was due west by now too so we put the engine on and slogged for about an hour into the wind and tide at less than 3 knots, sometimes much less.

But we managed to get over to the Gunfleet side out of the worst of the tide and picked up speed and the wind backed a little and we were up above 5 knots again so after 90 minutes motoring we turned the engine off again.

It was still above half tide and we know there is a lot of water over the west end of the Gunfleet sands so we cut the corner from the south west end of the wind farm to the Wallet Spitway buoy. Robinetta was back in Essex waters!

We saw another yacht coming through the Spitway from the Spitway buoy and they gradually overhauled us at the Eagle, just east of the entrance to the Colne. They called out to us as they passed - a friendly 'You went the right way!' - I looked more closely and recognised the sail mark as a boat we had seen go past us outside Ramsgate. They must have come a very long way round!

In the mean time I'd been looking at public transport. Tollesbury on a Sunday was a non-starter. So we decided I would go home tonight and bring the car to Tollesbury in the morning while Alison stayed on Robinetta and single-handed her round in the morning. I looked at getting home from Brightlingsea and it looked complicated. West Mersea would be easier and a shorter trip for Alison the next day.
Nass Beacon with Bradwell power station beyond

So instead of turning into the Colne we carried on up the Blackwater. We got the sails down by the Nass beacon and called up West Mersea Yacht Club and they allocated us a buoy in the Salcott Channel.

We got up the channel at about dead low water. The buoy was a long way up and when we turned to pick it up we went hard aground about 10m from the buoy. I got into Worm and tried to row over to the buoy with a line. But one of the rowlock mounts came off. We hardly ever row Worm with only one person aboard so this pair of rowlocks hardly ever gets used. Another repair to put on the list.

My sculling skill were not up to the task so I used an oar as a paddle and managed to get to the buoy and got a line on it. Luckily it was possible to pull the buoy back to Robinetta so once we floated we would be moored properly.

Back on board we called up the yacht club again to get a lift ashore. The launch was hard aground on the hammer head! It really is a low, low tide. Lunar perigee at the dark of the moon - a 'Super New Moon'. It didn't take too long before they were afloat and they came and got me. Three buses later and I was at home.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Broken toe

Due to a stupid accident at home, (catching my little toe on the skirting board) I now have a broken toe... Hopefully I will still be able to sail, but I learnt from last time I broke a toe that I have to stay off it if it is to heal quickly.

If there is a hiatus on the blog this is why!

Sunday, 2 September 2018

NMEA Update

When we got back to Gosport the Raspberry Pi was broken. I've no idea how but it wouldn't boot and the yellow LEDs for the ethernet didn't light. When I got it home I connected it to the TV and it wasn't even trying to boot.

I tried to bypass it so we could at least get depth but it didn't work Some days I'm just not good enough.

I had another Pi - a Pi0W I was trying to get working with some custom hardware but that wasn't ready so I tried combining it with an external USB hub.

These cables have no serial numbers so it isn't possible to determine which is which other than the device ids. Some people claim that it is repeatable but I've seen random ttyUSB allocations.

After some trial and error I got the hardware setup I had originally intended - with four USB to Serial cables on a four port USB hub. I wired the two ct342 cables to the high speed units (chart plotter and AIS) and the two pl203 cables to the low speed Depth unit and VHF.

I finally got the wiring correct so I can see the NMEA sentences produced by the radio. Maybe there will be a way of cancelling DSC alarms from the chart plotter now we have two way communication.

Depth still isn't working reliably. Mostly the depth unit outputs valid sentences with no depth information.

Once it was all wired correctly Kplex kept falling over. It stopped once I turned off the AIS unit. It seems to be an overrun error. It didn't happen with the faster Pi3. But a pi0 should be fast enough for two 38.4 kbit/s and two 4.8 kbit/s links. I'll look into that separately.

Dover to Ramsgate

 A short trip of about 15 nm. It would be nice to get all the way across the Thames but we couldn’t make that work. I think the way to do it would be to take the last of the ebb around South Foreland and then punch the weak tides inside Sandwich Bay to Ramsgate. I haven’t planned it past there but it might make sense to wait for the next ebb.

Much easier is to take the first of the ebb around South Foreland and all the way to Ramsgate and then stop. Today that meant leaving Dover around 13:30. 

So I spent the morning sorting out the NMEA multiplexing. It all works now, sort of. Techie details on a separate post. Then we had a nice walk along the sea front and break and pate for lunch and filled the diesel tanks and got away about 14:15, dodging Ferries with the help of Dover Port Control.

The wind was NNE – roughly what had been forecast but felt more like F4 than F3. We had to beat but once past Deal a few long boards were all that was needed and the sailing was truly delightful.

We got into Ramsgate around 18:30 and got Robinetta ready to be left for a week, checked in at the Marina Office and went to look for dinner. We only had 45 minutes before our bus to the train station but the Little Ship Café did us proud.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Newhaven towards Dover

We wanted to get from Newhaven to Dover, but this is 58nm, a long trip to do in a day. Luckily we had the weather, gentle (f2-3) winds with good weather. I had been watching the weather all week and it seemed pretty settled. Unfortunately the wind direction was not so good, south easterly, which would mean a fine reach if we were lucky, or on the nose if we weren’t. At any rate we could expect to use the engine the whole time.

I phoned Newhaven port control on Friday evening once we were on board Robinetta, and checked if there were any expected ship movements at 07:00 in the morning, when we were hoping to leave. The boat loading scrap metal opposite the marina was not planning to leave then, and the ferry was due out at 08:30, so we would be fine.

We were given the OK to leave when I radioed at 06:55, and we headed out of Newhaven on a bright and sunny morning. We were not alone in our choice of timing; two wind farm boats and a small pot fishing boat came out at the same time, but they all turned to go west, while Robinetta was heading east. There was some quite short and uncomfortable swell once we were out from the shelter of the breakwater, but nothing to stop us.

The wind was gentle, but seemed usable so we turned head to wind and got the main sail up once we were in flatter water away from the harbour. Unfortunately once we were back on course the wind seemed to be on the nose so we did not try to fly the jib until 08:50, when the wind strengthened and came round a little to the south.

The cliffs east of Newhaven looked lovely, shining white in the sun and sculpted into scalloped fringes for the golden green of the pastures above.

We had the tide against us on the way to Beachy Head ( an inevitable result of our plan to pass it at slack water and have the tide with us for the rest of our trip) so approached it at under 3 knots. Seeing a projected arrival time at Dover of 4 am was rather annoying even if we did not believe it for a moment! Once the tide slackened we soon picked up speed and we were past the light house by 09:30, just when we expected the tide to turn in our favour. We were soon doing over 5 knots, motor sailing with the no 1 jib up and drawing well.

We were not the only people taking advantage of the light SE winds. A group of paragliders were launching off the cliffs, and we could see 10 in the air at once.

This coast should be familiar to us. This is our third trip along it, our second in this direction, but while the place names evoke memories the sea itself is so different from our previous voyages that nothing feels the same. Beachy Head’s tide rips, that felt so uncomfortable heading west five years ago that we gave then a wide berth heading back east the first time, gave us no worries on this occasion. We had timed them properly for slack water, and the wind was very light, but our ease was undoubtedly due to our being a much more experienced crew as much as the weather.

At about 10 am a rather frantic call came over the radio. “Mayday. Mayday. I’m sinking!”

The coastguard response was immediate, but we started to look round for a boat in trouble. We have heard the coastguard side of a mayday quite often, but this as the first time I could remember hearing the initial call for help.

The stricken vessel managed to give a Lat/Long position, but it was a bit too garbled for us to make out all the details. Julian checked the position as much as he could, and it was about 11nm away, too far for us to be of help. A coastguard request for a general area rather than a Lat/Long got the response “3 miles south of Hastings, I need a fucking pump!”

There were 3 people on board, and no life raft, then we heard no more from the sinking boat itself, just a relay from a yacht closer to them who reported the crew were in the water. The Hastings lifeboat launched to the rescue. Listening live it seemed to take a long time before they called in to the coastguard as ready then moved to channel 0, but it can not have been any more than 20 minutes after we heard the first call for help.

By 10:45 the excitement was over as the coastguard reported all 3 people rescued. They also broadcast a maritime safety bulletin for the area, warning of debris, and a submerged 27’ fishing boat as a hazard to navigation.

Twenty minutes later we had passed the Royal Sovereign red buoy, and settled down onto the longest leg of the trip. 22nm to Dungness. The sea was quite calm (although not flat) but when Julian came on duty he decided to hand the helm to George, who coped without problems. We were making steady progress, keeping above 5 knots, but there was no chance to turn the engine off; we needed to make that speed to keep our favourable tide to Dungness then on towards Dover.

With George on the helm and the tide in our favour there was little to do but watch for crab pots and enjoy the weather. (Although Julian did refill the stern gland greaser). The perfect visibility let us see a procession of ships heading west down the channel, and Dungeness Power station was obvious on the horizon from 16nm away.

The rest of the trip passed without incident, we made Dungness just after high water so kept the good tide for 10 hours, reaching Dover at 18:45.

We got the main sail down just outside the harbour, when we were asked to slow down to let a ferry exit through the western entrance, then entered harbour and had green lights all the way to the marina.

After mooring up and paying we headed for the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club for a drink and supper. Very nice, and friendly, which made a good end to a long and lovely day.