Saturday, June 22, 2019

Homeward bound

From Dieppe we retraced our steps with a long (52-mile) run to Boulogne, then Ramsgate again, and then home. All three were mostly long motor-sails with light winds and calm seas. The marina at Boulogne presented us with its old scummy self, something I thought they'd cured. It's a convenient all-tide mooring but you really don't see the best of the town from the marina. Bob and Elaine walked up to the old town, up being the operative word as the hill is very steep. They were averaging 15,000 steps or more each per day! My watch battery had died the day we arrived but I can guarantee I did a lot fewer steps.

Scummy Boulogne

Crossing the Channel always makes me nervous but this time it was relatively quiet, and apart from a slight wiggle to avoid a ferry outside Dover we didn't have to change course at all.

The forecast for Wednesday looked atrocious, with pretty much non-stop rain, although a gentle wind. The skies once again looked threatening all day, rain was clearly all around us with visibility sometimes diminishing to only a couple of miles, but in fact we were hit by only two bursts of rain.

The first was somewhere off east Margate where the choppy seas were calmed almost to glassiness by the downpour. My Mustos stood up well to the water but I sent Bob and Elaine below to keep dry.

The second was literally as we came into Harwich Harbour, when I was below putting the lasagne into the oven, and suddenly realised the oven was heeling right over, along with the rest of the boat. The squall was only 20 knots or so but disconcerting to the crew. We dropped the mainsail completely and headed up into the harbour as the heavens opened. By Shotley Spit it had cleared again and I was trying to identify a craft ahead of us which seemed to be drifting in the deep-water channel.  It turned out to be a Mini Transat, a Dutch racer on its way to a gathering at Pin Mill. They had run out of wind and tide and their electric outboard was running on almost flat batteries. We gave them a tow as far as SYH, by which time the tide had turned and they headed on upriver very slowly.

Mini Transat 454, Gimmick
After a bit of research I realised that they must have been part of part of from IJmuiden to Lowestoft with optional trip to Pin Mill, and in fact when I looked at the list of entrants I realised it was Gimmick because we had seen them on AIS. I managed to get a message to them the next day and they got to Pin Mill fine. although late. Their tow rope was the thinnest I have ever seen but they probably weighed less than our Miracle dinghy!

After a quick lasagne Bob & Elaine headed home. Sam and I stayed on board to wait for a higher tide and celebrated our safe homecoming next morning with a fine breakfast of some of the food we hadn't got around to eating. And we all made it to Tim's funeral the next day.

Eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast. Very Instagram, sorry.

Sunday, June 16, 2019


Leaving Saint-Valery is almost as big a challenge as getting in, You leave the marina at HW-1.5 and you're pushing a pretty large amount of water which wants to come into the Somme, so it's slow. When you get out the tide is just starting to turn south, so the prospect of heading north to Boulogne was slightly discouraging. We decided to head south to Dieppe for a night.

Dieppe is the nicest of the Channel ferry ports as was, in my opinion.No doubt it has a modern bit somewhere but the marina is right in the old town and only a few hundred metres from the beach. We have been there two or three times and always enjoyed it. The trouble from Sam's point of view is the enormous tidal range, up to 10 metres at springs, which means he can only really get off the boat within an hour or so of high tide and back no more than two or three hours after.

I had only planned to stay one night but Sunday's winds, although southerly, were forecast to gust up to F5 or more in the morning and it might have been a bit scary for the crew. They mutinied and insisted on staying an extra night. Oh well. Such a shame we were there on a Sunday when the branch of Bijou Brigitte, my favourite jewellery shop, was firmly closed. The knife shop, which Guy and Ben used to love, was open though... as was the bar when Guy had his first vast Hoegaarden and felt rather ill afterwards.

The Dieppe knife shop

Guy's bar

Kalessin at the bottom of a deep hole in Dieppe. Note the slats on the ramp, which are great for stopping you slipping as you go down, but a pain to get a wheelchair over.

This was a good spot to make the most of the new wheelchair with mountain bike tyres, which has already suffered one puncture (fortunately at the Great Barton stroke club where the members got together to repair it without my help), despite the assurances of the manufacturer. The chair is also very wide (Sam's bottom is spreading slightly after seven years of sitting on it almost all the time), so it's a nuisance to squeeze through doorways. However if you are presented with a ramp with little bumps on it, the new tyres are indispensable. Generally we try to ensure that Sam faces uphill so that he doesn't fall out of the chair, but sometimes backwards is better whatever the slope, to make the most of the big wheels. With a rope around the frame of the wheelchair, two people pulling the rope (or hanging back on it as we go down) and two more on the wheelchair handles, we can manage moderately steep slopes.

We thought we might get the free electric bus, but managed to miss it by being at the wrong bus stop, so we went for a walk instead. Just as well, as Bill and Anita from Meltemi reported it was rather a dull shuttle to the station and not a tourist bus at all in the usual sense. Sam and I had a pleasant walk up the Grand Rue and back along the beach promenade. When we stopped for a coffee at a beachfront cafe it rained, although fortunately only for half an hour or so. We were very impressed that they put a ramp in place so we could get Sam inside, shoehorned him into the best table in the tiny cafe, and they even had an almost accessible loo. Sam celebrated by eating pancakes with honey.

I walked past here just after the crew had persuaded me to stay an extra night. Can't argue with the sentiment...

Friday, June 14, 2019


The entrance to the Somme is a tortuously winding channel across a vast area of mud flats. At low water there is basically no water at all, and at high water vessels drawing 2m or more can get in and out. The key is to get to the ATSO buoy two and a half hours before HW with a copy of the latest buoyage plan in hand, take it slowly, and never assume that the next buoy is where you think it's going to be.

We passed the entrance twice in 2005 and once in 2006 without getting the timing right to go in. In 2008 we seriously considered ending our canal trip there, but didn't because of the lack of public transport links, a wise decision as it turned out. So getting in there was one for the bucket list.

Ironically given that we needed to sail slowly, the sail down from Boulogne was perfect. We kept trying to set the sails really badly, reefing and eventually dropping the main, but unfortunately the Storm is the fastest boat in the fleet whatever we do. We did manage to get a few photos of other members showing off with their spinnakers though.

We all arrived at ATSO at least half an hour too early and had to jill around. As we carefully counted our way through the buoys, with Elaine (who has by far the best eyesight) on lookout, there was an abrupt cry from David Jibb, leading in Sharina II, on VHF. "...ound!!!" was all we heard. Yes, he had indeed gone aground. Fortunately we were some way behind. Ian in Pure Joy, heading cautiously up what he thought was the wrong channel but turned out to be the right way, led the rest of us safely on. Even more fortunately, after another worrying half-hour or so, David managed to get off the mud.

Actually we never saw less than a metre under our 1.7m keel (and more on the way out) so there really is plenty of depth if you get it right.

Phew! Four peaceful days in Saint-Valery, which really is lovely. The weather could have been better, but most of the time it looked threatening rather than actually raining. Bob and Elaine got in some epic walks, and I managed at least one good one (apart from falling over in the mud), several strolls to the Carrefour, and even a run on the last day.

The Somme with not much water in it

Medieval citadel

On the Wednesday we took the steam train to Le Crotoy, which was great fun, although not as much view over the marshes as I had hoped. It rained a lot in Le Crotoy so we were forced to have a very nice lunch with the mandatory fruits de mer for me. I ate oysters (only three) for the first time since Guernsey two years ago, and I was fine!

On the way to Le Crotoy - Sam in a normal carriage (although the wheelchair had to go at the other end of the train in the luggage van)

On the way back - in a wheelchair accessible compartment with hydraulic lift!

Kalessin on the hammerhead in Saint-Valery.
And on the Thursday we had a pontoon party which was mostly on Kalessin and was very delightful.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Salt and battery, part 2

A Sunday evening trip to Marlec Marine in Ramsgate made it clear that they were very, very closed, but should open at 9am on Monday.

Four padlocks on the outer door and there's an inner grille with more padlocks, plus locks on the inner glass doors.
Bob and I were there at 0855 but it was after 0915 before the man with the keys arrived. The gods were definitely on our side this time, as they only had two batteries in stock and both were the right size, although different brands. I paid £200 for the two which was less than the Varta batteries in 2013. The very nice man from Marlec brought them down, lifted them on to the boat, fitted them, and took the old ones away. Thank you.

Our original plan had been to leave at 0830... and we finally motored out around 1100. We had northwesterly 3-4 and a rather choppy sea, the whole of the TSS to cross, and a tidal gate at Cap Griz Nez, so I'm afraid we did almost all the passage under motor and jib, at a cracking 7 knots or more over the ground much of the way. The Channel was as busy as I had ever seen it, a bit of a baptism of fire for Bob and Elaine, and thank goodness for AIS. Eventually it was all too much for Elaine who had to lie down and fortunately went straight to sleep.

Just off Boulogne Bob and I were hit by a "let's just turn all the taps on and leave them on" kind of shower. I had completely forgotten that Boulogne has an outer wall and it was far too wet to look at the pilot book. In the practically zero visibility the lighthouse on the entrance looked like a moored ship. What a good thing we didn't try to get around the back of it.

Boulogne's tidal marina

Finally, into the marina... to be greeted by the slightly diminished band of Westerlies, only seven of us altogether. Crew problems, technical problems and the weather had kept the rest away. We all went out for a delicious meal at the least accessible restaurant in Boulogne, which fortunately was able to find a table for six of us downstairs. Sam would never have got up the ladder-like staircase. The starters and mains were excellent (desserts a bit dull), and great value, the wine flowed, and WE WERE IN FRANCE!!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Salt and battery

Bob and Elaine Playle sailed with us to the Deben last year and we were delighted that they jumped at the chance of doing a longer trip. Our plan was to join the East Coast Group of the Westerly Owners Association on a trip to the muddy but lovely Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, which we have never managed to get to, despite trying.

The group was due to meet up Ramsgate on Saturday June 8, and on the Sunday head for Calais, where Dave Jibb keeps his boat, before going to Boulogne, Saint-Valery, then Dieppe and on to Fécamp if time.

Sadly we knew that the end of our trip would be cut short because of the very untimely death of Tim Brook, at the age of just 64. His funeral was due to be on Friday June 21. Bob and I sing together in Rough at the Edges, the a capella group founded by Tim, so we had to get back in time. In addition I had told Margaret, Tim's wife, that I would design an order of service for the funeral, so in quiet moments when we weren't sailing I had to worry about not just the design but also getting it printed. Fortunately it all worked out fine and you can see the order of service online via Facebook.

The weather gods were very doubtful about our venture and offered us some jolly breezes on the Friday and Saturday gusting up to F8. We weren't organised enough to leave on the Thursday, and Bob and Elaine had only just got back from Italy, so we decided to leave on the Sunday for Ramsgate, skip Calais and meet the rest of the rally in Boulogne on Monday.

When we got down to the boat on Saturday afternoon I noticed that the carbon monoxide alarm was going off. Nothing was burning, no engines running, so I pressed the reset button and got on with all the other million things you have to do before a trip. I also noticed that the smell from the stale water in the heads seemed slightly worse than usual. Little did I know...

Sunday dawned with none of the hangover from the previous day's wind which we had feared, and calm seas. We were motoring into light breezes and elected do go down the Black Deep and through Foulger's Gat. Somewhere past the Gunfleet Sand it became clear that the bad egg smell was from one of our domestic batteries which was overheating and discharging hydrogen sulphide. The batteries were taken out to Denmark in 2013 and evidently the new alternator was proving too much for this one. I worked out how to disconnect it and left the other one in place, messaging Lindsay (our engineer) who said we should be ok.

The old batteries in situ, seen from above. The front one was boiling, the back one merely dead
Sailing down the Black Deep with the engine off (almost the only sailing of the day) made it clear that the other domestic battery wasn't holding charge either. Could it get us to Ramsgate if the engine was running? I wasn't sure and  further messages to Lindsay highlighted the fact that we were now outside the phone network. We decided reluctantly to turn back... but after 20 minutes got enough signal to pick up another message from Lindsay saying if the other battery was warm but not hot we would be ok.  Turn again Dick Whittington, and off we motored to Ramsgate.

It wasn't until a couple of days later that Dave Jibb told me that domestic CO alarms also detect hydrogen sulphide, a useful titbit of info for future reference.

Through the London Array at Foulger's Gat

Friday, May 31, 2019

Photos from the London trip

Queenborough evening
Gas bottle with missing valve (the regulator is separate)
The town hall is the nicest building in Queenborough

Simon helms as we pass the QEII bridge

View from Tower Bridge

Sam looks down through the glass floor. It will support six elephants so should be ok with him and Simon. Note whizzy new wheelchair with mountain bike tyres which is proving a major asset around marinas

Wapping fuel barge seen from the land. The big helpful phone numbers doesn't mean that anyone will answer them.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

To St Kats with Simon

We last sailed up to London with Andy Roe and his son Sym in 2014. We hoped to repeat the experience with the same crew but sadly in the end Andy couldn't get away. Fortunately Simon Evans, who sailed with us in France in 2016, was able to squeeze in a short cruise between rehearsals for A Midsummer Night's Dream with Roughcast.

This was a cruise with the Haven Ports YC who are based on the lightship at Suffolk Yacht Harbour and we are immensely grateful to David & Gill Hervey Murray of Leading Wind for the time and effort they put into planning the event and getting us accessible berths.

Simon joined us late on the evening of May 24 for a civilised departure on May 25 at 0845. At that point we didn't really know how much fuel we would be using and the fuel gauge wasn't connected, so we had filled up at SYH with Guy the day before. Just as well, as it was a motor all the way to Queenborough, down the Wallet, across the Swin and down past Foulness, across the Thames at Sea Reach and into the Medway and then the Swale.

Queenborough found us an alongside berth but we decided it was just too much of a challenge to take Sam along the jetty and up the various steep ramps. However, it was just as well we were within easy reach of the land, as it transpired that our gas wasn't working and there was no shore power. Fish and chips all round at least kept us full and the odd glass of wine made sure we were relaxed. I've never been ashore in Queenborough before, it has a few nice buildings but otherwise is emphatically Isle of Sheppey.

The passage up to St Kats the next day into a W3-4 was a great test of the new engine and it passed with flying colours. We had to be at the St Kats lock at 1800 and were there with several minutes to spare. What a shame that we still had to circle in front of Tower Bridge for at least 30 minutes, were then called in by name on the VHF, sent back by the man on the lock with hand signals, and sent in again by Leading Wind. Our sympathies to the last three boats in our group who finally docked around 1930.

We had a great berth alongside the extremely blingy Queen's Barge, Gloriana.

It definitely concentrates the mind when arriving and leaving.

We visited Tower Bridge on the Bank Holiday Monday - the rest of the group went on Wednesday but we weren't staying that long. We had a coffee and walk along the south bank and later dinner wit he rest of the HPYC group. At £85 a night (yes yes, I know it's cheap for central London) I was glad we were only staying two nights.

Tuesday saw us filling up with fuel again at the Wapping barge, which required several phone calls to confirm and more paperwork than I have ever completed before when buying diesel. We headed back down-Thames to Queenborough, with Sam celebrating his birthday by staying in the cockpit until we had passed Thames barrier. This time we picked up a mooring and had pizzas cooked on the Cobb barbecue (Simon had achieved enough gas flow to boil a kettle but not for proper cooking).

And on Wednesday we had a truly fabulous sail back to SYH with about 10 minutes in total under engine. It was good to be able to show Simon what sailing is supposed to be about.