Monday, August 18, 2014

Welcome to our holiday cottage

The iconic Landguard radar scanner
Last week we were looking forward to a gentle sail with our friends Alex and David. Alex sailed as a child with her dad, and has occasionally been out since; David doesn't have much sailing experience but knows about climbing and is also a world-class bird expert. So generally they are useful people to have on board, as well as being extremely good company. Camilla had a commitment in Norwich on Sunday, and Alex had to be back home by Thursday so we were fairly constrained in the days we could spend on board.

Sadly ex-Hurricane Bertha had other ideas, and having passed to the north of us on Sunday, lurked out in the North Sea for several days keeping the winds well up above a gentle pootling level. So we decided to stay on board anyway and use Kalessin as the basis for a bit of land exploration. We also had a chance to listen to the wind in the rigging, which although not incredibly strong - a maximum of 20 knots or so in the shelter of the SYH marina - was incredibly steady, and was whipping up a pretty nasty sea in the entrance to Harwich Harbour and outside on Monday and Tuesday.

We have sailed past Landguard fort and Landguard point hundreds of times without ever visiting it, and this seemed to be a great chance. The fort is originally Tudor but most of what you see nowadays ranges from the Napoleonic wars up to WW2. It's an English Heritage site, run by volunteers, and is more-or-less accessible to wheelchairs downstairs, although to get upstairs there's a choice of several flights of 20 concrete steps which Sam decided not to undertake because the view, surprisingly, was very mediocre. For a while we wondered why we we there, but it kind of grew on us. Almost every room is open and many are helpfully labelled. It appears that Landguard rarely did anything much, apart from accidentally firing on a few Allied ships in WW2 when they showed the wrong lights, but it was evidently a good deterrent. In the late 19th century it managed a minefield in the harbour - in those days mines weren't set off when a ship hit them, but by an observer on the roof sending a signal below to someone to press a button and send a detonation current down a lengthy electric wire, powered by banks of batteries. It sounds like an action just waiting to go wrong. None of us could remember who we might have been at war with while the minefield was active - they discontinued it in 1905, just as Imperial Germany started to become a threat - so perhaps it didn't matter if it didn't work very well.

Landguard Fort viewed from the nature reserve
After a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea (thank you Douglas Adams) and some biscuits, we ventured out into the Landguard Nature Reserve. This did have excellent views, out into the harbour, back up to Felixstowe Docks, and out into the sea, and also had a reasonable complement of birds to keep David happy. It is also criss-crossed with concrete tracks which meant we could get Sam out almost to the water's edge and feel pleased that we weren't sailing in the extremely choppy conditions.

Click the image to see if you can spot Sam pretending to be an Anthony Gormley statue
On Wednesday we left Sam on the boat and walked down to Trimley Marshes. Conditions would have been fine for a sail with a strong crew but very gusty, so I was still glad to be on land given our modest crew capabilities. Alex and David strolled slowly looking at birds (this is David's normal walking style) while I opted to do a big loop, down to the Felixstowe docks barrier at Trinity Quay, along the extremely boring and hot 1.25-mile track around the edge of the docks, and then back along a very pleasant series of tracks and paths, mostly semi-wooded.

After Alex & David headed home I thought I should take a look at the underside of the rope clutches to see if I could remove the broken one. There were two major problems with this:
  1. Westerly headlining, once foam-backed, degrades over time to produce one of the most disgusting substances known to man - black, sticky, gets in your eyes and hair, and the headlining flops down and gets in the way of everything
  2. Naturally one of the bloody bolts is glassed in. And turning the other one didn't appear to be doing anything - I couldn't tell because I couldn't be in two places at the same time. Guy and I will go down tomorrow to see if we can make some progress.
Yes, the bolt I need is the one you can't see, bottom right....

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A few more pictures

Choppy Thames. This was meant to show the Anthony Gormley statue outside the Grapes pub, but does a better job of showing the "drempels" (that's Dutch for sleeping policemen and is what we call bumps)
Sam not really enjoying the drempels by the O2

The spectacular Dickens Inn....

...and here we are around the back of it with our wonderful finger pontoon. Suffolk Yacht Harbour, please take note.

View from the loos

Friday, August 08, 2014

Bradwell and home

We enjoyed Gillingham, although it's not generally as highly rated as Chatham. It was relatively quiet, Andy managed to walk to the Historic Docks at Chatham and thoroughly enjoyed his day, although he did get a taxi home, and we found a Chinese takeaway for our Sunday dinner.

It felt a bit tame just to head home from Gillingham. Although we were reduced to three on board, as Sym had to go home on Saturday, we decided to extend the cruise with a trip up the Blackwater. At last I had an opportunity to use that almost impenetrable work of pilotage, Crossing the Thames Estuary. (I've felt better about not understanding it since Dick Durham of Yachting Monthly told me he didn't understand it either). The conclusion was that we would make the fastest passage by leaving Gillingham on the first lock opening at 0600, but this also meant we would cross the shallowest water, across the Spitway, at dead on low water. With a minimum charted depth of 1.5m, plus another 1.5m because it was neaps so the low wouldn't be very low, we would be ok but not very comfortable. So we opted to leave at 0700 instead, which also allowed us to fill up with diesel at Gillingham's handy fuel pontoon, and took us across the Spitway just over an hour after LW.

There was very little wind for the passage, mostly pretty much aft, and once again it was a pretty hot day. 'Way ahead of us we could see a Thames barge which appeared to be sailing but almost every other yacht be saw was mooring, as we were. Somewhere off Maplin sands I managed to get enough Vodafone signal to confirm that Bradwell would have space for us, and we made it into the Blackwater and then into the marina around 1500. We've been in Bradwell several times before but getting in always feels a bit of a challenge - the route into Bradwell Creek and then round into the marina is well marked but far from straight, and is accessible to us only from around HW-4h. Naturally, as we approached the marina a breeze suddenly appeared, far too late to be useful for sailing and just enough to be slightly annoying for mooring.

One thing I'd forgotten was that the surface of the pontoons at Bradwell is made of horrible expanded metal. These are marked as being "unsuitable for pets" - I'd add that they are highly unsuitable for people with impaired mobility, let alone wheelchairs. We opted to leave Sam on board while I walked up to the beach in front of the power station and washed off the passage perspiration with a swim in the very warm Blackwater, while Andy explored the beers at the yacht club.

Tuesday saw another early departure, heading back up the creek at high water around 0700. Once again there was a very light south-westerly and we motored gently up the Wallet. At Landguard, at the entrance to Harwich harbour, the breeze strengthened just enough for us to kill the engine and sail the last hour up the Orwell. We restarted the engine and literally as we passed the SYH safe water mark, the engine alarm came on - and boy is it loud. I know how to turn it off now but I didn't at the time. Andy squinted at the warning lights and told us the problem was with oil pressure. Panic! When I checked the oil at St Kats, had I somehow not managed to replace the cap? Or was there a hole in the bottom of the engine? We trickled into the berth at about two knots and were very delighted to kill the motor. However, god bless Kalessin for facing us with a problem five minutes from home instead of somewhere grim halfway up the Thames.

Andy packed and headed home while we started to clear up. We'd arrived more or less at low water, which often happens when you arrive from the south, which is not a great time to get lots of stuff on and off the boat. Also I was conscious that the boat was pretty filthy and our dear friend Alex, who was brought up by the world's most hygienic mother, was due to sail with us the following week. So Sam and I had planned to stay on board at least until the evening and probably for another night, while I cleaned and cleared a bit.

In the event we spent much of the afternoon playing with the engine. I concluded that actually the light which had come on was the one on the extreme left which is the overheat alarm. We restarted the engine and after 15 minutes or so of pretty gently running the overheat alarm cam on to prove the point. A flurry of texts and calls ensued, initially to Guy who provided lots of helpful advice, then to Lundsay Ruffors who is our engineer, and then to Ben because I wanted to check that the thing I couldn't remove the top from was actually the inline raw water filter. (It was, and apparently the answer is to hit it with a hammer. Also possibly to be a man with stronger hands than mine, which is very annoying).
Water filter is at the front with the water pipe coming out of it - easy to get to, but no use IMHO if you can't get the top off!
The whole thing was not helped by my being hot, befuddled and generally cross, and Sam being cross because he couldn't help. Eventually we texted Lindsay to ask if he could swing by when he was in SYH the following afternoon.

Wednesday was devoted to a lot of boat cleaning. There are places on Kalessin where dust accumulated while she was in the shed in Denmark which I'd never got around to cleaning. By early afternoon she was better, although by no means immaculate, and Lindsay arrived around 1400. He spent well over an hour running the engine up under load and checking everything he could think of - no alarm, and no visible problem. It might have been a temporary blockage, or maybe even a very warm patch of Orwell - who knows? The only way to test it is to run the engine again and see what happens.

We have a gradually increasing list of minor problems to sort out:
  • The rope clutch for the main halyard has bust and needs to be replaced. Guy says we can guarantee that whatever we replace it with will have different bolt holes. In the meantime we have swapped the main halyard to the spinnaker uphaul clutch on the basis that we probably won't be using the spinnaker much with Sam on board.
  • The loo is still not working properly although a little clean water is now coming in if you pump hard enough. Lindsay says the Blakes valve, although the correct one for the job, is highly prone to blockages. It's an out-of-the-water job so we'll have to use flushing buckets for the time being.
  • The fridge thermostat, which stopped working for a while so that the fridge compressor stayed on until everything in the fridge froze, seems to have fixed itself. One to keep an eye and/or ear on, though.
  • The headlining is only properly attached in about half the places it should be after Anders took it down last summer.
  • The starboard-hand external loudspeaker is now working again for VHF (not music) but neither of the autopilots are steering a straight line. The two are probably related. I'd rather have a functioning autopilot than music outside, but we do need a working external VHF repeater. I don't know the answer to this one, as any speaker is likely to upset the autopilot despite Sam's magnetic shielding.
  • One of the bulkhead spotlights needs to be reattached. I haven't done this as it's rarely used, the wires are extremely short and I can't work out which wire goes where. Perhaps we can just leave it.
  • We need a new topping lift and possibly also main halyard. As Sam's life depends on one or other of these (when we haul him in and out), they have to be 100%.
  • We need a new hose fitting for the flat hose reel. I could probably manage this one on my own.
  • The Navtex no longer receives any transmissions (although it still works as a repeater) so the connection to the aerial must be broken somewhere.
What have I forgotten? Sounds like it could be a busy winter....

Sunday, August 03, 2014

...and into the Medway

Blogger seems to have chopped off the end of my last post, so here it is again:

I had every intention of updating the blog last night. But somehow my eyes closed as soon as my head hit the pillow, around 10pm, and here we are nine hours later.....

Our day in London was delightful, although the weather was so sticky and muggy I kept wondering if I was going down with flu! While Andy went off to do the touristy bit, and Sym was at work, I filled up with water (managing to lose one of our hose fittings in the dock in the process), scrubbed down the decks, took a load of washing to the laundrette, and then went to the office to pay and arrange Saturday's lock out. Aaaaarrgh, not just the bill (£120 for two nights) but the 0600 lock was full with a party of eight Dutch boats, plus a couple of others, and we would have to go on the 0700. There are only five hours of fair tide going down the Thames and HW was at 0615, so this was bad news. They did put us down as a reserve for the 0600 lock and said to pop in at 0530 to see if there was a chance of a space.

Around midday we got Sam off the boat. St Kat's had provided us with a magnificent finger pontoon, with masses of space for the wheelchair, so this was quite easy. We also made use of their disabled shower room which had everything except decent ventilation - I was even hotter after the shower than I had been before! Then back across the dock for lunch - there was a wonderful array of tents serving street food ranging from fish and chips to Ethiopian goat stew. Sam went for Portuguese food while I had a lighter option of falafel with salad. What a lovely way to lunch.

Then back to the boat with Sam while Andy set off for the Tower Bridge Experience (he didn't go in the end as the queue was massive) and I wandered round the Tower (outside) admiring the installation of ceramic poppies to commemorate WW1.

Back to the boat to spend an hour or so squatting in the cockpit locker trying to get the external VHF speaker working again - it was just a loose connection, but the speaker is surrounded by a cage of antimagnetic stuff to stop it interfering with the autopilot, and when Sam put the cage in he didn't want it coming off in a hurry, so it all took a bit of time. It is now working, hurrah! which makes it much easier to monitor the Port of London radio traffic while we're under way.

Andy and I filled up with fuel from our big jerrycan and he went off to refill it at the filling station I'd found earlier, while I did a shop - at Waitrose, where else.

Sym rejoined us, together with his sister Kitty, and we all went off for dim sum at the St Kat's branch of Ping Pong - culinarily excellent but slightly marred by the loudest party of birthday revellers we had ever heard. It was Sym's treat as he felt he hadn't done much on board, although actually a spare helm, keen pair of eyes and general moral support does wonders!

We also debated options for Saturday. With a forecast including some easterly bits, strengthening winds, rain and thunder, the prospect of running out of tide started to look quite probable. We decided I'd pop down to the capitainerie at 0530 and if there was no prospect of a lock space at 0600, ask if we could go the next day instead.

Saturday dawned grey and drizzly but the chap on lock duty was cautiously optimistic and said to stand by on VHF channel 80. I woke the crew who were not very full of beans, took off the shore power cable and a couple of dock lines, and waited to see what transpired. At 0555 we got the call and were out of our berth and round there in about three minutes. Thank you so much Mr Lockmaster! There would even have been space for the second reserve boat which didn't respond to calls.

Out into an absolutely flat calm, rather chilly Thames, empty except for dozens of yachts, and a really rather dull passage down. The rain stopped, the easterlies never strengthened above 5 knots and then went away to be replaced by gradually strengthening south-westerlies, we raised the main as we came into Gravesend which boosted our motor-sailing speed a little, and we ran out of fair tide somewhere near the Isle of Grain with enough time to get into the entrance of the Medway around midday.

It seemed like a good time to decide where we were actually going. A call to Chatham marina produced the info that it was "rammed" and not accepting bookings, so we called the evidently less fashionable Gillingham marina which was very happy to welcome us.

It took about an hour and a half to motorsail up the Medway, almost straight into the SW3-4. As we reached the marina there seemed to be numerous boats circling, but it transpired that all but one were waiting for the fuel berth, so we went straight into the little lock and out into the marina.

And I must say it seems very pleasant here. The marina was here when Sam and I were dinghy-sailing on the Medway almost 30 years ago, and it looks as though it's been done up a couple of times since but not much recently. It's surrounded by mature trees and shrubs which help shield it from the noise of the A289 just outside. There's a leisure centre with pool, sauna, gym etc on site, and also a restaurant and bar with great views of the Medway. There's a huge chandlery, and a biggish Tesco Express five minutes' walk away. And there seems to be almost no one around except for the 14 Dutch boats which left at 0600.

View of the Medway from the leisure centre restaurant. On the far bank is the Wilsonian Sailing Club where Sam & I first sailed together in 1987

Today is a chill-out day, although Andy has gone out exploring and may make it to the Historic Dockyard. Tomorrow the plan is to head for Bradwell - to be confirmed once I've done detailed passage planning.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Old Father Thames

Well, we made it to London in one piece and really without any major traumas. 

On Tuesday Sam and I went down to Suffolk Yacht Harbour at lunchtime so that he could participate in his regular sailing with EAST and I could start getting the boat ready. It was very hot with a light breeze and after a couple of hours of loading what we would need (food, drink, clothes etc) and unloading what we didn't need (bicycle, old oilies, about 27 outdated cans of tuna etc) I was hot and knackered while Sam was cool and refreshed by his delightful sail. We'd planned to eat on the lightship but by the time Sam was on board I couldn't face getting him off again, so I popped down to Sainsbury's to get some food - pretty horrible hot pasties, I won't do that again!

At 9pm we were joined by Andy Roe, with whom I have sung for many years, and his son Sym. Andy has his own small boat on the Broads. Sym has not much sailing experience but lots of enthusiasm and better eyesight than anyone else on board!

Departure from SYH was at a relatively civilised 0715 to catch the last of the ebb tide down the Orwell and the first of the flood in the Wallet. The forecasts had suggested quite light winds, but by the time we reached Stone Banks there was a delightful northwesterly, around 3-4, which gave us a broad reach or beam reach for pretty much our entire route. 

We took the inside track to the Medway, crossing out of the Wallet at Swin Spitway, and then to Whitaker and along the edge of the Maplin Sands. We deliberated a bit about where to cross the main Thames Channel, but with the tide continuing to sweep us up the Thames we did a useful diagonal into the Medway channel, then straight into the wind for a couple of miles before turning into the Medway and then again into the Swale to pick up a mooring at Queenborough at 1430. With a fair tide all the way we covered 47 miles in 7 hours & 20 minutes, an average of 6.4 knots. 

The mooring cost us £12 and included a free water taxi, so Andy and Sym went off to explore the fleshpots of Queenborough while I had a swim in the pleasant but murky waters of the Swale and Sam chilled out. We had dinner on board. 

Thursday morning saw an even more civilised departure time of 0815 and the plan was to take the last of the ebb out of the Medway and the first of the flood up the Thames. The last of the ebb bit worked ok, but the first of the flood took its sweet time arriving and it wasn't until almost 1100 that our speed over the ground headed up above 5 knots. 

The whole Thames thing is a bit terrifying but I think the main concern is the mix of shipping, so you never quite know what you're looking out for. It's a lot quieter than the Elbe, and although there are few official stopping places there are numerous structures you could probably tie up to in a dire emergency - unlike the Rhone for example where you can't get near the banks. Generally therefore our experience of other rivers stood us in good stead. 

The scenery is a strange mix of rural and industrial. It appears every structure ever built along the Thames is still there in some form so there are numerous unused and dilapidated quays and jetties. In between the sewage processing plants, refineries, factories and vast warehouses are riverbanks where people go fishing, and even a surprising number of yachts moored in the river. I was also surprised by Gravesend, which has quite an attractive waterfront. It was highly satisfactory to go under the QEII bridge at Dartford and see a huge traffic jam above our heads. 

On and on, and finally as we passed the Woolwich the Thames barrier came in sight. You have to call on VHF 14 to be allocated a span, and Andy was very perturbed that we were allocated G(olf) but there were no markings to indicate which span was Golf. Fortunately I was pretty sure it was the most right-hand one, and no-one shouted at us, so we were probably ok. 

After the Barrier you're into London proper and also lots of nasty Thames chop. We knew about the high-speed river buses, but not about the big thrill-seeking RIBs which tear along with their paying, shrieking passengers at 30 knots plus, crashing over the bumps and making their own huge and messy wash. Idiots. 

Docklands, the O2, Greenwich, Docklands again from the other side, past Limehouse, and then Tower Bridge was in sight and we had to get on warps and fenders (I didn't manage this too well as I hadn't realised that Sym had never done it before) and jill around waiting for the lock. I'd dreaded this bit but in fact it really wasn't too bad, no RIBs were around, and in the way of these things there were suddenly another four or five yachts waiting with us. I must say of all the bridges I've almost been swept into while waiting for a lock, Tower Bridge is definitely the coolest. 

Hoorah, finally into the lock and we were allocated a berth in the very peaceful East basin. Time for a cold beer and a bit of a tidy-up before Sym headed home for the night, and we had a visit from my former colleague Tanya and her French protégée Marie, which was really delightful. The Gherkin, which is next door to the Aviva building, is visible from our berth, so Tanya really didn't have far to come. Finally a generous dinner cooked by Andy and we were all so knackered we rolled into bed without even washing up. 

How did Sam cope with all this, you may be wondering? Well, he stayed below and took things easy for most of the passage to Queenborough, but was on deck for most of the way up the Thames. He really enjoyed it but found the bumping for the last few miles very difficult indeed. On his way down the companionway steps last night he very nearly fell, because his legs just weren't working. Today he will do as little as possible and he should be able to cope with tomorrow's passage back to the Medway.