Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas message 2015


Happy Christmas to you all, and two important questions before we start on the review of the year:

Are you now, or have you ever been, anything whatever to do with civil engineering? Ben now has a degree in civil engineering, hooray!, and would appreciate the chance to chat to anyone vaguely knowledgeable about the best way to get into the industry. He's currently still living in Nottingham but is willing to consider pretty much any option.

Do you fancy crewing for us on Kalessin in southern Brittany in summer 2016? More details in a separate post, but Guy is putting together a delivery crew for the trip there and back, and we need people to sail gently with us in June, July and September. Sam and I depend on extra crew to enable us to sail, so we really do need you.

Please post a comment to respond to either of these (or email us direct) and we will get straight back to you.

Anyway, 2015 has been a pretty good year, on the whole. At the very end of 2014 Camilla was appointed editor of the quarterly Cruising magazine for the Cruising Association, and this has given a definite shape to the year. The pattern is for one moderately busy month working part-time, then one extremely busy month, and one almost completely quiet month when we can go sailing or take a holiday. We have employed Guy to provide photographic services and over the year Camilla & Guy have managed to get to the London and Southampton Boat shows, to visit Imray in Cambridgeshire, and to visit the excellent International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft. Camilla also spent an entertaining time at the Cowes Week Ladies Day when sadly there was no wind at all, has spent quite a bit of time at the CA headquarters in Limehouse, and in between has grappled with copy, photographs and contributors of every type and quality. If you aren't a CA member you can still see a sample copy of Cruising on the CA website.

The first issue was published in March and was a huge challenge. Camilla was deeply grateful for the support of our good friend Cathy Brown, the last editor but one of Cruising, and the staff at CA House. We have now managed to get out four issues which have had a positive response, and no major catastrophes.

Once the first issue was put to bed, Sam and Camilla flew to Barbados in order to come back to the UK much more slowly on P&O's Ventura. The Caribbean proved a major challenge for those of limited mobility and although it was marvellous to have the sun and warmth, we probably won't go back again. However the days crossing the Atlantic were delightful – introducing both of us to watercolour painting, and Camilla discovered and rather surprisingly loved Zumba dance classes. Our stop-off at Ponta Delgada in the Azores was a real highlight and reminded us once again how much we like Portugal and its islands.

Ventura dominates the harbour in St Lucia
Typical kerbs in Antigua...
...not accessible to Sam by wheelchair or on foot
Portugal! (Ponta Delgada)

In April Camilla passed the Yachtmaster (Offshore) practical exam after a brush-up course with East Anglian Sea School. You can read more on the blog but it felt like a major achievement and has given Camilla more confidence.

In June we sailed Kalessin to join the Westerly Owners' Association cruise in company in the Dutch delta. Despite long planning this nearly didn't happen for a whole range of reasons. In May, Sam suffered a seizure, which was very frightening for all of us, and was rushed to hospital. He made the mistake of having the attack on the Thursday before the May bank holiday weekend and the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital wouldn't let him go home. Worse, they kept him in bed for five days until he could barely stand, let alone walk. Guy and I went to the hospital on the Tuesday and used our best assertiveness skills to persuade the therapists that we could cope with him at home – they wanted to send him to a community hospital. It was a gamble, but by the Friday he was back to walking around the house and within a few weeks was pretty much back to normal.

Our GP was astonishingly supportive when we told him that we wanted to take Sam out into the middle of the North Sea and as far away as possible from any emergency support, just a month after the seizure. So we were all set, and thought we should take Kalessin down to Tollesbury for a shakedown cruise before the big crossing. Unfortunately the engine overheat problem which plagued us at the end of last season reared its ugly head again. You can read the full story if you're interested, but in the end after some expensive repairs Sam, Guy, Ben and Camilla sailed rapidly and very bumpily across the North Sea in Kalessin for a great two weeks with lots of very nice Westerly owners.

Lots of Westerlys in Yerseke
In July once more all four of us, plus Ben's girlfriend Anne, crossed the North Sea again, this time with the help of Mr Stena and accompanied by a car. We drove down to the Herrmann family home in Bavaria for an extremely hot and very relaxing week with Camilla's sister, Lucilla, and her family.

We managed a little more sailing in September but much of the UK's summer was cold, wet and/or windy, hence the plan to head further south next summer.

During all of this Sam has done pretty well, although the seizure did knock him back a bit. His speech continues to improve very slowly, and the electronic leg stimulator, when working at peak efficiency, helps him to walk a little faster and makes him more stable. This autumn he has once again started guitar lessons with a teacher in Diss, which is much less hassle than the far side of Norwich where he went before.

Guy is still living at home and has been an invaluable support in sharing Sam's care with Camilla - without him Camilla would struggle to work, let alone get to London fairly regularly. He's done some great photography, both for Cruising and for other clients.

Lightship LV87©That Guy Photography 2015
Posted by That Guy - Photography on Sunday, 20 September 2015

Ben now has a degree in civil engineering from Nottingham University - see above. For the time being he's staying in Nottingham and seeing more of his lovely girlfriend Anne.

We have ended the year on a high note. You may recall that in June 2014 Sam fell into the marina at SYH and lost the Rolex I gave him for his 50th birthday. We paid for a diver to search for it, without success. In early December 2015 I had a phone call out of the blue from a chap called Trevor Chatting, who told me that two or three times during the winter he hunts through the mud pumped out by the SYH dredger on to the tidal marshes, mainly looking for coins. He had just been down and spotted a watch: Sam's Rolex, which Trevor identified by the engraving on the back. It's a bit battered, the black bezel has gone, the strap is broken – which might have been why it was lost – but it is still working sporadically and we will see what we can do about getting it repaired. What are the chances of its being found like that? Even better, I had forgotten until we got it back the model of Rolex – it's a Sea Dweller!

Sam is reunited with his Rolex after it spent 17 months in the mud
The Sea Dweller itself, returned to land

Here's hoping that 2016 is as good for you as most of 2015 has been for us, and may all the unlikely events you are longing for, come to pass.

Camilla, Sam, Guy & Ben

Crew wanted for lovely warm summer sailing

After a distinctly grim summer in the North Sea we are contemplating taking Kalessin down to southern Brittany in 2016. At the moment our thoughts are something like this:
  • Late May/early June - Guy & delivery crew sail Kalessin to somewhere like Brest, Quimper or Lorient (I am trying hard to persuade Sam that he will not enjoy the delivery trip, he remains to be convinced).
  • Early June - Sam and Camilla travel to agreed location, taking a car via Brittany Ferries
  • June to mid-July - Sam and Camilla sail very gently in southern Brittany. We will need crew, so will only sail when we can persuade others to come with us.
  • mid-July - we hope to reach a point somewhere between the Vilaine and La Rochelle where we can leave the boat for a while. Camilla will collect the car, we hope to visit friends who live in the Limousin, then we we will come home by ferry
  • mid July to end August - Camilla & Sam at home while Camilla completes the September edition of Cruising. Kalessin may be available as a holiday residence if you fancy a short break on the Côte Atlantique
  • early September - if all goes well Camilla & Sam may return to France and start sailing Kalessin gently northwards again
  • end September - again Sam and Camilla return to UK and a delivery crew brings Kalessin home to Suffolk.
So we will need crew who can get to Brittany fairly easily, and will enjoy gentle sailing, for as short or long a period as you like. We would pay for expenses on board but would ask you to pay your own travel costs. 

If you are interested please post a comment and we will get straight back to you, or email directly if you already have our email address (we prefer not to include it here to avoid spam). 

Below, photos from our last trip to southern Brittany, 10 years ago, to whet your appetite...

View of Loctudy
Fruits de mer, Loctudy
Ile de Groix
Sauzon on Belle-Ile
Vannes

Monday, November 02, 2015

Warning: Have you put an LED in your tricolour?

Last night I went down to SYH to take a look at Kalessin's tricolour & bicolour navigation lights. The result was frightening, and if you have put a white LED bulb in your yacht's tricolour, you should probably be frightened too.

At the Southampton Boat Show the Cruising Association did a demo of what happens when you put an LED bulb in a bicolour or tricolour light. I didn't actually see the demo, but in the past week I have spent many very slightly frustrating hours working with members of the Regulatory and Technical Services committee (RATS) trying to concoct a diagram which demonstrates what happens, for Cruising magazine.

Here is our current version:
In fact I am not 100% sure that there is an LED in Kalessin's tricolour, but given the effect, I hope there is!

From the starboard side, the light appears green - the tricolour is the correct shade, the bicolour definitely bluish. From the port side both lights appear to be the proper shade of red.

The frightening bit is the view from straight ahead. The tricolour appears, approximately, white. Through binoculars you can see that there is a green bit to starboard and red to port, but the effect is as if the coloured filters don't quite meet in the middle, which is not the case.

Apparently this is caused by two things, mainly:
  • The light of an LED bulb comes from around its edges. The light of an old-fashioned filament bulb, with a vertical filament in this case, comes from the middle.
  • There is no such thing as a white LED - it's a combination of yellow and blue light which our eyes see as white. 
I now have to decide whether to spend £50 on a multicoloured LED lightbulb (which RATS doesn't really approve of), or anything up to £200 on a proper LED fitting, or £10 on a new filament bulb whose only real disadvantage is that it uses about five times as much power as an LED and of course you only use the tricolour when you are getting no charge either from the engine or from solar power!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Summer? What summer?

Since our return from the Netherlands we have managed a pathetic amount of time aboard Kalessin and almost no sailing.

Part of this is because we were away for 10 days in Germany in July, and partly because during most of August I have been working on the latest edition of Cruising.

But a large amount is also down to the extremely dismal weather. Sam has been booked to go out on the day boats with EAST pretty much every summer Tuesday that we have been in the UK. He missed a couple when he had the seizure but in total, over almost four months he has probably managed to go sailing four times. Tuesdays seem to be the day when the weather really shows its least summery side. Last Monday I was determined to at least get down to Kalessin and we spent a very pleasant, warm evening on board with a magnificent sunset; when we abandoned ship at high water the next day it was the wettest Tuesday ever and poor Sam found it almost impossible to walk in full oilies – a lesson for next time, I need to use a more flexible set of waterproof trousers for him.

Red sky at night, SYH


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join Sunsail for Ladies' Day at Cowes. The plan was for a few hours' entertaining racing on the Solent followed by a glam ladies' cocktail party. Sadly what we actually got was two hours of floating around in the light drizzle and no wind at all, an hour or two of watching while competitive teams blew model boats down two water-filled gutters, and a glam cocktail party in a marquee in the pouring rain. Fortunately I did get to meet a couple of yachting journalists including the editor of Yachts & Yachting and the deputy editor of Sailing Today (who apparently applied for the editorship of Cruising first time around, but like me didn't get the job), plus three female lifestyle and travel bloggers, a species I knew of in theory but with whom this was my first encounter in the field.

We did get to see a few interesting yachts also drifting very slowly around the Solent - you can see from the (unPhotoshopped) images what a dismal day it was.

Celebrating ladies' day

Sir Peter Ogden's inordinately black Jethou, for sale for around £2m

Open 60 Artemis 2 is available for charter...

...as is Leopard, possibly the only yacht we actually saw sailing, notable for having instruments on her mast which are so clear I could read them from our boat

MOD70 Phaedo ^3 needs washing down with fresh water every time she's used to keep her this shiny

Tall ship Kaskelot was on charter to a group of gentlemen who put away a very large quantity of alcohol, judging by their behaviour when we met them later on the RedJet ferry
...and here's a great photo of some of the ladies sporting sunglasses and pretending the weather was hot.

What next? Well, we hope to sail into the Deben with our friends Alex and David over the bank holiday weekend. I daren't even look at the forecast, we are guaranteed either rain or a F8, or both. Hopefully we'll get some quieter days and a bit of sailing in September, although the month is rapidly filling up with other things.

And for 2016, I'm seriously contemplating taking Kalessin down to southern Brittany – well, seriously enough to have signed up for the CA's Biscay seminar. Possibly this is mad. Possibly it will mean some more sunshine. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

We are home - the full story

It's very awkward being the last to leave anywhere, let alone leaving a marina in a boat. You say goodbye to people and then see them another six times. The marina staff start to look pointedly at your boat as they walk past. You check all the things you need to check, and then check them again for something to do (and inevitably you still forget something). Ben and I spent 15 minutes wresting with one of the poles for the cockpit tent which wouldn't come apart - possibly because of the heat. And still it wasn't time to go.

Around 1415 Sam suddenly got cross and asked if we were ever going to leave, so we did. It's only 2.5 miles to the lock, which meant we would be early for the tide to change. Fortunately Ben suggested that we try our newly repaired autopilot, which he had fixed with the soldering iron from Anrheg after our €10 purchase from Yerseke failed to work. It steered us in roughly the right direction but on a sinuous S-shaped course which would add considerably to our overall distance. Bugger, says I, we need to conduct sea trials to set it up. This involves motoring very slowly in circles, preferably in a calm, empty and not very tidal stretch of water. We were never going to find a better spot than the Oosterschelde on an almost windless Monday afternoon at slack water, so round we went, but sadly the autopilot although now initiated still didn't want to steer us in a straight line, and for some reason the other autopilot was no better. We have removed the cockpit speaker at vast expense to try to fix this problem, so this was Very Annoying.

Even more annoyingly, as we motored up to the Roompotsluis (lock) with one yacht in it, the lights went red and the gates closed when we were just a few minutes away. Still, 40 minutes on the waiting pontoon gave Ben time to work out how to change a couple of settings on the autopilot which seemed to improve matters, and by the time we came out of the lock about 1615 the tide was well and truly in our favour and the wind, as promised a north-westerly right on the nose, had died down to about 6 knots.

The North Sea, as readers of this blog may have gathered, is not necessarily my favourite stretch of water. However it did its best to show us its kindest face, with a sea that was Slight and even perhaps Smooth for a while as the wind died and then backed south easterly around 1800. The sun was warm, the water was nearly blue, our dear Volvo Penta engine ran without a problem for mile after mile, the wind, such as it was, was on the beam so we could motorsail with the main up, and we were able to do such things as eat our crossing stew™, make cups of tea, read a Kindle, or plot our position on the chart, without undue trauma or throwing everything on the floor. We never even managed to tip the grill pan on the floor in spite of being on port tack.

Around 0200, just after crossing the TSS, when I was on watch admiring the wonderful moon and its track on the water, the wind increased to around 7-8 knots and I thought we might sail for a while. With one reef still in the main we were making barely 4 knots over the ground, but it was wonderfully peaceful. Ben felt he wasn't quite ready to come on watch just yet, so I gritted my teeth, adjusted the (adequately functioning) autopilot to turn us almost into the wind, and shook out the reef myself - this involves dropping the main halyard a bit, going forward and unhooking the sail at the boom, coming back and uncleating the reefing lines, hauling the sail up to the top of the mast, and then turning back on to our original course. It's the first time I have done this on my own in the dark (although it really wasn't dark thanks to the moon) and it felt like an achievement, but sadly the wind insisted on staying at 4-5 knots and the boat speed about 2.5, so it was back to the faithful Mr Volvo.

Ben was on watch for almost three hours as we passed the prettily lit Greater Gabbard wind farm, and the sun rose. As we approached the North Shipwash buoy around 0700 the tide had turned to go SW, our course was also SW, the wind freshened slightly and I could turn off the engine and hurtle down the Shipway at 7.5 knots. This has happened to us before but it really does feel like a reward for a long motoring passage patiently borne.

Finally we nosed into our berth in SYH about 1015 - their texting system means that the berth was free for us, although the marina wasn't very full so perhaps it was empty anyway. We tidied up very slightly, slept for a couple of hours, packed up and Guy came to collect us about 1500. And here we are.

Total distance on this trip: about 335 miles. Number of fits suffered by Sam: 0.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We are home

We are home safely after an 18-hour passage from the Roompotsluis in conditions which could not have been more different from those we sailed to Oostende in - smooth seas and very light winds. I'm far too sleepy for a full post now so will do a proper update tomorrow.

The Westerly fleet elegantly lined up in Yerseke

Sunday, June 28, 2015

And finally...

Zierikzee was, as ever, delightful. We thought of our friends Richard and Cathy whose new Arcona is too big to fit under the fixed Roompotsluis bridge, but who love Zierikzee. I bought two waterproof cushions for our cockpit, then we all went out for a very nice group meal and spent far too much time trying to answer very difficult quiz questions - Ben and I won a Harken drybag, which perhaps we might use sometime.

We left Zierikzee at lunchtime on Saturday after a pleasant morning and a supermarket shop for me. It was a rather boring motor straight into about 12 knots of westerly breeze, but at least we had the compensation of seeing a race, probably part of Delta week, coming towards us with the wind behind them. You can see jolly spinnakers anywhere, but it was rather wonderful seeing the traditional boats flying every single tablecloth and pocket handkerchief they had on board, including water sails I have never seen in use before.

Roompot Marina is big and modern and has not a lot on offer, apart from its very convenient location for departure from the Roompotsluis and a nice beach. It's surrounded by a holiday village but most importantly from our point of view is convenient from the Neeltje Jans Delta Expo, which we have failed to visit on numerous occasions despite sailing past it at least three times and, on our last sailing visit here, motoring past it in a hire car when we went from Vlissingen to Stellendam to see Guy in 2011.

It was an expensive day out - €55 a head including a coach there and back, coffee and apple cake, a guided tour of the expo and visit to an actual storm sluice, lunch and an afternoon in the rather tired Delta park. The expo includes a lecture and film about the 1953 floods and how they led to the whole Delta scheme, including the closure of the Veersemeer and Grevelingenmeer, and the late decision to leave the Oosterschelde open to the tides to retain the marine wildlife. The visit to the storm barrier was impressive, and Sam managed a staircase down to the viewing platform where you can see all the mechanisms and a storm barrier ready to lower. They only go down when a tide of more than 3m is forecast and in many years that doesn't happen at all. In addition because they were built to deal with very high tides, any rise in sea level as a result of climate change shouldn't have any effect until well after the expected life of the barrage, some 200 years. All fascinating and I'm glad we have finally seen it.

Then back to the marina to passage plan and compare notes with all the other departing crews, which started with a dispute over the time of high tide - there was some suggestion it was around 11am, which is clearly (I think) not the case, as high water was around midnight at Zierikzee on Friday when I brought Sam back to the boat, and we are now three days further on. Also both my tide tables and two different apps say 1400-ish. However I know nothing, and will let others go their own way. It looks as though we will be last out of here, as I want to take a fair tide out into the North sea and that really doesn't happen until about 3pm. A number of others are taking the morning tide with departure at 5am, but the other factor for us is that the light northwesterlies (boo) are due to die away and go easterly tomorrow evening, so although we will probably have to motor we should at least get a fair wind for part of the way. Even Travelling Light, which is heading for the Deben, goes down to Oostende tomorrow - they are talking about making the most of the easterlies on Wednesday but I'm seeing gusts up to 25 knots forecast for the UK side, and I'd rather motor in nothing than deal with force 6 plus, especially with Sam on board.

Definitely time for bed now, I need to go and do some worrying....

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dutch language delights

I posted this on Facebook but felt blog readers would enjoy it too. Considering what good English almost all Dutch people speak, their names for types of hairspray are quite surprising....


Grevelingenmeer pictures

Zierikzee

On Wednesday we left Marina Port Zélande at 1030, giving me just time to pop around the corner for groceries. The nearest supermarket is inside the Center Parcs complex and it was an extremely weird experience to walk in from the marina, around the outside of the villas, through a sliding door and suddenly into the middle of Center Parcs looking just like the one in Elveden Forest. Just like the supermarket there, it was a large shop full of a surprisingly limited selection of distinctly overpriced groceries.

Ben awoke feeling less than wonderful but was galvanised by the thought of raising the cruising chute. It took a lot of thought and quite a few lines but we did fly it for an hour or so until the wind died completely, and then later for half an hour when the wind picked up a fraction.

We had a wonderful afternoon and evening on the tiny island of Mosselbank in the Grevelingenmeer, although sadly we couldn't get Sam ashore as all the jetties are about 2ft wide with posts in the middle. Ben suggested the best option would be a narrow wheelchair with enormous wheels to take Sam over the top of the posts, but in the absence of such a device he stayed on board while we enjoyed a "tastery" organised by our Dutch hosts - an interesting selection of essential Dutch foods and of course drink, including some things we knew about like stroopwafels, gouda with cumin, Heineken and and smoked trout, and some less familiar to us like (raw) nieuwe herring, bitterballs, Dutch pea soup and Skipper's Bitter, a ferocious liqueur meant to be restorative after a long sea passage. (One of the other Westerly skippers said to me "I'm not sure if it's a ladies' drink". He doesn't know how lucky he is still to be alive with his testicles intact).

Ben and I were kept busy running back and forth with samples for Sam - it was incredibly hot in the shelter of the island, where Tjaerke and Gerard had set up their "tastery" under an awning, and much cooler on board where we had rigged our hot-weather canopy instead of the tent so that Sam didn't fry, so deliveries to Sam also helped to cool us down. Later we were very pleased to welcome Lavinia and David from Anrheg on board for a cup of tea, which was about all we could manage after an afternoon of tastery. They made polite noises about the Storm (they have a Discus) but what they were most impressed by was our porcelain mugs. I'd forgotten what a luxury they were to us when we first got them.

Today has been a dull and rather hot motor in almost no wind, through the Bruinisse lock out of the Grevelingenmeer, down to the Zeelandbrug where we had an unexpectedly long wait for an opening, and into Zierikzee where the extremely efficient harbourmaster team had reserved a length of visitor's pontoon for us and made sure that Kalessin was alongside the jetty so that we can get Sam off. (We have three Westerlies rafted alongside us. The first time we ever came in here, in Magewind in 2003, we were rafted seven deep, so we really appreciate the effort and planning it takes to get an inside berth!).

We have a group meal at 1830, so I need to head off into the town for a pootle and some supermarket shopping.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Marina Port Zélande

What we were expecting today was a boring motor into very light winds. What we got was a genoa run up to the lock at Bruinisse, a wait for the lock which was not too bad considering that it is the busiest lock in the Netherlands, and then a stonking sail, a close reach most of the way up the Grevelingenmeer to Marina Port Zélande. Sam was in the cockpit, the sun shone, it was quite warm and it was really good sailing. Fortunately we had elected to keep the one reef in the main so that we didn't tip Sam out of the cockpit, and about halfway up we had to put some extra rolls in the genoa because I could no longer control the tiller, but otherwise pretty damn excellent.

In the marina we were allocated a hammerhead berth, which was great from the point of view of getting Sam off, but a pity that nearly two thirds of it was already occupied by a large yacht with enormous bowsprit. Ben and I wrestled with warps for 10 minutes or so to get Kalessin into the berth but we did eventually succeed. Thirty minutes later the bowsprit owner came and looked disapprovingly at us (by this time we had about three springs rigged to hold us forward) but when Ben asked him if we were ok where we were he said he had rigged an extra spring to hold his yacht back. Which was nice.

Anrheg invited us on board for drinks, which particularly kind after I tried to ram them at the Bruinisse lock (I thought they had sprung off but in fact the spring jammed). We think it's the first time Sam has been on another yacht, but somehow we managed ok, and it was delightful to sit outside in a warm cockpit and chat. Back to Kalessin for a late dinner of various random bits from the fridge, and then Ben and I walked to the sea, which was slightly further than I thought, while Sam washed up. It's now very late so I must be away to bed before I turn into a pumpkin - 10am departure tomorrow and I have to get to the supermarket, which is in Center Parcs just outside the marina!

Miles today: 17

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sint Annaland

Yerseke proved pleasant but not very exciting - a little, mostly modern, Dutch town with almost everything closed on Mondays. We ate dinner at the little fish restaurant on the quay with the crews of Merlot and Anrheg - a really nice spot with nice ambience, but possibly because three of our number ordered lobster which is cooked fresh from the tank, we had a very long wait for our dinner. Sam and I had mussels which were pleasant but came with no bread to mop up the juice, and although we ate some chips I'm not quite sure that they were ours! Great company though and a very pleasant evening.

This morning we had a major logistical exercise springing 16 yachts off the long quay with the wind blowing them hard on, then a short but painful plunge to windward, almost directly into the north-westerly for 10 miles and as it was gusting up to 20 knots and wind was against tide, it was very choppy. Only 15 miles altogether however and now we are in Sint Annaland, a huge marina attached to another small town which we haven't explored yet. The plan was to have a group barbecue tonight but with the wind still howling, dark grey skies and drizzle, Sam, Ben and I opted out and had a very delightful Cobb barbecue on our own in Kalessin's cockpit tent. Not very sociable but definitely better for Sam.

The wind has finally eased and is forecast to be much lighter tomorrow - just as well, as we will be heading down the Grevelingenmeer straight into it most of the way to Marina Port Zeeland.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Yerseke

On Saturday Ben and I shopped for groceries, a new pair of Crocs for me as my old pair has no tread left at all and therefore almost no wet grip, and a pair of woolly slippers which were Ben's delayed birthday present to Sam. We had kibbeling (deep fried fish bits) for lunch which left us rather full.

In the afternoon we felt we should get Sam off the boat, as we had been awarded the disabled berth with an alongside pontoon. There were eight steps up to the road but Sam managed those in fine style. In the way of Dutch towns on a Saturday afternoon almost everything closes at 1730, but before we managed a nice wander around the very pretty centre of Middelburg, an icecream, and a chance to watch a bizarre sport something like five-a-side trampoline volleyball, played on a giant bouncy castle with a net in the middle. Then Sam went for the shower in the disabled access facilities which are wide open with no shelter from the spray, nowhere to put possessions, and have no grab rails. Still, very welcome. The kibbeling had left us very full so in spite of the attractions of the harbour club, which even has a stairlift, we elected to eat on board.

Today the forecast from Windguru gave us westerly winds around 12-15 knots, gusting up to 20 knots, and that's pretty much exactly what we got - plus a mixture of fine drizzle and occasional sunshine. Fortunately most of our route was more or less easterly - up the rest of the canal, wiggling along the Versemeer, and then out through the always slow Zandkreeksluis lock into the Oosterschelde and round to Yerseke. We were able to sail almost all the way, using just the genoa (foresail), and discovered that our Ed Dubois-designed hull is noticeably faster than the older knuckle-bowed Westerly designs, certainly on that point of sail, even though we only have a 110% foresail compared with the original 130% genoa and we had a couple of rolls in it much of the way. The Zandkreeksluis was a bit unpleasant as the wind was blowing us straight in and gusting up to 19 knots, but we got onto a waiting post ok and got into the lock with no more than a slightly skinned knuckle for Camilla.

I'm not quite sure why we are in Yerseke. Apparently it is the Oyster and mussel capital of the Ntherlands so we will sample some tomorrow. The marina is of the very open and slightly bleak type, on the edge of town, and is a bit of a shock after the urban delights of Middelburg. Still, at high water we had a lovely view out over the Oosterschelde. I suspect at low water we will sink into the mud - hopefully we won't fall over as we have a Konsort tied outside us.

Miles today: 22

Yerseke: the view from the cockpit tent at HW. An hour later, all I can see is concrete sea wall.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dutch treat

With a forecast of 1.2m waves and NW4-5 I really wasn't looking forward to today. We had already decided to forgo the "blue wave" of opening bridges up the Kanaal door Walcheren in favour of making the most of the tide from Zeebrugge round the corner into the Netherlands and the Westerschelde. From the marina in Zeebrugge, around 2 miles inland from the harbour entrance, it is very difficult to judge conditions. So when we left we were pleasantly surprised that the wave height was actually less than when we arrived two days ago, there was some sunshine, and we were on a broad reach.

As ever the tide was slow to arrive but with one reef in the main and a full jib we were making good speed. The WOA was running a competition to guess your time from a buoy outside the harbour to the entrance to the Kanaal, but as we left the harbour a dredger and barge left with us and forced us hard round to the right, so we decided to forgo the competition and not round the crucial buoy.

It was nice to see our old haunts at Breskens as we hurtled past at 8 knots, desperately trying to duck astern of a MSC container ship as it dawdled to pick up a pilot. Eventually we made it into the entrance to the Kanaal and were lucky to go almost straight into the lock with five other Westerlys, and we then formed our own blue wave with very little wait for the bridges, thank goodness.

Even better, when we reached Middelburg we explained to the lady from the harbourmaster's office that we would rather not raft up as we had a disabled person on board, and she said "ah, in that case you must go into box no. 1 which is for disabled people". Hooray! So we are in a very nice box with a finger pontoon, next to two other Westerlys instead of being rafted four deep with the rest of the fleet on the other side of the harbour.

Tomorrow Guy is leaving - from Middelburg there is a train direct to Rotterdam and then to the ferry at the Hook, so it's much quicker than going from Zeebrugge and much cheaper than getting the Eurostar. It will be a struggle without him but hopefully Ben can step into the breach. Other than that it's a rest day so we will be shopping at supermarket and chandlery, exploring the town and cleaning up the boat.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bruges pictures

Here are my boys in Bruges:

Day out in Bruges

A non-sea day today, with pretty much the whole WOA crew on a trip to Bruges - by coach, as it was worth it with 32 of us.

Last time Sam & I went to Bruges was before we were married, when we met my sister Lucilla to bring some of her possessions home after she lived in Germany for a year. Bruges hasn't changed much but it has an awful lot of cobbles, which are uncomfortable for anyone sitting in a wheelchair and very hard work for anyone pushing - mostly the heroic Ben, in our case. We had a two-hour guided tour, which was interesting although the guide was quite hard to hear, then lunch at a little restaurant up a side street which somehow managed to attract at least a dozen WOA crew, a wander around some shops and then coffee plus outrageously vast waffles for Ben and Sam, then back to the boat.

Tomorrow we head into the Kanaal door Walcheren and up to Middelburg. We have done this a number of times before and never realised there is a thing called a "blue wave" - if you turn up at the right time, all the bridges are opened for you. However, to get there for the last blue wave means pushing the tide for around three hours from Zeebrugge to Vlissingen, and we are quite sure we would rather spend less time in the horrible  North Sea even if we spend more time in the canal waiting for bridges. So we will not be pushing the tide but will be leaving at 1300 and hoping the forecast 1.2m waves with a 5sec gap between them will not actually materialise.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tales from the North Sea - part II

On Monday high water at Tollesbury was at 12 noon. Access is an hour either side of HW so I was aiming to leave just before noon if possible. By 0830 Sam, Guy, Ben and I were in the car. By 0930 we'd filled a couple of new cans with diesel (the old 20-litre jerrycan, which I can't lift when full, is a write-off after the lid cracked - apparently you can't buy replacement caps) and we had the phonecall from Volspec to tell us that the new pipe was in place and all was well. By 1100 everything was on board, although not exactly tidily stowed, and just before midday we headed out of Tollesbury.

The Met Office forecast was for north-easterly 4-5, occasionally 6 at first. Windguru showed a pretty steady 12 knots NNE, dying away at night on the UK side but not until later on the Belgian side. From Tollesbury you can't head straight out across the North Sea, there are several sandbanks in the way, so you have to head up to the level of Harwich anyway before heading out to sea. So we decided to go up the Wallet, the channel closest to the Essex coast, so that if anything went wrong we could turn into the Orwell. Once again it was a bumpy beat, with one reef in the main and several rolls in the jib, and the wind was further to the east than predicted, but with the tide with us we made good time up to the top of the Gunfleet sand and then to Long Sand Head.

At Long Sand Head the deep water opens out in front of you - technically you should turn south and cross the Sunk TSS further down, but as the wind made it impossible to cross at a right angle anyway and we didn't want to be pushed further south than we had to go, we headed straight out. Zeebrugge would have meant a course of about 115 degrees and within ten minutes it was clear that even if we could hold the course it would be close hauled and extremely uncomfortable in the very bumpy North Sea. (Technically the sea state was "moderate", but with the very short chop it was more like "moderately appalling'). However we could make a course for Oostende, passing just to the south of the Westhinder bank, and then running up the coast and into Oostende.

It was not really sailing at its most enjoyable. Guy and I hung on grimly through the afternoon, with the compensation that the wind held steady and the sun was shining - Guy paid for this later with nasty sunburn. Sam was originally sitting in the narrow berth on the starboard side, but with the prospect of 50 miles on starboard tack he couldn't possibly have braced himself. Somehow we managed to lever him into the much wider berth on the port side of the main saloon, wedged in with cushions, duvets and pillows, and although it wasn't exactly comfortable it was probably the best spot on the boat. Ben spent a lot of the afternoon asleep in the starboard berth with lee cloth rigged to stop him falling out. Ben had been ok to heat us some soup for lunch in the Wallet, but later on I found cooking our lasagne for dinner very difficult and Ben's sadly went over the side again a little later. (I don't remember him ever being sick before, which shows how rough it was). And around 1am it took me half an hour to make three cups of tea and quite a lot of the contents of the teapot jumped right out of the pot and on to the cabin floor.

The upside was that we made very good speeds with mile after mile of speed over the ground between 6 and 7 knots. We reached the main Traffic Separation Scheme as it was getting dark, with Ben helming by hand for part of it after one of our two autopilots refused to work any more, and got to the Westhinder light around midnight - fantastic timing, because it was just as the tide turned to run with us eastwards. (On our first ever crossing to Oostende in Magewind we missed the tide at this spot completely and spent about three hours going nowhere, trying to make way into both wind and tide, somewhere near the Oost Dyck sands). Fortunately also the wind had backed a bit further to the north and we were able to track along the southern edge of the Belgian traffic scheme and finally turn south for Oostende and its very nice new entrance with big outer walls. Altogether, with beating up the Wallet, we covered almost 100 miles in fifteen and a half hours, an average of 6.4 knots. When we did our first ever, shorter passage from SYH in Magewind in 2003, it took us more than 24 hours at an average of 3.5 knots!

We tied to the waiting pontoon outside the Mercator Jachthaven and went to sleep, finally locking in around 0930. We like the Mercator, although it's noisy and you have to lock in and out, but it's very sheltered and in the heart of Oostende which we also have great affection for.

The Westerly Owners Association cruise was due to assemble in Zeebrugge today, so at noon we locked out of Oostende hoping for a pleasant short hop. The wind had turned SW, the forecast was was for pleasant sun and F4. In the event what we got was F4-5 and more bloody bumps. With about half the jib and no main we hurtled up and across the Wenduinebank and surfed down the waves at up to 9 knots (well, for moments anyway). The worst bit was when Zeebrugge port control asked us to wait for 10 minutes for a ship to come in - by this time the wind and seas were strong enough that even with full revs we were in danger of being pushed backwards in front of the ship we were trying to avoid.

Anyway here we finally are in Zeebrugge with all the very nice Westerly owners and their beautiful boats. Tomorrow we're on a coach trip to Bruges and on Friday we head up to Middelburg and lovely sheltered inland waterways.

Tales from the North Sea - part I

It's been a slow start to the season but at last we have done some proper sailing and the longest passage with Sam on board since he had his stroke three years ago.

Kalessin finally went into the water in May after a false start when I failed to attach a new seacock tightly enough and it had to be hauled out again rather quickly (and rather badly by SYH who broke a bronze rubbing strake). Once in the water, Sam, Guy and I took her for a test sail in the Orwell and everything seemed to be more or less ok. Our plan was to join the Westerly Owners Association annual cruise to the Dutch delta for the last two weeks of June, and the shakedown was to be the Haven Ports Yacht Club cruise to Burnham on Crouch over the late May bank holiday weekend - we'd even found a crew for the weekend, Tim Moynihan, whom I met through the Cruising Association crewing service.

On the afternoon of Thursday 21 May, Sam clearly wasn't feeling very well, and Guy and I were trying to persuade him that he shouldn't go to a concert at Norwich Cathedral for which I had tickets. He was literally attempting to convince us that he was absolutely fine when he had a fit - stopped breathing for a minute, twitching, blue lips, totally unresponsive and extremely scary. Guy called an ambulance and Sam was taken to A&E at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. To cut a long story short, he was very weak and wobbly and they wouldn't let him out of the N&N until Tuesday, by which time Sam was so weak from staying in bed that it took two nurses to get him from the bed to a chair and the physio wanted to discharge him to a community hospital instead of coming home. Guy and I were very firm and assertive and insisted we could cope and eventually managed to get him home. By Friday he was walking around the house, not quite as if nothing had happened, but definitely recognisable as the Sam we know and love.

Sam and I went to see our GP and ask, rather hesitantly, about travelling & sailing. His response was basically "go for it" - he said life is too short to stop doing the things you care about, because of the risk of another seizure which might never happen. (Sam is now on levetiracetam, better known as Keppra, which is anti-seizure medication). So we alerted Tim the very nice crew again and signed up for another HPYC weekend cruise, this time to Tollesbury over the weekend of 6/7 June.

The delay had given us time to arrange for Phil our electrician to remove one of the cockpit speakers whose powerful magnet had stopped our autopilot from working, reroute the VHF to the other existing speaker, fit new (music) speakers on the pulpit rail, and diagnose the Navtex aerial as a complete failure (and an expensive one - a new aerial is more than £250 which is an awful lot given that 95% of the time you can get a better forecast using a phone). We also found a marine fridge engineer who fixed the fridge - just a top up of coolant and a repaired thermostat.We also rigged a new main halyard and topping lift.

The passage to Tollesbury went well - a bumpy beat down the Wallet, but quite manageable, although Sam stayed below. The evening barbecue was pleasant but got very chilly and we were fortunate that Tim the Tollesbury harbourmaster, his strong son, and Tim our very nice crew, were all able to help get Sam down the low-water (steep) ramp, hoisted straight out of his wheelchair and straight down inside Kalessin where he could warm up.

We set off from Tollesbury on the afternoon tide and only half a mile out heard a sound we had really hoped not to hear again - the bl***y engine overheat alarm. Lindsay Rufford had replaced a twisted pipe last season which we hoped had fixed the problem - but evidently it was not fixed at all. We picked up a mooring and Tim, who in private life is a civil engineer with a much better understanding of engines than mine, did a sterling job of checking all obvious options before returning very slowly to Tollesbury marina, who offered to come out and tow us in, and put us on the crane berth. (I later discovered that the crane hasn't worked for two years).

After discussion with Tim the harbourmaster, who is also an engine guru, we felt we might detach the overheat alarm and leave on the 0400 tide. This time we got slightly further, with Tim below watching the engine like a hawk, before the coolant suddenly boiled, again we hung on a mooring to let the engine cool, and again returned to the crane berth. It was a wonderful sunrise over the Tollesbury saltings but I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. At 0900 Tim and I strolled the 30 yards or so to Volspec, specialist Volvo Penta engineers, to see if they could find someone to look at the engine. Sharp intake of breath, but they might be able to find someone who could just look at it by the afternoon. At 1100 we got a cheery call from Ben the engineer, who just happened to have a cancellation and could look at our problem. Again, a long tale unfolded - he found several internal blockages. We got Guy to do some complicated manoeuvres with cars and take us all to SYH where Tim could collect his car and head back to London, and then head home. The pontoon at the crane bay was quite impossible for Sam to walk along, and once again it was low water and the ramp extremely steep, so the fine chaps at Tollesbury marina put Sam in a full body harness and hauled him from the boat to the shore with their mast derrick - well above and beyond the call of duty.

Meanwhile Ben spent many happy and expensive hours working on Kalessin's engine and eventually diagnosed the main problem as the electric pump which powers the aftermarket conversion of our engine, originally directly cooled by sea water, to an indirectly cooled engine which means we can get hot water. The problem was that the pump was working intermittently, hence the fact that it would sometimes be fine and other times overheat. Ben thought it would be possible to start the pump by tapping it with a winch handle but that really didn't fill me with confidence. A new pump was ordered but could take anything from a few days to a few weeks, so a better solution seemed to be to reconvert the engine to raw water cooling which could be done, Ben thought, with just an engine anode and new thermostat. Alas it turned out not to be so simple, an extra pipe was needed which had to come from Volvo in Sweden and cost over £100!!! and could not be delivered until Monday.

So we determined to head off to Zeebrugge on Monday 15 June. We had overcome Sam's seizure and engine failure - what else could go wrong? Find out in Part II....


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Slowtrack Yachtmaster

Strata 6 in a typical location off Felixstowe
Many people nowadays take a "fast-track" Yachtmaster course - Guy was one of them. Over period of three to six months you gain sailing experience, sea miles, endless practice of navigation skills and Collision Regulations, all the supporting qualifications offered by the RYA, and finally you take the RYA Yachtmaster (Offshore) practical exam.

I think I have just achieved the "slow-track" alternative. Looking at my quite aged RYA cruising logbook, I see that Sam and I did the Competent Crew practical in April 1989 (with the Westerly Sea School, long since defunct alas, and a colour-blind instructor). I followed this with the Day Skipper and Yachtmaster theory courses in 1992 and 93. A bit of a gap then as we didn't have a boat for a while, followed by VHF, First Aid and Coastal Skipper practical course completion in 2002-3, when we bought Magewind. At some point I did the Radar course, although I seem to have lost the certificate, followed by Sea Survival in 2009, and then a further long gap - I did a couple of weather courses too with Simon Keeling, but they don't form part of the RYA syllabus.

Last week, almost exactly 26 years after I completed the Competent Crew practical, I finally passed the Yachtmaster (Offshore) exam. Hooray!

Naturally there are more qualifications I could take if I wish - Yachtmaster Ocean for example, or Yachtmaster Instructor if I want to teach. At the moment however I think I have made quite good progress in overcoming my general nervousness (believe it or not) about going sailing. I've come a long way since we came out of St Valery en Caux in Kalessin in 2005 when a nasty force 5 Channel chop sent me down to hide in the cabin, shaking, crying and quite unable to cope with being on deck. I spent a few NLP sessions trying to find a way to get over that one.... and it may have taken 10 years but it seems to have worked.

I did what is called a "brush-up" course with East Anglian Sea School. Over the years these seem to have got shorter - when I did my Coastal Skipper in 2003 we had a Yachtmaster candidate who brushed up with all of us for five days and took his exam on the sixth. (He failed, mainly because he had no sense of where the wind was coming from). Last week's course, with two candidates on board, was just three days followed by the exam on the fourth day. Apparently people were turning up expecting to be brought up to YM standard from scratch in five days. No doubt a six-day course would be even harder on the wallet than the four-and-a-half days I did.

I was pretty lucky with my instructor (Ian McGlynn) and fellow candidate (Keith). As it happens, both are highly experienced - Keith was in the Merchant Navy for many years and holds a mate's certificate, although the RYA doesn't recognise that as qualifying you to sail a yacht (I guess you are a little closer to the water than on a coaster). He's also a really interesting person - former owner of a number of food production businesses, a lay preacher, volunteer with the Africa Mercy hospital ship, owner of an oldish 43-ft Oyster, and he's done the wooden boatbuilding course at Lowestoft. Ian meanwhile is a retired engineer with various water companies, a highly experienced yachtmaster instructor and charter skipper, guitar player and supporter of the Nancy Blackett trust (Nancy Blackett is a 1931 Hillyard 7-tonner formerly owned by Arthur Ransome, the original of the Goblin in We didn't mean to go to sea, and we were privileged to visit her in her berth at Woolverstone).

We had three days of delightful warm south westerlies and although it was the hardest work I've done at sea for a number of years, the course was actually enjoyable, considerably to my surprise.

On Wednesday evening the wind went round to the NE and the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees, which was a shame. Also, the cause of a squeak and catch in the wheel steering turned out to be a very worn steering cable - just as well we spotted it, as there were about four strands left and it would never have stood up to the rigours of the exam. The yacht, Strata 6, is a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36i, only six years old, but very well used as you would expect with a sea school boat (also generally well maintained, but not without problems). The wheel is huge and was a challenge for me more generally, as steering with it was very different from the tiller steering on Kalessin.

This is a different Sun Odyssey 36i but gives a good idea of the size of the wheel...
This isn't Kalessin either but shows how different the cockpit layout is in a Westerly Storm

Our examiner, Norman Andrews, is also in private life a Yachtmaster instructor at East Anglian Sea School. This seemed quite incestuous, but it appears there aren't enough examiners on the east coast. We started at 9am and finished around midnight, with Keith and me alternating skipper-ship throughout the day.

Good bits:
  • My course to steer to Fox's buoy (the direction to sail in, allowing for tide and wind) was perfect, which was a surprise as I'd managed to get it wrong every time I'd practised it in the previous month
  • I got the boat to heave-to on the right side of the buoy (downtide) and did it perfectly
  • Planning our route back from South Bawdsey to Wadgate Ledge, I asked Norman a question about crossing the Cork anchorage area, to which he expressed horror as he thought we were going the wrong way. Turned out I was right and he was wrong (he was thinking of a different anchorage somewhere else)
  • I worked out my tidal calculation correctly in about two minutes - mainly thanks to Ian who got us to do a tidal curve each day
  • My planned (theoretical) passage to Breskens was pretty good, and so it should have been because we have done variations of that route half a dozen times and spent many days in Breskens marina
  • We stopped on a mooring at Shotley for dinner, to answer some theory questions, and to wait for it to get dark so we could go night sailing. Around 9pm Norman popped on deck to check conditions, and announced it was so cold that we would not go out to Pye End as planned but would just do pilotage in the Stour and Orwell. Phew
Less good bits:
  • My first go at reversing into an alongside berth in SYH was rubbish, mainly becase I put a bit of forward throttle on instead of holding my nerve
  • It took me about six attempts to pick up the man overboard (just a little fender with a weight and loop of string - you have to come alongside it very slowly). The conditions were choppy and gusty which made it much more difficult than when we had practised in the Stour. We almost did it on the second or third pass but Ian dropped it :( Mind you I dropped it twice while Keith was trying to pick it up.... and I'm pretty sure he had more goes than I did
  • On my second run at the man overboard Norman told me there was no water coming out of the exhaust. I assumed this was an examiner's wicked ploy, turned off the engine and we did the whole thing under sail, but in fact it turned out to be true - the water pump drive belt was worn and possibly slipping, and the water filter lid was loose and might have been allowing an air leak
  • Norman helped me pick up the mooring in the Stour under sail. Grrr. The tide whizzes round the corner there and the wind is a bit flukey, that's my excuse anyway.
  • At the end (around midnight) we finally got the results ... after arriving back into SYH, tidying up the boat, putting on the sail over, making a cup of tea and generally messing about for almost 30 very nervous minutes. Norman said "Well, I'm recommending you for the qualification of Yachtmaster offshore - but you won't make Yachtmaster of the year". Thanks very much Norman. What happened to "Congratulations"? What happened to the appraisal sandwich, where you give people the good news about their performance, then slip in a bad bit, and end with another good bit? Basically he said my navigation was fine but my boat handling wasn't. I am very cross with myself about this, I know I could have done better. I just hope that it was the combination of exam nerves, the first sail this season and a socking great wheel which meant I reverted to my timid and hesitant native self. Bugger.
Anyway Keith also passed, as expected, and we finally got to bed around 0130. Slightly bizarrely Norman's boat was about 10 metres away from ours, having just been launched, and he ended up coming back for a drink and a warm-up as he had no heating on his boat - and then back again for breakfast the next morning.

All in all it was a good experience, tough and challenging but with great opportunities to learn. I was lucky to be with a good team (Ian and Keith). I wouldn't choose Strata 6 as a boat for me, she's responsive and quick, and reasonably well-equipped and comfortable below, but very tender (tippy) - in a Force 4-5 we sailed everywhere with the No.4 headsail, which is a small working jib, and often a reef in the main, and she still griped up into every gust.

My hope was that the qualification would give both me and potential crew more confidence. Just at the moment I'm not quite sure how confident I feel, knowing I will never be Yachtmaster of the year (grrrrrrr). Kalessin is due to go into the water at the end of this week so I'll have an opportunity to find out fairly soon....