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.

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