Monday, 28 May 2012

Shore Leave

The Purser and the Owners Agent
What on earth do you do when the weather is set fair, with the wind in the right quarter and your boat is back with the builders?

Have lunch, of course, at a simple little restaurant somewhere in Oxfordshire.

I would have to have been at home for this anyway as the Owners Agent and I together with the Purser and his wife and the Mathematician and his wife have been celebrating at this establishment each year for the last several years.

This enforced shore leave also means that I can cut the grass (and it's growing like fun), plant the Runner Beans and we can put the house on the market! And, of course, celebrate the Jubilee with the family. I've even made a flag pole and hoisted the Union Flag for the occasion.

News Flash ------ Vagabond will be back next week, all fixed and improved. ------

She will have a mooring cleat in the centre of the aft deck, making it easier for me to moor "port to" or "starboard to" at the last minute and a topping lift fitted. The lazy jack halyard had been both holding up the boom and supporting the lazy jacks. It meant that the throat of the lazy jacks was small and, although they caught the mainsail, it was awkward to pack the top third of the sail away. The new scheme of things should overcome this. I can't wait...

But will have to do so as she doesn't go back in the water (at Eastbourne) a week next Thursday. Meanwhile, of course, it's blowing nicely from the East and the current weather system is bound to collapse before then. Perhaps I should turn round and go the other way.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Pause Buttton pressed

The pause button on my wanderings has been pressed as Vagabond is now back with Swallow Boats for a week or so.
The voyage from Dover to Eastbourne revealed an unexpected leak in the foredeck and Matt (the owner of Swallow Boats) wanted to spend time to find and fix it (them?). He offered to collect Vagabond and take her "home", despite it being a 12 hour round trip.
In the end, we agreed that the best way for this to happen would be for me to arrange an early morning "lift out" and onto the trailer at  Eastbourne and then for me to drive to meet Matt somewhere "en route".
And that's what we did yesterday.  I moved Vagabond to the "boat lift" at crack of dawn (for me, 08:15 to be precise) then lowered and secured the mast. Lowering the mast turned out to be a surprisingly easy "one man" operation, using the spinnaker halyard and the bow roller.
I went off to find the trailer and returned to find Vagabond suspended by the crane. Clearly the crane can handle somewhat larger craft......
The crane crew quickly gave her bottom a power wash and settled her on the trailer, all the time telling me what a pretty boat she was.

It took about an hour and half to pack Vagabond to my satisfaction and we were off to meet Matt at a motorway services.

In the meantime, the Flautist has sent me a few photos that she took on our trip from Ramsgate to Dover, so I thought I'd let you see some of them.

Washing up before we start

Getting geared up

Wondering if the main is set right

Yes, it is.
Finally, one picture from the beginning of the journey to Eastbourne, before we had passed Dungeness.

As you can see, the sea state is "calm".

The cloud formation gave me hope that there was a chance of a sea breeze setting in and giving me less of a head wind. It didn't, and once past Dungeness the sea state changed to "moderate"!

So, there will now be a pause in this blog until sailing is resumed (probably after the shenannigin of the Jubilee)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Vagabond now lies secured (I hope) to a pontoon in the Sovereign Marina at Eastbourne. We arrived there at last on Sunday night after an 11 hour motor/sail from Dover. But let's go back a bit. The loyal reader will last of heard of us in Ramsgate, where we stayed in harbour all last week as a variety of strong Westerlies took over the Eastern part of the English channel. I went home and cut the grass and collected even more items to put in the boat. The forecast looked propitious for the weekend and I went back to Ramsgate on Thursday, having arranged with the Flautist to join me on Saturday for the next leg of the trip - to Dover.

Friday dawned fair but as I was waiting for a crew on Saturday, I did the sort of things you usually do on a boat in harbour, cleaning, fiddling, checking, thinking what enhancements you'd like to see and chatting to bystanders. In the evening the architectural side of the family visited and we had a convivial evening on board and continued at a local hostelry.

Saturday was another fair morning and the Flautist arrived early too, so we sought permission from the port authority and left to catch the tide to Dover. The wind was on our port quarter, the tide was under our keel and we flew down to Dover in less than four hours, pontoon to pontoon.

We played at gybing a few times and the boom came out of the socket on the mast. The retaining pin had clearly not been locked properly when I had put the mast up in Burnham. Leaving the Flautist at the tiller (she had, after all competed at National level in dinghies at some time) I clipped on and rushed onto the cabin roof to fiddle the boom back in place and then pinched the stop pin from the bottom of the mast track (I felt it wouldn't be needed until  the sail was lowered so was not that important at the moment).

We  rounded the S Foreland with no further incident only to be told by Dover control to wait about a bit as a couple of Ferries beat us to the East entrance. Eventually they let us into the outer harbour and we motored slowly across and then down the canyon of the entrance to the marina (the tide was low and the dock walls seemed higher than our mast) to find a berth.  We watched a replica bronze age boat get lowered into the water (and promptly fill up), had lunch and then the Flautist went home having enjoyed the morning. I set out to find a new pin and plan the next stage of the journey. It looked like an early start was needed to make sure that we were passed the big shingle spit at Dungeness before the tide turned against us. A quick consultation with the Skipper confirmed my analysis.

Saturday was bright and sunny too, even at 06:00 hrs as I struggled to get ready. Lines were let go at seven, and after a bit a poor start (because I had forgotten to lower the centreboard) we were on our way to the port entrance. Permission was given for us to proceed, the traffic lights changed to green and at 07:30 we were off under the motor, west towards Dungeness. More in hope than expectation I hoisted the main and made a few desultory tacks (the wind had gone round the the South West over night) gave up on the idea of sailing (we were making 2 kn towards our destination and that was 44 miles way) so on came the outboard again. We motor sailed on and slowly the ground speed increased as the tide became favourable. Clouds built up ashore and I wondered if there was the chance of a sea breeze later on...If so, we might get some more sailing in. 
I wasn't cold, really

The sea was smooth and Dungeness was rushing towards us at more than 6 knots. There was time for a self portrait. If the wind stayed in this direction, we should be able to lay Eastbourne on a tack.
We passed Dungeness ahead of schedule and then the weather and the water conditions changed. The waves at Dungeness became steeper and confused. White horses appeared in the distance ahead of us. 'Wind over tide' I thought, 'Anyway, we  can't go back'. We changed course to head for Eastbourne and even sailed for a bit. The wind freshened and veered such that it came right on the nose. We could tack in towards land or out to sea or press on as we were. We pressed on.  The wind gained more strength(18 kn true) so I prudently took in a reef (there's a first!) and we carried on motor sailing, albeit a little more slowly. I changed petrol cans. The wave patterns changed - there were definitely white horses and the waves were coming to us against our port bow. We'd climb the wave (after all, Vagabond is quite little) and slide down the far side, sometimes landing with a thump that slowed us down. Steering up the lee side of the wave at an angle helped but it drove us down wind so I had to use each opportunity of a lull in the waves to drag us back to the weather side of our course. Several times we took spray over the bows (I managed to duck sometimes) and once or twice a wave seemed intent on joining me in the cockpit but changed it's mind at the last moment.

Seven hours later we were still at it. At last the we were able to close the land near Eastbourne. By now the sun was lowish to the West of us and it took me some time to find the entrance. It didn't help that I first mistook the entrance marker buoy as yet another fisherman's pot buoy! Eventually we were slipping between the entrance breakwaters and then moored in the lock. I was so tired I forgot what pontoon I was allocated and had to request it by radio again. We found it (downwind of a fishing boat) and tied up. The engine was turned off after eleven hours of use and I went below to face the shambles that I knew would be there after any voyage into a head wind and sea.

The trip so far has shown up a few defects in the boat and also has given me some ideas on improvements that I would like to have done to her. So, after consultation with Matt he has generously offered to collect Vagabond this coming weekend and take her back to Wales to make the changes. The snag is the weather on Thursday looks just right for going round Beachy Head and on to Shoreham by Sea.........

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Word Pictures

At dinner last night with the Insurer(Retired) , the Flautist, and the Owners Agent I was scolded for not having included photos within the episode of the Thames crossing. I had to admit that none were taken for I had left the camera in some forgotten part of the cabin.

However, you didn't miss much as there wasn't much to see. Here were the highlights. Imagine all of these in a dull monochrome.

As I turned East at the end of the Crouch estuary I saw the base columns of half a dozen wind turbines (but not the blades, they were hidden in the cloud - or perhaps they were yet to be fitted) at the limits of visibility to the north. Then, as we passed through Fishermans Gat  a further wind farm loomed through the gloom, about a couple of miles away to the East. This was in various stages of construction, with not a blade turning. There was a ship that looked like a small cruise liner sending forth small boats to the base of one - was this taking the tourists to look at them (part of  a "green" tourist cruise?) I wondered.

A swift swooped under Vagabonds bow just before we passed the North Foreland. A couple of  fast catamarans labelled "Wind Farm Support Vessels" were shown on the GPS as " AIS identified threat vessels", before appearing out of the gloom half a mile away and dashing off. Finally, as were neared Ramsgate there were a couple of container ships taking on the Pilot before moving up Channel .

Otherwise we had the sea to ourselves, and photos of predominately grey waves are pretty uninspiring, so I was never moved to risk leaving Vagabond to herself whilst I delved in the cabin for the camera.

Next time, I'll include it in my cockpit checklist of sandwiches, personal epirb, P beaker, drink, knife, binoculars, gloves, scarf, hat, spare glasses, hand bearing compass, foghorn, harness. If you have any other ideas of stuff that you might think should be added to this list, please let me know and I'll build a new locker for it!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Leaky Blues

Woke up this morning and what did I find?

Breakfast. Real coffee. Ramsgate Marina office. (Good loos, no restaurant but lots of pubs and a yacht club up on the hill)

And then back to Vagabond to find the floorboards floating.

Well, almost. I thought the boat felt damp, so I checked the bilges - quelle horreur - they were about 2.54 cm* deep in water. I don't remember spilling anything last night.

Help, we're sinking.

After pumping the bilges and mopping up,  the water continued to seep in from somewhere forward.  All the floorboards came up and were stacked to one side. I mopped and watched and eventually traced the source of the leak to one of the fittings in the forward water ballast tank.

(For the uninitiated, the Bay Cruiser takes on a few hundred kilos of water ballast, held in two tanks, one aft under the cockpit and one forward in the bow. They are connected by a piece of clear plastic hose. The aft tank has a self bailer scoop installed in it, "the wrong way round" so water is forced into the tanks as you go along when the scoop is open. As soon as the tanks are full, the scoop should be shut).

I had to pump all the ballast out.  After about a minute of hard pumping nothing had happened and I realised that I had left the scoop open during our voyage yesterday.

The scoop as shut and pumping resumed and after about 10 minutes the pump started to pump air - but there was still water in both tanks. I resorted to desperate measures, dipping a beaker in to the tank and emptying it down the rear of the cockpit (at least it cleaned the cockpit floor). Eventually, the level was below the connecting pipe and there didn't seem to be any more water coming into the tank.

I pushed a bung into the inlet pipe fitting of the forward tank and rang Matt at Swallow boats for a consultation (whinge). "Try tightening the fitting with a wrench, failing that take it apart and reseal it with a silicon sealant". Well the wrench didn't work so it will have to be the sealant. But that will have to wait until next Wednesday (if she hasn't sunk in the meantime) and then there are the Navigation Lights to investigate and the reefing lines to reroute......

* 1 inch US

Started (so I'll finish?)

Vagabond and I arrived at Ramsgate on Thursday night, only to be told by the Harbour master that our nav. lights weren't showing. So we crept in and found the first available berth in the marina. I had to move to a more suitable (smaller) on Friday. And there, I hope, she is still floating serenely after her first wandering whilst I came home to recuperate (what, already?) for the Bank Holiday.

Last Wednesday, the Scotsman and I took her out of the Marina at North Fambridge (good loos, OK but not stylish cafe) and sailed down the River Crouch. The main proved a bit difficult to raise, partly because of the way in which the reefing lines are rigged. I'll need to look at that before next going out. After about three hours sailing down the river we turned round and brought her back to Burnham on Crouch marina (posh restaurant and bar, awful loos), the place for my overnight stop. She sailed well in a 10 knot northerly breeze, reaching 7 and half knots over the ground going out with the tide and just over 4 coming back against it.

I put the Scotsman on the train to North Fambridge so that he could drive home and retired to consider whether to brave the crossing of the Thames Estuary on the following day.  I discovered that the heater had now decided to work, so in a warm fug I consulted the oracles. The weather forecast from both XC Weather and my Ipad Grib App looked promising.  Northerly 15 - 15 kn, backing Westerly. The GB Met Office offered a strong winds warning.......So I slept on it.

By morning the strong winds warning had disappeared to be replaced a warning of low vis and some rain. I thought I'd go. My decision was reinforced by a chance conversation with a boat owner on the pontoon. He was off to Ramsgate,  today and he hadd been waiting a fortnight* for the right conditions. I omitted to ask what sort of boat he had, only to discover later it was a forty foot pilot saloon motor sailer!

So, after a delay due to (a) making sandwiches and ensuring that everything I would need was in the cockpit, (b) procrastination, and (c) crossing the river to fill my new petrol tank with fuel, we set off at noon, sailing down the river as we had the previous day. Soon we had passed the end of our previous trip and moved into new waters. At this point the channel turned NE and we had to tack a couple of times to claw our way along it. Two and a half hours later, we reached the Whitaker buoy and turned E. By now the radio was full of Dutch voices and I wondered if we had reached Holland inadvertently but the GPS was sure we hadn't. We sailed along past a couple more buoys and then turned south into one of the channels of the Thames Estuary.  Four hours had elapsed so far. The visibility closed in, less than a mile. A large container ship passed a mile or so away in the gloom. I turned E over a mud bank that I had been told was passable. The echo sounder went inexorably down to to 2.5 metres and hovered there for a seeming eternity. I spotted a sand bank awash off to port.  I kept mroe than half an eye on the depth sounder: 2.6, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7 - we were over the bank and into the next channel. We had to cross this and then sail down Fishermans Gat. The tide was pushing us down the Gat. No more shallow patches from here to Ramsgate! The water colour changed from a murky, yellow brown of the Thames and Crouch to the blue green of the northern English Channel.

At the end of Fishermans Gat we turned E of South, to run to the North Foreland. By now the visibility was slightly better but the wind direction had not changed as forecast. It dropped to about 5kn and was still from the North. With it and the slight swell directly behind us making Vagabond's motion distinctly unpleasent, our speed was down to less than 4 knots over the ground. I was concerned that we might not reach Ramsgate before the tide turned against us. So the motor came on and we motored at about 6kn (sog) on to Ramsgate, arriving in the harbour channel just before eight o'clock (20:00 hrs BST for any military readers). Judging by the set of the current across the entrance, the tide had been definitely against us for the last half hour or so!
Eight hours for our first real trip, covering about 40 miles. Not bad.

Tired, I  cadged the marina entry codes off another yacht and went off to find something to eat before falling asleep in the bunk......

* A fortnight = two weeks to those readers in North America

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

First Trials

After the excitment and stress of the launch, I spent Friday of last week with Vagabond getting bits of her to work and rigging the lines into the right places! I had remembered to fix the wind vane to the mast head before erecting the mast, so it was now time to see if it would "talk" to the wind display instrument.
The electricity master switch was turned on, and, with bated breath, I flicked the switch labelled "nav inst". Nothing happened, so I resorted to the Tackticks instruction book. The display needed to be turned on too.....The button was pressed and the apparent wind speed direction appeard. So too did the depth of water under neath us. Almost success - the true wind speed was not shown, despite the right connections being made to the GPS unit. Long periods on hold to the Raymarine help desk and a couple of emails to them have still not identifed the solution.
The radio was commissioned and appears to work, judging by the noises that it emits but it has yet to be used in transmission mode.
The gas was connected and checked for leaks (none). The gas rings work (or at least one of them does) so the kettle was boiled to make coffee.
The heater was tested......hmmm..... more work in progress - but who needs heating (me!!!)
The water tank was filled and didn't leak.
On Monday, the Dublin lass sent me her phone footage of the launch: Vagabond looks more under control than I thought at the time. And the comments from the cabin boy and cabin girl are delightful!

On Monday, the Scotsman and I took her for a sail. Well, more of a motor really. The wind was coming from due east dead straight down the reach of the river on which stands the marina. So we motored into it for a couple of hours, really to bed in the engine and get some idea of fuel consumption. We then turned about, unrolled the jib and drifted in the sun back up river to the marina, where I put her into the wrong berth! Never mind, it was good practice to move her!

Tomorrow, the wind is in the North. We'll take her down river, hoist the main and the jib to see what she can do.