Saturday, 5 May 2012

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

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