Friday, 15 July 2011

Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland

Wild weather at Orford.
We hunkered down in the River Ore for a few more days while the southwesterly gale raged and passed our days very pleasantly with country walks, reading and a superb celestial navigation lesson from Orford Sailing Club's 'Doc' David, who had sailed his boat to Brazil a few years back and is a fount of knowledge.
The first day that the wind moderated we were on our way, along with a lot of other boats who had been waiting up river. As on the entry over the bar, departure is recommended at or above half tide on the flood and there was a regular flotilla steaming out against a pretty stiff current. We crossed the bar slowly and without incident but as soon as we were clear the seas started to hit us. Conditions on the Thames Estuary were still very rough and as Jim knelt on the foredeck, reefing down the jib for the stronger than expected wind, the bow regularly plunged into the approaching waves, engulfing him in solid water. At least it was warm.
We soon decided that it would be wiser to forget about the Channel and divert to the River Orwell. A tough beat into a good Force 6 finally brought us there after six hours of hard graft and we anchored at dusk in beautiful calm waters opposite the Suffolk Yacht Haven.

The River Orwell is extremely busy but mainly with sailboats – it's fantastic to see so many people out sailing, many in beautiful classic boats. Sailing conditions were near perfect, smooth water, gentle breezes. We were content to tack our way down river to Harwich's Halfpenny Pier to do our chores. People were very friendly – Jim got a lift to the distant petrol station from a a very nice chap from the cafe on the pier to get diesel and he was also given a pair of fresh-caught crab by local fishermen! The harbourmaster took our rubbish away with him and cast off our lines. Full marks for Harwich.

We then had a delightful downwind upriver sail to Pin Mill, where we cooked and ate the crab and then went ashore to meet Nicci, a friend of a friend who lives on a beautiful 100-year-old Thames barge. Pin Mill has a community of house boats that have been parked at the edge of the forest and boasts a fine pub in the middle of it. Just a wonderful peaceful place.

The next day we finally had a favourable weather window for the English Channel. A northeasterly was forecast to arrive in the night and strengthen to near gale the next day. So off we went! We were off North Foreland just as the tide was turning in our favour and at 3am the promised northeasterly came up. We poled out the genoa to one side, boomed out the main to the other and Fettler spread her wings and flew through the Straits of Dover at 7 knots plus. As expected we didn't get much sleep that night, maybe an hour or so each, what with changing conditions, all the traffic and having to handsteer most of the time. Luckily once the traffic separation scheme started the big ships all stayed nicely in there and we had the inshore traffic zone pretty much to ourselves.

Conditions became progressively more boisterous down Channel and we changed down from genoa to jib no. 3 as the sea state roughened. We were surfing down waves at 8 knots or more a lot of the time and making excellent time along this slightly dreary coast, past Dungeness and Eastbourne. At the Isle of Wight we had a slightly unnerving encounter with a ferry which steamed out of the Solent at 18 knots (the AIS said it would miss us by 3 miles at this point), then it changed course twice, slowed right down and came to a halt about half a mile from us and put two red lights on (meaning not under command). At this time Sonja panicked, thinking about the poor Ouzo, which had been mowed down by a ferry very close by, but Jim got up to help and we got out of the ferry's way – or so we thought. A few miles further, one of the self-steering lines broke and we had to reef down as conditions got rougher so we hove to fix this. By this time Sonja was horribly seasick and Jim gave up most of his valuable snooze time to do double duty. In the end, Jim had to call up the ferry, which had by now got under way again and was coming up on our exact course behind us at 18 knots. Why do these things always happen in the darkest hour of the night? Soon afterwards we were on collision course with no less than the Queen Mary 2, but at least that was easier to resolve.
We passed her in a blaze of light and thought of the passengers tucked up in their luxurious beds, probably not even aware that it was rough out at all.

The morning brought gentler conditions and sunshine as we approached the Portland Bill. Sonja got over her seasickness and we motored across Lyme Bay until a nice breeze started up on our nose – too good to pass up. We changed plans and went where our tack took us, which was into Torbay, where we anchored just before sunset after a passage of about 290 miles in 57 hours. After a celebratory beer and dramette in the cockpit we fell into bed, exhausted but well pleased.

Chuffing from Paignton to Kingswear.

The next morning was glorious. We spotted three species of heron in the woodlands next to the anchorage and a steam train chuffed along the coast. Somewhat reluctantly we got under way again to go around the corner into Dartmouth. The entrance into Dartmouth is just spectacular – what a beautiful town and superb spot. There are around 1,500 permanent moorings on the River Dart, plus countless visitor moorings. We were very pleased that there was a cheap-ish pontoon for boats under 30ft only, just outside the Dartmouth Yacht Club. This is where we'll be for the next few days while some more heavy weather passes by.
The entrance to the River Dart is out of this world.

Tied up in front of the Dartmouth Yacht Club - Kingswear across the water.

By chance we spotted the Round Britain Experience vessel in port, which we did ten years ago. We were welcomed aboard (much more luxurious accommodation than in our day) and later had the whole gang for drinks on board Fettler. Now we await the arrival of tiny Hyskeir and two other sailing friends – could be party time again tonight!


Marc said...

I really love your blog. Hope you don't mind that I shared it around with some friends.

Marc said...

Congratulations on reaching the Azores! Can't wait for the journey's account.