Monday, 17 June 2013

Harwich in a hurry

The Dover entrance shows its nasty side once more 
Yacht experiencing the joys of the Dover entrance

The couple of days of dodgy weather left it at that and gave us two pleasant days in Dover. There were very many Dutch boats about the place, mostly pinned down longer than they wanted to be by the weather and bound for their holiday cruise to the south coast of England. Dover retains a surprising amount of its old charm, considering that quite a bit of it was destroyed by German guns fired from France (!) during the war.

Dover esplanade
Dover Castle - a snip at £17 per adult
Then, a beautiful forecast. A day for the seas to settle down after the hard blow and then a fair breeze for crossing the insidious Thames Estuary. Prime time for Dover departure, to catch the start of the north-going tide, was 1300. That would mean a night-time arrival at Harwich, but it being a busy commercial harbour, the entrance is well buoyed and lit.

The White Cliffs
The good gentleman of Port Control bade us hold station just inside the eastern entrance and then follow out the departing Calais ferry, Rodin, after which we pointed the bow more or less north and sailed up past the famous white cliffs, picturesque Deal and Ramsgate to North Foreland.

Our course was nearly a dead run (with the wind right behind), and called for regular alterations of 40 degrees or so to either side, meaning gybe after gybe, each time dropping the foresail and moving the pole from one side to the other. Plenty of work to break up what can otherwise be a tedious passage across the 40 mile-wide estuary.

The other points of interest are the wretched sand banks, invisible just below the surface, now mostly covered with wind farms, arranged in the ideal configuration to make navigating across distinctly awkward. Add in a goodly amount of shipping to dodge and a sudden gale warning and you have the makings of a memorable passage.

As we worked our way towards 'Fisherman's Gat', one of the gaps where one may cross the treacherous sand banks, the VHF crackled to life with an announcement from the Guard Ship Mary Anne, warning all shipping of the hazard to navigation presented by the wind farm currently under construction just to the east of us and blocking off 'Foulger's Gat', the pass east of Fisherman's Gat. Duly noted.

Shortly afterwards, I was occupied with an involved bit of sail handling up forward when Sonja called me aft with the news that the alarmed-sounding guard ship was now hailing us specifically. I called them up and reassured them that we had no intention of going through Foulger's Gat and we parted with mutual wishes for a pleasant evening. To be honest, we wouldn't have been tempted anyway, as Foulger's is shoal and unmarked, but they seemed to be happy to have someone to warn.

Wind farm in the Thames Estuary
The wind died as we emerged from Fisherman's Gat into Black Deep and we motored along to Sunk Head, turning across King's Channel towards NE Gunfleet (love the names). The breeze roused itself again at this point and we were soon sailing once more. At this point the VHF piped up with a 'Securite, Securite, Securite' - meaning a safety announcement to come. "Southwesterly gale expected in Thames and Dover, soon." Just a little added frisson to season the final 3 hours of the trip.

Darkness fell as we crossed King's Channel and the wind farms lit up like cities around us. With a rising wind behind us we raced across Goldmer Gat towards the Medusa Channel, a shortcut  to Harwich inside the Rough Shoals, but very shallow. We'd planned the route on a forecast showing light wind on the Harwich approach, so felt slightly concerned over what the sea state would be like in the Medusa when the depth dropped to under 5 metres. It turned out fine, giving us a thrilling ride as we searched ahead to pick up the lit buoys and come roaring into the Stour-Orwell Estuary.

Things became a little confused as we felt our way in to the Half Penny Pier in the dark at 0100 and we were less than pleased to find a quite heavy swell jostling the few boats already tied up there. We first made fast to an empty berth on the outside of the pontoon but soon realised it was far too rough stay there. I thought I saw another vacant berth inside, where the shelter was better, so we cast off again and made our way in.

A sign on the end of the pontoon highlights the presence of floating moorings in the basin and recommends sticking close to the pontoons. The street lighting lit the basin well enough that I could see the moorings clearly and saw no reason not to motor around behind the moored fishing boats to get into a good position for coming along side the pontoon. Once there, however, I glanced at the depth sounder, which was now reading 1.4m! 'Urk!' Since Fettler draws 1.4m that was cutting it rather fine.

Next, I saw the 'No Mooring' sign on what I had taken to be a free berth. We decided to raft up against the boat on the next, and best protected, spot along the pontoon. The boats were pitching and rolling a bit, but we fendered up well, issued a medicinal spirit ration, and turned in. 0200.

0400. Woke up to the awful din of fenders in distress between the two boats. The forecast gale was arriving and the boats were heaving and bouncing uncomfortably together. Our neighbour's head appeared in his hatch as I worked out what to do to get things under control. I saw that the angle between our pontoon and the next could be used to advantage by running long warps from across there to Fettler and winching them in tight to hold us clear of the inside boat. With some assistance from Sonja and neighbour Terry, things were soon set up and the boat lying much more comfortably. Of course, the final line adjustments, after Sonja and neighbour Terry were both away back to their beds, had to be made in the pouring rain.

Come 0900, it was all go again, with inside boat wishing to depart and various others too, who were heading out for the day's racing. The weather was worse. Howling and lumpy. We helped others and they helped us, boats were warped and tugged all over the place, departing one by one. We decided to shove off too, having heard from one of the locals of a good spot to anchor nearby with much better shelter. This also happened to be a great place to watch the many beautiful traditional boats racing on the River Orwell.

Racing in the River Orwell
So many beautiful traditional boats
Felixstowe Container Terminal in a squall
Thames Barge
After a good night's sleep we pushed off for the River Ore - the entrance of which had shifted dramatically since our last visit two years ago. But we had the up-to-date chartlet, courtesy of Doc, and the buoys were in position so the entry was no big deal. We rounded Havergate Island and there was Doc's boat Tuesday anchored in Abraham's Bosom - the first to welcome us back to the UK in person.

Sailing past the Orford Ness lighthouse, on the inside
Bird scarer?
We have now retreated far upriver for shelter from the stiff northeasterly blowing and no doubt generating a rather nasty sea state out there, which is bothering us not a bit. Up here it's peace, perfect peace, and we've had a nice visit from a curious otter already. It'll soon be time to head ashore for the first time since Dover.

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