Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Passage Plan Tue 24th August 2018

Departed Ipswich 05:20UT towards Burnham Yacht Harbour eta 15:00UT

Alternate Bradwell Marina

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Passage Plan- Tuesday 21 August 2018

Departing North Fambridge by 10:00UT towards Bradwell Marina eta 17:00UT

Alternates: Burnham Yacht Harbour, Brankfleet anchorage (River Roach), Pyefleet, Brightlingsea

Monday, 23 July 2018

The Channel Islands - Paradise with a Twist (2018 Summer Cruise Conclusions)

This was our longest cruise away from base to date ... and for reasons I'll come back to later almost certainly our last "long" cruise for some years to come.

The leg down channel was not, it has to be said, a pleasure cruise. Dover to Sovereign Harbour was, for the second year running, particularly frustrating. Pagan doesn't much enjoy bashing into an F5/6 on the nose with a steep Channel chop knocking the stuffing out of her forward progress. And frankly the crew didn't enjoy it much either.

In hindsight, it was probably a little too ambitious to plan to make St Peter Port in a week. Do-able, certainly, but it put pressure on that we could have done without. That said, the overnight passage from Eastbourne to Guernsey was very satisfying (I do like night sailing!). Another time I'd make sure we had a more relaxed schedule.

Once in the Channel Islands, we were blessed with a sustained spell of astonishingly good weather. There was, perhaps, a little bit too much wind from the North East in the first week (and oh how we could have done with that wind a week earlier!) but it did little to affect our enjoyment.

It did though get a bit too windy for comfort over the middle weekend but we'd wisely cut and run back to St. Peter Port on the Thursday. That proved to be a very astute decision as St. Peter Port filled up rapidly on the Friday with everybody wanting to get into shelter over the weekend.

As detailed in the earlier posts, we felt we hadn't done Sark justice and changed our plans to go back a second time rather than move on to Jersey and St. Malo. That too proved to be good judgement. Sark is without a doubt magical.

We missed out on Herm but we didn't mind. It gives us an excuse, as if we needed one, to go back another time!

We spent a lot of time in the two marinas, more perhaps than we envisaged. But it's impossible to regret that. St. Peter Port is lively, vibrant and full of places to go, places to eat, places to drink and places to shop. Beaucette is peaceful, sheltered and has a superb restaurant (but nothing else). Each in their own way is to be highly recommended.

And now for the twist.

Swell

Only in Beaucette, and in St. Peter Port when the cill was uncovered, were we ever entirely free of the influence of a (mostly) Southerly swell. No matter what the wind conditions, no matter what the wind direction, no matter what the tide was doing, the swell made it's presence felt the whole time.

With the exception of the one night on the buoy at Havre Gosselin (Sark) it was never particularly bad or uncomfortable but it was always there. And we had near ideal weather conditions. Even so, there were times when even in the shelter of Victoria Marina in St. Peter Port the boat was swaying about sufficiently to make life on board slightly annoying if not downright unpleasant.

And I would reckon that if the wind blew up for a spell there is probably nowhere in the Balliwick of Guernsey which could be described as fully sheltered at all states of the sea and tide. It isn't a reason to avoid the islands but it does have to be considered - especially in high season when the availability of inner marina berths is at a premium. Out on the outer pontoons at St. Peter Port over the middle weekend the moored vessels were plunging about sufficiently to make life damned uncomfortable.

Despite changing our plans half way through the cruise, the crew changes worked smoothly. I am most impressed by the service provided by Flybe - being able to go onto their website and quickly change flights at minimal cost (anything up to two hours before flying although we did it several days ahead) made the change of plans very easy to execute.

The return leg was definitely more of a holiday than the outward leg. With neither myself nor Richard needing to be back for ten to twelve days, we were able to take a bit of time at the nice places along the way. Unfortunately we also had to take a bit of time at my least favourite port due to the weather.

So would we go back to the Channel Islands again? Hell yes! But there is a but. I would want to have at least six weeks to do it - two out, two there (minimum) and two back. And preferably longer in the middle. And it has to be acknowledged that on another visit the weather might not be as good, indeed it's unlikely it would be as good, which could make all the difference.

Looking ahead, we learnt a great deal from this cruise.

The first is that we simply have to upgrade Pagan's anchoring gear. Hauling 45m of somewhat rusty chain aboard with the old manual windlass was a killer job. We want, as soon as we can afford it, a self launching anchor, new (and longer) chain and an electric windlass.

The second is that we need to sort out our dinghy and outboard(s). The borrowed roundtail dinghy proved an excellent servant but can't really carry the 4 stroke outboard all that well. The Avon 3.1 I bought cheaply earlier in the year has proved to be just too big.

So we want a transom dinghy around the 2.7m mark with three chambers. Not easy to find these days but I've found one. And I want to fit a pair of lightweight removable davits in due course. The dinghy will get flip down transom wheels on it as carrying the damn thing up the beach nearly killed us!

As for the outboards, the borrowed Mariner was reliable and effective (but as mentioned too heavy for the roundtail) and our 2 stroke Tohatsu went from being ultra-reliable to refusing to start at all at whim. It needs a major strip down and overhaul of the fuel system. It'll get it before next year. The bigger Mariner 4 stroke I acquired from a friend also needs sorting out as I plan to continue to carry both outboards.

All of this will have to wait on finance being available. We are very nearly skint and by the time we've had one final excursion for ten days or so next month and had Pagan hauled ashore for the winter the sailing coffers will be empty.

My mission from September, for as long as necessary, will be to earn some serious pennies to refill the coffers and then save up the money to do the ongoing improvements and upgrades to Pagan and the kit we carry.

And as that is likely to involve me being back in proper gainful full time employment for a couple of years or more, we are going to be back to holiday sailing and weekending from next year for the forseeable future.

And that leads to one final decision that has been taken - when we relaunch next spring we'll be going back onto a swinging mooring and giving up the mud berth. It has served it's purpose for the last three or four years but the logisitical problems of only being able to get on and off the berth on Spring tides don't sit well with getting good use from the boat when we can only take a maximum of two weeks holiday at a time.

Oh and a final final bit of thinking is that we're thinking of not going very far afield next year. We, and especially Jane (unprompted), have identified a need to improve our skills in a number of areas. Jane in particular feels she really needs to get to grips with helming the boat when we're anchoring or picking up buoys (but probably not, she says, in the confines of marinas!). We've talked about having a year where we devote ourselves to learning to handle the boat better and as yet we haven't done it. So maybe next year will be the year

2018 Summer Cruise - Homeward bound

I'm going to keep this one fairly brief (you'll be relieved to read!) ...

The girls flew out from Guernsey on the Monday morning leaving Rich and I to get in some shopping and make ready to leave on Tuesday.

Leave we duly did making a decent passage to Longy Bay on the South side of Alderney where we'd hoped to anchor. To my annoyance, somebody has laid two "private" moorings that occupy the whole of the decent anchorage area.

Being reluctant to pick up a mooring clearly marked as private, and equally reluctant to anchor in an area with unknown ground tackle just waiting to foul the anchor, we bailed out and headed around to the East of Alderney towards Braye.

Technically, we thus sailed, or should I say motored, through the Alderney Race. In fact, I gingerly picked my way through the inshore rocks and shoals to avoid a line of offshore breakers and a long detour. In an area marked on the chart as "incompletely surveyed" this was a slightly edgy experience but I had taken into account that any shoals or isolated rocks would show up as a disturbance on the surface (the marked shoals and rocks could clearly be seen this way).

Arriving in Braye, we picked up one of the last four visitor mooring buoys. Within quarter of an hour the other three were occupied by yachts that had come up through The Swinge. We'd snuck in ahead, just, which was a bit of a result! We might have been able to pick up a buoy on the other side of the harbour, although the available depth over there might have been an issue otherwise it would have had to be down with the hook and lie to our own gear.

Conditions in Braye, which can be nasty, were very benign so we decided to stay put for a day. Then we discovered it was three nights for the price of two so we decided to make it two days!

Alderney is very different to the other islands in the Balliwick of Guernsey. Different archtecture, different atmoshphere, different scenery. I liked it!

Come Friday we made shift to get back across the Channel. We'd decided against heading along the North French coast due to the long legs between harbours and some doubts about the weather for the coming week. Off to the Solent was our decision.

We had a contretemp with a freighter heading East who was clearly not keeping a good watch. As the stand on vessel, it was my legal obligation to stand on until it was obvious the other vessel was not making an effort to avoid a collision. When we started to get too close for comfort I called the vessel up on the VHF to clarify his intentions and, somewhat to my surprise, got a reply.

The reply was less than reassuring. The voice on the other end sounded confused and unaware of any of the traffic around him. He stated his intention to maintain his course and speed and when I pointed out that this would result in a collision with the yacht off his starboard bow (us) he replied that he couldn't see us! I responded that I was rather surprised by this as we were barely 1.5 miles apart, we were transmitting on AIS, our radar was active (meaning we would definitely show up on his radar) and the visibility was perfect.

After a further confused sounding response, where he proposed that we BOTH alter course to starboard (which would have resulted in his running us down from astern instead of from the side. Not exactly an improvement) I got authoratitive about matters and made it VERY clear that he should do NOTHING, maintaining his course and speed, and that I would circle around and pass astern of him.

Thankfully he got that message and the incident passed without further ado but it was a worrying indication of the reported suspicions that smaller cargo vessels are increasingly so poorly manned as to be unable to keep a proper lookout.

It was blindingly obvious that the person who replied to my VHF call had zero situational awareness and that he was struggling to get a grip. One can only speculate whether he'd been asleep, texting on his phone having just got a signal for the first time in weeks, or doing something else. What he clearly had not been doing was looking out of the window, monitoring his radar or his AIS

Anyway, rant over and on to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight we proceeded. The fun though wasn't over yet!

As we approached the Needles, Solent Coastguard put out a request for any vessel to assist a small speedboat broken down just off the Needles. A yacht somewhat closer than us responded and headed their way, nobody else chimed in at all (despite several more suitable vessels being in the vicinity). So I called up the Coasties and offered our assistance if required albeit we were around 40 minutes away from the incident. A few minutes later we were called back, thanked and released to continue our voyage.

Entering the Solent via the Needles channel was a first for me and it's an impressive sight. I suspect it would be rather less pleasant in unsettled weather but we still had sun, heat and not a lot of wind.

We arrived in Yarmouth and rafted up to a rather pretty yacht with very friendly owners. The next morning we moved to a finger berth. Although I could have had free nights in Lymington Yacht Haven, I fancied a visit to Yarmouth as I'd never been before by boat. Very nice it is too.

We probably should have moved on on Sunday but the Solent was wall to wall boats. Big boats, little boats, sailing boats, motor boats, jetskis, speedboats, dinghys. it was just boats everywhere. So we went to the pub again!

Come Monday morning we set off hoping to reach Eastbourne. However, Pagan was proving to be rather sluggish and we simply weren't making good speed through the water. At the start of the passage, the sea was like a mill pond but by late afternoon off Brighton it was building an increasingly annoying steep chop, the wind had got up and we were being chased by a cold front coming in rapidly from the West.

We gave up and bailed out into Brighton. Our first stop was the refuelling dock as it seemed sensible to take the chance to top up the tanks then we moved onto a finger berth. I offered to take a berth that would have our keel in the mud at low water to avoid the chaos that was the visitor berths. The marina staff were doing their best but the number of boats trying to get in was overwhelming the capacity of the availabe moorings and their ability to cope.

Brighton marina desperately needs dredging. It's been allowed to get into a parlous state and although some aspects (such as the toilet and shower facilities) are better than they used to be I do object to paying the same to visit Brighton as I pay to visit Soveriegn Harbour or Chichester where the facilities are fantastic and you can always get a good berth.

Grumble aside, we then had to stay in Brighton for a second day as the cold front and the following low pressure system blew through. It wasn't an absolute "no go" day but an examination of our hull below the waterline at low water had revealed a considerable amount of fouling. This accounted for our lack of get up and go and I felt it worth trying to shift some of it with the deck brush.

I also had a suspicion about the cooling water intake filter. Whilst we were by no means overheating and there was a reasonable amount of water being ejected from the wet exhaust, my instincts were telling me that it wasn't as much water as usual.

So we took the chance whilst in Brighton to have the basket filter out of the intake box and sure enough it was partially choked with weed. We also gave the air filter a clean while we were in the engine hole, a job I'd meant to do before we left several weeks ago that didn't get done. It wasn't desperate but it could do no harm. And some work with the deck brush shifted some of the weed.

Wednesday saw us make the relatively short hop from Brighton to Sovereign Harbour. We left with some hopes of perhaps making Dover but we were still lacking in the boat speed department. It was frustrating but there was no help for it. We were resigned to making Dover on Thursday and then having to split the final leg with a stop at Ramsgate on Friday.

To cut a long story short, we did indeed make Dover on Thursday and in fairly good time too. Pagan had suddenly found at least some of her missing get up and go. I have a feeling we had something, perhaps weed, foulding the prop as the prop wash on the run from Brighton to Sovereign Harbour had struck me as being unusually violent and on this run it was back to something like normal.

That, and other considerations, put us in the mood to stop idling about and get the hammer down on Friday. There was a reasonable chance of getting Pagan back onto her mud berth Friday evening and that would be the last chance for over a week. So get the hammer down we did and happily we made the passage from Dover to Fambridge almost exactly as planned.

Less happily, the tide failed to make by well over a foot and Pagan will have to lurk on the river pontoon for a week until Jane and I can go down next weekend and move her

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Thu 19th July passage plan

Departed Sovereign Harbour 06:40UT towards Ramsgate eta 19:00UT (latest 21:00UT)

Alternate Dover eta 17:00UT (latest 20:00UT)

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Foul tides, foul bottom ... weeeeeeeed.

On my original outline plan for the cruise, today is the day we should have been back in Fambridge. Obviously, we're not! This is not a problem and I'd always allowed for the possibility we might be a few days adrift. I was, and remain, keen to minimise the amount of "sailing to a deadline" as that always leads to a lot of motoring, a slightly stressed crew and sometimes poor decisions (such as going out when the conditions are beyond your comfort level - although I will never sail if the conditions are going to be seriously iffy).

So I have no regrets about the decision to wait out the weather for a day here in Sovereign Harbour, and yesterday was definitely a day to stay in port (solid F5 rising F6 with, by the afternoon, getting on for a metre of swell and wave action from the South West. It would have been no fun at all)..

Nor can I regret the decision earlier to avoid the Solent madness and stay in Yarmouth over the weekend or, for that matter, the earlier still decision to have a full day in Alderney. Those decisions were good decisions at the time based on the weather forecast we had for the coming week which did not include the cold front that brought yesterday's "no go" conditions.

A further factor has put a slight crimp in my plans - Pagan has developed a significant amount of fouling below the waterline. I didn't notice anything significant during our time in the Channel Islands nor did it become evident on the passages to Alderney and then onwards to Yarmouth but a distinct loss of performance was evident on the run from Yarmouth to Brighton.

We are, and it's significant, at least half a knot slower and possibly as much as a knot slower than I would normally expect. The effect on Monday was to put us into Brighton when I had realistically expected Eastbourne to be feasible (although had we been able to get a berth we'd have aimed for Newhaven but that'a another story).

We just were not going quite fast enough to get there at a sensible time. Whereas I had expected to carry a fair tide all the way to Beachy Head, if not beyond, it was on the turn when we cut and run for the nearest harbour having had enough.

The situation was not helped by my unwillingness to pile on the revs and burn diesel to compensate. I had a growing suspicion that all was not quite well in the engine cooling department. Whilst there was, to the casual eye, plenty of water being ejected from the wet exhaust my growing familiarity with the boat had me a niggling feeling that it wasn't as much as usual. I also felt that perhaps the exhaust noise was more than normal too (another sign of a lack of water).

So I suspected that we had a partially blocked intake filter. Not sufficiently blocked to make stopping and investigating at sea necessary but the suspicion was enough to make me unwilling to use high revs and risk overheating our venerable Mercedes OM636.

My suspicions were justified yesterday when we removed the filter boc cap and found the cage filter partially blocked with weed. Whilst we were down in the engine bay, I also removed and cleaned the air filter (a job I really should have done before we left but it didn't seem too bad at the time) as it was starting to look a bit claggy. It certainly wasn't critical but it was a fifteen minute job and it won't hurt.

There's not a lot we can do about the weed on the bottom other than live with it. That basically means passage planning at 4 knots instead of 5 knots so that we're not chasing a short schedule.

That brings me to the other "problem". A consequence of being several days behind my original draft plan is that the optimum passage times for a fair tide are going awau from us. The tide times progress day by day getting around 50 minutes to an hour later each day. Obviously, this means the tidal stream direction changes from (in the Channel) an east flowing tide to a west flowing tide and back again an hour later each day.

This means that whereas (for example) on Monday the best time to leave Sovereign Harbour to go to Dover would have been 07:00 with an eta of 19:00 it's now 09:00 with an eta of 21:00. And that's before we knock a knot off our speed. And it doesn't take into account that we had to accept a damn near drying berth here in Brighton as the visitor berths were complete and utter chaos. (That's another story I'll come back to later). The effect of that is that we can't leave here at the optimum time today (09:00UT) as that is low water and it will be at least an hour and a half, possibly two hours, later before there's enough water to get out of the finger berth.

We could, of course, leave early but that would mean punching a foul tide for at least three hours. With a weedy bottom. It would be slow, tedious and burn copious quantities of diesel. I think not.

So the upshot of all that is that reaching Dover today from Brighton is not an attractive plan. It could be done and if it had to be done it would be done but the key factor is that we do not HAVE to be back in Fambridge until Saturday (and it would not be a total disaster if we weren't back until Sunday). I'd like to be back sooner but I don't HAVE to be back sooner. It's that old monster of deadline sailing rearing it's ugly head again.

So today we're short hopping around Beachy Head to Sovereign Harbour. That will take three to four hours (some guesswork is involved until I've assessed how fast we can realistically expect to go through the water) which, of course, takes three or four hours off the run from there to Dover tomorrow.

Dover back to Fambridge, a passage I'd normally consider perfectly do-able in Pagan, might prove to be similarly afflicted by a reduction in average speed as Brighton to Dover. So we may end up short hoppng from Dover to Ramsgate to cut the long passage into a third and two thirds again.

That would get us back in the Crouch on Saturday which is acceptable (although I would really have liked to get home this coming weekend) but too late to get back on our berth. Which then raises the prospect of there being no space on the river pontoon when we get back. With loads of kit to offload.

So we might have to go into Burnham for the night and move upriver when space appears on Sunday or even Monday. Rich can hop the two stops on the train to fetch his car and get off home from Burnham without too much inconvenience (although he would prefer to travel on Satuday and have a day at home before work on Monday). I'll happily single hand the hour or so back upriver.

Much depends on how we go today. I'll take the hit and burn the diesel as long as I'm happy that we're not going to strain the engine and if we can crank up the revs and regain our lost speed then getting back from Dover on Friday becomes feasible again.

Once back in Fambridge I have another dilemma. Looking ahead, the next opportunity to get Pagan onto her berth is a week on Saturday. But if I don't make it home this weekend I definitely want to be home next weekend. And from there it's only two and a half weeks before I'd have to travel down to Fambridge a few days ahead of our late August ten days aboard in order to get her off the mud again.

Leaving her on the river pontoon for that length of time at this time of year might cause some grumbles (as we'd be blocking a space that could be used by paying visitors) so I'm contemplating seeing if there's a mooring free that we could use for a few weeks.

Once we're back from our August mini-cruise, which will be local pottering about, that's effectively our sailing for this year over. There's weekends available at the back end of September and late October when the tide would be right to get on and off the berth but we've used up Jane's holidays getting the three two week breaks in the Spring and Summer.

So I'm contemplating having Pagan out of the water fairly early in September, especially as there's only a limited amount I can do about the fouling with her afloat, and getting stuck in to the job hunt asap. From there we can make plans for carrying out the work that either needs doing or we want done and know where we're at for next year.

And my mind is all but made up (I just need to persuade Jane) about going back on a swinging mooring next year. The mud berth is great for the convenience of being able to simply hop straight on the boat when we arrive in Fambridge by car but it's a massive pain in the backside when it comes to planning to go out and use the boat. It only works now because my time is totally flexible (especially right now when I'm effectively unemployed!), it is going to be a massive crimp in our style if, as I'm hoping to do for a year or three, I get a "proper" job with a steady income.

Nothing above is a disaster. It's simply musings on options so that I've got my ducks lined up in a neat row and can choose which one to chuck in the pot and cook.

Wed 18 July 2018 Passage Plan

Departing Brighton Marina between 10:00 and 11:00UT towards Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne eta 16:00UT

No alternates.