The home run – Bristol to Northney

Re-joining the crew on board in Bristol after a week at home, we ‘locked out’ at high tide early on Sunday morning to carry a favourable spring ebb tide down the Avon.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The turgid, brown water of the upper Severn Estuary gave way to clearer seas as we headed west. Having the luxury of a crew of 3, the overnight passage was a breeze with a one man, 4 hour watch system working very well in the settled conditions there being little traffic to trouble us.  We sailed after rounding Land’s End but the 220 mile passage to Fowey was mainly under engine.

Fowey is still one of the most attractive destinations on the south coast but, even before the school holidays had started, it was very busy with pressure on moorings.

Fowey viewed from above Polruan

The crew from Bristol were John and his son Tom. They have been friends since we both owned Parker 31’s in the Solent with children of similar ages. Perversely, our sons found themselves together in a Law tutorial at Durham University having not met each other for over 10 years. John’s son Tom actually left Durham to take up an offer from the Fleet Air Arm and is now a Sea King helicopter pilot. Having him along for a few days was a refreshing presence with the most interesting anecdotes. John’s wife, Birgit had stayed on Hejira in Bristol before my arrival and not only victualled for the following week but left John with a menu for every meal including the cooking instructions.

John’s unexpected culinary skills

She was clearly worried that Tom might be undernourished if it was left to us alone. In the event John took the task to heart and he dominated the galley producing a wonderful variety of excellent food. Thanks are probably equally due to Birgit as well as John.

Tom at the helm

Fresh winds from the East prompted a short motor sail along the coast to take refuge in the river Yealm where we picked up the first substantial visitor mooring buoy. Staying on board (the food being very good) and not venturing ashore we were fascinated by the visit of the blind sailing association as they navigated past us on their way up river to their rally assembly, wonderful to see such concentration and obvious pleasure!

After a mixed passage of motoring and some gentle sailing in bright sunshine, Tom left us in Torquay to prepare for his imminent posting to Afghanistan. He contributed greatly to the cruise, providing the most interesting anecdotes and insights into the Armed Forces of today and the challenges of flying a 50 year old helicopter in combat – would you believe that the clock on the flight deck is clockwork and needs to be wound up?

It became clear from Birgit who had been tracking our progress on the internet, that we had not transmitted our position on AIS since Fowey. We had been receiving AIS positions onto our plotters so we had not thought that anything was wrong. Re-booting the system in Torquay restored our position and I have a theory as to the cause of the problem. We had sailed after Land’s End and we could not connect to shore power in Fowey to charge the batteries but we were still indulgent with the electrical services. We were ‘hemmed in’ on our pontoon berth and liberally used the bow thruster to help extricate ourselves. With low batteries, this ‘pulled down’ the voltage to such an extent that some systems alarmed and I think that this ‘dropped out’ our position transmission. In similar circumstances in future it would be prudent to re-boot as a matter of course. I intend to replace and supplement the AGM batteries over the winter and this should help.

John’s other contribution

A long romp from Torquay under the Parasailor took us to a late anchorage in Studland Bay. Being that much closer (we had considered anchoring in Weymouth) we were able to plan an optimum Solent entry at Hurst Castle. We again carried the excellent Parasailor through the Solent, close reaching and then gybing at West Pole into the Chichester Channel, finally, reluctantly, snuffing the chute at the entrance to the Emsworth Channel

So, we are moored back in Northney with a long list of jobs to be completed before next year’s more adventurous plans but in the mean-time, I hope to find time for some less ambitious sailing over what remains of the summer.

As a retrospect on the UK circuit, crew organisation presented some challenges but this did not detract from what was an immensely satisfying experience in which I enjoyed destinations I will probably never visit again. Hejira could not be faulted and her sailing performance continues to impress. The new Parasailor has been a revelation and I am absolutely sure that it will pay back its considerable purchase price on future extended downwind passages. The enlarged third rudder has also been a real boon providing control of the stern in close quarters handling and enabling large sail-plans to be carried off the wind with no perceptible lack of grip.

 

Conwy to Bristol

John Morris having arrived by train from Birmingham, the Mulberry pub in Conwy marina provided us with an excellent meal before returning to Hejira to watch the spirited England football performance against Italy in the World Cup.

Our dilemma for tackling the Menai Straights was that, with big spring tides, and not being able to leave Conwy marina until the sill dropped at half tide, we would have to plug a strong current and arrive late at the Swellies.

Prince Madog. University survey ship. See the protruding rubbing strake.

Calling the Menai Harbour Master, an alternative plan evolved. We could leave Conwy after the foul tide and only plug the lesser current in the straights up to the Menai Bridge and rather than pick up one of the buoys, take up his suggestion of mooring alongside the Bangor University research vessel Prince Madog.

Our fateful berth alongside the Prince Madog.

He pointed out that we could then walk ashore and be in the perfect position to take the Swellies the next day. In hindsight, his recommendation was probably prompted more for the ease of collecting the £17 berthing fee than from the safety of the berth.  The passage from Conwy to Menai was straightforward and we did walk ashore for a beer and an excellent curry. We took advantage of our enforced wait the next morning to review the Swellies from the Bridge and I managed to get a haircut and beard trim for £7!

The intimidating Swellies.

Disaster struck while we were preparing for our passage. A large motor boat had passed  through the straights against the tide at full bore and, unnoticed by us, had thrown up a huge wake which picked us up and dashed us against the hull of the Prince Madoc, right into its steel strake which had been well above our gunwale. The gelcoat has been slightly damaged and the teak gunwale topping has taken a whack. Very, very annoying and the incident overshadowed what would otherwise have been a very pleasant stop over.

The actual passage through the two bridges and the treacherous rocks between was taken at slack high water and the timing is extremely critical. Four other yachts negotiated it with us within the optimum five minute period, one of them, having arrived early, just held station until the timing was right.

Menai Bridge

Breathing a sigh of relief, the remainder of the Straights were more open and picturesque with Llanidan House and Caernarvon Castle particularly notable. The Caernarvon Bar was a challenge however as the channel has moved over the winter and the plotter course was completely different. Confusion was avoided by referring to the survey chart picked up in Conwy, just as well as the Bar is shallow even if you are in the middle of the channel at half tide.

Intending to sail through the night towards Swansea, we were blessed with a Northerly F4/5 and we made the most of our Parasailor which we carried until nightfall, making great speed and enjoying flying this superb sail innovation. Quite by chance, we saw an identical (but smaller) Parasailor in the distance on a Moody 36 called ‘Pearl’ out of Conwy and caught her up.

Catching up another Parasailor.

We agreed to share photos and I have attached one of their pictures.

Flying across the Irish Sea under the Parasailor.

The Parasailor is a derivative of a traditional spinnaker but it differs in several ways which make a huge difference to the cruising yachtsman, particularly in the ease of handling. In the middle of the sail is an opening across the width and in the middle of this opening is a wing which inflates with the wind which is focussed through it. The wing gives lift and stability, keeping the sail open and full while the slot vents gusts making it more tolerant of variable conditions. It is also flown without the spinnaker pole which also simplifies the process and with the guys led through blocks on the stub bowsprit, it avoids conflict with guard wires. The Parasailor is manufactured by a German company, Istec which make parachutes and wings for paragliders so it is built to the highest aeronautical standards. Anyway, we carried the sail for over 6 hours achieving speeds between 8 and 10 knots and we only reluctantly dropped it at dusk. It was some of the best sailing of the cruise so far. The 175 nautical mile passage from Menai to Swansea took only 24 hours and the average speed of over 7 knots was very pleasing.

We locked through the Tawe sea lock into the Swansea basin and then through onto an allocated berth in the marina. Once again there were depth constraints and it would not have been possible with a traditional keel yacht of our size.  I had left messages for my eldest brother Alan who lives in Porthcawl, giving him updates of our progress, hoping he would join us, but heard nothing. This turned out to be because he had been on holiday abroad. He called when we arrived in Swansea and he and his wife joined us in a lounge on the 28th floor of a high rise with views over the beach and marina.

Swansea from the high rise restaurant.
Hejira from above

After a meal on board, Jenny left for home and, the next morning we departed on the first lock out for our passage to Cardiff.

My eldest brother Alan and me

Cardiff Bay has an under used pontoon facility right outside the Welsh Assembly building and it operates on a ‘pay and display’ basis. We were the only yacht moored there overnight, having bought a ‘parking ticket’ for 18 hours and we could not understand why it was not more popular.

Cardiff pay and display outside the Assembly Building

It did not have electricity or water but it was a mooring in the centre of Cardiff.

Locking out of Cardiff bay (the sea lock has a huge range) just after low water, we gently carried a favourable tide up to Avonmouth and entered the river up to Bristol as the tide approached high water.

Deep Cardiff Sea Lock

Mooring in the centre of Bristol was reminiscent of the 12 very enjoyable years we spent in Port Vell in the heart of Barcelona.

Bristol City Centre

Like in Barcelona, there was a square adjacent to our pontoon where there was a succession of musicians (some better than others) taking to a small stage to entertain the gathered crowds. Bristol does however seem to be a mecca for rowdy stag parties and some  continue noisily into the early hours.

Bristol berth in the heart of the city

It was 4am before quietness descended. The visit to SS Great Britain was hugely enjoyable. We, as a Nation, seem to do nostalgia very well, this experience followed the equally enjoyable visits to Titanic in Belfast and Britannia in Edinburgh.

SS Great Britain

So it is home for a week before resuming once again with John Morris, this time with his son, Tom. It is somewhat surprising that John is up for more apparent punishment. After I had previously re-tied his fenders for the umpteenth time, he referred to me as ‘Captain Anal’!

Kip to Conwy

Sunday was a leisurely day of laundry, cleaning and planning in Kip Marina while waiting for the late arrival of Dave and Mike by taxi from Glasgow Airport. Perversely, although I was able to pick up a good TV signal in Holy Loch, Kip marina seems to be a black hole and I had to go to a local Hotel  to watch the Canadian Grand Prix and you can’t sit in a bar without refreshment!

With the prospect of an 82 mile passage to Bangor in Belfast Lough, an early start was required and getting under way at 5am, we had a very pleasant passage with an enjoyable proportion of it under sail.

Mike looking very much like Sir Francis Chichester

‘Captain Cooke’ (who had been on two of the previous legs) and his charming wife Linda were in Bangor, sailing on their friend’s Moody 38 and it was good to catch up and get the ‘inside track’ on Peel  and Conwy which were to be our next two stops and had been their previous two.

A train into Belfast and the City tour bus gave us a picture of Belfast and it is curious that the history of the ‘troubles’ has become a significant component in what the City has to offer the tourist. The Titanic exhibition in its impressive new building exceeded all expectations and we spent several hours, captivated by the various aspects of the story.

With entry into Peel harbour on the Isle of Man restricted to near high water, it is inevitable that one has to ‘plug’ the tide when heading south and with light winds we found ourselves beating back to Scotland. Later the wind filled in and we had a sprightly and memorable sail although Dave had adopted his customary position asleep in his bunk. This is a man who comes sailing to relax and escape work as a partner in a London accountancy firm but still ‘picks up’ 150-200 Emails a day! Poor bugger!

A Parker 31 on a mooring buoy outside Peel. I had one of these and sailed around the UK 20 years before. Nice yachts.

Following a short wait on a mooring buoy, we entered the marina over the sill and past the open footbridge to take up the berth and made ‘last orders’ in the excellent Creek Inn.

Approaching Peel Harbour and unusually, Dave is not on the phone.
The Creek Inn. Peel. IOM.

A £7 one day bus pass gave us the opportunity to see much of the Island, concluding that Peel is probably the best spot. Our visit happened to be soon after the annual TT motorcycle races and the infrastructure was still being dismantled. The bus route from Ramsey back to Peel took the route of the course for some of its length and the dangerous nature of the races was very apparent with what must have been incredibly fast sections of almost straight road with trees, walls and posts alongside the road with only token protection. It seems that there are inevitably fatalities, not only among the racers but the public who throng to the island and ride the course, seemingly, trying their hands at racing on the unrestricted roads.

Peel Harbour. IOM. Hejira ‘hanging out’ to the right of the picture.

We slipped out at the beginning of the tidal ‘window’ at 10pm and picked up an overnight mooring buoy outside in preparation for an early start to catch a favourable tide on our 75 mile passage to Conwy. The early light winds soon filled in and the sun came out so we had a super sail agreeing that ‘it doesn’t get much better’!

Anchoring for an hour to enjoy dinner in Moelfre bay, we resumed to enter the approach channel  leading up to Conwy Marina soon after the sill had dropped and in time for another ‘last orders’ pint in the Mulberry Pub directly outside the pontoon gate.

Historic Conwy

For several days we had been trying to organise rail tickets and to locate somewhere to watch the All Blacks v England rugby game early on Saturday morning and the quest had been complicated by the fact that the IOM is a ‘foreign’ country and the Hejira WiFi didn’t work. The situation was resolved, on both counts by booking the train from adjacent Colwyn Bay where we also found a pub opening at 8am, providing breakfast and showing the rugby – result !

Dave and Mike in the uninspiring pub in Colwyn Bay. They did serve breakfast and show the rugby though.

Dave and Mike left on the train after the game and I was left to clean up, do my laundry and shop in time for John’s arrival later in the day. Routine checks in the main and engine bilges revealed water in both. The main bilge turned out to be (I think) a loose leaking shower hose in the forward head so that whenever the tap was turned on, the connection leaked running back down into the cupboard and bilge. The engine situation was more worrying as there was a lot of salt water in the engine ‘bund’.  After checking the usual suspects, the hose connections and the pump cover, the problem turned out to be a tiny hole in the exhaust water lock which, under pressure and gravity, squirted a steady stream into the bilge. This was particularly annoying as the box had been welded up over the   winter – clearly not properly. Limited access left few options but I was able to drill the hole bigger and self- tap a screw with a washer and rubber gasket into the hole which has appeared to stop the leak but it will need monitoring pending a more permanent solution over the winter.

Now it’s time to plan for a passage through the Menai Straights and the daunting ‘Swellies’!

Oban to the Clyde

Checking out of the hotel near Glasgow Airport and collecting  Dr. Stephen Williams, my only crew for this week, we embarked on the drive back to Oban. The scenery was pleasant and unspoilt with a coffee stop in the pretty town of Inveraray where the author of the Para Handy short stories was born and where the (renamed) Vital Spark is moored but looking sorry for herself in a poor state of repair.

The Vital Spark looking un-loved.

With the Mull of Kintyre between us and the Clyde and only the two of us on board, we had some decisions to make. The Crinan Canal is a shortcut through the top of the Mull of Kintyre. It is unlike the Caledonian Canal in that it is smaller and the locks are not ‘manned’ so it is necessary for crews to work the gates and sluices themselves. Our luck changed when we made contact with some old friends who used to live in Ascot and who retired and moved back to Scotland 12 years ago. Paul and Mary Smyth built a new house on the family farm at the head of Loch Craignish and we met up in the Galley of Lorne pub in Ardfern where we had moored.

The view from Paul and Mary’s home.
Feeding hungry lambs.

They gave us a tour of their wonderful house and farm showing us the ancient Cairn and Standing Stone which aligns between the ‘paps’ on Jura and the sun on midsummers day. Moreover, they volunteered to crew through the Crinan and their help was invaluable.

Mary on the warps.
Paul and Mary providing invaluable assistance.
Paul adjusting the tension as we drop.

Overnight in Cairnbaan, halfway through the canal, we eat on board but the experience was overshadowed (literally) by the clouds of midges. Spraying the pests under the sprayhood while we replaced the wash boards, we were greeted in the morning by a carpet of dead insects to be hoovered up. It seems the problem is particularly bad this year following a mild wet winter and spring. Paul and Mary returned the next day with a bottle of Avon ‘Skin so Soft’, it being the midge repellent of choice of the Forestry staff. They cautioned however that the formula may have recently changed and that it may not now be as effective. Their old bottle worked very well though!

Approaching a lock with Mary on the bow.
Locking out.

Paul and Mary stayed with us for the final reaches and locks of the canal and we at least had a sail down Loch Fyne to East Loch Tarbert where they left us after a few beers on the harbour front. Big thanks to them as the Crinan passage would have been infinitely more difficult without them.

In conversation, they told us about a new marina at Portavadie on the other side of Loch Fyne. They said that they routinely took the ferry from Tarbert to the excellent restaurant in the marina. Intrigued and faced with little wind, we ghosted across the Loch to take a look and spend the night. En-route, Stephen caught a solitary mackerel but, having gutted it, we put it in the freezer for later, more were needed for a meal. Portavadie is a strange place.

Dr. Stephen Williams. A GP, clearly not a surgeon!

A deep water Loch had been protected by breakwaters in an attempt to attract rig construction. This function had never been adopted and fortunes have been spent converting it into a ‘ritzy’ marina with glass and stainless steel apartments and facilities. The marina is currently utilised to no more than 20% capacity but it is heavily staffed and the degree of effort is probably best crystallised by noting that, in the very plush facilities, there are hair straighteners in the gents!

Well appointed but deserted Portavadie marina.

The landscaping of the marina area which is still going on appears to include the erection of their own ‘faux’ standing stones overlooking Loch Fyne, how very contrived!

A gentle drift down the loch to lunch in Loch Ranza on the Isle of Arran failed to yield any more mackerel but the afternoon brought a little more wind and a very enjoyable beat up West Kyle inside Bute to an overnight mooring buoy off Kames.

Loch Ranza on the Isle of Arran for lunch.

Light unfavourable winds on Friday morning recommended a gentle motor through the beautiful Kyles, past the ‘Burnt Islands’ and on to moor in Rothesay Harbour for lunch and a look around the town.

Rothesay for lunch and a visit to the Winter Gardens.

Dodging the ferry comings and goings, we made our way up the Clyde to Holy Loch to overnight in the marina. Holy Loch was a submarine base for the US Navy between 1962 and 1992 and the piers, now incorporated into the marina, were built by the US Navy. There is no other residual signs of military occupation and it is a very pretty location.  A taxi ride to the recommended Coylet Inn on the land locked Loch Eck turned out to be well worth the trouble.

Holy Loch Hostelry.

A sprightly reach in deteriorating weather on Saturday morning cemented good memories of a very enjoyable week and it was with a degree of sadness that we said goodbye, Stephen taking a taxi to the airport.

The Clyde area offers such a variety of excellent sailing to the cruising yachtsman. Long flat sheltered reaches, quiet out of the way anchorages and with an abundance of visitor mooring buoys it is delightfully un-stressful. It really deserves more than a week and I certainly have reasons to return.

With my new crew arriving on Sunday evening, I can take it easy, catch up on the cleaning, washing and victualling while planning what adventures the weather will recommend next week.

Caledonian Canal to Oban

Negotiating the Caledonian Canal could not be easier with all of the Locks attended by helpful staff and with regular pre-emptive exchanges on Ch 74, the locks are often made ready for your arrival. Overnight moorings on pontoons are available and included within the transit fee. Although the weather was variable, the scenery was STUNNING.

Transiting the heart of Scotland

One of the locals in Whitehills had been very knowledgeable about the canal and helpfully annotated the ‘Skippers Guide’ with insights and advice. Using this, our whole experience was notably enhanced. We were able to find a superb family restaurant at our overnight stop in Dochgarroch which did not have a liquor licence but with this fore-warning, we were prepared and took our own wine with no corkage charge!

Alongside on the first night in the Canal

The first section of the canal leads into Loch Ness which at over 20 miles in length is a passage in itself with no real stops available.

Loch Ness Castle

At the western end of Loch Ness is Fort Augustus and a flight of locks. (see the video of Loch Ness and the Fort Augustus locks in the ‘video’ section of the web site) We found the very well positioned ‘Lock Inn’ at the flight of locks. The following day we moored at picturesque Gairlochy after sailing down Loch Lochy.

The Fort Augustus flight of Locks

I was reminded overnight to remember to always moor with the bow into the breeze as, with stern to and a little fetch, the ripples under the counter drove my wife to seek peace elsewhere in the yacht!

Lucy and Paula seemingly enjoying themselves
Stunning scenery
Paula and Lucy feeling the cold

After descending the spectacular ‘Neptune’s Staircase’ of 8 locks (see the video in the ‘video’ section of the web site) at Fort William, we were once again grateful for the annotations on our chart, booking the very unattractive Lochy Bar in Cao for an excellent and inexpensive meal.

It was just as well that we had booked as the restaurant was full of ladies ‘of a certain age’ taking advantage of the ‘early bird’ deal of a meal for £4.45!

Lucy doing all the work while Paula and Graham have a chat.
Moored in Corpach Basin with the top of Ben Nevis lost in the cloud
Turning in the canal to face into the wind and the noisy ripples

Exiting the sea loch at Corpach, we carried the tide but, with little wind, motored down Loch Linnie to moor in Oban Marina, opposite the town on the island of Kererra. The internet reviews of the ‘Waypoints’ restaurant (a wooden shed) in the Marina were sufficient to keep us on the island and we were not disappointed enjoying another excellent meal.

Oban viewed from our mooring on Kererra Island
Oban closer to

With Paula and our friends flying out of Glasgow tonight, Friday and the new crew flying in tomorrow morning, it seemed easier, quicker and even cheaper to hire a car and stay over in an hotel rather than leave them to the vagaries of the rail service. This also gave us the whole day to gently take the scenic route through the Highlands, stopping for refreshments with wonderful vistas outside in the warm sunshine.

Highland Stag very close up !

We had planned this coming week to ‘trial’ the crew for next year’s big adventure, flying the Parasailor, commissioning the unused water maker and making overnight passages to the outer islands but fate has struck a cruel blow. Bob has found that the offer of a post retirement consultancy involving 3 weeks in Kuala Lumpur and Nepal was too lucrative to ignore and Barry, having been delayed in France returned to a mountain of work and customers baying for his attention so, it is just down to me and Stephen for the week.

It is time to review the weather, crew change options and to plan ahead accordingly. It would be an awful shame to curtail the west coast island experience but I have the memories of having been here before. Whatever the decisions, prudence must reign supreme.

Edinburgh to Inverness

Bridges

Our early start from Port Edgar promised sufficient wind on the quarter to ‘play’ with the new Parasailor but after a couple of fruitful hours, the wind died away and we had to resort to the engine to maintain our speed for the lock gate deadline at Arbroath. This being the home of the ‘smokey’’ we were obliged to sample this speciality in a dockside restaurant. While I found the experience reasonably enjoyable, Dave struggled with it all night and most of the next day. He did manage to maintain his constitution, probably for fear of ridicule had he not, he being a retired Merchant Navy Captain.

Leaving Arbroath. There was a dolphin just outside the entrance.

The 64 mile passage to Peterhead was exceptionally fast and thrilling with a beam reach in F6 gusting 7 under full main and jib. This sail plan proved to be well within the 135’s scope, the extended third rudder helping to keep her tracking in ‘the groove’ effortlessly all day long.

Entering Peterhead Marina.
Leaving Peterhead, the marina tucked in the corner beyond all the North Sea Rig industry.

We had passed by Aberdeen with dozens of the peculiarly shaped rig supply ships anchored off and Peterhead was also busy with these vessels, the Harbour Master clearing our entry amongst the comings and goings.

With a host of options for shelter along this coast and two more stops before Inverness and the Caledonian Canal, we chose the only two which registered 3 rosettes in the almanac for ambience. The first of these was Whitehills where we would wait for the return of Bob who had popped home from Edinburgh returning to Aberdeen airport and taking a bus to Whitehills. The Harbour Master had been very helpful by Email, answering my berth enquiry at 5.30am and he asked us to call 15 minutes before arrival. This we did and were greeted by Bertie Milne snapping photographs as we approached and entered the tiny harbour.

Whitehills approach

Once we had moored, he handed over a memory card asking us to return it when we had copied the pictures onto our computer. This quite amazing service (he tries to photograph the approach of all visiting yachts) continued throughout our stay and he couldn’t have tried harder. In fact this was a feature of everyone we encountered in Whitehills (pretty typical of the whole coast actually) and it was a really memorable destination.

A short 22 mile hop to Lossiemouth the following day was started in thick fog and a light headwind necessitated motoring, we entered as the visibility improved.

Approaching Lossiemouth

Our passage west to Inverness provided another spirited sail with the wind just behind the beam. We discussed the phenomenon whereby the forecabin seems colder than the rest of the yacht on passage. Dubiously referring to half forgotten physics, we concluded that the likely cause is that the continual spray across the bow cools the cabin as it extracts the ‘latent heat of evaporation’ as it dries. The things we talk about on passage !

I had fitted a new pennant onto the lifting arrangement for the swing keel over the winter and the fixing onto the keel had slipped. Although it held up, I felt the situation needed addressing so we lifted in Inverness Marina, had a hose off, sorted the problem and relaunched to continue our passage through the lock and into the Caledonian Canal.

Lift out in Inverness to sort out the keel pennant and to have a ‘scrub’.

All of the harbours visited since Lowestoft with the exception of Newcastle and Blyth had depth issues and we would certainly not have been able to enjoy such a varied number of interesting destinations without the variable draft qualities of the Southerly.

Locking into the Caledonian Canal. Dave Cooke in the foregrounbd, Bob Haywood in the background.

So we are safely moored in Seaport Marina, just inside the Caledonian Canal and the current crew are to be replaced by my wife and our friends Lucy and Graham. Graham fell in twice when they joined us for the half term week last year so with 29 locks to negotiate, it could be interesting !

Seaport Marina just inside the Caledonian Canal for the crew change. Bob and Dave leaving to be replaced by Lucy and Graham Read and my wife Paula.

Newcastle to Edinburgh

Torrential rain provoked a preference for contact lenses over glasses for our passage back down the Tyne and out to sea. The Tyne is probably much cleaner than in the past but it was a dark brown colour and we have seen this feature in other non-industrial rivers along this coast so it must be something to do with peat run off from the moors. We saw fishermen along its banks so it can’t be too polluted although we didn’t see any fish caught!

In northerly winds there was nothing for it but to motor the short distance up the coast to spend the night in the marina in Blyth.

The approach is uninspiring but it has the benefit of offering all tide access and, tucked into the corner of the commercial port is the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club marina.

David on the pontoon in Blythe

Their clubhouse is a Victorian wooden ex light ship built in 1879. This vessel has an 8 inch thick hull and is, apparently, the only surviving wooden light ship. It houses a comfortable bar with excellent beer and we enjoyed a very generous Sunday lunch at dinner time for £5.50 !

Northumberland Yacht Club housed in the 1879 wooden lightship ‘Tyne’.

Our passage up the coast to Amble was under engine and notable only for the sightings of seals and puffins. We took the passage inside Coquet Island and crept over the sill into the Marina. Although the marina tries hard, the town is uninspiring and to find any redeeming quality, we had to walk along the banks of the river Coquet to the pretty town of Warkworth with its’ ruined castle and creamy sandstone High Street.

Amble waiting for the tide to allow our exit

We left Amble as soon as there was sufficient depth to clear the sill and with very little wind, we were resigned to motoring along the coast. I am always wary inshore with the proliferation of pot markers, especially at slack water when the tethering rope floats to the surface. This lesson was learned many years ago at slack water in the Chenal du Four. In my cabin off watch, I rose to a commotion on deck to discover a pot marker wedged under our rudder. Having released it, I was chastising the crew for not keeping a proper look out when they said they had been about 100m from the marker buoy, ‘nearly as far away as that one’, pointing at another marker which then started rushing towards us to adopt the same position, wedged behind the rudder. Fortunately, on my lifting keel Parker, the rudder was transom hung and swivelled up so the rope was easily released and no harm was done but a valuable lesson learnt.

Northumberland is rich in ruined Castles and Abbeys and we passed by Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh Castles, passed inside the Farne Islands where the Venerable Bede spent time as a hermit and anchored in the lee of Lindisfarne on Holy Island.

Lindisfarne
More Northumberland castles

With less than 5 knots of wind the next day, we had no option but to motor again, heading for the tiny harbour at Dunbar where we would have to dry out against the harbour wall.

The surge keeping Hejira off the wall in Dunbar
Dried out in Dunbar

From the south, one has to pick up a transit between rocks and head towards the rocky shore with absolutely no sign of a harbour entrance, in fact the harbour does not open to view as there is a dog leg in the narrow entrance and, with a swell, it is probably the most unsighted and perilous entry I think I have ever experienced.

Blind bend

The Harbour Master was very welcoming and even offered to drive us to the out of town supermarket for provisions but we spent a nervous night with a surge finding its way in to the harbour. I took the precaution on leaving of radioing to any approaching vessels as it would have been unthinkable to meet a fishing boat in the blind entrance.

A light headwind necessitated another day under engine alone and we had a pleasant passage inside Bass Rock with its intense colony of gannets and on up the Firth of forth, past Edinburgh.

Bass Rock

It says something about the ‘hardy scots’ when, fully togged up in our ‘oillies’, we passed a sailing school dinghy with the instructor in shorts and a T shirt! Unfortunately Granton Harbour was closed to us due to dredging operations and we had to pass under both magnificent bridges to Port Edgar which has been fashioned out of an old Naval Base and is well served with marine services and chandlery housed in the old Naval buildings.

Ex submarine base now a marina

Friday was a ‘lay day’ and we took the train into Edinburgh to visit the Castle and Britannia, meeting up with friends of our Scottish crew, Bob. With the need to press on to the Inverness rendezvous with Paula at the start of half term, Bob and David were unceremoniously ‘kicked off’ early on Saturday morning having been joined, once again by ‘Captain Cooke’ for the passage North.

Lowestoft to Newcastle

Following the family wedding and a couple of rugby games, it was time to return to Hejira on the Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Andrew Gosling very kindly drove all 4 of us to Lowestoft and we are all extremely grateful for his kindness.

The crew for this leg was Peter Hoade, Bob Haywood and Tom Witham.

Tom Witham (aka ‘Effing Tom’ although this idiosyncrasy is always suppressed in the company of his  long suffering wife Eileen) always welcome for his value as the most entertaining raconteur.

Our lunch time arrival enabled a meal in the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club and victualling in the nearby Asda. A 3am departure to facilitate a ‘top of the tide’ entry into Wells next the Sea, 56 miles up the coast demanded an early night. It would have been better, when I called the Harbour Master, if I had remembered that we were in Lowestoft and not Great Yarmouth but we managed to sort that out between us but with me feeling a bit of an idiot – well it was very early! Dawn saw us romping up the coast with a fresh wind behind the beam and it was to be an enjoyable sail. Although it was ‘tide assisted’, we recorded a satisfying 9.8 knots at one stage! Luckily we had a phone signal and I received a phone call from the Lowestoft Yacht Club informing me that I had not paid the full fee for berthing and I was able to make a credit card payment for the balance over the phone. Entry into Wells is somewhat tortuous and with the neap tides, it would not have been possible without the variable draft capability of the Southerly.

The Wells channel past the Beach Huts.
Delightful Wells-next-the-Sea in North Norfolk

The following day the high tide was at midday and with over 100 miles to Whitby, we would have to sail overnight. With the wind on the beam and gusting to F7 it was a lively but hugely enjoyable sail with 2 reefs in the main.

The proliferation of wind farms all along this coast is remarkable and the AIS is really helpful as we were able to identify the support vessels and call them to establish the extent and regulations regarding the farms under construction, there were little more than stumps sticking out of the sea.

Our impressive speed saw us off Whitby before dawn and a call to the Whitby watch-keeper identified that it was again necessary to lift the keel to clear the shallows at the entrance. Moored off the bridge waiting (picture attached) pontoon, we resisted the appeals to enter the marina upstream of the bridge as we intended to leave before dawn the next day.

Whitby with the famous church in the background
Pretty Whitby

The crew this week have been blessed with ideal sailing conditions and our 50nm passage up to Newcastle was a close reach in flat water. Entry into the Tyne between North and South Shields was straightforward and we were expecting to see wholesale industrial dereliction so it was surprising to see apparent vibrant commercial activity all along the Tyne. The regeneration of the area around the Millennium Bridge where we moored is impressive in that they have retained many of the old buildings and integrated new buildings to produce an original feel to the ‘Old Town’.

Moored in the heart of Newcastle

Visiting the ‘Crown Posada’ pub was like going back in time with the stained glass windows and even records playing on an old gramophone.

Peter pictured in the charismatic Crown Posada pub.

London to Lowestoft

The two weeks spent in St. Katharine Dock were great fun and Paula and I walked to near exhaustion as we tried to make the best of the wonderful central London location. Among many highlights was a visit from Helen and David Harbour who are the editors of the Southerly Owners association magazine. The Association have very kindly awarded me the John Manley prize for contributions to the magazine in 2013 for the serialisation of my Email missives sent during last year’s cruise. David and Helen came on board for a very convivial evening and made the presentation of a fine, engraved Cross pen. Thank you David and Helen and thank you SOA ! My mail updates were not composed with the SOA in mind but everyone will have to suffer another season of delete button exercise as I am now inspired to do it again this year!

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The 4 day Easter break heralded the resumption of my cruise and I was joined by my son Oliver and 4 of his mates. We left early on the afternoon ‘lock out’ which meant that we plugged the tide past the scenic and interesting London panorama at a sedate pace and flushed past the more industrial eastern outskirts.

Galleons Reach
Galleons Reach

Unable to find the changeable entrance to Ray Gut off Southend, the light Northerly wind allowed us to anchor off, with only the wash from the passing shipping to disturb a quiet night. Our passage up to Burnham on Crouch was notable for a good sail and Burnham Yacht Harbour was a welcoming destination with the charming Town only a short walk along the foreshore. The weather was so poor the next day that it necessitated contact lenses and navigation lights. We were not in the mood for taking our time in the rain and gloom so, having been given a ‘last orders’ deadline in the Harbour Lights restaurant in Titchmarsh Marina behind Walton on the Naze, we pressed on under engine alone and enjoyed a good meal after an uninspiring day at sea.

The pontoons in Titchmarsh Marina have loops instead of cleats and it must be difficult to quickly apply friction to control a yacht in a blow. It turned out that this is where the previous owner of my yacht (it was then called Katalian) suffered an awful accident and I can quite understand how it might have happened. It was spooky to be told that we were in exactly the same berth!

With my son and his mates departing to get back to their careers, I was joined by Dave Cooke, a retired Merchant Navy Captain. Our passage north took us through the commercial hubbub between Felixtowe and Harwich and we then ghosted up the river Orwell under jib alone with the flood under our keel. Picking up a mooring buoy at Pin Mill for a brief lunch stop, I learned another lesson and that is never to operate the bow thruster approaching a mooring buoy. An unseen pick up line was pulled into the thruster effectively securing us by the bow thruster propeller. Once secured as intended to the ring on top of the buoy, a short swim freed the line but the bow thruster fuse was blown. A call to the helpful Fox’s marina chandlery located a replacement (I will carry them in future) and a brief free (!) stop restored operation.

Neptune Marina Ipswich

A short passage upriver allowed us to lock into Ipswich Harbour on ‘free flow’ to spend a peaceful night in Neptune Marina after a few beers in the Dove, a quirky specialist real ale pub.

Moored at Bawdsey

Updated survey details for the Deben entrance proved invaluable as we conned our way in at low tide and a pleasant drift up stream in little wind was interesting but not as picturesque as the Orwell. A peaceful night spent back on a mooring buoy at Bawdsey inside the entrance prepared us for our passage north to Lowestoft in still airs but with the tide assisting our modest speed.

Sizewell Nuclear Power Station

The passage was only really notable for another encounter with the dreaded fishing nets. On this occasion they were patrolled by fishing boats and did not present a problem which was just as well as these did not have the line of floats to distinguish them.

So, Lowestoft achieved and a mooring in the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk secured for the week, it only remained to repair the generator (faulty exhaust sensor) and clean up. Train tickets booked in advance (Senior Railcard) for £15 will enable a return home for a family wedding and to put a cut on the lawn.

Underway around the UK

31st March to 7th April – Chichester to St. Katharine Dock

With the exception of a malfunctioning plotter (Raymarine are replacing it FOC), Hejira was in good shape for the departure at the end of March. A great deal of work has been done over the winter and I have to thank Barry Locke-Edmunds and Bob Haywood for their valued assistance.

01 Northney Chichester
Hejira on her berth in Northney Marina, her home while in Chichester Harbour

The Hejira ‘shake down’ for this year is to make an anticlockwise circumnavigation of the UK with a number of different crew joining for the various legs but taking a liberty with the purist’s view of ‘round the UK’ by using the Caledonian Canal.

The nature of passages ‘up channel’ is that one has to leave at low tide to carry the best of the stream and, following the winter storms, this was to present us with some challenges.

At low water springs, the pontoon alongside our berth in Northney dries at a drunken angle and the depth sounder was only showing dashes.

Hejira in her Northney Marina mud berth

 

I am sure that we pushed off through soft mud to leave the berth and we crept out very gingerly with disconcerting depths until over the Chichester bar and away with a light South Easterly allowing only the occasional indulgence of unassisted sailing as we tried to maintain our speed to make Beachy Head before the tidal stream became too adverse.

Having caught up with some old sailing friends in Sovereign Marina in Eastbourne, we were looking to lock out about 1 ½ hours before low water and having checked the recent survey in the Marina office, we knew it would be shallow as the shingle bank had been swept across the entrance and the depths greatly reduced but the duty lock keeper considered that we should have sufficient depth.

02 Eastbourne
Sovereigns Marina in Eastbourne

Monitoring the lock channel as we prepared for our lock out, we were surprised to hear a departing fishing boat report the depth in  the channel of ‘less than a metre’ The lock keeper was clearly concerned with this intelligence and suggested we wait until the flood which seemed prudent. We were understandably surprised to hear two other fishing boats looking to lock out and decided to follow them out hoping to use their advance soundings, fully prepared to turn around and lock back in. Explaining this to the lock staff, they accepted the philosophy and we proceeded into the lock.

I asked the larger charter fishing boat if they would be kind enough to radio the depths in the channel on their way out and told them that I actually draw less than 1 metre with my keel raised. He unhelpfully said ‘Bugger you mate, I’m not hanging around for you, you’ve got no chance of getting out in that’ When I asked, he told me he drew 3 foot 3 inches! We successfully crept out with sufficient water and that is probably where we should leave the subject.

 

04 White Cliffs
The White Cliffs
03 Dungeness
Dungeness

 

 

 

 

Our passage to Ramsgate was notable for an experience in the Ramsgate Channel inshore of the Goodwin Sands past Deal. We spotted two ‘lobby pot’ markers and a load of seagulls on the water between them. As we approached, the seagulls seemed rather regimented and resolved into a line of floats marking a 500m long net on the surface! We successfully negotiated this unexpected hazard only to see another half a mile further on.  The flood/ebb hiatus occurs in this area and it is possible to experience a favourable flood followed by a favourable ebb. The tidal stream across the Ramsgate Harbour entrance was very strong and it was unexpectedly turbulent. Ramsgate has a certain charm and we enjoyed our stay with visitors for dinner on board but it was disconcerting to find ourselves connected to the French mobile network !

I have been past the Thames Estuary several times but never ventured into the Thames from the sea. Intending to leave Hejira in St.Kats for a couple of weeks (Paula’s Easter Holiday from School) I was looking forward to taking the Swale inside the Isle of Sheppey. Taken on the flood, this presented few issues save for the railway bridge. The pilot book suggests that this can be a problem if it has been opened previously as the motors overheat and need a rest to cool down. In the event we had a half hour wait for a train and then carried the tide up to Queenborough where the pilot book indicated there was an all tide, walk ashore pontoon. The reality was that the pontoon had been disconnected for ‘health & safely’ but it was still a welcome overnight mooring.

05 Ramsgate
Ramsgate

 

The Swale Railway Bridge
The Swale Railway Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

A leisurely start for the tide ‘up river’ allowed for a decent breakfast on board but it was very worrying to see an all but submerged 40 gallon steel drum float past the pontoon.

Queenborough
Queenborough

Once under way, we kept a watch on the bow and had to manoeuvre to avoid the very same drum, dead on our course. We maintained our watch at the bow and later, up river, identified a 10 inch square 15 foot long wooden beam adrift in the channel.

The Thames is very industrial up to the Barrier when it becomes considerably more interesting and after a very pleasant overnight in Limehouse, the allocated berth in St Katherine Dock, directly outside the Dickens Inn has proved to be perfect for two weeks exploring the delights of London.

 

 

 

St. Katharines's
St. Katharines’s
Limehouse
Limehouse

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