Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Our peaceful sojourn in Souhwold is cut short.
I've found enough phone signal to pick up the forecast. It shows a week of winds building steadily from today's F5-7 through Gale 8 to Storm 10. We need to get home before those gales arrive.....and will be beating (into the wind) all the way.
Stargazer puts to sea immediately. She carves her way south, through short steep seas, both main and genoa double reefed.
Pin Mill's sheltering trees give us a lee for the night. We set sail with the sunrise.
The breeze is down to F5-6 today. Stargazer shoulders her way on south under full jib and double reefed main.
We anchor behind the spit in Pyefleet Creek for the night - now only one 45 mile hop from home. This should work out perfectly. The first gale is not due until tomorrow evening. We will be home by then.
We sail at high water. It's 04.00 dark and foggy. The occulting lights of buoyage appear and disappear in the swirls of mist. An anchored boat rears up dead ahead. I steer to starboard, to avoid her. We glide to a halt. We are aground. I start the engine. Too late. We are hard aground with 4m of tide still to fall. I close the sea cocks and start shifting all heavy gear up to port to encourage Stargazer to fall to the 'uphill' side of the mud bank. If we fall 'downhill' the returning tide will flood and sink us.
Dawn reveals a different fate.The same notoriously glutinous mud-ooze of the Pyefleet, which has entrapped Stargazer, is also her saviour. Yin and Yang. Stargazer has settled, 1.8m fin keel and all, bolt upright into the mud. A curlew feeds to our landward side delightfully oblivious to our presence.
To seaward a family of egrets hungrily stalk the shallows. I settle down to a 10 hour wait for the tide to return with a mug of coffee and a hot breakfast.
Much to my relief Stargazer refloats unscathed as the gale builds. We re anchor further up the Pyefleet to sit it out.
The wind shrieks and moans for 24 hours, until a dramatic thunderclap and rainbow mark the gale's end.
I navigate out of the creek and through the Swin Swatchway, with great care, an hour before dawn the following day. A gibbous moon lights our way. The clear night sky is studded with a magnificence of stars. A good omen for Stargazer.
The forecast is "westerly 5-7 backing southerly 6-gale 8 perhaps severe gale 9 later." I put Stargazer hard on the wind, under double reefed main and double reefed jib. She flings spray high over her shoulder, letting nothing stand between her and the lee of the Kent shore.
We slip into the tree lined shelter of Upnor Reach as the storm Aileen arrives. Glad to be home.
An unseen skylark pours its heartfelt song out from high above our heads.
The wind sighs in the long grass on the seawall; and the 4 knot River Blyth ebb cascades musically down Stargazer's side.
This morning we had sounded our way gingerly into Southwold. To guide us in; a copy of the East Coast Pilot pinned open, with a winch handle, on the hatch cover.
Black tarred huts line the narrow channel...
....and fishermen bait their pots.
The welcoming Harbour Master waves us over to a vacant private mooring and takes our lines.
Cows graze in the field beside us. It is an idyllic scene of peace and tranquility. I feel my heart and spirits lift as I set out to explore.
A week before we had slipped out of Sharfleet Creek on a zephyr of northerly breeze.
We beat langourously through a sun filled day up to the River Colne...
...to settle down among the Colchester Smacks for the night.
A rising breeze carries us up The Wallet....
.....to the tree lined River Orwell.
We press on northward, making landfall at Lowestoft....
.....after a rousing rolling sleigh ride of a sail with a rising (F5-6) south westerly at our backs.
Helping hands catch our lines at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. We are set fair to make for Southwold on the morning tide.
Saturday, 10 June 2017
The Dutch warship 'Holland' is moored in the dock basin behind my house.
She crouches at the quayside like a snow leopard ready to pounce. Sleek and powerful......
....sharp claws at the ready...
...her tail held high and proud.
Two weeks ago Stargazer sailed to Breskens. Now Breskens boats have crossed the North Sea to her home port.
Boats of all shapes....
350 years ago the Royal Dutch Navy sailed up The River Medway to Chatham Naval Dockyard. They sacked Upnor Castle, captured the cream of the British fleet as prizes and burned the remaining warships on their moorings.
Today the atmosphere in front of Upnor's stone battlements is more relaxed. Flags, flown by British and Netherlands boats alike, crack in a stiff westerly breeze.
Saturday, 3 June 2017
A sea breeze ruffles the water. The sluicing Schelde ebb begins to flow. It is time to head homeward. Stargazer beats seaward from Breskens, then hoists her cruising chute for a leisurely reach south past the bustling harbour mouths of Zeebrugge and Oostende. We gybe close in off Cadzand - a newly built marina at the mouth of the Westerschelde. I mark the entrance channel with waypoints on the plotter. A possible landfall for our next North Sea crossing.
In from the rolling sea, we come alongside at Nieuwpoort....
.....with its shaded square...
.......and watchful gargoyles.
Stargazer plunges and rears through wind over tide seas, beating in 26 knots of breeze, We short tack (every 6-7 minutes all day long) between the Banc Smal to starboard and the Trapgeer bank to port, feeling our way down to the Passe de Zuydcoote spitway. We've made good time. Maybe too good. Its dead low water when we arrive. We heave to, waiting for some rise of tide. Then 'Jantje' thunders up through the channel to greet us. In we tack. We make it in one long board, with two metres to spare beneath our keel.
One last tack carries us down the approach canal, into Dunkerque. Out of the tearing wind and driving salt spray.
Up on the quayside a fisherman mends his nets in the sun. Aboard Stargazer I cook myself a large reviving curry.
Fog closes in off Ruytingen, as we enter the shipping lanes. We cross The Channel in a tiny world of our own. Grey sea merges with grey fog. Visibility is 50 metres. Beyond our 50 metre bubble the world of commerce continues. Ships rumble by with fog horns lowing and engines pounding like the hooves of stampeding cattle.
I sleep late into the afternoon and awake to the cries of seagulls echoing off Ramsgate's familiar stone walls
We push the southbound tide for an hour, up past North Foreland, to catch the first of the London River flood off Margate. Its a calm day, with marginal breeze. Ideal to sound our way through 'The Overland Route' into the Medway. Charts and pilot books are contradictory on the location of buoyage. One thing they are agreed on is that depths at low water are generally insufficient to float us.
We ghost east, allowing the flooding tide to lift us up and over the shoals. I lay way points and note depths under keel versus rise of tide. The sky darkens. Thunder cracks. Lightening sizzles. Rain smokes off Stargazer's deck. The storm clears as quickly as it appeared and visibility begins to lift. Ahead, as if appearing through the mists of time, a Thames barge stands into The Swale. We are home.