Sunday, 6 May 2018

Through the Looking Glass

An hour ago I was at my office desk. Now Stargazer has slipped through the marina lock, like Alice through her looking glass, into the wondrous weekend world of the river.

We beat downstream, on the ebb, our weekday cares left tossing in our wake. An amphibious, chimeral, landscape - part land part water - rises around us as the tide recedes.

We settle for the night, among the geese and gulls, in 'our' spot at the head of Sharfleet Creek.

A molten sun glides toward the gently undulating Kent horizon. Its long shadows pick out the ever shifting line between slick estuarine mud and rippling river water.

The creek comes to life, as I breakfast in the cockpit on a sun filled Saturday morning. I watch the comings.....

....and goings in a dreamlike state, suspended between sleep and wakefulness.

Stargazer pirouettes gently around her anchor chain, with a rumble and a clank, bringing me out of my reverie, commanding attention. The tide has turned. The first cats-paws of a summer sea breeze are padding across the still anchorage towards us. It is time to make sail.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Here Comes the Sun

A rainbow arcs across Ramsgate Harbour. The spring sun splashes a bright patch of summer blue across the canvas of bleak black winter cloud. The tide is fair, the wind murmurs on the sea wall beside us. It is time to make sail.

Stargazer scuds north, reaching under double reefed main in 25 knots of NW breeze. She carves a boiling white wake across a rhythmically undulating blue green sea.

Mischievous gusts spill down from the high white cliffs above. Our wake squirms sinuously as we duck and weave, playing the shifts 

The waves flatten as we round North Foreland and sniff out the first of the flood tide, to carry us into the London River. Stargazer is hard on the wind now. Casting to port and starboard, scenting out the deepest water, as she tacks. Through the shipping, waiting for orders, at anchor in Margate roadsted; into the Gore Channel, the Copperas Channel, the Horse Channel and the Four Fathom Channel.  

The wind frees as Stargazer slips into the Medway and glides upriver, making the most of slack water in the river. The spring sun quietly retires below the horizon, its work done for the day. Behind, it leaves a sky purged of cloud and the anticipation of a summer's cruising under sail.

Monday, 2 April 2018


The March winds, whistling icily from the arctic, mound Stargazer's decks with snow. It is a month until her eight birthday which, this year, falls on Easter Sunday. A double celebration to commemorate with our first sail of a new season.

But first there is work to do. In the window, between the two March falls of snow, Stargazer is lifted. Temperatures rise just far enough for the anti fouling to dry. Anodes are replaced, topsides polished, the engine serviced and the source of a mysterious leak (eventually) traced to the calorifier.

Rain lashes the deck as I sit snug below on Good Friday, with the refit complete. 

We sail the following morning. The traffic roar and bustle of the upper river falls away as Stargazer spreads her wings and gybes seaward in long boards. Her familiar tiller comes alive in my hand. The silvery song of our wake and the primal chatter of the marsh birds fill my ears.  The metronome of time slows.

We drop anchor in Sharfleet creek. Around us the marshes rise, to provide shelter for the night, as six metres of spring tide ebbs into the North Sea.

A pair of White Fronted Geese, in from the Greenland tundra, patrol the chill foreshore beside us.

We reach gently out of the Medway on a steely grey Easter morning, making for the North Foreland - a fitting celebration of the day on which Stargazer was first launched eight years ago.
 I am wearing two fleeces and a body warmer under my full waterproofs; plus a windproof hat, with earflaps, on top of my balaclava. A warming mug of coffee or soup is seldom far from my, mittened, hand.
We take the 'overland route' close in to the Kentish shore, slipping over the shoals, threading through the ancient Four Fathom and Copperas channels. I break out an easter egg as the twin Reculver Towers come abeam and we clear the shallowest part of our route.

From the Foreland we romp south, Stargazer lifting to the Channel swell. Ahead of us the welcoming breakwaters of Ramsgate Harbour.

We have our pick of berths. I make fast, connect to shore power and fire up the heater!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

YIN & YANG CRUISE. Part 2: Yin

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.

YIN & YANG CRUISE. Part 1: Yang

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... settle down among the Colchester Smacks for the night.

A rising breeze carries us up The Wallet.... 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

Battle of the Medway

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...... 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....


...and eras.

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.

Racing gigs pitch gamely in the wind over tide chop of the heaving river...

...and a bluff bowed Botter puts purposefully to sea.