Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Boat Plans (2)

Have you ever looked at those diagrams that can be seen in two ways; either as a positive or a negative projection? The classic picture is of a curvaceous black vase within a black frame, silhouetted against a white background, but suddenly one is aware of two white shapes either side of the vase resembling faces in profile. With practice, one can manipulate the images within ones mind so as to see either the black vase or the two white faces in profile.

Some boat plans can be like that. At first, no sense or reason can be made of a drawing; then all of a sudden there it is, fully revealed in its positive form. The key to understanding plans is first to skim through them with the purpose of taking an overall view. If the waterline is marked on the lines drawing and there are views of the forward and aft sections with their waterlines shown, one can begin to appreciate the form of the vessel. Is she narrow, beamy, long or short? Does her bow have a chisel-like shape for cutting through the waves and is her transom shallow and wide, or is she deep-bodied with a continuous sweeping line from her bow to her transom-hung rudder?

For the enthusiast, there’s always an excitement on first ‘reading’ plans. Understanding her form is only the beginning; patient study of individual parts and their relationships within the boat is far more time consuming. Then one is faced with understanding the details of construction and the nature of various components, such as the rudder, mast, rigging and sails with their minutiae.

There are many methods of construction using various materials such as wood, plywood, GRP (glass reinforced plastic), sheet metal or concrete; that’s were a designer can be helpful by supplying a compete list of materials along with instructions which set out a sequence for building the boat.

Ideally, plans should be comprehensive, leaving no room for error or doubt in the builder’s mind, especially the amateur. Professionals, through their experience and knowledge can get by with minimal information, but even for them detailed drawings are better.

I’m currently studying Matt Layden’s plans for his micro-sailboat, ‘Paradox’. She’s an exciting little thing and I’m enchanted with her lines, although they are somewhat unorthodox. Within a few days I should be able to start building her.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Boat Building Expectations

How things can change within the time it takes for a twinkling of an eye! Yesterday I was excited about the prospect of receiving my Paradox kit - perhaps tomorrow - but early today I learnt my dreams for a kit will not be fulfilled. Sadly, Alec Jordan phoned me to say that despite the fact that he’s worked hard to find solutions for making all the parts of the kit fit, he has not succeeded. Therefore he will not be able to provide me with mine until the problems have been solved; which happy event will be unlikely in the near future.

Alec has not given up on his desire to manufacture a kit, but the design process for cutting the panels and various components needs more research to enable him to offer a foolproof, good quality product. Because I am unable to wait for a successful outcome, he will let me have the plywood he would have used for my kit; then I’ll start building my Paradox according to Matt’s original plans. By the way, Matt and Alec have collaborated together on this project, but to date technical hurdles have thrown a spanner in the works. Nevertheless, I thank them for all their efforts and hope that eventually they’ll find solutions for producing a kit.

Alec’s hopes have been dashed, especially as so much interest has been shown in a kit for the boat. He is saddened that those who have expressed their desire for a kit will not be able to have one soon, and information about this will be posted on the Jordan Boats web site.

Undaunted, I hope to start building my Paradox within a week or so, while the temperature of the summer air is warm enough for using epoxy.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Boat Plans

If all goes well, I should soon receive my kit of plywood parts for building a Paradox micro-cruiser designed by Matt Layden. The kit is being produced by Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats, and it will be the first of its kind. All previous Paradoxes have been made from bare materials prepared by their builders.

In readiness for the arrival of my kit and the prospect of starting the project soon, I’ve been studying the detailed plans drawn up by Matt. There are 12 sheets of A2 black and white drawings, very clearly presented. On drawing number 6, there are instructions for the sequence of assembly. One thing that is evident about the plans is that the designer has built the boat himself; therefore being fully aware of the procedure, he was able to work out a system whereby one stage leads to the next and subsequent stages are naturally built upon previous ones.

Don Elliott has produced a very useful Paradox Building Manual which is now available for downloading over the Internet at a reasonable price. I have been studying one of his older Paradox manuals which came in paper format and it’s full of useful advice on doing a good job. He has worked out methods whereby the process of building the boat should be easier and quicker. If you are contemplating building a Paradox sailboat you would do well to obtain his Manual.

When I’ve finished building my Paradox I’ll be in a position of being able to express an opinion on the usefulness of the kit by Jordan Boats. Alec will have done a lot of preparatory work to ensure all the parts fit together. I guess it would have been a tricky undertaking involving the use of a CAD program. In addition to the kit, he will be producing a guide for its assembly. The sequence of building the kit may well differ from the original plans. A stitch and glue version will by nature not exactly resemble the boat in its entirety; for example, there may be no chine logs in the kit version. Obviously, the strength and integrity of the original must be matched and her final displacement should be the same.

Some may claim that by using a kit, the boat will not be a Paradox, but that is not said of the Roamer dinghy, which can be built either in the original format or by using the stitch and glue method.


Jordan Boats –

Plans available from - Dave Bolduc.
1736 Phillips Avenue, Greensboro, Nc 27405, USA.

Building Manual from - . Alternatively write to:
Don Elliott,
711 Wisconsin Ave,
Box 202,
Wisconsin, 54660,

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Small Sailboat Performance

Small Sailboat Performance

Of late, there’s been quite a bit of discussion on various Yahoo! groups about ‘performance’, but mostly in terms of speed, particularly to windward. Perhaps we could focus on a broader definition of ‘performance’ as defined in the Oxford Concise Dictionary, ‘the action or process of performing a task or function’?

Now, a small sailing boat could be used for pottering, day sailing, cruising or racing - all in a variety of conditions and locations, and the boat may have one or more crew members. Considering these aspects, there are several factors to look at when measuring performance. So much depends on what the owner requires; does he want comfort, Spartan accommodation, the ability to sail in shallow water, a deep draught boat for ocean sailing, or a trailer sailer etc.?

With a boat not specifically designed for racing, efficiency to windward is only one aspect of her overall sailing performance. When measuring sailing performance one should also consider fine-reaching, broad-reaching and running. How easily can the sail(s) be reefed, and can the boat sail in winds up to force 3, 4 or 5 without the need for reefing? Is it necessary for the crew to go on deck to reef sails, or can the operation be carried out from the safety of the cockpit, if there is one? (Hasler’s famous ‘Jester’ did not have a cockpit, and all handling of the boat was carried out from inside her cabin, just as with ‘Paradox’!)

For me, performance is a measure of how a boat satisfies ‘me’ while cruising. Am I happy with her overall speed in a variety of sea conditions? Is she an energy-saving craft, whereby I can conserve my strength? For this objective she must be easy to work, with the minimum expenditure of energy on my part. Can my boat protect me from the elements? Does she have the sort of comfort I require? Can I retrieve her anchor when there’s a raging gale?

The main point I’m making is that for me, measuring performance, other than comparing like for like in racing boats, is about my personal satisfaction. Does my boat match my expectations?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Boat Engines

Engines on boats are an anathema for some, whereas for others they are a joy. I fall somewhere in between, but I went through a phase where I was opposed to having an engine on a sailing boat, mainly on the grounds of being eco-friendly, not wanting to pollute the environment by pumping carbon deposits into the atmosphere, or by spilling fuel into the water.

The least polluting readily available boat engines must be of the electric type, either inboard or outboard. Diesel and petroleum based engines, on the other hand, must make the worst impact on nature. There’s also the case against having them on the grounds of sound pollution, especially in places such as Windermere.

My current yacht, ‘Bumper’, has an old Bukh 10 ME diesel engine. It was especially useful to me when I cruised to the Scilly Isles from Burnham-on-Crouch. There were times when the wind was dead on the nose and seas were particularly steep with breaking crests; then the engine, combined with sail power made mincemeat of the situation. This sort of sailing is known as motor-sailing. Perhaps ‘Bumper’ could be considered as an auxiliary cruising yacht, rather than a motor-sailer, but a few owners of similar yachts would consider them to be motor cruisers which happen to have sails – it depends on their emphasis and preferences according to how they use their boats.

I would prefer to sail rather than use the auxiliary engine, but for me today, there is a good case for having an engine, simply to help get the boat to a safe haven for a decent night’s sleep, or to plug a tide that would otherwise prevent me getting home on time. To have confessed that years ago, would have been a form of sacrilege - because I was a purist sailor.

My next project, the building of a ‘Paradox’ micro-cruiser, will soon be underway. She was designed by Matt Layden to be without an engine; in preference the designer incorporates a yuloh. This is a long curved paddle or oar which is deployed over the stern as sculling tool. Experts can generate quite a bit of power over long periods using this oriental gizmo to propel their boats. I’ll give it a go, but a small outboard motor will be most useful, particularly for the East Coast Rivers of England where I do most of my sailing; these tidal rivers have fast flowing currents. (I note that Charles Stock did not use and engine when sailing the same waters in his famous small boat, ‘Shoal Waters’, but I’m not Charles, who has a quality of toughness and cunning as expressed in the Latin word ‘callidus’.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Boat Themes

Certain designers of boats seem to develop a theme with variations, but undeniably they leave their stamp on their designs - Harrison Butler and Herreshoff are two such giants. Modern designers of small boats such as Paul Fisher or John Welsford leave their trademarks by repeating themes. They lengthen, widen or deepen a design; add a cabin, a keel or centreboard, but their basic proven formula remains. Sail plans may vary; although even here, preferences abound.

Take the designs of Matt Newland, of Swallow Boats, (; you’ll note a family likeness between variations of the Storm Petrel, Osprey, Sandpiper and Kittiwake. They are based on the pointed, double-ended concept; all have a distinctive gunwale strake and every one has a sweeping upward turn of the sheer at her bow; each boat except the Kittiwake has a push-pull tiller.

We tend to acquire our own preferences for the ‘type’ of boat we like, whether she’s narrow and deep, beamy and shallow, very pointed at the bow with a wide transom, or bluff at the bow and with a small transom. There are so many permutations for our satisfaction. What sail plan fires our imagination? Is it the schooner, the cat ketch, the gaff sloop, a junk or a lug? Perhaps none of these, but we will have our likes and dislikes.

Now and again designers like Phil Bolger ( or Jim Michalak ( will come up with such an unusual design it will challenge our tastes or prejudices. Then there’s the designer of ‘Paradox’, Matt Layden ( who also works according to a theme. I believe I’m right in saying he developed the controversial single-handed micro-sailboat over a period of eleven years. Instead of a traditional keel, she has chine runners (lateral leeboards attached to the single chines).

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Seals of Foulness

On the first sail of the season, back in April, I took ‘Bumper’ out of the River Crouch to Foulness Sands where I saw 37 seals basking in the sun. That was a spectacle. Most of them were motionless, but a few twitched their tails or slowly raised their heads; one or two now and again arched their backs; then they lay on one side; all this was accompanied with various bellowing sounds.

Today I took a couple of friends in ‘Bumper’ to the same spot with the purpose of seeing the seals, but in all, there were only half-a-dozen. Nevertheless, my companions were thrilled to see them and used binoculars for close-up views.

I suppose seals move to new locations when the fish they eat change their feeding grounds.

A few years ago, many seals in the north east died with a kind of distemper, similar to the sort dogs can catch. I just hope that has not been the fate of the Foulness seals.

During our visit to the seals we anchored not far from them, but the wind gradually increased in strength as the tide was about to flood, which would make the anchorage uncomfortable, because the current would soon be against the wind; therefore we stayed there for only half-an-hour.

Retrieving the anchor for our return to Burnham was hard work, because the strengthening wind and last of the ebb tried to prevent me hauling in the chain. As the wind was right on the nose for the return leg, in preference to a hard slog to windward I used the engine.

On our arrival at Rice and Cole’s pontoon, my non-sailing visitors said they were pleased with their outing. I too had enjoyed the afternoon and their company.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fouling Growth

For two months and eight days ‘Bumper’ boldly made her way to the Scilly Isles and back from Burnham-on-Crouch. When she returned home, her bottom was almost as clean as the day she left. Only seven days have passed since being tethered to her mooring off Rice and Coles yard, and in that time weed has grown around her waterline. This means I shall need to make a weekly visit to keep her free of fouling. I’ll need to use a hand scrubbing brush while seated in the dinghy, and for that to happen the water must be reasonably calm. When there’s any bounce in the water, the job becomes difficult; holding the dinghy beside the boat while using the free hand for scrubbing can be a tricky job.

Perhaps in a week or so I’ll need to beach the boat for a thorough scrub before applying antifouling around the waterline and areas more prone to crustaceans and weed. At this stage in the season it will not be necessary to anti-foul the whole of the underbody.

I think part of the problem with recent weed growth is the increased daylight hours at this time of year and the exceptionally warm water. Possibly the sewerage processing plant adjacent to my mooring may be a factor. Sometimes the smell from it is unpleasant, but I’m not sure if any treated or untreated sewerage is discharged into the River Crouch. In recent years I’ve not seen the telltale signs of sewerage in the River; that’s a brown slime often accompanied with a creamy froth, if windblown. Such elements would enhance weed growth.

Several years ago I kept a Kingfisher 26 more or less at the same spot as ‘Bumper’s’ mooring, and I recollect that weeds and barnacles were a problem, to the extent they almost prevented the propeller from working at all. Likewise the rudder was partially immobilised. In that state she limped to a nearby beach where I removed the offending growth.

I really must try lanolin on the propeller, as it is said to be effective in preventing barnacles from growing on the blade surfaces.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Selling a Boat

As most of you already know, my Newbridge Virgo Voyager yacht is up for sale - therefore the topic of selling boats is on my mind. In the past I’ve bought and sold a good many boats. None of them have been new; more often than not they’ve been bought by me, then improved and used before being sold, but seldom have I kept a boat for more than two years. I simply enjoy trying out different models with various rigs and hull configurations.

No one can guarantee they will be able to sell a boat, but if the asking price is fair for the yacht’s age and condition, including gear within the sale, there’s a good chance someone will buy her.

Having a specialist yacht has never been a problem; for example, I’ve sold three yachts all rigged as junks. There’s always been that ‘someone’ for whom the boat is just right, or nearly so, with minor modifications.

Selling at the right time is helpful, but when is the right time? September is a good month, because those seeking to own a boat in the UK often visit the Southampton Boat Show, where they are astonished at the prices being asked for new boats. They very quickly realise a good second-hand boat is a better prospect; not just because used boats are so much better value for money, but because they often come with lots of gear, that otherwise would need to be purchased.

Advertising your boat in advance of the date you want to sell is a ‘must’. That’s because it takes a while for the information to be disseminated. If you are advertising in a magazine such as Practical Boat Owner, you need to get your advert to the publisher at least two months in advance.

Using a broker is a good idea, because a conscientious one will do a lot of the advertising to earn his commission, which is usually eight percent of the selling price. If he is not successful in selling the boat for you, he will have done you a favour by publicising it, so that when you do your own advertising, prospective buyers will already have information on your boat.

Boats are sometimes sold because a friend of a friend has mentioned it is for sale; therefore inform all your relatives, friends and particularly other yachtsmen that a good boat is for sale. Spread the news around your nearest sailing club, because the great majority of boats are sold locally.

Well, you can all do me a favour by telling your boating friends and acquaintances that the infamous ‘Bumper’, a Newbridge Virgo Voyager, rigged as a junk is for sale!

Details can be found at .

Life is Precious

The king shall have joy in Your
strength, O LORD;
And in Your salvation how greatly
shall he rejoice!
You have given him his heart’s
And have not withheld the request
of his lips. Selah

For You meet him with the blessings
of goodness;
You set a crown of pure gold upon his
He asked life from You, and You gave
it to him-
Length of days forever and ever.

(The first four verses of Psalm 21)

Today (Thursday, 14th July, 05) at mid-day, while in Tesco’s shopping, every single person stood still for two minutes, as in solidarity we waited in silence remembering those who had their lives snatched from them by the London bombers a week ago. What did they achieve? Families mourn, children have lost their fathers and mothers; children have been killed and maimed, but significantly, the Nation was united in condemnation of the atrocity and outraged by the senseless act of the bombers.

Life is precious, every minute of it, no matter what condition we find ourselves in, whether in good health or bad, in joy or sadness.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

‘Bumper’ is for Sale

‘Bumper’ is for Sale

Out of habit over many years I’ve bought and sold boats, improved them and enjoyed sailing them. Therefore, it’s no surprise that ‘Bumper’, my Newbridge Virgo Voyager Junk is up for sale.

Those who have read my entry yesterday, with the subject heading ‘Paradox’, will know that I’ll be building a kit version of this unique, very small coastal sailing cruiser. Having more than one boat does not make a lot of sense for me; therefore I’ve decided to part with ‘Bumper’.

For more information visit: .


Monday, July 11, 2005



My dictionary describes a paradox as, ‘a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that may in fact be true.’ The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:39 may seem to be a paradox, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The paradox which is the subject of today’s entry, is a small sailing boat designed by Matt Layden. This is a very different boat to the ‘normal’ general purpose dinghy, and yet she is no bigger - in fact she’s smaller than a Roamer class dinghy specifically designed for cruising.

What makes this an unusual small boat is that one can sail her from inside, completely protected from the elements. This is a most useful attribute in the UK where the weather can take a turn for the worst without warning. Another feature is her full-length berth for one person; there is also provision for preparing heated food and drinks. She is a miniature sailboat for coastal cruising in good weather conditions. I would add the qualification, ‘in good weather conditions’, since coastal cruising can be more dangerous and difficult than open water sailing, because of hazards such as the proximity of land, particularly headlands which accelerate wind and currents; then there’s the avoidance of all manner of vessels and the necessity of working tides.

Paradox has only one sail, namely a lugsail, but it can be reefed in the same way a roller window blind is rotated around a spindle, which in this case is the boom. All working of the boat is carried out from inside the cabin by using lines. Steering is done by using a continuous line which passes through blocks while attached to a tiller; thereby one can steer the boat from any point within her cabin. Her helmsman sits facing forward with his head above deck and he has 360 degree view through continuous Perspex windows, apart from a small sector caused by supports for the cabin top.

Another original feature is her chine runners which are like narrow fore and aft keels fitted horizontally on both sides of the boat. As the boat heels, the chine runners help prevent excessive leeway when sailing to windward. Such an arrangement allows the craft to be sailed in very shallow water and enables her to take the ground easily when drying out on a beach or settling in a mud berth.

Until now, all Parodox sailboats have been built individually according to detailed plans drawn up by Matt, but I’m hoping to build my boat from a kit of wooden parts, rather than having to start with the bare materials. Alec Jordan, of Jordan Boats will be supplying me with a kit very shortly, all being well.

Web sites:
Paradox UK -
Jordan Boats -
Paradox Study Plans -
Study Sketches -
Discussion Group -
Alastair Law’s Web Site -

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sunday, 10th July

After a good 800 nautical miles of coastal cruising between Burnham-on-Crouch and the Scilly Isles, ‘Bumper’ has returned home to her mooring at Rice and Coles. She’s an able boat for her size, but like all sailing craft, those who crew them must learn how to get the best out of them.

Over a period of two months and eight days, my Virgo Voyager has become my second home. If she has a soul, then I’m tuned into her. Working her has become second nature. Everything has become automatic or reflexive; I intuitively know if she is not performing her best. Her every movement means something; the amount of heel, the rhythm of pitch, the feel of the tiller or the flutter of the luff. I know her strengths and weaknesses, and accept her for what she is. She’s a small boat with a big heart; she has more inside her than you would imagine.

The clock alarm was set for 0300; bleary eyed from a poor night, I prepared and ate breakfast before donning my waterproofs. There was complete darkness outside the cabin, except for the lights of Southend and the pier. When I lifted the anchor, surprisingly there was no mud on it, for which I was thankful, because cleaning ‘ughy-ughy’ in dark while using a light attached to my forehead would not have been much fun. Leigh Buoy, marking the entrance of Ray Gut creek, was not lit. With the engine on, we set off and I made a guess as to where the buoy was; five minutes later its dark shape loomed out of the darkness about half a cable to starboard.

By 0500 there was sufficient daylight for me to turn off the navigation lights. Within a quarter of an hour we were being whisked past South Shoebury Buoy by the fast ebbing tide; to starboard there were some ships at anchor, one having a pilot put aboard. I was searching ahead for the 5 second, green flash of Blacktail Spit Buoy, when I became conscious of the early morning chill which could be felt through my two sweaters and waterproofs. I pulled up my hood for some protection from the sharp, but slight north easterly wind. Our speed over the smooth water was 5.5 knots. If only we could keep this up until reaching the South Whitaker Buoy, our turning point for the River Crouch, we would be home and dry.

So the morning progressed, as we worked from one marker to another. Two miles from our turning point we were overtaken by a flotilla of swish yachts bound for the Spitway, perhaps en route for Brightlingsea or Maldon. As we started our run for the River Crouch the sun broke through the overhead haze and before long I shed my protective outer garments until being clad only in a shirt and trousers. ‘Fred’ obligingly steered while I brewed up. Motor yachts, sailing yachts and rod fishing boats were all on there way to sea against the incoming flood tide. Only four seals were on the exposed sands of Foulness, unlike the time before my cruise when I was testing the boat, there were thirty-seven!

The familiar waters of the inner Crouch were teaming with racing yachts and others out for Sunday sailing. For me, there were mixed emotions; I was sad the cruise was coming to a close, but I was pleased to be nearly home, safe and well, especially wanting to kiss my wife, give her a big hug, and tell her I had missed her. Late this afternoon I did just that, when my youngest daughter, Lisa and her husband Dave brought June to Burnham in my car. We loaded all the gear into the boot and tied the Seahopper dinghy on the roof rack; less than three-quarters of an hour later we were home.

“Ugh! Look at all those weeds in garden……… but more exercise will do me good.

Here ends the Cruise Log of, “‘Bumper’ to the Scillies and Back.”

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Saturday, 9th July

It’s 1600, and we are anchored in Ray Gut, less than a mile to the west of Southend-on-Sea’s famous pier. (Famous for being the longest pleasure pier in the world, or so it is said.) The iron and wooden structure has a train which runs almost the entire mile or so of its length, but I’m sure I’m safe here, because a few years ago a ship coming up the River Thames sliced the pier in half. The duty officer had fallen asleep while at the controls!

The pier has had some tragic events; I remember seeing it on fire with smoke billowing out of the amusement arcade. What a sorry sight it looked when the fire was out. Since then, a lot of work has taken place to improve the pier’s entrance. At one time there was a pedestrian access over a rather low road bridge, and on more than one occasion double-decker buses became wedged under it.

This morning I woke at the usual time of 0500; rain was belting down and visibility was poor. Low water was predicted for 0913, which meant I had to be out of the River Swale before then, so as to make the best of the rising tide, and not to be caught in the River when the flood tide was entering. In the event ‘Bumper’ left her visitor’s mooring at 0830. We were able to sail much of the way to open water; albeit, rather shallow, which meant there was a mass of broken water. That can be a little daunting, but with the aid of the engine, we made progress north eastwards against the strong flood tide as far as the starboard hand Columbine buoy.

A change of tack, while beating into a northerly force 4, enabled us to make westwards with the current helping us. I was thankful that we could just maintain a course clear of the very shallow water on the north side of the Isle of Sheppey. From the Spile Buoy onwards our speed shot up to 4 knots. On the way we had to cross the Medway Channel by Medway No 1 Buoy; I could see a huge container ship, obviously intent on entering the Medway for berthing at Sheerness. As it turned out, my judgement on whether we would get across the dredged channel before her arrival was good. She passed astern of us by half-a-mile.

This part of the Thames south of Southend is a very busy stretch of water. Large cargo vessels come and go all the time. Several anchor off Shoeburyness while waiting for Pilots or sailing orders from their merchant owners.

When we arrived at the end of Southend Pier, it was 1400 hours, and a pleasure ‘steamer’ crammed full of holidaymakers apparently had to leave on time without any thought for the little yacht heading towards her. I was able to take evasive action to avoid a collision, but only just! Technically the captain should have observed a sailing vessel was approaching the end of the pier and that the flood tide was remorselessly pushing her towards his vessel. Had he realised this he would have delayed his departure for five minutes.

All’s well that ends well!

If conditions remain settled, I’ll stay here in Ray Gut for the night, with the aim of setting off early tomorrow, hoping to reach Burnham before the day is out. High water will be at about the same as Sheerness, around 0344. If the wind remains a northerly, our chances should be good. I hope the high pressure system will not bring about an easterly.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday, 8th July

Yachting is full of contrasts; one minute there’s a fight against wind and tide to round a headland; next, the tide is with you and away you go. That was my experience rounding North Foreland at 0700 this morning. Both the tide and the northerly force 5 conspired to keep us roughly in the same spot, near the Longnose Buoy, but when we were a mile further to the west, the flood tide gave ‘Bumper’ a much needed push. From there on, ‘Fred’, the self-steering, took charge, and with two reefs in the sail we started to make good progress along the north Kent coast.

I needed to be vigilant, because after passing the South East Margate Buoy, to the west there’s a sandbank called Margate Hook, marked by a south cardinal beacon. On the rising tide, it was just covered by breaking waves; a deviation of course to the north could have had dire consequences. The sands actually protected us from larger waves caused by the northerly wind on their windward side, for which I was grateful, but once we were clear of the sands by the East Last Buoy, we felt the full impact of the waves, especially as the depth of water from there on was on average only 20 feet.

‘Bumper’ was most of the time, slightly free of being hard on the wind, and as the seas became larger, I made full sail, to drive her hard, so as to prevent her from being stopped in her tracks by the breakers. A dark cloud advanced from astern, bringing with it some drizzle, which did not last long. As we romped along like a galloping horse we counted off landmarks along the coast to the south; there were Reculver, Bishopstone, Herne Bay, and Whitstable. From the last mentioned, there’s a boulder causeway pointing northwards towards Whitstable Street North Cardinal Buoy, which was our mark for turning south west into the River Swale.

Trying to find the starboard hand green buoy, named Pollard Spit, was not without difficulty, because my spectacles were covered with salt from the sea spray, and the buoy was camouflaged against the green background of Leysdown Marsh, which is at the eastern end of the Isle of Sheppey. From there on I became disorientated; I needed to steer south west, but intuitively I wanted to steer to the west, because that’s the way we had been heading for several hours.

By using the echo sounder I was able to keep ‘Bumper’ in the deep channel leading to Sand End Buoy. Soon I could see the next starboard hand mark where I was to lay a course north of west to the moorings by Harty Ferry. There I thankfully picked up a visitors’ buoy and immediately prepared lunch before sorting the boat out.

The distance from Ramsgate to the River Swale is 20 miles, but because we had to buck the tide around North Foreland, I guess we must have sailed a good 30 miles, taking 8 hours before arriving at 1330.

I started today’s log by mentioning contrasts found in the activity of yachting; being here at this wide open East Coast river, where it is so tranquil, with only the sound of gurgling water and the call of marsh birds, greatly contrasts with the congested and noisy marina at Ramsgate. Here there is a feeling of isolation and lonesomeness, which could never be experienced at a marina, but this also brings a sense of freedom and independence, as opposed to claustrophobia and dependence.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Thursday, 7th July

Sailing boats have always been subject to the weather, primarily the wind. If the wind is strong enough to drive a boat over local currents generated by the tide, the boat is free to go anywhere in that region. Today is a point in question. ‘Bumper’ needs to go northwards around North Foreland against the tidal flow, but the wind is coming from the north. Put the engine on, some would say, but that does not take into consideration the strength of the wind. ‘Bumper’s’ maximum speed in choppy sea conditions is around 4 knots, simply not enough for significant progress. Even if she managed to reach a point north east of North Foreland, the forecast indicates a force 4 to 5, occasionally 6 can be expected from the North West, which would mean beating along the north Kent coast in restricted waters owing to the sandbanks; add a recipe of rain and showers makes the prospect not good.

The skipper of ‘Bumper’ is not alone in his thinking here at Ramsgate; not a single yacht has left the marina, but a sea and wind-battered crew have just arrived in their fabulous yacht, saying conditions ‘out there’ are ‘diabolical’.

Listening to the Coastguard weather forecast at 1015 brings a little encouragement for the outlook; northerly winds will decrease in strength to Beaufort Scale 3 or 4; that’s between 7 and 16 knots, or 13 to 30 kilometres per hour.

Perhaps tomorrow, there will be an opportunity for progress towards Burnham-on-Crouch, although the route could be circuitous, maybe along the north Kent coast before going north east by the southern edge of Maplin Sands, and finally a leg westwards into the River Crouch. That could take two days or more, depending on tides and wind.

Meanwhile there are the usual routine tasks aboard, not unlike ‘housework’ at home, but with additional elements such as updating the tidal flow atlases, examining the charts, checking everything, including rigging and the engine. Has the fuel been topped up, and is there enough water aboard?

A day spent at Ramsgate will not be wasted; I’ll be able to visit the bank, do a little shopping, have a look around the town and take a walk for some exercise.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wednesday, 6th July

I can’t believe it; the boat is steady and on an even keel, despite the force 5 north westerly wind. Yes, you may have guessed, ‘Bumper’ is snug in Ramsgate marina.

Our 15 mile trip from Dover was quite exciting. First, we had to have permission to leave the eastern end of the harbour and we were told to make our way to the Knuckle Light where we were to call Harbour Control for permission to leave. Several other yacht skippers had the same idea, but one of them nearly allowed her boat to collide with ‘Bumper’ because the lady was operating her VHF set from inside the cabin and couln’t see where her ship was going. Needless to say, I had to take evasive action by changing course.

After a cross-channel ferry made her departure, we were all given permission to leave the Harbour. There were five of us in all, and as usual ‘Bumper’ was the baby among them; therefore after a short while we were all alone; the others could be seen on the horizon.

On rounding South Foreland, one gains a sense of scale. The white cliffs of Dover are gigantic by comparison with the ‘toy’ yachts that make their way around this natural headland. Passing northwards, within the first two miles, from seaward one can see two old lighthouses, the village of St Margarate’s Cliffe, a memorial and the Coastguard Control, Dover Patrol.

When we were clear of South Foreland and sailing northwards, I could see Deal Pier. As we were on the wind towards it, I could see the red can buoy named Deal Bank, which we left to starboard. There were threatening dark clouds to windward, and soon the wind that they heralded came in the form of strong gusts, but I held on to the sail, by spilling wind until each blow was over. With a fast ebb tide pushing us northwards, and ample wind, we made over five knots most of the time.

Because it was high water I took a course I’ve never done before -by simply sailing due north from Deal, over the Brake Shallows we arrived at Ramgate Harbour. On the way, in between the showers, there were some excellent navigation marks, namely the three cooling towers north of Sandwich, and buoys to seaward, such as Downs and South Brake. The sea had no swell, but was like one of those Dutch oil paintings, a turquoise green, flecked with white breakers.

Finding Ramsgate Harbour was easy, because the huge ferry preparing to leave towered above the harbour breakwater. Behind it, on a hill, were the buildings of Ramsgatr town.

Entering a commercial harbour such as Ramsgate, one always has to ask permission of Harbour Control, but often the go ahead is delayed, because a large vessel is about to leave or enter. Such was the case today, but as soon as the three entrance lights changed to green signifying the go ahead, ‘Bumper’ made her way to the Marina. There permission was sought for a berth; then having an affirmative I went through the usual rigmarole of setting up fenders and warps for a specific pontoon berth. I chose one that allowed me to take the boat into the wind so that the manoeuvre was not difficult.

There we should have a quiet night’s sleep, providing no rowdy drunks return to their boat in the early hours of the morning.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Tuesday, 5th July

It’s rock and roll here tonight while anchored in the outer harbour of Dover. One other yacht of Belgium flag, named ‘Shalom’, dragged her anchor. Her skipper responded to my warning hoot with the fog horn. Because his yacht is about three or four times bigger than ‘Bumper’, the single-handed skipper had a hard job of re-anchoring, but I’m pleased to say his anchor is now holding.

The rain is bucketing down, and has been since 1800, when we were south of Folkstone. Whenever you approach Dover you can expect it to be bumpy and today was no exception, but then the ride all the way from Brighton has been lively.

We left Brighton at 0600 under engine, because there was only a whisper of wind. Within half-an-hour there was a good force 3 south westerly – just what the doctor ordered. Throughout the morning the wind strength freshened until there was a force 6 on the tail. ‘Fred’, the self-steering, could not cope, because I hang on to rather too much sail; I’m glad I did, because with the tide in our favour we touched 7 knots on one occasion.

Rounding Beachy Head was an experience; being close inshore I had a good view of the lighthouse, which is at sea level, well below the high chalk cliffs behind. Dungeness was a good 30 miles away, on a bearing of 046 degrees true; the sun was shining and the sailing exhilarating. Unknown to me, my friend Richard was sailing his classic wooden yacht, ‘Callidus’ in the opposite direction, having left the Eastboune marina at 1000. When ‘Bumper’ was south of Eastbourne I had a feeling that he could be doing that very thing, as we had hoped to rendezvous in the region, but somehow we had not been able to make contact. When I arrived at Dover and turned on my mobile phone I read a text message saying Richard had left Eastbourne at 1000.

Because the wind was so strong throughout the day and because I chose to have more sail than perhaps I should, it was necessary for me to hand steer most of the way from Brighton to Dover. Now and again I was able to make ‘Fred’ cope for a five minutes at a time while I quickly found food and drink, or went to the toilet. I also hove the boat to a couple of times to prepare hot drinks.

All in all, the ‘voyage’ was a challenge, especially to complete the 60 miles before nightfall. It could never have been accomplished without the strong wind pushing the boat hard against the adverse tide throughout the afternoon and evening.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Monday, 4th July

For most of the day at Brighton there’s been a raging storm. The south westerly wind accelerates as it blasts the chalk cliffs from which the Marina was excavated. There’s a high-pitched whistling from the rigging of hundreds of yachts moored within the artificial harbour basin, but it’s comforting to feel safe with the boat securely tied to a pontoon, well away from the breakwater taking the main force of the waves, which send cascades of salt-laden spray high into the air.

Heavy clouds built up during the morning, and by the afternoon they became very threatening before bursting and releasing torrents of windblown rain. Despite nature’s onslaught I’ve been able to carry out the necessary maintenance tasks; things like: checking the batteries and the engine, replenishing the Porta Potti, doing the laundry, buying diesel and visiting Asda for groceries.

I enjoyed having a bit of a sleep-in, by not getting out of bed until 0730 – that’s an extra two hours of idle luxury! If you think working a small yacht single-handed for several hundreds of miles along the coastline of the UK can be done by not using all the daylight hours under the sun, then you’re mistaken. During a day, twelve hours at a time at the helm without anyone to stand in can be quite normal. There’s much concentration and physical effort needed. You have to be reasonably fit to cope with the demands of steering, navigating, watch-keeping, working the boat and feeding oneself. When you arrive at your safe haven you need to either anchor or tie alongside a pontoon or another yacht, and if you are at a marina, you have to register, then be allocated a berth, which means you have to move the yacht yet again. Finally, you need to make everything shipshape before preparing a main meal, if you’ve not been able to do it while at sea.

Some would regard yachtsmen as hedonists – those who seek self-pleasure – but quite a bit of the activity of yachting is far from pleasurable in the sense that one ‘feels pleasure’ much of the time. I would say there’s more a sense of achievement in having used the elements and your boat in the most efficient way to carry you from one port to another. There’s an affinity with those such as fishermen who go to sea to earn their living. They have to work, to labour, while respecting the sea, being fully aware of the dangers. For both the yachtsman and the fisherman there’s a craft to learn that can only be had by doing it. No amount of theoretical or book learning can replace the hands-on experience, but head knowledge has its place also.

In the UK there’s no enforcement regarding being qualified in navigation and boat handling before going to sea, but only a fool would do it. Just now, a storm is raging and the boat shakes while in the marina, which emphasises the words I’ve typed a few seconds ago.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sunday, 3rd July

Sunday, 3rd July

Brighton from Chichester is about 40 nautical miles over the ground, but when a boat has to plug a tide for a good six hours, the distance is somewhat more, especially when the favourable tide is not so strong or does not have the same duration as the adverse tide. Although ‘Bumper’ was sailing for twelve hours before arriving at Brighton, she had to sail against a strong ebb tide around Selsey Bill.

When first looking at Selsey Bill on the chart it doesn’t seem much of an obstacle; however, a closer inspection will reveal 0.8 metres at low water near the Owers Buoy to the south east, where the underwater extension of Selsey Bill finishes. Much of the water from the huge bay between the Bill and Beachy Head, to the East, has to ebb around Selsey Bill. The vortex effect is like water flowing through the spout of a kettle; as it has to rise over the underwater obstruction and be deflected by the headland, causing it to accelerate. You can imagine what that does when the wind is against the ebb, as it was today, when we arrived at the Owers. The waves had some curlers on their tops, and there was a bit of a swell from the south west.

Our average over the ground was five knots, due in the most part to the strength of the wind at the outset and until we had passed the Owers. At mid-afternoon the tide turned in our favour, and with a following wind we zipped along. ‘Fred’ the self-steering did splendidly well, helming the boat most of the way. He never gets tired, never loses concentration, does not require food, and he continues to work as well and hard whether the sun is shining or if it’s raining, or if it’s hot or cold. This slave never needs incentives and never asks for money - he even works without lubrication or maintenance.

Four larger yachts than ‘Bumper’ overtook us between the Bill and Brighton; apart from them, the only other human activity observed by us was the work being done by crab and line fishermen. Oh, yes, I forgot the RAF refuelling jet that kept circling overhead when we were at the Bill. Visibility was too poor for us to see the coast until we drew abeam of Littlehampton when it was about seven miles to the north.

Our arrival at Brighton went according to plan, but after I booked in for the night I was asked to move ‘Bumper’ to pontoon 17, berth 36. Unfortunately, the berth was occupied, so I informed the office by VHF and I was redirected to pontoon 12, berth 09. That was better, because the boat faced into the wind, and apart from the sound made by the warps as they rub the fairleads, it is very quiet.

Maybe, I’ll spend tomorrow at the Marina for some rest and to sort out odds and ends.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Friday, 1st and Saturday, 2nd July

I was not required to pay mooring fees in Poole Harbour, which pleased me no end.
While preparing my daily log early this evening, ‘Bumper’ was anchored south west of Fishhouse Point, in Newton River, which feeds Clamerkin Lake. Unlike Poole Harbour, the Harbour Master was sure to find us and levy a charge for the privilege of anchoring in this natural harbour. Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea, as the money will used to help the National Trust.
In addition to ‘Bumper’, two large yachts were anchored nearby: one from Belgium and the other British. (Incidentally, my yacht is usually the smallest, and today was no exception.)
Before leaving my Poole anchorage I shouted farewell to the German crew of ‘April’, who became friends in such a short a time. I wished them a happy and safe voyage. George, who was not really George, was a young man of great character; he and his wife Christiana, spent three years building ‘April’. Their boat was a Dudley Dix steel cruising yacht with a fin keel and a rudder attached to a skeg. They said they were learning how to handle her, and that they were looking for solutions to reduce weather helm; their answer to date was to reef the mainsail, but that simply slowed the boat.
We left Poole Harbour at 0900, and the timing was just right for keeping clear of the chain ferry, because she had crossed to Sandbanks where she was unloading her cargo.
As the wind was from the south west I was able to lay a course close inshore to the seaward side of Sandbanks. The depth was only nine feet by North Hook red can buoy; therefore I was careful to pass between it and the beach, so as to avoid a shoal it marks.
The ship’s GPS gave our course and distance to North Head buoy respectively as 083 degrees, 12.9 nautical miles – across the shallow waters of Bournemouth Bay and Christchurch Bay.
When I was only a mile or so south of Hingistbury Head I saw a spectacular demonstration of a rescue by a helicopter, when a man was lifted from his yacht. I assumed the whole thing was a practice session for the helicopter crew, unless one of the yachtsmen had really been taken ill, because there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with their yacht which was being sailed to windward on a steady course.
It amazes me that there can be any crabs and lobsters left in the sea, because whenever I sail along the coast I find thousands of buoys marking traps for them. Today I had to be really vigilant not to let 'Bumper's' keels become entangled in their lines. I passed at least four crabbing boats before arriving at Hurst Point, which marks the western limit of the Solent.

Timing at this critical junction worked well for the best use of the tidal flow. When we rounded Hurst Point it was slack water - just as the tide was about to flood eastwards.
With both wind and tide in our favour, we only took an hour to sail five miles to Newton Creek.
Shortly after we anchored there it started to drizzle, but being snugly below deck, I felt a glow of satisfaction in ‘Bumper’s’ safe arrival. All was quiet, except for chattering birds and the tapping of our rigging.

The morning was overcast, but quite warm. I assembled the folding dinghy and rowed to Newton Quay, where I obtained fresh water for the boat. Then I rowed to Shalfleet Quay for dumping my rubbish and taking a walk to Shalfleet Post Office for food. My map was not to scale, and I was surprised to find the Post Office further away than I anticipated, but I found the exercise invigorating - in fact, I ran some of the way.
When lunch was over I set sail for Cowes to wait there until 1400 before departing for Chichester. Had I not taken a break at Cowes, ‘Bumper’ would have arrived at Chichester too early for sufficient rise of tide over the bar. It was downwind sailing all the way. A danger spot was between No Man’s Land Fort and Horse Sand Fort, because there all the big ships have to pass on their way to and from Southampton.
We arrived at Chichester Bar at 1715, where the flood tide and wind speedily conveyed us to the anchorage north of East Head. You may remember it was there our anchor had dragged when on the outward leg. I just hope that does not happen tonight.