Friday, August 31, 2007

Cobnor (Day Four)

The early morning forecast, breakfast and ablutions having been completed I took up the anchor and paddled ‘Faith’ to the beach by the slipway. It was 0800, an hour and a half before low water on Monday, 20th August. Peter Moore was the keenest of the DCA bunch because he was the first to launch his boat, which was an immaculate fibreglass Wafarer. In fact, I think he was renting a cottage with his family, rather than camping under canvas with the crowd. Coincidentally he had booked in advance without realising there would be a DCA gathering. By mid morning several Members were ready for the off. I met Geoff, a recent convert to cruising who owned a Tideway dinghy and I introduced myself to Ian who was a keen photographer of the old school. His camera was state of the art, about 20 years ago, with a huge telescopic lens. He confided that he only did ‘real’ photography with actual film. Digital cameras did not appeal to him.

After mid-day lunch I set off in pursuit of those who had already started. The plan was to sail to Emsworth and return. Being a Monday I didn’t expect to find a dinghy racing fleet, complete with a posh motor yacht and canon at the start line. I was pleased ‘Faith’ was on the starboard tack because it gave her right of way through the fleet as they positioned themselves for the start. Al in ‘Little Jim’, Liz with her Cormorant, Doug in Houdini and Phil with his Ness Yawl (which wasn’t a yawl, because it lacked a mizzen) followed behind. I stuck to the deepwater channel, not wanting to take a risk a grounding, even though the tide was flooding. A mile south of Emsworth Yacht Harbour there were many moored yachts with only a narrow passage between them and I didn’t fancy tacking ‘Faith’ through the trots; therefore I turned around and headed back for Cobnor. There was a good force 4 from the north which enabled my little boat to ‘fly’ southwards towards East Head. The sun made a welcome appearance and the sailing was great fun.

Just as the tide was on the turn for the ebb I sailed towards the Cobnor beach near the slipway and prepared to anchor, but the wind and current drifted ‘Faith’ away from where I wanted to drop the hook. I tried using the yuloh, but the wind caught her bow and set us towards the walled bank, so I tried paddling from the foredeck and immediately fell into the water! I had forgotten to put on my buoyancy aid which meant I was floundering because I was wearing two sweaters and an anorak. Fortunately I was able to hold onto the boat and make my way to her stern where, with an enormous effort, I managed to hoist myself aboard by using the boarding step built into the rudder stock. I was surprised by the weight of the water that had soaked into my sweaters and anorak and I was even more surprised to discover how difficult it was to lever myself out of the water.

That evening I beached the boat and used the washroom to flush my soaked clothes with fresh water. Before dusk I walked along the muddy beach by the retaining wall and found my peaked cap and plastic shoe, both of which had parted from me when I took a ducking. Unfortunately I did not find my old pair of spectacles I had been wearing at the time of the incident; they too had flown into the water. That meant from thereon I had to use a large magnifying glass to read and see details on the chart.

Cobnor (Day Three)

There wasn’t much wind early on the morning of Sunday, 19th August as the tide turned on the flood. The forecast was for a North Westerly between 5 and 6 with occasional rain and drizzle. I had moved the boat into deeper water at 0200 to avoid taking the ground. Without wind there was little prospect of a sail; therefore at 1100 I beached ‘Faith’ near the slipway so that I would be able to meet the DCA contingent at the campsite. After having met Phil, Doug, Chris, John and Josephine and seeing their boats I returned to anchor ‘Faith’ near the moored yachts. John and Josephine were on their way home after attending a Hostelers’ Club cruise on the East Coast. They are an unassuming couple who have sailed their open day sailer across the English Channel several times. Chris owns a West Wight Potter, but had brought his Mirage canoe instead. Doug had his beautiful ‘Houdini’ designed by John Welsford, and Phil was the owner of a home-built Ian Oughtred Ness Yawl, without a mizzen. All of these fine boats have character like their owners.

At mid-afternoon I made sail, the wind being a light north westerly. An hour of so later found us off the sailing club mid way along the Thorney Channel, and by teatime we were back at Cobnor after a pleasant, but short exploration of the locality – at the time there had been a small fleet of Tideway dinghies either racing or cruising the same waters. ‘Faith’ matched their performance when on the reach, but they did marginally better to windward. Al, Doug and Liz returned to the slipway, just as drizzle set in, but this did not curtail their conversation as they attended to their boats - Doug and Al anchoring theirs, while Liz retrieved hers on the road trailer.

Bob drew alongside in his Mirror, ‘Tarka Too’, to explain he had lost his rudder after the tiller had snapped and I couldn’t think how this had happened since the wind had not been all that strong. (I learned that he found the rudder the next day at East Head where it had drifted ashore.) All credit to Bob, since he had managed to get back to Cobnor without his rudder. He found steering the boat with an oar only partially successful.

That evening I started reading ‘Survive the Savage Sea’ by Dougal Robertson. This is a story of a remarkable survival marathon in the Pacific Ocean to the west of the Galapagos Islands after their old wooden yacht had been attacked by killer whales. Before dusk the rain came down like a continuous waterfall and I was pleased I was not under canvas as were most of the DCA contingent at the campsite. Keith Holdsworth, in his very tiny ‘Flying Pig’ was surviving under his boom tent. The Vodfone telephone signal was very good so that I was able to send text messages and have my mobile phone on from 2100 to 2115 for communication with the ‘outside world’. I always look forward to speaking with my wife by phone at least once a day while on a cruise. Friends and relatives know that it is my custom to have the phone on at that time and no other, to conserve the battery that I am unable to charge when I’m cruising ‘Faith’.

My daily routine is to wake up with the sun, and go to bed when it sets. Around 2100 there was no longer daylight – it was time to slumber and hopefully sleep until dawn on Monday morning.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cobnor (Day Two)

I woke after a fitful night to hear an uninspiring early morning forecast predicting winds between force 5 and 7 from the North West accompanied with rain or drizzle. I had not expected Saturday the 18th to be up to much and I was prepared to sit it out with the prospect of the weather gradually improving from Sunday onwards – or so the long-range forecast indicated.

After a late breakfast I was pleasantly surprised to find Al in his Paradox, ‘Little Jim’ anchoring alongside. He had launched at Northney Marina at the northern end of Hayling Island late on Friday afternoon before spending the night at anchor in the shallow inlet at East Head. Al and I had had a good cruise in company the previous month when we sailed from Falmouth to Exmouth. The prospect of sailing together again was uplifting. As we whiled away the time at anchor I amused myself by watching all sorts of activity on the water. While there was comparative quiet before the DCA contingent arrived with their dinghies I watched a Curlew patiently wading along the waterline in search of food as the water gradually rose over the dark muddy bank. The same cormorant I saw yesterday was perched on his favourite lookout post, a stained port hand beacon.

Liz Baker, a respected and longstanding member of the DCA appeared on the concrete slipway, but there was no sign of her much loved Cormorant dinghy. I guessed it was at the campsite some way along the narrow road leading to the pebbly beach and slipway. Al had beached his boat and was chatting with Liz. A familiar figure joined them as he pulled a bright yellow canoe behind him on a trolley. Within a few minutes Chris Jenkins was demonstrating to me how well his Hobie Mirage foot peddled canoe performed. He had stowed the trolley behind him and was ready for a preliminary recce of Ichenor Reach. I was impressed with the ease with which he could make excellent progress against the incoming tide. Four members of the DCA launched their dinghies and set off in pursuit or to do their own thing. There was a Wayfarer and a couple of Mirror dinghies, one belonging to an intrepid fellow known as Cliff. He had twin polystyrene floats attached to the peak of the yard and single fenders either side of his boat. I assume this arrangement prevents a full capsize and facilitates righting the boat.

At mid afternoon the rain came down in earnest and I took cover under the closed hatch of ‘Faith’ to watch numerous dinghies being sailed by youngsters under the auspices of the Cobnor Christian Activities Centre. These people seemed fearless and completely oblivious of the rain. They revelled in the gusty conditions while being shepherded by vigilant young men racing around in fast ribs; when a dinghy headed towards a moored yacht one of these ribs expertly intervened to prevent a collision. The Centre has a variety of dinghies, but learners are first placed in Bosun dinghies. When they are more proficient they are allowed to try their hand at Picos and Lazers. I saw a Pico being towed back to the Centre after its mast had broken in two.

I didn’t do any sailing on Saturday, but I was most marvellously entertained by all those who took to the water and I enjoyed good food and welcome relaxation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cobnor (Day One)

On Thursday, 16th August the forecast for the weekend at Cobnor was not great – SW veering to NW 5 – 7 on the Saturday, but decreasing on Sunday, and better for the coming week.

An examination of the chart for Chichester Harbour showed an area of outstanding natural beauty with navigable water of 11 square miles distributed in four ‘fingers’ running from South to North: the Emsworth Channel, the Thorney Channel, the Bosham Channel and the Fishbourne Channel. To my mind, this configuration was promising for some interesting sailing at a location I had only visited to await passage when cruising the English Channel and the Solent. If the general winds were from the West, South West or North West as could be expected, exploring these waters would be great fun. In the event, generally throughout the week, cold winds persisted from the north accompanied by periods of rain, drizzle or showers, but there were some periods of hazy sun and several hours of good sunny weather.

It was a long time since my last attendance at a Dinghy Cruising Association meeting, largely due to the fact that meanwhile I had built two boats and owned a sailing cruiser which I sailed extensively for a couple years. After an uneventful road journey to Emsworth Marina I launched ‘Faith’ shortly after mid-day on Friday, 17th August. In the short passage to the west after leaving the protective walls of the Marina I encountered the wind and current from ahead. No matter how hard I tried with the yuloh I could not make any progress; indeed I lost ground and drifted into the natural backwater north of the Marina where I asked the owner of ‘Brise’ to tow me into open water, to which he agreed. There I hoisted sail for a close-reach down the Emsworth Channel.

To the Fishery South Cardinal Buoy is a distance of about 6 nautical miles and sailing against the incoming tide presented no problems. A good many yachtsmen and dinghy sailors were out enjoying the sunshine. Not being totally familiar with these waters I took due note of where ‘Faith’ sailed. Emsworth Channel is particularly well marked with port hand and starboard hand beacons, as indeed is the case with all of the navigable waters within the jurisdiction of the Chichester Harbour Authority. Soon after my departure I took a good look towards Northney Marina where I guessed Al would be launching his Paradox, ‘Little Jim’, but there was no sign of him or of his boat. Next came Marker Point, a small peninsular of land to my port hand. Rather more quickly than I imagined possible, we moved southwards over the smooth water brought about by Hayling Island to windward.

A mile or so north of the Island Sailing Club at Sandy Point I lay a course towards East Head which is a gorgeous sand spit to the east of the Harbour entrance with a popular anchorage for day sailors and over night cruisers. By then the tide was ebbing, but there was ample wind for ‘Faith’ as she ran before it along the approach to the Chichester Channel which lay to the North East. I was a little concerned that my boat may get caught on the sand near the derelict wooden pilings leading to the mouth of Thorney Channel, but beacons marked the deep water all the way. The expanse of water narrowed between Cobnor Point and the wooded Itchenor bank to the South; there ‘Faith’ had to negotiate a safe path between hundreds of racing dinghies doing their thing. Among the melee I found the green conical Fairway Buoy which marked my turning point to the north for the Bosham Channel and the Cobnor Activities Centre where nearby I found the slipway to be used by the DCA members for launching and retrieving their dinghies. I had been unable to use the slipway, because ‘Faith’ was heavier than a Wayfarer dinghy and the rule stated that such boats were taboo. I think the main reason for the weight restriction is to prevent many vehicles using the very narrow and unsuitable road leading to the slipway. The whole of that part of Thorney Island is privately owned and it is only by consent that visitors can use the facilities which include a washroom, toilets and showers. There is a field set aside for campers who must book in advance, and that’s where the DCA contingent set up their tents and campervans.

At quarter past four in the afternoon on the dot I set the anchor a cable or so from the slipway. There was no sign of any other DCA members or their boats, but as the meeting was not due to commence until after 11.00 am the next day I was not concerned. I was happy to be afloat again with all I needed for a comfortable night aboard my little boat. As the water receded and the expanse of mud increased either side of the fairway a white Egret with a black beak and black legs searched the water’s edge for morsels to eat. A cormorant perched on a nearby beacon spread his wings to dry and a bird hidden in trees surrounding a private beach house made an unusual shrieking call I did not recognise.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Back Home

Friday, 3rd August

Again, it was another perfect morning. After breakfast I went for a stroll along the river bank; early as it was, there were a good number of people doing the same; several were exercising their dogs. One such person cleared pooh from the pavement, but as I watched him I stepped into some of the smelly stuff deposited by another dog!

The whole morning was a lazy affair as I waited for my daughter to bring the car; meanwhile I un-stepped the mast and cleaned Blackwater mud off the anchor. I also prepared the trailer for the time of retrieving the boat at 1400. Everything went smoothly and we were ready for the off after half-an-hour, which was a record.

I’m uncertain when ‘Faith’ will continue her adventures – possibly at the Cobnor DCA meeting scheduled for 18th and 19th August.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

An Excellent Day

Thursday, 2nd August 07

At 0550 ‘Faith’ was underway after being anchored for the night in the lee of Pewit Island, Bradwell. There was a light wind from the NW that provided steerage way as we headed for the Bench Head buoy four and a half miles away to the east. It was one of those wonderful mornings when the rising sun was a bright golden ball, the sky was azure blue speckled with mackerel patterned white clouds and between them a waning moon said, “Hello. I know you are enjoying it.” Two other yachts were heading in the same direction but under ‘steam’. I was surprised with a heavy breathing sound to the stern of the boat and on glancing behind there was an inquisitive seal surveying the scene.

By 0700 St Peter’s church, that very ancient monument built from stone lay on the port quarter visible above the sandy sea shore. A series of old mulberry harbour type concrete structures were strategically placed on the sand as wave breakers. I made a note in the log that this was sailing at its best. ‘Faith’ held her course towards the Swin Spitway and on her way she passed a series of buoys at the entrance to the River Colne. There was virtually no wind at the Spitway and a drifting match ensued. Once through the gap between the sands I downed the sail and used the yuloh to steer the boat with the new flooding tide towards the Ridge buoy. There a light NE wind helped us in the direction of Burnham marked by low lying land on the north side of the River Crouch. It was quite strange that the tall buildings of Southend-on-Sea could be seen in the hazy distance. Several motor yachts came by, none of them slowing down, hence what little wind there was, was shaken from the sail. By 1130 we were at the Outer Crouch buoy and the wind freshened to a force 2 from the west. Coming from Burnham there was fine schooner Freedom yacht with tan sails.

Tacking through the Burnham moorings was an exciting business because the wind increased to force 3 and I had to take great care not to collide with any moored yacht. Beyond the trots I shortened sail and prepared the boat for entering Burnham Yacht Harbour. On entering the Harbour I found the wind was from ahead, so I downed the sail and used the yuloh to reach a vacant pontoon. There I started writing up the log, but I was required to move the boat because the owner of the berth arrived with her open motorboat. Unfortunately I lost my spectacles doing the move, but I was able to use a spare pair for typing. Just now the rain has started, so I’ll prepare the boat in readiness for when it may pour down.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Two Good Days

Tuesady, 31st July 07

As the sun set yesterday a veil of gossamer cobwebs streaked horizontally from the mast and rigging; a large white moon lifted above the southern horizon. Night was not as peaceful as I had hoped, but whenever I woke and glanced around there was beauty in the moonlight.

Up early as usual I listened to the shipping forecast and after breakfast we were away with the last of the ebb. I was surprised that a huge barge carrying a crane and a new north cardinal buoy overtook me on the way to lay the sea mark. There was very little wind, just a NE force 1 that saw us close-hauled. Shortly after 0800 we passed the Sunken Buxey Buoy near Foulness Sands where a dozen seals lay contented on the beach. A beautiful black and cream smack with a blue and white topsail overhauled ‘Faith’ and her girl crew asked permission to take a photo of the little boat.

By 0900 the wind petered out as the flood was intent on sweeping us back to Burnham; therefore I dropped the hook to await the anticipated sea breeze. An hour and a half later a large blue cargo ship with a white superstructure passed to the north and a gentle wind came in from the South East which meant we were on the wind again. Taking advantage of ‘Faith’s’ shallow draught I laid a course for the Buxey Beacon to the north and at the same time the wind came in from behind. Shortly before half eleven we were within a quarter of a mile of the lattice structure. Beyond lay the entrance to the River Colne and Brightlingsea could clearly be seen. Some anchored fishing boats were on our course.

At 1340 I anchored at Mearsea Stone for a break and refreshments, but an hour and a half later I moved because there was only 5 feet of water and a small rapid developed as the ebb made itself felt. With only a scrap of sail ‘Faith’ ran up river to the entrance of Pyefleet Creek where I again set the anchor, but in sufficient depth to allow us to remain afloat. Many yachts passed us on their way into the Creek and after my evening meal one anchored almost on top of ‘Faith’s’ anchor. I just hope we do not collide during the night.

Wednesday, 1st August 07

The anchorage on the River Colne became peaceful, but despite this I had a restless night and at 0430 I noticed a yellow Snapdragon 23 dragging her anchor; therefore I shouted “Ahoy” several times before a sleepy young man emerged from the cabin. He very quickly re-laid his anchor and disappeared below but not without thanking me for my warning.

There wasn’t a drop of wind, but the last of the tide was ebbing so I took up my anchor and used the yuloh to take ‘Faith’ with the current. Two hours later we were not far from the Colne Point buoy when a gentle wind came in from the SW which very soon backed to the SE. Progress was non-existent because the flood tide began to sweep us back into the River Colne. There was no way we were going to reach the Walton Backwaters and the only alternative was to drift with the current towards Bradwell Power Station where we arrived near the outfall at 1125. I decided to call into the Marconi Sailing Club for drinking water and on the way I followed the line of the perches marking drying mud at low water springs.

There was a lot of activity at the Sailing Club because hundreds of youngsters were sailing lightweight colourful dinghies such as Picos and Toppers. As I pulled into the new jetty many willing hands attended to my needs and the water was aboard in a few moments after which ‘Faith’ drifted with the current to anchor in time for lunch. It was really enjoyable in the summer sun watching many dinghies sailing to and fro.

When I had finished my afternoon snooze I made sail for a freshening wind that developed into a force 3 from east by south which meant ‘Faith’ was on the wind towards Bradwell where I intended to anchor in the lee of Pewit Island. I had a difficult moment near the north shore when ‘Faith’ would not tack; therefore I ran the boat before the wind and brought her round on the starboard tack which made it easier to reef. On the dot of 1630 I set the anchor in 15’ of water off Pewit Islalnd. I judged that depth of water would mean we would remain afloat.

As I type this I’m well fed and the wind has dropped altogether. It’s really peaceful here. The sun is reflected off the water to starboard and the birds on Pewit Island are making their characteristic trilling call..