Thursday the 2nd May was to be the big day of departure, but not before weeks and months of planning, preparation and checklists. Well of course anyone who has done a trip of any significance knows about the lists, checklists and interminable double checklists.
So on the evening of the 1st May we were faced with the execution of our first passage plan, a very tricky operation to get Storm Petrel torn free from her happy home in Southsea Marina. She really didn’t want to leave and the wind had got up making life very difficult indeed.
Mike Gill had joined us in relaxed mode, but then he is always relaxed, thinking perhaps of a quiet evening in the bar with a good steak and chips and a glass of best Chateau Marina vintage plonk. That was the plan, so with lines unhitched we backed out of our berth for the last time, out through the gate and apparently on to the waiting pontoon for an early start in the morning. But supper would have to wait because with a cold wind blowing in hard from the north east SP was certainly not going to let us go for an early supper. Back and forth we went, the skipper getting more and more aggravated, the Admiral issuing orders and the crew cowering under the saloon table. Sideways, backwards, forwards, reverse she was determined not to be moored up, like some untrained filly waiting for the off. Eventually after five minutes, or was it five hours of this nonsense, rescue ran down the pontoon, grabbed at a flying rope and attached it with some difficulty to a cleat. The cleat seemed also to be about to fly off its bracket but eventually the situation was brought under control and we retired below to lay out our formal clothing for dinner in the marina bar. Sleep.
Thursday dawned cold and bright, we cast off our lines, bade farewell to our friends on the marina and headed out to sea. A lively but bitter wind was blowing from the north east so up with full sail and away down the Loo Channel and east towards Beachy Head. The morning wore on and the wind dropped so on with the engine, fully serviced and fuelled to the brim. The wind disappeared almost altogether and we found ourselves at Beachy Head, around the corner and locked in by 6.30pm.
Our Admiral Anne is the Club’s HPO Officer and her mission is to see as many HPOs on our trip as possible, perhaps even setting a record. I wonder if there is a Cup for this achievement, if so she is up for it.
Ewen and Pauline Summers are our Eastbourne HPOs so we entertained them for drinks on board and were soon joined by Mike’s sister Sheila and her husband Ray. A short party, off they went, supper and bed for us.
Friday’s forecast looked like more motoring and we were all restless by 5am, wanting to get this boring bit of the journey out of the way. So in to the lock at 6am and away past Hastings, Dungeness over a glassy sea and Dover to joust with the ferries. Once in to the Downs the wind piped up from the south so we rolled out the jib to accompany the main and raced in to Ramsgate where we took our berth and settled down for a wash and walk up to the Temple YC for a drink. Sadly Rodney Pell our Ramsgate HPO was not about so here was a first failure in our HPO hunt. We dined on board, turned in very early comforted by news of another pleasant forecast for tomorrow.
Ramsgate Harbour and facilities have a rather folksy worn feel about them and they are not all that cheap either. For those of you (or us) who are wind farm sceptics, Ramsgate is the place to see how your money is being spent. Classy high speed catamarans by the score fill the harbour, and of course being Friday night before a Bank Holiday they were all signing off for the weekend. One has a suspicion that these vessels are actually repair ships, wouldn’t we like to know how often these ugly windmills break down.
Saturday morning brought wind whistling through the rigging which was a surprise after last night’s forecast but we had to get to West Mersea to join the East Coast Rally so we called up the Harbour Master, got permission to leave and set off round the North Foreland, up the Margate Channel, past the Shivering Sand Forts and thence to the Swin Spitway and our berth for the night. Unknown to us Jonathan Hague now keeps Hard Seed in Ramsgate and we were just a stone’s throw from him and his crew whilst we were there. It was such bad luck that by early closing of the Ramsgate Lock, Jonathan and crew got stuck as we sailed away and they had to drive round to the Mersea Rally.
We ate on board on Saturday night and turned in early and following a cracking seafood breakfast at the Company Shed restaurant on Sunday morning we were able to see lots of Club members and another HPO meeting was logged with David and Sheila Curry who had organised the weekends’ activities.
We decided to relax on board for the rest of the day after a good look around West Mersea and on Bank Holiday Monday we set off up the Blackwater to lock in at Heybridge Basin, one of the most charming spots on our cruise. You must go there, it is easy to lock in and watch the tide recede leaving the gates as the last line of defence. We were rafted up against Gladys, one of the famous Thames barges owned by ABF who now use it for corporate entertaining. A beautifully maintained classic vessel.
Tuesday brought us another lay day to entertain friends and do some shopping and on Wednesday with the weather still wonderfully sunny we made passage down the Blackwater, through the Wallet and in to the Orwell with the breeze picking up from the east to give us a great entry to the busy harbour. We spent the night in Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington where we ate quite the most amazing fish and chips, more like a small whale than a fish, and retired to sleep yet again.
As you can see we have got in to relaxation mode in this charming cruising area although we have a crew change to complete in Ipswich so off with the lines and up the river to sit out a pending storm and to greet Duncan McMillan at the station on Thursday. Mike Gill has decided that he quite enjoys our company so he is staying on for a few more days to Lowestoft, weather permitting. We also enjoyed a visit from family who unfortunately due to advancing years were unable to get down on to the pontoon to devour our gin.
Moored in Ipswich Haven is what was once my brother’s classic Halberg Rassy 38, now in new ownership, in which I have sailed many happy hours in years gone by. Another meeting with an old friend!
As I write Leg 1 of our cruise draws to an end with nothing broken and the prospect of heading north to Lowestoft and thence to the Humber next week.