June (2) – overnight to Plymouth, fuel consumption

With half a dozen tidal gates on a passage from the Solent round Lands End, we managed to get through four of them in 24 hours last week. The westerlies that usually slow a cruise to Devon and Cornwall gave way to light winds from between north and east, with calm seas.

Two of us were standing ready to sail to Plymouth as soon as we had the right weather forecast, so we would be better positioned for rounding Lands End on our way to Wales and Ireland next month.

Tony bringing the boat in from our mooring to Cowes Yacht Haven so I could do a pierhead jump – we’re too mean to pay marina day rates

We went to Cowes on Monday afternoon, left at 5am on Tuesday and were in Plymouth Sound about the same time on Wednesday.

We logged about 130 miles, mostly doing two hours on and two hours off, because there was not much sail handling to do – we motorsailed for all but two hours. We had to plug contrary tides twice, of course, but that’s a lot easier to plan when you aren’t beating at the same time against a contrary wind.

A friend who will join us for the next leg found us a friendly berth at his club at Saltash on the Tamar, and that’s where Spring Fever is at the moment.

How much fuel do you burn?

We all know that fuel consumption per hour rises dramatically with rising engine revs. But that doesn’t give a true efficiency rating because with higher revs and speed you go further per hour, of course. What really matters is consumption per mile, which is harder to measure. There is an excellent article on this subject in the summer issue of Cruising, the Cruising Association’s magazine.

Our nearly new Beta 30 is proving helpfully economical measured per hour: purring along at only 1500 -1800 revs, fuel consumption was less than 1.5 litres an hour on the way to Plymouth. We were getting a knot or two from the sails so we averaged just over 5 knots. If we had pushed the boat at engine cruising speed of 6.5 knots we’d probably have doubled or trebled the consumption per hour.

The good news is that Cruising’s research report shows very clearly that consumption per mile also rises with engine revs, though not as fast as consumption per hour. Our 1500 to 1800 rpm looks close to the optimum engine speed. Consumption per mile rises steadily as the engine revs up beyond that. The tests were on a 50HP Beta, so are not directly comparable, but it seems unlikely our Beta 30 would be very different.

There is also some useful related data in the article on the effect of headwinds and waves on consumption per mile at different revs, which is of course to drive it up further. But other than at very low revs, the data shows that the relation between rising revs and fuel consumption per mile is maintained.

Venice’s Vogalonga

The first boat to appear at the Dogana on the Grand Canal after the 30 km Vogalonga rally round the lagoon and canals of Venice was a coxed eight. It was another 40 minutes before the arrival of the first of the traditional Venetian boats, the ones everyone really wants to see.

All the boats finished further up, beyond the Rialto, and they then paraded down to the official pontoon at the Dogana, which is at the entrance to the Canal.

A coxed eight was the first to arrive

There they received their awards for participating in the lagoon marathon, which is open to any boat as long as it can be rowed or paddled. It took place on the Sunday before the Transadriatica.

A big international occasion has now evolved from what began in 1974 as a local event for Venetian rowers protesting against the damage motor boats and their wash were causing to the city. Since those days there has been a great revival of interest in Venice in traditional rowing craft, stimulating the creation of many clubs and training programmes.

First traditional Venetian boat to arrive, 40 minutes later

The Vogalonga itself, which is non-competitive, has changed its character over the years. Indeed, we heard that there was some resentment among local rowers at the way it has evolved, with boats appearing from all over the world, many of them starkly different from the traditional craft of the lagoon. There were reportedly 1,700 boats with 7,000 rowers this year.

One of the biggest competitors.
The Dogana (customs house) behind the official Vogalonga pontoon

There were dragon boats, rowing eights, fours, pairs and single skiffs and a variety of kayaks, including an exceptionally long one with four paddlers which was one of the first back, and a number of inflatable kayaks that were hauled out by their owners and packed into bags.

A great display of assorted craft passed by before we saw the first of the traditional Venetian boats with their forward-facing rowers, working gondolier-style.

Competition skiffs and kayaks can be seen anywhere in the world, but Venetian craft in their many forms are unique. The gondola is the most famous but there is a variety of other types, of which the sandolo is the commonest.

Packing an inflatable kayak

Some of the eights and other fast boats were from Venice, but many others were from elsewhere, including Britain, and the sheer number made it hard to keep track of all the national flags as they passed by.

The British coxed four in this picture was flying a Queen’s Jubilee flag. It was Jubilee weekend.

You can certainly see the advantage of facing ahead in the crowded waterways of Venice. While eights and most fours have coxes who look forward to steer, the uncoxed pairs and single skiffs must find it hard to avoid collisions at the speed they go.

The 2022 Vogalonga poster

June – the Transadriatica

It was great to be back as crew in the Transadriatica this year, after two years suspension because of Covid.

The race is actually a double one, just under 60 miles out from Venice to Novigrad in Croatia, and back again after a day’s relaxation in the delightful little seaside resort  – how can you beat that for a civilised way to compete?

Setting off for the start from DVV

Novigrad is in Istria, close to some excellent vineyards producing wine from the Malvasia grape. There is a strong Italian influence on the food and the architecture, reflected in the town’s other name of Cittanova. That goes back to the days before the peninsula of Istria was taken from Italy and handed to Yugoslavia after the second world war.

The Transadriatica is organised by Diporto Velico Veneziano, a local club with its own marina near the south-east tip of the island, not far from the Giardini, which is one of the venues for the Venice Biennale. The clubhouse is tucked away immediately behind the football stadium.

Skipper Martin

We were competing in Martin’s 26 foot sloop Spiuma, which is more than 50 years old but has been thoroughly refitted and includes a lagoon-friendly electric motor with a range of about 20 miles. That means power has to be used sparingly in the open sea, but one great advantage is that it motors in civilised near silence, compared with the intrusive noise a diesel engine or an outboard makes in a small yacht.

After a reception and race briefing, we were waved off from the club to the starting line by our spouses, Chris and Monica. The start was at 8.40 pm, just outside the northern entrance to the lagoon.

We had a comfortable breeze for several hours as we sailed, much of the time on a close reach, 33 miles up the Italian coast towards a buoy called Mambo 2, which is the single turning mark in the race.

The course from Venice to Novigrad in Croatia

The good winds did not last even as far as Mambo 2, and not long after we had turned south-east for Novigrad they began to die away to the gentlest of zephyrs, sometimes not enough to fill the light-wind gennaker.

Martin, Will and Peter – one of the slow, near calm stretches

It was one of those days when you see long alternating streaks of wind ripples and calm on the water. The best tactic is to sail slowly across the calm streak and then turn down the line of the wind ripples to stay within them as long as possible.

Like a number of other boats we eventually decided to retire in the near calm conditions, in our case only 8 miles short of Novigrad, when it became clear that we had no hope of finding a breeze or getting to the finishing line at the harbour entrance by the cut-off time of 15.00 on the Friday. There was a forecast of 20 knot winds for early afternoon, but they arrived much too late to help us, hours later than predicted. Martin was pleased that the 8 miles consumed only 40% of the energy stored in the battery pack  

After entry formalities at the port office, we took Spiuma to the marina for the night, which was essential for recharging the batteries. There we went to a reception organised by one of the big prosecco brands, which sponsored the race.

Prize for smallest boat

Despite being among the retirees, Martin was presented, to loud cheers and clapping from club members, with the award for the smallest boat to arrive. The prize was a giant bottle of one of the good local red wines.

Martin and I slept aboard, but my son Will, the third crew member, stayed with his Italian family – Faye, daughter Indigo and other grandfather Cino. By great good fortune they had been planning a holiday break in the town, which has long been a favourite of Cino’s. They chose an excellent restaurant for the evening, which turned out to be run by a woman who could still speak the old Venetian Istrian dialect of the area, which she had learnt from her mother.

Ahead of another evening start on the Saturday, the day was spent relaxing, a good part of it swimming and paddling, with lunch at a shore-side restaurant under pine trees. Faye, Indigo and Cino waved from the pierhead as we jostled for a good position on the starting line at 8.30pm in a light north-northeasterly breeze.

Cino, Faye and Indigo see us off from Novigrad marina
The lighthouse – one end of the start line
Faye, Indigo, Cino watch from the lighthouse
Indigo watches us preparing to hoist sails near the start line

The race back had its near-calm periods, but overall there was more wind than on the outward leg. The north-northeasterly began to veer as we approached Mambo 2, so from a close reach we went into a beam and eventually a broad reach, and could fly the gennaker. Even better, the wind went on veering as we rounded the buoy.

Starting towards the sunset

That allowed us to turn down the coast towards Venice without gybing, which is always a bit of a performance with a large cruising chute or gennaker.

Mambo 2 at dawn on the way back

We did eventually have to gybe. On Spiuma that means letting go a sheet so the gennaker can fly out like a giant flag ahead of the boat. It can then be manoeuvred round in front of the forestay using the other sheet, and pulled in on the other side. The helm adjusts course to make the wind help the manoeuvre.

The gennaker could be goosewinged on a dead run, but only when the sea was flat enough to avoid rolling. It was better used as a reaching sail.

The breeze persisted for a few miles along the coast, then began to die away, so we were soon down to less than 2 knots and beginning to wonder whether we would have to retire again. We were saved by the sea breeze we could see developing inshore.

Passing the DVV committee boat at the finishing line

About 10 miles from Venice we doused the gennaker and headed much closer in to the beach under genoa and main. We were soon galloping along close-hauled  at 5 knots or more as the sea breeze strengthened. We passed the committee boat at the finishing line at 14.10, with 50 minutes to spare. Then we motor-sailed up the entrance channel and into the lagoon before putting away the sails a few hundred metres from Martin’s club.

We will know how we did when the handicap results are published. But it was a splendid weekend, ashore and afloat – and there’s nothing quite like arriving back at the Serenissima under sail.

Painting the Iain Oughtred dinghy

After 8 years kept in the open, the Iain Oughtred feather pram finally needed its paint refreshed.

The Hempel all in one primer, undercoat and topcoat lasted amazingly well. The boat is stored upside down in the garden when not in use, and only had a tarpaulin over it in the winter.

First coat drying

We gave the hull a rub down with fine 600 grade wet and dry, then washed it and left it for 24 hours to dry before the first coat.There was enough paint left in the old pot for a full coat this time, to be followed by two coats of gloss.

Continue reading “Painting the Iain Oughtred dinghy”

March/April – refit after survey

We finally launched Spring Fever at the end of April, though not without hiccups, because the crane needed to put the mast up broke down.

On the way in, without a mast

We launched the boat mastless anyway, and used the time to collect a new cooker – the gas survey for our insurers had brought the expensive news that the cooker was condemned for corrosion and age.

Luckily there was one available at the marina near Newport, Island Harbour, so we chugged up there to collect it, and the gas engineer came to fit it the next day.

The boatyard where we wintered at Kingston managed to hire in a crane. so we went back there. The mast was put up three days late by a very efficient and patient team from Spencers of Cowes, which had made our new standing rigging. Spencers replaced the rigging last time we did it as well, in 2009.

Apart from that, we had the usual long list of bits and pieces to do to commission the boat, but because of the delays we had no time for a trial sail.

Just finished another updating project, this time of David Fairhall’s Pass Your Day Skipper, with cartoons by the late Mike Peyton. It will be published in the New Year. My update of Pass Your Yachtmaster was published last year.

February – survey nerves

Insurance surveys don’t come round very often, but it’s a finger chewing time when they do. What’s going to be found and how much will it cost?

We’ve been lucky with our insurers, who haven’t insisted on a survey since we bought Spring Fever in 2009. Our current insurers gave us a year’s notice that we’d need one this winter.

The survey has just been completed by Adrian Stone of Cowes. The good news is that the main work needed is a job we have been contemplating anyway, which is replacing the standing rigging.

Out of the water and pressure scrubbed.

It still looks acceptable on close inspection, but one of the risks with stainless wire and fittings is sudden failure, as likely from a hidden crack in a steel piece as from the wire itself. Some insurers are said to ask for replacement every 10 years but our standing rigging has lasted a full 13 seasons.

Other than, that Spring Fever has come out well from the survey for a 34 year-old boat with one significant exception: the P-bracket that holds the prop shaft has come slightly loose, and will have to be reinforced, a small job but an awkward one that will need an expert to do. The loose bracket has caused heavy wear on the cutlass bearing on the shaft. Other than that, the recommendations were minor.

Four years ago we commissioned a really big job, repair of delamination around the keel. If that hadn’t been found in late 2017 it would have been a big shock to find it alongside new standing rigging, but we got it out of the way. We also had a new engine installed in 2019.

It’s been expensive over the last four years, but keeping the boat up to scratch brings real reassurance when things get tough out there. The survey has been delivered to the insurers, Topsail, and the policy renewed.

January – RYA training upheaval, and ending an electronic chart nonsense

The small craft navigation conference in Cowes at the end of January heard that the RYA is finally promising to overhaul its outdated Day Skipper and Yachtmaster shore-based courses.

The conference was also told that there is to be a concerted attempt to abolish that annoying legal disclaimer on all our electronic charts that they are “not for navigation.”  As soon as we switch on a pop-up appears with this message, often with a line underneath saying that only paper charts must be used, which of course almost everybody ignores.

First, the RYA: any novice has noticed for years when boarding a cruising or racing boat that most navigation is electronic and paper charts are relegated to backup. Surveys of skippers have proved that. 

The approach of RYA shore-based courses has been like getting into a car with full satnav, and being told not to switch it on but instead to dig out the AA road map from under the back seat.

After a 2 year gap without a manager for the Day Skipper and Yachtmaster shore-based courses, an executive has now been hired, and the promise is that course improvements will be a high priority this year. A better integration of training for electronic charting and traditional navigation is long overdue. More on that another time.

Second, that warning notice on our charts: it has become a joke, but it’s no laughing matter. It reflects some real quality and standards issues affecting leisure charts, which is why official hydrographic bodies will not licence their data to publishers unless they use the disclaimer. This is also the legal position, because under international maritime law only official charts from hydrographic offices are recognised.

Many fishing boats use the same charts as yachts

That’s not a problem to worry about if you are a leisure sailor on a modest size yacht. But it is an issue for large numbers of small commercial vessels, including fishing boats and indeed for sail training yachts and large private yachts.

They are all under that same restrictive legal umbrella, but they mostly ignore it and use cheap leisure electronic charts anyway, because official electronic charts and equipment are so expensive. In theory they are supposed to navigate only on paper, but the law is honoured only in the breach.

The Royal Institute of Navigation, whose small craft group organised the conference, is now leading an attempt to get something done about it.

The plan is to seek minimum standards for leisure charts and chart plotters. This would be in the hope of improving them to the point at which there can be some form of official recognition, and removal of the warning.

The RIN has involved the RYA, the Cruising Association, the Marine and Coastguard Agency, the UKHO, the Marine Accidents Board, the RNLI, chart publishers, equipment firms and various other interests. The focus is a new Pleasure Vessel Navigation Systems Working Group, reporting to the UK Safety of Navigation Committee, which is under the MCA.

There is no plan to set detailed specifications – attempts to do that for the fishing industry in the UK and similar projects in Denmark and Italy failed. Instead, standards would be developed setting out what the charts should do and the functions equipment must contain in order to be approved. Manufacturers and publishers would find their own way of meeting these standards.

For example, some measure of underlying accuracy should be available, as it is on official ship charts and on Admiralty paper charts, where survey age is shown. You then know if the last survey was in 1930 or thereabouts (or indeed 1849, a contributory cause to an oil rig grounding under tow in the Orkneys in 2006).

One proposal is a much simpler traffic light system, with the colours related to the reliability of the information, including survey date.

Other issues include clear separation between crowd-sourced feedback and more rigorous survey information, which are in danger of getting mixed up in some chart brands.

Updating should also be reliable and easy. Shore features should be shown clearly on all charts, and there should be ways of drawing bearing lines from them, measured by the navigator and plotted onto screens to give a traditional fix.

Ideally, all electronic chartplotters should have a common default method of operation so anybody can switch boats and still work the plotter. That is the case with ship electronic systems, but it’s a long way from being taken seriously by leisure chartplotter makers.

The objective is to make leisure chart standards high enough to allow that disclaimer to be removed – and while it may be asking too much for international authorities to accept it, perhaps it will be known instead as the RIN standard.

It will not be simple or quick to achieve, and there are legal obstacles, too – where would liability end up if a faulty leisure chart causes an accident? But that warning as we switch on is a technical issue of real importance.

After a scrub

Meanwhile, on Spring Fever: We took the boat out of the water at the Kingston yard in Cowes for an insurance survey at the end of January. The boat turns out to be basically fine, but we’ve decided to preempt what will probably be an instruction from the  insurance company anyway: we’ll replace the standing rigging, now in its 14th year.

Coming soon on your phone – one metre accuracy

It seems that while my phone is accurate to an error of considerably less than 10 metres, the industry is heading to even better precision of a tenth of that level, and soon. This post looks at why that means satellite accuracy on all devices including smartphones is reaching levels where there are diminishing returns for small boat sailors.

In general, 5 metre satellite accuracy has been available on smartphones for a considerable time now. I give links at the end to industry, US government, academic and consumer articles that give more detail on how accuracy has been developing  (and see also my earlier post ‘and a phone to steer her by’).

One of the secrets of the top performers such as the high-end Samsung phones, which can achieve 2 metres, is that they now have dual frequency satellite aerials so they can make the best use of the latest improvements not only in the US GPS, but the Russian Glonass, European Galileo and Chinese Beidou satellite systems. Nowadays, phones will often have as many as 40 satellites in the sky from which to choose the best signals.

Continue reading “Coming soon on your phone – one metre accuracy”

Calm before the tempest

It’s sad to read happy accounts of a peaceful sailing season just before the worst storm ever unleashed on Europe – by which I mean World War II, not the weather.

I’ve been leafing through the 1938-9 Yachtsman’s Annual, picked up for a few pounds the other day in an Oxfam bookshop. It’s not just the handsome young people in bright sunshine helming racing dinghies, who we know might soon be in mortal danger on the front line in a war. It’s also the international cruises and races, some of them to Germany, with skippers and crews displaying no public awareness (whatever they privately thought) of what was happening in the world around them.

Continue reading “Calm before the tempest”

…and a phone to steer her by

Mobiles have had a bad press as navigational tools, but if I were forced to choose one single piece of electronics to take to sea it would be my phone. That’s not a popular view among professionals.

Instructors, coastguards and rescue services learn of many cases where boat owners, especially of powerful motor yachts and RIBs, set off for the open sea with nothing beyond a chart app on a mobile phone, and no knowledge of the underlying skills needed to navigate safely. For the Royal Yachting Association, mobiles are well down the list of recommended priorities, because of the risk that they will be used badly. Textbooks give stern warnings that you must not use them for navigation.

Continue reading “…and a phone to steer her by”

October – summer returns

Summer came back in the middle of October, with sun, warmth, gentle winds from helpful directions, and calm blue seas.  Five days sauntering along the Dorset coast under bright blue skies was an unexpected gift at the end of a season of dull weather.

We left Cowes in the afternoon and picked up a free mooring outside Yarmouth harbour for the night in a calm that hardly moved the boat. The next day we went pleasantly to Weymouth in a Force 3 from the land, which gradually built to 4, so we creamed along on flat water, well out from St Albans Head because the army firing range was operating.

Continue reading “October – summer returns”

September – laying up season approaches

But if a yearning seizes you to roil
In stormy seamanship, when the Pleiades,
Fleeing Orion, sink in cloudy seas,
That’s when all kinds of wind blasts rage. Don’t keep
Your ship longer on the wine-dark deep,
But work the earth, and mind what I command:

Now’s when to draw your ship up on dry land,
And pile stones round to keep wet winds at bay.
Pull out its bilge-plug, that it not decay
With Zeus’s rainfall.

Stow the gear, all things
You need for sailing, make sure the wings*
Of your seaworthy ship are in good trim.
And hang the well-wrought rudder in the scrim of smoke#.

Till sailing season comes, just wait. Then drag your swift ship seawards.
Range the freight in its hold, get ready for the profit you’ll
Bring home”

From “Works and Days (Penguin Classics)” by Hesiod, 7th or 8th century BCE, trans A. E. Stallings.

* sails or oars. # to preserve it?

A quiet month for sailing, but we’re planning at least one autumn cruise before layup – if the wind blasts don’t rage.

August – back to Cowes through the blue channel

For almost all the daylight hours during our 170 mile passage back to Cowes the sea was a mesmerising blue.

After weaving our way overnight through the sandbanks and brilliantly lit windfarms of the Thames Estuary, there was little to do in the calm of the English Channel except watch the autopilot and check the plotter from time to time.

It was enjoyable in a way that had very little to do with sailing. We did three hours on, three hours off and probably got more cumulative sleep than we usually have in 24 hours at home.

There was one concern during the passage, which was that the fine weather had prompted an unusually large number of refugee boats to cross from France.

We kept a watch for them as we went through the Straits, passing Dover as the sun rose, and saw none, though we did come across a channel swimmer making way at 1.7 knots. (We could tell the speed from the escort boat’s AIS broadcast).

The swimmer doing an impressive crawl.

We heard the coastguard talking to a yacht that had come across a refugee boat, one of a couple of dozen that were later reported to have crossed that day. Coastguard regular VHF broadcasts included requests to report the positions of any boats spotted.

There was no sense that danger was imminent in the case we heard, and the coastguard let the yacht continue on passage once it had reported the position. If it had been rough and the refugee boat was in danger of swamping that would have been another matter, because a yacht would need to stand by a potential casualty until help arrived from the RNLI or Border Force boats.

Only a few weeks previously, the shameless Nigel Farage had launched an attack on the RNLI for running what he called a taxi service for illegal migrants. He may have pleased the far right but thankfully he also prompted a huge increase in supportive donations to the RNLI.

After the Straits, we stayed inshore simply for the views, close to the lighthouse and power station at Dungeness and nearer to Beachy Head than we’ve been before.

There was not enough wind to switch off the engine even once until we arrived on our mooring in Cowes. The two nights were as calm as the days, though cool, with most of the light breeze produced by our own speed through the water. We added a knot to our speed by motor sailing into our own wind.

We chose to go because it was an all-too-brief weather window between south-west and westerlies. Long gone are the days when I’d have seen a 170 mile beat to windward as a challenge, and anyway I would not have dreamt of trying that without a crew of at least four, rather than two-handed.

Within hours of arriving in Cowes at 4a.m. the wind had got up from the south-west, there was driving rain and visibility was down to a few hundred meters, making it a miserable day for the racing boats which were there for Cowes Week.

Luckily it wasn’t the last sail of the month. Had a lovely few days going to Weymouth and back in the sunshine with Robbie.

Not much wind going there but a splendid sail hard on the wind in a NNE 4 from around Lulworth Cove to where we dropped anchor in Totland Bay on the Isle of Wight. We waited there for the tide up the Solent.

Moored in Weymouth

Weymouth was in a holiday buzz, helped by the focus on British holidays this year, and we had a very pleasant time there. We bought fish – prawns as a starter and then fried skate with capers – and both were the freshest I’ve tasted for a long time. The fish shop on the quay said they were from the boats moored outside.

How would we help a refugee boat in trouble? The usual advice is not to take people on board. There is an implied threat in that advice – not spelled out – that a skipper could be seen as complicit in illegal entry if a yacht arrives in port with refugees on board. On the other hand, international maritime law obliges ships and boats to try to save any life in danger, regardless of who they are, so quite apart from the instinctive reaction to help there would be a duty to intervene if a boat is swamping and refugees could drown.

It would not be easy to help. We practice man-overboard retrieval from yachts, and in all but calm conditions it takes many minutes to retrieve a practice dummy (usually a lightweight fender), and then there is the even bigger problem of getting a heavy person on board.

The stern ladder is dangerous if there is any sea running and a folding side ladder is difficult and slow for all but the fittest. Our backup method is a crane using the blocks and tackle of an old mainsheet, kept ready in a locker to be hung from the end of the boom, with the rope run to a big winch, a system that we have tested by lifting a 14 stone man.

The most practical way to save lots of people quickly is probably to launch our liferaft and three horseshoe buoys for them, and perhaps some fenders, keeping all the equipment tethered to the boat with lines, while we take the weakest on board as best we can, hoping for the lifeboat to turn up quickly.

July – sailing with children on the Suffolk and Essex Rivers

There’s nothing quite so much fun as messing around jumping off boats on a hot day.

Here Seb and Xan are having a great time leaping from Spring Fever at The Rocks, a beach on the River Deben where we anchored.

There was a strong tide running, so we set up a rope on a fender and let the dinghy out a long way so there were safety lines to grab.

Those in the picture below weren’t quite long enough, because once Xan didn’t quite make it back to them when he swam away after jumping from the bow. Ben took him down to the next anchored boat where they were helped out of the water and into our dinghy when I arrived.

We doubled the length of the lines and they went on jumping. I joined the fun in another session later in the afternoon. By then the water had reached almost 25 degrees as it ebbed down river after sitting on the mudflats further up.

Ruth had joined us at Ramsholt for a morning away from her work-at-home laptop, and we ferried her ashore to walk back along the river bank. She had a full afternoon’s work to do back at Bawdsey, where she was staying with Caroline – one of the mixed blessings of lockdown is employers’ willingness to let staff work from anywhere with wifi.

Ruth after landing at The Rocks

After swimming, we picked up a mooring at Ramsholt and went ashore for a walk and for drinks with Caroline on the terrace of the idyllically-set pub.

Chris ready to go ashore at Ramsholt

A few days earlier, Indigo and Will were on board with us, and here she is showing her steering skill.

We went ashore and walked a mile to the Butt and Oyster, Pin Mill, for dinner at an outside table. It was high tide, and Chris and Indigo watched horses that had just been exercised in the water.

On the way back we saw the Nancy Blackett, Arthur Ransome’s boat and the model for Goblin, the yacht in which the children accidentally start from Pill Mill and end up in Holland in We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea. It has been restored and is owned by a trust.

The Nancy Blackett

The previous night was the European Cup final, and we stayed on board to watch England lose on penalties.We had no England flag so used a number 8 signal pennant to stand in for it.

Will then photoshopped a picture of Indigo with our Irish courtesy flag into an Italian flag (changing orange to red) and sent it to the Italian side of her family when they won.

It was still a good dinner! We watched the match on Will’s laptop linked to my phone as a hub.

Children found the size of the container ships awe inspiring as we passed them close by at Felixstowe, but Seb and Xan were much more excited to see the polar research ship the Sir David Attenborough, which is registered at Stanley in the Falklands but whose UK home base is Harwich.

Felixstowe container port
Boaty is hiding somewhere

They scrutinised every inch looking for the Boaty MacBoatface, the winner of the national naming competition for the ship. The winning name was hastily switched by the organisers to a research submarine the ship carries, after the competition misfired in a rather splendid way. Boaty must have been stored on the other side, because we couldn’t see it.

After anchoring for lunch further up the Stour we locked in and spent a night in Shotley Marina, where we explored with the boys along the river and also looked at the derelict Royal Navy training college HMS Ganges. There we saw the sadly decayed mast of a 19th century sailing warship once used for recruit training.

The mast at HMS Ganges

You can see from the photo below that half of the top yard has broken off and is hanging down from a rigging wire, the other half has gone and a complete spar is missing lower down. Before closure in 1976, the college featured annually in the newspapers for its graduation ceremony, where cadets perched along the yardarms and the best in class saluted while standing precariously on the 18 inch diameter ‘button’ at the very top. He was called the Button Boy.

The Button Boy is at the very top

Seb and Xan brought their sketch books and relaxed with them later in the saloon.

Below. crew boss Ben, helmsman Seb and cabin boy Xan take charge.

At the end of this cruise, which also featured a walk to Pin Mill for dinner, the water taxi at Woolverstone Marina made packing up and leaving the boat on the mooring a lot easier than it used to be by dinghy. Dinghies are great, but not so much fun carrying a crew, loads of baggage and a week’s worth of rubbish ashore.

Landing in the dinghy at The Rocks
Ben, Peter and Xan coming back from the pub
In the water taxi, Ben talking to the drivet
Leaving Spring Fever on the Woolverstone mooring

The last event of the month was me taking Spring Fever to Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington for a bargain summer scrub. We were trailing such huge quantities of weed that with a clean bottom we added a knot afterwards, measured at 2500 rpm on the engine.

Out for a wash

While waiting. I had a lovely 6 mile walk along the banks of the Orwell and back inland (via a pint at The Ship at Levington).

The path along the cliff top opposite Pin Mill

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Yachtmaster book out

The new, updated and expanded edition of Pass Your Yachtmaster is in the bookshops. It’s the best primer around for the RYA sailing qualification, and the only one with jokes – the serious stuff by David Fairhall and myself is leavened with lots of hilarious cartoons about sailing by the late Mike Peyton.

There’s a new chapter on electronic charts and fresh material on weather forecasting, safety equipment and other aspects of sailing offshore that have been changing in recent years as the technology improves.

Continue reading “Yachtmaster book out”