March: down to the sea again

The virus lockdown rules allow me to drive to the boat from this week onwards, so a day is at last in the diary for moving Spring Fever from her winter berth in Chichester to her permanent mooring in Cowes.

Now we’re hopeful that we might actually make that cruise to the east coast we cancelled twice last year, so I’ve been updating my Thames Estuary charts and pilot book and reminding myself of the different route options around and across the multiple sandbanks between North Foreland and Harwich.

It is always a fascinating pilotage exercise, partly because of its tidal complexity and partly because the sandbanks, channels, swatchways and buoys are constantly changing. Charts that have not been updated can be dangerous. In the 35 years I have been crossing the estuary, even ship channels have moved, and it can be by miles.

Fisherman’s Gat, for example, was a shallow unbuoyed shortcut for small craft over a bank the first time I used it, but is now the main big ship channel southwards. The nearest short cut is currently Foulger’s Gat, and to reach that you have to go through the Thames Array windfarm, which is spectacular when you are in the middle of it.

The Thames Estuary, 2020 chart

I’m explicitly banned from sleeping on board before 12 April, the RYA reports after seeking clarifications from the government. To make it more complicated still, we have to wait until 17 May before two people from different households can stay overnight. The upshot is that we’ll have to make it a day trip when we move the boat before the 12th April and cruising will start on 17 May.

We’re now glad we decided to leave Spring Fever afloat and in full commission over the winter, because we will not have the usual three day annual ritual of antifouling, launching, bending on sails and getting out and sorting all the equipment. We can load the dinghy on board (it was taken home for repairs) and go.

A few jobs left to do in Cowes: we’ll be installing a 50 gallon a minute emergency bilge pump to replace one of the manual pumps, and we have commissioned Wroath’s, the marine electrical firm, to go up the mast on our mooring to install a new LED tricolour and anchor light. The old one was smashed (was it hit by a gull in a gale?)

We’ll probably stay in British waters this year, to avoid the complexities of visiting the EU in the first year of Brexit re-regulation – which is still not completely clarified on either side of the channel – and with a virus situation that seems to be worsening. So after the east coast we may have a second cruise to the west country.

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