Back from the dead
14 December 2016
There we are again... not quite dead yet.
It's not like nothing has happened since our last post, it's just that I was too busy sailing (good thing) or my time was taken up by work and/or real world commitments (bad thing).
Anyway, I hope to make it up to you and have the blog up to date before the year is out.
The Great Escape: The final furlong
25 May 2016 | Sainte Marine
Reasonable people told me that it was nigh on impossible to do the Cenal Du Four and Raz de Sein in one go.
They were, of course, perfectly correct.
However, I never listen.
So, I did it anyway.
After some research, I figured we had to be off L'Aber Wrach at about HW Brest +1 to make the most of the tide going south. So we cast off at HW Brest and were offshore about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
A gentle breeze, but not enough to sail by, so motorsailed in the direction of Cenal Du Four. Going with the tode we made good progress. SOG was a whopping 10.6kts as we shot past Pte St Mathieu. Guess I did time the tides just right.
As we approached the headland, a stiff breeze kicked in - 25-30kts over deck. And to make things even more interesting: confusing seas. Easterly wind, westerly 3 meter swell and a ripping south going tide. Now look at the stars, now look at the fish, now look at the stars...
Luckily this didn't last more than 10 minutes (Yanni slept right through it).
Then some nice sailing towards Pte du Raz - a gentle F4 beam reach. Bliss. SOG never dropped below 7kts. We were nearly 90 minutes ahead of schedule. There's this saying about counting your chickens before they're hatched... About 2 miles off Pte du Raz it was like we hit a brick wall. We were struggling to make 2kts over the ground. Meanwhile boats going north shot past is at a rate of knots. To make matters worse, a strong breeze kicked in: 30kts over deck and on the noze. But I was determined to press on, no point in turning back at this stage.
Once we (eventually) rounded Pte du Raz, speed slowly crept up towards a dizzying 3kts. Unable to handle such excitement, I left Yanni in charge and had a kip for an hour or two. By the time I woke, we were once again doing over 5kts. Would have been more, had it not been for the annoying SE headwind.
By the time we were approaching Penmarch the tide ran in our favour again. So I started to do some mental arithmetic: head for Loctudy (as planned) or make a quick dash for Sainte Marine (our final destination). Arriving at our destination one day early was tempting, but I wanted to be sure we could get there in daylight (first landfall and all that). And there was no way we would find our mooring in the dark.
An hour later it was decision time: progress had been better than expected and by my calculations we would arrive at the mouth of the Odet river just before 21H30 (sunset 21H58). We went for it.
Strange feeling to finally sail up the river we have walked along so many times these last few years and to observe some of our favourite haunts from the river.
Luckily for us, the moorings were well marked/numbered and we had no problem finding our allocated mooring. Picked it up with much hassle at the first attempt. Mooring strop fitted soon after.
And that was it - just another day in paradise. An early night. Much to sort in the morning. Not in the least, our return to 'the real world'.
All in all, a pleasant few days on the boat, but lots of mixed emotions too.
Such is life.
The Great Escape: The Crossing
23 May 2016 | L'Aber Wrach
Rose at stupid o'clock in the morning as I wanted to make sure we made landfall in Brittany in daylight.
Pretty benign conditions: virtually no wind and a smooth sea. Motoring to start with, then motoring with rags up.
Just as we cleared Falmouth Anchorage we were joined by some travelling companions: porpoises riding our bow wave. Always a sight for sore eyes. They didn't stay with us for long, I guess the nearby trawler taking in its nets was more interesting.
Just as I was starting to feel chilled Yanni reported that the phantom battery charging problem was back. Quickly solved by my old navy fault finding approach: if something is giving you problems - hit it. Two possible outcomes: either it's fixed or you are certain it's broken.
Luckily for us, hitting the engine instrument panel seems to have done the trick. I suspect a loose connection somewhere. Will investigate in depth once we're in Sainte Marine.
Once clear of Lizard Point there was enough wind to switch off the engine. As predicted a F4-5 from WNW. What followed was 6 hours of the most pleasant sailing I've done in a long time. Sit back, relax and feel the stress ooze away.
As always, good things never last. The nearer we got to Ushant the worse the sea state became. One second the horizon was miles away, then you blink and the horizon was only a cable away. Huge swell (3m+) and we were now climbing up and surfing down waves (often sideways). Had to turn the engine on to make any decent headway.
Gone were the blue skies - it became all grey and overcast. Cold and chilly - summer seemed months away. And as final cherry on the cake: I felt seasick. The aft head is out of order, so when there was a call from nature I could no longer ignore I had to use the forward head. Or as we call it: The Vomit Commeth. And it did certainly live up to its reputation.
Fast-forward the last third of the trip. Landfall - as scheduled just before 21H00 local. All secured alongside by 21H20. On the outside of the L'Aber Wrach visitor pontoon. It was a bumpy night, hardly slept a wink. Rose way too early. Just in time to spot a vacant space on the inside - shook Yanni and we moved Guapa all of 10 meters. She's much more comfortable for it.
The weather's everything right now, but so is crew fatigue. The plan was to sail for Audierne today. However, according to Meteo France, there's currently a 3 meter swell off Pointe de Bretagne and a F5 onshore wind. No thank you, the place scares the bejeezus out of me as it is.
A less the ideal weather forecast and a tired crew: I don't think so. In the past, I've made some bad judgment calls when I'm tired. So, we're spending another day sampling the delights of L'Aber Wrach - and catching up on some much needed zzz's. But that's all our time margin used up now. We have to head back to the real world - and all the bollocks that comes with it - on Thursday.
So, what's the plan for tomorrow? I'll tell you. As some may know, I do most of my worrying before I have to do something. Avoids Italian style panic attacks later on.
Plan A had been Chenal Du Four and Raz de Sein and then catch a mooring overnight off Audierne. However, I have since learned that these moorings are unlikely to be able to take of vessel of Guapa's size and displacement.
If we should not make the speed over the ground I hope, Plan B and C are to divert either to Camaret or Douarnez. However, this would leave another far bit of distance to cover on Wednesday and first forecast for Wednesday don't look that good (SW wind - on the noze).
So, Plan D is the current favourite, L'Aber Wrach to Loctudy in one trip. we will be fighting the tide towards the end but conditions should otherwise be benign.
I'll busy myself the rest of the afternoon doing the nav for Plan B, C and D and afterwards I think I'll have a nap.
The Great Escape: the story so far
21 May 2016 | Port Pendennis
You may think we have dropped off the radar again - my apologies. What follows is a brief summary of the last two weeks.
At the start of the month I spent an entire week getting Guapa ready for the Great Escape (the move to her new mooring in Brittany). A busy, but rewarding time.
I got the opportunity to get reacquainted with every nook and cranny. Made some interesting discoveries too. Found stuff I thought was long lost. That should give you some idea of the vastness of our storage.
Engine and prop serviced, Coppercoat bottom abraded, stores taken on board, OBS (on board spares) inventoried and stowed, fuel and water topped up. All in all we were in pretty good shape. All shipshape and Bristol fashion.
The Great Escape itself: standard Thames Estuary crossing and an overnight stay in Ramsgate. Last one for a while. NSTR (nothing significant to report) except maybe some minor battery niggles.
Then onwards to Falmouth. Easterlies were forecast for the next few days. Too light to sail, but better than on the nose westerlies (the prevailing wind direction in the Channel).
Lots of motoring - virtually non-stop - sometimes in dense fog. AIS helped a lot. Battery problems were caused by user error.
Then I received some bad news from Belgium. Everything is a bit of a blur after that. Not going into details, but I hurried to Belgium and left Brigitte and Yanni to sort the boat. What a rock that woman is.
Back aboard now and we're sailing for Brittany in the morning. All going well, and weather permitting, we should be on our new mooring Tuesday or Wednesday.
L'Aber Wrach tomorrow then on to Audierne en finally Sainte Marine. The forecast for tomorrow is looking reasonable. But the looks of it, I will have to worry more about sea state (still some swell from the storms the last few days) than wind (westerly 4-5).
All in all pretty confident about tomorrow. It's the day after I'm anxious about: Chennal Du Four and Raz de Sein. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Singing off now - early start tomorrow. Hope to catch you on the other side.
19 April 2016 | Boxmoor
Time to make good on a promise: a long-overdue update.
To recap: after 14 years we are finally leaving the East Coast goldfish bowl behind. To for blue water and the sun kissed shores of the Caribbean as initially intended but some of the way there. Even the longest journey begins with the first step.
As things stand, we'll be spending some time in Brittany - at least till Summer 2017.
What about our Winter 2016 'to-do' list? Not much happening on that front. Most items on there are still outstanding. I had several quotes to fit the electric windlass and to replace the water tank. Back of a beer carton estimates of 2K turned into 6.5K estimates (with ample scope for more). It appears that the yards were determined to squeeze every last penny out of us before we left.
As usual, time and money are in short supply. The only way not to lose is to refuse to play the game. As it will still be at least another year till we cross the pond, both items are now less pressing. I thought I'd better save my money for now and reconsider next winter - older and wiser. Will check out a couple of French boatyards this summer.
Apart from the two items already mentioned, I've been giving a lot of thought to 'communications at sea'. As a former navy radio operator, I've always been inclined to install an SSB transceiver. Just for old times' sake. However, satcom has taken giant strides these last few years and it's starting to become (borderline) affordable too. Fitting the SSB unit, grounding plate, isolated backstay, etc... is by no means cheap. I risk finding myself with a load of expensive kit and no-one to talk to. Since Herb retired a few years ago I feel there are no compelling reasons to fit it. The boxed SSB, ATU and grounding plate that live in the attic may very well make their way onto eBay in the near future.
Currently leaning towards an Iridium Go or DeLorme InReach for ship/shore communications.
What did I spend money on? Maintenance, charts (electronic and paper), engine spares and a heavy weather staysail.
As we head towards the West Country it will be against the prevailing wind. Mostly motoring then. So, for the next 350NM, I don't want any engine problems. Service booked. Also hauling out for 10 days. I want the bottom smooth as a babies bum. The Coppercoat is becoming somewhat less effective every year. Pressure washing is still preferable to antifouling, but this year we might have a go at abrading the bottom in order to increase effectiveness of the Coppercoat. Changing anodes is on the schedule too.
I did splash out on a heavy weather staysail though. Some boisterous Channel crossings in recent years have shown that the genoa is not that effective once furled more than halfway. Meteo France said that this last year has been one of the windiest in Brittany since records began. I get the feeling that this purchase might not be a luxury.
Any way, I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
In the mean time, I'm reading pilot guides and almanacs like crazy in preparation for the move west and south and also, just so I can get a feel of our new cruising ground. I have another night shift coming up next week and if time allows I might start doing the nav for the move (and the summer cruise) then.
There we are. Just because it's quiet on here doesn't mean that there's nothing happening behind the scenes. On the contrary.
We'll be staying in touch. And hopefully some nicer sailing related post will follow in the not too distant future.
Happy Birthday, Guapa
05 April 2016 | Northwood
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
This weeks we celebrate (if that's the right word) Guapa's 10 year anniversary. Seems like only yesterday since I attended her survey in Holland and completed the purchase.
A lot of water under the bridge since then. It's not always been plain sailing, but the destination is in sight.
It will all have been worth it in the end - of that I am convinced.
An update post of what we've been up to these last few months (and where we're heading later in the year) is in the pipeline. It should hit your screen in the very near future.
28 January 2016 | Hemel Hempstead
This was supposed to have been my last year. My last year of responsibilities and work; my last year in the rat race I have grown to loathe (with a vengeance). But it seems we live in an era of moving goal posts.
Not so long ago, we were encouraged to bugger off/retire sooner rather than later. Manpower overheads had to be reduced so the navy could invest in more all singing/all dancing military hardware. And I was not opposed to this, on the contrary. I was (and remain) ready to welcome early retirement with open arms.
One offspring is about to leave home, and the other one is not lagging far behind, and last but not least: I want to go sailing! I have spent years/a decade preparing for it and I am ready to go. I enjoy foreplay, but at some point I do expect to fuck.
I am probably lumbered with one extra year, but after that... I'm not staying - come hell or high water. By and large I have enjoyed what I did/do, but lately it is having a detrimental effect on my health. I still have lots of ambitions, but dropping dead on my job isn't one of them.
With an imminent departure on the horizon, what about the boat? One reason/excuse I keep dragging myself out of bed for every working day was this: 'the boat isn't ready yet'.
I will never sail my perfect boat - it would take too long. What good is my perfect boat to me when I am too old and too decrepit to enjoy her once she is mine?
Instead, I am now focussing on my 'I'm going sailing boat' and what does she really need? Two things really: an electric windlass with assorted new ground tackle and a new starboard water tank.
- The lumps of rusted metal hiding in the anchor well aren't really up to the job. We plan to live off the hook most of the time and I'm not about to put our floating home at risk. The current manual windlass is still in working order, but I risk a heart attack every time we weigh anchor. The old CQR is also being replaced by either a Rocna or a Manson Supreme.
- The stainless starboard water tank has a leak. It's beyond welding. And even if it could be welded, there is no guarantee another seam will not need welding at some time in the future. It's coming out and being replaced by a moulded plastic tank. We are not fitting a water maker (these things seem too expensive and too prone to mishaps to me), so just the port water tank of 200Ltr is insufficient for ocean crossings.
If - BIG if - funds allow, I will have the fridge looked at (and serviced) before we leave. At the moment it's still doing what I expect of it and it will have to do - for now.
Quotes are being sought and yards are being talked to, but I am confident the old girl will be ready to go by early May (of this year!!).
'Then what?' I hear you ask. Well, this may not be the year in which we leave these shores of work and responsibility behind us forever, but it will be a year in which we move the boat as far West and as far South as possible.
Biscay this year!!! Where there is a will, there is a way.
17 December 2015 | Boxmoor
Here we are then - so many months down the road, and not much to report in the way of sailing. For fear of sounding like a stuck record, for pretty much the same reasons as always: lack of time/shit weather and a dodgy engine. All this leaves me wondering: what do I do it for?
Lack of time: for much longer than I care to, I have been (and will be) working week on/week off. As I need some crew to help me park the boat (and crew is mostly only available on week-ends) this means there are only four days available every month to go sailing. And if the weather is crap on those days...
Crap weather: of course, this is to be expected - we keep the boat in Britain after all. Speaking of which... As some of you may remember, we're on several waiting lists for a mooring in Brittany. In one place in particular, we are third on the list and the local council was planning to put down 5 new moorings suitable for boats our size this winter. However, in this bleak economic times, moorings for yotties do not seem to be a high priority for the council and the funds will most likely be reallocated elsewhere. So we may have to stick it out on the UK East Coast for another year.
Dodgy engine: this really has haunted our sailing year. Not only did it force the sailing staycation upon us, it also kept us alongside for nearly two months since November. The seized wastegate has been overhauled and everything seems to be back to normal now. Took Guapa out for a spin in the fog the other day and the engine certainly seems to have more horsepower available than before. More quiet too - always a good thing. Still awaiting the bill with baited breath, but we can take that as sorted.
At the end of the summer, I also noticed a crack in the drum of our furling gear. That too has been rectified. The RigMagic invoice came as a pleasant surprise too. It doesn't happen often in the world of boat ownership that something costs less than you had hoped/feared. Also tried and tested during our brief test sail in the fog. Another one to cross off the to-do list.
What's next? This year: not much. I hope to be able to take the boat out for a family sail between Christmas and the New Year. And that's the best case scenario.
The start of the new year will look pretty much like the end of this one: more work and other non-sailing real world commitments (and I had both equally - and with a passion). Hope to have an update on the mooring availability in Brittany by this time next month.
On this will also depend whether or not we finish the refit of the boat this year or next year. Items still on the to-do list: fit the electric windlass, replace the leaking starboard water tank and overhaul or replace the fridge. The fitting of the SSB has moved way down the list as I am starting to have serious second thoughts about this thing. In a time of rapid developments in the (satellite) communications field, would fitting an SSB still be worthwhile? Thoughts and comments on this last matter would be most welcome.
2015 leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings - it certainly did not live up to the great promise it showed early in the year. Frankly, this equally applies to the two or three previous years. As I was wondering earlier - 'what do I still do it for?' Many years of work/planning better pay of soon.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Going nowhere - several times
01 September 2015 | East Coast
OK, I'll better get this on paper while I still remember it. It's been a while, but what follows below is the story if how we went nowhere, over several days, several times. In other words: summer cruise 2015.
In a nutshell: nothing went as planned or hoped for. 'So, what's new?' I hear you ask. Good question. All part and parcel of boat ownership I guess.
Anyway, all the dirt... The engine problems I reported a while back turned out to be somewhat more complicated than we thought at first glance. When our mechanic replaced the corroded exhaust elbow, he also found that the wastegate had seized half open due to large carbon deposits. Whilst the donk did run, we did not get all the available HP. Locals were unable to 'un-seize' the wastegate and it would have to be sent away. Heaven only knew when we would get it back. With our luck, October probably. So, I told them to put it back 'as is' and I would take my chances. A job for the winter to-do list.
However, my choice did somewhat limit our options to go cruising. I was keen to minimize our motoring. The fickleness of this summer's forecast left cruising in local waters as the only realistic option open to us. An East Coast farewell cruise of sorts: Bradwell and Ramsholt were the most likely destinations. We had a sort of 4-5 day weather window in early August (the week before we were due to move house), that would have to do.
Saturday - Day 1
We haven't had a family sail in a LONG time. Kids off college/work, so no excuses. Even the dogs came along for their first ride - ever - in the RIB.
The weather was nice enough, nice breeze and blue skies. The dogs did not exactly enjoy the RIB ride, but no mishap either. A nice way to start the day: lunch in the cockpit. Dogs went straight into 'begging mode' and did their best to look starved.
Consumed something alcoholic whilst I watched the world sail by followed by a little snooze in the sun. The, confab about the plans for the rest of the day. High on my wishlist: getting the kite up. It has been over a year. Full complement, suitable weather,... the vote in favour was unanimous (well, 3 in favour and 1 abstention - that's unanimous in my book).
Slipped our mooring and tootled all the way up to Pin Mill - females at the helm and dog minding whilst Yanni and I rigged the necessary blocks and bits of string. It might have been a while, but when we turned downriver everything went up as it should. Kite up and flying in less than a minute. We've still got it - high five. Progress was slow, 4kts, but I didn't care in the least. If you're in a hurry, you have no business being out on the water.
When we were about two cable short of Collimer I had this funny feeling I could not explain. But it felt like something was about to happen. I looked downriver towards Shotley and some of the modern plastic fantastics were flat on their ear. Yanni and I got the kite down in record time, which also turned out to be just in time. No sooner had we shoved the kite down the forward hatch and we got hit by 25kts+ over deck.
Since we were quite near our mooring, and we had the dogs on board, picking up our mooring and sitting out the blow seemed like the sensible thing to do. So we did.
More drinks and chats in the cockpit before we made our way ashore for a family dinner. The Ship Inn in Levington welcomed dogs and the menu looked decent enough. And it was within walking distance of our mooring. Two RIB rides later everyone was ashore. Pleasant walk to the pub, a GREAT meal there and another stroll back. A nice day, enjoyed by all. The kids and the dogs left for home, while Brigitte and I returned aboard. New adventures tomorrow.
Sunday - Day 2
The plan - I've got to stop making those - had been for a gentle sail and head for Ramsholt. We were going to pick up a mooring there and maybe have a meal ashore in the Ramsholt Arms (I had heard some good things about the place lately). Slight, but not unimportant detail: Ramsholt is on the river Deben. This means crossing the Deben Bar. Drawing 7', as we do, we have to cross HW +/- 2. And I did not want to risk it on a falling tide. To all intents and purposes we had a two hour window.
Please bear in mind that I had just come off a week of night-shift. Truly knackered and maybe ever so slightly sloshed, I slept for 14 hours. And, ... we missed our window. Breakfast would have been pointless, so we had lunch in the cockpit whilst we discussed our plans for the day. Both Bradwell and Ramsholt were off the options list. We settled for a sail up the river Stour.
Well, we did not exactly sail up the Stour, it was more like we drifted on the river with sails up. We eventually turned back downriver at Wrabness. Wind picked up a bit too. Quite pleasant.
Picked up our mooring a while later and settled in for the evening. Lovely, home cooked dinner as only Brigitte can make them followed by sundowners in the cockpit. Another enjoyable and relaxing day going nowhere.
Monday - Day 3
Only slept for 12 hours. Got up not quite early enough for breakfast, but too early for lunch. So we had brunch instead.
Skies a bit overcast and it was distinctly breeze. Nice SW-ly though. Sealand was going to be today's destination of choice. About as 'foreign' as we were going to go this week.
I really don't remember much of this day other than that it was a cracking sail. And over all too soon. Plenty of sunbathing opportunities for the other half and I was just happy being out and about on the water.
Not much happened the rest of the day. Quick trip ashore in the RIB to pick up some supplies: eggs, bacon, milk, bread ... And that was it. Another nice dinner, sundowners and reading in the cockpit (I really, really could get used to this), and an early night. I was happier than I had been in a long time.
Tuesday - Day 4
Awoke to grey skies and a stiff westerly breeze. It would put hair on anyone's chest. Reefed the main and cast off. Under sail in no time. Over 20kts over deck by Landguard. Adrenaline rush.
Nice sporting sail to Medusa and back. Encountered a classics race on the way there. Boat porn everywhere you looked. As pretty as these things are, I don't think I would ever want to own a wooden boat - unless I was filthy rich and I could pay someone to do the maintenance.
Back on the mooring without mishaps. Brigitte at the helm and me picking the mooring really is the way to tackle this.
You may start to see a pattern emerging here: dinner, reading and sundowners. It does not take a lot to make me happy. Though ships liquor cabinet is starting to look quite bare.
Then the rain put a dampener on things and forecast for tomorrow didn't look great either. I decided to sleep on it.
Day 5 - Wednesday
Awoke to grey skies - again - but it had stopped raining. Slight southerly breeze. How about a sail rather than a drift to Wrabness this time? Other half nodded her approval but I could tell her heart wasn't really in it.
Off Harwich the wind dropped altogether and the grey skies started to look ominous. Rain was not far off. Dropped, packed and stacked sails and motored back to our mooring.
A last bite to eat on the boat and it was understood that we would head for home. The house move could not be ignored for much longer.
And that was it. Really not much more sailing on the horizon till early or mid September. Other - non sailing related - areas of our lives require our undivided attention for the moment.
I'll post another update as soon as I have something worthwhile to communicate.
Sailing and stuff
30 July 2015 | Northwood
Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned a ‘Summer Cruise’ this year and that’s for the simple reason that there won’t be one. The reasons are as varied as they are depressing.
- Lack of time: another blow dealt to us by reality (call it ‘real life’ if you must), but it is a fact of life that as long as we are still wage slaves we will always be short of time. Whilst I get a decent share of time off work, this is not the case for Brigitte who is still climbing the greasy pole in the corporate world.
Also, our landlord is selling the house so we had to look for alternative accommodation. And we all know how easy and stress free moving house can be.
- Lack of money: we have suffered some unexpected financial setbacks lately. Ranging from large garage bills to keep the various family cars on the road to the recent removals invoice and the bill from marine engineers (boat engine). This year’s cruising kitty is gone (and then some) before we even have set sail.
It has not all been doom and gloom though. We have spent a few weekends afloat just cruising in local waters. Fewer than I would have liked, but we have to be grateful for small mercies.
There has also been a recent addition to our fleet of tenders: I’ve acquired a 10’ RIB (another pre-loved eBay bargain). So far I’m impressed with it. Much more stable than the leaking GRP tender it is going to replace and lighter too so we can lift it aboard.
A very lightly used inflatable Zodiac will find its way to eBay soon. A lovely thing it is, but just not suited to our needs. The Orwell can be quite choppy and rides to/from the boat could get quite ‘wet’. Refreshing in summer, but not so much in winter.
Anyway, I am rambling. What’s next on the horizon? We will be spending the next 5-7 days on the boat. What we do will in a large part be down to the weather. Checked out a few forecasts and two scenarios look likely: either it will be a (shortened) repeat of last summer – our North Sea Triangle (Ramsgate-Ostend-home) or we’ll stick to local waters. In case of the latter, we will most likely head for Ramsholt and/or Bradwell. I wouldn’t mind either way. Wherever we go, it will most likely be our Farewell Tour as I am hopeful that in 2016 Guapa will be heading for a mooring in Brittany.
Enjoy summer while you can and hope to see some of you on the water in the (very near) future.