What happened since the last update? Nothing much - the usual. Since we seem to be experiencing the warmest and wettest summer on record... All we managed were a couple of blustery day-sails (20kts+ winds throughout). Whilst it boosted the testosterone level, I don't think the rest of the crew enjoyed any of them much. You could see the sense of relief in their eyes every time I decided that enough was enough and we headed back.
'Clean Team' despatched to the boat today. We'll be living aboard for more than a couple of days for the first time in ... Don't remember, but it's been too long.
Hauled out the boat last week for a quick pressure wash and a change of anodes. Also greased the prop at the same time. Engine serviced as well.
No anti-fouling for the second year in a row now. Coppercoat is still doing its thing. Some weed along the waterline (usually gone after we'd been out for a spin) and some slime elsewhere. And that was it. Well worth the money, I wish I'd had her done sooner. Next boat, this will be one of the first things I have done. So, we're all set for a trouble-free summer cruise - if the weather improves.
It looks like it's going to be the South Coast and France - again. Long term weather forecast indicates that we'll have to postpone our trip to the high latitudes for another year. Norway, Shetland and the Far-Oer will have to wait for at least one more year.
Not too disappointed, but it would have been nice to go somewhere else - off the beaten track.
Who's going to be part of the crew, when, where and for how long is still undecided, but I've not given up hope that this summer we might have a family summer cruise. It would be nice if we could use her for what we got her for, even if it's for the last time.
Two weeks to go, and then things should be getting more interesting on here. Hang in there, because we are.
Awoke at first light. The first thing that struck me was the sound of silence. What had happened to the wind? Packed up and left. Bugger. Looked in my crystal ball, and all I could see was more motoring.
Once at sea we attempted to fly the cruising chute twice. Boat speed dropped to a very disappointing 3kts. And with the tide against us, the autopilot could not cope. As none of us fancied hand helming for the next 12 hours, the chute was ultimately taken down and stored. Motor-sailing it was then.
By the time we got to the TSS the weather gods must have taken pity on us and threw a very pleasant NE breeze our way. Just what the doctor had ordered. Engine off, and enjoy. Conducted a sail past and photo shoot with another Fox's based boat. What more could you ask/hope for?
Managed to keep sailing till Shotley Spit. Then packed the laundry away and got the boat ready for her berth. Stations, people. Parked, packed stuff for home, trip down the A12 and M25 and home. Nothing more to add. Other that: we must do this again VERY soon.
Was wide awake at silly o'clock in the morning. Body clock still in 'work' mode. I could toss and turn in bed for a while, or we could get going. Got going. Very little wind - if any. Off into the morning haze. All the diesel we had brought was going to be put to good use without delay.
The crossing itself was uneventful, bordering in the down-right boring. Had it not been for the fog. The main feature. Average visibility was about half a mile, but at times we were struggling to make out the bow. Crossing the TSS was 'interesting'. Maybe I should finally get around to installing the radar one of these days. We heard merchant vessels, we smelt them and once I had the feeling we passed through the wake of one. Still, mental nose and ear plot told me we had nothing to worry about. So I didn't.
Westhinder anchorage duly appeared and disappeared. Not far to go then. Made out Ostend in the fog about a mile out. Ostend mooring kit ready to go: long (!) stern lines and hook + long-ish warp port and starboard. Fifteen minutes later we were as snug as a bug. Let the good times roll.
Two days in paradise, featuring mainly friends, boats and beer (lots of it too). Started off with lunchtime drinks at the Mine Warfare Academy and ended two days later with drinks with old familiar faces who had decided to drop in on the last minute. Some friends never overstay their welcome.
The festival itself stuck to the old tried and tested formula. If it works, don't mess with it. On Saturday the town heaving with people and bursting out of its seams. Retired to the boat for some peace and quiet. And, of course, there was always the rather colourful RNSYC HM. Razor-sharp wit and some rather outspoken opinions on modern yachting and boat handling skills in particular. Combine this with the in these parts somewhat unfamiliar mooring arrangements and you have all the required ingredients for the ultimate spectator sport. And we had front row seats. All in glorious sunshine, with a drink close at hand.
Good things never last, and this was no different. Other half needed to be back on Monday (work) and so did our youngest (exams). Well, at least we've had this and no-one can take it away from us.
Looking forward to a pleasant sail in the morning.
The day before: lots of things that could go wrong, and quite a few that did.
Anyway, finished work at 18H00, dashed home to change, load the car and pick up the crew. Surprisingly, we were still more or less 'on track' when we left the house. I say 'surprisingly', because it certainly didn't feel like we were still on track.
Throughout the day I had tried to call the HM to assure that there would be no boats rafted up to us (like last time). I had been unable to get in touch with him, but had gotten through to 'the office' who promised to pass the message on.
However, when we arrived - you guessed it - a rather large yacht was rafted up to us. A brokerage boat, so no-one on board. Insert plenty of swear words here. Undaunted, we got our stuff on board. And whilst Brigitte sorted things out down below, Yanni and I busied ourselves emptying 3 20ltr jerry cans of diesel into the tank. Messy job.
That done, I got busy with warps to extricate ourselves from our berth without doing any damage either to Guapa or our unwelcome neighbour. It would have been just possible with the three of us, but luckily the skipper of the boat just ahead of us offered a helping hand - which made all the difference.
Ten minutes of huffing and puffing later we were finally on our way. Just as it was getting dark. Time to switch on the navlights. Snag - bow red/green didn't come on. All the connections were checked, but no fault was found. Odd that. Tri-colour on + steaming light - not exactly correct, but at least we were showing something. River close to pitch-dark. Thankfully, I could do this with my eyes closed, because that is what it felt like. Bow navlight came on again and then promptly packed up for the rest of the trip.
Two million candles torch was brought on deck to look for suitable vacant mooring buoy off Levington. One was located, and by the third attempt we were all secure - swinging in the tide. One eminently forgettable Tesco ready meal later we were all ready for bed. Felt exhausted before we had even set off. I guess the week of 12-hour shifts had something to do with it.
Obstacles overcome. We're here, and ready to go. Nite-nite.
Weather-wise we went from November to May in the space of 24hrs. Summer is here - hopefully to stay. The forecast for our trip to Ostend couldn't be any more perfect. If I have one - minor - complaint, it is that we could use a bit more wind on Thursday, but otherwise... perfect. Cruising chute will almost certainly see daylight.
Having a cold Duvel whilst I'm typing this - then it's time to pack the bags for tomorrow. Just one more 12hr shift to go. Must remember to call the harbour master in the morning to make sure that there isn't a boat rafted up to us when we get there in the evening. Then at 18H00, drive home, get changed, load the car and off to the boat. Plan - tried and tested - is to pick up a mooring off Levington tomorrow night and cast off Thursday morning. About 12 hours later we should be tied up in Ostend.
Can't wait to get out there - out of sight of land. To the place where 'fuck it' is a perfectly acceptable answer to whatever is bugging you and where only the boat and crew matter. Can't believe we haven't done something like this since last August.
Sailing back on Sunday, as some of the crew have to be back at school/work on Monday. I pity them.
Anyway, must get cracking - things to do. This certainly looks like a promising start to a great season.
Once again, not much to report. Work (the curse of the sailing classes) and weather seem to thwart our sailing plans.
Still, we've tried to exploit the odd ray of sunshine to the full. Nothing exciting, just the usual (and increasingly boring) bit of masturbation navigation: up and down the Orwell. Occasionally venturing beyond Landguard if time and weather allowed.
Sometimes we can hear far-off, 'exotic' places calling on the VHF: Ostend radio, Gris Nez Traffic, Dover Coastguard, ... My desire to escape the Orwell goldfish bowl grows stronger every day.
Sense of anticipation in the air - this time next week we'll be getting ready for the 'Oostende voor Anker' maritime festival. We've missed it 3 years in a row now (twice because the boat was still in refit and last year because of the weather) and I have decided it's been enough. This year, come hell or high water, we'll be there.
Boat's as ready for the new sailing season as she'll ever be. Since we had to cancel our annual bunker run to white diesel country over Easter, we've now got three 20ltr jerry-cans. Boat topped up once already - another run or two and she'll be topped up to the brim.
Can't think of anything else worth mentioning. This will have to do for now. Fast-forward the next 7 days.
To blog or not to blog? These last to months the answer seems to have been: not to blog. None the less, they have been an interesting and busy few months.
Boat/sailing wise the last few weeks have been frustrating. Our plans have mainly been thwarted by the weather. We found ourselves either adrift in the sun, reefing like mad in +25kts squalls, going to windward in horizontal rain or dodging hailstorms. Sometimes all on the same day. The weekly trips up to the boat became a chore instead of something to be enjoyed. Not a good sign.
Last weekend's trip even got cancelled altogether. The journey to/from the boat is a 200 mile round trip - diesel's not exactly cheap at the moment - and frankly, I didn't think it was worth it given the forecast. A new low.
As luck would have it, we've had 2 weeks of very good sailing weather in the last few months. The first week I was working and the second week we were abroad.
The boat's ready to go, and yet lately I've been more frustrated than ever. With the weather, with our cruising ground (big fish - small pond), with a lack of time, ... I think I will own a boat till the day I drop,, because I'm in love with the freedom owning a boat affords you. There is no limit to what you can't do or places where you can't go - beyond the horizon, there's always another horizon.
Yet, all the planning and dreaming will only get you so far. Time to enjoy what we've worked for all the years would be good - right now would be even better. I'm all for (extended) foreplay, but at some point I do want to fuck.
My sailing itch needs scratching, and it needs scratching soon. Last week (or even this week) was to have been the week of our first Channel crossing. Either with crew (last week) or single-handed (this week). It wasn't and isn't to be, Spring's regressed back to Winter.
I stumbled across an old video clip of my fist (and so far only) single-handed Channel crossing a few years ago. The memories and feeling of accomplishment came flooding back. More please. And possibly sooner than anticipated as Brigitte's Summer leave has been drastically cut short by her employer. Only a few more years of that though.
On a more positive note: the shore based half of our cruising life is now well on track. We are now the proud/lucky owners of a little cottage in Brittany. As we're in the final stages of refitting the boat, we have a house makeover to look forward to. Hopefully we'll be able to apply lots of 'lessons learned' and not make the same mistakes again (or come up with a whole batch of new mistakes).
I love the house, I can picture us growing old disgracefully there without a care in the world. And right on the doorstep of a new, beautiful and exciting cruising ground. We're now on the waiting list for a mooring on one of the prettiest rivers in France. Looking forward to the move. It would be nice to have an opportunity to explore southern Brittany before we set off on our odyssey to new and distant shores.
So, yes: we do still sail the boat whenever possible and the blog still has a pulse. But the present state of near-hibernation may well continue over the next few weeks (mainly due to work). Next significant event on the agenda is the Oostende voor Anker maritime festival (25-28 May). This should(!!) herald the start of our Summer sailing season.
In the mean time, bear with us. Maybe, just maybe, it'll all be worth it in the end.
Last item outstanding on our winter refit list was the replacement of the domestic battery bank. The old wet cell batteries weren't really holding a charge very well. Given the fact that our autopilot can be quite power-hungry at times, replacement was essential. And since we're going to have a tropical Summer (global warming, don't you know) I want to keep those beers cool too.
The wet cell batteries had done well - as it turned out they were fitted in June 2002. But I cannot say I am a huge fan. Should one crack - however unlikely - the acid could potentially do a lot of damage in the engine room bilges. Replacement batteries are two Vetus 214ah AGM batteries. Sourced them in Germany at just over half the UK price. I had also fitted Vetus AGM batteries in our previous boat, and I had been very pleased with them.
The transplant itself involved the dismantling of the aft double bunk - not doing that again in a hurry - but about an hour and a half later we had power once again. Big grins all round. And if it hadn't been for the fact that during the transplant I had managed to drop 61kg of battery on my big toe, my grin would have been even bigger still.
And that's it for this year: the end of the list. We're done for this year - or as good as. I might still fit a VHF-AM/FM antenna splitter, but that should take no more than 5 minutes. Only other two jobs I would still like to get dealt with before Easter are purging the pressurised water system of air (some expertise available in the marina) and sorting the genoa and spinnaker halyards and blocks.
And the deck could do with a clean.
We also went for a gentle family drift/sail downriver. Motored on the way back. Not exciting, but better than nothing. Easter is on the horizon and the first Channel crossing of the year can not be far off. Getting more than just a bit bored with Landguard-Cork Sands-Medusa and back. Not long now.
Received and paid the yard invoice for this winters work and we brought the electric heater home, so it's official now: Winter is over. Boat's looking better than she ever did. Dehumidifier coming home after Easter and bedding to go back aboard at the same time. As they say in New Orleans: Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler!
As we have now completed the refit, it's time to see how we can improve the boat and get ready to cruise further afield in a few years time. Items identified for next year are the ground tackle (I'm looking to fit an hydraulic windlass - run off the engine), replacing anchor and chain, fitting an AIS transceiver and finally fitting the radar dome which has been sitting in a box in the garage for God knows how many years. But that's the 'distant' future.
Right now, the air is filled with a sense of anticipation: 2012 is going to be THE year to make us forget the nightmares of the recent (and not so recent) past. Summer leave sorted. All we need now is for the weather to play ball. Fingers crossed.
In the more immediate future: work (thumbs down).
Survived another working week. Had been looking forward to some sailing. Alas weather, crew and health (back ache returned with a vengeance) dictated otherwise. Made a trip up to the boat on Sunday regardless. Clutching a small 'to-do' list and with our youngest in tow.
Trip up on cruise control. First stop: Fox's chandlery. Bought a new LED strip light for the forward head. The original one - Titanic cast-off - had come apart some years ago. Time to put it out of its misery. Also bought a NASA BM battery monitor. Cheap and cheerful, but it does what it says on the box. What more do you want?
With Yanni's help (to be honest, he did most of the work) jobs 1 and 2 were tackled in no time at all. I had tracked down a wiring fault in the chart plotter last week, and again our Chief Engineer took it in his stride.
We had also bought some wire to sort the electric bilge pump. And item that has been featuring on our 'to-do' list for over 2 years now. The job turned out to be more daunting than anticipated, and I was ready to call it a day. Left Yanni to clean up whilst I made another trip up to the chandlery: the starboard dodger had worked itself loose and we needed some string to secure it back in place. Halfway there, a call on my mobile: Yanni. 'I have fixed the bilge pump'. Lost for words - I had only been gone 5 minutes. BZ!
Dodger back in place and starter battery replaced. Domestic battery replacements on order. End of the list.
"I like - great success - high five!" Or in Yanni's more down to earth words: quite a productive day.
Whenever I hear people complain/moan/whinge about 'young people these days', I can only draw one conclusion: they haven't got kids like mine. Very proud of both of them.
Sidebar observation: owning a boat and sailing away may have started as my dream, but over the years it has become a family project. Everyone, in their own way, has made an indispensable contribution. We bought our first boat about a decade ago, and since then 'the boat' has been the focal point of this family. It really brought us together - in good times and bad. Shared experiences, memories, adventures and nightmares. And as the children grow up, our little family cruises have become the ideal time to catch up on what they're up to and what's happening in their world.
'The boat' - I wouldn't want to be without it.
Anyway, off on a tangent - again - back down to earth. Boat's all fixed and ready for the new cruising season. Roll on Spring and Summer.
The sea, ships & boats - all have featured large in my life. First in the navy, when I went to sea for months on end, then as a hobby (for want of a better world) when I got posted ashore. My family and my boat are all what matters to me. They are my life, and they have sheltered me from the real world most of my adults life. A real world in which I sometimes find ill at ease and for which at other times I find myself ill prepared.
The children have remarked upon this. Dad leaves the house for three reasons, and three reasons only:
1. To walk the dog
2. To go to work
3. To go to the boat.
I quite like my job right now. Hours of boredom and moments of frantic activity (bit like sailing). I know my job, and I like to think I'm good at it. Because I work shifts, I have ample time off. Time to walk, read (a lot) and write (a little). It's what I do, it's all I need.
Sailing is like slipping on a favourite, old and comfy sweater. It comes naturally and it makes me feel at ease. The world makes sense when I'm sailing. 'Fuck it' seems an appropriate answer to any shore based problems I may have.
A quote from one of my favourite movies (Apocalypse Now) seems fitting: 'Never get out of the boat'.
Children are growing up fast and retirement is approaching. The boat we plan to take around the world is as good as finished. Now what? Living aboard full time seems daunting. How will we cope with not seeing the children (and eventually the grandchildren) on a regular basis? How will my body cope with abuse the sea throws at it?
I have long resisted the idea of buying a house. It seems so 'permanent'. Especially since at the age of 46, I haven't even figured out what I want to be when I grow up.
The two most stressful periods in anyone's life are divorce and buying a house. And divorce is not on the cards - I hope.
For the past 4 months other people have effectively put our lives on hold. We've be kept waiting whilst they made us jump through numerous administrative hoops. Whilst they considered whether we were worthy or not. I like to be in control of my life; of what I do and where and when I do it. Lately this has not been the case, and I have HATED every single minute of it.
I have landed Brigitte with more than a fair share of the hoop jumping. I know it's not fair, but she has the better people skills. I'm very grateful though, and I hope I can make it up to her.
We're in the final furlong now, about to commit ourselves to a couple more years of financial servitude, but it's all starting to come together. The finish line is in sight.
A boat and a house to call home: It will have taken a lifetime of sweat and toil, but how many out there can actually say that they will have made their dream come true?
I probably shouldn't be writing this. I'm rambling, I'm too exhausted, too cold, too ....