Other commitments prevented me from getting away on the boat before July. My plans had undergone several revisions from originally thinking of another Biscay crossing with a possible Atlantic crossing, now I just thought I might head west along the South Coast perhaps to the Scillies or even Ireland.
It took two trips out in the dinghy to ferry all my gear and provisions out to the boat. I had charts and pilot books covering from Gibraltor to Ireland and all places in between so I was ready to go where fancy took me.
To Ramsgate and Dover
Setting out early from Pin Mill, sunrise and tides fell nicely into place. First light and the last hours of the ebb to take me down the Orwell and then to pick up the flood to cross the Thames Estuary. No wind at first but you set out hoping that it will fill in later. Only to be disappointed on this occasion, so we motored out down the Medusa channel, across the head of the Gunfleet sand and to the Black Deep. Through the London Array windfarm via Foulgers Gat and so to North Foreland and into Ramsgate.
Next day was just a short hop down to Dover and into the new marina here. In the afternoon I walked along to and the up the famous White Cliffs
The bad news was a gale forecast and everyone was staying put. The morning was fine and I took the opportunity to walk up to Dover Castle, but I didn’t visit as was shocked by the price of admission, £29 for a concession i.e. pensioner. My thought was that English Heritage were pricing out the less affluent members of our society from our heritage. A continuation of my walk took me to the Bleriot Memorial on top of the white cliffs. The spot where Louis Bleriot landed after the first aeroplane crossing of the Channel. Gradually the wind was building and rain arrived in the afternoon. It was certainly a wild night, shrieking wind and lashing rain.
When the bad weather had passed I carried on. It was light winds as far as Dungeness but then it picked up – on the nose of course. I decided that to make decent progress I would need to motorsail. Later we had rain and mist. I had decided to go inland of the Royal Sovereign shoals. I did wonder about this decision as I had bad visibility for this section, fortunately there is a yellow special purpose buoy which gives good guidance although it was far from easy to spot in the conditions. A short step took us around Beachy Head and thereafter to Newhaven on a falling wind. Calling port control they warned me a ferry was due but let me enter so I was soon tied up to the visitors pontoon. It had been a long day.
My sister lives not far from Newhaven so she and two of my nieces visited me next day bringing a picnic and then we had a walk past the old abandoned village of Tide Mills to Seaford.
The forecast for the next day was not good with strong winds arriving later. I judged that I had time to make my next objective of Littlehampton it before that arrived. I set off with sunshine but later it clouded over looking more gloomy and threatening. With a strong headwind progress was not fast so I resorted to the engine for the last miles, to ensure arriving at the favourable tidal state. Tidal access to Littlehampton is quite limiting, 2 hrs either side of HW to cross the bar. I wanted to ensure entry before HW as I didn’t fancy entering on a falling tide plus having the fight the ebb. This was a harbour I had never visited before and entering an unknown harbour is often a little worrying. It was with some relief at I got in in good time but I was a little surprised on the strength of the flood down what felt like a very narrow entry channel with about 55 minutes of flood remaining. Still I could turn that to good use by turning into the stream when by the visitors pontoon and ferry gliding into a berth all nice and under control.
Shortly after arriving drizzle and rain started. The wind and rain continued all night and most of the next morning. It did eventually stop but it stayed dull overcast and drizzly all day. Next day more drizzle and bad visibility, that and a poor forecast of SW 4-6 persuaded me to stay put. When the day eventually brightened it was of course too late for the tide but I did manage a walk along the West beach.
Next day Saturdays forecast was SW 5-6 occasionally 7, there was early rain, brighter later but very windy.
Sunday brought no relief SW 5-7 perhaps 8 later, a miserable day of rain and drizzle with high winds
Monday was similar SW 5 or 6 occasionally 7 at first
Littlehampton to Newhaven
I was beginning to feel trapped here in Littlehampton. The long range forecast spoke of a higher than usual risk of strong winds and the weather remaining very unsettled. I had looked at the entrance channel a few time and it didn’t look inviting with strong winds. A further problem was that trying to go west, if you exited Littlehampton at high water, the best time, the tide was ebbing down the English Channel. With SW winds, not only would you have to fight the tide but it would be a wind against tide situation and so rough sea conditions. Not nice at all. I came to the conclusion or decision that I would give up trying to go west wards and return to the east. Disappointing but I later meet couple of other sailors who had arrived at the same conclusion.
Accordingly on Tuesday I decided to make a break for it. The forecast was not promising W 5-6 backing SW 4- 6 veering W 6-7 later but at least the tide would be with me and the wind behind. Out through the channel and over the bar I put 3 reefs in the main and hoisted the staysail. I was quite surprised to see another yacht in the distance so I thought I am not the only mad one. The seas were quite rough and it was quite a wild ride. I had to hand steer most of the time due to the conditions and at time I was wondering whether I should really be out here. In the late afternoon with some relief I entered Newhaven and tied up to the visitors pontoon.
With strong wind and rain all night and gales forecast for Tuesday I needed no other excuse to stay put. The barometer dropped from 1025 to 987 so it was quite some low passing though.
In the morning, It was interesting and slightly worrying to watch the car ferry turn around in the harbour, there is barely room for it to do so. Normally they reverse out down the channel and turn around outside, however in bad conditions with rough seas it is understandable why they do not want to do this.
Although the wind had dropped I thought to wait a day for the sea state to calm down. I walked along the west beach and then up Castle hill, good to stretch the legs and get some exercise. I sat in the sun and had a cuppa at Castle cafe where I chatted with the master of one of the Cats that service the offshore wind farm. Turned out he was a keen sailor himself, keeping his boat in Brittany. Back by the pontoon he showed me around his service cat, lots of high tech and very impressive. Interestingly as well as electronic logs they are required to keep an “old fashioned” paper log.
A couple in a bilge keeler moved onto the visitors pontoon from a drying berth as they wanted to leave early next day to catch the tide eastwards. Had a long chat with them, they were digital nomads, living on their boat with their ships cat and slowly progressing around the UK. Later that evening we visited the local pub for a meal and a couple of beers.
Newhaven to Dover
Just before LW our two boats slipped away from the pontoon and out of the harbour. It was quite novel for me to have a buddy boat. We had a good sail to round Beachy Head after which the other boat headed inshore as they were bound for Eastbourne. I carried on, this time I decided to past off shore of the Royal Sovereign Shoals. The breeze wasn’t to last however and by midday I was motoring in a flat calm under increasingly gloomy skies. Dungeness came and went and then approaching Dover it was very heavy rain with very poor visibility, very undesirable for closing Dover and all the concentration of ferries and shipping. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and cleared just in time to close the western entrance and enter the harbour and thence the marina.Dover to Pin Mill
The bad news was that more bad weather was on the way, this time storm Antonio so more time harbour bound.
I was finally able to get away a few days later. Firstly I need to refuel, the fuel berth in the new marina was not yet functional so I needed to exit the marina and go past the Prince Of Wells pierced tower and then transit the Wick channel to get to the old fuel berth in the old tidal dock. the wind was still strong which took me a little by surprise as the new marina is very sheltered with high walls. I’ll confess I made a bit of a pigs ear of going alongside the fuel dock, my fenders and lines were on the wrong side and I thought I would get away berthing with the wind on my stern. Ha no way so I had to go around again and change fenders and lines to the other side and even then I struggled. Still no damage apart from to my pride and looking like a right amateur. Exiting the eastern entrance it was surprising rough but some distance away it settled down a little. Before long I was up by the Goodwin bell. I decided I would try the old sailing anchorage of the Small Downs inshore here rather than go to Ramsgate. It was not quite smooth here but with the hook down I thought it acceptable and could cook some tea.
I didn’t have a bad night and just before dawn saw me up and under way to make the most of the tide. I headed out to the South Brake and then turned up the Gull Stream and fairly soon I had the Broadstairs Knoll buoy to port. Unfortunately I was now hard on the wind and bashing into the waves meant progress was very slow. I bore it for a while but decided to motor sail to make decent progress. Closing the entrance to Foulgers Gat to pass though the London Array was particularly trying with the wind now right on the nose and nasty waves. Past the dog leg in the channel and it was better, I could sail again and dispense with the engine. Exiting the Gat conditions were more favourable, wind and waves abating, the sun was shining, it was turning into an enjoyable sail. Up the edge of the Black deep until nearby Sunk head and then cut across Sunk sand and then the head of Gunfleet sands. Closing the vicinity of Medusa it was growing gloomy but I still had a fair wind. Passing Cliff foot and Harwich entrance and Felixstowe I entered the Orwell. It started to drizzle, the wind died and then it rained hard with very misty conditions .
By the time I was back at the mooring I was quite drenched. It seemed an appropriate finish to a what had been an unsuccessful cruise.