Completing the circle!

I stayed at Wolverstone for two nights before I pottered up river and into Ipswich Dock via a lock. The lock is really easy as there is a floating pontoon on the inside meaning there is no need to adjust your lines as you either go up or down depending on the state of the tide. You simply tie up to the pontoon and wait for the green light to proceed. Lovely. Ipswich Haven Marina inside the dock is yet another favourite of mine and puts you right near the town of Ipswich and all that is going on yet it still feels really peaceful moored up in the perfectly calm water of the dock. As I approached the pontoon a kind gent took my bow line and I was later to learn that he is John, a 32 year old Californian who is the type of guy that you speak to and quickly realise that he can tell you how it’s really done! He and his girlfriend bought a 30ft boat when he was 24 and promptly set off on a round the world cruise. Having completed the journey safely this still wasn’t enough for them so they properly committed to eachother by getting married, having a baby and buying a bigger beautiful 1978 aluminium yacht which already has a round the world pedigree. They bought the boat in Holland and then sailed it to Ipswich where work to get it ready for their next adventure is well under way and that adventure is to ‘sail in circles’ as John put it in the vicinity of South America. Fair play to them. I think this is a fantastic example of what you can do if you dare to dream. And what a life of adventure their very young son is going to know right from the start.
I learned all this from having a few beers and whiskies onboard John’s boat with another chap called Benn who lives on his catamaran in the dock. Benn is also amid preparations to go to sea with his wife and their dog in the name of adventure and discovery. Before I knew it, we had been drinking and shooting the breeze for five hours or more! It was great and I absolutely love how three random people from different backgrounds can sit down together and talk sh*t for hours about a shared passion!
Sarah arrived on Saturday having made the shortest journey so far on this trip to see me. It also happened to be her birthday so as a surprise all my family also arrived on Saturday and we had a celebratory birthday lunch in great place on the side of the dock called Isaac Lord which is a pub, pizza parlour, restaurant, sports bar, wedding venue, pick up joint and pretty much anything else that you want it to be kind of place! It was also a day for running into familiar people as we bumped into two old family friends on the dockside and also Russ and his wife, Mrs A.
A complete surprise to me and very nice to see them both. We had a drink in Isaac Lord before Russ and Mrs A went off to someone else’s birthday party nearby although not before Russ demonstrated one of his born and bred South London life skills by picking up someone else’s bag assuming it was Sarah’s (in fairness it did look like a birthday party bag) as we moved from one small downstairs bar to the bigger upstairs area. No one noticed his stealthy manoeuvre and it was only when Russ presented it to Sarah and she looked at it blankly that Russ realised the error!  Good work Russ! Despite receiving a surprise light fingering, the old bag was returned to the downstairs bar none the worse for wear. It was very funny!
My Mum, Joanna, James, Tom and Jack stayed for a few hours and then drove home leaving Sarah and I to chill out in the warm on Fiesta. However, I soon noticed that Sarah was starting to look a bit too comfortable and not for moving so I insisted that we go back to the bar for a few drinks inclusive of some shots, the imbibing of which is one of Sarah’s least favourite activities but it was her birthday so she really didn’t have a choice! Isaac Lord is a great place by day and a busy bar by night. They play the kind of music that no one of our age should really like and yet many of the clientele are in their late thirties or even in Sarah’s age range!
We had a great birthday celebration for Sarah and having had a few beers on John’s boat on the previous Friday and having had a few beers on Monday night with Iain Conway, last seen in Woodbridge, I felt like my celebrations for completing this voyage were already underway albeit slightly prematurely.
Sarah left on Tuesday and I left the dock on Wednesday evening for a short hop back up to Harwich where I spent a very bumpy night in a windy Harwich Harbour, once again on Ha’penny Pier. However this visit wasn’t quite the success that my previous one had been. This time, I got on the pontoon only to discover that the gang plank linking the pontoon to shore had been taken away. Maybe the Harbour Authority thought I was cheeky using it before and that this would thwart me but it didn’t. It just meant that I couldn’t take Max ashore but I was still very grateful to use it and take shelter there.  After one night I left and headed for the Walton Backwaters which was to be my last stop before making for my home port on the Crouch. It was only a six mile hop but I was extremely thankful for that because the northwest wind made for a wind chill below zero and I had pretty much all my clothes on and was only just warm enough! It was literally freezing so there was ice on the deck which meant I had to tread very carefully.
I went into Titchmarsh marina where I have been many times before with friends, family and my late Uncle Jack and was extremely grateful to be able to plug in and thaw out.
I left there this morning in a stiff northerly breeze which made for a lovely easy downwind sail for the homeward leg. Keeping moving and generally jumping around like a cock was the only way to keep warm but it was an excellent sail. The wind died down as I got into the Crouch and I closed in on a marker buoy at Holliwell Point which sits just in the entrance of the Crouch. To me this buoy was the starting point of this circumnavigation of Britain some eight months ago and sailing past it marked the completion of that circle. Wow! Ok, so I’m not quite home yet because I turned left (sorry, I do of course me port) once in the Crouch and disappeared down a little creek for one more night before I set foot back on Burnham soil tomorrow but still, wow! I can’t believe this trip is complete. Back in the 80’s two good friends of my Mum and Dad called Fred and Frankie set off for a cruise to the Med on their catamaran although that trip grew it’s own legs and they didn’t return for ten years by which time they had sailed round the world! To a budding little sailor boy, that was the spark that ignited something in me and before I even knew what my third leg was for I knew I wanted to sail off somewhere one day too. Trust me, I’m not getting delusions of grandeur here because sailing round Britain isn’t the same as sailing round the world is it but I am very proud to have done what I have done and to have scratched that itch. Or have I? No, of course not! Unfortunately in this case there isn’t a cream or a course of antibiotics that will get rid of that itch but I’ve made a start and I am absolutely thrilled to be sitting here in the warmth of Fiesta anchored in one of my favourite creeks with seals swimming round the boat and this trip tucked under my belt. I am very happy and I feel content.

So what else do I write for the final blog entry for this trip????

Well, something profound would be good but I’m not sure I can muster such content!
Over the last few days I have been feeling a little emotional and have found myself talking to Fiesta regularly about us nearing the completion of this journey. I always talk to Fiesta when I’m working on her or cleaning her and I say ‘I take care of you and you take care of me, ok’. She has taken unbelievably good care of Max and I on this trip, she has been incredible, she is part of me and she is home.
Tomorrow when I make landfall at Burnham it will be eight calendar months to the day since I left. Really? How is that possible? It’s gone by in a heartbeat albeit a heartbeat that is jam packed full of the best times of my life. It’s been awesome, amazing, incredible, exciting, sometimes frightening but never too bad, certainly never dull and never lonely. Relatively long periods of isolation brought neither madness nor hallucinations and thankfully I haven’t grown tired of the sound of my own voice. If I had then that would have made for many long periods of silence! No, actually I still find myself reasonably good company but in order to get a balanced opinion I asked everyone else here what they think and I’m pleased to say that they all agree but please, will you lot just shut up for half an hour while I write this? Thank you! Honestly, some people….
I keep looking at my chart plotter or at google maps and find it quite incredible that Fiesta has taken me all the way round, some 2,321 nautical miles. It would have been quite feasible to do this trip in a third of the time but I wasn’t under any time pressure so what would have been the point in that? I have thoroughly enjoyed the pace and time this journey has taken although I now appreciate that I could have spent eight solid months on the West Coast of Scotland without getting near to exhausting the seemingly endless anchorages, lochs or Islands. I consider my time on the West Coast merely as a reconnaissance mission for a future rendezvous! If I were to do this trip again, for the sake of making it different I would go anti clockwise but not round the top, I’d go through the Caledonian Canal as I am reliably informed that this is a beautiful trip in itself and that would mean I could pop out onto the West Coast and enjoy all that again along with some of the Hebridean Islands. I feel that the cruising possibilities around our Island are almost infinite and I haven’t even thought about troubling the West Coast of Ireland! Hang on though, if we are talking about the latitudes of the UK  then what about the Orkney’s, the Shetlands and what about the Baltic????? More beauty, the calm sea that is the Baltic Sea and not a crowd in sight! See what I mean? This is why this trip can only be described as a reconnaissance mission but without a lottery win or a filthy rich previously unknown relative doing the decent thing and bequeathing everything to me there are limiting factors but then again, what did I say earlier about daring to dream?
So has this trip affected me? I won’t say bulls*t things like ‘It’s changed me as a person, blah, blah, boring blah’ because it hasn’t. I am still very much the same person just with a little more sailing experience and a thicker file in the memory department which will bring a huge smile to my face whenever I drag that file out. To put it in very straight forward and simple terms, this trip has been the best experience of my life. Full stop.
This whole blog thing has surprised me. Before I actually created the web site I was hesitant because I was worried that it would be like a thorn in my side having to sit down and think of something worthwhile to write. I’m not sure I have always fulfilled the worthwhile part but I have actually enjoyed doing it and selfishly, it has helped me keep track of everything and remember some of the little bits that I would probably have forgotten had I not bothered to write this so thank you Nick for telling me ‘You’ve got to do a blog’!!! I’m glad I listened.
Finally, I do need to say this next bit but it’s taken quite a few attempts and no matter how hard I try I can’t help sounding like a knob when I type this. However, that hasn’t stopped me before has it so it is what it is!  I’d like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to my thoroughly and utterly fantastic family, to Sarah for being a cracking and incredibly supportive girlfriend and to great friends for their full support and encouragement and also a thank you to everyone who has made the effort to keep a track of my progress by means of marine traffic or by investing time that they will never ever get back by reading this blog! I know they are pretty long!
I’d also like to thank my old mate Max for being a first-class shipmate. Whilst you don’t contribute anything to sailing, the bills or any boat maintenance jobs, you have been the perfect partner on this trip and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  As I have said before, you are never alone when you have a doggie and he’s been a vital crew member and thanks to keeping a good supply of tinned food onboard and regular visits from Sarah, I haven’t once looked at him and thought, mmm tasty!
Fiesta, oh Fiesta – thank you so very much for keeping Max and I safe. You never reply when I speak to you but you have indeed looked after me and you have been the star of this show.
Lastly but by absolutely no means least, a million thanks to Neptune for letting us pass. You can prepare everything to the nth degree and beyond but you still need his grace….
So here we are then. I guess that’s it. Yes I suppose it is.  In which case, for now at least………..This is Fiesta, out.
Kingfishers right in the middle of Ipswich!P1070577
Sailing past Walton-on-the-Naze and some ominous clouds on the way back to the River CrouchP1070581P1070602P1070585P1070596
These guys pulled up alongside for a friendly chat. However, when they asked where I had come from I don’t think they expected my life story for the last 8 months! Still, they were polite enough to wait for me to pause for breath before quickly shutting the window and making a getaway away! Nice friendly guys.P1070610
Holliwell Point buoy – the completion of the circle!P1070609
Nice to be back amongst familiar East Coast friends P1070615
I was treated to a very special final moon rise and sunset for this trip. What a perfect way to finish.P1070639P1070644P1070652

Eco unfriendly and proud

The Harwich Haven Authority didn’t come knocking on the side of the boat for payment and I stayed for two nights before leaving Ha’penny Pier and heading up the River Orwell.

I aimed for Pin Mill where there is a lovely little pub right on the waterfront. Pin Mill is only a few miles from Harwich but thanks to a northerly breeze and an air temperature of only 3 degrees I was freezing cold by the time I got there. Blimey, winter really is here! Winter seems to make 90% of British sailors take shelter on land and with so many boats taken out of the water the rivers feel wider and more expansive and this brings another level of peace and a feeling escapism so I love winter sailing too!
Once at Pin Mill there are loads of mooring buoys but I didn’t want to pick one up because not many of them look very new or substantial so I decided to lay to my own gear and chucked the anchor over the front. In actual fact this wasn’t quite as easy as I have just made it sound. The Orwell is very wide at high water but it dries for a long way on both sides at low tide leaving a fairly narrow channel down the middle. This channel is dredged for the commercial ships that go all the way up to Ipswich and there really isn’t much room either side of the deep channel. A few years ago the captain of a big ship took a slightly wider turn than he should have done. His stern swung out of the main channel and took out a few moored yachts in the process! I was careful to find a spot to anchor that was away from the mooring buoys so I wouldn’t catch my anchor on any of their chains but I also needed to be far enough away from the channel so I couldn’t swing into it with changing wind or tide and yet far enough away from the shore that I didn’t dry out at low tide thus allowing me access to shore at all states of the tide. This type of operation, I am ashamed to say, can sometimes mean two or three attempts of putting the anchor down, seeing where you swing to and then trying again if it doesn’t look good. Either because of practice or more likely a little luck, the first attempt was a success.
On Sunday my sailing/biker friend Richard and his wife Claire drove up from Essex and we met for lunch in the Butt & Oyster Pub. The tide was so high when I went ashore that I literally parked the dinghy next to the pub although when the tide turns it is as if someone has pulled the plug out and a few hours later I had a very long drag with the dinghy out to the deep water.
It was great to catch up with Richard & Claire and despite tempting fate’s hand by getting married back in the summer it was a pleasure to see them looking so very happy, relaxed and content! Despite cynicism from bitter experience it is excellent to see that for some, marriage doesn’t spell the end of everything good!  Although to be fair, the end of mine spelt the start of the best 10 years (and counting) of my life so far so in a strange reverse kind of way, I am a fan of it!!!
I stayed anchored off Pin Mill for three nights using Doris to go ashore and my diesel heating to keep warm. My Webasto diesel heating system is excellent although it does use quite a lot of battery power to heat the glow plug and run the fan so I have to ration it’s use. I try to resist pressing the button until I can see my breath inside the boat. This usually happens at around 4pm when the sun goes down and the temperature really drops and at that point, sitting inside under a duvet with a hat on I feel I have waited long enough so on it goes!  Ahhh, that’s much better! I do have quite a lot of solar power and also a wind generator but, no rocket science here, if the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow then I easily pull more out of my batteries than the sun and wind put in.
The forecast told me that some strong wind was on the way but being anchored close behind some tall trees meant that I got good shelter most of the time and my only disturbance was the wash from the ships going to and from Ipswich which passed a couple of hundred feet from where I was anchored. Hearing the ships at night is quite eerie though. Laying down in bed with your head by the waterline you hear the hissing of the ship’s propellers though the water from quite a long way off and it gets louder as the ship nears. It’s rather like how a train track hisses as the train approaches but in the dark of the night when this hissing gets louder and louder it can make you scramble up top in a panic to make sure you haven’t drifted into the channel! There was no need to worry, as usual the anchor held firm!
Once I received warnings of 50 mph winds from the Met Office via their weather app I decided to up anchor and head for the shelter and safety of a marina. That marina was Wolverstone Marina which is another firm favourite of mine and again somewhere that I spent many happy times on the original Fiesta with my family. Like Woodbridge, I can never tire of the place but there was something else drawing me in which might sound quite trivial but really, it’s not!
After a few days away from land or following a cold day on the water what your average salty sailor really wants is to warm up in a decent shower and Wolverstone has always ticked this box! I do shower on Fiesta but in order to have hot water, the engine needs to have run and although my shower is hot, it’s not very powerful and I don’t carry enough water onboard to be able to have a decent long soak. Marina’s always have shower facilities and the quality of the shower is one of the main things that I remember a place by! This is unfortunate because it tells you that a good shower is a rarity if that’s what ends up being one of the significant trigger points for a happy and memorable marina stay!
I’ve encountered far too many sh*t showers to mention on this trip so after a chilly day on the water I fantasise about a properly decent shower although far too often this leads to disappointment. All I want is one that is hot, powerful and one that you get out of to cool off! I don’t think this should be too much to ask but apparently it is. Sometimes you can walk into facilities that are unbelievably dated but actually very good but what happens more often than not is that the facilities look great but in fact they flatter to deceive. Several times I’ve heard harbourmasters proudly say ‘We have brand new facilities with state of the art Eco showers’….
Ok. Stop right there because you’ve already lost me! ‘Eco’ is a word I have learned to fear as it is hardly ever associated with good times. Being on an economy drive is not conducive to a good night out, economy food mean’s that you will inadvertently end up eating Shergar, a car in Eco mode will make you fall asleep at the wheel and a girlfriend in Eco mode is built for comfort, not speed. It’s rarely much fun and when the word Eco is associated with a marina shower it is code for ‘We are saving energy, the planet and (unsaid but truly the real reason) our own pennies’. What it means is that you end up waving something, usually your hand, at the sensor on the wall to make sure the last three red lights are lit up, falsely indicating that you are about to get scalded by venturing into the dangerous hot water zone only to find that the water is merely warm, definitely not hot and you emerge underwhelmed with cold arms, cold sides and some other bits still shrivelled by the cold! This is followed by a mad rush to get dressed before you become colder than you were when you went in. No, no, NO! I want to be pinned to the floor by water pressure whilst emitting lots of satisfied grunts and groans, the sort that will make your fellow facility users fear there is a Broke Back Mountain moment in progress in cubicle three! The fact that quite inexplicably I seem to break out my very limited German dialect of Ja, Ja, das ist sehr gut, oh Ja, Ja, JAAAAA whenever I am under really hot water on a cold day makes the Broke Back Mountain scenario seem even more plausible to my fellow washers! After the deluge I want to get out, gasping for air with red skin and enjoy standing there slightly slumped over with steam streaming off me as I gratefully cool down and everything hangs loose. Too much to ask? Well it seems so. Of the 40 or so marina facilities that I have used on this trip only five have delivered this experience, the owners having actually grasped the joy that a hot shower delivers to a cold sailor.
Anyway, Wolverstone Marina is one such marina that has always delivered an excellent shower experience and I have been looking forward to that certainty for a while now. The last time I was here the facilities were looking good by any standards so imagine my surprise when I walked though the door to the brand new and only just reopened wash shop. However, this was not immediately a happy sight for me as the words ‘new eco showers’ started filling my mind with worry and fear at the prospect of disappointment. Thankfully, praise to the Lord (and to the company that owns the marina) I had nothing to worry about and 30 minutes later, I picked myself up off the shower floor, red, hot, totally un shrivelled and I exited the cubicle a very clean, happy man. Fantastisch baby, ja!
Thank you Wolverstone Marina. What a great welcome back. You never disappoint!
I enjoy visiting a nice Church and love it when the Lord shows you he is protecting your ass!P1070434P1070464
Entering Harwich HarbourP1070536
Anchored just off Pin Mill and close to the ships!P1070539P1070544
Another favourite, Wolverstone MarinaP1070547P1070548
Continuing up river under the Orwell bridge and into the lock for Ipswich DockP1070556P1070561P1070565P1070570P1070574

Friends and single ladies

I felt my way out of Martlesham Creek and found the mud three times as the tide was still low and I didn’t really know which way the channel went. That’s a bit of fun really because with no rocks to hit it’s just a case of sticking it in reverse and trying a different direction or waiting for the rising tide to lift Fiesta up again if you get stuck hard! Cruising round the corner and seeing Woodbridge Tide Mill is always a treat to me. When I got to the entrance there was already more than a meter of water over the cill so I called the harbour master to get my berthing instructions and in I went. Countless numbers of family sailing visits from childhood through to adulthood and sailing with my Uncle Jack come flooding back as soon as I get to the Tide Mill Yacht Harbour. Once the boat is sorted I tingle with excitement about walking into town although I can’t really explain this. I normally detest towns and crowds of people aimlessly wandering around the shops with the main decision being ‘Well, let’s think about this Brenda. Do we get the food shopping done first or shall we pop into Boots and get that cream for your piles? Tell you what, let’s stop for a coffee and delay making any kind of decision at all for as long as is humanly possible, providing it’s not too painful for you to sit down of course’.

‘Err, hello, excuse me? I’d be very pleased to help you. There’s a really long walk off a really short plank over there, I’ll even take you there myself. Please, just give me that chance.’

God, I normally hate it but for me Woodbridge is different. I actually like walking through the town even though I’ve been here numerous times so for anything to come as a surprise relies totally on the onset of Alzheimer’s and yet turning up in Woodbridge is always exciting and to me feels a little like a home coming. I love the place! I don’t stop for coffee though and I don’t go in the shops, I just walk though in my own little world and then head back to Fiesta! Once back at the marina, totally unsurprised by what I found but very happy, I gave myself a good scrub down in the lovely marina facilities, plugged into the marina electrics in order to give the batteries a much needed charge after my period of self sufficiency and enjoyed the boat being warm and toasty thanks to the fan heater! Funny how a simple thing can feel like such a luxury. The ship got a bit of spit and polish on the inside but I have to say that 2300 miles of sea sailing, salt and wind lashings have taken their toll on the outside. Fiesta is looking slightly dishevelled in some areas with mud stains, weed growth and dull lacklustre looking hulls. This is not surprising though. I reckon that over the last four years her total annual mileage between winters has probably been somewhere around the five hundred mark so following such a long summer shift she does need some tickling here and there. However, in a surprising way for an everso slightly anal boat owner, I can stand on the pontoon and look at these blemishes and cosmetic battle scars with folded arms, a straight back and a dollop of pride. She has done well, very well in fact. The only part of her that is still shiny is the fibreglass part over the door where I tend to stand and look out ahead with my arms up on the coach roof and this extensive contact has kept this part shiny! I like to think of it as a cuddle mark! Fiesta, well done you! Another three weeks or so and you get to rest and have a massage.

Thursday night started with a walk to the train station to meet my mate Iain Conway, fresh from the city all suited and booted! It was great to see him, last seen in a very hot Solva on the Pembrokeshire coast back in June. We went to the pub to sample some almost local Adnams Ghost Ship and then we went next door to the Galley restaurant for dinner where we were joined by Roz, Senior Partner of Conway Family Enterprises. What a cracking dinner and a lovely start to my stay in Woodbridge.

The next day I received a visit from Adrian, last seen in Newscastle, before that Largs and before that, on the maiden voyage to Dover. Also present was his wife Jo, last seen in Dover when she drove down to pick Adrian up. For me it was of course fantastic to see them both but what surprised me was Max’s reaction to seeing Jo. Actually, more than that, being almost miracle like, Max actually heard Jo before he saw here and I don’t think he has heard much for the last year or so. This probably says more about Jo than it does about Max’s hearing although it does suggest that Max isn’t in fact completely def. He heard the high pitched tones of the best thing to come out of South Woodham Ferrers before he saw her and immediately appeared to shrug 5 years off as he was fairly overcome with excitement! Max does have his favourites and Jo is high on that list!

I made sure I had a bottle of rosé in the fridge for Jo and Adrian has learned to arrange this in a permantley attached funnel type way by means of various straps and pulleys so Jo is both happy and quiet which means Adrian and I can catch up and chill out. It really is the only way and if we put Max in Jo’s reach we can sometimes eek out several minutes of peace and quiet using this method notwithstanding the occasional interruption in an ever-so Father Jack like ‘DRINK, DRINK, DRINK’!!!!! type of way if the hose leading from the funnel slips out!

Adrian and Jo stayed onboard for the night and left for home in the morning which gave me an hour to prepare prior to be being boarded by my Mum, Joanna, James, Tom and Jack. We went off to the Maybush pub in Martlesham for lunch and enjoyed it’s beautiful position and wonderful view over the Deben. We had a great day and their visit marked three social occasions in as many days! It looks like I can still do it.

In keeping with the theme of my last blog, I really have kept the pace slow. I stayed in the Tide Mill marina for five nights which was longer than planned but I always hate to leave and on this occasion I didn’t have to! When I did leave I only made it about about a quarter of a mile before tuning right and mooring up right next to the Tide Mill itself on the council owned Quay. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I still didn’t want to leave Woodbridge, secondly I hadn’t previously realised that they allowed visitors to moor there and thirdly (math obviously not a strong point) three nights on the town quay costs the same as one night in the yacht harbour! Ok, there is no electric hook up or water on tap but with full tanks and fully charged batteries I just ran my diesel heating to stay toasty!

There isn’t a lot of water approaching the quay or alongside it even at high tide so the night before I moved there I checked the tides to ensure there would actually be a high enough tide for me to get there. According to the predicted tide height it was going to be marginal so I went to the quay, climbed down the ladders and measured the minimum depth required up from the mud and scraped a line through the weed on the wall so I would have a visual cue on approach. Basically, if I could see the line it wouldn’t be deep enough. I felt pretty smart and almost smug about my cunning approach to this situation although the whole system fell apart when I realised that in order to be able to see or not see the line would mean being so close in that I would already either be practically alongside or aground on the mud!

Just to highlight the continuous variables involved in this hobby of mine, there was an unexpected negative sea surge in the north sea which basically meant that whereas tide height predictions are normally very accurate, a westerly wind and a spike in atmospheric pressure kept some of the tide out. So, when I was close enough to see the line, it was about four inches above the water and Fiesta was already touching the muddy bottom (something that gets you into a lot of trouble these days)! By this time it was already high tide so it was a case of abort or go for it. I gambled against the dented pride that being stranded high and dry on the mud does to you and risked the prospect of giving people 12 hours to point and laugh at the prick trying to look like he intended to sit on the mud ten feet short of the quay and I went for it. I put the power on and carved two trenches through the mud and Fiesta stopped about a meter short of the wall! I was then able to rig up a couple of lines to the bollards onshore and use the engine and lines to pull me in sideways until I was perfectly in position! Lovely and pride in tact! Apologies if this sounds like gloating but in my defence I hope my previous blogs have shown that I would also be honest enough to show you the other side of the coin had that have happened! As I have said many times before (yawn), you do need a bit of luck!!!

There is one little ritual that I like to keep up whenever I visit Woodbridge. Woodbridge has a lovely old privately owned cinema. The films are not the most up to date but I love the old school ticket office, ice cream parlour and popcorn. It’s fantastic so I always go along to watch a film, any film and get a ticket for one. This is one of the few occasions (along with getting a table for one) when I feel slightly uncomfortable and imagine everyone pointing and staring at the sad guy all alone. However, this time around, it was not at all like that. Quite the opposite in fact because I went to the matinee showing of the Snowman with that Michale Fast-Bender bloke and ended up meeting a few single ladies. In fact there were lots of them, probably a 10-1 ratio to guys on their own. Ok, Ok, they were sixty, seventy and maybe a bit more but single, yes!  Older guys out there, you are missing a trick! I know where I will be every afternoon in a few years time once Sarah has come to her senses!

I finally left Woodbridge yesterday morning. The height of high tide was predicted to be 30cm higher than when I arrived at the quay. This time the prediction was spot on so I was afloat and able to reverse away from the quay nearly an hour before high water. This early escape meant that I could push on and leave the River Deben. The sand bar at the entrance means the river is not accessible at all states of the tide and I had thought that I wouldn’t float soon enough to make it all the way out before the tide fell away making the entrance too shallow. As it turned out, it was perfect and I went out of the Deben flushed on my way by 5 knots of tide a couple of hours after high water. Unfortunately this meant that I did myself out of one more night in the river. I had planed to anchor off Ramsholt and enjoy that little gem too but that will have to wait until next time.

In beautiful clear blue skies but a chilly 5 degrees I made my way along the coast and entered Harwich Harbour. It was such a change not to have a paper chart rolled out and to be constantly checking my position. I knew that part well and I kept a listening watch on the Harwich vessel traffic services channel to make sure there were no big ships on their way in or out before I crossed the shipping lane and entered Harwich Harbour.

I am now moored at Ha’penny Pier in Harwich. So called because of the toll that was charged to moor here when it was used by paddle steamers in the late 1800’s Apparently it is one of the UK’s only surviving and working wooden piers and it provides a nice little shelter and great views of the ship movements from both Harwich and the Port of Felixstowe. Even better news is that it’s officially closed to yachts at this time of year but no one seems to have noticed that I have sneaked in as I bob up and down in the harbour swell  with no other boats around! Who knows, maybe I will get a Harwich official knocking on the side of the boat asking me to move on or pay but for now I have my own marina!

As I sailed in through Harwich Harbour, behind me I could clearly see the Naze Tower at Walton and only a four hour sail the other side of that is the River Crouch. In a way I was tempted to sail straight there but that was simply the excitement of actually completing the circle but before that happens I have the lovely River Orwell to reacquaint myself with and then possibly the Walton Backwaters.  Oh no, I’m not done yet!

Jo, Adrian and me by means of carefully balancing the camera on the solar panel!P1070387

The entrance to the marina at high and low tide and my favourite old boat hereP1070379P1070388P1070371

Fiesta moored alongside the Tide Mill on the town quay and the view from the cockpitP1070472P1070475P1070476P1070469P1070481P1070482

This is where I scraped in, just!IMG_6083

Poor old Heavenly Twins catamaran moored in a creek and forgotten….P1070426

A view of the Tide Mill as I left, the church at Ramsholt, the Ramsholt Arms pub and a beautiful sunset viewed from Ha’penny PierP1070484P1070488P1070498P1070523

Still swinging

This is a bit weird. I probably have less to write about in this blog than I have on any of the previous ones and yet the feeling of fulfilment that I have felt over the last week is greater than anything I have had on this trip so far!
I really can’t work myself out so I don’t know what chance anyone else has. What I mean by this is that for more than 25 years I had what has to be right up there with the most social of jobs out there and with so many opportunities to socialise and so many people to meet and talk to throughout the course of the working week, it was not uncommon that the only time you would truly be alone during the week was whilst in the prayer room downloading your old data that serves only to slow you down and overload the system if it isn’t dowloaded into the recycler on a (hopefully) regular basis.
The fast pace of this world is, I think, the reason why you would sometimes find newspapers or other more visually biased publications in the prayer room. There really aren’t many other opportunities for a person to disappear from view, not be forced to communicate and truly be alone. When you think about it, that’s a bit f*cked up isn’t it? It can’t be right that going to the bog is often the only time anyone is truly alone even if only separated by a thin partition!  Of course there are those who live alone and they get this valuable, and to me essential, quiet time but mostly being totally alone is a rarity in today’s world.
I can’t work like that. I have to be alone sometimes. It’s the only way I can feel normal but what probably isn’t particularly normal is the amount of time that I can spend alone and how much I enjoy that time. What confuses me though is the extremes at which I am happy. The all encompassing frantic busy working life all the way through to complete and lengthy solitude! Well, I say solitude but I suppose what I really mean is being away from anyone that I know. My family and friends have got used to and accepted this about me but girlfriends, in my experience, are often not as accepting! However, following fairly lengthy research I appear to have found a good one with Sarah. She totally accepts my defence of ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ because on this occasion, it really is. I’m the weird one! I simply have to have alone time to reflect, reason and reset.
To state the obvious, I have had an enormous amount of time on my own over the last 7 months but what has been a little surprising to me is that I can honestly say that I haven’t been lonely for a single second! It’s not that I don’t miss people because I do. Missing people but not being lonely is not a contradiction as far as I am concerned. The big caveat in all of this is Max! You’re never really alone when you have a dog so I have no idea how I would have felt over the last 7 months without my miserable, lazy but loyal sidekick. He’s been fantastic and the older and more lazy he becomes, the better sea dog he is. Sometimes he only gets to go ashore once a day and even then when I get his lead out he will look at me as if to say ‘Really, can’t I just stay here and sleep’? No Max you can’t! You can’t sleep in your own urine. This is a game of do what I say, not as I do!
Ok, I went right off on one there but the original thrust of this was that since arriving in the River Deben I really haven’t accomplished anything at all. However, this isn’t being lazy as far as I am concerned. It is about having the most wonderful downtime, relaxation and period of reflection. Honestly, I feel like I have entered a zen like state. I have now been anchored for a week and only moved once. My first anchorage allowed me to explore Felixstowe Ferry and the Bawdsey area and then I moved to a little creek called Martlesham Creek not far from Woodbridge.
At a guess I would say that I have visited the Tide Mill Yacht Haven at Woodbridge twenty five times in my lifetime, all by boat which means that I have gone past Martlesham Creek on every occasion without ever giving it a glance. The focus has always been to get to the Tide Mill and that’s because Woodbridge is one of those places that to me, feels like home. I think we all have places like that and for me Woodbridge has always been one so Martlesham Creek never even got a look in.
What is different about this occasion is that I’m not trying to cram these destinations into a few days off work. Oh no, I have time. Time….. That normally illusive commodity to anyone but children, retired folk or benefit cheating scumbags. It is incredibly and thoroughly wonderful to have time because the zen like state I have entered over the last week has been magical as indeed is the peace and tranquility of this little creek that was perviously completely overlooked.
Winter has truly announced itself too. On two mornings there has been a frost on the deck and there is something very special about standing on the foredeck with steam pouring off your coffee and mist hovering above the perfectly still water of a silent creek. Pure magic. My time has been spent going ashore in Doris to walk Max, pottering around doing a few boat jobs on the never ending boat job list and reading on the foredeck in the sun albeit fully wrapped up. My evenings consist of dinner, music, more reading or maybe a film before drifting off into a lovely slumber.
The funny thing is that I feel guilty and a bit lazy admitting to this but I think that’s because of the default setting in most of us that simply accepts being totally and utterly rushed off our feet with no time left to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Fear not though, I can live with the guilt because I am really enjoying these pleasures. Being self sufficient and alone in a creek surrounded by jaw dropping beauty and having time to reflect on the last 7 months has been perfect.  It’s only the fact that I’m running low on water and fresh food that means I am going to head into a marina and back onto the grid later today! Oh, plus the fact that it’s sign on day at the job centre and I need my benefits!!!!! No job and no fixed address, surely there must be something for me!
There have been two moments of relative drama since being in the River Deben. Here in Martlesham Creek the tide leaves Fiesta high and dry about three hours either side of high water. It is relatively hard mud here which means Fiesta sits up on her keels nicely and the anchor has something good and sticky to get it’s tooth into and this makes for a relaxing night’s sleep. Just in case, and as usual, I do have my drag queen switched on and next to me in bed and he (or she) will start moaning in my ear if the distance from the original anchor drop position increases beyond the set amount. So the only thing to be concerned about here is what the boat will sit on when the tide goes out. As usual the chart tells you what the sea bed is but not always what’s on it. As luck would have it, the Google earth photos of this area were taken near low tide so I was able to see that it is just flat mud without any major lumps, bumps or debris on it. This is what gave me the confidence to anchor and dry out here as this place is not detailed on the chart as a recognised anchorage. However, as Fiesta settled onto the mud the day before yesterday there was a funny groaning noise. Because of variables such as tidal flow, wind strength and direction, you never sit down on exactly the same piece of mud each time and what was lying totally unseen just below a thin covering of mud was a pretty sizeable log, long since water logged and therefor happily forming part of the sea bed furniture. Well, one of Fiesta’s keels found the end of the log and her five or so tonnes of weight pushed one end down causing the other end to rear up out of the mud. This is one of the hazards of taking the ground and fortunately it poked up pointing away from the boat so it was fine. I considered lashing the end with a rope and tying it off to the side of Fiesta so on the high tide we would lift it up, swing round with the incoming tide and then I could drop it up stream where it would settle into it’s new home and Fiesta would swing away from it when the tide started going out again. However, being big and heavy, this thing was not for moving so instead I decided to mark it with a small fender and then move Fiesta’s anchor away so she couldn’t sit back on it again.
Doris was pumped up and sitting in the water and it was only about 5 feet deep so I thought I would reposition the anchor using the dinghy rather than starting Fiesta’s engine and anyway, I only had to move it 20 feet further away. As with so many things, you never really know where the next f*ck up is coming from. Well this one was coming from below! I followed the anchor chain out in the dinghy to where the chain was going straight down so I knew I was above the anchor and started to lift it. Sure enough, up it came. My plan was to lift the anchor up so I could just see it and then motor it to it’s new position and drop it. Simple! Well, unfortunately my last pull was a little over enthusiastic and I managed to spike the bottom of Doris and suddenly there was a whooshing sound and bubbling water as half of Doris deflated in about five seconds flat!!!!! What a total and utter tool! I was aware that the pointy bit would be coming up under the dinghy but I didn’t think for a minute it would be possible to put the pretty blunt pointy bit of the anchor through the tough rubber skin of the dinghy. Wrong, wrong, wrong you ball sack!!!! And of course, the real rub of single handed sailing is that there is no one else to blame. That’s the only bit I don’t like about all of this!!!
Fortunately, with one chamber still inflated and an inflatable floor there was no swimming involved so I finished repositioning the anchor and then got a very sorry and deflated looking Doris on the foredeck. Despite a hole over an inch long I managed to stick a repair patch on and I left it for twenty-four hours before a field test. Fortunately it worked so it just means that Doris has a battle scar and I have learned a lesson!
Funny what a long since forgotten and disappeared from view piece of tree can do to your day!
Once again though, what makes this OK is the fact that I did have the time to get it sorted.  It simply became a surprise entry on the boat job list for the day and let’s be honest, I’d rather have these sorts of things to sort out than have to do an honest day’s work in an office!  It’s true you now. A bad day’s sailing is better than a great day in the office!!
You know what? I think I have achieved something here. I have managed to do cock all over the last week and loved every single second of doing so here in my favourite east coast river and I’ve managed to turn it into this week’s blog!
Finally, I have an observation to share. My apologies about what comes next because it makes me cringe and yet I feel it’s probably an important detail so here we go.
I was conceived on a boat whilst my mum and dad were ‘seeking shelter’ from a near hurricane down a little muddy creek and no, that last part is absolutely NOT a euphemism!! Ok, that’s the cringey bit out of the way.
My first time on a boat after the immaculate conception was when I was three weeks old and although I have long since suspected that there was plan to test the floatation qualities of the Moses basket, at least one of my parents changed their mind hence I’m still here. Ever since then I have shared my entire life with boats at every possible opportunity. My love and devotion has never wavered even in testing situations or periods of excessive wind. (I’m sorry Sarah for some of those dutch bed time zephyr’s). It’s been a lifelong passion of mine and long may that continue and despite throwing all of my time at it for the last 7 months, I love it more than ever. What’s more, in these modern times we are subject an ever increasing amount of control, health and safety dos, don’t and rules and regulations that I feel are actually reversing evolution to some extent by making the average western human less capable, less adventurous, more conservative and totally risk adverse, and yet the opportunity to do what I have been doing still exists almost without any control.
I have no sailing qualifications and yet I can move around freely ruled only by the wind, time and tide. Good and bad decisions are mine and mine alone to make and I can successfully disappear off the grid for days, weeks or months at a time should I wish to despite all the while never actually being far away from civilisation. This has got to be one of the last bastions of such freedom and to be getting away with it feels really naughty. Much like the feeling of skipping school as a kid, being given too much change in a shop, intentionally triggering speed cameras late at night with your number plate covered up (whoops) or finding an extra special publication behind the seat in the prayer room during those data download moments in the office.
It is so very special and I LOVE it!


The spiders in Felixstowe take steroidsP1070152

A view from Bawdsey beach looking up river with Fiesta right at the backP1070167

About half way up the Deben is the Maybush Pub at Waldringfield. It’s a cracker and I will be there on Saturday with my familyP1070173

Here is Fiesta tucked into Martlesham Creek. Some people say ‘Oh, the muddy old rivers of the east coast, no thanks’. Well that’s good. All the more space for me because I love it here!P1070209P1070197P1070179P1070190P1070189P1070184P1070342

Here is the offending log. You can see the dent in the mud where one of Fiesta’s keels sat on one end causing it to show itself! I will get my fender back before I leave!P1070362

You can’t beat a good sunset and moonrise. Amazing and awesome and I really do mean those words! P1070300P1070309P1070326P1070307P1070250P1070327

Back in home waters

Quite a lot has happened this week. Two hops along the coast and one decision made. Wow! You see, that’s what equates to ‘quite a lot’ when you aren’t swapping a large proportion of your life for money. Earlier today I was walking Max along the beach and I stopped to look out to sea. It was so beautiful that I sat down and just stared out for about twenty minutes. It was simply just how I chose to spend my time. To me, being able to do that still feels like a real treat but it shouldn’t really feel like that should it? It’s just that normal life gets in the way and to have the luxury of sitting down and taking in a view for as long as you feel like is just one of the many very simple but very rewarding experiences that this trip has given me.
We all know there is a beautiful world out there but what a lovely thing it is to simply have the time to sit down and appreciate it. It’s the nuts!
I left Wells as planned early last Wednesday morning. I never really feel nervous or anxious when I go to bed before an early departure but I also never sleep well either. I went to bed at 9pm but at best I got a couple of hours of shut eye before my alarm went off at ten past three in the morning. Despite my best efforts, for most of the night I just couldn’t stop tossing. I turned a lot too.
One look outside told me what I had previously suspected. It was dark.
Who’s a clever boy then Mark?
No, I don’t mean that in the stating the obvious way, I mean it in the way that sometimes it is dark but you can still see quite a lot once your eyes adjust but dark can also be a complete enveloping blackness in which you really can’t see a bloody thing!
I’m going to call that dark dark. Dark dark meant that I couldn’t see the first channel marker although I knew it was only about 100 meters away from the boat. This meant that I had no chance of seeing any part of the channel or get any visual clue as to which way it meandered off into the night.
I knew I’d be nervous at this moment. The sand bar was about a mile and a half away but before I even left the pontoon I could hear the waves crashing onto it in the stillness of the early morning.  These are the times when I would like to have someone on the foredeck with a big torch to pick out the buoys. Instead, I have to hold the big torch and steer and just when you start to feel like your eyes might be getting used to the dark you inadvertently shine the torch on a piece of rigging, the mast or the white fibreglass of the boat and you are instantly blinded again by the light reflecting back!
As I said in my last blog, I put total trust in the chart plotter and followed my breadcrumb trail out. This isn’t a ‘take brain out’ solution though because I would say that the margin for error on the breadcrumb trail is probably 20 feet either side before the chart plotter will show you that you are off course so I still had plenty of chances to crap myself as I shone the torch onto the sand banks, just brushed the top of one with one keel and changed my mind and reversed when I realised that what I had thought was a port hand marker was actually a red mooring buoy sitting about 5 feet away from the sandy edge of the water. Once I was out in the main channel the surf that was breaking over the bar was rolling down each side of Fiesta and I became fixated on the depth sounder which in fact showed a least depth over the bar of 5ft. I draw 3ft so at that time there was reasonable clearance underneath and the harbour master’s advice regarding the latest possible time I could leave was spot.  Any later would have been a little too close for comfort especially with the surf running in there. It was tense until I got to a marker that sits in clear deep water and at that point I knew I was out and safely over the sand bar. By this time it was just before 5am and I know this probably isn’t the right thing to admit but had I have had any whisky onboard I would have had one there and then. It was such a relief to be out and clear!
There was a lovely little breeze and I sat on the foredeck with a coffee (in leu of whisky) and watched the sunrise. Those moments are sheer magic to me. We all love sunsets but what makes the sunrise feel just a little more special to me is that you know there aren’t as many people watching it. It feels like a cheekily stolen moment!
The trip to Lowestoft was 53 miles and I was glad of my onesie, hat, gloves, thermals, hand warmers and foot warmers. It was a very cold day out there but I made it to Lowestoft with plenty of daylight to spare and was in at 3pm. I stayed at the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club marina which has managed to achieve something surprising. Lowestoft has everything that you need by way of shops, pubs and restaurants but it’s just a bit too seasidey, a bit too scummy and a little run down for my liking. Sorry for sounding like a complete snob, but it is what it is and what it is is a bit of a sh*t hole! Not to the same extent that Dover is, oh no! Dover is in a totally different league of swamp altogether. It’s just that Lowestoft looks at it’s best when you stand on the beach and look out to sea. Then, it is beautiful.
What the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht club have managed to achieve is that despite the amusement arcade and the imitation of a Las Vegas’s lit fountain accompanied by superman music which backs on to the yacht club, as soon as you go through their gate you enter an oasis of calm. I don’t know how they have managed this but following a walk around it was great escape the candy floss, fish & chips and cans of tenants super.
Lowestoft does have one ace up it’s sleeve though. The hidden gem is the fact that a mile or so behind the beach sits Oulton Broad, the gateway to one of the most beautiful places that I have had the pleasure of spending time in. The Norfolk Broads! My old man learnt to sail on the Broads. His Dad, who I never met, was a proper snob. Apparately he used to say ‘The great thing about boating on the Norfolk Broads is that only the upper classes can afford it’! What a cracker!
Well the good news (look at me being politically correct) is that plenty of people can now afford it so lots of people get to enjoy it’s beauty, peace and tranquility. No, actually that’s not true. It is now only beautiful, peaceful and tranquil outside of school holidays! Oulton Broad is but a short walk from Lowestoft and I think getting there from the town centre is much like that clumsy b*tch Lucy who fell through the back of her wardrobe into a new secret land only this isn’t Narnia but the Norfolk Broads. You don’t really notice anything change until all of a sudden the traffic sounds disappear along with any hint of the sea and all of a sudden it’s ducks, swans and willow trees hanging down into the water and a view of the broads snaking off inland.
I found a lovely seat looking out over the water as far away from anyone as I could be and did what I am now quite good at. I sat down, looked out at the world in front of me and let time tick past without a care in the world.
I did actually have something to think hard about too. Something has been playing on my mind lately and whilst I had almost made up my mind previously, it didn’t need to be final until I reached Lowestoft. Lowestoft was always the place I was going to leave from to sail across to Holland because being the eastern most town of the UK, it is the shortest distance across to Ijmuiden which is at the entrance of the canal that leads to Amsterdam.
When I first cooked up the idea of a round Britain sail I decided to add Amsterdam on the end because anything south of Lowestoft is familiar water for me and I thought I might feel a little disappointed about nearing the end of the trip. I also love Amsterdam and thought this would be a great way to round off the trip.
However, for the last month or so I have been reading about the so called storm making factory in the Atlantic which I mentioned in my last bog. Some meteorologists are suggesting that we are in for a fairly harsh winter with storms a plenty being hurled our way. Having had so many hard blows over the last couple of months and with plenty more being predicted I have decided that discretion is the better part of valour and instead I am going to take the shelter offered by this coast and enjoy being in familiar waters for the rest of the trip.
This might not sound particularly heroic and I am disappointed not to be putting Amsterdam on the list but then again, I think it’s important to know when to go for it and when not to and in leu of how unsettled the weather has been lately the last thing I want to do is to sour the end of this trip by risking a bashing to Fiesta and her crew from a winter gale while going over to or coming back from Holland.
Once that decision was made I immediately became excited about steering Fiesta back towards her home coast and with a suitable looking weather forecast I left Lowestoft yesterday lunchtime bound for my favourite east coast river of them all. The River Deben. It was 35 miles from Lowestoft to the River Deben which has a fairly notorious entrance once again because of a continually shifting sand bar. What’s more, the tide dictated that I would have to leave Lowestoft at 2am to make it into the Deben on the morning high tide and therefore in daylight. However, I really didn’t want a 2am start so I elected to leave Lowestoft at midday and take the late afternoon tide down the coast into the Deben although this meant an entry in darkness.
I spoke to the harbour master in advance to get the most up to date position of the four buoys that mark the entrance. The first buoy is a safe water mark which is lit. This is great because you can aim for it and get yourself to a deep, safe and confirmed position on the chart and then make your approach to the other three buoys through the tight, very tidal and very shallow entrance. These buoys are not lit and the tide sweeps you in so fast that you really don’t have the time to be trying to spot them in the dark so to know their exact longitude and latitude and the compass bearing from one to the other is the way to navigate through there safely at night. What was an excellent back up and a way to confirm their positions was to have the radar on. This way I could mark their positions the chart from the longitudes and latitudes given to me by the harbour master and the radar confirmed their positions by showing a clear blip on the radar screen so I was able to push through with confidence despite the closeness of the sand banks one side and the beach the other.
Arriving at the safe water mark outside the entrance marked Fiesta’s return to familiar waters. I will admit to letting out a loud whoop and whilst I appreciate that an uncontrolled show of emotion isn’t very British of me, I was simply and suddenly overtaken by excitement at being back in home waters and the feeling of familiarity was incredible. Every single place I have visited since leaving Eastbourne has meant a brand new and unfamiliar destination for me but to know what lies around each headland, any bend in a river or inside any harbour feels weirdly fantastic and very welcome.
I’m chuffed to be here!
So hear I am! Back on the Magical East Coast! This means I can fully reacquaint myself with this beautiful little corner of Britain and although only 40 miles or so from the River Crouch, I intend to fully explore and enjoy the River Deben and the River Orwell and plan to eek this out for another 5 or 6 weeks so my return to the River Crouch is still planned for early December despite missing Amsterdam.
The obvious bonus is that by missing Amsterdam I do at least have a chance of remembering the next six weeks rather than returning to the UK, post Amsterdam, paranoid and scratching!!
For now, I am swinging around my anchor in the River Deben and it’s bliss. Another wild Friday night lies ahead!
Lovely sunrise as I sailed east along the north Norfolk coast 
Just behind all delights of a seaside town you can find yourself in a new world that is the Norfolk Broads and in the park you will find some brave little squirrels that fear no man!P1070056P1070057fullsizeoutput_307P1070088
Lovely sunset over the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club and Fiesta tucked into their marinaP1070090P1070097P1070100
A customer coming into the Deben on the early tide this morning.
Bawdsey Manor in the background which was RAF Bawdsey in WW2 and a view looking into the Deben from the entrance P1070117P1070130P1070120
A few views along the seawall. I love this river!P1070138P1070145P1070155

Grimsby not to be….

My original plan was to leave Bridlington bound for Grimsby. However, working out what time to leave Bridlington without fighting the tide down the coast and timing the entry to the Humber to coincide with having enough water to get into the lock there proved a little too taxing for my brain!  To be honest I also became quite excited about arriving on the Norfolk coast and the final push was that whilst it may or may not be true, several people have said to me ‘Ah, Grimsby. Grim by name, grim by nature’! For these reasons I decided to set sail for Norfolk, missing Grimsby altogether. This meant the longest single handed voyage of the trip so far at 82 nautical miles but I decided that I could make it work by leaving Bridlington as soon as Fiesta was floating which happened at 5am on Wednesday last week. The forecast was good and on this occasion absolutely spot on as a gale blew itself out overnight and by about 3am there was a nice gentle breeze blowing from the west. I put Fiesta astern and scraped her off the mud and into deep water risking the wrath of the fishing fleet that had started to leave Bridlington on the same early tide. I got the sails up and whilst there was plenty enough wind to sail, I decided to motor-sail to ensure a good start as I had over 80 miles ahead of me.
Lobster pots are always a concern and particularly so at night when you really have no chance of seeing them. I have passed many, very close by, only seeing them as they appeared going down the side of the boat but this time I got very lucky indeed. As the black of night gave way to an inky blue colour I caught sight of a lobster marker buoy and it’s flag just before it disappeared between Fiesta’s bows. I immediately put the engine in neutral so it wouldn’t get caught up in the propeller and whilst the rope did catch on the engine leg it soon found it’s way off before I had to do anything else about it and the flag popped up behind the boat. Thereafter I kept my eyes peeled and was relieved when the light came and I could clearly see anything in our path. The wind freshened and after a few hours of motor sailing at over 8 knots I turned the engine off and we continued for the next 6 hours at over 7 knots in pretty calm seas. By mid afternoon the wind dropped completely so the engine went on again and I arrived at the entrance to Wells-next-the-Sea at 4.30pm. It’s always good to get somewhere in the daylight although on this occasion it only meant I could anchor in daylight because there is a big sand bar across the entrance to Wells so I motored towards the beach until it was 5 feet deep and lobbed the anchor over the front. I had already spoken to the harbour master at Wells and because of it’s frequently changing entrance caused by the continually moving sand banks, none of the charts show the buoys in their correct positions. For this reason Wells Harbour Commission offer to come out and escort any first time visitor in. The entrance is winding and tortuous and the strong tide that runs in and out of the harbour cuts the channel sharply and deeply through the sand and this means that if you get it wrong you can find yourself going from deep water to grounding the boat in a matter of seconds so having someone to show you the way, especially in the dark, is fantastic. Some of the navigation marks are lit and some of them are not so you really do have to be a local to be confident of where to point the boat.
While I was anchored waiting for the tide I heard another boat call Wells Harbour on the vhf. It was Andy from yacht Marica who I had first met in Whitehills and then again in Peterhead. He too is on a round Britain trip with his final destination being Chichester Harbour. Like me he had arranged to be escorted in and as both Marica and Fiesta have similar drafts we would be shown the way in together.
However, it didn’t actually work out as planned.  As soon as there was enough water the harbour master came out, called us on the radio and flashed his light to show us the start of the inbound channel. Two minutes later his engine failed! He was relaxed and simply told us to carry on ahead and he would catch us up! Now, earlier on and as soon as the anchor was down I had taken my brain out thinking that all I had to do was simply follow someone else into the harbour but now I was having to kick start it again and try to find the way in amongst many flashing red and green lights which obviously are there to guide you although none of them stay on for long enough for you to work out which one is closest and therefore the first one to aim for.
Andy and I slowly edged our way in. I was using a torch to try and pick out the buoys and while this helps, it also makes you nervous because you get to see that you are sometimes only 20 or so feet away from the sand banks which are only a few feet the other side of the channel markers. There really is no room for error. Add to this the fact that once the tide is over the sand bar it flows really fast into Wells and even at the slowest engine speed Fiesta was travelling at 5 knots. The harbour master said ’Just follow the red buoys and you’ll be fine’. He was of course correct but spotting them in total darkness is the challenge here and he had no way of knowing that as mentioned previously on this blog, I was born without any natural sense of direction! Talking of which, I really hoped this trip might encourage some kind of improvement to this woeful dissability of mine but it hasn’t. I do at least now acknowledge this fact and I guess this is a start because I am also aware that other people have known this about me for a long time. I remember one occasion shortly after I passed my driving test when I was driving on the motorway for the first time. Some bloke was driving towards me swerving and madly flashing his lights and yelled ‘You’re going the wrong bloody way mate’ as he passed me! That really knocked my confidence. Ok, so he was right but how the f*ck did he know where I was trying to get to?!
Anyway, we inched our way in and thankfully right at the point where I was totally confused as to which way to go because there was another channel with red markers going off in a different direction the harbour master was back behind us having been given a tow by a fishing boat. We waited for him to be towed past and then I happily took my brain out again and followed gratefully and blindly to the pontoon right on the Wells quay side.
Andy had sailed from Grimsby so we had both had a very long day. It was now just after 9pm and two things were needed. Sleep and cold beer but not in that order! Andy had some cold ones on his boat so I went onboard Marica and we had a few beers and a good chat about our respective journeys down the coast and the fact that getting into Wells was akin to a game of pinning the tail on the donkey!
Once back on Fiesta I slept the sleep of the dead.
Waking up in Wells was fantastic. The long journey down the east side was over and as always, once something is completed you look back fondly and smile at the very things that felt tough at the time.
The only thing that wasn’t fantastic was the way I was woken up. I was moored right next to the quay which whilst empty and peaceful the previous night, was now lined with very noisy kids who were crabbing and had obviously been told that the most annoying sound to a childless sailor is the very sound that attracts crabs to a quay side. Much the same as crabs, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be rid of these kids in a hurry so rather than being all Victor Meldrew about it I decided to vote with my keels and move up the pontoon where it was child free, silent, isolated and very lonely. Perfect!
After moving Fiesta to the quite spot I got her ready for a visitor. Raj who last paid me a visit in Solva, which now seems like an absolute age ago, drove up from Leigh-on-Sea and arrived on Thursday lunchtime. It was great to see her although she did ensure that this was so by arriving with champagne, home cooked curry and by buying me a pub lunch. Really Raj, you didn’t need to do all that but I am glad that you did and thank you very much! We had lunch, a few beers and then met up with Andy from Marica in the pub and later we all headed back to Fiesta to drink the very unmanly pink champagne! Not really a salty sailor tipple but excellent nonetheless!
The next day Fiesta turned into a curry kitchen and thanks to Raj 4, I had my first lunchtime curry since working in the City before she drove back home to Essex but only after becoming a grateful recipient of a Well-next-the-Sea parking ticket! What a lovely souvenir!
It is now quite clear that I am in striking distance and as such my Mum arrived on Saturday. The last time I saw Mum was in Mallaig, before that Ireland and before that, Chichester Harbour. It’s funny looking back at the previous places in which I have been visited and it is at these times that I find it hard to comprehend that Fiesta has been the constant companion and indeed my mode of transport. Maybe it’s because I can see the completion of this circle being not far ahead that makes me feel quite surreal about everything that has happened over the last 7 months.
Mum and I walked the dogs and troubled the local cafes and pubs and Mum got to experience the noise and struggle associated with trying to sleep onboard through another howler of a gale!
It seems that every gale leaves a mark of some kind on Fiesta and this one managed to lift a corner of one of my solar panels and tear the whole protective plastic covering off! It’s simply relentless and I read the other day that the meteorologists think that due to the culmination of a number of specific weather factors, the Atlantic may have morphed itself into a ‘storm making factory’ and that we could see as many at 11 more ‘Brian’ like weather bombs being made and fired our way over the coming winter so if I think the next 6 weeks or so are going to be a walk in the park, it looks like I need to think again!
Still, as the saying goes ‘Whatever the weather, you must weather the weather, whether you think it grossly unfair, you’ve had more than you fair share, you are taking it completely personally and have developed a paranoia that makes you feel like you are the only one getting the constant battering and that there is no sign of it changing, whether you like it or not!
I’m only joking, I don’t think it’s unfair. It is what it is and it only serves to make this journey an even more worthwhile challenge as far as I am concerned.
Wells-next-the-Sea was one of the favourite destinations for my mum and dad after they hung up their sailing boots and turned to motor caravanning (one tiny step up from being a pikey) and latterly it has been a favourite for Joanna, James and their boys albeit in the now completely pikey caravan way. For this reason I viewed getting here as a real milestone of the trip and to see Fiesta moored along the quayside with the sand of the east coast all around really made me feel like I have accomplished something. I am now at the point where I am less than 50 miles away from the Suffolk coast and once I am there I can say that I have sailed all the way around our fair isle although the trip won’t be officially complete until such time that I turn into and sail up the River Crouch which is still a fair while off.
There is a dutch barge moored here called ‘Albatross’ which is a bar and restaurant. Inside the main bar area all the walls are adorned with UK charts and I will admit to being very proud of the fact that I was able to walk around the room and with the exception of two charts I could say ‘Yep, I’ve sailed there’.
So next stop for me is Lowestoft. Tomorrow looks set to be a westerly which should make the bar a lot more comfortable to cross than it looked when Andy on Marica left to cross it in a northerly breeze on Friday morning. I walked out to the entrance of Wells to take some photos and watch him go. It looked uncomfortable to say the least! The only challenge that I have is the fact that I would like to arrive in Lowestoft in the daylight which means leaving here in darkness on the falling tide at about 4am tomorrow. To be honest and owing once again to my lack of directional awareness, the journey in here didn’t teach me anything and I have absolutely no confidence about picking my way out using limited visual clues in the darkness. This means that for the first time on this trip I am going to lean entirely on my chart plotter to make this happen. My chart plotter leaves a breadcrumb trail that I can bring up on the screen and follow on my way out. I will of course watch where I am going as much as possible but being only my second time in the channel and both times in darkness, I will be putting my trust in the new school navigation technology and using that to guide me out.  Once out I can turn right (or is it left) and take the westerly breeze and if it’s a clear morning  I will get a lovely sunrise as I head east along the north Norfolk coast before tuning south towards Lowestoft.
All of a sudden it feels like winter is here and tomorrow’s forecast at 4am is for it to be 5 degrees! In preparation for this I am thrilled to say that my beloved onsie is coming out. I do love that thing although sometimes the tiger ears get caught up on my life jacket and the tail tries to trip me up but in keeping with a long standing technique of mine I will tuck it down a sock, whichever one is free….

Skirting the edge of a wind farm and keeping clear of shipping bound for the HumberP1060783P1060784

This stowaway flopped onboard, slept and then hid for a few hours before resuming his journeyP1060790P1060791

I was treated to a lovely sunset whilst waiting for the tide outside Wells-next-the-SeaP1060815P1060845

You can walk the mile or so out to the entrance or get the Wells – Beach express!P1070011P1070014P1070017

The watch house and lovely beachP1060856P1060854P1060940

Andy on yacht Marica heading out and crossing the barP1060911P1060934P1060964

Fiesta moored at Wells HarbourP1070007P1070009

Ey up lad, giz a brew

Sarah and I enjoyed Newcastle for a couple of days and then we made a plan to move on. Because the marina where Fiesta was moored is only accessible 3 hours either side of high water we decided to head out and hop down river to Royal Quays Marina which is almost in North Shields and therefore right at the entrance of the River Tyne which would allow a timely exit to take the tide down the coast to the next stop, Whitby. However, the escape had to be timed well so as not to fight the strong tide of the Tyne but we were also under a bit of pressure because a severe gale 9 was on the way.

As has happened quite a lot recently, the preparations to get Fiesta ready to leave were met by a few people saying ‘You have seen the forecast haven’t you? We might only have been going down river but with a lock and a marina to enter a severe gale 9 would still make this difficult and unnecessarily risky but it looked like we could sneak into Royal Quays in time. We cruised out in a pretty strong breeze and got into Royal Quays Marina an hour and a half later just as the wind was starting to pick up. I doubled all the lines and put every fender that I own out on the side of the boat and also ensured that we moored alongside a pontoon that the wind would blow us away from rather than on to.

We had dinner in the lovely restaurant on site and by the time we walked out the gale was in full effect with chairs from the patio being blown around and the blustery wind making everything rattle. Sarah and I played a game that I both enjoy and also hope that others would play in the same situation. It’s called ‘Fender Angel’ whereby any boats that are getting a pounding against a pontoon get some additional fenders placed in strategic places or additional lines to prevent any damage being caused. There were a few to attend to and I felt good about doing my bit in the name of good karma. Our night on Fiesta was safe and secure but very noisy as the wind howled and the rigging on all the boats around clanged and rattled on masts. The wind finally died down the next day and we made the decision to leave at 5.30 the following morning. The marina staff were excellent and happily assisted us by opening the lock gates at the crack of a sparrows fart and also allowed us to stop outside on their fuel berth for a diesel top up. This was needed because the wind was forecast to be in the usual wrong direction from about lunchtime onwards so we would need plenty of diesel to get us down to Whitby in a wind against situation. In keeping with the very old and tired joke, we sailed out in a nice little breeze but as the sun came up the sails started flapping and the wind changed early to a headwind and the motor was then on and stayed on all the way to Whitby.

A few years ago I had some trouble with a very awkward Yorkshireman who totally screwed me over on a replacement engine that he had promised to provide. He did provide it but thereafter a battle commenced because it was the wrong one and it turned into a serious battle of wills to get the situation under control and it didn’t really end well for either of us. Anyway, during this fight someone told me ‘Yeah, you can always tell a Yorkshireman but you can’t tell him much’!
For the individual in question that proved to be 100 percent accurate and whilst my optimism gene tells me that this cannot be true in the general sense I did observe when talking to the harbour master at Whitby and indeed where I am now in Bridlington that it proves wise to play a game of questions and suggestions rather than offering direct ideas regarding where I’d like to moor and how I intend to do it. By playing the ignorant fool (a very easy and slightly too convincing part for me to play) the Yorkshireman is in his element and becomes your most helpful partner and ally as opposed to a tough and obstinate adversary! I don’t know, maybe I’m way off here and maybe it’s complete coincidence but by being useless and in need of help I have indeed been helped marvellously and actually ended up getting what I wanted as opposed to the resistance I met at first blush when being polite albeit more direct about what I wanted! In the interest of diplomacy and in order to appease any irate Yorkshiremen who might possibly stumble across this blog I will add that in my experience an alarming amount of yacht owners are arrogant tossers who like to bark their instructions and demands rather than ask politely and whilst I am not a Yorkshireman, if I were a harbourmaster I don’t think this approach would encourage me to help in any way either. A great example of this which doesn’t actually involve anyone from Yorkshire but is valid to my observation about arrogant boat owning tossers is what happened to me when I went into a fairly busy harbour in Scotland.
A guy in a powerboat went passed me far too close for my liking as I was approaching the harbour entrance. When you get to a certain navigation mark near the entrance you need to call Harbour Control on the radio and ask for permission to enter. I heard his conversation over the radio and it went like this:
‘Harbour Control, this is motor vessel Bellend (the name has been changed to protect the tosser) and I am entering the harbour and will proceed to the marina’.
‘Motor vessel Bellend, this is Harbour Control, you are not clear to proceed and you are instructed to hold your position outside the harbour and standby for further instructions’.
Bellend didn’t answer.
The next radio transmission was mine and went like this:
‘Harbour Control, this is yacht Fiesta, Fiesta, over’.
‘Good afternoon Fiesta, this is Harbour Control, over’
‘Yes, good afternoon Sir, I am approaching the entrance and request permission to enter bound for the marina although I note your holding instructions to motor vessel Bellend so I will maintain my position clear of the channel and await your instructions to proceed, over’.
‘Thank you Fiesta, you are clear to enter as soon as the passenger ferry is clear, over’.
‘Harbour Control, this is Fiesta. Understood, I will proceed once the ferry has cleared the harbour. Thank you, Fiesta out’.
The next transmission was:
‘Motor vessel Bellend, this is Harbour Control, over’
‘Harbour Control, this is motor vessel Bellend’
‘Yes Bellend, you may proceed after the ferry is clear but you are requested to follow yacht Fiesta and the berthing master at the marina will assist you after Fiesta has been berthed, Harbour Control out’….
I felt very smug and this is a great example of the fact that many people think that in order to get what you want in life you need to be a pushy prick and although many boat owners feel like they have a god given right to be like this, it won’t work with everyone.
Now, returning to the original thrust of my observation, throwing yourself at their mercy and expertise and requesting assistance or permission rather than demanding it makes for a much more congenial encounter and as far as I am concerned this is never more true than when dealing with a harbourmaster who also happens to be a Yorkshireman!
Whitby is cracking. I always try to see the positive in any place or any situation but at this point I have to admit that although a great experience for me in general terms, many of the harbours coming down the East Coast haven’t been nearly as picturesque or enjoyable as those that I experienced on any of the previous parts of this journey and arriving at Whitby made me realise this. I should point out that this isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, more an observation that many of the harbours on this coast are more focussed on commercial fishing rather than beautiful destinations for us ‘wind assisted f*cking idiots’ and whilst they serve as excellent stop off’s they are not the places of dream sailing destinations.
You enter Whitby between really imposing concrete piers and get swept through with the tide and the swell running into the harbour. It’s quite a tense few minutes but we were immediately rewarded as the harsh walls gave way to a lovely lively harbour with bars, restaurants and a hive of activity along each side with fantastic views of Whitby Abbey up on the cliff. You then arrive at the swing bridge waiting pontoon, call the bridge and ask (very politely) for permission to come through on the next bridge opening. Once through the lovely old victorian swing bridge there is a cracking little marina with perfect shelter and a lovely cosy feel. Yep, this is really lovely I thought and Sarah felt the same. After another boring motoring session the lively town was very welcome. What was immediately clear is that you are not allowed to live in Whitby or visit unless you have, or at the very least, love dogs! Sarah was obviously in her favourite environment with this situation and loved the fact that there is hardly anywhere that doesn’t welcome dogs so Max got to sample many cafe’s and pubs and I’m fairly convinced that he thought he’d departed this world and floated off to dog heaven with the utterly unlimited supply of dog arses to sniff and noses to sniff his. What with the innumerable doggie tea towel holders to jam his nose in and Sarah to provide constant love, fuss and worship I can say with complete confidence that Whitby would feature as top of the pops in ‘Max’s guide to the best UK coastal destinations for dogs’ if ever he was to stay awake for long enough to write such a guide.
After two nights we left Whitby on Friday in time for the first bridge opening at 6.30 am and got on with the 36 mile trip to Bridlington. It was uneventful other than the truly awful overfalls around Flamborough Head that left us both feeling queasy and the fact that we had to anchor outside Bridlington Harbour to wait for the tide to rise enough for us to get in between the walls. This was slightly tense as storm Brian was breathing down our necks and the gale warning was given earlier in the day as being imminent. Imminent means within six hours and that time was now up and because of the formation of some very ominous looking clouds and a stiffening wind I risked the wrath of a Yorkshireman by poking Fiesta’s noses through the gap slightly earlier than the harbourmaster had suggested. The pilot books warn that entry to Bridlington is dangerous in strong onshore winds and the gale that was part of storm Brian would indeed make it an absolute maelstrom as we were to witness although thankfully only once safely tied up inside. By way of an apology for our forced and early entry I dropped to my knees in front of the harbourmaster (no no, not for that) and explained that fear of impending doom brought on by Brian had made me do it. This fear, panic and helplessness was accepted and we were warmly welcomed into Bridlington. Phew!
Bridlington has a charm all of it’s own. Not the same charm as Whitby though. No, this is the charm that comes through amusement arcades, a slightly run down town centre and pubs that you wouldn’t dream of going in! Despite what I have just said, the place has a good feel and there are a couple of cracking pubs and restaurants and the harbour provided a safe haven from what turned into a brutal lashing by Brian.
When the wind blows into the entrance a sea surge comes through and runs to the end of the harbour where it bounces off and comes back through the moorings again. The harbour dries out completely and at half tide or lower Fiesta is sitting on soft mud which is great. However, when Brian was raging and during the 3 hours either side of high tide when the harbour is full of water the movement of the boats is fractious to say the least. Care needs to be taken walking along the pontoons and all the boats thrash around on their lines and Fiesta was no exception. It was practically impossible to sleep and on the first night here I was up, dressed and outside four times adjusting lines and ensuring that we were’t being banged up against anything. The harbour master was on duty to keep an eye on any boats breaking free from their moorings and it was surreal to witness the spray coming over the wall and covering all the boats as the wild and frightening sea pounded the wall with deep loud thuds only 60 feet away.  It was difficult to sleep knowing that if that wall gave way, everything in the harbour would be destroyed in seconds. I know that once again I sound a bit extreme here and I also know that the wall has been standing for many years but to be onboard Fiesta listening to the storm raging outside and being under that wall was quite perturbing.  A few blogs ago I commented that the word ‘amazing’ is a word that I think is used too much and another word that falls into the same category for me is ‘awesome’. However, on this occasion the word to describe the situation and the power of that storm is indeed ‘awesome’!
It was a great relief when the tide subsided, took the waves with it and Fiesta settled onto the mud and everything calmed down. Sleep quickly followed!
I find it quite unbelievable how many gales I have had to endure and dance around and I thank Neptune that on each occasion Fiesta has been spared the full force but this side of the country has certainly felt like one long samba with satan.
Sarah left me yesterday. No, not in that sense. Well I don’t think so although come to think of it, she didn’t actually say goodbye. I just woke up and she was gone. I’m sure it’s all fine and that my two months of solitary haven’t made me unbearable…..
I’m only joking. As usual I walked Sarah to the staton to make absolutely damn sure that she left and now after a flurry of visitors it’s just Max and me again.  Now the weather watch is back on as I look for an opportunity to continue south to the River Humber and Grimsby in particular.
The previous sentence was meant to be the last sentence of this blog entry but I have just had a conversation with my Mum and I’ve learnt something very disturbing. I mentioned to mum that part of this blog would deal with my observations about the Yorkshireman. After I explained what I meant mum said ‘You do know that your great grandad was a Yorkshireman don’t you?
Wwwwwhat????? Eeh by gum! Did I ‘eckers like! You are not right and I will not accept that. I’m right and you are wrong!
Oh no. That’s a threp in’t steans that is!
Just after leaving the Tyne and just before the wind swung on the nose. Oh, I love a headwindP1060526Approaching Whitby and going in through the harbour walls P1060555P1060570P1060571Lovely Whitby Harbour and it’s swing bridgeP1060577Whitby AbbeyP1060646P1060631Beautiful morning and the calm before the stormP1060659fullsizeoutput_2feP1060672IMG_5751That B*stard Brianfullsizeoutput_2ffP1060673P1060685P1060687P1060694P1060728P1060737And just in case you have forgotten what match point at air hockey looked like Sarah, here it is again!IMG_5761Finally, there is a very short video of Brian under ‘Other bits’
Fiesta out

Geordie Shore

I know this is a well trodden subject to talk about but it has fascinated me on my travels around our island so far. Regional accents! I have life long experience of the punctuation of sentences by means of the extra heavy right foot stomping of the Dengie peninsula’s home grown and have enjoyed listening to the various twangs as I have sailed along on this journey. I’ve enjoyed the sweet tones of the Emerald Isle through to the gentle Scottish symphony which became harder and harder to understand as I went along and once coming down from the northeast corner it may as well have been Swahili. Strangely, once in Amble the accent had reverted to something far less remarkable and after that I was immersed into the beautiful tones of our friends the Geordie’s! ‘Why aye man you’s a fookin cockney man’. I have been in Newcastle for a few days now and I love the Geordie’s! What a friendly bunch I am surrounded by in the marina and in the local boozer which is about two minutes walk from Fiesta. On my second day here I met a girl when I was walking Max through a local park. She appeared alongside me with her dog’s nose firmly up Max’s arse and within 30 seconds she was calling me a cockney and asking whether or not I was familiar with the ‘Famous Geordie slut drop’?!!!! ‘Actually I am’ I replied while hoping that I wasn’t about to get a demonstration. I don’t want to sound mean but there wasn’t anything that might be revealed by such a manoeuvre that I had any desire to see despite the fact that it sounded like it would be a freebie as opposed to paying 20 quid to watch the performance of this manoeuvre to the shortest song in history punctuated by cheap perfume, an unbelievably insincere line that goes something like ‘No. I really like you’ (code for get your wallet out you mug) delivered by a vacuous babe wearing nothing but see-through shoes’. Well, at least that’s what I’ve been told happens in those places.

I digress. In summary I suspect Max’s arse would have been the better end of the deal and fortunately she went merrily on her gurning way clearly having a wonderfull chemically fuelled stroll around the park! I don’t really care how anybody get’s their kicks as long as they do no harm to others and I have simply added her to the list of friendly characters that I have met since being in Newcastle.
The trip up river to the marina is about 7 miles from the entrance and reminded me of a mini winding River Thames with plenty of old docks and remnants of industries past. The entrance to St Peters Marina is the trickiest marina entrance that I have come across. It is 24ft wide and Fiesta is 16ft wide and even my maths tells me that only leaves errr, well some feet each side! It is tight! Tight is not really an issue but with a 3 knot cross tide it is very difficult to line up and you end up having to give it a bit of power and aim at the solid wall as you crab thoroughly sideways through the tide before an emergency astern manoeuvre is required as soon as the front half of the boat is in the gap because as soon as that bit is out of the tide you just head straight for the wall. I reckon I stopped about two inches short of the wall before dialling in some opposite lock, straightening up and heading in. This successful manoeuvre was preceded by a panicked emergency abort manoeuvre when I realised that I had got it wrong on my first attempt and was about to be slammed pretty hard amidships onto the wall. Throughout this merry little dance I had an audience of pedestrians who were watching from the entrance as their path had been blocked because the footbridge has to be raised to allow boats to enter through the gap. Then there were a few people inside the marina watching Fiesta squeeze through and once tied up I was told that they had only ever had one other catamaran attempt entry here! As I have said before, Lady Luck is always a very welcome and necessary friend to have!
On Friday night I went to the local pub. This was my first pub visit since being in Stornoway and I immediately realised I was in the right place. There were a lot of punters having a lot of fun and the bouncing and totally enthusiastic Geordie youngsters behind the bar recommended that I try the ‘C’Monster Ale. At 6.5% and being well off race pace following such a long period of pub abstinence, this was like a three hour sustained kick in the nuts before I wobbled off back to Fiesta having met plenty of very friendly, very funny Geordie’s who were all thoroughly excellent at p*ss taking. I really enjoyed myself and fell asleep fully clothed with the music going only woken when a less than impressed Max pulled the early morning reverse and park arse on nose manoeuvre as the sun came up. Lovely, cheers Max. I guess that’s called a ‘Dog slut drop’.
Joanna arrived on Sunday after a 5 hour drive from Essex and we went to the pub followed by dinner onboard. The next couple of days involved about 15 miles of walking around Newcastle, site seeing, lunches, dinners and a sh*t load of talking. It was fantastic to be able to have a proper catch up and especially good for Joanna as she had a rare treat of ditching those pesky kids and only having to worry about herself. It was a great opportunity for Joanna to see first hand that a life devoid of responsibility, with no one else to consider, only yourself to please and nothing to do other than what you love to do isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be! Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I am doing this….
Joanna left Fiesta, Max and I and headed home on Wednesday morning after sneaking up to the marina and paying my mooring fees!!!! Very underhand, totally unnecessary and completely lovely of you Joanna, thank you.
On Wednesday night I caught up with my mate Adrian, last seen in Largs and before that, on the maiden voyage to Dover. He was in Newcastle for some work, leadership, motivational, corporate type conference malarky and we met up to discuss our lives swinging around the same axis but poles apart! I know I know, it’s not everyone else, it’s me.
Life can be tough and I see from friends and family that raising kids might start with a relatively satisfying 30 seconds but thereafter becomes a 24/7/365/25 year nightmare. No. I mean a totally rewarding life affirming experience and all I can do is try and console myself that unfortunately the 30 second part is the only bit that I will get to experience and other than that I will have to make do with my lot in life…..
In keeping with the stream of visitors and indeed the 30 seconds of pleasure (albeit one sided but who really cares), Sarah is due to arrive by train tomorrow and will be with me for a week. I’m really looking forward to that and her arrival will mark the end of a 90 day drought (well, for me at least)! I reckon she will really enjoy Newcastle and as long as I translate for her I am sure she will love the Geordie’s too. The Canadian in Sarah will also love the continuing British theme of everything being more than five minutes old along with the history that comes only through struggle, strife and conquering rather than being gifted a country by the British Empire.
Now, I know that’s not really accurate but I am confident that a flippant comment like that will leave one normally sweet, kind and placid Canadian girlfriend absolutely seething and yes Sarah, you are right, I do need to be punished!
For the last week I have really enjoyed not looking at the weather but now that I have, I see that the UK might be getting the tail end of hurricane Ophelia which may keep us in Newcastle into next week but thereafter it’s fingers crossed for some fair winds to allow for some further progress South. The aim is four stops until Wells-next-the-Sea at which point it really will feel like I am just a hop skip and a jump from home. I’ve seen some truly beautiful coastlines, enjoyed some picture postcard harbours and magical secluded anchorages far from civilisation and despite all of that I am pleased to say that I have missed the Essex Coast. I’m not sure if it was a phrase coined by my Dad or if it is a more general term but he always used to say. ‘Ah yes, The Magical East Coast’.
I’ve always loved it and despite the fact that some people will avoid it because of it’s shallowness, sand, mud banks and often featureless coastline, it delivers stunning estuaries and creeks in which to explored and disappear from view through to beautiful towns and villages far up meandering rivers. Ok, the water is muddy and even if it wasn’t there are no dolphins to see nor hidden harbours or fantastical rocky bays and headlands but nevertheless, as it was to my old man, it is to me ‘The Magical East Coast’ and I’m getting excited about being there again.
The entrance to the Tyne, a view of North Shields, graffiti and getting close to the ships in the narrow channelP1060514P1060515P1060519P1060522
Wandering around Newcastle. Surely ‘love padlocks’ are not ideas put forward by blokes???? Ridiculous!IMG_5647 2IMG_5654IMG_5653 2
Millennium Bridge and Jesmond Dene Park

Another 50 knot battering and accepting that I am a Wafi….

I escaped from Arbroath on Saturday. I tried hard with the poor wind direction to make a sail out of it by heading into the entrance of the Firth of Forth in order to put a corner in my course and hopefully get the sails up along the coast to Eyemouth. However when I reached the point at which I planned to turn the wind shifted through 50 degrees and was once again on the nose for the rest of the trip!  Yet another 8 hour slog with the engine in confused seas ensued. Eight hours can fly by when you’re having fun but this eight hours was another session of torture, something similar to crawling through broken glass with your cock out and I found myself apologising to Fiesta again for making her do this. Fortunately after a few hours and once well clear of the mouth of the Forth the sea state got better and we pushed on to Eyemouth where I was escorted into the harbour by one of a family of very tame seals that swam alongside Fiesta through the entrance and all the way to the pontoon. What I didn’t realise at the time was that he was expecting a tip for this as most boats that he escorts in will give him a fish dinner for his trouble. Sorry mate.
As has been the norm and continues to be so, a gale was on it’s way and for the next two days the wind howled and I made the most of relaxing other than a few walks out including one to the petrol station to get forty litres of diesel and then stretch my arms all the way back. Yes I could have got a taxi but I actually see it as a work out because I am not cycling much at all and although sailing the boat can sometimes be heavyish work, there’s nothing like carry 20 kg’s on each arm for a mile to get the heart rate up.
At last there was a change of fortunes from a wind direction perspective and on Tuesday the gale had blown through and a force 7 from the northwest looked set for the next few days. A force 7 is not my preferred wind strength in which to venture out but I have learnt that sometimes you just have to take what is on offer in order to make progress and as long as it is blowing on your side or anywhere from behind then Fiesta loves it. It was quite rough after the gale but again, when you are going with the sea, it’s a peace of cake and there were views aplenty along the way with Bamburgh Castle, followed by sailing inside the Farne Islands and then finally passing Dunstanburgh Castle before arriving at my destination. Jib only, 42 miles and 6 hours later I arrived at Amble marina which is another nice fishing harbour with a marina squeezed in the corner.
Arriving in Amble also marked my return to England. I was more than a little sad as I lowered my Scottish courtesy flag after such an incredible three month tour but at the same time I was happy that despite roughing me up on a few occasions she had finally let me pass albeit with a force 7 kick up the arse for good measure!
I stayed in Amble for one night and then pushed on for a relatively short hop of 16 miles to Blythe in much the same conditions. It was great sail and included a 5 mile stretch through an area where hundreds of sea birds were dive bombing into the water for fish. Really spectacular and a treat to watch.
The marina at Blythe is owned by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club and they have one long north facing visitors pontoon so that is where I moored. Yet again, another gale was on it’s way but this time it was predicted to be a severe gale 9. Lately I have become quite accustomed to dodging these weather systems and it has worked out quite well thanks to plenty of head scratching, talking it through with myself and then making the decision of should I stay or should I go? I am aware that any such decision also requires a helping hand from Lady Luck when running between gales from harbour to harbour but harbours aren’t always as safe as you might think, as I was to discover.
On Wednesday night I went to bed feeling totally safe and secure alongside the pontoon in Blythe marina despite the imminent severe gale 9. The gale was forecast to come from the west or northwest and right in front of me was a big commercial jetty that would give me good shelter from that direction so I went to bed without any worries being in the ’safety’ of the marina. My alarm call came earlier than in Loch Eriboll but it was the same noise. Loud howling and getting louder. I instinctively knew that I should get up at least for a look and when I opened the door it was nearly ripped out of my hand. The wind was blowing straight across the harbour from a north or north east direction straight on to the side of Fiesta and a swell in the harbour was already building.
‘Oh sh*t, this might not be pleasant’ was my immediate feeling. As I got dressed the howling changed and much to my dread the shrieking sound returned and my speed dressing reached fever pitch as Fiesta jerked and snatched at her mooring lines. Within 30 seconds it went nuclear and I jumped onto the pontoon to see three of my five fenders squeezed out as the now 50 knot wind (yes that magic number again) battered Fiesta against the pontoon with frightening ferocity. The fenders were popping out because as usual they were tied to the life lines on the boat but as the boat bounced up and down in the swell at a different rythm to the rise and fall of the pontoon they were pulled out and once they are out, with 50 knots blowing against the side the boat there is simply no way of pushing the boat back out to get them in again and even though I managed to jam a couple back down in other places they were immediately popped out by the next wave that rolled under Fiesta.
And so it was again that I was outside fighting the elements in total blackness getting soaked from the waves breaking on the pontoon and the spray being whipped up from the water. It wasn’t easy to walk along the pontoon in that wind so it was a case of keeping low so as not to get blown off into the water. I was all too aware that whilst this situation wasn’t good, falling into the water would make it infinitely worse. I fought hard, as hard as I could but it was futile and in the end I rigged another line up to the centre of the boat and started the engine. By motoring against the line I could swing the stern out against the wind and leave it in gear while I tied some different fenders to the pontoon rather than to the boat and because they were ball shaped rather than sausage shaped I could set them just under the edge of the pontoon where there was no way they could be squeezed out. Then I put the engine astern and swung the bow out and did the same that end. I thought I had it licked because there were two huge fenders tied to the pontoon 40 feet away so I untied them but they had been in the water for so long that their bottom halves were totally encrusted with barnacles and mussels and that combination on the side of Fiesta would have been like coarse sand paper so I had to borrow some unused fenders from a another boat and get these in the gap. To do this was a full on fight for over an hour and it wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the local seagull population use that pontoon as their toilet and bird shite mixed with water makes for an ice rink so trying to get any grip when pushing the boat was both difficult and dangerous. I say dangerous because at this point you are working in the gap between the boat and the pontoon in the dark. My old man placed the danger firmly in both Joanna’s and my mind as youngsters that you DO NOT under any circumstances get any body part between the boat and the pontoon or jetty and his words were ringing clear as a bell through my ears during the entire fight. I promise I am not being dramatic here but had I got a leg trapped whilst trying to stamp a fender in place then it would have been snapped like a twig, there is no doubt about that. The loads imposed on boats in 50 knot winds are utterly overpowering. In the end I think we have survived ok other than a few scratches to Fiesta’s hull, a few grazes to me and a swollen finger.
The final insult came when the wind decreased and I went back inside soaked to the skin, bruised, battered, exhausted and freezing cold and Max had the cheek to look up at me from his comfy cushion and shiver. Max you really are a little prick!
I’m going to do my best not to sound like a tool for this next bit but if I do come across that way then I apologise.
I would like to think that I have been mindful and cautious in my approach to this entire trip but I have been taught a lesson. As I have said before, this coast has been tough for me and I don’t mind admitting that whilst getting preoccupied with the thought of the crossing from Isles of Scilly to Ireland, the tidal dangers of the west coast of Scotland and the perils of the exposed north coast I totally underestimated the challenge of the east coast and the higher latitudes of the North Sea. It has certainly been hard work for me and I feel like I have taken a few beatings.
What this has made me think about is that we are all really lucky to live safe and sanitised lifestyles. If I cast my mind back over previous years I can recollect being genuinely scared three times. Once was on a ride at the end of Brighton Pier with Amy back in about 2010. I know it sounds pretty soft to be scared by a fairground ride but I was! Then there were two occasions riding a motorbike when I experienced the adrenaline surge of real fear but that’s it. So a total of three times in seven years. Now, looking at this trip, I have been anxious countless times, nervous at the start of any lengthy sail and properly and thoroughly, no deeply scared three times in the last month. My adrenalin making machine must be wondering what the hell is going on.
Living with the sea and the coast full time has delivered some difficult situations and has truly made me realise that we spend most of our time in completely safe and controlled environments but if you wander even slightly out of that safe zone mother nature is there to show you how powerful she really is and how easy it is to get mercilessly stamped on.
I have always found weekend sailing a pleasure and dare I say nearly always easy but you get to choose your weather or stay in the safety of your home berth. When you are doing this full time, it can be bloody hard work. I have never once regretted setting out to do this, quite the opposite in fact and whilst my job in London came with periods of stress and also the concern that any city worker has felt thanks to some of our rag clad brethren, this trip has given me my highest of highs but has also tested me like I have never been tested before. It has shown me beauty and isolation I hadn’t previously experienced and put me in situations of genuine adrenaline pumping fear during which there is no one else to lean on and no option other than to try and solve the problem alone. And once on top of the problem, my god, that’s a feeling of complete and utter relief.
Would I do this trip again? Yes, in a heartbeat and I’m sure I would learn as much second time round as I have so far this time.
Finally, I’ve got to share something that I found absolutely hilarious. Just before I left Arbroath I was once again having a chat with the harbourmaster about fisherman and their general distain for yachties.
He said ‘They don’t call us Yachties, they call us Wafi’s’.
‘Oh really, what does that mean then’?
‘Wind Assisted F*cking Idiots’!
Top marks there for a high quality insult and whilst there is a healthy mutual disregard between us wafi’s and fishermen, one thing I do respect is that the very conditions that have overwhelmingly scared me lately are simply what those boys would call their office!
And finally finally!!! Probably just in the nick of time before I descend into madness brought on by being alone for the last two months, Joanna is coming up to visit me this weekend for a few days which I’m really looking forward to followed shortly afterwards by a week long visit from Sarah which will be great and hopefully my social skills will be up to it.
Fingers crossed that as far they are concerned, I will come across as normal, whatever ‘normal’ is…..
There are some big nasties to avoid on the way in to Eyemouthfullsizeoutput_2b8P1060100P1060105
Gale 8 out there but that doesn’t faze these boysP1060129
Really tame seals as long as you are not a seagull!fullsizeoutput_29f
The castles on route to AmbleP1060249P1060261
Sailing inside the Farne IslandsP1060238P1060254
The diversP1060420P1060421P1060422P1060423Version 2Version 2Version 2

Heading South

I made a break from Peterhead a little unexpectedly. I have always used and been confident in the weather information provided by XC Weather although since being in Stornoway my confidence has diminished. It’s not just me either. For the last six weeks or so harbourmasters, sailors and local fisherman have all said the same. ‘I don’t know what has happened, we always use XC Weather but lately it just hasn’t been right’. To be fair to XC Weather, I don’t think any forecasts have been particularly reliable of late, not even the shipping forecast provided by the Met Office. The gale in Loch Eriboll was a surprise that was sprung on me at the last moment by an emergency broadcast from Stornoway Coastguard. They too can only rely on what they are told and since that time the weather has been anything but predictable which has made life tough for me for well over a month. Well, that’s tough in relative terms!
I was completely fed up with being in Peterhead and although the marina is great, Peterhead itself will not feature on my list of ‘must revisit’ places but I was resigned to staying there until Saturday at the earliest. However, a weather window appeared and I took a bit of a gamble and went for it. The forecast was for an east and then later a southeast force 4. Southeast is not good and would mean a tortuous slog into sharp seas but an easterly would let me pass nicely so I went for it and left in the darkness of Tuesday morning. It doesn’t matter how many times I do it but leaving in the dark and venturing out through the big concrete walls of a harbour and into the dark sea alone feels ominous and a little scary. Yet again, the forecast proved to be totally inaccurate and within two hours the wind had swung to the south and although this was the worst possible direction for me it also dropped right off and the sea became relatively calm so the 70 mile trip down to Arbroath, where I am now, turned into a twelve hour session of complete boredom accompanied by the continuous drone of the engine. You can’t do anything but sit and stay on watch and while you don’t want to see anything to trouble you, not seeing anything is unbelievably dull. Still, the job got done and I was thrilled to be in Arbroath which is a small fishing harbour and marina with another scary entrance through a narrow channel between the rocks and waves that break either side of you. There is a transit line for entry which means two boards set up on the shore that you line up, keep in line and this is the safe and deepest channel in. However, problems occur with visual navigation aids when the fog turns up to p*ss on your chips! In fact I had fog for most of the way so my radar was on constantly so I could detect any other vessels lurking around and also to show me exactly where the shore and rocks were. Now, it’s not just about radar because chart plotters are excellent and provide you with the same accurate detail and position that sat nav systems in cars do so in theory you could use the chart plotter on it’s own to ensure that you are in the correct channel. However, there can be inaccuracies and also magnetic anomalies that will throw these off and for the close navigation towards hard objects that is required for any harbour entry it is good to have the radar to double check the information on the screen when all you can see with your mince pies is scary white stuff and all you can hear through your Lords and Peers is the harbour’s fog horn (yeah, proper cockney ain’t I), which to me translates into ‘You’re getting close but will you turn to port, starboard or go straight on? The choice and ability to f*ck it all up is yours and yours alone you little prick! ‘Yes, I know that and can I just thank you for your kind assistance in this matter Mr Horn’….
We got into Arbroath harbour by going along the scary rock wall and then to the safe haven within. I moored up alongside a big powerboat and raised a glass to my chart plotter, my radar and Fiesta for getting us here safely.
The harbour staff are ex fisherman and extremely helpful and welcoming although I’m not sure the same can be said for the active fisherman here. I get the feeling that yachts are not their favoured water dwelling companions and all seem to be hardened (unsurprisingly) by the conditions they work in and have a measure of distain for anyone that uses the sea for pleasure. Well, my sea plundering friends, the feeling is a more than a little mutual especially after navigating through the vast amount of lobster pots that literally litter the approach to this harbour. I totally forgive anyone for thinking that the next statement is bullish*t because I would too but believe it or not there are 25,000 to 30,000 lobster pots around this area alone. None of them lit, some of them marked with flags and some of them only having small buoys marking their position (definitely a bottom of the barrel work experience placement).
Getting any one of these around the propellor means only one thing. Calling for assistance, probably the lifeboat before you are washed ashore pushed by the onshore wind and then the dream is over. However, after ten hours of utter boredom, picking my way through the maze of pots as they loomed out of the fog did at least make me concentrate hard and the last two hours of the trip flew past in a flurry of nail biting, swearing and brown trousering.
Apparently the powers that be are trying to do something about the amount of pots here and that’s not to help any of us recreational sailors, it’s about preserving the lobster population which although incredibly abundant at the moment, is due to be fished out at this rate. Apparently fisherman are pulling out 50 to 60 year old monsters which I’m sure are magnificent specimens but with 25,000 to 30,000 pots there is no way the lobster population can sustain itself despite the recent introduction of marine viagra, lobster lipstick and a new lower age of consent so something has got to change!
After a day of rest here in Arbroath there appeared to be another weather window forecasted by the BBC and XC Weather. I was up early yesterday to take it but there is a storm gate that protects this inner harbour from the swell outside and it was meant to be open at 7 am but it was not. At 8 am I called the harbourmaster with news that I wanted to leave. He seemed surprised and said ‘Well, it’s up to you of course’. That comment from a salty old sea dog is enough to set the doubt wheels in motion and he explained that the general consensus was that a gale was on its way. After talking to him and his colleague I decided that only a foolish ex insurance broker on a pleasure sailing trip would go against the far away misty eyed look of a local salty sea dog and go for it. As a final teaser, they opened the gate for me as it is indeed ‘my decision’ but by that time I didn’t have a decision to make. My want to get further south as we near October is considerable but not so great that I want to f*ck it all up in a gale as I cross the tide that flows out of the Firth of Forth.
 So I stayed put despite every fibre of my being thinking that I should have been out there on my way to Eyemouth. I heeded the warnings and bowed to local knowledge but in a cruel twist of fate or a cheeky way to get me to pay for another couple of nights, the gale didn’t appear! It was beautiful, calm and sunny all day and both XC Weather and the BBC were spot on! Boll*cks! That just about sums up the weather situation for the last six weeks for me but let’s be honest, if this is the source of my biggest frustration then life is pretty good!
If I dare to look at the forecast there appears to be a potential weather window tomorrow and that might even mean wind in a favourable direction. So it’s fingers, toes, Bristol Rock and Cobblers Awls crossed me old cocker!
It’s not bad here. No actually it’s very pleasant but whatever, it’s much much better than being stuck in Peterhead and to be fair, with a gene pool this small I should feel right at home so I might even mix with the locals later tonight.
I am imagining a scenario where I walk into the local pub and get laughed at as the ‘soft southern shandy drinker’ who got thoroughly wound up about a made up gale and lost his bottle’. Oh well, I’ll have to take that if it is delivered so let’s just see what happens…….
Finally, there is a new video under the ‘Other bits’ section. With apologies it’s a bit longer than usual but it was quite difficult to condense my 24 hours of nervousness and fear in Loch Eriboll into anything under eight minutes!
The harbour entrance with it’s breakers P1060022P1060025P1060028
Safe and shelteredP1060013
The view each side of the harbour entrance. Even the birds look hard.P1060042P1060044P1060043
Cute little crescent beach and the Brothock Burn that runs out to sea from Arbroath
Ok ok, so there’s one less lobster pot than I said….P1060051