Tales of two crossings…

Here I am sat in Den Hague in the Netherlands on a blustery grey day. since my last post I have managed to cross 2 major waterways, the Thames and the North Sea. Here is how they went…

The Thames. 

I was last on the Thames back in January when we sailed a Bavaria 45 back from London with Cornish Cruising, a memorable trip as on the way to Falmouth we were demasted off of Portland Bill, cut the rig off and managed to get into Weymouth under escort from the lifeboat. This time I was on my own, and in my fine but small Hawk 20. I slipped the mooring I had picked up in Faversham as the Sun was rising, and motored out against a flooding tide to the estuary. Off Pollard sands I raised the sails and used the flooding tide to head out to mid channel, aiming roughly for the red towers on a broad reach. By the time I got to the towers the tide had well and truely turned, and I made for the west swin channel. Knowing it was neap tides (the small ones), and having a lifting centre board I cheekily took a short cut across the west Barrow sand bank, with about a metre of water under the boat. This I had calculated before leaving, using a tidal curve which gave me how much water there would be at each hour of the tide. Surprisingly there wasn’t much traffic on the river, so the main channel was all mine.

On into the East Swin channel I sailed with the wind dropping down to Beaufort scale force 2 I headed for the Whitaker East Cardinal before turning North Esat for the river Blackwater.. I would of loved to have cut across the Foulness sands, but due to the artillery firing ranges, which I knew were in use from the mornings gun and sub facts report, I decided to be prudent for a change and stayed in the main channels, Pushing up the Blackwater against the last of the tide on a 7 mile broad reach was relaxing sailing I headed for Bradwell marina, and a pint of Ruddles finest ale.

The North Sea.  

This crossing would be my biggest yet, quite a few people had said I was a fool to attempt this in such a small open boat. Others have been further in smaller boats, Shrimpy, Frank Dye etc.

I am fairly new to sailing after refinding my love of the sport at Exe Sailing Club, after doing my Dinghy level 3 course in September 2014, I sailed as often as possible over winter, and did my instructor training the following February gaining my ticket in June after racing as often as possible on dinghies and cruisers and helping out with junior race training and sailability sessions. I decided I would do an intensive sailing course that winter and signed up for a zero to hero yacht master course with Cornish Cruising based in Falmouth, hoping that if I can cope with a west country winter of sailing I should be well prepared for future endeavors. The instructors were great, patient and thorough, the boats were, lets say well used…. I successfully gained my Yacht Master Offshore at the end of February this year, and felt mentally ready for the upcoming challenge.

To begin with I had hopes of sailing from The Wash straight to Esbjerg in Denmark, a crossing of over 330 nautical miles, though after the sail from Exmouth in Devon to Essex my self steering system was weak and I realized this passage may be the end of the voyage one way or another, or even me! So whilst sat in Titmarsh marina in Walton on  the Naze and studying various weather and wave websites, I saw a window to hop over to Holland, hopefully missing shipping channel with suitable wind. I swiftly grabbed some extra charts of the Dutch coast, double checked all gear on arctic joy, and left 2 days later.

The alarm buzzed at 3.15 on the 20th of May 2016, after a short nights sleep due to the many thoughts going round my head about the crossing, I packed up the boat and left the marina at 4.30 a.m. . I knew I would have to sail against the tide for the first hours of the trip, but I wanted to arrive in daylight and with a 130nm passage I would have it with as well when it turned. With the sun rising i made for a South Cadinal bouy marking the Whiting Bank to the east of the mouth of the river Ore. With the wind up my arse, which is never a favoured point of sail, I goose winged on port and starboard tack against the tide and with less than 10 knots of wind, I got frustrated, cursed the wind and a few other things, wondering what the hell I was doing out here. It took a few hours to settle into this leg, knowing how far I was going to sail and with these waters being some of the busiest in the World, shipping coming and going from Harwich, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Newcastle, the Baltic ports to name just a few. On reaching the cardinal I altered course and made for a waypoint I had decided on mid channel. I had stocked up on snacks before I left, so the cockpit bags were bulging with chocolates, scotch eggs and pasties, and of course  several of my fine wet ration bags. I had found on the sail up from Devon that I wasn’t regularly eating, and hunger affects my decisions, so more was better and at the first stomach grumble I could reach down and grab something sweet or savoury whatever the weather was doing.

Some showers were forecast, and the 7am shipping forcast brought a strong wind warning in sea ares Thames and Humber with a force 7 predicted. This gave me food for thought and a couple more nerve endings buzzed. I had tried to prepare myself and the boat as well as possible and believed we could cope with that though it would be at both of our extremes. So with about 15knts of wind I made for waypoint one on a broad reach with about a metre high swell, I was beginning to enjoy it. With a wind farm on my starboard beam, a couple of vessels passed me, the first of these I radioed to see how I was appearing on their radar, as I had installed an Echomax radar transponder before I left which should give me a much better ‘echo’, they said they could see me well which calmed a few nerves. As I got further into the North Sea the swell increased to 2 – 3 metres which gave some good surfing as it was almost astern, though when it came onto my beam (middle of boat) we did roll a fair amount, but not too much to worry me.

On reaching the way point, there wasn’t really any going back now as I was over half way across, there was the odd ship on the horizon, then one was headed in my direction, ok lets see if we are on collision course. Were, as it got closer I saw it was a large car carrier, very large when you are in a 20ft boat, so I hove to and waited for it to go past my bow at about 500m distant. As I was alone and evening was coming I knew I would have to keep a very good watch  for shipping as if they ran me down, they probably wouldn’t notice and I probably wouldn’t even scratch their paint work, however shoddy it was. Dusk drew in and more ships appeared on the horizon, they were headed to all points of the compass and I had to dodge several, but I knew the main shipping lane was to my west and hoped the majority would stay in there. Midnight came and went I was feeling tired, and had a wet bum, after opting for regular wet weather gear instead of my trusty dry suit. This was probably an error as trying to get into a drysuit whilst sailing is not an easy option especially with a fair amount of spray onboard, so i stayed as I was, but added an extra primaloft layer under my Musto MPX jacket.

I was hoping for an early morning arrival in Scheveningen, which I prefer as if things go astray on the passage it gives me plenty of daylight to sort things out and still have time to get into a new Port or anchorage without darkness to hinder me. By this time the wind had risen enough for me to use my ‘deep’ third reef and still be making a good 6 knts, if the wind kept up I would drop the mainsail totally and go on my headsail alone. At about 3 am my course took me past what I thought were  a couple of ships at anchor, as one made way towards me I changed direction and ducked behind a tanker, expecting to be in clear water afterwards, but to my shocked and blearily tired eyes there were dozens of ships at anchor, presumably waiting to enter Rotterdam about 40 miles away. After about 30 minutes inside this anchorage I found clear water and my nerves were half shot as some were very poorly lit, I headed back out to sea as I thought. But no, somewhere in there both my compasses on board were showing 100 degrees different to my gps, I dug out my spare gps and it was reading the same as its brother. A little panic then set in, I knew where I should be, which was about 25 miles East north East of my destination, but which should I trust, 2 compasses or 2 gps’s? I decided to wait half an hour until it got light enough to see clearly, consult charts, eat, calm down then make a rational decision. As daylight sauntered in I saw at least 3 tankers that were unlit at anchor, which is not only illegal but scary when you are sailing around them in a wee boat and they are dark coloured, and therefore invisible to me, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that I hadn’t hit one, decided to continue on my course using gps, hoping there was a magnetic anomaly in the area or from the other ships.

The last broad reach into Port was grand, with seriously drooping eyelids, I fell asleep on the helm and only woke as the tiller was yanked out of my hand, I needed help to stay awake. A good friend Vicki and mentioned at a pre trip dinner that at some point there would be time for death metal.. So out came the ipod and speaker, Metallica was found and out they thundered, no sleep now. Hoping they wouldn’t be overcome by water and drown as my ‘waterproof’ speaker had i carried on with them both sheltering under my crocs. My final way point came into view a safe water mark, freshly painted and gleaming red and white striped. I dropped my sails radioed harbour control and entered port, feeling  exhausted but elated, I had done it.

Solo across the North, over 30 hrs at the helm of my 20ft hawk, arctic joy. Now for a short rest before island hopping up the coast to Denmark and beyond…






My little adventure has well and truly begun. As I sit here in Ramsgate with a northerly wind gusting to force 7, I contemplate the first section of my journey. I have now covered over 350 nautical miles ( 1 nm is about 1800m ), and the south coast of England is now behind me.

I finally departed Exmouth on the 27th of April at 01.30 a.m.heading for Portland famed for its tidal race off the Bill, I timed my arrival there so the race would be slight and daylight, even so I was met by metre high sharp and vertical waves coming from all directions, an exciting 15 minutes before I came into clear water and sailed down into Portland harbour and dropped my anchor after 11hrs under way. Sleep was required as the last week of preperation had taken its toll, ( packing ones boat with everything needed for such a trip is a logistics nightmare, then putting the other part of my life into a shipping container without any vital items being forgotten, or excess gear being carried ).

I continued the next day on around to Studland, just outside Poole Harbour, a good sail, with maybe a smidgen too much sail up as I was hitting 9 knts downwind, which is exhilarating in a 20ft well loaded boat, I sat on one of there visitor moorings for a couple of nights settling into the boat routine again, and realizing what I was attempting. Foolishly or Boldly I decided to avoid the busy Solent and sail around the outside of the Isle of wight. Those who know the area, the south side is fairly exposed with no bolt holes or escape routes, a case of sail to the other side or return to start. I wanted to get the feeling of exposure which I will have to face over the coming months, and I sailed of with a couple of butterflies in the wellies. Two thirds of the away around after watching a squall approach, I put a couple of reefs in the main and part reefed my genoa when it hit. 35knts said my windex as the boat heeled over and water poured into the cockpit, my reactions from dinghy sailing sent me for the centreboard, my safety harness didn’t agree. Ok I thought, will have to see what the boat does on her own, and she did wonderfully and headed up into the wind and came onto an even keel, Sinbad the ships cat was swimming as was the waterproof speaker, which has since never worked. The cockpit self bailers worked a treat and within minutes the boat was dry ish and on we sailed, towards Hayling Island feeling a bit jaded but very happy all had survived the first ‘knock down’, just had to fight the tide to get into the marina at 19.30 after 12 hours at the helm. I decided to skip the evening ration pack and eat out and have some more iron rations by way of Guiness.

After a couple of quiet days exploring the estuary, with the hawk 20 having a drafty of 30cm with centreboard up we can go where other boats don’t dare, dry out at low tide and enjoy the tranquility of marshes and the wildlife they hold. On to Shoreham for the next stop, where I sat on the Sussex Yachtclub visitor pontoon, which dried at low tide and left me hanging of the edge, surrounded by flotsam and jetsom of the smelly kind, so I didn’t stay long and then headed around to Eastbourne and Soverign marina. It was the first time we have gone through lock gates, pinned in by several smelly fishing boats, ( a different smell than my wellies anyway ) and in we went, A big and pricey marina surrounded by expensive flats, I am sure I was the novelty boat in there, and spied several nosey critters with there binoculars on me.. You get what you look for!! Not a home for me so on into Dover, hmmm big boats coming and going, I used my radar transponder for added visibility and kept in shallower waters playing dodge the lobster pots whilst feeling tired from a long overnight sail so as to catch the tide right, though having to wait outside the harbour for an hour in a racing tide diminished my fuel supplies and was a noisy end to the morning. Not the nicest of towns these days so I hopped around to Ramsgate and had a foggy trip, not my wisest of days bur I was  able to put into all I had learnt at Cornish cruising, and stayed on the contours, then hopped from bouy to bouy using my Garmin 78s handheld gps, now that makes life easier with visibility down to 20m at times, exposed sand bars and the Harbour Break water to hit, I tried to be cautious, the 4knt tide made the last approach  exciting, but alls well that ends well.

With gusty conditions and an unforgiving swell, it is time for a bit of maintenace, repaired the main halyard and adjusted the centreboard uphaul, today is time to look at the extra somar panels and do a few modifications to my palm rescue bouyancy aid, another pocket to add and adjust the safety line attachment point. I have now fixed my harness to the boat as it is a double hooked system which is now larks footed onto my strong point I can clip on and off when I feel it is needed, so far very little as I choose the days I sail and take my time. On the idea of time and reaching Northern Norway, well, I don’t reckon it will be this year! I may just slip up into the Baltic and see where I get to and have a nice early start next year, if arctic joy and I are still speaking, of if Sinbad hasn’t set me adrift on my paddle board..IMG_20160429_162436

Exmouth summer is over.

Well that is it for this summer in Exmouth. It has been a busy one on and off the water.

At Exe Sailing Club I have been helping with the junior race nights, splash nights, junior 3/4 training, Sailability, Wednesday night racing, the odd weekend race, 2/3 of the season racing aboard Exeat a Benetau 31.7 and finally much work and sailing aboard arctic joy my hawk 20. Throw in some part time work at Peter Dixons Chandelry in Exmouth and there wasn’t much spare time. Ooh almost forgot the racing aboard X332 Axeman out of Dartmouth, Yealm race and RTYC offshore week,  Moulin rouge themed racing around the Channel Islands and French coast with the odd social event thrown in!! I even managed to get myself qualified as a dinghy instructor, and have taught on various courses at the club, and finally got my day skipper ticket aboard Zephyr with Karen. Thank you to all involved it has been a lot of fun and a steep learning curve.

Now for the winter project, my Yachtmaster development course. It all kicks off tomorrow in Falmouth, so have packed my life into my container and have a car full of books, charts and wet weather gear for the early start tomorrow.

The course entails :

Phase 1

Saturday 3 Oct 15                VHF Radio (Inc GMDSS)                                 Classroom                                                                 1 Day
Sunday 4 Oct 15                  Radar                                                                   Classroom                                                                 1 Day
Sunday 4 Oct 15                  Familiarisation Week                                        Local Waters                    (125 Miles)                     5 Days
Saturday 10 Oct 15              Mileage Building/Seamanship Training       Channel Islands              (350 Miles)                     7 Days
Monday 19 Oct 15               RYA Day Skipper Theory                                 Classroom                                                                  5 Days
Sunday 25 Oct 15               RYA Day Skipper Practical                              Local Waters                     (125 Miles)                     5 Days
Saturday 31 Oct 15             Bareboat Charter                                               TBC                                     (200 Miles)                     7 Days

Phase 2

Saturday 14 Nov 15            RYA Diesel Engine                                           Classroom                                                                  1 Day
Saturday 14 Nov 15            Mileage Building / Seamanship Training     North Brittany                   (400 Miles)                      7 Days
Monday 23 Nov 15              RYA Coastal Skipper / Yachtmaster Theory  Classroom                                                                 5 Days
Sunday 29 Nov 15              RYA Coastal Skipper Practical                       South Coast                     (125 Miles)                       5 Days
Sunday 6 Dec 15                STCW95 Fire Fighting/PSSR/First Aid/Survival at Sea                                                                   6 Days
Sunday 13 Dec 15              RYA Coastal Skipper Prep and Exam          Local Waters                      (125 Miles)                      6 Days

Phase 3

Saturday 2 Jan 16              Spinnakers                                                        Local Waters                                                                1 Day
Sunday 3 Jan 16                Mileage Building / Seamanship Training    Falmouth – London           (300 Miles)                      5 Days

Sunday 17 Jan 16              Mileage Building / Seamanship Training    London – Falmouth           (300 Miles)                      7 Days
Sunday 24 Jan 16              Bareboat Charter (Bavaria 36)                       South Coast                       (200 Miles)                       6 Days
Saturday 30 Jan 16            Yacht Husbandry                                             Classroom & Boats                                                      2 Days
Sunday 31 Jan 16              Mileage Building/Seamanship Training      Isles of Scilly                       (350 Miles)                       7 Days
Sunday 7 Feb 16                Yachtmaster Prep and Exam                          Local waters                        (125 Miles)                      6 Days

Phase 4

Monday 22 Feb 16             Motor Boat Course                                            South Coast                                                                  4 Days
Monday 29 Feb 16             RYA Yachtmaster Ocean Theory                   Classroom                                                                     5 Days
Saturday 5 Mar 16              RYA Power Boat Level 2                                                                                                                         2 Days
Sunday 6 Mar 16                RYA Instructor                                                   Local Waters                                                                 5 Days


I will do my best to keep updated how the courses go, what boats they let me play on.

Time to finish packing, and start the next challenge.

VIRB Picture
VIRB Picture