Saturday, 31 August 2013

Blackwater Estuary Cruise, August 28th-31st

Daisy II cruising into the evening sun, coaster Valentine ahead together with the imposing nuclear power station at  Bradwell
Another picture, this time taken from Valentine, of Daisy II cruising into the sun on the first day.
By comparison with recent efforts, our 'summer' has, at last, lived up to its name. This has yielded exceptional opportunities for extended cruising and, in the process, greatly increased my confidence in the Drascombe Coaster's capabilities when out at sea. So, following my east coast cruise to rivers north east of home waters, I set off on a second summer cruise, this time bound for the Blackwater estuary, a wonderful sailing area with large expanses of open water, sheltered rivers, attractive ports, stunning islands and secluded creeks.
Overall: 123nm; Season's total 600.9nm
Wednesday August 28th - from the Orwell to the Blackwater
Departure from Pin Mill at 10.30am, taking the last of the ebb out of the Orwell, and picking up the flood as Daisy II rounded the Naze Tower and sailed down The Wallet.  Winds were variable but generally northerly, and light in the morning, turning south easterly in the afternoon.  I used the engine to speed up the process of reaching the Naze Tower, but sailed the remaining distance.
I never cease to be amazed by the size of these container ships at Felixstowe
Never easy to capture with my 'point and shoot' camera, but I have always enjoyed the patterns made by these offshore windfarms.  This is the array on the Gunfleet Sands, opposite Clacton on Sea.
Once in the River Blackwater, I was greeted by coaster Valentine.  There was always a prospect that this would happen, but it was nonetheless a delight that we pulled it off.  Further to my report earlier this month, I am delighted that a local sailor purchased Valentine and, by way of coincidence, was on holiday at West Mersea this week.  Daisy II and Valentine are, respectively, Drascombe coasters no.280 and no.281; both feature the unusual round portholes on their cabins and were obviously manufactured as a pair, and fairly close to the demise of the then Totnes-based firm, Honnor Marine (UK) Ltd.  Hence, I have started to view these boats as, not just 'sisters' but 'twin-sisters'.  I'm still trying to find out whether any other round-portholed versions were produced at this time, as well as the reasons for their production.
Images of coaster Valentine

After an enjoyable reach up the Blackwater, Valentine retired to West Mersea, and I sought anchorage for the night off the north shore of Osea Island.
Day 1: Orwell to the Blackwater, 34.8nm
Thursday 29th August - exploring the River Colne
It made sense to use the tides.  I used the morning ebb, in light winds, up to Stone Point off the east side of Mersea Island, where I anchored for lunch.  Subsequently, I took the flood up the Colne to Wivenhoe and Rowhedge, before sailing back down the Colne, into the estuary and ending up anchored just west of Bradwell on the south side of the River Blackwater.  Winds were SW, reaching an F4 peak around 2pm, but generally light F3.
Osea Island
Distant Drascombe Drifter from West Mersea
Approach to Wivenhoe
Lugger 'The Old Blugger' perched on mudbanks at Rowhedge
Gunfleet Sands wind farm has that sinking look from behind Brightlingsea
Day 2: Blackwater and Colne; 32.5nm
Friday 30th August - Sailing in the Blackwater, and beaching at West Mersea
The last full day gave an opportunity to enjoy sailing in the River Blackwater.  I also wanted to stop at West Mersea over lunch (low tide).
I began by beating west, originally with the intention of reaching Maldon.  Winds were too light, though, to achieve this, and I had set off too late (6am!).  So I settled on the much reduced target of Goldhanger Creek, where I saw two boats whose lately deceased owners and creators have been a huge inspiration.
John Sheldrake's much modified Dracombe Driver Mantra is now moored here.  John was a great Drascombe modifier, and had loads of ideas about how to make these boats sail more effectively.  He was also a thoroughly pleasant chap, and supported one of my early rallies at Hickling Broad in 2010.  It was so sad that he lost his life earlier this year.
Boats at Goldhanger Creek, including Mantra, the former Drascombe Driver heavily modified by the much-missed John Sheldrake.
Charles Stock's boat Shoal Waters is also now moored at Goldhanger.  Charles's book, 'Sailing just for fun' is never far from my book pile, and is a huge inspiration to anyone cruising around the east coast.  My annual mileage doesn't even put a dent in his documented travels and, significantly, he managed his without an engine.
Shoal Waters, the late Charles Stock's widely travelled pocket cruiser, now moored at Goldhanger Creek.
Having paid my respects to these two wonderful boats, I sailed with the ebb east, briefly calling in at Stone Sailing Club and enjoying some moored Drascombes.
Drascombes at Stone Sailing Club
Drascombe coaster, Maid of Stone
Daisy II briefly beached off Stone Sailing Club, St Lawrence Bay
The next stop was thoroughly planned.  I wanted to stop for a while at West Mersea.  I found a suitable place to 'wash up' for a few hours either side of LW on a hard area adjacent to a very busy jetty.
Daisy II washed-up at West Mersea
West Mersea is a splendid place to enjoy boats of all shapes and sizes.  Former Drascombe Drifter owners, David and Persephone must be extremely proud of their new toy, an impressive, new Bay Cruiser 23 called Moonstone IX.
Moonstone IX, a Bay Cruiser 23
By contrast, there were some less-picturesque efforts...
Is this the world's ugliest-looking craft?
After a thoroughly pleasant few hours exploring the town including a cafe stop, a visit to a chandlers to purchase needle and thread for further sprayhood repairs, I teamed up once more with Valentine for very pleasant sailing - just for the fun of it - in the estuary.

Following the trip, the new owner of Valentine sent me some pictures of Daisy II:

Images of Daisy II taken by the skipper of Valentine
...and this piece of video:

Finally, it was time for me to retire to my planned evening anchorage off Stone Point, poised for the return trip to home waters.
Day 3: West Mersea; 29.9nm
Saturday 31st August - return to the Orwell
The return trip was every bit the exhilarating sail I had hoped for, up until I had, for the sake of time, to resort to engine east of the Naze Tower.  I woke up to fresher, NW F5 winds. I hauled in the anchor at around 7.15am and, with reefed jib and double reefed main, cruised down the Colne and around Colne Point, and then east along the coast.  Under much reduced canvas, in the gusts, I was reaching speeds well in excess of 6 knots.  As the coast veered towards the north, winds moved onto the nose, but also diminished slightly in intensity.  I hove too opposite the Ro Mast between Holland-on-Sea and Frinton-on-Sea to shake out a reef, pull out the mizzen, and for various refreshments.  Once clear of the Naze tower, I faced the prospect of winds on the nose in mounting seas, and a commitment to make it back home in time to visit London in the evening.  So, I switched on the motor and worked my way back to the mooring.
Day 4: return to the Orwell; 25.3nm
This trip represents the end of a fantastic summer of sailing.  My intention has been to concentrate on longer trips and this objective has been achieved.  My log already shows that Daisy II has sailed further this year than ever before.  Sadly, September brings the return of work commitments.  However, there are exciting planned trips ahead, not least of which is the next Dracombe Rally at Hickling Broad during the last weekend in September.  At some point, I will have to take Daisy II off the mooring in preparation for this, but hope for the odd day sail in between.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

August 25th: Return Trip to Holbrook Bay

22.1nm; Season's total: 477.8nm
Winds NE F4.  I sailed with reefed main, full jib and mizzen.  Most boats had a reef tucked in today, and there were some stronger gusts, fortunately not too sudden, which made for a great day's sail.  Apart from motor sailing each way along the SE-NW stretch of the Orwell, the engine remained silent today.  I was able to enjoy the last couple of hours of the flood up the Stour to Holbrook Bay, followed by the early ebb on the return.
Splendid sailing weather!
I've brought home the sprayhood for some necessary repairs, from where the gaff halliard and main downhaul run through.  Hopefully, some needle and thread will repair this, although a new sprayhood is creeping ever closer to the top of the wish list...  In the mean time, and to prevent further damage, I'm experimenting with a couple of pieces of old hosepipe to act as conduits for these ropes.  They seem to have worked today - will photograph next time.
Things are also shaping up well for a four day cruise to the Blackwater estuary, beginning this Wednesday.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Looking through the round window

Valentine, Drascombe Coaster No281
Daisy II is Drascombe Coaster No.280.  These details are etched on her brass stemhead, and also feature in the serial number.  Built, as she was, in July 1997, by a soon-to-be-insolvent Honnor Marine of Totnes, I've often wondered whether she was the last boat this particular firm ever produced.  I'm also intrigued by the cabin windows which are distinctively round, rather than the long oval shape found on most coasters.  Whilst not unique, I certainly feel these add a particular charm to the design, and I wouldn't want a model with the usual window.  How many more round-windowed examples are there?

I found out, this week, that Daisy II has a twin - Valentine - which currently is kept in Scotland and is  Coaster No281.  As well as being the ensuing hull number, she also features the same round windows and leads me to believe that HM did indeed produce at least one more coaster prior to calling in the receivers.  But, a few questions spring to mind:
 Firstly, how many more of these round-windowed coasters were built?  On the recent east coast cruise, we saw  coaster Virginia, which features three round windows on either side, but this is a rather earlier model.  Moreover, why did the builders suddenly start a run of round-windowed coasters - and were there any others in this particular run?

Saturday, 10 August 2013

August 10th: a trip along The Wallet

Today was about pushing some boundaries.  As far as day sails go, this was longer than anything else I had planned.  I had also never 'day-sailed' along The Wallet:  an inshore waters passage (swatchway) in the Thames estuary connecting the various tributaries of Harwich Haven with the Blackwater estuary.  Venture too far out to sea, and one hits the Gunfleet Sands, now one of a growing legion of windfarms.  Hit it with the tide in your favour, and enjoy the ride!

I intend cruising the Blackwater later this month, weather permitting.  Today was a sort of trial run in terms of the necessary trip along the coast.  Tides and weather were right for an early start, so I left home at 5am and was casting off the mooring soon after 7am, taking the last hour of the ebb out of the Orwell, and then picking up the fresh flood tide along The Wallet.  The incoming tide runs at a good 2 knots in places, particularly past Walton-on-the Naze and Frinton-on-Sea, so speeds in excess of 7 knots were possible even in today's calm conditions.
In the event, there was a good westerly F3-4 breeze to take me almost all of the way to the Blackwater - certainly, it was in full view - one more sequence of tacks and I could have been cruising up the River Colne towards Brightlingsea - as I reluctantly turned round for the run back home.  On the return trip, winds disappeared -as per forecast - passing Frinton, so I used the outboard for the remainder of the return trip.  All in all, 46.2nm in one day must be a record for me.
46.5nm; season's total: 455.7nm.
The Naze tower - how long before the flood defences give way?
Walton on the Naze pier plus town, highlighted by the sun
Clacton on Sea plus pier

Monday, 5 August 2013

East Coast Cruise, July 28th to August 4th

Ceol na Mara and Daisy II beached at Felixstowe Ferry
The long-awaited East Coast Cruise in numbers:
147 nautical miles
224 tacks
5 rivers (Orwell, Ore, Alde, Butley, Deben)
9 boats at various times (Coasters: Daisy II, Virginia, Martha; Dabber: Ceol na Mara; Longboat: Five Alive; Deben Luggers: Debutante, Deben Lugger; Lugger: Cutty Stark; Norfolk Gipsy: anon!)
10 skippers/crew
several pubs and restaurants
incalculable pleasure by all involved!

Overall 147nm; season's total 409.3nm
July 28th: Orwell to the Ore
In a fresh F5 southerly breeze, coasters Daisy II and Virginia worked their way in difficult conditions from the Orwell, against the tide and north east along the coast to Orford Haven.  Deben Lugger Debutante and Lugger Cutty Stark both had teething problems, by way of broken rigs and rigging whilst launching at Suffolk Yacht Harbour - it was to be several days before we managed to meet up again.  
During the sea passage, I cheated by keeping the outboard on tick-over, whilst flying a jib.

On the way to Orford Haven: Daisy II in heavy following seas just beyond the entrance to the Deben
Virginia's skipper used wind power alone. Following seas were heavy and photos don't really do it justice - it was one of those passages where it was much more comfortable looking forward rather than aft...  However, the following film clip gives an idea - Virginia in the distance, somewhere off the coast between the entrance to the Deben and the Ore.
We entered the Ore an hour or so before HW.  Once inside, it was with some relief that I looked back towards the tricky conditions at the entrance.  This video clip, looking back from inside the Ore towards Orford Haven, just about shows the breakers which we had to negotiate.
We then had a rapid broad reach up the Ore to Orford where we had a planned rendezvous with Coaster: Martha and Dabber Ceol na Mara, borrowing a mooring for the night.
Sunset over Orford - a peaceful end to a rocky sea passage.

July 28; Orwell to the Ore; 21.5nm
July 29th - sailing in the Ore; passage to Snape
After a lazy start, we were joined by longboat Five Alive and a Deben Lugger.  We took the ebb sailing against a fresh F4 south westerly, working our way anticlockwise around the Havergate Island nature reserve, and stopping for elevenses on a shingle beach off Orford Ness.
Drascombes off Orford Ness
The trip up to Snape began with a broad reach up the Ore...
Broad reach up the Ore, past Havergate Island
...but was punctuated by stormy F7 gusty winds which struck at Aldeburgh.  We had no choice but to borrow a mooring and see this one out.  Finally, we decided to remove as many wind resistant effects, including mizzen masts, as we motored up the Alde to Snape, negotiating the winding channel marked out by a series of withies.  Fortunately, there was more shelter as we edged towards our destination, and conditions were really quite mild as we worked our way alongside Iken cliffs.

At Snape, we were treated to a venerable display of  Dabber skipper-action, including rowing, swimming and showering!
Dabber captain demonstrating the many facets of dabbering...
Drascombes moored at Snape
Sunset at Snape

July 29: Ore to the Alde and Snape; 18.8nm
July 30th: Snape Maltings to the River Butley
An early start, coinciding with HW saw us depart from Snape, retracing our way along the winding channels and finally setting sail opposite Iken Church.  The plan was to wend our way back to Aldeburgh for breakfast.
Dabber Ceol na Mara sailing past Iken Church

Drascombes sailing down the Alde
At Aldeburgh (Slaughden Quay), coaster Martha pulled out, while various jobs were accomplished and fasts broken.  Winds had, once more, built up so we motored south west along the Ore to Orford.

longboat Five Alive on the Ore
Even I could recognise this bird strutting its way along the mud banks.
Curlews on the mud banks
At Orford, rain and strong winds set in for the afternoon, so we sought permission to shelter on a pontoon outside Orford Sailing Club, making use of facilities at Orford, including a welcome pub and an excellent tea room.  Whilst the officers were clearly not present, those members at the club had no problem with our request.  We were pleased to move aside to allow RNLI access, bringing ashore a serious injury case - this simply substantiated our decision to shelter.
Sailing club pontoons at Orford
Ultimately, however, it was disappointing to note the ensuing frosty tone set by certain representatives of the harbour authorities and the sailing club.  Our intentions were clear, and made all the more necessary by the treacherous weather; it was right that we should stay put, but this was to the obvious consternation of certain individuals, simply because we remained longer than an hour and didn't physically remain with our boats, as their notice required.  It is interesting to note the differing attitudes displayed by ports to visiting boats.  A few days later, at Waldringfield, the authorities and sailing club couldn't have been more welcoming, as detailed below.  Visitors generally spend money in local amenities - we wouldn't have been able to do likewise had we stayed with our boats!  Moreover, our use of mooring facilities was presumably facilitated by local boats simultaneously round the corner using corresponding vacant moorings left empty by cruising boats.

At around 5pm, the weather cleared, as per the forecast and a wonderful evening ensued making possible our planned evening cruise with the tide up the River Butley.

Daisy II on the Butley

We found a wonderful anchorage on the ensuing ebb, in one case rather enforced by the act of going aground.
Dabber Ceol na Mara rowing to its preferred anchoring point
I enjoyed this panorama of sunset on the Butley, even if it makes the gunwhales look rather peculiar...
July 30: Snape to the Butley; 16.1nm
July 31st: from the Ore to the Deben
Today, coasters Virginia and Daisy II took the coastal passage from the Ore to the Deben.  Other participants made a land-based transit, by means of car and trailer.
A seal guarding the entrance to the River Butley
As had been the case all week, forecast wind conditions, unrelentingly southerly/south-westerly, suggested we would be in for a bumpy trip. In the event, winds funnelling up the Ore from its haven were far stronger than anything experienced initially at sea.  Once we had punched a way through the expected outfalls near the red buoy at the entrance, winds completely dropped and we had a frustrating half hour or so where I left the engine on tick-over and drifted down the coast at a speed of around 1kt.  Ultimately, however, winds did get going once again, and I had a two-legged beat with fractional jib and full main.  About two-thirds of the passage complete, conditions were becoming more testing, and I had temporarily lost sight of Virginia, so I hove to and dropped the main.  Subsequently, both boats back in touch, we motored the remaining distance into the Deben, and pulled up for a late lunch at Felixstowe Ferry.
Attendant coasters at Felixstowe Ferry.  Virginia, as might be noticed, features three round portholes either side of the coachwork, whereas Daisy II has a pair.  To my mind, these are far more attractive than the usual oval window given to coasters.  As far as I am aware, only a few other coasters feature such round portholes.  (I would be interested in featuring pictures/details of any such boats in a future article should their owners wish to contact me.)
Felixstowe Ferry panoramic pic
After lunch, winds enabled a rare opportunity for broad reaching and running and, with the ebb, we made swift progress upstream to our intended destination, Waldringfield, rejoining the fleet.  Once there, both sailing club and harbour master went out of their way to welcome us.  We were invited to eat and drink at the clubhouse, use facilities and given a free mooring by the harbour master.  All of this hospitality was warmly received.
July 31: Ore to the Deben; 19.4nm
August 1st; Waldringfield to Felixstowe Ferry to Woodbridge
In terms of sailing conditions, today was undoubtedly the finest day of the trip, with wall-to-wall sunshine and pleasant F3/4 southerly/south-easterly winds.  Ideal for Drascombing.
Ceol na Mara leaving Waldringfield
Alex Haig's Norfolk Gypsy
The photo at the head of this post shows Daisy II and Ceol na Mara on the shingle shoreline at Felixstowe Ferry following a very pleasant beat downstream with the ebb.  Virginia's skipper was indisposed but we were joined by Alex Haig's Norfolk Gypsy which is moored at Waldringfield.
Lunch at Felixstowe Ferry, together with ample time to wander around was most welcome.  Additionally, I had a chance to inspect the hull of Daisy II which, having been in the water since the Wells rally at the beginning of June, was pleasingly free of weed.
On the return trip, winds were easing, though still provided pleasant sailing.
Running up the Deben
At Waldringfield, we picked up a still 'sub-weather' Virginia and continued to Tide Mill Quay at Woodbridge, which we slipped into as soon as the tide allowed.
Drascombes at Tide Mill Quay, Woodbridge
August 1: Waldringfield to Felixstowe Ferry to Woodbridge; 15.8nm
August 2nd, family visit!
Sailing, as I do, single-handed for the majority of the year, it is a rare treat to have the company of both wife and son.  Today, I left Woodbridge in time to pick them up at Waldringfield at 11am.  The morning featured sharp thunderstorms, but very light winds.  Today was as much to do with drifting as it was with sailing.  Once more, we dried out at Felixstowe Ferry, and were later joined by Ceol na Mara and, at last, Deben Lugger Debutante whose owners had been beset with various breakages.  At Felixstowe Ferry, I managed some video of the latter, and some snaps of both weaving their way amongst the various moorings.

Family time!


Deben lugger Debutante
Ceol na Mara and Debutante weaving through moorings opposite Bawdsey

Ceol na Mara coming in to land!
Debutante sailing towards the mouth of the Deben

At the end of the day, we returned, once more, to Woodbridge for a final night at Tide Mill Quay, arriving under cover of darkness!
Dabber accommodation (in case anyone had wondered!)

August 2: Woodbridge to Felixstowe Ferry and back; 17.6nm
August 3rd, Woodbridge to "The Rocks"
As is often the case prior to the final day's long return-cruise, a lazy, penultimate day!  Ceol na Mara pulled out in the morning.  Other skippers enjoyed a lethargic brunch at a hostelry in Woodbridge!
Drascombers 'in action'
A local swan gate-crashing the party...

Coasters Virginia and Daisy II then sailed to a recognised anchorage, "The Rocks", just downstream from Waldringfield to see out the afternoon.
"The Rocks" anchorage
In the evening, we returned to Waldringfield for a pleasant feast in the pub, and to pick up a final night's mooring.
August 3: Woodbridge to "The Rocks"; 6.1nm
August 4th: return to the Orwell
Before departing the Deben, tides were right to take us up to the navigational head of the river - although certain scullers would dispute this, demonstrating their ease at rowing through the arched bridge.
The navigational head of the River Deben at Woodbridge - although, as we agreed, the bridge wasn't wooden!
Following elevenses, it was time to roll up our sleeves and tackle the journey back home.  This trip also offered further opportunities to capture coaster Virginia in sailing action.
Coaster Virginia
Winds were forecast F4/5 southerly and were true to form.  The sail through the Deben entrance was accomplished at around half-ebb and we were able to avoid the worst of the outfalls by veering south prior to the red cardinal buoy at the entrance.  Once out at sea, again winds were less severe - once more demonstrating that tendency to funnel along a river (even in flat East Anglia) but to be more consistent in open water.  We had a terrific sail along the coast past Felixstowe which was indulging in its own air show - perhaps we provided an interesting side-show, or maybe even stole the show...  It was too difficult to take shots of the spectacle since conditions were too rough.  I have subsequently received a couple of distant pictures of the two coasters sailing along the Felixstowe shoreline.  These were obviously taken prior to hoisting the main.

Coasters Daisy II and Virginia sailing along the Felixstowe shoreline
It was an exhilarating sail, particularly when rounding Languard Point on the return to Harwich harbour.  Steep following seas made for tricky helming, even as the flood-tide began, and, having cut the corner, I almost surfed through the harbour at speeds regularly in excess of 7 knots!  Coaster Virginia took a wider route in and fell behind.
Once more back at my mooring at Pin Mill, I pictured Virginia as her skipper called by for a farewell at the end of a fantastic cruise!

August 4: Return to the Orwell