Monday, 31 August 2015

Gloucester Ring trip, August 30th

Wooden lugger Tilly Whim negotiating the rapids of the surging tide on the River Severn
Surely one of the most extraordinary events in the Drascombe calendar, the Gloucester Ring Trip should be experienced at least once.  Where else, in a Drascombe, could you hop on the back of a surging tide and safely sail over 24 nautical miles in two and a half hours?
Avonmouth is famous for its extreme tides - the second highest tidal range in the world, so we are told and yet the amazing knock-on effects of this are often overlooked.  The Severn Bore is one such obvious example, but the whole package of the effects of this tide takes some comprehending.  On tidal springs, about three hours before high water off Lydney, the mile-wide channel is almost entirely given over to sand.  By HW, a 10 metre tide has completely transformed the estuary and the speed at which this happens is truly breathtaking.  Initially, the tide covers the sands faster than one could walk.  Beyond this is the relentless, powerful flow of water hurtling upstream to Gloucester and beyond.
Most navigational guides would guard against any attempt to sail with this tide but John Christie of the Drascombe Association has been organising safe cruises along this stretch for many years.  It takes a leap of faith and it is one of those events for which safety boats are absolutely essential, in case of breakdowns such as engine failure.  However, having taken the leap, the experience is, as stated above, simply 'extraordinary'.
Drascombe articipants: 
Coaster Daisy II
Luggers: Muckle Flugga and Tilly Whim
plus a Kayak and two very important safety boats.

We launched at Lydney Harbour as soon as the tide allowed.  The short harbour wall provides a useful breakwater protecting boats from that tidal surge, useful whilst car and trailer are safely parked.  Once aboard, I poked the boat's nose beyond the harbour wall.  Initially, it didn't seem that anything untoward had happened - the boat continued in its state of motoring gently through the water.  It is only when looking at the rapidly diminishing harbour wall and then at the river bank that I realised I was now hurtling along at speeds of up to 12 knots!  Given that the Drascombe hull speed is about 5 knots, such additional speed is quite exceptional.  The only downside, today, was that sailing was out of the question: the little wind we had was on the nose.
The video, subject to my usual clumsy camera and video-editing techniques, gives some idea of the less 'hairy' parts of the ride - ie.  when I judged it safe to hold a camera...
Having completed the trip up the Severn, we had to lower masts - I found a grassy spot on the riverbank just beyond Minsterworth.  We then cut through the east channel, over the weir - calculating that, at high water, there would be about 2m of water at the lowest point, but raising our rudders just to be safe.  The east cut involves nosing through a fair amount of undergrowth, meaning that we emerged at Gloucester with ourselves and our boats covered in twigs, leaves and other vegetation.  I did my best to rid the boat of the majority of this whilst in the lock.

Gloucester lock

Gloucester Docks for an excellent value lunch at the public house 'The Tall Ship'
We moored on the pontoon adjacent to the lock entrance
The reward for the morning's endeavours was a rather more sedate cruise along the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal; I had to drop the mast for one low bridge and, having done this, kept the thing down for the remainder of the trip - there being no wind for sailing all day!

Approaching the lock basin at Sharpness Docks
Sharpness Docks lock, with the big ships.  We spent a couple of hours in this lock, watching a ship depart and another arrive, before the time was right for us to dart out, into the dark and make the final crossing back to Lydney.
The final part of the trip, not documented with photographs, was our trip back across from Sharpness to Lydney: roughly a mile in the pitch dark.  Timing is crucial since there is a half hour window when the crossing can be made without the tide pulling us either up or downstream.  Navigation lights are rather important and, because my mast was down, my all round masthead light ended up being a stern light - not ideal but it did the job on the day.

All things considered, I'm extremely glad to have done this trip; John is an excellent organiser, very pleasant company and Lydney Yacht Club make excellent hosts.   Hopefully, I would like to return to it on a day when the wind blows sufficiently to enable at least some sailing - the sound of an engine does 'grate' after a while...

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Summer modifications

An unusual summer view from the sitting room. 
This year has seen a slightly different second half to the summer break.  To varying extents, family commitments, weather and car woes have resulted in no further cruising since the wonderful ECC earlier in the month. However, all that is about to change as preparations for a couple of Drascombe Association rallies take shape.  Shortly, I'll be departing for the intriguing Gloucester Ring trip and, in a few weeks, the annual Broads rally beckons, this year back on the River Yare.
Meanwhile, Daisy II is back at home on the trailer.  Four months' accumulation of sea life have necessarily been removed from the hull - plenty of urchins to slow me down during recent cruises.  Between weather systems passing through, I've much enjoyed admiring those fantastic Drascombe lines through the living room window: hence the photograph above.
I haven't been inactive: flanking the usual school master's exam results festival, I've spent four days on mother's Viking 22 river boat, cruising from Gloucester to Welford-on-Avon and several more days taking in the culture at the Edinburgh Festival.  During all of this time, the car has been off the road, suffering from 'rippedofffrontbumperitis', the blame for which lies entirely with the author.

However, all of this has also presented a welcome opportunity to do some fiddling.  To a large extent, additional to above, the catalyst for this has been observing the remarkable array of creative modifications to the continental boats during this summer's ECC.  
For one thing, it has been necessary to become better organised with storage.  Principally, my attention has turned back to the anchor.  On the ECC, I noticed that the Dutch boats used Bruce anchors, neatly stowed through the stem head, with the rode stored wedged tight up in the V of the bow.  
Following a few alarming anchor-dragging episodes with my previous Danforth, I purchased a 6kg Rocna a couple of years ago, along with 10m of 5mm chain and 25m of rope.  The anchor is fantastic, ably doing what it was designed for but the business of stowage presents a rather more problematic proposition!  
The spade is just the wrong shape to hang over the stem head since the geometry causes the point to snag on the hull, and the centre of balance causes the whole thing to tilt forward rather than rest back. The semi-circular roll bar causes further problems.  Thus far, I've simply stored the anchor loosely in the bows, and the chain and rode in the postal box in which they were stored on purchase.
I've now hit on a better, more permanent storage solution.
New anchor rode frame.  Not a neat fit, but it is a workable solution.  If it performs well at sea, I'll design a better fitting version using marine ply.  For now, my 'rough and ready' prototype will have to do.
This profiled view is especially pleasing with the anchor snugly in place and reasonably well hidden given its proportions!
The wooden frame provides a neat home for the rode and chain and the anchor fits rather well, wedged in the V of the bow.  In time, I may well devise a better fitting frame from marine ply but, for now, this uses off cuts from household spruce stored in the garage.  Fortuitously, the jib furling sheet just avoids snagging on the anchor, and there is (just) enough free space for mooring lines to pass from the mooring cleat either side through the port and starboard fairleads.
Although yet to put it to the test, I'm pleased with the solution since it keeps everything so much better organised up forward whilst keeping the anchor ready to deploy at any moment.
A key feature of this week has been to recycle rather than purchase: the frame is kept in place by some short pieces of shock cord attached to the same fairlead eyes which the former owners used to store a Danforth (now my back-up anchor).  
Overall, I'm quite pleased with this solution which leaves the anchor ready to deploy but relatively obscure from the side view profile.  The only thing to be added since the photos is a piece of shock cord to hold the anchor to the V of the bow.

I've also changed the sheeting arrangements for the mizzen boom.
New mizzen sheeting with sheeting kept central.  
This was rather an enforced change since A former snap shackle dropped into the sea when retrieving the boat from its mooring recently.  However, I also wanted to move to sheeting which pulled directly downwards rather than the previous arrangement which pulled from either side.  The new arrangement may end up passing too close to the outboard, so I have a plan B in mind to modify this if necessary.

Next, I have changed the sheeting arrangements for jib furling, bringing the boat back into line with most coasters with a cleat on the port gunwhale.
Returning the jib furling line to its usual position along the port gunwhale
Previously, the sheet passed through a pulley attached to the deck bench, then cleated centrally in the cockpit.  Whilst I can understand the benefits of a central cleaning point, I was fed up with the length of cord snagging on the various other sheets leading back to the cockpit well.  The new arrangement will probably result in shortening the sheet.  Again, in line with other modifications in this post, all parts were recycled from elsewhere, or sourced from the ship's tool box!

Next, I've changed the uphaul for the mainsail boom, leading the uphaul from the end of the boom, passing through a block at the masthead (nothing different here) but now returning via a second block at the mast foot back to the cockpit via the same route as the tack downhaul to a shared cleat.  There may be a need for another cleat in due course.
Lastly, I'm going to run a length of cord from the masthead downwards for the purposes of furling the main and keeping it furled whilst the yard is raised at sea by wrapping the line several times around the rolled main and the mast.  Photos to follow!

Friday, 14 August 2015

ECC Part III - return to the Orwell

A rising Havengore Bridge preparing to welcome five Drascombe Coasters.
This is the last of three articles covering the East Coast Cruise 2015.  The first part covered our trip from the River Orwell to The Swale, the second part covered time spent in The Swale and River Medway.  This latest post covers the return trip from the River Medway to the River Orwell.

Something about a voyage of discovery makes the business of sailing routes for the highlight of any expedition and this final part of the journey is no exception.  Our trip took us from the Medway, past the significant wreck of the Richard Montgomery, arriving at the Maplin Sands at low water, over the newly flooded sands and through Havengore Bridge, and finally a repeat of last year's trip from the Crouch to the Orwell.
7th August: trip from the River Medway, through Havengore to the mouth of the River Roach; 18.9nm
 The Havengore route, in particular, often written about but treated with suspicion by the various pilots since deeper keeled boats rightly fear grounding on  the shallow and 'concrete hard' Broomway.  On the other hand, our shoal-draft vessels are ideally suited to the trip.  Again, we were lucky with conditions which, once we were safely in the Roach, strengthened into a north easterly which would probably have made our passage across the sands much less comfortable.
Time for another swim in Sharfleet Creek, before departure!
Light winds off Sheerness
The Richard Montgomery, the wartime wreck purported to contain sufficient explosives which, if detonated, would generate considerable panic, not to mention massive damage to the surrounding area.  Needless to say, we observed the exclusion zone...!
Crossing the shipping lanes in very light winds
Tucked inside the S Shoebury buoy, about five miles offshore, this extraordinary artificial island, offers a wonderful bolt hole from which to wait for the tide, relax and plan the next stage of our trip across the Maplin Sands to Havengore.  This is the view looking South, from the shallow sands, across the Thames towards the Medway, the Grain Power Station tower just visible in the distance.
Swimming, wading, catching up with mobile communications...all in the middle of the Thames
Later, seals cling to the last of the island; once covered, this provided the signal that the time was right to begin our passage.
For the sail across the Maplin Sands, we made use of the suggested route from the website East Coast Pilot.  Planning to take the southerly route, we ended up travelling a little more easterly and ended up crossing between the first two posts and joining the single route from the final post prior to The 'Broomway Post' which is shown in the picture.
The only regret, if any, was that the bridge keeper wanted us to use our engines whereas we could quite easily have sailed in.  Maybe next time, we should leave the motors at home... !
Once safely inside Havengore, sailing along 'Narrow Cuts' into the River Roach
The trip continued to spring welcome surprises.  Here is the famous and much travelled Shoal Waters, very much the inspiration for my exploration of the east coast, joining us in our anchorage in Quay Reach on the River Roach. A perfect end to our last evening.
8th August; 35.2nm; our return trip from the Crouch to the Orwell.  We left the Roach at HW, around 6.30am for a splendidly long and largely uneventful end to a brilliantly enjoyable trip

Finally, Rob Moot, skipper of coaster Zandloper has put together this excellent, short video of our trip.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

ECC Part II: The Swale and the River Medway

This is the second of three posts covering the 2015 East Coast Cruise.  The first part is here.  The third part will appear in due course.  This post covers our time in The Swale and River Medway, 3-6 August.

The Swale
Conditions for our two days in The Swale were not ideal, with stronger gusting winds, particularly on the second day in the area with F6 and occasional F7 blasts coming over, matching predictions from the inshore waters forecast.  We were heartily pleased not to be making our trip across the Thames Estuary in such conditions.
On our first day, I took the opportunity to refill water bottles using a remarkable fresh water spring on the south shore at Harty Ferry.  We then used the flood tide to sail up Faversham Creek to its namesake town where a welcome pub served us and we made use of the local supermarket for both food and fuel.
Distant Drascombes anchored at Harty Ferry
Daisy II at low water, grounded at Harty Ferry.  There is a handy fresh water spring which was well used in restocking the ship's water supply.
Looking NE from Harty Ferry
Conditions in The Swale were becoming gustier, and we decided to aim for the shelter of creeks.  Here we are, moored for lunch at the town quay at Faversham
Unfortunately, The Albion pub in Faversham wouldn't serve us, despite having phoned through beforehand and us arriving in good time.  We found a much friendlier place in town serving very fine food.
Silent departure from Faversham
Ghosting past moored boats with the ebb
Back in The Swale, conditions had not abated and we had a hard beat under jib and mizzen against the ebb, aiming for anchorage in the South Deep in the shelter of Fowley Island
Some of the local fare from Faversham, home of the Shepherd Neame brewery
Sunset in the South Deep
Winds the following day were even stronger and, following a lazy morning at anchor, with strengthening gusts blowing over, we decided to slip into Conyer Creek, finding berths at the Swale Marina which was delightfully welcoming.  Afternoon tea, showers and pub grub represented a much needed return to 'civilisation' prior to further adventures ahead!
A gusty day, still at anchor in South Deep, resulted in various water sports.  Swimming featured strongly, including your author!  Here, we have the skipper of Valentine using his swim for some hull cleaning!
Meanwhile, in almost biblical manner, we have two skippers wading the deep...
And the skipper of Ultreia uses his inflatable tender to visit some of the other boats
After several hours at anchor in South Deep, the decision was made to seek shelter in the Swale Marina which was very welcoming - well worth a visit.
Berths in Swale Marina
Passage to the River Medway
Early the following morning, we took advantage of a better forecast to make passage through Kingsferry Bridge to Queenborough and the River Medway.
Drascombe Caravan...?!

Motoring along The Swale towards Kingsferry Bridge
The bridge represented the initial 'hurdle' and the bridge keeper was concerned about raising the bridge during morning rush hour.  In the event, with the skipper of Mellon leading the way, it transpired at this state of half-tide, there was sufficient head room for our boats to pass beneath the bridge with masts raised - but only just!
Passing under the unraised Kingsferry Bridge was 'touch and go'!
With tangible relief, Drascombes sample waters beyond Kingsferry
Mobile Drascombe raft
Temporary mooring at Queenborough
At Queenborough, we used the all-tide hammerhead jetty to venture ashore, and plan a trip up the Medway for the remainder of the day.

Coaster Mellon's transom mounted twin rudders.  More can be read about this intriguing modification in the Rudders for shallows thread on the Drascombe Association forum
Upnor Castle
Valentine passing by Rochester

A remarkable thing, finding a Russian submarine rusting in front of the limit of our navigation, Rochester Bridge.

I need to work out how to right this picture of Mellon.  It does strange things sometimes, this blogger site...
Following our sail upstream, we retired to the lea of Hoo Island, drying out for the night.
Panoramic sunset off Hoo Island
How lucky were we not to dry out with our noses in that creek?!
Zandloper high and dry!
Meanwhile, Mellon contemplates a night at some gradient (but actually managed to avoid this eventually, by use of oars and some levering...)
Valentine high and dry!
The following day, we sailed back down the river and sampled the delights of Stangate Creek, eventually working our way as far as Halstow Creek and the barge quay at Lower Halstow where we had another pub meal!
Swimming in Sharfleet Creek while we waited for the tide
Visits to all the anchored boats!
A fantastic beat up to Lower Halstow, reaching the barge quay with handy access to the pub!
Following the pub meal, a relaxing run back to the evening anchorage in Sharfleet Creek

Zandlopper snapped!
Anchorage in Sharfleet Creek
The third instalment of this report will follow!

This part of the cruise featuring:
Coasters: Daisy II, Valentine, Ultreia, Zandloper, Mellon