Gladlee of Guernsey
These are the chronicles of s/y Gladlee of Guernsey, a Westerly Seahawk, from the first day when Nigel and Julie bought her through to 1997.
22nd June 1989 Arrived at Hamble Point, and our first sight of “Gladlee” in the water – beautiful but distinctly grubby, and half the jobs which should have been done on her out of the water hadn’t been. David Brooke-Smith, the Westerly broker, helped us start her up (the impeller promptly packed up) and move her a few yards to top up the water tank. Briefing on how most things worked, paperwork complete, and eventually we were left to ourselves on a beautiful sunny evening to clean up and cook our first meal on board. Early to bed (very comfortable) and slept surprisingly well in the circumstances!
23rd June 1989 Up at 04.45 – a lovely morning with a light breeze. Took a final photograph and then headed out into the Solent, flat calm, nobody about, very excited, ultra-careful plotting and steering on what proved a very simple course. Made our first passage report to a very courteous Solent Coastguard off Gilkicker Point just before 07.00, enjoying a coffee as the sun started warming the air. An uneventful ride to an empty bit of sea between Littlehampton and Worthing, where we got the anchor down and stopped for a leisurely lunch. Shortly after 13.00 we got under way again and set sail in a gentle SW breeze – not too bad for a first effort, though all gear very stiff. An hour later the wind had freshened slightly and we were making an exhilarating 6-7 knots through the water: before we’d had much chance to enjoy it we found ourselves off Brighton, and getting the mainsail down again proved quite a challenge – Nigel trying to gather in and tie off while Julie did her best to keep the head to wind in what seemed quite a lively chop. It took a good 15 minutes, but no damage done, and we’ll know better next time! We got into Brighton Marina without mishap, at least, and managed a few beers and a good dinner before we crashed out for an all-too-brief second night on board.
24th June 1989 We’d taken a policy decision not to attempt Rye Harbour and to head straight for Dover instead – our neighbour in the marina was expecting to make Ramsgate, and we set off at about the same time (0615) in a light mist. They took an inshore course and we soon lost sight of them, running into a fleet of racing yachts off Beachy Head as the mist gradually cleared – sadly not enough wind for us to try and sail. Soon after rounding Beachy Head (09.00) we made first radio contact with Dover Coastguard, and shortly afterwards the spectacular Royal Sovereign light tower came into view ahead, with a score of French yachts rounding it as a racing mark. We headed on, though, and the sea was suddenly empty again as we made for Dungeness, with Hastings virtually out of sight to the north. By 13.30 we could see the nuclear power station and new lighthouse on a rather bleak looking Dungeness Point, with visibility seeming to deteriorate, and half an hour later, as we altered course N, the land disappeared and we found ourselves suddenly in thick fog! Called up the coastguard, who helpfully warned of patches all the way up the Dover Strait. At this point the Decca chose to jump a “lane” and showed us 2 miles the wrong side of Dungeness, so it was down to dead reckoning and some rather anxious “looking out” as we groped our way slowly onwards. Nothing in sight except one yacht early on and a fishing boat which shot out of a fog bank without any sort of signal – we hooted away until our little “Frog Horn” ran out of puff after an hour and a half. Meanwhile we pleased ourselves greatly by hitting (almost literally in the case of Hythe buoy) three marks in a row, until at just before 16.00 we finally ran into clearer visibility and could afford to relax a bit. It was very obvious though, that this was no time to attempt Dover – we could just make out the west entrance of the harbour through the remaining fog, but ferries and hovercraft were moving and we decided to go for Ramsgate. Much better visibility once we’d cleared South Foreland, and by 18.30 we were at the Quern buoy getting permission to enter Ramsgate harbour for the first time. Julie made a perfect approach (backwards, even) to the outside of a boat on the crowded West Gully pontoons, watched by half a dozen crews who should have been very impressed if they’d known it was a “first”. Thankfully tied up, weary, beer in hand, and within five minutes a Customs officer was on board asking whether VAT had been paid on the boat ….. Twelve and a half hours on the water – it had been a good day, in spite of the fog, and it was very very good to be “home” without any serious problems. Safely moored among the multi-national assortment of yachts, gently moving to the tide, we had another very good night’s sleep.
25th June 1989 We didn’t hurry to get up, but with a good breakfast under the belt we found another lovely day with a moderate SSW wind. Time for a little sailing practise, so we motored out, got the sails up (with a precautionary reef in) and headed into the tide on a long zig-zag via Broadstairs Knoll to the North Foreland. Turned round at 14.30 and started beating back – quite lively as the wind freshened to F5, but the boat handled very steadily even with a fair degree of heel. As the tide turned north we just made the harbour entrance with our last tack, and waited till we were safely in the outer harbour before we tried getting the main down. So far so good – very satisfying to have sailed “Gladlee” in a fresh breeze without any difficulties – but pride duly came before a fall. With Nigel at the helm we headed for the marina without having checked where exactly our berth was. In what was now a brisk cross-wind we started by getting into the wrong lane – managed, with some friendly help to park temporarily, without damaging anything seriously, then got into the right lane, misjudged the turn into the berth, drifted sideways against three other yachts and were finally manhandled into place under the watchful eye of what turned out to be the Commodore of the yacht club! He didn’t blackball us, anyway, and nobody else seemed to mind too much….
26th June 1989 Designed to be a rest day, but sadly interrupted by someone from the harbourmaster’s office with the news of Nigel’s father’s death – what a shame he couldn’t ever see “Gladlee” or even the photographs we’d taken for him. We stayed on anyway, for our planned celebration dinner at “Marchesi’s”, as he’d surely have wanted us to. A memorable four days, to say the least!
8th July 1989 A brief trip round Goodwin Knoll and Gull Stream under power during the afternoon – for some reason or other we didn’t bother to go out on the Sunday (no wind to speak of, anyway). James came down and stayed Friday night in between end-of-term parties.
22nd July 1989 With a high tide in mid afternoon we left the marina soon after lunch and paid our first visit to the fuel berth (getting more proficient at docking with every attempt). Little wind, so we motored out some way before setting about hoisting the mainsail. Did Nigel secure the shackle pin, or was it metal fatigue? Whatever the cause, the last turn on the main halyard winch brought an abrupt snapping noise from the masthead, and the mainsail duly fell on our heads. Nothing for it but to motor back to port, fervently hoping (with Uncle Bill due on board the next day) that nothing was seriously broken. Back in the marina Julie gallantly volunteered for the bosun’s chair while Nigel manned the winch (with a little help from a passer-by on the safety line), and happily the shackle was the only problem. While she was up the mast Julie managed to fix the deck light, too, so a rather nerve-racking “first” proved very successful after all.
23rd July 1989 A straightforward afternoon sail “round the bay” in perfect weather – mostly F4, with a little threat of thundery showers later which didn’t materialise. We were on our best behaviour with Bill on board, but all went well and he seemed quite impressed with both boat and crew. The new main halyard shackle was made very fast and gave no hint of trouble. We returned to the marina berth with impeccable precision, well pleased with ourselves again.
29th July 1989 Dominick and Jane Chilcott provided the competent and very agreeable crew for the day. We set off on the north-setting tide at 10.15 – a beautiful day, with barely enough of a SW wind to push us round North Foreland. The idea was to sail up the North Kent coast, but we were still well short of Margate when the wind virtually died. We stemmed the tide for one and half hours while Dominick and Julie stepped off for a swim and we ate our picnic lunch in hot sunshine. By 14.00 we could see the ripple of a little wind off North Foreland behind us, so we went back to find it. Hardly had we got the jib out again when Julie was calling for two reefs in a totally unexpected F5! We raced towards Foreness Point on a fast reach as Jane started to look a trifle nervous – we had forgotten that she and Dominick’s last outing had been in a rented dinghy which capsized 2 miles off shore! We got everything under control, though, and the wind moderated a little as we beat round the Foreland and south again. We were still making over 7 knots on the log as we approached Ramsgate on our final tack for the end of an exhilarating outing. Our guests left us to make our way back into the marina on the tide at 20.00 – then out to a well-earned dinner.
We stayed in harbour on the Sunday – a visit to the yacht club for a lunchtime drink, and planning our first venture across the Channel.
12th August 1989 We were impatient to try a Channel crossing, the tides were perfect, and the forecast suggested a SW F3-4, possibly freshening later, so we left the marina at 09.30 and waited in the outer harbour (with a quick trip to the shops to pass the time) until the tide was turning south. Sails up at the Quern, and Nigel rather self-consciously reported our passage plan to Dover Coastguard, who alerted us to the possibility of fresher winds later. Our carefully plotted course seemed to be about right, though by Deal Bank we seemed a little east of track, and by the time we reached the tail end of the Goodwins we suddenly realised we were a bit close to the wreck on South Calliper bank. A hasty tack (Julie swears we touched bottom) took us out of danger, and Nigel remembered he hadn’t allowed for leeway as the wind picked up – a lesson not forgotten! After that it was “plain sailing” across the traffic lanes as we quickly came in sight of Cap Gris Nez and eventually the skyline of Calais. Our landfall was actually further NE than we’d aimed for, which saved us quite a lot of ground with the tide turning, but having come through a wind gusting F6 in mid-channel we now encountered very choppy water over the shallows (the Ridens) approaching Calais deep water channel, and we had to don oilskin tops over our shorts to keep the spray out (it was reassuring to hear the local shipping forecast describe the sea in the Pas de Calais as “rough” – at least we now knew what that meant!) Just before 1700 we were off Calais harbour entrance and getting the sails in, and we had our first radio contact with a friendly Port Control. Into the sudden calm of the Avant Port, and with Nigel trying to orientate the harbour plan in Reed’s while watching out nervously for ferries, Julie steered “Gladlee” on to the wall of the Bassin du Paradis within easy reach of the lock gates. Making fast on the quay above, Nigel was very proud to receive compliments from a fisherman’s wife about our impeccable approach – she said that a yacht “plein d’Allemands” had made a complete mess of the same exercise a few minutes earlier. Nigel made off to the marina clubhouse to check the lock opening time and enquire about a berth – effectively none available – and was advised to tie up on the south wall of the long dock which is the Calais yacht harbour. An hour later we duly did so, very thrilled with having got there at all, let alone in under six hours from harbour to harbour. And if we’d managed to hoist the courtesy ensign on the wrong side nobody seemed to care too much! An excellent celebration dinner at the “Coq D’Or” followed by a couple of beers at the clubhouse.
13th August 1989 Unfamiliar with the lock opening procedure we had to hurry a bit to get off our mooring and out in time. It was a beautiful day again, with the same sort of wind (we had been completely fazed at first by the apparent wind direction related to the ship’s compass, until we realised that the compass was completely disorientated by the iron cladding on the edge of the quay!) We decided we could make the outer passage to Ramsgate on a virtual beam reach, and we duly made very fast time, with one brief course alteration to avoid a tanker, to the NE edge of the Goodwins. We had put in a precautionary two reefs the day before, but in a wind gusting F5 we were still making the best part of 6 knots through the water. Nigel’s occasional suggestion, in beautiful sunshine and slight sea, that we should shake out the reefs was firmly resisted, and just as Julie handed over the helm in sight of Ramsgate the wind picked up to F6 and we flew down the last six miles in a mere three-quarters of an hour. From sails up off Calais to sails down off Ramsgate we had averaged six and a half knots by log, and the whole passage had taken barely five hours. Customs cleared us in within minutes, and we settled down to a restful afternoon in the sunshine before the lock opened to let us back in to our berth. A very successful “first”.
19th – 20th August 1989 It all started as a gentle outing up the River Stour to Sandwich for Nigel’s mother’s benefit – she was staying with Bill and Betty in Canterbury, and Bill brought her down on a sunny but entirely windless day. We motored across to the approach channel in Pegwell Bay, picked our way gingerly over the bar and made our way easily up the winding river, with Bill dispersing ready-made Pimms and giving us some local history. Eventually we came in sight of Sandwich Town Quay, where there was what seemed a convenient enough vacant berth. First problem was to turn round before we reached the bridge – not difficult in theory, but Nigel belatedly realised that there was a substantial current running upstream and that he hadn’t enough positive way on to turn the boat across it. By the time he’d done the sensible thing and handed the helm to Julie it was too late – we were stuck against the bank 20 yards from the bridge and (worse) wedged against an iron post which threatened to do nasty things to our gelcoat (and did). To cut a painful story short we eventually got off the bank, cracked the combined sidelights on the bridge but eventually managed to turn round, entertaining a growing crowd of tourists (some with video cameras) outside the Bell Hotel. With a good deal of relief we tied up to the quay, whereupon Bill announced that the bar in the Bell would close in ten minutes if we didn’t get a move on. Suitably refreshed we returned to eat lunch on board, until Nigel looked anxiously at his watch and suggested we ought to get going if we were to clear the bar on the way out. Julie took the wheel, we cast off – and nothing happened. The awful truth dawned that we were aground, and in spite of some valiant efforts by several passers-by to push off that’s the way we stayed. With no prospect of getting off until 0200 the next morning we left Bill and Jo to get a bus back to Ramsgate and set off for a stroll round a very quiet Saturday afternoon Sandwich. We did manage to find the fixings to repair the sidelights, and the funny side of the situation did eventually get the upper hand! A pleasant surprise later on – Bill and Jo reappeared, having picked Betty up in Canterbury, and invited us to dine with them at the Bell. Indifferent dinner, but the company was very cheering, and Bill generously paid!
It only remained to get ourselves up at 0200 and make our way down the Stour in the moonlight, crossing quickly to Ramsgate for our first approach in “darkness” – the place is so well lit that you’d have to be blind to miss it! – and getting straight into the marina to catch another few hours sleep.
We had a pleasant two-hour sail on the Sunday, notable only for our return. Nigel having got the approach to the marina berth down to a fine art. Julie decided it was time she had another go. All went well until the last minute, when Julie left the bow a little far out and Nigel thought he could jump the gap to the pontoon. The end result was Nigel in the water and Julie trying not to run him over, while the usual helpful bystanders hauled Nigel out and grabbed our lines. No great harm done – but inevitably the Commodore was there to see the fun!
26th – 28th August 1989 With the usual keen listening of all weather forecasts available and the fact that Seamus had to work Saturday morning – the tentative plan of a night sail across the Channel was the only answer. Bad weather was forecast for Sunday but improving on Monday. So we packed lots of warm clothes and arranged a liquid and fish lunch with Robin and Linda Morley, and Seamus and Linda Tigwell if they arrived in time. Seamus’s work got cancelled and they arrived mid-morning by which time we had decided to go on the afternoon tide – much more sensible! We rushed to lock out and tied up in the outer harbour. Nigel went off to find Robin and Linda while the rest prepared lunch (and started on the liquid part). Lunch was finished quickly and we set off a little later than planned but no real problem. Sails were put up off SW Goodwin buoy and a very pleasant sail across to Calais (though not for Seamus as he found the motion a little uncomfortable). With Nigel’s usual good navigation and timing we went straight in to the lock and inner harbour and moored alongside a Dutch boat by the wall.
A quick change of clothes and off to find something to eat – not a problem in Calais. The ‘Casino’ was chosen as it had been recommended to us previously and everybody enjoyed the meal. The bad weather hit on Sunday as expected, so off we went to try and find a Hypermarch¾ – and to cut a long story short – we didn’t find one – well, not one that was open! We ended up shopping in Prisunic and got our quotas of beer and wine. After the lengthy process of getting it all stashed on board (as the photographs reflect) we rested before going out to dinner. Which, on the way, along the quay, we encountered the “William McCann” – a 90 ft sailing barge attempting to come alongside. The problem was that there was not enough room and a lot of shouting and screaming followed. The wind was quite strong which made manoeuvring quite difficult – she eventually just forced her way in and finished with her stern sitting on a small motor cruiser – the owners of which were not amused. Fortunately nobody was hurt. We carried on to dinner feeling rather subdued and appetites lost.
Setting out from the harbour at 11.00 a.m. on the Monday, found the sea quite rough but not too much wind. Once over the shallows the sea quietened down and we had a pleasant sail for 3 hours, although Seamus slept most of the way – better than being ill! We started motoring half way across because the wind was in the wrong direction and we weren’t making enough headway. We sailed again for an hour and then headed straight for Ramsgate and tied up at about 19.00. A very enjoyable Bank Holiday had by all – and all that remained to do was unload all the beer!
17th September 1989 After a Saturday spent “housekeeping” we had a straightforward sail in moderate wind (SW), tacking down to the South Brake against the tide and running back to catch the lock gate at HW+2.
30th September 1989 The start of a three-day round trip to Dunkerque and Calais, involving an early (07.00) start in grey and drizzly weather. Wind was moderate and the sea rather choppy and we decided to motor out along the channel to get the batteries charged up. By the time we rounded Goodwin Knoll we had a freshening NNE, so we got the mainsail up with 2 reefs and half the genoa out. The next hour was distinctly bumpy, and Nigel was only too happy to get rid of some elderly breakfast toast before we made the South Falls buoy just after 10.30. Here we had a problem holding a southerly course with a following wind in the choppy sea (gybe always threatening and foresail not pulling), so we bore away a bit earlier than planned across the southbound shipping lane to the Sandietti¾ SW buoy. From there another one and a half hours on a comfortable broad reach took us to the Dunkerque LANBY, and with an easier sea inshore we shook out the reefs and came up to a close reach along the extraordinary industrial landscape leading into the ports of Dunkerque – great buildings and chimneys belching smoke, and one spherical cauldron puffing white smoke at intervals like a dragon. Miles and miles of spectacularly ugly but somehow impressive powerful constructions, culminating in the stark clean lines of the nuclear power station, before we found ourselves off the entrance to the “passenger” port after scuttling across the channel to avoid any ferries – it was nice to see one of the Sally boats out of Ramsgate steam by. No problems inside the port, except that the lock gate to the inner marina wasn’t due to open for another hour or so – we went on to the very well organised (if relatively expensive) Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord and tied up with some relief, after almost 10 hours at sea, in a comfortably sheltered berth. A longish walk into town to find some dinner (and the place seemed rather dead compared to Calais), but we ate well enough in the end.
1st October 1989 We left prudently early (08.00) to catch the south-running tide, but we needn’t have worried too much: with a northerly F3 we made 6 knots through the water most of the way to Calais and completed the passage in 3½ hours. Nothing much to see on the way, but an exhilarating sail in more or less perfect conditions. One moment of alarm as we arrived off Calais harbour entrance and couldn’t get the engine started (shades of things to come!), but all was well eventually, and we had plenty of time in the afternoon for our first visit to the wonderful “Mammouth” hypermarket.
2nd October 1989 A relatively straightforward trip back to Ramsgate in a light-to-moderate northerly: some slightly erratic and unexplained wobblies in plotting the course to S. Goodwin (the Decca was throwing a lane jump), but we got there with one course correction. As usual we only got as far as Kingsdown by slack tide (17.30), and there was no future in beating against the stream once it had started to run south, so we put the engine on ½ hour later. By 19.00 it was dark, and we had our second “night sail” on the approach to Ramsgate – quite difficult to identify the lights from the south against the backscatter of the town, and we almost ran over the unlit Quern buoy on the way in!
13th-14th October 1989 We took the Friday off in order to field a friendly mechanic from John Hawkins Marine Ltd, who gave our engine a 50-hour service and a tutorial on routine maintenance and servicing to the bemused owners. He also gave us advice on getting the boat hoisted out, the gist of which was not to do it at Ramsgate (the horror story of the dropping of s/y “Mr George” was adequately convincing!) This left us in a position of some potential embarrassment, having asked the local yard, Ramsgate Marine, to call on us later in the day. Fortunately the friendly manager of R.M., when he eventually turned up, gave us exactly the same advice (though largely on the grounds of cost). We decided to investigate the possibilities of Gillingham in due course.
Uncle Bill joined us the following morning, and with a moderate westerly and all day to play with we had provisionally plotted a reconnaissance of the southern end of the Edinburgh Channel. By the time we arrived off North Foreland, just before 11.00, the wind was freshening steadily, though, and as the estuary opened up we had a “yachtsman’s gale” veering NW and a rough sea. We got two reefs in and decided discretion was the better part, spending the next three hours cruising between the Brake sands and the Foreland in a F4-5 before heading into the outer harbour for tea. A little disappointing not to have got anywhere, but certainly more comfortable in the end!
15th October 1989 The morning was fine and the wind had dropped overnight. With a leisurely “round the Goodwins” trip planned, Julie decided it was high time we gave the Autohelm a trial. We didn’t bother with sails as we headed along the channel to Goodwin Knoll, enjoying the experience of “hands off” helming (but watching anxiously and not quite believing it!) We made East Goodwin by 10.00 and decided to cut through the Kellett Gut – a slightly tense operation near low water and with the shallows on either side all-too-clearly visible, but the Decca served us very well. When we emerged near Goodwin Fork, on the inshore side of the sands, the wind seemed to freshen a touch, so we made sail and drifted along at about 2 knots in warm sunshine. For the next hour we practised automatic tacking with the Autohelm, and a little to the NE of the Brake buoy we sighted a round black object in the water – fishing float? Mine? – which suddenly turned and looked at us! Extraordinary, a seal, which followed us for about ten minutes before diving and disappearing from view. Engine on ½ hour later, and back into Ramsgate for a late lunch.
28th-29th October 1989 Jim van der Rohr, of the American Embassy, came down for the weekend, but westerly winds of F6-9 kept us firmly inside the marina. We took Jim for a drive down to a wet and windy Sandwich, and had a pleasant Italian meal at “La Laguna”.
11th-12th November 1989 A beautiful weekend for sailing, with fine sunny weather and moderate southerly winds. With a midday HW we were able to have a morning’s shopping after locking out, and we spent the afternoon beating down towards South Brake before running back to Ramsgate – the final stretch included a brief try-out of the cruising ‘chute, which pulled pretty effectively in spite of winding itself round the forestay. Sunday could have seen a longer sail – another gorgeous day – but we had decided to turn up at the Royal Temple Yacht Club AGM, so we contented ourselves with some long overdue (and not very efficient) man overboard practise off the Sandwich Bay Estate. Tidied ourselves up after getting back to the marina (a surprisingly lumpy sea on the approach to the harbour entrance in such fine conditions), and made our way to the club, where we found a packed room full of members in jackets, club ties and smart dresses. Feeling distinctly underdressed (though nobody seemed to mind) we sat through a remarkably uninformative meeting looking wistfully out of the windows. Nice beer on the terrace afterwards, though.
25th-26th November 1989 With an early HW we didn’t bother to go out on Saturday, but we had a brief sortie on Sunday morning in fine weather and light westerlies down to Sandwich Bay for more man overboard practice. The Autohelm is becoming a valued extra member of the crew, particularly when we get the sails down – it will keep the boat’s head to wind and leave both of us free to secure the very large expanse of mainsail.
8th-10th December 1989 The only weekend for some time when the tide was right for Calais, so we decided in principle on a beer-buying trip to stock up for winter. Fortunately the weather turned out fine – almost too fine, in fact, with a “high” firmly in place and hardly any wind throughout the trip. We managed a couple of hours’ sail in a light easterly down to South Goodwin, but then we were headed and had to motor the next 3½ hours across the TSS. It was dark by the time we arrived, rather too early, off Calais, but our usual luck held – a coaster was on her way in, and the bridge across the entrance to the Bassin de l’Ouest was opened for her, ¾ hour ahead of schedule. We followed gratefully in, with the added bonus of a clear berth on the visitors’ pontoon and the luxury of shore power.
Sunday morning was gorgeous, with bright sunshine through a slight haze making a beautiful picture of the yacht basin (no camera, unfortunately). We had a good wander down town, taking in a model railway exhibition in the Town Hall before heading for “Mammouth” and a huge booze shop. Also bought ‘Platypus’ and mate. Stowing the beer was quite a strenuous operation (not to mention unloading it back at Ramsgate) – well worth the trouble, though.
On Monday we woke up to thickish fog, but we groped our way out of harbour, along with several other boats, on the assumption that it was only a coastal bank. No wind at all, and we were about an hour out before the fog cleared ahead of us. Quite instructive to listen to the ferries chatting on the VHF as they inched down the main channel to the south of us, obviously taking great care in the thickest of the fog. We found ourselves motoring in company with a yacht (“Libra”) bound for Burnham – our courses diverged steadily as we approached the Goodwins, but 2 miles off the East Goodwin LV “Libra” called us up to report her propeller fouled. We duly stood over and prepared to help, but within half an hour the trouble was cleared and she took off northwards again – promises of a beer together sometime. By this time the weather was closing in and we actually got some drizzle (oilskins?!) before the wind picked up to a F2 an hour out of Ramsgate. We half thought of putting sail up, but it looked pretty grey and nasty, so we just kept going. Back in Ramsgate for a late fish-and-chip lunch, then managed to crack the car’s exhaust pipe hauling the beer over the “sleeping policemen” on Military Road! Eventually tied up in the marina on a wet and murky evening before heading back to London.