Gladlee of Guernsey
March 1992 – May 1992
27th March – 10th April 1992
Returned from our winter travels we were delighted to find the boat in excellent shape – relatively clean, dry inside, and with only one serious tangle in the messengers we had left in place of the running rigging. During the days we spent at Faversham Creek getting odd jobs done, refitting the boat and (finally) anti-fouling her, we started to appreciate what a good decision we had made in coming to Iron Wharf – immensely friendly and helpful people, working for themselves and keeping costs to a minimum, sharing their experience without patronising us or blinding us with science. We learned a great deal over the days we spent there, and we felt we had made some good friends into the bargain.
“Gladlee” was launched (Glyn on the crane, Ken supervising) on 8th April, the only fly in the ointment being the bottom section of foil on the roller reefing gear had mysteriously expanded 1mm. during the winter so that we couldn’t hoist the swivel for the genoa. This, and one or two other jobs (track for the trysail, better mounting for the wind generator) meant that we should have to return to Iron Wharf after our planned 2˝ week stay at St.Katherine Dock, by the Tower of London, where we were to catch up on our admin., and set about getting organised for the summer’s cruising.
After a final dash to London on 9th April to vote in the General Election (and see the dentist), we set off the same afternoon to return to London the slow way, only just getting off the mud at HW to make our way along the Swale to Queensborough, where we picked up one of the visitors’ buoys for the night. At LW-1 Sheerness the next morning we headed out of the Medway and up the Thames Estuary in the merest breath of wind (not that we could have sailed very effectively without the genoa). The drive up the Thames proved rather dreary – dull reaches of river lined with wharves, docks, warehouses and industrial installations of various shapes and sizes, with no frontage of any note until Greenwich and the various new developments spreading out from Canary Wharf (and even these rather disappointing). The new Dartford-Thurrock M25 bridge was really the only spectacular view on the whole 6 hour trip, which we completed far more quickly than expected, having to pick up a buoy down stream of Tower Bridge for an hour before the lock to St. Katherine Haven opened (happily we didn’t have to linger there too long, what with the wash from the high-speed River Bus service and the appalling amount of flotsam and jetsam in this stretch of the river). By 1830 hrs we were comfortably installed in St. Katherine’s East Dock.
11th-27th April 1992 - St. Katherine’s proved very pleasant – excellent facilities (though serious shopping required a longish walk to New Bengal, or Shadwell as was) and easy access by public transport to both central London and Dulwich. We also got to know James at Pumpkin Marine, who took our Decca in part exchange for a Magellan GPS system and sold us several other expensive items of kit. We hosted a remarkable number of visitors (five dinner parties, three lots to lunch and the Sloss family to tea) and watched the London Marathon from the comparative comfort of the Guild of World Traders’ Yacht Club. We didn’t do nearly as much planning at the Cruising Association as we’d hoped, and we didn’t get to a single theatre, show or concert. We had Simon and Caroline Morley to stay together for three days, which was quite enough (the dinghy proved to be the only reliable attraction for the kids after the conspicuous failure of an excursion to the National Maritime Museum). We did get settled back into the boat, though, and got a fair amount of maintenance (and thinking) done, and it was nice to have the opportunity to catch up with a few old friends. Meanwhile Iron Wharf were ready to see us again – the mast would come out to have the track riveted on, and Ron the Rigger would thereby get a better look at the offending roller reefing gear.
28th April -8th May 1992 - 28th April saw us locking out of St. Katherine shortly before 1100 hrs in teeming cold rain, with a brisk northerly wind and a possible gale forecast in the Thames area. Apart from the unpleasant weather (which did improve as the day wore on), our drive down the Thames was as uneventful as the drive up, though we were intercepted by an Essex Police launch in the estuary – enquiring solicitously whether we had heard the gale warning. In the event we met no excessive wind en-route, though once safely moored off Queensborough that evening one sustained gust took our wind gauge up to 35 knots before the instruments had an electrical brainstorm. (We were, as before, just across from “Tumble Two” on her home buoy).
The following morning dawned bright and cold, and we achieved perfect timing through the Kingsferry Bridge, along the Swale and up Faversham Creek, to arrive at Iron Wharf just before HW – it felt almost like coming home!
Any thoughts of getting away again before the Bank Holiday weekend were swiftly dashed, when Ron confirmed the distortion of the lower section of roller reefing foil but was unable to part it from the stud at its lower end. We spent the following week in increasing exasperation as a new section of foil, ordered for overnight delivery made its slow progress across southern England – but we did get a lot more routine repairs and maintenance done, with helpful advice from our new friends at the yard, while we waited in our dismasted pride and joy. We were almost reconciled to a third weekend on the mud when the foil turned up. Ron meanwhile having succeeded in parting its predecessor from its stud. By early afternoon Glyn was able to crane the mast back in, leaving us (slightly to our dismay!) to set up the rigging – after some furtive consultation of our reference books we managed to do so reasonably efficiently. Fate had one more twist (or lack of one) in store, though: we belatedly discovered that while the genoa halyard slid beautifully up and down its new track, it obstinately refused to swivel. By happy chance another rigger was working late at the yard, volunteered to help out, and by 21.00, in semi-darkness, we had re-rigged the reefing gear with the swivel, temporarily at least, operational.
9th – 11th May 1992 - So we finally left, just before 06.00 on the Saturday morning, with “Gladlee” in full working order for the first time. We set the genoa after the first hour or so out of the Swale, and eastwards along the north Kent coast the wind backed SSW so that we could work the main as well. From the South Margate buoy we had an excellent run round the Foreland before actually beating down to Ramsgate in the freshening wind, enjoying our first decent sail for almost 250 miles (Etretat- Fécamp on 18th September!). By the time we came to move to the inner harbour (after the FA Cup Final) the wind was gusting F7 over the wall – but we manoeuvred without any problems and could be well pleased with our first proper excursion of the season.
As with our second, on the Monday, when we registered our fastest crossing to Calais (4 hours 40 minutes, entrance to entrance) in a wind which freshened to F7 at times in mid-Channel, where the sea was distinctly rough. We made a good course, though, in good visibility, and Julie actually sailed into the Avant Port with 25 knots on the quarter. A momentary crisis as we picked up a waiting buoy and noticed no cooling water coming out of the exhaust – we assumed a blocked intake, tried Nigel Calder’s suggested remedy of running the engine hard in reverse, and after seconds the water duly reappeared. By 19.30 local we were tucked into the last vacant space on the visitors’ pontoon below the clubhouse : had a couple of beers with our Dutch neighbours.
12th-16th May 1992 - A very blustery day left us glad to be safe in harbour – we walked up to Mammouth for the usual shop, bought a wrench to replace the one Nigel had dropped in Ramsgate harbour, and had a good dinner at “Gin Fizz”. Next day produced a more moderate NE wind, later swinging to SE/SSE F3, which took us very comfortably up to Dunkerque in warmer, slightly hazy sunshine. The following morning we had an even better run up to Oostende in a SE 4/5, sailing all the way and enjoying another sunny day. After a brief stop at the Royal Yacht Club we decided that the dredger working nearby was just too noisy for comfort, so went back to a virtually deserted Montgomerydok and the cheerful HM of the North Sea YC. Pleasant stroll round the shopping centre (Nigel drooling over several lovely food stores), but no success in finding a new outfit for Julie.
(P.S. Forgot to record that Bernard and Phil (Julie’s father and brother) came and saw us for coffee and croissants just before we left Calais – they had come in on a ferry en-route to Phil’s cottage near Cahors).
At 09.30 on 15th we left Oostende harbour in a light northerly which soon conveniently backed NNW and freshened steadily as we worked our way up past Zeebrugge, giving us another magnificent sail up the Westerschelde to Vlissingen in just 4˝ hours (at one stage we were making good over 10 knots on the flood tide!). Past the lock we were boarded by a pair of courteous Customs officers, but in spite of this slight delay we were still early enough to press on up the canal to Middelburg in the afternoon sunshine, reliving our first trip up there almost exactly a year before – nice to be back! We just caught the HM in time to get a box mooring in the outer harbour ( we just squeezed in) before he disappeared into the yacht club to celebrate the official opening of their handsome new toilet and shower facilities – mostly built by the members themselves. Adequate supper on the market square : the following evening, after a day’s shopping, pottering and odd jobs in fine hot sunshine, Julie produced an exotic dish from the Roux brothers’ repertoire – veal escalopes with Roquefort and walnuts!
17th-20th May 1992 - A wind shift to NE brought a colder morning on Sunday, though it was still clear and sunny as we moved up the canal, through the lock at Veere, and round to the north side of Haringvreter, our favourite Veerse Meer island. Lots of activity on the water, but we found a vacant place to tie up and enjoyed watching the procession of yachts sailing past (and the colourful windsurfers) while Julie started focussing our new binoculars on the birdlife. Sole meurničre for dinner ….. Next day we were surprised to find the lake virtually deserted (we were still labouring under the delusion that it was the Whitsun holiday weekend!), moved a little way along the island to comply with the 24-hour rule and parked in the identical spot we had occupied on last year’s visit. A warmer day (and much brighter than a year ago), and we had the island to ourselves, apart from the resident rabbits, cows, horses, deer, geese, ducks, etc. – no eagle owl this time, though logged a nightingale.
Next morning (19th) we decided to reach at least part of the way on up the Veerse Meer, but we quickly discovered that the genoa halyard swivel had seized again. We put in to Bastiaan de Langeplaat and set about unwrapping the rolled sail by hand – no easy task, even in a F3! After much heaving (and the odd graze – Julie’s blood spattered along the foot of the sail) we succeeded in letting it all out, got the swivel down and freed it with remarkable ease. On our way again within the hour, we practised short tacks until the wind came dead ahead, then motored on to the Zandkreeksluis and on into the Oosterschelde. It was 15.45, we weren’t going to make the 16.30 Zeelandbrug opening, so we enjoyed a leisurely sail in the sun, arriving at the bridge just before 17.00 to find two red lights and a voice on the VHF telling us firmly that the next opening would be at 09.00 the next morning. Faced with the prospect of retreating eastwards all the way to Goessche Sas we found mention of yacht moorings by the nearby shipyard at Kats – and duly discovered a very adequate, if unpretty, marina with a brand-new clubhouse and showers, whose staff made us welcome just before they closed up shop for the night. By 09.30 the next morning we were in the familiar surroundings of Zierikzee, and with no time to take the boat up to the Grevelingenmeer we decided to get out the bicycles and take the land route across to Brouwershaven – a very pleasant expedition on another beautiful day, with a stop on the way for sandwiches on the bank of a dike. We were back in good time for another (our third) first-class dinner at the “Auberge Maritime”.
21st-22nd May 1992 - After a final shop for food, and a visit to the fuel barge, we left Zierikzee shortly after 1000 and sailed down the south side of the estuary to the Roompot marina, where we planned to stop for a few hours to wait for the out-going tide from the Roompot lock, a mile or so further west. The marina was virtually deserted, with a large development of holiday homes under construction behind it and a holiday camp over the dyke – once Nigel found his way to the main reception area he was not surprised (Holland being Holland) not to be charged for the temporary stay, so we spent our remaining guilders in the small supermarket. Last minute drama when Julie checked the lights and found that neither the tricolour not the anchor lights were working – a visit to the top of the mast failed to resolve the problem. We moved to the waiting pontoon at the lock for supper, having booked an opening time via the telephone on the pontoon (so efficient, the Dutch!). We emerged from the lock just before 2000 hours – lovely evening, but no wind. An hour or so later a northerly F3 appeared and we managed to sail for a couple of hours, but shortly before reaching the Middelbank buoy we were forced to resort to the engine again – lots of fishing boats and coaster traffic through the middle of a calm and clear night. In the course of his watch Nigel noticed that the anchor light was working – with the steaming lights instead of the white forward sector light! Furious though delivered the answer : we had reconnected the deck plugs the wrong way round when the mast was re-stepped!
Julie took over the watch at 0145 as the autopilot steered a steady course in what was now a very light SE wind – Nigel returned at first light as we started crossing the TSS, and shortly after dawn we actually had to alter course to keep clear of a bulk carrier. Nothing else of note until we passed the North Galloper just before 1000 and got just enough wind – from the N. again – to sail for the next three hours. After a brief lull approaching Roughs Tower the wind picked up to ENE/3 : the tide nearly swept us on to the Tower (a hasty burst of engine power got us out of danger), and we then crossed a spectacular mass of yachts setting off on a cross-North Sea race before making good ground from the Cork Sand buoy along the yacht route towards Landguard Point. The wind was quite brisk as we passed the Landguard cardinal at 1600 hours, but we got the sails down in good order off Shotley Spit 20 minutes later and drove round the first of several moored (retired) lightships in the mouth of the Stour before getting straight into Shotley Point marina – the only slight blemish on the record was Nigel’s less than brilliant arrival at our eventual berth, but in spite of the very tame conditions we could be quite pleased with our longest (so far) entirely offshore passage.
23rd-28th May 1992 - We managed just to miss the bus into Ipswich the following morning, but a kindly couple saved us a long walk to Wolverstone, where we walked down the pleasant road to the marina on the Orwell (evidently once part of a large estate) to buy a chart of the Essex rivers. Caught the next bus and had a good walk round the shopping precinct in Ipswich before doing a large Sainsbury’s shop and getting a taxi to the station to meet Simon Morley off a train from London – he arrived in good order and we just contrived not to miss the bus back to Shotley (pleasant enough marina, looking across to Harwich town and across the estuary to Felixstowe docks – some quite spectacular German and Scandinavian ferries passing from time to time). In the morning we had some hazy sunshine and an easterly F3/4, which took us gently down past Frinton and Clacton after some man overboard practise under sail in the Medura channel. By 15.00 we were at the Colne Bar buoy, and shortly afterwards heading up the channel towards Brightlingsea and a forest of dinghy sails across the river entrance. We got the sails down early, to keep clear of the small fry, and negotiated our way into the Pyefleet channel over some unexpectedly shallow water (it turned out that we’d mis-identified a red channel buoy and gone over a sandbank…). We anchored with a few other yachts off Pewit Island, a relatively featureless but comfortable stretch of river which gave Simon plenty of room to exercise the outboard.
Monday morning brought more haze and less wind – we motored into the murk until we reached Bench Head and turned west into the Blackwater. Visibility gradually improved, and there was just enough wind to keep us moving – after a hour or so we set the cruising ‘chute and drifted along in company with several other yachts determined not to start their motors. By 14.00, though, (3 miles in two hours) we called it a day and carried on under power, passing Bradwell power station and our choice of eventual anchorage (The Stone), which seemed too infested with Water-skiers and jet-skis to be comfortable. We anchored in a slightly quieter spot off Osea Island and spent the next three hours enjoying the hot sunshine, swimming off the boat and watching the Bank Holiday water-sporters. Things quietened down as evening drew on, and we moved to The Stone (alias Ramsey Wick) in time to dinghy ashore for a drink at the pub – disappointing beer and rather noisy, but we had a quiet night at anchor as the wind started to pick up again.
It was fine again in the morning, with a moderate breeze blowing up the river from the ENE – after motoring into the bay behind Bradwell to give ourselves a better angle we got the sails up and beat out of the estuary, reaching the Colne Bar buoy at 1300 hours and putting a second reef in shortly afterwards as the wind freshened to 20 knots. We reached the Wallet Spitway at slack tide as planned, by which time we had F6 on the quarter – it took only 20 minutes to arrive at Whitaker no. 1 and turn into the Crouch approach channel with the start of the flood tide. An hour later we passed Buxey no.2 (and a colony of seals on Foulness Sand) taking in the genoa to give better control with the wind dead astern and starting to make out the shape of the land against the hazy sun.
Once into the river proper we came off the wind a little and set half the genoa again, racing down towards the Burnham anchorage with the modernistic Royal Corinthian clubhouse clashing remarkably with the more traditional river frontage to starboard. We got the sails down in good order with the wind gusting to 25 knots still, but the approach to a portside-to pontoon with the wind blowing us on took a couple of false starts before we scrambled in with dignity (and gelcoat) slightly dented. A long walk to get anywhere, but Burnham Yacht Harbour proved comfortable enough (and a relative snip at Ł9 a night). We went into Burnham later and had a very decent pub supper (good beer, too), having found none of the yacht clubs open!
We had to wait until lunchtime on Wednesday for the ebb tide to take us out, so we had a leisurely morning walk into Burnham again, and a food shop, before heading into the ENE wind (still F5) and battling our way down into the estuary through some quite choppy swell (Simon certainly got variety this week!). Three hours later we contrived to jam the main halyard behind the radar reflector – a rare occurrence these days – at Whitaker no. 6 buoy, and Nigel had an exciting 10 minutes at the mast before we freed it and got the reefed main up. With the wind behind us we goosewinged the main and ran down the edge of Maplin Sands, reaching the Medway fairway buoy just before 1900 hours, with the familiar outlines of Garrison Point and the power station opposite looming ahead of us. Another hour saw us rounding Queensborough Spit buoy, still under sail, and at 20.30 we were rafted alongside “Sapphire” on one of the visitor’s buoys in the mouth of the Swale – a familiar view by now, on our third visit in seven weeks. A hasty spaghetti supper before we got to bed, with an early start in store.
04.00 was the scheduled departure time, both to catch the tide up the Thames and to give Simon another night hour (a technicality in the event, since we were only a hour before dawn and visibility was excellent). We did our best not to disturb our neighbours, by drifting off downstream before starting the engine, and we had the sails up for a while as the wind picked up to F4 from the E in the mouth of the Medway. The breeze was short-lived, though, and the engine was on again by the time we turned west up the estuary. We did have 40 minutes sailing between Thurrock and Purfleet, which enabled Simon to helm under the M25 bridge, and we had a polite interception by a river police launch off Dagenham, but otherwise it was very uneventful slog up to St. Katherine Haven, where we docked near our old berth in the East Basin at 1100 hours.