The Sunk Traffic Separation Zone and other adventures

It was a great idea. I even sent the family WhatsApp group a message saying I would set out at dawn the next day instead of starting the voyage with a rainy night.

Well, I didn’t have a drop of rain…

The plan was to sail from Walton on the East Coast to Chichester on the South coast – a distance of some 150 miles which I reckoned to do in not much more than 24 hours – especially if I could catch the tide all the way across the Thames Estuary like I did on the way up last year.

In the event it took me 58 hours – that’s nearly two and a half days!

Mind you it was great. I loved every minute of it…

The first excitement was experimenting with Samsara’s downwind rig. This is somewhat innovative and was contrived by her fastidious previous owner who made such a success of refitting her cabin. Since “downwind” to him meant trade wind sailing, he dispensed with silly contraptions like spinnakers and wrote a careful explanation of how to rig the staysail on the inner forestay with the sheet led through a snatch block on the end of the boom (hauled forward with a preventer). The main could then be furled. After that, with the furling jib on the end of the spinnaker boom the two headsails could be adjusted without leaving the cockpit.

That may be so and, I’m sure, very useful when shortening sail as a rain squall creeps up on you in the middle of a jet-black night on the way to Antigua. However, to arrive at this happy position, requires setting up all those control lines.

Don’t worry, the fastidious previous owner had drawn them out and left a copy in the file. Here it is.

As you can see, there seems to be a lot of string involved – and don’t forget the footnote about “Uphauls not shown”. I studied this diagram and I looked at a lot of YouTube videos and finally decided that if the staysail was going on the end of the main boom (had to be the main boom because the diagram shows the topping lift is used as the uphaul), then why did I need both a spinnaker pole and a whisker pole?

Yes, I had both cluttering up the foredeck and, with a bit of measuring (as best as I could do with the boat out of the water) I decided that the spinnaker pole was left over from the days when the boat carried a spinnaker and, in fact, the whisker pole was what was used with this particular rig. So the spinnaker pole went into the shed at home.

And now I had a chance to try the rig on the way along the “suggested yacht track” out of the approaches to Felixstowe. The first thing I learned was that, because the main boom cannot be brought forward of the shrouds, if there is a wind shift, then the whole thing has to be dismantled and set up again. It cannot be gybed.

I did this. I may get better with practice but just now it represents a serious flaw. What it needs is for both headsails to be on their own booms (whisker pole for the staysail and the, longer, spinnaker pole for the furling headsail.) In other words what I need is a spinnaker pole … on the foredeck, not in the shed…

Never mind, the wind gave up in exasperation. From the afternoon into the evening, progress became more and more sporadic until, at one point, I was reduced to starting the engine to avoid a cargo ship that seemed intent of stalking me through the Sunk Traffic Separation Scheme (I’ve just realised how odd that sounds).

In the end, just when I should have been looking up the pilotage notes for entering Chichester, I found a quiet spot down-tide of the Thanet Wind Farm and dropped all sail to get some serious sleep – in short snatches, of course. It wasn’t until four in the morning that I poked my head out of the hatch to look around and felt the faintest stirrings of a breeze.

That was enough: Stumbling around in the pitch-black night with a head-torch I set about rigging the temporary forestay for the genoa – and some time later we were on our way at a sedate two knots. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that this was going to turn into my best day’s sailing with this boat.

The wind built and built as if trying to get back into my good books after yesterday. The genoa went below with a glow of pride for a job well done and we continued south under all plain sail with 6.5 knots on the log – which I have learned is no more than respectable for Samsara. Of course, I had no idea that this was just the beginning.

By the time we were picking our way through the ferries off Dover, the average was well over seven knots with bursts up to eight – and GPS showing the speed over the ground at 9.5.

Best of all, the shape of a Rival hull makes the most of her speed. That big, purposeful bow shoulders the seas out of the way in the manner of a prop forward making for the bar after winning the league. The result is a great creaming bow-wave and a wake that seems to stretch all the way to the horizon.

Owners of modern boats will sniff at this – particularly those with multihulls. Their argument is: “Do you want to make a lot of waves or do you want to go fast?” Because, there is no doubt, for a boat to go fast, she needs to cause as little disturbance as possible to the sea. But where’s the fun in that…

So, we went belting along the South Coast: Dover, Hastings, Brighton and pretty soon I was indeed looking up those pilotage notes for Chichester. It wasn’t as simple as I remembered. In fact, you have a four-hour window around high water to get in at all.

Also, it turned out that we weren’t going so fast any more and dusk was approaching…  and with it, that characteristic calm: The self-steering unable to cope… the inadvertent tacks, the sails slatting…

It costs £70 to fill Samsara’s diesel tank and I don’t motor anywhere I don’t have to. Down came the sails again and, somewhere off Selsey Bill, I sat down to the other half of the putanesca sauce which had been such a success with spaghetti off Thanet.

Later, as the sun came up and with it the breeze, we set off with a certain sense of resignation for that four-hour window into Chichester.

Obviously it’s going to take me some time to get flexible. Maybe it comes from a lifetime of fitting sailing into a working life – having to get the boat back on her mooring in time to return to the office tomorrow morning. But that doesn’t apply any more. The reason for Chichester was because I needed to take the liferaft to be serviced in Southampton and you can anchor for nothing in Chichester Harbour.

So, when I picked up a mobile phone signal and rang Ocean Safety to book it in for sometime over the next three weeks (I would be around the Solent that long, what with Hugo, my 15-year-old, joining me and having to go home to take our turn at hosting the Wine Club…)

“You want it done in the next three weeks!” said the voice on the other end – not at all the same one which had suggested airily: “Oh, bring it in and we’ll be do it while you wait…”

Eventually, we managed to agree an appointment in early June. But, foolishly, it was only at this stage that I asked how much it would cost.

“£450!” – although, I am pleased to say that a lifetime of listening to people voicing the preposterous allowed me to keep the exclamation mark out of my reply.

The budget just does not allow for routine payments of £450 – and besides the service isn’t due until July – and anyway who keeps their certificate up to date if they aren’t required to by law (charter companies) or if they’re about to be scrutinised for a race?

Besides, I am old enough to remember setting off across the North Sea – five of us in a wooden Folkboat – knowing that if we were to sink, the first resort was a very serious bilge pump Father had installed and the second was a tiny plywood dinghy lashed to coachroof. We would have lasted five minutes in a Force Three.

So the liferaft is not going to be serviced. And besides, the wind and tide seemed determined to keep me away from Chichester. I put the helm down and headed West into the Solent, periodically looking up anchorages protected from the North East.

So that’s why it wasn’t until three in the afternoon that I dropped the hook off Needs Ore Point on the River Beaulieu. I’ve seen boats anchored here before rather than going up to that teeming metropolis, Buckler’s Hard – although I’m a bit startled to read that the owners of this private river (presumably the estate of the late Lord Montague of Beaulieu) reserve the right to come and charge me £10. I just hope they doesn’t read this – that would make me feel as foolish as the drug dealer who advertised his wares on Facebook without realising he had a friend who was a policeman.

Anyway I’m off tomorrow for Poole where Poole Quay Boat Haven will charge me only £3 if I don’t stop for more than four hours while I pick up some fresh supplies, fill the water tanks and buy a new joker valve for the loo before Hugo arrives (It’s taken me this long to find the seacock by feel. If I inflict the same on him, he’ll never want to come back).

The Old Man

Reunited with the anchor

Getting back to the car after painting the beach hut in Southwold, a message: I have my anchor back. Gus at Harry King’s Boatyard of Pin Mill had retrieved it and apparently it is sitting on the fordeck (washed, no less).

So I’m off tomorrow. The wind should be favourable from Saturday afternoon and I have worked out that if I leave after lunch and keep moving, I will carry the tide for 18 hours which should put me well on my way along the South Coast towards Chichester on Sunday night.

There are one or two little jobs to do first, so it’s just as well I have to wait for the wind. But I can do those anchored in Walton Backwaters – staying well away from buoys…

Things are looking up!

Well, so much for positive thinking!

I spent the morning motoring round and round in circles trying to unwind the anchor chain from a mooring buoy (see previous post). I have a horrible suspicion that I just made it worse.

So there seemed nothing to do but wait for my friendly diver to go down. At least he was going to be cheaper than his commercial colleagues. But I suppose I should find out how much it would cost simply to replace everything… no good, getting on for £1,000.

This was when the time came to ring the boatyard and tell them what I’d done to their mooring. I was not looking forward to it. But the man who rang me back was full of sympathy. No mention of “You idiot, what did you think you were playing at…”

Instead, he just said: “Well, if the diver can’t do it, don’t worry, I could always lift the mooring chain with my barge and we can sort it out that way.”

I hadn’t thought of that. After all, what if I paid for the diver and he couldn’t do anything?

“How much would it cost to use the barge?”

“Oh, I suppose about £100.”

Yes please! He can do it next week, too!

Maybe things aren’t looking so black after all…

The Old Man

Anchor Day

Today is Anchor Day.  If you are up to speed, you will know that two days ago, I succeeded in wrapping my anchor chain round a mooring buoy. I made what I now realise was a half-hearted attempt to untangle it. Today I am going to do the job properly.

Much of the reason for this is because the alternatives are not very attractive – I know; I spent much of the past two days going over them again and again.

As I said at the time, it looked as though there was no alternative but to get a diver down. Actually, I am a diver – that is to say, about five years ago, before a holiday in Egypt, I took an open-water diving course. However, I don’t have any equipment of my own and, almost certainly, I have forgotten everything I learned. But I do remember the name of the diving school – Diveline in Ipswich.

I rang them. The man who answered the phone said immediately: “Oh, you’ll want a commercial diver.”

I know all about commercial divers – we’re right on top of Felixstowe Docks, here. Commercial divers are used to dealing with shipping companies registered in the Nassau. Their scale of charges starts at £1,600 and goes up from there. Plus VAT of course…

I was hoping Diveline might know of an amateur who would do it more cheaply. I was advised to ring back in the morning and speak to Geoff.

Geoff put me on to Paul. Now Paul was really helpful. Yes, of course, he could do it – he’d need to do it with Geoff though – and they’d need a boat…

Now, I was the one with the negative attitude: I’ve got a dinghy but it’s only tiny. Also, how were they going to get out of the water? My collapsible swimming ladder would never take the weight of a diver with all his kit.

“Oh, we can get the kit off in the water if we need to… and if needs be, we can swim ashore…”

And all for the price of “a drink” – a pretty expensive one as drinks go … but very cheap compared to the commercial outfit.

However, both Paul and Geoff are away for the next ten days…

But already things were looking a good deal brighter – and today, brighter still. The strong winds have died away, the river is like a millpond. Also, I have a plan.

At the moment the anchor and all the chain is on the river bed. The bitter end is attached by a 12metre line to a buoy.  What I propose is to hoist the end of the chain to the surface and drag it from the stern twice clockwise around the mooring buoy. If that doesn’t work, I shall drag it four times anti-clockwise (undoing the two turns I have just put in and undoing any others).

On Tuesday, trying this from the bow, I couldn’t get any distance from the buoy. If I find that today I can, then I am making progress.

Of course, what I am hoping is that I will find myself getting further and further away from the buoy. This will mean the plan is working and ultimately I will be off in a different direction entirely – which means that, I’ve don it!

Then all I will need to do is transfer the line to the bow and haul it in.

What I am really looking forward to is ringing both Paul and Geoff and thanking them for  their offer but I shall be off back to the Deben tomorrow and ready to go in earnest next week.

  • Readers wondering why I am taking the time to write this when I could be getting on with the job should consider the theory that we get what we think about – or, as I like to put it: You create your reality by the power of your thinking. I am now full of positive attitude – let’s go do it…

     The Old Man

Captain Calamity

Years ago, when I worked for the Daily Mail, I used to be the “Captain Calamity Correspondent”.

Captain Calamity appeared most summers – in the “silly season” when there wasn’t much news about and anything at all could get most of a page – lost exotic animals, the weather (of course) – and amateur sailors (usually elderly) navigating some  home-made and essentially seaworthy craft, very often with the help of the AA map. Of course it all ended happily with the lifeboat going out to rescue him – and then explaining that they did not have the power to stop him setting out again.

… which, of course, he did … only to be rescued by the next lifeboat station down the coast.

Since it was known that I was a sailor, I used to be asked to cover Captain Calamity and I must say I milked him for for every cheap laugh I could think of. The way I saw it, daft old fools like that deserved everything they got.

Now, of course, the tables are turned and I am the daft old fool – or at least that is  the way it appears to me.

For instance, in my last post, I celebrated the delights of being at anchor. What I didn’t mention is that I am at anchor on the River Orwell which is lined, on both sides of the channel, with moorings – as close together as they can get them. Of course, at this time of year, most them are empty. I did consider borrowing one – but you take  a risk when you do that – how do you know the reason it’s empty isn’t because it needs some work… and what about the owner returning in the middle of the night…

But I did find a spot of deep water not far away. When Samsara dropped back at the end of her chain, her stern was nicely between two empty buoys.

However, when I returned from the charcoal expedition (see previous), I was concerned to find that she had now dropped further back – and was now through the line of moorings.

That was not good news. That is how you get your chain wrapped around a buoy. I did it once anchoring outside Torquay (should have paid the marina charges). But in the West Country you can see the bottom and work out how to undo the tangle. On the muddy East coast, there isn’t a hope.

I tried motoring around the buoy and even launched the dinghy and tried dragging the end of the chain round and round. Nothing worked. I shall have to get a diver down – more expense!

The answer is, I should have been more careful. I should have thought it through. Maybe I’m just out of practice.

I certainly hope so. This can’t go on…

At anchor

After two days in an expensive marina, it’s good to be out at anchor again – for one thing we’re pointing into the wind – all day it’s been blowing a gale with driving rain (somebody got washed into the sea at Ramsgate and drowned). For me it just meant I had to stuff the cracks in the companionway with a towel – except, of course, when Art the electrician arrived for his second (was it third?) attempt to find out why the windlass works or not according to an agenda that it seems to be keeping to itself.

I thought I had fixed it when I discovered a rusty connection but today Art discovered an isolating switch in the engine space which I knew nothing about. Removing both that and an ancient trip switch and replacing them with a fuse seems to have solved the problem for the moment but there will have to be another (fourth?) visit to fit a new trip switch.

Of course, all of this would be unnecessary if only I had any expertise in electrical engineering. But, no, I’m marginally less expert in this area than I am with engines.

One thing I can do is turn this boat round in small spaces. With the wind still blowing 25kts, I took Samsara out of her marina berth, spun her on a sixpence and we are now anchored a couple of hundred yards away. The reason for this is that tomorrow is May 1st but the forecast is still for night time temperatures of only 3oC and there is only about third of a bag of charcoal left – enough to keep my cosy for this evening but tomorrow,  I will have to take the bike ashore and pedal five miles to a garage which sells bags of charcoal.

Thank you God!

There is a wonderful moment in Notting Hill when Rhys Ifans discovers Julia Roberts in the bath.

First he makes a hasty exit, then goes back “just checking” and finally – wait for it – he clasps his hands and says: “Thank you God!”

I said the same – although it  was over the jib halyard, which – without a stopper knot in the end – would have disappeared into the mast. It was bad enough that I was having to replace a perfectly good halyard because I had been obliged to cut the old one (embarrassing story – see below) but if the end were to disappear into the little slot in the side of the mast then I would have to climb to the top to reeve a new one.

Nothing wrong with climbing the mast – I have an ingenious gadget for that very purpose. It’s just that if I make any more work for myself through stupid mistakes, I shall start wondering whether this was such a good idea after all.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, after all it’s 20 years since I have had a boat – and more than 25 since I’ve done any singlehanded sailing in a proper boat. I suppose I thought it would all come back – after all I managed to sail half way round the country last year…

But time after time, I seem to be doing something stupid – and apart from the extra work putting it all right, this is getting expensive.

Take last night, for instance. Last night I had to pay a marina fee when I should have been anchored down the river for nothing – only coming alongside in two days time to take the mainsail to be mended (see last post).

Well, how’s this for stupidity: It started out as routine maintenance… topping up the engine oil. This is something I did countless times with Largo. It’s easy enough, you just open the cap on the top of the engine and pour it in.

Although, of course, this isn’t Largo is it? Largo had a seawater-cooled Bukh engine. Samsara has a freshwater cooled Nanni – which means there are two filler caps on the top of the engine – so which one do you think I poured the oil into?

I mean, there was only a 50:50 chance of getting it wrong, so do you think I got it wrong? Of course I got it wrong. I shouldn’t beat myself up too much: I do know of a man who poured screen wash into the engine of his Audi R8 (Audi were really decent and gave him a new engine under the guarantee).

Of course, to begin with, I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong. I just couldn’t understand why the level on the dipstick hadn’t risen – so I added some more oil … and then some more … until it spilled over the top.

It was at this point the penny dropped. “Oh, no…Oh what have I done…” etc. etc…

Now the panic sets in and rational thought goes out of the window. The first thing to do is get the oil out of the cooling system. Fortunately, being oil, it is floating on the top. I find a length of hose. I put one end into the cooling system and suck on the other. I get a mouthful of oil. I spit it out. Half a pint pours into the bilges (would have been better to make the time to find a bucket). The oil stops flowing. I try again. This time I get a mouth full of coolant. Good; that seems to be all the oil…

It is maybe half an hour later, when I have topped up the oil correctly and run the engine, that I begin to think about this more slowly: I just had a mouthful of engine coolant. I spat it out but I can still taste it. What is in engine coolant? Anti-freeze. Isn’t anti-freeze supposed to be poisonous?

I look it up. Yes, it’s poisonous. Well, obviously the first thing to do is drink two large glasses of water (which, of course, just takes it further into my system. Then I look up “how to make yourself sick”. I stick my finger down my throat. It works – but all that comes up is a spoonful of bile.

Maybe I should be taking this a bit more seriously. Further research tells me: “Long term outcomes may include  kidney failure and brain damage. Toxicity and death may occur even after drinking a small amount.”

‘Strewth, this is serious. I began to consider my options. I am anchored on the River Orwell near Ipswich. Ipswich has a large hospital. To get there I would have to leave the boat somewhere secure. I might be in hospital for days (weeks?). The Marina where I was due to take the mainsail on Monday would be the obvious place – but how much would they charge?

Hold on a moment, why am I worrying about money when my life is hanging by a thread. I should get there as soon as possible. I did. In fact, I phoned for a taxi to take me there. The taxi driver knew all about anti-freeze: “Oh, that’s very dangerous. Do you want to go by the main road or through town? Through town is cheaper but the main road is faster… OK, we’ll go by the main road.”

At Accident and Emergency reception they asked me why I was there. I asked them if they still accepted patients who were only there because they had been incredibly stupid. They told me that if people weren’t incredibly stupid they wouldn’t have most of their customers. They asked me to wait. A screen on the wall said “Waiting time: Two hours”. How long since I “ingested” the poison? Four hours already. Was that the beginning of a headache, I could feel?

In fact I sat there for only five minutes before a nurse took me away for cross-examination – and it was a cross examination. He went away to look it all up. He came back and told me: “I think because you didn’t swallow it – you had it in your mouth and you spat it out and rinsed your mouth, your membranes cannot have absorbed it. We’re not going to do anything, we’re not going to admit you. You did the right thing coming in but I think there really is nothing to worry about.”

He took my blood pressure and blood-oxygen levels for good measure but finished by saying: “The symptoms would be intoxication, light-headedness, headache, abdominal pain… just be aware for the next day or so.

– So I shouldn’t have anything to drink …

“Probably a bottle of wine would not be a good idea.”

It is now almost 48 hours since all this happened and I have been completely teetotal. I have given myself such a fright that I shall remain so for another 24.

I suppose I should be grateful that I have not killed myself – but all I can think of is the taxi fares and the marina charges. If I keep on doing things like this, the whole project is going to run out of money.

… and the trouble is that I do still keep doing them. You want to know why I had to buy a new jib halyard? I was trying to get the creases out of jib and there isn’t a winch on that side of the mast so I led it through a block at the base and onto the cockpit winch – and jammed it in a riding turn. The luff didn’t seem to be getting any tigher… crank another turn on the winch. It was when I was trying to release the tension that I broke the padeye for the spinnaker block – and I still had to cut the halyard…

Imagine if the new one had disappeared inside the mast…

But no, this time – without any help from me – things turned out all right. As they say: “Thank you God!”

The Old Man

Please yourself

This was written a few days ago…

I don’t suppose it would suit everybody but for the first time, I feel I really can say I am Living the Dream. This is what it is like to do exactly as you please…

Samsara is anchored off Stone Point in the Walton Backwaters – that maze of creeks and mud made famous in Swallows and Amazons. In fact it was here, more than sixty years ago that I first went sailing and began to become fanciful about living on a boat.

We are here because I have to paint the decks so I need somewhere quiet not too far away from a water tap (have to wash off the degreasing agent). I arrived a couple of days ago. It’s perfectly sheltered and there is just one other boat here – an old wooden yacht with the bluff bow you see on Dutch classics and a bowsprit almost half as long again. To begin with I thought there was no-one aboard (although there was an ancient dinghy alongside).

Admittedly I had anchored at such a respectful distance that I was looking at her through binoculars – and then today I saw the skipper. A man of about my age – although with more hair. He came out, did something on deck and disappeared without looking my way. But then, why should he. I was watching him through the window.

Today was not a day to go out – bright sunshine but a strong and bitterly cold wind. For the first half hour, I fretted about this. It will probably take me a whole day to clean the decks to standard required by the paint manufacturer… but then, what’s the hurry. My next appointment is for renewing my long-lapsed radio licence on the 29th.  I can please myself until then.

And pleasing yourself is one of the most wonderful – and yet one of the rarest-  opportunities we have in this life.  In fact, looking back, how much of our lives do we spend “pleasing ourselves”. If you live with other people, you have a whole separate agenda to consider – and who wants to be inconsiderate.

But if it’s just you – and nobody knows or cares what you will be doing today – that means you can, for once, please yourself.

I do know that I didn’t get up particularly early – I think it was about eight O’clock. I lingered over breakfast and pulled my one non-navigational book out of the bookcase (it’s all right, the rest are on Kindle but this one has photographs).

I do know that I had several phone conversations with people interested in Network Marketing (more about that on www.networkmarketingblog.org.uk) – a bit of work does have to intrude. There was a text from Tamsin asking whether I would be joining everyone for the annual bucket-and-spade holiday in Southwold but I should be on my way back from the Azores by then. However, it will all have to be paid for (hence the bit of work).

Interestingly, I didn’t resent this at all because it was on my terms. In fact, it was exciting to see that the plan seemed to working – although one conversation lasted for an hour and ten minutes. I’m not sure that’s  a good idea – but we talked about all sorts of things and I was in no hurry to say goodbye…

And so, the day slipped past. Lunch was an occasion. I’m getting a real taste for large mugs of sweet tea with condensed milk. Some time in the afternoon, I became so thrilleod with the way things were working out that I decided that tonight will be movie night. This will be a first: I have a dozen favourite DVDs which I will be quite happy to watch again and again (must have seen It’s a Wonderful Life 20 times already). The computer is charged up from carefully monitoring the solar panel and I’ve got a wire to plug in the little waterproof speaker.

It’s not really that cold but the charcoal stove makes the cabin so cosy that I’ll have that as well. In fact, time for dinner, I think…

Friday the 13th

This was supposed to be a short stop. If you have been following events, you will know that Samsara and I arrived home in Woodbridge in mid-December. It was supposed to be just for Christmas and repairs to the damaged rail from getting clobbered by a motorboat in Brighton (not to mention my own foolishness on the River Orwell within reach of home). I had planned to be off again by the end of February.

Why do we make these plans? Has any plan actually survived a brush with reality?

First of all, if the boat was going to have to come out of the water for the work, then I might as well touch up the paint. I didn’t sound much to ask: All I needed was a couple of days with the thermometer over 10oC. And what did I get? The longest, coldest winter in living memory.

Then there was the sailmaker whose excuse was: “I’m afraid we took on too much work.”

… and the elderly engineer whose apology goes into my collection of cherished quotes: “Look, it’s going to cost me more to heat my workshop than I’m going to charge you for the work…”

So, one way and another it was Friday 13th of April when I set off.

“What time are you leaving?” said Lottie who seemed to think the correct protocol was to wave a damp hanky from the quayside.

“Oh, about 11 O’clock, I should think,” I replied with all the assurance of one who has decided to spend the night before departure on the boat, just to make sure everything would be ready.

And what didn’t I have? Possibly the most important item – and it wasn’t even on the list: Music.

Last time I did this sort of thing, I had a plastic suitcase full of tape cassettes (remember them?) Oh, the pain of trying to decide what to leave behind (Frank Sinatra made it, Fred Astaire didn’t). Now, of course, you can take all the world’s music on Spotify. Except my phone seemed to have forgotten the lot. One way and another, by the time I had downloaded it all again (and walked the dogs since I was home anyway – and taken that cheque to the bank…) I was late leaving.

Now, here’s the thing: If this was a strange port, any competent skipper would check the tides, read up on the pilotage information, have the chart ready…

If it’s your home port, you assume you know everything – at least I do. I’ve sailed a Laser around here every summer Saturday for years. I left (but never returned) with the catamaran Lottie Warren. But Samsara is rather a different prospect. For instance, a Laser has a centreboard. Lottie Warren drew 0.7metres. Samsara draws 1.5metres and her keel is most certainly fixed … as became clear when we reached the shallows off Kyson Point.

The river path down to Kyson is where everyone walks their dogs – it’s where I walk the dogs. This is how I know how fascinating it is to stop and inspect the yachts that misjudge the turn and spend six hours settling comfortably to an angle of 45 degrees on the mud.

By the time I floated again, it was dark with no moon and this is when I made the next  discovery: That the night vision gadget Tamsin gave me for Christmas is not as simple as the instructions would have you believe. In the end, I groped my way down the river with a torch until I found a mooring in what appeared to be deep enough water (it wasn’t, as became evident when things started falling off the chart table at 4.00 a.m.) But by then I was past caring.

 

Now, I don’t care anyway. On Saturday the 14th, I have sailed all the way down the river in beautiful spring sunshine and as I write this, the stove is going, The Frankie is on Spotify and in a minute, I shall get up and cook myself some dinner.

There’s still a long list of things to do and for the first week, I shall be holed up in an Essex creek painting the decks. But for the meantime there is an immense sense of contentment in the fact that at last The Adventure has begun.

Embarrassing confession

There is really no point in writing this blog if I’m not honest with you. In fact, if you look up the symptoms of ADD, you will find that compulsive honesty is one of them (even though it might not be the best policy sometimes).

And there is something that I have to get off my chest. I’ve been keeping quiet about it for three months because I feel embarrassed and ashamed – but it would be worse if it were to come out and people thought I’d been hiding it.

In November I did something really, really stupid.

You may have been following my rather haphazard account of delivering Samsara from North Wales, via the South Coast to the River Deben in Suffolk. That’s where I live and although I don’t plan to keep her here (or come to that, anywhere in particular), the family did want to see the boat and I needed a destination (you do need a destination).

All had gone very well (bar the incident in Brighton when a motor cruiser hit me and cracked the brand new teak rail, carrying away a stanchion in the process). For 24 hours nobody knew who had done it. I had been ashore at the time but eventually the berthing manager spotted the culprit on the CCTV recording and he was quite happy to take responsibility. He had sent his son to check for damage and the lad reported all was well.

Anyway, the last leg was from Dover to Felixstowe – a wonderful trip because, if you time it right, you can carry the tide all the way for 12 hours. Better than that, on this occasion, I managed to get all the way there on one tack, only dropping the sails off the Landguard Buoy because by then it was pitch dark and the entrance buzzing with big ships pirouetting and pilot boats zipping between them at 24 knots.

The plan was to drop anchor somewhere up the Orwell for the night and then go round to catch the tide into the Deben the next day. Once past the glare of Felixstowe docks, the night was as black as can be – no moon and just the winking red and green lights marking the fairway. I brought my new torch on deck – high-tech and expensive with heaven knows how many lumens. I shone it out onto the water, the beam picking up the buoys as we passed. Meanwhile the plotter, dimmed as far as it would go, showed us progressing safely up the starboard side of the channel.

And this is where things went wrong. The phone rang. I remember the first time the phone rang on a boat. We were going up the Swinge off Alderney in the early 90’s. It was the weirdest sensation. But now people think nothing of the phone ringing in all sorts of place – and, of course, in cars. Now, in a car, you mustn’t touch the phone. But you can press a button on the steering wheel and have the call played through the speakers.

Well, Samsara isn’t geared up for that, but I did take it out of my pocket and start talking – after all, it wasn’t as if I was doing 70 miles an hour on a motorway. From time to time, as I chatted, I checked the plotter, shone the torch ahead, kept an eye on the buoys.

And it was during one of these checks that I was concerned to find I had wandered out of the channel to starboard. In fact, I was inshore of a line of moored boats.

“Hold on,” I said to my friend. “I’m out of the channel here. Let me get back…”

I slipped the phone into my pocket, shone the torch ahead, adjusted the course. Shone the torch again – no more moored boats – and resumed the call. Pretty straightforward, you might think. Nothing to worry about. I glanced at the plotter.

BANG!

In the glow of the steaming light, I could see a mast. I had hit a moored yacht almost head on. My bow was higher than hers and my anchor had smashed her pulpit and as, I continued down her port side, carried away two stanchions.

I won’t go into what my friend heard over the phone in the next few moments but about ten minutes later, when I went to call him back to explain, I discovered he had been holding on the whole time.

Anyway, I picked up a mooring nearby so I could inspect the damage in the morning. It was not as bad as it might have been if this had been a full T-bone collision. For my part, a weld on the pulpit had given way and there was some damage to the bow roller and anchor fixing. The anchor itself was unscathed.

Over dinner and recriminations, I considered what to write on the note I would leave on the other boat. But in the end, I called the adjacent marina and established that this was one of their moorings. They would pass on my details to the owner.

Pantaenius, who have insured my boats ever since the 1980’s, have been wonderful, of course. The owner of the boat I hit, has been very decent and thanked me for reporting the incident. Repairs are taking longer than I had hoped because of the cold weather (the engineer making a new bow roller has abandoned his workshop because it would cost more than he could make to heat it.)

Meanwhile, I have been berating myself about How Could This Happen?

First of all, there is no doubt – for me especially (see AADD above) – a mobile phone is a distraction. It’s not like talking to a crew in the cockpit. It takes you mind hundreds of miles away from where you are and even if you’re not doing 70 miles an hour on a motorway, that can have catastrophic consequences.

Even so, I knew there were moored boats around. Why didn’t I see this one? My first conclusion was that most boats have white hulls. This one was blue. The coachroof what white but – approaching from the bow – I would not have seen that. Even so, I was shining my new, high-intensity torch…

And it was only last week that I made a discovery about that torch. It has three settings: Very bright, quite bright and not-at-all bright. I would have known this if I was the sort of person who reads instructions – but what instructions do you need to operate a torch?

What I would have understood if I had read them is that the first time you switch it on, it is very bright. If you turn it off and on again, it will be quite bright. But if you are approaching a boat with a blue hull from head on and you switch on your torch when the sequence happens to have reached “Not Very Bright At All”, you might as well be without a torch at all.

This is not an excuse. It might be called a “contributory factor”. But the fault is nobody else’s but mine.

It was a salutary lesson and I promise you I shall learn from it. The main thing is that nobody got hurt and damage can be repaired.

Besides, guess what I got for Christmas: A night vision monocular.

The Old Man