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

When the rum bottle falls over

Harbour rots ships and men – and I had spent long enough in harbour painting the decks, trying to work out why the anchor windlass has a mind of its own…

All I want to do is to get going. If I could head for the Channel Islands tomorrow, I’d be off like a shot. However, despite all the lists of things to do, I had completely forgotten that I passed my radio operator’s exam in 1987, have long since lost it and anyway a lot seems to have changed since.

Now I am due at the Shearwater Sailing School in Woolverstone on Sunday to take it again (and I have homework to do first). In other words, I couldn’t go far – but I just had to go somewhere.

This is why, for no particular reason other than the thrill of it, I hoisted the anchor (and a good deal of mud) out of the River Stour and set off for Mersea Island, some 30 miles round the coast. It really was the most wonderful feeling. For one thing Samsara is a much faster boat than I realised – certainly faster than I remember Largo used to be. Maybe it’s the feathering propeller – maybe modern sails make all the difference but coming out of Felixstowe and across to the Naze we were clocking more than seven knots and overhauling much bigger boats (all of which seemed to have in-mast furling).

There was a fresh wind blowing out the South West, a blue sky with fluffy white clouds and I discovered that one of the most useful features of AIS* is that it makes a much more precise business of choosing to declare a race against another boat which just happens to be going the same way. Now you don’t need those discussions with the crew (in my case, imaginary crew) about whether you really are overhauling her (or, come to that, weathering on her).

Now all you need to do is look at the screen and you get the other vessel’s course and speed. It does spoil a good argument, though…

Of course, as the wind picked up and the other boat wound in a bit more of his in-mast furling (probably on an electric winch), I had to clamber back and forth to the mast to take in a reef – and I’m still working out the best way to do it.

I was just beginning to feel that my new system wasn’t quite as foolproof as I imagined when The End of the World approached from the starboard bow. If you’ve seen a line squall coming at you across open water, you will know what I mean. I might have been under a blue sky, but to windward, all was shades of grey with a grey curtain extending down from the clouds to the sea.

Abandoning all thought of the first reef, I raced through my new system to tie in the second – and was just about to put four rolls in the already working-sized jib, when it hit.

Samsara went with it, putting more than half her side deck under water. She came up, of course, and accelerated but she was still over-pressed. This was solid wind – and not a good thing with the Wallet sandbank close under our lee. If I tacked now, I could get away into clear water and also use the tack to put those four rolls into jib.

All was going according to plan and I was sweating in the main when there was an odd noise. It was rather like the creaking of a rope under extreme load – but not quite… I looked up to the block at the end of the boom. That was where the strain would be.

And then, thinking at first that there was an unpleasant dirty mark on the sail, I realised that what I was seeing was grey cloud… through the sail. There was a horizontal split maybe 10cms long just above the second reef pennant.

The first thought, of course, was whether the whole thing was about to go. The instant solution was to get it down. All clear with nothing under the lee, I wrestled the whole sail onto the boom and tied it down, all the while gritting my teeth (over the sail ties in my mouth) and waiting for the sound of more tearing sail cloth.

Of course, the wind died after that as the squall went on its way to cause more havoc further up the coast. For the sake of some sort of progress, I tied in the third reef and we sailed sedately into the River Colne with a tiny scrap of mainsail and a full jib.

Anchored at the back of Mersea Island, I have just phoned a sailmaker in Woolverstone  who can repair it on Monday. But I’ve still got to get there and the question is whether to risk a stick-on patch just to give me a full sail. If I have a decent wind – and a following wind, at that, I won’t need it. I have a cruising chute or twin headsails. We’ll see…

Meanwhile I was interested to see how things had coped below. Since Samsara’s hugely experienced previous owners created a wonderful sense of space in the cabin by dispensing with the upper level of lockers and installing open racks instead so that the saloon now extends the full width of the hull, there is a worry that in violent weather various items will start flying about. In fact, on the list of things to do before setting out into the Atlantic, is a reminder to make nets to keep everything in place should we suffer a knockdown.

Well, two apples took flight and I think it might be a good idea to eat them sooner rather than later. And, oh yes, the rum bottle fell over, probably in disgust.

 

*AIS: Automatic Identification System – a vessel tracking system compulsory for large ships and popular with yacht-owners.

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.

Antifouling

Like an old 60’s comedian coming out of retirement, I have returned to sailing to discover that the world has changed. The Environment has taken over.

I’m sure it’s a good thing. In fact, as we shall see later, I am going to be doing my bit when it comes to putting an end to plastic waste at sea.

But I was not prepared for what has happened to anti-fouling.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that you got a bucket of water and some coarse wet & dry paper… and after half an hour, you hands, your clothes, your hair – not to mention the ground all around the boat was bright red – or blue – or black of whatever was the colour of the stuff you were rubbing off.

Not any more. Now we know about “Ground Water” and the effect of chemicals on micro-organisms.

Quite how it was going to get into the water course through the tarmac of the hard-standing, was never explained. However, one thing was abundantly clear: Samsara’s generous coating of TBT and Micron and every type of organotin constituted an environmental disaster (I have since looked it up and it quite put me off my fish supper).

“So how,” I asked Barry who had just imparted the dire warnings, “am I supposed to get it off”.

The words “Specialist equipment” and “Hazchem suit” featured in the explanation – along with the news that he had everything that was needed, together with a fit young man who would be happy to spend a couple of days crawling around under the boat scraping away while a vacuum cleaner attached to the scraper sucked up all the toxins.

It’s a wonderful system – and do you know what’s wonderful about it? Cooking breakfast to the accompaniment of “scrape-scrape-scrape” coming through the hull, knowing you don’t have to do it yourself.