Sunday, 19 June 2016

Land Fettlers

Well! It has been a long while, hasn't it?

Unsurprisingly, a lot has happened in the 2.5-year interval since I last posted here.

Our beloved Fettler has long since gone to her new home with some lovely folk down in the southeast of England. I had an exceptionally fine last sail with her on the delivery back down the east coast in October 2013.

"Let us take care of our garden." - Voltaire
We've been busy homesteading since. We left Edinburgh towards the end of October (2013) and pitched up here in the rural southwest of Scotland. Our new place needed a lot of work to put it in proper order and we've been hard at it. The hens are laying and the garden is yielding well. I've even started to do a bit of hunting, so we're reaching a decent level of food self-sufficiency.

The lifestyle is obviously quite different but there are interesting parallels, as I believe I may have remarked before. The surroundings are peaceful and a high degree of self-reliance is called for. Granted, we're not constantly moving around (not at all, truth be told), but I came to realise that in a less apparent if perhaps more important sense we had reached a standstill with the voyaging.

Seeing new places and meeting new people all the time is wonderful, but there came a point when we wanted to build and develop and deepen our relationship with a place for the long term. Creating a garden is an extraordinary experience. Putting it together piece by piece and watching it advance from one year to the next. Observing the play of the seasons and the years over a single location is after all another form of travel.

We recently reached the point where we could spare a bit of time and energy to start writing about our experiences here and sharing the knowledge accumulated in living this life on the land. Do drop in and catch up with us!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The next phase

We've been back on land for a couple of months now and all is well. It has been a busy time, which is likely a good thing as it kept us from dwelling overmuch on the transition as it was happening.

During our two years away, and particularly over the last winter in Mortagne, we formed the idea that returning to city life probably wouldn't work out for us after spending so much time in peaceful rural or wild surroundings.

The plan that evolved out of this was that we should sell our flat in Edinburgh and look for a smallholding in one of the more remote parts of Scotland: where we could grow vegetables, keep hens and generally keep living according to the principles that drove us to step out of the mainstream and live  on the margins of society in the first place.

Although it sounds like going by opposites to jump from small boat voyaging to settling down on a smallholding, the two modes of life share many features. The obvious difference is that instead of moving on all the time we will be staying put, and that is exactly what we're looking for now.

The first month back was spent preparing the flat and getting it on the market. We have since accepted an offer and in turn had our offer accepted on what we hope will be our dream cottage down in Galloway. We should be relocated and starting our new life by the end of October.

Now for the hard part. Chickens and bluewater voyaging don't go at all well together. Though we've been putting it off and putting it off, finally we have had to make up our minds whether it makes sense to keep Fettler when we move accross to the West. The answer, realistically, is no. Parting with her will be painful, but ultimately less so than watching her moulder on a mooring when all we can do is take her out for an occasional daysail.

So, the take-home message is that Fettler is looking for caring new owners with a taste for adventure who would like to take over the stewardship of a very fine vessel. If anybody reading this is interested, or knows someone who might be, please get in touch by leaving a comment on the blog. No contact details will be published on the blog - these messages will only get as far as me, the moderator.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Top gear retrospective

When we were preparing to leave, we piled in everything that we thought might be nice to have on an extended sea voyage. By the time we were done only a small space remained, just enough for crawling into our bunk. Slowly we refined what what we would take. Excepting tools, ideally, each item would ideally have more than one function, be used daily or ward off unpleasant situations. So what gear stood the test of time? Here is a short selection of our favourites:

1 Garden sprayer
We took our garden sprayer initially for cleaning the boat away from marinas and as extra water storage. Since then, it has turned out to be a highly effective dish washer and on-board shower facility at anchor. Filled with warm water from a solar shower (which despite its name provides more of a trickle than a satisfying shower), the sprayer gives good water pressure for either showering or cleaning dishes and saves water in both processes.

2 Trugs
Those flexible plastic buckets that come in various sizes and colours. You hardly see a cruising boat without them and with good reason. Trugs are the long-term cruisers' washing machine but are also useful for transporting things, gutting fish, bathing babies or chilling beer for a pontoon party.

3 Microfibre cloths and towels
Very absorbent and quick drying, microfibre cloths are ideally suited to the marine environment. We have one dedicated specs wiping microfibre cloth (a supermarket glass-cleaning cloth which has cut down enormously on the number of specs wipes consumed) as well as dish towels, body towels and deck-drying cloths made from synthetic microfibre material.

4 Roll-top dry bags
Even on a dry boat it's very difficult to avoid dank fabrics. This is where a selection of dry bags in a variety of colours and sizes comes in handy. Everything made from fabric goes into one: bed clothes, towels, clothes, shoes, even spare cloths and rags. No more musty smells and should you take a wave through an open hatch all the gear is protected.

5 Pressure cooker
We were already pressure cooker fans before we set off and have become even more so after using ours nearly every day. Other than a kettle, this might be the only pot you need to take. It's extremely versatile: not only does it make fantastic soups, stews and risottos, but you can also make bread and cake (steamed rather than baked) or prepare meat and two veg all at once, by layering them over the steamer insert. For boiling pasta or frying, just use the pot without pressurising. The beauty of the pressure cooker is that it saves fuel, water (only half a cup of water to steam a whole pot of potatoes, for example) and cooking time. Not only that, but everything is safely contained in a closed pot - even if it flies through the cabin, dinner is saved. It's worth investing in a good quality one. Just make sure it's the right size for your crew: 2.5L for one, 3.5L for two or three, 5L for four or more.

6 Thermos flasks - liquid, food and mugs
Another essential in the galley is the thermos flask. Hot drinks are vital under way, especially at night and in bad weather, but it can be disruptive for off-watch crew (and wasteful on fuel) to make individual mugs on demand. Much easier to prepare a flask in advance so that one's beverage of choice is available in plenty, even at times when it's too rough to make some more. We have three flasks on board, one for tea, one for coffee (not a good idea to make tea in a coffee flask!) and one for food. Tea is brewed directly in the flask, coffee transferred from the unbreakable stainless steel cafetiere. Food flasks can be used for food preparation as well; they make great porridge, for example. Add boiling water to a mix of oats, milk powder, sugar and raisins, stir well and leave for an hour, with an optional stir sometime in between - a hassle-free way to prepare porridge and much easier to clean up afterwards. We also picked some double-walled stainless steel cups with carabiner clip handles. The drinks stay hot a lot longer in them, but they are cool to the touch. After use, they can be clipped to the lifelines.

7 Umbrella
This was possibly the biggest surprise. We took the umbrella for its usual rain-sheltering function, but most of the time we have used it as a privacy screen over our companionway in marinas and to sail our dinghy downwind. Since we don't bother with an outboard this can really cut down on paddling effort.

8 Mosquito net
Even at anchor, mosquitoes or midges can be a problem; in the marina they can be unbearable. Nothing is worse than being woken up by that high-pitched whine at your ear hole, followed by a strong itch, or imagined itch. Our mosquito net can be draped over the companionway or, if it is warm and we want to have the forward hatch open, directly over the bunk, for trouble-free snoozing safe from all insect menace.

9 Solar lantern
Free energy is always welcome on board. A solar-powered lantern makes a handy back-up cabin light, torch or reading lamp and can even be pressed into service as a spare anchor light. Make sure you buy one that has the capacity to last the night.

10 E-book readers
Last but not least, the e-ink e-book reader is almost a miracle for book-loving small boat cruisers. Previously, we had space for maybe 20 books for leisure reading. Often, particularly when stormbound for several days, we ran dangerously low on reading material. When we swapped with other cruisers we often acquired books of dubious quality. Now, with an e-book reader each, we have hundreds of books on board and we can buy new ones almost wherever we are, unless we are too far offshore. As many cruisers now have e-book readers book swaps have become rarer, but non-copyrighted electronic material is also eminently swappable. We charge our readers through a 12V plug and the battery life is impressive - up to several weeks of pretty heavy use on a single charge. We've encountered a lot of resistance to the e-book concept among reading traditionalists, but this is without exception from those who haven't tried it and there are plenty of enthusiastic converts among former sceptics.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hammerin' home

Lancaster Bomber overhead
From Scarborough we made for Whitby for a last chance to see our friends there before they move to Denmark. The short passage was uneventful but for two flyovers by a Lancaster bomber, escorted by Spitfire and Hurricane, bound home from the Armed Forces Day celebrations at Scarborough. We managed to get into Whitby at low water and waited three hours at the yacht club pontoon for the bridge in front of the marina to open. We were not the only ones. At 1730 there was a mad dash of 20 boats rushing through. Dan whisked us away and very nice it was to stay in a comfy house for the night.

The forecast for the next day was promising: SW4-5 - pretty ideal since we were headed NW and looking forward to a nice offshore breeze, with smooth seas. Alas it was not to be. As soon as we got out of the shelter of the bay, it became obvious that we were dealing with a westerly force 6-7. Down to the no. 3 jib and double-reefed main and Fettler began to overtake one over-canvassed boat after after the next. She was in her element, just eating it up. It could have been an enjoyable, even exhilarating bash, but then we heard a Pan Pan on the VHF. A minute later, it was a Mayday. Fifteen minutes later, a 26ft fishing boat had sunk about 4 miles from us, overwhelmed by waves 2-3 miles offshore in an offshore wind. Three guys were in the water, but luckily all were saved by a nearby fishing boat and then transferred into the Redcar lifeboat. However, we felt terrible hearing this and it cast a pall over the entire 60-mile passage to Blyth.

Blyth was pretty much an ideal overnight stopover. A very easy harbour to get into day or night with a fantastic yacht club 'house' on an old light ship, complete with cosy bar serving real ale where we received a warm welcome from the club members. We were reluctant to press on the next morning, but with only 100 miles to go, we were keen to get home and the forecast was good for the next day and a half after which there would be stronger southwesterly winds. Crucially, the wind was forecast to go southerly during the night, potentially saving us the usual long beat up the Forth estuary.

Well, the grib files just aren't as reliable in these latitudes. The wind and conditions were so changeable that we couldn't leave the boat to steer herself on the wind vane and there was still too much of a northerly chop for the autohelm to cope with. Jim was pretty much hand steering for 20 hours. There would be good sailing with a SW Force 5 for 20 minutes, then no wind, then Force 5 again but with the wind having veered 20 degrees, then no wind again, etc. The tides hardly ever seemed to be in our favour either - at least we got a bit of help from the current when we had to tack laboriously past the beautiful but navigationally hazardous Farne Islands.

Coldingham Bay
Looking over to St Abb's 
As we approached the border the wind began to head us for Denmark and we were both getting very tired. We decided to head inshore and anchor in Coldingham Bay, just before St Abb's Head, to get some sleep and await the promised southerly wind. We dropped the anchor at 10pm in beautiful evening sunshine and got a delicious three hours' snooze before hauling anchor at 0130 and gingerly making our way out of the bay past a lot of pot buoys. Jim stood at the bow with our mega Maglite torch to avoid any entanglements. It got light pretty quickly (not that it had actually been completely dark at any point - that's the beauty of sailing in Scotland in June and July) and we had a lovely sail with the southerly Force 4 which had arrived on time. As we got into the Firth of Forth proper the water smoothed out totally - a welcome relief after the North Sea chop. It was great to pick out all the familiar landmarks - Bass Rock, of course, Berwick Law and later on the Bridges in the distance.

Passing Bass Rock at 6am

Gannets on Bass Rock 
Of course, it couldn't be as easy as all that and just as we arrived at Inchkeith Island, a mere 5 miles from the harbour, the wind turned southwesterly, gusted up to Force 6 and the heavens opened. We pulled into Granton in the pouring rain at 1015 on a Tuesday morning and tied up to the near empty pontoon, two years and two days after taking our leave. There was nobody about. Slightly anti-climactic, you might think, but we were just glad to be in and to have a chance to collect ourselves somewhat before meeting anybody. Then, 10 minutes later, Chief Engineer Fowler arrived and gradually more Corinthians began to appear. Showers, a full cooked breakfast including haggis and black pudding and an afternoon nap later, we felt ready to celebrate.

Now it's all a bit of a mad rush, getting the flat back in order, unpacking and organising life back on land. We are enjoying the home comforts - hot and cold running water, a shower to ourselves, a washing machine on demand, a dish washer (!), so much space, so many clothes and shoes to choose from - but there are definitely more hassles and complications on land than on the sea. For us, with so much experience packed into the two years behind us, it seems a long while since we sailed away. For those who continued with normal daily life in the meantime, it's a surprise to learn that we've actually been away a whole two years.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

To Scarborough fair


Avocet
Geese out for an evening stroll on the River Ore
Our final anchorage in the River Ore

Our second attempt to leave the River Ore took us as far as Lowestoft, 30NM up the coast, before wind and weather turned against us. We decided to rest up in harbour rather than face head winds, rain and a foul tide and start again the next morning. Lowestoft is not much to speak of, but it's one of the rare 24-hour access, all weather harbours along the East coast and we were glad it was there.

The forecast wasn't brilliant - mainly light northwesterlies - but the blue sky and relatively good sea state convinced us to give it a go. The tides run very strongly along the north Suffolk and Norfolk coast and we had a quick ride to the 'corner'. Normally, we go two or three miles offshore for ease of navigation, but time was of the essence so we took an inshore shortcut near Hemsby. Crazy overfalls suddenly greeted us and steerage under sail in the light wind became impossible. Quick on with the motor! A clear case of grin and bear it, while three knots of current swept us through against the wind. The whole Norfolk coast seemed pretty prone to overfalls and we were glad to get offshore.

Crossing the Wash and the Humber combines the worst of the Thames Estuary (sand banks and shallows galore) with the traffic level of the Channel so it made for a pretty exhausting passage, especially when for several hours we made barely 2 knots against the tide. A couple of ships that passed within a mile of us didn't have their AIS on, which was rather shocking.

On the plus side, there was plenty of wildlife. Porpoises first, then fulmars and puffins and our progress was keenly watched by many well-nourished seals.

When we tacked to go around a vessel that appeared to be towing something, once more we had a call of 'sailing vessel in position X' on the radio. It was a seismic vessel and we had to go 4.5NM around her stern to get safely past the tow!

The NW wind kept heading us until we were 30NM offshore, where we stumbled into a big ship anchorage (not marked on the chart) with at least a dozen vessels hanging out and we had to tack around some of them. We were relieved when we were finally past the Humber, but our troubles were not over. We tacked back in shore and all was going well, other than the wind coming up and fizzling out every 30 minutes or so, until the tide turned against us and we just couldn't make any progress towards Flamborough Head. Another exercise in patience. Six hours later, with the tide in our favour, we could finally tack around it, but the sea state further offshore was so rough with a large northerly swell rolling in that I became seasick and Jim heroically single-handed the boat into Scarborough on 1.5 hours of sleep. Of course, the tide just turned an hour too soon for us and it was a couple of hours' slow progress to get in at last, but at least it was a beautiful sunny morning.

Scarborough harbour at low tide
All dried out on their cradles
Scarborough is a very nice harbour and town in a beautiful setting, one of those quaint seaside resorts with dozens and dozens of fish & chips shops, sweet stalls selling rock and tacky gaming arcades. Interestingly, yachts dry out in wooden cradles in the drying part of the port. It's a very friendly place and home to another Trintella 29, which sadly is off in Scotland at the moment. From here, we now have the option of day hopping, though we are hoping to reach the Forth in a oner, leaving Saturday lunchtime.



Friday, 21 June 2013

Idling on the Alde

Shingle all the way

We're enjoying a lovely little Suffolk holiday. The perfect peace and tranquillity of the Alde is a real tonic and there are are bends in the river to provide shelter from any wind, with good soft mud to grab the anchor.

View from Slaughden Sailing Club
The good folk of the Slaughden Sailing Club, in Aldeburgh, have welcomed us with open arms, giving us the run of their showers and wifi, not to mention cups of tea and the odd brownie. Very reminiscent of our own Corinthian crowd back in Edinburgh, actually. A real treat.

Tranquil anchorage in the upper Alde
Moot Hall, Aldeburgh
We nearly left yesterday morning but were held back by a sudden deterioration in the forecast, plus waking up to a wind direction that definitely didn't match up with expectations. The way things worked out, we could have departed and motored overnight to Lowestoft, but why would we want to do that? If we have to be stuck anywhere, waiting for weather (sound familiar?), let it be here.

We have constantly to remind ourselves that the only deadline we're working to is self-imposed. There's no need to hurry, taking any borderline forecast that comes our way. It's a very good exercise in patience.

North Sea fishing boat on Aldeburgh beach

Monday, 17 June 2013

Harwich in a hurry

The Dover entrance shows its nasty side once more 
Yacht experiencing the joys of the Dover entrance

The couple of days of dodgy weather left it at that and gave us two pleasant days in Dover. There were very many Dutch boats about the place, mostly pinned down longer than they wanted to be by the weather and bound for their holiday cruise to the south coast of England. Dover retains a surprising amount of its old charm, considering that quite a bit of it was destroyed by German guns fired from France (!) during the war.

Dover esplanade
Dover Castle - a snip at £17 per adult
Then, a beautiful forecast. A day for the seas to settle down after the hard blow and then a fair breeze for crossing the insidious Thames Estuary. Prime time for Dover departure, to catch the start of the north-going tide, was 1300. That would mean a night-time arrival at Harwich, but it being a busy commercial harbour, the entrance is well buoyed and lit.

The White Cliffs
The good gentleman of Port Control bade us hold station just inside the eastern entrance and then follow out the departing Calais ferry, Rodin, after which we pointed the bow more or less north and sailed up past the famous white cliffs, picturesque Deal and Ramsgate to North Foreland.

Our course was nearly a dead run (with the wind right behind), and called for regular alterations of 40 degrees or so to either side, meaning gybe after gybe, each time dropping the foresail and moving the pole from one side to the other. Plenty of work to break up what can otherwise be a tedious passage across the 40 mile-wide estuary.

The other points of interest are the wretched sand banks, invisible just below the surface, now mostly covered with wind farms, arranged in the ideal configuration to make navigating across distinctly awkward. Add in a goodly amount of shipping to dodge and a sudden gale warning and you have the makings of a memorable passage.

As we worked our way towards 'Fisherman's Gat', one of the gaps where one may cross the treacherous sand banks, the VHF crackled to life with an announcement from the Guard Ship Mary Anne, warning all shipping of the hazard to navigation presented by the wind farm currently under construction just to the east of us and blocking off 'Foulger's Gat', the pass east of Fisherman's Gat. Duly noted.

Shortly afterwards, I was occupied with an involved bit of sail handling up forward when Sonja called me aft with the news that the alarmed-sounding guard ship was now hailing us specifically. I called them up and reassured them that we had no intention of going through Foulger's Gat and we parted with mutual wishes for a pleasant evening. To be honest, we wouldn't have been tempted anyway, as Foulger's is shoal and unmarked, but they seemed to be happy to have someone to warn.

Wind farm in the Thames Estuary
The wind died as we emerged from Fisherman's Gat into Black Deep and we motored along to Sunk Head, turning across King's Channel towards NE Gunfleet (love the names). The breeze roused itself again at this point and we were soon sailing once more. At this point the VHF piped up with a 'Securite, Securite, Securite' - meaning a safety announcement to come. "Southwesterly gale expected in Thames and Dover, soon." Just a little added frisson to season the final 3 hours of the trip.

Darkness fell as we crossed King's Channel and the wind farms lit up like cities around us. With a rising wind behind us we raced across Goldmer Gat towards the Medusa Channel, a shortcut  to Harwich inside the Rough Shoals, but very shallow. We'd planned the route on a forecast showing light wind on the Harwich approach, so felt slightly concerned over what the sea state would be like in the Medusa when the depth dropped to under 5 metres. It turned out fine, giving us a thrilling ride as we searched ahead to pick up the lit buoys and come roaring into the Stour-Orwell Estuary.

Things became a little confused as we felt our way in to the Half Penny Pier in the dark at 0100 and we were less than pleased to find a quite heavy swell jostling the few boats already tied up there. We first made fast to an empty berth on the outside of the pontoon but soon realised it was far too rough stay there. I thought I saw another vacant berth inside, where the shelter was better, so we cast off again and made our way in.

A sign on the end of the pontoon highlights the presence of floating moorings in the basin and recommends sticking close to the pontoons. The street lighting lit the basin well enough that I could see the moorings clearly and saw no reason not to motor around behind the moored fishing boats to get into a good position for coming along side the pontoon. Once there, however, I glanced at the depth sounder, which was now reading 1.4m! 'Urk!' Since Fettler draws 1.4m that was cutting it rather fine.

Next, I saw the 'No Mooring' sign on what I had taken to be a free berth. We decided to raft up against the boat on the next, and best protected, spot along the pontoon. The boats were pitching and rolling a bit, but we fendered up well, issued a medicinal spirit ration, and turned in. 0200.

0400. Woke up to the awful din of fenders in distress between the two boats. The forecast gale was arriving and the boats were heaving and bouncing uncomfortably together. Our neighbour's head appeared in his hatch as I worked out what to do to get things under control. I saw that the angle between our pontoon and the next could be used to advantage by running long warps from across there to Fettler and winching them in tight to hold us clear of the inside boat. With some assistance from Sonja and neighbour Terry, things were soon set up and the boat lying much more comfortably. Of course, the final line adjustments, after Sonja and neighbour Terry were both away back to their beds, had to be made in the pouring rain.

Come 0900, it was all go again, with inside boat wishing to depart and various others too, who were heading out for the day's racing. The weather was worse. Howling and lumpy. We helped others and they helped us, boats were warped and tugged all over the place, departing one by one. We decided to shove off too, having heard from one of the locals of a good spot to anchor nearby with much better shelter. This also happened to be a great place to watch the many beautiful traditional boats racing on the River Orwell.

Racing in the River Orwell
So many beautiful traditional boats
Felixstowe Container Terminal in a squall
Thames Barge
After a good night's sleep we pushed off for the River Ore - the entrance of which had shifted dramatically since our last visit two years ago. But we had the up-to-date chartlet, courtesy of Doc, and the buoys were in position so the entry was no big deal. We rounded Havergate Island and there was Doc's boat Tuesday anchored in Abraham's Bosom - the first to welcome us back to the UK in person.

Sailing past the Orford Ness lighthouse, on the inside
Tuesday
Bird scarer?
We have now retreated far upriver for shelter from the stiff northeasterly blowing and no doubt generating a rather nasty sea state out there, which is bothering us not a bit. Up here it's peace, perfect peace, and we've had a nice visit from a curious otter already. It'll soon be time to head ashore for the first time since Dover.