Trip on Freyja starting 2014-09-19 in BSANov14
Eastbourne to Shotley, 19 - 27 September 2014 – report by Peter Wakeling
Chartered CSSA ECYD yacht ‘Freyja’, Najad 380
This was the final leg of the ECYD long trip down to La Rochelle, returning the yacht to its home base at Shotley Point opposite Felixstowe and Harwich. Before arriving to take over the yacht we were advised that both plotters had been removed for repair, consequently no on-board chart plotter, radar or AIS (though we did have a radar transponder). This was a concern as the passage plan involved two crossings of the Dover Straight (the busiest shipping lanes in the world) as well as a crossing of the Thames estuary with its many difficult channels and sandbanks.
Sovereign Harbour outside Eastbourne is a very large modern marina development with 24 hour access via a lock. After victualing at the on-site ASDA we had dinner at the local pub then set off at 21.00 intending an overnight passage to Boulogne. The weather was calm apart from forecast of severe thunderstorms. Indeed, as we made our way up the English coast past Hastings we were treated to sights of continuous lightning over both France and England but too far away to hear any thunder. We had crew of 4 organised into two 3 hour watches for the passage but approaching Dungeness, our intended point to commence crossing the Dover TSS, we encountered thickening fog. Dover Coastguard repeated warnings of dense fog patches every 5 minutes, requesting all ships to report any localities with visibility less than 2 nm.
Considering the TSS transit very unwise in these conditions, plus our lack of radar or AIS, we opted to creep inshore north of Dungeness and anchored in 2.5m, with anchor watch kept for the night. We could clearly hear the fog horns from the passing shipping but could see nothing. At times we did see strange clusters of flickering lights, blue, green, red and white apparently moving about. We had no idea what these represented.
Come daylight, the fog lifted sufficiently for us to attempt the TSS crossing and we reached Boulogne at 10.00. We spent two nights here to allow time to explore the old town and walk the ramparts, very pleasant in sunshine. A key objective was to try to locate a wonderful tiny restaurant in the old town visited 12 years before. We found it and it is still run by the same family, they made a table available though we had not been able to book, and everything was just as good as we remembered, wonderful cooking, friendly service and remarkably low priced.
From Boulogne we set off up the French coast passing Calais before attempting a TSS crossing to South Goodwin. A procession of 4 ferries approaching Calais from Dover and 4 ferries leaving Calais at the same time made for interesting navigation, as lacking AIS information. The ferry routes are clearly marked on the chart and we passed through after one 360 turn to give way to a fast ferry. Having started the TSS crossing we found ourselves confronted by various cargo vessels and by further streams of ferries crossing our path at an angle. These were evidently Dover – Dunkirk ferries though their routes are not shown on the chart. Passing south Goodwin we made our way north inside the Goodwin sands, round N Foreland into Ramsgate. An interesting and historic harbour. We made use of a Tastecard to get an excellent dinner 50% off for the whole crew.
From Ramsgate our passage plan involved crossing the Thames estuary and heading for the river Roach, a tributary of the river Crouch. This required choosing suitable channels to cross the various sandbanks, with very few navigational marks to assist, and wind farms to avoid. We opted for the North Edinburgh channel, an unmarked narrow and twisting route. We navigated by hugging contours and plotting position on the chart every minute for over half an hour before entering the Barrow Deep shipping channel. Approaching HW springs we chose the most suitable point to cross the further sandbanks but found much less water than the chart and tide suggested. The chart carries a warning that the depths and positions of the sandbanks in the estuary are prone to changes in both depth and location – as we found! Turning NE we chose to use the Ray sand channel as a shortcut as we were right on HW springs with very little swell. This has buoys at each end but requires careful navigation as it dries up to 1.4m. We estimated about 0.6m clearance but found zero depth at times, this is typical on the East Coast though where sailors spend a lot of their time in the mud. Moored overnight on buoy off Paglesham for dinner in an old traditional weather-boarded pub, deep in the Essex marshes. Very atmospheric!
On next day up the coast to the Walton Backwaters and a mooring opposite Titchmarsh – dinner on board enjoying beautiful sunset. Left next day, timing our arrival off the bar at the entrance to the River Deben in Suffolk. This is a famous entrance, over a shingle bar through a narrow channel that constantly moves position. No problem this time and we sailed up river to mooring off Waldringfield village. Scenery here very similar to the Dutch waterways and very beautiful. Excellent dinner in the pretty riverside Maybush Inn. We had had problems with fuel leak from the outboard and one of the crew climbed into the dinghy to try to fix it. He leaned over the stern, which does not have sponsons for stability, which lifted the bow and the wind instantly capsized the dinghy sending the crew member into the river. Wearing his lifejacket which instantly inflated he was unhurt and quickly retrieved, the dinghy righted and the outboard checked after its immersion. No problems were found and the fuel leak mysteriously righted itself as well. This was good because wind and tidal flows in the rivers made for difficult and exhausting crew transfers to and from the shore using oars.
Our final sailing day took us back south to the River Orwell in favourable F5 winds and lunch at the famous Pin Mill pub where we had to pick up a mooring well offshore and the outboard came in very handy indeed. Finally, a sail down to Shotley Point, through the lock into the marina and Freyja’s home berth after over 4 months away. Cleaned the boat before dinner at the local pub and left for home next morning. A total of 244 nm logged in 8 days. This was an interesting trip because of the variety of navigational challenges encountered and of course the East Coast rivers which provide sailing very different from the South Coast that BSA members are more familiar with.