Trip on Demelza starting 2014-08-15 in BSASep14
Ros Bennet’s Cornish Crabber Challenge – Dover to London (St Katharine’s Haven)
report by Gordon Ogden
Keith Fisher joined Ros at Rye, for the run to Dover. I arrived at Dover, by train, in the early evening of Friday, 15 August. When I was able to raise Ros on the phone, I discovered that they were making rather slower progress than she had hoped from Rye. After a pleasant evening at the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club, together with fish and chips at a cafe round the corner, I found a good spot to view the arrival of Demelza into Dover marina and they got in just before 10 pm. Welcomes were made and drinks were taken before we spoke, briefly, about plans for the following day.
16 August dawned bright and breezy and, after a short delay for ferry activity, we left the eastern entrance on the east-going tide, in company with three other yachts. The many ferries enter and leave the harbour at quite a ‘lick’ and the port control people keep very tight control - by radio and harbour launch - of the movement of the nuisance yachts around the harbour!
We had a brisk following wind and a very flat sea as we sailed along past the white cliffs. Strains of Vera Lynn’s “There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover” rang out from all aboard! A few strong-arm gybes ensured we were not sailing completely down-wind and it was grand sailing. Ros then noticed that the bottom fixing of her radar reflector had come adrift and the unit was swinging around to and fro as the yacht rolled. She was, understandably, concerned and annoyed, as the unit had been fitted by ‘professionals’ at her home boatyard only about three weeks previously!
We took the inshore passage past Deal and across Pegwell Bay. At the small craft holding area, just outside Ramsgate, both the westerly wind and the NE-going tide were strong. The sea in that immediate area was being kicked up into quite a vicious chop, unlike anything I’d seen there on my several previous visits.
Ros had discovered that our visit coincided with Ramsgate’s regatta week and the harbour was very busy. On Sunday, we looked to see what we could do about the radar reflector. Our first attempt was the take the yacht alongside the high harbour wall. The height was about right, but the wall was found to be sloping away from us. We were unable to ‘careen’ the boat far enough for anyone to reach out to the unit. Next, we went to the fuel berth, which was alongside vertical sheet piling. Ros took on the fuel she needed, but the fuel attendant was in something of a ‘jobs worth’ mood. Very unhelpful and was certainly not going to let us climb the vertical ladder up onto the quayside above the yacht!! To be fair, he was not really very pleased to have been called out for so little fuel ..... and ....... the sign said, very clearly, that the vertical ladder was not to be used by the public!! Health and Safety and all that!!
Next, we spoke to “Steve” at the marina office. He said the whole harbour now knew what we were trying to do and that we should go and have a word with the lads running the yacht hoist. They proved very helpful and said we could go into the yacht-hoist structure early the next morning and have a go there. We duly arrived near low water and positioned the yacht alongside the piled structure, enabling strong tape to be applied to the radar reflector and mast. A temporary repair, but thought sufficient to last until London, where the mast was to be lowered.
The very strong winds of Sunday had abated to just strong wind. The Met Office forecast still spoke of W/NW 5/6, but a local forecast promised lighter winds that afternoon, so we set off. Great sailing on a flat sea in the direction of North Foreland. As we rounded the headland, we were pleased to meet relatively good sea, but still a fairly strong headwind.
Our passage past Margate and Reculver, etc, was by the inshore route, the western part of which is so shallow that it is noted as the ‘overland route’! We made reasonable progress against the headwind and decided on The Swale for the night. It was somewhere along here that a small stainless-steel bolt suddenly dropped onto the deck! We had a look, but couldn’t see where it had come from. It didn’t appear to be from anything of a structural nature involving the mast and rigging, so we went on. Time would reveal all!
Good sailing into The Swale brought us to a vacant mooring buoy and we enjoyed a very quiet evening on this attractive waterway. During the night, however, a very strong wind sprang up and bumped the yacht about quite a lot. At least, that was the experience in the forepeak berth. The creaking and clonking noises precluded decent sleep! I looked out with a strong torch at something like 0200 to find the yacht pulling strongly on the mooring buoy, but all appeared to be well. I must have dozed a bit thereafter and, eventually, it was morning on Tuesday, 19 August and it was still blowing quite hard when the crew awoke. Ros and Keith, further aft, had been aware of the strong wind in the night, but not of the bumpy motion of the yacht.
An early start was planned in order to pass the very shallow part of The Swale at around high water. We didn’t have a very detailed chart of The Swale, but had decided that what we did have would be adequate. Barely!! With very shallow water all around and buoyage that wasn’t the easiest to follow and understand, we were glad to be through and into the large-ship channel at Grovehurst Jetty. We were held for just over an hour before Kingsferry Bridge would open for us, but, at about 1020, we were on our way, probably to Gravesend. The exit from Queenborough was in a strong headwind, but, on emerging into the Thames, more or less opposite Southend, the sea was comfortable.
We planned our route along the small vessel channel on the south side of the main shipping channel and Demelza plugged on at good speeds into the headwind. We had wondered if our speed would be any better than about 3 kts, with wind and tide against us, but, in the event, we did much better. The plucky little Demelza was often doing over 4 kts and progress was most encouraging. Mid-afternoon, the tide turned in our favour and we saw speeds of 5-6 kts over the ground. Keith went quiet for a while before wondering if we should carry on and get to St Katharine’s in the late evening.
Ros had been making a large number of phone calls to different marinas and boatyards to enquire about having the mast lowered. There was one near Gravesend marina that advertised prominently, but on the phone, appeared uncertain about it all and wanted a photograph of Demelza before committing themselves! Very odd!
South Dock marina at Rotherhythe could do the work, but we had to be there early on Wednesday morning. Our new thoughts, on Tuesday afternoon, about getting into central London, fitted this perfectly and Ros was very excited about the prospect of getting to St Katharine’s that Tuesday evening. We continued to make excellent speed and arrived at St Katharine’s lock at 2000. St Katharine’s Haven is surrounded by tall buildings, immediately beside Tower Bridge. The marina comprises a number of small basins, with pedestrian bridges separating them and is very sheltered.
Wednesday morning, 20 August, we locked out of St Katharine’s at 0815 and went back down the river the two miles, or so, to South Dock. After speaking to the boatyard people, Ros, Keith and I set to work to prepare the mast for lowering. It all went well and the boat was positioned under the crane under the direction of the experienced operator. Photographs were taken and the mast was laid on trestles beside the yacht. Alan, the crane operator, was persuaded to help out with some scrap timber from his yard and a saw. Between him and Keith, a simple timber support was made to support the mast on Demelza. Removing the windex and radar reflector from the mast, we found the source of the bolt that had appeared out of the blue on Monday! Good thing we taped the bottom of the reflector, back in Ramsgate, where the bottom mounting bolt had been lost, because, of course, as you’ll guess, the bolt we now had in our hands was the top mounting bolt!! Ros will be having a quiet word with her home boatyard!
I left Ros to await her new, ‘river’ crew for the onward journey through London, up the Thames to Reading and down the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bristol.
Can I remind people that Ros is doing this trip to raise funds for the Bristol-based charity ‘for-ethiopia’ (see http://for-ethiopia.com/ ) ........ as well as to have an enjoyable trip!