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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

London Cruise - Medway to home

There are some trips where you just have to grin and bear it and get home. This one was going to be a pain, with tide and wind against us most of the way. At least for the first couple of hours we got to sail, and that was good but it soon turned into a long motor home. Gesa, Issie and Max curled up in the saloon and stayed there most of the time whilst we got the boat home without any problems. Tided up, said goodbye to the crew and loaded the car.

Reached in the engine bay to turn off the cooling water valve and saw a bolt lying there beneath the engine. And a washer and nut. Hmmmm. Looks like we have some detective work to do before we go sailing again. But that can wait. All in all, a successful trip, even if there is some opinion that a travelcard to London might have fulfilled the dreams of at least one of the younger crew just as well. Ach, they’ll thank us for it one day.

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London Cruise - Limehouse to Medway

Take Friday’s entry and reverse it. That's pretty much what we did, and the wind had done the same and swung into the north east just to maintain the pattern of always blowing from where we’re going. We did manage to sail for the last hour, when we turned south into our anchorage, and were happily anchored by about 6pm. There were a couple of seals around, but rain threatened and a 6am start was on the cards to avoid the worst of the contrary tide, so it was early to bed.

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London Cruise - rest day (2)

After an hour back on board, we met up with the crew again for an Italian meal round the corner from the marina in a lovely square, complete with fountain and café’s, it had many echos of continental Europe. The kids really enjoyed being able to run around, play and make friends whilst the adults did the boring stuff like sitting still and talking, eating, drinking. If more towns had such places to meet, eat and relax, I’m sure we’d eat out with the kids a lot more.

But the expresso was a mistake. I ended up doing passage planning for the next couple of days at 1am because I couldn’t sleep. Note to self (again): decaf. Posted by Picasa

London Cruise - rest day (1)

No sailing today – the crew were given a rest day and headed off to Greenwich. We stayed on board in the morning to relax, whilst I worked on the boat’s plumbing – we now have cold water on tap in both heads. Say ‘yeah’ everyone….and I promise to get to the hot water before too long….

After lunch we got our stuff together and walked along to the DLR station to treat Max to the best bit of the whole trip – a ride on the train. Five stops was not enough, at Canary Wharf he was distraught to have to get off and I suggest to Gesa that Max’s perfect day out is a travelcard to London and 8 hours riding the circle line.

Canary Wharf is home to one of the wealthiest parts of London these days, and it shows. Huge, gleaming office blocks are interspersed with exclusive and expensive little shopping malls and gardens landscaped in a suitably inoffensive corporate fashion. It’s nice though, really, and we hit luck as this weekend was a dance festival put on by the city to use the big spaces of this area that is usually quiet once the weekday workers have left.

We saw an amazing performance by two dancers (Wired Aerial Theatre, 'Glimpse') suspended above the floor, acting out a story of love and loss around and above the audience in a huge glass atrium. It was beautiful, moving and evocative – one of those wonderful things you stumble across when you least expect it. After that, we moved on to a courtyard where eight dancers (Strange Fruit) ascended five metre high poles and proceeded to sway and twist their way through a very enjoyable 40 minute dance that included mime, clowning, and an elegance of movement that I hadn’t seen before. It’s events like this that change your perception of a branch of the arts – modern dance has some breathtaking innovation and creativity. Congratulations to London for funding this sort of thing. Posted by Picasa

London Cruise - Medway to Central London

Travelling into London by boat, it's best to catch the tide. That's contrary to travelling in by train, when it's much better to go 'against the flow', you might even get a seat.

With a boat doing 6 knots and the tide doing 2, the difference is that you either travel at 4 knots against it, or 8 with it. That halves the time to go up river. Which is why, after arriving in the Medway at 8pm the night before, we were up and away at 7am, waking to a beautiful morning with the tide way out and the mudflats of the creek outlining the twists and turns of the anchorage.

We cut through the Swatchway (Magic of the Swatchways?) inside the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, a 1944 liberty ship that sank carrying a cargo of explosives. They salvaged some, but 1400 tonnes remains on board the wreck, which is well bouyed and monitored with an exclusion zone, for obvious reasons.

From there it was a simple motoring trip up the river, following the twists and turns and enjoying the way the landscape unfolded with each bend in the channel. The Thames gets increasingly industrial as you travel west, but with interesting breaks of open space and marshland. travelling so slowly gives you time to watch, question and ponder in a way that you rarely do on a car journey, although the traffic on the M25 Dartford Crossing seemed to be going at about the same speed.

Closer to the city, and the sights become more familiar. The Thames Barrier, the Millenium Dome, the David Beckham Acadamy (!), Greenwich and the Cutty Sark and finally Canary Wharf tower and all the modern building of Docklands, where riverside flats now line the river to the almost complete exclusion of anything else bar the occasional old pub still standing resolutely in it's little row of terraced houses.

We received a warm welcome at Limehouse Marina, and found just how much easier it is to get into a marina berth with no tide and almost no wind. Max and Issie were delighted to find that not only had we stopped, but we had stopped within a few hundred metres of the Docklands Light Railway, and directly under the landing path for London City Airport. Shouts of ‘train’ and ‘airplane’ came thick and fast. As the sun set we cooked our dinner and reflected on an enjoyable trip up river. Posted by Picasa

London Cruise - Woolverstone to Medway

Our first big adventure started quietly enough, getting away from home with a remarkable lack of fuss and struggle,compared to the previous few days of work, which had seen me getting back home at almost midnight the day before. We got everything stowed, plus a few minor jobs completed before the crew arrived - Rebecca and Thea had answered an email to CUY - Cambridge University Yachting, and had bravely signed up for a five day trip with us. After the usual introductions and briefing, we set of down river at midday.

The forecast was SW force 4-5, just where we were going, but it started out in the west, so we got some sailing in with one reef, staysail and about half the jib unfurled. Things were going well but the wind eased and swung further south, as forecast, so engine on and motorsailing began. We were to motor almost all the rest of this trip as the wind continued to sense our plans and swing to be on the nose wherever we went.

We plotted our route into the GPS and motored through the maze of shallow sandbanks that line the approaches to the Thames. At the narrowest and shallowest part of all, the depth suddenly dropped to only a few feet. We were following the GPS course, but something had to be wrong. A quick check of the chart confirmed that we were off course and we corrected quickly. The lesson here is two-fold: the person who writes down the waypoints should also put them into the GPS, Rebecca had misread my '4' for a '9', understandably when I looked at the bit of paper I'd given her. Also, whenever a waypoint is passed, read a bearing off the chart and confirm that it matches the GPS. On this day, in the mudflats of the East Coast, these mistakes could have led to an embarassing few hours on the mud waiting for the tide. In coral reefs, they could cost us the boat.

We were just digesting the lessons from that one when the engine slowed down and quietly stopped. Er, that's odd. Fortunately, we were at a decent angle for sailing for the next 15 minutes, but after that we had to head back into the wind, which meant a hard and uncomfortable beat, or turning round and reaching back towards home, or fixing the engine. Starting the engine again resulted in a few seconds of running OK then the same slow run-down to stop. It felt like a fuel problem, but we certainly had full tanks. Nothing obvious with the filters, so out with the manual. In the next five minutes, I learnt how to bleed this engine, which is very useful knowledge, and somewhat surprisingly had the engine up and running again. I think the crew took this as all part of the normal course of events, but I was more concerned than I let on. As it transpired, the engine was to run without a fault for the next four days, so I think it must have been a long term accumulation of air in the system.

We eventually made it to the River Medway after eight hours of travelling. Gesa had taken to her bunk a couple of hours before, as tiredness and a little seasickness took it's toll. Max and Issie had been great, keeping themselves amused without too much bickering, and being content with watching movies in their cabin for a few of those hours. We learnt that Max does get seasick - not surprising given that he insisted on staying in a bucking forecabin watching a movie on a small screen. Issie seems to have inherited my iron stomach, nothing affected her although she does pretend when she wants attention. "Daddy, I'm sick. I'm really, really sick Daddy....' but she never was.

Anchor down, dinner on, nice glass of wine and watch the sunset. We were south - a job well done. Tomorrow we cruise up the Thames into the heart of one of the greatest cities on the planet. Really, it is. We just don't realise it because we live here. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Just the four of us

This was our first trip without crew, just us, off to explore and see how we did as a family en voyage. Fortunately, the weather was as kind as it could be, and we arrived at the boat on a beautiful sunny day with the wind and tide carrying us gently out of our berth.

Off we set down river, Mummy hoisted the mainsail, and the Issie and Max kept themselves busy pulling on unimportant bits of rope.

We meandered down the river and made our way out to sea, then turned into the Walton Backwaters. Any Swallows and Amazon fans will recognise this as Ransome's 'Secret Water', a beautiful area of creeks and islands. we were looking for a place to anchor overnight. On the way, Max found my hat and sea boots and decided to try them on for size. A few moments later, he'd also found a snorkel mask, and the combination looked great. Ready for anything.

We made our way up river and anchored in a calm stretch of water to make dinner and watch the sun go down, which it did, obligingly. As the day ended, we managed to get the kdis to bed and sit out with a glass of wine, enjoying the peace and quiet To our delight, there were seals playing in the water nearby, and we could watch them through the binoculars as they hauled themselves across the mudflats and off for an evening dip. The water was not inviting enough for us to join in. Issie was trying to avoid going to sleep using her usual subtle tactics such as going to the toilet every ten minutes, but this time we relented and she came on deck to watch the seals, which she found fascinating, as well as another perfect excuse for staying up.

Sunday was Father's Day, so I got a lie in, breakfast in bed, waited on hand and foot and ... well, no, actually I got up at 6am to check the anchor but I did get given two lovely cards and a big hug from my beautiul kids. We had a nice breakfast in the cockpit as the day was already sunny and warm, and then we rigged up the dinghy to go for an explore.

Gesa stayed on board, as Issie, Max and I pootled off across the river and up a little creek where the tide was slowly covering the mudflats. As we crept up river,looking out for seagulls and the marks in the mud where the seals had wriggled into the water, we found a couple of seals out basking in the sun.

Round another corner, and over 20 of them were out enjoying the warmth. We stopped the engine and drifted about 100 yards away, and they eyed us cautiously. After that, we headed back to the boat, picked up Mumy and sped off to a nearby beach where the kids could paddle and collect shells. This was a lucky find, and we must come back, but time was ticking on so back to the boat, anchor up and hoist sails to drift home in the very light breeze.

Gesa made the most of the sunshine and hung out on the foredeck where Issie and Max came to join her from time to time. After a couple of hours, we were nearinghome when the wind died away so engine on, fenders out, lines ready and near perfect berthing rounded off a near perfect weekend.

Next week it's a trip up the Thames, with crew, to enjoy a river cruise and a night or two in Docklands.....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Issie is watching the Little Mermaid, a movie she knows by heart, line for line, and now acts out the movement as well as the words. Sebastian the Crab says to King Triton: 'Like I always say, children should be free to live their own lives..' Issie turns to me and says "I'm not free, am I Daddy?"

I am preparing an anwser for this along the lines of not yet, but we have to look after you a bit longer, etc, etc when she says, proudly, "I'm four, aren't I"


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A fine day, first sail, and a trip up the mast.

At last, the weather has broken and we are blessed with calm days and blue skies. After weeks of grumbling and moping, we were able to go for our first sail as a family. We stayed on board overnight. Max has been hard work recently, as his speech is slow to develop and he's frustrated that he can't get his point across clearly - it's getting better but we were all exhausted by the end of a long Friday at the end of a long week. To give Mummy a break, the kids and I went for a paddle around in the dinghy.

Max and Issie settled down better this time as they get used to sleeping aboard, although Max still wants to watch the sunset at 10pm. Here's me reading him a story before the first attempt at bedtime.

The next morning, we took on board a couple of helpers - Sean as useful pair of hands and 5 year old Sam accompanied Issie and Max. By midday we were ready to go, Max started the engine - one of his favourite things - and we motored cleanly away from the berth. The first hurdle was overcome. The Orwell was like the M25, this was the first sunny Saturday of the season and everyone was out, so we waited for some clear space to hoist the sails. the mainsail was very hard to hoist, but it had been on the delivery trip too, so I added that to my 'things to look at' list. It was to be looked at sooner rather than later....

Sails up and drifting along nicely with the breeze, we decided to hear up the next river, the Stour, for a quiet anchorage and a bite of lunch. Turning the corner, the wind built a bit and the boat heeled nicely, although the kids were a bit surprised to find their world suddenly canted over at 20 degrees. It quickly led into a game of climbing from one side of the saloon to the other, so no permanent trauma there. The autopilot worked a treat and the boat seems to handle very well under these conditions, a good sign. I've found that instead of standing at the wheel trying to see around the pilothouse and sprayhood, you're best setting the autopilot and standing somewhere else for a better view. A bit different to the racing boats I used to sail.

We identified a nice spot to drop the hook and have lunch, so I asked Gesa to drop the sails. the main came halfway down and stopped. Oops. That'd be something jammed up the mast - probably the thing making it so hard to hoist. Time to look at that. So with the autopilot still in command, and Sean under instructions for taking avoiding action at the wheel, I took a knife and hammer with me and climbed halfway up the mast. Thank goodness for mast steps, another cruising boat special. A couple of minutes later and a jammed slider was removed, the main was down and we could anchor for lunch.

The anchor winch took a bit of working out, but did it's job well in the end, and we settled down to a good hour and a half of sitting around and watching the world go by. It was a perfect day for that, not too hot, not too windy, good company and a poughmans (yachtsmans?) lunch. The wind swung right round over lunchtime, so we picked up the anchor, motored back to the junction of the two rivers then sailed a bit more towards home.

Back at Woolverstone, we topped up the diesel tanks, but these are big tanks, so 350 litres was a painful reminder of why we'll sail whenever we can! Having said that, we could motor almost 400 miles on that, and we now have 1000 litres on board, so it could take a long time to use all that. The wind picked up as we returned to our berth - it always does at just the wrong moment, so we had some challenges getting a lot of boat into a narrow space, but no damage done to us or our neighbours so there ends a sucessful first outing.

Here's to many more....