A bit about us…
James and John have been sailing together for around 25 years… which means we have spent more time together than we have with our partners. Initially we had a boat each; James sailed Madrigal (is she still out there?) a 23′ Islander and John still has Spinola a 25′ Tomahawk. For many years Spinola has taken us around the South Coast and over to Cherbourg, St Malo and the Channel Islands. Although at an average 4 knots, a 15 hour trip across the shipping lanes (often in fog) felt more heroic than we wanted to be.
Retirement from our work in education, an influx of funds and an awful realisation that it was now or never, was the turning point. A desire to be able to spend more comfy holidays on board as a foursome, to entertain our friends (and increasing numbers of grandchildren), saw us traipsing round boatyards and marinas across a largish chunk of the coast from Poole to Essex.
The brief (from Yee Tak Hampton and Chris(tine) Hatch) was deceptively simple…two completely separate cabins in which couples could spend time happily apart, together with comfy living space, large heads and space for a collection of scatter cushions….oh yes and ideally bomb-proof sailing.
She was eventually tracked down to Tollesbury Marina and by October 2015 we were the proud owners of a 1989 Moody 346 with bilge keels, a recent Thorneycroft and a selection of electronics which had never graced Spinola or Madrigal.
Initial fit out and launch
Drawing up a list of jobs was the easy bit, doing them…
With Heydays out of the water and the need to work in December and January, accommodation was to play an incredibly important role. Enter Richard and Lorraine at the Old Police House in Tollesbury. A twin room with fluffy towels and the best breakfast in Essex became a real sanctuary after a day in the freezing cold up to our necks in antifoul and worse…
We also tried to time our visits to coincide with the opening times of the Harbour View Bistro at the Marina. The juiciest mussels, Doombar and some Spiced Rum seemed to sort us out.
Bringing her home…
Mid April 2015 and the four of us set off for a day sail out into the Blackwater river. The first time we have hoisted sails in anger. This amount of mud is a beautiful thing to behold as we just scrape lightly over the sill from the marina and weave a slightly uncertain way down the river.
The new prop is working well and we practice going round in circles…backwards. This amount of manoeuvrability we have only dreamt of in the past. With a steady 4 and a single roll in the jenny and a slab in the main, Heydays takes us off on our first adventure with her…towards the old Bradwell Nuclear pile!
Tacking up and down and we begin to get the measure of her. Slightly more weather helm than we anticipated and so we shake the roll out of the jenny to see how it affects our balance. Tack, tack, and we are gradually getting used to the larger scale of everything than we have used before. Tack tack tack and we are used to the self-tailing winches. Tack, RIP. A huge tear has appeared in the jenny which was “OK for a couple of seasons”. Fortunately we can furl it OK and pick up a buoy off Mersea to wait for the tide.
Verdict… Heydays is great, but we just need to raid the piggy bank a little more. Crusader Sails in Poole condemn both jenny and main, but we are glad it happened now rather than in the middle of the estuary or the shipping lanes. Despite it being exactly the wrong time to order a new suit, they manage to deliver both sails including a wonderful fully battened main by mid May.
With her new sails cracking in a breeze, Heydays really is a joy and our confidence is building….sufficient to tackle the trip across the estuary and home. A moonlight trip at high tide out of Tollesbury (with another new torch!) finds the first patch of light appearing in the sky as we set the sails for the south. As mere mortals not used to the estuary with its shifting sands and majestic arrays, we check and re-check our course through guts and swatchways. We have our plotter, our paper charts of course and a tablet. This is belt, braces ….and a piece of string!
North Foreland in bright sunlight and we slowly overhaul another sailing boat as Kent approaches. This is all new for us, both Kent and overtaking another boat not at anchor! Ramsgate in time for afternoon tea, a snooze and the final planning for the next leg to Brighton. Earlyish start into a glorious day. Mostly motor sailing, but occasionally goosewinging across a reflective sea as the white cliffs slip past and not even a ferry from Dover to bother us.
Late afternoon. Tide, breeze (what there is) and the mood seem to be sucking us ever westward. We decide to give Brighton a miss this time and head off for the familiar waters of the solent. Night arrives very late and is banished almost immediately in just a few hours. Shapes, not just lights appear in the Nab Channel and soon we are back in company of a small flotilla of working boats heading up to Southampton Water. A freshening breeze allows us to cut the engine off Cowes for a last glorious fetch to Lymington. Our partners (still in bed) are surprised to get the early call and even more surprised when we give them the location. Still, it gives us time to tidy properly…
A glass of fizzy and the four of us formally welcome Heydays to Lymington.
Summer of ‘15
Over the summer, Heydays is enjoyed by assorted friends and family and she just seems to absorb people and their clobber with no fuss. We also learn how to sail her….in essence this means an early roll in the jenny to reduce a little weather helm and we soon realise that 5kt passage planning is probably conservative. Despite a service, the old manual windlass is both heavy and slow and if anchoring as a husband and wife team, further investment will be needed. However that does not reduce the delights of Newtown Creek, either just for lunch (on board or ashore) or for breakfast with the waders.
Cherbourg of course…
One Wednesday evening sees final preparations for a hop to Cherbourg and then the late tide out to The Needles. Passage planning is ridiculously easy after the estuary (hats off to the East Coast sailors), but in a SSW 5 we face wind over tide down the Needles Channel or do we take the north channel? We opt for the former and soon realise that F5 was conservative. We can barely see one buoy before the previous has already disappeared and there is a quite a chop. ‘Never mind’ we say to each other, ‘it’ll be fine once we are in the channel proper and away from the headland’.
Sadly, if anything, the winds backs and we have some awkward cross seas as well. With gusts up to 7 we consider turning back, but the boat is handling the seas and the wind brilliantly and our confidence in her grows. The inevitable fog descends just as we enter the west-bound shipping lane but this is where the radar really earns its keep. Our passages previously have been full of that anxiety which comes from straining eyes and ears into a dark mist, but we soon learn to recognise the shapes on the radar and quickly settle in to our 2 hour watches. Motor-sailing all the way with the roughest seas we have ever encountered and yet, we still maintain an average SOG of 5.5kt with no apparent strain on us or the equipment. As so often, the final approach to Cherbourg is met with reducing seas and some sunshine to lift the spirits…and we can even manoeuvre around the harbour!
Sadly no time this trip for Chris and Yee Tak to join us, and the tides don’t work for St Vaast either. So we just have to content ourselves with meals, snooze and Normandy wines…
Glorious trip back in company of some other boats who leave Cherbourg in the early hours and our radar experience grows all the time. We reach the Needles channel too early, together with some ocean racers out for some training or PR exercises. Clearly they outpace us in terms of tacking and hull speed, but there is no point in reaching 60 if you haven’t picked up some stuff along the way. The Solent tidal atlas and a very careful use of the depth sounder get us to Hurst Spit just in front (not that we were racing), but once free of the race they are away. It’s a shame they didn’t know the race finished at the spit. The hardest part of the journey? Unloading too many boxes of booze. But the best bit is knowing that she will take so much more than we ever will.
Thoughts of the East…and North
We never did get much sailing done on the East Coast before we brought her home, and there is clearly something drawing us back to Tollesbury for the winter…and not just the cheaper yard charges. One evening, the four of us hatch a plan (helped no doubt by some wine) to begin a trip round the rest of the UK. The logic was along the lines of ‘if we are already in Essex, then we can just keep turning left’.
Some engine overheating was eventually traced to hose unions on the calorifier, but the old Johnson outboard could not be solved so easily. Hence we are the proud owners of a considerably heavier but much more powerful Mariner to lug up and down the transom.
Our trip back to Tollesbury was to be a more leisurely affair with Chris and Yee Tak able to join us for the first two legs to Brighton. To avoid early morning chain heaving, we opted for the marina in Chichester, but the sailing was wonderful. We can never tire of sunsets, sunrises and the salt flats…and great company of course.
“The Crown and Anchor at Dell Quay is a short stroll and worth a visit” said someone at the marina. “It’s easy, you can’t get lost”, they said. Eventually we got there having stumbled around lanes and field in increasing gloom…and caught a taxi back. The food and beer was great though.
Early morning start with Chris and Yee Tak still making Zs as we lock out of the marina. They even get tea and coffee in bed!
Brighton Marina from the sea is not especially inviting but pootling along the coast in Heydays is hard to beat. Dinner ashore and then put Chris and Yee Tak on the train for home. James and John are forced to find a bar to while away the rest of the evening and get chatting to an old boy who played guitar with Gerry Rafferty on Baker Street. It turns out he doesn’t like him much…didn’t get recognised for his part in a classic hit.
Early morning start for the tide around Beachy Head and a planned tidal whizz into Ramsgate. Lobster pots loom very suddenly out of the dark and we don’t fancy having to go over the side to clear ropes and other assorted floats and old cans. Sunrise over Beachy Head and soon Dungeness is slipping past together with the Goodwins and then Dover. Once again the ferries leave us in peace.
Ramsgate is almost empty now at the end of the season and we are soon ready for the final hop across the sands in an almost (but importantly not quite) reverse of the trip over in the spring.
Waypoints in; check. Electronic and paper charts ready; check. Tidal gates for the swatchways planned; check. Waypoints in; checked already! Do we go? Forecast is for F4 or 5 SW. Ideal, but we wouldn’t want anything more across the sands as we’ll be there at low tide in order to get over the sill in Tollesbury. Visibility is OK (5 miles?) so we set off.
Margate sands and Fisherman’s Gat slip past. Waypoints checked off and plotted on the paper chart as well. We have occasional stronger gusts. Certainly a good 6. We are heading over the Black Deep to make the swatchway between the Middle and West Sunk sands. James is below, checking and re-checking with John at the wheel. We are double reefed with two rolls in the jenny and making 6kts through the water.
“We’ll need to make these next two waypoints bang on” says James “plenty of water but a narrow channel”.
The words are barely out when we hit. A container? Another boat? But with breaking seas ahead and to starboard it can only be the sand. Sails down rapidly and we try motoring every which way. But with every sea, we are pushed a little further on. We are clearly stuck but poor old Heydays is pounding heavily. She seems to be handling it, but it is fraying our nerves with each jarring bang. A passing yacht radios to see if we need help, although there is nothing they can do. But Nightsong lifted our spirits hugely just by being there. They standby for nearly an hour – great comradeship and seamanship. Prudence tells us to radio the Thames Coastguard who hand us over to London VTS. They are very reassuring. They have our position on radar and confirm our own co-ordinates. We are in no immediate danger but they radio every 15 minutes and we are certain that they have alerted the lifeboat for a potential rescue. An hour later – but it seems like a lifetime – and we are off.
However, we now have another problem. Our co-ordinates as verified by the CG put us in deep water…according to our C-MAP chart and the paper chart (both purchased from Force 4 in March). But with breaking seas all around us a chart course to steer becomes pointless.
“Steer 060 for deep water” says James. “No” or words to that effect, says John, and then more forcefully “I suggest you have a look at what is actually around us.”
With charts or position clearly wrong we resort to the old-timers’ methods to find a way across the sands. They had to swing a lead, but at least we have a depth sounder. After about another 30 minutes of back and forth we start to get lucky.
“2.1, 2.0, 2.0, 1.9, 1.8, Do we turn back? 1.8, 1.9, 2.0, 2.1, Phew, we’re through”
The remainder of the trip back to Tollesbury is actually a nice sail and we even make it over the sill.
As we are tidying up fenders and warps and James is still wondering how he managed to put us aground, a cheerful soul wanders along the pontoon.
“Been anywhere nice?” he asks.
“Oh just from Lymington” we say non-committedly.
“I was there in the summer” he says.
“So, er, what route did you take across the sands?” we ask nonchalantly.
After a slight pause for thought he says “I don’t really know much about the technical stuff. I just use an app on my tablet and the autohelm”.
Heroically we resist the urge to throw him into the water.
Back in the clubhouse James buys the cheap £30 app and puts in the co-ordinates of where we went aground. Funnily enough we hit the SW Sunk Sand slap in the middle. £30 app 1: £180 electronic chart and £50 paper chart 0!
Not so funnily. Having told the yard about the incident they did their own check and found a leak around one of the keel bolts. To their immense credit they lifted her out immediately and called us back from our journey home.
Insurers and Surveyors
As a footnote to the footnote and a lesson to sailors….we became caught between the hull insurers and our original surveyor. Hull insurers suggested they would pay for about half of the approx. £10,000 repairs, but said that the rest was down to badly rusted keel bolts not picked up by the original surveyor. In the end, and after many site visits by surveyors and insurers, the hull insurers will pick up the tab. But it was a real fight and at least a 3 month delay…