Wednesday, 28 April 2010

To the Secret Water

It's our turn today. Keith and I are to skipper Stratos 6 back south again.

I am to take us as far as the Landguard beacon - off the southern tip of Felixstowe - and then Keith will take us up into the Walton Backwaters - Arthur Ransome's Secret Water - to Titchmarsh marina on The Twizzle.

The wind has veered slightly to southerly, requiring long tacks today and it will be a slower journey than yesterday. It makes passage planning tricky because I am not sure what speed we will be making. I estimate a 20% increase in distance and a 10% lower speed. After our first hour, it seems the estimates aren't far out. I want to avoid messy tacking around Sizewell Bank and the Whiting Bank further south, so plot a course out to sea. We head out on 130 degrees then south-west directly towards Sizewell. We pass several inbound vessels and keep a careful listen on the Lowestoft Port Control frequency. They get very wound up by an arriving Dutch vessel who has not waited for permission to enter the harbour. Anger in official situations is characterised by extreme politeness and explanations that would be patronisingly clear to a three-year old. Wonderful to listen in on these Dutch scoundrels being torn to pieces with dripping sarcasm in clipped Oxford English. Further out we see trawlers, some of whom are not using their AIS - very naughty. Further still, tankers lie at anchor and small container ships sail purposefully in towards the Hollesley Channel. Keith uses binoculars to tell us the details of the trawling gear being used. Once a Fisheries Protection Officer, always a Fisheries Protection Officer. Keith is clear rather sad that he cannot now legally board any of them.

My initial concerns about depth under the keel inshore are put in context as we watch a German coastal container ship ploughing through those waters.

We tack back onto 130 degrees and I look set to win a bet that we will hit my artifical waypoint set in the GPS earlier. However, we have tacked a little late and it requires some effort by the helm to sail unnecessarily off route, adding maybe half-an-hour to the journey.

Eight hours into the journey and the wind has backed a little, creating an easier passage to Cutler and then to the Platter Sands. A huge container ship has been looming behind us for a while and it's touch and go as to whether we will make the crossing point before him. We could make it but decide to gybe round to pass behind. If anything happened to us while passing in front, they would have absolutely no time (or depth) to respond, so we err on the side of caution. As the leviathan passes by, its stern is already being dragged to the south by a tug, while a second tug prepares to pull the bow to starboard as it turns past Landguard Point. Just to make it all that much more complex, a smaller container ship is preparing to pass it by the Navyard.

We turn back to cross the deepwater channel and head for the Pye End safe-water beacon, the first and most critical reporting point for the approach to the Walton Backwaters. I hand over to Keith with a sense of immense satisfaction at completing the task.

Keith is a study in earnest concentration as we slowly pick our way across the bay, passing Dovercourt to starboard and lining up the various buoys. We are cutting it fairly fine now and we are monitoring the echosounder and the clock to ensure we have time to cross the bar at the marina. We will be able to moor in The Twizzle but it will not be a comfortable berth overnight and we will not be able to get off the boat until high tide.

The shallowest parts are, surprisingly, way out in the bay, where we see less than a metre under the keel but as we turn into the narrower channels, banks just feet away, the water deepens. The sun, low in the sky to starboard, creates a soft and warm light as we look out over the marshes and estuaries. We twist and turn up the inlet, passing rows of moored boats before finally reaching Titchmarsh Marina. Instructor Keith suggests holding on "just in case" - and we later discover that the low-tide weight of a fuel barge moored in the marina entrance has reduced the depth over the bar more than charted. We drift slowly into the marina with 10 minutes to spare and moor up on a visitor pontoon.

We have made it to the Secret Water.

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