Monday, 26 April 2010

Up the Orwell then out to Cork Sands and beyond

The morning is spent understanding every square inch of the boat, and especially the safety equipment. Exercises on getting the boat away from the pontoons remind me how much more careful one needs to be with carbonfibre yachts compared to the steel hull of a narrowboat. There also seems to be much more protocol involved with yachts. It really is not done to push off with hands, feet or poles; it's also a lot more dangerous. It becomes clear that understanding and using all kinds of springs and lines is crucial.

Instructor Keith's elegant boat is moored alongside, so a pinpoint manoeuvre is necessary: a bit of propwalk, plenty of propwash and we are sprung away, motoring around the marina and out into the fresh breezes of the Orwell. Peter takes us up river where all four of us practice serious Man Overboard tactics: no beam reaches, tacks and figures-of-eight but simple engine on, sails down, tight turns and Mayday. Going overboard in May in the North Sea is a Mayday affair foremost. If all goes well, you can always cancel the call but the odds are that hypothermia and rapid action by the coastguard and RNLI will be involved. Each of us gets two attempts. Surprisingly all efforts are successful, and Keith seems impressed.

We turn, raise the sails and turn towards Harwich, closehauled with a fresh southeasterly initially on the starboard bow. The boat is a Jenneau Sun Odysssey so sits well and feels solid through the water.

We head out of the main channel as we near Fagbury. Felixstowe has huge ships and we need to stay clear. We approach the Stour but a long shallow spit stretches unfeasibly far across the bay here and we need some quick calculations to decide how close we can sail to Shotley Horse beacon and so cut the corner into the Stour. Our estimates suggest we will be fine, but it is a reminder that we have a deep draught - 2.2 metres - for a yacht regularly using east coast rivers! This boat has a fin keel so no mistakes are tolerated: muck up the calculations and we could lose the boat. A 2.2 metre fin keel doesn't sit on the mud!

We follow the Stour to the ferry terminal at Parkeston Quay and anchor alongside the moorings opposite. One bulky, boxy ship, the Stena Transfer, lies idly by the wharf. Whatever happened to the naming of ships? They used to have attractive names or at least meaningful in some way. Did someone really say "I know, let's call this the Transfer?"

I draw the short straw and prepare lunch. There are very large quantities of tinned food and some fresh vegetables. We have fresh rolls but the filling is a little challenging. We have tuna and eggs but no mayonaise, and tuna salad cream sandwiches doesn't have the same ring to it. We manage with soup though.

A hundred metres away, oystercatchers, common gulls and what looks like sanderlings. Far too late for sanderlings though. The tide is still ebbing so more of the shoreline becomes available to the birds. The south shore is scarred, not by the ferry terminal or the facilities but by the constant use of corrugated sheeting - the bane of modern day aesthetics. The Victorian railway station is attractive but masked by the shabbiness of the boxes and blank sheeting. There's no need for anywhere to look like a badger's arse with a hat on, but they usually do these days.

The wind has backed to eastsoutheast making it a trickier departure from the estuary, but it makes for an interest beat back up past Shotley, across the main channel then out past the Harwich shoals known as The Shelf. We keep the port hand buoys to port, but keep the Shelf east cardinal to starboard, even though the yacht channel is inside it. These are deceptively shallow waters off the Navyard even though we are more than half wasy across the estuary and close to the Felixstowe side. Our turn south allows speed to pick up and we are all scurrying below to put on hats and coats.

We pass Cliff Foot buoy and the North Sea opens up to us: big container ships and a fat, ugly dredger bear down on us from the east. A tug is at the stern of the container ship helping swivel the bow northwards as it turns on the Beach End buoy. Off our starboard bow, the rise of The Naze fringes the horizon and we see the Pye End safe-water mark. A Force 3 suggests a good afternoon sailing and we practice many routines. Peter gets the first go, taking us off to The Well, a well-known 'hole' in an area of otherwise quite shallow water. His test is to get over the deepest part. Several tacks get us very close.

Keith, a former Navy officer with the Fisheries Protection fleet, gets the next challenge and we are heading out towards the Northeast Gunfleet east cardinal buoy and on up to the Rough Tower, a curious offshore former gun emplacement atop two concrete legs and now a private residence. At this point I am to take over and guide us back in to Harwich. It is fairly straightforward, with a direct line for the Cork Sands yacht beacon followed by a run in alongside the deepwater channel port hand markers. The wind dies as we approach Cork Sands and the engine is needed to take us back into the flurry of activity in the harbour.

We lock into Shotley Marina and moor up. It's been a long, hard day but one with exceptional interest for all the senses.

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