We’ve finally updated this ghost-site, with the account of our cruising in 2017 & 2018 in Ireland. If you click this link Fractal west it should lead to you a big fat .pdf of our account of it.
We’ve finally updated this ghost-site, with the account of our cruising in 2017 & 2018 in Ireland. If you click this link Fractal west it should lead to you a big fat .pdf of our account of it.
Well, we took BA out at the Suffolk Yacht Harbour Classic Regatta on June 14 & 15, and had the most wonderful time.
Handicapped by our ignorance and a fierce rating, we got a very distinguished DFL (Dead F… Last) in both our division and overall, but we achieved our goals which were to sail the boat as well as we could, and to have a good time. A fabulous crew consisted of Richard Taylor as Bowsprit-end-man, Frances Maggs as Topmast-head-man, Paul de Proyart and Felix Cleverdon as Runner Monkeys, Jo Tribe as Staysail Gunner, Clea Rawinsky as Jib Gunner, Dan Tribe as mainsail trimmer and Navvie, Ed Maggs as the nut on the wheel, and Betty Maggs as inspiration.
The breeze began light and built during both days, and we flew the main and mizzen topsail all the time, and had the jib top up and down according to the weight of wind. We flew the squaresail on a couple of legs, but it’s not really a racing sail, and the foredeck became a bit revolting about it.
Many people said nice things about how well she looked, and we felt moved beyond words to be on a beautiful boat among beautiful boats. Such muchness of gorgeous yachts.
It was fitting that this was the first time we took her out in similar company, for it was at Levington that our story with her began, when we broke the mast on Polaris, leading to a flirtation that led to a consummation that led here.
Showing that we did get the jib topsail up
This is an account of our first cruise on Betty Alan. Before we bought her she’d been laid up for three years, only two years after the completion of a very extensive refit, and consequently many of the new systems had probably not even bedded in before they’d begun to wear out. There was the engine charging issue, which despite two big alternators on the main engine, lots of shiny fat batteries, an Adverc voltage regulator and a Mastervolt battery management system, appears never to have worked since the refit. An epic investigation by the Priors A-Team of Robin and Gary, driven by the desire to simplicate the system led to the Adverc’s removal. There was a host of real and illusory breakthroughs leading to a light-bulb moment, which was that the system needed a resistor between the two alternators to work. No such resistor in stock? Use a light bulb.
Gary also sorted out the stern gland which had been well beyond the regulation drip a minute, and was pretty much a continuous stream, even at rest. This also may have been wrong for a long time, for the previous owner was troubled by persistent ingress of water, and went to the extent of investigating the centreboard housing (which caused some offence to Jeremy Lines, designer, who knew this was pretty much impossible). Both problems appear in the boat’s logs from 2007, which include delivery skipper’s notes “I don’t believe the engine is charging at all” and “Tightened stern gland. This was the leak all along!” It’s understandable why it hadn’t been repacked, since it is very inaccessible, even by the standards of stern glands. Gary and Robin stuck to the project with a really admirable sense of ownership of the problem. Some harsh language may have been used about the boat and its owners at times: if so none of it leaked out to us . . .
The weather was pretty unpromising. The wettest spring and early summer on record, and one of the windier, didn’t bode well, but even in the most difficult of seasons you can often have some great sailing by dodging between the weather systems, so we weren’t despairing.
Frances has never sailed in the West and Ed wanted to show her that there are places in Britain where you can actually see through the water, and where the waves aren’t modelled on upright pianos. So, as the pimp said to the navigator “Westward, Ho!” We gave fortune a valuable hostage by setting a more or less fixed schedule. Peter Harvey (Fran’s father’s best friend and de-facto uncle) and Fran’s sister Margot were going to join us Somewhere in Southern England and Betty (Ed’s mother) was going to join us in Guernsey, with Michael and Joanna Woolley and their gorgeous Lara. The uncertainties of arrival times were explained, and we reminded ourselves of the dangers of putting expedience before prudence in passage planning. We did at least have time in hand by planning the delivery passage for the four day Jubilee holiday weekend, which gave us a little slippage.
June 2 2012. Towards the Solent, first stop Dover. Frances and Ed, with Shirley and Dan Tribe and Hugh Bett.
The first leg had been intended for Ramsgate, but there was no room at the inn, so it was going to have to be Dover, a dozen miles further on. We departed a little behind schedule (no surprise), and weren’t under way until noon into a brisk North Easterly blowing 25 knots over the deck, a wind speed that we were to see repeatedly. Sadly, exigencies of schedule led us to engine out to the Whittaker, making only six knots with the tide under us, the engine finding it quite hard pushing us through the rather corrugated sea, though the wind was gradually easing.
We didn’t get to Barrow 5 until 1600, when we hoisted full main and jib. The breeze was building back up, we were now only a couple of hours before low water on a falling tide, and the echo-sounder wasn’t calibrated, so we decided not to cross the Sunk Sand at the preferred place near Barrow 6, but instead went down to the Knob. It was still blowing 25 knots apparent, the next leg was to windward and it was already 1800 so we decided to go up the Medway for the night, and had a very pleasant sail past Sheerness and up Stangate Creek, a pleasantly desolate place. There was a cluster of yachts anchored around Spirit of Fairbridge, the purposeful Liverpool Pilot Cutter re-creation, but we went a mile or so further up the creek and anchored in a surprisingly deep and spacious pool. Apparently this used to be the quarantine station for London, as if the ague-ridden airs of marshy North Kent weren’t unwholesome enough already, and there must have been unspeakable misery here. There turned out to be an unexpected connection with one of our London heroes, for John Soane apparently drew plans for a lazaretto here, never of course built.
Our good fortune in not having got further that night was clear when trying to get under way at 1000. Complete silence from the engine. It was agreed we couldn’t continue the passage without power for entering port, and so Dan and Frances spent the whole day fault finding, with advice from Robin Prior and Tony Millwood on the phone, tracing wires back from the engine control panel in the cockpit. They couldn’t find the location of the failed circuit, and at the end of the day Dan went for the zero option and jump started the engine by hotwiring the starter solenoid directly to the battery. Not the most rewarding of days, but it was far better doing this at anchor than while bouncing around off Dover in the middle of the night. Indeed, if we had pressed on towards Dover that first night, we would probably have had to go straight on to the Solent, which would have brought its own problems since that night a full gale blew up. The wind reached the low forties of knots, and we were happy to be anchored with 40 metres of cable out in good holding.
As a training exercise we sailed off the anchor, with the engine ticking over for security. We set jib and mizzen, which worked fine at first, but as we discovered (and a few days later rediscovered) she doesn’t go easily to windward like this, and after a couple of successful tacks her head blew right off and we were aimed at the mud, so we had to ask Nanny for help to pull the bow back round. After that we were fine, and went on to have a grand day’s sail, beating out of the Medway with the regulation 25 knots apparent under single reefed main, both headsails and mizzen.
The occasional wave lopped over the lee rail, but she was as happy as a pig in sticky stuff, and felt liberated to be at sea again with a decent wind. The breeze began to fail in the middle of the estuary, but we stuck with the game and had a lovely ambling foul tide beat up the side of the Maplin. It was a sunny day by now, with a fitful breeze from 5 to 12 knots. We failed in getting the main topsail up when a sudden gust took it out of our hands, and while recovering we found the little hook on the NE corner of the Maplin (a hook indicated on the Imray charts, and not on the Navionics at all). Two bumps and we were off, but it’s the first time the ballast keel itself has touched.
Our failure was clearly the consequence of having displayed insufficient patriotic fervour by not staying at home to watch the River Pageant on telly, and we had to make do with enjoying the sight of the gorgeous Alice Brooks charging by us on her way back to Burnham.
A gentlemanly broad reach up the Crouch took us home, we dropped Dan and Hugh off at Priors pontoon, and took ourselves back out to the mooring to spend the night, with very mixed feelings about our retreat, muttering unconvincing reassurances that we were actually quite lucky, what good judgment we’d shown and so on.
We went back to work that week and were almost resigned to abandoning the cruise, but then things began to conspire in our favour. Firstly Robin Prior found and fixed the fault, which was due to corrosion in a junction box from a minor coolant leak which had wandered down the engine block and then attached itself to a cable. Peter and Margot had been delayed by family business, and a few days of moderate northerlies were promised, perfect for the delivery to Guernsey. We (Fran and Ed) would have to do the passage on our ownsome, which we hadn’t intended, but would be a good test of our long-term plans for more serious cruising.
Toward Guernsey. Ed & Fran
An early start was called for the next day, and at 2020 we set off under jib, main and mizzen for the mighty Roach, anchored under the Branklet at 2100 and dined off the bag of mussels given to us by our neighbours and friends Clare and Tony Millwood. 3 miles down, only 247 to go.
Weighed anchor at 0430 in a clear beautiful morning with a very light SW. Engined gently down the Crouch in a landscape of great beauty that we weren’t going to compromise by urgency. We hoisted sail at 0545, but didn’t have enough wind to make reasonable progress, so were obliged to motor sail. We were at Barrow 5 by 0710 and tried sailing, but the wind was still too light so Nanny had to come out again. We crossed the Sunk near Barrow 6 using the soundings done by those nice Thames Estuary Crossings people.
The breeze slowly built and we were able to stop the engine in the Fisherman’s Gat, having photographed the Inner Fisherman for Michael Woolley, after whom this buoy might have been named. By 1115 we were at E. Margate buoy, the breeze was up to 12 – 15 knots SW, and we were making quota (>5 knots) under full plain sail. There were various yachts around in the distance and a handsome antique motor cruiser heading north in a stately fashion. There’s a huge windfarm under construction, like a new age Golgotha, through which a full size cross channel ferry permanently meanders, presumably being used as accommodation and offices. The wind had veered to the North, and we had a leisurely and un-dramatic sail past N. Foreland and through the Gull Channel and tied up in Dover marina c. 1700.
We rather liked Dover, slightly despite itself. Everyone is transient and their passage through the town has rather worn away its identity which, like the continually polished brass plate on an ancient law firm, is only barely legible. A place of hope and failure, Matthew Arnold’s “eternal note of sadness” now amplified by the traces of Oscar Wilde’s refusal to fly, Lord Beauchamp’s refusal to fight, the holidays, honeymoons and other hells, the calls to bedsides, and the ghosts of suffocated Chinese in un-ventilated containers.
The sea is calm to-night. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand; Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in. Sophocles long ago Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea. The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night Matthew Arnold. On Dover Beach.
A seal had taken up residence in the marina, making a living by begging snacks off visiting yachtsmen. I’ve seen dolphins habituated to people, but never a seal before, unless you include Hoover The Talking Seal of Boston Aquarium, with whom I am privileged to have had a conversation many years ago. Maybe the Dover seal recognized the tragic sadness of the town as fruitful ground for his begging, like a well positioned street vendor. Anyway, he found some amiable Dutch divers, off on an excursion.
We were berthed on a hammerhead, pointing in to the harbour, and it was going to be a difficult job turning in the relatively narrow basin. We still have nightmares about sticking the bowsprit (aka the “docking probe”) into someone’s rigging, or getting it wedged into a bit of marina furniture. Nothing has gone wrong yet in close quarters, but five successive heads doesn’t change the odds of the next coin, and it’s still an anxious business. There was nothing for it but to go out backwards, and going astern is always a bit of an adventure in BA, but surprisingly it worked (with the helm hard down to starboard – “no, to port, no, to starboard. Oh shit!” – she goes more or less straight), and at 0900 we elegantly ambled and then sidled out stern first, looking for all the world as if we knew what we were doing. We hoisted full plain sail and set out toward Dungeness in a light ENE. A morning of light motor-sailing and some actual sailing saw us at Dungeness on time at 1230 in a strange luminous light that made this odd place seem more other-worldly than ever. We motor sailed through the afternoon, going into Rye bay a bit to get out of the tide, and then going all the way out to the Royal Sovereign for fear that the surprisingly big left over SW swell would make it uncomfortable near the shoals. An unnecessary precaution, as the swell was dying, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Off Seaford the Northerly breeze began to fill, and we had an absolutely cracking last 10 miles or so, the breeze building all the way to 25 knots. Brighton marina cheesed us off big time on the phone (their VHF doesn’t work at low tide, because their office floats, and is below the level of the seawall) with a tooth sucking denial that they had any space for us, despite their breezy reassurance in the morning. There was ample space, of course: the denial was based on the “whatever you want the answer is no” school of customer service, so that when a way is miraculously found, it’s just for you.
Brighton Marina is a strange dystopian world. If J.G. Ballard were to have written a yachting themed novel, it would have been based here. But we won’t go on. It’s too easy a target, so we shall let it go.
Left at 0640 towards Alderney, a bit over 100 miles. NW 15 – 20 knots apparent, a cracking breeze. We set all plain sail, with one reef in the main. As the seas and the breeze built, BA got increasingly entertaining to steer, with quite a lot of weather helm until we dropped the mizzen, which made steering much simpler. At this stage we were making 9 knots over the ground, and were suffering fine delusions of 200 mile days, Alderney in time for a pub supper and so on, and so of course the wind let go in the early afternoon, and about 1400 we had to engage the engine, and we didn’t pick up a mooring in Alderney until 2130. No dramas with shipping, though the Isle of Wight became a fixation, as it stubbornly refused to sink down into the horizon. No other yachts until we approached the coast of France, when we saw a couple heading towards Cherbourg.
One of the first of many glasses to be broken on the cruise happened that evening. On the mooring, we set up our picnic table in the cockpit for supper and a glass of wine. With the board up to reduce the clunking, we were subject to occasional very rapid and unpredictable rolls. A wine glass went off the table, but miraculously didn’t break. The table, with a professional sense of comic timing, then collapsed straight on top of it. Even that wasn’t enough to cheer us up, and the expressive log entry that evening reads. “Picked up mooring in Braye. Tired. Supper. Had a row.” We can’t even remember what the row was nominally about, but it wouldn’t have happened without we were tired and frustrated at having had to engine. Nevertheless we achieved that nostrum for marital content, of not going to sleep angry.
Left towards Beaucette Marina in Guernsey at 0700. We’re learning that in an anchorage with any sort of swell there is an equation. With the board down the rolling motion is much dampened, but the rhythmic clunking of the board in its case takes some getting used to. With the board snugly up there’s no clunking, which you pays for with a not very restful rapid short roll.
A light northerly greeted us, and we set full plain sail outside Braye harbour and went easterly towards the Race, and had a very calm and gentle sail towards Guernsey, going slowly enough to catch a bucket full of mackerel, only running out of steam off Herm, and having to engine the last couple of miles. Picking up the spindly little beacon that marks the entrance to the channel that leads to Beaucette wasn’t easy, but, as it usually does clarity descended upon us. The actual entrance to this very special little harbour isn’t easy for a stranger, and must be the wrong side of exciting in an onshore blow with a swell, but without asking they sent a dory out to keep an eye on us. Ricky in the dory set the tone of amiable efficiency for our stay in Beaucette, nipping ashore to handle our lines. We had to do a bit of a spin to get alongside, and when Ricky heard the bow thruster he cheerily yelled that we were cheating. He was right, and shamed Ed into laying off it, and we managed to shimmy in just using the propwalk, next to an immaculately restored Swan 36, just launched.
So, against the odds we’d made it to the rendezvous in accordance with our revised schedule. Michael, Joanna and Lara were already there, and were going to collect Peter and Margot at the airport, having flown all the way from Sydney. In a divine bit of comedy this tired little gaggle of intrepid travellers, some of whom had flown 10,000 miles, were finally prevented from joining the boat by a missing link in the pontoon, which the marina has to temporarily take out to launch from their slipway. It looked like something out of an imaginatively illustrated edition of Aesop, or one of those maddening logic tests where John has to get his army across the Styx with only one ferry that can only carry two and a half soldiers at one time, and a mad dog barking at him.
Anyway, the ferryman came, and brought our very jolly party across, all at once, to be fed a lunch of that morning’s mackerel, simply grilled and fried. Ed’s mother Betty and Peter’s daughter Caroline from Brisbane, who had diverted to Guernsey between conferences in Glasgow and Athens (as one does) arrived later that day, or was it the day after?
The entrance to Beaucette is only half tide, which luckily coincides with slack water in the Little Russel, but this and the pretty horrible weather meant that our vision of picnic cruises to Herm and Sark, drifting for turbot over the banks and hunting bass in the reefs didn’t come to more than one slightly penitential grey sail with Peter and Betty to the anchorage at the back of Herm for lunch. It did give us our only taste of Channel Islands pilotage, so we learnt a little, but the rest of the stay was taken up with bimbling the boat and sightseeing.
A shore party took the ferry to Sark and did Sark-like things, admiring gardens and eating cream teas. Fran spotted the flaw in the much trumpeted absence of motor cars on Sark. Since tractors are the only motorized vehicles permitted on the island, this naturally means there’s a very high density of tractors. For many residents an errand from one end to the other isn’t typically accomplished on foot, bicycle, horse or water, but by tractor, neither a restful, economical or environmental mode of transport. Ed stayed at home to make a fish soup courtesy of the wonderful fish shop in St. Peter Port (“Have you just bought all my gurnard?” “No, I left a few” “That’s alright then”), and our Guernsey friend Gregory joined us and we set a record by seating nine round the table of BA for a very convivial evening.
Guernsey itself has a tremendous (if frightening) coastline, interesting museums and friendly locals (though many are incomers). The big “but” is the density of housing on the whole territory, for the entire island feels like one big suburb: a pleasant and prosperous suburb but much less rural than we expected.
Having said that, the walks on the coastline are tremendous. More photos of these and of Sark in the June Cruise gallery.
Having had our timing compromised by the late delivery, we’d largely given up on any ideas of Brittany for this year, and we ended up staying in Beaucette for some five nights. We found it a delightful place. Part of the charm comes from its topography – it’s an old and deep quarry with access through a narrow channel cut through the cliff – but as ever the human factor is the key thing.
I don’t suppose all visitors get greeted with lobsters straight from the pot, which is what the charismatic former manager John did. He lives on his boat in the marina, and keeps a handful of lobster pots around the marina, which is very deep and fecund. That’s fecund, by the way, not fetid. On the third day there he presented us with a gorgeous lobster, and we got two good crabs from the pot he loaned us. A delightful man with a bucketful of anecdote and good cheer.
BA carried, as deck cargo, a sectional dinghy called a Nestaway, newly acquired as our tender. Beautifully built, in carbon epoxy no less, it was christened with a dribble of Laphroaig by Peter, as Little Pete. It’s half-dinghy, half-canoe, and is wonderfully easy to row, paddle, or use with a little outboard. We did some assembling experiments, and think the best way to assemble it on deck is going to be hung vertically from a halyard, like putting a V2 rocket together. It works surprisingly well with just the two forward sections, which would be the configuration to run out kedges and so on in our hazily imagined future world of extended cruising. It’s narrow of course, and it remains to be seen whether this will over-compromise its load carrying and stability, but as Mark Varvill said in justification of the rig of Betty Alan “It is more entertaining”. While testing Little Pete’s limits Ed did a bit of entertaining and managed to capsize it, but this was anomalous, he assures us.
A general dispersal of guests, and with our remaining crew of Margot and Peter we left Beaucette toward Alderney at 1645 in a light South Easterly, with all plain sail set, making some 5.5 knots over the ground. The breeze held until we were off the S end of Alderney and had to engage the machinery at low revs and we wandered through the Race, towards the very beautiful sunset. Moorings all full, so we anchored in indifferent holding (at the second attempt) at 2100 and dined aboard.
After a slightly rolly night we moved onto one of the now vacated moorings, close under the breakwater and went ashore for a day’s sightseeing. Found Alderney delightful, and had a cracking lunch in the Marais pub, a very old school place that Margot found oppressively gloomy but Ed loved as a reminder of his past: pubs are SUPPOSED to be slightly depressing. No pickled egg crushed in a bag of cheese and onion crisps here though, and we were served substantial crab and lobster salad with first rate fries. After lunch Pete and Margot went back to Betty Alan for his beauty sleep, and Ed and Fran walked back in a leisurely fashion from the lighthouse. Later Ed successfully secured BA to the mooring buoy with chain – no anxieties about chafe now, he thought to himself – and found out for himself why people don’t do it, as the chain clunked as we snubbed, and rattled as we rolled, throughout the night.
Batteries a bit low, and went to give the generator an exercise, but it reported a failed raw water impeller again. Bah. Later, before replacing it, I ran it up again, and it worked with no problems. Hrumph.
Slipped the mooring 0800 towards Cowes, into a cracking 15 knot breeze from just North of East, allowing us to sail under full plain sail at 030 degrees with the sheets cracked slightly, making around 7 knots boat speed. The breeze was supposed to veer further east during the day but this didn’t really happen, and instead slowly fell away during the afternoon, so that we were left rather further west than we’d intended.
Some 12 miles off Anvil point a navy helicopter was doing some evolutions near us, which we thought nothing of until they started buzzing us, clearly trying to get our attention. Gosh, but they’re appalling looking machines, military helicopters. They seem like an alien robotic race, and it’s hard to imagine anything with soft tissue in them: this one had no missiles and cannons slung below it, but it still caused the mouth to dry, and the sweats to form. Still, they clearly meant us no harm, and we could hear them talking to Portland coastguard on channel 16 about identification of wreckage, but for some reason they didn’t respond to our hail and we were obliged to talk to them via Portland.
They wanted us to examine something they’d spotted while flying by, and we spent a couple of hours trying to make sense on the surface of all sorts of debris they were spotting. There was one big bit of a wooden vessel, a companionway or similar, and lots of little domestic things like tubes of suncream and sheets of paper. By this time a coastguard helicopter had joined the search, and the Swanage lifeboat was on the way. A fishing vessel had been lost with all three hands a few months before not far from here, so the coastguard were probably being extra sensitive, but it was impressive to see how seriously they were taking it. It may well have been rubbish plucked off the foreshore at spring tides, and there’s a lesson here, that if you lose anything substantial overboard like a life buoy or a dinghy, it’s as well to tell the coastguard to prevent this sort of search being instigated.
We were stood down after a couple of inconclusive hours, and made sail again towards the Needles, which we were almost miraculously able to lay close hauled on starboard tack. The wind slowly built up to the mid 20s apparent and under all plain sail we flew straight up the channel at over ten knots, the helm beautifully balanced, with one tack off Lymington and then all the way up to lie off Cowes as light failed. A fabulous, fast sail, with Fran at the helm, with a cold light in her eye. We then had a cock-up when we couldn’t get the main down, and had a horrible hour motoring around in the dark with half a mainsail up, trying to find somewhere to get some lee to anchor and investigate. It’s hardly credible, but the peak hadn’t come down because Ed hadn’t uncleated it. Clearly more tired than he felt, he’d misidentified the halyards and had been spending all his time trying to push string. When he came back to take the helm he slowly realized what he’d done, muttering in disbelief the halyard mantra “Peak to Port, Peak to Port”, and the problem was sorted by Fran in minutes. Morals from the tale: Ed didn’t particularly feel tired, but it had been a longish day, his judgment was clearly addled, and he hadn’t adjusted his behaviour to take account of this; Occam’s razor was not applied, and the blindingly bleeding obvious hadn’t been considered; get another pair of eyes on the problem early on.
Tied up at Cowes Yacht Haven at midnight on an outside berth, which later turned out to be a blessing when it came on to blow a Westerly gale. Margs had somehow managed to have supper ready for us the moment we tied up. Bless her. She’s a natural.
Ed did sailorising tasks on the boat, and Margs, Peter and Fran hired a car and went round the island. Margot runs a glass studio in Western Australia, and they had a very good visit to a glass blower on the island, and generally enjoyed the island ambience.
Betty Alan is made to feel quite small by some of the boats at Cowes. Eleonora is the grandest, but Coral is there too, as well as a pack of standard millionaires yachts.
Came on to blow a SW gale, so no going anywhere for us. We watched a dozen brave boats head off in the evening towards the Eddystone for the Myth of Malham race, into 30 knots of wind. They were going to be in the Needles Channel at the top spring ebb, and I hate to think what the sea state must have been there. We saw several of them come wandering back, one with a snapped boom, and in the end only three finished: a classic Dutch 1970s S&S type sloop (who later said it was the hardest conditions they’ve ever seen), a J-105 being sailed two up, by father and daughter Simon and Nikki Curwen, and Magnum, a lightweight Ker flyer with a crack crew. Watching the last named in particular leaving the Squadron line, you wouldn’t have given them a cat’s chance in Battersea to get out of the Solent, let alone finish the course. Big kudos to all of them – top sailing and very moving to watch.
A magnificent sail to Brighton. SW mid twenties of knots, set full sail and charged off towards the Owers at ten knots over the ground, with the sea gradually building. After bearing away at the Owers we had to sail above the rhumb line for fear of gybing, and after an hour and a half of tiring steering dropped the main and toddled gently on under granny rig of jib and mizzen.
We had a tired racing pigeon come aboard for a rest, and had various moments of bird-on-boat comedy, followed by one of near-tragedy. As we came inshore for the entrance at Brighton the seas mounded up, and at one stage we saw the poor thing fall off into the water. Doomed, we thought, till in slow motion it summoned up the energy for a few flaps of the wing, and got back aboard.
Getting up to the entrance was a bit of an act of faith, but the seas were actually worse a cable off, where there’s a bit of a ledge, and with Nanny at full chat, we popped in quite comfortably. Betty came down from London for next day’s passage east, and we had a jolly party on board with an Indian takeaway brought by Brighton friends, but sadly the wind continued building all night till it was blowing most of a gale in the morning and the entrance wasn’t really tenable. We felt a bit guilty leaving beautiful BA in this marina from hell, surrounded by weed-fringed floating cottages, but comforted ourselves with the thought that she was making the place look a little better. We should add that despite having nothing positive to say about Brighton Marina itself, several of the people who worked there were extremely nice and kind, though one felt that they had to operate slightly against the grain.
With five of us, it made more sense to get a taxi back to Burnham, and we were home by the middle of the afternoon of the 24th
Ed and Fran returned to Brighton, with our friends and neighbours Clare and Tony Millwood. We left at 1415 in a 15 knot SW breeze and, initially just under the granny rig of jib and mizzen, we stemmed the tide to Beachy Head and as the sea flattened with the turn of tide got the main up with a reef in. We got on the tidal escalator and held the East going stream all the way past the North Foreland, with the wind building into the low 20s at the entrance to Fisherman’s Gat. We’d made such good time that we had got to the Sunk sand at dead low water, and hove to under jib and mizzen for an hour to get a bit of water under our keel, and then put the main back up with two reefs to see how she’d go like that, snuck through the swatchway, and strolled up the Barrow, from where we had the most superb fair tide beat up the Whittaker and Crouch in the low to mid twenties of knots apparent. A brilliant welcome home, sailing through the moorings to drop sail in the middle of packs of RS Teras milling around at the start of the second day of their national championship, and picking up our mooring at 1030. Ed admits to rather gracelessly hogging the helm during that last bit of a sail, but gosh it was good. 20 hours from Brighton, including an hour waiting in the Estuary, felt quite good by our standards.
Frances was born and brought up in Sydney, and it was there that she first sailed, on her step grandfather’s beautiful, self designed Antares. Christmas 2011 saw one of our occasional returns to the land of her fathers, and we were delighted to be able to meet up and sail with the current owners of Antares Rob Keessen and Dennis Wood.
Fran was almost literally just off the plane from London, and found it the perfect cure for jet lag. We met at the prelapsarian Sydney Amateur Sailing Club in Cremorne, just opposite Fran’s family home at Mosman. What a fabulous club: more wooden boats than I’ve seen together outside a classics regatta, an amiable and competitive atmosphere, and a location that really couldn’t be bettered.
We went out for the last race of the season, in which Rob and Dennis had some unfinished business. An interesting day’s sailing, with a streaky breeze and pots of traffic saw them get their target boat. Ed was star-struck by finally being out on Sydney Harbour and wouldn’t stop talking, but the rest of the crew soon learnt to ignore him. He was so impressed by the boats: not by their quantity, but by their quality. Many interesting old yachts, several really wacky contemporary race boats (like the sports boat modelled on a Moth), rockstars like Investec whatsit who won the Sydney Hobart the following week. The Solent would have been as crowded, but with many more identikit Bendytoys and Bavarois.
Antares is kept in first rate order by Keessen and Owen – even among such glittering company she holds her head high.
With no tides to worry about the race,over an interesting course, was a matter of clear air, trimming, and picking the shifts. Fran got to trim the kite.
We’ll be back in Sydney again, on our own bottom eventually in fulfilment of an old promise. For the meantime we’re very grateful to Rob and Dennis, great sailors and lovely people, for a wonderful day out, and we hope we can reciprocate one day.
Betty Alan’s going to have to work for her living, and in the winter months is going to be a London flat, in Limehouse Basin, between Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge.
The basin, where the Lee Navigation meets the Regents Canal (which in turn joins the Grand Union Canal that connected the Midlands and London) and where both debouch into the Thames, once heaved with real things being moved around the world in the great contractions of Empire. It is now between the two hubs of the new Britain, where the only things that move are digits and money. We see the lights blazing all night in the towers of Canary Wharf: have any buildings of that size ever appeared so temporary? There is an insubstantialness to the whole place.
Our end of the basin is a colony of narrow boat dwellers – a population that embodies the essence of adjacency – providing an attractive contrast to the dystopian world populated entirely by ambitious young accountants in over designed apartments. The actual East End continues, just 100 metres away, the other side of the A13, behind the riverside fringe of prosperity that’s as thin as the veneers on their temples at Canary Wharf.
The mizzen was pulled out to have a new bit scarfed in at the foot by Priors, to address some rot – this was about the only defect the surveyor found – and after a small party for friends on the end of their pontoon we headed off down the Crouch, first right, and up the Thames for winter.
Starting before dawn, the first challenge was finding Dan Tribe’s TRAIGH, on her mooring. A blessedly short lived but quite dense fog patch made it difficult, but they conned us in, and we picked up the rest of the crew. Surprising, we made 12 in the end, but she never felt crowded.
Motoring most of the way to make it on one tide, we had a nice hour of topsail sailing in the East Swin, and got to Limehouse dead on time, at 1600. It’s an act of faith to get in there – you have to aim at a gap between the flats, which is almost invisible when you’re coming from downstream.
On Saturday October 1 2011 at about noon we motored over the tail of the Swallowtail and switched off the engine, unfurled headsails, hoisted topsails, and began to sail the last leg of our delivery of Betty Alan from Lymington.
With barely steerage way at first we came up the river, the breeze finally building so that we were doing the best part of six knots over the ground. The breeze just hung on, and we reached Burnham under sail at the very moment of high tide.
The town can never have looked better, with a big tide filling the river and the scene flooded in miraculous October sunshine and the temperature only just short of 30 degrees in new money. Priors Boatyard was having their annual mini-regatta and had the bunting out: Robin and his family came out to welcome us in their launch. All was as well with the world as it ever can have been.
We’d always meant to buy a more substantial boat in a few years time, but Betty Alan came right out of the blue. Something of a coup de foudre. We’d not even thought about a gaff rigged boat, and I’d imagined one of those beautiful retired 60’s racing boats – a Holman by choice.
After many weeks of negotiating (with our hearts as well as the vendor), surveying, and commissioning, we embarked on the last step of the sea-trial. Jeremy Lines came as well – see the section for the boat herself – and within minutes was up the mast like, well, like a designer up a ratpole.
No wind to speak of at the sea-trial, but no big bangs from the machinery; the mast stayed up; Jeremy found nothing nasty, and off we went to the bank, in a mood of fear and anticipation. Jeremy remained to weigh the boat, using nothing more than a tape measure to measure the freeboard, something I’d read about, without really believing.
It was done. Ours. What a great adventure awaits: trepidation and disbelief stalks the decks .