Tag Archives: Round Britain Experience

Tie a Yellow Ribbon.

Eastbourne to Chichester Harbour and The Hamble

We left Eastbourne mid-afternoon for a gentle sail to Chichester Harbour and the Sparkes marina. Frankly, I remember little about the journey until we neared Chichester Bar – the infamous entrance to the harbour and renowned for its sandbanks and shifting sands. Approach with caution. As we had made good time from Eastbourne we had arrived too early to enter the harbour so were forced to anchor up in a nearby bay and pass the time until we could. I do recall that it was a moonless night and a cloudless night although it remained reasonably warm. We set the anchor and by the time we’d had a cup of tea, or so it seemed, we were ready to set off again.

The subsequent short journey was a very good test of ‘Spot That Light’ as we picked our way along the narrow, and deep, channel. If you are not of the sailing fraternity, you may not know that various buoys and channel markers all have lights of various rhythms and colour. Some red, some white, some green, as well as yellows and blues. They can be on permanently or can flash in differing sequences. Sometimes these buoys carry no lights at all and sometimes the bulb is bust and has not been replaced. Add to that the fact that they can be ‘lost’ in background lighting such as houses, industrial estates and road lighting. That all makes for a very interesting interpretation of what can be seen because,  of course, the old psychology comes into play we can sometimes see what we want to see and not what is actually there. Dangerous stuff in the wrong hands.

Fortunately, we have a good team of spotters and trainee Yatchmasters so were able to pick out the route into Sparkes thus avoiding the embarrassment, and danger, of going aground.


Thursday morning was one for housekeeping. Personal laundry and a spring clean for the yacht. We needed to look our best before we went on to the Solent and the Hamble – probably the UK’s the premier sailing ground. Not the prettiest, if one looks up Southampton Water and the Fawley Refinery, but certainly one of the most affluent with the industry fuelled partly by the wealthy ‘DFLs’ – as Merv would call the Down From London crowd. For me its my home turf, having owned and berthed a yacht (‘Kiki’) for 3 years around the Solent. So this was a bit of a homecoming. Tie a Yellow Ribbon.

The short journey, with Vera doing her first passage as skipper, was made in warm sunshine and winds that were a lot heartier than we were earlier led to believe we’d get. We successfully combined a very pleasant sail with the technical difficulties of sailing in an area packed with yachts, ferries, fast ferries, hovercraft (yes, there is still a commercial one operating from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight), enormous cruise liners (The Queen Victoria sailed past yesterday, much to our amusement) even more enormous tankers, container ships and car carriers. Phew! Quite a navigational challenge. The yachts were out in force, even though a week-day, practicing for the weekend’s ‘Round the Island Race’, a key date in the Solent sailing diary.

We arrived late afternoon and berthed at Hamble Point Marina. Another home-coming for me as this was where I bought my one and only yacht, Kiki. Tie another yellow ribbon, please.


A lovely dinner with Moyna and India in the Bugle pub (unfortunately listening to England lose to Uruguay) and a couple more beers afterward with the crew before the long(ish) walk back to the boat.

A thoroughly nice day.


June 18&19th    Day 74/75


No Bluebirds, Only Blue Rinse and Redheads.

Ramsgate to Eastbourne

Neil, in a bid to catch the best of the tides, and as Skipper for the day, set departure at 6:30am. On time, we slipped lines and headed out into the English Channel for the first time on RBE2014. With Northerly or North Easterly winds we were set fair to sail down and around the coast, crossing the busy shipping lanes at Dover (do people still go on the ‘Booze Run’, I wonder?) and around into Eastbourne. A beautiful day with, until later, cloudy skies. Nonetheless, I caught more of the sun that I should have so will be wearing a cap today, Wednesday, to cover my reddened head.

Our new team member, Vera, has fitted in well and the additional crew means that, on longer journeys where we operate a watch system, we can now each get 3 hours off for every 2 on Watch. Brilliant, except my first 3 hours were spent in my cabin with the lights off fighting nausea as the boat pitched and tossed in the swell. That’s my own fault as I simply did not take any sea-sickness tablets. My complacency needs addressing.

Vera, for lunch, and in her first foray into the galley, made a very mean salad and ham wrap with the addition of melted cheese on the inside of the wrap. Nice.

The marina where we’re berthed is 5km or so from Eastbourne town centre so the opportunity to explore, in the time we have, is limited. It has a reputation as being one of ‘God’s Waiting Rooms’ on the South Coast, given the number of elderly retired folk who move here to see their last days out by the seaside. It’s quite obvious, from the number of apartments surrounding the harbour and marina, that the Baby-Boomers are here in their numbers with their relative prosperity on show – that famous ‘Silver Pound’ and blue rinse brigade. (Hint to Edd and  India.. it’s better here than the Sunny Side Rest Home down the road. But then, so’s Scrabster. Or Helmand Province, come to that.)

Our plans remain fluid, as always, but we’re planning to leave here just after mid-day and make our way to Chichester Harbour and the marina that’s on East side of Hayling Island, Sparkes Marina. After that, it’s too early to tell.

Wildlife has been a bit thin lately so little to report. Certainly no sign of any Bluebirds over the Dover cliffs as we sped past.  And I’m still getting ribbed about the Sea Eagle mistake so I’m keeping my observations and sightings to myself until I can confirm that, for example, the huge light-house on the horizon is, in fact, a fast-moving yacht just 1km away, heading straight for us.

Dinner was pasta and salad, easily prepared with the help of a Loyd Grossman sauce and Waitrose’s finest Gnocchi.

Chichester Ship Basin – try saying that quickly and with a mouthful of Blancmange – here we come!


June 17th    Day 73




Creeks, Creaks and a Call to Play.

So we’re back. Back on board and back ready to tackle the last leg (Leg 5) round onto the South Coast and the Channel Islands.

Allan has gone AWOL, at least until Ramsgate and we’ll pick him up there. We have a new crew member, Vera Tschoep, who has flown in from Germany and joins us to ‘prep’ for the Yatchmaster’s exam, along with Neil and I, over the next few weeks. And we have, of course, that RNLI legend, from Salcombe, Symon Cater – a.k.a. ‘Tank’ , ‘coz he’s built like one – as our mentor and guide for the next 2 weeks or so.


The journey to Ramsgate began at 2pm on Sunday when we made our way out of St Katharine’s Dock and into the River Thames (a very busy Thames by the way) and headed east and out of the river and out of the estuary. I am still amazed at how built up the eastern side of London is, certainly along the river’s edge and up the creeks, comprising mostly, it seems, of genteel waterside apartments in areas where, only a few years ago, even policemen went around in threes.

The tide, having turned early, and fast, seemed to be squirting us out of the river as fast as it seemed able. (It did cross my mind that it – the river – maybe expunging us as if we were some form of toxic waste to be projectile vomited out into the wastes of north Kent. Dark thoughts? No, just practicing my imaginative prose for my forthcoming novella, that’s all. )

Be that as it may, we made very good progress sailing into the night and south, around Margate and down into its sister port, Ramsgate, arriving around 1.0am. Berthed on the outside of the Western breakwater, and pinched onto the pontoon by the wind, we have spent a night and most of the day listening to the creaks of the fenders as they battle the wooden edges of said pontoon.

Ramsgate is, well, Ramsgate. A fishing port and a seaside holiday home for Londoners, and others in the South East, that is now benefiting from the heavy investment in green technology in the form of the massive wind-farms being erected offshore. They all need servicing and maintaining, after planting, to ensure that they produce the finest green energy. That emerging industry is providing year-round employment in an otherwise seasonal town. Blow wind, blow.


The afternoon has been spent in some revision of ColRegs and Secondary Port calculations.


Tomorrow, Tuesday, we head for Eastbourne and then on to Chichester. Later in the week we will attempt to get down to the Channel Islands and , possibly, a port or two on the French coast.


On the back of a lovely card from Edd was a quote of GBS as follows:

we don’t stop playing because we grow old..

we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

 I’m off to play..



June 17th    Day 73



Back to business and St Katharine’s.

The Interlude over, and having just watched the English Rugby team run the All Blacks to a close finish, I have boarded a train from Winchester back to Waterloo, travelling First Class – which is de riguer on a Saturday morning as it only costs a fiver to upgrade – as a gentle step back into the recent past; a reminder of my time in the City, travelling each and every day the 85 or so miles into London. [In an idle moment I have worked out that I have made over 17,500 train journeys, as a commuter, covering a distance of more than 800,000 land miles – not sea miles – and that equates to a total of more than three hundred, yes, three hundred, times Round Britain!]

I plan to be back on the boat by mid-day in time to:
a) Welcome Tank on board
b) Prepare the passage plan for getting to Ramsgate at the start of Leg 4
c) Do some provisioning for the journey ( and here you should note that there is a Waitrose not too far from St Kat’s, so there goes the budget)
d) Meet Edd for a drink
e) Update the blog

From here, St Katharine’s Dock, we travel back down the river taking a right turn, oops , sorry Tank, turning to starboard somewhere around Margate and sailing South to Ramsgate for Sunday night. From there, who knows at this stage? Our newest crew member, Vera, should be skipper for that leg.

I only hope that the weather gods are a little kinder for the final leg. We’ll see.


June 14th Day 70

There Will Be a Short Interlude…


Woolverstone River Orwell to Gravesend and St Kat’s, City of London

It will not surprise you to know that the journey from Woolverstone (a delightful stop up the River Orwell, and delightful even though they closed the bar early through a lack of custom) was without wind. “Gentlemen, start your engine, once more”.

A late start, after re-fuelling at Woolverstone, saw us tentatively edge our way up the north side of the Thames estuary. Tentative because it is a very busy sea route into London and its docks. And tentative because there are all sorts of sandbanks and shallows that can, on occasion, move simply at the turn of a tide. Tricky indeed. We simply followed the buoys as they (almost) guarantee that you are in a deep water section. Arriving at the narrowest point of the estuary shortly after sunset (see Gallery – a sunset over Southend Pier caught on camera) did not help nerves. Peering into the gloom and trying to distinguish river buoyage lights from every-day street and house lights is not the easiest of tasks. However, we arrived at Gravesend Town Pier at around 11:30pm and hooked onto a mooring buoy for the night.

A short nap and we were up again to make the transit into the City of London and St Katharine’s Dock – just in time for lunch at the Dicken’s Inn. The journey up the river, my first for 20years, shows just how much the eastern side of London is becoming more ‘gentrified’. That may be the Olympic effect or, more probably, the fact that London has the most expensive housing and that a ripple effect is moving eastward as households move to areas that are more affordably, thereby effectively retreating and leaving the ‘old’ London to the newly rich Eastern Europeans, Brazilians, Chinese and Indians.

The journey was splendid and we sped past all the major London landmarks including Greenwich, O2, QE II Bridge and Tower Bridge.


So, having arrived a little early in London, and made aware that our new crew mate does not start until Sunday, I have taken the opportunity to travel home to Winchester for a luxurious day and a half with Moyna, India and Edd.

Given that, there will now be a short interlude in the Blogs. See you Sunday.


June 11&12   Day 67 & 68

A Rum Sail and a Rum Baba

Lowestoft to Woolvestone River Orwell

Lowestoft was a bustling town but had an air of retrospectiveness. A ‘Burton’ clothes store and a ‘Wimpy’ restaurant, both of which I believed had been cast into memory via that well-known high street malaise – insolvency. I am obviously wrong or the RBE boat, in that short but violent thunderstorm we passed through yesterday, has somehow been transported back forty years or so. (Idle thoughts come to mind about the paradoxes that such an event would bring about.)

Neil, for his trip down memory lane, decided to sample a Wimpy for lunch and reported back that little had changed. I recall, vividly, the Wimpy just outside Ealing Broadway station. I frequented that a lot in the mid ’70’s as it was a transit on my home from the City as well as being the town in which I studied, at evening classes, after work, for my Institute of Bankers’ exams. Memory lane is long and sweet when one has time to recall. Talking of ‘sweet’, I do recall that Wimpy used to do a particularly good Rum Baba in those days. Pure sweetness. Yum.

The sail from Lowestoft was under motor for most of the way. We did manage to get the headsail out for an hour or so but the point of sail that gave us was all wrong, so we folded that away and plodded on into Harwich and the Felixstowe Docks, up the River Orwell and berthed in Woolverstone Marina. An absolutely delightful spot – if one ignores the massive A14, Orwell Bridge a little way up-river – as it is surrounded by farm land and woods. Sweet reminiscences of home in Little Somborne.

One thing that I have noticed is the substantial amount of jelly fish in the river and around the marina. It’s obviously still tidal here but I wonder why there appear to be so many this year? I understand, after a quick search on the internet, that they are a common Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) but its unusual to find so many this far upriver. See www.mcsuk.org if it’s of interest.

Neil continues to prepare our passage plan into London and St Katherine’s Dock, next to Tower Bridge, where we change skippers and welcome Symon (aka Tank) on board for the last leg into Brixham.

We will also be welcoming a new crew member on board. A young woman called Vera, of German or Dutch nationality, is with us for the last leg as preparation for her Yachtmaster practical exam.

We’re off to Gravesend and a swing-mooring for the night so that we can catch the flood up into London.

And, whisper it very gently, the weather has improved considerably so the shorts are out and the slap-head cream on. 😀


June 10  Day 66

In Theory, At Least.

Whitby and on to Lowestoft

Whitby was a very pleasant place. Very much geared to the tourist trade. From those I overheard they all seemed to be from Tyneside but maybe its too early in the season to make a judgement . One thing is sure, we saw several fancy dress groups, the most impressive of which was a Desperate Dan lookalike  – one among many in a Western themed party. Drunk as a lord. If I recall (and I’m going back a very long way) DD always ended up in the jail eating a cow pie.


We were forced to stay an extra day in Whitby due to the forecasted poor weather. I mentioned that Duncs, so that we did not waste the time,  had brought forward the RYA Yachtmaster Theory exam by 4 days.  Duncs, as invigilator, arranged for the use of the saloon and chart table of another yacht (the Harbour Master’s, I think he said, named Kestrel) and I went onto that whilst Neil stayed on RBE. Poor choice for me as Kestrel was cold and dingy. I emerged 3 1/2 hours later – blue at the finger tips – to hand my completed papers to Duncs for marking.

I can record here, with pleasure, that I passed the exam and now go on to complete the practical exam in early July, in Brixham. Neil also passed so we both join Allan, who already had his theory ‘ticket’. The immediate consequence is that I can relax for a few days and take my head out of the revision papers.

Thank you and goodbye, Whitby.


With the delay, and unsure as to how the weather will turn in the next few days, we were under pressure to make up lost time in order to get to London by the end of the week.

That drove us to make the longer (130 mile) passage to Lowestoft, cutting out Grimsby and Hull. Not a bad thing, I hear some say, but I’ll reserve judgement on those places until I have been there myself. That’s one clear lesson I have learnt on this RBE.

We were temporarily held back in Whitby until the road bridge was opened, thus allowing us to get out to sea, at around 10:45. We were relaxed about that as we had a 24-hour, non-stop, journey ahead of us and wanted to arrive in Lowestoft around late morning. The early morning saw some of the finest Spring weather yet. Warm, yes, warm, sunshine and clear skies tempted us to thin down the layers of clothing to a level that was, it later proved, much too thin for offshore sailing.

We motored out of the harbour and began our haul South. As ‘Skipper’ for the journey, I organised a watch system whereby Neil and Duncs would be one watch with Allan and I on the second. Each of 4 hours’ duration, we would alternate watches until we arrived in Lowestoft. Dinner would be cooked on the run, as it were, and eaten between shifts. Neil prepared a beef stew which, later, really hit the spot.

The day time sail was – as I have come to expect on this RBE – a day time motor-sail as those weather gods, maybe in cahoots with Robbie Burns and his gang aftley crew (see earlier blogs) put the mockers on any form of sailing with the wind. It’s not through want of trying and we have been raising and lowering the sails at any hint of wind blowing outside of the ‘no-go zone’ at the front (a.k.a. the ‘Nose’ or Bow) of the boat. We’re certainly becoming efficient at that exercise but sail ‘trimming’ is a near distant memory.

Ok, so we motor along through a rather uneventful afternoon and into the evening. Allan and I came back on watch for the 8 till midnight session. We arrived on deck to find the sky in the East a beautiful light blue, turning grey as the evening progressed. However, and it was as if a very distinct line had been drawn in the sky, along a north-south divide, as the Western sky was as near to black as grey can get. A deep, dark, rolling and roiling mass of dense clouds containing the ‘mother’ of a thunderstorm. And heading our way. With the names of Tony and Allan writ large on the leading edge.

Duncs and Neil made what was, in hindsight, a more than hasty retreat below. And was I mistaken, in the evening light and half-asleep, or did I hear a little giggle as they closed the hatch doors? That closing of the hatch, and its clicking shut, was the signal for Thor to stick a pin into the balloon of rain clouds and thereby ensure that they burst directly overhead. Within minutes the wind went from 2knots to 25knots and visibility to just short of an arms-length. All accompanied by the traditional sights (lightning) and sounds (thunder) that go with such conditions. This was my first thunder storm at sea. Not pleasant. For the 10 minutes or so it lasted, I stood motionless on deck afraid to touch anything metal for fear of becoming a lightning conductor, catching at least one of Thor’s lightning rods. Mind you, what a quick way to charge the iPhone!

The storm, as they often do, moved on quickly to be replaced by a patch of rain that lasted  a further 10 minutes. The sun broke out, and near to setting, creating a fabulous rainbow against the backdrop of the, fast departing, dark clouds and thunder. The lightning show continued but it was much more pleasurable viewing from a distance rather than underneath or, as it felt, within.

I could have grabbed the camera for some exciting shots but 1) it was down below and 2) I was not going to hold anything up in the air lest the weather gods decide that I was giving them the metaphorical ‘finger’ and thus incite them to use me as target practice for further and more accurate lightning bolts – cue an ear-worm of Jake Bugg’s song. Pah!

So, the thunder and lightning storm passes but continues in one sector of the sky, providing the backdrop for a brilliant rainbow; the sun is setting in another; there’s a bright blue sky in yet a third as well as a separate rain shower over nearby Hull. We can only marvel at nature. What a show to end the day. And a clean Hull, to boot. Marvellous.


Travelling at night across the Humber estuary is tricky navigationally as we have to be constantly aware of ship movements and their lighting (not lightning) patterns as said patterns determine who has ‘right of way’ under the laws of the sea known, colloquially, as the Rules of the Road, or ColRegs, but legally as the IRPCS – International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, by which we must abide. Those contain all sorts of light and sound combinations that, in practice and at sea, and against the land lights of a well lit (and recently washed) Humberside, prove difficult to isolate and, therefore, interpret. In the end, pragmatism will rule – we would not pit a 45 foot plastic boat against a 900 foot metal tanker. ‘nuff said. Go around, Tony, go around.


We arrived at Lowestoft around mid-day and have berthed, courtesy of the Lowestoft Haven Marina, in Hamilton Dock on the very edge of the town. Nice one. That was a 25 1/2 hour journey. Tiring in the least so, after a quick lunch and a drop of Shiraz, have hit the sack to catch up on sleep.

See you in 24.


June 8 & 9  Day 64/65

T-shirts and the toying weather gods.

Newcastle to Whitby

Goodness, what a difference a day makes? We awoke to find North Shields bathed in (not quite) warm sunshine so, after a peaceful morning, we slipped lines and headed for Whitby. The weather had changed appreciably to the point that Neil and Allan started off in T-shirts. Goodness again.  However, like unrequited love, their enthusiasm and anticipation was to go un-noticed by the weather gods.

We certainly made the most of the short spell of fine weather and thoroughly enjoyed the journey to Whitby. The later stages proved a bit choppy but we got into Whitby harbour around 8pm, tied up at a waiting pontoon until the swing-bridge could be opened (9:40pm), and had dinner.

It cannot go un-said that the culinary skills of our leader, Duncs, are top. Luncheon comprised of sandwiches of ham, cheese and salad wrapped inside two huge slices of olive bread, fresh from the local baker in Tynemouth, with a hint of mayo.  Dinner of a sausage bake alongside mashed onion potatoes, cabbage and a cauliflower cheese. Top work Duncs.


Back to the weather gods (Thor, Woden?) that have been plaguing us of late. Having teased us with a beautiful morning in North Shields, and overall a lovely day, they have, through their servants on earth round at the Met Office, clearly indicated that, should we dare set forth from Whitby today, Saturday, they will unleash their wrath in the form of a Force 6, set it on ‘the nose’, make it ‘variable’ and throw in some thunder and lightening to boot. Goodness, once more.

The aggregate of all that lot means that we, in clear deference to those deities and their warnings, should stay in port. We intend to do just that.  Unfortunately, the corollary to an unexpected day in port is that Duncs (he of the culinary skills set) has decided that he will bring forward the RYA Yachtmaster theory exam. Goodness, I echo. That’s a full 4 days early.  We start at 10:30 and it lasts for several hours.

Wish me luck.


Whitby, from what I’ve seen, at sea level, looks to be quite a nice place. Post-exam I shall explore, particularly a hostelry called The Jolly Sailor, a nom de plume I have used for several years. It would be churlish not to put my head round the door.

Wish me luck.

Note  – The Gallery and tracking map have both been updated.


June 6 & 7, Day 62/63

Short n Sweet.

Amble to Newcastle (for the Brown, of course)

Neil, as Skipper for the day (or, as Duncs likes to call it, First Mate) insisted on an early rise to leave Amble (recall, without an ‘Aitch’) en route for Newcastle.

North Shields, to be more precise, and the Royal Quay marina. Very  neat but not as Royal as the harbour we’d left behind in Edinburgh.

Arrived shortly before mid-day and spent some time un-jamming a jammed block, whipping a few sheet-ends and bunging up a leaking transom drainage pipe, all nauticalia, of course.

Lunch was simple and it was heads-down planning for a few intensive days ahead to get into London on time.


Having just left Scotland I did want to mention just how friendly and welcoming the people were. All the way round, from West to East, I cannot recall coming across anyone who wasn’t polite, courteous and willing to say “Hello” or offer help where it was needed. Thank you Scotland and good luck in whatever you decide for yourselves in the referendum – Vote “Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No, Sometimes Maybe’.


That’s all I have to offer today. Writers’ Block.

Off to Whitby tomorrow under Allan’s leadership.






June 5th, Day 61

Because it doesn’t have an Aitch in it!

Eyemouth to Amble

We left Eyemouth at 10am after me having given the team a briefing on Estimated Positioning.

We left on the ebb of the EyeWash river (I am not making that up) and out into the cool North Sea, clouded in low cloud and some mist. However, there was a good breeze so we hoisted the sails and off we went at a good clip. Well, 7knots.

Our destination was a short hop to Amble. No, not Hamble, but Amble because it doesn’t have an Aitch in it. The Americans would be confused, at this point, as they are convinced that the word ‘Herb’ does not have an aitch either and hence they say “Erb”. Ivy League education for you…

As with yesterday, the rains came and soaked Allan and I once more. Neil, cannily, was below planning our arrival into London (as it does take some planning, given the multiple channels and sheer weight of traffic). It became clear that those same rain gods from yesterday have no respect for the fact that, today, I was in charge.

Duncs, also down below, was planning his surprise Man-Over-Board drills. Of which, today, we completed 3. A very testing manoeuvring skill, especially with a strong tide.  We need to work on this skill over the next few weeks, clearly.

The journey was brightened by the arrival of a House Martin who, seemingly exhausted, came and perched, unafraid, on our safety lines for a period of time. See Gallery. At least, I think its a House Martin. Maybe the soul of some long lost sailor… (“Too deep, Tony. Too deep, lighten up”)

Landed at Amble in time for dinner and a rest.

We are due to leave tomorrow, at 7am, for Newcastle. Or, as Moyna pointed out, Hen Party Central on a Thursday night. I do believe that I will stay in my cabin, with the doors locked and lights out, until they pass or pass-out, which ever is the sooner.


June 4th, (D) Day 60 ?