Other PicoMicroYacht

Sunday, 13 November 2016

No Man is an Island

PicoMicroYacht is most useful in estuaries and venturing out to sea carefully, but the UK rivers also beckon. So the other day PicoMicroYacht set off down the river Wey from the navigable source at Godalming, going to where it joins the Thames at Weybridge.

Whilst the Thames has grandeur the Wey can be described as a pretty river, peaceful and tranquil in parts.

In times gone past the Wey connected the Thames to the South Coast via a canal system called the Wey and Arun Canal, now defunct, but romanticised as a 'London's lost route to the sea.'


As I was about to start, a professional photographer had just come up river and was setting up his camera for a shoot. He waited for just the right light and we chatted a little.

I had to get the hang of the locks again but soon I was away and rowing down towards Guildford. The river was slow and still, like a mirror, and the trees a beautiful mixture of yellows, greens, browns and oranges.

Very soon I was at the St Catherine's footbridge and hearing on the radio that there was about to be two minutes silence to remember the war dead.  It was 11 am on the 11th of November, as we know, the time the First World War ended.

Just as I heard the announcement there was large bang and some local person had marked the start by shooting a gun, doing so again two minutes later. I halted PicoMicroYacht by the bridge during the 'silence.'

St Catherine's footbridge, technically called 'The Ferry Bridge' and replacing a ferry.

On reaching Guildford, I stopped at the Dapdune Wharf, now used a barge museum. The kind receptionist completed my permit form and allowed me to use their facilities, although they were really closed for the season.

One of the Barges at Dapdune Wharf, Guildford

As the day continued I was eventually at Newark lock and PicoMicoYacht was pulled into the rushes to hide for the night, the next day finishing the voyage.

The River Wey was used by barges for transport to Guildford as far back as the 17th Century. At the time, the English Poet, John Donne lived by the river, his most famous poem 'No Man is an Island' written in 1624.

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The philosophy in this poem still stands in these Brexit times.

In a clip below it is sung by a choir, but using different a version with similar sentiments, written by Joan Witney and Alex Kramer. It accompanies a short portion of my trip along the beautiful river Wey.

No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man’s joy is joy to me
Each man’s grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend

No man is an island far out in the blue
We all look to One above
Who our strength doth renew
When I help my brother, then I know that I
Plant the seeds of friendship
That will never die

I saw the people gather
I heard the music start
The song that they were singing
Is ringing in my heart

No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man’s joy is joy to me
Each man’s grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Symphony of Grey on the East Coast: Havengore Creek

The East Coast can be a symphony of grey if there is cloud cover and this was certainly the case for my next voyage.

Extending my East Coast voyaging, the plan was to row from Burnham on Crouch through the river Roach and out through a narrow exit called Havengore Creek into the wider Thames Estuary. Then I would row west to finish at Southend.

The Map from the excellent Charman, Cooper and Holness East Coast Pilot shows the route

The river Roach is a quintessential East Coast region, beautiful, flat and desolate, with muddy moody creeks, peaceful and austere at the same time. It is flanked towards the sea by Foulness Island, used by the Ministry of Defence for testing missiles, torpedoes and ballistics.  Here wildlife flourish and the area is a haven to colonies of  bird, such oystercatchers, avocets, little egrets and Brent geese whose claim to their wintering grounds was an argument for not putting a replacement to Heathrow there in the 1970s . You can only complete the journey to the Thames Estuary when the MoD have ceased firing and can pass through Havengore Creek.

PicoMicroYacht was to exit the Burnham Marina at 5.30 am. But there was  a hitch. The tide was almost  fully out and the bottom 50 feet of the steep slipway was covered in a thin layer of slippery mud. with insufficient grip to walk, let alone control the boat.  So I tied all my halyards together, drove my car down to the mud and used the ropes to do the semi-equivalent of abseiling down the slipway with the trailer.

This was working, but at the bottom, the mud thickened and the wheels started to dig in. I was running out of rope, so I pushed the boat off the trailer on to the mud in order for it to sit there whilst I clambered on. But I lost control and PicoMicroYacht drifted slowly across the mud into the marina, not tethered.

Whilst PicoMicroYacht drifted around and I worried about it going into the river, I then slowly pulled myself up the slipway with the rope, with the trailer in tow. I then rushed to a pontoon entrance to catch PicoMicroYacht, but then realised it was locked and I did not have the code.

Understandably, no one was around and I was getting desperate, with visions of having to call the coast guard and report my boat drifting down the Crouch.  But then I saw three men in dry suits getting ready to go, I think divers. The conversation went like this (in the dark):

"er. I am launching my dinghy but it slipped and it is now loose in the marina and I need to get onto the pontoons'

A reasonable story, but somewhat suspicious in the dark, with me wearing my favourite 'hoody.'

As I spoke I realised I needed some credibility, but the only thing I could think of was to take my personal locator beacon out of my pocket and fiddle with it as I spoke. They looked me up and down.

Fortunately they gave me the code and I trotted off onto the pontoon. PicoMicroYacht had drifted close and with the help of a strategically left long oar from another boat, I was able to coax it in.

When I entered the Crouch, my delay meant after a mile the tide turned against me and I hugged the bank until I reached the Roach.

It is here that HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship, served her last watch, stationed just inside the Roach on the lookout for smugglers. Later on the Beagle was laid to rest on a muddy bank further up the Roach, found recently to be about seven metres down in the mud.

A drawing of the likely appearance of the moored Beagle on the Roach, with top masts removed

 I turned into the Roach and doubled my speed as the tide was now my favour.

Some seals started to track me, inquisitive and also nervous if I stopped to view them.

It did not seem to take long to reach Havengore Creek, which connects the Roach's creeks to the Thames Estuary.

This creek has longstanding intrigue and mystery associated with it. In the novel 'Chance' by Joseph Conrad, a villain called Powell keeps mysteriously disappearing from the Thames estuary until the hero, Marlow, eventually hunts him down.

'I don't think he ever wanted to avoid me. But it is a fact that he used to disappear out of the river in a very mysterious manner sometimes... Then as suddenly he would reappear in the river, after one had given him up... The fellow used to run into one of these narrow tidal creeks on the Essex shore. These creeks are so inconspicuous that till I had studied the chart pretty carefully, I did not know of their existence.'

Normally you radio the keeper to request the Havengore Bridge be lifted, this bridge connecting Foulness Island to the mainland. So I did this on channel 72 but to my surprise the same 'divers'  as earlier radioed back to say I was too early.

But then I saw that the boom under the bridge was sufficiently high to get under if I dropped my mast.

I was now through and entering the Thames Estuary. I had to row another mile and half before I had sufficient depth to row easily. PicoMicoYacht was floating in about nine inches of water for about a mile.

Out to sea, it really was a Symphony of Grey with the sea and sky in harmony. A  few beacons mark part of the Broomway, an ancient track across the mudflats used at low tide to link up Foulness Island with the mainland before they built the Havengore bridge.

This ancient track has only really a few posts for guidance and relies on local knowledge to stop the unwary visitor being disorientated and caught by the tide. Much of the track is done by dead reckoning and involves walking on semi-soft sand or mud avoiding the hidden craters made by Ministry of Defence shells.

Why the Broomway needs local knowledge

Robert Macfarlane walking the Broomway for a chapter in his classic book The Old Ways. 
The photographer David Quentin is a local guide

I turned westward and settled into the four mile row to Shoeburyness, also going through a gap in a long defence boom, built in 1944 to stop submarines and shipping going up the Thames Estuary.

When I got through there were notices warning me of the dangers I had avoided by prudently going at the right time.

Finally, I was at Southend. Out to sea the Symphony of Grey was still being played as the sun started to poke through.

I enquired at the Thorpe Bay Yacht club as to whether I could leave PicoMicroYacht in their boat park. A group were clustered around a Sandhopper, a tri-keeled small racing keel boat. One of them, Martin Bennindyke, showed me where to go, extending their kindly hospitality by giving me a lift to the train station.

Symphony of Grey Video
The creek was deserted but for a following seal - eventually the sea seemed to merge with the sky and was in harmony with itself

Navigation notes:

The plan was to use the last of the tide for three miles down the river Crouch  to reach the Roach at slack water. Then entering the Roach, the incoming tide would pick up and I would get to Havengore Bridge and take a break knowing that the bridge is only opened two hours or less before high tide. In practice, because of my delay launching, I was late going into the Roach and I arrived only slightly early. The water runs up the Roach and the various creeks and only starts to change direction in Havengore Creek when the tide eventually crosses the Maplin sands and starts coming in from outside the creek. This happens about one hour before high tide, so I was able to exit the Havengore Creek before the tide turned against me. I  then picked up the west going tide up the Thames Estuary to Southend, arriving exactly at high tide.

Low tide on the Crouch: 5.30 am
High tide in the Roach: about 12.30 pm
High tide Southend: about 12:30

Monday, 10 October 2016

PicoMicroYacht's worse lookout blunder

The plan was to exit the river Avon  Estuary past Bigbury on Sea in Devon and make use of an easterly  tide to help PicoMicoyacht down to Plymouth.

The upper reaches of the Avon Estuary are a delightful spot, with wooded slopes and tranquil waters. Except that I had chosen to set off in the middle of a smorgasbord of paddle boarders and sit on top kayaks who had the same idea of launching at high tide.

Added to this this a strap from my lifejacket kept jamming in my seat wheel mechanism (I have fixed this now). As I drifted along trying not to curse whilst I extracted the strap and avoided ploughing into one of the small boaters I missed some of  the awesomely relaxing landscape

Soon the delightful thatched boathouse at the bottom of the estuary appeared.

Finally I was outside the harbour, passing Burgh Island, where Agatha Christie wrote many of her novels. The hotel she used does murder mystery weekends these days.

PicoMicroYacht quickly crossed Bigbury Bay and passed Beacon point where the locals had gathered to watch the Spanish Armada as they passed close to the shore,

The plotted course across Bigbury Bay

PicoMicroYacht was soon approaching the Mewstone outside Plymouth. 

A strong headwind met PicoMicroYacht as it entered Plymouth harbour and I hunkered down, rowing against it at a solid pace, made more difficult by wearing my hood to keep my head warm

I was looking at a square rigged training ship on my starboard bow, weighing anchor and raising sails. I then turned to look to port and there in front of me was a smallish police rib with three officers crammed on board. The the conversation went like this:

"have you seen what is coming?"

Answer: "What is it?"

"there is a large ship coming"

Answer: "Where?"

I peered over my right shoulder and saw a large freighter with two tugs fussing around it and two police launches quite close and bearing down on me.

"We just wanted to know that you have seen it" said the police officer rather plaintively.

It was the MoD Police Marine Unit, here seen testing out their small and versatile ribs,
real gentlemen

It had been my worse navigational and lookout blunder. I had assumed that the east side of the harbour would be free from major traffic, but actually the dredged main channel sweeps round those parts. The tugs were there to keep the freighter on course.

The good thing about Picomicroyacht is that it can turn on a sixpence and it is amazing how quick it can to get up to maximum boat speed if pushed.

Rip Hudner, the Nassau registered freighter, nearly my nemesis

The harbour map - Rip Hudner was encountered a third of the way up on the chart

Postscript: It turns out that the somewhat unusual name is because the ship owner's son, Rip Hudner, was killed in a high speed car crash, his father naming the ship after him.

Friday, 16 September 2016

How big a boat do you need?

According to the great yacht designer and writer, Uffa Fox, a person should have a foot of boat length for every year of their age.

But I don't believe he really meant this because when aged 50 years he was writing about the need for him to upgrade from racing 12 to 14 foot dinghies to using an 18 foot dinghy, the Jollyboat, which he designed.  He was also sailing small boats later on than this, including with Prince Phillip and his son, Prince Charles.

Anyway, I digress. I found another rule of thumb in a charming book called 'Dinghy Cruising' by A. G. Earl, a classic book of this type of genre, written towards the end of the Second World War.   His view is that for single-handing  dinghy cruising the overall length of the boat should be between ten and thirteen feet and the length of the boat should be equal to the weight of the crew in stone (what about if you are 14 stone or more -  no matter!). His reasons cited are being able to use weight to keep the boat upright and having the strength to pull the boat up a rough beach. A. G. Earl knew his stuff and was doing the same adventures of  PicoMicroYacht, but 80 years ago in a ten foot open clinker sailing boat, as shown below.  A brave man, given his boat.

A. G. Earl with an illustration of his 10 foot clinker dinghy

So how does PicoMicroYacht match up? Well, 11.5 feet translates into 11.5 stone or 73 kilograms. This roughly matches the weight of PicoMicroYacht's crew.

By the way, digressing again,  that generation knew a thing or two, being much more adventurous in dinghies. Quoting directly from the Class Boat Museum website about Uffa Fox:

UFFA Fox designed many fast racing dinghies during the 1920’s and 30’s. 
The most successful of these, which still has large fleets worldwide, is probably the 14 footer. 
Amongst the many famous names of these dinghies is his own Avenger - sail no. 135 – in which he won the Prince of Wales Cup at Lowestoft in 1928.

Five years later, with crew of Bob and Spike, he made an extraordinary voyage in July   1933 when they sailed Avenger across the Channel from Cowes to take part in a regatta in Le Havre, sailing for 29 hours, bailing much of the way.
Once there they took part in the last two days of racing, winning


K135 Avenger, and Uffa in Le Havre after Channel crossing, July, 1933
on the last two days of racing, winning on both days, and then left on 14th July, taking 37 hours to sail home, breakfasting at Seaview in the dawn. 

They arrived off Ryde just in time to race in the Regatta there, but were too tired to do more than come third.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Keep Turning Right (well ... sometimes left)

In my mind the best blogger of small boats is Dylan Winter, whose accounts of sailing round the UK in a Mirror Offshore and other boats are legendary. His blog title 'keepturningleft' is no doubt influenced by his political views, or is it that he is just circumnavigating the UK anti-clockwise?


Dylan has it all. Firstly he has the necessary wit, eccentricity and quirkiness; secondly, he has all the blogging skills, being a BBC cameraman,  a naturalist and writer. A perfect combination.

Whilst Dylan keeps going left in bits, mostly on the East Coast, my mission is to keep going, but with  no political ambition - I am just drawn the South Coast and South West, so it makes sense to turn right,  whilst he is drawn to the great East Anglia coastline of his youth, with the amazing wildlife.

Dylan's Mirror Offshore, that he called the Slug after it's great looks and speed capabilities.

But I am having a go at the East Coast, still Turning Right by going up the Thames Estuary on the north shore, this time from Thorpe Bay to the small Two River Island, near Leigh on Sea, which I did yesterday.

I started opposite the Isle of Grain, where the power station is being decommissioned and the great 801 foot chimney was having it's last day. A lone cyclist stopped to photographic it with me, lamenting the end of the landmark, although I prefer the coast to be desolate and flat.

The Grain Tower from the Thorpe Bay Yacht Club on it's last day - photographed in the evening.

A grey overcast sky surrounded me as PicoMicroYacht was launched. A lazily moving finishing boat seemed to be stalking PicoMicroYacht as we headed off towards the Southend Pier.

The pier has to be appreciated from the water, the pier head being 1.34 miles from the land.

The next stage was to row up to Canvey Island - looking round I saw some large boats coming down the estuary, the sky especially gloomy but atmospheric.

I was soon at the Two Tree Island and pulling PicoMicoYacht up the slipway. The island was surrounded by salt marshes and abandoned boats, some of which blended into the landscape.

Postscript - the chimney went down as this post was prepared - here is it happening.

Postscript - From Dylan:
 'shucks! and I am full of admiration for your no frills voyaging. Goodonya.'
Thanks Dylan!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Dover to Dungeness and the Kindness of Strangers

The sea can seem to bring out the best in people, which was certainly my experience on my 26th August voyage to Dungeness.

Image result for map sea dover dungeness

The plan was to leave Dover at Mid-day, and catch the tide down to Folkestone and strike out towards the Dungeness headland.

Before I launched a frail man in a wheel chair offered to keep an eye on it whilst I quickly got a sandwich and another man helped me down the steep ramp to launch the boat in the harbour, interrupting his can of cider.

Two teenagers then helped the boat into the water whilst I clambered in and got the oars set to row off.

The port authority cleared me to leave and I was exiting through the western entrance keeping a good distance from the pier heads.

Just outside the tidal stream from the harbour meets that going down the channel and makes the water rough.

But it was a neap tide and there was little wind, which meant it calmer, with only a subdued but latent menacing sea.

The tidal stream was reasonable strong and soon I was off Folkestone resetting the SatNav for Dungeness and then a long voyage across the bay, empty of ships.

A yacht sailing close into Folkestone  to avoid the tide going in the opposite direction

As the afternoon wore on the sea was getting more misty as a gentle wind helped me along the way.

As I got closer to Dungeness I saw two little sails along the shore line and realised this must mean a sailing club, a place to beach PicoMicroYacht. It had been a five hour row.

Soon I was rowing the last bit over the lengthy sands that are covered at high tide. As I got close to the shore the two dinghies were still there, with youngish crews learning to sail.

A man in a wetsuit was standing in the water and  he walked out towards me. He introduced himself as Paul and I explained to him where I had come from. He turned out to be the Varne Boat Club treasurer and he said he would get some help.

A group of people got the boat out of the water an into a secure compound. I was a bit relieved, feeling the effects of the five hours rowing and glad to not have to pull PicoMicroYacht up the steep shingle beach on my own. Later on I met a friendly crowd in the bar.

I chatted to two lifeboat men from the neighbouring Littlestone on Sea lifeboat station. They told me about their large rib lifeboat, an Atlantic 75. It looked quite fun to go in the rib, but then I was thinking that saving people off Dungeness in the winter is a serious business and they potentially risk their lives.

The Atlantic 75

Image result for littlestone lifeboat

The Varne Boat Club - a very friendly place to visit.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Puzzling Twin Peaks and Passing Old Harry in the Dark

I am getting to understand the tides a little better, but as you get more into tides they get more puzzling and mysterious.

The plan was to set off from Christchurch and voyage across Poole Bay to the Old Harry Rocks and then on to Swanage.

I would set off at 8.00 pm on Sunday 14th August and the tide would take me across Poole bay (starting at the bottom of the map).

The water enters Christchurch harbour via the 'run,' a narrow channel  through which vast quantities of water  must squeeze, impossible to go against in PicoMicroYacht. So I was expecting not to get out of the harbour until 8.00 pm when it was high tide. But when I arrived and set the boat up by 6.30, most of the water seemed to be in the harbour and I could set off.

Later I checked what  had happened and the tidal chart revealed three interesting but very puzzling phenomena.

Firstly, for each tide there is a mini 'stand' with twin peaks.  I have to admit I don't fully understand this mysterious double tide, but there is a description of what happens by Dr Ivan Haigh, a tidal expert from the University of Southampton, about 20 miles from Christchurch:

Apparently it is 'the combined effects of water sloshing across the Atlantic (a bit like in your bath) and spinning round because of the rotation of the Earth; this causes the water to slosh around a point which in fact is inland. When the tide ‘comes in’ water travels up along the coast but can’t navigate the corner into the North Sea and is reflected back down the coast.' He says it is not due to the proximal Isle of Wight. 

All I can recommend to understand this is sloshing water round the bath with a few objects in it; the sloshes might reveal that the height anywhere in the bath isn't a simple function of the water just moving along it and back.

Secondly, at neaps (not too much tide), the second peak is higher than the first, whilst at Springs (lots of tide), the second peak is lower than the first ... puzzling and I cannot find an explanation.

But I have just also noticed that every other twin peak high tide is larger ... even more puzzling.

So it there is anyone out there reading this who can explain any of this, please comment?

But I am not so exercised about the tides, and there are some things as a sailor you can just accept as fact; PicoMicroYacht took advantage of being able to exit a little earlier at 6.30 pm because the tide had stopped rushing in the entrance.

PicoMicroYacht was quickly out of the harbour. On a spit by the entrance I passed some of the most expensive beach huts one can imagine, a recent one selling for £260.00.00 - they have no toilets or washing facilities and shared shower block

As I traversed along the spit, a rich owner paddleboaded out to me to say hello and ask me about PicoMicroYacht.

Soon I was out into Poole Bay, looking back to see Hengistbury Head, on which are the remains of an iron age fort.

The sea was calm and I had been stemming the tide for over any hour until it turned in my favour. As the sun set and the sky darkened I looked across to Bournemouth.

It now now darkened quickly and I was across the bay approaching the Old Harry Rocks, looming out in the darkness. These chalk rock that sticks out into Poole Bay could be seen faintly in the moonlight but defied my photography. It is at this point you have look out for ships going pass Old Harry to go in and out of Poole Harbour, including high speed ferries.

As I was lining up to go past the rocks I spotted a light in the sky and a green navigation light more at sea level, just below it.

The white light was on the top of a tall mast and the green light was on the bow, indicating it was going to the right of me.  It was a large yacht motoring quite close to me as a I rowed to ensure I was out of the way, taking no risks. I could hear the crew talking to each other over the sound of their engine. I hoped they were looking ahead properly.

The yacht had distracted me and I looked round to see I was being swept through the race, a bit bumpy but not dangerous with no wind and a neap tide.

Soon I was in Swanage bay and looking for the sailing club to land, arriving just on midnight.

The next day the friendly bosun of the club chatted about boats as PicoMicroYacht  was taken from the beach.