Other PicoMicroYacht

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ocean Rowing versus the PicoMicroYacht

I have sometimes wondered why the ocean rowing boats are not seen cruising around the coast, enjoying inshore waters. Occassionally PicoMicroYacht has been out there when they are training, but mainly in a harbour or estuary.

Instead of battling it out in the mid-Atlantic, a pleasant cruise would be to coastal hop, using the boat’s cabin for a comfortable night’s sleep in a safe harbour, ready for the next day’s row.

The windage of an ocean rowing boat (James Adair and Ben Stenning's Indian Ocean voyaging boat)

I have come to the conclusion why ocean rowing boats are  not used for coastal hopping is that they  have too much windage relative to the power generated by rowing. The hull and the cabin act as a sail and an ocean rowing boat can be quickly blown downwind.

To counteract this, rowers either make supreme efforts to row against wind or in strong winds deploy a parachute anchor, using the water to halt movement whilst resting until the wind is more favourable.

Jamie Fitzgerald’s philosophy is to keep rowing even if your GPS is saying you are going nowhere

But these are less feasible options for inshore waters, where a boat might be blown onto a lee shore and the safety distances are much less. Also manoeuvrability is compromised without having substantial forward power.

In reality, ocean rowing boats tend to choose routes in which the prevailing winds and currents push them forwards. If not, the rowers experience trials and tribulations battling against the wind.

For example, the British pair James Adair and Ben Stenning set off from Western Australia to row to Mauritius, crossing the Indian Ocean.  They had huge difficulty getting away from Australia because of the prevailing head winds and only succeeded by very determined effort.

When they arrived at Mauritius, despite best effort, the wind blew them away from their port and they ended up being shipwrecked on a coral reef, nearly losing their lives.

James and Ben had swim for their lives when they hit the coral reef and their boat was being smashed up. Extraordinarily, they swam through a gap in the reef and were rescued sitting on the coral.

One advantage of the PicoMicroYacht is that it has very low topsides, such that the windage is at a minimum.

PicoMicroYacht crossing the English Channel - rowing against 10 to 20 mile an hour winds - additionally, small sails help provide lift and counteracted the wind effect

In fact, this made is possible for a middle-aged, not terrible fit, rower to cross the English Channel, rowing for seven hours against the wind.

PicoMicroYacht can dodge the rocks without too much danger - in lighter winds.

Of course, there is no comfortable cabin to sleep in at the end of the day and all the ‘dry’ equipment has to be kept in dry bags.

PicoMicroYacht will not be crossing Oceans but will continue to enjoy the beautiful waters around the Islands off Western Europe.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Good luck matey!

PicoMicroYacht was far enough west to be in Cornwall, where the ports change in character and become more distinctive.

I was leaving Looe, which has about 60 fishing boats and a thriving fishing industry.

The tide was ebbing from the harbour and I was soon just outside.

The plan was to leave Looe at slack water in the channel, go round St George’s Island, and use the tide to row down to Fowey.

I read not to go between the island and the mainland because of the rocky reefs. But the sea was comparatively calm, there was tidal clearance, and fishing boats were doing just that.

Soon St George’s (Looe) Island was receding into the distance. To the south of the Island are the Ranneys, a group of rocks, and an underwater reef that causes quite nasty overfalls.

I looked inland and could see cattle on the cliffs – their sound was reassuring and pastoral.

They were wandering all over the landscape.

Out to sea there were some larger boats.

It wasn’t a long trip and after a few hours I was rowing into Fowey.

A canoeist was coming out, skirting the rocks, and I couldn’t help but notice he was not wearing a life jacket.

Fowey can be best seen from the water where the slightly ramshackle but equally civilised buildings are quite striking.

Soon I was nearing the slipway, opposite the car ferry

I met two friendly fishermen unloading their catch on the slipway.

The skipper got into conversation, curious about the way PicoMicroYacht was kitted up – he seemed somewhat curious about me coming from Looe and also have rowed from Salcombe. Turning to the other fisherman:

 'See here this gentleman has come from Looe, from Salcombe and all..'

They earn their living crabbing. They use quite a modest boa, with a large hole in the starboard side t to transfer their crabs to the shore. He reassured me that this was part of the gunnel missing, the rest of the boat solid.

They go all round the coast in it, also down to Dodman point, a rough place to be.

As they drove off, the other fisherman waved and said ‘good luck matey.’

Sunday, 3 September 2017

More mud, the vagaries of the tides and an encounter with danger

On a previous occasion, on the Medway, PicoMicroYacht had to be punted across the mud to reach the Commodore Hard. This was planned. But on this occasion a further experience of the mudflat was not planned.

The idea was to row between Littlestone-on-Sea and Rye, going round Dungeness. I was to start at the Varne Boat and Social Club.

This club has a reputation for being very friendly and welcoming, a pleasant sheltered place to go sailing and fishing They are also a leading watersports club with the moto 'Age is no barrier - the fun starts where the land ends.' PicoMicroYacht would echo that sentiment.

 The Varne Boat Club beach shown at high tide.

Because Dungeness sticks out into the English Channel, the sea can be choppy, so a day with a neap tide and low wind was chosen. Also, the Lydd firing range was not in action.

The tides in this part of the world are somewhat complicated. One reason is a sort of watershed in which the tide runs up the English Channel and simultaneously down the North Sea, meeting off the South East of England.

A normal watershed is the highest bit where the two flows come together and from where the water will then subside in different directions, back where it came from.

But there is a complication because the English Channel also funnels as it reaches the narrow part near Dover. The tide slops over into the North Sea, subsiding back west down the English Channel later than expected.

For this reason at Littlestone-on-Sea the tide starts to ebb down the English Channel about four hours after high tide.

I mention this because my plan was to leave Littlestone-on-Sea about three hours after high tide and stem the last of the east-going tide as I headed southwest down the English Channel.

Three hours was too optimistic because the tidal height by then had reduced too much to launch PicoMicroYacht.  The sandy beach at high tide gave way to mudflats and the sea was receding fast.

But I had a go at pulling PicoMicroYacht across the mudflats, which was successful until I was about 40 yards from the sea. At that point, my back twinged and I had to stop, not wanting to risk damaging it.

PicoMicroYacht stranded on the mudflat with the sea receding

As the sea receded further I sat in the boat contemplating what to do and almost immediately rain clouds formed  just off the coast and there was heavy rain. I took shelter, lying under my boat cover. But then it started to thunder with lightning hitting the sea. I became worried as this was getting nearer and PicoMicroYacht felt very exposed.

Looking back to the shore as the rain clouds came in

I decided to walk to the shore. I was fairly confident of safety. On the way out I had been dragging the boat along a near-dried shallow stream which had a hard bottom caused by the way in which it washed the sand down from the higher part of the beach. If I stuck to this stream bed I could retrace my steps safely. But I went very slowly and carefully. It was all a compacted sand and mud mixture.

However, when I arrived back on land I found out there had been concern that I might have fallen into a mud hole.

A man from the lifeboat station shop said:

‘I was looking out for you using my binoculars. When I couldn’t see you I was worried something had happened. The mud is very soft ..... people have died out at there, even a horse....’ 

He must have looked when I lying under the boat cover. I apologied for not radioing the coastguard.

I now had to wait for the tide to go out and start coming in again. I sat there enjoying the sea view and called the coastguard explaining my situation.

I was not too worried about the mud on my return to PicoMicoYacht because of knowing about the compacted sand along the stream bed. 

Just in case, I went holding my portable VHF radio with my lifejacket on and and remembering what to do if stuck in quicksand. I told someone on the balcony of the Varne Boat Club what I was doing before I left.

The mud stretched for miles, illuminated by the large skyscape.

I got there safely and waited for the tide, contemplating this beautiful landscape whilst listening to the oystercatchers. Inspired by the French sculpture Auguste Rodin, I took another photograph.

A helicopter flew close over the head, having a look at me to check I was alright. I resisted waving, in case this was misinterpreted.

The sea was coming in fast now.

When it came in I slowly drifed to the shore as the sun began to set.

On my return someone from the Varne Boat Club helped me pull PicoMicroYacht up their ramp and also gave me a cup of tea.I met Paul Fowler, the treasurer, and chatted briefly about my experiences.

What should I do if stuck in mud? I found this good advice on Wikihow – how to get out of quicksand.


Or this video here, which illustrates how cautious one should be. This is more of a warning video rather than what to do - don't have nightmares watching this!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Being at the Wrong Place at the Right Time

The plan was to go from Eastbourne to Newhaven,  via Beachy Head, a voyage of about 15 miles along the Sussex Coast.

I was to start one hour before Dover high tide and planned to take about five hours, passing Beachy Head at about slack water.

The sea state was calm and there was a very gentle wind from the Southeast, so it looked like a smooth voyage for PicoMicroYacht. 

PicoMicroYacht was rigged at the Eastbourne Sovereign Sailing club and as I put the masts up I chatted briefly with Mick Harper, the club Vice President,.

Soon I was out on the water, passing the Eastbourne Pier with its contraversial cupola, painted gold by the flamboyant hotelier who recently restored the pier.

Looking at the chart, I realised that there was an inside passage past Beachy Head, going inside a race, as indicated by the chart. But a local sailor advised not going too close past Beachy Head because of an underwater reef that juts out from there.

So I decided to take a wide berth and go approximately outside the race area. Nevertheless, on the way from Eastbourne I went quite close to the Hollywell Bank seen on this map in the centre.

I could see a stationary bow wave from a passing ship breaking on this bank about a hundred metres away from me. I sat there observing the phenomenon.

As I got opposite the Beachy Head lighthouse, I realised a ship had gone ahead using the inner passage. Further out the sea was choppy, as I rowed just outside the race area.

A military helicopter flew along the cliffs and just over the lighthouse. I wondered what exercise it was on.

Moving on, I looked back at the high Beachy Head. As Nicholas Crane has said 'chalk is one of England's emblems' and the cliffs round here are as iconic as the white cliffs of Dover.

Onwards, I saw the Seven Sisters, the  set of cliffs between Beachy Head and the charming small cove, Cuckmere Haven, in the distance.

Soon I was approaching Newhaven and passing Seaford, with its Martello Tower, a defensive fort built between 1806 and 1810 to protect England from the Napoleonic French. The one rotating cannon was facing out to sea as it would have been all those years ago.

The long pier of Newhaven was infront of me, with the sun setting in the west.

Newhaven is a working port and there were many ships moving around, including those ferrying worker to  the new wind farm further down the coast, the cross channel ferry and the fishing boats.

There was a twist to this story. Two days later, a chemical toxic haze rolled in from the sea covering the  area I had rowed through. It brought nausea, sore eyes and hospital treatment for about 150 people. I dread to think what it would have been like breathing in the fumes and trying to row..

It remains a mystery as to the cause, but I was so glad I was at the wrong place at the right time on this occasion.