At last, we’re ready to join the East Coast Gaffers Summer Cruise. The boat’s fitted out, had a ‘shake down’ sail and we have crew, but the weather looks less than promising! Simon and Ricarda arrive to depart the Tidemill at noon, Friday 23 July.
We motor down to Waldringfield to pick up buoy no. 221, next to ‘Kestrel’ who we’ll sail in company with tomorrow. Sadly, our other crew member, Leigh, is ill and won’t be able to join us. Sitting on the buoy, the river’s flowing quite strongly but Steve, Simon and Ricarda decide to go ashore in the rubber dinghy.
It’s a challenging paddle, somewhat low in the water, across the tide to creep up the shore for a landing by the beach huts. They return after a bracing walk for a windy, overcast and rather chilly evening aboard.
On Saturday 24 July the forecast is for gusts force 5. We depart Waldringfield 0945 in company, both ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Cachalot’ under sail with reefed main in a light breeze, 3-4. As we approached Felixstowe Ferry the wind was increasing. James decided it was time for ‘plan C’, to drop all sails. Steve did the same and as we set out to cross the bar it was gusting 6-7 and certainly very bumpy! Staying close to the shingle shore and watching the depth, it seemed to take a long time before we could see the buoyed channel. There was a large container boat on the horizon. Bev watched the tilt to and fro of Cachalot’s cross-trees in the swell as we approached the shipping channel. Waiting in the aptly named Rolling Ground, we watched as the ship with pilot and two tugs slowed and two additional tugs came out.
It remained very choppy and lumpy as we finally crossed the shipping channel and looked out for Pye End Buoy at the start of buoyed channel to Stone Point.
Motor-sailing with staysail we caught the last of the flood into Walton Backwaters arriving at 1300 to anchor with ‘Charm’ and ‘Transcur’.
Steve put the outboard onto the dinghy and took Simon and Ricarda ashore while Bev cooked supper for everyone, filling our new cooking pot with kedgeree to eat on the beach. Simon returned to ferry Bev (and the supper) ashore.
There was a good turnout of gaffers by the evening: ‘Cachalot’, ‘Transcur’, ‘Charm’, ‘Witch’, ‘Plum’, ‘East Breeze’, ‘My Quest’, ‘Philomena’, ‘Kestrel’, ‘Rely’, ‘Crescent Moon’, Sue and Howard’s new Bermudan ketch ‘Souvenir’ and Mike’s motorboat ‘Tempus’.
At the briefing on the beach, the unanimous decision was to return to the Deben in the morning.
HW on Sunday at Woodbridge Haven is 1319 and Bev stays on ‘Kestrel’ to motor-sail back up the coast against wind and tide with only force 1-2 forecast. We lift anchors and the fleet departs 0945. James takes the ‘short cut’ round Landguard Point staying close to the beach and cuts the engine but has to motor again to round Cobbetts Point. The rest of the fleet stay further out, with ‘Cachalot’ looking good with main and foresails set. The fleet makes its way up the Deben to anchor at the Rocks in lovely bright sunshine, relaxing as the tide turns us around for a lazy afternoon swimming and enjoying the peace of the river.
Simon and Ricarda have to leave today so Steve takes them in the dinghy up to Waldringfield. Its a good test for the outboard as he’s against the tide both ways! With a bit of paddling, he makes it there and back.
The forecast looks bad, with stormy winds and strong gusts from Tuesday until Thursday. Not wanting to be trapped, the decision is for the fleet to return to the Backwaters.
We decide to stay in the Deben, rather than leave the boat in Ipswich if the weather remains bad until the end of the week.
On Monday, after a visit from ‘Rely’, we watch the last of the gaffer fleet disperse.
Steve brings in the bowsprit, cleans the decks and we leave at noon to motor back into the Tidemill at 1330.
It was disappointing not to stay with the fleet, but we enjoyed our week back in the Tidemill and don’t regret our decision. The stormy forecast was certainly accurate and we drove down to Ipswich on Saturday 31 July to join the final pontoon party before returning to Derbyshire.
After leaving the Tidemill on Monday, 12 July, Peter and Steve spent the night on Billy’s buoy at Ramsholt, enjoying supper and a tot of rum as they made plans for their passage to mark the first time Cachalot has been out of the River Deben since September 2006. HW at Woodbridge Haven buoy on Tuesday was 1416 so they waited on a buoy at Felixstowe Ferry for sufficient water and have a cuppa. Peter took the opportunity to try changing the depth sounder from ft. to m. and disabled the display completely! Fortunately, Steve managed to reset it, just before noon when they motored out of the river in very lumpy conditions. The sea-state remained poor, forcing them to motor along the coast to Harwich Harbour. Due to the poor conditions, they decided to come into the Orwell, taking a berth for the night at Suffolk Yacht Harbour, Levington and enjoying a meal ashore at the Lightship.
Wednesday found them enjoying a lovely sail up the Orwell to Ipswich, with reefed main and staysail, where Peter hoped to be able to purchase a fishing rod. They took a berth at Ipswich Haven Marina and made a foray into town. Departure into the lock on Thursday morning, resulted in some minor damage to the freeboard as Cachalot bumped the pontoon. Nothing serious though, on inspection it would just need a little rubbing down and coat of paint.
After sailing back down the Orwell into the River Stour, they took a buoy at Wrabness and Peter unpacked his new fishing rod. Tidying the sails, Steve noticed that the boom had slipped down the mast by about 3 inches! While Steve repaired the gooseneck, Peter fished from the stern: #1 catch, a large piece of seaweed, #2 a crab but third time lucky yielded a reasonable sized sea bass!
Friday 16 July dawned with fair winds and blue sky. HW at Woodbridge Haven was not until 1634 so they had plenty of time to enjoy a sail in Harwich Harbour. John, out on the Morecambe Bay Prawner fishermen’s lifeboat replica ‘William’ sailed down from Ipswich with a camera, resulting in a good collection of photos and video. Thankyou, John!
As the weather was so fine, Peter and Steve sailed back up the coast early afternoon, crossed the Deben Bar and sailed all the way up to Waldringfield. Touching the mud on the final tack could have ended badly, but Peter jumped on the rear deck and freed her in time to take in the sails and get back into the Tidemill in time for supper.
Since her launch in August, 2017, ‘Cachalot’ has been out of her berth and into the river on several occasions, but never actually left the Deben! In 2018 we had a late start, problems with the hull, no sails until July and there was still lots of ‘fitting out’ to be done. There were too many family commitments elsewhere in 2019 and last year we were all ‘locked down’! In searching the archive it’s nearly 15 years since she last crossed the Deben Bar. On 1 September, 2006 we returned from the OGA Classics Cruise, joined by Hedley, and sailed all the way up the river! Donna Morgan caught us on camera as we passed through Waldringfield . . . so, she’ll definitely be going out this year!
During a trip to Dartmouth in May, Steve acquired a beautiful winch from Steve M. He’d taken it off ‘Cormorant’ and was about to sell on eBay. It’s now securely fitted on the foredeck along with the cowl air vent over the forepeak cabin. Winches, kindly given to us by John and Jane, are also now set up with two pairs of clutches for the foresail sheets.
Below decks there was a radical tidy up, removing anything not required for a passage.
There’s now a secure place to keep the electric outboard, hooks for hanging wet gear and an improved area around the stove with places to stow all the essentials for cooking.
Steve cleaned the bilges and on checking the manual pump found it was totally seized and needed taking out, cleaning and re-fitting . . . in a particularly difficult place under the deck!
Looks like we’re all shipshape and ready to go! Peter is due to arrive on 12 July to join Steve for a first trip out of the river . . . then we hope to join the OGA East Coast cruise at the end of the month with more crew lined up.
At the end of July, we put the batteries back in the campervan and drove down to Woodbridge, Bev in the camper and Steve in the Freelander. Arriving quite late on 28 July, we left sorting out the van until morning and slept on the boat after a good supper cooked at home. We’d already got several invites for ‘socially distanced’ supper and/or drinks and as the weather brightened up, we looked forward to an enjoyable couple of weeks.
Bev was encouraged to go out in the little boat for a row upriver and back, Steve also found a lovely secluded little place to swim and tie up the dinghy opposite the Tidemill. We’ve also splashed out on a new electric outboard, still awaiting delivery from Germany.
The weather was truly scorching! Shorts, sunhats and suncream essential with 35 degrees in the shade for about a week. We enjoyed swimming in the river to cool down . . . and Steve scrubbed the topsides while we were moored on Bill’s buoy at Ramsholt.
The Tidemill barbecue was put to good use for entertaining, but Bev had forgotten to pack the gin, so there was ice, tonic and lemon but Steve missed the vital ingredient! It’s on the shopping list for next time.
‘Cachalot’ joined the OGA Deben Rally, 25 – 26 August 2019. This was our first event with the gaffers, and thanks go to Alistair for capturing us with all sails set. Two nights on a buoy at Waldringfield and a day sailing down to Felixstowe Ferry with James was all we had time for as we needed to drive up to Aberdeen for Ian’s funeral . . . it’s 600 miles from Woodbridge but we decided to leave at 0530 on Monday and do it in one day . . . Sunday was an early start too, leaving Waldringfield at 0600 to motor carefully upriver and just get over the bar at 0640.
With the aim of eight coats of varnish, Steve’s hoping to get one coat done each day with reasonably good drying weather, and not too much rain.
Conscious of plans to go sailing, he’s also had a big ‘tidy up’, removing spare timber etc., ready for sorting out as rubbish or storage at home.
Now we know the date of Simon & Ricarda’s wedding in Paris, Bev’s been trawling the Internet to secure the best options for our two trips to France. Trains and an apartment for the wedding ceremony and ferries with the van for the trip to the party are now booked, hopefully allowing sufficient time down in Woodbridge to finish fitting out ready to go sailing at the end of July . . .
In between preparation and coats of varnish, Steve’s also been thinking hard about options for the chart plotter, and has come up with an ingenious plan for a swinging bracket allowing it to be used inside and out . . . rain has set in again though, forcing him to revise the varnishing schedule!
People keep asking when we’re going out sailing . . . and there’s always an excuse! Tide is wrong, still fitting out, too much wind, no wind, rig isn’t ready, mainsail isn’t bent on yet, no time to get out/in over the Tidemill bar, we’ve got to be in Derbyshire . . . Is what Rik said proving to be true? ‘Now we will find out if Steve is a boatbuilder or a sailor!’ Or is it Bev, who quite likes pottering around in Woodbridge and the surrounding area?
After ten years in the tent and the van, there are lots of reasons for us to just enjoy being on our boat, in the water, doing the ‘fitting out’ and getting her ‘shipshape’. Actually living on her this summer, without needing to have the van as a ‘back up’, has been great! Her interior is really taking shape. We’ve had lots of visitors, and can repay some of the hospitality we’ve had over the past ten years. But, she’s a sailing boat, not just a houseboat, and we have got some lovely new sails. So we check the tides and go for a night out in the river on a calm weekend 28-29 September. Thankyou, Bill, for the loan of your mooring buoy at Ramsholt. On Saturday morning, who did we see but ‘Kestrel’, sailing downriver and surprised to find us out of the Tidemill at last!
We needed to be back in the Tidemill to meet Baz on Saturday afternoon to discuss the winter covers, measure up and plan a schedule for getting everything done before the weather turns. Decisions made and schedule agreed, we’re going to bring all the sails home for winter storage and store the gaff and bowsprit on the deck. Bringing the anchor into the forepeak will mean we can have a fully fitted cover fore and aft with zipped doorways both sides of the cockpit, as we’ll want to come down during the winter.
After a great week cruising with the gaffers, spending the last two nights in Ipswich, the passage back to the Deben aboard ‘Kestrel’ was cancelled due to severe weather warnings. James spent the night at Pin Mill and we returned to Woodbridge by car, tidied up the boat and drove back to Derbyshire late Sunday afternoon. After a week at home we return to Suffolk for the Tidemill annual barbecue on 11 August. Jim joins us for the evening and enjoys an afternoon on the river with Steve, sailing ‘Cachalette’ right back to her berth astern of ‘Cachalot’.
We’ve been checking the tides carefully this week as it’s Springs allowing us just over three hours to go out and back over the Tidemill YH bar during the daytime. The weather looks to be set fair too for a short trip out in the river to pick up a buoy and hoist the sails. It would be good to have another pair of hands and by chance, Leigh pops round to say he may be around to help after collecting his boat from the Orwell. So, today’s the day we go out in the river (with sails) for the first time!
The decks are cleared and everything stowed neatly in the cabin, sails are made ready, fenders cleaned of all the slimy sea squirts that have clung to them and off we go as the mark on the bar just covers 1.5m at 1400. Gently does it, but what’s happened to the engine? It’s making a horrible noise and Bev is keen to return to the marina. However, Leigh and Steve listen, take a careful look and decide it’s OK to continue with our project down river . . . we motor down past Loders Cut and pick up a buoy. We play for a while with the mainsail then motorsail back with the staysail.
We need to make sure to get back over the bar by just after 1700. Bev takes the helm on the return trip and motors upriver, over the bar and into the marina, doing well until the last turn into the berth, when a sudden gust of wind knocks her completely off course . . . thankyou, Leigh and ‘Mrs Brown’ (Richard and Eileen) for helping to get us safely back into the berth with damage to nothing but Bev’s confidence. Once the engine’s fixed, we need to practise tight manoeuvres under power.
After a few days in Derbyshire, we’re back in Suffolk for the OGA Summer Cruise. After a passage race on Friday, 20 July and the East Coast Race on the River Blackwater the following day, the week’s cruise ends with a parade of sail up the River Orwell today. ‘Cachalot’ isn’t ready to take part, so Bev crews with James on ‘Kestrel’.
While Bev’s out sailing, Steve gets on with fitting out with evening trips to various locations to join the Gaffers by car. The work is made harder by the blistering heat and lack of shade, but he manages to to get a lot done including installing the VHF radio and navigation lights, setting up the Wykeham Martin jib furling gear, bobstay, bowsprit shrouds and anchor (without the newly-acquired winch, for now).
He spends an enjoyable couple of days with Steve, from Ratsey’s, who’s visiting the Tidemill YH on holiday from the Isle of Wight and also repairs another area of winter damage where the new capping rail has split. All these ‘little jobs’ take time, and it’s sometimes hard to see progress, despite ticking them off the list!
After the launch, the bilge pumps were set and timed regularly – it all seemed to be going OK so we went sailing with James on ‘Kestrel’ with the East Coast OGA, setting out from Waldringfield for the August Cruise to Brightlingsea on 11 August. Andy agreed to keep a watchful eye on the bilge pumps, so Steve didn’t need to worry (much!) and could enjoy the sailing and a bit of relaxation for a week away . . .
On our return, the priority was to be the mast, but the bilge pumps were still running rather too frequently. Reluctantly, it was agreed this was more than just ‘taking up’, despite all the old tricks of sawdust under the hull . . . she needed to come out for a better look below the waterline. We could have had her lifted at the Tidemill, but a better option seemed to be the short motor up river to Larkmans, where James could have a look at her seams and do any work while she was left in the slings for 24 hours. The tides were just right, with high water around midday, so Steve motored up river on 23 August.
There’s still lots to do, but it’s not all work . . .