Mad March Days

‘Dirty British Coaster with a salt caked smoke stack

Butting down the Channel on mad March days….’

John Masefield, I think.

We had those fabulous and sunny days at the end of February and I was slightly annoyed that Riff Raff was still with Swallow Yachts having a few improvements* fitted. The work had been completed but I had been too busy attempting to “do some research” for my Phd.** So we missed several balmy days during which we could have drifted with the tide around Chichester harbour.

Now that these mad days of winds have arrived, I’m really quite glad that she’s ashore under her cover.

So my thoughts have been turned away from researching the past to contemplating the future. I had read a few back numbers of “The Marine Quaterly” *** for inspiration. No, Riff Raff and I are not going to attempt an Atlantic Crossing, nor drug running in the Mediterranean. Not even taking part in the Fastnet. I think we’re going to have a gentle cruise in the Western Isles.

At the moment, the detail plan is to collect Riff Raff from Gwbert (the home of Swallow Yachts) and take her to Northney Marina for the late spring and early summer. There she’ll sit on a pontoon and Terence can have a rest.We’ll have a few day sails to remind ourselves of how we work and may even have a trip to Cowes and / or Newhaven, whilst I make detailed plans for the trip.

The outline plan is to reunite Riff Raff, Terence and Martina in early June to trail up to Kyle of LochAlsh, cross the bridge to Skye and then launch from Kyelakin. We then abandon Terence and Martina in an appropriate car park  before heading north and west to the Outer Isles. I have to be home for the 21st June for an important occasion so we should have a couple of weeks afloat. Then there are plans to attend the Swallow Yachts event at Mylor in the last week of June. Back to Northney for the rest of summer – after which we’ll have had enough of Terrance; perhaps we could think of an outing to somewhere in the Channel….

Then it will be back to the Phd. Somewhere along the line, I’ve to fit in a holiday or two with the owners agent, not to mention looking after an allotment and holding our breathe for the cabin boys GCSE (or whatever they are now called) results.



* It is hard to believe but Swallow Yachts (in fact any Yacht) can always be improved – even if it means taking previous “improvements” off…

** At least that was what I had told my supervisor.

*** An eclectic mix of stories of boats, yachts, ships, cruises, crossings and incidents that is published each Quarter (not that the name doesn’t give it away)

Early winter blues – part 1

Well, summer has faded into the distance. The sky is blue (today) and the wind is chill and I’m still boatless. But the summer has not been without some sailing.

In July, I followed the Swallow flock to Mylor and helped them mess about in boats for a day or two. The bridge engineer put up with me in his yacht for a couple of days, particulary when the wind howled across the bay. The pontoons pitched and rolled. Mooring cables frayed and at least one yacht (not a Swallow) ended up ashore. Meals were eaten in the hostelry, verbal kites were flown. Projects discussed and not quite abandoned.

August came and I flew to Bergen where it was a sunny 30 degrees. I joined Tim on Acheron to assist with sailing her back to the UK. He’d had an adventure that summer, taking her from Milford Haven up to the north of Norway. (He’s written a blog on the trip but it seems to have disappeared from the cloud).

Bergen was eye wateringly expensive for us poor Brits so I was glad only to spend one night there. Just astern of us was a smailish motor boat, with one person aboard. The sound of his one man disco kept us awake most of the night, so we left in a bit of a daze, almost in flat calm conditions.

During the day, the wind freshened from the South and Acheron sailed happily along under full sail. Just before dark, I suggested we took in a reef and received an “old fashioned” look * from the skipper. I turned in for I was not due on watch for a couple of hours. I woke to the sound of winches being wound and people moving on the deck. The reef was duly taken in.

The motion had become uncomfortable – desptie the Southerly wind and the general westerly course, we were being overtaken by two different sets of swells, one on each quarter. When the peaks of both swells coincided the boat was high in the air (one could have seen for miles if it wasn’t dark) and when the two troughs conincided it seemed that the wave crest towered above us.

Oil rigs appeared on the horizon – big blazes of warning lights, navigation lights and flare stacks. A cruise ship altered course for us. Eventually darkness gave way to daylight. And so the trip went on. Up to the crest, down to the trough. At about 4 pm land was sited ahead and by 6 we were looking for a berth in Lerwick.

We spend several days crusing the Shtland Islands and rounded Muckle Flugga so we could say we had been round the most northern part of the British Isles. Saw killer wales in a sound and gannets by the squadron. We sailed to Fair Isle in gusty conditions and then fled south to Shetland. I had to catch the ferry from Kirgwall to Aberdeen, leaving Acheron (as I thought) to sail south through the Hebrides on her way back to Milford Haven.

The trip to Abrdeen was rough – I found out that Westerley gales had forced Acheron to stop at Stromness and then make her way south on the east of Scotland, finally crossing to the West coast via the Caledonian Canal. In the meatime I had reached the end of my journey and was reunited with the owners agent. We discussed my next project……..


* E.g. one that told me not to be so silly

Dutch (not French) Leave

I’ve no doubt my many readers will have given up. For the remaining few, this post might be a bit of a shock and might alss explain why there has been a dearth of posts in the month or so.

Riff Raff and I had a couple of outings during light weather in April – nothing major, just pottering around in Chichester harbour. During the course of these, I was close to falling overboard on more than one occasion. A couple of these events were due to over balancing (and I hadn’t touched a drop all day) and others were due to “trip hazards” as the H&SE would call them – occasions when I had seen an obstacle but had misjudged my footing and caught the “offending” rope with my foot. None of these events caused me to get wet but it was a close run thing.

And these events got me thinking – they had happened in calm and dry conditions – what would have happened if had been a foul day? I’d have been cold and more stiff, the deck would have been slippery and moving about – the implications were that I would most likely have gone over the side and would have resurfaced (?) to see Riff Raff sailing happily away from me*.

So it seemed that it had become the time to stop sailing single handed or to stop sailing.

I decided the latter, place Riff Raff for sale on the Swallow Yacht Association web site and sold her almost immediately.

So, here I am boatless again.

Anyone need an experienced crew?

Riff Raff Out.


  • And I was so pleased that I had finally got the rig of a BC23 adjusted so that the helm was almost neutral!

Back on the water

In the last couple of week, Riff Raff has travelled many miles – on the back of Terence and under the control of Martina. A fortnight ago Martina, Terence and I went to Gwbert* to unwrap Riff Raff from the winter cover, approve the various works done to her ** and take her away. Oops, I forget an important detail: pay the bill. Have I mentioned bills before? I don’t think so but there always seem to be a few, of varying sizes, associated with sailing. Not for nothing has sailing been described as “Filling a hole in the sea with tenners” . It could be worse, I suppose – I could have taken up riding……..

When Martina and I arrived at Gwbert, it was a fine, sunny afternoon. So the unwrapping and inspection proceeded apace. The next day was something very different – a strong wind, with flurries of sleet. Matt **** had arranged for a prospective customer to look at Riff Raff, so we sat in the cockpit in driving rain and sleet discussing the merits of the BS23. It reminded me of the Coastal skipper course that I took many years ago – the instructor and instructed we sat in the cockpit of an elderly Westerly, somewhere in the Western Isles, discussing the merits of my attempts to anchor under sail. The rain dripped off our noses even though there was a large , warm, dry cabin within a couple of feet of us all.

Despite the conditions, the potential customer was not put off, for he placed an order later in the week.

On day three of the expedition to Wales, Terence was hitched to Martina and we were off – destination Northney Marina. Into a blizzard. Once through Cardigan, the “easy” road climbs several hundred feet. Very soon we were travelling along a couple of tramlines of bare tarmac, with snow lying in the middle and on either side. I wondered if it was wise to continue…

But we did, and without incident. The snow turned to torrential rain and stayed that way until Newbury. It was now dry but blowing quite hard from the east. We picked our way south to Northney. Here there was a “very stiff breeze” with strong gusts, so erecting the mast was out of the question. I left Riff Raff in their trailer park, still on Terence, and retreated home.

The weather stayed windy and cold several days and it was only last week that I was able to return to Northney, erect the mast and launch Riff Raff. That’s another story.

As far as I know, she floats on a pontoon in the marina, ready to go sailing. Meanwhile, Terence sulks in a farmers field in Bucks until required in June.

All we need now is some warmer weather and a clear diary.


* the home of Swallow Yachts – almost the furthest west you can go in Wales

** some under warranty, some new ideas – she now sports a couple of cleats at the foot of the mast (useful for when tidying things up before trailering and also for securing various signalling  lines (black anchor balls come to mind, as do the cone shaped “under engine” signs) and, of course courtesy flags***

*** memo to me – must get one for Scotland and another for Cornwall

**** The owner and designer of Swallow Yachts

It’s Officially Winter

Now I know the Met Office, in its wisdom still thinks its autumn but as far as Riff Raff is concerned it’s winter.

She was dismasted (deliberately I would add), packed up and strapped to Terence a couple of weeks ago. This morning, Terence was hitched to Martina and we set off (with my heart in my mouth) from Northney for West Wales. It was with trepidation that we departed because this was to be the first “high speed” journey of the ensemble since Terences axle had been moved back several inches. Was this going to be the answer to the dreaded “trailer sway”?

Despite an 07:30 departure, there was no chance to test this until we were past Winchester and on the A34 – the first hour was spent in heavy traffic and we covered the staggering distance of 23 miles. All seemed well on the A34 – with the cruise control set to 50, no sway was noticed. We joined a surprisingly quiet M4 at Newbury and cruise control was inches up to 60 and was left there for an hour or so. No sway. Average speed had now crept up to 34.  After that we cruised at about 65 (and even touched 70 at times – all in the spirit of scientific investigation, you understand) without mis-behaviour. We had to slow down for the rolling A40 to the west of Carmathen.

What was I worrying about? Scotland here we come – next year.

Messing about in boats – last sail of the summer?

The dawn of a week ago last Thursday was damp and slightly foggy in Bucks but the forecast for Chichester Harbour looked good – sun and 6 to 8 kn breeze. Martina growled round a surprisingly quiet M25* and then down the A3**. The mist thickened until,as we breasted the last hill before setting down to the coast, the weather was transformed.  The Sun shone, the temperature rose to 18 degrees – set fair then.

We arrived at Northney by 11. There was a breath of wind from the south. In the water before 11:30.. Now came the test – the red light. My regular reader will recall the oil pressure light on Freddy was flashing as we came to rest on our last outing. The oil level was checked and found adequate. Freddy was fired up and cheerfully buzzed away in the well. A mystery then

We cast off and wafted out of the harbour with the outgoing stream. Up with the main as we left the harbour entrance (I’d held the topping lift tight to scandalise the main whilst I hoisted it). It was about half tide. With the main sheet hard in and the jib taught, Freddy was shut down and we were just able to point close enough to the wind on the starboard tack to waft down river with the tide. At the first major mark, at the confluence with the channel to Emsworth, we had to drift over to the far side of the channel before tacking. Several tacks later (I didn’t even try to count) but in seemingly no time, we reached the marker for the main Chichester channel. We could either start the motor and head out to sea or sail up towards Chichester. The wind would have been “bang on the nose” for the entrance channel, and I din’t fancy the noise of Freddy II, so we went exploring towards Chichester.

So far in our voyage, we had seen few other craft. Just, a couple of Drascomes running up river before the breeze – where on earth were they going for lunch? One was towing a heavy looking dinghy. We turned to port, round the yellow and black buoy and headed east, on a broad reach, past the anchorage tucked in behind East Head. About a dozen craft were anchored there whilst the owners snoozed in the warm sunshine. We overtook a small Crabber, despite not paying much attention to the trim of the sails.

Although very pleasant and warm, this was becoming a bit tame. I had noticed that there were several mooring buoys lying unused in the trot of moorings near the sailing club. I thought I’d see if I could pick one up under sail, rather than power. We turned round. I noticed the wind instruments had given up discriminating between True and Apparent Wind. And, come to think about it, I had seen any evidence on the chart plotter of an AIS transmitter on any of the boats at East Head. Some of them were (a) newish and (b) biggish. They must have been fitted with AIS transmitters yet they hadn’t been detected.

Either some wires had come disconnected behind the cockpit bulkhead, or something had happened to the GPS/Chartplotter. Perhaps the programming of the comms channels had reverted to “default” for some reason. The former was beyond investigation but I reckoned I could have a look at the latter, if I could find the manual…….Abandoning the tiller for a few minutes (having lashed it roughly in position) I dashed below and rummaged through the ships paperwork.  With it in hand I returned to the command position to find us heading for a sand bank. We manged to miss it and resumed our normal course.

A quick scan of the manual showed me how to find the comms channels in the various menus (I find Garmin menus to be far from intuitive). Sure enough, both the in cchannel (for the AIS)  and the out channel (for the true wind) were off. Simple! Fixed. I now knew where other big ships might be and what the true wind speed was (6Kn). I wonder what had caused the system to revert to the default. Then I remembered. I had been making the plotter talk to my phone, so I could consult the plotter from anywhere in the boat – it’s not that I need the functionality (like most of the stuff on the plotter) but I just wanted to know how to make it work…..Unfortunately, at some point, the App on the phone had downloaded the latest version of the plotter software and, unknown to me, had then uploaded the stuff to the chart plotter……and this had reverted to “default” settings. Or, at least, I think that’s what had happened. The wonders and pitfalls of connected technology. Just spare me from an intelligent fridge or, for that matter, a smart electricity meter.

Where were we  – oh yes, looking a for a buoy to tie up to. By now the tide had turned and was starting to flood. Wind and tide were now both coming from the south. So, if I could come into the wind with a little way on just by the buoy, the combined effect would stop the boat and we’d drift down to the pick up point. Simples. Where’s the boat hook – I lashed the tiller again and ransacked the cabin, only to realise that I’d left it in Martina.

Never mind, let’s try it out anyway. After a couple of false starts (mainly because we had too much way on and drifted to far from the buoy) we made one pass with the main scandalised again (I’m getting quite keen on this way of de-powering it). This was spot on: I was able to reach down and touch the buoy pick up  rope just as Riff Raff came to rest with the buoy alongside the cockpit.

‘Of course, had I had the boat hook, I could have picked up the pick up rope, grabbed the end of it and walked forward to tie it on’ I said confidently (probably out loud) , and it was deemed that we’d passed the test.

Now, as the wind was light and there was really no other shipping about, I thought We’d have a go at flying the asymmetric. I had already secured it’s bag to the foredeck (the sail was in the bag) and tied all the extra halliards, sheets and what have you to the right bits of the sail. I’d even brought the sheets aft, so I didn’t have to scrabble for them on the foredeck. In a trice*** (now where does that expression come from) the two halliards were lead through blocks held in place by the aft mooring cleats and we were ready to go.

Now, I’d not done this before..

The jib was rolled up, the asymmetric halliard hauled in, and up went the sail, only to wave about in the breeze and then set on the wrong side of the boat. It pulled us round to port. The main gybed with a thunderous crack (fortunately I had ducked) and we were rapidly approach the sandbank at the side of the channel. OOPS.

The halliard was let go, one of the sheets was pulled in, the sail was recovered  and stuffed into the cabin.20181005_150133

A slightly more controlled gybe got us away from the sandbank, so we had another go, this time launching the sail from the cabin. That  was surprisingly easy but I discovered that I’d routed the asymmetric sheets between the jib and the main mast, rather than between the forestay and the asymmetric halliard. And, although the sail sort of flew, it still pulled hard to one side – this time in the other direction.This sequence of events repeated itself a few times until I gave up. Or the wind had dropped. Or something. So back to the Marina and on to Terence. The end of sailing for this year?



*For non British readers the M25 is the London orbital motorway, well known as a car park at certain times of day. ** The A3 is a feeder road to the M25, with the same sort of reputation.

***I have no idea but I can think of a quote using it:

‘ And I was wandering in a trice,
 Far from the grey and grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street,
 O’er sapphire berg and emerald floe,
 Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
 Of everlasting Polar night’

It’s from the Ice Cart by by Wilfred Gibson.

What does that red flashing light mean?

Which one, where?

It was last Wednesday that I  down to Northney, for a spot of light wind sailing. I was taking the retired librarian and cave manager for a “taster” sail. He’d collared me at a wedding the other week and said “What’s with this sailing thing that you do?”. It was that time in the wedding when food had been eaten, the speeches were done and the toasts all finished (and, of course, the bride and groom were now officially married – you mustn’t forget that bit). The Dad dancing hadn’t started, although the group was warming up but conversation was just possible. Anyway, you get the scene and the state of mind of the retired librarian. “Now I’m a retired librarian, I need to find something to do” – he continued.

“Well”, I replied, “how about the week after next ? – the tides are right at Northney and the weather might be OK – I’m free Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday – let’s see what the weather forecast is like nearer the time.” When I arrived home, the family diary told me that I was only free on Wednesday, so that was when it HAD to be. The forecast was fine for the wind – F3, possibly F4 but it included a chance of rain. You know, that funny wet stuff that we soft southerners haven’t seen for a few months.

On arriving alongside Riff Raff, it wasn’t raining – yet. The wind seemed steady (from the NE) at about 8 knots – perfect for an introductory sail. Just enough breeze for a fire-ship and the tide was making strong* so, in a flash, Riff Raff was stripped of coverings, un- necessary weight was taken off and stored in the car and she slid down the slip and was afloat.

Off we went – the wind was coming straight up the entrance channel to the marina, so I hoisted the full main on our way out, turned to starboard past the post maker, unrolled the jib and we were off – 2.5 knots SOG against the incoming tide. Once past the third post marker, another turn to starboard and we were running before the wind. This time, despite a few strong puffs, the wind and sail combination (and a bit of concentration on the part of the helmsman) let Riff Raff maintain a stable goose wing all the way down to the Hayling Island Yacht club. Meantime we settled into a comfortable introduction to sailing for the RLACM (See above). The rudiments of sailing theory were expounded upon. Bearing transits were demonstrated. Collision avoidance was alluded to but not demonstrated. The naming of parts took place (and was promptly forgotten). He took the helm and soon learnt which way to push it. A gybe was demonstrated (oops). Despite all this we overtook some sort of Westerly on the downwind run.

We took a photo of the RLACM for posterity – I hadn’t noticed he was eating his lunch!DSCN1540

There were four or five other sail boats about: – we noticed a couple of Drascomes making their way up wind.   The theory of going about was discussed. We went about and worked our way upwind. The idea of heaving to was discussed and demonstrated when we next went about (oops).  We chased the Drascomes. Tack on tack as we overhauled them and left them in our wake. Not that we were trying, of course.

It came on to rain. That fine rain that penetrates all foul weather gear*** and not only soaks you but freezes you to the marrow.  It was time to go in. We sailed to the third marker, started Freddy and motored in – the RLACM steering as I packed away the main sail, put of the fenders and found the mooring ropes.

I took the helm for the tricky bit in the marina and we parked against the jetty with scarcely a bump.

Then I noticed the flashing red light – on the engine, just below the stop button. Yikes, it’s the low oil pressure warning light – how long has that been on?




* Reminded me of a verse from “The Old Way” by Ronald Hopwood

‘Came a gruff and choking chuckle, and a craft as black as doom
Lumbered laughing down to leeward, as the bravest gave her room.
“Set ‘un blazin’, good your Lordships, for the tide be makin’ strong,
Proper breeze to fan a fireship**, set ‘un drivin’ out along!
‘Tis the ‘Torch,’ wi’ humble duty, from Lord Howard ‘board the ‘Ark.’
We’m a laughin’-stock to Brixham, but a terror after dark.
Hold an’ bilge a-nigh to burstin’, pitch and sulphur, tar an’ all,
Was it so, my dear, they’m fashioned for my Lord High Admiral?”

** I hasten to point out (to my insurance company at the very least) Riff Raff is not a fire-ship!

*** I mean all old foul weather gear. My set Musto about 15 years old and leaks like a sieve so I fear it’s time to buy some more.

**** OOPS – For Musto read must be.