Thoughts on boating from our resident skipper

Night Passages

Made a night passage on Thursday from Portsmouth back to Christchurch. All the boating so far this year had been in daylight hours so it was good to be out in the dark again.

Leaving Portsmouth was the normal hectic experience with the ferries, hovercraft and pilot vessel being joined on this occasion by the Waverley paddle steamer which seemed very busy that day.

Once out of the swashway and into the Solent things started to become quieter and the serious business of identifying the lights of the different buoys could begin. With salm conditions and good visibility we settled into a steady 18 knot pace and made good progress.

The ferry departing Cowes as we went past looked like a block of flats underway with all the lights at so many windows. The Western Solent was nice and quiet with little traffic and the Lymington/Yarmouth ferries crossing well ahead of us.

Through Hurst Point with its lighthouse and into Christchurch Bay. Our course took us south of the North Head buoy to avoid the lobster pots liberally scattered around the channel. The course across the bay had likewise been planned to minimise the chance of ropes around the props.

We came up to the buoyed channel into Christchurch and were pleasantly surprised to find the first PHM was lit as none of the buoys are supposed to have lights according to the charts and pilotage.

While very familiar with Christchurch Harbour this was my first night entry. As the buoys move each year to reflect the changing channel you can't rely on the chartplotter and so there needed to be plenty of use of the handheld 12v torch to pick out the buoys as we made our way up the channel. The use of reflective patches made them easier to spot.

The normal 25 minute passage up the channel maybe took 5 minutes longer than usual and we found ourselves back at the mooring just after 11pm some 2 hours 30 minutes after leaving Hasler Marina. A good evenings work and still time for a beer!

First time across the channel

Easter provided the opportunity to undertake our first trip across the channel. We went across as part of the Sealine South Coast organised group crossing. Eight boats set off from Port Hamble marina at 10:00am on Good Friday with an encouraging forecast for a good crossing. On Tuesday the trip had looked in doubt with the forecast conditions for the return being very doubtful.

From the Needles onwards we crossed in formation to ensure we were in the best format for dealing with any traffic in the shipping lanes. As it was the traffic was elsewhere when we crossed both lanes.

Despite being familiar with the harbour from charts and pilotage books, the sheer scale of Cherbourg harbour still comes as a surprise. Plenty of space and opportunity to sort out lines and fenders before taking a mooring in Port de Chantereyne marina. A large well spaced marina with good facilities and the important fuel pontoon to re-charge the tanks. I can also recommend the Yacht Club restaurant adjacent to the marina offices.

On Easter Saturday we moved on to St Vaast timing our arrival to coincide with the lock gates being open. St Vaast really is a beautiful French town. A pleasure to visit and walk around. the lock gates open from around 2hrs before HW until 3 hours after. the detailed times are posted on the St Vaast website. The entry channel and surrounding bay certainly dry out.

St Vaast lock gates at low water

On Easter Sunday we said goodbye to the rest of the group as we returned alone back to the UK. Conditions were as good as could be hoped for and by the time we approached the Isle Of Wight we had flat calm. The shipping lanes were much busier annd with visibility at about 2Nm I was grateful for our radar system providing a clear view of the traffic hidden in the mist.

We tied up in Christchurch just 5 hours after slipping our lines in St Vaast feeling happy with the crossing and very satisfied with our first crossing alone.

Shakedown cruise

After using the boat through the winter it had its annual lift and service. One week out of the water, just time to clean and polish the hull whilst the yard serviced the engines and the out-drives.

The recent good weather seemed an ideal opportunity to give the boat a good extended run at cruising speed to make sure all was well. So a trip round the Isle Of Wight was called for.

Friday April 8th was an ideal day and with bright sun, low winds and calm seas we had perfect conditions for a passage on the plane.

A gentle cruise through the harbour for 30 minutes and out into the bay. Quick check of the engine bay and then throttle up to 22 knots for the next 2 and a half hours. Across the bay and round the needles before heading for St Catherines Point. Even in these calm conditions still some lumps in the water as the tidal streams meet underwater obstructions.

Going past Ventnor we saw the Border Agency cutter heading out into the channel before we passed the anchored ships and headed into the Eastern Solent - all still beautifully calm.

Approaching Cowes we had a real bonus with out on the water and taking some pictures of us going past. Very little traffic in the Solent with only a few yachts out. Past Cowes and then the run down to Lymington where we went into the yacht haven to re-fuel.

Finally back into the Solent, through Hurst Point and across the bay back into Christchurch before the tide fell too low. The entire trip being done over the extended 'stand' of high water.

Over 70NM by the time we were back at the home pontoon and a great day out with the engines never missing a beat. Fingers crossed the rest of the season stays the same.

The first winter trip

The first opportunity to use the boat from its winter quarters came up yesterday. Took her across to Gun Wharf Quays Marina in Portsmouth.

Moored under the Spinnaker Tower

Very pleasant day out with calm seas, sunshine (most of the time) and little traffic. Only downside was the time needed to get the boat ready to use from the winter precautions and then to re-instate them afterwards.

Still lets hope for some more days like that over the winter!

Winter Quarters

Moved the boat yesterday to the Yacht Haven at Lymington where it will spend the winter in the water. The plan is to make the most of any nice days by having 24 hour access to the Solent instead of the restricted access from Christchurch.

Made the move in advance of this week's gales as with the predicted gales and rough seas the entry channel into Christchurch may well move as it seems to every winter.

So the boat is installed in its new berth and hopefully well tied up ready for the what the weather throws at it.

Fingers crossed for some good winter boating.

Where are all the motor boats

After a busy time at sea over the past few weeks the main question that comes to mind is - "Where are all the motor boats?"

There are still plenty of sailing yachts around but motor boats have been few and far between and in much smaller numbers than previous years. The conditions have been fine so I have to come to the conclusion it is the cost of diesel that is reducing the number of hours that owners can afford to run their boats.

Busy Time

Managed to catch up on my boating hours over the past few weeks with lots of passages around the Isle of Wight and Solent.

Took the boat around the south of the island for the first time to see what it is like; not a lot there really but then I probably knew that already.

One of the surprising things has been how easy it has been to get berths in Portsmouth, Newtown, Lymington and so on; never a problem. The only really busy harbour was Bembridge which only has very limited visitor berths available although the staff are very helpful.

A typical english summer with lots of different conditions including a couple of Force 5-6 crossings of Christchurch Bay.

The best laid plans...

I've had a planned passage in the diary for two months now and have been really looking forward to it. The tides are perfect and everything has come together really well. We've had weeks of good weather so what happens?

The first gale of the summer comes through the English Channel!

Back to the drawing board to try and find the next time the diary allows the two day trip and the tides fall right.

SeaClear Interface

I came across the SeaClear program a little while ago. Free download and works very well. To make the most of SkippersLog and SeaClear we've made some changes to the SkippersLog site and added the ability to upload and download passage plans between the two systems.

So load up SeaClear; build a route and then export it; upload the file to SkippersLog and load the waypoints straight into the system ready for the logbook and to share with the rest of the crew. Or if you prefer, work on the paper charts, load the waypoints into SkippersLog and then download a route file. Load the route file into SeaClear and check the passage on the electronic chart.

I've already found the interface really useful. I hope you do to.

Fixed again

Good work from the engineers in fixing the fault; a sticky connecting linkage in the turbo. They've freed it up as best they can without removing and rebuilding the turbo.

Out to sea yesterday to test it and very pleased to report all was well. Went in and out of using the turbo quite a few times and all worked well.

From googling the problem it does seem I am not the only person with D3-160s to have this this isssue. As the answer seems to be regular use I'll just have to try harder.

Of course boats being boats the sounder on the bow thruster ( a MaxPower CT35) has stooped working when it is turned on, off or about to timeout has stopped working. How an earth can that happen or has the sounder broken since last weekend? As I started my previous comment, that's boats.

That's boats for you!

So - plenty of work on the boat over the winter ready for a flying start to the season including major engine and stern drive services.

Being a cautious type first time out was a quick jaunt up and down the river at low revs to bring the engines up to temperature and make sure there were no leaks once the pressure built. All went well.

Next morning an early start before the tide fell; through the harbour and out to sea. All again at low revs and all well. Once out at sea ran the engines at steadily increasing revs for a few minutes at a time to make sure all was well with temperatures; consumption etc. Finally ready to go onto the plane by taking the revs up to 2500rpm and off goes an electrical alarms and engine goes into get you home mode! So turn around back through the harbour and tied up less than two hours after letting go.

Checked everything I could and no sign of a problem but its there and everytime the ignition is turned on the alarm sounds even before the engine is started. So the engineers are looking at it now and I'll find out what the problem is before the weekend. Saturday looks very promising weather wise so fingers crossed it is fixed. That's boats for you!

Tom Cunliffe

Went to an interesting and enteratining talk by Tom Cunliffe at the Henley Offshore Group. Excellent way to spend a a few hours on a winters evening.

Tom has a new series coming up on BBC4 'The Boats that Built Britain' and spoke about both the content and making of the series. The series should definitely be worth watching for those with an interest in the sea and British history.

Anticipation of new passages

As the new boating season draws nearer it's nice to start to think about this summers passages. All the charts have been out together with the pilotage books to look at new areas for cruising.

So far in the UK I've only explored the Solent, Poole and Christchurch Bays - it's time now to look further afield. West across Weymouth and Lyme Bay or east towards Brighton and beyond.

Of course first time visits to any area brings with it anticipation of famous (or should that be notorious) hazards such as the races of Portland and St Aldhelms (St Albans) head. In both cases how easy is it and when to take the inside passage? I've already read so many different views of how close to go - the common advice on St Aldhelms seems to be close enough that you could be hit by a stone thrown from the shore!

I'm looking forward to finding out.

London International Boat Show

First visit to LIBS yesterday. I normally go to Southampton but was away (boating) last September so missed it.

Clearly much smaller than Southampton and didn't seem very busy but there was activity on all the stands. Others have remarked on the number of manufacturers not represented but there seemed to a good cross section to me.

Had a good look at the Beneateau Swift 34 trawler yacht. Looks very nice but only has one engine squeezed in.

So overall to me certainly not an alternative to visiting Southampton but nonetheless a nice mid winter reminder of warmer days to come when we can all get back out on the water.

Cold Weather

Down to the boat this weekend to make sure all is well. We've had high winds, a flooding river and now the cold spell. The good news was everything seemed fine.

The boat has a thermostat and tube heater in the engine bay with the thermostat set to 5C. All seemed well with the little bit of water in the bilge still liquid. I also fitted a max/min thermometer to keep track of the temperature variation in the coming weeks.

Looking forward to a spell of nice weather in the new year when I should time to take her out.

Preparing for winter cruising

I've decided to keep the boat in the water this winter in the hope of a few days out if the weather is kind. It might make up for the amount of lost time this summer. So a different kind of challenge - preparing for winter cruising instead of winterising.

Yesterday I had a lift & scrub to see what state the hull was in - the answer very good - just some slime but no fouling. Also drained down the domestic water supply in anticipation of colder nights. For now the warmth of the harbour should keep the engines frost free but when it gets colder I'll put a frost protect heater in the engine bay running off the shorepower. The final decision is whether to change the engine oil now or leave it until the spring when I lift the boat for a couple of weeks cleaning and servicing the stern drives. Also checked the Eberspacher is working ready to keep me warm when I am on board.

I'm sure I'll learn some more lessons over the winter - I just hope they are not too painful!

Sailing Abroad

Just finished a week cruising from Vancouver around the Gulf Islands and Howe Sound. Great week and good weather. The experience does bring home to you the differences between sailing different waters.

The main ones that came home to me were the emptiness of the waters compared to those I'm used to around the Solent. In one twenty mile passage apart from one tug pulling a log boom we came across no other craft. Even in busier areas the density of traffic was nothing like in the UK.

With its steeply sided shores and deep waters the absence of anchorages is also noticeable. Gently shelving bays are few and far between.

The marinas we used were all impecably clean with great facilities and staff who came to meet you on the dockside to help with mooring. Montague Harbor stands out for friendliness and Snug Cove for the sheer quality of facilities provided.

Canada of course is IALA B so a change of mindset has to occur with the shapes the same but the colours reversed. A green light on a porthand marker just doesn't seem right!

With logging as a major industry the waters do have plenty of escaped logs floating in them. Some areas such as Howe Sound near Port Mellon standing out for the sheer amount of woodwork in the water. At times we were reduced to no more than a gentle drift as we crossed lines of logs and debris were a boom had passed earlier. Meeting a log passing one way at a rate of knots in a tidal stream whilst going in the opposite direction at several knots is not recommended. The logs effectively become torpedoes. We were very careful to negotiate the areas with stronger tidal flows at slack water.

At a much simpler level having been trained on pontoons with cleats to switch to docks with horizontal wooden rails needs a chnage in mooring techniques. Lassooing is not an option!

Great experience and will only enhance my sailing back home.

Boating Security

There seems to be a recurring problem at the moment of thefts from boats and boating accessories. Unsecured dinghies in particular seem to be at risk.

It seems to be a consequence of the increase in petty crime as a result of the economic downturn - it seems if its relatively inexpensive and its not properly secured there is a good chance it could be stolen.

There is a database of stolen boats and equipment:-

All the information on the website is provided by the marine Insurance industry and the Police and is cross-checked with the Police National Computer.

It shows more than 10 outboards stolen within the last 8 days alone.

It seems we all need to make sure we protect our property if we want to keep it for our own use!

Synoptic Charts

The classic synoptic chart seems to give the best view of expected weather conditions and yet I cannot find them in their basic format on the met office website. The met office has the surface pressure chart and animation:-

but this lacks a geostrophic scale. I've found the basic charts at wetterzentrale:-

and looking forward 120 hours as well. So why aren't they available from the met office?

(ps - if they are there at the met office and I've missed them - let me know!

Entertainment August!

The month of August has a wealth of events coming up to provide entertainment to those of us at sea off the south coast of England (even without the sheer pleasure of sailing/yachting for the fun of it).

Cowes week from August 1st-8th is always good to watch even if you aren't taking part and entry numbers seem to have held up well after allowing for the effect of the credit crunch on budgets and the lack of a title sponsor.

The Fastnet race follows straight on with its start at midday on September 9th. The site of 300 yachts underway is always worth seeing.

There are a number of local regattas and fun days through the month.

Finally the Bournemouth Air Show is being held again from Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd with a massive firework display on the Sunday evening. It's an interesting experience to be at sea under the Red Arrows as they go through their display.

Wherever you are boating let's hope that August provides calm settled weather so that we can all make the most of every chance we get to put to sea.

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