Sleep Deprivation – Living Dead

Gull – a west cardinal BYB

Sometimes you wonder why you decided to do things the way you did…

Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Passage planning is much the same – how are you going to get off the berth and leave the port, the bit in the middle where you sail to wards the destination and the usually more complex part of completing the journey by arriving at an unfamiliar harbour.  The first and last parts are known as pilotage, close eyeball stuff when a keen lookout for buoys and lights is vital, the middle is usually more relaxing just ensuring the helm is steering the boat more or less the right direction taking account of wind and tide.

A distant wind farm

Dover to Lowestoft – the start was simple enough, a roomy marina to back out of the berth, tidy up the fenders & lines, put up the main, call port control for permission to leave and once clear of both entrances, head north-ish towards the channel inside the Goodwin Sands.

The litany of buoys from Deal Bank (a quick red) onwards lays testament to the fact that the next few hours were pilotage or buoy hopping around the sandbanks of the Thames Estuary – Goodwin Fork a south Cardinal to starboard, Downs Fl2R (ie a porthand red can) to port, W Goodwin FlG (green) to starboard, S Brake Fl2R to port, NW Goodwin west cardinal to starboard, Brake to port, Elbow (off North Foreland) to port, Thanet NW to starboard (the eastmost tip of Thanet wind farm and the one mark we never spotted), Kentish Knock, Long Sand Head, North Shipwash then a 23 mile pause during which we ate our sausage risotto supper. Then the final part, pilotage into Lowestoft through the sandbanks there – E Barnard an east cardinal flashing 3 white in the dark, Newcome Sand quick flashing red both left to port, pass to the south of S Holm south cardinal and to port of Stanford and SW Holm. Finally, when the harbour entrance bears 295, head for it asking permission to enter as it is narrow with little room for even two yachts to pass in a swell.

Crossing the Thames Estuary

The wind was up and down during the afternoon so some motoring with the watermaker on and some sailing under main and poled out genoa, until the wind backed a little so we furled away the genoa and continued under main alone as it was easier to manage the gybes (moving the sails across the boat to alter course with the wind behind you). The sea was relatively flat, the Thames Estuary scenery was of wind turbines on both sides and in the early evening we spotted the RORC race fleet taking part in the East Coast race. Piet Vroon’s Tonnerre passed us first, beating south eastwards with none of the rest of the fleet in sight. We’d spotted her on the horizon, recognised her familiar shape quickly as she approached and then identified the race! Soon the chasing pack appeared flying spinnakers up to a cardinal off to the west of us then beating down around us with a few cheery waves, they faced a long cold night. Much later we found from Facebook that Tonnerre’s early lead gave her crew victory.

Poled out Genoa

During the pause between North Shipwash and East Barnard the tide turned and even with a relatively light wind against tide, conditions began to get choppy. Shortly after supper Thames Coastguard issued a gale warning for the area “Gale 8 soon”. The Skipper decided then that we’d changed sail plan from main only to jib only. In the bouncing seas we did a creditable job of folding the main tidily onto the boom and settled down to a comfortable run under half our genoa. “Soon” in this case seemed to be within an hour as it was quickly very windy and the seas got rougher as the ebbing tide increased. The night was black, the quarter moon faint through the cloud, no stars for Temptress tonight. Great though to watch the flat coastline slide slowly by, guessing the names of the brightly lit towns before checking the chart. We were doing 7 knots through the water but only 5 over the ground. Sizewell B was lit like Blackpool Promenade, miles and miles of sodium lights, then darkness. The loom of Lowestoft appeared ahead and we started to hunt for E Barnard so we oculd make our approach. It tried to rain so we huddled in full oilies past midnight with cups of oxo or hot chocolate to warm our hands as George the autopilot steered us onward. No time for an off-watch for either crew.

Still smiling

RORC East Coast Race fleet passed us

The skipper took the helm as we approached the Stanford Channel and the First Mate scurried up and down the companionway from time to time matching the lights he called to the chart. Then she brought up the whiteboard list for the final approach and peered at it by torchlight. The tide was swooshing north south past Lowestoft, another ferry glide approach towards the IPTS lights on the wall, so bright in their green white green configuration permitting us entry that we could hardly make out the red and green on their curvaceous pillars either side of the entrance.

Sizewell B – the small dot on the horizon

Was it lack of sleep? Or were we in the possession of a nightmare or about to enter Hades? In the harsh glare of the port’s sodium lights it appeared that the entrance opened onto a low dark, dank brick wall, a dead end. Everything too seemed to be in miniature only a few feet above the waterline. We later realised in daylight that everything here is small and neat, no huge French sea protection in concrete as at Dieppe or Fecamp or Boulogne. Lowestoft’s workaday harbour walls are mostly Victorian brickwork reaching six or eight feet above the highest of tides mostly channeling the river so that it is navigable right through to the Broads.

Ships that pass….

Another rough entrance, the Skipper working hard to keep the boat off the walls on either side on the very narrow gap filled with a turmoiled sea. Once inside it all started to become a bit clearer but still dreamlike to our sleep deprived brains – brick walls opening out to the left into a spending beach, the main channel not quite straight ahead. Further on there was a channel to the right which we knew led into the trawler dock and a little further on an opening at the start of a long low concrete structure on our left.

Our choosen marina was the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club, so we took the left opening. It was a sharp turn into the bottom right corner of a rectangle, an extremely small space full of long pontoons that makes Southsea Marina seem spacious. The visitors pontoon ran immediately at right angles to us poised in the entrance just a few boat widths from the protecting long weirdly sculpted concrete wall. At the head of the triangle we could see an  attractive domed building that is the yacht club itself. The pontoon was almost full of mainly Dutch flagged boats. Somehow the Skipper executed a 180 degree turn without the First Mate whose head was in the locker or busy tying on fenders being aware of how. We could then back down the run in control and decide where to moor.  There were no spaces long enough for our 47 feet so at 3 am in the morning we rafted alongside a Bavaria Vision 46.

Susie went ashore over their foredeck to take the shore lines fore and aft, it was a long way down to the pontoon from the chunky (I’m being polite) Vision’s midships and due to their crew’s  poor mooring technique there were also a few feet of water between boat and pontoon, desperate to get to bed she took a flying leap, landing safely with a loud crash. ‘Serve them right if they get woken up’. Then she discovered that this high sided yacht was impossible to climb back up in full oilies, the Skipper to the rescue, he hoicked her up bodily via a convenient electricity box struggled back on himself and after a quick boat tidy we retired to bed.

Should we have organised a shorter passage? Maybe but the human body is a marvellous thing and we recover from lack of sleep pretty quickly. The only lesson learnt was that perhaps 84 nautical miles of almost pure pilotage was a bit much especially at the end when we were both very tired. The things that worked were the preparation of a seemingly endless list of buoys, some of which we used as waypoints but having written out all of them at least once we knew for the most part what we were looking for and could identify each of them as they appeared. And the second plus was our serendipitous foresight in swapping to genoa only when we heard the gale warning rather than waiting, taking a mainsail down off Lowestoft would have been very hard if not impossible for the pair of us given the wind against tide conditions and the small amount of searoom amongst the sandbanks outside the harbour.

Dover to Lowestoft  – 84 nautical miles logged, 186.5 total