The first weekend of my early summer plans was both fun and eventful. It started smoothly, then became decidedly bumpy before apparently coming to a premature end stranded in the rain with a broken engine. Then suddenly the sun came out and we were under way among Thames Barges, visiting friends, and having a wonderful time again.
I left Cambridge station late on Friday morning, carrying Eaglet, my new Sea Eagle SE330 inflatable kayak, destined to become Tammy Norie’s tender. The kayak comes in the biggest and toughest drawstring bag I’ve ever seen, with a strong and handy shoulder strap, so I was able to pack all my weekend items including my waterproofs inside, leaving just my Imray chart pack and a cup of coffee to carry. Meanwhile, Mum and Dad were driving from Chandlers Ford to Woodbridge, towing Tammy Norie from her spot in their driveway.
When I got to Woodbridge I had a chance to poke around in Andy Seedhouse’s chandlery shed, picking up a barometer, a nylon skin fitting to make a gas locker drain, a length of webbing to improve the mast lift, and a length of soft plastic pipe to reduce chafing from the yard parrel. Total cost £15. I also picked up a first aid kit, a few household drugs, and a pot of vaseline.
On my recent trip to the Baltic I found a left-over pot of vaseline on CUYC’s yacht Kestrel and it turned out to be very useful. I used it to fix the toilet pump on the first day, and to seal the bilge pump filter on the last. It makes a pretty nice non-toxic substitute for grease in the water system.
Mum and Dad arrived at about 16:30, an hour before high water, and we set about launching Tammy Norie on the slip at Robertsons Boatyard. I also arranged a couple of weeks on a swinging drying mooring at Robertsons, as I intended to make it back to Woodbridge that weekend. That didn’t happen, as you will see.
Dad and I had decided to try launching by reversing the trailer into the water, rather than hiring a crane. We thought this ought to be straightforward, though the trailer, and the brakes especially, would need cleaning afterwards to prevent salt from destroying them. The water at Woodbridge tastes saltier than the Baltic, in spite of being quite a long way upstream. And so it turned out: we just had to attach the trailer to the car on some long lines and lower it and Tammy Norie into the water until she floated off.
Here is a time lapse movie of the whole thing.
Retrieving her onto the trailer will be another matter. Somehow we’ll need to make sure her keels are in the right position before towing out the trailer. I have plans for this that I’ll write about later.
We made a quick shopping trip to the supermarket and got back as the tide was falling, jumped on board, and pushed off down the Deben under power into a force 3 headwind. A shame, but at least the tide was helping us along. My goal for that evening was to reach Felixstowe Ferry at least, and if we were feeling lively, even get as far as Pin Mill by the early hours. But about 30 minutes out of Woodbridge we realised that we’d forgotten to fill the little fuel tank. I had yet to calculate Tammy Norie’s fuel range, or even the most economical speed for the engine, and we felt quite insecure with only half a tank. The chart showed fuel at Waldringfield, so we grabbed a buoy there, inflated the kayak, and I went ashore with the tank in search of petrol.
I was told in the pub that the nearest petrol was miles away. Oh well, back to the kayak, back to Tammy, deflate the kayak again, and off down the river. By then it was nearly 22:00 and getting dark, so we picked up a buoy near Ramsholt and went to sleep.
By morning the wind had veered, and we were able to sail off the buoy at about 08:20 and right down the river, tacking between the boats at Felixtowe Ferry. There we saw Tammy Norie’s sister ship, Gaspar (sail number 100) on a buoy. Nobody else was sailing, though, and certainly nobody was attempting the Deben entrance. We reached the entrance at 09:30. The tide was on the ebb, and the wind was from the south, creating choppy wind-over-tide waves and not a few breakers. Time to test Tammy!
I’d previously printed the entrance guide from the excellent Deben Estuary Pilot web site and had it to hand in a plastic sleeve.
We managed to get about a quarter of the way out under sail by tacking rapidly, but it was clearly going to be a struggle, and one mistake would put us on the mud for hours in some nasty conditions, so I started the engine and we motor-sailed as far as the fairway mark.
From there we made long tacks, beating our way down the coast towards Landguard Point in the choppy swell.
It was fun for a while, and we were making progress, but in the end we got fed up and wanted to catch the Thames Barge racing and so we motor-sailed into wind until the fuel tank was empty. By that time the wind had backed enough that we could weather the point, and then everything changed. The sea levelled out, the sun came out, and we had a delightful run into the river.
We made the Shotley lock-keeper’s day interesting by sailing into the lock. He was very helpful. Shotley, it turns out, does not have petrol either, but he said they’d have some at Suffolk Yacht Harbour. We took lunch at the Shipwreck and recovered from the morning’s bumpy ride.
After lunch we warped out of Shotley lock and caught the now south-easterly breeze north to Suffolk Yacht Harbour. After a quick pass to look in at the visitor’s berths, we sailed right in, dropping sail in seconds just inside the entrance and using our oars as paddles to get ourselves into a very sneaky position near the fuel berth.
After filling the tank with petrol we tried to start the engine, but it wasn’t co-operating. In fact, it didn’t seem to be firing at all. We tried various remedies, including Cold Start into the carburettor, and WD-40 on the high tension electrics, but it just wouldn’t respond at all. I wore the skin off the inside of a finger pulling the starter cord. We decided to take out the spark plugs to check them and to relieve any flooding.
But the spark plugs were extraordinarily stiff. The top one was hard to remove, but the lower one didn’t seem to want to budge at all. More WD-40, and then a strong tug on the spanner, and it moved. But it also made a sickening crunch. It had broken in two, leaving the stub of the plug inside the engine block.
By now it was 19:00, we were tired, and it was starting to rain again, so we decided to pack up for the day. At this point I thought our weekend was over.
(The following track doesn’t show our tacks off Felixstowe. I think I may have switched off the tracking app on my iPhone for a while by mistake.)
The next morning I tried calling a couple of local companies, but it was Sunday and they weren’t likely to be able to do anything. The harbour master recommended we talk to Bob Spalding, a motorboat and engine company just inside the gate to the harbour. I gave them a call without result, but a bit later in the day we ran into Phil moving boats around inside their yard, and he said he’d come and take a look. We ended up taking the engine out and leaving it with him to try to fix on Monday morning. I talked to the harbour master about a swing mooring from Monday, and arranged a pontoon for that night while we waited for Phil to take a look.
Then an amazing thing happened. We were just getting ready to move Tammy Norie along to a proper berth when I spotted a Thames Barge through the harbour entrance. Dad watched it in the distance, commented on the topsail arrangement, then said “How frustrating it all is.” At that moment, a breeze got up and the sun started to come through the clouds. I looked at the direction, thought about the tide, and made a snap decision. “Shall we go?” I said, “Let’s go!” Mum jumped aboard and we were off into the river.
It was perfect. The barges had their mainsails reefed in order to take on groups of passengers safely, and we could literally sail rings around them. And so we did, and Dad got his close-up view of barges under sail at last. Barges like the one he’d restored as a younger man at Pin Mill. I was very pleased to have been able to get him close.
The wind and tide continued fair for a journey all the way up to Fox’s Marina at Ipswich, where my friends Igor and Giulia were restoring Auriga for an expedition to the South Atlantic. I let them know we were coming, and we drifted up there just as the wind died for the evening lull.
“I’m coming in to Fox’s with no engine,” I told Igor.
“I have to see this,” came the reply. Fortunately, he brought his camera.
Again, the junk rig made it all easy. Sailing Tammy Norie in tight space isn’t any harder than sailing the family Topper, and it’s considerably easier to drop the sail. Just as you approach the pontoon you let go the halyard, step off with a line, and you’re done. Wonderful.
Igor and Giulia came aboard for a look around.
Then we went to see Auriga.
I was curious about many things, and Igor suggested we make a tour video. You can see it on this blog under “A tour of Auriga“.
That’s quite enough for the moment. I’ll write about the remainder of the weekend in a later post.
Continued in: East Coast launch weekend, part two