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Zoetje's Escape from Four Fathoms Channel, May 2009

I hope all club members enjoyed their Bank Holiday Sailing. I’m sorry we weren’t able to join the Ramsgate trip but had already planned an excursion in the other direction with a couple of other boats from Chatham. Our weekend turned out to be a little more adventuress than I had anticipated and I thought you might like to hear about it.

Time for tea

We dropped down the river on Friday evening and on the way down the echo sounder gave up the ghost and never recovered. Perhaps this was related to Zoetje being knocked down on to her beam ends the previous weekend (it must have been that 40 mph gust) thereby forcibly digesting rather large volumes of the river in the process! Our small flotilla then sailed up the coast to Brightlingsea on Saturday and enjoyed good weather and fine sailing for most of the day with Zoetje out sailing her companions – a Hilliard 33 and a Solent Fishing Smack replica. The women folk on board the other two boats were however at the extremes of their comfort zone. Sunday was therefore spent lazing around Brightlingsea in good weather and enjoyable company - and was most pleasant.

Ale at the Shipwrights Arms

On Monday we headed back to the Medway. Storm warnings convinced the others to hasten home as quickly as possible but Zoetje took a detour to the Swale and we had an increasingly cracking sail. What’s more we got to Faversham an hour and a half before high tide in brilliant sunshine – perfect conditions for nosing up the creek to the Shipwrights Arms and a few pints of their excellent Ales.

Follow the red buoys

Then the trouble started. On our return the engine refused to start and after much prodding and cursing a faulty solenoid on the starter motor was diagnosed. Plan A which was to have continued up the Swale and under the lifting Kingsferry Bridge was now out – I couldn’t face the risk of tacking in fluky winds under a bridge that would need to come down at any minute for the next train! By now the tide was falling fast and we had to move or be stuck until the next tide. We managed to tack out of Oare Creek with the aid of the tide but then with no echo sounder and no spare hands to swing the lead (both of us manning the sheets) we were undone by the red channel buoys laid very wide of the channel. We spent the first part of the night at 45° on the mud being peppered by thunder storms. We floated at 0100 but had no wind and increasing murkiness. Out came the dinghy oars and with the beginning of the ebb we paddled Zoetje like a giant canoe out into the Swale and then up the river against the tide in search of a mooring buoy. Exhaustion overtook us before we could get to the buoy which I could just make out in the murk and we dropped the anchor and grabbed a couple of hours sleep.

Three's company

Up at six the next morning (Tuesday) to catch the last two hours of the ebb out of the Swale in time to catch the flood up the Four Fathoms Channel. By now it was blowing Force 7 from the West and we had two reefs in the main. I manned the helm whilst Mick did an excellent job navigating with the hand held GPS ensuring we tacked and dodged the sand banks between us and the Medway. Then just as we were about to make a critical tack the jib sheets decided to get tangled up. Mick enquired whether we could “heave to”. I didn’t realise quite how close we were and as we discussed the merits of so doing, we hit the bank with a horrendous smack. Initially I thought Zoetje would break up then and there but she didn’t and after about 5 minutes of crashing on the sand below we managed to wear ship and extract ourselves. Thank goodness for the new floors fitted in 2007! The wind continued to howl and we had a very wet and lively passage to and then up the Medway.

Time for refreshment

The last bit of fun was picking up a mooring in a gale over the flooding tide. We deployed the textbook tactics of sailing up wind of the buoy and doused the main and then turned under jib alone against the tide and headed for the buoy. Even a flailing jib was pushing us along at 4 knots so we got that in too and continued under bare pole alone – still too fast for comfort we threaded our way through other club boats on their moorings (just avoiding Charles’ Nicholson) and headed for the marina holding buoys. With four empty buoys on trot we reckoned we had four chances to grab one before we ran out of room and would have to get the jib up again and hope we could avoid Hoo island and the clutter of barges and dredgers to the east of the buoys. In the end we managed to grab hold of the first one and secure it. The adventure ended with a tow into the Marina. Many thanks to the guys who came out in Heather to give me a lift to the Marina – I’m afraid I don’t your names.

Not surprisingly Zoetje’s leaking like a sieve again and I’m going to have to undertake some emergency action with the filler gun to try and slow down the leaks before we participate in the Suffolk Classic Regatta in mid June. North Sea passages will I think have to wait for another year, once at least some re-fastening is done!

So 5 days on the water = no echo sounder, no starter motor, one lost mainsail batten, one lost jib sheet batten and a leaky boat. Ho hum! Hopefully we’ll be fit enough to get to Harwich next month.”

Sorry no photos of the exciting stuff!

Tom Fisher, Zoetje

Date Published 28th May 2009