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Tollesbury or Bust....

I was considering doing the Tollesbury rally single-handed and had pretty well decided not to, until Graham Pugh asked if anyone needed crew - and so brought Tollesbury within range.

Graham came to HNYC after sailing on ‘Aurai’ with Charles Hessey, and had also crewed, as part-owner, with others, and on delivery trips to warmer climes.

The Tollesbury run was the first decent trip I’d planned since before GPS and plotters were invented. However, my charts were only ten years out of date, and I downloaded a lot of info on new buoy positions and was cautiously confident of my navigation skills.

Anyway, destination Tollesbury! Arrival required 11am Saturday, estimated speed 4 knots, depart 10pm Friday.

HW 2330. Garrison Point about midnight, take the ebb across the estuary and up the Swin, arrive S. Whittaker and the Spitway at slack water; the buoyage may have changed a bit but you can see for miles at night, and with a bit of common sense we’d be ok..

We motor-sailed down the Medway; hardly any wind. Graham was steering, I was pointing out the well-known river marks and while viewing the maze of lights of Thamesport, we ran hard aground. Luckily Graham had a firm grip on the tiller which saved him from pitching down through the hatch. I was completely disorientated; we dropped the main, backed off (tide still rising) but whichever way we headed, we kept going aground. I finally recognised the lights of Kingsnorth, bearing 270, and headed that way; the depth increased and we were clear. We had run into Sharpness Saltings, between the main stream and the upper entrance to Sharfleet. The myriad of lights at Thamesport resolved themselves into 2 container ships lit up all over, besides all the other lights.

So, recovered and pointing the right way, we carried on. Past Garrison Point, down to the Medway Buoy, across to Blacktail Spit 0215. Engine off at 0240, making 5.2 knots over the ground with full main and 2/3rds genoa. The procession of buoys passed, Maplin, Maplin Edge, NE Maplin, S Whittaker at 0500. 0525, wind increasing; genoa reduced and 1st reef pulled down. Engine on as couldn’t hold course for the Swin Spitway/Wallet Spitway.

Once through the Spitway, I applied the tidal correction wrongly and instead of Eagle/Colne Bar we saw the North Eagle at 0630, bearing, would you believe, 270! We were to the east of it...

Anyway, we continued on 270 to NW Knoll, sailing in a W6 (at least) to the Nass Beacon, then motored, in a moderating wind, through the rather confusing array of markers, picking up one of the visitors’ waiting buoys at 0900hrs in broad sunshine.

Wind over tide in the Blackwater seemed a lot worse than in the Medway – but it was a lot of wind.

We saw ‘Aurai’ and ‘Chica’ rafted up in a side creek; ‘Clouds’ passed shortly after and carried on into the Marina; we followed at about 1030 and tied up at our allotted berth.

Chatting with other members revealed another mistake. The club meal was lunch on Sunday; I thought it was dinner on Saturday. Wrong! However, Graham and I were invited to dine on board ‘Aurai’ (a splendid and convivial curry) and were able to keep to our plan of Brightlingsea on Sunday, home on Monday.

So, at twelve next morning, off we went, to a heartwarming chorus of good wishes from fellow members. Motored out through the markers in warm sunshine and sailed off downriver, goose-winged, ETA B’sea 2pm. What a lovely morning, with plenty to distract the attention! Motorboats, jetskis, dinghy fleets, cruiser racers in the distance; the ebb and a good following wind; the entrance to the Colne passed unnoticed in blissful unawareness – then the rude awakening – we had arrived at that damned North Eagle again!

So, we put about, now beating into a stiff breeze, sky overcast, and a heavy rainsquall to boot, but at Colne Bar the sun came out again and we had a nice reach up to B’sea, tying up at 1530hrs.

The plan on Monday was to be at South Whittaker at LW to take the flood all the way home. Left B’sea at 4am, motored out to Colne Bar, sailed/motorsailed to S Whittaker, then a close reach down the Swin (with help from the engine to regain windward positions) a cracking sail into the Estuary in a rising wind, and by golly, the sea was lively – 4ft waves? – crashing and banging, long tacks up to Garrison Point, 1045, then a quieter beat upriver to Kingsnorth 1230; engine on, sails off, motor through West Hoo creek, back on mooring 1300 hrs. Distance sailed, from chart, 78 miles. Ave speed 4 knots. Graham was in his element, entering waypoints on my Garmin 72, and checking buoy positions on the way back. Perhaps I’ll get a chart plotter after all.... maybe....

Steve Bush

Date Published 2nd Sep 2011