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Zoetje goes to Folkboat Week 2008

I bought Zoetje - clinker built in Holland in 1962 - on ebay in April 2007. I knew I was buying a lot of work but after one year she is still vey much work in progress. I was however determined to participate in the annual Folkboat event hosted by the Royal Solent Yacht Club, at Yarmouth IOW commencing with welcome drinks on the evening of Sunday 17th August.

After months ashore undergoing some pretty major maintenance Zoetje was re-launched at the end of July. By this time she had dried out so much that she almost went straight to the bottom.

Departure day from Hoo on the Medway was scheduled for Wednesday 13th August. The crew consisted of me, Brother Andy, and long time sailing buddy Mick. It was such a filthy day that despite only getting to Hart Ferry on the Swale I managed to set off my life jacket whilst scrabbling for the pull cords on my hood!

Thursday started in a more promising vein and after a good breakfast we departed the Swale escorted by a solitary seal. In a freshening south westerly we made short work of the "overland route" and Gull Stream and were soon beating past Ramsgate. With the Lee scuppers consistently immersed and with bucket loads of sea coming into the cockpit I fully appreciated for the first time why Follkboats are described as "wet"! Mind you Zoetje was probably wetter than most - leaking liberally as she was in these conditions - from both below and above the waterline.

After finally putting in a reef we arrived in Dover that evening soaked through but impressed by Zoetje's sailing and sea keeping qualities.

We left Dover marina on Friday lunchtime in glorious sunshine and within 10 minutes were once again beating westwards into a stiff south westerly and driving rain. We made Dungeness by dusk as the tide turned against us. The engine decided it was not going to help and we spent the next six hours going nowhere. By now we were taking it turns to grab 30 minutes or so of sleep below on the (wet) leeward bunk. Just before dawn on Saturday the tide turned in our favour and shortly afterwards the wind finally backed towards the South and we were off once again.

In feisty conditions we were once again taking buckets of water into the cockpit and the sliding windows and numerous leaks in the coach roof meant everything was pretty damp below. The laptop/chart-plotter was soon defunct but worst of all our supply of tea bags was completely contaminated by salt water. Emergency measures to rinse them out in fresh water were only partially successful! Fortunately we had taken the precaution of wrapping our clothes and bedding in bin liners!

We made Beachy Head before the tide turned against us and with the wind still fair in the South decided to press on. After punching the next six hours of foul ebb tide the following flood tide got us round Selsey Bill and we pressed on once more. Finally, at about 2000 on Saturday night we dropped anchor to the west of St Helens Fort, Bembridge; some 28 hours after leaving Dover.

We were all completely knackered and very hungry. We ate a good dinner and went to bed looking forwards to a good night's sleep before completing the final leg to Yarmouth the next day. After what seemed like 5 minutes but was about 3 hours we were dragged from our slumbers by the most awful crashing and bumping. The wind had freshened again; I had forgotten to allow for the rise of tide and we had dragged our anchor a mile to the west and were now crashing up against a boat at her mooring off Seaview. After initial desperate teeth chattering fending off in our underpants we managed to extract ourselves and continued westwards. With a foul tide progress was slow and we anchored again off Ryde at 0700 to grab some more sleep.

We rose at 1000 had breakfast and once again in a freshening south westerly continued westward towards Yarmouth. We picked up a buoy at tea time and requested a tow into the harbour. Within 10 minutes thanks to the extremely helpful and efficient harbour authorities we were tying up alongside our fellow Folkboaters and making new friends.

We were soon the subjects of considerable (and very friendly) interest being the only none local Folkboat present. At the end of the week we received a special prize in recognition of our mini marathon - it was unfortunately the only prize we got the whole week!

As for Folkboat Week itself; the first two days of racing were cancelled due to the continuingly awful weather. Mick, who had been suffering increasingly from the cold, took the opportunity to return home to Reigate to get his winter sailing gear and to grab a night's sleep in a proper, warm and dry bed. Andy and I tackled a variety of odd jobs around the boat. Mick returned in time for the pontoon cocktail party on the Tuesday evening for which mercifully it stopped raining and the sun came out.

On Wednesday the improvement in the weather held. Racing consisted of a race to Newtown and a race back. We were last across the start line and last over the finish in both! On Thursday there were two short races around the cans in the Western Solent. The highlights of the first race were being rammed head on by a very large, very yellow, and completely stationary steel buoy! Poor Zoetje was shaken from stem to stern and a large splinter of wood was gouged out of her prow. I rushed below convinced I would be met by a torrent of sea water but mercifully there was nothing obvious to be seen. Thank goodness we had not rammed another boat. I felt very sheepish and increasingly accident prone. The second highlight was to show a clean pair of heels to "Hangover" a fellow tail-ender crewed by the redoubtable John and Jane, only to run out of time and to see the committee boat upping anchor as we approached the finish line. In the second race we got our nose in front of Hangover once again and stayed in front until the finish where John's superior racing tactics saw us undone on the line, when he tacked inside the gap I had left.

Mick had to return home that night and on Friday Andy and I sailed the long Solent race without him. After an incredibly good start which saw us first over the line we were soon overhauled by the rest of the fleet - except Hangover. We kept in front of her all the way round and this time crossed the line before her too! It was Zoetje's best ever result!

Andy caught the Ferry early on Saturday morning and I raced on my own. There was no repeat of the previous day's glory however. I had an appalling start and just when I had a chance to catch Hangover I stood on far to far into the shallows off Hurst in an attempt to avoid the worst of the tide that I sailed at least a mile further than necessary as a result. I therefore trailed in last once again!

That night an excellent farewell 'do' and prize giving was laid on by the RSYC and our long distance jaunt to the IOW was honoured with great generosity.

The following day my wife and children and dog drove down and we had a very brief venture outside the harbour. Sharon was not up to it however and so we returned very swiftly. The boys stayed on and on the Monday we had a cracking sail to Bembridge. The next day, after the boys had an early morning swim off St Helens, we made sail and headed East in an increasingly freshening South Westerly. After a few hours the dinghy (being towed due to my laziness) buried its head into a trough and flipped over.

I diagnosed that a longer tow line would prevent a repeat of the incident and therefore after righting the dinghy I set to, to achieve just that. At the crucial moment we surfed down a slightly bigger than average wave and in the middle of tying two lines together the dinghy painter was dragged out of my hand and the dinghy disappeared astern!

More by luck than judgement I affected a recovery and we continued on our way and entered Eastbourne that evening in the dark.

The next day Sharon picked us up and we left Zoetje to her own devices for a couple of days. I returned on Friday night with two of my brothers and early the next morning we continued on our way Eastwards. Unfortunately we had light Easterly winds and after a few hours had to get the engine on. We motored to Dover and almost ran out of fuel as we approached the harbour entrance. Zoetje limped through the western entrance on a mixture of Diesel and air, helped along by the jib. We left again at midnight in a flat calm in order to catch the tide and once outside were tossed around so violently by what I can only assume must have been a ship's wash ricocheting off the shore and harbour wall, that Isaac was convinced we would be swamped. The violent motion disturbed the fuel lines and so despite having filled up the engine was once again very sickly. Fortunately it staggered on and within 15 minutes or so we were out of the worst of it and continued on our way.

We were soon motoring through glassy seas and took the overland route across the Kentish Flats at low tide with sometimes only inches of water under the keel. Bizarrely we were escorted across the flats and through what seemed like raw sewage by - of all things - a bat. It kept trying to perch on the leech of the mainsail.

We tied up in Hoo Marina at exactly 1300 on Sunday the 31st August. Zoetje was home!

Tom Fisher

Date Published 10th Apr 2008