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Nigel Stevens' Spring Cruise 2013

Having only recently joined HNYC I thought writing an article might be a good way of introducing myself and my recent “spring cruise” seemed the ideal opportunity. This cruising activity is all very new to me as I've only just got back into sailing after a thirty year plus break since my teenage dinghy racing days. To cut a long story very short I was lucky enough to grow up abroad where the waters were warm, the sun shone all day and sailing gear consisted of shorts and something to keep the sunburn off.... When, aged 16, I came back to the UK I borrowed a friends Mirror for an afternoon... and that was the last time I went sailing apart from the odd excursion on holiday!

With retirement rapidly approaching (well it's a few years off yet but you can't start planning to early) I thought it would be wise to start building my sailing experience back up as one of my ambitions is to do a bit of world cruising. Now they say that sailors are all alike, but we all know there are actually two types, Monohull sailors, and then those that like to double , or in my case treble their joy..... I'm afraid I am a little bit biased towards multihulls, and trimarans in particular so it was no surprise to those that know me that I pretty much looked at nothing else. It didn't take me long to settle on what I wanted, the problem was going to be finding one. Back in the eighties a chap called Ian Farrier was involved in a project with Corsair Marine and it resulted in the F27, a small production trimaran that was cutting edge for it's time and pretty much set the standard that the rest of the industry is still trying to match. What made the F27 so special was that it was big enough for serious coastal cruising, yet light enough to be pulled around behind the car and this, combined with the unique folding system, means I can keep it at home, and take it to a variety of locations for my sailing. It is also an extremely fast and exciting boat to sail.......

Despite several hundred F27s being built they don't come on the market that often so I considered myself very lucky when I found one lying neglected in the corner of a south coast marina. I approached the local broker and made sure they knew I was interested if it came on the market, but it was another couple of years before the owner finally relented and I was able to get my hands on it.

Triassic finally made it back into the water in August 2012 with a couple of local trips out of Folkestone, and an appearance on the Medway when HNYC kindly allowed me use of their facilities in October. Over the winter there was a bit of tweaking and a new set of sails, but spring arrived with me eager to get some serious sailing done so having joined HNYC I set my sights on the planned Easter break cruise....... Unfortunately the weather had different ideas and as the date rapidly approached the e-mails from Charles Hessey indicated others clearly knew something I didn't! I resolved to turn up anyhow and just see what happened, after all you don't get experience by sitting at home!

Good Friday turned out to be quite a good day for a bank holiday, well at least it wasn't raining! I turned up nice and early for the 2pm tide and soon had Triassic rigged and ready. I abandoned her at the bottom of the slipway and went and enjoyed one of Christine's all day breakfasts, keeping a keen eye out for the first sign of the mast moving. Things worked out beautifully and by the time I was mopping up the last bakebean the Medway had done her bit and we were ready. I pushed Triassic off the trailer, hung her off the Hammerhead and quickly recovered the car and trailer. As Charles had predicted I had the place to myself so I motored out and set off against the last couple of hours of flood tide. The wind was blowing a proper hooley with winds around 20 knots, but gusting to 25/28 so I put a reef in the main but optimistically kept a full jib. We had an absolute hoot beating down to Garrison point, technically oversailed at times but the smooth water allows you to luff it a bit without killing the boat and watching the lee ama bury itself in a mountain of spray is exciting stuff..... I still hadn't really decided where to go so thought I'd nip out and have a look at what the estuary had to offer before deciding on the evening port. Once past Sheerness the wind picked up properly along with the swell and I quickly put in the second reef. The spring tide (how apt) was just on the point of turning so there was plenty of water over the Grain spit allowing me to ease away slightly and shoot off towards Essex jumping off the waves at 12 to 13 knots, figuring the water may be a bit calmer if I hugged the coast. I was right about the chop but the wind was absolutely bang on the nose if I wanted to go to the Crouch or Blackwater, and given I had subjected myself to that a month earlier when I had beaten all the way to Burnham in the dark I decided to chicken out and run back to the Medway. I turned and started back to Garrison point, now some eight miles away, Triassic burbling along at 10 odd knots with the apparent wind in single figures off the quarter. This lulled me into a false sense of security and I shook out one of the reefs, egged on by the sight of a monohull ahead also running for the Medway. As I got a bit closer I realized it was Spirit, one of the Elite sailing training boats with whom I had completed my Day Skippers course just over a month earlier..... I couldn't resist the temptation and I now found myself standing with the tiller clenched between my thighs and the jib and main sheet in either hand, adjusting the sails and course constantly for each passing swell. I was closing easily on them, in fairness they still had a fully reefed main and only a rag of jib showing, and as we passed under the port office building where the last bit sea still runs I had them firmly in my sights a couple of hundred yards ahead..... At this point I felt the stern rise and Triassic started to accelerate down the face of a particularly steep wave. I quickly sheeted in and as the apparent wind came round bore away to make the most of this opportunity....and we just took off. As the log went through 20 knots I bottled out, fearful that we would run off the front of the wave and bury the nose I eased the helm away and allowed it to pass under me, looking back up in time to see that the helmsman on Spirit had also panicked and turned almost 90 degrees away from me! I recovered my composure in time to offer him an apology and assure him I knew what I was doing....maybe, and establish they were staying at Queenborough that night. I spent the next hour or so hooning around by Stangate creek seeing just how fast I could go at various points of sail. Despite this being my 11th sail in Triassic (according to the logbook) I hadn't really had the opportunity to just muck about, we'd always been trying to get somewhere or meet a deadline and it was fun just to bomb about without a care in the world. At a quarter past five I eased into Queenborough and eyed up the ATL. The tide was now ebbing properly against the wind, and both the outside slots had been taken, one by Spirit, the other by some motor boat. I considered the barge for a moment, but then I remembered there is a space on the inside of the ATL and as Triassic only draws 14” board up I wouldn't have a problem when the tide drops. I dropped the main completely and furled the jib leaving just enough out for us to make headway against the tide, easing through the various other moored boats and lining up the inside of the ATL. Given the knowledgeable spectators (who I had frightened once already) I wanted to get this right and for once luck was on my side. Both the wind and tide eased at the same time and Triassic ghosted onto the dock as I took in the last bit of jib, and I even had time to walk out onto the ama and step onto the landing before the tide took over and carried her back. I made shipshape, wrote the log (33.4 miles run today) and put the curry on (it's easy, it comes in a tin, and even I can't spoil it) before catching up with the crew from Spirit. It seems the weather was interfering with their plans to, but that's sailing for you!

The forecast was more of the same, basically a 4-5 northeasterly and that wasn't set to change anytime soon, so given the tides an early start the next morning was called for if I actually wanted to go anywhere. I set the alarm for something obscene and turned in. 04:15 I slipped the mooring and allowed the tide to carry me clear of the ATL. It was ebbing hard and I figured it would carry me downstream where I could hoist the main and make a silent departure. I let out just a tiny bit of jib to give me some steerage but I hadn't allowed enough for the strength of the wind and just as I was sorting out the main halyard I felt a bump as the dagger board found the Queenborough spit. Cursing under my breath I fired up the outboard and did what I should have done in the first place, motoring to the windward side of the channel before messing about with the sails! It was still blowing well so I kept a reef in the main and she seemed all the happier for it. In Ian's sailing manual he stresses the importance of reefing his boats early and he is so right. We cleared the Medway and learning from yesterdays experience I headed for the Essex coast and calmer water. As the sun came up so did the wind and by the time we reached the Blacktail I'd put in a second reef on the main, although I was still getting away with a full jib, the boat just developing a touch of lee helm. As we tacked up past Maplin I elected to stay in close taking the East Swin channel. Wind against tide is always a recipe for a chop and although I lose a bit by staying in the shallower water I more than made up for it with boat speed. With the double reefed main and full jib Triassic was making an easy 9, 10 knots close hauled, but as soon as I hit the rougher water she would start jumping and pounding knocking this back to 6 or 7, besides I was trying to cook breakfast and I wanted the bacon in the pan, not on the cabin sole.... One of the investments I had made since last time out was a new autopilot with a remote control unit. I'm not a great lover of technology but there did seem something quite attractive about being able to sit drinking my coffee whilst steering the boat from inside the cabin, especially when there is a force 5 northeasterly blowing snow at you.... It even has a feature that allows me to tack at the push of a button, although I haven't quite trained it to work the jib sheets for me!

We didn't quite beat the tide to the Whittaker but the wind had eased a bit allowing me to shake out first one reef, then the second, and I wasn't in a hurry, although you might not have thought so if you'd seen me crossing the Wallet Spitway! I don't know if there is a record between the two bouys but I was touching 15 knots and loving it..... By now it was a beautiful day, the sun was out and various other people had ventured out onto the Blackwater. I closed in on a fairly large yacht that was also reaching in and we held station close enough for a brief chat about life. Neither of us seemed to spot the large dark cloud approaching until the squall hit us, suddenly adding 10 knots to the wind speed and about 30 degrees to his heel angle..... Triassic of course just picked up her skirt and shot off, but I must confess I bore away a bit to reduce the apparent wind. The wind eased and then died right down as I approached Bradwell and being a good boy I dropped all the sails and put-putted up the channel into the marina. They found me a nice spot without making me fold so I had the luxury of being able to step off either side of the boat onto the dock. Log said another 57.2 miles completed. I made everything presentable and got to the local pub in time for lunch. The Green Man did an excellent steak made all the more enjoyable by a young barmaid who appeared to only want to talk about going to hot countries and taking all her clothes off. I remained on best behaviour and managed to find my way back to the marina unaided......... After dozing most of the afternoon I checked out their new shower block (showers are hot, but the room is to big for their heater...although in their defence it was about minus 2 outside) and then went for a coffee in the clubhouse. Unfortunately the weather was keeping most folk away so I retired back to Triassic to plan tomorrows adventure.

A 7am start looked good for a close reach out to the Whittaker and a run down in time to catch the flood up the Medway so another early night. Nearly came to grief in the morning when I went to step ashore. I use the beams as a gangplank from the cockpit rather than walk across the netting but gently curved fiberglass and ice are not a good combination and it was 50/50 between an early bath or a gentle bounce....fortune was on my side. The forecast 4-5 failed to materialise so I made it across the Wallet at a more subdued speed than previously and went to hoist the spinnaker for the run down the coast. Another new toy was a sock/chute for the spinnaker and this was it's first trial. Things didn't go quite to plan, partly because I had loaded it twisted, and partly down to sheer incompetence on my part. After doing everything at least twice I gave myself a severe talking to and finally made everything work as it should, having a few practice set and drops. It was a glorious morning, we had a cold but gentle wind, the sea was dead flat and the world was at peace, well it was now that I had sorted the spinnaker. I cooked breakfast, sat back and watched the Essex coast go by on one side and a couple of boats on the other. They were both yachts with their sails stowed away motoring into the wind and it made me appreciate all the more how lucky I was that morning not to be on a mission to get anywhere in particular. We made excellent progress despite the tide being against me and by 10 O'clock it was decision time. I'd always wanted to check out the forts off the coast so I dropped the Spinnaker (practice had made perfect) and set off for the Red Sands Forts. I sailed around them a couple of times thinking it was quite amazing all that scrap metal hadn't been nicked yet.....and then set course for Leysdown. The wind and tide looked perfect for a circumnavigation of Sheppey so not one to pass up such an opportunity it seemed the obvious course. Given it had only just started to flood from a fairly low tide I kept a close eye on the water depth as I cut across Middle Sand but it never went under 2m and I made the Columbine on an easy reach. Just as I was about to ease away into the Swale there was an almighty bang and the main flew out, the sheet block having parted from the end of the boom. Once I had recovered from the shock I put the helm over and simply tacked, leaving the jib where it was and boat nicely hove to. Triassic lies to really well like this, even with the main fully out you simply lock the tiller to lee and she just sits there, and being a fully battened main it doesn't flog at all. A quick investigation revealed that the centre bolt on the swivel shackle had broken but fortunately I had a spare that I had originally bought for the spinnaker halyard. It was quickly put in place and within five minutes I was back on course for the Swale. Once in the lee of Sheppey everything went eerily quiet, the wind was only a gentle breeze and we slipped along in the flat water at 6 knots leaving hardly a ripple in our wake. It's in conditions such as this that you really notice how clean and efficient Ian designed the F27 lines and she just seems to glide along as if by magic. I picked my way past Harty Ferry pausing only to admire a lovely old sailing barge on a mooring there and then concentrated on trying to stay in a channel that seemed to be getting narrower and narrower by the moment. I don't know why I bothered, running like this I could have pulled up the board and rudder and pretty much sailed over anything that was wet, but I guess there is some pride in not running aground and one like to do things right.... I'd called the bridge keeper before entering the Swale to check the bridge was working (I didn't want to have to beat all the way out again now did I) and as I came round past Ridam dock he called me on channel 10 to say everything was ready and to keep coming. We were on a close reach now and making good speed, but he timed it well and just as I reaching the point of “you are going to put it up aren't you” I saw the traffic stopping and heard the bell ringing. Now with the tide firmly against me I was a little worried about losing the wind just at the wrong moment, and perhaps I should have played it safe and lowered the motor into the water at the very least, but I was feeling brave so kept with it, and sure enough both sheets went slack as I went into the shadow of the bridge. I'm willing to bet that not a single yachtsman goes under a bridge without looking up to check the clearance, and I was no exception, despite knowing full well there were miles to spare, and I bet the keeper has a laugh at every one of us..... As I came out the other side the wind came back with a vengeance and Triassic absolutely creamed it away with 15 knots on the log, prompting an exchange with the keeper about speed limits on the Swale...... I told him nobody cares on a Bank Holiday weekend, especially me! I managed to pick my way around the rest of the Swale with just a couple of tacks needed on the bends at Queenborough and set off up the Medway.

My trip around Sheppey meant I had missed any opportunity of getting out of the water that afternoon so I needed to make a decision what to do for the night. Do I head for the comfort of a marina or rough it at anchor. Given that I had just, at great expense, fitted a heater into the boat I went for the latter so went off in search of a suitable hiding place. I slipped into Sharfleet Creek as I hadn't been in there before but there were only a couple of places to anchor, the first on the outside of the first bend which I though a bit exposed (a stronger Easterly was forecast in the morning), the second further in but already occupied by another yacht who was busy belching foul smelling smoke from his diesel exhaust. I sailed back out and went further up Stangate where I found a yacht flying a Canadian ensign from her stern. Closer inspection showed her registered in Vancover so I figured they might make good company for the evening. Unfortunately several close passes and hailing failed to get any response, so as I couldn't see any dinghy I figured they might have gone up to Lower Halstow for supplies and such like. I did some quick calculations in my head on how much tide had run before dropping the anchor in 3m of water just off to one side of the Canadian yacht. The days run was 50.5 miles. It was still only 4pm and a lovely afternoon so I sat on deck with a hot cup of soup and watched the world, consisting mainly of various species of wildlife, go by. My neighbours failed to materialize so I busied myself with some housekeeping. Given the hard time I had given my new rigging over the weekend I got the gauge out and gave it all a tune up. Apart from the intermediates all was about right and a few minutes work twisting and lockwiring saw them sorted out. The clouds stayed away long enough to give me a nice sunset then I retired below to chilli with rice and my heater. It was a close call which was hotter and I went to bed glowing inside and out.

Nigel Stevens Spring Cruise

Nigel Stevens Spring Cruise

I was awoken next morning to a proper howl in the rigging. The forecasters had for once got it right and the instruments showed 28 knots blowing over the mast, and that was in the relative shelter of the creek. Given the last two early starts I elected on a lie in until the disgraceful time of 9am and then had a lovely cooked breakfast before puling the anchor up at ten O'clock. I always try and avoid using the motor if I can and Triassic does make this easy for me. To sail the anchor out I simply hoist the main (only one reef, I was feeling brave again) and then leave the sheet almost completely free and the helm swinging. Triassic will swing to one side partly filling the main which will drive her forward allowing you to pull in some line, but the weather helm will effectively auto tack before repeating the process on the other side. Within a couple of minutes I had reached the chain and the trick then is to make sure she breaks free on the right tack away from the bank.....rather than straight at it! Fortunately I got it right first time which was just as well as I had noticed the Canadians watching me through binoculars! I reached over to them and pulled up just off their stern. Turns out they had been helping a stranded yacht that had broken down in Sharfleet the previous morning and they hadn't got back until late. They were on their way around the world and were just “resting” in the UK for a while. Not sure I would have picked March to visit the UK but they were clearly made of proper stuff so I wished them luck before heading out to see what the Medway could throw at me. Half way out of Stangate I had a moments panic when I remembered I had slackened off the jack stays the previous evening when checking the rigging, and hadn't tightened them back up again. I nursed her out of the creek and then put right my error before letting out the jib and running away up river.

Given the weather I wasn't surprised I had the Medway all to myself on this Bank Holiday Monday. Well, almost to myself, I passed both Elite sailing boats who were on their way out, both under motor! We exchanged a few shouts over the wind about “proper sailors” but for some reason they gave me a wide berth today..... I decided to run all the way up to Rochester bridge as I had loads of time to kill before I could get out on the tide. Once past Gillingham and Hoo Ness the wind died right down and I took out the reef after the dockyards. That was a mistake.... I made it up to Rochester alright, and then turned and started beating back. The problem was that the wind is very fickle between the buildings and thirty degree shifts were common. That's all very well if you're moving well and it comes around gently, but altogether another thing if you're dead in the water and it suddenly hits you on the side. These are exactly the conditions that can cause multihulls grief and I really should have known better. Either way I came around past Chatham Marina towards Medway Yacht club close hauled on starboard tack into about ten knots of wind. A motor boat came round the other way, saw me and quite rightly altered course to port in order to pass on my weather side. They were about 200 yards from me when the wind died completely and I started losing way. Unfortunately it was only for a moment and I was then hit with 25 knots square on the starboard side. I felt Triassic lifting out of the water but even she wasn't able to accelerate quickly enough to bring the apparent wind round safely so I put the helm over to luff up, (it better to actually bear away under these circumstances but I didn't have any room to leeward) and fortunately we just had enough way on for her to respond. The motor boat went hard to starboard to pass down my port side and as they went past the helmsman was clearly laughing his head off and making angle gestures with his hands. I really didn't need reminding how close that had been so immediately put two reefs back in!

I picked up a buoy by the Orinocco which was still completely dry and sat down with my tide tables to work out when I reckoned I'd be able to get in. I reckoned about two and an half hours before high water would be about right but being short on local knowledge went for a phone call to HNYC as well. The considered view from the bar was around 3pm, which was about half and hour after when I reckoned, but I factored in I only need the water in a channel two feet wide...... Unfortunately this meant I was going to miss Christine's lunch so I had to settle for pasta on board instead. At 2pm it looked like there was water all the way in so I decided to have a go, figuring the worst that could happen is I'd sit in the mud for a while. I turned the chartplotter magnification right up and steered in with half and eye on the plotter, and half on the withies. It worked, we just brushed over the bar and although I couldn't make it to the hammerhead I was able to hang off one of our neighboughs pontoons whilst I got the car and trailer into the water.

Many thanks to the club members who came and rescued me from the slipway. Not wishing to dunk the rear of my car in the sea yet again I had pushed the trailer in and tied it to a long rope to the car. This was fine as it allowed me to motor onto the trailer easily enough when the tide came in a bit more....only then I had the problem of how to get to dry land to drive the car out (normally I just walk across the trailer tow hitch). All in all a great four days. With the 20.1 miles I did on the last day that made the total just over 161 miles. There's some superb sailing to be had around the Medway area and many thanks to everybody at HNYC who has made me so welcome. Hopefully the next cruise won't be so lonely.......

Date Published 6th Apr 2013