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What a blast sailing to Burnham

Over the weekend I went on the Westerly Owners meeting at Burnham on Crouch on Concerto my 32ft Westerly Fulmar. She has been undergoing major renovations and has only just been relaunched after 6 months ashore, but nowhere near finished. This is was the first sail since launching.

The sail from Chatham to Burnham on Friday 24 July 2015 started with nil wind, so the iron sail was used. Once out past Garrison Point (entrance to the Medway) I hoisted the main and motor sailed. After crossing the Thames shipping channel I unrolled the genoa and throttled back to 1400 rpm. Before I reached Blacktail Spit (first contact with the Essex coast) I finally managed to sail at about 4.5 to 5 knots. It was close hauled to close reach up to the Whittaker (to turn for the long run into the Crouch). Later the wind reached 17 knots at about 60 degrees off the bow and Concerto powered on and the log hit 8 knots. I took 2 short videos on my phone and the links are. ... 1.mp4?dl=0 ... 3.mp4?dl=0
Sorry if one is on its side, but it looks great on the phone.
The day was spoilt by the rain that arrived half way up to Whittaker and continued almost continuously into the evening. The run into the Crouch was certainly slower and at times dropped as low as 3 knots, but generally 4½ to 5½ knots. Berthing in the marina did not go exactly as expected as it was a very tight turn. The route to the berth was about one and a half times my boat length due to a fishing boat (side berthed) having a tender alongside and a slight tidal sideways push. Luckily help was on hand and no damage was done.

Saturday morning, after testing the showers and listening to the wind whistling in the rigging, a stream of Westerly owners visited Concerto. Hopefully I have inspired some to do some improvements. In the afternoon we had a tour of the lifeboat station. This was a very interesting tour and I learnt loads about how the RNLI works and performs. Then after a walk into town, I thought of the many changes since I last visited some 25 years ago and my first nearly 50 years ago. Most of the house boats I remember are still there on the foreshore! In the evening there was a formal dinner at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. Looking out from the balcony over the moorings, you wondered where the wind had gone and then watched the sun set. Excellent food and company made this an evening to remember.

Sunday started early and I went into lazy mode as I watch other owners leaving at around 7 to catch the ebbing tide north. As I needed to take the flood tide south I expected to leave on the last of the ebb tide to Whittaker at about midday. Things kept slipping and I remembered a few jobs that needed doing, most importantly completely drying out the bilge after fitting the log impellor. The forecast was not good, but I decided to go, even though it was raining again. Then I hit a problem, the Autohelm 2000 was not working. No one could help solve it, I found out later it is slight water ingress into the electronics. Getting out of the berth was fun at about 12.45, even with help I made a pigs ear of it. The gap was just too short and the prop wash took the stern into wind rather than the other way. With the bow blowing the wrong way, I decided the easiest solution was to reverse out of the marina. Not elegant, but it worked well. Clearing all the warps and fenders away, followed with final preparations for setting sail took time as I needed to put a reef in the main (note to myself, do this before leaving the marina). Trying to do this without a tiller pilot is a tad difficult. After clearing all the moorings I hoisted the reefed main with about 17 knots across the deck. Then unfurled most of the genoa and wooosh I was off. The further down river I got, the more the wind increased. Gee this was fun, watching the log became a constant pass time. Seeing yet another fastest speed. The previous top speed from the sail up of 8 knots was almost constantly exceeded, 8.5, 8.8, 9.0, 9.2, 9.5, 9.7, 9.8, 9.9, 10.0, 10.1 but I did miss seeing the 10.2 now stored on the log. I am beginning to wonder if the log is reading slightly high, but I certainly was travelling fast. The helm was firm, but not heavy, and I sat on the coaming using the tiller extension.

After clearing Shore Ends the wind was now constantly in the high 20's and going into the low 30's in gusts. I had too much sail up for the beat down the Swin. So I had to drop a second reef in the main, but with limited channel width, as I was travelling so fast, I had to pick my moment and then roll the genoa down to about 60% of it’s usual area. After rounding the end of the spit at Whittaker, the depth dropped to just 2m under the keel, I hardened up on starboard tack to gain some windward room before tacking on to the making port tack. This was the first of only 3 short hitches to windward to get to Sheerness. The waves were reasonable and the Fulmar hull took everything thrown at it and boat speed remained at about 7 knots. The wind remained in the high range and I sailed easily at about 40 to 45 degress off the bow. Only occasionally did a crop a wave and shower the boat, but she never slammed. Sitting in the cockpit sheltering behind the sprayhood, I had every faith that everything was performing as it should (except the autopilot!). The tiller was almost central to the boat, showing the rig was balanced, so she almost sailed herself and I could let go of the tiller for about 15 seconds without any problems. Visibility remained reasonably good in the rain making it easy to spot the next buoys. The chart plotter certainly makes navigation so easy and I doubt if I would have made this trip if I had to use charts only.

Coming down to Maplin buoy, the waves built as it was wind over tide and a pinch point in the sandbanks. The wave peak to the trough I estimate was close to 2 metres, so making it a bit of a roller coaster ride. After the tack to clear Maplin, I then held port tack all the way to Sheerness. A burst of sunlight at the entrance to the Medway brought the familiar chimney into view, a welcoming sight to see where you need to get to.

Straying close hauled was a wise move as the flood tide was taking me westward at about 2 knots. As I approached the Thames Sea Reach channel, I had to keep a close eye on an approaching dredger. As he dropped further along the side of the boat, I realised he was safely going to be astern of me. I crossed the channel at close to a 90 degree course, but the Medway Channel was not as good but there was no shipping movement. Then I slightly cracked the sheets to 60 degrees off to sail just south of the channel. Wooosh went the speed again to 8 knots in the calmer water in the lee of the Isle of Sheppy. As I approached Garrison Point, I had to harden up again and then I hit the lee of the buildings and it felt as though I had stopped. As I eased past the buildings, the wind increased and lifted my course to clear the old gas jetty on the opposite shore. The wind remained in the low 20's, so progress was still brisk. I needed one more pair of tacks to clear Berry Wiggins pier to reach Darnett Fort. By then I decided not to short tack for Gillingham Reach, but dropped sails and motored up river. It was 8.30pm now. As I approached Upnor I saw a commercial timber ship coming down river and 4 jet skis. One of the jet skis thought it would be fun to try and soak me with tight turns, but I was too tired to worry. I was glad to finally tie up in my berth in Chatham Maritime Marina, after waiting 20 minutes to lock in, at 9.45.

Not bad for the first couple of sails of the season, having only launched 10 days earlier with lots of work required before sailing including painting the decks.

Date Published 29th Jul 2015