Christchurch to Dartmouth

Dream On
Freddie Alderson
Tue 13 Jul 2010 16:15

The Adventures of Dream On - Christchurch to the Caribbean

The First Few Days


Well, the voyage has started, though it is hard to believe. Not because it isn’t quite hard to believe anyway, but because we have had to defer dates so often it is hard to believe it really has finally happened.


Unexpected fitting out problems and delays meant she was finished only 2 days before we left, instead of 2 months. That, plus finding the time for all the often re-scheduled but important goodbyes means we are very late in leaving, about a month. Naturally enough, friends and relations started getting sceptical in the end – saying goodbye and still being there is apparently not good form.


The final good byes said and hopefully all preparations made, we set off for Poole on Thursday 8th July, normally an easy and familiar trip for us. The log wasn’t working but it often wasn’t at the beginning of a journey till it cleared itself of weed. Everything else had been checked, and serviced and looked at and checked again. So we were quite disconcerted when the engine failed about a third of the way across. After trying her several times, when she caught, coughed, burped and then spluttered her way into silence again, and certain it was fuel as the engine has just been serviced, Fred eventually drained the water separator twice; some muck came out and he let it run till clear and tried again. Sounded better, but still dying. We tried for one last time before ringing Seastart, and she started and ran sweet as a nut thereafter. To our relief.


There passed an uneventful night at Poole catching up with severely lacking R&R and an early 6 am start for Dartmouth. SW 3/4 was forecast; on the nose but not too strong, not enough to delay us. The wind was too flukey, (F1-3), to sail, but it was sunny and mostly warm with a flat sea. So we had a very relaxed uneventful beginning on autopilot, in the sun, and then the tide against us seemed surprisingly strong and long and really slowed us down As we passed Portland at 12.00, it was clear the going was slow, averaging a little over 4 knots. Then the wind rose through 4 to 5, still on the nose, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped as did the glass, a swell and a mist came in and the short choppy seas slowed us further. The cat started slamming and things started jumping off shelves. Making tea became difficult.


 Fred was having a well deserved rest at about 2.30 when the chart plotter alarm went off to tell us it had lost the GPS. So out came the hand held GPS, the paper chart and corrections were made as necessary from the plotted course. We have to admit to feeling a bit glum at this point, tiredness, the slowness, the slamming for hours, the weather and losing the GPS.


Then something happened that made it all worthwhile. Sarah, a keen fisherwoman, was using the binocs to watch the seagulls with envy as they happily fished away a little way off and to try and see the fishes they were catching, when up into the eyepiece leapt - a dolphin Correctly interpreting her high-pitched squeaks as, ‘Here be dolphins’, I rushed up with camera and there they were, swimming round and under us. They were so quick and we were so engrossed we didn’t manage to get much on camera – I think I got one. But what a thrill!  It really cheered us up.


We recognised the Start Point and Berry Head lights early, despite the mist and low black cloud, and we made it to Dartmouth entrance just where we wanted to be but several hours later than anticipated, midnight 05 in fact. This meant an astounding 18 hr journey instead of the expected 12-14. We had found out the marinas were full that night, and we did not wish to negotiate the river or Dittisham at night as one previous time we had  found out how dark it is upriver of Noss due to the steep wooded sides of the valley and obviously, lack of lights. There are some hazards and many unlit boats, so we decided to borrow a vacant navy buoy, be safe and be sure to leave it early.


This we did, and although we wanted to get the GPS fixed, we knew the marina wouldn’t have space this early and we wanted to get moored up somewhere nice and just stop for a bit. And we knew Dittisham is very nice so off we went. On the approach I saw a river officer’s boat and wondered if it was Michael the one we know well. So it was, he came over, directed us to a mooring just about to be vacated, and we moored up in lovely Dittisham.


Our first cup of tea was interrupted by a call from Sarah’s boyfriend, Jim,  just arrived from Xch to see her. What timing! And the exodus by dinghy to get him was interrupted by the river Officer coming to say hello, give us the Harbour guide, weather forecast and collect dues. We agreed to see him later.


Eventually all were aboard for cups of tea and chat, then off to the Anchorstone for a lovely lunch with that-day-caught fish and mussels. Back for pm snooze, off again for early drink at Ferry Boat Inn, or more accurately, on the wall on the beach in front of it. Back for curry prepared earlier by Fred, and sleep. Lovely day.


It turns out we needed that sleep. The next morning we took Jim and Sarah ashore to see to his car and were happily sorting ourselves out on board with domestic concerns, water making, showering etc, when the whole 12 volt system shut down. We could not help but view this with serious concern as it is what we would depend on during the voyage. We could cook and had a foot water pump, but clearly the fridge and all the instruments, lights etc were gone. And it would happen on a Sunday when no-one would be working. It was so hard to work out why – the batteries had power and were charged, the fuses were all fine, apart from one old one and Fred couldn’t work out what that was for. No breakers had gone and when he connected the breaker board directly from the battery, each one worked. By this means he got the fridge working, and a few other things working when we needed them. But it was worrying and very puzzling.


Sarah and Jim went to have lunch ashore while we stayed to fret, and on the way, unbelievably, the outboard failed – something it hasn’t done since we bought it 2 years ago, and it had just been serviced. It coughed them to Dittisham and spluttered Fred halfway back, when he was lucky enough to hitch a lift back to the boat. Nothing he could do would entice it to start. Jim and Sarah were able to get back with the water taxi, summoning it by ringing a large bell hanging by the pontoon as is the way in Dittisham, but Jim had to leave earlier than he wanted to as the water taxi stopped running at 6pm.


The River Officer recommended the LX man at the Darthaven Marina on the Kingswear side of the river, so I rang and explained next morning and they agreed to reserve the first available berth for us and ring us to let us know when it was free, which was very helpful. At 10.30, he rang and with great relief, we set off to get our various bits sorted out.



But it didn’t stop there. Just free of our buoy, and turning to work thru the other moored boats, the engine failed again. Though often dying completely, Fred rather magnificently managed to get it to cough and splutter its way through the moorings to the free moorings near the beach north of the Anchorstone. There, though surrounded by buoys and a pontoon, having no power or steerage way, we were unable to moor up, and so, obviously reluctant to get swept towards the Anchorstone by the fairly strong ebb, Fred anchored. Ropes and fenders were spread round the boat in case a chance to tie up presented itself. It almost but never quite did, and the attempt to use the dinghy also just failed as oars against the ebb stood no chance. We had had to anchor in 16.5 metres as the river bed falls away from the beach like a cliff there, so there was a danger of being swept across or downriver to the Anchorstone, when the tide rose. We felt we should let the River Authority know as we could be a hazard, apart from anything else.


Luckily Michael ,the our River Officer, was nearby, and arrived very quickly. He tied up to us while we weighed the anchor, and then offered to take us down to the marina as he was going that way. How fantastic is that? His skill and control was superb and he deposited us safely and smoothly on our berth some 20 minutes later. So many thanks and much gratitude are due to him. His kindness saved us hours of uncertainty, hassle and worry, removed us from danger and removed our danger to others. From doom to delight in a few minutes.


At the Darthaven Marina, solutions came quick and fast; the 12v failure was due to that old fuse and no-one could understand what it did or why it was there. It was removed and by-passed, and the system was fine. The fuel pre-filter on the engine a 2 micron filter not a 30 micron filter as it should have been and was getting blocked really quickly. The fuel was otherwise alright; there was very little debris and any there was would be easily cleared by some Fuel Doctor. As the chart plotter was getting other instruments to talk to it via seatalk, it was concluded that we do apparently need a new GPS antenna, and it is arriving on Wednesday in 2 days time; and the outboard man still has the outboard.


But we feel we’re back on track, and we’re resting today, though the Captain very daringly did rush over to Dartmouth on the first ferry this am to get fresh croissants from the French bakery for breakfast. Well done, that man.


The final irony is that having sorted out all our problems yesterday, and got settled in for comfort and warmth in the evening (it was pouring with rain by now and cool), the marina by some fluke lost all electricity just after all the staff had gone home, and all the boats lost their shore power for the night.


I was quite glad our 12v system was working again.