Farwell to Old England

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Tue 11 Aug 2009 17:30
Noon Position: 50 53.5 N 001 32.8 E
Course: South Speed: 2.5 knots
Wind: North nor' west, light
Weather: Sunny, warm
Day's run: 103

Did I ever blow yesterday's forecast! Here I was expecting light winds
overnight and for the next couple of days, thinking that I was going to have
to work the tides and consider anchoring when the stream was foul, but .
that didn't happen. At about 5 pm a patch of sky was turning ominously dark.
Soon the wind started to freshen from the west and then back to the south sou'
west. Before long I was down to a double reefed mainsail and 30% jib, and we
were still clipping along at five knots plus. My strategy definitely needed
reconsidering. I had planned on staying in the shallower water so that if
the wind failed and the tide was against me I could drop anchor until either
the wind picked up or the tide turned. Now with a fresh onshore breeze this
was exactly the wrong thing to do and I promptly started to head offshore to
gain as much sea room as possible. Initially when the wind picked up it was
still daylight and warm, so I stayed in shorts while reefing down and was
soon saturated. As evening came and it got cooler I changed into something
dry and warm, by this time we were well out into the channel and were
passing through a deep water anchorage where many large ships agglomerate,
presumably awaiting orders for cargo. It was interesting passing through the
anchorage, old Sylph bravely pounding up wind, spray flying, leeward gunwale
buried, water creaming past, while the behemoths lay stolidly unmoving, some
spray playing around their bows looked totally insignificant against their
massive bulk, their anchor cables leaning easily to the strong wind. On
Sylph I am shrouded in foul weather gear which struggles to keep me even
modestly dry, while the crew of our bigger brethren stroll around the deck
in shorts and open neck shirts. Are we on the same ocean?

Once through the anchorage I was fast approaching a major traffic separation
scheme, this is like a freeway for large ships in areas of
congestion, a good place for a small boat to avoid. For a while I considered bowling on
through as I had changed clothes and was all cozy and dry and to
change course meant I woud have to tack which meant a good chance of a whole
lot more spray. I considered this option for a while, maybe I should just
continue onto England, but as it turned out this particular section of English coastline
was one of the few holes in my chart collection, then there would be the
Thames estuary to deal with and at some point I would have to recross the
traffic separation scheme, I decided to once more don foul weather gear,
brave the elements and tack away. As it turned out the tack went well and I
only copped a very minor amount of spray so I managed to stay pretty dry.
Now this actually all ended up working out surprisingly well, I had the tide
with me, the wind was slowly easing and veering, and we were making a good
course for the Dover Strait. We had to negotiate another minor traffic
scheme which had a moment of excitement when a large merchantman closed me on
a steady bearing, ie if something didn't change we were going to collide, and
I knew who was going to come out second best. I attempted to tack but the sea
was up and I had reduced sail, as I came up into the wind I lacked the drive
to make it through the waves, Sylph stalled and fell back onto her original
course, meanwhile the dark black mass was looming above me, the red side
light and two masthead steaming lights casting shadows into the cockpit. I
bore away paralleling her course and waited for her to overtake. The
bridge staff of the ship were clearly aware of my presence and at this point
started shining a search light down at me, and sounded their fog horn.
Certainly things had gotten a little closer than I would have
liked, but after kicking about in his wash for a little bit he had soon
drawn well ahead and was little more than a dim light in the distance
and then ... gone. I was relieved to be clear of the big ships and back into the
shallower waters where they cannot follow, now all I was having to worry about was sand bars and channel markers.

By morning the wind had eased and veered into the northwest, we were back
under full sail and making good time with the stream behind us, I couldn't
have planned it better. I was enjoying a pleasant sail along the coast, now
French, when I sighted behind us a small grey ship. Intially I gave it
little thought but then as it got closer I realised it was a French patrol
boat. Oh bother, I thought, here we go again. And sure enough they were soon
close by and waving a sign with 08 on it, obviously they wanted me to talk
with then on VHF radio, channel 8. I called them up and provided them with
the particulars they asked for. I hoped that would be all, but no, they were
soon manoeuvring and it was obvious they were about to launch an inflatable
boat to send a boarding party across. Fortunately their boat handling was
quite a bit better then their Dutch colleagues and soon I had three French cusotms officers
on board, two seated in the cockpit, looking at my papers, asking me lots of
questions while one was down below peering into lockers, drawers and
hatches. To be fair they were very polite and pleasant and soon we were all
conversing in quite a spirit of bonhomie. Nothing amiss was found and we
were soon continuing on our respective ways.

By this time I could say I was well and truly through the Dover Straits. I
felt it something of an achievement, now we are moving into less
navigationally constrained waters, hopefully with less traffic. My forecast
may have been out for yesterday but unfortunately it is all too accurate
now, not a puff of wind and there is a bit of a swell running, mainly tidal
driven I suspect, so I have dropped sails. The water is a little deep to
anchor in so we are drifting; rolling about a
bit but no worse than last night. I am not sure what I am going to do next,
but something will happen soon to help me make up my mind. There is a
harbour nearby, Boulogne, but it doesn't look particularly attractive, we
can't anchor there and would have to use a marina, therefore for now we
drift. If no wind comes soon I will probably motor into shallower water and
drop the kedge anchor (a lighter weight anchor than the main 'bower') until some wind arrives. We
will undoubtedly roll around but at least I will be legal to catch some sleep.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

It got a bit rough last night, couldn't make up my mind where to sleep. The
settee was no good, I tried the V-Berth but that was worse, then I made for
the quarter berth, that was OK, for a while, then skipper Bob hung up his
wet weather gear and it dripped on me so I resigned myself back to the
settee and made the best of things. Really have some catching up to do ... Zzzzzz.