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Mammalian encounters?

After joining the Jubilee Summer Cruise from the River Orwell, ‘Emanuel’ was delayed on her passage back to Sandwich, Kent due to the lock gates being jammed at Chatham Marina. Skipper Robert recounts his passage home, with some curious encounters . . .

OGA60 celebrations behind us and it is time to head for home. No time to lose. The Chatham Marina lock gate had been repaired and ‘Windfinder’ was saying it was good to go, with disappointingly light winds. The prospect of light airs led to thoughts of topsails. However, there remained the need to clear that part of the River Medway for the singlehanded passage to Ramsgate and thence home for ‘Emanuel’ at Sandwich.

It was just as ‘Windfinder’ predicted, there was little wind until comfortably past the outfall North Cardinal just east of Garrison Point, along with the charted shallows. The lack of any meaningful wind meant the engine had to stay on, giving a welcome SOG of 6.0 or so knots, with the tide, turning foul as we approached the shallows of the Copperas Channel on the now rising tide, exactly as intended. However, instead of the low strength wind predictions of ‘Windfinder’ we got a rising wind and sea, thankfully alleviated somewhat under cover of the offshore Margat Hook and Margate Sands. Margate itself was soon past, made all the more pleasurable by the suspect sighting of a porpoise close to the surface. Still under engine for best speed brought us to the drying chalk reef of The Longnose Ledge on the North Eastern tip of Kent,  around which we must go, done with about a cable’s offing.

Then there was a noticeable slowing inconsistent with the wave pattern!! Rather like the feeling you might experience with the gentle application of a car’s brakes. It only lasted perhaps five seconds and clearly we had not touched bottom as there was no bumping and ample depth on the echo sounder. Then off Botany Bay we had another unaccountable slowing, the seas having risen as we entered the area of ‘wind over tide, white water’ that is North Foreland at its finest! Off Kingsgate Bay we saw ‘Emanuel’ gracefully attempting to surf on the face of the following seas. Then another slowing, accompanied by a bang from astern. Leaving the helm momentarily for a quick look around revealed nothing untoward, but curiosity and concern had been aroused. The engine did not falter at all and neither did our 9ft inflatable, choosing to surf on the following waves and on occasion actually coming close to overtaking us. Then I saw what it was that caused such a loud noise!

It was the dinghy! Being  routinely towed using two quite separate lines, the thicker and stronger one had torn apart the dinghy’s central towing bracket and thrown it, still tied to a floor eyebolt, into the dinghy. Whatever it was took some force to do that! The other towing line remained attached as a bridle, its intended role. Another slowing of ‘Emanuel’ took place off Kingsgate Castle when, looking ahead I saw what looked very like the horizontal tail flukes of a small whale lurking in the shallow waters of the Broadstairs Knolls. It was just beneath the surface, semi-hidden by the wave-generated froth. What a way to come towards the end of the season, being cuddled up to by a small whale . . .

A postscript to this involved an acquaintance’s yacht that had hit something with sufficient force to tear off the lower part of the  rudder. Was it a whale, I ask myself? The evidence would seem to suggest it was, though it was not seen to ‘blow’. Perhaps it was just a playful juvenile?

Robert Holden, Elder Gaffer & EC Member