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‘Kelpie’ sails to the Medway: part 2

Having nearly reached Queenborough, Rik continues his tale of ‘A trip to the Medway (or how not to do it)’. This article was inspired by the Yachting Monthly “The Confessional”. This is the second part, find the first part here.

I managed to get comfortably past Garrison Point before heading for the Swale. I sailed into Queenborough, much faster than I wanted, given that I had not been there for over 40 years and things had changed a lot. It was of course a lot more crowded than I remembered and where the visitors’ buoys used to be there was now a pontoon. I could not go below to consult the Pilot so I could not check their new location and started looking for an empty mooring. Conditions, even in the harbour, were such that I knew the motor would not work, so the mooring had to be easy to get to. There was a likely looking candidate in the middle of the first trot with sufficient space around it. I made one more pass to confirm its suitability and then lined up for my approach. I usually pick up my mooring at Pin Mill under sail, so I was fairly well practised and confident. Things went perfectly. I rounded into the wind short of the buoy and lost way just  as it reached the shrouds. With both sails flapping all I had to do was run up the port side deck and pick up the mooring pennant. I got out of the cockpit and about a metre up the side deck I pulled up short before I realised I was still clipped to the starboard Jackstay. That was that,  I Leapt back into the cockpit and re-sheeted everything as quickly as I could, tacked on to port and sailed out between the two trot lines. I went back for two more goes, the first I missed completely, coming to the buoy too fast. The second I hit the buoy well enough but ‘Kelpie’ paid off when I was most of the way up the side deck and started sailing herself into the next boat along the trot. I dashed back to the cockpit, hauled the main in and put the tiller hard over, she accelerated first but, to my great relief, the rudder bit just in time for her to round up and  miss the other boat. Relieved, I sailed out as before and started to look for a mooring with more space and fewer spectators. It was then I discovered the visitors’ moorings, three in line and all free. Of course, that time was a textbook pick up.

The first thing I did after a clean up and a cup of tea was check the echo sounder. I got out the lead and checked it against a known depth. The two agreed so I put the previous problem down to a glitch, although I would keep a careful eye on it in future. Then I sorted the halliards so they would run freely and replaced the rigging screw with a lanyard. After dinner I turned in, to a bumpy night looking forward to a  calmer tomorrow. When I emerged the next morning the wind had dropped to 2-3 and had turned to a northerly, it was a bright clear day. The forecast was for increasing wind later but nothing worrying. I shipped the motor and proceeded out of the Swale to the Medway about three hours before low water. My intention was to punch the ebb up The Thames to gain the maximum advantage from the flood when the tide turned. I was motoring to clear water to get the sails set. I needed lots of room to sort out the problem with the main reefing. I checked the sat nav and realised that I was wavering into shallow water but a quick check of the sounder showed, what it thought was, two metres. I started turning to deeper water to be sure and ten seconds later ran aground. It transpired that the two was the first digit of a three digit fault code. Four uncomfortable and worrying hours later I returned to the buoy I had left such a short time before. It’s not that I am a stranger to the putty, indeed I am notorious in the east coast OGA, but this time I think I had extenuating circumstances. 

It was now much too late to go anywhere  so I went ashore to do some shopping and have a shower at the yacht club, which somehow ended  with a couple of beers. I came to the conclusion that it would be foolhardy to try further sailing, particularly into unfamiliar waters, without getting the echo sounder problem solved. I phoned the chandlery from which I had bought the new one but their only suggestion was that I phone the manufacturers on Monday to see if they could diagnose the problem. Stuck in Queenborough on Sunday is not ideal. The wind shifted during the day, coming round to westerly and increasing to 5-6. The visitor’s buoy to which I was moored was about a metre in diameter and quite hard. It had been fine until now but when the ebb started the boat hit it and it sounded like being hit with a mallet. I knew I should move but once again I would have to sail in strange waters and I did not trust the sounder, so the only option was to put up with it. I took a walk around and went to the sailing club for a few beers. I was kept awake for some of that night by the boat riding up on the buoy which was frustrating. On Monday I phoned the sounder manufacturer who said they would have a look at the instrument if I sent it to them for repair, but I found that unacceptable. So having determined where the nearest chandler was I took the train to Gillingham to buy a replacement. Unfortunately they did not have one in stock but a quick phone call revealed that the next chandlery along did and another customer was generous enough to give me a lift there and then back to the station. I got back and fitted the new sounder and planned my passage back home.

This time I left at the crack of dawn to punch the last of the flood out to the Medway so I could take maximum advantage of the ebb up the Swin. There was a light westerly blowing but as I crossed the estuary it started to falter. Even when I put up the ghoster I was still  only making progress very slowly. I decided to try the motor. I shipped the engine and it happened that there was just enough wind to keep the propeller in the water but not enough to duck the motor completely so I was able to make good time motor-sailing. The wind was starting to pick up as I crossed the Swin spitway but I held on to the motor until I was safely across the shallows part. Having got this far I had the choice of either Brightlingsea, the Pyfleet, a local anchorage on the Colne, or home. I estimated that I would have to punch the flood for a couple of hours to get to Harwich, but then I would have the tide behind me up the Orwell, so straight home was a viable option. I had a glorious sail back up the  Wallet with all plain sail set, a westerly on the port quarter and the sun shining. I made Pin Mill in good time. Sometimes the gods frown and sometimes they smile. I find they smile more when I am not being stupid.

‘Kelpie 2’ on the River Orwell, 2015 Photo: Beverley Yates

I have since shortened the lacing line on the main to stop a recurrence of the aforementioned problem. It means I cannot lace the full sail but itI still sets well anyway. The other thing it reinforces is the need to fix small problems as they occur, so they can’t snowball at inopportune times.

Words: Rik Graham, ‘Kelpie 2’