It's all about
finding the calm
in the chaos
Image "Vashti at dawn"
Winter 2016. Aged 31 and a half.
With barely enough wind to move the device at Lillibullero's mast head we had to use some diesel power to safely slip away from her mooring and into the channel of the River Orwell before a bear away to port and run up the river towards Ipswich.
Lazily a full mainsail was hanging from the gaff and the jib we call "the biggun" was swaying in front as if being hung out to dry. Floating along with wind and tide we were surprisingly making around 3 knots over the ground occasionally overtaking the apparent wind. This effect forced the gigantic gaff mainsail to slowly weather-cock and creek over to the centreline of the boat threatening a fateful end to the ensign staff astern.
As we came past the Royal Harwich Yacht Club and closer up to what little wind there was Lillibullero began to reach and it was time for the staysail to get off its backside and do some work. With Deer Park Lodge to our North the unmistakable Freston Tower poking up through the mist over the bow and the Orwell Bridge in the distance we were making good speed over the ground in this very light breeze.
The tide still had 45 minutes to flood and we still had tuna sandwiches and beer to consume so we picked up the last mooring before the Orwell Bridge and gave ourselves a break for lunch. Furling the biggun and dumping the staysail Lillibullero sat happily with the mainsail rigged laying to wind and tide.
I made myself comfortable on the side deck, in the lee of the cool breeze blowing over the coachroof. The sunshine was penetrating Lillibullero's dark afromosia deck and I could feel the heat from this beaming sun on my face as I laid back and nodded off for a few minutes. The sound of the cars heading along the road to Shotley Peninsula was actually quite relaxing.
With the tide approaching somewhere around slack water after a brief snooze, I set and sheeted the staysail and the biggun and let Lillibullero's mainsail run free. The freshening light air took her bow away from the mooring and off the wind before I began to heave in that big mainsail once again and sail close up to the wind. For the next 20 minutes we were still fighting a flood tide in a very light wind but only drawing 1.5 metres meant we used the full width of the river to our advantage and put in long and short tacks through the moorings both sides of the river hoping someday to reach Woolverstone.
Backing both headsails a little we tacked as efficiently as we could in such light airs and the only ripple on the water was the wake from our small but meaningful bow wave, this was truly rewarding sailing. We managed to lay Deer Park lodge an hour or so later and the tide had slackened off in one tack and turned in another. Now on every tack between the moorings I had to pick the other side of the gap between boats or risk being washed down onto someone's beloved moored boat.
Once at No6 it was time to start stowing all the gear it takes to sail Lillibullero and the engine was used to bring us up to the mooring at Pin Mill. As the sun began to set behind the trees to our south the mist started to lift and the air became very cold. This very localised but delightful sail had taken us quite a few hours but who wants to be in a hurry sailing a gaffer like this on a sunny, fresh, winters day...
Summer 2014. Aged 29 and a bit.
It was a sunny day and the wind was light from the west. Having launched and rigged Amber the week previous, I had been spending most of that week trying to remember which of the hundreds of halyards, sheets and other ropes did what. This 16ft open gaff cutter sets two headsails, a gaff mainsail, topsail, and lug mizzen at any one time.
I sat in the large open cockpit enjoying the sunshine, a can of Southwold's best and the tranquility that surrounds anyone waiting for the tide to set them free from a mooring in Holbrook Creek. Our destination would be Ipswich Dock to meet up with the OGA, a fleet of gaff rigged boats and while the mud of the creek held us in it's grasp I could see two gaff cutters no less than mile away making their way down the river from Wrabness.
I could clearly identify one of these boats as a fishing smack, the other however I could not pin point. The only smack I know of that resides up the Stour is Daisy Bell at Mistley but this one was bigger and from this distance I couldn't make out either the fishing number, or colour. I later learnt this was CK365 Transcur, with Temagami following behind, both very close friends. We wouldn't see them again until we were berthed in Ipswich Dock.
This was the furthest mooring out of the creek borrowed from Nick for the week. This meant that Amber with her plate up floated in a bilge keel shaped pond just a few feet bigger than her hull before the mud of Holbrook creek came up to kiss the surface of the water a little further out. This was a tantalisingly frustrating scene to witness. The channel to escape was a mere 9 ft away but between us and that attractive blue water was a miniature mountain range of mud.
After what seemed like an age but in reality was only 20 minutes I threw away the muddy mooring warps and took a run at getting out under engine. At the edge of our pond Amber slowed a little and we began to leave our mark in the mud but a few more revs finished the job and Holbrook Creek released it's grip on us a few seconds later. Now we were free with over a metre under the keel and our next port of call was a mooring buoy in Holbrook Bay labelled "No Mooring".
I let go of the helm and over quite a high bow I picked up this weedy buoy with a lovely shiny warp from the focsle. Although this messy mooring buoy leaves his muddy mark on everything he is my friend, my last port of call when arriving home too early and my first port of call for the sea room needed to rig a boat and sail away. The next 20 minutes were spent trying to figure out what halyard did what and whether or not to set a topsail in a flukey wind. After a few attempts at where to lash the halyard on the topsail yard I was happy with the rig and reached across to our well known partner, the Holbrook Beacon before a jibe and run down to Shotley.
Amber felt well balanced and comfortable riding down wind in the Stour and while keeping an eye on the jibe this course allowed me to relax a little, switch on the DAB radio and indulge in another local beer. Over the starboard quarter through the mist towards Wrabness a bright pink topsail made itself known and I soon realised we were engaged in a race with Pete and Sarah "The Knife's" on their Itchen Ferry "Reverie" also bound for Ipswich Dock. We wouldn't see them again until we were berthed in Ipswich Dock.
As we rounded the Shotley horse and plugged past the mammoth ships at Felixstowe docks our existence on this piece of water seemed insignificant. A glance out to sea makes all yachts of all sizes appear the same in contrast to the giant steel logs that just float in and out of Harwich harbour packed with thousands of tiny match boxes that are actually the size of articulated lorries.
We came up to windward and were pointing for Suffolk Yacht Harbour, "Lets not dredge off Shotley" I mumbled to myself while I trimmed her sails for as much power as possible in this light air. Now plugging the tide we were trying to creep in the shallows up the River Orwell but I knew very well how much water isn't available on the west side of the channel just off Shotley and I didn't intend on exploring that part of the river bed today. The short stretch between the end of felixstowe docks and Shotley marina presents very little water outside of the shipping lane.
So we tucked up tight close on the wind, partly held up by an ebbing tide down the lee side of the bow and when the time came to round our trusty old friend the Collimer buoy and point for Pin Mill a slow arduous beat to windward began. At this point a strong ebb tide in full flow against us wasn't helping 8 knots of wind to take us where we wanted to go and with full canvas sheeted, a fully lifted outboard and the whole centre plate down, Amber was struggling to make ground towards Pin Mill. I sailed as far to the "sports boat" area off Levington as I dare before coming back over to that solitary withie that marks the spit on the south side of the river. Then two tacks later found ourselves 5 yards ahead. If only the wind would pick up a little or we could find a little less tide somewhere. This was painfully slow progress.
I stared at the sky towards Felixstowe and out to sea behind me for a few minutes in the hope of a sea breeze at this time of the day. I wasn't really sure what I was looking for but a 180 degree wind shift wasn't to be. I poured over a chart for a time to try and ascertain where the least tide would run and how far I could "push it" before finding the putty but it wasn't a risk worth taking on such a strong ebb tide. The wind was ever decreasing and Amber couldn't muster up the strength to push on.
It was a depressing moment, a time when I felt truly defeated, to lower Amber's engine and pull the cord. I motored the rest of the way up to Ipswich stowing sails and tidying up the cockpit on the way, unable to have any reasonable thoughts over the incessant din of a 4 stroke engine. Another trip up the Orwell and another little nod to my local "The Butt & Oyster" as we passed close in shore but this time I felt a little embarrassed at my failings. Maybe next time, I'll take a long set of oars.
Clive Robertson, sailing all sorts since 1990.
Listen to these blogs as podcasts here