Sunday, July 22, 2007

Roach's Maiden Voyage to Pin Mill

I do believe it is true that yachts have personalities, and in the time that I have been working on Roach, specially afloat in the marina, we have started to consolidate our relationship. She is a tetchy little teenager that requires lots of attention – she wants good looks so that she can get a good looking boyfriend – and I am the one that has to provide the endless stream of pocket money that will pay for rather expensive top-brand make-up.

Roach has her tantrums, and I was on the receiving end of one in the marina earlier this week when trying to turn her around so that I could varnish the other topside from the finger pontoon. “Oh, she’ll be fine” says a classic yachting enthusiast friend when I mention my concern at reversing her in and that maybe we should warp her round. Roach, even though she has a tiny LOA of 22ft does NOT like going astern; even in a straight line in a dead calm marina with hardly any wind or tide. I presume this is a combination of her long keel and me refusing to widen her prop aperture used for the original Stuart 4 (now replaced by a Beta 13.5hp) for the larger prop strognly recommended by Beta.

So, that is that, my month in the marina is up. The idea was only to put her in for a few days to varnish her up after launch, but alas, the now legendary British summer put paid to that. The marina experience only reinforced what I already knew: That I am at the lowest pecking order, financially, in yachting terms. My next door neighbour a quarter to a million quid 2007 Hallberg-Rassey. Roach looked quite alone in this sea of plastic, and I think she felt lonely – so it was time to move to Pin Mill.

My passage plan was for Friday AM with my father for crew. He is a non-sailor so I really wanted an event free passage as possible. I knew that was a hard thing to ask of Roach. She has a half completed interior, the new mainsail jams in the track, the water system leaks, the keel bolts under the engine weep (as does the log impeller), but after three days of solid work with early starts and late finishes I managed to get her rig in shape and sort out my mainsail. On the only sunny day this Summer I managed to speed varnish and slapped as many coats as I could on. This was a get-it-on job, all to do with protecting the wood and nothing to do with aesthetics, although she did polish up well. But this was the only sunny day and Thursday brought very heavy showers and nasty squalls. Incoming yachts told me of the breaking surf on the Deben bar and the lumpy conditions outside. So I postponed the trip for yesterday with a 6am start to get over the marina sill.

All went to plan. Dad my crew turned up dead ontime and we were out on the Deben and cut through Loders Cut (my first time though) and up to Ramsholt. The wind was dead on the nose and we engined it, but that was good as it was to early to mess around teaching ropes. All I wanted was a coffee. At Ramsholt we picked up a mooring and had a full cooked breakfast with all the trimmings, ready for our adventure ahead. I checked everything over and over and at 12:30pm we were ready to take the Deben Bar at half flood.

All in all the bar was not as formidable as I was expecting. We had plenty of water, but for some silly reason I forgot to put stopper knots on the sheets. Its amazing how such a little thing like that can play havoc on a boat. As the genoa went up, the sail flogged and wooosh, the sheets were out. Almost like a cricket catch I managed to get the windward sheet above my head and with all my weight managed to tether it to the winch, missing the sheetlead. By then we had just crossed the bar, and the North Sea greeted us with 4 foot seas. The deck was awash instantly, and my new main problem was the lack of non-slip on the decks. It was clear that the cockpit was the only safe place to be and I managed to sort out the jib sheet mess from there. Roach, now under control, was doing a good 4 knots, but with a SE wind we could not make for our course to the recommended yacht crossing track for the Harwich shipping lanes. We had to tack down. Under the jib alone we found Roach was not balanced enough to go to windward, but I did not want to risk hoisting the main as this meant mast work and the decks were too slippy. Tacking under jib presented problems and she got stuck in irons on a couple of occasions, the large seas knocking her bow back on the previous tack. On one attempt we were hit by a breaker broadside, and I was expecting us to get knocked-down, but Roach behaved admirably – her flush decks allowing the wave to pass over. Down below was another story. Plates has managed to jump the plate racks, glasses broke, a box or dried porridge burst and started to mix itself using the water from the inverted kettle. I asked my father whether he was alright. I was concerned that this was too much for somebody that has not really sailed before. To my surprise the response was ‘this is rather fun!’. I felt relieved.

I have to say that Roach did a lot to make us feel safe. She is very buoyant in the bow (as consequence of the raised topsides) and as a result she never buried her bow in a wave, nor did any wave make it back to the cockpit. What was more impressive was that there was little spray, her bow parted waves like butter and all the spray was thrown well to the sides. On a Contessa 26 we would have been drenched.

We still had the problem of making our course after a few poor attempts at tacking under jib alone I decided the engine was needed to pull her through the wind. With the engine now running, she settled down and we could make our course easily.

After crossing the shipping channel, and in the relative calm of Harwich harbour, I hoisted the new mainsail on her second reef. Roach instantly balanced. I forgot to put in the battens in my haste, but that did not matter, Roach became the boat I had hoped for. On a beam reach we were creaming along scuppers under. This little teenager was showing her stuff, she wanted to show us she would pass her GSCE’s. The cockpit on such a heel was perfectly designed, our feet perched on the lips of the leeward locker tops. We were now catching some large plastic yachts ahead of us. After rounding Shotley spit the wind had veered and we needed to pinch up a little more. I was annoyed I forgot the batten, but she really did not seem to care as our log showed 6 knots on 18ft of waterline! In no time we has eaten much of the Orwell and Pin Mill was in sight. Suddenly the wind dropped, probably being treed by the wooded foreshore, and Roach levelled off and resumed her stately manner. She did show us a glimpse of what she is all about though, her hidden talent she keeps from showing her parents too often.

On the mooring I go down below. I refused to deal with the mess at sea. What I found was an even more horrific mess than I expected. Two broken mugs, several broken glasses, plates lodged on the leeward bunk backrest, fruit everywhere, soaked tea bags stuck to panelling, and self expanding porridgy foam mixture on the galley surface. I felt like giving Roach a good old telling off and sending her to her bedroom to tidy up and adding “you won’t get any dinner till you do!”. I started peeling off the teabags from the deckhead thinking quietly to myself “I will let you off this time, but don’t do it again”, after all she has just shown me that saving this little boat was completely worth it.

In the car driving back home I asked my Dad how he felt about his first passage to sea in a small boat, “You know, that was really very very good fun, I thoroughly enjoyed myself” . I quietly wondered how many others felt the same in Roach’s 59 years….

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Royal Burnham One Design 75th Anniversary

What I have never mentioned in this blog is why the time pressure to get Roach launched.

Well the answer is that over the years I have been in correspondence with the Dallimore owner’s association and this year was the 75th anniversary of the launch of the Royal Burnham One Design which Norman Dallimore was commissioned to design.

The Dallimore family are still active in racing these dinghies, and invited all owners of Dallimore yachts past and present to a ball at the RBYC to celebrate the 75 years of the class. So what an incentive to get Roach down there and join the celebrations.

I knew that several Dallimore yachts were making the effort to go down to Burnham and participate in a honorary sail past. The instructions were to fully dress the yachts – so the first thing I did was buy a set of code flags on e-bay in eager anticipation of the day.

Henry was coming down from Ireland to help her beat up the Whittaker Channel, and the idea was to spend a couple of days afterwards exploring the Roach – for obvious reasons. I have always wanted to do the Havengore Bridge, so this was also a plan!

Unfortunately all these good willed plans were not to be. Launching a boat that has been re-rigged comes with many unforeseen problems. The stays were to short, the new mainsail needed adjusting, the slides jammed in the track. The original reefing gear was not uptp the task. To top it all off this was the wettest June on record, and I was continually drenched and trying to fix deckhead leaks which I never knew I had.

So whilst I busied myself with all these tasks in a bid to make the deadline, Henry was flying over from Cork, crossing London, and taking the train to Woodbridge. I met him on the platform with juts half my to-do list done!

After a quick pint in the pub it was clear that Roach was not ready to make a sea passage and we aborted. I called the Dallimore’s to give them the bad news, and they very understood, much to my surprise. There was an outside chance of taking the boat down to Burnham, so we decided to make for Ramsholt anyway, and take a buoy to see what the weather was like before going out of the bar the next morning.

We had a lovely meal in the Ramsholt Arms and then it was off to bed, after drinking a nightcap in the cockpit. It was a magical night. The next morning it was clear that the wind had veered and that it would be a long old beat to Burnham, in the pouring rain. Not only that I had not got off quickly enough to get back into the Tidemill marina, and as such we were rushing back to get the last of the water in the town. No joy, you cant change nature, and at Troublesome reach we ran out of water and headed back to pick up our mooring again.

It was off to the Dallimore ball by car then, and just as well as it difficult driving, let alone sailing in the torrential rain that came that afternoon. By the time we were in the hotel and DJ’d up, the weather had brightened. Betty Dallimore, hosted a most splendid pre-ball garden reception at her home. The occasional shower made us dive for cover, but I have to say she made a magnificent job of welcoming all these Dallimore owners and previous owners. The crews of Priscilla and Marchwood Maid had all come from the Netherlands.

The ball was a great success, and we were put on the head table with the Dallimore’s. The club is lovely and everything was very well organised. I could not help seeing 3 Bentleys in the car park and several top end Merc’s – all in all the club seemed to have quite an affluent air to it, but we felt very welcome nonetheless.

The next day we passed by the marina to see the Dallimore yachts. They all looked lovely – Both Priscilla and Marchwood Maid having recently been spruced up. Athena, was a lovely looking sloop, very similar to Roach, but with a counter stern. I hope to meet up with them properly with Roach sometime soon.