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….