Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Roach goes to Secret Water in a Yachtsman's Gale!

Roach well heeled but well reefed. These beautiful decks are death traps at sea when wet.
Decks Awash!
A message for a friend!

I had week of sitting at the computer, so I was really eager to get some fresh air and that I did. Fresh air at force 6 gusting 8!

Yup, after a later start waiting for a squall to pass, I pointed Roachy’s bow Eastwards towards to the Walton Backwaters where I was going to meet up with PyroJames and others from the YBW East Coast Forum at their annual Pirate Weekend! I was apprehensive to say the least as I was about to take a 60 year old, recently restored and untested in big seas, 22fter, single-handed, into the North Sea on ghastly forecast. OK, so it the backwaters and there were only 4 miles at sea, but where I was going millions of gallons of water in Harwich harbour were spilling out and mounting in the SE near gale. I was expecting nasty conditions, and I got it.

As soon as I was out of the harbour, I quickly realised that there was no way I could make my course motor sailing. The yacht was pitching violently, maybe 60 degrees at times. My bows were buried on several occasions. I soon realised that to fight the tide I needed to sail. The pitching was so violent that my prop had very little grip, so with trepidation, I unrolled the working jib, as it was far too risky going forward on those varnished decks to hank on the number 2 jib. I should not have worried, as the yacht’s motion immediately eased and the log started to show 4.5 knots on a close reach – but I was getting drenched. A LOT of SOLID green water was sweeping along the deck and hitting me. I changed course to a broad reach, and this settled the yacht, but now I was doing 7knots with the seas on my beam. I must have gone out to sea 3 or 4 miles and then tacked for the reach into the backwaters. This was no easy fete with non-self tailing winched in that wind. I got her stuck in stays on my first attempt. I soon realised that I needed to be brutal and get some way on her and then go for it. Taking so quickly is hard when single-handed – but with the aid of my foot on the tiller I managed to tail the sheet. By now I had lost sight of the Pye End SW marker as the waves, spume and whitecaps completely hid it, and a quick scan through the binocs almost made me instantly puke – so I won’t be doing that again! Time to switch on the handheld GPS pull up the waypoint – but it was craving for a chart plotter now – the tide was ebbing fast and I knew I was in danger of sailing accidentally back to Harwich. Anyway, a lucky glance and I found the buoy, but as the water was shallowing the waves steepened and the crests were breaking beam on.

There was very little I could do except make run back to the Orwell, which might have been a good idea as the next thing I knew was that yacht crashed down on her side, awash to the skylight. I had been hit beam on by a breaker and she has fallen off the crest. I landed on the leeward cockpit lockers, stoving one in. A quick glance in the cabin and I could see water pouring through the traditional skylight. They are never 100% leakproof, but mine was letting in a cascade of water over my bunk! Looking through the grating in the cabin sole I could see that the water from the cockpit had settled in the bilges – and the locker with the bilge pump in it was jammed as I had just broken it! All through this an alarm was squeeling to let me know that water was above the cabin sole level and I should do something about it.

Just then, on the Radio, a PAN PAN ; Yacht dismasted, drifting, position Languard bearing 345 degrees, 2 miles. Well that is roughly were I was, and soon I saw the yacht in trouble. There was very little I could do – I had my own issues to sort out and my decks are varnished – really the worse deck coating for any sort of rescue boat. So I decided to press on and soon I was romping into the Walton Channel at quite a pace. “Maybe time to get the jib rolled up?” I think to myself. Uhh? Where is the furling line? I look forward, and the jib unrolled so violently, that for some reason it took ALL my furling line and spewed it overboard. I cursed myself for not making a figure of eight, or better still and oyster stopper. Now I was well and truly screwed as there was no way I could start the engine with that line trailing. There was only one thing for it, and that was to crawl forward and retrieve the line on a deck that was heeling and pitching violently and was as slippy as an ice-rink. Well I managed to stay onboard, through just sheer terror I think. By the time I was back at the helm I could see that we had sailed WELL out of the channel and the water was ebbing fast now. The beach was not far away, and I was expecting a high speed thumb grounding any second, but steering by foot, furling the jib and scandalising the main simultaneously slowed the yacht sufficiently for me to get everything back into control. Not long after this I was sitting in my wet bunk, safely at anchor, with a huge jug of Pimms next to me. That is one of the best Pimms I have ever had.

Some Considerations

Roach needs more Hand holds. Maybe I should consider stanchions even though I don’t like them. She does have jackstays, but they were off at the time as I had just varnished the deck the weekend before and had bothered replacing them!

Stow for sea properly- even if you are on a river. It is clear from the mess below that I really need to work on dedicated stowage for everything!

A spray hood would be nice.
Chart plotter would have made me worry less about leeway and cross track error
Tiller pilot would have helped tremendously too – maybe I can get a away with a longer tiller.

Get the spitfire jib set in stops so that I can change sails even in extreme wind.

Next Installment - the return journey!


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