Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boats, canals and trains

By John Simpson

There are many interesting ways to take a holiday. Recently my son Wes visited Morocco with friends so he could go wind surfing and skiing on the same day. It seemed an exciting thing to do but wasn’t cheap! Quite awhile ago my cousin Chris and I had an interesting if less expensive couple of weeks break, partially using my little 22 ft. sailing boat. Our plan gambled that the weather gods were on our side, to allow it to work…

We departed about lunch time from a pile mooring on the Hamble. About as early as we could manage after travelling to the boat, rowing out and stowing up.

It was a fine Saturday in August with not much wind. We’d catch some of the flood tide, unfortunately though the stream turns west early in the Eastern Solent but ‘Miss Content’ had a reliable 7 ½ HP Honda four stroke outboard to help her along. Given time our constraints, we decided to press on as far as was possible. Foul tide through the Looe Channel rounding Selsey Bill slowed us down, so Littlehampton harbour looked a sensible bet. Our time of arrival that evening was late and just after low water. Rather to Chris’s horror we managed to bump in across the bar in smooth water, tying up in time to find a pub before last orders.

Leaving earlier the next morning with enough rising water to clear the bar, it was surprising how quickly the tidal stream was rushing into the River Arun. We had a pleasant light spinnaker run in a gentle SW’ly enhanced by an afternoon sea breeze to Brighton . On Monday taking full advantage of a brisker westerly winds and twelve hours fair tide given by an Atlantic flood and the North Sea ebb, we anchored that evening in the Outer harbour at Dover . After a wonderful sixty miles sail, we were hoping the weather would be fair enough to cross to Calais the next day. Luck was with us bringing a moderate NW’ly airstream that wafted the little boat rapidly across Channel playing dodgems with the big ship traffic. Here we joined a queue of French boats all madly circling round in the outer harbour. They were trying to agitate the bridge/loch gate operator and arouse him into opening for them!

On Wednesday morning after visiting the harbour master and obtaining permission to leave ‘Miss Content’ for awhile in the inner harbour; we hopped on a train to Strasbourg . Here we joined my parents and sister on their old 36 ft. wooden motor boat ‘Ronjo II’. We enjoyed a lovely quietly contrasting and mellow time gently exploring the French countryside by canal. Blessed with much warmer Continental weather and some wonderful local food and wine, occasionally rousing ourselves enough to try our hand at wind surfing, without much success!

Being so far from the sea it’s amazing to think of Strasbourg classed as a medium sized French port. The cathedral spire is visible for miles on the flat land surrounding the city, a medieval skyscraper when it was built and the tallest in the world between the 11th and 14th centuries. French canals are still used for trade and much wider than those in UK . My sister Pat had recently bought a barge ‘Audace’ to live aboard. A standard 123 ft length Peniche that made a wonderful sized living space moored close to the city in a pleasant spot.

Our train journey to Calais late the following Wednesday soon returned us back to Miss C, allowing time to prepare for departure early in the morning for the leg home. Re-crossing the Channel in a moderate SE’ly breeze felt quite lively, after the gentle week pottering in the canals.
But it gave more time to push on west and round the headland at Dungeness. Here we anchored off Rye in the pitch dark in smooth water as the wind collapsed. Spending a few hours watching a magnificent Perseids meteor shower in the dark, which we’d noted would occur from the almanac. Chris managing to count well over a hundred shooting stars!

Light variable winds then plagued us all the way back via Newhaven and Chichester , but the outboard kept us plodding along.

Finally returning the boat to her Hamble berth on Sunday lunchtime, after enjoying a couple of weeks with two varied types of boating.

Yours Aye,
John Simpson.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seawitch blog update

Andrew French has updated his blog about the refurbishment of Alacrity "Seawitch". Check it out here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tidal sailing

I am currently in England on holiday and had the chance to do some tidal sailing on a friend's boat. He keeps it in Saltfleet, a tiny drying harbour on the East Coast of England. It's a drying mooring, meaning there's no water at all during low tide.


Unfortunately the boat even sat at an uncomfortable angle, so we had to sleep in the club house, or one of us would have fallen out of the bunk.


Waiting for the tide to come in we ended up in a pub. Bingo,


Sunrise occured at 3.30am. Don't ask me why I was awake. I just was.


The tide started to come in during the morning.



Not enough yet...




And sailing.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

First sail and blatant advertising

The first daysail of the season occured today. I went out to an island, anchored and had coffee. Sailed home. Made a boring video. Almost froze my hands off when I hauled up the anchor line out of that ice cold liquid I was sailing in (or on). It was quite warm and sunny, though and the wind was good.


I'm aware that I've been a little quite in here, but I can now reveal that it partly was due to me writing and publishing my second novel. It's called Miss Anna's Frigate, a spy story in Sweden in 1809 (there was a revolution here then, for those who didn't know - which I guess is about everybody...). This time there are no tiny gunboats, but a lot of snow and steamy saunas and a real frigate action, too. The book is now out at See cover pic in right column.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Keep turning left at a price

Dylan Winter has posted another video in his brilliant series about sailing around Britain in a Mirror Offshore triple-keeler. However, this video is now only availabe at a cost of 0.99 USD via paypal. It's not a high price, but still it's a change in the concept. It will be interesting to see if it turns out a success or not.

All the videos are also now available through this new website.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Galley Capers

Galleys at sea can lead to some varied and amusing situations. We were staggering south from Cape Finisterre, in the middle of a November ten day beat on my tiny boat, hoping we’d make a landfall in the Canaries. After a fast start in cool but strong NE’ly winds from Plymouth, round Ushant and across Biscay, the wind turned foul. Strong wet, southerlies with their accompanying large Atlantic stopping seas were hampering our progress.

You have to grab forty winks when you can so I was catnapping on an extended starboard quarter berth opposite the stove. There I was, dreaming of soft beds and cool beers when - clang - something whacked me right on my napper. The kettle had jumped clean off the cooker. Least it was empty! At the time, I was dazed and aggrieved but later; strangely, I began to treasure that cheap old aluminium kettle complete with its head shaped dent. Maybe, it would remind me not to be so stupid and set off south that late again from UK, in a 22ft. Boat…

Bigger boats can present different cooking problems. Any hassle rapidly motoring ‘Jolie Brise’ an old French 55 ton pilot cutter, up a narrow crowded creek on a falling tide. Dropping one member of crew on the pontoon, south of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club. Even gently running this fine lady aground, turning her round between ferries. Quickly disappeared for me… ‘Cause we managed to save the last of our ebb. Leaving the Needles Channel just before dusk.

The fresh NW F4-5 should blow us across to Alderney, tute suite. With a good Mate, but rather scratch crew (friends and trustees of the Exeter Maritime Museum). Once clear of the Bridge buoy, with the boat humming along on a broad reach, I dived below. Sticking the two chickens we had aboard in the oven along with a few spuds to roast. Already one crew member had started feeling sea sick and been taken below. With the light fading and the Channel swell slowly building. My people would need feeding, very soon!

Shortly after returning on deck I heard a loud bang. Not completely sure of where the noise came from but having a feeling it might be from below decks, to be absolutely certain I grabbed the binoculars from their stowage close to the helm. Taking a quick scan of the rig in the gloom. Particularly looking at the massive wooden blocks holding up the gaff and the other sails. Nothing wrong there.

Leaving the deck in the Mate’s capable hands. On reaching the bottom of the long companion way steps, I skidded fast downhill. I felt as if I'd stepped on a bar of soap. I almost landed in the roasting dish with the two chickens and narrowly avoided a prone body on the dinette berth. I was a whisker away from joining a female crew member who was bedded down with mal-de-mer, sea-sickness buckets at either end. As I careered through the cabin on my greased boots, it was hard to stifle splutterings of laughter. I struggled to steady myself, and worked out what had happened.

The oven door lock had failed. Hot oil on the wooden floor and soles of my boots made for a long tricky uphill climb, to the starboard galley side. Where I hoped to locate kitchen paper and start cleaning up the mess. A saving grace was that my Chickens and veg. were still intact in their baking tray.

I only mentioned this little saga to my crew, after they’d finished eating!

More bizarre years later, we were having a huge evening ‘fuddle’ (Bedu group meal) on the top of the coach roof of ‘Al Bashiq‘. A Sigma 38 we were racing from Dubai to Muscat (a 360 miler!). It was flat calm on a lovely warm moonlit Gulf night. Rather worst as their skipper/coach, was pondering on how, you might have blown our first long race with a keen crew. By going far too far, offshore, perhaps even less than a mile… so much reduces our chances of picking up the land breeze, early!

Finally realising, that all the guys have quickly worked that out and though not of your culture, are gracious enough to forgive you! Meant we could all sit down, laugh and enjoy Adam’s wonderful lightly spiced Omani food, accepting our joss. Though, he would have much preferred to conjure it up in windier circumstance…

Yours Aye,

John Simpson

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter envy

As there isn't too much going on here during the winter, I'll give you another Dylan. The tough guy is out sailing now, despite even England having had quite some snow lately. Myself, I today walked in the same spot I was sailing last summer. Oh well.