West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 2 (Ramsgate to Newhaven)

I’d last been to Ramsgate when working for a diving company, which was involved in construction of the Thanet Offshore Windfarm. Although the divers had now left, operations for much of the London Array Offshore Windfarm must be based at the same place and the scale of the operation is impressive, not least as reported by the bloke at the fuelling barge, who suggested almost a million litres of fuel is used weekly by the 30 or so very fast, large, catamaran work boats operating from the harbour (seemingly 24 hours per day, but by my calculations that’s almost 200 litres an hour each – possible, but implausible – maybe that was his, still impressive, total sales). The harbour is a buzz of activity and a not unpleasant place to stay, although one would tire of the town within a couple of days.

We left, intending to get to Eastbourne, before 5am – with the high tide, as the sky was lightening; a variable F2 with smooth sea, disturbed mainly by the tide swilling around Ramsgate (is it ever slack there?) . We motored across the calm sea, against the current between Brake and Goodwin Sands, the wind gently strengthening as the sun rose.

Ramsgate to Dover, between Brake and Goodwin Sands. Tuesday 26th June

By the time South Foreland then Dover hove into view, we realised the fine day would make for fine passage making, motor sailing with Dave the green and red auto pilot (bungee cord) easing some of the steering burden and the superb Standard Horizon CP180i simplifying the navigation work. As usual, Ollie counted down the opening of the bar, at 10am (in mitigation, we started at 4:30am), with almost as much fanfare as Seb Coe and LOCOG could ever plan for London 2012.

Off Dover. Dave the autopilot (bungee cord) doing sterling work, alongside the superb Standard Horizon electronic wizardry which makes sailing a little simpler… and Tom Cunliffe’s fine and ageless publication (except when it’s totally out of date).

With Ollie hissing and spitting Old Speckled Hen, we haughtily ignored the passing of Dover; the poor chap’s spent too many storm bound days in port there, wearily trudging around the castle for the umpteenth time, in order to pass the time.

If I ignore Dover, it will go away.

We weren’t near springs and the fair tide whipped us past the peculiar bleak landscape of Dungeness power station with little drama. The weather had closed in by now, a F3/4 but visibility fairly poor; we glimpsed the base of the spooky looking, although still slightly majestic, Beachy Head lighthouse through the mist as we passed close to shore, cliffs not visible in the low cloud and fishing boats trawling nearby, in that confined and closed landscape of limited visibility, with the wind failing slowly.

Sailing past Seaford

The low cloud stayed with us past Seaford until the bay at Newhaven (where, by now, we’d decided on making landfall).

Low Cloud at Seaford Head Cliffs

We approached Newhaven harbour somewhere before 19:00 (look, my log’s onboard as I write this, does the exact time matter?), noting the harbour entrance lights and hailing harbour control (and the large dredger working the outer harbour) on VHF for permission to dodge past, before taking a visitor mooring inside a very grand large modern yacht in Newhaven Marina.

Newhaven’s a strange place: small, but dredged deep for the Le Havre and Dieppe ferries which use it, in contrast to the majority of yotties who’ve eschewed it for the greater comfort of the new Sovereign (Eastbourne) and Brighton Marinas, under 10 miles to both the East and West. This decline’s probably well illustrated by the perfectly serviceable, but slightly shabby, facilities and the marina charge being collected by the friendly and cheerful girl, who lives with her partner in the back of their van in the marina’s car park.

Large ferries keep Newhaven alive; most visiting yachtsmen have forgone it for the luxury of Eastbourne and Brighton marinas.

Newhaven’s still a working port and it presents a friendly, amicable, soulful and far from unpleasant existence; I, for one, rather like the place. Certainly the extremely convivial company at the recently (most tastefully) refurbished ‘Hope Inn‘ helps. Despite insistence that it would be ‘as it should be‘, the medium-rare steak was quite well done, but it was certainly well appreciated and the local beer (Harveys?) was bloody good indeed. Somehow, room was made for the superb home made puddings. All in all very satisfactory and we retired to passage plan and thence to bunks.

Rather weirder was the tannoy system, playing a regular opus of tortured and distressed herring gulls throughout the night which, we presume, is to dissuade them from fouling everything. It must work because we saw barely anything of the dreaded shite-hawks.

Approximate route of Leg 2 (Ramsgate to Newhaven). Click for Higher Resolution

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 1 (Mersea to Ramsgate)

After finally getting her ship shape (mainly Ollie doing lots of engine work and gettng mucky in the bilges), the morning of Sunday 24th June in West Mersea didn’t provide the most auspicious beginning; at 4am it appeared that the inshore waters forecast was right and the gale presently whipping around wasn’t the best weather for navigating the shoal swatchways of the Thames Estuary.

The Swatchways of the Thames Estuary. Mon 25th June 2012.

It hadn’t been pleasant for a couple of days so we were happy to return to bed (me to sofa) and delay our start until Monday morning, to catch the tide through the Wallet Spitway and across to the North Kent coast.

Brief but heavy rain shower at West Mersea on Saturday, the day prior to our planned departure.

By midnight on Sunday, the next day’s forecast was much more reasonable: W veering NW 4 or 5, becoming variable 3 or less and showers later.

Packing Shed Island, early doors Monday 25th June 2012

Krugerrand, as always, patiently awaiting her crew


With High Tide (4.78m) in West Mersea at 4:43am on Monday, we took the ebb out of the Blackwater and watched the Gunfleet turbines glide past on the horizon as we were swept past the characterful Wallet Spitway buoy at 06:20. Being shallow, we’d left a couple of metres of tide underneath us, but no appreciable swell meant a lack of worries and Swin Spitway was soon behind us.

Ollie on the helm at the North Knoll Cardinal buoy before we slid through the Spitway

Fishermen and Foulger’s Gat were both unadvisable due to construction of the London Array windfarm, however I’ve always wondered about a connection of the name Foulger with a sailing friend of my father’s who lived in Burnham on Crouch and sailed, if I recall, an S&S 34.

London Array windfarm after sunrise

However, I’d already decided to go via the haunting sight of the wartime forts, so at S Whittaker, we turned south, passing the Maplin bank from Middle Deep; a good sized herd(?) of seals sunning themselves on the now exposed sands; later a porpoise paid a fleeting visit, one of two seen that day (the second was possibly a dolphin).

Good, easy sailing

A Thames Sailing Barge, possibly ‘Dawn’, swept majestically past at Foulness, full sail set. Only a couple of weeks before, Krugerrand had appeared in a couple of shots of a program Griff Rhys Jones had presented about Dawn and her old trading routes.

Thames Sailing Barge (‘Dawn’ ?)

Passing SW Barrow, in a pleasant F3, new mainsail setting well (except for a crease which Gowan suggested was batten tension) warm sun with little cloud, we cut SE across Oaze Deep – and away from the visceral-cavity-shock-inducing pressure waves, caused by immense explosions of missile testing at mysterious Foulness Island.

New mainsail drawing well

Probably a dozen firings followed us, as we glid towards the looming shapes of Kentish Flats windfarm; the *whooomph* <followed by a few second silence> them a thundrous CAPHWHOOOOM.  Although the sound receded, the atmosphere remained – as a fitting backdrop to the looming Knock John fort to port and the approaching Shivering Sand’s Forts, the reason I chose this route. These eerie steel structures have seen action of many sorts since their construction in the 40s, from shooting down enemy planes to pirate radio stations and SAS traning grounds. At their hight in 1945, Shivering Sands was manned by 250 men; now just a handful of herring gulls rule.

Poled out Genoa gave way to a Chute as the wind died. Shivering Sand Forts on the port bow.

Arriving just after low tide (1.05m – 10:41am) Shivering Sands was as folorn looking as I remembered, the last time I passed was in Acclaim, our Nic 55 (which we beached on sheppey) and before that in Treshnish, a Motor Fishing Vessel owned by the Dockland Scout Project.. or maybe a delivery trip on the Ocean Youth Club’s Oyster 68 (now that was a nice, large boat).

Wind dies, motor on. Shivering Sands Forts; the Kentish Flats windfarm behind

Out through the Princes channel, past Margate and Thanet windfarm whilst flopping around trying to sail through anchored ships in light winds. Motor on, down past North Foreland and Joss Bay, where I’d surfed years before and crossed Ramsgate’s fairway channel after high tide and in a large cross current whilst the large work cats plough in and out, ferrying workers to the windfarm.

We berthed smartly at Ramsgate, unberthed to fill up with diesel (read 15 litres of), but get cut up by a 50′ long, 40′ high stink pot “it’s OK lads, I’m only putting 2 grand in” .. by the time we’d waited for this leviathan to finish, all of the shops have closed so we retired to a curry house and off license, before an early start the next morning.