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Early Home From the Sea

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I've just put the photos from our sailing holiday online. Hugo and I had an adventure up the east coast last July and got as far as Shotley (a marina between Felixstowe and Harwich) and we enjoyed it so much we thought we would do it again and see if we could get a bit further.

The plan was to set off last Saturday and get as far as Aldeburgh before turning for home, aiming to be back this Sunday. I can remember Hugo remarking a couple of weeks ago how true sailors always said they were setting sail for their intended destination rather than sailing to it. This holiday proved the truth of that remark.

Things started badly with the inshore forecast on Friday saying Saturday would be force 4 to 5 occasionally 6 and the sea state moderate to rough. We could cope with those winds, although 6 is pushing it a bit but "rough" is a wave height of 2.5m to 4.0m which suggested they were expecting seas which were over 2.5m peak to trough. That's a big sea for a 24' boat (nice mix of units there!) so we decided to delay our departure to Sunday.

Sunday was a lot better and we sailed and motored across the Thames and into the Blackwater where we turned up into the Colne and moored on the pontoons at Brightlingsea. This was a long day and as we'd had to start later than we planned due to the later tide on Sunday it was dark when we arrived so we got to come into Brightlingsea in the dark: the first time I'd done any real night sailing.

Monday we sailed up to Shotley. The day started well with a harbour porpoise coming up to say hello as we went down the Colne. They're rare in the southern North Sea (although getting more common) and it's the first time either of us had seen one while sailing on Matchmaker (I'd seen lots in Scotland last month).

It got rougher as we approached Harwich with a following wind and a thunderstorm overhead so we were fully togged up in oilskins and sea boots. The high spot was a squall where I had to turn Matchmaker sharply into the wind to take the power out of the sails. As we did so we saw the three boats behind us, all of who were also running for Harwich, turn in formation. It was good to know we weren't alone.

Tuesday we should have continued north to either the Deben or the Or (the river which gets you up to Aldeburgh) but it was too rough out at sea so we went for a sail up the Orwell towards Ipswich as a day out. Even with just the main up and fully reefed (so all we had up was about 1/4 of the usual sail area of the main and no genoa at all) we flew up the river at a tremendous rate. As the wind was coming across the river the wave height wasn't too bad except down near the mouth of the river where the swell was coming in from the sea.

By now the forecast for the days ahead was continuing to look pretty dire with more thunderstorms forecast so high winds and if we did make Aldeburgh we would be unlikely to get home by Sunday. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour so we would head for home. At one point we planned to spend a day ashore at Shotley, then sail to Bradwell on Thursday, wait out the worst the weather on Friday, then make it for home on Saturday but in the end we saw a gap in the weather so we did it in two days with no rest days.

We had a very good run under sail to Bradwell on Wednesday basically doing two long tacks: one out into the North Sea, one back in again. Then after a night at Bradwell we went out of the Blackwater and back across the Thames on Thursday mainly under motor and in glorious sunshine.

The weather since, especially yesterday, confirmed how wise we were in cutting our holiday short.

So it all in all it was a rather shorter holiday than we planned (five days rather than nine) and more intense with sailing every day, much of it hard work too. But the pluses were that came away from it more confident of our own abilities and of the boat's. We also got to sail in some "interesting" conditions and to sail at night. And we saw not just the porpoise but seals on two different occasions.

And I'm browner than I've been in some years, on my face at least.

Tags: photos, sailing Written 21/07/07

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