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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Hauling out Heats of Oak

It's mid September, and up here in Morcambe bay the boats are being hauled out for their winter layup. This week I joined the crew of Hearts of Oak to bring her round to her cradle which was at the Roa Island boating club pier. There were five of us who met just before 1pm, three of us would collect Hearts of Oak from her mooring whilst the other two would stay at the pier ready to haul in her warps when we made it to the cradle.
Me, Tony and Brian took to the boat, whilst Gordon and the other Tony opted for the dry land bit of the mission. Gordon is the brains behind the plan, they tell me he's in his eighties, but I cant believe that, as he's fit and bright as a button. Earlier on in the morning he has arranged for the mobile cradle to be parked next to the old pier, and before the others arrive he shows me where it is and goes over the plan. Bearing in mind that Hearts of Oak hasn't been out of the water since her launch, 3years ago, and this trailer was not designed for this boat, its an old one that's been, erm, "modified". Anyway Gordon has done all the measurements and calculations and is confident that she will fit snugly as the tide, which today is a 9.5 metre tide, drops her gently to rest in about five hours time. He has the air of a Cpt. Manering about him as he reiterates the plan to me, and I have no reservations about his grasp of the task we're about to undertake.

The crew for today will be me Tony and Brian, whilst Gordon and the other Tony will stay on the quay to receive lines as we come in.

Now Hearts of Oak is a heavy boat that originally wouldn't have had an engine, but nowadays she does have one. The one quirk about this upgrade is that the prop is skewed off to one side which has a tendency to push her to starboard, so she's not the sort of boat that manoeuvres easily. Brian and I defer to Tony to take the helm, who seems the most confident to bring this mission to a good conclusion.

There's a force 3-4 blowing, and its blowing right across the pier that we're going to slip into. We'll be bringing her in on the lee side of the pier, but her stern will be still in the wind once we have her bow in the cradle. This means we need a stern warp out onto the pier as soon as we're in position to stop her slewing around in the cradle. We set up all these lines before we set sail into a quite lumpy sea that kicks up plenty of spray as we bounce across to the Roa Island pier where Gordon and Tony are waiting.

The first approach has to be aborted but the second attempt sees us nudge our way into position. Lines fly out and are caught and without too much drama we manage to position her between the four uprights that are just about 18" above the high tide line. Later we'll notice that the bow has scraped on one of the stantions of the trailer, but it's only a scratch, she's at least in the right position. The lines are secured and a mast halyard is tied to a big block to prevent her tipping over. All we have to do now is wait for the tide to drop, releasing the warps as she drops gently to her cradle. Gordon has made his calculations of when she should come to rest and marked the cradle stantions with red and yellow tap to indicate the positions of the deck and waterline so we know when she's about to settle. Unfortunately these have been calculated with a 5.5ft draft, but it turns out that she only has a 4ft draft. Anyway this doesn't present any problems except a little embarrassment for Gordon, who dismisses it with good humour.

The tale of moving her once the tide had dropped is all told in the video. Lots of times we had to call a halt to the haul out as the bracing blocks fell away, but Hearts of oak never looked unstable, or threatened to tip over and after a couple of hours she was parked safely in her winter berth. The day was not without incident and at times could have been an episode from last of the summer wine, lots of rye humour and comeraderie, a fun day which accomplished the mission of delivering Hearts of Oak to dry land.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

When not to set sail

Sunday morning we wake to the wind singing in the rigging, and halyards clinking throughout the Marina. We run into Brian again who agrees that the wind is blowing a force 6, although he says it always seems worse in the Marina. We have breakfast and decide to wait to see if the wind is going to drop a little. The Halsberg Rassy that slipped in late last night, slips out at about 7.30 into the teeth of the weather. They looked like a couple of seasoned sailors who would cope very well and perhaps had a long sail ahead of them. Then we realised that they had probably sneeked off without paying as the office didn't open till 8am and closed at 8pm, sneaky, we'll have to remember that one.
Marinas can provide much needed entertainment whilst your passing the time waiting for a weather window. Ours would be provided by a 43ft Beneteau that sailed through the entrance at about half eight that morning. We assumed at first that she had come in to find shelter, although it turned out she was just dropping a couple of people off. There were about six on board all holding ropes or placing fenders ready for docking. The pontoon that the helmsman aimed for was square on to the wind. On the first attempt they just failed to get close enough to the pontoon to leap off and then the obvious happened. The bow was blown away and a little chaos began. With not enough room for her to swing around the helmsman put her into reverse, backed away and came in for another shot at it, the same thing happened this time. Anyway to cut a long story short they eventually landed the couple going ashore but not before changing pontoons and crunching the boat once or twice. Nice to know that we all make mistakes, you just hope they occur when no-ones watching.
I suppose we got our come-up-ence  when we finally decided to chance the exit from Portavadie now that the wind had died back to a reasonable force 5. We had decided that prudence should prevail and had put in a couple of reefs prior to leaving, but what we hadn't considered was to make sure we had cleated off the furling line. Consequently as we hit the full force of the wind just beyond the marina wall our jib started to unfurl with sheets cracking like lion tamers whips across the decks sending us into a mild panic. We were on it though, headed into the wind and managed to retrieve the situation. Luckily no-one was watching, or a least we didn't see anybody, in fact we were much too busy panicking to care.
We could see a few yachts, a couple of miles across the sound sailing in the lee of the land. That looked like a sensible thing to do as out on this side the winds were pretty serious so we motored across before setting just the jib, which seemed to have here sail fine at about 6 knots, and in more or less the right direction for Androsson. The rest of the day passed without incident and as we approached our destination the wind fell away completely so we lowered the sails and motored towards Androsson Harbour. The movement of the boat in very sloppy seas was horrible, to say the least, but finally we were just a stones throw fro the harbour entrance, but the entrance wasn't obvious. We studied the charts and marina guide and finally tumbled into the relative calm beyond the sea wall. Just about then back came the wind, we called up the marina and were glad when they said they had room for us on (A) pontoon. With Jackie at the helm we squeezed through, what appeared to be a very small entrance and into the marina proper. We swapped places and I made a faultless pass into the only small space available on A pontoon being very careful not to bump into the biggest shineiest motor yacht in the harbour. Jackie stepped off and secured the lines like we'ld been doing this fo years. As we secured Kiwi the man from to big posh boat was polishing his fenders, good job we got that right, time for a cuppa tea and a fag. Tomorrow we would sail the short hop north back to Largs.

But when tomorrow came the winds were up to maybe force 7, the seas were crashing over the sea walls and Mr posh boat owner said we would scare our selves to death if we ventured out. We took his advice, called the owner and said we didn't want to sail, it was too dangerous, for us at least.
They were more than happy we had made that decision and came to collect us to drive us back to our car in Largs. The first sign of a good skipper, they said was to know when not to set sail, and we had passed that test.
So that was it, our first bareboat charter, not without incident, but an adventure that boosted our confidence that we can do this, we are now sailors, albeit inshore sailors. The next step I suppose is offshore in a bigger boat, so we went to have a look at a 38ft Ohlson that was for sale in Largs. Nice boat, big winches, big mast, big everything, and just about ticked all the boxes for our sailboat. Sailing something like that, now that would be an adventure, as for now we're glowing with the completion of this stage in our quest to become real navigators, seasoned sailors with the skills to cross oceans. Still some way off, we know but this weekend voyage has boosted our confidence, we just need to keep taking those baby steps, we can do this.

Portavadie is posh

The views from the deck of a boat of the coast and islands of the Firth of Clyde are spectacular even in these grey and overcast days of early September. Kiwi scuds along at a average speed of about 5-6 knots until we enter the Kyles of Bute where we loose the wind and eventually fire up the engine, sir, and motor through the narrow buoyed channel at the north of the island and head south for a marina called Portavadie which is just about opposite Tarbert on the Mull of Kintyre. It's about a two hour sail with a south westerly, force 4 to 5 on the beam. Eventually after about two hours we tack to starboard to make our way to Portavadie, the wind is still fairly fresh and the sailing is superb.
Since leaving Largs we had been sailing with two reefs in, which was a wise move as squalls would be coming thick and fast throughout the day. Now as we neared Portavadie the winds had died down. Other yachts heading for Portavadie seem to me to be making better progress than Kiwi, "lets shake out the reefs" I suggested. Jackie didn't think this was wise but the alpha male in me decided that we needed more sail up. I eased the reefing lines and hauled up the mainsail to its full height and Kiwi increased her progress by a couple of knots, now we were holding our own against the other boats. Then the next squall came rattling in and we heeled over violently, Jackie swung her into the wind, but too far, the jib backed, and around we went until we stopped. An accidental hove-to, a good time use the loo, thought Jackie. I take the tiller and decide to get us underway again. Another big gust hits us and I'm spinning round dumping Jackie on the loo rather unceremoniously.
Jackie had been right, we should have left the reefs in.
We, took down the sails and headed for the entrance of Portavadie, and for the first time used the VHF to call the marina and asked for a berth for the night. This was the first time we had used the radio, by ourselves, and it all went very smoothly. Enter the harbour gates, turn to starboard and take a berth on pontoon A. Oh, alright lets go for it then. Motor in slowly, swing around, fenders on both sides, warps ready, me at the helm, drift in and whoops, missed it. Luckily there were a couple of helping hands to help get her safely into dock. Not the perfect approach but with our two angels on the pontoon we were docked and safely in port after our first bareboat voyage. Not exactly an ocean crossing, but a voyage from port to port with just ourselves in charge skipper and crew had made it safely from port to port.
Once everything is tided on Kiwi we go off to explore the facilities of Portavadie Marina. Next to us on the pontoon is a 43ft Bavaria, and standing next to her is someone we know. Believe it or not it's our instructor, Brian, that we did our dayskipper practical course with a couple of years ago. He's with a few other blokes on the Bavaria that they've chartered for the weekend. We hope that he didn't see our bumbled attempt at docking, he doesn't mention it.
Portavadie looks like its been plucked out of Dubai, I've never been but I've seen pictures. The Marina buildings are all glass fronted. The glass tower on the end has big triangular lights inside that run through a colour sequence, making for a surreal feature in this remote landscape. It's posh, you know it's posh cause the gents has moisturising cream on each  sink and next to the hair drier is a set of hair straighteners. Two glasses of wine cost £8.50 so we head back to the pontoon, and the comfort of Kiwi, for soup and a bun, crack open a bottle of white and settle down to a game of backgammon in the cockpit. We've made a point of mooring into the wind so the spray hood shields us from the elements but just as we start the second game the weather turns and down comes the rain, time for bed, tomorrow we sail to Androsson.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Novices to Navigators, well almost

Friday, 14th September and its almost 3 years to the day since we bought the full length deck boots, which is where we started with this sailing adventure. Way back then we didn't know a rope can be a sheet, had no idea what a halyard was, and a warp was a very fast speed that the star ship enterprise went into when they wanted to get to the other side of the universe, fast.
Now here we are back in Largs yacht haven, where we used those posh wellies to go on our start yachting weekend all that time ago in 2009, and this time we're here on our first bareboat charter. We've charted a 31ft Moody, called Kiwi from Flamingo yacht hire and we're about to embark on a long weekend sailing in the Firth of Clyde.
We arrive, after a four hour drive, at 6.30pm to find Largs being battered by very strong winds, which have been blowing all day. No boats have been able to sail all day, although now, in the early evening, the winds have died down quite considerably, and tomorrow the forecast looks good.
We meet with the owners of Kiwi and are shown through the bits that we need to know about the boat. Where the flares are, the fire extinguishers, life raft, Nav equipment, sails, engine, etc. etc. We take it all in, hopefully remembering enough to get this sailboat underway in the morning.
We ask about where they think we should explore, given the expected weather over the weekend and they suggest we go around the Isle of Bute, and bid us farwell and happy sailing. As long as we bring her back with the same number of holes in that she has this evening they'll be happy, and that I suppose means the through hulls, a wee Scotish joke there.

It's far too windy, and cold to sit out in the cockpit with a glass of vino and a fag on planning our passage for tomorrow so we decant to an outside smoking area, with tables and chairs that's a sort of posh lean to at the Marina bar. We order a glass of house white, which barely wets the bottom of the glass.  I go back to Kiwi to retrieve one of our own bottles, and sneak our selves an hour of passage planning, cheaply and with the warmth of their patio heater. Well, at £6.50 for two thimbles full what do you think we are, made of money.

Saturday morning at 7am and the wind has died so that the Marina flags barely flutter in the breeze, but out on the sound there's a healthy force four forecast for the day.Poor Kiwi has been trust up with warps and springs and it's now time to untie her and set up some slips. Listen to me, getting all nautical with my rope jargon, but basically we have to keep her moored to the dock, but be able to untie her with us both standing on the vessel. Otherwise the person who unties the boat would have to make a mighty leap aboard as she slips away from the jetty, not recommended, hence the use of one turn around a pontoon cleat and both ends of the rope being on board.
We've been told, by the owner that she has a tendency to want to go to port, going backwards, which is the first manoeuvre we'll undertake. With the engine started, and ready to go we're nervously working our way up to a smooth exit. We don't want to appear like the novices we are, but two people walk passed just prior to our casting off to tell us we're driving hard into the quay with the bows. I've started the engine and put her into forward gear, albeit at the lowest of revs, but  never the less she's grinding the pontoon. Luckily there's no damage and we faultlessly let go slips and move backwards. I go into a mild panic as she moves back quicker than I expect and I throw the lever into forward, push the tiller hard to starboard and around she comes. Again, forward is a bit nifty and by some small miracle we miss the boat moored next to us by inches, and straighten up to glide effortlessly towards the harbour entrance.   A sharp right and were through the entrance and into open water where another five or six boats are raising their sails. So far so good. We give these boats a wide berth before heading her into the wind, raising the mainsail, and then the jib. This goes very smoothly, well with a bit of shouting, and the we turn north, the sails fill, engine off and we're sailing. Sailing all by ourselves, with a passage plan and a fair wind on the beam. Soon we're touching six knots  and were on our way to the Kyles of Bute. The boat feels very safe and stable, we've checked the charts, we know what we're doing, and although the skys are heavy with cloud, and the sea is silky black we're wrapped up well  in our new foul weather gear and we're a couple of very happy sailors,.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hemp and the Hearts of Oak

video
Sailing on a 100 year old boat is not very different to sailing on a modern vessel, your still using the wind to power the sails, but there the similarities cease. There are no winches on Hearts of Oak, and all the lines are rigged with old fashioned hemp. They're stiff and all the same colour. This boat is a gaff rigged cutter, I think. That is it has a big sail at the front a smaller sail between that and the mast then a big mainsail hung on a big wooden spar. This has lines that raise the throat and the peak, that is the bit that closest to the mast being the throat and the bit that's towards the back, aft end, being the peak. Hauling this heavy lump of wood up in the air is not as difficult as at first it would appear as it runs through a series of block and tackle that make  the job  a bit easier. The problem comes when trying to figure out which line to pull on. Forward of the mast is a series of pins where the halyards are secured, there's six pins in all, I think. Two of these are for the main sail,, two for the staysail and jib, and two for the topping lifts. All of these ropes, sorry, lines look exactly the same. The idea is that the halyards will always be in certain positions on our row of pins, this will make it easy for each of the crew, which will be different on every voyage, to haul up or down the sail plan. Unfortunately no-one is exactly sure what this order is. The two outer pins should be the mainsail throat and peak, the next two, the staysail and jib, and the middle two the topping lift. But that is only the concept, in practice it may be different.
One of our members of the crew has worked out that if we have endless lines on the halyarrds the this will enable us to be able to work the sails from inside the boat and never have to go on deck, so ensuring    optium safety for the crew. Unfortunately this has only served to add confusion to the rigging of our beloved Hearts of Oak.
In theory it's a great idea, but in practice it doesn't work.
Anyway, we love sailing in this 100 year old boat but most times we've been out on her it's been in very light airs, and the sailing has been frustrating. Today was different, today we had a force 4 gusting to 6 and here was a good chance to try her out in good sailing conditions. As you can see from the video she can certainly move given the right conditions. Our skipper for the day decided against putting up the jib which made her a bit heavy on the helm. We put in a couple of reefs in the main prior to casting off and found her moving along at a very reasonable pace of maybe 6 knots. This would be the liveliest conditions she had ever been sailed in and although we had moments of panic we did have a glorious few hours sail. I made a discovery about the  topping lifts, there's two of them, where you have to let the leward side out and tension the windward side each time you tack or jibe. Chris our skipper didn't think we should mess with them but I was determined to suss out why we always had a bad sail shape and found that we had two topping lifts that had to be adjusted on each tack or jybe. Once I got this sorted the sails looked much better, without being fouled by the lines for the topping lift and she sailed even better. But we should have put the jib sail up. You see although Chris is a much more experienced sailor than any of todays' crew he's a bit too cautious and for some reason he doesn't like putting up the jib which has to be hauled out along a wooden bow sprit with a very simple bit of rigging, just a hoop of metal that slides along a pole, basically. This means being on the foredeck and with no safety rails on this old boat, this gives Chris the willies. He's also not a big fan of R.I.B.s which is why she's kept on a drying mooring. We have to be on the boat two hours before high tide and back two hours after high tide.
On this daysail I'm afraid Chris just missed the deadline to be back and we grounded the boat about twenty feet from the mooring bouy, it was one of those days. Poor Chris I'm sure he was so embarrassed about this but we just waited for the tide to drop and hooked her back on.
In a couple of weeks we will have to haul her out of the water for her winter layup. There's quite a few jobs to be done, but the season has been so short here in Morcambe bay, and the weather has not been the kindest of summers. But it's been an education getting to sail such a lovely old boat.