home wa­ters

A de­liv­ery trip from the So­lent to the Thames Es­tu­ary throws up a list of jobs for Dick Durham to tackle on the dream boat he has bought

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Dick Durham Pic­tures Bob Ay­lott

Coast­ing home. A de­liv­ery trip from the So­lent to the Thames throws up a list of jobs for Dick Durham to tackle on the dream boat he has fi­nally bought

The only thing blacker than the night was the fore­bod­ing citadel of Horse Sand Fort which came up moated by the lap­ping So­lent.

‘When we get round that lump, put her on 115°,’ I said to Glum, my crew who had groped my new boat, Betty II, a 25ft gaff cut­ter, out of Haslar Ma­rina, Gosport, just 30 min­utes be­fore­hand. I peered east­ward at the slowly light­en­ing sky and willed on dawn – the nav­i­ga­tion lights were pre­car­i­ously ‘mounted’ with bungee cord around the mast – and I was keen to un­ship them as soon as pos­si­ble. I don’t like bungee cord at the best of times; like Blu Tack, it’s a patented so­lu­tion for those whose DIY skills are want­ing. I should know, I’m from their ranks.

As we curved around the ma­sonry of the beetling fort’s cir­cu­lar side, Betty started to com­plete the di­am­e­ter.

‘Where the hell are you go­ing?’ I said as the boat headed back to­wards Portsmouth.

‘I’m steer­ing round to your course,’ came Glum’s in­dig­nant re­ply.

I nipped be­low, pulled my hand­bear­ing com­pass from my kit­bag and eyed it up to­wards the south-east. ‘That bloody com­pass is more than 50° out!’ With my hand­bear­ing com­pass, I found 115° and told Glum to steer for some­thing, any­thing on the slowly de­lin­eat­ing hori­zon.

As day­light chased away the shad­ows of per­pen­dic­u­lars, I looked at the ship’s com­pass sit­ting in a spe­cially cut hole in the cabin bulk­head. It was to port of the en­gine, which squat­ted un­der a lid in the com­pan­ion­way. Then I re­called how the for­mer owner, the well-known Old Gaf­fers’ As­so­ci­a­tion sailor Ben Collins, was a dab hand at lap­top nav. And although I’m a pa­per chart man, he’d even shown me how to get the best out of my own tablet which I carry, per­versely, not so much as backup, but as a con­trol over my pen­cil-and-di­vider scrib­blings. It sud­denly oc­curred to me that he prob­a­bly hadn’t looked at any­thing but his lap­top – even the com­pass – since the en­gine, a re­cent ad­di­tion, had been in­stalled.

Glum un­screwed the com­pass from its bil­let in the cabin bulk­head and, emp­ty­ing the con­tents, made a makeshift bin­na­cle out of the teabag car­ton and gaffer-taped it on to the main­hatch. Bingo, the card swung into line with its hand­bear­ing sis­ter. By now, a smart west-south-west breeze had come up with the light and we made short work of pulling the Boul­der Buoy abreast, but I was a lit­tle miffed at re­al­is­ing how fast the flood was run­ning… It had clearly been run­ning for a while, and then I re­alised I’d for­got­ten to add an hour for BST. We had missed an hour’s fair tide. The Looe Chan­nel was be­nign. Only the fur­rowed wa­ters over the Boul­der Bank gave us a hint of what it would be like in wind over tide con­di­tions.


Betty II raced on, and I de­lighted at her turn of speed, her di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity and her fond­ness for let­ting the helms­man leave the tiller: ‘Go and make a cof­fee,’ she seemed to say, ‘I’m al­right for a spell.’

To star­board, we soon had the spires of the Ram­pion wind farm, still un­der con­struc­tion, in view: a ma­rooned for­est which mocked the gi­ant chim­ney of Shore­ham’s gas-fired power sta­tion to port. Then all dis­ap­peared in fog.

Cu­ri­ously, this did not pre­vent the wind ris­ing, and I climbed up on to the deck to roll in some reefs. Im­pressed with the ef­fi­ciency of the old brass roller reef­ing claw, I was soon back be­low for a check on the chart. It was then I heard a mo­tor­boat. I put the chart aside and lis­tened intently, but the pitch did not change. Then it stopped. That was when I re­alised it was the au­to­matic bilge pump. It was re­as­sur­ing that Betty was telling me I’d reefed at the right time: the pres­sure on her keel-stepped mast was open­ing a seam some­where: this pesky


leak had been can­didly men­tioned to me by the boat’s ven­dor. In fact, he had aban­doned a thrash to the Isles of Scilly be­cause of it, putting into Fal­mouth then re­turn­ing home to Key­haven, where I had picked the boat up.

Au­to­matic bilge pumps are an­other thing I don’t like. Again they are a stop­gap, an ad-hoc mea­sure merely de­lay­ing the in­evitable. This com­ing sea­son, I vowed to get to the bot­tom of the mys­tery leak.

But for now, we hur­tled on through fog un­til the brown­stained white cliffs in which Ne­whaven nes­tles emerged through the mist. I could see the tide was al­most done.

‘We’d have made East­bourne if I’d got up an hour ear­lier,’ I said to Glum, ‘but at least we don’t have to lock in here at Ne­whaven.’

We opened up the port in­side the gi­ant western arm, which has pro­tected the haven from the south-west since the time of pad­dle-steamer fer­ries, gybed over and shot in.

The fol­low­ing day, we rounded Beachy Head and es­pied a gag­gle of ram­blers in a conga-like line walk­ing down the cliff edge. I was pleased for them that the wind was on­shore.

Pleased for us too, as the breeze pushed us up to Dun­geness in 4.5 hours. By the time we dou­bled that shin­gle penin­su­lar, it was Force 6 and we had a fol­low­ing sea of 5ft break­ers. Betty was surf­ing, dip­ping her bowsprit in the seas, and her low free­board put us close to the hiss­ing break­ers.

Ben had cut away 3ft of aft deck to make the cock­pit longer. As a pop­u­lar fig­ure on the So­lent clas­sic race cir­cuit, he had freely ad­mit­ted to me that he was a party an­i­mal who liked to en­ter­tain on board, but the boat’s open­ness un­nerved me. Clearly it had un­nerved Ben too, as when it came to sail­ing her across to Brit­tany, he had con­structed a deal ‘lid’ to fit over the cock­pit com­plete with a coam­ing at­tached with wing nuts. I’m afraid I left the con­trap­tion in a skip at Gosport as I felt that one good sea would wash it over­board.

For­tu­nately, her buoy­ant sec­tions never saw any wa­ter come aboard, but re­in­stat­ing the aft deck was now an­other thing on my list. Once round Dun­geness, the seas eased and the spring flood kept up its good work surg­ing us to­wards Dover, the western en­trance of which we reached at dusk just as the wind was in­creas­ing fur­ther.

After re­ceiv­ing per­mis­sion from Dover Har­bour Con­trol, we luffed round the sea-buf­feted stone pier, a wel­ter of back­wash sweep­ing the boat’s decks, dropped the gaff main­sail, rolled away the jib and mo­tored our way grate­fully into Granville Dock.

That night, we dined at the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club, a glo­ri­ous old es­tab­lish­ment from an­other century which sports a re­minder of Bri­tain’s prox­im­ity to hos­tile in­tent in the form of a chart of Dover Har­bour pub­lished by Ger­many’s Kriegs­ma­rine. This his­toric doc­u­ment is hung, with bull­dog phleg­ma­tism, in the gents!

That night and all the next day, the first gale of the win­ter howled through the masts of Dover’s yachts, driv­ing hor­i­zon­tal rain into the white cliffs hang­ing over us.

The fuss was all over in 24 hours and we de­parted Dover through the eastern en­trance, keeping to the north of the ferry chan­nel as ad­vised by the voice of har­bour con­trol and round­ing the South Fore­land in au­tumn sun­shine un­der full sail.


Betty II soared up the Downs in flat, shel­tered wa­ter, the houses of Deal star­ing at us from the beach, and I set a course for the B2 buoy which takes you in­side the Brake Sand for the Rams­gate Chan­nel.

On and on we went, but the buoy I could not see. I trained the binoc­u­lars to the north, ex­pect­ing to see the friendly lit­tle con­i­cal stand­ing up against the nether re­gions of Rams­gate. But to no avail. ‘What’s that?’ said Glum point­ing west. ‘That’s the buoy, they must have moved it.’ We now had to har­den up, but only just man­aged to get to it with­out a tack. ‘So is the chart out of date?’ asked Glum in­no­cently. Yes, it was, as we later dis­cov­ered… But if I’d been using the tablet…!

Rams­gate was empty and for­lorn, the pon­toons rock­ing gen­tly on the swell, colonised by huge gulls, which had marked out their ter­ri­tory with com­mu­nal evac­u­a­tion of their re­mark­able di­ges­tive tracts.

‘It’s the big­gest pub in the UK,’ said the bar­maid at the Royal Tem­ple Yacht Club about the re­cently opened Royal Vic­to­ria Pav­il­ion, and so we felt obliged to trudge through the night time streets to the doors of this for­mer ed­i­fice of Vic­to­rian, and Ed­war­dian sea­side dis­trac­tion.

It is now a mag­nif­i­cent ad­di­tion to the town: the ale is real, the hearti­ness pro­vided by excellent food, a place so lov­ingly and sump­tu­ously re­stored that even those in mas­tic-fouled track­suits are bathed in re­flected glory so that they ap­pear as though they are pas­sen­gers on a great Cu­nard liner.

We flew up to the North Fore­land the fol­low­ing morn­ing with a fresh south-west wind over Betty’s port quar­ter, but as we rounded the cape into the Thames, we came hard on the wind and had to reef right down, furl the stay­sail com­pletely and part furl the jib. How­ever, even with the jib rolled away to half its ca­pac­ity, it was still set too high, so leaving the helm with Glum, I went for­ward to change it for a small storm jib.

On a nar­row fore­deck, the furl­ing line was spin­ning off the Wyke­ham Martin furler, shackle pins were drop­ping over­board, the pli­ers were slid­ing down to lee­ward, waves were slop­ping over me and the bowsprit was slap­ping the sea – it was a te­dious job. When fi­nally I pulled the in­fer­nal WM roller back out along the bowsprit, the storm jib un­furled be­fore I had planned: it leapt and jumped like a phantom in chains, whip­ping the bowsprit like a fish­ing rod and what’s more, snatch­ing the out­haul off the sheave on the bowsprit end jam­ming it solidly be­tween sheave and spar be­fore I had man­aged to get the tack out to the bit­ter end.

So with a poorly set storm jib just half­way along the bowsprit and the heav­ily reefed main­sail now so low as to be rub­bing on the spray­hood, we crabbed mis­er­ably along the north Kent coast, the weather-go­ing tide pro­vid­ing wa­tery hur­dles for Betty to jump, stag­ger­ing her progress un­til dusk saw us en­ter the Swale.

It was dark by the time we moored up along­side a Dutch barge at Hol­low­shore, but we’d saved our tide: it was not quite high wa­ter. We ne­go­ti­ated the props of the laid-up boats at Tester’s yard and en­tered the warmth and calm of the Ship­wright’s Arms where the gover­nor apol­o­gised that there was no food. All the pasties which his chef made fresh each day had gone, he said, but later, as we sat wind­blown and drip­ping over pack­ets of peanuts, he an­nounced he’d ‘found’ two pasties in the fridge. ‘They’re all the way from Corn­wall,’ he added. Too hun­gry to care about the anom­aly of home­made pasties com­ing from Bod­min, or the fact that they were £6.99 each, we fell upon the fare.

In wan sun­shine, we sailed through the Swale next day and by night­fall, Betty II was back home, slowly fall­ing over with the re­treat­ing ebb tide on the mudflats at Leigh-on-sea.


Be­low, Betty II shows what she’s got while we get a feel for the old boat

Above, Small and per­fectly formed

Betty II heads out of Portsmouth har­bour

Above: Home at last on the mud at Leigh

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