Sunday, 19 June 2011

Queenborough to Ramsgate – and then in Ramsgate for quite some time...

Tuesday we set off on what we considered to be the first major leg of the journey – Queenborough to Ramsgate. A 35 mile passage that took us into the open sea for the first time together. Last year during our two week holiday we spent the majority of the time pottering around the meadway due to various different mechanical difficulties – so we were excited to take Ranger (the name of the boat) out to really stretch her legs. The weather was beautiful – with Blue skies and only minor wind, we motored along navigating the coast. We had breathtaking views of the coast line, and got to see some world war two era forts up close.

We even stumbled upon the Thames Barge that Neil and my Mom had taken a trip on last year.

It was a lovely day, and Neil and I both marvelled that perhaps all of the tireless work on the boat was paying off. She was running smoothly – and we were even able to bring out the sails for an hour or two as the wind shifted off the nose of the boat. As we approached Ramsgate we contemplated pushing on until the next port but decided with such a perfect journey, and with forecasts good for tomorrow it would be nice to visit Ramsgate. We pulled into the marina around 4pm and got permission from the harbourmaster to enter and dock anywhere along pontoon E. We spotted the pontoon and picked a spot about halfway down.

Before I continue I must tell you at this point that there are several lovely things about a boat as ‘well aged’ as ours:

1. She was born in ’77 the same year as me, and Neil says with great pride – ‘all of my favourite girls were born in ’77.’
2. As an older boat she is built very sturdy, and as such can take tough seas
3. While her space isn’t optimized to be a London flat – it is optimized to be the best sailing boat she can be in the space allotted

However one of the drawbacks of a boat like ours is that when she was built, marinas as they are today were not really in operation. She was built to pull up to a buoy in a long easy slow approach, not necessarily manoeuvre in tight marina quarters. We don’t have a bow thrusters (a little propeller at the front of the boat that helps move the nose around) like most modern boats do, so manoeuvring into marina spaces can be tricky. We had an instructor come last year who taught us some great tricks in boat handling, and many people now marvel when we get ashore at how well Neil handles the boat. However it takes a lot of backing up and moving forward to get to where we need to be!

With that little explanation we move into our birthing (parking) at the Marina in Ramsgate. It took some backing up and moving forward in rather rapid succession to try and get the nose where she needed to be to enter our slot in the marina. In the middle of the manoeuvre I was standing on the side ready to lasso a line onto the pontoon corner clean when we reached it (oh yeah, I can do this), and being a second pair of eyes for Neil on the nose. Neil took the boat forward to spin the nose around, and then tried to throw the boat into reverse. I heard the engine revving but our momentum forward was not being counteracted. I shouted to Neil that he must be in neutral as the boat was still lurching forward. Ranger was now dangerously close to the stern (back) of a Dutch boat in the pontoon next to the one we were aiming for. Neil shouted back that he had lost all control of steerage and the engine, and that we needed to secure the boat as best we could and park her at the next available opportunity. In disbelief, I watched as the owner of the Dutch boat tried to fend us off. I ran up to try and help him push us away. Unfortunately we did a little more than ‘kiss’ the boat in front of us. Our newly placed anchor protruding at the front of the boat broke through a back rest on hinges off the back of their boat, and scraped over the gel coat on their stern seat. A very angry Dutchmen screamed and shouted while a group of onlookers came to the rescue grabbing lines, and rushing us off other boats to ensure that they didn’t fall victim to the same fate.

We got the boat secured without further incident. I tied down the boat properly while Neil went to inspect the damage done to the Dutch cruiser. Lucky for us the damage was rather minor – nothing a few hundred pounds won’t solve, and certainly much less significant damage than could have been done in the situation. After exchanging insurance details with the other boat we began to inspect the damage on our boat – to explore exactly what went wrong. When we opened the engine compartment, it became evident immediately that the coupling between the gear drive and prop shaft had sheered completely. Translation – The bit that connects the engine to the steering and powering part had become completely unattached – so while the motor was running, it was no longer attached to the propeller and wasn’t moving anything!

Lucky for us the community of people in the boating world are extremely friendly and helpful. It is a rule that at sea whenever anyone is in danger you help out others – if you are the nearest to a man overboard or mayday situation you stop whatever you are doing to help people in distress – no questions asked. What has constantly amazed me about the sailing community is that you could be in the middle of a competitive race, and a mayday in the vicinity comes on the radio everyone – without fail - will stop to see if they are the closest, most capable boat in the vicinity and divert their course to offer assistance. While the same action is not required at shore – it seems to spill over. Wherever anyone has a problem anyone who feels that they can be of any assistance - lends a hand. The same people who came to shore to offer assistance recommended that we speak to the people just on the dock to identify a mechanic – that there were some good ones around. As it was just before 5pm – Neil and I decided to divide and conquer. He dealt with the Dutchman and the insurance company while I ran to the dock to source a mechanic before everyone in the sleepy seaside town headed to the pub. Not even off the pontoon I already had a name of a local mechanic, and a man offering to give me a ride to his shop down the road. Everyone in the quayside community offered help and before too long I returned to the boat with a couple of names and numbers to try. Feeling grateful that I was able to contribute, I rushed to give Neil the news – but he was already on the phone with another mechanic who came highly recommended by another yaughty a few boats down who saw the incident and came down to offer a recommendation.

The next morning at 9:30 am Brian arrived to come to our rescue. A retired airplane mechanic, Brian who was 71 and ridiculously agile and sharp for his age, had been working on boat engines for years, and proved to be a wealth of experience. After quick inspection he confirmed what we knew – and proposed 2 solutions – 1 replace the gear box completely which could take weeks – or 2, get the coupling re-fitted using the parts that we already had to get us through the next couple of months, and then replace the larger unit when we had more time to order the appropriate parts etc. Neil and I, aware that we have a limited window before we are off to the states, opted for option 2.

Brian got to work and amazingly was able to remove the offending piece, and get new holes drilled into the piece. The previous wholes were entirely filled in with bolts that had sheared off – some of them it looks like years ago! He fitted new screws, and even got a new piece of metal welded to replace the bit that was irreparably bent. The poor guy called us at 8pm after the first day’s work to proudly announce that the work was done. He was here the next morning to fit the rescued part onto the boat. We tried it out and we were up and running again by 2pm!
Unfortunately for us – the weather window we had giving us a ridge of high pressure and beautiful weather was closing in on us. The forecasts were predicting some serious gusts and very rough seas. Given the tide, the winds – and Neil’s inexperienced crew – we have been in Ramsgate waiting out the storm since Tuesday. Now Sunday, it looks like tomorrow will give us a promising weather window. Our aim is to get to the Solent (the area between mainland UK and the Isle of White) by 26 June where we are meeting a friend of ours who will assist us with the channel crossing over to France.

While in town we have certainly got to know the city. We have wandered the shops, and been to several restaurants in town. We have had amazingly cheap good seafood, spectacular Thai food in a seaside restaurant run by a man married to a Thai woman, and even Persian food one night. While dining out isn’t something we planned to do a lot of – we have found it amazingly affordable outside of London. Lucky for us Ramsgate – while not far outside of the big city – doesn’t have a direct fast train line to London. As such it feels like a proper seaside town – rather than a suburb of the big city. The people, the personalities, and the prices reflect this.
Yesterday we even managed a trip to nearby Moorgate where they were having a summer festival and an air show. It was a true English summer festival in every sence. Fish & Chips, Ice Cream, and kids were abundant. Even though poor weather was predicted the crowds were out in droves wearing overly optimistically cool clothing. The majority of the day passed with patches of glorious sunshine and dreadful dark clouds. When it came time for the air show the planes performed with a backdrop of monstrous grey clouds that were moving ominously closer with each performance. Slowly the beach began to thin and people started to take cover. Neil and I huddled together with our umbrellas and jackets like a few of the hard core spectators on the beach and were absolutely pelted with sideways rain – the kind that soaks you to the core. It continued relentlessly for about 20 minutes and then passed by to reveal blue skies once again. We watched the last of the air show, and then still soaked, ducked into a Primark (Similar to a K-mart for you US folks), and each purchased a pair of dry 5 GBP trousers (money well spent I can assure you). Sure the sales people looked at us funny when we came out of the changing room tags still hanging from the clothing we tried – and KEPT on – but we are discovering we are not proud people. In our new less-than-stylish threads, we then found a tea shop where we enjoyed tea and scones before we braved the buss back home.

Sure it’s frustrating being ‘stuck’ in a town that probably didn’t weren’t more than an evening’s stopover but we are trying to make the best of it. I have learned that the key for me is to start each day with a long run to rid myself of any anxious energy. This is helpful for me, but also Neil as I become much less ‘prone to crankiness’ after I have had a good run! (These are my words – not his – he wouldn’t dare!!) There is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach that I have found perfect for the occasion. Each morning there are different owners out walking their dogs and different families making the most of the early morning weather – I only hope that my body holds out. In the last 5 days I have run just under 20 miles – slightly higher than my usual mileage but necessary to keep my sanity. My legs are grateful that tomorrow we will hopefully be at sea where there are plenty of other things to keep me busy.

We have also used the time to do some much needed wedding preparations and planning – so much to do and 16 July is closing in quickly! Today we are preparing the boat to go out to sea once again. Neil is doing some odd jobs, and after my morning run, I am hauling laundry back and forth to the facilities. The next weather window may be a brief one so we plan to make the most of it, and get as far as we can tomorrow. It may be a long day, but I am very much looking forward to it, and the change of scenery.

Think good weather windows!!

PS – As you likely know I have been doing all of the blog postings so far. Neil has now gotten me my own login to the site so that there is no longer any confusion.

PPS – Some of you sent emails indicating that you were unable to post comments without logging in. We believe we have now rectified this – so comment away!

PPPS – While my initial intent was to have sort of a quality assurance process in place whereby Neil checked my posts given my propensity toward grammar and spelling mistakes – Neil is not operating within the SLA window. He feels that ‘we are on holiday, this isn’t client work, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and I should loosen up!’ As such I am putting a general disclaimer on all future and existing posts. There will be mistakes – I am dealing with it, and so should you.


  1. Michael Chapman19 June 2011 at 14:06

    Sounds traumatic, hope you're both recovered and manage to get underway tomorrow. At least it was relatively cheap - my Mum once did several thousand (actually tens of thousands) worth of damage to another boat while 'distracted' chatting to her friend.


  2. I love it! Keep up the posting and I can't wait to see you and the Stud in July... Good work on the running. Maybe we can plan and train for an international rendezvous someday when all this boat and wedding situation is but a fond memory! I'd love to run a fun run or half with you Hals!!

    Love you!!

  3. Hi Rebecca, just enjoyed reading you blog. great!

    Do you have a picture of the boat ? I am trying to picture how she looks while reading about your adventures

    Where are you off to ?

    best wishes

    Putney Bridge CC