Saturday, 2 March 2019

Memory Lane

Today a crisp south westerly force 6 rattles the palm fronds on Poole Quay.

Beyond the shelter of the sea wall, white horses cavort...

...jostling the fishing punts on their moorings.

The inner harbour lies tranquil and reflective.

A fisherman lolls contentedly at the helm, basking in the spring sunshine, heading homeward to Holes Bay after an early start. His work stained craft chugs past the immaculate ranks of, Star-Wars-storm-trooper black & white, Sunseekers marshalled outside the build sheds. A glorious embodiment of the notion that there are as many ways to enjoy being on the water as there are people on the earth.

I have come on a (road) trip down Memory Lane, to my former home town.

In the boot of the car is the alternator off Stargazer's new engine. The reason for my journey. During the week the Balmar alternator and serpentine pulley arrived at Merlin's workshop as planned. However, to be sure of fitting the two together to deliver exact belt alignment, their engineer wanted the alternator supplied by Yanmar to use as a template. I have brought it with me.

 That magic carefree moment, when we can cast off for our first sail of 2019 and blow the winter cobwebs away, is drawing tantalisingly nearer. 

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Current Affairs

Down on the tow path, spring sunshine burns off the chill of an overnight fog.

Ghost ships study their reflections in the still river, as I walk toward the boatyard. Past Chatham's Historic Naval Dockyard, where Nelson's flagship Victory was built.

The veil of fog is abruptly torn aside. I pause to remove my woolly hat and down jacket as the temperature soars.  A coaster, detectable moments earlier only as a disembodied hum of invisible machinery, is revealed over on the wharf. Behind her, the spire of Rochester Cathedral lances the skyline.

Boats are jockeying for position, alongside the quay, when I arrive at the yard. It is now a sun kissed day which would not disgrace summer. Coffee is being brewed, knots of be-smocked sea folk chat on deck and the heady aroma of anti-fouling paint hangs in the still air.

I have spent the week finding out how to resolve the compatibility issue between Stargazer's new engine and her existing battery management system. Many phone calls have been made. I have become immersed in an arcane world of electrical 'current affairs.' A world with a language of its own: alternator power curves, amps, volts, serpentine pulleys, external regulation and more.

A 150 amp, high output, externally regulated Balmar alternator has been ordered. If all goes well, this will be fitted with a 64.8mm 6pk serpentine pulley before being shipped to me for the end of next week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Paul the electrician, uncontactable due to a half term holiday this week, will be able to fit the new alternator on its arrival. It should just 'plug and play' with both engine and battery management system.That is what the theory says!

Today, though, Stargazer is ready for her annual polish and anti foul. A remarkable spell of February weather like this is not to be squandered.

Mission accomplished. Here's hoping that the electrical recommissioning works go as smoothly!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Valentine's Day

On a joyously sun filled Valentine's Day, I load a heavy wooden crate into the farm pick up.

Four days earlier Stargazer was craned out of the water under leaden skies. A lone sunbeam glinting off the glass of the dockside apartment block behind her. In a mechanical ballet, the crane gently lowered Stargazer into a cradle before swinging its boom clear; a tractor reversed in, with an hydraulic jacking trailer; Stargazer and cradle were whisked off to a waiting space.

Kevin, the engine mechanic, meets me down at the yard, screwdriver in hand. He sets to work dismantling the crate. Stargazer's gleaming new engine emerges into the spring sunshine, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

Kevin has been working, for the past 6 months, trying to cure the original engine's thirst for coolant. This first emerged during last season's cruising. In the autumn, all the ancillary systems were stripped off and pressure tested. No leaks were found. However, once the engine was rebuilt, the coolant was still disappearing. The symptoms pointed to a fracture in the block or one of its internal galleries. The engine had reached the end of its life. Over Christmas, friends from Poole came to the rescue with the offer of a replacement engine at 'mate's rates.' Thanks Mike and Gary!

I fuss anxiously as Stargazer is manoeuvred back under the crane for the engines to be exchanged. Will the new face plate fit onto the saildrive? Will Stargazer's immaculate internal joinery be scratched by the lifts? The starter panel is an updated design - is there room for it in the cockpit alcove? I realise that I'm not contributing anything to proceedings, and am probably impeding progress. I return to the farm. Kevin calls 6 hours later to say that the engine is safely in and filled with fluids. Just the wiring to do.

Two days later, amid the turmoil of a saloon filled with the contents of the aft cabin and cockpit locker, our first snag emerges. Stargazer has a sophisticated  battery management system (Merlin 'SmartBank Advanced'). This allows battery charging at tick over revs and has served us well on extended 'off grid' cruises - the kind we love the most! However, there are problems linking the new alternator to the original system. Its time for me to get phoning and Googling to find the solution...

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Weather Bound

 For four days and nights the south wind howls and shrieks. Sometimes down to force 7, one night up to storm 10, mainly  it's around gale 8. I pace the Ramsgate waterfront, weather bound.

Fishing boats remain in port. The 'windcat,' windfarm service fleet, briefly set off on the first day but return en masse and remain in harbour for the week.

Only the stalwart pilot boats venture out, in clouds of spume.

The intrepid crew of, the ocean crossing, 34 footer 'Zen Again' arrive reporting only a "fast passage" up from Cowes. There's a team that's been some places and has some stories to tell.....  

The talk on the pontoons is of weather windows. We all have our favourite forecast sites. Most point to a westerly 5 on Saturday, followed by another gale within 12 to 18 hours (take your pick).

I set the alarm for 03.00 Saturday. The harbour is silent when it wakes me. No groaning of mooring lines. No howl of wind. I rig Stargazer and radio for clearance to leave port. We reach north, past the light house, up to The Foreland. The inky darkness turns to an indigo pre dawn twilight.

By sunrise Stargazer is hard on the wind in 18 to 20 knots of breeze. She tacks west with the Thames flood helping her to make ground.

We thread our way through the shoals off the Reculver Towers, helped by a lucky wind shift.

The breeze picks up to 22 knots as thunder clouds roll in. I tuck in two reefs.Stargazer shoulders her way, tack by tack, past the Whitstable wind farm...

.....and into the Medway. We ease our sheets. The water flattens. The wind stills. Ripples from our bow wave run musically aft. A curlew calls from the uncovering mud flats. I belly Stargazer's sails, to make the most of the fading evening breeze; and let it slowly carry us upriver over the ebb - delighting in the soundscape of our river.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Shepherd's Warning

An hour before the dawn; Stargazer makes ready for sea - by the light reflected from Blankenberge's streetlamps, in the still waters of the harbour.

A scarlet dawn breaks as we set sail from the pier heads. The shepherd's warning. The tail of Hurricane Helene is on its way across the Atlantic towards us, followed by Storm Ali.

We beat down the Belgian coast over lightly ruffled cobalt seas, in 15 knots of breeze, as a pale autumn sun rises into a clear sky.

By mid afternoon we are through the Zuydcoote Passe, into French waters and past Dunkerque. There are nine hours of fair tide to be had, headed southbound down this coast, and Stargazer is making the most of them - to outrun the gales.

By evening it is time to ease our sheets and reach up Channel towards the Kent coast. 

Our turning point is the Sandettie light vessel, guarding the southern end of the offshore shoals. We catch the turn of the tide and ride it north.

The sun sets over Pegwell Bay as we approach the English shoreline. The breeze is fading but the evening is too perfect to sully with the sound of an engine. We ghost on into the twilight. Stargazer makes her landfall two hours after dark, following the occulting road of red and green flashes into the embrace of Ramsgate's rock breakwaters.

Overnight the wind builds to a full southerly gale. By dawn a resonating booming in the sky overlays the banshee shriek of gusts.

The Dutch top sail schooner 'Oosterschelde' too has heeded the shepherd's warning; and run in for shelter.

Stargazer lies moored tight in under the lee of the granite harbour wall, waiting for a weather window for her passage home to the Medway.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Border Crossing

I drink in the view from high on the sea wall, out at the Breskens light near Nieuwesluis. The candy striped sentinel at the gateway to the Westerschelde.

Ten metres, or more, below us to landward; homesteads and woods perch on scarcely perceptible rises in an otherwise flat plain, which shimmers silver blue with still marsh waters.

To seaward, a fishing boat lowers its trawl and motors against the ebb, filling its nets with a tide bourn bounty.

Stargazer sails the next morning.

She beats out of the Westerschelde, in a SW force 5, showering shimmering diamonds of spray high over her shoulder.

There's a surge in the Blankenberge entrance. We lie off, waiting for another half metre of tide to rise (in case we ground in a wave trough) before nosing in. The canal turns sharp left. The cry of the wind and the crash of the swell disappear in an instant, like a radio song being abruptly turned off.

We find ourselves suddenly in the heart of town. A different music drifts across the harbour. A troop of wandering players stroll....

......tree lined Saturday afternoon streets.

Stargazer rests in the evening sunshine, back in Belgium. Her fourth border crossing in the past week of cruising. I enjoy a pot of coffee; savouring our freedom to roam where ever, in Europe, wind and whim take us - and wonder what changes Brexit may bring to our sailing.