I thought I would describe the wonderful surprise that happened last night to those of you that are still technically following the blog. My uncle who has been an avid reader throughout, presented me with this beautiful pocket watch in recognition of the successful completion of my tour of Britain in Vela. The watch has a marvellous history; it belonged to my great-grandfather, Henry Archibald Thomas Candy who was a mariner of some skill.
He was Chief Officer of the SS Philadelphia, a passenger liner that regularly crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th Century. In February 1915, he came to the rescue of the Captain and Crew of the SS Chester, a tanker owned by the American Petroleum Company which, having been badly damaged in heavy weather, was sinking. He led a lifeboat of six volunteer seamen from the Philadelphia to save 22 out of the 33 men on board the Chester. A second boat then launched to pick up the remaining 11; no lives were lost – remarkable in the horrendous conditions. In gratitude and recognition of his heroic action, the company awarded him the gold pocket watch. An account of the rescue was carried in the New York Times. I love to think that the watch is in his top pocket in the picture above.
He went on to join the US Naval Reserve Force for the duration of America’s involvement in WW1, he became Commander of USS Harrisburg which was the new name of the Philadelphia (there already being a Navy ship of that name). The Harrisburg carried mail and troops across to the battlefields of Europe and brought the survivors back at the end of the war. In one account of the ship’s life, the author has dedicated the book to him.
The esteem in which Captain Candy was held by his men is typified by the cartoon – a reference presumably to his broad shoulders both literal and metaphorical! His story and this wonderful watch of which I am now a grateful custodian will hopefully continue to inspire me in future adventures.
At some points I could never imagine getting to the finish, and yet here I am – a dream fulfilled and a plan enacted. I have loved all of it, even the occasional bad bits didn’t take the shine off the good bits and it was all great experience to become a better sailor. I’ve met loads of lovely people, I’ve had first class support from family, friends, colleagues and total strangers (not to mention the Flamborough Head RNLI team). Britain is a beautiful place, with lots of generous, kind people – what we see on the news everyday, which is normally a catalogue of depressing stories cannot possibly represent a balanced view – it was wonderful to unshackle myself from all that for 3 months.
There are so many ‘thank yous’; in particular I’d like to thank all the people who graciously did my washing – especially my sister Penny and best friend Babs who seemed to do more of it than anyone else; all the people who fed me and offered meals and a bed; the people who crewed the three overnighters with me, Hugh, Tom and Richard; the other ‘guest crew’ who played their part, Ruth, Jon, Jamie, Nicky, Penny and Sally; Sam Steele a fellow circumnavigator who lent me books and inspiration and Chris from JSASTC who lent me charts. For those who missed out, you are welcome to a trip across to the Isle of Wight at any time. Thanks also to the members of the Sadler Owners Facebook Group some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet on my way round; WRAC 863 – some of whom have visited and messaged me which was wonderful, even surprising me at the end with Jacqui and Debs in the reception committee! And also the readers of this blog who have been with me in spirit all the way.
Lastly thanks to Jon (AKA Co-owner) who generously gave up his boat for an entire summer but travelled the extremities of the national railway system to lend a hand and do spot inspections! Always prepared to answer the stupidest questions with patience and sometimes a handy Youtube link no matter where he was in the world – and threw a wicked welcome party!
But a bit about the last leg…..
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
The gods (particularly Neptune) are of course prone to little japes at our expense, so why should my last day be trouble free? I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that the engine had struggled through a lake of weed on my way around Selsey Bill. I was convinced as I came into Sparkes Marina last night that it was still partially fouling the propeller. With a day of motoring ahead, I needed to deal with it. I tried using my go-pro to take an underwater picture but that didn’t work, so there was only one thing for it. Get my bathers and mask on and get under the boat with a knife. And yes, there was a huge clump of the stuff wrapped around the prop as you can see from the photo (that was only half of it). Fortunately the water wasn’t too cold and there was someone on the pontoon keeping a watch. I was slightly worried when he said “what should I do if you don’t come up?” – I did really well to keep the sarcasm out of my voice and sweetly said “just go and find help please”!
As I motored into Portsmouth Harbour, I was struck as I always am by its grandeur and history. Then I noticed that I was the target for the Ryde hovercraft, the Brittany ferry, the Isle of Wight ferry, the dredger and numerous other yachts – it’s a motorway compared to many other places I’ve seen!
Portsmouth Harbour is ruled by the Queen’s Harbour Master (QHM), As I neared Fort Blockhouse at the entrance, I called QHM to ask his permission to enter the harbour having completed my circumnavigation, a totally unnecessary transmission but a symbolic one for me. As gracious and polite as he always is, he responded; “Yacht Vela, QHM – I’ve logged that you have entered the harbour at 1752 hrs with my permission and many congratulations Ma’am”.
I turned into Haslar Creek, tied on my remaining fenders and caught sight of the black hulking Submarine (the ghost of HMS Dolphin the submarine base in Gosport), I heard some cheering and turning the final corner into Hornet Sailing Club my fantastic reception committee was waiting for me! it was a fabulous homecoming and I have a significant headache today to attest to that!
A few videos …
I’ve done my best to record the important facts that someone else may find useful or even vaguely interesting:
Most useful item aboard: Audrey the Autotiller, despite her mischievous habit of switching off the auto function when she got bored – nearly always near a shallow rocky area and when I went to the loo! I really couldn’t have done it without her!
Most useless item aboard: The hand vegetable spiralizer which I bought thinking that I would try carb free – however there are so many chip shops around the coast of Britain that this was a vain hope!
Biggest waste of money: Vicky – don’t buy a dinghy that is not big enough to row properly! False economy!
Cost of Berthing (marinas and moorings) – £1730
Cost of Scottish Canal Licences: £96 for the Crinan and £144.75 for the Caledonian
Cost of Fuel: £200
Cost of eating out: £1300 – yes I know, I’m a slouch in the galley!
Cost of Cooking Gas: £87
No. of legs: 50
No. of nights at anchor: 4
No. of free nights on a mooring buoy: 3
Average no. of miles walked a day: 2.5 miles (I was surprised too, lots of marinas are not near shops or amenities).
The penultimate day started auspiciously with a Wetherspoon’s breakfast (don’t knock it, free refills on coffee and very good value), to which I was treated by the last WRAC 863 mate of this voyage. Di (Née Mawby) drove from Horsham to Brighton to have an 8.30am catch up which was really lovely; as were all the visits and messages received from this band of sisters, testament to the great bonds that are forged through military training.
Unfortunately the manoeuvring to get out of my narrow pontoon berth at Brighton Marina was decidedly inauspicious – you could tell that by the number of heads that suddenly popped out of hatches to see me frantically fender my bow off my neighbour’s boat as I swung out too sharply. Thought bubbles appeared around me “Bloomin’ women drivers!!”. I accelerated away with pink cheeks and gave myself a ticking off for being a bit slapdash – still 50 miles to go! I also blame Hugh Brunjes who was an overly efficient host with the wine last night.
The day was a game of two halves. With hardly any wind, I left the Mighty Yanmar and Audrey in charge and took my book to the bow where I sunbathed and mused the morning away. By 2.30pm the wind picked up but was typically from the south west. I aimed north west with a view of tacking to come into line with the eastern end of the Looe Channel, but my angles didn’t quite work out! As I neared Bognor, I tacked and realised that I really wasn’t going to get in a westerly enough direction. So in the words of George V when petitioned to add ‘Regis’ to the name of the town where he had recuperated from a chest infection, I exclaimed “Bugger Bognor!“
Curse of the killer weed!
Naturally I couldn’t just have a clear run with nothing to fret over! As we (Me, Yanmar and Audrey) were making our ponderous progress against the tide towards the Looe Channel which takes you south of the hazards around Selsey Bill, I was aware that I was surrounded on all sides by floating islands of weed. The kind that looks like electrical cable – we’ve had this wrapped around our old prop before and there was a heartstopping moment as I went over it and the engine note changed abruptly. The propeller stuttered and smoke poured out of the exhaust outlet. I immediately pulled back on the throttle and silently prayed that this would not be a major issue. I’ve done my RNLI moment for this trip and didn’t relish the prospect of another.
The speed dropped considerably and I didn’t want to overtax the engine so made do with going forward at about 1.5 knots. This was extremely painful and it looked like I would get into Sparkes Marina at midnight. I used the ‘phone a friend’ option and the advice to move between forward and reverse gears seemed to shift something and the speed and engine note improved. Huge relief and after another 90 minutes I was almost round Selsey Bill, the tide was now slack and I could also use my sails to some effect as I headed north west towards Chichester Harbour. I felt I had made a bit of a meal of this mere 39 NM passage!
Sunset on the Penultimate Day
One of the things someone said to me about this trip was the number of lovely sunrises and sunsets I would see. He was right, there have been some spectacular ones and you don’t tire of them, each one is awesome. It’s fitting then that the last one of this trip was stunning.
The bank holiday blue skies continued to show off the South Coast’s chalk cliffs in all their glaring glory today. Beachy Head itself is such an awe inspiring slab with the distinctive red and white lighthouse, made more special with the addition of a porpoise rocking in the shallows at its base. Infamous for being a favourite suicide spot, fortunately the only person we saw jumping off today was a para glider.
I also had my final ‘guest crew’ aboard, the last of my three sisters, Sally. It was great for her to see Britain from the sea on such a beautiful day – a unique view point which I have been lucky enough to enjoy in the past three months. Not that she was easy crew by any means – by 11am she was demanding a cold beer and by 3pm an icy G&T. To restore discipline I ordered her to pull the odd rope or two and made her move seats every few minutes to keep her on her toes!
The Spinnaker got another outing as we came around Beachy Head onto a dead run. This puts its usage nearly on a par with my bikini which has had its 4th outing today. The added thrill came when the wind changed direction and I had to gybe the spinnaker pole – I don’t think I did it according to text books but I didn’t fall in as I wrestled it off the guy rope and transferred it across to the other sheet, although it was a definite possibiity.
Feeling distinctly roasted by the sun, it was lovely to eventually get to Brighton Marina and cower in the shade. The marina is huge and has the novelty of using numbers instead of letters to label its pontoons. After being told a stream of numbers by the Berthing Master which didn’t make much sense, I headed over to a berth which would allow me a quick getaway tomorrow and was told off by the berthing master for using my initiative! They had mislaid my original booking made a week ago, and as I dug my heels in on wanting a better spot they relented and found me a finger berth nearer to the facilities and gate.
Unfortunately Sally’s workload allowed her only one day and she left on an early evening train to London. I was promptly scooped up by Louise Brunjes – another WRAC 863er who lives a few minutes away from the Marina; a fellow officer in the Royal Corps of Transport, we spent a great summer together driving 3 ton trucks and motorbikes around the North Yorkshire Moors in 1987. I had a lovely evening with her, her son Hugh and his girlfriend Alexis, its been very moving to see these old colleagues and friends show such fellowship after 3 decades. I may never receive another invitation though as I took along my dirty washing instead of a hostess gift!
Turn right out of the Port of Dover and there are yet more spectacular white cliffs. But very soon the coastline was hidden by a heat haze as the day’s temperatures soared. The forecast indicated a light easterly breeze, perfect for sailing downwind to Eastbourne. I was a bit disappointed by how light the breeze was – practically non-existent. But I resigned myself to a day of motoring in the sunshine and topping up my tan.
A constant nagging interrupted this lazy, slothful mindset – “What about your spinnaker, what about your spinnaker?” For those who aren’t sailors, a spinnaker is a large, colourful sail made out of something like parachute silk, it’s lightweight and so will fly downwind in very light winds. If you are a sailor and someone on the boat mentions flying the spinnaker, there is often a scratching of heads as people try and remember how on earth to rig it. and then there’s the worry that it will either broach the boat if the wind picks up or collapse in the water or get wrapped round the forestay. Most people’s spinnakers stay nicely tucked up in the sail locker and we are not much different on Vela – we flew the kite once in 2017.
Having lugged the damned thing around Britain with me, I felt that I had to give it a go in what were text book conditions. You Tube to the rescue (as it often is), a handy reminder of what I needed to do and hey presto it was rigged and hoisted for a glorious hour and half. The winds were a bit too light but Vela managed about 4 knots and it gave the mighty Yanmar a rest.
Once it was packed away, the day became pretty mundane – chug, chug, chug went the engine, Audrey helmed admirably and I managed to find a bit of ice that hadn’t yet melted for a lunchtime G&T. I held out until 4.30pm for a piece of cake – you can’t rush your pleasures in a 10 hour passage! The second fruit cake has been carefully rationed to ensure that it lasted until these last few days – I now know that it takes two fruit cakes to feed one sailor in one circumnavigation of the British Mainland. Don’t worry – there’ll be plenty more factoids like that to come as we wrap up the adventure.
The only other drama was the tragic loss at sea of one of my fenders. An injudicious fumble at the end of a long day resulted in me going round in circles on repeated sweeps to recover it. Unfortunately without much to get a boat hook around, the slippery beast avoided recapture and I decided that £10 for a replacement was a small price to pay for getting into Sovereign Harbour Marina before the sun went down.
Last time I was in Eastbourne was an Archaeology field trip in 1983! All I can say is the inhabitants look younger than they looked back then. Off to Brighton tomorrow…
After some of the longer legs I’ve done on this trip, you’d think the 19 miles from Ramsgate to Dover would be a walk in the park. It turned out to be a thought provoking passage with some great views. With the wind coming from the south west, as soon as I had cleared Ramsgate, I was on a fast close reach southwards – it would have been nice if the wind had been a little bit more to the west but you can’t have everything. The lock into the marina I was aiming for didn’t open until 12.30pm anyway so I wasn’t in a rush.
Despite the blue skies and high pressure, the wind was still a little cheeky and with wind over tide, the ride was a bumpy one. As I passed Oldstairs Bay, I witnessed a Border Agency Vessel picking up a dinghy and there were more incidents broadcast on VHF Ch16. Despite it not being on the news, the fine weather brings more migrants in their tiny craft across the 21 miles from Calais. It’s hard to imagine how horrible it must be in a small dinghy with water coming over the sides and being bounced around, clinging on for dear life.
After you. No, after you….
At 2 NM from Dover you must alert Dover Port Control of your movements and they will dictate which entrance you come into. It’s a vast harbour, with the ferry terminals in the Eastern Dock and the marinas and cruise ships in the Western Dock. I was told to sit outside the eastern entrance and wait, it was a good opportunity to get my sails down and put out my fenders. I could see two ferries coming in and a third in the distance, Port Control told me “if you’re quick you can get in between the second one and the third.” QUICK? He obviously didn’t know about a Yanmar 1GM10 whose motto should be “slow and steady wins the race”! Anyway I did what I was told, gunned the engine and like a virile sloth, Vela glided into the gap and gained the harbour! Phew!!
The Wick Channel – what channel??
Currently the Port of Dover is undergoing a massive facelift – with a brand new marina and cargo facilities, ironically co-funded by the EU (What have the Romans ever done for us?) This means that once you have got yourself over to the Western Docks, it’s a mess. I was told blithely to go down the Wick Channel (not on the chart) – I couldn’t see any channel at all and was just about to whine to Port Control when a dredger, the ‘David Church’ just in front of me announced that it was returning to its berth and reversing down said channel. My suggestion that I followed him was met with agreement and so I watched as the awesome helmsman of the David Church reversed this 50m vessel around a tight dogs leg into the inner harbour – respect! (and relief).
Fur Coat and no knickers – Dover exploration
Having only ever transited through Dover on a ferry to or from the Continent, I had a very narrow view of the place. With the beautiful weather however, the esplanade area between the two docks looked like the French Riviera with trees, sculptures and beautiful rows of cream houses and hotels. However walk 100 yards into the town centre and suddenly it’s all Poundland, Bettfried betting shops, Nail Bars and Charity shops. A significant port since the 17th Century, Dover has an amazing history, I came across the ruins of a Norman Church today, right next to a Burger King!
The town is dominated as much by the Castle on the hill as the busy port beneath it; my membership of English Heritage has taken a hammering on this trip with multiple castles around the coast. Dover Castle is amazing because it seems to have had a part to play in every major conflict, the wars of the Angevin Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, WW2 and the Cold War. It’s a great place to visit but you probably need more than a day.
Built by Henry II in the 1180s, it looks impregnable and has been used to garrison troops keeping an eye on those damned ‘Frenchies’ only 21 miles away. But the site goes back to the Iron Ages and there are remains of a Roman lighthouse or Pharos which was later incorporated into the Saxon Church. Obviously those Roman Triremes relied heavily on the lights to get them safely into the harbour.
The most interesting exhibit for me was a tour around the tunnels that formed the HQ for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940. Admiral Bertram Ramsay KCB, KBE, MVO was pulled out of retirement to head up the operation – which as we know snatched success out of the jaws of defeat. The dogged, unceasing shuttling of often badly wounded soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk out to transport ships via small craft is part of British folklore and still causes a lump in my throat when I think about it.
There has been quite a bit to provoke thought here in Dover, how we should deal with refugees desperate enough to cross the Channel in a small rubber dinghy, the irony that the EU provided some of the funding for much needed regeneration in a place that voted to leave. I certainly don’t pretend to have any answers but it makes you think.
On a more mundane note – as I was leaving the marina shower block this morning, I noticed that someone had left their wallet on the floor – lots of cards and £100. I handed it in at the marina office and on my return tonight the grateful owner had left a bottle of Rioja for me by way of thanks! I’m relieved as Vela’s wine stocks were low. More morally dubious though was my pedicure at one of those Nail Bars where you hope that human trafficking isn’t being practiced – Vela Red of course – all part of the preparation to reintegrate into normal society next week!
What a lovely day to wake up to, blue skies and warm sunshine. Thanet is rich with archetypal Victorian seaside resorts (also famous for growing cabbages). It’s thick with bandstands, kiosks, beach huts and promenades – some lovely deserted beaches too.
Ramsgate boasts the largest Pub in the world – The Royal Victoria Pavilion – now run by Wetherspoons; turn your nose up if you will, but the building is pretty impressive and has been revived by Wetherspoons who have restored some of its faded glory.
Other great examples of Victorian architecture are the arches by the quayside with quaint cafes, bars and bric-a-brac shops, and the Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys founded in 1881. Initially the title made me do a double take – did this mean boys who were smacked? or boys on smack? A little light googling revealed that a Smack was a type of fishing vessel on which these boys were apprenticed; some philanthropic Victorian decided that they needed a home and church and put their money where their mouth is – the Victorians were pretty good at that.
At the end of the pier is a beacon which has a rather haunting art installation – the names of more than a thousand vessels that have been lost on the Goodwin Sands is played out in morse code. Entitled “Worse things happen at Sea” – it has certainly made me think carefully about my route tomorrow – I don’t want Vela to be added to the list! (…- . .-.. .-)
One of the main reasons for spending a couple of nights here has been to visit my Aunt and Uncle, Brenda and Hugh in Broadstairs. My sisters spent many school holidays with them as my parents lived abroad; I spent a summer with them flipping burgers, twirling candy-floss and whipping up ’99s’ in a boiling hot kiosk on Broadstairs beach – this was like the Black Hole of Calcutta and was surely completely devoid of a hygiene certificate! Hugh is my Dad’s brother and closely resembles him so it’s always a poignant but lovely link to my Dad, who died in 1988, to see him. I walked from Ramsgate along the coast to Broadstairs to meet them and took in again the distinctive white chalk cliffs, empty beaches and beach huts – really charming.
We had a lovely lunch and spent the rest of the day catching up on family gossip and putting the world to rights – mostly agreeing (for a change) that the current crop of politicians were pretty rubbish! It was very special to see them after so long. Tomorrow I set sail for the Port of Dover – dodging both the Goodwin Sands and P&O Ferries will be a high priority!