Early Morning Drama

Trip Start May 06, 2008
Trip End Sep 30, 2008

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Julie and I were up early, in time to shower and get the boat ready for departure. True to their word, the Dutch chaps were up and about and they too, got themselves ready to cast off their boat and get out of the way, to come back in to our vacated spot when we'd gone. Now a couple of points of explanation before I continue. We wanted to leave with the ebb tide so that it would carry us northwards back to Lowestoft, hence the early start. An ebb tide also means that the river (Blyth) was also emptying itself - there was a 5 knot current running or in other words, you need to take things cautiously. Sadly, I think the Dutch chaps were either half asleep or have no experience of currents - I suppose canals aren't renowned for their fierce flows! In any event, I was on shore helping with their shore lines (rafted boats are normally tied fore & aft to the shore and also tied to the boat they are rafted to, both fore and aft and with 2 springs) and passed the bow line back to them first (it had no tension on, as the current was running from stern to bow). I was just walking back to the stern line when to my horror, I heard their engine rev and he started to put the stern of their boat into the stream - whilst still fastened to us in 3 places! In less than 2 seconds, their boat, and ours, were now at an acute angle to the flow and with enormous pressures on the cleats, lines and indeed the ageing pontoons. There were load groaning and creaking sounds emanating from my poor boat (and my poor wife on board and of course me!) as she took the strain. There was absolutely no way that I, together with 3 or 4 helpful and concerned people on shore, could pull the boats back in and the combined efforts of the 2 boats' engines in reverse did little to help. The other major problem was that their stern shore line had now, thanks to the changed angles, worked its' way under our boat and jammed itself between our rudder and skeg - we effectively had no steering!

The first thing to do was to try to reduce the strain on Celtic Warrior, by casting off the Dutch. Again, they panicked and having cut the stern shore line, they didn't think of what to do next - picture the scene, 'captain' on shore dancing with frustration watching their antics, as they contrived to graunch their boat against the stern quarter of ours. Oh I felt the pain! Finally they were off, but we were well and truly stuck. We had no steering and the current was fierce. We tried a variety of warps at different angles and got nowhere, neither could we winch ourselves back in. Fortunately, at this juncture, a helpful owner of a 4 wheel drive Suzuki arrived and who coincidentally, was also a member of the local lifeboat crew. Within 5 minutes, we had Celtic Warrior safely back against the pontoon.
The Dutch, who managed to put the owner on shore, were hovering out in mid channel as he came over and offered his profuse apologies and gave me his details, in case there was some damage that needed rectifying. They were nice people, they just made a mistake, something we all do as we are all amateurs playing with boats. I assured him that I would treat him fairly and would only approach him if there was substantial damage - at this juncture I still had no steering and had no knowledge of what actually was the problem under the boat or how much damage they had done in their final efforts to free themselves.
The next thing was to get my wet suit, mask and fins  on and wait for the current to slacken at the end of the ebb. The harbour master told me that there are only a handful of minutes' of slack water ie before the fresh flood tide starts the current flowing the other way, so I knew that if we were to get away today, I would only have a few minutes to sort the problem out. The water wasn't cold but the visibility was about 3 - 4  inches so it took a while for me to find the problem and to diagnose it. Fortunately, it was relatively simple in that it was their line, in between the rudder and the skeg,  that was causing the problem. I was able to saw the offending bits out with the rip saw blade of my Leatherman multi-tool and I did so with only a few cuts and abrasions from the barnacles that had found a home on top of the rudder, where there was no antifouling.

So, bloody and tired but relieved, I hauled myself out of the water and announced to the boys, who of course had loved all the drama, that they had an unscheduled extra day's crabbing as we'd missed the morning tide. They were delighted!
We spent the next few hours chatting with all and sundry and also by walking on the opposite river bank to the charming little village of Walberswick. A summer fete was in progress and it had a lovely, English village at peace with itself, feel.

It was with a sense of regret but relief that we cast off from Southwold at 14:00 that day. Regret as we really love it here and relief -well that's obvious! The wind was a gentle NE ie on the nose so we motor sailed back to Lowestoft, the boys helming for 90% of the way. They were very good, I must say. It was then that I discovered that our main genoa winch that had been used to attempt to get the boat back onto the pontoon, was warped and that a new drum was required. So the Dutch will be hearing from me after all!
 As we approached  the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht club and after several attempts at getting through, I finally got to speak to the poor barmaid, who advised me that the marina manager had gone home and she had no idea of where we could go. I knew exactly where he could go so I thanked her for her time and we went back to the Hamilton dock and the efficient and friendly staff of the Lowestoft Haven marina. Stevie and Simon were soon there to pick us up and we said our farewells to Rosemary and the boys, they'd been great company, we'd enjoyed having them on board. Within 15 minutes or so of Stevie & Simon's arrival, we'd shut up the boat and left for our first night on dry land since May 6th. We had wonderful local steak and oodles of excellent wine and chat, a bath and a huge double bed. It was also a great pleasure to see our old friend Marian again, who also happens to be Simon's mother and who joined us for dinner. All in all, it was a great treat but what stands out the most, as an impression, was the feel of carpet on my bare feet!
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