Our next guest Barbara arrived at Limehouse basin bang on 4 o'clock having travelled all the way from Hackney by bus (about 5 miles for those who don’t know London.) Our lock out was booked for 09.30 next morning but there was lots to do before we departed so briefed and fed we all settled down for an early night.
The morning was a bit grey but dry and the wind a forecast easterly, no sailing down the Thames for us today. Jobs done and water taken on board we turned in the basin and headed into the lock. A much easier task from the canal side than the river. It is still a tight fit and we nearly left the end of the mizzen on the lock gate as we lowered!
Back in the Thames we headed up to the fuelling station by Tower Bridge for a pre booked fill up. Now Limehouse basin is very nice but very weedy and we suffered what we later learned is a common problem of blocked inlets to the starboard engine and auxiliary. The former was just okay but the impeller in the sea water pump on the latter was a goner.
We managed to get alongside the fuel barge on one engine to discover they had failed to pass on the booking to the guys on the fuel barges and we could not reach the standard sized fuel pipes, only the large industrial scale hoses. The only saving grace of the resulting 2-hour delay as that it gave time to fix the impeller and rod through the inlets to get both engines fully operational again. We filled up the tanks with more than 300 litres of diesel at an eye watering price, over twice what we paid three months ago, a worrying trend given the amount of fuel we anticipate using on the full voyage.
It was now 12.00 and we headed of down the Thames in the company of Ardwina, a classic Thames barge and once the home of our friends Bridget and Julian. We were leaving a bit late to make Queensborough on one tide so ended up arriving three hours later than planned at our first anchorage on the Medway having plugged the strong tide and head wind for two hours, using more of our overpriced fuel. The contrast with Limehouse was spectacular, mud flats and saltings screaming with sea birds and the dormant cranes of the redundant docks silhouetted ominously against the sunset.
An early start with the tide and a fresh SW wind got us underway to sail across the Thames through the channels and swatchways to the Colne and a sheltered anchorage on Pyefleet Creek. This was once an open anchorage favoured by Thames barges but is now like so many anchorages, is full of moorings and what is left is mostly protected oyster beds. Still we found a spot and after dragging the anchor once we managed to get a good hold in the Essex mud in a building wind.
An unseasonal Atlantic storm was battering Ireland and the outer reaches were sending strong southerlies up the east coast. We were due to sail to Orford the next day, a tricky tidal entrance with a shifting bar on a very exposed coastline. We set of in the morning with some trepidation under short sail ( you do not want to try getting the main and topsail down in a force 6 gusting 7). We would be okay if the wind direction stayed to the west of south as forecast but of course it didn’t work out like that and within three hours it was blowing 20 to 26 knots south east, just the weather they tell you not to cross the Ore bar in.
We were just off Harwich so we baled out into the Stour to anchor for the night. Our guest had done some sailing before so was full conversant with the vagaries of sailing itineraries and it did give us time to prepare a more ambitious supper. We looked with concern at the forecast for the next couple of days and decided to sleep on it. The next morning the winds were a bit kinder and so we decided we could risk sailing the remaining 15 miles to the Ore bar to arrive the recommended two hours before HW. This meant motoring up the coast through the shallow east coast muddy waters with the wind over tide kicking up a confused chop that would be untenable in a smaller boat. Snark just wallowed through in her characteristic way, the rig creaking as she rolled and props surging as her stern lifted.
The updated chartlet from East Coast Pilot proved essential, the safe channel had moved significantly from the electronic and paper charts. We crossed with 4 m of water, not much with 1 m waves, and made our way up the Ore to Short Gull just below Orford and were anchored up by 10.30.
We launched Boo and headed up to Orford for a walk ashore and a bit of shopping. What a pretty place, almost too much. It was open garden Sunday and ever house was trimmed and pruned to perfection and looking super cute in the summer sun. No worries about Sunday shopping here. The village shop was stocked with everything you could want and more, locally grown artichokes to drain cleaner, artisan farmhouse cheeses to cheesy watsits. Nearer the quay, a fishmonger sold home smoked maceral and sweet pickled herrings, while down on the beach an ageless fisherwoman offered dressed crabs, hot winkles and beautiful fresh sea bass. Bags of provisions in hand we headed back to Boo and a splashy return to Snark into a growing chop. Sunday lunch was a cold collation of our Orford catch and well deserved rose wine followed by fruit and ice cream.
The anchorage is right next to the bird sanctuary giving Barbara, a retired biology teacher, a chance to spend the afternoon doing some birdwatching while the crew continued to work down the ever lasting to do list. The winds peaked at 30 knots in the partial shelter of the anchorage and we were happy to be safe in harbour rather than trying to make Lowestoft.
The evening meal was some fresh Dover sole baked over fennel with mini roast potatoes and a cucumber salad, a perfect East Anglia mix. This was our guest’s last full day and though we didn’t get to the drop off of Lowestoft knowing the forecast she was happy to take a taxi to Woodford to catch the train back to London. So early the next morning we dropped her off at Orford quay and having stowed Boo on deck we headed off down towards the bar to head north.
The wind gods were still upset and the forecast was for more strong southerlies. To get out of Ore you head south for four miles behind the protective shingle bank before turning sharp left through swirling tidal currents to cross the bar. As we approached this point the waves were breaking and a strong gust blew away our chartlet. Our protective sea nymph perhaps as it confirmed our building doubts and prompted us choose option two and head back to the wonderfully named anchorage of Abraham's Bosum for another night on the Ore. The wind built all day peaking at 30 kn again with squally showers, too much for entering Lowestoft, so we did some more chores and updated the passage plan to accommodate the changes. by the end of the day the storm clouds had cleared and we were treated to a spectacular Suffolk sunset, a good omen for the morning.
Our trip up to Lowestoft was fairly uneventful until we had to turn cross tide and wind for the last two miles to the narrow harbour entrance. The swell hitting the shallow waters off the harbour entrance kicked up a particularly nasty sea which pitched us around. Once in the harbour the waters fell flat and we were hurried up under the lifting bridge to the very far end of the ABP commercial port, the marinas having declined to take a boat our size.
The Trawl and Hamilton Docks in the centre of Lowestoft used to be the berth for visiting vessels particularly the herring fleet. Now they are handed over to the offshore support fleet and visiting boats like ours are relegated to a totally unsuitable quayside of overhanging concrete on steel sheet piling. There was no water or power and no shore access without PPE and a 20 minute walk to the security gate.
To add insult to injury we are then charged £200 for the privilege, a flat rate for up to three nights. This is not unusual in commercially operated ports. Great Yarmouth, operated by Peel Ports, which should have been our stop over failed to find us a berth at all after three e- mails and five phone calls. There is sure to be more on this as we progress. Maybe we should set up league table. I should also mention there was no suitable fuelling berth either. The options seem to have reduced to fuel berths operated by marinas which are too tortuous to get Snark alongside, or commercial tanker deliveries with filler systems too big for us and minimum quantities that exceed our tank capacity. The story of Snark, too big for the leisure sector and too small for the commercial world.
The following morning we were set to head off for Wells by the Sea. We radioed Lowestoft Port Control to seek a lift of the bridge to be told we had to wait two hours even though there were other commercial boats leaving just ahead of us. It took a bit of a tantum on the open VHF channel to get them to let us out of the harbour at 07.00 to allow us to make passage to Wells in time to get in at high tide. But that is one for the leg four blog next week.