Friday, 23 August 2013

The Big Three Oh

Our noisy neighbour
I originally imagined that my thirtieth would be spent in sunny Spain, sipping non-alcoholic sangria and relaxing with a book during the day, followed by flamenco dancing in the evening.  Instead, it was spent stuck in Brighton Marina still trying to get our stern frame welded up, under the constant racket made by the dredger operating nearby, while lugging a load of heavy tubular stainless steel around.  Nevertheless, I had a really nice day.

Kate snuck out of bed well before my alarm went off, to put banners and balloons all over Firebird's exterior.  On the inside, she made the table look nice with shiny stars and other table confetti, neatly
Firebird in birthday mode
arranged my cards and presents, and woke me up with the sizzling of sausages in the pan.

After that, it was time to get to work!  We had to make several trips back and forth to the welder's workshop, to take him the parts we needed welding on, and to bring the frame back for fittings.  The good news is that the frame is coming along nicely and is going to be way better than it was before, so even though it's causing us a huge delay, we're just glad to be making progress with it.

For lunch, we found a really nice pub behind the marina where they do a selection of unusual burgers.  I had water buffalo and Kate had kangaroo.

After more hefting of metal in the afternoon, Kate took me for a birthday surprise, which turned out to be a trip to the local cinema.  We totally love going to the cinema, so it was the perfect way to relax after our hard work.  We watched The Mortal Instruments, which was a good one about daemons, vampires and that sort of thing.

To round the day off, we legged it to the sea wall just in time to catch the sun setting, then back to Firebird for dinner, birthday cake and to watch birthday wishes that friends had recorded and given to us before we left London, which was a really nice thing for them to do.  They did videos all the way up to 37, so we've got a lot of cruising to do before we have a lonely birthday!

Sunset over Brighton

D'Oh!  It doesn't quite fit
Today (the day after my birthday), disaster struck with our latest fitting of the stern frame.  There isn't enough clearance between the life-raft holder and the boom, which is a bit of a nightmare because we'll have to take the whole lot back to the workshop, but at least welder, Bob, didn't sound phased on the phone when I told him about the problem.  He has a whole heap of experience and I have every bit of confidence that he will be able to sort it out for us.  Hopefully this will be the last time we have to struggle along the footpath by the marina, trying not to drop the heavy, polished frame!

The birthday boy
Mum's cake.  Mmm, delicious!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Waiting in Brighton

We're going to be in Brighton for a few days more.  Apart from the winds being all wrong for us, we need to get welding work done to strengthen a frame on Firebird and attach to it: our life raft, an aerial, a wind generator and a solar panel.  The welder is on holiday until tomorrow (Monday), so we're going to be here until at least Tuesday, we reckon.  Probably more like Wednesday or Thursday, but it doesn't matter too much as Easterly winds (which we need to get us down the Channel) are forecast for around that time.

To be honest, we're glad to be tucked up in the marina here.  Yesterday and last night the winds were absolutely howling - not nice weather to be out sailing in, or at anchor without good shelter, which there isn't around here.  I checked our anemometer (wind speed indicator) before going to bed and it was reading 37kts, which is a Force 8 and qualifies as a gale.

Improvised shock absorber, made in the night
We were shaken awake at 1am and had to get up to go out into the lashing rain to improvise a shock absorber on our mooring lines as the waves had found their way into the marina and, combined with the wind, they were causing a great deal of 'snatching' on our warps, which would eventually lead to damage to the mooring lines and/or deck fittings.
Store-bought shock absorber the morning after

We've been keeping busy, as usual, doing DIY tasks, but have chosen inside jobs to tick off the list.  Kate has been finishing the battery box she started making at Eastbourne and I have been armpit deep in excrement.  Well, it wasn't that bad, but our toilet had developed a leak where seawater was slowly filling up the bowl.  It wasn't too bad a leak yet, but it highlighted a very dangerous situation that the previous owner had put us in by not fitting the toilet correctly.  The bowl is below the water line, which is nothing out of the ordinary, but he hadn't fitted an anti-syphon loop, which takes the inlet pipe in a loop above the water line and back down again, to prevents seawater from flooding in.  Without the anti-syphon loop, we were relying on the small rubber valve in our toilet flush mechanism as the only line of defence between us and a potentially fast ingress of seawater.  It was this rubber valve that was starting to break that was causing our leak.

Luckily, there is a well-stocked chandler here, so I could buy the parts to fix the
Kate doing a spot of early-morning varnishing in her PJs
problem.  I took the opportunity to disassemble, thoroughly clean and disinfect all parts and replace all seals in the toilet.  She now flushes like a dream and sparkles like a pearl!  The only slight downside is that the anti-syphon valve can leak a few drops of water as it wears, or if you haven't quite set it correctly in the first place.  I had installed the valve right above the shelf where Kate's toiletries live and in my gleeful, overenthusiastic appreciation of the smooth flushing action once my handy work was done, I failed to notice the squirts of water coming out of the valve.  Some well chosen and smoothly delivered words kept me out of trouble as I explained that it was only seawater and I hadn't in fact just pumped poo over Kate's toothbrush and in any case, isn't it favourable to live in fear of a brush with faeces than not installing the valve and face the peril of sending our home into the murky depths to be claimed by Poseidon?  I personally think it's a risk we should be willing to long as I'm also in charge of whose shelf the valve is installed above.

Thomas Crapper's Thunder Box, complete with grime, pre-servicing

Thursday, 15 August 2013

To Dover, Dover, Eastbourne and Brighton

We ended up staying at our anchorage in the Medway until Thursday 8th August.  We got a lot of good work done on Firebird and there was still plenty more to do, but we
A neighbour in our lovely calm, peaceful anchorage off the Medway
were keen to make progress, so set sail for Dover, bright and early in the morning...except that we didn't actually get to set many sails.  We had about an hour of useful wind before it died away and we had to motor almost all the way.

We managed to navigate our way through the Thames Estuary without problem, avoiding both the large ships coming and going from the Port of London and the constantly shifting sand banks in the area.
What are these strange things in the Thames Estuary?  It looks like Water World has come true

It was a 13.5 hour journey, so by the time we had clearance to enter Dover, slipping in between the cross channel ferries, and had dropped our anchor, we were very tired.
Mandatory white cliffs of Dover photo

Following Dover, we went to Dover.  No, not a typo, we left Dover's West entrance in the morning, but the wind was completely against us and the sea state was very rough, so we gave up trying to make our way through such unpleasant conditions, turned round and went to the East entrance to spend another night in the same place.

On the 10th, we left Dover for good this time and sailed to Eastbourne.  This was actual sailing, which is much nicer than motoring and best of all, free!

The winds slowly built during the day.  We had a good spell with a lovely force 4, but by the late afternoon, we were cooking on a force 7, flying our smallest headsail and with the main reefed right down.  Seeing as we were beating dead into it, this made for a very uncomfortable sail.

Master and commander of the vessel doing...not a lot, as he rightly should be

When we got to Eastbourne, we checked out an anchorage which was far too rough given the weather, so we went to Sovereign Harbour instead, arriving 15.5 hours after leaving Dover.  On the way, Kate almost caught a tasty looking mackerel.  It was right there, within frying pan range, but managed to jump free just as Kate was about to land it.  Lucky fish!

Kate doing a spot of fishing
The entrance to Sovereign Harbour is through a slightly treacherous channel.  As we approached, I spotted a wreck on the outer breakwater, which was strange, as I hadn't seen it on the chart and it looked very fresh.  As we got closer, it turned out to be a yacht that we had been sailing with all day from Dover.  Our paths had been continually crossing as we tacked back and forth and those poor guys hadn't made good on their approach to the harbour.

Luckily for them, they had a long keeled boat, which can take to the mud reasonably well (unlike Firebird with her fin keel) and the tide was rising, so by the time we were moored up, we heard on the radio that they had managed to pull themselves off the mud and were making their way to the harbour.

Eastbourne was the first place we had been ashore onto dry land since leaving London 6 days earlier and we both felt slightly sick as it didn't feel normal to be sitting so still. 

Finding a place for the new batteries
We stayed in Eastbourne for 5 days, doing more work installing equipment on Firebird.  Amongst other things, we built a box for two of our awesome new batteries and converted a locker into a storage area for the other two.  Unfortunately, the new batteries are too large to fit in the engine bay where the old one went.  Kate was not best pleased when she saw the size of these beasts when they got delivered to us in Limehouse Marina in London.  They total 450AH capacity and weigh a ton.  I have had to be creative in explaining why we need four huge leisure batteries to replace the one modest 70AH one we had before, but I think I have just about managed to sway her over.

A lovely visit from Mum at Eastbourne
We also got a visit from Mum Mitchell, who dropped off post that had arrived after we had left London (mainly fishing tackle ordered of eBay), as well as lots of fruit and veg from the garden to keep scurvy at bay.

We set off from Eastbourne at 05:00 on Thur 15th, hoping to sail for roughly 36 hours direct to Weymouth.  After only 5.5 hours, though, as we approached Brighton, we decided that we had both had enough of the rough conditions and stopped there instead.  We had once again been beating into force 6 winds, which were whipping up a choppy sea and throwing us all over the place.  It wouldn't be so bad if we were able to rest, but at present, while under way, our bed and the seats around our table are taken up with equipment that still needs to be installed, which means that we have to spend the whole time in the cockpit getting buffeted by the elements.  Once we have got more stuff installed, which requires finding a welder, we will be able to take it in turn to rest properly while on passage.

So here we are, safely moored up in Brighton, drinking coffee and using the free WiFi at Wetherspoons to research welders and the weather for the coming week.  It looks like we might get a break from these Westerly winds, which would be great!

Firebird flying in the wind

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

And They're Off...

Just before midday on Sunday, after a lovely send off party/combined birthday party for me the night before, we cast off our mooring lines at Limehouse Basin Marina and waved goodbye to the gathering of friends and family who came to see us off.

Friends, family, and random gawpers waving us off  
It was a very exciting moment to finally be on our way, but the event was also shaded with sadness as we said goodbye to the people we love, knowing that it will be a while until we see them again.

We left the lock, turned down the Thames, and so began our great adventure.

Going past Greenwich and crossing from West to East longitude
We motored the whole way to the River Medway, which was a shame as the wind was actually pretty good for sailing, but the boat was in no fit state to put up canvas.  We have worked so hard over the last week, getting Firebird ready to go, but we haven't quite got everything stowed in a way that it wouldn't fall all over the place if we sailed, so were stuck with the motor.  We did about 42 NM (48 land miles) in total.

Going through the Thames Barrier

We actually stopped in Sharfleet Creek, which is off Stangate Creek, itself off the Medway.  It's a very peaceful anchorage with lots of birds feeding on the mud at low tide.  We have seen a seal and a couple of jelly fish floating by.  The seal didn't hang around long enough to have his photo taken, unfortunately.

Kate taking us past the O2 (Millennium Dome)

The original plan had been to leave here and head for Dover today, but we decided against it so that we could get some much needed sleep and continue getting Firebird fit to sail in. 

I wasn't as happy about Kate's empty hook as she was, as dinner time was fast approaching

Kate tried her hand, briefly, at fishing, but didn't spend long on it as we had too much to get done.  When I later pulled up the line that she had left in the water, I discovered that we had caught some sort of clam thing, as the hook had dragged on the bottom at low tide.

We caught something!

We're going to stay at this anchorage another night and plan on setting sail, with actual sails this time, on Wednesday, weather permitting.