Monday, June 15, 2009

London to Cowes

We had a lovely visit with my Gu. “Great”Uncle Owen joined us for the first night and we had a nice evening that went deeper into the night than planned. We celebrated Macsen’s first birthday on the June 6th. Gu made him a perfect Macsen-sized cake with Dutch ‘klompen’ containing a single candle on top. I have never seen him more delighted. He stared at in wonder for a few seconds and then began to shovel great handfuls into his mouth giggling with glee. Perfect! We also had some good chats, tried to solve some of the world’s problems, relaxed and ate extremely well. We hope to visit again soon sometime around Gu’s birthday next March.

We arrived back at the boat in the late afternoon, after a 5 hour drive (2 hours longer than expected due to some road closures in downtown London). At this point we were completely sick of London and ready to be on our way. A fabulous package of surprises was waiting for us. Azita and Amer had offered to pick-up some handy things for us and had completely outdone themselves. More fishing lures (some as big as the fish I thought we would catch – one that suggested it was good for catching “even the largest predators”), special fishing lines, miso soup, sushi rice and powdered wasabi to accompany our first catch, and some great wool t-shirts (icebreakers) that keep you warm when it is cold and cold when it is warm (and don’t stink even after they have been worn for 2 weeks straight!).

Monday was a @#$%@^day. Pardon me. The locks at Saint Katharine’s didn’t open until 1300 so we had some time to bustle about in the morning. Someone had taken our 2 loads of laundry out of the dryer (apparently we had overfilled it a little) and left it in a stinky damp pile. This seems like a small issue but we didn’t know when we would have access to easy laundry facilities again (plus it was just irritating). Made it through the locks at 1315, having arranged to fill our diesel tanks at the barge in Gravesend, some 30 nm down the Thames. It was an easy and uneventful trip down the Thames, a bit boring if the thrill of arrival in London is gone. The current was nicely with us the entire way but the wind directly against so we needed to motor. The water began to get choppy as we approached Gravesend, direct effect of wind vs. tidal current producing very short choppy waves coupled with a strong driving current. These conditions came up fairly suddenly so were not really prepared. We waited for a large boat to finish at the fuel barge and then we approached ourselves. The waves were really crashing us about by this time but we continued anyhow. It was not until I was handing my bowline over to the barge owner that I realized that there were no fenders on the barge. Our fenders were crushed between the two boats, the netting ripped and one fender flew off. Suddenly ‘crash’ as the bow smashed into the side of the barge. Perhaps it was the irritations of the day but neither of us reacted as quickly as we usually would and it took several seconds and one more bump before we both yelled to the barge owner to release us and we pulled away bouncing in the waves. We circled around to fish out our fender and then limped further down the Thames to survey our damage. Two huge white scrapes in our new paint and a chip out of the rub rail. Both were feeling very upset, frustrated with ourselves and a little shaken and wondered if we should continue or just pull into the nearest harbor for the night. After a quick discussion we decided that we would still continue down the coast to Dover given that the winds and weather were favorable and we had just enough fuel.

Put the monkeys to bed at 2000. Seb had the first watch. I slept fitfully as we were heading upwind and it was a rather bumpy and loud sail. I woke at 1am to a wildly bucking boat and banging on the deck. I jumped up and Seb called out to put my foulies and my lifejacket on and come outside, “quickly if possible”. The waves were very high and were tossing us about in gust up to 29 knots of wind. We were just rounding a small cape at the mouth of the Thames and the weather build up resulting from the land and tide effects were astonishing. The genoa roller furler was jammed and Seb couldn’t get the flapping sail in. I took the helm and struggled to keep the bow in the wind while Seb went forward to study the problem. The boat was pitching about with fury and we needed to tack to avoid coming to close to the coast. We decided not to drop the genaoa manually but to finish the sail out to sea. Within ½ hour we had rounded the corner and were suddenly in virtually flat seas and a 15 knot wind right on our beam (90 degrees), perfect for a sail. Seb settled in for a well deserved sleep and I settled in for a very easy and beautiful watch. It started to become light at about 0500 and I had a fantastic view of the white cliffs of Dover. We pulled into the harbor in Dover at 0700, fueled quickly and decided that we were still in good shape to keep going. The tides were with us almost all of the way from Dover to Cowes so we wanted to take advantage and it was a fast and easy trip. Pulled into Cowes at 0600 after two full days at sea and docked up beside a beautiful big yellow boat, the Elena. We hopped back into bed to try to get a little sleep before the little monkeys awoke. Just after we awoke we heard a cheery welcome from the Elena crew, Adam, Leonie and their 2 boys, Mees and Pieter with an invitation for a welcome cup of coffee. We begged leave for a little time to shower in order to be more presentable companions….

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