Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Stage 27, Lowestoft to The Downs.

Getting across the Thames estuary can be problematic with many sandbanks that move about, commercial shipping and, like much of the east coast, few harbours that can be used at all states of the tide and few anchorages usable with an onshore wind. Also sailing the route, especially single handed, can be difficult and hard work if the wind is not favourable due to many turns and limited space potentially needing many tacks.

The answer is to go well outside, its actually the shortest route but time and speed critical, potentially tiring and through some narrow lanes. You just have to bite the bullet and use the engine as much as necessary to keep up with the schedule whilst staying in the lanes and avoid getting over tired from frequent tacking, sail changes etc.

The next imponderable is where to go to, Dover is an option but a bit far, I would certainly arrive in the dark and my latest information was that the section of the marina outside of the lock gate was not available (a couple of days later I got a belated notification that it had reopened).

Ramsgate is an obvious alternate but again I would be arriving in the dark, it is a little complicated to enter and I have not been there since 1979 when we recovered the half tonner "Green Dragon" there after a steering failure off of the Texel (Holland) during the 1/2 Ton world championships, sailing that far in those waters without steering would probably not be an option today!

So my plan was to anchor in the Downs just north of Deal, this area has long been a traditional anchorage for sailing ships waiting for a fair wind through the Dover Straits and down the channel. To get a bit more shelter from strong tides and a likely brisk wind I chose an area known as the "Small Downs" close into the shore and the Royal St George's Golf Club, one of the clubs that hosts the British open.

After a short delay waiting for commercial traffic entering Lowestoft I set off a little after 07:00, the start time, as usual in the UK, determined by the tides, in this case leaving at slack water just as a strong south running tide got going. 

A nice westerly wind, about F4-5  made for good and quick sailing, it moderated to F3 by about 10:30 but I was still able to make 4 knots through the water. Around mid day the wind perked up again but started to head me and at 13:30 I started to motor sail down a narrow route reserved for small boats and until 19:30 I was alternating between sailing and motor sailing, mainly motor sailing after 16:00.

Having had adverse tide on and off from early afternoon (the tides in the Thames estuary are a bit complicated due to the flood coming from the north and south) by 20:00 there was a strong (2 - 3 knots) tide under me and I hastily revised my planned route inside the Goodwin Sands, the original was not intended to be followed in the dark, near low water on a spring tide and rather bigger safety margins were advisable around the buoys and banks.

Track (red) inside the Goodwin Sands to the anchorage.

Even with the engine throttled back it was a quick ride needing some very careful pilotage, identifying buoys well ahead of time which was not always easy with so many of them not all of which were on-route, and ensuring that the tide did not carry me onto them on a dark night, the autopilot helped.

I arrived at 22:30 to anchor, the anchorage was a little uncomfortable and the holding was  not good, fine initially but after the tide turned the anchor started to drag but reset quickly with a burst of power from the engine. The same was happening next morning, not enough to set off the anchor alarm but I could hear the anchor scraping over hard ground again, only a few metres, but I was just about to leave so did not reset it.

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