Last leg - right
I left Port Edgar with high hopes. This was despite the cold dark 5am hour that I slid under the Forth bridge, or my concern that the fuel knock suffered previously would return. It resulted from my colleague, Les, who had agreed to swap shifts with me, giving a further 5 days chance of completing the voyage. It seemed very achievable as I left, even giving me a couple of days to play with in case of bad weather or other problems.
I am now sitting in Scarborough, having been here for 2 days, frustrated by predictions of gales and strong wind warnings. My bold approach to the harbour master this morning, to pay up my dues and leave, was greeted by one of those looks over his glasses as if to say ‘are you really sure?’ or ‘is this chap totally barking?’. Ironically the weather over the last 2 days has probably been comparable to the conditions encountered on route to Scarborough, winds up to 44 knots (severe gale) and seas to match! Of course, thinking back, I do remember considering that had I known that it was to blow up so much, so quickly, that I would not have chosen to go out! But worry not as tomorrow is another day and looks a little more promising.
So there is hope yet. If I can reach Grimsby tomorrow (59miles) and then the big one, an over-nighter to Great Yarmouth (99 miles), I’m in with a chance. Once at Harwich (52 miles) I am again in home territory, Queenborough being only 40 miles away, and home port Greenwich only a further 30.
The last few days have been eventful in themselves and seemed to have stretched into weeks! I guess that is a result of the interesting mix of people you meet while sailing, some very helpful, some brusque, some powerful, some incredulous. Tuesday was without doubt a high point, giving ideal sailing conditions and offering interesting encounters with boarders (check out the photo gallery).
My first visitors were from HM Customs cutter Valiant (42m) that had been shadowing me for some miles. First noticed a mile astern, I guessed that she was either Navy or Customs as she has no AIS signal. Appearing seemingly from nowhere (though later I found that Valiant had a rear gate that could lower to release/recover this rib), a high speed rib appeared and having pulled alongside indicated that they would like to board. On greeting them it became apparent that they were a very different breed to the officious French Customs officers I have previously encountered. I left one to look about Ardent while chatting to the other about many subjects, including French Customs! Their visit was an uplifting meeting and a welcome interlude to the days sail.
The second visitor was much smaller and unannounced. I spotted the staggering flight of an exhausted small brown bird as he/she dropped onto the deck, then hopped onto the boom, hiding in the lea of the mail sail. I’m still uncertain of the breed, though it seemed most like a bedraggled Starling, though with a rather more brown hue (perhaps normal colouring for Starlings at this time of year - twitchers please respond). I offered ships biscuit and once energy was recovered he/she was off again, first to the mast top to admire the view and then away. My only other close encounter with wildlife on this leg was the whiskery face of a seal, spotted the previous day as it popped out alongside Ardent to say hello, but was clearly camera shy.
Here in Scarborough harbour, the pontoons are plagued by flocks of gulls, both common and lesser black backed with a fair number of a small brown backed, white-breasted bird, as yet unidentified. The electronic birdcall simulator on the pontoons that constantly squawks day and night does nothing to discourage them.
So here I sit listening to the bird squawk loop and the wind howling, leaning the boat on her berth as hail ticks randomly on the cabin roof, begging that it blows itself out by tomorrow morning.
The morning broke full of hope and as I entered the lookout tower for the harbour approach the sea state was slight and the wind speed and direction favourable. However, the first words I heard were of a telephone conversation between the duty harbour officer and someone from Scarborough Yacht Club. It ran along these lines…
‘No boats will be out today unless they are 40 meters plus. No, I’m sure the days racing will be cancelled. Goodbye.’ as the phone was hung up.
It is a difficult call to make at times, judging between advice given by others and your own gut feeling about the conditions. In the event I felt that as a blue water boat, if handled competently Ardent was quite capable of taking much harsher conditions than many would consider venturing out into, and I was happy that nothing too extreme would appear over the next 24 hours.
An hour later found me free again. Heading south I caught the best of the tide around Flamborough Head and down towards the Humber. The wind was favourable being on the beam until I crossed the shipping channel into the Humber where the ebbing tide and head wind, combined with a severe re-occurrence of fuel knock forced me to keep my revs low and meant slow progress to Fishdock No2 at Grimsby. The black moonless night contrasted by the plethora of lights on shore made identifying the lock entrance almost impossible without previous experience of it. Low tide made me extra cautious on my approach and indeed I went aground once before successfully scraping my way through the mud of the dredged channel into the lock.
In the morning the forecast for the following week told me that I was at the end of this leg for a week or three. One outstanding job begged to be done now and by 22:30 I had fitted a complete spare set of injectors on the Perkins engine. I had had enough of trusting that the fuel knock would work itself off, needing to know that the engine could be relied upon. I had almost forgotten how easily she started and how sweetly she ran and the pleasure was worth the oily hands and smell of diesel!
Finally, I set up the auxiliary bilge pump as a backup to the main, which was tripping every 5 minutes. Having checked that the dialup camera was working, John, one of the three harbour masters at the Humber Cruising Association kindly took me to the station in Grimsby. I was extremely thankful to him and his colleagues for keeping an eye on Ardent over the next three weeks and also for being kind with the charges. I could not have wished for a better support at this point.