trip logs

Trip Log: Launch in Port Dinorwic

  In the run-up to the Traditional Boat Festival at Holyhead in Anglesey, I decided to get a couple of extra days sailing in. I was even more delighted when Aimee volunteered to join me. 

A plan emerged to launch on the Menai Straits at Port Dinorwic, sail through the famous Swellies and round the North coast of Anglsey to Holyhead.
After chatting to several other Cape Cutter owners, there were four of us who were to make this trip to the festival- ourselves in Aurora, along with one of the newest Cape Cutters, Salty Dog, South African-built Halcyon and red-hulled Fraoch. 




Our departure was delayed by a day due to a flat battery in the tow vehicle, and so it was an early departure on Thursday morning. The early start was needed to ensure we were rigged in time to be launched before the tide went out.
An easy drive, an uneventful rig and a tractor launch (the second one this season) made a leisurely day. It was much more windy than forecast and we were hoping the wind would abate before our departure tomorrow. 

Aurora being reversed to the slipway for launch. 

After agreeing our passage details for the next day, we had a curry and an early night. 


The First Thousand Miles

Aurora is at her home port of Stourbridge at the moment (I love writing that down when checking in to marinas!), receiving a little TLC (i.e. varnish) before our next trip later this month. In our recent trip to the Essex coast, we passed the milestone of a thousand nautical miles of travelling in Aurora! This has been achieved in the slightly less than three years that we have owned her and I think an average of over 300nm miles per year is pretty respectable for a trailer sailer.


I am really happy with how our little ship has performed. I put a lot of work into Aurora in the first two seasons we owned her, mostly in internal modifications. So how useful have these changes been?

The most useful mods:

I added an internal instrument panel to hold the electrical wiring. I’m really glad I spent some time on this and, in fact I made a prototype panel before the current version, which is a bit neater and nicer looking. I find the battery monitor really useful, the handheld GPS mounted on its cradle, linked to a repeater in the cockpit  is really useful (I can up- and down-load waypoints from the computer, so avoiding the pain of its c1995 interface).

2015-08-10 11.43.10

The brass hooks are really useful for storing keys, penknife, etc and are easily reached from the cockpit.

The LED interior light have been well-used, as have all three 12V sockets for charging up gizmos.

The fixed VHF DSC radio (linked to the GPS) does not get used all the time, but is a big improvement on the disappointingly short range hand-held radio, and its reassuring to know that I can use it in case of need.

The two 30W solar panels (with charge controller) have been a great addition, and mean that we are self-sufficient for power. Not fixing them to the deck means that I can move them around to get the best charging and stow them below when I need to (most of the time when we’re underway).

The galley was pretty fiddly to fit (I got lots of help!), but has been a massive asset. I did not want gas on the boat because I think the worktop is too close to the roof and because I find that space a bit too cramped. The meths stove we use is a little slower to heat than gas, but safer and convenient. Having a proper gimballed stove means we can make hot drinks (or even cook) when underway, and the galley has convenient for tea and coffee making materials, as well as cutlery and crockery.

To cope with wet weather, I had a simple boom cover made which attaches to hooks on the bottom of the strakes. This has (fortunately) not needed extensive use, but has been appreciated when needed. It means that we can get in and out of the boat in rain without getting the cabin wet, it gives us some more outside storage overnight and allows us to cook and sleep with the washboards out when its raining.

The mods which didn’t work out as well as I had hoped:

The depth sounder is a pretty basic unit from Nasa marine, which combines a log. The depth transducer is mounted as far forward as I could manage (in the bow locker) and works well most of the time. It has its limitations, especially in shallow muddy water, where it has trouble telling mud from water (I have touched the bottom when it was telling me I had plenty of water on at least one occasion). Its better over a hard sea bed (rock or sand) and I think I have got better at interpreting what it is telling me. When I am creek crawling, I use my trusty bean pole instead, more often than not.

2015-08-10 11.45.15

The through hull log which I fitted has been a great disappointment. It has rarely delivered a reliable reading and seems to need the paddle wheel changing very frequently. I’d like to have a measure of speed and distance independent of the GPS, not least so I can judge the strength of tidal flow, and I don’t think I would buy this same unit again. I chose it primarily on cost (very much the least expensive I found) and would probably go for one of the new systems which has a single, multi-use display which can be hooked up to a variety of sensors.

I spent a lot of time fitting nav lights to the mast head, and have rarely used them. I like the idea of occasional night passages, but somehow it just never happens. When I am anchored, I tend to use my dawn-sensor anchor light, which turns off when it gets light and saves the battery.

The least used piece of equipment is the Yeoman plotter. This is a nifty device, but its quite big, so its a pain to store at night. Its great for longer passages, but most of the sailing we do is inshore, so it is less useful for the kind of sailing we do and thus tends not to get used.

Here is a schematic for the wiring aboard Aurora. I’m no expert and I’ve worked this out for myself, but it might be of some interest.


Future mods?

I would like to fit a tiller pilot at some stage, though this is not an urgent need, as I do not sail single handed very often.

Drying out: I would like to make some kind of device so that Aurora can dry out on the level. I have some ideas, but don’t tend to dry that often, so that too does not seem very urgent.

I suppose that says I am pretty happy with the boat as she is and should just get on with sailing her…

trip logs

Trip Log: Seals in the Sun


The reason we anchored last night at Potton Island again was so that Alice could see the seals and this was our last chance. I had dropped the anchor in the same spot as before, hoping to see the two young seals near the boat again. To Alice’s delight, they did not disappoint and swam quite close to the boat, though having seen a Cape Cutter before, were not so interested as last time 😉

ERB_7445 ERB_7662 ERB_7664 ERB_7666

Aimee motored us up the creek a little way, but with very limited water and a falling tide, we soon turned back- I wanted to haul out today and it would be a very late finish if we got stuck! I thought I would sail against the ebb up the Roach for a while, so that we could reach the Crouch no earlier than low tide; that way we could ride the flood back to North Fambridge, where we would haul out.

2015-08-05 09.47.16

It was a lovely morning and the breeze was very light and I sailed Aurora up the Roach, past the cockle fishermen, on two sails as far as the moorings at Paglesham. The wind was very light at this stage and on the nose, so I ventured no further and turned about to head for the Crouch. We had a lovely sail back along the rivers, taking it in turn to helm. I enjoy the excitement of powering along, heeled over in a breeze, but drifting nearly silently along a river at about walking pace is blissful on a warm sunny day. We had plenty of time to watch the bird life on the banks and the sleepy seals.


2015-08-05 15.11.12

All too soon, we had passed though Burnham, wound through the reaches above there and it was time to drop the sails and tie up for the last time this trip. I took advantage of the tractor recovery by the lovely people at North Fambridge Yacht Haven and, with the girls’ help, soon had Aurora ready for the journey home. We set off late in the afternoon, tired but happy. A pleasing end to a most enjoyable trip.

Distance travelled 14.7nm; avg speed 3.5kts (max speed 7kts!)

trip logs

Trip Log: A Rough Crossing


The forecast was for less wind today, but it still seemed pretty breezy when we woke up. The plan was to dash back South and into the Crouch, so we can recover Aurora tomorrow. The sea had been quite rough yesterday, so I I was planning (reluctantly) to motor the whole way. My plan was to leave Brightlingsea on the last of the ebb, so we would not have rough wind-over-tide water at the mouth of the Colne and I had calculated that this would put us at the Ray Sand (Rays’n) bar an hour or so before high water, so we would have some flood to help us up the widest part of the Crouch as well as plenty of water for crossing the shallow part.

2015-08-04 11.06.28

We took the water taxi ashore for the last time and had a walk in town, had an ice cream and went to the play park for Alice’s benefit. After a quick lunch, it was time to leave. The first part of the journey was easy enough, but as we got into the mouth of the Blackwater, it got more and more rough. The girls stayed below and I put the washboards in; I also clipped on my safety line.

I have been out when there is a big swell, and Aurora copes pretty well with that. However, we were ploughing through a steep chop, which would sometimes nearly stop the boat and at other times make her roll crazily. Occasionally a big brown wave would wash right over the bow. Navigation with the iPad was very difficult, as the screen kept getting wet, but I had put a waypoint into the GPS (as always on trips such as this, so I was able to navigate to that.

Henry Honda did not miss a beat and pushed us on, averaging about 3.5kt; not bad, given the conditions, I think. As we neared the Rays’n bar, a large motor cruiser came abeam, gave us a wave and then moved ahead. Crossing the bar with a swell of more than a metre made me a bit nervous, but I kept telling myself that this was the top of a spring tide and there was at least 5m of tide, so there was definitely going to be enough water. Still, the thought of bottoming out in those conditions was not a nice one.

The worst sea was actually just after we had crossed the bar and made it into the deeper water in the mouth of the Crouch- the tide was beginning to ebb by this point – but, little by little, we crawled (so it felt) into more sheltered, calmer water. Once into the river proper, we made better progress and soon turned into the River Roach. From there we made good time to the anchorage at Potton Island which we visited last week.

It was with some relief that I finally dropped anchor and stopped the engine. I’m glad to say that the girls had not found that crossing a problem and were un-bothered by either the duration or the motion of the boat. A fair bit of water had come into the boat- when the waves swept across the companionway hatch, a dribble of water came in and dropped to the floor, so anything on the floor was a bit damp. The anchor well drains were also blocked again, and water was dripping in here too. Just as well this was our last night. After a quick meal, we all had an early night.

Distance travelled 17nm; avg speed 3.5kt.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 15.05.56

trip logs

Trip Log: Wivenhoe


When events depend on the weather, you can make a plan, but that doesn’t mean that things will turn out that way. We had that sort of day today. 

So, here’s the plan. I walked to the shop in Bradwell village for supplies. We then set off from the marina and sail down from the Blackwater to the Crouch. 

The first part was easy, and I enjoyed the walk. By the time we cast off, it was just after low tide. There wasn’t much water and we picked our way slowly along the channel, plate up. We scraped the bottom a few times, despite the depth sounder telling me we had water. I think the very soft sludge confuses the sensor and it reads part of the mud as well as the water. 

As we turned the corner on the final leg out into deeper water, we had the strong breeze right on the beam, which made it hard to keep a proper track in the channel. I could see a cruising yacht high and dry just to one side of the channel and as we drew alongside, I could see there was crew aboard; she’d obviously run aground. 

As we motored on, the water got even shallower, then there was a grating sound and then we stopped. We were aground too. Curses! I put the engine full astern and tried rolling the boat by leaning out on the shrouds. No dice. We were stuck.

Fortunately, it was a rising tide and I knew we didn’t have long to wait. Certainly a lot less time than the cruiser behind us. I put the anchor down and watched the water slowly creep up the shore. After twenty minutes or so we were afloat again and I slowly pulled the anchor chain back up, which moved us into slightly deeper water. 

As soon as the anchor was free, Aimee gunned Henry Honda and drove us out onto the main river; not easy with the strong cross wind. I put up the staysail only, and we scooted dead down wind against the tide. Once we had sea room, with Aimee’s help, I got up the double reefed main. 

Aimee had been helming up to this point, and doing a great job, as conditions were tough. The strong wind over a spring tide created a very uncomfortable chop. I realised that conditions would be the same at the mouth of the Crouch too and Alice was getting sea sick. The decision was made to head back to the relative shelter of the river Colne.

We anchored in the lee of the beach at Mersea Stone and had lunch from the provisions I had bought in Bradwell. We then decided to follow the tide up river, as we had a couple of hours before high water. 

I then had an enjoyable sail “round the cans”, following the channel up river. The wind varied between reach, run and fetch. I did not have to tack once, but the wind on the river was very gusty. 

We sailed through the flood gate below Wivenhoe and then through the town itself. I saw it last week at low tide when we were driven here for a meal and it looked very different now, from the water and at high tide.  

Alice wanted a swim, so I turned the boat and we made our way back down. Just out of town, I found a spare mooring and managed to sail up to it and tie off without starting Henry. 

Alice jumped in for a swim and, just like yesterday, this tempted Aimee to join her. The girls had a lovely time playing in the water. Alice absolutely loves being in the water and would have stayed for longer, but it was time to move on. 

We slipped the mooring and then motor sailed downstream on the ebb; we needed Henry now, with the wind on the nose. A shrimper motored past us and then put up her sails; once the bend in the river allowed, I cut the engine and beat with the shrimper. 

He had a single reef in the main and a jib, we had a double reef and staysail, so we had quite a bit less sail than him. He came out slightly ahead of us because he tacked better, but our boat speed was pretty much the same, though he had his boat on its ear in the gusts. 

We gave each other a good wave as I eased onto a fetch and passed him as he beat on to get into the Pyefleet. 

The mouth of the Colne was thick with dinghies, but with the strong breeze over the ebb tide, there was a big swell which was causing carnage and the rescue boats were being kept very busy. We also saw a foiling catamaran which looked like a scale model of the America’s cup boats. 

It looked pretty stormy by the time we got into Brightlingsea, which was very busy, and we ended up rafted to a large ketch. It was then a water taxi ashore for a welcome shower and a Chinese takeaway to eat back on board.  

Distance traveled 20nm; avg speed 3.5kts. 

trip logs

Trip log: Bradwell


When I woke this morning at anchor in Pyefleet Creeek off the river Colne, I watched several boats leaving on the last of the ebb and we perhaps should have used the tide to exit the Colne. However, I had promised Alice a swim before we set off this morning and it ended up with all three of us  in the water. It was not the best spot for a swim, as the water was quite muddy, but it was refreshing. There was no current by the time we went into the water, but the tide does run very fast through. During the night I had heard the water chattering past the hull and  when I got up, the critter cage was streamed out behind the boat. When I pulled it up, it had evidently rolled along the seabed. There was a lot of mud on it and, to Alice’s delight, it was almost full of shore crabs.

We departed agains the rising tide and motored past Brightlingsea. There was a breeze by this time, so we put all three sails up. Our target was to get into the river Crouch, but it was not to be. We were against the tide across the Blackwater and also beating upwind in light airs. It was clear it would take us a very long time, so we decided to head into the Blackwater instead and go into Bradwell marina. This was a much more favourable direction and we had a lovely sunny sail. The marina is near the mouth of the river, right next to the nuclear power station which provides the most obvious landmark on this water. It is reached up a small creek and we were soon tied up.

The girls enjoyed a shower and then we went for a walk to find a shop for some provisions. This was quite ambitious, as the village of Bradwell is some way from the marina and it was a Sunday afternoon; we enjoyed our walk, watching the straw being baled and felt we had earned an ice cream when we got back to the marina. Later, Alice and I flew the kite-cam and had a go at taking some photos of the marina, but I won’t be able to check the images properly until I get home.

Distance travelled 10.8nm; avg speed 3.8kt


trip logs

Trip Log: Maldon


Niki, Alice and I had spent a peaceful night in Heybridge Basin. Our plan was to take the last of the flood tide up to Maldon town for lunch and then take the ebb back down river to Brightlingsea. This gave us a very leisurely start, with time for a walk, a shower and Alice to enjoy the swings.

 We left as soon as the lock gate was opened. Whilst we were waiting, I got chatting to the skipper of the motor boat next to us in the lock. It turns out that he had been an engineer on the Radio Caroline ship (“Ross’ Revenge”) in its heyday. We had seen this boat moored on the Blackwater on our sail upriver the previous day (in fact we had seen it before too, when it was in dry dock at Tilbury last summer when we took Aurora to Sweden; I noted on our return that it was not there, and had wondered what happened to it). He was part of the group restoring the ship Nd was returning today for a meeting aboard.

 The weather was absolutely glorious with a gentle breeze and hot sun. It was upwind to Maldon, so we motored to the public quay and moored. We had time for a walk up to the high street, lunch and an ice cream. Whilst we were sat in the cockpit, someone came up for a chat, seeing our OGA “gaffers 50” burgee and had a chat to us and pointed out that there was another Cape Cutter resident at Maldon (“Stormy Cape”). There was a party atmosphere in town, and we discovered it was carnival day, but we couldn’t stop to see the procession because the tide had begun falling (full moon yesterday, so helpfully, the biggest tides right now).

When we set off, we decided to have a quick look at our fellow CC, but Alice, who was eager to help, dropped a fender in the river. This proved to be useful man overboard drill and Blue Fred was quickly recovered. Alice was very proud to be the one to retrieve him.

 We made our way down steam with the tide and Genoa only, gybing our way round the winding passage near the head of the river. As soon as we passed Heybridge Basin again, we hoisted main and staysail too. The breeze and the strong tide meant we made excellent time downriver, moving from fetch, to reach and run. The breeze was patchy in places and the foresails would occasionally collapse as our boat speed exceeded the wind speed, but always filled in again after a minute or two.

The sun was really hot and it was such a pleasure to sail at a good pace barefoot in shorts and tee-shirt. As we sailed past Mersea Island, we had a useful shift in the wind which carried us right into the mouth of the Colne, where we had to fire up Henry Honda to enter Brightlingsea harbour.

By this time it was almost low tide and there was not much water, but we got in and tied up at the pontoon. Here it was we said farewell to Niki, who went home to return to work, and hello to Aimee, who had been spending some time with grandma and grandad. With some extra provisions supplied too, we set off again and picked our way out of the harbour, motoring over to the Pyefleet channel, where we dropped anchor.

 The girls and I prepared and ate dinner in the cockpit with a terrific sunset into a glassy sea. By the time Alice was settled in her berth, the full moon dramatically rose, providing another lovely view on the opposite Horizon. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

Distance travelled 20.4nm; avg speed 4.2kt