Other PicoMicroYacht

Friday, 3 August 2012

Crossing the Channel and Seeing a Mermaid in Folkestone

This post is finally to thank all the people who supported PicoMicoYacht for the row. An enjoyable part of doing the sponsored row was reading the many encouraging comments I received from various people and I thought I would highlight some of the more interesting ones.

My colleague Mark, an international expert on the neurology of epilepsy remarked ‘My goodness, this sounds like a massive challenge, as well as being wonderfully eccentric! I expect you to return with tales of encounters with giant squid, mermaids, whales and giant cargo ships.’

I hope I didn’t disappoint him. He was prophetic, because there is a mermaid statue on Folkestone beach and I saw a dolphin on the way back.

My cousin Steve, a transatlantic sailor, suggested I shouldn’t row too fast, but enjoy the day. That was good advice, and I did enjoy the day, although I distinctly remember rowing as fast as possible when the safety boat told me to speed up to avoid a container ship.

Mike who works in Camberwell with me, suggested that rowing across the English Channel was no more dangerous than crossing the road at Denmark Hill – the advantage that Camberwell has is that across the road there is  a convenient Accident and Emergency department.

Huw from Exeter suggested that if the tide swept me past Cap Gris Nez, we would meet up in Devon. I nearly took him up on the offer.

The Laidlows suggested that my next trip should be as Kon Tiki 2. I thought this perhaps would be to prove that Pico Man could have originally populated the Polynesian Islands.

Lastly, Becky from Laser Performance Sailboat Face Book (http://www.facebook.com/LaserPerformanceSailboats)  wrote ‘why not just sail’ which I thought was very poetic and sums up any challenge – why? There is no answer other than ‘because it is there.’

All in all, I am so grateful for your support.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

PicoMicroYacht safety gadgets for the Channel Crossing

What happens if it all goes wrong and you need help quickly? To be honest any communication to the coast guard with the word 'help!' and saying your position would do, but it is more civilised and effective if you  know how to communicate properly. This is why I went on a radio course the other year with my policeman brother in law. He got full marks in the exam, being a policeman.

So instead of saying to the coastguard - 'gulp... help - you've got to rescue me - I am sinking south of Dover' I am trained to say 'Mayday Mayday Mayday. This is Yacht PicoMicroYacht. Mayday. Yacht PicoMicroYacht. My position is 51 degrees, 4.8 minutes North, 1 degree, 19.5 minutes East. I am sinking. I require immediate assistance. There is one person on board. I have no liferaft'  Of course this requires a bit of practice to do calmly and accurately when you are sinking in PicoMicroYacht.

It helps if you have made a radio call to the coastguard before setting off, telling them of your voyage and giving them a description of your boat. For PicoMicroYacht, this is an interesting conversation, short of course, because they have other things to attend to like coordinating rescues.

As well as a VHS radio, I take a mobile phone in an aqua pac, which meant it survived a capsize recently when taken sailing. Mobile phones are quick for getting in touch, but they have disadvantage that you can only speak to one person at a time, whilst the radio will broadcast to everybody. But Vodafone were good at telling me that I was in France.

I also have a Fast Find Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The PLBs are designed to send out a satellite signal to the coastguard when you are in trouble. Mine is fitted with a GPS to provide exact location. The idea is that in trouble you pull out the whippy antenna and it transmits. I keep it on a lanyard round my neck.

The support boat used by Full Throttle Boat Charters (http://www.fullthrottleboatcharters.com/) has EchoMax, which amplifies an incoming radar signal and sends it back in a form that it is easy to spot on a screen. Radar is a good device for low visibility, but it is known that radar operators do not always monitor accurately signals from small ships. In addition, the support boat had radar and an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which picks up signals from all large vessels and plots their location, direction and speed on a map in real time. It can tell you whether a ship is on collision course or not. It also has an AIS transponder that provides an AIS signal for the support boat so other ships can see him on their map. This is a very effective way of alerting large ships to your presence.

I wear an automatically inflating life jacket, even though this impedes rowing somewhat.The life jacket is fitted with crotch straps, which can extend life expectancy in the water by about six hours in UK summer water. Surprisingly, these are not fitted routinely on lifejackets.

Navigating the PicoMicroYacht for techies

I had a very experienced support boat (Will and crew: http://www.fullthrottleboatcharters.com/), who could have done all the navigation, but I preferred to do it for myself. This was partly because I am used to navigating at sea, and also because I found the navigational aspect part of the challenge. The arrangement was that I followed my own route and Will monitored it very carefully to check how we were doing and focussed on us tactically avoiding the other ships. I had full confidence in Will and we worked well as a team. As a responsible support boat specialist, he would have taken over the navigation at any moment if he thought we were in danger and was discrete about allowing me to dictate the course.

The key to the crossing is dealing with the strong tidal flows and it is best to go at neaps. I went a bit before neaps to catch good weather. The main issue with crossing the English Channel is the east-west flow of the tide, or in the case of the Dover Strait, more northeast - southwest  (for short hand east or west below). If you are going slowly you have to let the tides push you one way and then the other, and not resist them or your eventual distance is increased very substantially. The art is to establish one direction to travel in using a compass and be able to stick to this, whilst the tidal streams cancel each other out. There are slightly more sophisticated approaches, where if you start at the right time from the right place, the tide will help you in total. In my case the tide ended up not hindering me very much.

I used a paper map, with traditional techniques involving a parallel rule and a brass divider. First I drew a line on the chart from Folkestone to two nautical miles east of the Cap Gris Nez. This latter position was on the assumption that the tide when I arrived would sweep me west past the Cap, so some leeway was needed. I then measured this distance (approximately 20 nautical miles) and assumed an average boat speed to take me there in seven hours. This was 3 knots, adding in a little for breaks. I then used the Channel East Tidal Flow Atlas to determine approximately the east or west tidal speed for every hour of the voyage, keeping in mind the approximate shift in position east or west on the atlas. These tidal speeds were translated into hourly distances and subtracted from each other to produce a net tidal drift, which turned out to be 6 nautical miles west. I then plotted out a new vector for the total crossing (115 degrees) allowing for this drift and made some extra adjustment for the drift caused by a force 3 to four wind coming from the north east. Then for each hour of the voyage I plotted onto my paper chart a vector using the direction and distance to be travelled, adding onto it each time the tidal vector for that hour. This produced a total course, a series of joined up waypoints plotted on the chart.

The result was a semicircular course, the tide sweeping me up Channel to the North Sea to start with and back down at the finish. The advantage of this course was also that I was crossing the shipping lanes almost at right angles, as required by law. In the chart above is shown the shipping lanes delineated by purple marking (in between two thin purple lines with a thicker line in between). The lane closest for England is for ships travelling up the Channel and the one closest to France is for down Channel travel. The area outside the delineation is for local ships. Further down the channel (bottom of chart) the lanes are separated from each other by a large amount (more purple). The chart shows how the shipping lanes narrow in the Dover Straight. This is the busiest international seaway in the world, with approximately 400 ships passing through every day.

I then read off the waypoint coordinates from the paper chart and fed these into my GPS, to have the electronic record. The GPS is a cheap but very effective black and white screen Lowrance H20, which has mapping for the UK and English Channel. I set up a route by stringing the waypoints together and then used a screen on the GPS that told how much I was deviating to the left or right of the route and how far it is to the next waypoint. It also told me the time left to reach each waypoint assuming the current speed.

The in boat navigational strategy was to use the 115 degree compass course, with some adjustment for wind drift, but also use GPS waypoints to check whether I was on track. Provided I kept approximately to my estimated 3 knot boat speed and I had calculated the tide approximately correctly, by going from waypoint to waypoint, I would maintain this course. Conversely, provided I stuck to the 115 degree course adjusted for some wind drift, I would go from waypoint to waypoint.

In practice this strategy worked out very well and I was able to keep this up until the last two waypoints, when the northeast wind had more effect and the wave height increased, slowing the boat and sweeping me down the Channel too much. I started to fear being swept past Cap Gris Nez. At this point the two mile leeway saved me and by rowing flat out for the last three miles I arrived almost exactly at Cap Gris Nez. The final course is shown in dashed lines, which I had to do without being able to see the French coast until one mile out. One operational error was to be fixated on the screen that provided the distance to the next waypoint, rather than looking at the map, making me think I was going to overshoot. When I flipped to map mode, this reminded me that I didn't need to achieve the last waypoint and had the additional leeway that I could use. I could see on the map I was heading directly for Cap Gris Nez. As someone interested in operator error, I realised this was a classic mistake of narrowing your focus too much when fatigued, in this case the process of rowing occupying me greatly.Will didn't know what was going in my head and he just thought I was rowing hard in the direction of Cap Gris Nez.

On reflection, I should have allowed more leeway, but because things went fairly smoothly, the two miles turned out to be enough. My course was almost exactly the fastest one to Cap Gris Nez, given the starting time and position, even though my judgement was slightly wrong.

To navigate I have a compass and the GPS mounted just behind the rowing stretcher, easily seen. The compass, the Silva 70 UN, is designed for small boats, but is sufficiently accurate and visible that it does for serious navigation. It was beautifully smooth and clear as PicoMicroYacht bounced around in the sea. I was looking at it facing the back of the ship, so had to recalculate my bearing by adding 180 degrees.
I also carry a spare GPS. The support boat had their GPS and other navigational equipment. There is an issue as to how much you should rely on GPS without paper charts. I don’t carry paper charts on PicoMicroYacht, which would not be very practical, but if I am doing sea rowing I normally keep well inshore and only go out in good weather, having researched the coastline thoroughly beforehand.

Friday, 27 July 2012

PicoMicroYacht’s voyage across the English Channel

Here is the story of PicoMicroYacht's attempt to cross the English Channel.

Because I brought forward PicoMicroYacht’s crossing there was a great rush to get ready and I knew there was a danger I would be under prepared – but fortunately I brought everything I needed.

The night before I plotted my course on a paper chart, set up the GPS, packed the boat up and stayed the night in Folkestone.

The course has to take into account the tides, which sweep you back and forwards in the Dover Straight. I worked out the course and it turned out to be a semicircle, which had a certain surprisingly and unexpected aesthetic aspect.

Above is the course with the vectors and seven waypoints, for each hour. The course crosses the shipping lanes approximately at right angles, for five mile  almost over the top of the Channel Tunnel. At the apex the tide turns and then starts pushing PicoMicroYacht down channel. Note the constant 115 bearing, the tide creating the circular shape. The dotted line indicates the final course deviated from the planned course at the end of the voyage.

I was going to start at 4.30 am, but this plan was changed the night before to 6.30 am, which we found made no big difference to use of the tides.

Because of the last minute planning, I didn’t get to bed until 12.30 am and then had to get up at 5.00 am, not a good start. Nevertheless, I recently heard Steve Redgrave talking on radio 4 about sleep and sport, saying on one occasion he didn’t sleep at all before a world championship race, but did his best row. So this was an encouraging thought.

The shipping forecast, at 00.15 for Thames, Dover and Wight was: North East 3 to 4, occasionally 5 later. Showers later. Visibility good, occasionally poor. In other words, it wouldn’t be a glassy calm sea and we would need to get back in good time as the wind increased.

The start had to be changed from Dungeness to Folkestone and I had not checked out the harbour previously. So when I arrived I used the first place I could find to launch, a small beach to the east of the harbour wall, leaving my trailer there well up the beach.

It felt quite windy, I think caused by the remainder of the night breeze. A small cardboard box was being blown across the promenade making a rattling sound. The sea was calm close to the land but I knew that further out would be a different story. I put up the masts and rigged the sails, the mizzen sail (back end) folded up at the top to make it smaller.

The first part of the course took me along the cliffs towards the coast near Dover. In the early light they glistened with a ‘choppy’ sea in the foreground. After about three miles, my support boat called me up on the radio and checked my position. There were friendly greetings and they took up station behind me. Lots of thumbs up signing at this point and throughout the trip.

Will and his crew from Full Throttle Charters (http://www.fullthrottleboatcharters.com/) approaching me. He called me up on his VHS and joined me when I had given him my position.

To start with my course took me towards the Dover - Calais ferry path. It then would start turning away towards France and then back down to the Cap Gris Nez. As I kept going east I wondered whether Will would think I was keeping going until the North Sea, soI signalled in a circular motion to indicate my navigational strategy.

About two hours out the large ships going up the Channel started to cross my course, densely grouped. I have heard that crossing the Dover Straight is like crossing a motorway. I thought this was exaggerated, but it felt remarkable similar, but in slow motion. Will and his helper would look intensely at their automatic identification system to workout whether a ship would go behind or ahead, having just appeared over the horizon, and we just seemed dodge between them. Will would tell me to slow down or speed up to ensure we were in the right position.When they looked more intense I realised the ships would pass more closely. I was struck by how fast they moved.

I was nearing the middle part and was well up to schedule. After each hour I stopped very briefly to eat and drink a little. Then my mobile phone went off. It was a trainee who wanted some advice about seeing a patient and whether they should use a particular procedure. I gave some advice and then said ‘by the way, I am rowing and am halfway across the Channel.’ She had known I was doing the row, but thought I was leaving later that day. The distraction amused me and put me in a cheerful mood.

It had been easy up to now and I had enjoyed looking at the white cliffs of Dover in the distance. But the visibility started to decrease and the waves were more lumpy. I saw a curious line of breaking water in the distance and realised that standing waves were coming towards me. I readied the boat by facing into it and braced myself. The first wave launched me upwards, the second rolling over the top of PicoMicroYacht. But she was excellent in this situation and the water drained out of the back of the boat immediately. My Cheddars were soaked and my cheese roll was damp and salty.

As I rowed on a little more, to my horror I noticed my rudder blade had broken off at the top and was twisted in the water, falling away and drifting off into the distance. I was rudderless, with the boat slewing around immediately.

I thought I would have to give up. But I had practiced on previous occasions in calm water rowing without a rudder and knew it was possible by careful balancing. I didn’t know whether I could do it in a moderate sea. After some experimentation I found I could keep the boat roughly on course but less smoothly, getting better as I continued. It was clearly slowing me down and sometimes the boat would slew round and judder to a halt. The two small sails steadied the boat without tipping it over significantly.

As you move towards France the ships start coming from the opposite direction, travelling up the Channel. The visibility started to reduce drastically as a haze turned to mist, dropping down to about two miles. I was very glad that the support boat had AIS and radar.

Very large leviathan-like objects would appear out of the mist and then quickly disappear again, with a sense of awe and mystery. I peered into the mist to see the boats emerging, knowing I now had to trust Will and the support boat to do their job. They had to be complete focused and they did brilliantly. At this point we were simply too busy to take photographs.

As the weather conditions deteriorated, I watched them put on more and more clothing until they they were wearing their full foul weather gear, whilst I was pleasantly warm in a shirt and shorts.

We started seeing the slowly moving swimmer support boats. The swimmers must have started very early in the morning. At one point Will told me to go towards one, shadowing it to keep out of the way of an oncoming ship. I didn’t get close enough to actually see the swimmer, but it was easy to imagine them swimming along, submarine like. Feeling fatigued already I felt a new respect for them and incredulity about how it is possible to swim the Channel in such conditions. As I moved ahead they slowly disappeared into the mist.

The low visibility meant I only had the compass as a reference point for direction and the GPS for position. From about six miles out from France the tide was picking up and sweeping me rapidly down the Channel. To counter this I was heading now over 90 degrees away from my actual course. This was planned.

But then the wind picked up and I was being pushed further west than I had anticipated, according to my waypoints. So I was getting worried about being swept past Cap Gris Nez, and I got to the point when I thought I might not make it after all. Nevertheless, I resolved to keep going until I realised it was clearly impossible. Rather than pacing myself, I starting pulling harder with longer strokes, upping the rate - I now had nothing to lose. Will kept a good distance, perhaps knowing I had to fight this bit on my own.

But I had forgotten the additional leeway allowance I had made for this eventuality and when I flipped over to look at the chart on my GPS I realised I was heading straight for the Cap. Three miles out I knew I could just make it if I continued to row flat out, finding some more energy from the thought of finishing. All the training had paid off.

About a mile out the faded green of the cliff appeared, with a prominent lighthouse, and a beach to the left of the cliff. It was gray and hazy and difficult to make out different beach structures. I could see the tooth like stones that line the side of the beach and the building above above. The dull gray sand indicated the tide was halway out and I knew from the chart I was rowing over some nasty rocks, covered by the tide.

Closing in on Cap Gris Nez

With the north-east wind uninterrupted for hundreds of miles across the North Sea and across the Dover Straight, the waves were crashing against the coast, forming a rim of white surf. Will was concerned about this and the potentially dangerous situation of being on a lee shore with little time to deal with equipment failure. He thought I could be flipped by the waves in the surf. So I decided I would go slowly in, close to the shore, and take a look but be sensible. The surf was now more prominent, the waves around me shortening and soon to break, so at this point I decided to call it a day. It was 1.30 pm, almost exactly seven hours after I had set out.

I then had to de-rig PicoMicroYacht. Normally I would de-rig on land, but the safety boat took a line to keep me on station opposite the Cap Gris Nez, although the strong tide meant we drifted a mile along the coast at this point. PicoMicroYacht was wallowing about and I started to feel sick, as I passed my equipment over to the support boat. We then pulled PicoMicroYacht onto the boat and lashed it on the back, tying down all the loose equipment or putting it in lockers. I hastily swallowed a sea sickness pill, with the return trip in mind. PicoMicroYacht had proved amazingly sea worthy for a small beach boat – she did me proud.

The safety boat is one of those ribs that have what looks like a series of motorbike seats lined up in two lines for a number of passengers. The technique is  to stand astride the seat with legs bent to act as a suspension system, whilst bouncing along from wave to wave as if standing in stirrups of a horse. This was a new experience and something that I not been looking forward to, knowing I would rather at this point lie down and go to sleep. As expected this was exactly how I felt, but the sheer fun of the ride and the movement and spray revived me and we were back in Folkestone in 45 minutes. Halfway I briefly glimpsed a dolphin.

Will drove the boat straight into the harbour and we deposited PicoMicroYacht and all the equipment on the harbour slipway. Folkestone harbour had been transformed into a day tripper paradise, with the smell of salt and seafood lit by bright sunshine. The little beach on which I had left my trailer was absolutely packed and I had to clear a way through the bemused beach people as I retrieved it.

Because of I had only decided to go the day before, everybody was at work, but I was glad for a moment of peace as I drove home contemplating the great adventure of crossing the Channel in PicoMicroYacht.

I am so grateful for all the support during the last few weeks, including family, friends and work colleagues and my thanks to those who have donated generously to Epilepsy Research. Finally, many thanks to Will from Full Throttle Boat Charters, who got me there safely and professionally.

PicoMicroYacht Crossed the Channel

We set off at 6.30 am yesterday, the leaving time delayed by two hours. About seven hours later we arrived at Cap Gis Nez. I will post about the trip this evening. Many thanks for all the people who kindly supported the event and who gave generously to Epilepsy Research UK.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The 'Cake Sail' and crossing the English Channel tomorrow

My department had a great cake sale in aid of Epilepsy Research (billed as the cake 'sail') this morning, doing half hour shifts, also with the help of my wife Lorna. She was there for the whole morning on her day off. We put up a cake stall in the entrance to the hospital (with permission) and lots of people bought cake, giving generously to Epilepsy Research.

I was quite touched by this during my stint at the cake stall -  it looked like people were very pleased to donate and receive some of the delicious home made cake made by Lorna and people in my department. The lemon and the ginger cake were the most popular, in my view, but all the cakes went but for three fairy cakes, which I might eat tonight. Thanks so much to the people who came and donated and I am certain you enjoyed the cake.

Below is a photograph of Lorna and a helper - on the left is a sign which says 'together we can' which sums up the people in my department I think.

On another topic, with the forecast getting more accurate, we realised that it would be too windy on Sunday 29th July to cross the channel. So at the last minute we brought the crossing forward for tomorrow, and I have taken a day's leave and am flat out getting ready this evening. I leave 4.30 am in the morning (thursday 26th July).

The new plan is to leave from Folkestone and row to the Cap Gris Nez, arriving about eight hour later. I hope I can... it doesn't look so far in the photograph below...

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Vancouver workout

In the last few days I have been working in Vancouver. My hotel had a gym, so I was up training at 5.00 am in the morning, which isn’t so hard because this is 1.00 pm UK time. They didn’t have a rowing machine, so I took the next best option, a cross country skiing simulator. Grim faced people joined me for their work out. The best bit was a huge breakfast in the hotel after the workout, reading the Globe and Mail.

There wasn’t time to look round Vancouver, but one morning, instead of the gym, I ran round Stanley Park. On the way, I ran passed Vancouver Rowing Club, looking rather wistfully at the boats as I passed by – what a lovely place to row, with the mountains in the distance and the view of the city skyscrapers.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Full Throttle

Rowing across the English Channel in a 3.5 metre rowing boat on your own would seem, on the face of it, particularly foolish and potentially life threatening. Fortunately, I have Will  to accompany me. Will has plenty of experience guiding small craft safely across the channel, including kayaks and windsurfers.

(see: http://www.fullthrottleboatcharters.com/channel-crossing-safety-boat/)

Will runs a company called Full Throttle Boat Charters based at the picturesque entrance to Rye harbour.

As well as helping out the Channel crossers, he specialises in rib charters and powerboat trips, in other words,  going much faster than PicoMicroYacht in an exciting and bumpy fashion and having a great time, I understand sometimes with customers on stag or hen party weekends.

He is going to follow me across the Channel in a large rib using safety gadgets such as AIS (automatic identification system - tells you what boats are out there and how fast they are going and where) and radar. He will keep an eye out for ships and let me know when to change course to avoid them. When I reach France I will disassemble PicoMicroYacht, and we will haul it aboard  the rib to go back to Rye.   

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bill Colley the builder

Our holiday is finished, so my rowing adaptor has been removed from PicoMicroYacht to dry out in the living room for the night.

The rowing adaptor has transformed a simple but phenomenally well designed beach training dinghy (which was called by the previous owner Tinkerbell)  into PicoMicroYacht, capable of inshore voyages in fine weather, with cautious navigation.

PicoMicroYacht was created because I was bored one day and pondering how I could use the Pico  row safely but reasonably quickly around large estuaries. I then sketched out a rowing system on a scrap of paper when waiting for someone to arrive. I realised immediately it could work, but had never seen something like this before. I didn't have the time to build it and was not sure whether I would get the dimensions right. So I enlisted the help of Bill Colley, who for many years has been building boats in his workshop under Richmond Bridge. He did a brilliant job all by eye, of course, with the boat in situ.

Here is a picture of Bill. It looks like the Thames has flooded and he is taking a rest sitting on the flood boards at the entrance. Bill  as a professional boat builder goes back a long way, starting aged 15 years old. There is an oral history webpage in which Bill talks about his boatbuilding apprenticeship in the 1950's.


Using his accumulated wisdom Bill got it just right, so when I tried out PicoMicroYacht I found it perfectly balanced. Which makes PicoMicroYacht a work of art.

With holiday over, I am using my WaterRower to train. It swishes round a paddle in large plastic container, connected to the pulling handle by a series of webs. It is not as ugly as most rowing machines because it is made mainly of wood. The feel is fairly close to the PicoMicroYacht, except there is no feathering action, which I do by flicking my fingers and thumbs at the appropriate moment. WaterRower tells me the speed and power output - I amble along at 24 strokes a minute and at 3.3 m/s and this simulates the real effort of rowing steadily.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Rowing for Pleasure

Chris Partridge has kindly referenced me on his brilliant Rowing for Pleasure blog, a goldmine of interesting features about creative self-propelled boating.

He captures the enjoyment of simple boating ideas, if possible using oars and facing the wrong way when going slowly forwards.

It is great to get a mention of my cross Channel rowing attempt at the end of July, and he has indicated what I would like to to do eventually - rowing along the south coast to the west country in short bursts when the time and weather permits.

Up to now I have rowed from Gillingham to Dover and in the last three weeks I have been training in the Solent and in South Devon for the Channel row.

His blog is on:




In the blog he is right about those flappy things (his name for sails) making it more likely to capsize a boat. I made the mistake this week of putting on the full Laser sailing rig and going out in a high wind (er.. gusting force 4) with my nephew Andrew. Inevitably I capsized (well, actually waving at my wife who was taking a photograph; vanity comes before a fall) and was able to try out my self-inflating life jacket, my mobile aquapac and a capsize drill. Fortunately all three worked so I have been able write this blog. I was very impressed with Andrew's patience.

Back to more training in PicoMicroYacht at the Salcombe entrance, rowing over the bar to take a look at the sea.

Incidentally, there is a poem by Alfred Tennyson about the Salcombe bar.

'Crossing the Bar'

SUNSET and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness or farewell,

When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

By the way, this is my favourite sung version:

Friday, 29 June 2012

Training in the fog

On Wednesday I rowed from Salcombe to Dartmouth. There was fog so I had to keep very close to the land to avoid larger boats running me down. So I rowed along with the sound of the waves pounding the cliffs to my right (rowing I was facing backwards), frequently looking round to see where I was going. The fog would roll in off the sea, which a local man called a sea fret. At one point a small yacht motored past about 50 metres to my right appearing out of the fog and disappearing quickly again. We waved to each other and his crew were peering intently into the murk.

Out to sea I could hear the fog horns of ships and the lighthouse at Start Point. Then the fog cleared and I was chatting to some canoeists who were out watching seals. They told me where to go to see a seal, but I was more interested in pushing on to Dartmouth, the total row 20.02 miles, by the time I had moored up by the town quay.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Salcombe estuary is about four miles long with some beautiful wooded creeks. Well, technically it is a ria, a drowned valley caused by rising sea levels. Yesterday, I rowed up to the head of the estuary accompanied by my police constable brother in law who took some photographs from his motor boat.

Then I had a look outside the entrance.  A large residual swell against the ebb tide meant that it was a bit rough, so I  carefully worked my way out so as to avoid the difficult bits. Out in the open sea, with just the swell and little or no wind, things calmed down and I went along the coast for a while. A number of open decked fishing boats were at sea  and a 13 foot sailing dingy was buzzing around using his engine. I was towing our inflatable canoe as a tender.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Solent Training

On the 18th I set out from Westlands, near Itchenor, Chichester Harbour for the Solent. The idea was to cross to the Isle of Wight and then back again to the Beaulieu River, with a three day trip.

As I got ready I chatted to two yachties who had landed in their inflatable dinghies. One of them was asking me about my boat. I said I had converted it from a sailing boat as a bit of fun - he told me that is what sailing should be about and it had taken him a while to realise it - he was in his 70s!

I hoisted the red ensign, my massive flag, which I use as a safety feature and set off. The boat was loaded up with two dry bags on the back.

As I headed down the estuary there was a very strong head wind and it was rough out at sea, so when I got to the entrance I decided not venture out, but row within the estuaries and worked my way round to the entrance of Langstone Harbour. I stayed the night in Southsea. The marina were very friendly and kept offering to help me, although I didn't need any help!

The next day I set off to Cowes, about a 15 miles trip. Close to Cowes I saw a fleet of Pico's being used to train children to sail. They ignored me, focusing on their own fun.

In Cowes the yachty experts were very curious about my boat and told me that the designer lived in Cowes. I was offered a sail in a large racing yacht in the evening, but reluctantly had to turn the offer down because I needed a restful evening (and England were playing Ukraine!).

I berthed  in Shepards Marina, in amongst the bigger boats.

I was  a bit worried the wind would get too strong and I would be stuck in Cowes, but the weather was kind and there was a following wind to the Beaulieu River and I was quickly near the entrance.

The river is so well managed and the row up to Bucklers Hard took me past some beautiful places. I was quite glad to reach the finish and have a good rest.

Google records my route - 36 miles in all

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The PicoMicroYacht - technical information

This is the PicoMicroYacht, beached at Sheerness. It has two short masts and two sails which keep it even in a sea and provide some propulsion in strong winds. There is a dagger plate (shown lifted in the centre), which I keep down when rowing so that if I capsize I can use it to right the boat. The oars are pulled in. They are training oars used in conventional racing rowing craft.

The boat has what is called a stretcher, where the shoes are attached - with old fashioned rowing shoes. Just above these is my GPS system, which provides my position on a coastal map and also speed and direction and estimated arrival time given my speed (I can put waypoints into the GPS). In front of the shoes is a small battery which can power a tiller pilot (a mechanical device that keeps the boat steering in fixed direction in absolute terms, adjustable depending on the course). This is just to the right of the GPS system. I use this system to steer a more efficient course in calm weather. Here the oars have been taken off the riggers and are stowed either side of the stretcher.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


The view of criss-crossing ferries outside Dover during my last voyage. I was trying to describe to a friend the hazard of a ferry size ship to a small boat. Imagine a car coming towards you at 20 miles an hour in a straight line. You would quickly get out the way. Imagine if the car was 50 metres wide and you could only go at 3 miles per hour - then it becomes more difficult. Also imagine if the car starts changing direction and you don't know when the direction change will stop. So I keep well clear of large boats!

Another hazard is the sea state. On a recent voyage I set off from Broadstairs to go to Kingsdown. This was the view from the car park, with waves from a residual swell creating regular flumes. But the sea was not breaking, and the wind was light so I set off.

Friday, 8 June 2012

It is blowing a gale at the moment but I think by Sunday things will have calmed down and I will have a sea row practice, probably at Chichester. More rowing machine training for the next two days. A week ago I was able to row from Kingsdown to Dover port, a head wind equalling out the tide, with beautiful views of the cliffs, including a recent cliff fall, with pristine chalk. Dover is interesting to enter in a small boat because of the strict control of craft movement, but the port authorities were very helpful. My next trip will be from Dover to Folkestone, selecting a neap tide so the exit from the western entrance is easier. Strong tides and a swell can make it quite bumpy just outside the entrance.