Other PicoMicroYacht

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A PicoMicroAdventure

The writer Alastair Humphreys has recently coined the term microadventure to label a new philosophy about having an adventure.
'... you do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to undertake an expedition. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained or rich to have an adventure.
I believe that adventure is about stretching yourself: mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability.
If that is true then adventure is all around us, at all times. Adventure is accessible to normal people, in normal places, in short segments of time and without having to spend much money.'
So he advocates simple expeditions and challenges that are close to home. Examples are driving to a nearby hill, finding an wood away from housing and sleeping the night in a bivvy bag. He even decided as a challenge to walk round the M25 London radial road system with a friend, staying the night out in the open each night.

Some would say this is eccentric, even mad. But I have been pondering the nature of eccentricity. Take commuting to work, for example; I have travelled on the same train route in London about 10,000 times in the last 28 years, including there and back. Nothing much happened. It is true once I nearly got mugged and evaded my mugging mainly due to the stupidity of the muggers. But nothing much else happened for 10,000 times and this was my most exciting experience. So does it strike people as odd that I should do such a repetitive and uninteresting activity so frequently and for so many years? not really... perhaps it should... and also in comparison, why is it so strange to create a sense of adventure by sleeping under the stars and trees in a wood for a night in  the South of England?
Of course, there are answers to this question, but I think Alastair has some good things to say as he articulated the reasons to do microadventuring and for me to be rowing round the south coast of England, or even across Ireland in a 11.5 foot sailing dinghy. 
Armed with these thoughts on a cold December day with the light was fading I set off from Queenborough in the Medway Estuary in search of Deadman's Island.

PicoMicroYacht was laden up with two dry bags, with a tent and a cooker, and my laptop for writing. The plan was to stay the night on Deadman's Island and blog from there.

The Queenborough pontoons with the cranes on the Isle of Grain behind
As I set off, a local man commented  roughly but kindly 'you will ..... freeze to death out there.'

The leaden water began to ruffle as I looked out towards the Medway entrance
The name Deadman's island sounds as if it is from a film about pirates, but it came about because an outbreak of plaque in the Baltic Sea ports led to a designated quarantine site for cargo ships that were sailing to London in 1712. 
Those quarantined stayed on ships in the proximal Shepherds Creek and many who died were buried on the island. 
Also, in the 19th Century, prison ships were moored there and dead prisoners were buried.

I tried to photograph the creeks and the posts that lined it, previously used to help moor ships. However, my hand was not steady enough.

Reaching the centre of Shepherd's creek, I rowed around for a while trying to find a landing area, but getting lost in the small subsidiary creeks. The tide was beginning to recede and it had got dark - it felt like pitch black in the creek.

As I looked back I saw a freighter gliding along down the West Swale, onward into the Thames Estuary, camouflaged by the shore lights.

 I had to admit defeat and return back to Queenborough, but already I had experienced a PicoMicroAdventure even without staying the night on the island.

The Old House at Home pub just by the slipway at Queenborough was a welcome sight

As an update - Alistair Humphreys has emailed 'All I have done is invent a name for the cool stuff that people have been doing for years.' A bit modest in my view.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

PicoMicroYacht all shook up because Elvis is alive in Dublin

I am all shook up because last week I saw Elvis perform alive in Dublin.  Honestly, I can explain ... it's tricky, but stay with me....

The first step in planning the PicoMicroYacht voyage from Dublin to Limerick for next year (see previous post) is to get hold of the particular type of lock key used on Irish canals.

Irish canals have lock key systems that prevent people vandalising locks by using ordinary spanners to open the sluice gates at the wrong moment. Specially fitted cowling stops them, but this means the key has to have a longer end, as above.

So what is this to do with Elvis, I hear you say? 

Well ... I needed to get one of these keys and it was fortunate to be in Dublin attending a meeting to celebrate the career of a distinguished brain scientist, Professor Ian Robertson.

It was a wonderful meeting -  I have to admit that we all got a little carried away at the end.  To the delight of his audience, Ian became Elvis for a magical instance and we were treated to a masterful rendition of  'I can't help falling in love with you.'

Or maybe it really was Elvis.....

but what is this to do with lock keys I hear you ask?

Well, I was allowed time off from the meeting to purchase the lock key, a heavy lump of metal, which I had to conceal in my bag and cart back to the UK. I now have it in readiness for the PicoMicroYacht Ireland adventure.

But the way, Ian has just written a book on stress which promises to be a real classic.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Irish Adventure in the offiing

The winter months may curtail PicoMicroYacht somewhat, but not the planning of future voyaging, a sailor's winter entertainment.

My CASPA running friends have decided to do their next 100 K charity run along the Wild Atlantic Way on the west of Ireland.

This coast is not for the faint hearted. The wild Atlantic rolling waves, building up over thousands of miles, crash against the coast, where on a lee shore there may be no safe port for miles. Best voyaged in a well founded and seaworthy yacht.

Being cautious, instead of following them along the coast, PicoMicroyacht will be crossing Ireland east to west from Dublin to Limerick along canals and rivers and meeting up with the runners on the coast.

 If the weather is settled and calm, there could be a few voyages out into the Atlantic Ocean.

It may be possible to visit the Aran Islands, just off the Bay of Galway. These Islands can be reached by PicoMicroYacht in less than two hours.

But, as the the Irish playright, John Millingon Synge, wrote in 1898 when recuperating on the Aran islands:

'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded, for he will be going on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of the sea and do only be drownded now and again.'

 So only now and then, but even so one cannot be too careful.

J M Synge

Footnote: The quote from John Synge is actually the words of an old man trying to persuade him not to go to sea off Inishmore Island in an open rowing boat, a curagh. Synge ignored the advice and nonchalantly set off,  the boat hitting an angry cross sea, nearly drowning the crew.

His book, 'The Aran Islands' is now free on the Web:


Sunday, 13 November 2016

No Man is an Island

PicoMicroYacht is most useful in estuaries and venturing out to sea carefully, but the UK rivers also beckon. So the other day PicoMicroYacht set off down the river Wey from the navigable source at Godalming, going to where it joins the Thames at Weybridge.

Whilst the Thames has grandeur the Wey can be described as a pretty river, peaceful and tranquil in parts.

In times gone past the Wey connected the Thames to the South Coast via a canal system called the Wey and Arun Canal, now defunct, but romanticised as a 'London's lost route to the sea.'


As I was about to start, a professional photographer had just come up river and was setting up his camera for a shoot. He waited for just the right light and we chatted a little.

I had to get the hang of the locks again but soon I was away and rowing down towards Guildford. The river was slow and still, like a mirror, and the trees a beautiful mixture of yellows, greens, browns and oranges.

Very soon I was at the St Catherine's footbridge and hearing on the radio that there was about to be two minutes silence to remember the war dead.  It was 11 am on the 11th of November, as we know, the time the First World War ended.

Just as I heard the announcement there was large bang and some local person had marked the start by shooting a gun, doing so again two minutes later. I halted PicoMicroYacht by the bridge during the 'silence.'

St Catherine's footbridge, technically called 'The Ferry Bridge' and replacing a ferry.

On reaching Guildford, I stopped at the Dapdune Wharf, now used a barge museum. The kind receptionist completed my permit form and allowed me to use their facilities, although they were really closed for the season.

One of the Barges at Dapdune Wharf, Guildford

As the day continued I was eventually at Newark lock and PicoMicoYacht was pulled into the rushes to hide for the night, the next day finishing the voyage.

The River Wey was used by barges for transport to Guildford as far back as the 17th Century. At the time, the English Poet, John Donne lived by the river, his most famous poem 'No Man is an Island' written in 1624.

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The philosophy in this poem still stands in these Brexit times.

In a clip below it is sung by a choir, but using different a version with similar sentiments, written by Joan Witney and Alex Kramer. It accompanies a short portion of my trip along the beautiful river Wey.

No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man’s joy is joy to me
Each man’s grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend

No man is an island far out in the blue
We all look to One above
Who our strength doth renew
When I help my brother, then I know that I
Plant the seeds of friendship
That will never die

I saw the people gather
I heard the music start
The song that they were singing
Is ringing in my heart

No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man’s joy is joy to me
Each man’s grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Symphony of Grey on the East Coast: Havengore Creek

The East Coast can be a symphony of grey if there is cloud cover and this was certainly the case for my next voyage.

Extending my East Coast voyaging, the plan was to row from Burnham on Crouch through the river Roach and out through a narrow exit called Havengore Creek into the wider Thames Estuary. Then I would row west to finish at Southend.

The Map from the excellent Charman, Cooper and Holness East Coast Pilot shows the route

The river Roach is a quintessential East Coast region, beautiful, flat and desolate, with muddy moody creeks, peaceful and austere at the same time. It is flanked towards the sea by Foulness Island, used by the Ministry of Defence for testing missiles, torpedoes and ballistics.  Here wildlife flourish and the area is a haven to colonies of  bird, such oystercatchers, avocets, little egrets and Brent geese whose claim to their wintering grounds was an argument for not putting a replacement to Heathrow there in the 1970s . You can only complete the journey to the Thames Estuary when the MoD have ceased firing and can pass through Havengore Creek.

PicoMicroYacht was to exit the Burnham Marina at 5.30 am. But there was  a hitch. The tide was almost  fully out and the bottom 50 feet of the steep slipway was covered in a thin layer of slippery mud. with insufficient grip to walk, let alone control the boat.  So I tied all my halyards together, drove my car down to the mud and used the ropes to do the semi-equivalent of abseiling down the slipway with the trailer.

This was working, but at the bottom, the mud thickened and the wheels started to dig in. I was running out of rope, so I pushed the boat off the trailer on to the mud in order for it to sit there whilst I clambered on. But I lost control and PicoMicroYacht drifted slowly across the mud into the marina, not tethered.

Whilst PicoMicroYacht drifted around and I worried about it going into the river, I then slowly pulled myself up the slipway with the rope, with the trailer in tow. I then rushed to a pontoon entrance to catch PicoMicroYacht, but then realised it was locked and I did not have the code.

Understandably, no one was around and I was getting desperate, with visions of having to call the coast guard and report my boat drifting down the Crouch.  But then I saw three men in dry suits getting ready to go, I think divers. The conversation went like this (in the dark):

"er. I am launching my dinghy but it slipped and it is now loose in the marina and I need to get onto the pontoons'

A reasonable story, but somewhat suspicious in the dark, with me wearing my favourite 'hoody.'

As I spoke I realised I needed some credibility, but the only thing I could think of was to take my personal locator beacon out of my pocket and fiddle with it as I spoke. They looked me up and down.

Fortunately they gave me the code and I trotted off onto the pontoon. PicoMicroYacht had drifted close and with the help of a strategically left long oar from another boat, I was able to coax it in.

When I entered the Crouch, my delay meant after a mile the tide turned against me and I hugged the bank until I reached the Roach.

It is here that HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship, served her last watch, stationed just inside the Roach on the lookout for smugglers. Later on the Beagle was laid to rest on a muddy bank further up the Roach, found recently to be about seven metres down in the mud.

A drawing of the likely appearance of the moored Beagle on the Roach, with top masts removed

 I turned into the Roach and doubled my speed as the tide was now my favour.

Some seals started to track me, inquisitive and also nervous if I stopped to view them.

It did not seem to take long to reach Havengore Creek, which connects the Roach's creeks to the Thames Estuary.

This creek has longstanding intrigue and mystery associated with it. In the novel 'Chance' by Joseph Conrad, a villain called Powell keeps mysteriously disappearing from the Thames estuary until the hero, Marlow, eventually hunts him down.

'I don't think he ever wanted to avoid me. But it is a fact that he used to disappear out of the river in a very mysterious manner sometimes... Then as suddenly he would reappear in the river, after one had given him up... The fellow used to run into one of these narrow tidal creeks on the Essex shore. These creeks are so inconspicuous that till I had studied the chart pretty carefully, I did not know of their existence.'

Normally you radio the keeper to request the Havengore Bridge be lifted, this bridge connecting Foulness Island to the mainland. So I did this on channel 72 but to my surprise the same 'divers'  as earlier radioed back to say I was too early.

But then I saw that the boom under the bridge was sufficiently high to get under if I dropped my mast.

I was now through and entering the Thames Estuary. I had to row another mile and half before I had sufficient depth to row easily. PicoMicoYacht was floating in about nine inches of water for about a mile.

Out to sea, it really was a Symphony of Grey with the sea and sky in harmony. A  few beacons mark part of the Broomway, an ancient track across the mudflats used at low tide to link up Foulness Island with the mainland before they built the Havengore bridge.

This ancient track has only really a few posts for guidance and relies on local knowledge to stop the unwary visitor being disorientated and caught by the tide. Much of the track is done by dead reckoning and involves walking on semi-soft sand or mud avoiding the hidden craters made by Ministry of Defence shells.

Why the Broomway needs local knowledge

Robert Macfarlane walking the Broomway for a chapter in his classic book The Old Ways. 
The photographer David Quentin is a local guide

I turned westward and settled into the four mile row to Shoeburyness, also going through a gap in a long defence boom, built in 1944 to stop submarines and shipping going up the Thames Estuary.

When I got through there were notices warning me of the dangers I had avoided by prudently going at the right time.

Finally, I was at Southend. Out to sea the Symphony of Grey was still being played as the sun started to poke through.

I enquired at the Thorpe Bay Yacht club as to whether I could leave PicoMicroYacht in their boat park. A group were clustered around a Sandhopper, a tri-keeled small racing keel boat. One of them, Martin Bennindyke, showed me where to go, extending their kindly hospitality by giving me a lift to the train station.

Symphony of Grey Video
The creek was deserted but for a following seal - eventually the sea seemed to merge with the sky and was in harmony with itself

Navigation notes:

The plan was to use the last of the tide for three miles down the river Crouch  to reach the Roach at slack water. Then entering the Roach, the incoming tide would pick up and I would get to Havengore Bridge and take a break knowing that the bridge is only opened two hours or less before high tide. In practice, because of my delay launching, I was late going into the Roach and I arrived only slightly early. The water runs up the Roach and the various creeks and only starts to change direction in Havengore Creek when the tide eventually crosses the Maplin sands and starts coming in from outside the creek. This happens about one hour before high tide, so I was able to exit the Havengore Creek before the tide turned against me. I  then picked up the west going tide up the Thames Estuary to Southend, arriving exactly at high tide.

Low tide on the Crouch: 5.30 am
High tide in the Roach: about 12.30 pm
High tide Southend: about 12:30

Monday, 10 October 2016

PicoMicroYacht's worse lookout blunder

The plan was to exit the river Avon  Estuary past Bigbury on Sea in Devon and make use of an easterly  tide to help PicoMicoyacht down to Plymouth.

The upper reaches of the Avon Estuary are a delightful spot, with wooded slopes and tranquil waters. Except that I had chosen to set off in the middle of a smorgasbord of paddle boarders and sit on top kayaks who had the same idea of launching at high tide.

Added to this this a strap from my lifejacket kept jamming in my seat wheel mechanism (I have fixed this now). As I drifted along trying not to curse whilst I extracted the strap and avoided ploughing into one of the small boaters I missed some of  the awesomely relaxing landscape

Soon the delightful thatched boathouse at the bottom of the estuary appeared.

Finally I was outside the harbour, passing Burgh Island, where Agatha Christie wrote many of her novels. The hotel she used does murder mystery weekends these days.

PicoMicroYacht quickly crossed Bigbury Bay and passed Beacon point where the locals had gathered to watch the Spanish Armada as they passed close to the shore,

The plotted course across Bigbury Bay

PicoMicroYacht was soon approaching the Mewstone outside Plymouth. 

A strong headwind met PicoMicroYacht as it entered Plymouth harbour and I hunkered down, rowing against it at a solid pace, made more difficult by wearing my hood to keep my head warm

I was looking at a square rigged training ship on my starboard bow, weighing anchor and raising sails. I then turned to look to port and there in front of me was a smallish police rib with three officers crammed on board. The the conversation went like this:

"have you seen what is coming?"

Answer: "What is it?"

"there is a large ship coming"

Answer: "Where?"

I peered over my right shoulder and saw a large freighter with two tugs fussing around it and two police launches quite close and bearing down on me.

"We just wanted to know that you have seen it" said the police officer rather plaintively.

It was the MoD Police Marine Unit, here seen testing out their small and versatile ribs,
real gentlemen

It had been my worse navigational and lookout blunder. I had assumed that the east side of the harbour would be free from major traffic, but actually the dredged main channel sweeps round those parts. The tugs were there to keep the freighter on course.

The good thing about Picomicroyacht is that it can turn on a sixpence and it is amazing how quick it can to get up to maximum boat speed if pushed.

Rip Hudner, the Nassau registered freighter, nearly my nemesis

The harbour map - Rip Hudner was encountered a third of the way up on the chart

Postscript: It turns out that the somewhat unusual name is because the ship owner's son, Rip Hudner, was killed in a high speed car crash, his father naming the ship after him.

Friday, 16 September 2016

How big a boat do you need?

According to the great yacht designer and writer, Uffa Fox, a person should have a foot of boat length for every year of their age.

But I don't believe he really meant this because when aged 50 years he was writing about the need for him to upgrade from racing 12 to 14 foot dinghies to using an 18 foot dinghy, the Jollyboat, which he designed.  He was also sailing small boats later on than this, including with Prince Phillip and his son, Prince Charles.

Anyway, I digress. I found another rule of thumb in a charming book called 'Dinghy Cruising' by A. G. Earl, a classic book of this type of genre, written towards the end of the Second World War.   His view is that for single-handing  dinghy cruising the overall length of the boat should be between ten and thirteen feet and the length of the boat should be equal to the weight of the crew in stone (what about if you are 14 stone or more -  no matter!). His reasons cited are being able to use weight to keep the boat upright and having the strength to pull the boat up a rough beach. A. G. Earl knew his stuff and was doing the same adventures of  PicoMicroYacht, but 80 years ago in a ten foot open clinker sailing boat, as shown below.  A brave man, given his boat.

A. G. Earl with an illustration of his 10 foot clinker dinghy

So how does PicoMicroYacht match up? Well, 11.5 feet translates into 11.5 stone or 73 kilograms. This roughly matches the weight of PicoMicroYacht's crew.

By the way, digressing again,  that generation knew a thing or two, being much more adventurous in dinghies. Quoting directly from the Class Boat Museum website about Uffa Fox:

UFFA Fox designed many fast racing dinghies during the 1920’s and 30’s. 
The most successful of these, which still has large fleets worldwide, is probably the 14 footer. 
Amongst the many famous names of these dinghies is his own Avenger - sail no. 135 – in which he won the Prince of Wales Cup at Lowestoft in 1928.

Five years later, with crew of Bob and Spike, he made an extraordinary voyage in July   1933 when they sailed Avenger across the Channel from Cowes to take part in a regatta in Le Havre, sailing for 29 hours, bailing much of the way.
Once there they took part in the last two days of racing, winning


K135 Avenger, and Uffa in Le Havre after Channel crossing, July, 1933
on the last two days of racing, winning on both days, and then left on 14th July, taking 37 hours to sail home, breakfasting at Seaview in the dawn. 

They arrived off Ryde just in time to race in the Regatta there, but were too tired to do more than come third.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Keep Turning Right (well ... sometimes left)

In my mind the best blogger of small boats is Dylan Winter, whose accounts of sailing round the UK in a Mirror Offshore and other boats are legendary. His blog title 'keepturningleft' is no doubt influenced by his political views, or is it that he is just circumnavigating the UK anti-clockwise?


Dylan has it all. Firstly he has the necessary wit, eccentricity and quirkiness; secondly, he has all the blogging skills, being a BBC cameraman,  a naturalist and writer. A perfect combination.

Whilst Dylan keeps going left in bits, mostly on the East Coast, my mission is to keep going, but with  no political ambition - I am just drawn the South Coast and South West, so it makes sense to turn right,  whilst he is drawn to the great East Anglia coastline of his youth, with the amazing wildlife.

Dylan's Mirror Offshore, that he called the Slug after it's great looks and speed capabilities.

But I am having a go at the East Coast, still Turning Right by going up the Thames Estuary on the north shore, this time from Thorpe Bay to the small Two River Island, near Leigh on Sea, which I did yesterday.

I started opposite the Isle of Grain, where the power station is being decommissioned and the great 801 foot chimney was having it's last day. A lone cyclist stopped to photographic it with me, lamenting the end of the landmark, although I prefer the coast to be desolate and flat.

The Grain Tower from the Thorpe Bay Yacht Club on it's last day - photographed in the evening.

A grey overcast sky surrounded me as PicoMicroYacht was launched. A lazily moving finishing boat seemed to be stalking PicoMicroYacht as we headed off towards the Southend Pier.

The pier has to be appreciated from the water, the pier head being 1.34 miles from the land.

The next stage was to row up to Canvey Island - looking round I saw some large boats coming down the estuary, the sky especially gloomy but atmospheric.

I was soon at the Two Tree Island and pulling PicoMicoYacht up the slipway. The island was surrounded by salt marshes and abandoned boats, some of which blended into the landscape.

Postscript - the chimney went down as this post was prepared - here is it happening.

Postscript - From Dylan:
 'shucks! and I am full of admiration for your no frills voyaging. Goodonya.'
Thanks Dylan!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Dover to Dungeness and the Kindness of Strangers

The sea can seem to bring out the best in people, which was certainly my experience on my 26th August voyage to Dungeness.

Image result for map sea dover dungeness

The plan was to leave Dover at Mid-day, and catch the tide down to Folkestone and strike out towards the Dungeness headland.

Before I launched a frail man in a wheel chair offered to keep an eye on it whilst I quickly got a sandwich and another man helped me down the steep ramp to launch the boat in the harbour, interrupting his can of cider.

Two teenagers then helped the boat into the water whilst I clambered in and got the oars set to row off.

The port authority cleared me to leave and I was exiting through the western entrance keeping a good distance from the pier heads.

Just outside the tidal stream from the harbour meets that going down the channel and makes the water rough.

But it was a neap tide and there was little wind, which meant it calmer, with only a subdued but latent menacing sea.

The tidal stream was reasonable strong and soon I was off Folkestone resetting the SatNav for Dungeness and then a long voyage across the bay, empty of ships.

A yacht sailing close into Folkestone  to avoid the tide going in the opposite direction

As the afternoon wore on the sea was getting more misty as a gentle wind helped me along the way.

As I got closer to Dungeness I saw two little sails along the shore line and realised this must mean a sailing club, a place to beach PicoMicroYacht. It had been a five hour row.

Soon I was rowing the last bit over the lengthy sands that are covered at high tide. As I got close to the shore the two dinghies were still there, with youngish crews learning to sail.

A man in a wetsuit was standing in the water and  he walked out towards me. He introduced himself as Paul and I explained to him where I had come from. He turned out to be the Varne Boat Club treasurer and he said he would get some help.

A group of people got the boat out of the water an into a secure compound. I was a bit relieved, feeling the effects of the five hours rowing and glad to not have to pull PicoMicroYacht up the steep shingle beach on my own. Later on I met a friendly crowd in the bar.

I chatted to two lifeboat men from the neighbouring Littlestone on Sea lifeboat station. They told me about their large rib lifeboat, an Atlantic 75. It looked quite fun to go in the rib, but then I was thinking that saving people off Dungeness in the winter is a serious business and they potentially risk their lives.

The Atlantic 75

Image result for littlestone lifeboat

The Varne Boat Club - a very friendly place to visit.