Passage 03, Lowestoft to Wells-Next-The-Sea
I set off a 5pm, somewhat apprehensive about the trip. But I'd planned it quite carefully.
One worry was that there are a gazillion crab and lobster pots around this part of the coast and since it was going to be dark I would not see them. You don't want to get caught on one of those. So I eventually found a local fisherman and asked how far out they were planted and so I plotted my course to be further out to sea. Unfortunately that meant going where the big boys go, but it's a lot easier avoiding a few ships than a myriad of invisible pots.
First 10 miles was lovely sailing in the evening sun. I saw the sun set and the stars come out at which point the tide turned against me, the wind dropped and on went the engine. Curses. I chugged along for 3 hours and got 10 miles! A crawl, but I knew they'd be a slow part of the journey.
But as I slowly turned more eastwards, the wind picked up and the tide started turning and I killed the engine as soon as I could. Winds were light, but sufficient and with full sails up I was doing 4 knots to start and this gradually increased as my angle improved and the tide improved. My tiller pilot (automatic steering) was on all the way leaving me time to enjoy the experience and to keep a sharp watch on all the ships (there were loads of them coursing up and down with me).
I have AIS which is a means by which ships broadcast where they're going and I receive this info. I would regularly check this as well as watch the lights of the ships to work out where they were headed and how close they were to me. At one point a ship appeared to be heading straight for me and, with just 3 miles separating us, I called him up on the radio (the AIS gives the ships name). He basically replied no worries, he had me on his radar and would be passing port to port. Phew. Better safe than sorry.
It's spooky but also mesmerising how your boat just plows silently through the waves into the pitch black - you can't see the water or anything ahead except for lights - ship lights, shore lights and buoy lights. It's a light puzzle which is fun to decipher. And ships pass by with just a murmur.
I was pretty tired and when it was all clear for a while I would sit with my feet up in the cockpit facing backward and watch the lights recede. I might have allowed the odd 5 minutes of down time.
I had my life-line attached all the time (My rules for night sailing) and it allows me a fair bit of freedom to move around in the cockpit and even to go down below to the chart table or to make a mug of tea. But when I reach it's extent I get a tug on it and it's as if the boat is saying "It's OK, I've got you". It's kinda comforting.
By 4:30am the sun's presence was starting to make itself known, and the whole slow process of twilight and sunrise began. The wind had dropped further and I was ghosting along with the tide at a stately 5 knots. As dawn broke, I was a little too early (I have to wait for the tide to enter into Wells-Next-The-Sea) so I took down the main sail and drifted onward with just the foresail.
I motored into Wells-Next-The-Sea in a series of contorted twists and bends to keep to the channel - otherwise I'd go aground. It would not be an easy entrance were it not for the fact that the port puts out so many buoys to guide you that only a total moron could go wrong. So I arrived safely at 8:15am in the morning - and I'd predicted 8:00am. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together!
Wells-Next-The-Sea is a delightful place and it was bright sunshine for the whole day. I had to catch a nap a couple of times but otherwise I enjoyed the little town and another cycle ride checking out the environs. Just perfect. And the port donated their berthing fee! Downside is that it feels like the middle of winter, it's bitterly cold.
A fantastic, magical passage that went perfectly according to plan. 60 miles in total taking 15 hours.
None, I applied my lessons and all was well.