Cruise Report for 2020

Cruiser Class News

We had such great plans…

In late 2019, Cruiser Class members had gathered together on the Lounge Deck, equipped with a copy of Reeds Almanac, a wall planner, a white board and several drinks to plan the 2020 sailing season. This was to consist of five shorter cruises around the east coast culminating in a two-week cruise to Holland and the Dutch Canals (see page 13 of the 2020 sailing programme for more details of what might have been…).

By the time the Cruiser Class got together again for their annual lunch, in late February, a number of Covid-19 cases had already been identified in the U.K. and the virus was starting to spread. However, at this stage, plans were still in place to launch the cruisers.

On 23rd March the Prime Minister addressed the nation to announce new strict rules to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the country entered lockdown. Cruiser launching was postponed, and some (but not all) cruiser owners decided to abandon the season entirely.

The country remained in lockdown throughout April and May and the cruises planned to Chatham and Ramsgate had to be cancelled (although we did manage to get to both later in the season!).

New regulations were announced on 1st June, allowing households to mix outdoors (the rule of six) and sailing was now allowed. However, overnight stays on boats were still prohibited and, as a consequence, harbours and marinas were closed to visiting yachtsmen. Chiron and Celebration marked the new freedom by meeting up on the Crouch and rafting up at anchor with Trio for a socially distanced lunch.

The crews of Trio, Celebration & Chiron enjoy a socially distanced bevvy whilst rafting at anchor in the river Crouch

A further reduction in lockdown prohibitions was announced on 4th July. Chiron and Daydream Believer wasted no time to take advantage of the new found freedom and on Saturday 6th July they set sail for Shotley Marina. The two boats were able to moor up transom to transom on a long pontoon to enable the crews to have some socially distanced banter. On Sunday morning we woke up bright and early and took the harbour ferry (a former lifeboat from the Canberra) to Harwich, where we enjoyed our first pint of beer for months (albeit socially distanced in a pub car park) and fish and chips overlooking the harbour. We sailed back to the Blackwater on Monday and it felt like the sailing season was finally underway!

On the weekend of 25th and 26th July we finally managed to have the first of our planned cruises. Baccarat, Chiron, Daydream Believer and Sea Warrior sailed out of the Blackwater and over to Brightlingsea, where they met up with Celebration, which had sailed round from Burnham. Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing prevented us from enjoying the usual after sail activities, but we were able to raft up together as a group and shout at each other across the boats.

Chiron, Warrior & b Bacarat rafted up at Brightlingsea with Celebration & Daydream Believer behind

Things were definitely happening in the Cruiser Class and, with favourable tides, we decided to reschedule the Ramsgate trip for the weekend of 7th and 8th August. Not wanting to miss out, Howard quickly readied Sea Nymph and launched her the day before we set off (who needs a shakedown?). Unfortunately, there was little or no wind for the trip across the Thames Estuary, but Baccarat, Celebration, Chiron, Daydream Believer, Dune and Sea Nymph all made it safely to the terrace in front of the Royal Temple Yacht Club, where a very enjoyable afternoon was spent relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying the contents of the bar.  

Stone cruisers waiting for their socially distanced beer at the Royal Temple YC

As we approached the date of the planned Dutch Cruise, quarantine restrictions were being put in place for a number of European countries and we were forced to come up with an alternative plan. After much deliberation, and several alternative plans, it was finally decided that we should stick to the East Coast, turn left and head north.

A photograph of the Dutch Canals. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there in 2020…

Chiron set off early on Sunday 23rd August and had a glorious sail up to Shotley (why can’t it always be like that?). In order to maintain social distancing (I’m sure that was the reason?), the crews of Daydream Believer and Sea Nymph had a lie in and sailed up later in the day. The crews of all three boats got up very early on Monday morning to lock out of Shotley and then had another great sail up to Lowestoft. I won’t embarrass Sam, by going into length about Daydream Believer’s failed mooring attempt, or his passage of shame to leave the harbour, before regrouping and re-entering the harbour for a second attempt as if nothing had happened…

After two days of perfect sailing, it was time for the weather to turn against us and a northerly gale set in. After a walk round to the harbour entrance to watch the swell barrelling down the sea wall we decided to abandon the idea of sailing 100nm to Grimsby off a lee shore and instead seek respite in the comfort of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club.

As we were now “officially” storm bound for a few days, we decided to seek out the cultural highlights of Lowestoft. Unfortunately, after much research on the internet, we discovered that what delights there were, had all been closed due to Covid-19 and there was only one thing left to do… Get the folding bikes out and venture inland! However, it didn’t take long to realise that we we’d all forgotten how to navigate on land and were now much better at planning passages and navigating at sea… After a lot of confusion about which pub we were supposed to be cycling to and having traversed a particularly challenging off-road section we finally ended up at a pub in Norfolk(!). Fortunately, the pub was open and serving real ale and good food. It was a long cycle back to the boats…

Stone Cruisers Cycling Team rehydrating at a pub in Norfolk

Having lost a few days in Lowestoft and after looking at the weather patterns, it was decided that we needed another change of plan and we should turn back south. On Friday 28th August, we set sail for Ipswich. Unfortunately, we didn’t get too far until the wind dropped and we were forced to motor, which wouldn’t have been so bad had we not been heading directly towards an electric storm! Visibility closed down to almost nothing and suffice to say, we all got absolutely drenched… The waterspout was impressive though!

In Ipswich we were met by Baccarat, which had sailed up from Bradwell to join the second half of the cruise. Ipswich marina, in the old docks, is always a favourite and it was very enjoyable to spend a couple of days there before continuing our journey south.

Sea Nymph, for some reason which eludes me, decided to sail direct from Ipswich to Chatham. Baccarat, Chiron and Daydream Believer decided that with plenty of time in hand the more sensible option was to break the journey in Brightlingsea. Unfortunately, the wind dropped early on and it became another motor down the coast. Chiron developed a fuel blockage which caused some concern when the engine stopped and they were forced to drift until they could figure out where the blockage was (it wasn’t the fuel filter). Fortunately, they were able to make it to Brightlingsea before the tide dropped too far, and even better, there was still time to go ashore for fish and chips and a socially distanced beer.

Having suffered from too much wind during the first week, the lack of wind experienced at the start of the second week continued and we had to motor across the Thames Estuary and up the Medway to Chatham, where we were joined by Celebration. We then spent a relaxing day in Chatham, exploring the Historic Dockyard.

Stone Cruisers relaxing at Chatham Dockyard

Having briefly joined the cruise, Celebration sailed back to Burnham, leaving the others to sail around the Kent coast to Ramsgate, another favourite among Cruiser Class members.

Baccarat and Chiron left Ramsgate on Saturday to sail back across the Thames Estuary to the Blackwater. Daydream Believer and Sea Nymph, having the advantage of being retired, decided to stay on and leave later. Not the cruise we’d planned, but we made the most of the difficult circumstances.

The final cruise of the year was to Burnham on Couch over the weekend of 19th and 20th September. I had to instruct everyone to be on best behaviour for this cruise as we were to be joined by Stone Sailing Club’s V.I.P., President Ron. Chiron, Sea Nymph and Warrior, with President Ron as guest crew, set off from Stone on Saturday morning. With a decent breeze, the boats made good speed to the Swin Spitway and crossed between the sandbanks with sufficient tide under them. Once through the Spitway they were able to change course for the Crouch, and with the wind behind them and the tide under them, they made short work of the passage up to Burnham Yacht Harbour. Unfortunately, Sepia was unable to sail round to Burnham due to a threatened mutiny by her crew. However, Simon made amends by driving over to Burnham and buying everyone a beer, which was much appreciated!

Warrior on her way to the Swin Spitway. If you squint really hard you can just make out President Ron having the most fun he’s had in years (probably).

It might not have been the season we had planned, but we did manage to get out on the water and have as much fun as social distancing allowed!

2021 Season

With the country under lockdown and vaccinations only just starting to be rolled out, there’s still too much uncertainty to make specific plans for 2021. However, as soon as restrictions are eased, I’ll start planning and, as with this year, I’m sure we’ll make the most of it!