With most of us more than happy to see the back of 2021, it’s finally time to say hello to 2022! After sending 2021 off in style on New Year’s Eve, Hodge and I took to the water on New Year’s Day for a fabulous sail to one of our favourite places to visit.
Burnham Yacht Harbour is approx. 45 miles from our home marina. A decent days sailing, across the infamous Thames Estuary and with a fabulous marina and town waiting at the end other end, it’s one of our ‘go-to’ sailing destinations.
On the 1st Jan, we headed to Ruby May, prepped her and slipped lines, at approx. 1400. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to get a decent sail on her, as we’ve been busy instructing and with various other commitments. It felt so good to be back on-board, prepping her for our new year’s escape.
For the 1st Jan, the weather was incredibly mild, at about 10c. Nonetheless we wrapped up, and started to meander our way down the river. Catching the last hour or so of favourable tide, we were so eager that we raised our main, and unfurled our foresail almost outside of the lock! And with a strong southerly wind, we had the most fabulous downwind sail on the Medway to Sheerness, averaging 8kts, and at times touching 9 (with 1 reef in both sails) We headed out of the River, to a beautifully calm sea state, and enjoyed a push towards Burnham, navigating our way carefully past the Montgomery wreck, and taking ‘Middle Deep’ up to Inner Whitaker.
I was on the helm for the first few hours, speeding along, enjoying the feeling of pushing Ruby May and letting her do what she does best, whilst the wind blew away the cobwebs of 2021. Looking over to Southend as we passed the Montgomery wreck, the lights were twinkling away on the shoreline; blues, purples, pinks and greens. Behind us to Starboard the more subdued warm orange lights of Whitstable glistened on the sea front, and to Starboard the familiar illusion of red flashing lights that the local wind farm brings were emerging on the horizon. Quite a sight, as we turned our navigation lights on.
I was in quite a reflective mood, I think that can sometimes come with a new year. We only saw one other vessel on the whole passage (and that was on the River Medway), such a rarity to be all alone out at sea in this stretch of the UK coast. It was peaceful, and my mind was whirring away, re-visiting the events of 2021, and pondering what 2022 might have in-store for us. On our way to the marina we’d talked about a few things that we both want to achieve this year; fitness, health, various work goals, certain individual personal goals, and also joint sailing related goals (including a Biscay crossing). A new year is always such a good time to stop, reflect, and re-set. And being out on the water felt like the perfect place to do just that.
With the wind building, and some strong gusts now challenging Ruby May, we put a 2nd reef in. This slowed our speed a little, but calmed her down – helming had gone from sitting down and using one hand lightly, to standing up and using both (along with some definite strength needed at times), a clear sign that it’s time to reef! After a short while, Hodge took the wheel and the stars slowly started to light up the sky. Appearing slowly at first and then finally bursting through, littering the dark winters sky. The stars are something that I will never tire of – I can look up for hours sometimes. They make you feel small, and insignificant. Whether you’re sailing across an ocean, or are a few miles off the coast in home waters. Looking up at the stars only served to add to my thoughtful and reflective mood. And as we both gazed up, I had a feeling of total escapism and contentedness. It’s a feeling that only sailing, and sailing with loved ones for that matter can bring. I did have a strong emotion inside of me though, that of missing my children, who weren’t with us. I wanted to hold them, and look up at the stars with them and discuss their own plans for 2022. This a big year for all of them, and I wanted to hear about it and share the moment with them too.
I made us some hot drinks, and put a pizza in the oven. We made the decision to take a short cut, south of the ‘Inner Whitaker’ buoy, just north of Foulness Sand. This means very shallow depths, but significantly reduced mileage. Having handed over the helm, I was now taking responsibility for navigation, and had calculated that we had approx. 2m of tide, and at the lowest point 0.2m of water at chart datum in the area that we wanted to cross. Ruby May has a draft of 1.8m. So although it would be tight, it was a calculated risk which would take us across half a mile of shallow water, but save us approx. 4-5 miles on our journey (an hour). I needed to be on deck for the shallows and estimated, that it would take the duration of the pizza cooking to make this part of our passage!
As we made our turn away from the safe water of the channel, the depth fell dramatically from 18m, to 8, to 4, to 3, at which point our depth alarm starting blaring out. Without saying a word I silenced it, with the wind now having dropped we were motor sailing, and Hodge duly slowed us down to under 2kts. Both of us stared intently at the depth gauge… 2.8m, 2.6m, 2.4m, 2.2m. We crept along, all the time I’m repeatedly silencing the alarm, and keeping an eye on our chart position to see how much further we needed to go. Sailing is about team work, and it’s at moments like this that Hodge and I thrive, each stepping up and working seamlessly as a team. With that, our depth finally began to increase again, and I was no longer needed on deck. I retreated below to check on the pizza, and duly returned with a steaming hot slice of cheesy heaven, much welcomed on the helm!
We had timed our approach into the Crouch perfectly and maintained a solid 8kts of speed, with the help of a favourable tide. One by one we dropped and furled our sails. Following the twinkling navigational lights, we followed a careful route along the river, and before long we were met by the familiar entrance to Burnham Yacht Harbour. Finding a berth, Hodge carefully moored Ruby May alongside the pontoon, we tied up, and headed down below for the night.
A fantastic New Year’s Day sail. And with the cobwebs well and truly blown away, I’m now ready to take 2022 by storm. As I write this, I’m sitting in the saloon on Ruby May, planning an early departure from Burnham. Listening to the wind howling through the halyards in the marina, and with a weather warning for the sea area that we’re in, we will literally be taking it by storm, or will that be the other way round?!
Have a fantastic year dear reader. May 2022 bring you everything you’ve wished for, along with health, happiness, and plenty of time on the water.