Across the Channel! Portsmouth to North Holland, Summer 2019

262. Across the Channel! - summer 2019 title shot

Summary: In 2019, Emmelène had an excellent summer cruise from Portsmouth to Northern Holland, sailing approximately 400 nautical miles, or 735 km, in thirteen days, including two days of stops.  The boat sailed perfectly throughout, helmed, for much of the time, by “Edna,” the Hebridean windvane.

263. Across the Channel!  Title shot 2

“Sailing yacht Emmelène, you may leave from the east harbour entrance,” crackled the voice from Dover port control.  The little Honda outboard pushed us past the car ferries that were manoeuvring into their berths.  Emmelène nosed through the harbour mouth, which looks quite different from the cockpit of a 20’ Coromandel than it does from the towering deck of a ferry; and we were gone.  Above us, the white cliffs of Dover; in our wake, the line of ships stretched south, across the English Channel.  We had already been cruising for several days, but it felt as if the voyage was beginning for real.

Last year, we had planned a similar trip but there was no wind; summer 2019 proved much better.  Richard (skipper of Tammy Norie) generously volunteered to come and “crew” for me, although his role was more that of highly-experienced pilot, and regular readers of his excellent blog will know that he has made this passage before, single-handed.

My dad dropped me off in Bembridge and I spent the first night aboard anchored in nearby Priory Bay, sorting out all my equipment.  I was pleased to share the anchorage with my German friends, Hans and Inès, aboard their cruising Westerly.

264. Across the Channel - cruising Westerly

265. Across the Channel - Cruising Westerly

The next morning, 17 July 2019, I woke up at 05:00 and watched the Germans motor-sail off into the dawn, bound for Brighton.  After making tea, I raised anchor at 6am and motored to Portsmouth with ease.  I raised my sail, but there was no wind.  At 07:15 I picked up a buoy inside the harbour, had breakfast and rested.  Leaving again at 09:00, I motored up to Fareham and tied up to the pontoon at 10:20.  Richard soon appeared from the workshop, where he had been building a kit to allow remote control of the Hebridean wind vane.  We discussed our plans and walked into Fareham to buy lunch at Gregg’s then £45 worth of food at Tesco.  We spent most of the afternoon transferring equipment from Tammy Norie to Emmelène.  At 16:45, we motored to Portsmouth harbour entrance, near Gosport, and picked up a buoy.  We had pasta for dinner, then went to bed at 22:00.  We had an early start planned for the next day, to get us past Selsey.

266. Across the channel - past Selsey

18 July 2019 – Thursday

Both alarms sounded precisely together at 05:30 and it was lightly raining.  We had breakfast and left our unofficial mooring at 06:50, having prepared a full thermos of tea.  By 07:17 we were off Gosport, putting up 4 panels.  Although it was hard to stay to windward out of the main channel, we were soon able to bear away east and make easier progress in a nice westerly F4 towards the gap in the submarine wall.

At 10:00 we hit the Looe channel, using the chart plotter; some big waves followed, but no drama.  Emmelène did fine.  We stuck to the channel, but all around were confused seas.  Richard said this was probably the most difficult part of our whole voyage, technically speaking: but his good planning made it easy.

By 11:00, we were at Owers buoy.

267. Across the channel - Owers Buoy

Richard slept most of the afternoon as we zoomed through a lively sea, mainly on a run, at an average of about 4 knots.  Downwind, we disconnected Edna the Hebridean because she needs modification to increase sensitivity at the extremity of her swing.

Lunch was very welcome and Richard made coffee despite very difficult conditions down below, the thermos having been finished.

We arrived in Newhaven at 18:15 on the pontoon, having stood off pending the exit of a reversing car ferry – like the big yellow one, in the photo below.  We had fish and chips on Emmelène, as a light drizzle fell outside.

269. Across the Channel - drizzle fell outside

268. Across the channel - drizzle fell outside


19 July 2019 Friday

We got up at 06:30 and then dallied a bit because another sailor, called Bernie, came to chat about my Hebridean and his Achilles 24 with he had recently undertaken the Jester challenge to Baltimore, Ireland.

270. Across the Channel - Baltimore, Ireland

My installation of the wooden extensions to my rubbing strakes, to maximise the efficiency of the Hebridean, started later than planned and this had ongoing repercussions for the rest of the day and night.  But the job got done and the results work well.  It was a little precarious getting the screws in upside down, laying on the dock: but we turned Emmelène round to do the other side, and once the job was done, we left at 10:00.

271. Across the Channel - we left at 10:00

The best thing about today’s sail was how well Edna the Hebridean worked.  It really creates a feeling of calm to not have to helm at all times.

272. Across the Channel - at all times

We sailed in a lively SW wind to Rye, arriving at 18:00 but arrived too late to cross the sand bar.  We anchored in a nasty, rough position south of the wall, and made broccoli and pasta for dinner while we waited to enter the river that leads to Rye.  But despite our calculations, we ran aground twice trying to enter, around 22:00.  In the darkness, it wasn’t pleasant at all.  To gain a little sea room, we motored off and I suggested we continue to Dover overnight, which we did, in heavy rain.

We took nocturnal shifts, sitting through one major thunderstorm each, as we sailed from Rye to Dover.  Everything got soaked.  It wasn’t much fun.  Having sailed all night, we motored into Dover at 06:00.  It was still raining.  We paid £22 for an overnight mooring, had breakfast in the nearby café.  Then I had a shower and we had a sleep on board.

It did me a lot of good to sleep in a calm marina as the gale roared over the cliffs, 100m above.  It felt very safe.

20 July 2019 – Saturday

273. Across the Channel - 20 July 2019 - Saturday

We had lunch onboard and the sun came out strongly in the afternoon.  That enabled us to dry all our sodden gear and chat to a few other sailors on the pontoon, especially a Dutch guy on a Rival 32 who exchanged information on cruising spots.

I also got in contact with 2 Dutch sailors that Richard knows, Antoine and Marco, to discuss possibilities for overwintering Emmelène in Holland.  It seems that we’ll be able to find an affordable solution.

Richard and I took a walk late afternoon, up to the spectacular Dover castle, which was just closing to visitors.  The sun shone but nothing could make the town itself seem anything other than run-down.  It is a nightmare of traffic and abandoned shops.

21 July 2019 – Sunday.

The day of my first Channel crossing!

We began the morning with breakfast at the Happy Diner across the road from the marina.  Then we visited Dover castle, the entrance fee for which was a preposterous £23 per person.  That said, it was beautiful and the views of the Channel that we were about to sail across were almost inviting, with France clearly visible.

274. Across the Channel - France clearly visible

275. Across the Channel - France clearly visible

276. Across the Channel - France clearly visible

Returning to the boat, we cast off at 13:00 and radioed harbour control for permission to leave using the eastern (ferry) entrance.  They were extremely efficient at getting us out safely.

277. Across the Channel - us out safely

Once out into the English Channel, we headed in a zig-zag: avoiding the ferry lanes altogether, we headed just N of E for about ten miles, then SE to cross the TSS (traffic-separation scheme) in a perpendicular way, and lastly to port, downwind, for the final leg up the Belgian coast, the longest leg as it took us through the night, and indeed most of the next day.

278. Across the Channel - most of the next day

The only noteworthy part of crossing the TSS (traffic-separation scheme) itself was when one ship failed to change course convincingly and we had to call them on the VHF; they were polite and altered course immediately to avoid us.

279. Across the Channel - to avoid us

280. Across the Channel - to avoid us

281. Across the Channel - to avoid us

282. Across the Channel - to avoid us

283. Across the Channel - to avoid us

Although Edna the Hebridean did the lion’s share of the helming work, I maintained watch throughout the night, whilst Richard slept.

22 July 2019 – Monday

The dawn was magical as we sailed past Dunkerque with an increasing SW force 4 which later gusted 6.  Needless to say, it became quite exciting with fairly large waves as we hit the Dutch coast and I tried, and failed, to sleep.  My weariness caused me to be a bit irritable, although I was still enjoying the sailing.

284.  Cross Channel - enjoying the sailing

Because the winds were in our favour, and forecast to vanish tomorrow, we pressed on past our original destination, Vlissingen, and made for Scheveningen, just north of Rotterdam. I thought this was a good idea to start with, but became tired, and somewhat regretted it, later.  Here’s Richard sailing past Rotterdam, in the background.

285. Cross Channel - regretted it later

But press on we did, through some choppy wind-over-tide until finally Rotterdam’s cranes came into view.  It took several hours to reach this huge and busy port, negotiate the small-vessels channel and press on, with the tide finally doing us a favour, to Scheveningen, near the Hague.

I called the port on the VHF, who advised contacting the marina of Scheveningen on channel 31- which does not exist on either of our radios!

A tourist boat had heard our radio call and asked if we were the English boat that had crossed the channel.  When we replied that we were, indeed,  there was a spontaneous round of applause from all on deck!

286. Cross Channel - all on board!

The marina was very busy but extremely well-run.  We had pasta for dinner, a shower and then went to bed, having sailed non-stop for 30 hours.  Emmelène has crossed the English Channel!

23 July 2019 – Tuesday.

We awoke at 09:00 to beautiful sunshine.  The marina had been quiet and calm, despite the crowded moorings.  Having paid for two nights (total €44), we took a day “off”.   I did a to-do list of tasks aboard Emmelène and Richard went off on the train to visit a friend in Leiden.  I watched a yacht being cleaned, on the crane:

287. Cross Channel - in Leiden

After I had sorted out the boat jobs, the day became hot and the local kids amused themselves by jumping off the nearby lock into the yacht basin.  Eventually a couple of bicycle cops came and noted names in their notebooks; but it was all very good-humoured.

I unfolded my Dahon bicycle and cycled through the pleasant  town of Scheveningen towards the pier and the dunes.  Everyone was smiling and courteous.  Cycling was a real pleasure.  I returned by a coastal route, stopping to enjoy an Italian ice cream; and do some food shopping en route, at the well-appointed Jumbo supermarket, right on the dock.

I had a shower, Richard came back at around 20:00 and we had a fish sandwich and a beer, enjoyed a discussion about Robert Crumb, and went to sleep at about 23:30

Wednesday 24 July 2019

We left our pontoon at 0610, bound for Amsterdam.  Harbour control gave friendly permission to leave on the VHF.

288. Cross Channel - on the VHF

As soon as we left harbour, we raised sail and headed north in light airs from the SW.

It got hot pretty soon and the wind dropped off, but we still made good way at 3.5kts with the current under us.

Richard adapted the rope work at the bottom of my mast, where it meets the boom.  While testing the new setup, I managed to trap the full sail in its up position.  Richard climbed the mast to disentangle the halyard; a brave thing to do.  Luckily, the sea was very calm, but the boat still rocked rather alarmingly.  However, once it had got to a 30° pitch, it stopped rocking, leaving Richard dangling over the sea, with an inexplicable grin on his face.  I was pleased when he was back on deck.

He then sorted the halyard blocks so that they will no longer swivel and jam the line when sail is fully raised.

It got even hotter!  We sailed on slowly towards Imujden.  Richard slept and I drank tea and water.  We later found out that today was the hottest day ever recorded in the Netherlands.

A very friendly man in a speedy RIB full of children came and offered to take photos of Emmelène sailing.  It was a very positive, friendly encounter.

The Imujden canal was long and hot.  The outboard coped very well.  Other than trying to leave the first lock too early, before the green light, I was reasonably competent.

At 16:00 we finally arrived in the centre of Amsterdam and turned to port into Sixhaven marina.  Although crowded, it is well-organised in the Dutch way.

Richard went off with his friend Tilly, who lives locally, and I had a cold shower and then a nice drink with my mate Gee near Sixhaven, at “Nelson Mandela bar”, then we rode our bikes to Gee and Karin’s home, had a quick salad, and went for a delish  pizza.. Again, my folding bike was really useful, to zip round the city, which was full of heat, light and colour.  A lovely evening.

289. Cross - Channel - lovely evening


Thursday 25 July 2019

I wrote this journal entry very late at night, so in a nutshell:

We had breakfast with Tilly.

I sorted my SD card problem in the excellent IT shop near Amsterdam’s central station.

We left Amsterdam at midday, but got delayed an hour at the lock to exit the city.

291. Cross-Channel - exit the city

292. Cross-Channel - exit the city

290. Cross-Channel - exit the city

We followed the very-busy waterway east to Ijsselmeer, which was rather windless and extremely hot.  It was possible to sail, albeit in very light airs.

294. Cross Channel - very light airs

295. Cross Channel - very light airs

Our rate of speed was significantly slowed by the growth of weed in the water, some of which Richard decided to eat.

294. Cross Channel - to eat!

We made a detour towards this yacht, to see if we could assist: no need, as the girl at the top of the mast had a tool belt on and  knew exactly what she was doing!

293. Cross Channel - she was doing

We were beating into the wind all day and at the end of the afternoon we resorted to the engine to take us to Edam, a lovely and well-run little port, where we were met by affable fellow-Coromandel sailor Antoine, who took us to a lovely seaside restaurant for dinner and a beer.


297. Cross Channel - dinner and a beer

298. Cross Channel - dinner and a beer

We used the port’s bikes to get into town to refuel our petrol cans, and then I had a cold shower before bed.  Thanks for the awesome welcome to Edam, Antoine!

299. Cross Channel - Edam, Antoine!


Friday 26 July 2019

A long day of sailing on the Markermeer and Issjelmeer,  starting at 06.30 and sailing nonstop until 23:15.  The sailing was mainly excellent although I had to hand-steer for a while because Edna wouldn’t perform, for some reason (probably an unbalanced and under-reefed sail creating weather helm).  In any case, the weather was scorching and the wind was welcome – we made way successfully to windward all morning.

Once again, I marveled at how flexible the split-junk rig is for this type of cruise.  We could increase and derease sail on a whim, and within a few seconds.  Windward performance was very satisfactory, and downwind was simply fantastic.

The locks were very busy but we didn’t have to wait long.

300. Cross Channel - wait long

Lots of traditional boats were out sailing, especially around Enkhuizen.

301. Cross Channel  - especially around Enkhuizen

302. Cross Channel  - especially around Enkhuizen

We bore away a bit in increasing wind from the east, towards Kornwerderzand.  We made it through the final lock, and Emmelène was back in the sea again!

We motored to Harlingen, motor-sailing towards the end. I made pasta as we approached Harlingen.

The cheerful harbour master said the marina had closed for the night, so we should moor alongside a barge just inside the harbour, which we did.  A midnight beer in a friendly bar made a nice end to the day.

27 July 2019 – Saturday

303. Cross Channel - 27 July 2019 - Saturday

304. Cross Channel - 27 July 2019 - Saturday

305. Cross Channel - 27 July 2019 - Saturday

This beautiful day of wind and sun was marred by a mistake I made, manoeuvring Emmelène into the inner harbour, under motor: I crunched into the harbour wall whilst trying to maintain steerageway just behind all the motorboats that had entered the harbour ahead of us… and had then stopped in front of us! The bridge swung closed just behind me, the headwind blew strongly and pushed us in a tiny, constrained circle, and we were trapped.  So I gunned the throttle to gain some steerageway and we went straight into the wall, damaging the pulpit quite badly, as these photos (taken later) testify.   Note the slanted pulpit, knocked off centre, in the third photo below:

307. Cross Channel - pulpit quite badly

306. Cross Channel - pulpit quite badly

308. Cross Channel - pulpit quite badly

The rest of the day was too hot and annoying.  I felt terrible about the damage.

I wrote in my journal: “My mistake on this voyage has been to try to get to Lauwersgoog at a certain date (in two days time, on Monday).  I really regret the stress and pressure involved with this deadline.”

28 July 2019 – Sunday

We walked to Jumbo supermarket and did some shopping to prepare for the last leg of our trip north. Richard bought a lot of Dutch cakes!

Leaving the marina was much easier than arriving, as most of the yachts had already left, so we had more room to manoeuvre.  Luckily for me, whilst I was sulking about my mistake yesterday, Richard had extensively discussed potential passages through the shallows east of the Fresian Islands, with a German girl on a barge, called Fatima.  He had also taken photos with his phone of the relevant tide tables.  All very useful.

313. Cross Channel - all very useful

However, I found crossing the 2 “bars” that block access to the north to be fraught and annoying.  Richard worked hard to keep my spirits up, and helmed very professionally in between sleeps.  We inched towards Ness.  Several other boats were trying to do the same, including the magnificent Dutch barge below.  It’s such shallow water that it is like navigating in a labyrinth, the hedges of which are all hidden below the surface.

309. Cross Channel - below the surface

310. Cross Channel - below the surface

As night fell, the unlit buoys became invisible and for a while, we relied on an open-source chart on Richard’s phone.

We eventually ran aground- but it was part of the plan.  We set our alarms for 02:30 and tried to fall asleep as Emmelène tipped sideways onto the sandbank, pushed by the considerable current, as the tide swung.

29 July 2019 – Monday

At 03:30 the tide lifted us off and we proceeded past Ameland and into the second “bar” area, which proved easier than yesterday’s.  Most of this part of the passage was downwind.

I helmed is under full sail towards Lauwersoog, turning a 360° near the entrance, to allow a ferry to pass.

311. Cross Channel - ferry to pass

Once through the lock, we motored towards the Jachthaven at Oostmahorn and moored in front of a seamanlike motor yacht and skipper Martyn took our lines.  We chatted with him and his wife Joka for a while and then I went to sort out leaving Emmelène overwinter.  Martyn later bought us two local apple tarts, saying that, “Anyone who has made it from England to here on a 20-foot sailboat deserves a Dutch treat!”

Inka, the lady running the marina desk, had already heard from Marco that we were on our way.  She was extremely friendly.  The marina is a bit run-down, having gone bust previously, and subsequently having been bought-out by some former tenants.  But there is a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and they can lift Emmelène out this winter, making repair work to the pulpit easy.

312. Cross channel - pulpit easy

Overall, I was delighted with our cruise, but I must admit that I had a bit of a feeling of anticlimax at its sudden end, and was sad to say goodbye to Richard.  The successful passage would not have been possible without his skill, positive attitude and (let’s be honest) his patience with my “ups and downs”!  So thank you very much, Richard!

314. Cross Channel - much, Richard!

Whistle for a wind: cruising plans changed

259. Rotated version of  Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - cruising plans changed

I’ve just spent three weeks living aboard Emmelène; a fantastic “window” in the year, full of light and enjoyment.  However, my original plan, which was to sail to the Frisian Islands in Holland, had to be postponed, because the UK has been languishing under an Atlantic high-pressure system for absolutely ages.  It’s an unusual summer: very hot, very sunny and absolutely windless. Sailing was difficult.

That’s just part of cruising, though: you have to adapt to the conditions.  I’ve learned over the last few years that it is far more common to have light winds – or none at all, than to have too much breeze and be forced to reef the sail (reduce the sail area).  

That’s where my split-junk rig sail is a good solution for the Newbridge Coromandel.  It’s a bit oversized and thus overpowered, so very good in a light breeze –  but obviously easy to reef, like all junks.

But a light breeze is not the same thing as “no wind at all” and that has been the scenario!  So my cruising plans for this summer were trimmed down.

It all started with a message from Richard aboard Tammy-Norie: he was in Chichester Harbour with an engine problem.  As I wanted to sail with him anyway, possibly even across the Channel, I decided to sail to Chichester Harbour and meet him.  

258. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - and meet him - 1

257. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - and meet him - 2

On the way across from Bembridge, Edna the Hebridean got her first real sea-trial.  Although it took me a while to set her on the right course, she soon did what she was told and we were off towards the West Pole (the entrance to the harbour channel) at a compass-bearing of exactly 62°.  It was gratifying to observe Emmelène effectively “sailing herself” and I realised how much this simple technology is going to extend my horizons.

256. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - extend my horizons

Edna steered us in a straight line, and we ended up, exactly on target, at the West Pole:

255. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the west pole

Then in past the Bar Beacon and Winner buoy, and in no time I had sailed up, next to Tammy-Norie.  It took me two goes, because I wanted to avoid using my outboard – and although there were plenty of other yachts at anchor behind East Head, I was able to tack between them and throw a line to Richard, on the second try.  Soon we were rafted-up and having lunch in my cockpit.

254. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - in my cockpit- 1

253. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - in my cockpit- 2

After lunch, a friend of Richard’s, called James, arrived on his kayak; by coincidence, he was anchored not far away and had immediately noticed my junk-rig, which led him to our boats.  He later cooked us dinner aboard his palatial 33 ft Colvic yacht – very luxurious indeed. In the past, he has sailed several junk-rigged boats and is keen on them.

252. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - keen on them - 1

251. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - keen on them - 2

250. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - keen on them - 3

249. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - keen on them - 4

Sunrise came and I realised that I had not chosen the most perfect place to anchor: when I awoke in my bunk, my feet were higher than my head!

248. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - than my head - 1

247. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - than my head - 2

Before long, the tide began to flood and we were in business to make the most of the breeze and sail up to Bosham.  This harbour sailing (as opposed to sailing on the Solent) turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding of the entire cruise.

246. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the entire cruise - 1

245. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the entire cruise - 2

244. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the entire cruise - 3

243. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the entire cruise - 4

Following a very pleasant day’s sailing, we anchored just east of Pilsey Island.  I chose the worst spot… as the tide ebbed, I was marooned on the old sea-barrier (clearly marked as an obstacle on the chart).  Richard, meanwhile, had done his homework and Tammy-Norie sat gently on the mud, slightly to my north. I moved Emmelène around midnight, on the flood tide, to a better anchorage, just 100m south.

242. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - just 100m south - 1

241. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - just 100m south - 2

Next morning, I watched Richard (still engineless) sailing very skilfully out of the Thorney Channel, against the tide.  I followed and soon we were having another good sail, in a decent wind, towards East Head where we ran our boats up onto the beach and anchored for lunch.

240. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - anchored for lunch

After lunch, we decided to head for Tammy-Norie’s “home” in Fareham Creek – the engine issue looked serious enough that we would only be able to take a proper look with the outboard removed from the boat.  Richard had already done all the diagnosis possible from the cockpit.

We sailed out of the harbour on the ebb, and then westward towards Portsmouth.  There appeared to be a huge fire near the entrance to Langstone Harbour; this dry weather had made the grass tinder-like and something had set it alight.

Predictably, the wind died as the sun set, and Emmelène towed Tammy to Fareham – it took almost 8 hours.  Richard informed Portsmouth Harbour of our arrival on VHF channel 11, and the Condor ferry reported that they had a “visual of the tow”. Once through the entrance, we “borrowed” a buoy and enjoyed a midnight dinner of delicious cassoulet.

239. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of delicious cassoulet - 1

238. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of delicious cassoulet - 2

We finally arrived in Fareham Yacht Club at 0345h and needless to say, sleep was welcome.  Next morning: breakfast on the pontoon and major dismantling of Tammy’s outboard!

237. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of Tammys outboard -1

236. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of Tammys outboard -2

235. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of Tammys outboard -3

234. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - of Tammys outboard -4

The outboard-engine problem turned out to be probably caused by a partially-blocked idle jet and Richard resolved it with a squirt or two of carb-cleaner.  Now it idles perfectly again.

By now, the wind really was very weak and our plan B – to sail to Poole instead of Holland – turned into Plan C – let’s just see if we can sail at all!  Under sail, it was extremely difficult for me to get steerage way in Fareham Creek, so I chose to motor down to Portsmouth-Harbour entrance, which was very busy with summer boaters, especially round the fuel barge; not my cup of tea. 

We sailed out to Fort Gilkicker and round to Lee-on-Solent, where we anchored in a dead calm. The tide changed and still no wind. This was, I confess, a low point for me as my expectations had to adjust to the fact that the cruise just wasn’t going to get out of the Solent, given the time constraints and lack of wind.

233. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - lack of wind -1

232. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - lack of wind -2

This is where cruising with another boat (as opposed to alone)  is such an advantage; Richard soon cheered me up, and on the rising tide we headed for Ryde Harbour, where we would have stayed if there hadn’t been a major festival in full swing, with the main concert-stage only metres from the yacht pontoon!  It looked like noisy fun – but we were tired, so we repaired to Bembridge under motor. It took an hour from Ryde, cutting somewhat across the sands.

Next morning, we worked on our boats.  Richard inflated his new canoe and was able to use it to help me remove the bottom rung of my stern ladder, which will facilitate the movement of my wind-vane, when in use.

231. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - when in use - 1

230. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - when in use - 2

Richard also taught me a new knot!

229. ROTATED Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - a new knot

We lowered Tammy’s mast for Richard to work on his mast-head light arrangement.

228. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - head light arrangement- 1

227. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - head light arrangement- 2

For me, one of the most important tasks was to fine-tune the balance of Edna the Hebridean.  Richard was very kind in spending some time sailing Emmelène with me and adjusting the counterweights to reduce friction in the mechanism to almost nothing.  The vane counterweight needed fine-tuning in the closed cabin, to ensure no interference from the wind.

226. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - from the wind - 1

225. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - from the wind - 2

He also worked up on deck, on improving my rig, mainly to reduce halyard chafe and folds in the raised sail.

224. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - the raised sail - 1

We enjoyed a very pleasant day anchored in Priory Bay, near Bembridge, in perfect sunshine and crystal-clear water – but no wind!  It was like being on a Mediterranean holiday. I swam round Emmelène and read my book. It was the hottest day of the year.

222. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - day of the year - 1

221. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - day of the year - 2

220. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - day of the year - 3

The following afternoon, Richard’s nephew, Thomas, joined us and was excellent company.

219. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - was excellent company -1


218. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - was excellent company -2

217. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - was excellent company -3

All too soon, it was time to go our respective ways, with our Holland plans only postponed, and not cancelled, by any means.  

There was just time to get my Dad down to Emmelène, as I was buttoning her up – naturally on the first day of wind for a month, it suddenly blew force 6, gusting 7, and we decided not to risk going out.  Instead, we visited the HMC vessel, “Nimrod” – getting a tour of the bridge in the process.  We were lucky she was in port at the same time as us.  An interesting visit, aboard the biggest RIB we’d ever seen – 19m or 62 ft!

216. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - 19m or 62ft - 1

215. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - 19m or 62ft - 2

214. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - 19m or 62ft - 3

In summary, it wasn’t the July cruise that I had expected, due to a complete lack of wind.  But on a positive note: Edna the Hebridean wind-vane works really much better, each time I sail; and we had a nice “sociable” mini-cruise with Richard, to whom I send thanks for his company and mentorship.

Let’s see if we can make a longer voyage soon!

213. Whistle for a wind cruising plans changed - longer voyage soon


“Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished.

Away from the boat, it’s been an unreasonably-busy fortnight of perpetual motion and some dark moments. It’s been difficult to feel happy, at times.
But there is some good news…
The construction of my Hebridean wind vane is now finished. Yay!
But I haven’t had time to test it yet. It’s sat in Emmelène’s cabin… I ran out of time aboard and literally just had time to bolt my mount onto the stern before heading back into the city. Here are some photos taken during the last week of the build.
Let’s start with the turret, which is going to support the vane; and it will swivel and lock, according to which course I chose to sail:

212. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - chose to sail - 1

211. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - chose to sail - 2

I also bolted-on the fittings to the pendulum (which is the piece of oak that goes into the water and is shaped like a wing / rudder)

210. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - a wing rudder

Then it was time to set the whole thing up on the Workmate to see if it would “steer”. There was almost no wind in the garden, so initial performance was lacklustre. As you can see, the pendulum is much too long at this stage, because I had no idea yet where the waterline would be, so had to postpone the cutting.

Furthermore, there’s a bolt inside the turret, the head of which will need filing down to avoid snagging the push-rod. But these are all tasks to do later.

209. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - to do later
My first impressions are that the vane (that blows in the wind) may be a little too heavy. The counterweight-balance instructions I found difficult to understand and it may be that I have not set up the adjustable weights correctly, despite having taken care to make them exactly the right weight.

208. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - the right weight - 1

207.  Rotated “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - the right weight - 2

In my haste, alone on board Emmelène, to draw a transom template, I had measured slightly inaccurately and Dad once again came to my aid in order to rectify my mistake.

206. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - rectify my mistake -1

205. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - rectify my mistake -2

204. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - rectify my mistake -3

My mental fragility seemed to be getting the better of me. I blamed myself for such slow progress, and having to re-do work. I’m very grateful to Dad because I was a bit dispirited on that day and he cheerfully showed me that I was nearly finished on the project.

203. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - on the project -1

202. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - on the project -2

201. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - on the project -3
And when the time came to fit my transom-mount, he taught me how to use a 90-degree chuck, because the pushpit-rail fouled my standard drill. You can tell that his cheerful demeanour was infectious!

200. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - demeanour was infectious - 1

199. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - demeanour was infectious - 2
Then it was time to shorten the length of the pendulum and we measured down from the waterline (twice, “to be sure, to be sure, to be sure!”) and then made the cut, using a Japanese saw.

198. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished -a japanese saw- 1

197. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished -a japanese saw- 2
A chiseling competition followed (won by Dad) – we each amended one of the two support strips that strengthen the pendulum on its hinges.

196. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished -on its hinges - 1

195. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished -on its hinges - 2
Then I painted the cut on the pendulum and the whole assembly went into the car boot for the final time, for delivery to Emmelène. The build is done! At last, I can actually say I’ve completed something.

194. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - I've completed something
On board, I had some Deks Olje (Nordic wood preserver), which made an excellent finish on the transom-mount. This stuff isn’t varnish – more a kind of “soak-in” treatment and you brush as many coats into the wood as you like; as the more it impregnates, the better. I’m not sure where to buy it because this particular tin came second-hand from a boat jumble. It does a nice-looking job, when you contrast it to the raw wood:

193. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - the raw wood
Inserting the trunk into the transom-mount was a bit tricky because I hadn’t correctly understood the drawing in the plans. It fouled the trunk, at first. Dad made me a polypropylene washer, on his lathe, and I dry-fitted the assembly using a drill through the pivot, in place of a split-pin, of which I had none aboard. Yes, the drill did inevitably drop out, into the soft, low-tide mud! Lucky the stern ladder was there – I managed to retrieve it.

192. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - to retrieve it - 1

191. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - to retrieve it - 2
So, in the next post, I’ll tell you how “Hebridean Edna” performs on her initial sea-trials.
Meanwhile, Dad has been rigging his Wayfarer dinghy with a view to launching soon. Here he is, contemplating the fruits of his labour.

190. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - of his labour - 1

189. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - of his labour - 2
Remember my folding bike? When not being ridden, it stows away, in its bag, in Emmelène’s head / cupboard beautifully.

188. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - head cupboard beautifully
In a bid to reduce chafe around my “boom” (on a junk, the boom is nothing more than the bottom batten), I used the materials available aboard to good effect: a bit of surplus plastic tube from the cockpit drains and some cable-ties managed to cut down the squeaks.

187. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - down the squeaks
It’s true that it’s a bit lonely sometimes, living on Emmelène. On a social note, I visited my friends from NHYC in Sandbanks, who were on a weekend cruise to Yarmouth. We enjoyed a cuppa with Peter and Heather in the capacious cockpit aboard Karenzi.

186. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - cockpit aboard Karenzi
Company being important whilst afloat, I took my parents for a quick day-sail before I hopped on the train back to the metropolis. And a very enjoyable sail it was, too, despite light airs.

185. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - despite light airs
To conclude, this rather meandering post is to say that time ran out once again, and “real-life” called me back before I could actually try my self-steering system. It’s dawning on me that I’m just going to have to sail away, next time, undertaking the sea-trials as I go. My personality isn’t organised enough to ever be “ready”. I’ll never be “ready” to go.
So, sail away I must, and soon.

184. “Edna,” my Hebridean wind-vane build, is finished - must and soon

Sailing onto the mooring

183. Sailing onto the mooring  -onto the mooring

When I’m aboard Emmelène, I feel as if I’m living life how it should be.  The lack of Internet is the main advantage.  Being disconnected is like stopping smoking – the phrase implies that you are sacrificing something, whereas in fact there is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.  The quality of life replaces that of mere existence.  These days, I have taken the decision to limit my “connected” time to two hours per week – even when ashore.  So, I’m typing this offline, in MSWord, and will start the stopwatch when I log on to WordPress to post it.  Initially, it felt a bit weird not being permanently online, with an urge to keep “checking” for messages and news updates: but that particular, meaningless, search for dopamine soon was replaced by other, more real, sources of interest.  We managed perfectly well, just twenty years ago, without all this distraction.  Whatever happened?

182. Sailing onto the mooring  -whatever happened

I’ve just got back from a week living aboard Emmelène, which included several day-sails, to get back into the swing of things; and quite a lot of boat maintenance.  I also spent a few days with my parents, whose garage and garden were, once again, used to take forward the build of my Hebridean wind-vane.

Let’s start with the sailing.  I was lucky to get a lift to my boat from my mate Peter, upon whose splendid Westerly Pageant “Karenzi” we sailed from Poole Harbour to Bembridge in ideal conditions.  We rode the tide all the way, which made for some impressive speeds over ground, particularly on the return trip, a few days later – up to ten knots through Hurst!

181. Sailing onto the mooring  -knots through Hurst - 1

180. Sailing onto the mooring  -knots through Hurst - 2


I then went food shopping, walking quite a way across country (about 4 miles) to find a supermarket.  I took the bus back, because this cockpit full of provisions was pretty heavy!

179. Sailing onto the mooring  -was pretty heavy RELISTED

Then it was time to clean up Emmelène’s hull.  We careened her in Bembridge and Peter kindly scrubbed the decks (me hearties!) whilst I lay in the mud at low tide and removed the sheets of barnacle growth, below her waterline.  This was a strangely satisfying task.   I had a bit of antifoul left over from last year and I slapped this on, as the waters rose.  She sure looks cleaner overall:

178. Sailing onto the mooring  -looks cleaner overall - 1 RESIZED

177. Sailing onto the mooring  -looks cleaner overall - 2

176. Sailing onto the mooring  -looks cleaner overall - 3

I took my parents for the best sail in a long while, in a decent force 4, with a bit of sea, to keep us entertained.  What a brilliant day.  Dad took the helm throughout and was – at last – able to take some measure of the advantages of the junk-rig.  He knows plenty of theory about the rig, but last time we went sailing, the wind was too light to really make any judgement.  I think that the photos clearly show that a good time was had by all – see below.

175. Sailing onto the mooring  -all see below -1

174. Sailing onto the mooring  -all see below -2

173. Sailing onto the mooring  -all see below -3

At the end of the sail, Dad sailed Emmelène smoothly back onto her mooring (without using the motor), which was a piece of seamanship rarely seen these days, especially in small, shallow harbours.  The junk rig came into its own as I was able to raise and lower just a couple of panels within seconds (or less – say, one second), allowing more control even than the outboard.  And all this, in total silence!  It was quite amazing to tack calmly through moored yachts and arrive in exactly the correct position, having effortlessly struck the sail completely, in the last few moments, to slow our momentum.  The bow came to a stop just above the buoy, and I reached over the gunwale and picked it up.  I’ll never forget it.  I felt alive: this is how life should be.

172. Sailing onto the mooring  -life should be

Emmelène is now beginning to look like a little cruising yacht – as she should.  My Hebridean is ready for painting, and now has a coat of primer.

171. Sailing onto the mooring  -coat of primer

The push-rod and fittings are also taking shape, again with Dad’s guidance and lathe skills.

170. Sailing onto the mooring  -and lathe skills - 1

169. Sailing onto the mooring  -and lathe skills - 2

168. Sailing onto the mooring  -and lathe skills - 3

167. Sailing onto the mooring  -and lathe skills - 4

I must give Dad credit also for fairing the plank of oak that has now become the pendulum.  These photos give the impression that I did most of the work – but the work was his, really.  The profile looks like a perfect “wing” shape and will soon be slicing through the water, pulling the tiller back and forth.  We will obviously need to shorten it to the relevant length for the Coromandel: but all of that in due course, aboard.

166. Sailing onto the mooring  -due course aboard -1

165. Sailing onto the mooring  -due course aboard -2

164. Sailing onto the mooring  -due course aboard -3

My huge new 12V battery needed a secure home on Emmelène.  As you may recall from my previous post, I built a “flat-pack” kit which I could epoxy into three dimensions once aboard.  I did this work in the cockpit, and kept in mind the importance of being able to remove the box quickly, in order to gain emergency access to the cockpit drains, in case of through-hull failure.  Thanks to you, Peter, for that tip – good thought.  I’m well pleased with the results of the work under the companionway steps.  See what you think:

163. Sailing onto the mooring  -see what you think - 1

162. Sailing onto the mooring  -see what you think - 2

161. Sailing onto the mooring  -see what you think - 3

159. Sailing onto the mooring  -see what you think - 5

158. Sailing onto the mooring - in capable hands -charging my phone -1

Furthermore, my 20W solar panel is now connected and is keeping the battery healthy, as well as charging my phone.

157. Sailing onto the mooring - in capable hands -charging my phone -2

156. Sailing onto the mooring - in capable hands -charging my phone - 3

I was pleased to see, albeit briefly , Richard and Tammy Norie in Fareham, where that fine little boat is also beginning her season, in capable hands.

155. Sailing onto the mooring - in capable hands

Finally, I’ve bought a second-hand folding bike, to enable me to shop for food and be more mobile when I arrive in unfamiliar harbours or anchorages.  It’s a Dahon Mu with 8 Shimano gears, and is in beautiful condition; as-new.  The previous owner, sadly, waited for their retirement and invested their savings in an expensive, huge motorhome as well as two of these new bikes.   But illness prevented them from setting out on their dream journey, and they were selling everything, completely unused.  They were a lovely couple and I felt a bit guilty buying their second bike; however, they graciously said that they were pleased that the bike would be ridden, as intended.  Once folded, it will, I hope, take up very little room in the Coromandel “head” (WC) that I use as a storage cupboard.  As soon as I rode the bike (which is really fast) back to my parents’ place, Dad wanted to test-ride it – and loved it so much that I’m not sure I’m ever getting it back!

155. Sailing onto the mooring - getting it back 1

154. Sailing onto the mooring - getting it back 2

153. Sailing onto the mooring - getting it back 3

This beautiful week of sailing and boat-maintenance was a little chunk of “quality time” which no government can ever tax away from me, and that I’ll remember forever.   I’m beginning to appreciate how important time is.  Thank goodness that I’m healthy and able to make the most of it.  Carpe diem!

152. Sailing onto the mooring - carpe diem

An unfinished symphony? – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht


151. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -cruising yacht

Tomorrow, I’m back aboard Emmelene with my to-do list ready.  Coupled with the excitement for the start of the season is a sense of trepidation.  Will the tasks ever be finished? That’s the question so many sailors ask themselves at the start of the season.  I try to reassure myself by thinking about how rushed I was, this time last year – the mast-extension was only just finished in time for launch, and because the crane was booked,  we had to lower the mast into her socket with the white paint still drying on the spruce, at the top!

So, it’s true that this year, at least there are lots of things that I don’t have to worry about. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot still to do.

Take the wind-vane self steering, for example.  My Hebridean build has been progressing sporadically, as I have made the most of visits to my parents’ house on several weekends throughout the winter.  However, that only means a maximum of a day or so of actual work, by the time all the parts are layed out, and the epoxying jobs syncronised to maximise time-efficiency while minimising waste of raw materials.  Just “getting back into” the instructions takes a while. And then it’s time to clean up and leave.

There’s also the solar panel that I need to install… And the halyard that I want to replace… And I need to scrub the winter’s weed-growth off, below the waterline.

It all goes to prove that I could easily maintain my boat full time, even with no other constraints such as work or family – and still, I think I’d never finish.  Maybe I have to accept that my little floating home, Emmelene, will forever be a “work in progress.”

Another way of reassuring myself is to look at blokes (and ladies) doing some REAL boat work.  Their to-do lists surely must dwarf mine! Youtube is a haven of boat-renovation and boat-building heroics; videos abound of projects that put my little jobs sharply into context.

Here are three of my favourites (click on the channel names):

  • SVTapatya – I’ve mentioned Tony’s videos and blog in a previous post.  What a guy: he’s building a Benford Badger in his shed in Germany. His matter-of-fact explanations, his tool-tips and efficient, environmental  work-ethic are very refreshing and his progress seems very quick to me. He’s built a 32’ hull more quickly than I’ve built my wind-vane! I actively encourage you to subscribe to his channel.
  • Sail Life – Some would say that Mads, who is Danish, is appropriately named. But the truth is, he’s anything but “mad”.   His videos of his restoration of “Athena” are simply compelling viewing. He relishes difficult work and is, it is fair to say, a perfectionist.  His boat will be pristine when finished – and believe me, finish the job, Mads will. I sometimes shudder at his ambition, for example, as he cheerfully rips up a tired deck-core that, personally, I would have just… used, for a few more seasons.  But unlike most people, he actually refits (or replaces) entire systems aboard his yacht much better than they ever were, originally. He claims to be an “amateur” – yikes!
  • Samson Yacht Co – Personality-wise, Leo is like an English version of Mads; but he’s a professional expert in classic wooden boat-building, rather than GRP.  He’s restoring a 1910 English schooner, from a site in the USA, and his expertise and video-editing skills are addictive to watch.  But most inspiring is the sheer scale of tasks that he is prepared to do on his own – such as building a new keel timber, weighing several tonnes, from a dense wood called “purple heart”; and then manoevering this massive thing into place using only trolley-jacks and levers, which have to be meticulously threaded around the legs of the cradle he built to hold the hull up in the air.   There are many other examples of his can-do attitude. It’s simply inspirational to see such energy and positivity.


Back to reality – how is my wind-vane build going?  Well, here are a few pictures taken this spring. As you’ll see, I had a lot of help from my ever-willing and skilled parents.

The first 4 photos below show how I built the turret, which is the part that you adjust to change direction.  It’s a sort of metal-and-ply sandwich, which is bolted together, then sawn in half.

150. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - sawn in half -1

149 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - sawn in half -2

148 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - sawn in half -3

147 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - sawn in half -4

The wind-vane base was my next step, involving drilling and chiselling two grooves for the ends of the carbon-fibre tubes that will support the vane itself.

146 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the vane itself - 1

144 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the vane itself - 3

143 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the vane itself - 4

142 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -punch and hacksaw - 1

Then Dad carefully and accurately marked out degree-divisions (I think they are 45-degree marks) on the turret, so that changing course can be done with a bit of precision. For this, he used a punch and hacksaw.

141 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -punch and hacksaw - 2

140 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -punch and hacksaw - 3

139 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -epoxy its strong -1

Finally (for now) – the whole steering system turns on a stainless-steel rod, appropriately called a “pivot”.  This is seated in a semi-circular groove that we made by drilling a hole at the correct angle, using a 15-degree wedge to support the job; having clamped a sacrificial oak block on the other side of what would become the resultant hole.  Having drilled, when we removed this block, only half the drill-hole remained on our wooden mechanism – a perfect place to seat the pivot, using bolts and epoxy. It’s strong!

138 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -epoxy its strong -2

137 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -epoxy its strong -3

136 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -epoxy its strong -4

135 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -epoxy its strong -5

134 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -some yoghurt pots - 1

I also made, for the mechanism, some counter-weights with lead-shot and epoxy – and some yogurt pots.  

133 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -some yoghurt pots - 2

132 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -some yoghurt pots - 3

131 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -stainless steel fittings

Finally, the carbon-fibre push-rods had a dowel insert epoxied into each end, ready to receive their stainless-steel fittings.

130 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -out a template

Here are all the consituent parts that I built during the three weekends – and this is how they fit together.  The stern mounts are in the background – the shape of these is obviously dependent on the shape of your boat’s transom, so it’s a question of measuring up and cutting out a template.  

129 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -of my labour

The weather is finally improving – here are the fruits of my labour!

128 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -cheers mum - 1

Making the actual wind vane was a breeze!  (-I couldn’t resist it) I found a sheet of 1cm-thick polystyrene thrown away in the city street, cut it to shape, taped it onto the carbon-fibre frame and then handed it over to my lovely Mum to sew a cover far better than I ever could.  Cheers, Mum!

127 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -cheers mum - 2

126 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -cheers mum - 3

125 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -and wet glue

Many thanks to both my parents, who not only personify skill and kindness, but also don’t mind too much when I fill their house and garden with bits of wood, metal and wet glue!

At last, I had an opportunity to get down to Emmelene and even spent a night aboard in March.  What a joy to, once again, feel the water rock the boat as I went to sleep.

124 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - went to sleep - 1

123 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - went to sleep - 2

I had changed my engine oil before I went, then run the engine in the bin (it ran perfectly):

122 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - it ran perfectly

And I have a new leisure-battery.  But before I hit the waves, it’s going to need to be fixed in position in the empty inboard-engine bay, so I’ve built a flat-pack battery box ready to take to the boat tomorrow:

121 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the boat tomorrow -1

120 . An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the boat tomorrow -2

119. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht -the boat tomorrow -3

Here’s Bembridge at very-low tide:  I think the message is, follow the channel markers on your way into the harbour!

118. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - into the harbour

Finally, here’s a Westerly Centaur that I spotted while out on an evening walk from my boat.  She looks like a perfect liveaboard, and would be ideally-suited to the junk-rig.

117. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - the junk rig

Talking of junks, I managed to raise Emmelene’s sail last time I was aboard.   Doesn’t she look great? Here’s wishing all my readers a wonderful start to the season – and fair winds!

116. An unfinished symphony – The maintenance of a small cruising yacht - and fair winds

Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system

This winter, I began building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system for Emmelène; again following the example of Tammy-Norie, my sister-ship.

115. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - my sister ship

There are many good resources online relating to this system, and I’ll link to them in this post.  Initially, I wasn’t going to blog about this build, thinking it a bit superfluous: but my mate Tony, who is building a junk-rigged Benford Badger, nudged me to post about it, so here I am.

Incidentally, Tony’s blog for his Benford-Badger build is here and please help him out by subscribing to his excellent Youtube channel here (for free, obviously):

My Hebridean: Edna

As a single-hander, cutting this wood and screwing and epoxy-gluing the pieces together, I feel as if I’m witnessing the birth of a new helmsman for my boat.  Or rather a helmswoman, in this case, as this Hebridean will be named after my beloved, late grandmother: Edna.  As somebody who remained admirably cheerful in adverse times, she seems like the ideal personality to steer my little boat in a storm.

Hebridean Basics:  It’s a self-build system, designed by John Fleming.  It’s been well-proven over the years and John uses his aboard his Contessa 32.  The design seems to be adaptable to most lengths of yacht, as a variety of different LOA boats are being steered by Hebridean wind vanes.  And it represents excellent value for money, as factory wind-vanes run into the thousands of pounds.  Whereas the Hebridean, you can build for a few hundred, or even less if you re-use or re-cycle the constituent materials.

Previous builders of the Hebridean seem to have spent quite a lot of time cutting and shaping the stainless-steel fittings themselves, and I admire them for their tenacity: however, John now sells a complete kit that includes all the wood and stainless fittings necessary to go ahead and start construction without much extra work, machining or trips to the lumber yard.  It’s a bit like an Airfix model kit.  That said, there is still some wood-cutting to do, and a small amount of lofting (a new and interesting experience for me): but the principle of the kit is that you have everything you need in one big box.  It’s an exciting moment when it arrives!

114. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - when it arrives - 1

113. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - when it arrives - 2

112. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - when it arrives - 3

The first thing I did was to lay out the parts and read the two comprehensive booklets included – the instructions and the plans.  My Dad, who had suffered a severe medical episode only a week previously, valiantly helped to decipher the drawings, too.  I admire him for his persistence and he was, as ever, very useful throughout the project.

112. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - throughought the project

To be honest, I found it all a bit inscrutable on paper, but as soon as I began to loft out the angles, it became clearer.  I considered reducing the size by one-third, whilst retaining the all-important geometry, but in the end, I defaulted to the recommended size.  If I find the system too cumbersome aboard, I may shrink it next season.  The main variable appears to be the length of the pendulum, which is the oak fin that dunks in the water off the stern.  It looks very like a rudder; however, its role is to swing between port and starboard, rather than directly turn the boat itself.  It’s this swinging movement that pulls lines which alter the tiller position, hence steering the boat.  It took me a while to understand this.

111. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - to understand this - 1

110. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - to understand this - 2

The next step was to cut the lengths of oak to size and glue them into position using West-System epoxy.  The photo below shows the trunk of the wind-vane: which is the “middle bit” that is below the vane itself, and above the pendulum.  This trunk ends up attached to the transom of the boat by a pivot.

109. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - by a pivot

For now, I have only managed to half-finish my Hebridean.  Workshop time was running out, as I only had a few days available: the last part I was able to work on was called the “extension” – it’s an oak beam that links the vane (flapping round in the wind at the top) with the trunk mentioned in the paragraph above.  Its external dimensions are important, so I had Dad working on his bandsaw once again.  As you can see from the photos below, he also wields a viciously-sharp chisel with dexterity – and uses weird cutting tools that I didn’t even know existed.  Cheers, Dad!

108. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - cheers Dad - 1

107. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - cheers Dad - 2

106. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - cheers Dad - 3

105. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - cheers Dad - 4

Here are the resources I used to start my Hebridean build, which is now about 50% complete:

  • The homepage of the Hebridean, by John Fleming – a very-helpful man:

  • An excellent summary review from Richard on Newbridge-Coromandel “Tammy-Norie”:

  • A five-part series on the building of the Hebridean by “IanKFR”:


Meanwhile, it has been a long while since I visited Emmelène.  It has been a tough winter, for various reasons.  That said, on Christmas day, my family and I paid her a visit and had a celebratory “cuppa”, along with some delicious French chocolates, in her little cabin.  It was quite a squeeze, but a lot of fun, and considerably warmer than outside, where the winter wind was howling.

104. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - wind was howling -1

103. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - wind was howling -2

She seemed to be quite OK on her pontoon and there was hardly any rainwater in the bilge.

102. Building a Hebridean wind-vane self-steering system - in the bilge


Jobs that remain on the list are:

  1. I need to secure the stainless mask-foot fitting with coach bolts, to replace the loose-fitting metal bolts currently “screwed” into just the plywood block (and, unbelievably, no embedded retaining nuts) where the mast meets the keel-line. The new screws will be in holes that I’ll fill with epoxy first.  Access will be the main challenge, particularly for drilling pilot-holes.
  2. Scrape Emmelène’s weedy bottom and repaint the antifoul
  3. Check the mast-head pulley fittings for the halyard
  4. Replace the halyard (?)
  5. Remove the old sail-number, to avoid identity confusion

Other than that, she’s ready to go voyaging this spring.  I can’t wait!  My tentative plans for this summer are for a longer cruise than in 2017; with Edna the wind-vane there to steer when I get tired or hungry.  Or even if I just fancy reading a book, while sailing along.  Richard tells me that it takes at least a season, having fitted the Hebridean, to fine-tune it to a given boat – so that’s good to bear in mind.

I’m really looking forward to taking Edna out and teaching her how to steer.  Maybe she’ll teach me something, also.  More soon…

Junks sail across the night.

My junk and I were one.  The tiller, invisible in the darkness, felt fine in my hand; and ink-black waves cradled us forwards, as we surged joyfully through the empty Solent under the dome of the night sky.  “Empty” Solent?  – Not exactly, because up ahead of us, the silhouette of Tammy-Norie’s junk sail coalesced as the clouds cleared and the sky provided an ambient glow.  On the horizon lay the jewels; scattered all around at almost 360°, orange and white points twinkled on the coasts; and certain lights, green and red, were gliding almost imperceptibly across the blackness.  You’re never truly alone on the Solent.

“What a perfect night for sailing,” I thought, snuggling low into the comfort of Emmelène’s cockpit and peering upwards at my sail.  All but one panel was up, and we were making excellent way.

Richard, skipper of my sister-ship, Tammy-Norie, had kindly offered to guide me through my first try at nocturnal sailing.  We’d dropped in to the mouth of the Beaulieu River at the start of the evening; having sailed in, that day, from Poole Harbour, in light airs.  We could have stayed overnight: but I mentioned that I’d never sailed in the dark and Richard immediately offered to give me a quick tutorial, over a cup of tea, in my cabin.  We would then sail into the night.  This was especially decent of him as he generally takes care to avoid becoming too tired on account of his suffering from CFS (chronic-fatigue syndrome).  He gave me a quick “Night-sailing 101” course and we agreed to rest for an hour, and then see how far we could sail.  With that, he went back aboard his Coromandel, which was rafted-up alongside mine.

Here’s what I recall from Richard’s introduction:

  • When sailing at night, firstly put on all your clothes. It’s always cold.  Gloves, hat, boots, all your jumpers and storm gear.  Bearing in mind that we were both single-handing, it’s true that it’s easier to already be dressed than to start searching for warm clothes once you’re cold.  Of course, a lifejacket is indispensable.
  • Preparation included a look at the section of Richard’s almanac, entitled: “Ships’ lights” – this was all new to me and there seemed to be a bewildering array of combinations of red, white and green lights, either above or alongside one another. However, these need to be learned and I discovered that Emmelène’s combination, which was a tri-colour masthead and sidelights, serves only to confuse shipping as the two together have no meaning.  It’s one set, or the other: not both.  So while Richard rested, I disconnected my sidelights.
  • I placed a box of snacks in the cockpit, along with a big Thermos of tea. I checked both of my VHF radios were working, and that both boats were on the same channel.  We also each had a phone.
  • I attached my lifeline to the strong point in the cockpit, in case we hit rough weather – though the forecast was quite good.
  • Richard, of course, had already checked the night’s tidal flow, using his phone. This is something I am still struggling to fully understand.  I need to practise.
  • We had carefully looked at the chart, and planned two “safe havens” to which we could head easily if it all went wrong.

Unlike during the rest of our cruise, I did not write an accurate log during the night.  It was simply too hard to see my notebook.  However, I believe that we cast off our anchorage in the Beaulieu-River mouth at about 22h30.  I do remember that we sailed off, in wonderful silence,  without using our engines.  I took my camera out of my “offshore-jacket” pocket and struggled to turn it on with my gloved fingers.  Here is the only photo that I took, the whole night:

101. Junks sail across the night - the whole night

We were away at last.  Although I was nervous, it was also very exciting and reassuring to discern Tammy-Norie, as she silently took the lead.  It meant that I had no worries at all regarding navigation.  We were bound for Fareham Sailing-and-Motor-boat Club, and it seemed that we had this ghostly, black seascape to ourselves.  From the shore came the occasional loom of car headlights, but the water itself was empty except for the waves.

Empty except for – whoops! – a huge, unlit buoy that came zooming towards Emmelène’s bow, having previously been hidden, in transit with Tammy’s shadowy form up ahead.  We just missed it.   I was surprised how fast we were moving, carried along by a decent tide and a force 3 or 4 from the NW.  We crossed the mouth of Southampton Water and followed the coast along Lee-on-Solent in a SE direction until we came to Fort Gilkicker; which, to my surprise, showed no visible light.

Pointing up to port, we tacked for some time to windward towards the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.  We were in the shelter of Gosport; nonetheless, the wind was stiffening somewhat and I considered reducing my sail by a panel, but thought better of it.

By now it was after 4am.   It was very dark.  Several things happened simultaneously in the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour: I had wrongly assumed that Tammy-Norie had started her motor to proceed through the mouth of the harbour; a car-ferry chose precisely the moment of our arrival to manoeuvre; and Richard’s VHF died.

Seeing the ferry, I had started my engine as a matter of reassurance, though it was still in neutral.  To my surprise (but totally within his COLREGs right of way), Richard tacked across my bow whereas I thought that he would continue in a straight line ahead of me.  I took evasive action, performing a nice 360° pirouette and wishing I had reduced sail earlier.  By now we were fully exposed to the strongest wind I have ever sailed in, which was rocketing uninterrupted down Portsmouth harbour and out through the mouth.  Our previous shelter had disappeared.

So had Richard.  Tammy Norie was nowhere to be seen – or heard.  I had last seen him a few metres off my stern after I’d turned to avoid him, but he had not followed me through the harbour entrance.  My 5hp outboard, now in gear, was straining into the wind.  Thank goodness for the junk rig; with one hand, I could strike my sail quickly and completely.  My little boat inched forwards and I managed to pick up a Royal-Navy mooring, to port between Trinity’s Lightship and the Gosport Ferry.  Full of good intentions, I decided to wait for Tammy to appear and began repetitious calls to her on the VHF while preparing some hot chocolate on the stove.  The wind howled outside and sounded intimidating to my inexperienced ears.  I was tired, cold and worried about Richard. I wondered if he wanted help.

“Tammy-Norie, Tammy-Norie, Tammy-Norie, this is Emmelène, Emmelène, Emmelène, over.”   I repeated this call, to no avail, every couple of minutes.

However, Richard, though he had far greater problems on board, is not a man to fluster.  Having earlier avoided hitting Emmelène due to my being too close to him (especially his being under sail, whilst I had my motor on), he had been forced to bear away and head back out, away from the harbour, to gain sea room.  The ferry steamed quickly past, aglow with lights.  Now Richard tried his motor; but his pull-cord broke, so he had to use the emergency-starting system which involves partially dismounting the top of the engine.  Naturally, all this took time, in the dark.  He tried to call me: but his VHF had simultaneously died.

What I learned from this is:

  • Never follow a lead-boat too close or assume she has begun motor-sailing
  • Reef early
  • Problems occur in plural
  • Knowing in advance about those available Navy buoys enabled me to bail-out and wait in safety. Richard had done a great job during our pre-sail briefing, explaining safe havens.  I had never sailed into Portsmouth Harbour before, let alone at night.  But I picked up that mooring easily in the darkness, because I knew it was there.

BEEP! BRR! My breast-pocket buzzed and vibrated and I realised that I had fallen sound asleep in my cabin, on my borrowed-Navy mooring, in full storm gear, boots included.  Richard was calling me, using his phone instead of the VHF.   He had sorted his engine and was approaching my position.

We motored up to Fareham in the grey dawn, without further incident.  I was cold and irritable with fatigue when we finally moored up, and dropped into my bunk very quickly.  When I woke up, Richard’s cheery face was in Emmelène’s companionway, handing me a hot McDonald’s breakfast, steaming in its brown-paper bag.  The coffee smelt wonderful.  Our night-sail was over.

100. Junks sail across the night - sail was over



Emmelène’s first voyage

98. Emmelène's First Voyage - first voyage - 1

97. Emmelène's First Voyage - first voyage - 2

“Maybe this was a mistake,” I admit to thinking, as the Solent’s waves suddenly seemed to increase in size, and spray came over the cabin-top for the first time.  The steely sky frowned down and the wind, gusting in squalls, seemed to change direction all the time.  There were no other sails visible: just huge ships bearing quickly down the channel.

96. Emmelène's First Voyage - down the channel

I pointed our bow towards Lee-on-Solent and scanned the horizon, hoping to catch sight of Tammy Norie, our sister ship and fellow-Coromandel.  She was nowhere to be seen, as yet.  My first voyage was under way, alone at the helm of Emmelène at last.

That was my first and only moment of doubt.  The rest of the trip was simply fun.

Even in that initial moment of worry, the boat was fine: Emmelène was having a great time; two panels reefed, she danced joyfully and powerfully over the waves and seemed to want to sail onwards for ever.  The only problem was psychological.  My inexperience seemed to be shouting insults at me, as if to say, “Ha!  Think you can do this, ya sissie?  Just read a load of sailing books and head off for a voyage, single-handed?  How’s ya breakfast feeling now?!”  And so on.  I realised how little I know.  But it was just a moment.

Because my little Coromandel junk took care of me.  These were not big seas, despite how they felt to me – it was just a bit of wind over tide and we sailed through it into fairer water.  Then I realised that I didn’t feel sick at all; just the remnants of slight fear.  Fear of failure.  But here we were, making excellent progress.  The fear evolved into elation.

95. Emmelène's First Voyage - evolved into elation

Through the misty horizon came Tammy-Norie’s familiar Hasler-style crimson junk sail, making for Ryde and tacking westwards up the Solent.  Emmelène was on the opposite tack, a mile east, heading towards Lee-on-Solent.  We maintained our opposing courses.  Tammy leapt ahead, making way to windward, and it took me a while to realise that she was simply being sailed better:  Richard was making use of the currents along the north coast of the Isle of Wight, whilst I was fighting the tide, frequently crossing the shipping lane, and generally broadcasting my rookie status.  I humbly began to follow him.

94. Emmelène's First Voyage - to follow him

And then, to my surprise, I overtook Tammy-Norie.  This is because of my new sail.  It’s significantly bigger than Tammy’s.   Mine is almost 20.4m² whereas Tammy’s measures, I believe, 18.3m².  Although I was reefed down a panel or two, I still had the bigger sail area.  This simple mathematical advantage improved my mood and confidence immensely, and I felt as if I could probably make it to the Polynesian Isles before tea!

93. Emmelène's First Voyage - isles before tea

We were now sailing close enough to call across to each other and we decided to try to make for Newtown Creek to anchor overnight.  In a good wind, we beat up towards the river, two junks waltzing to windward as the sun began to set.  We motored in to the creek as the wind subsided.

92. Emmelène's First Voyage - wind subsided -1

91. Emmelène's First Voyage - wind subsided -2

We anchored at the top of the “legal” area, where several other yachts had moored.   Rafting up our two Coromandels, we had some dinner and then I fell asleep in Emmelène’s quarter berth, looking up, through the open companionway hatch, at the clear stars.  It couldn’t have been a better day.

90. Emmelène's First Voyage - a better day

Day two started with a “re-positioning” of our two junks: we motored through the calm, sublime dawn from Newtown Creek to Keyhaven, to await the favourable tide westwards.  This photo of Tammy hasn’t been Photo-shopped or filtered in any way – the view from my stern was exactly this:

89. Emmelène's First Voyage - was exactly this

It was a timeless pleasure to hang around for a few hours on the sunny dock in Keyhaven, doing odd jobs aboard, making breakfast, and chatting to passers-by, who were intrigued by our strange sails.  Dinghies sailed past and children played on the little beach.  It felt like (I imagine) a summer’s day back in the 1950s.

88. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 1

87. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 2

86. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 3

85. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 4

84. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 5

83. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 6

82. Emmelène's First Voyage - back in the 1950s - 7

Soon the tide swung in our favour, and we headed out past Hurst Castle and set course for Poole Harbour, where I have sailed a lot in the past as member of the excellent NHYC – North Haven Yacht Club.  As far back as 1983, I circumnavigated Brownsea Island (in Poole Harbour) as a Scout, aboard a “borrowed” Mirror Dinghy with a mate, returning two hours later to the wrath of our Scout leader who was understandably frantic with worry at the idea of having lost two of his troop.  (Being 11 years old, we had not mentioned our departure or intentions).

81. Emmelène's First Voyage - departure or intentions - 2

80. Emmelène's First Voyage - departure or intentions - 1

By this stage, Tammy-Norie and I were in VHF contact with Peter Brown, my friend from NHYC, who had sailed out to meet us aboard his well-found Westerly Pageant, Karenzi.  Due to his crew’s shore commitments, Peter had to return to Poole ahead of us, but we were grateful to him for organising us a comfortable mooring as guests of NHYC.

78. Emmelène's First Voyage - guests of NHYC

We were now on a beam reach, sailing due west across Christchurch Bay and Poole Bay in very light airs.  For most of the way, the tide was with us and we made 3 or 4 knots over ground.  Gradually, Emmelène drew ahead of Tammy-Norie, despite my choice not to trim the sail (or remove my 2 panels of reef) because I became happily distracted by my book, “The Idiot” by Dostoyevsky, which I sat in the cockpit reading, for about two hours, only looking up periodically to check our progress and to look for other boats in the vicinity.

This says a lot about the ease of use of the junk rig:  in light airs, it sails OK regardless of whether I faff with the sail trim; the rudder sits happily amidships whether or not the tiller is lashed, because of the balanced rig; and the whole setup is relaxed enough to enable an inexperienced cruiser (me) to read his book and drink tea while making a single-handed coastal passage.   I was half inclined to have a sleep, but Poole Harbour was coming into view.

77. Emmelène's First Voyage - coming into view

We motored in through the very busy harbour mouth, with its strong counter-current and chain ferry to bear in mind.  As we made our way towards our mooring, two friends of mine, Bobi and Colin, drew alongside in their powerful fishing motor-catamaran and threw me a bag containing two freshly-caught mackerel for our dinner.  A wonderful welcome to Poole.  Thanks, guys!

76. Emmelène's First Voyage - thanks guys - 1

75. Emmelène's First Voyage - thanks guys - 2

74. Emmelène's First Voyage - thanks guys - 3

73. Emmelène's First Voyage - thanks guys - 4

We spent the next two days sailing around Poole, in the company of Amiina, Edward Hooper’s delightful Splinter 21 with the split-junk rig.

72. Emmelène's First Voyage - the split junk rig

Edward’s previous sail is now on Emmelène, so the two boats look almost identical from a distance.  They even feature the same sail number, which is an oversight that I must correct this winter.  Edward’s main interest is in racing, and little Amiina is sprightly indeed, with her fin-keel and experienced skipper.  We had a lot of fun comparing boats and it was truly inspiring to see three small junk-rigged yachts sailing in convoy.  We caused plenty of interest!  We were lucky to have Karenzi sail along with us, acting as the photographer’s boat and providing us with some very nice photos of the three junks.  Thanks, Peter and Heather!

71. Emmelène's First Voyage - Peter and Heather

Edward took these two photos from Amiina:

70. Emmelène's First Voyage - photos from Amiina - 1

69. Emmelène's First Voyage - photos from Amiina - 2

We rafted-up in South Deep, Poole Harbour for lunch:

68. Emmelène's First Voyage - harbour for lunch - 1

67. Emmelène's First Voyage - harbour for lunch -2

Richard has posted an excellent video to YouTube about this informal “junket” as well as other scenes from our little cruise, and he has kindly allowed me to link to it here:

And thank you Edward, for being so welcoming and hospitable:

66. Emmelène's First Voyage - welcoming and hospitable - 1


65. Emmelène's First Voyage - welcoming and hospitable - 2

64. Emmelène's First Voyage - welcoming and hospitable - 3

All too soon, after just a couple of nights in Poole Harbour, shore constraints meant that we had to leave and head back towards the Solent.  The wind was almost nonexistent but it’s amazing how a little bit of tide can carry you along.  My friend Jeremy sailed out with us, in his exquisite little Willow-Bay Shilling, Margherita, with her classic lines and gaff rig:

63. Emmelène's First Voyage - and gaff rig

Because of our becalmed state, I plucked up courage to raise my entire sail – all panels – and was surprised at the difference.  “No wind” suddenly became “some wind”.  Her skipper learned another lesson – and Emmelène sailed forward…

62. Emmelène's First Voyage - Emmelène sailed forward

's First Voyage - the Needles - 1

Richard suggested that we enter the Solent via the Needles Channel, which was a new route for me.  It was exciting to be so close to these spectacular rocky outcrops, and Emmelène seemed pleased, too.

61. Emmelène's First Voyage - seemed pleased too

Richard took these photos as we sailed towards and past the Needles:

59. Emmelène's First Voyage - the Needles - 2

58. Emmelène's First Voyage - the Needles - 3

's First Voyage - the Needles - 4

Having already seen Newtown River, we opted to rest in the mouth of Beaulieu River this time.  As soon as we had sailed in and anchored, two blokes came over to chat about our rig, one in a rowing dinghy and the other on a windsurfer.  We certainly had a social cruise!

My never having sailed in the dark, Richard very kindly suggested that we make a night passage, and he spent some time explaining the rudiments of nocturnal sailing.  Cups of tea in hand, with books and the chart spread out on Emmelène’s folding cabin-table, we went through the different types of ship-lighting patterns, and arranged a passage plan and also points of safety to which we could head if it all went wrong.  I’ll cover our night-sail in a later post – but it was very-enjoyable experience and unforgettable for me.

All in all, an excellent first cruise for me and Emmelène; and I know that Richard and Tammy-Norie enjoyed it, too.  I gained confidence and knowledge in light winds – and now feel ready to try slightly heavier weather conditions.  I cannot speak highly enough of the split-junk rig that I have retro-fitted to my Newbridge Coromandel.  It is brilliant.  My boat performed impeccably.

Special thanks to:

  • Richard and Tammy-Norie (his excellent blog is here) and several of the above photos are his, as is the video
  • Peter Brown, skipper, and his wife Heather, of Karenzi, at NHYC 
  • Amiina’s skipper, Edward Hooper, of the Junk-Rig Association (which is a global community of quality “junk people” – I recommend that, like me, you join it – right now!)

55. Emmelène's First Voyage - right now! - 2


Emmelène meets Tammy Norie

54. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - Tammy Norie

I have been following Richard’s blog about his Coromandel Tammy Norie for several years, and it has been a source of inspiration.  As have his videos.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when he told me that he was sailing in the Solent and would like to meet up.  I sailed Emmelène out towards Seaview (my first trial single-handed with my new sail) and there on the horizon was a familiar, red sail: Tammy’s Hasler-McLeod rig:

53. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - Hasler McLeod rig

We negotiated a vulgar and discourteous racing group of  scows, and headed towards Bembridge, against the tide,  in our convoy of two junks; a rare sight.

52. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - a rare sight -1

51. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - a rare sight -2

50. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - a rare sight -3

49. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - a rare sight -4

Once we were rafted up in the harbour, we spent several hours comparing our boats and doing maintenance.   In particular, I was very impressed with Richard’s “can-do” attitude.  His broad experience of the sea and of boat-maintenance in general is impressive, and in no time we had dropped his mast to check the fittings and to alter the course of his VHF-antenna lead.  He soldered some coaxial fittings and we changed a bolt at the foot of his folding mast.  These are all jobs that I would find slightly daunting, or would at least think carefully about before undertaking: but Richard leaped around both boats in his bare feet and was confident and un-phased by the various jobs we did (on both Coromandels).  I kept my note-pad handy as he chatted to me, because I want to remember the suggestions he made.  He had a wide array of useful tools aboard Tammy Norie.

48. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - aboard Tammy Norie

We enjoyed dinner in Emmelène’s cabin.   Toulouse sausages, lentils and Chianti wine.

Next morning, we both went out for a sail aboard Emmelène in order for Richard to compare his rig with my split-junk rig.  Although my rig is more complicated and experiences higher tensions than the Hasler-McLeod rig, he was pleased with Emmelène’s ability to point to windward- and her balance: the helm remained utterly central for fairly long periods, even if unattended.  Richard pointed out that this may be a useful feature when I come to build my Hebridean wind-vane: a balanced rudder will make less work for the self-steering.

47. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - the self steering

It was wonderful to sail together and very enriching to meet Richard and Tammy Norie. Here’s hoping that we will be able to meet again soon and perhaps involve some other junks in a rally.

Thank you, Richard, for making the effort to come out to Bembridge, and for all the advice and guidance!

46. Emmelène meets Tammy Norie - advice and guidance


New Honda BF5 outboard: how I resolved the stiff gear-change

Having experienced several problems with my previous outboard, a second-hand 2-stroke 6HP Yamaha which came with my former boat, I decided that I would buy a new one.  Brand new.

The reason for this is that the old outboard was basically a very good-quality one, but had been extremely neglected, unused, with old petrol left in for years and even the engine itself abandoned aboard the boat and in the lowered position, meaning that the propeller and shaft had spent several winters in the sea water.  The whole engine was unloved and corroded externally. Inside the carburettor, I found a varnish / tar-like substance, which clogged the jet and float chamber.  Elsewhere, a dead sparkplug and leaking petrol connector added to the neglect.  The inside of the built-in petrol tank was rusty.  It was sad to see such disregard for a piece of engineering.

The owner is as important as the engine: a good engine can be ruined by a negligent owner.


I did my best, spending time and money in order to get that Yamaha running.  I replaced all consumables and several other items – even the rusty tank-cap, which was memorably expensive.

The Yamaha engine worked OK for three seasons but I was always rather concerned that it wouldn’t start.  Stuck on a lee shore outside Poole Harbour, drifting fast towards a groyne of huge rocks, I hurt my hand repeatedly pulling on the starter cord.  It fired at the critical last moment, on the tenth pull.  This was after servicing the engine: not before.  Once it was running, it was generally quite good: but I had no hesitation in selling it on, with the boat.  Of course, I was totally open with the buyer and he was pleased that the engine was in far better shape than it had been when I acquired it.

The new outboard:

My current boat, little Coromandel, Emmelène, came without an outboard.  I had borrowed an excellent Honda 4-stroke in order to move the boat when I first bought it (thanks, Peter!) and was impressed with its ability to push those weed-covered bilge keels through the water despite being only rated at 2.5hp.  Here it is:

24904549164_d2a2ba78dc_o (1)

The Coromandel was recommended to have an outboard “up to 7.5hp” – if my memory of reading the brochure is correct; but I opted for a 5hp Honda BF5 with a long shaft.  I debated long-shaft or short-shaft for a long time, and am pleased that I went with the former for the Coromandel.

The decision to go with Honda was simply based on the brand’s good reputation and my admiration for the build-quality of their cars and motorbikes; I’ve maintained both.  They are brilliantly-made machines, and easy to work on.

Here is the new Honda BF5 long-shaft engine on its first day on the job:


The BF5 long-shaft weighs 28kg.  It’s just about as much mass as I would ever want to carry down to the boat.  It’s a mighty relief when it is finally resting on its mount, or laying in the back of the car!

The outboard sits in an engine well, on my boat.  This has various advantages and disadvantages compared to a stern-bracket.  The BF5 is quite a physically-big beast at the top end, and has to be twisted in order to close the hatch.  But it just about fits.

This is how much it protrudes from the outboard well:



The outboard ran perfectly for its first season last year, though it was only used for about 20 hours.  I changed the engine and gearbox oils during the winter, and flushed it through with fresh water before running the carburettor dry.  A quick spray of WD40 and it stood upright all winter, at home.

At the start of the new season, it again ran perfectly and got some quite intensive use around launch time this spring, as we moved the boat under motor along the Solent to her summer mooring.

At that point, the 1-year warranty expired.

The stiff gear change:

Within weeks of the start of the second season (and little use other than pottering round) the gear selector became noticeably stiff.  I needed two hands to budge the gear lever; and even then, it was hard.  I didn’t want to force it because the handle is made of plastic.

Back ashore came the outboard – again I was happy not to have an inboard engine – and home to Dad’s workshop.

Online, I found a lot of references to this problem for the Honda BF5.  Especially this excellent post, which I followed to the letter.

In summary, the plastic gear lever rotates a shaft.  At the other end of the shaft is a connection to the rods which actually transfer the movement down the inside of the case to the gearbox behind the propeller.

Unbelievably, this connection is directly in the path of the cooling water (salt sea water) and that salt water naturally finds its way along the shaft towards the handle – and corrodes the aluminium casing around it.  The shaft is protected from the casing by a plastic (nylon?) cylindrical bush, which gets crushed by the corrosion – making the gear change very stiff.  It eventually blocks completely.  It’s important to resolve the issue before then, as I did; otherwise it’s hard to remove the shaft from the plastic bush.

Accessing this shaft takes time – the motor itself has to come out and the pan has to be dropped.  This sounds OK and if you’re methodical, you can do it.   I followed the instructions at the above link.  But it took me a whole afternoon.  The mechanism was literally caked in salt.  I had to chip it off.

In the photo below, the connection to the rods is on the right, and the blocked shaft runs towards the left of the photo from there, through the engine casing and out towards the gear-change handle, out of shot on the left.


In the photo below, taken in the opposite direction, I have cleaned off the salt and you can see the black gear-change handle on the right:


Once you have pulled the shaft out of the bush, you drill or ream the bush to make the hole a bit bigger and then check the shaft rotates easily.  A little waterproof grease helps.  But the main thing is enlarging the hole.   You may use a drill, but an old-fashioned reamer does an even better job.  Guess who did that for me?


Then, slowly and carefully, you put the whole outboard back together.  I was gratified when mine started in the test tank– and the gear change was as easy as pie, with one hand, as it should be.

Note to Honda: this is a design fault and the BF5 gear change mechanism is unfit for purpose.  It should definitely not stiffen after 30 hours use from new.  It would be easy to protect it from pumped salt water and the plastic bush should be a much looser fit, right from the factory.  This is because it’s going to get stiffer, not looser, as the engine gradually corrodes in a marine environment.

Epilogue: the positive aspect of dismantling a one-year old Honda BF5 outboard is that I now feel utterly familiar with its layout and would be happier working on it if a crisis arose aboard.   I wish that I hadn’t had to: but now I have learned something.  Time for a cuppa, to celebrate.