Today we sailed Moonpenny from Ipswich to London – Saturday

Overslept and running late, we woke up with a jolt. Steph was all systems on, go go go!!!

The panic and general shock of being ordered around by Steph sent Emma into tears. I later discovered that this would be a common theme that would run throughout future sailing trips in months and years to come.

We set off armed with our mobile telephones, and Steph’s dad’s handheld plotter. Emma and I were clothed in my snowboarding gear, and wearing fetching fluorescent orange buoyancy aids that my dad lent us. At the time I was completely oblivious to the fact that these ‘buoyancy aids’ would be completely useless in the event of a MOB and served no purpose other than to send signals to passing sailors that we were total noobs with no sense of safety.

The weather outlook looked fine to me and Emma, of course we didn’t check any forecasts, though to be fair our trust was in Steph, and more importantly Bill (Stephs dad) who I was pretty convinced would not send his daughter out in any impending hurricanes.

So after leaving the marina we discovered we didn’t have any electrics: a flat battery was the cause. No electrics meant no radio, no depth sounder, no speed log and no navigation lights. This may sound worrying, but in the light of day with full mobile reception we looked to Steph for signs of reassurance, which we got. We assumed we’d always have mobile phone reception.

After the epic fail that the battery Steve had given us was a dud, I decided breakfast was in order to lift the crew’s spirits. I still don’t know to this day why I didn’t test the cooker out before our 2 day trip. So I turned the gas on, turned the cooker on and lit the hob ready for scrumptious bacon sandwiches. The following event would live with me forever. As I lit the hob, a flame came from under the grill, rose up and licked me on the chin whilst I stood tall. Emma and Steph shouted down “is everything ok?’, ‘Yes’ I replied as I reached for the fire blanket. One of the girls clocked the events and it dawned on Emma (and me) that we had only brought foods that required cooking, apart from a few packets of Haribo! To the girls, the idea of no food for two days was more reason to turn back, than dodging tankers at night with no radio or navigation lights.  Women! Luckily after a few attempts, I managed to ‘blow’ the flame that kept creeping up from under the stove whilst retaining the hob flame, and my eyebrows. Bacon sandwiches shortly followed, and a sigh of relief from all of us. We were happy to continue.

The weather picked up, the clouds drew in and the sea started to get lumpy. I spent a little time feeling a bit green whilst making lunch down below, which I cured by taking a short nap laying on my back down in the cabin. Emma assumed one of two positions, head tucked into big orange useless buoyancy aid, resembling a tortoise with its head in it’s shell, or eyes wide open clutching the boat as we appeared to roll over increasingly further time after time. Whilst all this was happening, Steph held a steadfast position at the helm, tiller in hand, occasionally calling her dad. We never really knew the true content of the conversations though there was a lot of ‘it’ll be fine dad’ which didn’t fill me with an ounce of confidence. However a fake smile to Emma seemed like the best form of response in a situation that was all my fault.

As the light started to fade, we had endured quite some time motoring against the tide, penalty for our late departure. Steph’s plan to stop off in Queenborough was no longer on the cards, our aim was to pick up a swinging mooring on the Thames in the dark. More smiles and nods to Emma were required.

It was dark, we were all tired, the handheld plotter had so far navigated us safely into the Thames estuary. We were still motoring, but now invisible to tankers and any other marine traffic. When it’s dark, its almost impossible to distinguish marine traffic from the shore lights, though eventually it is possible to determine larger black shapes, with a myriad of lights when they appear. These are called tankers, tankers that move fast. We had a few scares when shore lights transformed into tankers, we had to avoid them at all costs as they sure as hell wouldn’t be moving for us, and if we did collide they probably would not know about it.

Motoring on the wrong side of the Thames unlit at night is not to be recommended.  Steph informed us we were looking for a swinging mooring, and when out of nowhere a bright light motored up to us at incredible speed, it was the harbor master. After we explained our batteries had failed and that we were looking for a swinging mooring, they kindly showed us the way back to the swinging mooring’s where after 2 tries we picked up a buoy, paid them for there services and thanked them over and over for their help. I can’t recall what the going rate was, but I was more than happy to reimburse them for their help.

We quickly chowed down some food and hit the sack.

I think the anchor came loose in the night, either that or we were systematically pounding the buoy.  I just remember thinking that the noises didn’t sound healthy and hoped Moonpenny wouldn’t be holed just a short distance from her new home. I managed to get some sleep, occasionally waking to sounds that were so unfamiliar to me at the time. Nowadays they’re more therapeutic, a sign of just how much more comfortable I feel onboard boats since that night.







The wind was right on our nose, so we motored all day with the mail up.

Author: Tim Butler

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