Deadman’s Island, Ooze and Bridges – Yoda’s Island Adventure Continues…
Funny old weekend – guess that’s a fair summary of the last two days sailing! So where to begin – well I guess a 5am alarm was the painful start to the weekend – but if you’re on a mission that’s how life is. The mission for this little RS Aero (Yoda) is to sail around all the islands in England and Wales – any ideas how many there are? (answer at the end – no peeping until then).
Well, significantly more islands than you might think – that’s a lot of miles of sailing – and a lot of miles driving in Snowy our beloved campervan. So why do something so crazy? In a word, Cancer. Having lost my father and mother-in-law to the disease I’m trying to raise £50,000 for Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice to help the fight against Cancer. Last year I sailed Yoda from Lands End to just short of John O’Groats in the adventure that was www.racetoscotland.co.uk
. That amazing 865mile adventure raised a staggering £37,015.85 for the charities but left me with unfinished business – the need to raise the remaining money. Having fallen short by £12,984.15 the aim is to try and raise that missing amount by taking on this dizzy challenge of dinghy sailing around all the islands in England and Wales. Funnily enough, no one has ever done it before.
Anyway back to the weekend – having survived the M25 I turned up to 'base camp' otherwise known as the car park opposite the “Ship On Shore” pub. As I walked Yoda down the road 500 metres to the sailing club I came to an abrupt halt and looked around to see what the trolley had caught on, seeing no obvious reason I gave it a good hard tug and still no joy. The driver of the Mercedes at the front of the traffic jam I had created gave me a hand signal which I first thought was showing his displeasure at a dinghy creating all this carnage on the road. I then realised he was pointing to the telephone wire I had managed to snag my mast against. Finally extracting myself from this humiliation I made it to the safety of the sailing club slipway having learnt a new sailing skill – lookout for telephone wires.
I registered for the Isle Of Sheppey race in the clubhouse and then kindly declined their offer of around the can racing that afternoon – I had islands to round! Launching from the shore was relatively simple and a planing reach soon brought me to the entrance to the Medway estuary. The estuary was new sailing ground to me and a place where my Garmin GPS was going to be essential to navigate the best route around the islands. It’s a maze of marsh-like islands interspersed with forts, submerged wrecks, ports and disused lightships – quite an eclectic place. My first target for the day was the inspiringly titled 'Deadman’s Island' – named after all the men and boys who were buried there over 200 years ago after dying on the floating prisons in the Medway. Apparently, at low tide, you can see the coffins and bones as they are being eroded from the mud. Luckily for me, it was relatively high tide so I avoided that gruesome sight and had a chance to get around the island. After 22 tacks in a narrow channel, the island was bagged and more beckoned. Using a snaking path to minimise the miles sailed I wound my way around the marsh like low lying islands and four more were quickly bagged – with the minor inconvenience of a couple of groundings in the local mud fondly referred to as 'Ooze' (love that word). With the big tides in this area – over 5 metres variation – I was already in a battle against time to make it to the Western most islands and Forts Hoo and Darnet. Pinch points between islands really compressed the tide against me and it was a case of using any tidal shadow possible to help progress upwind – why is it always upwind?
My tactic of staying out of the main channel was paying off as I passed several cruisers fighting their way upwind and at last the haunting outline of Fort Darnet was finally in touching distance – with a defensive circle of abandoned barges surrounding it. A quick dash across the tidal drift of the main channel brought me to Fort Hoo and the eclectic collection of lightships, houseboats and wrecks of Hoo Ness. Conditions were getting really gusty with a front coming through and I watched some of the dinghy racers from Wilsonian Sailing club enjoying an early bath in the distance. Finally, the top end of the island was reached and it was payback time with wind and tide behind me. Reaching down the main channel was a blast after the last couple of hours upwind and I thought maybe I could bag one more island off to my right. As I passed the channel marker all was going well until 'Revenge of the ooze' brought me to a grinding halt! Realising that the tide had beaten me I extracted myself from the grip of the ooze and headed back out of the estuary to the Isle Of Sheppey sailing club. Finally emerging by the desolate Grain Tower battery for a last gybe of the day it was then a blast all the way back to the sailing club.
So that was 9 islands bagged in 5.5 hours and 35 miles sailed. I’d missed a couple of islands due to the tide preventing me getting there, but overall a successful day. Now for a night in the van in the pub Car Park and the challenge of the Isle Of Sheppey race tomorrow.
As I open the campervan curtains my previously quiet car park has become a hive of activity with windsurfers, sailors, trailers and dinghies. It’s race day.
Walking Yoda down the road again – mast down this time to save repeated embarrassment – the day has a really different feel – there’s a buzz around and even the sun has decided to make an appearance! Drop the boat off at the now busy beach and then off into the club to find out about the course. Bit of a different brief to the usual one this – can’t remember the last time I heard submarine barrages, phone numbers if you abandon and how to get your boat under the bridge mentioned in a race brief. Questions about queue jumping at the bridge made me laugh – not sure which sailing rule covers this one.
All briefed it was time to launch – I’m in the second of 4 starts – each 30 minutes apart. A few admiring glances and questions about my GPS chart plotter as I launch and then we’re off on a reaching start which continues for the next hour – this race is on a different scale! As we near the far eastern end of the island I’m hanging in there with the double handers, but as we turn in to wind to head up the Swale I’m struggling to keep up with them and start slipping down the field.
I think the cumulative effect of 35 miles sailing yesterday and not setting my kicker correctly this morning left me struggling to make the progress upwind. Some of the quicker fleet is passing me now – those Dart 18s don’t half shift! I’m aware that the tide turns around 1300, so I push on hoping to pass Milton Creek before then, but it’s a long slog upwind. At last, the river turns and I get a respite of a some reaching before turning upwind again for the approach to the Sheppey Crossing bridges.
The bigger bridge I’ve been looking at for the last few hours isn’t a problem – easy to sail under. The lower bridge is more of a problem and gives the Isle Of Sheppey race one of its unique challenges. To pass under it you need to capsize your boat and walk it under the bridge – luckily with the help of the excellent volunteers that help make this race the great event it is! After a failed first attempt to make the landing point I’m successful second time around and soon the guys have me under the bridge safely and fighting the tide under the second larger bridge.
As the Swale emerges towards the Medway estuary the course provides some very welcome reaching and downwind sailing to help alleviate the aching muscles. Fellow sailors I pass all seem happy, probably reflecting in the fact that they will safely complete the race and have rounded the Isle Of Sheppey – some achievement. Passing the end of Deadman’s Island again I head out towards Grain Tower Battery for the last gybe of day and a reach back to the line, desperately trying to hold off the RS400 trying to catch me. A final hoot of relief from me and the finishing signal as I cross the line with the double hander still behind me - 66 miles sailed over two epic days. Having tallied back in, returned the tracker and thanked all the great race team, it’s time for the final walk down the road, wet and tired, but elated with bagging one of the biggest islands of the Yodare Island adventure.
Great to have shared an island rounding with 50 plus other sailors and to have participated in a genuinely different race. The sense of achievement of making your way all the way around the only “mark” in the race was great – give it a go – you won’t regret it.
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And finally……the answer to the question – how many islands? About 148 discovered so far – that should keep me busy for a quite a while. Happy sailing and why not go out there and find your own Aeroventure.