Tuesday 28 August 2012

Gibraltar to Ipswich UK, a Curious Adventure

May – June 2012

After leaving from Gibraltar’s Queensway Marina our first stop was around the corner at the fuel dock to top Curious’ fuel tanks up to the brim with tax free diesel. We then  headed out through the famous straights leaving the Mediterranean behind. This was first for us as we had never sailed in the Atlantic Ocean before. Curious is a beautiful Oyster 56 and we felt privileged to be crewing on her again.
Karen on the stern of Curious as we leave Gibraltar behind

On board with us were Steve, the owner, Terry a former employee and long time friend of Steve’s and of course Phil. We three sleep deprived recent arrivals after our flight fiasco from the UK were far from feeling like the sharpest knives in the draw but we were really pleased to be underway.

Steve’s passage plan was fairly basic. Head up the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coasts letting the weather determine when and how far. If the wind was favourable we would keep going even if it meant a non-stop trip. If not we pick a port to shelter in and wait for more favourable conditions. His patience was tested right from the start as a strong wind accompanied by big waves blew straight down the coast from the direction we wanted to go.

Regardless we set stay sail and reefed main and tacked to windward out to sea. Considering the conditions, we were making good speed and racking up the miles. The sea state was taking its toll on the weary members of the crew though. Karen went below to the galley to help Steve get lunch and suddenly reappeared on deck saying she felt very hot, clammy and a bit strange. Steve suggested from below that he didn’t need any help and to sit for a while but she insisted she’d be fine. Sixty seconds after Karen went back down to the galley it was Steve who appeared on deck seeking the fresh air and announcing that Karen had just been ill in the sink. Eeewww!

After doing a sterling job of cleaning away all evidence of her whoopsie, a slightly sheepish Karen could only say ‘So that’s what being seasick is like.’ She had not experienced the sensation since being a small child and had simply not recognised the warning signs. After lunch Steve insisted that we and Phil all go and get some sleep. We’d been resisting the idea because none of us really fancied trying to sleep with the boat bouncing all over the place but, despite regular episodes of weightlessness as Curious dropped down the face of waves leaving us momentarily suspended in mid air above our bunks, we not surprisingly all fell asleep fairly quickly.

What did wake us about three hours later was the sudden LACK of wild boat motion. Looking out the port hole we saw that we had entered a deep bay and were behind the protection of a tall headland. All the wave action had stopped almost instantly. Steve had run up the white flag for the day and elected to go into a little marina at Barbate. The wind was making any real forward progress very difficult and the latest forecasts showed another 36 hours of the same was ahead of us. After sailing over 50 nautical miles to advance just 20 miles up the coast, and with three of his crew not quite at peak fitness, he wisely decided sitting the bad weather out in harbour was by far the best option.

Funnily enough, we were familiar with the marina as we had called in for a look a month earlier during our Spanish road tripping. After getting checked in and securely tied up in the marina Steve began cooking dinner, briefly. Oops! The gas ran out. Double oops! It was too late to buy more anywhere. Maybe we could borrow a cylinder off someone and replace it tomorrow.

Looking around the marina it was clear that most of the boats were all secured in their winter covers and not occupied but Phil spotted one likely possibility flying a German flag with people aboard on the far side.  So off went he and Karen to see what could be scrounged. Phil and Karen’s German language skills are non-existent and as it turned out, our cruising friends on the yacht had only slightly better English. Despite this drawback, through a mixture of hand signals, charades and a spattering of words that were understood the message was successfully conveyed and although they had no spare normal gas cylinder they were kind enough to loan us their deck BBQ fuelled by a mini canister.

Meanwhile Steve had experienced a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). Coming up with the same solution he was busily extracting Curious’ deck BBQ from deep in a storage locker as Phil and Karen returned with their score. Two’s better than one when you’re cooking for five hungry sailors, and as it was way too cold on deck the galley was soon wall to wall BBQs. After a great dinner the borrowed was returned along with a nice bottle red as thanks and we all hit the bunks fairly early. It had been a very big day. 

With dark skies and the wind still howling from the north, day two of our Curious adventure comprised of a sleep in, leisurely breakfast, nice chat with the Brit who was  on an old classic timber boat beside us in the marina.  Then we walked into town to obtain some gas and enjoy a nice lunch at one of the bars followed by a bit of exploring around this old fishing port. We were early to bed again that night as we had a pre-dawn departure planned for the morning.
With strong winds and skies like this it's easy to see why we stayed in port
L-R Steve, Terry, Rob, chap off the classic and Karen. Phil had the camera
Sunset over Barbate
By the time the sun turned the eastern sky into an orange wash  and finally peeked over the horizon as a burning red orb we were well out to sea and on our way north. We sailed past the lighthouse at Cape Trafalgar and over the waters of the bay of the same name where over three and a half thousand sailors, including Lord Nelson, lost their lives in 1805. The wind was still quite strong and the Atlantic swells rolling in towards the coast made sure one hand was always firmly attached to the boat somewhere whenever we moved around. It’s still reasonably cold in May and salt water spraying inboard was enough to make sure we were all wrapped in our best wet weather gear. Watching passing big ships smash into massive waves was a vivid reminder of the power of the ocean.

Curious though was dancing up and over those same waves and making good progress under sail. Looking at the weather forecasts for further up the coast though Steve decided our best plan would be to shelter in Cadiz for the afternoon and head on to Cabo  de Sao Vincent (Cape St Vincent) later that night. So after completing another 60 nautical miles we dropped anchor mid afternoon in calm waters protected by the breakwaters of the marina.
Karen stacking some Z's on the way up to Cabo de Sao Vincent

We were underway again before midnight and enjoyed a fantastic night sail dodging fishing fleets along up the coast. Cabo  de Sao Vincent is very high and protrudes well out into the Atlantic providing very good shelter from Northerlies in a couple of small bays on its southern side. We completed another 150 nautical miles of our trip with calm seas but hugging the coastline as we approached in the late afternoon, big seas could be seen rolling around the point itself but shielded by high, steep cliffs we were able to anchor in dead flat water. From the deck we looked up the sheer rock faces and high walls atop and were very thankful we weren’t in this same spot in different circumstances a few hundred years earlier. Perish the thought of Captain Steve issuing the order, ‘Oberg, take these men with you, scale the cliff, breach the walls, subdue the enemy and capture that fortress. On with it then, that’s a good chap
We're glad we didn't have to storm those castle walls

Steve’s weather planning was working a treat. When we rounded Cabo  de Sao Vincent very early on the morning of May 23 we were met with light winds and gentle rolling swells and had a very uneventful motor-sail 101 nautical miles cruising along the spectacular Portuguese coast  before putting into the marina at Cascais. We were delighted to find a number of the round the world racers in the marina doing their preparations and were able to have a close up look over them. Mmmmm! Creature comforts aboard are very, very scarce indeed. They might be frighteningly fast but we couldn’t see ourselves crossing oceans in them.
Leaving Cabo de Sao Vincent  behind

After studying the forecasts Steve suggested if we stayed the following day and left the day after we should get a pretty good weather window to go all the way through to the UK. A day off in Portugal? Fine by us.  Cascais is THE place the IN people go to in Portugal and we could see why. It’s a beautiful coastal town with well preserved classical buildings and a string of very nice beaches. We really enjoyed the architecture as we wandered  around the narrow old streets that have all been paved and turned into pedestrian zones. It’s also incredibly clean. Such a nice change to so many of the places we have visited in our wanderings over the last year.
The Vendee round the world race yachts were very impressive
Cascais was a very enjoyable stopover

The only problem was we were here a bit too soon.   Large billboards proclaimed that the European Rally for the Harley Owners Group, HOG, was scheduled for just three weeks later. Harleys being one of our other serious passions,  Rob was seriously trying to work out whether we could get back for it. Oh well. We can’t do everything.

After a very nice, long lunch enjoyed with all the Curious crew we strolled back to the marina and then up and down the fingers checking out all the boats, big and small, before turning in early to make as big a deposit as possible in the sleep bank. Tomorrow was the start of the biggest part of our passage which included the notorious Bay of Biscay, famous for huge seas and even bigger storms.

We were up and away early on May 25, too early in fact. All of us were very pumped up and ready to take on the Eight Hundred plus miles ahead of us. We slipped the lines at 7.58 , glided across the glassy, just post dawn water around the corner to the fuel dock to top up before heading off and , it was closed. Oops. So it’s the marina office that opens at eight. The fuel dock opens at nine. Oh well it was a nice morning to be up anyway. After much twiddling of thumbs and pacing up and down the dock by Steve our tanks were finally full and we were on our way.

Spectacular Portuguese coastline

To make the most of the good wind we were experiencing after intially hugging the coast we had to head a bit further from the coast than we’d been enjoying  but what we missed out on regarding scenery was made up for by the sailing. It was great. We were also visited by a large pod of dolphins who played around the boat for over half an hour darting in to race the bow and entertaining us with acrobatic leaps from the water. Curious was revelling in the conditions and in the first 24 hours we’d logged 208 nautical miles (385 kilometres) despite having a strong coastal current running against us.
Phil - laid back as always
These guys are always very welcome visitors
They love playing around the bow

The good progress continued all the following day as we settled into our watch routine. With four crew available, we’d decided to leave Skipper Steve out of the rotation. The four of us worked on a four hour watch between 6.00 and 18.00 hours and then on a three hour rotation during the night. This meant we all progressed through the different watches rather than each of us doing the same time slots every day. With Steve on call whenever needed it worked extremely well. Four hours was fine during the day but with the nights being colder, three was well and truly long enough to be on deck.

 We were looking forward to sailing past the famous Cape Finistere which marks the entry into the Bay of Biscay but as we’d been pushed out to sea on day one we weren’t overly confident we’d be in sight of it but at 18.30 on May 26 we passed the iconic lighthouse in the distance. Steve crossed Biscay on Curious on the outward journey five years previously but the rest of us were first timers and a little apprehensive about this piece of ocean’s reputation but overnight the weather held much the same as it had been since Cascais, around 20 knots of wind and the sea state rough but not over the top. Incredibly in our second 24 hours we recorded and identical distance of 208 miles exactly.
Cape Finistere in the distance as we enter the Bay of Biscay

Once out into Biscay proper on May 27 Steve was hoping we’d get the forecast downwind run and by mid morning he’d got his wish. The wind turned to be behind us and we set Curious up with the headsail poled out on the port side and mainsail eased well out on the starboard. The beauty of the boat’s in mast furling was that it was relatively simple to reef in and reduce sail as required, and it was required at times. Before long we had consistent 25 to 35 knot wind and large swells pushing us on towards the UK. The boat was surfing down many of the swells planting the bow into the back of the wave in front. When we were joined by another pod of dolphins we were amazed when some started to play chicken, racing in from the side with perfect timing and jumping over the bow when it was buried in a wave.
Setting up to run wing on wing right through Biscay

Day three can be described very simply, same same. Having huge super tankers and container ships materialise out of the fog at near 20 knots and pass close by was more than enough to stop us getting bored on watch though. Fortunately Curious is equipped with AIS (Automatic Identification System) which displays approaching ships and their information on the chart plotter screen. This information includes vessel name, size, destination, course, speed and most importantly, closest point of approach. This shows how close a ship would come if both it and Curious maintained their current course and speed. Not only are those big ships details shown on our screen, but so too are Curious’ on theirs- if they’re bothering to look which we wonder about sometimes.

Forget the old power gives way to sail theory too. If we see a 300 metre long tanker on the plotter that’s coming anywhere near us we do all we can to get the hell out of the way. Those big boys take an awful lot of room to change direction and literally miles to come to a stop. Any approach closer than a nautical mile is considered a near miss.
England turned on magnificent weather for our approach to Dartmouth

For all its notorious reputation, we actually had a great run across the Bay of Biscay. It was windy with big swells but they came just from the right direction. While we did bounce around a fair bit and the sky was continually an oppressive grey overcast,  it was actually a very enjoyable sail. Just to provide Curious with the perfect welcome home to the UK, the wind died out completely just before the sun rose to reveal clear blue skies on May 29 leaving us to motor the last few miles through glassy seas into the stunning harbour of Dartmouth.
It was awesome sailing in past the old castle

This historic port is guarded by high cliffs and historic fortresses on both sides of the River Dart. Passing by the perfectly preserved, centuries old battlements and entering the river port itself is simply breathtaking . On each bank, predominantly white houses, some many centuries old, stretch up the high sloping hills contrasting with the emerald green pastures behind.  Looking upstream to where the river turns , the Britannia Royal Navy College where RN Officers have been trained since the 1800’s dominates the town from its position high on the hill.  It was simply the most amazing entry to a country we’d ever experienced.

Steve and his wife Trish had called into Dartmouth on their outward journey on Curious. On that occasion they had been fortunate enough to moor on the inside of the main ferry pontoon in the very centre of town. Naturally Steve was hoping to do so again and complete the circle. When he radioed the port control they indicated we’d be put on one of the mid river moorings where you have to dingy in and out but Steve went into his best pitch, ‘That’s such a shame. We started our world circumnavigation from the main pontoon here five years ago and had really hoped we might be able to finish it at the same spot today.’ Silence at first then a muted reply, ‘Wait a moment please Curious.’ Pause. ‘OK there’s a large motor vessel on the pontoon you may raft up beside it. Our man will guide you in.’
Jackpot! We tied up alongside at 10.00 on May 29 and Curious was back in British waters, 1,166 nautical miles after we left Gibraltar and almost 30,000 since she was last moored here in Dartmouth.

By 10.30 we were ensconced in Steve’s favourite breakfast spot Café Alf Resco enjoying huge English breakfasts. Awesome after four days at sea. We spent much of the day exploring the wonderful sights of the old town and marvelled at the age of many of the old buildings, and how out of square, far from level and even how much some leaned over.

Steve spent most of the day onboard. There were clearly many mixed emotions going on as it was great for him to be back in the UK but it also marked a huge step closer to the end of a five year phase of his life. He was also a little melancholy that his wife Trish wasn’t with him to share the moment but with their first grandchild, Anwen, now on the scene she was naturally enjoying some Nanny duties. While Curious had come from the Oyster boatyard in Ipswich, before Steve and Trish formerly took delivery of the boat she was displayed at a boat show in St Katherine Docks marina right next to the Tower Bridge in London. Steve had sailed the boat down with an Oyster staff member but it was in St Kat’s that Trish had come on board and they had really started their circumnavigation.

Steve had decided rather than going straight back to Ipswich, we’d detour up the Thames and spend  two nights in St Kat’s to truly complete the circle. Trish would join us in London for the final passage back up to Ipswich where Curious was to be sold.

Back on board that afternoon we heard Steve at his very best. This time he was phoning St Katherine Docks to book us into the marina so we only heard one side of the conversation which went in part , ‘I’d like to make a two night booking for our 56 foot yacht for this Friday and Saturday night, leaving with the tide Sunday.’    -   What do you mean the river’s closed on Sunday? How can the Thames River be closed?  -  ‘Oh! It’s the Queen’s Jubilee pageant on the river on Sunday. I didn’t realise that. OK We’ll leave on Monday then.’  -  ‘You’re fully booked up.  Oh! That’s such a shame. My wife and I started our world circumnavigation from St Kats five years ago and have really been looking forward to finishing it back there. We’re on our way now and she’ll be so disappointed.’  -  ‘Yes I’ll hold.’  -  ‘Yes we can raft up beside another boat, no problem. You can squeeze us in. That would be fantastic. Thank you so very much for helping us out. We’ll see you Friday.’

And so the scene was set for us to have absolute front row seats for all the action of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant right in the centre of London. Steve you’re the man. The funny thing was, none of us even knew there was to be a royal pageant until this very moment, although we then did suddenly realise why Dartmouth was heavily decorated in Union Jack bunting and flags absolutely everywhere.  We were soon to find out the whole country was likewise in party mode.

After a great day in Dartmouth we slipped the lines on May 30 and headed for London. We’d really been looking forward to this trip up the coast and were eager to see iconic landmarks along the way such as The Needles and White Cliffs of Dover. There was virtually zero wind so the sails stayed furled as we made our way up the English Channel in dead calm seas but unfortunately the sky was extremely hazy restricting visibility greatly. So much for seeing The Needles. Maybe the weather would be clearer in the morning by the time we passed Dover.

Steve had planned our departure time so that we would motor through the afternoon and night arriving at the Thames Estuary at the right time to take advantage of the run in tide. London is quite a way upriver from the sea so we would actually anchor part way up the Thames and continue on the following day to arrive at Tower Bridge near the top of the tide. Entry into the marina at St Katherine Docks is via a lock which can only be operated for about an hour each side of high tide.

The night remained dead calm and without a star to be seen, due to the thin but low cloud cover, it was truly eerie steaming along in a visual vacuum. You could not see a thing. We were extremely thankful that we sail in the era of GPS navigation, radar, and AIS. Forget the romance of the old ways. Sailing blind here and navigating by dead reckoning would have been absolutely frightening. No wonder the coasts and shoals are littered with wrecks. The English Channel can be a particularly busy place with hundreds of ships passing through every day but we managed to stay well out of everyone’s way and had an uneventful evening.

Rob was on watch in the morning and recounted not having a hope of discerning when the sun actually came up. The world simply changed slowly from pitch black through different shades of grey without visibility improving at all. We were now in for another new experience. Sailing in fog. Steve flicked the switch on Curious’ fog horn which then sounded automatically every minute. How civilised. We really do love this boat.

It was mid morning before the fog began to lift which at least provided us with glimpses of the White Cliffs of Dover, and the cross channel ferries buzzing past in front and behind. As we approached the Thames Estuary we passed what we believe is one of the last remaining light ships in Britain warning of shoals.
Look very carefully and you'll sse as much of the white cliffs of Dover as we saw
We had to dodge a few of these bad boys
A once common sight around the coast of Britain

Entering the estuary itself and heading upstream was akin to sailing into a time warp. We were suddenly motoring past all manner of square riggers, classic Thames Barges, and other craft from many years ago all making their way upstream. A bit of digging on the internet regarding the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and we found the explanation. Over 500 boats were going to take part in a sail past leading the Royal Barge down the Thames and many other classic craft were going to be lining the banks in salute. Now we really were getting excited about being in St Kat’s for this once in a lifetime experience.
Were we really still in 2012
What the?????
Making our way upstream we were amazed to see what looked like a number of the long legged, evil machines from the War of the Worlds appear out of the haze right in the middle of the estuary. Steve and Phil could both tell us they were defensive forts but couldn’t really elaborate much on their history. So it was back to the internet which informed us that these were Maunsell Army Forts built in the second world war for anti-aircraft defence. The several towers were built on land then floated out in 1943 and originally interconnected. They were abandoned in 1950 but the towers life didn’t end there. In 1964 Screaming Lord Sutch set up a pirate radio station in one of the towers. His project manager, Reginald Calvert, eventually took it over and expanded the operation into the five towers that were still connected and called it Radio City. The story got a little weirder when Calvert was killed by a guy called Oliver Smedley, owner of rival pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, who was later acquitted of murder on the grounds of self defence.  So the mystery of the War of the Worlds machines was solved. It’s amazing what you can find out through google.


As we headed up the Thames proper, it was fantastic watching the scenery along the river change as we approached London. We imagined how busy commercial navigation on the river must have been in past centuries before the advent of rail transport saw the majority of freight switch from London to the coastal ports. We also began to realise how privileged we were to be on board Curious for this trip and realised how relatively few people probably have the opportunity sail up the Thames and see all that we were seeing. As the light faded, we chose a quiet spot to anchor close to the bank and well out of the channel and enjoyed a couple of quiet sundowners with dinner.

Next day we continued our journey upstream and passed even more classic vessels from bygone eras along the way then Steve had to radio London Harbour Control for permission to pass through the engineering marvel of the Thames Barrage. Rounding the huge Millennium Dome we crossed Longitude 000.00.000E and sailed by the Greenwich Observatory and famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, sitting in her dry dock. Then there it was right ahead, the Tower Bridge.
The barrage is closed when high tide surges threaten to flood London city

We sailed across the equator in November on Atlantia  and now we sailed across
the meridian on Curious - another milestone in our sailing.
Greenwich Observatory on the hill
The Cutty Sark was the greyhound of the seas in a bygone era

We had arrived at St Katherine Docks just a little too early and were informed we’d would need to circle outside the lock until they called us in. So here we were on Curious completing her world circumnavigation doing circuits in the river past all the wonderful historic craft, brightly decorated and lined up on moorings along the banks, with the Royal Navy Band playing on the dock flanked by a guard of honour. Then what is these days a very rare occurrence took place as traffic was stopped and the Tower Bridge was raised. It may have all been part of the rehearsals for the Royal Pageant but we were happy to consider it a fitting welcome home for Steve and Curious after a wonderful five year odyssey around the globe.

A very happy skipper - congratulations Steve

A very fitting welcome home for Curious after her circumnavigation
Eventually the lock gates opened and as the biggest boat waiting to enter we were called in first. Eight smaller yachts and motorboats were then packed in around us before the lock gate closed and water was let in to raise us to the level of the marina. Tied alongside was a small 20 foot yacht and we chatted with the two guys on board as we waited. ‘We’re really looking forward to the pageant, said the owner, ‘We booked our birth eighteen months ago and were still lucky to get in.’ He was a little taken aback when Steve responded casually ‘Did you. I booked on Tuesday.’

When the inner gate opened we were directed to raft up alongside one of the original BT Around the World Race yachts in the main basin. As we looked around, the significance of where we were dawned on us. This whole area of the marina was decorated for the Jubilee as The Avenue of Sail and we were surrounded by a litany of world famous craft such as Sir Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth IV, Robin Knox-Johnson’s Suhaili  as well as many other well know yachts. There were also a number of motor boats displaying very special plaques commemorating their participation in the evacuation of Dunkirk of WW2. Curious was on display amongst very distinguished company in deed. All her crew  quickly set to making sure she was soon all spruced up, shiny clean and decorated with the miniature national flags of every country she had visited on her way around the world.
We couldn't believe the company we were in at St Kat's
The boat Robin Knox-Johnson won the first ever solo round the world race
in and the man himself standing at the end of the dock.
One of the heroic small ships that rescued the British Army at Dunkirk

Even at this stage, two days before the pageant, all the walkways around the docks were crowded with visitors who’d come to see this assembly of iconic boats. We were regularly asked what boat we were and Rob being the old marketing spin doctor quickly came up with what became our stock reply. ‘This is Curious. She is the most recent British cruising yacht to have completed a circumnavigation of the globe.’ This answer drew nods of approval, words of congratulations and the occasional confused look from the passersby.

We suspect we may not have been the only ring in at the Queen's Avenue of Sail

It was great to welcome Trish back on board that afternoon and later in the day Marc, our Meerkat crewmate from Nae Hassle and fellow King’s Cup Regatta racer on Curious arrived for a visit. The crew presented Steve and Trish with a special Queen’s Jubilee commemorative bottle of Moet to celebrate the Official completion of their go round. Steve quickly said they would keep and cherish the bottle for ever but it was time to drink the contents right now, which we proceeded to do, along with a collection of other wines we’d acquired. It was quite a celebration and a fantastic night of catching up and just enjoying the place and time.

Marc stayed on board overnight and next morning the three of us headed of to have breakfast in a nearby café and discuss future plans. At this point in time, none of us should have actually been in London. In late February Marc had flown to California and then travelled down to Mexico to crew on a yacht with another Brit and a Canadian across the Pacific to Australia. After spending over two months working on the boat, spending his share of money on provisions for the journey and doing all of a week’s sailing down the Mexican coast, the Canadian, who’d clearly embellished his sailing history and abilities when applying for his spot on the boat, pulled out when he discovered he didn’t really like spending more than a day on a boat at a time. When no replacement could be found the trip was cancelled and Marc was left with nothing but a very expensive flight home from Mexico’s west coast to add to his already considerable expenses. Right now we should have been sailing on a classic 83 foot timber boat in the Mediterranean but our crew spots had also disappeared at short notice when we were already half a world away from home. To be frank we were all a bit over the uncertainty of crewing for other people.

As long ago as when we were in Asia on Nae Hassle we’d joked that we should just get off, buy a boat together and go sailing ourselves. As we experienced more and more let downs regarding crew positions the joke, turned into what if, and more recently, why don’t we? So here in a café at one of the world’s most historic sailing sites,  we resolved to become boat owners ourselves rather than subject to the whim of other boat owners. We worked out the budget, how we’d go about finding the right boat, how the partnership would be structured, what the exit procedure would be if anyone wanted out and roughly where we wanted to sail. Problem solved and all fixed over a single breakfast. It’s nearly midday so should we tackle world peace over lunch? Nah stuff it. Let’s go celebrate. So we did.

Off we went past the Tower of London, onto the tube, out near Fleet Street and then Marc guided us to one of England’s very oldest public houses, the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Descending the narrow, twisting stairs to the cellar bar that had been a favourite haunt of such notables as Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson was an experience in itself and Rob gained a few lumps on the head from the low ceilings to remember it by. Seated at an original old long oak table on un-upholstered oak benches in the dim light we cracked a fine bottle of red, toasted our new enterprise and whiled the afternoon away with a couple more.  We knew we had a way to go to turn our plan into reality but we all felt so much better at having made the decision to go in this direction.

Sunday June 3, the day of HRH Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Celebrations dawned with as horrible weather as an English summer can produce. It was cold, it was wet, it was miserable and the Brits couldn’t give a damn. It was a day to party and they were going to party. From early morning every viewing spot along the Thames where the Royal Barge was to pass began to fill with loyal subjects ready to wave their Union Jacks in support of their Queen. Being Australians of a republican bent it was all a bit strange to us but you couldn’t help being caught up in the whole atmosphere.
Steve, Trish, Karen and Phil amid the throngs four hours before start time
The Brits love to party regardless of the weather

The sail past began well upstream from the Tower Bridge and our spot at St Kat’s but we were able to watch proceedings on a big screen that had been erected within the marina. The rain bucketed down, the people cheered and waved at the passing flotilla from every possible, and some impossibly dangerous, vantage points on both sides of the Thames while those on the boats did their best serene waves in return. When the Queen and the Royal Party finally passed under the Tower Bridge and by the lock gates of St Katherine Docks the crowd around us sounded like the Melbourne Cricket Ground at full time of an AFL Grand Final. The noise was deafening.
Even our home town paper joined the party with a story about us being at the Diamond Jubilee.
We were very impressed that we got a bigger photo than the Queen.

The Royal Barge then tied up at the Naval Dock beside St Kat’s where the Honour Guard and Royal Navy Band had done such a sterling job of welcoming us just two days prior and Her Majesty alighted to watch the rest of the proceedings. It really was amazing to be so close to the epicentre of such an historic occasion, even if it was by accident. The most stirring part of the entire pageant occurred near the very end. Unbelievably the rain got even heavier and a cold wind blew as the choir of the Royal Philharmonic wired with radio mikes aboard an open boat on the river, soaked to the skin and in obvious great discomfort, struck up in a magnificent rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.  Republicans or not, it was the most moving performance we have ever witnessed. Truly inspiring.

Then it was over and the massive crowds melted away, cold, wet and apparently euphoric. We had expected Liz and Phil to drop by the most recent British cruising yacht to have completed a circumnavigation of the globe for a G&T on their way out but apparently she wanted to get back to Buck’s Palace for some dry bloomers.

At the top of the tide next day we went out through the lock into the Thames and began Steve and Trish’s last trip on Curious.  We made our way back down the river with the outgoing tide before turning north through a different section of the estuary to which we’d entered. By now the sun was getting low in the western sky. This part of the estuary is very, very wide and riddled with permanent shoals and sand banks. Steve chose to anchor for the night in the shallows between the protection of two such banks. It was strange being anchored literally miles offshore but it was very smooth. We were then treated to a great sunset as we ate dinner in the calm and settled in for the night.
Goodbye London

What a way to end the day

What Steve hadn’t realised was that as the tide came in those protective sand banks were covered with a couple of meters of water and the swells rolled, emphasis on rolled, right over the top. It’s safe to say our last night at sea on Curious was not our most restful. A slightly sheepish Steve emerged from his cabin in the morning with a wry smile and a ‘Sorry about that’.

Again our departure time was determined by what time we needed to be at the mouth of the River  Orwell to catch the incoming tide for our run up to Oyster’s yard at Fox’s Marina, Ipswich. Being good citizen’s of Ipswich, Australia we were looking forward to seeing Ipswich, England. We had an uneventful sail along the coast and entered the river right on time. We were struck by the beauty of the country side and fine stately homes as we made our way upstream. It was really very enjoyable.


Finally we reached the marina which was a little bit of a shock. We’d expected something grand for the home of such a prestigious make of yachts as Oyster but instead Fox’s is a smallish, very tight marina where half the place dries to mud at low tide. The collection of big, brand new Oysters tied up in the final stages of commissioning was very impressive though.
Curious back from where she came - Fox's Marina, Ipswich

Steve and Trish took us all out for a final goodbye dinner that evening which was full of jokes and happy stories about their five years aboard the boat and their plans for the future. They were off to southern France to find a place to live near their daughter and son in law who were expecting their first grandson. Trish was very much looking forward to enjoying more Nanny time. The broker had been on board that afternoon and Curious was officially on the market. When sold Steve would be acquiring their next boat which was to be fitted out for his next five year plan, sailing to the ice caps.  
While their plans were clearly exciting it was easy to see they were both a little torn about their life on Curious coming to an end.  She’d carried them very safely around the world visiting amazing places where they shared equally amazing experiences. It had been an absolute privilege to have shared a little part of the journey with them. Thank you Steve. Thank you Trish.

All four of us crew members packed our duffle bags next morning and arranged to leave reasonably early so Steve and Trish could have their final time on the boat alone together.

While they were beginning a new phase of their lives, we realised that we too were doing the same. It was exactly two weeks short of a year since we boarded a plane from Brisbane and flown to Cairns to begin our adventure crewing on sail boats. In that time we had sailed the North Australian Coast, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal and Britain.

We’d logged a total of 7,239 nautical miles or 13,406 kilometres, that’s a third of the Earth’s circumference. We’d also visited amazing places and shared equally amazing experiences, made lifelong friends, sailed with some absolutely wonderful owners, along with a couple of obnoxious ones and learned so much about sailing and life afloat.

Now the crewing experience was at an end and we were making the quantum leap to cruising on our own. ’ Bring it on.’ Was all we could say.


Funny how our crewing adventures started from an idea in Ipswich,
Queensland, Australia and ended here in Ipswich, Suffolk, United Kingdom.
Onward and upwards!
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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.