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Old 27 August 2001, 07:08   #1
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RB4 - Spirit's story

<It looks like this thread disappeared in the move to the new system, so I have reposted it. The user names are correct, but the posted dates are not! John Kennett>

Ok, not sure I can compete with Vernon's style but here's our story.......

Spirit is a 4.8m Ribcraft, one of 3 I think entered in the event. She was fitted with a Suzuki 50 4 stroke (of which more later), wrap around jockey seats and a 5ft mast rather than an A frame. Navigation was by a Garmin plotter with comms via a Simrad DSC fixed VHF with a couple of handhelds as back up. One of the main features of the boat was a waterproofed intercom/headset system that enabled driver and navigator to converse normally (and at times sing badly!) as well as transmit and receive VHF.

Fuel was carried in an under console tank plus two RNLI style bladders along each side tube and two 5 gallon deck tanks at the rear of the boat. Total fuel with everything full was somewhere in the region of 35 gallons.

Spirit was skippered by Mark Featherstone, Salcombe lifeboatman and of course TV personality! Crew came in the shape of Martin Collins, Skirmish supremo who has a history of doing silly things like waterskiing to the Channel Islands from Devon! The Team leader was Peter Dickinson, an experienced Yachtie who pulled together heavyweight corporate sponsorship as well as organising fundraising for Whizzkids, a charity that provides wheelchairs for disabled kids. Support to Spirit and anybody else who might need it was provided by Brian Elliott who a) decided that a good first cruise for Cyanide, his shiny new Scorpion cabin RIB would be to go around Britain and b) was foolish enough to ask yours truly to come with him. (I should mention dear readers, that the first time Brian and I met was on last years RIB International Scillies cruise during which we had an interesting passage back from the Scillies to Falmouth in a force 6 which resulted in a few lumps being knocked off Brian's previous boat a 6.2m Avon!)

Preparation was thorough, hectic, fraught and resulted in little sleep in the days and nights immediately prior to the off. (Similar story for a number of entrants I think!) Spirit was eventually sorted about an hour AFTER the rest of the fleet had left, whilst Cyanide seemed absolutely stuffed to the gunnels with kit, chucked in the cabin to be sorted later. (The luxury of having Cyanide to lug our kit around led to certain members of the team taking everything including the kitchen sink whilst others went around with two pairs of underwear and one pair of trousers. Or at least that was Martin's story!)

It was a relief to us all to eventually be underway, although playing "catch up" from the start was to prove to be somewhat of a theme for the event! Heading out from the Sound we plugged Westwards into a nasty F4 to F5 chop. We too had missed the briefing and whilst we'd heard rumours of a stop at Cadgwith, we decided to head to Newlyn and assess conditions there prior to rounding Lands End.

About 3hrs out we intercepted a radio call from Bangor Challenger to the rest of the fleet. Challenger was standing by Team Seal who had swamped their engine in the big seas. Plugging the data into the GPS, we found that we were about 2 miles away from so Cyanide headed off to their assistance with Spirit following behind in our wake.

Locating two small boats in big seas proved to be less than easy. We tried the Radar but nothing (even when the Challenger guys held their reflector up!) so it was purely down to GPS coordinates and then mark 1 eyeball.
We eventually located the Avon Seal, drifting without power.

The guys in Seal were maintaining a cheery face but the boat was completely full of water and the engine had failed. Challenger was standing by but there was little they could do. Fortunately Brian Elliot on Cyanide had prepared for just such a situation and was equipped with a dirty great submersible pump that we could plug in and drop into another boat to bale it out!

Having taken over rescue operations on scene, we released Challenger and Spirit to continue on course with a plan for them to wait for us at Newlyn if we didn't catch them before.

It was apparent that Seal was so flooded that we needed to get the crew out onto Cyanide. Seal wasn't going anywhere under her own steam so a tow to the nearest port - Falmouth - seemed the only option. The concern for us was that this would take some hours and seperate us from the RB4 fleet. Fortunately, we had also made radio contact with Bose MG the 8m Ribcraft that had accompanied the fleet as far as the Lizzard and who was returning to Plymouth. They rendevoused with us and we handed Seal over to them. My understanding is that they towed Seal back to Plymouth.

Thinking about this situation in hindsight it raises the greatest concern I personally had with RB4. My concern was that one <5m RIB is unable to provide anything other than dire emergency assistance to another <5m RIB without putting itself in danger, unless conditions are very calm. I don't believe a 5m RIB could tow another 5m RIB very far without putting itself under strain. In extremis if the crew of the RIB in distress had to be taken on board the rescuing RIB that would put 4 people on a small RIB potential overloading the rescuer! This is why that I believe extremely strongly that larger support RIB's are a vital part of such an event. It was unfortunate therefore that Cyanide and Spirit were to spend over half the trip running a day behind the main fleet! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having handed over Seal to Bose MG we set off in fine style to catch up with Spirit & Challenger. Cyanide showed her true pedigree by being able to maintain 28kts through 3m seas to catch up with the other boats in complete safety if not total comfort!

Having caught up with Spirit & Challenger, as well as the other support boat Yes Dear we all put into Newlyn for a break and the all important coffee and pork pies! (Team Spirit existing on Pork Pies & Sausage rolls for the whole trip & if I don't see another one for a very long time that'll be great!)

Conditions were improving & the sun had come out so we decided to push on to Milford Haven. Given the wind direction we also established that there was nothing to gain by running along the North Cornish coast so set course directly to Milford Haven across the Bristol Channel.

Running down to Longships with Challenger we had a conversation with them regarding their fuel state. They were down to 15 gallons with a 5hour plus passage ahead of them. Having no spare fuel on Spirit (& Cyanide being diesel) we were very concerned that they did not have enough fuel for the passage and contingency. The guys on Challenger came to a hard conclusion and made the brave decision to return to Newlyn. It must have been a tough one as the pressure was to push on but it was the right one and all credit to them for that.

Rounding Lands End in Bright evening sunshine and putting the seas behind us we began one of those "this is what ribbing is all about" type journeys. Glorious. We soon caught up with Spirit and Yes Dear who were making good time and were able to do some filming of the boat performing well in big seas. We were on track for a 10:30 arrival in Milford Haven and all seemed well with the world.

Never get complacent though. Suddenly Spirit stopped. The call over the radio was stunning. The saddle bracket on the outboard had failed. Disaster! Clearly Spirit was not going any further under her own steam and a long tow (45nm) lay ahead of us. Taking Mark and Martin onboard and rigging up the towing bridle we set off. As we had to raise the engine on Spirit we were unable to steer her and thus couldn't tow her on the plane We found the max speed we could make without a risk of Spirit broaching was 12kts. It was going to be a long night!

Yes Dear pressed on to arrive at Milford Haven at a reasonable time. We settled down to what was a long, depressing, boring and cold tow. Morale was at rock bottom. RB4 seemed to be over for us. We all had to dig deep into reserves of strength and willpower to keep alert and navigate safely into Milford Haven.

Arriving at the outer bouys at around 3.00AM it seemed like an intermiable journey up to Neyland. Those tanker jetties seemed to go on for ever! Identifying Neyland Marina in the dark was also tricky but we finally arrived and even had some very welcome help in making the boats fast from the marina staff / RB4 support team. Peter had organised taxi's and and the hotel keys to be left out and we finally got to bed, exhausted about 4.00AM

What a day!
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:10   #2
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A good start and welcome to the fray!!

By the way, were there any early indications of the social problems you were to encounter with Brian's behaviour on the east coast?


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Old 27 August 2001, 07:13   #3
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Hi Vernon,

Up until Wells, Brian had showed perfect ability to navigate his way around hotel bathrooms without injury! Little were we to know what lay ahead!

Alan
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:13   #4
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Day 2 - Milford Haven.

Its amazing what a few hours sleep can do! That and a decent fry up breakfast. After the lows of the previous night we were all in good spirits and determined to move heaven and earth to find a way to stay in the event.

After a round of intensive phonecalls by Peter (already gaining the reputation as part man, part mobile phone) a deal was done and a Yamaha 50hp 4 stroke secured for the remainder of the event. (We should mention that original engine sponsors Suzuki were as gutted as we were that our engine saddle had failed and tried valiantly to offer a substitute engine in time to enable us to continue. Unfortunately time and logistics were against them.)

A hectic day followed, Spirit had to be emptied of kit and hauled out for the local Yamaha guys to remove the Suzuki and fit the Yamaha (once they'd removed it from the demo boat it was fitted to!) In the meantime we sorted out the kit onboard Cyanide that had been hurriedly thrown onboard before our delayed departure whilst swapping tales with team Black Max and Aldiss , also working on their boats to rectify damage caused the first day. The weather was gloriously sunny but very windy and our thoughts were also with the rest of the fleet that had pressed on early that morning.

Finally the engine was fitted, although we had not had time to wire up any of the gauges. The boat was launched again and taken out for a test run. All seemed well, so we retired back to the hotel for a well earned steak and a beer. The frustration of a lost day came to the surface over dinner with some fairly full and frank discussion about what we needed to do to catch up. Mark was very concerned that we make maximum use of the tide (to endeavour to get the calmest seas possible.) and proposed running through the night to catch up. With all of us still suffering from sleep deficit from the first day there was a lot of resistance to this, so we eventually compromised on an early (6.00AM) start the next day. Navigation plans had been drawn up to take us towards Anglesey where we would make the decision whether to refuel in Conwy or press on to Port St Mary and beyond!

Tomorrow we'd be off again!

Day 3 - Milford Haven-Port St Mary IOM- Bangor NI.

An early start and a grey morning with a stiff SW breeze blowing boded ill for the day ahead. But we were keen to get underway and were soon heading out down Milford Sound into an increasing chop at 22kts. Funny, it seemed so much further at 3.AM in the morning a couple of days earlier than it did now!

At the entrance to the Sound large seas were sweeping in and we were heading into the teeth of them. Great concentration was needed by the crew on Spirit to keep the boat from constantly becoming airborne. However we were soon able to turn and put the seas on our beam as we ran close into the coast and through Jack and Ramsey Sounds. Both of these places, well known for monstrous overfalls at certain states of the tide were calm and docile as we sped past.

Rounding St Davids head we turned to run with the seas behind us and were able to open up to 25kts. The sun came out and the further North we pushed, the calmer the seas became. Soon we were making skimming across slight seas in bright sunshine. The Irish sea, a place I had viewed with a great deal of trepidation was in a kindly mood.

We soon settled into a routine of plugging along at 24kts with stops for refreshment, call of nature etc every two hours or so. Spirit would often run behind Cyanide to gain the benefit of a smoother ride in her wake but every so often the lads would get fed up of the diesel fumes and strike out on their own!

We were soon closing the coast of Anglesey and it was decision time as to whether we refueled in Conwy or pressed on to IOM and refuelled there. As we were making such good time we decided to press on in the fairly certain knowledge that we would be able to organise fuel in Port St Mary, on a Sunday by utilising the contacts in the RB4 event pack! Striking out to sea again we had an uneventful run up to the IOM with the miles ticking off the GPS plotter to our arrival at Port St Mary around 4pm

Following a local motor cruiser into Port St Mary, Cyanide picked up a buoy and broke open the refreshment locker whilst Spirit went alongside the quay in search of fuel. With the assistance of the harbourmaster Spirit was refuelled and we we ready for the off again. They also brought the news that the RB4 fleet had left for Oban that morning at 11ish so we were only 5 hours behind them!

For us leaving at 4pm Oban was a step too far so an alternative port of call was needed. The thought of a decent pint of Guiness appealed so we decided that Bangor, Northern Ireland, a further 3 hrs run was the place to go. Heading out and through the Calf of Man we had an uneventful run in calm seas, arriving at the supberb marina at Bangor around 8ish.

We'd had a long day but were quietly pleased with our progress. After the low of the Bristol Channel it was just good to be back in the running again. The belief that the fleet was at Oban that night and thus hopefully Kyle the following evening also buoyed us up as it seemed we would catch them up the next day. Or at least that's what we thought………
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:14   #5
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Day 4 - Bangor - Kyle of Lochalsh

We awoke to a gloriously sunny day, but with a strong breeze. Having been warned by the Yamaha service agent that the newly installed engine needed an oil change after 10hrs we had to chase around to find a local marine engineer to do this for us. No early departure today then! Never mind, it gave us the time to replace the VHF antennae on Spirit, which had failed the previous day. This replacement was made even more necessary by the loss of one of our handheld VHF's the previous day from the pocket of a crewmember ,whose blushes I'll spare, straight to the bottom of the Irish Sea!

In the midst of this whilst doing the nav on Cyanides fantastic Rayethon plotter / radar my mobile rang. The chap on the other end of the phone was called Nichol and was ringing from Islay and wanted to wave the RB4 fleet by. We told him that the main fleet had passed through the Sound of Islay the previous day but we would be heading through later on that day. "Give me a shout on the VHF and I'll come out and see you" he responded, so we agreed to meet him later.

Leaving Bangor 11ish we set off for the crossing over to the Mull of Kyntire. Pulling away from the shelter of land the sea's steadily increased until we were running in 8-10ft quartering waves. Mark and Martin in Spirit were having a hard time of it judging by the crashes and bangs, "oofs and ouches" that accompanied their radio transmissions!

As we closed the Mull the weather started to change becoming mistier with the vis really dropping. We adopted our procedure for poor vis, with Spirit closing right up into Cyanides wake. We then fired up the Radar aboard Cyanide which ran for 10 seconds before powering down the whole system. (Cyanide is fitted with a combined chartplotter / radar.) Oh dear! This wasn't what we needed when closing one of Vernon's "Worst bits of water in the UK" in poor vis. Powering up the system again we watched anxiously - all seemed well but it was a worry that it would fail again. (In fact the problem never reoccurred.)

Of course the good thing about fog is that the sea generally calms down which was a great relief to the crew of Spirit. We were soon through the fog bank and running up the Western side of the Mull inside Gigha in calm seas. The run across from Bangor had really taken it out of Mark and Martin as they requested a spell onboard Cyanide for a breather. Putting Peter into Spirit we set off again towards Islay and soon had two snoring crewmembers sprawled out in the stern of Cyanide! (The rear bench seats on Cyanide is an incredible comfortable place to sit or sprawl on, even in the roughest seas and had already been designated as "the executive lounge" by the team!)

Approaching Islay we could hear "Cobra One" calling us on the VHF but she didn't seem to be able to hear us. So resorting to mobile phones we made contact with Nichol who came zooming up to say hello and pass us a bottle of local Islay produce which was a really pleasant surprise. We took the opportunity to pick his brains on local navigation and then ran in company through glassy smooth seas and Spectacular scenery until Cobra One peeled off to go back to Port Appin and work!

We exited the Sound and turned to starboard to run towards Oban where we planned to refuel. The weather had turned distinctly greay and gloomy but the seas were absolutely millpond and we were able to average 28kts easily. "Excellent" we thought, "We'll catch the fleet up tonight in Kyle". And then we got a phone call from Paul Lemmer "They pushed onto Kyle last night and are going to Scrabster today!" Bugger!

Heading into Oban to refuel Spirit at Puffin Divers we ran past an apparently deserted yacht, heading Marie Celeste like under power out into the wild blue yonder. Or at least Marie Celeste like until two RIBS shot past, when a startled yachtie stuck his head out of the cabin to see what the noise was. So much for keeping a good watch!

Refuelling Spirit at Puffin Divers we left around 7ish and headed out through the Sound of Mull and around Ardamuchtan Point, inside Rhum and Eigg and on towards Kyle. Arrival time looked to be after 9am and the restaurant would be closed so a meal was arranged over the mobile to be ready at our arrival. Kyle appeared to be sleepy and grey as we squeezed Cyanide into a gap on the visitors pontoon that was about an inch longer than the boat! Retiring to the hotel for a well earned beer and food we reflected on a good run through stunning scenery. We had been fortunate with the conditions but would our luck hold for tomorrows run around Cape Wrath?
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:15   #6
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Day 5 Kyle of Lochalsh to Peterhead.

Awaking early to another grey but still day we contemplated the leg before us with some anticipation and more than a little bit of nerves!.(All that we had read and heard told us that Cape Wrath's reputation was well deserved!) A surprise when we got to the pontoons was Team Aldiss, who had arrived after an incredible night time journey. The guys looked in desperate need of a shower so we let the use our hotel bathrooms Spirit was refuelled as soon as the local filling station was open whilst we took Cyanide around to the fishing pier in search of diesel. Fuelling up with 300+ litres of diesel takes some time so we dispatched Spirit off into the grey with an agreed RV point in 30 mins.

As Cyanide headed out after Spirit with her tanks topped off it became rapidly apparent that vis was going to be a problem today. Spirit was somewhere out there in the murk and we had to find them before we headed North. GPS coordinates were exchanged and we headed towards them, Radar on and eyes peeled. Again it was mark 1 eyeball that won out - we were coming to the unsurprising conclusion that even with a radar reflector, a 4.8m RIB is just about invisible to radar!

The seas were like a millpond and the gloom lifted slightly as we headed north to Cape Wrath. Calling the Coastguard, we filed a passage plan to Scrabster - plan being to refuel there and hopefully press on if weather and time allowed. Stornoway Coastguard rather surprised us by asking us to call when we reached a certain latitude before we went around Cape Wrath, "strange request" we thought but "OK no problems."

There is a tremendous abundance of wildlife we'd seen around Scotland - Seals, Dolphins and lots of birds. However we looked a little askance at Brian when he commented "its amazing how many Pelicans there are!" "Pelicans?" "Yeah, you know those little black and white birds with the yellow beaks" "Don't you mean PUFFINS Brian?!!!"

A few miles off the Cape the sinister sight of a submarine loomed out of the murk. No sign of life, no flag but you could be your bottom dollar that they were watching us. "Take a photo of it" suggested Martin over the VHF. "No thanks" we replied, "don't fancy being arrested!"

Cape Wrath was slumbering..the seas picked up a bit but it was nothing to fret about. It was noticeably colder at these northern latitudes thought. We whizzed around it at 24kts waving to the tourists a hundred feet above us.

It was at that point we realised we'd passed the prescribed latitude without calling Stornoway coastguard. Bugger, must pay more attention. Anyway we called and we called with no reply until Aberdeen CG came on the air asking what was up! It would appear that the need to call Stornoway is dictated by the range of their antennaes! Talking to Aberdeen we reconfirmed our immediate destination as Scrabster and would advise if we were proceeding further that day.

Cracking on to Scrabster arriving mid afternoon. As we arrived we passed Team Aldiss leaving - How had they got past us? In the fog I guess! Scrabster was gloomy with a bustle of activity in the fishing docks. Spirit went alongside in search of a kind soul to take them to the petrol station whilst Cyanide refuelled at the fishing boat diesel berth. The price of diesel in Scrabster is legendary - 11p a litre! - Needless to say we brimmed the tanks.

A quick trip to the Fishermen's mission for some hot sustenance in the form of fish and chips and we were off again, following Spirit who were anxious to get around Duncansby Head before the tide turned. We pursued them at 35kts to try and get Martin his chips before they got cold but Mark wasn't going to stop!!

Approaching Duncansby head the weather turned nasty. Torrential rain, thunder and lightning and increasing seas. Spirit's intercom went on the fritz (never to work properly again), Cyanides chartplotter decided not to play temporarily and then we discovered that there was a 50 mile gap between the coverage of the West Coast and East Coast C-Map passage charts! Back to paper charts and steam navigation for the rest of the day then!

It was a huge psychological boost to have "turned the corner" and be heading south. Although tempering that we had to realise that we were not yet half way round and still a long way from home. Stopping a mile or so south of the head we were finally able to pass Martin his by now lukewarm chips! A quick nav conference and confirmation of the plan was made to head to Peterhead at the bottom of the Moray Firth.

It was a long drag south into a freshening sea with not much to look at apart from the occasional ship. Then suddenly a dark shape rose out of the sea - it was a Whale! Stopping our engines and drifting, we were treated to 10 mins of Whales (don't ask me what type) leaping out of the water 100yds away. Fantastic sight!

Running into the Firth to gain some shelter from the predominantly southerly winds we debated where to head for that evening. It seemed an interminable drag past Fraserburgh to Peterhead but eventually we arrived and after calling for permission to enter, made our way to the marina. Nice marina Peterhead, plenty of room but absolutely deserted apart from a couple of people on their boats - who very kindly let us out of the marina gates. Mark was keen to refuel Spirit that evening and had a blinding flash of inspiration. He'd been on a RNLI training course with the mechanic from Peterhead lifeboat so he'd give him a call. How would you react to a "Hi Bob, this is Mark from Salcombe lifeboat, can I ask a favour?" call at 10pm on a Tuesday?? Bob, needless to say, rose to the challenge, collecting the lads and ferrying them to the petrol station with their collection of petrol cans!

Checking into our hotel we felt the beer was well deserved. It had been a long day but we'd made tremendous progress. All the way around the top of Scotland in one day - 260 miles or so through what could have been the worst sea's in all of Britain. We'd been very lucky with the weather so far but now the wind had a definitely Southerly set to it…..not what you want when you are heading South down the East Coast!!
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:16   #7
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Day 6 Peterhead - Whitby

Wednesday (at least I think it was Wednesday, I was losing track of the days!) dawned foggy. Very foggy! Breakfast in the hotel was enlivened by the fact that the bar opened at 7.00am for the fishermen! We resisted the opportunity for a pint to go with our cornflakes!

Back to the marina and another early morning meeting with the Team Aldiss boys who had also arrived at Peterhead last night. Across to the fishdocks to refuel Cyanide and a chat with the locals. Peterhead seems to have its own collection of wildlife with several seals living in the harbour and some very accurate divebombing seagulls (as Peter found out to his cost!)

Departed Peterhead in thick fog, lights on, radar turning, eyes peeled and with Spirit and Cyanide travelling in close company. Sea's were a little bit lumpy to start with but calmed down as we travelled south. A largely dull trip at first, dank and miserable, but gradually the fog started to burn off and soon we were running in bright sunshine and smooth seas at 27kts or so. Another perfect day at sea, this is the life!

It was on this part of the leg that we got a phone call from Jo, the RB4 fleet was stopping at Whitby tonight as well! This was excellent news as although we were having fun, running behind the rest of the fleet meant we were missing out on the camaraderie and interest of running with the group. It was a major boost to our spirits (no pun intended) to think that we'd meet up later that evening.

As the vis had improved we decided to run through the Farne Islands for interest and as it was the more direct route. Pretty islands but the guano (seagull sh*t) doesn't half stink! Whilst stopped for a bite to eat (upwind of the Islands!) we overheard the coastguard talking to Gem (Team Aldiss.) who had left Peterhead just before us. As we were able to hear Gem directly we called the coastguard to see whether we could be of assistance. However when we got Gem's position they were about 20 miles behind us and about 11 miles offshore. Since they had assistance from a Rig support vessel on the way there seemed little point in us charging back to them (and we had no spare petrol in any event.) So we advised the Coastguard that we would continue on our way to Whitby.

Clearing the Farnes the sea changed, almost instantly from a lazy smooth swell to an increasingly short and sharp chop. Not so comfortable, and the the sun went in as well!

Another couple of hours of fairly uneventful running in limited vis brought us to Whitby and the welcome sight of the rest of the RB4 fleet tied up alongside the pontoons of the marina. Refuelling and preparation for the following day took a couple of hours as it usually does so it was late when we checked into our hotel and we'd missed the chance to eat with the rest of the fleet. In fact we'd missed the chance to eat in any restaurant in Whitby. We'd checked into a comfortable little hotel - The Kimberley House Hotel - and were the only guests. The proprietors were excellent people and very helpful. After ringing around to try and get us in a restaurant and failing they organised collecting fish and chips plus beer from the local offie so we could enjoy a relaxing meal and drink before hitting the sack.

The plan for tomorrow was to run to Wells Next the Sea. A delightful little place of childhood memory for me but not the easiest harbour to get into unless conditions were right. We knew that a warm welcome awaited us but also started making contingency plans for alternative ports should weather require. Rumour had it that the fleet was starting early in the morning but our almanac said that we wouldn't be able to get into Wells before 4pmish so we decided on a slightly more relaxed start rather than having to wait around off Wells for the tide to come in!
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:16   #8
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Day 7 Whitby - Wells

We awoke to another foggy day. Looking out to sea from the hotel all we could see was a blanket of white. This'll be fun then! The proprietors of the hotel kindly ran us down to the pontoons, which were by now bereft of RB4 Ribs who had left early for Wells. Our plans were to leave Whitby rather later and avoid having to wait around off Wells for sufficient water to enter. Refuelling Cyanide at the Fishing Quay was interesting - involving a long climb up a slimy ladder to pay for the fuel. Not for the faint hearted which is probably why Brian made me do it!

Leaving Whitby mid morning we headed out into the gloom and quite an uncomfortable slop. Passage plan had been to run fairly close inshore but after a discussion via the VHF with Mark in Spirit we decided to head offshore to see whether the fog would lift. After about 5 miles it still hadn't so we turned south and set course for Wells. Convenient point about Wells is that is right at the top of Norfolk so was an easy straight line down from Wells. Or at least until you looked at the local chart which showed allsorts of nasty sandbanks with ominous sounding names! We planned therefore to run fairly directly down towards Wells before shearing off and going around the banks if the conditions dictated.

Running south the weather soon improved, fog cleared and once again we were running in bright sunshine and smoothish seas. Lovely! We'd been so lucky with the weather this week. Couldn't last could it?

Discussing our destination and the almanac entry for it Brian was concerned that he would have a problem with Cyanide. Being a substantially sized RIB and having an outdrive leg that cannot be lifted clear of the bottom of the hull she is not designed for drying out. Wells was listed as a drying harbour. This could be a problem! However to every problem there is a solution and ours came about via a telephone call with Jo who had talked to the harbour master at Wells who assured us that a) he had a berth that didn't dry out and, b) he'd come and meet us at the entrance to channel to pilot us in. Given such hospitality we couldn't really refuse the offer could we!

Conditions were so nice on the run south that I eventually submitted to peer group pressure and jumped aboard Spirit by myself for the small RIB perspective. (My earlier protestations that I know what small RIBS are like and was quite enjoying the "big" rib experience on Cyanide seemed to carry no weight with the lads!) It wa damn good fun. 25kts in glorious conditions running alongside Cyanide - who was a fine sight. Buggered if I'd want to do this for 9 days though!

As we closed down the banks off Wells it was apparent that they were not going to prove any trouble and that there was sufficient water over them, so we headed directly for the safe water mark At this point I swapped back to Cyanide so Mark and Martin could make their triumphant entrance! We called up Bob the harbour master who came out in his launch to meet us, accompanied by another motor cruiser. Threading our way up the channel Brian commented how close to the beach/tourists/sand castles were were running. "This is East Coast boating" I replied. He didn't seem impressed!

Wells is a glorious little place and I think the RB4 event was big news. Even though we had missed most of the welcoming committee there was still plenty of people around and lots of camera's in evidence! We refuelled alongside a tug and then took up the berth alongside a fantastic old Dutch sailing barge as indicated by Bob. We'd be safe afloat there but were warned to be out and across the bar promptly around high tide the following day unless we wanted an extended stay in Norfolk!

Joining the rest of the RB4 crowd in the pub we savoured the opportunity to socialise properly for the first time in a week! The party then moved on to the local Yacht Club where we had the civic reception complete with Mayor, poetry and lots of very fine Woodfordes Ale! The people of Wells were without a doubt the friendliest and nicest people we met on the whole trip. Particularly since they were all smartly dressed and socialising with a bunch of sunburnt, unshaven Ribsters in various states of undress in drysuits and fleeces!

All good things have to come to an end & mindful of our early start the following day we headed off to the pub we had arranged accomodation in for the night. Comfortable accomodation sorted out we retired to the bar for a little bit more socialising with the landlady and friends. (Be rude not too!). I crashed out around midnight and sank into a deep sleep contented with the days events and the evenings hospitality!

Didn't get a chance to sleep long though. Rudely awakened by Martin "Brian's fallen over and I think he's broken his arm!" Struggling up I went downstairs to be confronted by the sight of Brian looking very pale (in fact slightly greenish!) and holding his arm awkwardly. He'd gone to the bathroom in the dark and tripped over a step. An ambulance was called and duly turned up and there was no question, it was hospital and an X-ray for Brian. Peter elected to go with him for moral support (We let Mark sleep through the drama!) Credit to Brian, even as he was being carted off into the ambulance he struggled to get Cyanides keys out of his pocket and handed them to me with the immortal words "You're in charge now. Get Cyanide back to Plymouth for me!"

So that was that he was off to Kings Lynn hospital. We were a little stunned. After coming so far what bloody bad luck to break your arm in a pub toilet!
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:17   #9
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Day 8 Wells - Ramsgate

An early start to the day. Peter rang from the hotel at 6.15am to say that a taxi would be arriving at the pub in 15mins to collect his and Brian's kit. Brian had broken his upper arm and was having it set that morning. Christine, his wife was on her way up from Devon to collect him and Peter would meet us that evening in Ramsgate. This was all a bit of a shock to Mark who of course had slept through last nights drama!

At least it meant we were down on the quay promptly at 7.30am ready to facilitate our 8am start at the top of the tide. I was keen to get some additional manpower on Cyanide to help out so commandeered Andy and Steve, the camera crew to travel with us today. 'Bout time they got some pics of Spirit!!

The rest of the fleet was slowly gathering but time and tide waits for no man and we needed to be off to be sure of getting Cyanide over the bar. Once out at the safewater mark there seemed no mileage in waiting around so we decided to head off. The sea was glassily smooth with hazy sunshine promising another hot day. So it was 27kts and head more or less due East along the North Norfolk Coast. A large collection of pot markers made life briefly interesting as we slalomed through them and soon we turned South for moreorless a straight run down the East Coast outside all the sandbanks and across the Thames Estuary to Ramsgate.

Andy took the opportunity to get some close running shots of Spirit for the first time, although he did complain that it was too smooth to be interesting. We did find however that if Spirit ran right alongside Cyanide the spray from Cyanides wake drenched Mark and Martin and made it look as though conditions were far rougher! Or at least that's what Andy said. I don't think Mark and Martin were that impressed!

An uneventful mornings cruising saw us arrive at Ramsgate early afternoon. Ahead of the game for once! We took the opportunity to refuel both boats at the fuel barge (which now sells petrol as well. A real bonus!) and tidy up whilst Mark and Martin were interviewed by Andy. The RB4 shore support team turned up and we were able to clap the fleet into Ramsgate mid Afternoon. Everybody seemed in extremely high spirits and relaxed after a relatively "short" day. (Pah!, only a poxy 130 miles!) A definite sense of "We've almost finished" was pervading. Probably prematurely!

A lively evening with the entire RB4 crowd in a local restaurant followed, enlivened by Brian turning up halfway through to loud cheers! Christine had driven him and Peter down from Kings Lynn. They would stay in Ramsgate that evening and then off to Devon the next day. Retiring to bed I contemplated another fine day tommorrow. I mean we'd done the difficult bit around Scotland hadn't we, it was all downhill from here!?
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Old 27 August 2001, 07:17   #10
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Day 9 Ramsgate - Southampton

From the hotel window things looked very misty again. Becoming somewhat of a theme for the event. We assembled on the pontoons - seemed to be in good order with everybody moreorless ready to rock and roll at the same time. Maybe people's timekeeping and preparedness was increasing as the event progressed! Jan did his usual briefing. All pretty simple stuff navigationwise but beware the Looe Channel off Selsey. Yes Dear (the big Ribtec) with her persistent fuelling problems was going to run ahead whilst we acted as sweeper at the tale end of the fleet. We know our place!

Peter rejoined us on Cyanide as Brian set off back to the West Country by car. The film crew were keen to ride aboard Cyanide again … something to do with trying to film whilst Yes Dear is blasting around at 30kts!… and Cassie from Team Grey Seal/Gemini also joined us for the comfortable ride! So a full crowd on Cyanide then.

Departing Ramsgate we headed off into the murk in relatively calm seas (at that point!). This was the first day we'd run with the entire fleet so it was interesting to see the differences in boat speed as some shot off into the distance whilst Gemini and Challenger brought up the rear. Spirit was about middle of the fleet so we tried to stick with them whilst not losing sight of the tail enders! We used the opportunity for Andy to film various boats as we ran past Dover and turned the corner to head West.

The sea's started to increase steadily and the mist turned into persistent drizzle. Yuck!
Passing Dungeness we spied a very official looking launch idling off the power station. Hmmm I thought, he looks like a police or MOD launch. Now I'd made a point of dual watching our VHF on 16 with our working channel of 13. (BTW Cap Gris Nez VTS uses 13 in the Channel and tends to drown everyone else out!) Suddenly I heard a call for "Small vessels passing Dungeness this is Range Safety launch"….Range Safety Launch?… official looking boat?…..party of small RIBS passing by…..that must be us! Calling them up they politely asked whether we knew that we were about to steam through the middle of Lydd firing ranges and that firing was taking place that morning! Oopss! Thanking them for their call we swiftly called up the RB4 fleet and recommended steering due south for a mile or so to avoid friendly fire!!

Conditions were steadily worsening with a short steep chop developing that was knocking speeds back on the small RIBS. And it was raining too boot. Miserable stuff! The plan was to RV off Brighton to meet another RIB that was coming out to say hello and hopefully allow some aerial photography from what was originally going to be a helicopter but eventually turned out to be a light plane! The fleet gradually assembled, the murk lifted briefly, the plane buzzed overhead once, the murk came in again and the plane went home! So much for the aerial shots of the fleet. Poor old Andy the cameraman was gutted! A swift teabreak during which most of the fleet came aboard Cyanide (for the G&T's and Salmon & Cucumber sandwiches of course!) and we were off again.

For this leg we took onboard Hugo's son Tom, who being too young for the G&T's and not liking Salmon Sandwiches had to settle for a marsbar and a comfy seat! Conditions were now really grim with the fleet or that part of it we were running with averaging 12-14kts and making progress along the coast painfully slow. I can only imagine how rough it was on the small RIBs as Cyanide at 14kts is very uncomfortable and wet - tending to go through the waves rather than over them! At one stage we took green water over the bow and cabin top which soaked us all and made me wish that I'd worn my drysuit rather than oilies! It was also at this point that Tom who was having a kip in the cabin (rather him than me!) stuck his head out and said "waters coming in through the hatch!" Ducking below I realised that I had left the hatch on its "vent" position that morning. Damn! And Sorry Brian!

Despite the conditions, Andy was still filming merrily away, "Papa Smurf" Sowester in place and rain & spray steaming off him. Given the ravages that the sun had already caused on his face we were a little concerned he'd have no skin left at all at the end of this trip! Spirit was making hard going - the guys had emptied their main under console tank first and were running off the deck tanks at the stern. In this head sea they needed the weight in the bow rather the stern and were crashing down waves stern first. At one point I'm sure they were vertical and I held my breath waiting for them to flip. Fortunately the boat came down right way up but my spine twinged in sympathy!

It was a long long miserable day. We moved steadily back down the fleet until we were running with Spirit and just ahead of the Bangor Challenger. Challenger was taking it really easy as their boat was very light in the bow. Picking our way through the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill & talking Challenger through it we looked forward to calmer conditions in the Solent. They weren't!

Arriving at Ocean Village we made straight for the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, mooring up to the catcalls and comments of the RB4'ers already standing on the balcony enjoying a pint or six. We squelched into the clubhouse - which is extremely grand! - expecting not to be let in by the Steward as we were dripping wet! But we couldn't have been more wrong! We were welcomed in and ushered through the bar to a function room where free beer and eats were laid on courtesy of the council. This was more like it!

A hot shower at the club, a few beers and a chat with the rest of the crowd and it was time for Jan/Hugo's briefing. Tommorrow was the last day but the weather was looking less than promising. The only light at the end of the tunnel was the wind would have a northerly set to it. An early morning departure and rendevous at Yarmouth IOW for refuelling was agreed for 8.00am the following day. We headed off for the hotel and a nightcap. Tommorrow might be the hardest part of the whole trip. I was sure of one thing - if it were rough I'd cruise at 20kts and make big circles round the fleet to keep with them. This 14kt business was far too wet!!
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