Thursday, 14 September 2017

Flying the flag and new docking sticks

Photo of the red ensign flying from Ravensdale's new flagpole

The red ensign flying from Ravensdale's new flagpole

Ravensdale will be proudly flying the red ensign when we take her out of the marina in future.

We will also be able to dock at marinas where there is no one available to catch our ropes, thanks to our other latest purchase – a pair of docking sticks we ordered from the States.

When we bought our 43ft Neptunus 133 motor cruiser the only flag pole on board was a softwood pole that had seen better days and the only flag was the Dutch flag.

I suppose this wasn’t surprising as Ravensdale was made in Holland and was originally kept on the Dutch inland waterways.

She must have left Holland some years ago as she was on the River Shannon in Ireland and then the Clyde in Scotland before our predecessors brought her to Maryport in Cumbria a couple of years ago.

We learnt that we should be flying the national maritime flag on our RYA Day Skipper Course and had been meaning to rectify the situation for some time, but there always seemed to be other jobs that needed to be done first.

However, we have now purchased a stainless steel pole and will definitely be flying the flag in the future.

Whereas the flag and flagpole are decorative our new docking sticks serve a more useful purpose.

Photo of my first attempt at using one of the new docking sticks

My first attempt at using one of the new docking sticks

Photo of hooking the rope over a cleat

Hooking the rope over a cleat

They will enable me to get a mooring rope over a cleat without assistance, given that the boat is too high for me to jump off onto the pontoon to moor up.

We searched for something to do this job online and the best solution we could find was these docking sticks that clip onto the end of a boat hook and hold the rope in a loop while it is slipped over the cleat.
Once in place, a sharp pull on the boathook unhooks the stick and the rope is securely over the cleat.

We were expecting bad weather over Tuesday night into Wednesday morning when the Met Office announced that Storm Aileen – the first named storm of the season – was heading our way.

A yellow warning for wind was issued, which revealed that we could expect gusts of up to 75mph along exposed coastlines – that would be us then J

There was also an amber warning for rain issued with up to 40mm expected in the worst hit areas. This was less worrying for us for obvious reasons.

Photo of extra ropes added in preparation for Storm Aileen

Extra ropes were added in preparation for Storm Aileen

We moved the boat out from the pontoon a bit to make sure we wouldn’t get blown up against it and put on extra ropes just in case, even though we always have plenty of mooring ropes attached.

Photo of storm clouds gathering over Maryport Harbour

Storm clouds gather over Maryport Harbour

Another view of the storm clouds over the harbour

Another view of the storm clouds over the harbour

I took my camera for a walk around the harbour to see the storm brewing and could see dark clouds gathering overhead.

I made sure I was back inside before the rain started and we sat tight waiting for the storm to arrive, but it didn’t get here. In fact, we had one of the quietest, least rocky nights we’d had for days.

Apparently Storm Aileen moved further south taking us out of the area for which the Met Office had issued a severe weather warning.

We’ve had some fairly high tides recently and I actually got around to taking a photo of Ravensdale from the walkway, which is usually above the marina wall next to us, to show that at the higher tides we’re practically level with it.

Photo of Ravensdale and the pontoon alongside the walkway at high tide

Ravensdale and the pontoon alongside the walkway at high tide

We've caught another couple of small pollock in our crab net and the crabs we catch seem to be eating most of the shrimps that get trapped in the pot.

Photo of Phil removing a pollock from our crab net

Phil removing a pollock from our crab net

Meanwhile I’m getting on well with my book and have also been getting out and about with my camera.

Below is a selection of images taken around Maryport over the past week.

Photo of the River Ellen at Maryport

The River Ellen at Maryport

Photo of Maryport basin from the top of Market Steps

Maryport basin from the top of Market Steps

Photo of Maryport from Mote Hill

Maryport from Mote Hill

Photo of a fishing boat returning to Maryport

A fishing boat returning to Maryport

Photo of waves breaking on Grasslot Beach at Maryport

Waves breaking on Grasslot Beach at Maryport

Photo of a brightly coloured fishing boat in Maryport Harbour

A brightly coloured fishing boat in Maryport Harbour

Photo of a rainbow over Maryport Harbour

A rainbow over Maryport Harbour

Friday, 8 September 2017

Taking Ravensdale’s mini me out for a test drive

Photo of mini Ravensdale's first dip in the marina

Mini Ravensdale's first dip in the marina

We bought our new dinghy a few months ago but had never got around to putting it in the water.

The outboard we bought while down in Wales visiting the family at the start of this year had also never been used so we decided it was time to take them for a sea trial – or at least a pootle around the marina.

We blew the three-man Excel Volante 235 dinghy up when it arrived in July and left it up for a few days to check it didn’t have any leaks so we were hopeful that would still be the case...and thankfully it was.

Phil pumped it up on the aft deck and I was so pleased we had chosen the dark blue version rather than pale grey as it’s a perfect match for Ravensdale’s blue stripes and canvas dodgers and covers. It really looks as though it belongs on this boat.

We then lifted Ravensdale’s mini me over the side of the aft deck onto the pontoon as, although we now have winches on our davits, we’ve yet to buy the straps needed to hold the dinghy and two mounting rings need fixing to its transom.

We positioned the dinghy on the pontoon with its stern hanging over the edge and Phil fitted the outboard.

Photo of our dinghy balanced on the pontoon

Our dinghy balanced on the pontoon with its new outboard motor fitted

We then carefully lifted it into the water, tied its mooring rope to a cleat on the pontoon and Phil climbed in.

Sadly the outboard refused to start so the planned trial had to be aborted.

Luckily for us a friend, who’s a marine engineer, was visiting the marina on his boat at the time and he offered to take a look at the outboard motor for us.

Stewart discovered that it had oil in the cylinder. He cleaned it out and the motor started first time.

Photo of Stewart working on our outboard motor

Stewart working on our outboard motor

We decided it was better to try it with just one of us in it initially in case there were any problems so Phil climbed in, I untied the rope and off he went.

It worked fine and the little 2.5hp Suzuki engine provided plenty of power for what we wanted it to do. It will only be used to transport us to and from the shore if we ever end up mooring anywhere other than in a marina.

Photo of Phil taking the dinghy for a test drive

Phil taking the dinghy for a test drive

Phil brought the dinghy back alongside the pontoon and I joined him in it, thankfully without falling into the water in the process J

We then spent a fun-filled half an hour or so whizzing around the marina visiting everyone who was on their boat that day.

The weather was lovely – sunny with very little wind - but the marina gate was closed for much of the day due to the high tides being early in the morning and in the evening. The gate is only open for around two hours either side of the high tide.

There was no way we could’ve taken Ravensdale out to make the most of the conditions and decided playing in the dinghy was the next best thing.

The aim of the exercise was simply to check the dinghy and outboard were in good working order and to practice manoeuvring the little boat as reversing involves turning the whole motor around.

At first, every time Phil tried to reverse the whole dinghy turned around so we ended up travelling in the same direction in reverse as we had done while travelling forward, which wasn’t very helpful, but caused a lot of hilarity.

However, he soon got the hang of it and was able to reverse in the intended direction.

Then we just had fun until we decided we’d had enough and moored up on the pontoon next to Ravensdale.

Sadly there are no photos of the pair of us in the dinghy as I didn't think to ask anyone else to take one and couldn't take a selfie as I left my mobile phone on the boat in case it fell in the water.

But it was definitely a great way to spend a sunny afternoon – a lot more fun than being stuck in an office :-)

The forecast for the following day was also sunny and calm and the gate was due to open about an hour later so we decided to get up early and take Ravensdale out to play in the Solway Firth.

We already had fishing bait in the freezer and Phil saved some of the shrimps that we’d caught in our crab net.

I went through my usual routine of packing away anything breakable that could move while at sea while Phil sorted our mooring ropes ready for the off.

We left at around 8.45am and stayed out longer than on previous occasions, returning at about 11.30am. We knew we needed to be back by around 12 noon because of the gate and didn’t want to cut it too fine.

Photo taken while heading out past Maryport Lighthouse

Heading out past Maryport Lighthouse on our way to the Solway Firth

Photo of tea time on Ravensdale's fore deck

Time for tea on Ravensdale's fore deck

Our little cruise around the firth was very enjoyable, especially when we put the engine in neutral and let the boat drift while Phil attempted to fish. I made us a cup of tea, which we drank on the foredeck in the sunshine.

For some reason, it suddenly struck me just how exciting it was to be bobbing around on the waves in our house. It seemed totally bizarre - in a very good way - after years of living in a static house on the land :-)

Another delight was seeing all the jellyfish swimming around our boat. We couldn’t see them while travelling due to Ravensdale’s wake and wash.

But, when we stopped, we could see that there were literally dozens of barrel jellyfish varying in size from about 6ins to 18ins in diameter all around us. The little ones reminded me of the Space Invaders computer game. 

I tried to photograph and video them, but it was not very successful due mainly to the reflections of the sun on the rippling water.
Photo of one of the larger jellyfish close to the boat

One of the larger jellyfish close to the boat

Photo of some of the dozens of smaller jellyfish

Some of the dozens of smaller jellyfish

They were swimming very close to Phil’s fishing line and I was amazed that none of them got caught up in it.

Unfortunately nothing else got caught that day either, but we had fun trying.

Photo of Phil checking one of his fishing rods

Phil checking one of his fishing rods

Photo of some of the shrimps we caught being used as bait

Some of the shrimps we caught were used as bait

Whatever fish were down there, if indeed there were any fish there at all, didn’t seem to be interested in our shrimps or the frozen squid Phil was using as bait.

Another interesting aspect of this outing was that it was the first time we’d been to sea since Phil fitted the in-hull transducer and it worked.

We felt a lot safer knowing how much water there was beneath Ravensdale’s keel – not that we went anywhere that was going to be too shallow.

It was just interesting to see what depths were beneath us in different areas of the firth.

Photo of the depth sounder/log working

The depth sounder/log registering the depth but no speed while we were drifting to fish

Photo of Phil at the helm

Phil at the helm

All went well until we decided to head home and, when we were about a mile out from the harbour entrance, the alarm on the starboard engine went off.

It was really loud and very scary, especially as we had no idea why it was going off.

Ravensdale had been doing about 15 knots when the alarm started sounding. Phil immediately eased off, the alarm stopped shortly afterwards and we returned to the marina without any difficulties.

The only problem now being that we have no idea what caused it.

Having spoken to our marine engineer friend about it, he suggested it might be worth getting the fuel injectors cleaned and reset so that’s something we plan to do fairly soon. However, he said it would be fine to carry on using the engine in the meantime.

Since then, Phil has spent some time in the engine room changing the perspex lid on the port engine water filter and the gasket on the starboard engine’s water filter.

He also thoroughly cleaned both filters and checked all four pairs of drive belts on the two engines, tightening up one that had become slack.

We had another interesting catch in the crab pot this week when a tiny Pollock found its way into the net along with the usual collection of little crabs and shrimps.

Photo of the tiny pollock that turned up in our crab net

The tiny Pollock that turned up in the crab net

Photo of Ravensdale returning home from our latest outing

Ravensdale returning home from our latest outing

And a couple of days after our last trip out into the Solway Firth this photo was posted on a local Facebook group called Maryport Past and Present. The woman who took it has kindly allowed me to use it on Facebook and in my blog.

It was a lovely surprise to discover that someone had actually taken a photo of Ravensdale at sea.

I was sat out on the fore deck taking photos of Maryport and the marina gate on our way back in and caught the photographer in one of my images.

She's only very small in this image and the quality is not great as it was taken into the sun but it struck me as funny that she was photographing us while I was photographing her.

Photo of the photographer photographing Ravensdale

The photographer is just visible to the right of the base of the lighthouse

Photo of heading back towards the gate to Maryport Marina

Heading back towards the gate to Maryport Marina

Friday, 1 September 2017

Wildlife watching in and around Maryport Marina

Photo of some of the shrimps we caught in our crab net

Some of the shrimps we caught in our crab net

Conger eels, cormorants, crabs, shrimps, flatfish and lizards - these are just some of the creatures we’ve seen in and around the marina over the past week.

Our crab net is being put to good use now as a trap for bait for our first fishing trip on Ravensdale.

We bought the net a couple of months ago just to discover what was living under our boat in Maryport Marina.

Soon afterwards the zip broke, but Phil has fixed it and it’s working again.

Photo of Phil repairing our crab net

Phil repairing our crab net

And he's now decided that the crabs and shrimps we catch will be useful bait for the new fishing rods that I bought him for his birthday.

He plans to use the shrimps, along with the frozen mackerel and squid that are sitting in our tiny freezer, out on our first fishing trip, which we're hoping will be tomorrow (Saturday).

We've been getting some good hauls of crabs, often a dozen or more at a time, and a similar number of shrimps every time we lift the net.
But the biggest surprise came when we pulled it up to find a flatfish in amongst them.

We had a good look at it, then returned it to the water as it wasn’t big enough to eat and neither of us would fancy eating anything that fed on the mud in the bottom of the marina anyway.

We weren’t 100% sure, but thought it looked like a flounder.

Photo of a flatfish, crabs and shrimps in our crab net

This catch included the flatfish, more than a dozen crabs and a similar number of shrimps

Photo of Phile examining the flatfish before returning it to the water

Examining the flatfish before returning it to the water

We also discovered why we seemed to be losing shrimps when we left them in the net as on one occasion when it was lifted we caught one of the crabs halfway through his shrimp supper :-)

We now know we need to get a separate keep net if we want to save live shrimps for bait.

Cormorants visit the marina from time to time, but I've only ever seen them from too far away to get a photograph.

This week one landed on one of the pontoon fingers near our boat and stayed for long enough for me to put the long lens on the camera to get a snap of it. My only disappointment was that it had finished drying its wings by the time the camera was set up.

Photo of a cormorant sunning itself on a pontoon near Ravensdale

A cormorant sunning itself on a pontoon near Ravensdale

But the most interesting marine visitor we saw this week was a three-foot conger eel that was swimming along in the narrow gap between the edge of the main pontoon and the marina wall.

We watched it twist and turn for a while before it dived down into the muddy water and disappeared.

Sadly I only had my phone with me and the photos I took weren’t great, but at least it meant we could make sure we’d correctly identified it.

Photo of a conger eel swimming along beside the marina wall

A conger eel swims along beside the marina wall

It’s the first one we’ve seen in the almost 10 months we’ve been living on board our 43ft Neptunus 133 cruiser in Maryport Marina, but there are probably more of them lurking in the muddy depths.

And I really hope I have my camera handy next time one comes anywhere near the surface while I’m around as they’re impressive, if a little scary, looking creatures.

I also discovered that there are loads of lizards on the fence posts alongside the road between the marina and the beach.

I bumped into a local who was walking his dog while I was over by the beach this week and he told me the lizards sun themselves on the tops of the posts on warm days. 

Photo of a lizard warming up in the sunshine

A lizard warms up in the sunshine 

Photo of another of the basking lizards on the fenceposts near the marina

Another of the basking lizards on the fence posts near the marina

The marina was busier than usual over the Bank Holiday weekend with a number of boats coming and going, but we decided to wait until the depth sounder was sorted before taking Ravensdale out again and Phil finished fitting the new in-hull transducer over the weekend.

Photo of Phil fitting the new in-hull transducer

Fitting the new in-hull transducer

He also fixed the large white lockers on the aft deck to the decking after discovering they were loose and could move around.

We’d always thought they were screwed down and worked around them when we cleaned and sealed the deck.

However, soon after we returned from our last trip out into the Solway Firth, Phil went to put something behind one of the lockers and saw it move.

Photo of the two large white lockers on Ravensdale's aft deck

The two large white lockers on Ravensdale's aft deck

Thank goodness we discovered it before taking the boat out in a rough sea as the lockers are very heavy and could’ve done real damage or gone straight through the fabric dodgers over the side into the water, if they’d been thrown around.

The weather was awful on Bank Holiday Monday so we hardly left the boat and I decided it was a good time to do something I’ve always wanted to do and start writing a novel.

I’ve had a few ideas for plots in my head for a while and decided it was time to make a start.

I thought I’d be easily distracted but found I really enjoyed the opportunity to use my imagination rather than having to stick to the facts as I’d had to do while working as a journalist.

And for any non journalists reading this, I know what you’re thinking and I can assure you we really don’t make it up as we go along J

In fact, I’m enjoying writing my book so much that the hardest thing is stopping myself typing to do the other things that need doing on the boat or even going outside to make the most of the sunshine - when the sun actually comes out that is.

I just wish I could find a way of typing out on the aft deck, but I’m sure the sun would reflect on the screen of my laptop. I must look into that one before the end of the summer.

I’m told the weather in Cumbria is usually nice for the first two weeks of September, just after the children go back to the school at the end of their summer holidays, so we’re now hoping we could be in for some more sunshine before autumn arrives.

If the weather is good, we are planning more trips out on Ravensdale, initially fishing, but then maybe to Kirkcudbright on the Scottish side of the Solway Firth.

I also want to get out and about more with my camera, when it comes back after being repaired. Phil has kindly lent me his while mine's been away, but it'll be good to have my own camera back again.

As always, there seems to be so much to do and so little time. I now know what retired folk mean when they say the don't know how they ever had time to go to work :-)

Photo of a dog walker on Grasslot Beach, Maryport

A dog walker on Grasslot Beach, Maryport

Photo of people walking along the coastal path towards Flimby

Walking along the coastal path towards Flimby

Friday, 25 August 2017

Living the dream - anchors aweigh...

Photo of me enjoying the sunshine on Ravensdale's aft deck in the Solway Firth

Enjoying the sunshine on Ravensdale's aft deck in the Solway Firth

It’s been another busy week on Ravensdale, including our second trip out into the Solway Firth, further boat maintenance and Phil’s birthday.
Our first outing from Maryport Marina in Cumbria on our 43ft Neptunus 133 cruiser earlier this month was exciting, but in many ways the second on Monday of this week was better.
This time the new depth sounder/log, which had to be returned to the manufacturer because it wasn’t working properly, was back in situ so we knew what speeds we were doing and we were able to check this against the GPS on the plotter.
Photo of Phil at the helm of Ravensdale at sea

Phil at the helm of Ravensdale at sea

Phil took Ravensdale up to about 18 knots, which felt as though we were moving through the water pretty fast, and she still had more to give, but we decided not to push her any harder as the port engine seemed to be smoking a bit at speed.
However, she seemed very happy and was smoke-free at about 8-9 knots.
We’ve spoken to a number of people who have more experience of diesel engines than us and they didn’t seem to think it was too worrying.
It has been suggested that we run the fuel tank down as much as possible before refuelling to use up the old diesel before filling her up again so that's what we are planning to do.
It was a lovely calm day, with winds of just 5-6mph, so we took the opportunity to see how the boat would behave if we put the engines in neutral and let her drift.
And we decided this was a good time to have our first cup of tea on the aft deck at sea.
Photo of making our first cup of tea at sea

Making our first cup of tea at sea while the boat rocked around on the waves

Photo of Phil enjoying his first cup of tea at sea on the aft deck

Phil enjoys his first cup of tea at sea on the aft deck

The thinking behind this was that we wanted to discover how easy it would be to fish from the boat.
It seems it would be no problem at all when there’s very little wind and we wouldn’t be going out fishing in high winds anyway.
The rev counter on the port engine, which had been refusing to work on our first trip out into the firth, worked this time as Phil had checked all the connections and got it running again.

The blown water filter gasket

He had also replaced the gasket in the port engine water filter that we discovered was totally blown and, before we bought the boat, someone had used silicone sealant to seal down the perspex inspection cover that is supposed to be removed so the filter can be checked and if necessary cleaned out after every trip out to sea.
The lid can now be easily removed and the filter checked and cleaned.
It seems crazy that someone would seal the lid down rather than paying £11 for a new gasket, but that's what they had done.
Photo of fitting the new gasket to the water filter

Fitting the new gasket to the water filter

Sadly we still had no idea of the depth of water while we were out as, although the depth sounder worked briefly after it returned from the manufacturer, it packed up again just before we went out.
Photo of the depth sounder (top left)

The depth sounder (top left) registers "out" instead of the depth

We’ve now decided that there must be a problem with the “through hull” transducer. This sends a signal down to the seabed which bounces back, giving the depth reading.
In an attempt to rectify the problem without having Ravensdale lifted out of the water again, which would cost us more than £400, we decided it would be cheaper to buy an “in hull” transducer in the hope we will get a reading from that.
Phil’s in the process of fitting it as I write this, so I will provide an update on that in my next blog post.
In the meantime, Phil celebrated his birthday last week so I was faced with the near impossible task of finding something to get him as a present.
He already has just about every type of fishing rod imaginable (at least, that’s how it seems to me J) but he’d been saying he needed uptide rods so I ordered two rods and a pair of rod holders for his birthday.
Apparently uptide rods enable you to fish in reasonably shallow water, allowing you to cast fairly heavy weights away from the boat.
He seemed pleased with his present, so much so that he even went out in the rain on his birthday to fit the holders to the guard rail on either side of the bow, then tried the rods in them when the sun came out.
Photo of Phil fitting one of the new rod holders

Phil fitting one of the new rod holders

Photo of Phil trying a rod in one of the new rod holders

Phil trying a rod in one of the new rod holders

However, he hadn’t had time to sort out the rest of his fishing gear before our trip out on Monday so that will be something to look forward to on our next outing.
He has been busy making up traces and we’ve managed to squeeze some frozen bait into our tiny freezer to ensure that he will be ready to fish at a moment’s notice when we decide to go out again.
I was so glad the fishing rods and holders were a success as my attempts at making him a cake were anything but. After bragging that I thought I’d sussed out the temperature controls on our little oven, his birthday cake was an unmitigated disaster.
As a change from the courgette cakes I’ve been making lately, I decided to try a coffee and walnut cake and all went well until I got it out of the oven to discover that the sides were burnt and the middle immediately sank.
Photo of my sad apology for a coffee and walnut cake

My sad apology for a coffee and walnut cake

Thankfully, Phil thought it was hilarious and decided to share it with the local wildlife. He threw it overboard for the seagulls, who seemed none the worse for their birthday tea.
Oh well, they say it’s the thought that counts...
And I went out and bought a Belgian chocolate cheesecake instead (no image of that I'm afraid as we ate it before I could take a photo of it :-)).
While Ravensdale was out of the water on the hard standing earlier this year, we ordered and fitted a new trident logo to replace the existing one on the bow which was looking more than a little the worse for wear.
The only trouble was that we forgot to make a hole through the vinyl logo to allow the anchor chain locker to drain.
So, while we were moving the boat across onto the adjoining pontoon to enable Phil to clean the starboard side of the hull, I suggested this would be a good opportunity to pull the bow around to within reach of the pontoon to pierce the vinyl.
Poor Ravensdale looked a bit sad moored at 45 degrees to the pontoon and I’m sure passers by must’ve thought we were really bad at parking our boat, but it did the trick.
Photo of Ravensdale moored at a crazy angle so we could get to the bow

Ravensdale moored at a crazy angle so we could get to the bow

Photo of Ravensdale moored at an angle to the pontoon

Ravensdale moored at an angle to the pontoon

Photo of Ravensdale's chain locker emptying into the marina

Ravensdale's chain locker empties into the marina

Phil then used a hot soldering iron to make a neat hole and, immediately he pierced the vinyl, a steady stream of water started pouring out.
And it kept running for such a long time that I can only think it wouldn’t have been long before it would’ve started pouring out onto the bunks in the fore cabin where the internal access to the chain locker is situated.
We also decided it would be a good idea to try dropping the anchor in the marina before we needed to do so at sea, just to make sure that the winch was working properly after Phil replaced the switch and that it would lift the anchor.
Photo of Ravensdale dropping anchor for the first time

Ravensdale drops anchor for the first time

And it was a very good job we did...
Only about 10m of the 55m chain came out when he dropped the anchor and he had to inspect the chain locker to see what was happening.
The main problem here being that, lack of storage space has meant a number of homeless boxes of stuff and various other items had been “temporarily” placed on the bunks in the forward cabin.
These all had to be removed before he could get to the chain locker to discover that the chain was tangled up. He untangled it and the rest of the chain slid out into the water.
And, thankfully, the winch brought the chain and anchor back in again, but the chain needed hosing down as it went back in as it was very dirty after being sat in the mud at the bottom of the marina.
Photo washing the anchor after we tested it by dropping it in the marina

Washing the anchor after we tested it by dropping it in the marina

This little exercise taught us another lesson. We need unhindered access to the chain locker hatch while at sea.
If we’d been dropping the anchor in a rough sea, we would’ve had a terrible job on our hands moving all our stuff out of the cabin while the boat was being tossed around by the waves.
So we sorted all the stuff we had pulled out before putting it back to decide what we didn’t really need on the boat and anything that was considered unnecessary on board was taken to the storage facility we use near Cockermouth the following day.
The access to the chain locker is now clear. The only challenge will be keeping it that way... J