DAY 24 – Friday 13 May 2022 – Shotley to Lowestoft

Miles logged: 42
Total miles logged: 739
Days since leaving Fleetwood: 24
Days at sea: 16

Shotley turned out to be a pleasant, peaceful marina in a totally man-made basin with an entry lock and good facilities. We woke to bright sunshine and a gentle breeze, but a glance over the marina boundary and across to Felixstowe docks confirmed that the forecast was correct and that there was a stiff breeze out at sea.

We planned to leave at 1100 so there was time for a leisurely breakfast, a shower and the usual trip to settle up for the night. Whilst in the marina office the entrance lock was opened at both ends (‘free flow’) in order to let seawater in to top up the level in the marina basin. Mike and I try to avoid marinas which have entrance locks because the locking procedure, with the usual requirement to secure one’s yacht to a pontoon in the lock, having manoeuvred carefully into the lock pit whilst avoiding the other vessels already within and then hoping not to be hit by vessels entering subsequently, really can be a struggle for single-handers. The time was 0950. I returned to Bubble and told Mike that the entrance lock was on free flow and would be so until 1020. I have never seen Mike move so quickly; a few minutes later, whilst I was still preparing Bubble for sea, Mike announced ‘I’m going now’ and off he went. I had ten minutes until the gates closed so I didn’t panic, but I did note that as I passed through the lock, bound for sea, the gates were beginning to close as my stern slid past them.

Out in the Stour estuary it was obvious that we were in for a lively day’s sailing. The wind was already up to 20 kts and even in the sheltered harbour there were white horses. We raised our sails at once and were to complete our entire passage, this time of over 40 miles, under sail.

Leaving the Stour, heading north

We chose Lowestoft for our next port of call not because it is the most easterly town in Britain, and therefore the most easterly point on our circumnavigation, but because it has safe marina berths with all-tide access and, blessedly, no entrance lock. There are two marinas there but the larger one is some way inland and is accessed via a lifting road-bridge which opens at certain times only. We did not want to get involved with all that so we chose the impressive marina attached to the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club, which was close to the harbour entrance.

Our passage northwards from the Stour was a thrilling, high-speed broad reach which with no tide would have been fast, but with 1-2 kts of favourable stream we both exceeded 9 kts over the ground at times and rarely dropped below 6 kts. It was a pleasant leg too because were close to the shore throughout and, as was the case at Dungeness, we had much to look at. The most interesting sights were at Orford Ness. This area was used by the MoD for many years and various structures remain. The most sinister of these are the ‘pagodas’, relics of the Cold War whose purpose remains a mystery. The water is deep close in so were able to get a good look.

The sinister ‘Pagodas‘ at Orford Ness

Later we passed the beautiful town of Aldeburgh, for years the home of Benjamin Britten. I could hear in my head music from Peter Grimes and wondered which cottage Britten imagined Grimes to have lived in. Whichever it was I suspect it is now an upmarket holiday let or a smart bistro.

Aldeburgh

Throughout we had plenty of wind so this was a highly satisfying, exhilarating passage. As we passed Southwold and could see Lowestoft in the distance the wind continued to blow but we became more aware of the sea-state, now that we had to prepare to enter a port which neither of us had visited before. Lowestoft turned out to be a busy port; the steady stream of vessels entering helped us to be sure that we knew where the entrance was and where the various buoys marking the channel to it are. It was obvious that, as single-handers, we would not be able to rig our lines and fenders before entering the harbour. I had seen on the chart that there is a basin between the main entrance and the entrance to the marina. Once in, I began to rig my fenders but had made little progress before the crew from a wind-farm vessel started yelling at Mike and I to clear the fairway because a ‘big ship’ had entered the harbour and would soon run us down. We panicked and made for the marina entrance, unprepared to berth. This was a difficult moment; there was little room in the packed marina and the wind was still blowing hard. Then, with our hands full, we were called over the VHF with the instruction that we were to raft onto each other instead of each yacht having its own berth. And because Pagets Lady is the larger vessel, she was to berth first. But she was behind Bubble and there was barely room to pass. I had to use all my skill and plenty of Volvo Penta power to avoid hitting the wall whilst, of course, having quite an audience from the bertholders enjoying an afternoon on their boats. Mike did a great job of getting rigged and onto the berth, with a little help from the marina staff, and I was then able to settle against Pagets Lady quite easily because the wind blew Bubble onto her. We were safe, but it had been a struggle and we were both exhausted.

Relief … safely berthed in the shadow of the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk YC

The our berths were immediately next to the impressive headquarters of the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club; we felt very under-dressed when we trudged in to register having just stepped off our boats and having sailed for 42 miles in a blow.

The problem we face now is getting from Lowestoft to Grimsby or Hull. We knew this would be one of the difficulties of the circumnavigation and others who have faced it previously have written at length of their ensuing decisions. Some attempt the leg – a gruelling passage of ninety miles – in one go, but we looked hard to find an alternative. We have decided to sail from Lowestoft to Wells-Next-The-Sea on the north Norfolk coast. There is no marina at Wells and we remain concerned about accessibility and berthing for fin-keeled yachts, but a call to the harbourmaster this morning went a long way to assuaging my fears so we have decided to make for Wells when we set sail next.

We are weary after today, and after making from Dover to Lowestoft in two days, so will rest tomorrow. In any event, Sunday’s forecast is better suited for the passage to Wells than that in force for tomorrow.

There is a video of the final approach to Lowestoft in the YouTube channel, here, with sincere apologies about the dreadful sound quality due to the high wind.

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