Sailing on the Solway? only just!

The plan was to spend 4 days sailing on the Solway estuary, to try out sailing techniques and get used to the new sails, but the plans were to change due to the lack of wind. sailsI left the mooring at Port Carlisle on the flood tide, but there was so little wind the tidal eddy was pulling me near to the harbor wall, I did not want to start the motor (only in emergencies) I wanted to use the wind to get me passed it. The wind blew just enough to pass the mouth of the harbor and I missed the stone structures and the shingle, but only just; then I entered the tidal eddy on the other side of the harbor which pulled me into the main channel and out into the middle of the estuary. There the wind died, also the ebbing tide started to take me towards Bowness-on-Solway. startingI wanted to anchor at Bowness, but there was insufficient wind to take me into the bay, I started the motor but it was not enough to pull me free from the ebbing tide, which was fast taking me onwards, passed the viaduct and towards the masts at Anthorn.
bownessThe tide was ebbing fast and I knew there was a lot of sand and shallow water to anchor in when the new flood returns. I wanted to get into shore as much as possible out of the path of the Solway Bore (it was coming in high as the tides were 8 meter in height at Silloth and this brought the bore up the estuary).
I tested the depth of the water beneath Sadaf by using a pole, it quickly became shallow and I was a long way from shore, I slowly edged my way towards the shore using the remaining wind. When the keels touched sand I tacked as much as I could into the breeze so to have a shelter for the evening.

As Sadaf dried out I noticed a slight tilting of the hull, this was normal as the keels sink a little into the soft sand. I got out of my wet suit, I did some things in the cabin, when I came out I noticed more tilting of the boat. As the water ebbed she titled more and when the sand was visible I saw Sadaf has come to rest in a channel, hard sand was all around, but her keels had rested in a channel that was carrying the ebbing tide out to sea.

heeled overI quickly noticed a problem, I could see her keels clearly now. On the starboard side her keel and middle stub was on firm sand, but the rudder and port keel was in the soft sand of the channel, the ebbing sand was taking the soft sand away faster than what was replaced, her keel was not finding compacted sand to rest upon. As the water raced down the channel the sand went with it and Sadaf’s keel sank deeper into the channel’s bed, it was like quicksand she only stopped sinking when the hull had touched the sand and the channel has dried out to a trickle.
heeled over 1Sadaf was healing badly, her gunwale was close to the sand and I was afraid when the flood returned it would gush over the side and into the cockpit, flooding the boat and she would not able to refloat. I tied the anchor warp to her side and hoped it would slow the tilting of the hull. The starboard keel had now slid onto the soft sand too.

As time went on, I had to make a decision whether to stay with her or to leave her for the night. I could not enter the cabin to eat or to rest, I was afraid the added weight would push her further into the soft sand. Night was coming on and I would be sitting about waiting for midnight and the flood to return.

I had visions of her lying on her side while I was there clinging to the mast when the tide returned in pitch darkness. It was a choice I did not make lightly, but I decided to leave her and return to shore and home. I need food anyway (I was going to get it from Annan) and maybe I could get some sleep and return in the morning to either a flooded hull or a righted boat. I set the anchor so if she did refloat she would lift and land on hard sand after the ebb, also I attached my inflatable dinghy to her port side to give added buoyancy when the flood came, attaching rope to the starboard side underneath the hull to the port side so the dinghy would hold its position. I tidied the cabin as much as possible and stored gear. I put away a lot of the sailing equipment and closed the cabin.
stakes 1Before I left for the night I went to see what I thought were fishing nets in the middle of the channel. As I got closer I noticed they were wooden posts about 10-12ft high, arranged in rows forming something like a “X” design in the sand. I thought perhaps they were left over from the war, used as makers for bombing exercises? Or perhaps they are salmon stakes left over from the seasons fishing? These posts were new; the water had not begun to rot the wood. I remembered a conversation I had with someone from Annan telling me of an “art installation” what was in the main channel and that it was not buoyed or marked in any way. This must have been it! What great art, to see ones boat impaled and the crew clinging for their lives in mid-channel, it being pitch dark or swirling seas, or just a post through the hull and the water gushing in, maybe kids are aboard? What stupidity.
stakesNo wonder no one sails in these waters. I have sailed this channel a few times and maybe I have passed over these posts… or just missed them. I returned to the boat, feeling that these waters are not as safe as I once thought, not because of nature, but because of humans stupidity.

I had with me my fold-away bike, but this had a flat tire (just my luck). I had to quickly blow up the back tire, walk the bike over the sand and then find a way through the moor, bog and gorse to the road. By this time it was dark, I was tired, hungry (I had only breakfast) and was worried about the boat, I had a 15 mile cycle ride after I had fixed my puncture. I fixed the puncture but it went down again, in the same spot, I would have to walk home. I started to blow up the tire again, hoping to get on the bike and ride like mad before it deflated, but after a few inflations to my surprise I noticed it was not deflating any longer, perhaps the pressure of the bike had closed the hole and the glue had set? It stayed inflated and I made it home, ate and went straight to bed.

I did not sleep much, logically I knew I had a 50% change of Sadaf refloating, but I felt that I had lost her to the sea, not a nice feeling. I awoke at 6.30am, ate and cycled with my normal bike back to Sadaf, I did not take any food with me as I thought if she was flooded I would need all the space to unpack my things and take what I could home on the bike, so I took only a packed lunch and some tea.
dinghyWhen I got there I was relieved, Sadaf was sitting on her keels, on hard sand where I had hoped she would be, attached to her anchors. She would live to fight another day. I had a couple of hours before the flood so I set all the sails and gear ready to get under way.boreIn the distance I heard the Solway Bore approaching, and then I saw it coming on the Scottish side of the estuary, white surf doubled over each other, I was pleased I had not grounded in the way of the Bore, as that surf would certainly have entered the cockpit and probably broken the sunken keels off the hull.
approaching tideAs I was quite far from the bore I watched the sea gently come up the channel and reach the boat. I had set the grapnel anchor just below the hull so not to get it snarled on the keels, and as the sea lifted the stern and floated, I fed out the warp to hold Sadaf fast until there was enough water underneath her. Then I lifted the anchor and set the sails. It is very hard to tell the direction one is going with no wind, the flood tide is not going east, it is moving south (towards the shore) but at the same time it is moving east, and then nearer to shore there is the tidal eddy which is moving west. One thing I noticed about this water is that there is not much still water, as soon as the tide is fully in, it starts to ebb, and then one is fighting a strong current.

I had made perhaps 1 mile, before I started to be pulled back with the ebb, the wind had died, and I was again using the motor to get me east and also trying to get close to the shore to reduce the pull of the tide. I found the 4 hours, until she dried out, very frustrating. In total I had achieved 200 meters, I could still see the wooden posts sticking out of the sands. The good news was I had not landed in a channel (I had checked before she dried out).sun setLooking at a great sunset I later cycled home to get food. After the sun set came a red moon, a wonderful sight.
red sunThe next day I was ready to sail with hope I would get past the viaduct. But the same thing happened again, the flood took me so far and the ebb brought me back to where I had been for the past 2 nights, I could see the ebbing tide pulling me back and my motor could not fight it. In fairness the electric motor is only for getting me to shore if there was no wind (like now) but it was not for fighting one of the strongest tidal flows in the UK. Also the batteries were getting weaker each day; even after charging them via the solar panels they were not fully charged. I was using 2 car batteries a day trying to fight the ebb, each day less power were stored in them so I was getting less hours of usage.

In frustration, I did what I had said I would never do again, and that is get out of the boat and pull Sadaf against the ebb. I dropped the anchor and waited until the ebb was shallow enough up to waist height. I had my wet suit on; I jumped out and pulled Sadaf (it is easier to put the grapnel anchor over the bows and walk backwards, and if you get too deep you can always hang onto the bows) for about 1 mile. The sands were uneven and I suddenly got up to my chest in water, I back tracked and slowly edged into shore, then I was up to my thighs and she dried out.
channelWhen the tied was fully out I saw I had crossed a channel and then walked up the other bank. I was quite close to the viaduct and opposite the mouth of Annan Harbor. It is tiring fighting the ebb, but I had made progress and I was closer to the main channel and therefore I had a chance of reaching it before the ebb started the next day. I also thought if I could do this with the last of the next ebb (4am) I would get even closer to the channel and the viaduct. I knew once passed the viaduct I could either get into Bowness, or continue onto Port Carlisle, but the thought of wading through water in the darkness did not excite me very much.
final sunsetAfter a beautiful sunset I slept on the boat that night. At 1am the water reached Sadaf, she lifted fast. I went to the anchors to check they were not fouling the keels (I had weighted the warps, but you never know) or lifting out, the pull of the channel was strong on the warps. There was light by the moon and I could see the swell as the channel rebounded off the viaduct walls. Seeing the flood tide at night is a surreal effect, it is moving so fast, speeding, everything is triple speed, not so in the day light, but the night light has a different effect on the tides.
final moonThe wind had risen from the east (finally some wind), it would be a lee shore but most of the waves were reduced because of the viaduct. I laid back and tried to sleep, but could not. About 3am Sadaf began to rock violently on the ebbing tide, I thought the lee shore was making itself felt, but as I peered out I saw there were large swells coming from the mouth of the viaduct, perhaps there were accented by the night light, but they were rocking Sadaf in all directions. I was alone in the middle of the night being thrown about the cabin with only an anchor warp stopping me from going out to the Irish Sea…a strange thought. I was sleeping in one of the side bunks, but I moved my bed onto the floor to give the boat more centre ballast. After half an hour she had settled down, and I slept until dawn, no night walks that night!

Time passes fast; there is always things to do, eating, tidying, preparing etc. then the tide domes again, relentless. With only a breath of wind I waited until Sadaf floated, I had dug in the Bruce anchor as well as the grapnel would have being pulled out with the force of the flood, and who knows where I would have ended up? When the tide race had passed I pulled up the Bruce anchor and stowed it, then brought up the grapnel, I started the motor immediately I wanted to get into the channel as soon as possible to make the most of the flood tide.

I was edging towards the viaduct, and then my first battery failed. I had my Genoa up and it was just flapping loosely. I quickly changed my battery and switched it on. Nothing! No power, I tried a few times and it sparked into life. I had lost some ground and I was quite close to the viaduct wall, I could see the flood tide swirling around its loose stones. I was too far down and I was being pulled into the wall, not passed it. I tacked Sadaf, so she pointed up channel and hoped she would ferry glide passed the wall. The little motor giving all she could and a slight breeze filling the Genoa, I was edging closer to the wall but also ferry gliding out into the main channel. I had made it. I cut the motor as soon as I passed the wall and put my tiller over so Sadaf spun round and headed down channel, the only movement now was from the flood tide, I had no motor or wind powering me, and I sped along. The swirling tide and eddies all effected direction but I used the rudder to stay pointing down channel. I quickly passed Bowness, and I was soon approaching the harbour wall of Port Carlisle, what a relief to have made it so far, and yet it was not a great distance.

At the harbour I noticed a tidal eddy and what looked like an ebbing tide, had the tide started to ebb already? One moment I was speeding down channel and now it looked like I was to be sped up channel. I did not want to get pulled back so I started the motor and the little electric I had left propelled me (or tired to propel me) passed the harbour wall. But the eddy/ebb was not letting me pass it, with no wind to help I saw staying still…gaining no headway, or was I? I was getting further away from the harbour, it was still the flood tide, but it was going backwards! Suddenly my sails sprang into life, my Main and Genoa was full and I was pulling away from the harbour towards my mooring. The first time in 4 days I was sailing!

Even though I had lost a lot of ground going with the flood tide, the eddy was pulling me back towards the harbour. The closer I got to the shore, the stronger the eddy got. It is an amazing tide, so powerful; it is like sailing in a river that is in flood. But it is my sailing area and I knew its waters well enough. The closer I reached my buoy the more I had to head away from it, up channel. The wind stayed with me, and let the grapnel anchor go and we floated down to rest just beside the buoy.

I set the Bruce anchor and I rested on the hull and fell asleep in the sun. Before Sadaf dried out I tried to retrieve the buoy by motoring to it, but there was no more power in the battery, so I jumped out and secured the buoy to Sadaf manually.
I packed most of the things away, and then I had a 2 mile walk in the dark for my bike that was locked to a tree passed the viaduct. I slept on Sadaf that night and woke the next morning to think fog;
fogI was lucky enough to get some power out of my solar panels and managed to get some electric into my depleted batteries. I left for home as the tide came again. Here is a video of the sail to accompany the blog