On the Thursday morning before our departure from Wells the next day, Mike and I went to the Harbour Master’s office for a ‘briefing’ .
He was very good and as we listened carefully, he drew a rough sketch map of the entrance showing where the channel was and the relevant buoys to look out for.
As I said in a previous blog, the Wells channel is difficult at the best of times…. reminds me of the 48 buoys you have to locate over in France when you go into the estuary of the River Somme from the English Channel up to the little town of Saint Valerie Sur Somme. Both can be considered a ‘yachtsman’s’ challenge
We discussed the best time to leave… and it seemed to be one hour before high water… so we agreed 2.30pm on Friday.
The real difficulty is finding which publication has the most up to date positions of the red, green ( and one yellow) bouys. All the established nautical almanacs differ…. and so do the pilot books …the latter are also a long way out of date.
So we made do with two maps…. one dated May 2017 from the Wells Harbour booklet and the hand drawn one from the Harbour Master. In some publications there are even written instructions…. ‘keep to the reds in the section between 22 and 28’….. and so on…but for me, these are far too complex. You just don’t have that sort of time to read from a script and helm the boat at the same time.
So I just made do with the HM’s one piece of paper and the general gist of what I read and listened to in my head! Local knowledge is always best.
Just before departing we phoned ‘Coastwatch’…. a voluntary organisation which has established look out posts all around the UK…. following the cuts to HM Coastguard. We noticed the Wells look out post as we came in on the Wednesday afternoon. I asked what the conditions were like at the Wells Bar just before leaving. He informed me that we would not have a problem.
We departed at exactly 2.30pm…. and we didn’t have a problem. There was no wind, no surf to speak of, no breaking waves…. just a matter of getting the buoys in the right order and always finding the deepest part of the channel. So using the HM’s master plan for the very last bit…. crossing the bar… we did so and in 30 minutes had reached the outer cardinal buoy…. and then turned east onto our planned route for Lowestoft. Sighs of relief and a big thank you to the Wells Harbour Master Robert Smith MBE.
The photo below has been taken from an RNLI advert about life jackets in a publication titled “Port of Wells” . This shows the Wells Bar on a bad day. Mike will back me up on this….look at the fishing boat…beam on to the rollers…well that is how we entered on the Wednesday afternoon. You can see one of the red buoys on the left.
A flat sea met us, three or four lobster pots to avoid, a course away from the coast and very little wind. We had about three hours of daylight left and the tide was well and truly pushing us eastwards…. so we made good progress towards our destination… passing Blakeney, passing Sheringham and then passing Cromer, before edging southwards towards Great Yarmouth. We occasionally touched 9 knots of boat speed and for the most part it was 8 knots with a good tide running behind us.
Just before sunset, we decided, as the sea was so flat and calm…. to get ready for berthing before it got dark at 6.30pm. So we put out the six mooring lines ( making sure they were secure to the guard rails ), put out all fourteen fenders… but laid them on the deck so that we just had to push them over when we entered Lowestoft harbour later on. Much safer that trying to get ready in the dark and under time pressure.
To the north east of Great Yarmouth, now pitch black in the dark….the tide finally turned against us and we slowed down. Not to worry, we knew this would happen… we just chugged on…. sighting the flashing lights of our cardinal buoy about 9pm…. signalling the final approach into Lowestoft Harbour. Having identified a gate made up of a red on the left and a south cardinal on the right…. we turned south west for the final 4 or so miles and headed towards land.
A massive sand bank known as Holm Sand lies across the entrance to Lowestoft Harbour…. with a miniscule gap through it. The sector light was not easy to locate…. but no matter, the red and the cardinal were enough to guide us in, making a quick course change through the sand bank gap…. then up to the maze of lights at the harbour entrance. Three greens in line plus the red and green either side of the ‘gate posts’…. and after a quick call on the VHF radio for permission to enter…. granted…and in we went.
Through the outer harbour, up the main channel, a hard left then right…. met with a sight to put a smile on any sailors face…. a long side on pontoon….empty!!! We moored up at 10pm. Tired yes, hungry yes…. and relieved. The Wells exit and a night sail into a strange harbour… done.
Our home for the night was the Royal Norfolk and Royal Suffolk Yacht Club, Lowestoft.
Total mileage for the day: 61.5 n.miles.
Mileage from Eastbourne: 2,469.3 n. miles.
Tomorrow, Saturday…. we plan to move even further south…. making the journey from Lowestoft to Shotley Marina, between Harwich and Felixstowe. However, we had already started to monitor the weather for Saturday…. and all agencies including the MET office were talking about Gale 8 from lunchtime onwards. Not good.