Surviving Storm Katie

Strong wind warnings over the Easter weekend meant we abandoned plans for a long trip to Holland with Aline and Adrian, former marina buddies who have volunteered to cross Biscay with us. The plan had been to do a long night passage to try out a watch system and get everyone familiar with the boat. With the worst of the wind forecast for Saturday night we settled on a shorter trip to Ramsgate but a decent night sail all the same.

Easter being so early this year the temperature was still icy and it rained incessantly across the Estuary. The wind was a steady force 5, gusty force 6. In the relative shelter of the sail up the Crouch I managed to make a macaroni cheese and feed it to Stefan and Adrian before the mainsail decided to get stuck halfway down Barrow Deep.

Helming is still not my favourite thing in rough conditions and I struggled to keep the boat into the wind and away from sandbanks. Aline and Adrian were able to get the sail down and wrap it to the boom and we continued with just the foresail.

Conditions were so icy at the helm that having lost all sensation in his fingers, Stefan had to come below and stand with his hands in a sink full of hot water until they defrosted!

We arrived in Ramsgate at about 3am after a bumpy night but still managed to stay up for an end of passage drink.

Good Friday was of course clear and calm and sunny and after using the cockpit as a makeshift drying room for all our very wet wets, we spent it introducing Aline and Adrian to Pintail’s second home of Ramsgate, including a walk along the cliff to Broadstairs.

With the wind building on Saturday we took shelter with a trip to Ramsgate Tunnels, a network of tunnels built under the streets of the town where over 1000 people took up residence to avoid the air raids of WWII. Such recent history really brought to life by brilliant volunteer guides.

With waves big enough to surf on coming through the mouth of the harbour we had moved the boat to an inside berth for more protection but still the power of Storm Katie caught us. It was a sleepless and scary night as her winds built.

At about 2am one of our springs snapped clean in two and then we lost a whole section of the toe rail at the bow complete with bow line and fairlead. Stefan and Adrian braved the pontoons to keep us tied on and also rescuing a neighbouring boat which was in danger of being holed.

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It was gone midday on Sunday before the wind calmed and we could survey the damage. We took refuge in the Belgian Cafe that night to recover from the experience.

Aline had to jump ship to prepare for a job interview leaving three of us to return across the Estuary on Tuesday. With the wind still gusting up to force 7 but the sun shining we had a very brisk sail and Adrian got to sail passed Knock John Tower in the daylight for the first time.

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Almost exactly where we ran into sail trouble on the way out both sails jammed as we tried to reef. Going forward to free the genoa Stefan took a freezing cold dunk into the water as the bow hit a wave but managed to get it fixed. The mainsail had to come down again, Adrian and I struggling to keep hold of it in the wind to secure it round the boom.

All good fun in hindsight. All good experience.

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