We departed anchorage off Dungeness on the 4th August and arrived safely at Ramsgate, the marina was full but we were offered a berth on the East breakwater, We took the berth which was easy to moor alongside, the only downside appeared to be being surrounded by seagulls and a long walk to the shore.
On the morning of the 6th August the wind had got up and was giving us quite a hard time against the pontoon, so we put all the fenders down the port side. We considered trying to get off the pontoon but the wind was pressing us hard against it, and whilst the obvious thing to do was to spring off and find another berth, we were moored against our prop kick (i.e. motoring astern would have a tendency to pull the boat back onto the pontoon). We decided to move the boat along the pontoon towards the other end which looked calmer. we rigged additional lines, started the engine and put it in forward gear on tickover. Slowly we moved the boat along the pontoon, always leaving two lines attached.
We were obviously the entertainment for the morning as the crew of the windcats watched on – but offered no help.
As the tide rose the situation got worse, it was now difficult to keep your balance on the concrete pontoon, and the boat was rolling dangerously against the wood of the pontoon. We were unable to move to the calmer water as the wood that is fixed to the face of the concrete had come away which meant there was every danger the fenders would not be deep enough to give protection against the concrete.
One of the fenders went ‘bang’. That was it, we had provided the entertainment so it was pay back time. I found the skipper of one of the wind cats and asked could we borrow some of his larger fenders – the reply … no sorry all of ours are in use, followed by I should get off that berth its a ‘B*****d’ berth ….
I replied yes I can see that, is there any chance you could give us a pull off (thinking of his twin props)- no sorry , not with that buoy so close to you and off he walked.
Even if we could get off, the marina was still full. I was highly impressed with the crew who said ‘ would we not be better out at sea ‘, a tactful reminder of the line I have always recited – ‘deep water does not kill you’ The words of wisdom could not be faulted and right at this moment being tossed around in deep water felt quite attractive.
My mouth was so dry from fear my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. If we stayed the boat was surely going roll over onto the pontoon and be badly damaged. I thought of the insurance claim, and if we stayed and holed the boat I would have to explain why we made no attempt to move, if I scrapped down one side the repair bill would be cheaper. Pontoon and boat rolled, and getting back on the boat was not easy, and of course I slipped in trying to get back on board, thinking of falling between the boat and pontoon gave incentive to fall over the guard rails with a plea to push my legs over the guard rail. I was on, four lines attached, crew kindly uncleated three and threw them aboard, leaving the fourth as a spring The crew asked if they should come aboard, I suggested it would be more helpful to release the remaining line when it became slack.
I motored hard against the spring and the boat surged forward, the engine put astern with full throttle with the helm hard over, the spring was released. Predictably she blew back against the pontoon and slid along its edge. There was no going back – there was no time for praying …. the bob stay caught on some of the wood on the pontoon and splinters flew everywhere. Mercifully this encouraged the stern to swing out and with the stern way, the boat pulled out. The next challenge was to turn it around to face the entrance, she did turn … there had been no time to turn the radio on so I had to leave the helm and turn the circuit breaker on. It’s difficult to describe – but even now the boat was off the pontoon, there was a sand bank to port and lots of expensive plastic to starboard. I needed time to think, so called up the port control, and explained my position, asking for permission to enter the outer harbour. At last it felt like someone understood our position – the reply came back ‘request approved’ I responded by saying I would listen on 14, but would need to switch to 80 to call the marina. I called the marina who indicated port control had contacted them, although they had a berth – they doubted I could turn the corners to get to it. I was asked to wait (not that I had to many options), and then came a reply the commercial dock have found a berth – I was given the instructions. I made my turn in the outer harbour, and returned to the inner harbour, even the berth the commercial dock looked tight – and of course the lines and fenders were all on the wrong side. Fortunately it looked as if there were fixed fenders already placed. In fact when I made the turn into the commercial dock, it was not tight enough to make the allocated berth, but there were two empty berths ahead of me – and on the 9/10ths basis I took the berth I could get to. I advised the marina we were on a different berth, and was told in no uncertain terms we would have to move if the wind cat came back – I responded, of course – but I may have to request a tow, I will be happy to pay. There was an element of displeasure in the response – but the boat was safe and crew back on board. Now we were neighbours to a windcat the crew, actually spoke and said you should be okay they are not due back for a couple of days.
In the afternoon the wind dropped and we moved to a space on the western breakwater of the leisure marina. Although no close inspection has been made to the topsides, there does not appear to have been any signficant damage done – just the spliinters of wood remain as a reminder.
Later that day we met John off Ellen Grace (Barbican 35). John came over to admire the (intact) lines of the boat and ask if it was a tradewind. It is one of the pleasures of sailing a tradewind, in that people often take the trouble to ask about her class. John was also kind enough to let us have a copy of the Harwich Harbour and its Rivers. Such hospitality gave rise to the offer to help with his lines the following morning, which we did and he and his crew were safely on their way to the river Deben.
As more boats left (we were still recovering), we decided to move deeper into the marina for more shelter. We even managed to get onto a berth stern to, which would hopefully make our departure easier.
We looked at the weather, and whilst it looked like we could leave the following day, the day after had force 7 – 8 winds forecast – on the basis they might come early we stayed put.
The winds came and even a berth in the marina started to become uncomfortable, so we put out more lines to pull ourselves between two finger pontoons which helped.
As I type we are now sat in a force 7 with a promise of gale 8 – the mooring lines tight with the stresses giving rise to various squeaks – it does not look like we will be going anywhere for a couple of day yet.
So if you ever visit Ramsgate, on no circumstances take refuge on the East Breakwater it is unsafe, in on shore winds above a force 4.
On a more serious note, as someone who always wears a life jacket – I found myself in a quite challenging situation with no life jacket – so if you see me wearing a lifejacket and tending my mooring lines you know why and may give consideration to doing the same.
On a lighter note we had an excellent meal at the ‘restaurant 66’ on the front – whilst the menu was expensive they had a steak deal for 10 pounds with a glass of wine, and if you ask for well done you get well done, and if you ask for medium you get medium.