LAUNCH AND DELIVERY VOYAGE
LAUNCH 8 JULY 2005
KEI was launched after 2 very hectic weeks finishing off at Triton Jachten. Over the years I have experienced taking ships out of build or refit several times and, despite being on a smaller scale with only a ship's company of 2 instead of 50 or 250, it was no different with an almost never ending list of jobs to be finished in the last few days. This period included a thorough 2 hour installation review of the Daewoo L136 engine by the Dutch Daewoo engineers. Everything was double checked - alarms, wiring, fuel piping and even the crankshaft end float - although a bit late in the day to discover if that was out of tolerance. We were pressed to launch as the firm were about to close for the 3 week summer holiday and we could not afford the delay.
The launch was a fabulous and emotional moment and the entire workforce turned out to escort KEI to the container crane in the Haven. After 18 months a pile of steel plates and a few teak logs had been crafted into a small ship. It was close - KEI weighed 41000 kg and the crane limit was a ton or so more. Piet Borgonjen, our landlord, is a bit of a wheel with the video camera and he had come along a couple of times to film the final days and the day itself. At launch, KEI could float and move, but without any 24v electrical systems apart from the domestic fresh water pump, shower sump pump and engine room lighting, she could not fight very well. Although all electrical kit needed for the delivery voyage was fitted and the wiring had been installed, it was just a matter of making the final connections. After the launch we all enjoyed a glass or 2 of bubbly and then had a brief 20 min trial on Friday evening in the docks. Much relieved, we then left KEI and went to an excellent fish restaurant in Waalwijk for a superb celebratory meal.
On Sat 9 Jul, on a really super hot sunny day, we moved KEI up the River Maas some 20nm to Heerewaarden to Kees Cornelissen's pontoon where we would leave her for 3 weeks. The trip up the Maas was not without incident with several engine stoppages due to air in the fuel, a fresh water flood and a false fire alarm. We used and proved the bow anchor several times and launched the dinghy in a very short time.
The trip up the Maas was spent running in the engine with a very complicated regime of a few minutes at different engine rpm and power repeated in an almost never ending cycle for the first 8 hours. Passing skippers in vessels of all descriptions shouted "mooi schip" across the water to us. Amazingly though, I had not suffered the nerves I had expected when driving KEI for the first time and it all seemed to be extremely natural. Our first bridge caused some concern as we had the mast up and our air draft was 7.5m. We were certain we would hit it, so hurriedly slowed down whilst frantically scanning the chart for some guidance. One figure next to the bridge that appeared the most promising was 102 somethings. Eventually we twigged that it was the the air draft in decimeters. From then on we scanned charts and bridges eagerly for their air draft information and gauges. Despite the almost complete lack of ballast and somewhat ridiculous stern down trim, KEI handled remarkably well and gave great confidence from the off.
DELIVERY TRIP PART 1 - 31 Jul - 10 AUG 05
We were dropped off at Heerewarden on 31 Jul after a one way trip from Oxford. The only way back to England now was via the Channel!! In glorious weather, we spent 3 days getting ready for the voyage and connecting up all the electrics, replacing the helm pump and replacing the fuel filter. At times the Maas was the "M(aas)25", with streams of holiday makers interspersed with the odd commercial barge. It was quite choppy and we were moved around considerably. We spent an hour or so one fine evening in company with Kees Cornelissen's demo 18m luxemotor for a photo shoot and it gave us the rare opportunity to ride in the chase boat and see KEI underway for ourselves - she looked absolutely gorgeous. We left Heerewaarden on Thurs 4 Aug and returned to Waalwijk to finalise some last minute details and the final payment with Triton Jachten - and do some last minute shopping including picking up a wheelhouse stool for the helmsperson to perch on.
On Friday afternoon, we finally set off in some fairly foul weather - wind, rain and mist with Force 8 forecast for Saturday. Leaving Waalwijk lock approach we passed "NELTJE", another ESS 22m luxemotor. We headed west and passed the Biesbosch, where we had hoped to enjoy a few days for trials, before entering a grey, choppy, rainy and blustery Hollandsdiep. As we approached the entrance to the Rhine-Schelde Verbinding Canal, the sky was clearing and by the time we reached the southern end a fine evening was unfolding. We passed Tholen and moored in the Bergsediepsluis lock tail at 2110. The lock opened for business at 0800 and after a VHF call we were off. Across the Oosterschelde after a couple of 360 degree turns to autocalibrate the fluxgate compass, and then into the Zuid Beveland Canal to reach the Westerschelde. The Westerschelde is real sea rather than polder and was noticeably choppier, with some quite large merchants on the move. Into the lock at Terneuzen at lunchtime and then a gentle trickle down the canal to Gent on a very pleasant Saturday afternoon.
On arrival at Gent in mid afternoon, the priority was fuel and after going alongside a deserted fuel barge, we popped round to the lock, where rumour had there might be a fuel barge. It was just that - a rumour. The lock keeper advised us that the fuellers stopped for the w/e at noon, and also recommended where we should moor for the weekend - down the commercial arm of the canal. We went there, found a space between the commercials, and Ali commandered the passengers in a passing dinghy as line handlers and we secured alongside.
So forced with a wait until Monday instead of pressing on to Nieuwepoort, we enjoyed the weekend in Gent and in Naval parlance had our first foreign "run ashore". Traditionally this requires buying a post card or 2, enjoying an ice cream and getting a haircut and perhaps sleeping in a gutter on the way home after too many beers!! We achieved the first 2 but decided to forgo the haircuts and the gutter. Saturday evening we found an open air pop concert in the Vrijdagmarkt and enjoyed an excellent dinner to some pop classics - Spandau Ballet, JD Taylor etc. On Sunday we had a pleasant cycle around the city and found the flea markets and had a look at the inner city recreational moorings.
The next door commercial, in for his summer break, fixed the fuel barge and late am on Mon we took 3000 litres of Belgium's finest red - clear, bright and without a trace of moisture. Then set off to continue our trip. We rounded Brugge late afternoon and enjoyed the challenge of the swing bridges, although waiting for one closed for the evening rush hour we achieved an inadvertent 180 degree turn in the canal. One of the problems with running with such a light bow, with no bow thruster, is that with the slightest sternway, the wind takes charge and the stern flies up to wind. This happened and we turned round at rest in a 28m wide canal. I had visions of a large insurance claim for a bent rudder or a dented bow or both.
At about 1900 that evening we approached a swing bridge at Jabbeke, a place we know extremely well from our trips over the last 18 months as it is the corner of the E40 where the road turns inland after running up the coast from Calais. It was shut for the night, so we tied up to the trees and stayed the night. Unfortunately, the bistro alongside the bridge was also shut on a Monday, so it was back to camping rations.
The next day, 9 Aug, we completed the journey and reached Nieuwepoort just after lunch. Paul Whitehouse joined us at tea time for the Channel crossing as the insurance company's required "3rd Crew", but the weather forecast did not look good. The trees next to the mooring had considerable movement and were mimicking car windscreen wipers. A call to the RN Fleet Weather and Oceanographic Centre (FWOC) confirmed our worst fears - Force 5 plus for at least 24 hours. The evening shipping forecast was equally pessimistic. Our crossing window with Paul was very narrow - he could only help the next day. Faced with leaving KEI for a few weeks in Nieuwepoort, we set off despondently to find a good restaurant and duly enjoyed an excellent meal and a few beers. During the evening the wind naturally died and we got back onboard at 2300 or so with no wind, so as a precaution I threw some lines on the chart. We were all awake for the shipping forecast at 100148B Aug, so when the forceast was only Force 3/4, it was no great surprise that I decided to go. We slipped at 0300B and then had to find and shake the lock keepers, achieved by Paul who diligently searched the adjacent buildings for their office, and we eventually cleared the lock at 0430B, half an hour before high water.
The crossing was very quiet with the shipping lanes almost eerily empty. I cannot recall seeing the Channel so quiet and it seems with much less traffic than 10 - 30 years ago when I was regularly going through the Channel in everything from patrol boats smaller than KEI to aircraft carriers. The sea was a bit choppy and lumpy, but considering that securing for sea was non existent - we were an untidy workshop below - nothing moved around at all. Late morning we cleared North Foreland and entered Princes Channel in flat calm and no wind conditions. I also phoned the FWOC to give them an on the spot weather update of their forecast F5 plus. Tides changed in our favour and we enjoyed a strong flood stream towards the Medway. By 1430A we were alongside the pontoon at Queenborough and landed Paul to catch his train home and, after a spot of victualling, returned on board feeling pretty exhausted for an early night.
DELIVERY TRIP PART 2 - 11 - 13 AUG
The next day we left Queenborough a couple of hours before low water and started the passage to Sunbury. Eventually, the flood stream caught up with us and we rocketed through central London at 10.5 kts. An excellent tourist trip through London, but then it should be as the cost was very many times the price of a river trip ticket. We then started the Boat Race course but had got ahead of ourselves and found it to be very shallow on Elm Reach. Slowing down, we then got to Richmond weir about 30 mins too early before the weir opened, so we locked through. Teddington was uneventful and we made ANGELUS at Sunbury and Edward and Pamela Chapman-Burrell entertained us royally with an excellent dinner, which made a considerable contrast to our camping cuisine over the previous couple of weeks.
The next day was a quieter day - a chance for a thorough fresh water rinse down to remove all the salt accumulation from the Channel crossing and a swim in the Thames to look at an anode that had become detached at one end. We had touched the side of the canal in Blegium and must have snagged the anode. Then we made our way to Wraysbury and alongside DE JELTE for the night.
Finally on Saturday 13 we completed the final leg to Marlow and moored alongside CORMORANT and Andy and Caroline Soper again took pity on our camping menus. We had clocked up 320 nm since leaving Heerewarden. We left KEI with Andy and Caroline on Sun 14 Aug after a great adventure and an excellent foretaste of what is to come when we return to Europe in a year or so.
FINAL LEG 1 - 7 SEP
I set off from Marlow on the afternoon of Thurs 1 Sep with a neighbour, Ollie, and his dog, Bridie, as the crew as Ali had to be elsewhere. It was all pretty uneventful and we spent the first night at Henley and enjoyed a "run-ashore", complete with Bridie who politely declined our offers of ashtrays of beer. The next day we cracked 11 locks. We managed to get under all the bridges although Clifton Hampden bridge was rather tight and the GPS aerial was scuffed on the brick arch. At the last lock of the day we discovered that the river above the lock was 15 inches above head water, which made Appleford railway bridge also very tight and we squeezed under with an inch or two rather than the expected foot plus clearance. We moored in the middle of nowhere with the bow tied to a tree and the stern on a mooring stake. Bridie in short order became an excellent barge hond and never jumped ship in the locks without being told she could proceed ashore. She was also never adrift on sailing and managed without a poop deck!
Early Saturday afternoon 3 Sep we moored just below Folly Bridge and, for the first time, lowered the wheelhouse for the bridge. We discovered that it is a 2 man job rather than a man and a woman job, so I will have to look at some form of mechanical assistance. Folly Bridge is on a bit of angle, but we managed to wiggle through without incident and received a round of applause from the lunchtime drinkers at the Head of the River pub. We got through Osney lock and moored within a few feet of Osney Bridge - which looked extremely daunting with it's 2.3m airdraft. Immediately we were surrounded by inquistors who wanted to know if the lock keeper had told us about the low bridge and the doommongers who were of the opinion that there was no chance that we would get under Osney bridge, or indeed Godstow bridge. However, KEI was designed to go under this bridge with a 2.3m air draft , so I was fairly confident - although perhaps not 100%. Unfortunately, there was no Plan B and I really did not want to start thinking about one.
On Monday morning 5 Sep 10 tons of steel punchings, to be the permanent ballast, were delivered and dumped on the river bank. These punchings were the small oval bits left over from cable tray production and so were galvanised on both sides. They were bagged up in polypropylene flood defence bags at 25kg per bag and for good measure had a good squirt of waxoyl to protect the ungalvanised cut edges. I had recruited several neighbours to assist and also roped in passers by to shovel in return for answering their questions! Further passers by were invited to make up the human chain to pass the filled bags up into KEI. By Tuesday afternoon the job was done, more fuel had arrived by lorry and we were sitting much lower in the water, but still had a couple of inches or so to go. With 2 tons required for each inch of immersion, we needed about another 4 tons or so. Oxford Cruisers had a number of 200 litre barrels and on Wednesday morning 12 were delivered, put in the saloon and filled up. We sank a little more. Another 10 barrels were brought along and the freshwater tanks were topped off, so I reckoned we had now added 5 tons. We now thought we were low enough and after dismantling the mast and wheelhouse in very quick time, we cast off to give it a try and lined up with the centre of the bridge and slowly approached. The stem, the highest point just cleared the first bridge beams but the last beams were a little lower and the clearance was the thickness of the Oxford Blue paint on the bridge - it is now on our stem post. The last major hurdle had been ducked - and the river level was at normal headwater. The lock keeper had offered another 2-3 inches to play with if we had needed it. Three locks later and after a few tight bends we arrived at Oxford Cruisers. Water depth above Osney Bridge was good and on the outside of the bends was often in excess of 3m. We were amazed how quickly we had got under Osney Bridge and had not expected to achieve it until the end of the week. Who says that "echte nederlandse" barges have problems with airdraft under low UK bridges!!
The total mileage from Heerewarden to Eynsham was 400 miles and had taken 88 hours steaming. We still have to pinch ourselves that we managed to get from central Netherlands back to UK on what was essentially a trials and proving voyage to our timescale without any problems or major delays. Edward Chapman-Burrell's Barge Handling book was also excellent and I diligently followed his maxim "If you can do it slowly, then do it more slowly" although this was not always appreciated by lock keepers and other users, mainly in light white cruisers, to whom time is evidently too precious a commodity to waste whilst relaxing on the river. These cruisers quite amazed us and really resemble mosquitos - buzzing and jinking about on the river and look somewhat untidy when always trailing a multitude of fenders in the water - I was quoted a marvellous maxim - "I run a tight ship, not a sh*te tip"!. The cruisers would rush to over take us, creating lots of wash, get to the next lock and then get told to wait while we went in first!!
Overall, the trip was an enormous confidence booster and all Tam and Di Murrell's instruction and tips from our ICC/CEVNI course over 4 years previously came flooding back and proved extremely beneficial and were recalled at one time or another - so we owe them many thanks for making the driving bit possible - but Austrian flags get everywhere which still puzzles us!!
BACK TO EUROPE
After almost 3 years fitting out, it was time to go back to Europe in Sep 08. The aim was to attend the DBA Rally in West India Dock at the Aug BH and then go across to France in mid Sep 08. The first part was to get to WID - and that was a story in itself which will be expanded on later.
The weather throughout the UK summer had been atrocious and I was fervently hoping for a September break and a spell of an Indian summer. From early Sep I was scan ning the longe range wether models and the 9 day ECWMF model was looking promising - although many said don't believe it. Again we really had to go over - I had an annual mooring from mid/late Sep paid for and I had not really considered a Plan B - and did not wish to. My target date to go was Thurs 18 Sep and it was looking promising.
So on Tues 16 Sep we left MSO at Brentford on the 1530 high water, having sat on their mud for 24 hours to remove the prop and get an "anti singing trailing edge" put on, and with the "third crew" embarked. On this trip Andy Soper had volunteered. At Springs the river was high and fast, so we rocketed down and nearly got caught by the lack of clearance at Hammersmith Bridge - quite tight. We enjoyed sunset on the Thames and arrived at the concrete barge at Queenborough at 2200. After a late dinner, we turned in and I got up at 0300 for the shipping forecast. Actually, not strictly true as the RN Ops Room and Weather Centre where I work had assembled all the various weather forceasts, so that when I rang in I could make a quick decision on whether to go. The BBC shipping forecast was its usual pessimistic self and was forecasting an out of limits Force 5 plus. None of the team at Northwood could work out how the BBC could find those wind speeds off the synoptic charts - and it was not supported anywhere else. I decided to go. I wonder how many others have not sailed because of the inaccurate BBC forecasts???
We sailed at 0330A on the high tide in good clear conditions and having the benefit of the spring's height of tide, hugged the coast into Four Fathom Channel and past Margate rather than via the more seaward routes. It probably saves around 2 hours. Dawn broke as we passed Margate and we were treated with the sight of "smoke" over the sea. Even better was the smell and sizzling as the bacon hit the frying pan and we enjoyed some seriously good "morning watch bacon butties" - it was really good to be back at sea doing the morning watch and enjoying the night to day transition!! Once again the shipping channels were quiet, as were the waves and we passed reasonably close to 2 "might is right" ones in the shipping lanes. I prudently slowed down for one, who was the give way vessel, rather than get into a close quarters situation and altered to clear the stern of the next one who had the right of way. Closer into France the shipping lanes were deserted, and we saw 1 ferry in the distance. The only slightly rolly bit was off N Foreland where wind and tide met. As we had left 24 hours earlier than planned, we had run out of time for some of the preparations - such as securing for sea. A row of wine bottles on the saloon deck did not move a millimetre, nor did a number of other fragile objects loafing around. Good testament to the hull characteristics and despite having a flat bottom, the roll rate is quite slow and more akin to a round hulled vessel which bodes well for the future and coastal passaging. Likewise, we did not get around to raising the mast, hanging up the radar reflector (for what it is worth) nor inflating the inflatable. In hindsight, it gave King Neptune and his cronies less warning time to stir up the weather!!
We entered Dunkirk at 1305B, so just over 8 1/2 hours to cross and landed Andy. He was home by 2100. After a short wait for Trystram Lock, we went into the Bassin du Commerce and secured. Yet again we were very lucky with the crossing and were amazed by the short time it had taken. Dinner that night was an enormous bowl of moules and lots of Muscadet. The next night we had dinner in the best restaurant in town with marvellous panaoramic views of the flood lit town and harbour. It was of course our own wheelhouse!! Although electricity is not available, I discovered water taps underneath the hatches on the dockside, so was able to have a freshwater rinse down.
A leisurely trip down to Douai included 2 nights at Aire s' Lys and we arrived on Sun 21 Sep. Amusingly our "house number" at Douai is 1066 - rings with a certain date and people going the other way!!
Launch and Delivery voyage gallery