Sailing Again – Chichester to Dover

This post comes after the rest of the Spain trip but while information is still fresh in our heads I thought it was best to post it first. I am back in the UK and we fly back to the British Virgin Islands next Wednesday to start work.  It will be strange working after 18 months off but we both need a challenge and as the weather begins to take a turn for the worst it is probably the right time for us to find the sun.

I had been asked by my friend Tim to help sail his 30 foot yacht from Chichester to St Katharine’s.  Of course I was eager to re-live sailing on the south coast and agreed to assist, plus Tim is a great friend and we both looked forward to a few drinks in Ramsgate.  I do not think I have feared for my life twice in any week but our trip proved to be challenging in many ways.  Many lessons were learnt.  Tim has completed is log and thoughts about the trip, which I include here.


Last week myself and a good friend Oliver planned to take Excalibur up to London for the winter, however the forces of nature did it’s best to scupper our plans.

We learned many lessons last week and experienced some some pretty awful conditions. I thought I would write up our trip mainly to keep a record for myself, and perhaps it will be of interest to others. Certainly there are many things we will both do differently in the future.

Our plan was to break the journey up into 3 legs. Chichester to Brighton, Brighton to Dover, and then Dover to London with a stop in Ramsgate if time allowed.

Chichester to Brighton

We left Birdham Pool Tuesday evening on a clear starry night, and stayed on the visitors pontoon at the Itchenor as we planned to make the most of tide the next morning to Brighton.

We left Wednesday morning at 5:30am, and due to the early start we left before making a cup of tea or having breakfast. The weather forecast was a force 4-5 South Westerly which would give us a nice downwind sail to Brighton, and comfortable conditions to get a brew on etc on the way. There was barely a breath of air as we motored towards the entrance of Chichester Harbour.

By the time we got out of Chichester Harbour and to West Pole the wind had picked up to 30-35 knots, it then became apparent that the wind was infact coming from a South Easterly direction, meaning the wind was on our nose and we would have to motor to Brighton.  We let a bit of genoa out to steady Excalibur and continued to motor on. We discussed whether or not to head through the looe channel to save time, and although it was wind against tide we decided that the sea would not have picked up sufficiently by the time we reached the channel.

Although uncomfortable, the looe channel wasn’t too bad and once we passed it we thought the biggest challenge was over. Soon after Oliver became uncharacteristically sea sick, to the point that he was incapacitated and had to lay on his back in the cabin to try and quell it.

I spent the next 4 hours or so helming, no water, no tea no food, big mistake. I was unable to leave the cockpit and thus couldn’t make a brew or more importantly any log entries. I took a good few waves in the face and Excalibur slammed spectacular over some waves on the way to Brighton which probably sounded 10 times worst down below.

I generally felt safe in Excalibur but found she was wetter than I expected. Having covered quite a few miles as crew onboard Oliver’s Rival 32, I hadn’t experienced as many waves into the cockpit as I did in Excalibur. Perhaps the point of sail was to blame, but I was surprised nonetheless and a litte bit disappointed. The wind was a steady 30-35 knots and gusted to 42 knots a few times.

The scene that unveiled as we approached Brighton Marina was enough to bring Oliver out of his sea sickness, and for my jaw to hit the floor. The waves were rolling in from the South East and crashing up against the long concrete breakwater, rising straight up into the air and being blown over the wall into the marina behind. The tops of the waves were being blown off and the wind was gusting to about 35 knots. The concrete high walls are pretty imposing, and even more so as we watched wave after wave ride straight up the face of the walls.

The pilot book warned us against entering Brighton in a South Easterly, but by the time we had entered through the looe channel we were short of options and the only other choice now was to carry on to Dover, an unpleasant thought given the rough passage we had already been through.

I took Excalibur in closer so we could have a look at the entrance. Oliver said to turn around as we saw a large wave roll past us. A brief quell urged us to have a go, so I started to head for the entrance, Oliver then took over incase I broached the boat (Oliver being the more experienced, I didn’t argue). As we rode the waves in, our worst fear was to broach the boat as you have a large concrete breakwater to port and a sandbank marked by green buoys to starboard. For what seemed like an eternity we eventually got around the buoys and motored into the safety of the marina.

Needless to say we needed a strong drink afterwards.

Things we learn’t or were reminded of

  • Weather forecasts are not gospel, and can have serious consequences (ok so first point is not rocket science)
  • Always prepare a flask of tea before setting sail, whatever the weather
  • For longer passages prepare lunch beforehand, it was impossible to make any food once we realised the wind had shifted.
  • Seasickness tablets are a must, it was lovely and serene in Chichester Harbour and we expected a nice downwind sail, but before we knew it the conditions had changed and we could have both done with topping up.
  • Most importantly take heed of the pilot book! We knew it wouldn’t be pleasant by the time we arrived at Brighton, but our main focus was getting through the looe Channel. After 4 hours of a force 7-8,  the seas around Brighton were in full swing. Now we know to take more notice of the pilot books, we wouldn’t have attempted it otherwise.
  • Most people talk about bolt holes, ie where to tuck in if you can’t make your final destination. But what if you can’t get into your intended destination? do you have a plan B? It would have been a good idea to have continued the passage plan to Dover incase we couldn’t get into Brighton.

Brighton to Dover

The next day we readied ourselves for the next leg of the journey, but this time we would be ready. 1 flask of tea, 4 pre-prepared wraps and 4 hand held flasks pre-filled with tea bags and sugar!

Our plan was to sail through the night and arrive at Dover early the next morning. Oliver’s theory was that it’s better to arrive somewhere as it’s getting light than the other way around.

HW @ Dover was at 23:11 BST, which meant we had to leave at 6pm. With a quick stop at the fuel pontoon we started to make our way out of the marina. Earlier we met David Wheatley in the marina, as we motored past he was there to wave us off and very kindly relayed that he would follow us on AIS. The AIS transmitter has been a good investment, aside from the obvious additional safety benefits, giving friends and family the opportunity to follow us online has been a great reassurance. For those wishing to follow me in the future, the site you need is and you will have to select the general area that I will be sailing in to avoid picking up boats with similar names in the states.

There was an air of apprehension as we drew closer to the entrance. Spray was still appearing at the top of the wall and blowing over, but of course we were  inside  the marina so gauging what the conditions were outside would not become apparent until we got out there. The sea state turned out to be perfectly fine and apart from wrestling with my halyards and my mast steps (a reoccurring theme here), we got the main up and with a WSW wind blowing at 16 knots we started to head to Dover downwind.

We had a lovely quiet sail, clear skies and nearly a full moon. The white cliffs seemed almost luminescent in the dark, and every so often a seemingly innocent lobster pot would drift past. The areas around Brighton are full of lobster pots as per the pilot books states. We passed a few fishing trawlers, giving us a chance to refresh out lights, though from a distance they just seemed like something out of close encounters of the third kind. 

Eventually the wind died at 23:00, so we reluctantly put the engine on, and Oliver went down for a kip.

The Skipper
The Skipper

The above pretty much sums up how I felt.  I have never come across such challenging conditions entering any harbour.  I will certainly never attempt to enter Brighton in a force 8 from a southerly direction.  Our  choices were limited and I do believe that entering Brighton was my only option, but it does make you realise how dangerous the waters are around the South Coast of England.

I am sure Tim has more to add on this trip but we both did not expect to have another close call the day after.  The next step was to sail from Chichester to Dover.  We left in the evening setting off from Brighton around 19:00.  We had a great sail under main past Beachy Head and into the darkness beyond.  Upon reaching the Royal Sovereign buoy the wind decreased and we had to motor.  We motored into thick fog but this seemed to lift as we approached Dover. It is nice to see that some lobster pots around were now lit, displaying a red and blue flashing LED light; I wish this was standard practice for all lobster pots.


We came into Dover around 05:00 and settled in to the Tidal Harbour.  The trip was a success and we settled into a lovely sleep before preparing for the sail from Dover to London.

We departed Dover at 23:00.  We had timed it so that we had a great spring tide running North East, which would push us up to North Foreland through Goodwin Sands at great speed.  The wind was forecasted to be no more than 25 knots from the South, which would give us a nice broad reach up to the Thames.  All was set in our favour and so we set off expecting to reach London at 13:00 the next day.

Never underestimate what can fly on a boat in rough weather.  A multimeter managed to switch it self and fly to the forepeak.
Never underestimate what can fly on a boat in rough weather. A multimeter managed to switch it self and fly to the forepeak.

What greeted us outside Dover was sheer hell on earth.  We strapped ourselves in when we saw a few white crests but then we approached unbelievable conditions.  The wind had suddenly increased to force 8.  With a fast ripping tide moving North East and a Southerly Wind the water was a cauldron of confusion.  Excalibur was tossed side to side, listing as far as her windows.  The engine would rev higher after a bout of tossing.  We were both worried.  We decided to head out further to try and escape the confused seas but this was no good.  We could not see where the next wave was coming from and all we could here down below was the smashing of items.  Then the big one got us.  A wave crashed over the port stern quarter.  The shock of it was enough.  I had water up to my knees.  Was I scared; yes.  We turned excalibur to make a run for port.  I called Dover Port Control to advise that we were in difficulty and making our way back.  By this time we were hitting a tide against us so now were only making 1.5 knots.  It was horrendous.  Then Navigation Lights then decided to go down, so this only helped us agree that going back was the right decision.

Terry.  Troskala's Mascot before leaving Dover
Terry. Troskala’s Mascot before leaving Dover


Terry, after coming back into Dover.  He is mentally a broken bear.
Terry, after coming back into Dover. He is mentally a broken bear.

We made it back into Dover 30 minutes later.  We were both in shock.  It took 3 bottles of wine to calm us down and send us to sleep without nightmares.  Unfortunately we were unable to complete the voyage to London and Excalibur remains in Dover.  You never stop learning and the sea can test some of the most experienced sailors.  I still agree that crossing an ocean is sometimes easier and less dangerous than trying to navigate ports in poor weather.

I believe we made the right decisions but there are numerous questions to answer not to mention why we did not expect the conditions to be so poor outside Dover.  Anyway, the boat, Tim and I survived with some interesting memories to take with us.

Thank you Tim and thank you Excalibur


I am realising how complex human nature is.  When we were in the British Virgin Islands we were desperate to go back to Europe and now I am in Europe I am desperate to get back to paradise, why is it that we are never happy with our current surroundings.  Something has changed in us and the more I stay in one place the more depressed I am getting. How can it take 8 weeks to sort a visa out for the British Virgin Islands?  I need to go back, I need to be around inspirational people who share the same love for the sea and adventure.  I am tired of living out of a  bag and relying on peoples kind hospitality, I need my freedom and not to feel like I am constantly taking but also giving.  I was so happy being back in Europe for the first few weeks.  The culture, food, family and friends, convenience and adventure all seemed quite agreeable but the time has changed, I have changed and there is no going back.

I remember reading numerous books before we began our adventure of how when you get back you are somewhat different especially when it comes to sharing conversations with certain people who do not know what you have done, the challenges you have faced and the beauty you have seen.  I remember reading that when undertaking a conversation with someone who has not shared similar experiences that their attention lasts for approximately 5 minutes before their eyes glaze and you can see that they do not give a shit; basically the conversation is turned to the last episode of Downton Abbey, or the school that their children attend, or the hemorides problem they have or the aunt that has back trouble.  It is true, this actually does happen and now after numerous conversations such as this I have switched off, I have nothing to say but to nod, smile and try to take in what they are saying.  Only the people have completed such an adventure show eagerness to listen, learn and open their mind, it is sad but true and this is why human nature is so complex.  I certainly cannot relate the above to all the people we have been with in the past couple of months. We have been with some amazing friends who have not only listened but have made us feel welcome in their homes and have given more than expected – thank you.


I have certainly had my fair share of Cities and City life as you will see below. The other day I was minding my own business walking towards a zebra crossing. I approached it and looked left and right, as you do, before crossing.  Just as I was walking across some Muppet, who was more concerned with her mobile phone than what was going on in front of her, walked in front of me.  I could do nothing but head-butt her accidently.  The pain was intense and I now have a cracked bone in my nose that clicks at night.  I only hope that her head still hurts and maybe I smashed some sense into her brain.  Why do people walk around looking at mobiles, Ipads and IPods instead of where they are going?  This put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.


Anyway, back to far more interesting things.  We had to go to Madrid as we had an appointment with the American Embassy and finally get our B1 and B2 visa’s.  Those of you who have read previous blogs will know how stressful and annoying this process has been and we were certainly not looking forward to it.  If we did not get our visa, we would not have a job as we will be sailing in and around American waters.  Plus, we had heard stories of applicants being taken into a dark room and questioned for an hour or two why they wanted the visa’s and swearing on the bible that they would not want to settle down and live in the United States; strange but true.


So we left Oviedo on a sunny afternoon and began the 5 hour drive to Madrid.  Asturias is really quite stunning.  As soon as you head inland you are confronted by high peaks, sheer cliffs that rise dramatically, beautiful woodland, small villages and yet again empty roads.  If we had a stereo in the car, I would have been playing some Toccatta in D minor by Widor or Bachs Fugue, but as we did not I just had to imagine it whilst savouring my dramatic surroundings.  As you drive further up endless mountains you come to a tunnel spanning 4 miles and when you pop out the other side it is as if you have been transported to another country.  The landscape becomes flat, yellow, hot and dusty; this is the Spain I had imagined before I had properly visited the north.

We arrived five and a half hours later in Madrid. After parking up we met Carlotta’s friends Astrid and Roberto, who would be kindly putting us up for two nights in their stunning apartment.  Both Astrid and Roberto are kind, generous and intelligent people who speak excellent English and have a great take on life.  Astrid is a Scientist and Rob an IT expert.  We spent the evening eating dinner in a lovely Italian, talking about their recent wedding, our adventures, the state of Spain and the problems faced by the young generation here.  It was a superb evening.


The next morning we had to wake up at the crack of dawn and head into Madrid city centre to the American Embassy. We managed to get to the tube but understanding the map was a different story.  Luckily Carlotta’s Spanish saved the day and an hour later we were outside the Embassy.  We queued for a short while before being ushered in to their security section.  It was like boarding a plane.  All bags were taken away and all metal removed under the watchful eye of an eager security guard with a big gun.  We were sent to another room that resembled a doctors surgery.  The place was packed even at 07:30 in the morning with all sorts of characters hoping for a chance to visit, or move to America.  We were sent to one window, then another and yet another.  More papers shuffled and numerous coffees drunk we were sent to the final window where a large American lady sat and looked at us with devious eyes.  We smiled and answered the ridiculous questions that were asked like: why do you want the visa, why have you not worked for so long, what did you do before, why did you do that before, what is your new job, why have you changed career, why is the sky blue and how many states does America have.  I may have made the last two up but I suppose you get the idea.  After this we were granted our visa’s and our passports were taken away to be updated.


We were both tired after our ordeal and the fact that it was still so early.  It is never good to see a new place when you are tired and I think that my state of mind may have had an adverse effect on how I saw Madrid.  Yes, Madrid is a big city and it has some lovely buildings.  Please bear in mind that Madrid were applying to host the Olympics in the next few years so you would have expected to see a city embracing cleanliness, sport and culture.  I have never been to such a dirty city.  I compare this to all other cities In have been to, which has been lot in the past couple of years.  Everywhere you walked you saw dirt, the streets were black, the smell of urine filled the back streets and there was graffiti everywhere.  The city felt so unloved.  I hate to say it but Wolverhampton is cleaner, Lisbon is cleaner, Seville is cleaner.  After dodging some vomit pools we decided to get a coffee in a lovely square opposite the ME Hotel Madrid. Maybe a coffee would sort me out.  As we sat there enjoying the morning sun you could again see unbelievable amounts of grime.  Glass panels surrounding the square were covered in phlegm, bird shit, and graffiti. Whilst sitting there for 15 minutes we were approached by seven beggars; yes seven.  Carlotta went to the toilet in the café only to be greeted by the biggest cockroach she had ever seen.  We left hastily to try and recue our already damaged impression of this historic city but it did not get much better.


There were no cycle lanes in the city; there was traffic everywhere all fighting for a small space on the roads.  Even pavements were scares in areas and when you found one it was littered with cheap postcard stands and tourist crap; is this really a city that thought it had a chance to host an Olympic event?  As the day progressed things got better.  Some of the architecture is amazing, the Palace and Cathedral square are imposing and clean.  The old fish market has been refurbished and made into a gastronomic centre.  Madrid does have a wonderful park located in the middle of the city.  We also found a great little tapas bar and sat for an hour resting and enjoying the old part of the city but shortly after we left.

I will visit Madrid again in a better frame of mind and to give it another chance.  I hear so many people say positive things about the city and I intend to experience these positives later on but whoever is responsible for the city needs to get a mop out occasionally and take some pride in what could be a fantastic place to visit and live.

In the evening we met with Astrid and Rob who took us into the financial district of Madrid for dinner.  We were surrounded by tall skyscrapers and new buildings, a stark contrast from our earlier experiences.  We were taken to a lovely Mexican Restaurant and whilst sipping copious amounts of Margarita I saw Madrid in a more pleasant state of mind, it was not such a bad place but then I believe people make a place and not necessarily the architecture or pools of vomit.  We walked back to the car slowly and full from our dinner; I even saw several cyclists, maybe there is a small chance of Madrid hosting the Olympics sometime in the future.