December 26th, 2013 Alasdair
These three tools stripped 99% of the varnish with the help of a heat gun
You can see just how thick the varnish was
26th December 2013 South Dock Rotherhithe
Sumara’s mast is now 23 years old and the varnish has never been stripped off. Despite a trip to the Caribbean and various trips to colder places the varnish actually looks pretty good. However each year there are two or three blisters which need repairing. When I prepare the blisters for primer coats it is obvious that the bond between the thick varnish and the timber is giving way. It would be possible to slide a scraper blade under the varnish and lift a much bigger area. Although I could leave major work on the mast for a few more years it seemed wise to tackle this job while the boat is next to home in South Dock before leaving on the Russian Expedition. There is very little evidence of water penetration so the timber all looks clear of staining. The mast is made from Douglas Fir as a hollow box glued with resorcinol resin and solid by way of the spreaders and winches.
I decided to take off only the necessary fittings but to leave the track and fittings around the spreaders in place. Using an AEG heat gun with two speeds and six heat settings I softened the varnish and lifted it off with an 30 mm wide Hamilton scraper – slightly blunted to avoid scratching. The thick varnish lifted off easily in sheets. I then scrape over the area again without heat using the brilliant Bahco Ergo Scrapers. It was interesting that the newly applied varnish (in the repaired blisters) was really hard to get off because it had better grip on the timber and less thickness.
For the most part the stripping was pretty trouble free but some areas lifted patches of the grain. This was hard to prevent even by scraping gently across the grain but it is limited to a couple of areas about three inches long. I’ll need to see what it looks like once the mast is sanded but I suspect it won’t be worth trying to fill or scarph in a grafting piece. It is possible that the grain lifted due to the timber being very slightly damp. All the more reason to get the old varnish off. I didn’t quite finish all the scraping on Boxing Day due to it getting dark but the process would be complete after eight hours work (the mast is 36 ft long).
That said, I think I need to spend another two full days to remove the fiddly bits and to sand the mast prior to varnishing. I am debating the idea of giving it a coat of preservative first. It will eventually be varnished with Epifanes Gloss Varnish.
I have invested in the Festool Linear sander which I hope will make the sanding process very fast (I need to sand between each coat of varnish too so that is nine x 36 foot!). I have to make up a profiled block for the linear machine which only sands with a back and forwards motion. The profile will match the curved corners of the mast perfectly. I hope to be able to sand the mast in two hours using this and other machines.
I’ll post some photos later and update as I go.
December 14th, 2013 Alasdair
Side Elevation Diagram from Canal Atlas
The Entrance to the Canals at Belamorsk
Diagrams of the Canal Bridges
A Typical Section of “Canal”
6th December 2013
During our Russian Meeting No 1 at Kentish Town Graham kindly suggested that he may be able to arrange a viewing of the Cruising Associations collection of Russian Charts. On Friday evening Grit and I arrived at the CA to take up the offer.
Graham and Fay had found the folio of charts, maps and “atlases” which were stored in the loft and had arranged them in organised piles on a large table in the Committee Room. We had the luxury of a whole evening to study them.
The charts are of significance because they belonged to the first pioneer yachts to make the journey. Some charts were marked with Wallace Clark who was the father of Miles Clark who sailed White Goose through the whole canal system sadly dying before finally completing the journey. The book “Sailing Around Russia” was completed by Wallace Clark.
We had a variety of aeronautical charts, maps, navigational charts from British Admiralty and Russian Sources plus three “Atlases”. These Atlases were books of charts plus side elevations and diagrams and photos of bridges. These books were fascinating and contained everything needed to navigate the “canal”. I suppose naïvely I rather had the impression that the journey would be a matter of entering and leaving a canal into a big open lake and then entering the next canal. It is apparent from the charts and atlases that it is all a bit more complicated. The canal joins into small areas of open water and buoyed channels and even when you exit into a massive lake there are large shallow areas and areas ridden with weed and rocky outcrops. That said, certainly from these 40 year old charts, there are plenty of navigational markers to help us on our way.
Looking at used charts has the benefit of being able to take heed of various notes written on the charts. Even knowing which town is which is tricky without a copy of the Russian alphabet to hand. Markings pointing to reporting Radio Stations reinforce the need to have Russian speakers on board.
Grit and I have taken extensive notes from the charts and we have posted a couple of pictures we have taken to give a feeling of the quality of the charts. The charts we studied were clear and easy to understand (given access to the Russian alphabet). It looks like we will need to purchase two Volumes (Toms) to complete the sections from the White Sea to St Petersburg plus various lake charts and charts of the White Sea. Obviously there will be more charts needed to cover our exit from Russia into the Baltic. It could be quite an expense.
November 24th, 2013 Alasdair
The Ugly Truth!
The Juniper Valley Route that we intended to run!
Gareth, Laura and Anthony. It’s not that cold Gareth!
24th November 2013
This was the first event organised by the South Dock Running Club – Fell Running Division. It may well be the last if our map reading skills don’t improve. Having recently discovered that Anthony had entered the Mount Blanc Marathon we felt some hill training would be in order. The plan was to drive to Headley Heath and park by the arrow on the map (coming soon!) We would warm up thoroughly and set off on a 9 km circuit which would take us to the bottom of Juniper Valley and up to Box Hill and around the North Downs Path with spectacular views over the Mole valley with another steep ascent and a jog back to the car. Basically a big hilly circle. How could it possibly go wrong? Gareth and Laura are now well accustomed to passing the same things two or even three times after experiencing one of my “circuits” of Oxleas Wood (just keep the fence on the right and you can’t go wrong). Laura was a bit worried about joining the Surrey Hills circuit in the first place and once we arrived at the same junction for the third time she smelt a rat and decided to call it a day. Gareth either being gallant or also smelling the rat offered to accompany her back to the Cock Inn at Headley. Anthony and I thought we would push on a bit further. We headed off in opposite directions. Twenty minutes later we met each other running along the same path the opposite way! Undeterred Anthony and I ran on faintly convinced that it we head north west we simply must find Box Hill. The thing is Box Hill is a massive great big hill so it can’t be hard to find surely. It is Surreys biggest tourist attraction. We sheepishly asked a walker, the Ordnance Survey map and compass swinging from my neck. “Oh, just go down there and up the other side and you can’t miss it”. We had just come from “there” but thought maybe we will give it another go. Twenty minutes later we were back where we had asked the lady the way. Anthony by now had realised that I was totally hopeless with the map, “all the gear no idea” kind of thing. I don’t really like to admit how rubbish I am with maps but I had better own up and get some training before I get seriously lost. Prudently Anthony suggested that we should finish off our running by running up the three hills that departed from the bottom of the valley as a kind of three pronged circuit. We could’nt get lost because we would stay in sight of the junction. So that is what we did. At this point I took off my rucksack with the Sports Tracker and left it at the junction. We ran up the steps and down, ran up the hill and down, hopped up the steps and down, and towed each other up the hill and down. Then we did some short hill sprints. Note that the Sports Tracker was static in my bag so when you see the picture of our actual attempt at the route it didn’t even include these runs. Nevertheless there are FIVE runs along the same path on what should have been ONE lap! That is how rubbish my map reading was.
We never got to Box Hill, never saw the views!
We met up with Laura and Gareth in the pub and had a huge beef sandwich and a pint of London Pride. We had run about 9 hilly miles so all was not lost.
November 11th, 2013 Alasdair
8th November 2013
I have been up in the Lake District doing an Industrial Rope Access course with Gareth from work. It involved a lot of hanging about in the most exciting way. As it happens Gareth likes a good run and is a founding member of the famous South Dock Running Club (est 2013) so we planned on getting up into the hills together. We bought an OS map and found a few paths near to Teabay where we were staying in the Cross Keys Pub. Dave Ellis from Lyon Equipment, who were training us, got wind that we fancied a run and very kindly came up with a very promising looking circuit just a five mile drive from Tebay. It was a route that the local Mountain Rescue Team used to take on Friday nights after work. This was re-assuring because at least they will know where to find us. We managed to persuade Victor to join us. Victor was from Spain and was completing a series of work at height courses at Lyon and then in Aberdeen. Poor Victor completely confused us with people who know what they are doing! On a wet and dark Wednesday evening we jumped in my car in search for the run. It was pretty hard just working out where to park the car and after about five minutes running we were officially lost. With one fading head torch, a hand torch and another dull head torch we gazed at the map and compass and shot off through a woody lane. However there were no woods on the map. We stopped again and half heartedly convinced ourselves it was off to the left, but it wasn’t. After about 30 minutes of getting rather cold we eventually found the start of the run. We knew it was the start because of a map on a post saying “You are here”. We set off a little way up the very wet and muddy trail before deciding to call it day. For a bit of exercise we ran up and down a road hill a few times (Victor wondering why we had to run back up having just ran down – good question) then jumped into the car and had a goat curry in the pub.
However, on Friday after we had all successfully completed our exam we decided to celebrate and have another go at it. Victor wisely pulled out. Time was slipping by so we purchased more batteries got changed and headed to the start. This time we parked right next to the start of the run and set off. The ground was wet and soft but runnable as we followed a dry stone wall until the sheepfold. We then set our compass and ran SSW up the gradient. I say “run” but actually by the time we were half way up the 586 m hill we began to walk. As the light faded away we were afforded some spectacular views, just a hint of what we were missing by running in the dark. At the near top we found some quad tracks which led south to the first “summit”. Here the land drops steeply away then rises again until you reach a cairn on Randygil Top.
Time to celebrate with a massive chunk of marzipan. Now the cloud had dropped in and the visibility was very low as well as it being a moonless night. We set the compass and ran off in a NE direction following some rough tracks. Running again it was very pleasant but even with nobbly trail shoes it was occasionally very slippy. We skirted the edge off Green Bell (605 m) and relaxed into a 3 or 4 km run down towards the east edge of the enclosed field. We hit the road bang on target and ran the last 1 km or so along the road back to the car. It took about 1 hour 50 but could have been faster with more light. We joined Victor at the Cross Keys for supper and some celebration beers.
The distance was about 9 km.
November 4th, 2013 Alasdair
1st November 2013
Davy’s Wine Bar – Greenwich
Maxine and Dirk had kindly agreed to meet us for a chat over dinner. By amazing coincidence we found out about Maxine’s amazing exploits early this year when we saw a car with Russian number plates parked in Greenwich. Asking if Dirk was Russian he replied that he wasn’t but his girlfriend was (well Dutch but Russian speaking) and it transpired that she was planning to join a yacht “Tanui” to sail through the same canal that we were planning to sail through. In fact she was going much further than we were planning and actually stayed on the yacht for four months travelling from Tromso all the way to the Black Sea making if the first ever foreign flagged yacht to accomplish the task. Maxine and the Skipper will be writing a book for Imray in the near future. I could not do justice to all the tales we heard in this little blog but we have convinced her that a talk at Greenwich Yacht Club would be well received and we are hoping Norman can organise it. From our chat we did learn some important tips. Firstly the Russian speaker is totally vital and it would be unlikely (if allowed) for one shared speaker to be enough. On a more upbeat note, there was a mere hint of a faint possibility that just maybe Maxine could be persuaded to do a little bit more Russian Canal Sailing in 2015?! As far as the 3,000 euro fee to transit the canal, Maxine did not think it was nearly that much so that would be very helpful for our budgets. It seems that some training in Vodka drinking is going to be needed.
I’m looking forward to hearing Maxine’s talk.
November 1st, 2013 Alasdair
Charlotte Sykpes Vladimir
Then have a lovely meal
While we all watch on
30th October 2013
Charlotte had organised everything! The team met up at the Pineapple Pub in Kentish town. I didn’t make it to the pub having had to bail out of the overcrowded tube and run half way across London. I joined the meeting at Ashcombe Street where Charlotte was staying whilst in London. I burst in to find everyone totally engrossed in a long Skype session with Vladimir from St Petersburg. Vladimir has enabled many yachts to pass smoothly through the often complex Russian bureaucracy and is generally regarded as a top dog hero to every yacht person who ventures into Russia. It was very kind of Vladimir to take part in this Skype session as it was about midnight in St Peterburg.
Present at the meeting was:
Graham from the Baltic Section of the CA
Tim hoping to skipper Thembi
John and Selma hoping to take Brimble with their family
Norman and Christine probably not joining in their yacht but certainly in spirit.
Coll Hutchieson who is hoping to sail anti-clockwise in 2014
Alasdair (me!) and Grit intending to take Sumara on the grand trip
and of course Charlotte who will be taking Svarte and the Good Ship Pouncer.
Business was conducted over a massive Bolognese with beer and wine.
Our big question was “Clockwise or anti clockwise?”. The original plan had certainly been to go anti-clockwise. In fact Selma and John managed to winter their yacht on the South East coast of Norway in anticipation. However we have now decided to go clockwise! Charlotte will transport Pouncer overland from North Sweden to Tromso in the spring of 2015. In the summer of 2014 Thembi will sail towards Tromso from Scotland, Brimble will about turn and sail up the west coast of Norway and Sumara will head out of London.
The hope is to rendezvous for some climbing in Lofoten on 19th July 2014 (Hey might as well give it a date!) before mouching on up to Tromso where the yacht will spend the winter.
In the spring of 2015 there will be hectic fitting out combined with skiing in preparation for the long trip around the North Cape towards Archangel to clear Russian Customs before heading to the canal entrance. Vladimir had suggested Archangel was easier to clear customs than Murmansk which was mainly a military port.
We have been warned that there is a 3,000 euro charge to pass through the canal and we are going to make enquiries as to whether there were any further charges to be expected.
Tonight Grit and I are meeting Maxine and Dirk. Maxine, a fluent Russian speaker, sailed through the canal this year on Tanui joined by Dirk for some sections. We are looking forward to hearing their tales.
October 24th, 2013 Alasdair
Passing Cranes along the Thames
20th October 2013
The alarms rang simultaneously at 0500 and I poured a splosh of meths into the saucer to preheat the burner for a quick coffee before we set off. We quickly donned our wet weather gear although it wasn’t yet raining and didn’t look too bad under the full moon. The tide was ebbing out of the Medway so we let go the warps and set off. Ironically there wasn’t much wind although it had been blowing over night. We motored past Garrison Point and hoisted the yankee soon to be followed by the main with a couple of pre-emptive reefs tucked in. We waited to clear around the stern of a ship before heading north to Grain Edge (unlit!) and the crossing of the shallow water before joining the Thames for real. Another ship was unusually leaving the Thames and heading for the Medway. I wasn’t really expecting to be dodging so many ships so early. The wind had now kicked in and I was glad of the small main. In all of Sumara’s thousands of miles sailing she has only been knocked down twice – both in the Thames!
Sailing up the Thames has certain challenges. On a spring tide, like today, there is a fair bit of current. If the wind is slack great care must be taken not to be swept into jetties or against moored barges. Sailing at night can be deceptive as there are many unlit mooring buoys and dim lights that blend into the city back scatter. When short tacking the frequent ships add to the fun especially near Tilbury but the biggest danger to my mind are other yachts who often seem oblivious to their actions.
In the Sea Reach great foreboding clouds came across and strong winds forced the lee rail under. A dredger seemed concerned that we would run aground and called up VTS on 68 to express their concerns on air. We tucked in a tack to calm them down but actually had enough water to sail on for another 100 m (unless the dredger knew something we didn’t!). The wind now decided to shift to more south westerly so more short tacks were tucked in before we could just make Tilbury. Here we came across a large dredger underway called Victor Horta. We heard him call up to say he was going to berth starboard to at Tilbury. I called him to ask if he wanted me out of the way and he asked if we could pass to the south. We hardened up but as he slowed and we sped up I was getting very close to his stern with a lot of prop wash it was getting a bit hairy so I applied a bit of engine to clear out of his way as fast as I could.
We then enjoyed the brisk and by now wet sail further upstream until we came upon a whole fleet of yachts. Well about ten of them, which is a lot for this kind of weekend in October. As we approached the barrier we were going to need a final tack but a small red yacht came bearing down on us. I hardened up but there was no way I could clear the moored barges that we were being swept towards. Our predicament was pretty obvious but the little red yacht ploughed on. I shouted out but they just came on. If I tacked I would have definitely rammed them. The 30 second warm start on the engine was going to be touch and go but I reached for the starter in the hope it would kick in a bit earlier as Sumara went into irons being unable to tack.
With the moored barges coming towards us at a couple of knots the engine did eventually start as the little boat sailed past seemly totally unaware of the situation. Maybe they would have got out of the way at the last moment but it seemed very thoughtless to force a hard pressed yacht into moored barges for the sake of a minor course charge.
We passed through the barrier under power and sail but the wind was so gusty and with more river traffic we deicide to call it day and motor the last few miles to South Dock and what is now our home.
October 22nd, 2013 Alasdair
Moored Queenborough in the shelter of Sheppey
Power Station en route not sure which one!
19th September 2013
We dashed down to Gillingham after our Residents Meeting in the hope of getting Sumara out of the locked basin before the tide slipped away. Helped by the new HS1 speedy train service we arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare. Poor old Sumara had weeds around her waterline and I felt very guilty for her neglect. After an hour or so we had the sails hanked on, the waterline scrubbed and the engine fired up. I was pleasantly surprised at the invoice we had to cough up before exiting the lock. Obviously they had kindly charged monthly rates, unlike some marinas. I rather like Gillingham, the staff are friendly and on many of their berths you moor bow to between wooden withies. Although it means you have to climb over the bow, the poles do secure the yacht so you need not worry about fenders jumping out. As it happened there was also finger pontoon alongside my allocated berth.
It has to be said that the weekend we chose to sail up the Thames was not chosen on the basis of weather but simply it was an available weekend. The forecast was for wet and blustery winds starting from the south but gradually working their way west. We slipped out of the lock into the Medway and motored past a small cluster of racing yachts before hoisting the yankee. As we drew away from the hills behind Gillingham the wind increased and soon we were sailing at 6 kt under foresail on an ebbing tide. An hour or so later we rounded Queenborough Spit cardinal buoy and were motoring hard into the wind to pick up a buoy for the night. There weren’t many yachts around, a couple from sailing schools still braving the elements and the odd yachts on a mission. It wasn’t the weather for a pleasant weekend sail. We used the Daveys bronze boot hook to grab the buoy against a strong spring tide and tied off with two stout warps and went below to heat up some pies and carrots. We found an opened bottle of red wine that we bought in France and it still tasted ok. After a warming meal we worked out the best time to leave in the morning and went to sleep. At slack tide the Good Ship decided to sail forward and bump on the buoy, I strapped the helm over and it stopped for a while only to recommence at the next slack in six hours time. Nevertheless a pretty good nights sleep was had and we were looking forward to an exciting trip up the Thames.
October 13th, 2013 Alasdair
Laura surveys the wet scene
Alasdair running past a Flint wall or Alasdair Flint runs past a wall
The Team relaxes at Gordon’s warm house.
John showing that he has lost no fingers so far
The Team before the start
13th October 2013
A 7 am start from London got us to Henley at about 8.20 in time to park without any hassle. It is not a good idea to leave this run too late as the traffic really builds up. The summer weather has faded away and cool drizzle was the order of the day. Gareth and Laura from the world famous “South Dock Running Club” (established 2013) were to join me and John. John’s friend Rob and Tim were running too. The run is like a butterfly with two loops of about equal length. One is used for the 10 K race which kicks off a few minutes before the half. There didn’t seem to be many runners but there were over 1,200 finishers so it wasn’t exactly empty. Funnily this race seems to suit me although I don’t like roads and I do like hills. The first few miles felt very smooth and effortless. I just tucked in behind someone who I felt was running at a steady pace and enjoyed the scenery. It seemed that I was going quite fast despite aiming for a negative split. On returning over Henley Bridge there are a couple more flat road miles before swinging left up a 1.7 mile hill climb. It is a pretty gentle slope but it normally catches some of those who ran too fast at the beginning and I went past several people walking. Hills are my favourite so I mouched past about 15 runners on the way up before it flattens off and eventually turns hard leftdown a steep hill. At this point I stupidly thought I was going fast. I had a slight muscle pain in my right leg so decided to nurse it a bit with a marginally slower pace. Just before the Fair Mile I tripped on a pothole and twisted my ankle heavily but continued running. I really felt I was in for a personal best as I continued to overtake runners down the Fair Mile and put on a full sprint around the rugby club.
Sadly despite my feeling of comfortable speed it was a rubbish time of 1 hour 50 minutes 22 seconds. That was about three minutes slower than the previous year. Must try harder.
We all met up, scoffed a few snack bars from the Lidl Goodie Bag (thanks Lidl) and went for our cars to head up to Gordon’s house. Gordon had invited us all for a barbeque and kept his word despite the awful weather. Warmed up after a much needed shower we were fed, and fed, and fed until we hit the 1,400 calories we had burned on the race. Then we ate a bit more just in case. Finally we relaxed, after a bit of technology struggle, to watch a video of the Northern Lights.
Now that brings us neatly onto our next adventure. Russia here we come!
Thanks to Henley Rotary and all their volunteers who stood cheerily in the rain to make another great run and thanks to Gordon and Josie for looking after us so well afterwards.
September 9th, 2013 Alasdair
Alex takes aim
Selma wins a Massive Cup!
Jack takes a Dive!
Hamish Wins a Duck
Megan wins a Trophy
Jack is very worried as his mother falls in the Thames
Rowing begins to get ugly
The Rowing Race degenerates
Ella and Anna keep warm
Alex goes for the final kill
7th September 2013
Tim chases Alex before Alex decides to attack the Wallingford Rowers
The invite arrived on my mobile but this year the document was so lavish that my phone rejected it. The Cholsey Classics invite is notorious for arriving late so “pre-invites” are despatched to warn of the impending arrival of the real thing. One year I think the invite might be published after the event. I eventually found a computer powerful enough to download it and enjoyed reading the book like publication.
The Classics start on Friday evening but I have never quite been able to make it until the Saturday morning. My liver specialist will be grateful for this because the Friday session involves Nina’s cocktails and I’m not convinced my body could endure two nights of the Halsalls’ generosity.
Grit and I turned up at 1000 on Saturday morning with the little dinghy in tow. It was good to meet up with everyone and in particular those who I haven’t seen for a while. The Friday night meal had only just finished so after reviving coffee we headed off to the Thames to set up base camp and launch the racing machines.
Yunis has always been in charge of the racing with hands-on judging but, although looking in fine fettle, he has decided to relinquish the duty on the grounds of not being able to run fast enough to get to the finish line before the boats do. Grit has taken on the duty on umpiring. Her knowledge of the yacht racing rules is unbelievable.
The sailing racing took on a new twist with three heats but no final thus enabling the judges to choose a winner.
The picnic was laid out under the gazebi (which we decided must be the plural of gazebo) and so we got stuck into some serious eating before the rowing races started. Ella is a bit of a star rower and rows for Wallingford Rowing Club. Whether she will still be allowed back after Alex decided to attack one of their sculls is up for debate. Sean is also a top rower so we were going to be in for some exciting races. Sadly the rowing gradually degenerated and families battled each other with thrashing oars. Luckily our new umpire is a little short sighted and was totally unaware of the mayhem. The final race consisted of runners and swimmers racing against the rowing boats to win the Mara cup.
We managed the whole event without a drop of rain but as soon as we returned to Cholsey for the prize giving it began to pour down. It rained so hard that it forced its way right through the gazebo.
Prize giving as always starts with a spectacular assortment of tasty tapas titbits conjured up by Rosie, followed by lashings of barbequed meat (this time from Alex and Sam’s farm) and puddings and cheese. All, of course, served with appropriate drinks. The actual Prize Ceremony is a very formal affair opened by Mr John H introducing Yunus who was to give a succinct account of the days races in less than an hour. New medals were awarded for Friends of the Cholsey Classics and Old Friends of the Cholsey Classics or FOCCers and Old FOCCers as they are known. Grit helped Yunus with the awards and pointed out how much everyone was enjoying Yunus’ speech and although everyone hoped it could go on a bit longer it was her unfortunate task to suggest it drew to an end before daybreak.
In the early hours everyone retired to beds and scattered tents. Another successful Classics was over.
Paul relaxes before thrashing us in the rowing race