Mukti’s Diary • August 2007

Friday 31st August

Brighton Climate Change

I spent the morning sorting out details with the marina office for the press conference that afternoon, while Rowena did the laundry. She went out for the afternoon and evening, and later on I moved the boat over to a pontoon near the entrance.

At 430pm my fiend Jacob came down. He went to the same school as me, just after I left, and is a family friend. He has set up a group called Brighton Climate Change, who organised the whole Brighton stopover for the tour, and it looked to be a great stop.

At 530 we were delighted to receive no less than seven councillors and politicians who had come to welcome me to Brighton. There was Caroline Lucas MEP, one of the tour's endorsers and who had sent out communications through the green party all over the country to enable people to arrange talks. Labour councillors Mo Marsh, Gill Mitchell and Les Hamilton, Liberal Democrat Councillor David Watkins, Conservative councillor Trevor Alford, and former leader of the city council and Labour candidate Simon Burgess. I gave everyone a complementary copy of the Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles, and we had some great chats. They were all very positive about the tour and its message, and I felt very privileged to have such a warm welcome.

After the press conference Jacob and his girlfriend Helen and I went out for a pizza.

Thursday 30th August

We make Brighton

Southern Counties Radio had booked an appointment for an interview at 0720. I got up at half past six and had a walk to the showers and a gargle to try and wake my voice up. I was pretty exhausted. The interview went ok. We crashed out again all morning.

1515 saw us sauntering down the channel for the final few miles to Brighton. We were tired and detached. The winds were still light, and against us. But there was enough to be getting on with. We just made Brighton before running out of tide again; in fact I had to row the last mile as the wind disappeared entirely. But it was good to be in town a day early; Brighton was an important engagement.

It?s an insignificant point, but when building the boat I wrote a song that I sang, to everyone?s initial horror, acapella, at my 30th Birthday Party in Clovelly Village Hall. It had one verse for every year from 20 to 30. The year covering the boat went:

At twenty-eight I heard of one old Russian engineer, Who built of scraps a twelve foot yacht and sailed around the sphere, So I set out to build a boat to sail to Brighton Pier, And the building time expected stretched from three months to a year.

So it was quite satisfying to sail into Brighton in the boat I?d built.

Wednesday 29th August

Greenhouse Heaven

After breakfast Louise took us down to the Gardens. I stole into the great new glasshouse Pete and his partner, Miles, have recently rented, but which is still overgrown with brambles. It was like Kew Gardens but full of the excitement of dreams and potential. I sneaked around, thrilled. Then over to the great tilled glasshouses, nearly an acre of warm, green heaven, thousands or red tomatoes peeking out from foliage, a swimming pool sized plot of fresh basil ? I stuck my face in it an inhaled. All the gardeners are young, fun and smiling. What a place to work, I thought, perhaps I should forget boat building and apply for a job.

Pete had organised for me to give a talk at tea break, 1030. I gave the abbreviated version, 20 minutes, and everyone was very interested. It was a great vibe. What a happy working life, I thought, I?d love to come and work here for a week or two. ?That?s fine,? said Pete, ?you can do that, Muk.?

But Pete and Louise were off on holiday that day, and had to get home to pack, so we bade farewell to the glasshouse heaven and Louise took us back to the marina. There was an afternoon tide. The forecast was pretty pathetic, but for some reason I thought I knew better than the MET office, so decided to set off anyway. I paid for it by having to row right round the massive white cliffs of Beachy Head. We ran out of favourable tide about 7pm and just managed to beat it and crawl upwind in the light airs by sailing right along the beach, 20 yards from the sand. We pulled into Newhaven at 2100, having done about 8 miles in 8 hours.

Tuesday 28th August

Twice Compromised at Rye

I got up at 0630 and got the boat under way. Rowena came up and took a shift. There was a light breeze and it was just an hour to the entrance of the river to Rye. It was still low tide, so we anchored off. We had to pull into Rye for a media appointment: A photo shoot with the Chairman of Co-operative Membership, at 11pm.

I called the harbourmaster and he advised us to come in as soon as there was enough water, because once the current gets going, it rips through at 5-6 knots. I rowed into the channel at 0930. The river to Rye is very narrow, just 50 yards wide with man-made walls, and ? mile long from the sea to the village of Rye Harbour. All the water for the tidal river 5 miles up to Rye itself and beyond has to fill up through this narrow channel, which is why the current is so fast. We were zipping along with barely a pull on the oars. My plan was to turn around and row against the current to bring us to a stop and manoeuvre sideways at will to come alongside the jetty. Half way up the channel I tried this, and it worked fine.

As we approached Rye harbour it certainly felt like we were doing about six knots with the current. I knew the harbour master would be watching from the office high up across the water, with reservations about not having an engine. I spun the boat around before we reached the jetty and started rowing vigorously against the current. We slowed to a snails pace and crabbed very gently sideways towards the jetty. It was going very well. As we neared the jetty, it looked like we were just six feet upstream from the ladder, and might get half-swept between the widely spaced jetty legs. A swirling current near he jetty prevented me just letting the boat go downstream as usual. As we came closer I decided we were not in the right position, so pulled hard on the left oar to take us out into the river for a second try. But I was putting the keel sideways on to the current! As soon as this happened the current grabbed us and swept us around and away down stream. I realised immediately my mistake: I had gone too far sideways across the current. You need to keep the keel in line with the flow, and just change direction slightly by a few degrees at a time.

I turned the boat back against the current and now began to row is if I was racing for gold. Having several layers topped with yachting waterproofs wasn?t much help at this point, and I was getting decidedly warm. However I was managing to make us crawl, inch by inch, back towards the jetty. Half way, I knew I wouldn?t make it. The current was roaring already, and increasing with every minute. I made for a small fishing dinghy nearby, with the intention of mooring alongside. As we came up to it we glanced off its rear corner, where the lip between hull and deck made a very narrow protrusion. It felt like nothing, but I was to discover later that the dent made in our boat had burst the ply right through to the inside, although well above the waterline. We moored alongside successfully and I radioed the harbourmaster to covey our intention to reposition to the jetty when the current slowed, towards high water. ?Hang on tight, because the current is still increasing in velocity? he said. It was the fastest current I remember seeing on the whole trip ? in fact probably in my whole life.

High water was at 1200 and we were able to move at 1130 for a successful photo shoot with Len Wardle, Chair of the Co-operative Membership. After that, since it had been quite a morning, we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxed lunch in the pub. Straight after, having topped up our water bottles, we got underway, as the wind and tide were right for the next passage.

For some reason I didn?t think very carefully about leaving the jetty. I had glanced at the flags by the harbour office and without giving any instructions to Rowena, gleefully cast off, thinking, ?this?ll be a breeze, it?s a reach.? In fact the wind was well forward of the beam, and we were very close hauled. We barely avoided the first post on the starboard side of the channel. For some reason, the current now sweeping us seawards, combined with the high sides of the channel, meant I couldn?t fill the sails properly and get up to a critical speed that would enable the keel to start tracking and give us directional control. The wind just nudged us gently against the starboard wall, which rose about a foot above the water. We scraped all the way down the wall for 50 yards or more, with me confusedly trying to do what the burgee was telling me I could do - sail - but failing. The burgee was the only bit of the sail in the wind. Meanwhile Rowena was trying to fend off with an oar from the bow, which prevented most of the discomfort, but it was still very confusing, annoying and embarrassing.

Eventually I realised it was simply not going to work, grabbed the oars and started rowing. With the great current we were soon down to the mouth of the river, where it comes straight out from the beach, and into a fresh breeze, a lively chop and a great run to the west. I was relieved to be clear of the channel, and to be able to sail the boat again without confusion. That channel had been very unnerving. We roared westwards at 5.5 knots, past the busy high-rises of Hastings and Bexhill, towards Eastbourne.

I called an old school friend Pete Dollimore, who I knew lived near Hastings. He answered the phone himself. ?Are you in Hastings?? I asked. ?Well, Eastbourne, really.? ?Perfect, that?s just where we?re heading!? Pete knew vaguely that I had a project to sail around Britain, but didn?t realise I was actually on tour right now, least of all right in his patch. He invited us round for dinner. We pulled into Sovereign Harbour, a massive new marina development, at 1830. The tremendous flow in the very large entry lock was so great that it turned the whole lock white with foam, and rocked us around a bit, but we were soon into the quiet tranquillity of the marina.

Pete came round with his baby daughter at half past seven. He had last seen the boat at the sea-launch three years ago. We went back to his place for dinner with his wife, Louise. On the way Pete had to close the greenhouses at his business, an organic fruit and vegetable under-glass garden. It was really exciting to wander round the huge glasshouses amongst jungles of tomatoes, aubergines and every exotic vegetables. I breathed the highly oxygenated air in deep lungfulls, sniffed the flowers and herbs, and loved it.

We had a great dinner. Pete had played the base in three bands I was in as a drummer at school and college. He had gone to university to study chemistry and horticulture, and now runs a successful organic garden that employs twelve people. What a superstar. I couldn?t wait to go back in the morning.

Monday 27th August

Full Moon over Dungeness

The forecast was variable 3 or less becoming NE 3/4 and there was a lunchtime tide. We did some shopping, diary and navigation and set off at 1300. The winds were very light indeed so it was slow progress across the bay towards Dungeness Point. But the sun blazed down and the sea was a pretty light blue so we drifted along and chatted. The huge power station at Dungeness was our landmark and we finally rounded it at 1900. There was a contra tide the other side, so I aimed out a bit, but we had to go in for Rye so couldn?t go too far out. The contra tide slowed us down and the tide turned before we made Rye. I rowed to within half a mile of the long beach that was the coast, and we dropped anchor. The sea was flat, the stars were out, and a magnificent full moon rose from the sea and climbed into the blue-black sky, casting a dappled silver path towards us.

It was a beautiful, magical setting. We gazed, and slept.

Sunday 26th August

Nine inches from the bridge

There was an afternoon tide for Folkestone so we had a whole morning ashore. I picked up the new compass that we had ordered from the Chandlers. I also got two detailed charts for the south coast, as I wasn't happy with the large scale one we had used for the Thames Estuary. You need extra detail if you have to go in to anchor under the cliffs or creep up unusual creeks.

A very enthusiastic man came over to look at the boat. His name was Jeff, and he was an ex kite-surfing instructor and lorry driver. He had been following the boat in the yachting press, was very interested in the keel, and not needing an engine. I showed him and his family around the boat and he invited me to see his boat, an Etap 23. I was very impressed, because when Jeff had bought the boat for himself and his family, he had really done his homework on stability. He had worked out that the depth of the ballast is as important as its mass, and after extensive research, had driven all the way to Germany to purchase a second hand yacht with a lifting bulb keel. The result was a boat that was far more seaworthy than many modern shallow draft yachts, with important implications when caught off shore in a blow. He showed me around the boat and the keel mechanisms and we had a great chat. It was good to meet someone so discerning, with exactly the same approach that had lead me to design and build Chance: The desire for true seaworthiness combined with shallow draft.

We set off at 3pm and reached Folkestone at 1930. The tide had not risen enough to enter the harbour, so we anchored off in a veritable chop for an hour. It was so choppy that the only thing to do was tuck ourselves into the cabin for an hour's rest, much to the amusement of the fishing party on a curious passing charter vessel - a minute little yellow yacht bouncing around at anchor in a nasty chop with two people snug in their sleeping bags in the incredibly dinky cabin.

We entered the harbour at 9pm and two local yachts kindly offered us a yacht club mooring. One offered to tow us onto the mooring in their dinghy, but unfortunately they dropped the towline twice. There was a strong current and we were nearly swept under a bridge. I managed to get the oars unlashed and pull us away when the mast was literally about nine inches from the bridge. It was a lesson in self-reliance and at least having the oars ready for use during harbour manoeuvres.

Saturday 25th August

The best local knowledge

There was a complex forecast today: Variable 3 or less becoming SW then veering N 3 or 4. I picked up the ship's battery and we set off at 10am with just a breath of wind; it was on the port quarter (3/4 behind us), which was good. Rowena spotted a Dolphin off Herne Bay at around noon.

After lunch the wind went to the east, which was opposite to the forecast, but it picked up a bit. We followed the inshore channel, which my friend on the Dungeness lifeboat, Tommo, had recommended on the phone. We tacked up and down along the coast as streams of yachts and speedboats went by. We had the option of dipping into Margate, but the wind picked up so we carried on around North Foreland, the corner that leads from the Thames estuary south into the Dover Straits. The wind went SE and picked up to a 5 so we tacked heartily south with the spray flying across the deck. It was great to have finally left the North Sea, and to enter the famous Dover Straits. The coastguard reported that there were swimmers crossing the channel that day, and they were now in the northeast shipping lane.

We reached Ramsgate at 1900. It is a huge harbour, packed with 700 yachts. I found a gap between two 60ft French boats and we moored up. Tommo came down at 8pm and lent us some detailed charts of the local area.

They were printed on cloth so completely waterproof. Tommo is a great guy for advice on the local sea area. Apart from being on the Dungeness lifeboat, he runs the pilot boats in several local harbours and has a huge amount of experience from his days in the Navy and with the SBS. He showed us the best inshore routes and places to hide out from changing weather, and told us the times of the contra-tides in the bays either side of Dungeness Point. With a smile and a warm handshake, Tommo was gone, and we settled down for dinner and an early night.

Friday 24th August

Re-route to Whitstable

The forecast was N backing W 3-4 so we set off from the Swale estuary aiming for Ramsgate, a distance of 27 nautical miles (1NM = 1.15 Statute Miles). But the winds stayed light in the NE, against us, and it took two hours just to get out of the estuary. The wind dropped further and I decided on a change of plan. We coasted into Whitstable Harbour, just about 4 miles made good.

We were glad to get showers after two days on a mooring. We lunched in the yacht club and I spent the afternoon catching up on the diary. The ships batteries were playing up since the week at St. Katherine's. We had been moored under a tree so the solar panel was not delivering much power, and I had run the ships batteries right down a couple of times using the laptop. Now they registered fully charged, but just charging a mobile phone flattened them! I talked to my old friend and sea captain, Kit, on the phone and he suggested that a strong charge on shore might revive them, so I dropped one into the chandlers, leaving the other on its own with the solar panel in direct sunlight.

Whitstable is a nice little town with pretty little shops. We found a supply of homemade whole meal bread, and got some fresh fruit and veg. We ate early with comments from passers by saying it smelt so good, did we have room for three more at the dinner table? It was a still, starry night.

Thursday 23rd August

Dinner on an 18 tonne gaffer

It was still pretty windy and choppy on the mooring this morning, but a gentleman in a beautiful little wooden tender rowed up and invited us for dinner on the gaff cutter Little Windflower, which had anchored 100yards from us. I was very pleased because I had noticed the boat in St. Katherine Dock as she was registered in Plymouth and was a very good looking classic yacht.

After lunch we sailed over to the causeway at Harty ferry, just o a mile away, and went up to the pub to use their toilets. A nice man took our lines by the slipway and held the boat for us while we were away. He then invited us for tea and biscuits on his little 22ft yacht. It seemed palacial compared to Chance, and had a very interesting Junk Schooner rig.

Dinner on board Little Windflower was a delight. It was a lovely family, and sitting deep below the water enclosed by old wooden planks and beams was so cosy and exciting. The 18 tonne vessel felt like solid land after Chance, lying rock steady and motionless as we moved about.

We were rowed back home at 10 o'clock, contented and happy.

Wednesday 22nd August

Our Anchor Drags!

It was indeed a bouncy night. The ebb tide lined us up with the wind and waves, so the boat lay comfortably. But the flood tide pushed us side-on to the waves. The boat rocked so much that we slid into each other and the sides of the boat. We took off the waterproof mattress covers, and the cotton covers didn't slide. But our sleep was constantly disturbed.

At around 7am I awoke and propped myself up on my elbows. I looked out through the window and commented to Rowena: "Mmm, we seem to be sailing steadily down river." With that I leapt out of the cabin. The gale was in full force and the wind-chill factor was high so it was no good doing anything in my underwear. I stood there getting dressed up while the boat drifted steadily towards the south bank. I observed, as I did up my jacket, that the bank was at about 45 degrees, and basically mud. It wouldn't damage us, and we might not get too stuck onto it, at least not immediately. Before we reached the bank I let out some more anchor warp and then cleated it off again, in case that would help the anchor re-set. But the anchor wouln't re-set, and soon were rocking up and down against the bank. We were, at least, facing roughly 45 degrees into the wind. Rowena got up and I explained a plan of action. We would pole out the bow and bring it through the wind. When we were facing away from the bank we would unfurl a small amount of Genoa, and we would use that to sail off the bank and go and pick up a mooring (in the daylight there were several to be seen nearby). The mud was very soft but we managed to pole out, and soon we were at the intended angle. But in the noise and rush the Genoa got unfurled completely before we were ready and the boat swung right round against the bank again, pointing downwind. We were now in a much worse situation, because we were facing three-quarters down wind, so couldn't use the sails effectively to sail off the bank. I was at a bit of a loss. Rowena got on the bow and started poling off. We moved a bit.

It was a fine line to take, but it we could just get off a little, we might be able to pick up enough speed to sail away from the bank. I poled from amidships; the oar went right into the mud and nearly got stuck. We both pushed our oars into the bank and gradually we started moving. I jumped to the tiller. We slid down the edge of the bank a bit and then we picked up just enough speed for the keel to get it's own traction. We started sailing and were away. Fantastic. Rowena came back to the cockpit; we lashed the oars and headed for a mooring. At least there was plenty of power around, and we sailed well with just half a Genoa. We soon picked up a mooring nearby, and sat down in the cockpit to unwind. Plenty of excitement before breakfast.

After eating we went back to sleep as well as we could. I got up at 1pm and made sandwiches. Rowena dozed again and I washed up and then sat meditating in the cockpit in a rolling boat with a gale whistling round my ears. It managed it, though. A couple of Dutchmen in a small motor yacht came by and asked about the weather. I said it would be rough until tomorrow, so they too picked up a mooring nearby. At about 4 o'clock, Rowena and I swapped places, I dozed and she sat in the cockpit contemplating, and then later cooked dinner. We sat inside the cabin for a hearty meal, chatted for a while and then slept early, as we might as well get what rest we could while there was no sailing to be done.

Tuesday 21st August

Compass over board! And finding a storm hole

We awoke at seven and radioed the lifeboat station, who invited us in for tea and to use their toilets. It was a short stop, as we had to catch the tide again at eight. Just as we were leaving, our friends David and Dave arrived for their shifts and it was nice to see them again. They wished us well and we set sail into a northerly 5.

It was a bit choppy and we were reefed down as we went up the northeast stretch towards Leigh. We made short tacks at the side of the channel to avoid the passing ships. I was worried about Rowena's fingers near the jib-cleats as she broke out the sheets for a tack, and showed her a safer way to do it. But my method had one drawback; you could catch the ship's compass - which doubles as a hand-bearing compass - and flip it out of its bracket. I had done this two year's ago at the Royal Fowey Regatta, but managed to pick the compass up again, so was a bit blaze about it. Sure enough, on the next tack the sheet caught the compass and pinged it over board. "Watch your head!" I shouted to Rowena as I went straight round in a tight circle, but the compass had disappeared. It had certainly floated last time. We drifted for a while looking all around, and I could see a floating twig quite clearly, so in the end we decided that this time it must have sunk. "It's my fault." I told Rowena. "It's the way I taught you to brake out the sheets. Don't worry, we have a spare compass on board." We hauled in the sheets and sailed off again, bouncing over the lively chop with the washboards in to keep the cabin dry as the odd wave came right over the deck. It was a small loss for such a long trip.

The forecast was N5 increasing 6 to Gale 8 later. We wanted to use the good blow to put some miles under the keel, but were heading for shelter from the gales to come. We entered the river Medway at 1130 and ran past Sheerness to the little pontoon at the village of Queenborough, arriving at midday. Tired from a short night's sleep and an intense morning sail, we plodded up the pontoon in all our waterproofs and plonked ourselves down in a cosy corner of the village pub. "Lunch?" "A very good idea." The wind was freshening and it was exposed and bouncy on the pontoon, so the pub was a wonderful retreat. We had three long, drawn-out courses followed by a relaxed cup of fruit tea. There was nothing pressing while we awaited the tide.

At about four we slouched back down to the boat. I went to sleep for a couple of hours, while Rowena went for a run followed by a shower. It was going to be rough here with a northerly gale sweeping down the north-facing estuary, so we set off round a bend in the river to find a sheltered anchorage. I called the Kingsferry lift-bridge - our only obstacle - on the radio and they said they could open in 45 minutes, so we sauntered up river quietly under the Genoa. It was pleasant to be on flat water just 50 yards wide. The surrounding land was very flat and low, mainly tidal marshes that would flood on a high spring. It was slightly grey, the light was fading, there was little wind (the calm before the storm), and we slid quietly up stream chatting odd nothings and looking about pottedly. We tacked up and down in front of the bridge until it opened and thanked them on the radio once through. It would dry out this far up, so we thought we'd continue as the River Medway meets the River Swale and comes out again further down the coast, so to our left was the Isle of Sheppey. Near the other end was Harty Ferry, with a very well reputed pub.

We were lazy and carried on slowly without the mainsail. It got dark and then we started grounding a lot. There isn't much depth where the two rivers meet, and now the tide was ebbing. Most of the channel was well buoyed but we were in a mile-long stretch without a single marker. We touched again and again, going this way and that to find the channel, and pulling up the keel a bit more every time. I was concerned because the keel was right up now, and every time we dropped it just a foot we hit the bottom. If we grounded the tide would leave us high and dry. Of course it didn't really matter; we would just put the legs on and go to sleep wherever we were, but I'd rather do it deliberately. We skimmed over the bottom until we reached another channel marker, flashing red every 2 seconds. We peered into the darkness ahead to spot the little winking lights of the red and green marker-buoys, reaching them one by one.

I was aiming for what looked on the chart like a sheltered bay just before Harty Ferry. But when we got there we found it high and dry. It was tidal marshland. We anchored right beside it, sheltered from the north wind, but rather close to a flashing channel buoy. Then I decided that we were either too close, or actually in the deep water channel. We had passed a ship moored up stream and knew not when it would come past. And we didn't want to re-positioning during a gale. So I pulled up the anchor and we went over to the south side of the channel, towards what looked like the anchor lights of moored yachts. They were anchor lights, and it was reassuring to be with other yachts at rest - it must be a good anchorage. We dropped the hook with plenty of swinging room between two other yachts, and cooked up some dinner. It was far enough from the north shore to allow the wind to pick up some chop so it wouldn't be the smoothest night's sleep but we were out of danger, I thought.

Monday 20th August

Lunch at the Houses of Parliament

At midday I took the remaining guidebooks down to the Houses of Parliament. In these times of fear of terrorism, I climbed out of a cab in front of parliament and proceeded to unload 12 boxes onto the pavement.

The cab driver said, 'That policeman with a gun is looking at you.' Indeed, a policeman with a machine gun just inside the gates was looking right at me. I mouthed through the busy crowds "you can come and have a look", paid the taxi and stood around trying to look relaxed. My MP's parliamentary assistant, Chris Ford, would be down soon to pick up the books.

Two policemen came slowly down the pavement to where I stood. I opened the exchange by saying "I'm delivering some books to my MPs office, these boxes are all open, so please feel free to have a look." Both the policemen relaxed completely and started being very chatty and friendly. "Round Britain in a 15ft boat eh, well done!" and "I've just been on holiday in Devon." They conducted a brief investigation under the Terrorism Act Section 44, which involved peering inside a corner of one of the boxes and asking me some general questions, which I thought was quite understandable under the circumstances. They issued me with a carbon copy of the report and wished me all the best with the rest of my journey, apologising for taking my time and explaining that it was just due to the present security situation. I was delighted to be treated so convivially; in my experience the police are just humans doing their job and as soon as you co-operate they are as friendly and un-intrusive as possible.

A few minutes later Chris arrived with a trolley. He took the books and sent me via the pedestrian entrance to the main lobby. After passing security I walked into the Houses of Parliament for the first time and was completely struck by its magnificence. First on my left, opening away down a panoramic flight of stone steps was a truly vast hall who's roof was built of a wooden structure that is one of the most beautiful and structurally impressive canopies that I have ever seen. Chris later told me that it is the largest wooden vaulted roof in Britain, but whatis doubly impressive is that it is so beautiful too; half-arches built on half-arches built on half-arches in immense timbers and steel bolts finished in shapely decoration.

The Central Lobby, where members of the public can enter and demand to see their MP at any time, ascends upwards in a forest of exquisite details, features and sculptures all carved in stone with statues of important political figures posed above on all eight sides. Chris met me there and took me for lunch in the "dungeons". Then he showed me through the great building from the House of Lords, where the Queen's throne is the single largest piece of gold in the world (built on a huge base with a great backdrop and overhang that apparently extends way back into the building, all solid gold), to the House of Commons with it's green leather seats, which was much smaller than I expected. It was a great tour and insight into our world of politics. Finally Chris showed me the office where he and MP Geoffrey Cox work. Geoffrey gave a great boost to the tour with his send-off speech in Clovelly on 8th April. And here in Westminster, he has received all of the 1,400 guidebooks on low carbon living and delivered them with a letter to every Lord and MP in the Houses of Parliament, a crucial part in completing the delivery, which made me very happy and for which I am deeply grateful.

Chris took me through underground passages to the new blocks of MP's offices and committee rooms in Whitehall. We passed through the scanning gates onto the street, where he bade me fare well. I walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and got a bus from the Strand to Tower Hill.

As the Thames is so busy by day we had decided to leave at night. There was an evening tide to take us down the river and we "locked out" at 7pm. Our departure was a bit of a shambles between washing up from dinner, getting under way, paying for our stay and managing our lines, and in the rush we got out of control, the current swung us round and we gently rammed the side of the lock head-on. Not a very pleasant experience for our aluminium bow-roller, the poor thing has had a few knocks on this trip. But the beauty of such a light vessel is that she has little momentum, so little damage is done if she runs into something. Certainly the stone lock walls didn't notice.

I rowed out into the Thames below Tower Bridge, amongst the 30-knot fast-cats and river ferries. This time there was a better breeze, from the north, and whilst it was gusty around the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, we had good power and a load of tide. The sun set beautifully behind the city again, and the Christmas-cake lights winked on all over the silhouettes of the towers and blocks, so we smiled and marvelled at the beauty of it and bade farewell to London.

The elements whooshed us downstream and soon we passed the Dome, Greenwich and the Thames Flood Barriers. We switched on the nav. lights, sped past Erith and under the QEII Bridge, and as we came to midnight and the end of the tide, we arrived at Gravesend and picked up a mooring off the lifeboat station. 21 miles and a good run, as we were now pretty well out of the Thames.

Sunday 19th August

Sleep, Sleep and Sleep

Today we were so tired we got up late, had a siesta and went to bed early.

We also shopped for fresh groceries, did some navigation planning and stowed the books and flyers left from the walk.

Saturday 18th August

The Low Carbon Walk to Westminster

I got up at 0430. I did my laundry in the marina facilities and had a shower. I wrote out the letters to the Queen, Prince of Wales and PM by hand on tour letter headed paper, finished repackaging the last of the books, and made sandwiches for the day. Rowena came over at 9.00. My mother came down at 930, and brought wrapping paper for the special packages of books, string to tie them with, and envelopes for the special letters. She also brought a set of super-light aluminium mini-steps. We walked up to Tower Hill.

It was the day of the walk to Westminster. The sun shone gently, and the perky breeze rippled the leaves of the trees and flew the flags on the Tower of London. I stood with the tall banner at Trinity Square Gardens, just north of the Tower, and a small crowd of people came to join me. There were a dozen of us, and we were all very happy to be there. We walked around Tower Hill, and down to St. Katherine Docks to collect the guidebooks, carrying around 50 each. We visited Chance and then we walked over Tower Bridge. The wind shook the banner on the bridge, and it was difficult to hold until we reached the other side. Then we walked west amongst the crowds on the South Bank of the river Thames.

The wind made it bright and chirpy but was not too strong, and it was warm in the gentle, cloud-filtered sunshine. We talked as we walked, and it was a nice, sociable stroll. I wanted to keep a steady pace, but it was not too fast to chat, and it was a great crowd. I chatted to Chip, Maddy, and Guy, who had come up from Maidstone, Kent, a friend of a friend, Jenny, Petica and my old friend Ben from Devon, and to my best supporter, Angela, who had come to two of my talks in one day in Colchester. My mother and father had come all the way from Devon. And Rowena had come back early from her holiday.

As we weaved in and out of the crowds, there was a lot of interest in the banner, and Chip and my mother gave out flyers along the way. We reached the crowds by the London Eye and crossed Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament. There was Lord Tim Beaumont, waiting by the Palace Yard Gates amongst the crowds. Lord Beaumont shook my hand, and accepted twelve copies of The Guide for selected peers. We stopped by the gates to wait for my MP's parliamentary assistant, Chris Ford, who would take the rest of the books. We were 10 minutes early. A policeman came out said that we couldn't lean the banner against the gates, as it might look as if it was endorsed by the Houses of Parliament. My father said, "It is!" pointing to the names of Tony Blair, David Cameron and Menzies Campbell. Chris Ford arrived with a trolley, and took all our guidebooks into the Houses of Parliament. Then we went over to the green by Westminster Abbey and had a picnic on the grass. A great family friend, Caroline Miller, met us there, and another couple, Yvonne from Findhorn, and Martin, Head of Sustainability for Royal Mail, caught up with us too. They had arrived 10 minutes late at Tower Hill and not caught up with us all the way.

After lunch we walked round Parliament Square and up Whitehall to Downing Street. There was a lot of building work going on outside the street, so it wasn't very photogenic, but the policeman received the package graciously, and said he would make sure the prime minister received it.

We walked up Whitehall and along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. As we walked down the Mall flying the banner we were stopped by the Palace Police, who wanted to look at the banner. We explained that the tour was endorsed by the Prince of Wales and that we had an appointment at Buckingham Palace. They were very polite and encouraging and accepted several flyers, but explained that no banner of any sort was ever allowed to be flown in the Royal Parks, though they turned a blind eye at speaker's corner. So we furled up the banner, they wished us the best with the tour, and we carried on.

Clarence House had requested we deliver their package to Buckingham palace and we were an hour early. The band was just starting to play in St. James' Park so we stopped for an hour and lay on the grass and chatted. At 4 o'clock we walked down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, and at the side gate on the south side of the palace I delivered 12 copies of The Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles for The Queen, and 10 copies for The Prince of Wales. When I came back out from the reception office onto the street, my group of friends gave a big cheer, and Jenny said it was a very great thing to have done.

We walked around the front of the Palace past the changing guards and the crowds, and up Constitution Hill. A second group of Policemen stopped us there and insisted on seeing the banner, which we were very pleased to show them. Once all was revealed and leaflets had been presented they were very encouraging and wished us well on our way. We walked over Hyde Park Corner and up the side of Hyde Park to Speaker's corner, and there I gave the talk on low carbon lifestyles, standing on the steps that we had carried all the way, with the banner attached to the fence behind. It began to drizzle lightly, but everyone stayed to listen, along with some more friends and contacts that had just arrived, and various passers-by. Petica said that at one point she counted 50.

And the day officially ended at 6pm. People had to rush off to catch trains and get warm and dry, but everyone was incredibly positive. It had been the most enthusiastic group I could possibly have imagined. Caroline said that her concentration span was very short, but that it hadn't strayed once during my talk. And it was the first time I started to get feedback about the book, as several of the people there had already read it, and it was very positive.

We all said goodbye and then Rowena and I took the tube to Warren Street and walked to Diwali, in Drummond Street, where my mother and father invited us for dinner. It was one of the best Indian meals I have ever eaten out.

Finally, and exhausted, we arrived back at the boat where the walk had began that morning. It was a long and momentous day, taking in many of London's most beautiful spots and important places, and a very important part of the tour was completed: To deliver The Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles to every one of the 1,400 senior members of the government of our nation.

Friday 17th August

Stories from Old London

My mother brought my grandmother down to see the boat. We sat on board and had tea and cakes. I showed my grandmother the route we had sailed up the Thames, and she showed me where she was brought up, and talked about the times her and my Grandfather used to take a boat up and down the Thames for a weekend. People back then may not have had all the perks we have today, but they had time, and knew what was romantic. It was great to have sailed up the Thames, and to hear her stories as a result. Old people are a labyrinth of experiences and it takes certain settings to take them down memory's lanes into untold backwaters.

I re-packaged some more books, made a last call to sort out the delivery point at No. 10, and drafted letters to The Queen, The Prince of Wales and The Prime Minister. My MP, Geoffrey Cox, was going to receive all the books at Parliament and redistribute them with a letter to all the MPs and Lords. He is an absolute superstar; this is a huge help and will make it possible to get the guidebooks to their recipients.

My friend Petica came over for dinner on the boat. She would film the walk on ITV's mini DV camera.

Thursday 16th August

Best place at The Globe

I bought some dowel and made up a pole for the Low Carbon Lifestyle Tour banner, so I could carry it on the walk. The 1,400 guidebooks arrived at the marina office and I started packaging them up into bags of 25, so that people could carry them to Westminster. I called No.10, Parliament, Clarence House, and Buckingham Palace to make sure they were ready for all the deliveries of booklets, which they were.

In the evening I went to see Shakespeare's Loves' Labours Lost at the Globe. It was the first time I had stood in the yard, which only costs £5, and being early I was right at the front. It was the best experience of Shakespeare I've ever had, being as close to the actors as they are to each other. And it was a hilarious, yet touching and educative play. Shakespeare is such a star. It's as raunchy as you like at times, tender at others, a roller coaster of jokes and laughter, yet serious too. Fantastic.

Wednesday 15th August

Low Carbon Web Chat

I went to see my Grandmother who is 91, in Kentish Town. She took me out to a Turkish restaurant for lunch. In the evening I found a cyber café and went on-line for one of the tour's sponsors, Co-operative Membership, who had organised an on-line web chat about low carbon lifestyles. Peter Harper, from the centre for Alternative Technology, was also answering questions, and it was quite fun.

Tuesday 14th August

On Time FM

I finished off the media calls and sending out press releases. A couple of the East-London papers sent photographers down to capture the boat at St. Katherine's, and I had an interview with Time FM radio.

Monday 13th August

Tea at The Guardian

I got up early and went up to The Guardian offices to get a new copy of their media directory. John Vidal, the environmental correspondent, was due in at 1000, and gave me tea in the Guardian Café while taking the details of the tour. I got back to the boat at 11 and spent the day calling all the national and London media. I then wrote a press release for next Saturday's walk from Tower Hill to Westminster to deliver 1,400 copies of The Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles to The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Prime Minister, and all the Lords and MP's in the houses of Parliament.

Sunday 12th August

Crowds at Speaker's Corner

Today I finished the route, from Westminster to 10 Downing Street, Clarence House and Bucking Palace. I carried on up to Hyde Park and Speaker's corner. There were huge crowds there, and lots of speakers. I observed they all had their own little stepladders to stand on. There seemed to be crowds of Arabic-looking people, and some very animated speakers. Some Police near by seemed rather unhappy about the situation, but speaker's corner is traditionally a place where anyone is allowed to voice their opinions to anyone who wants to listen. I got some sandwiches and sat in a deck chair looking over Hyde Park into the breeze as the sun went down.

Saturday 11th August

Running down the South Bank

I called a few friends in London, but everyone seemed to be on Holiday. I hadn't appreciated the extent to which people tend to leave the city in August. Still, I was pretty tired now I had come down with a cold, and there were things to sort out on the boat. So I spent the weekend sorting, resting, and running.

Today I walked down the north bank of the Thames to St. Paul's, crossed the Wobbly Bridge, and jogged down the south bank towards Westminster. There were crowds walking along the promontories, so I had to stop and walk at times. A group of musicians had set up a party on the sand beside the river at low tide and there were crowds looking down from the railings beside the path, but we couldn't see exactly how to get down there. I jogged on, passing faces, characters, summer dresses, seas of people at leisure. A stunning young flamenco guitarist caught my ear beside the Royal Festival Hall and I stopped to listen for a while. He was from Barcelona. I jogged on down to the London Eye, and over the bridge to Westminster. I've seen them so many times, but the Houses of Parliament really are some of the most amazing buildings I've ever seen. So much detail and decoration, so vast and extensive, and so well proportioned. I asked a couple of policemen where the Old Palace Yard Gates were, before catching the tube back to Tower Hill.

Friday 10th August

The Golden Hind

Having arrived in London, and with a few days to spare, the pressure was off and I relaxed, and subsequently came down with a cold. I spent the day cleaning the boat, getting some fresh food and doing the laundry.

I needed some exercise, so I ran the route of next weekend's walk to Westminster in stages. Firstly, Tower Hill to the Tate Modern along the South Bank. This took me past the replica of the Golden Hind, which was built in my home town of Bideford, by Alan Hinks, who, three years ago, at the age of 80, had come down to Clovelly to name Chance at her launching. The Golden Hind was a very small but incredibly solid little ship, whose tall sides sloped inwards from the water at a more pronounced angle than I have ever seen on another boat. She has around 20ft of beam at the waterline, yet the width of her stern-castle deck - about 20ft high - was just 5ft. I suppose this was to give the captain height of view, whilst keeping the centre of gravity low, and possibly to make it difficult to board from another ship. I looked at her, in the knowledge of the violent exploits of Sir Francis Drake, and found her a poignant mixture of prettiness and menace. What romantic, wonderful voyages she sailed, and what havoc she wreaked, that little, solid, black hull.

I jogged on past Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and picked up a programme. I reached the "wobbly bridge" of the Tate Modern, and turned back. It was Friday night in London town but I was so tired I went to bed at 830.

Thursday 9th August

I relax, and catch a cold

We entered the lock at 945am, when a voice from the lock-side asked, "Are you Mukti Mitchell?" It was Perry Cleveland-Peck from The Times. "I'm just on my way to work," he said; "I walk through here every day. Will you be free at lunch time?" I said that I would, and we agreed to meet for a chat.

We settled the boat down into her berth. St. Katherine Dock is a quiet, delightful oasis right in the heart of London, shaded by rustling poplar trees, paved in stone walkways and lined with little café's, shops and bars. Perry came down at 1pm and took some details of the journey. He said he would try to get the news desk interested, but coverage would depend on what else happened that week.

Rowena and I had a long lunch on the open balconies of the Dickens Inn by the water, and then Rowena packed up her bags and went off to her sister's and their planned week's holiday on the Isle of White. I got out the banners, and made the boat look ready for a week on display.

At 5 o'clock, Jay, who was doing a clowning course in London and doing some work for the tour at the same time, came down to the boat. We had a snack, and then went off putting posters up in the cafes and bars around Tower Hill. At 830 as it got dark, we knocked off and took a stroll to see the Gherkin. It is a very clever and beautiful building, and I did think it was much more pleasant on the eye than the square, angular skyscrapers of the financial district. I then took Jay for a drink in my favourite pub from university, the Jamaica Wine Bar, one of London's oldest pubs, nearly 300 years old, which was just round the corner in a tiny alley near the stock exchange.

Wednesday 8th August

To London by Night

We got up early and were back on the boat by 9am. I had an interview with the editor of Sustained magazine at 11, and then we slept all afternoon. The evening tides were right for going on up to the tower, and there was a breeze, so we left Greenwich Yacht Club at 8pm.

It was a fantastic sail up the Thames to London by night. First we passed the O2 Millennium Dome, with its neon-blue lit guy poles. On the north side after that was a pub called The Gun, who's beer garden backed onto the river. We tacked right in close and got a cheer from the crowd in the garden. The sun was setting with scarlet streaks across the sky and the lights of Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and the city's towers stood majestic and futuristic against the evening sky.

The wind was dropping and we tacked gently down the next loop of the Thames to the beautiful, white, pillared buildings of Greenwich. The redevelopment of the banks of the Thames over the last 10 years has been very prolific. The river is lined with what must be expensive flats from Greenwich all the way to London. A green spacious area of trees passed on the right at the bottom of the Isle of Dogs, and then we turned north again towards Canary Wharf.

The wind got very gusty between the higher buildings as the river was now getting considerably narrower and sailing was getting quite difficult, although the tide was still pushing us along quickly. Eventually I got out the oars and rowed. In our tacking we had got over to the wrong side of the river and a couple of restaurant-boats went past and hollered, "You're on the wrong side of the river!" over their loudhailers. Oops. As the riverboats were pulling in at piers on either side, we decided it was best to row right down the middle of the Thames. The tide was slowing, but I rowed on past Canary Wharf and Limehouse, and then Tower Bridge came round the corner into sight and we pulled yard by yard closer and closer as the tide came to its height and poised to turn. But we were just in time, and final strokes took us past some moored barges, the navy base and to St. Katherine Pier, right under Tower Bridge. A police boat came over to ask if we were all right. The marina would not open until the morning, so we picked up a mooring, shook hands and had dinner gazing up at Tower Bridge, the most beautiful structure I have ever seen from the water. The bright floodlights lit up the grey-blue stone of its fairy tale castle-like towers, with their gothic pointed arches and roofs, pretty detail and perfect proportions. The lights and sounds of the bustling capital were all around, yet we occupied our own tranquil world on the water.

Tuesday 7th August

Guests both noon and night

We got up at seven and rowed up stream a little towards the Lifeboat pontoon. We were hoping to be able to go ashore to use the facilities and get some new camping gas as we were virtually out. I called the Pilot Boat that was approaching the pontoon ahead, and got a friendly response. The RNLI boys welcomed us alongside and took us under their wing for the day. We showered in their beautiful brand new station, at the end of the Royal Terrace Pier, a fantastic covered pier with a huge waiting hall floored in massive Douglas-Fir planks and ideal for a ballroom dance. After breakfast we went ashore for provisions, and dropped in at the offices of the Gravesend Reporter. The reporter on duty, Ed Riley, took extensive notes and sent a photographer down who spent an hour photographing us with our RNLI hosts, David, Dave and John, who even towed us off the pontoon to facilitate better photos.

We had lunch together in the station, where the crew from Tower Bridge and Chiswick Lifeboats were visiting. We got plenty of local knowledge, notably that the ebb tide in the Thames is much stronger than the flood at the moment, due to the extensive flooding in the middle of England, much of which drains into the Thames. Up at Chiswick the tide barely floods at all at the moment, it just stops for a few hours and then ebbs again!

It had been a long and busy morning after a restless night, but we were ken to put in a few more miles, and the breeze got up again two hours after low water, at 330pm, so we set off. The flood was definitely working down here, and despite tacking we made rapid progress. We were in the Thames and approaching London itself! There were still big ships manoeuvring so we had to keep an eye out, but all in all it was pretty quiet. We passed under the QEII Bridge at around five, and when I caught sight of Canary Wharf at 6pm, Rowena witnessed a display of excitement, which led her to change her view that I never get excited about anything. I was born in London, have always visited and went to University here, but have never arrived via the Thames, and I was delighted to be doing so. And with so many miles of massive industrial introduction, one gets a sense of the enormity and energy of the British capital.

We were doing better than we expected, and zoomed through the Foxtrot Span of the Thames Tidal Flood Barrier at 7pm. The Millennium Dome was siluetted against the scarlet sunset as we pulled into the visitor's jetty of the Greenwich Yacht Club. After sorting out the boat we went ashore to a warm welcome from the club. After buying drinks, I turned to see, to my amazement, an old school friend from Devon sitting at a table across the busy room. It was Katherine, with whom I had acted in the Caucasian Chalk Circle. She couldn't believe it, and invited us to stay. As there was a great racket at the pontoon from a nearby ship loading gravel, we accepted. The Greenwich Yacht Club commodore, Frank Learner, gave us an official welcome after presenting the days racing prizes, and we felt we had arrived. Taking the tube back to Katherine's we got into the crowds leaving a Prince concert at the Dome, a veritable sea of people, just to let us know we were now in the metropolis.

Monday 6th August

Almost stranded twice

Our alarm didn't go off and I awoke to that sweeping sort of sound of the keel touching bottom. I jumped out of the cabin, pulled in the anchor and rowed off the spot while we were still barely touching. Rowena got up and we went alongside Bell Wharf to use the toilets and fill up our water bottles. There was a cockle boat unloading, so I got some local knowledge from the fishermen: Get out now, and anchor on the edge of the Thames until the tide turns. When we came to leave we were horrified to find we had already grounded beside the quay. We pushed and shoved with all our might and finally got the boat moving a few inches. More pushing and we were off, but the tide took us to one side and back on the bottom. I poled with an oar from the bow and Rowena from the stern and we just managed to get away. That was nearly a day lost stranded 10ft from Leigh Quay.

We made off down the channel and soon found after grounding that even Chance with her shallow draft had to stick to the buoyed channel. We tried to cut across a bank behind the moored fishing vessels but touched again, so humbly followed the channel and made our way to the Southend Small Ships Anchorage - right on the edge of the Thames and perfect for waiting until low water.

I called a fellow lifeboat man, Tommo, on the lifeboat south of the Thames, and he gave me some advice and the telephone number of London VTS. I called them to let them know our intentions, as we would be tacking across the river in the westerly winds. The said it was not a busy day for shipping and advised us to monitor channel 68, where they guide all the ships in and out.

We spent the three hours on anchor sorting out the boat and Rowena did some passage planning, with distances to various moorings up the Thames.

It was a sunny day with light westerlies and we left the anchorage at 1230. We tacked across the whole river back and forth, along with a handful of other yachts, making short tacks where necessary to avoid getting in the path of passing ships. The oil jetties, cooling towers and industrial landscape were the sign of the approaches to a metropolis, and it was exciting to be drawing close to London.

We ran out of tide at 6pm and called up Gravesend Sailing Club who cheerfully welcomed us to use their showers and moorings. It was a delightful, friendly little club and there were children out on little sailing Picos in the river. We showered, had tea, and rowed back out to the moorings. Although they advised us which moorings would not dry out, we touched bottom at about 11pm, and I was very impressed when Rowena leapt out of the cabin and got the legs out. She is the first crew to get out of bed to sort out the boat in the middle of the night, which was very nice. I got up to clip them on, as she had not done that before, and we tried to get back to sleep, constantly woken by the noise of large ships passing, and their wash rocking the boat.

Sunday 5th August

Chance on her side in the mud

We left Wivenhoe Quay at 0615. It was a sunny morning and the wind was SE3-4. We tacked down the river Colne, which was easy as the tide was sweeping us out. Our destination was Gravesend in the mouth of the River Thames.

There are a lot of sand banks in the Thames Estuary, and we had to tack to the east for four miles after leaving the Colne, but the tide was still ebbing from the Thames, so this helped us. We rounded the Wallet Spitway buoy at 1130, which marked the eastern extreme of the Buxey Sand. You could see the difference in the colour of the water over the sandbank and in the deep water. We headed SSE for the Whitaker Beacon, at the east end of Foulness sand, the second major sand bank we had to pass outside of. Our timing was perfect as the tide had now turned and was sweeping us west towards the Thames. We cut it a bit fine south of the Whitaker, and lo and behold, the keel touched bottom, even though we were six miles from the coast! We hoiked it up and headed out again, away from the light brown water towards the blue-green water.

After clearing Foulness Sand, Rowena went below for a nap, and gave me a course to steer to the next buoy. As I passed each buoy in turn I would give her the name of it and she would wake up, and plot a course for the next buoy. In this way we passed the Maplin buoy, SW Barrow, Blacktail E, Blacktail W, S Shoebury and Shoebury. By then we could see the Southend Pier and the mouth of the Thames.

The forecast for the night was SW5-6 and it was difficult to see where we could shelter in a place that would allow us to get away at low tide, which we needed to do to catch the flood tide again in the morning. Luckily the Imray charts have yacht club telephone numbers, so I called up the Alexandra Yacht Club in Southend and the Leigh-on-Sea Sailing Club. It turned out there is a deep water channel all the way up to Leigh, and the Bell Wharf there gives you 24hrs free berthing. We passed the impressive mile-long Southend Pier, and just made it up the channel to Leigh in the light evening breeze, before the tide turned against us.

There were crowds of swimmers on the Bell Wharf and the wash from motor boats made us heave up and down against the concrete quay wall, so after a minute or two we cast off and pootled up stream through the moorings and along the busy wharfs. It was an idyllic sunny evening and we finally decided to anchor in a quiet spot behind Two Tree Island, where we could have a peaceful dinner and be protected from the southwest. We would dry out, but could leave at high water and go down to the end of the Leigh Creek to anchor until the tide turned the next day.

We sure did dry out, and as we were both on the same side of the boat at the time, the port side leg sunk in the mud and the boat heeled over to about 30 degrees. Rowena cooked pasta while I wrote up some diary, and then we had dinner sitting on the upper side of the coachroof facing the setting sun. After dinner we reasoned that we would never get a good night's sleep as one of us would have to sleep in the cockpit, and there were mosquitoes around. So I got my boots on, tied an extension onto the spinnaker halyard, waded 20 yards through the mud to a patch of reeds, stood on them and pulled the halyard. With a bit of effort I managed to get the boat upright again, where she stayed as long as we didn't both stand on one side together. We put a mosquito net over the hatch and got quite a good night's sleep.

Saturday 4th August

R & R

We got up fairly late, as it was basically a day for rest and recuperation. We went up to Maria and Toby's for a shower and ended up staying for lunch. Then we shopped for fresh food, sat in the Church for half and hour, and had a couple of hour's snooze. We got an early night too, in preparation for the morning's tide at 0630.

Friday 3rd August

A long summer's day

We got up at 330am and rowed the boat to the spot we had seen earlier along the quay. By the time we had moored up completely and put the legs on it was 0530. We got a couple more hours sleep before starting the day.

We had two talks and a press conference lined up, so got up at 0830. Maria Iacavou, the local Green Councillor, offered us showers and to do our laundry, so after giving her a call we strolled up to her place.

Two hours later we were back at the boat, with Pam Nelson, the Green Party member who had organised events here, Chris Fox, the second Wivenhoe Green Councillor, and the photographer from the Colchester Evening News.

After the press photos Maria lent us bicycles and Pam, Chris, Rowena and I cycled up the towpath past Essex University, to Colchester. It was a really pleasant ride through grass and moor land along the river Colne. Chris departed at the University and Peter Lynn, Green Candidate for Colchester, met us, also on a bicycle. They took us to the monthly farmers market, where I stocked up on fresh local produce for the boat. I even got some green tomato chutney from a woman who grew the tomatoes herself! We had some absolutely delicious falafel wraps that were probably the best I have ever had.

At 1 o'clock I gave a talk in the Friends Meeting House. It was a small audience of just 15, but there was a great atmosphere and everyone was very enthusiastic afterwards. For the first time in the tour, four people who came to the lunchtime talk came back to the evening talk as well! - which was very touching.

After the talk and book signing, Peter Lynn took us to the town's organic and whole-food shops, and I did a big stock-up, which we piled into the panniers and baby seat of the bicycles. Peter pointed the way home and Rowena and I cycled back down the river to Wivenhoe and the boat.

We would just have had time to stow away the food, but I got into a big conversation with a man from the local yacht club who was very interested in the boat, so we had to just put the bags below and get off again. We were invited to Maria and Toby's for dinner.

It was a wonderful, lazy, summer evening garden party and everyone brought food so there was a fantastic spread. We eat humus, cheesy-bread, olives, crisps and salads with sparkling water and wine, followed by Toby's delicious ratatouille and finally strawberries and cream with raspberry sauce, and chatted in the evening sun.

At 700 we strolled down past the boat, so anyone who had not seen it could have a look, and then over to the sailing club. There were about 35 in the audience for the talk, and I took my eyes of the clock a bit, and spoke for 1½ hours. Quite a lot of books were sold, and I was gratified that John Lay-Flurrie came down from Colchester. During question time he told everyone what a great test sail he had had on Chance.

By the time the talked finished and we had had a juice at the bar, it was all we could do to make it back to the boat and pass out into a long, deep sleep.

Thursday 2nd August

We fail to beat the tide and have to make a new plan

I was due to speak in Colchester the next day, so we aimed to sail up the river to Wivenhoe. To do this we had to sail down one river and up the next. I was hoping to leave 2 hrs before high water, beat the tide out of Brightlingsea, and then take the last hour of the flood up to Wivenhoe, which was just 6 miles away. We left at 1pm, but the wind was light and even with Rowena sailing and me rowing, we simply tacked across the river and ended up going backwards, much to everyone's amusement. We tried again just an hour before high water but ended up even further away down the long pontoon of moored yachts. In the ensuing re-mooring we also lost a fender overboard which disappeared from sight while I was getting out the boathook to hook it with. I even managed to step on Rowena's fingers in the rush.

We gave up and settled for the longer, more certain approach: Leave an hour before low water, catch the current out of the Brightlingsea creek, then catch it after low water, all the way up to Wivenhoe. The only problem with this was that we would have very little water under the keel on our way up to Wivenhoe, but if we grounded the flooding tide would always lift us off again.

We left at 8pm and had a very beautiful evening row down to the meeting of the two rivers and then all the way up to Wivenhoe. It was completely silent in the estuary and the scarlet sunset was reflected all over the mirror waters. Rowena practised rowing while I steered and then I rowed for a while. The estuary birds squeaked and pattered around in the mud on either side. After dark a faint breath of wind got up behind us. I goose-winged the Genoa, and while Rowena rested below, sailed up in the darkness, doing my best to keep in the middle of the channel between the dark outlines of the mud banks on either side. We kept grounding and hoisting up the keel, and eventually I just left it right up and that way we skimmed over the bottom and gently carried on towards Colchester.

Wivenhoe eventually appeared around a bend. Many of the channel buoys were high and dry on the mud, and the water was so shallow that if I dipped the oars deep they touched the bottom. I used this to navigate to the deeper part of the channel, and we passed through the huge tidal flood barrier and down the back of the Wivenhoe Quay Street. The houses all had moorings out the back and it was a very pretty little village.

We had a good look around, and I was glad to be there at low water, so we could make out where the mud was flat along the quayside so we would lie horizontal when we grounded later. There was actually only one spot that we could see along the whole quay that looked fairly flat. We dropped the anchor in the middle of the channel at half past midnight, and went to sleep for a couple of hours until high water. It was so silent and echoey that we were whispering on deck so as not to wake up the residents, and after brushing my teeth I tapped my toothbrush on the deck and the echo resounded round the houses. Amazing.

Wednesday 1st August

A very positive customer

Today Rowena had a day out with our neighbour Brian. They went up the river to see an old sailing barge being re-built. I cleaned up the boat and then took a potential customer, John Lay-Flurrie, for a test sail. He wants to buy plans and build the Explorer (Chance's model name) himself. He really enjoyed the test sail, and subsequently sent me the following letter from John Lay-Flurrie:

Email to say thanks for trial sail on Chance in Brightlingsea. Ever since I saw the article in PBO about you and your boat and round Britain tour I have been very keen to learn all I could about the boat as the remarkable keel concept impressed the hell out of me and seemed the answer to many issues I had about a return to sailing after 30 the rest of this email from John Lay-Flurrie...

After the test sail, I dropped into the chandlers and bought some new waterproof trousers as my old ones were wearing out, and a new boat-hook/Genoa pole.

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