Scholar Gypsy crosses the Wash

This is a brief description of our journey across the Wash, from Denver via Kings Lynn to Boston, on 23rd May 2015. It supplements the photos  that I sent from my phone in real time (see earlier postings). The next two postings contain pictures and then a few short videos. First, links to:

  • a chart showing our actual course (courtesy of the GPS attachment on my laptop). See summary version below.
  • a detailed log showing position, course and speed over the ground at intervals of 0.1 nm (or 5 degrees change of course).
  • the weather at 1600 on Saturday, as forecast 24 hours previously by XC weather12 mph from the North East.
  • the key chart for the Kings Lynn buoys, as issued the day before by the Harbourmaster.
  • the various resources that I assembled when planning the trip.

May2015_wash_chart To turn this into something more intelligible – all times in BST ….

0500       Depart Ely marina
0840       Arrive Denver, empty loo, fit lifejackets, check anchor, chain & warp
0900       Second breakfast
0930       Flood at Denver
1000       Daryl Hill arrives, our pilot / guide for the day
1025       Cast off and head into the lock at Denver Sluice
1030       High Water at Kings Lynn

1040       Set off from Denver (Elapsed distance measured from here). Speed over the ground (SOG) 2.7 kts.
1130       High Water Denver (approx)
1151       Stow Bridge – over the hump. SOG 4.6 kts
1238       St Germans bridge. SOG 6 kts
1242       Kings Lynn – Bypass bridge
1322       Kings Lynn – Fish Quay. SOG 5.7 kts.

1344       Waypoint AEnd of Kings Lynn Cut – buoys 27 & 28 (14.2 nm). SOG 6.1 kts. 1524       B: Exit the Kings Lynn channel – buoys  2 and 3 (22 nm). SOG 3.8 kts.
1634       C: Turn  West, 0.89 nm from Roaring Middle Lightship (bearing 262). SOG 3.2kts.
1643       D: Turn to the South West, towards Freeman channel (26.6nm). SOG 4.2 kts. 1720       E: Enter Freeman channel (Buoys Alpha & No 1) (29 nm). SOG 3.5 kts. 1909       F: Tabs Head – enter the River Witham New Cut. SOG 4.2 kts.

2031       G: Arrive Boston Grand Sluice (42.2 nm). So 56 nautical miles in total today! 2130       Tide makes a level, and we lock through and tie up on the pontoon
2131       Supper and bed
2300       High Water Boston

To put all that in words …   Most of us assembled in Ely on Friday evening, arriving between 1800 and 2359 (Simon, Jane, Jeremy and Peter, Griff, and Hannah), from Lincoln, Leamington, Peterborough and London. A massive shop at Sainsburys, as the next landfall could be some time away.

An early start on Saturday, at 0500, unfortunately disturbing our neighbours in the marina, in order to get to Denver before 9. There we were joined by Hugh who had battled through a field of bulls while walking from Downham Market station, and by Daryl Hill – our pilot/guide for the day – who had arrived from Boston by car. He was just brilliant, and gave us lots of calm advice and anecdotes during the day.

We entered the lock at 1030, as Daryl was keen to get out well before High Water, and punch the last of the flooding tide. This would make sure we were over the hump near Stow Bridge (where the water was never less than 2.5 metres) and get out into the Wash well before low water (in the event the depth got down to about 1.6 metres at one point). A gentle run down to Kings Lynn, staying to the outside of bends and avoiding the shoals. Bacon butties served as requested. Plenty of headroom at the bridges.

After about an hour we were overtaken by two cruisers from Denver, who were staying on the pontoons at Kings Lynn for the weekend. We waved and hooted at various natives in Kings Lynn – all very friendly – and then into the remaining couple of miles of the Kings Lynn cut, past the docks and the fishing fleet. Nothing moving at this state of the tide.

Once we left the cut, a light swell as we threaded our way through the Kings Lynn channel – very clearly marked – with dozens of seals watching our every move. The buoys had been moved recently, indeed the day before, and so we used the new Tango channel which cut off a meander to the east and a couple of tight corners. Sausage rolls for lunch.

Once we were out of the buoyed channel and into the Wash proper, we were steaming into a north/north-easterly wind, which read about 16 mph on my wind gauge (so 12 mph true). The sea state got a bit rougher, with incoming wind over the outgoing tide. Soon we were pitching quite a bit, and rolling more than usual – up to 12 degrees in one photograph. Although this is not a lot in general boating terms, it is about 5 times what we are used to. We shut the front and side doors to keep the spray out – there was no serious water dumped on the front deck, but some crew out there did get a bit wet. The boat handled well, and better at three quarters throttle (it wallowed a bit when we slowed down). Occasional corkscrewing on the larger waves. No broken mugs or glasses inside. Mild queasiness for some of the crew. The toolbox moved a bit in the engine room – I will need to move it for the return trip – and most of the OS maps fell off their shelf. That was it for damage.

We headed more to North than a direct course would have required, to keep the wind more on our starboard bow. This meant we went rather closer to Roaring Middle Buoy than normal, adding distance and time. After 4.6 miles at sea, we turned 90 degrees to port, and with wind and tide now behind us we had a surprisingly gentle run south west for the remaining 2.4 miles towards the entrance to the Freeman channel. The boat handled well with the wind and sea astern: the exhaust went under the water only once, which was a little surprising. The engine performed superbly throughout, with the temperature only 5 degrees high than at normal cruising revolutions. I was glad I had checked the fuel tank, and the water trap – an engine failure would have been no fun, even though the lighthouse at Hunstanton (with lifeboat nearby) was always in sight.

Once we were in the buoyed Freeman channel, after seven miles in the open sea,  things calmed down very quickly, and we had a discussion about whether to lose some time by beaching on the inside of Roger Sand (it was too choppy on the outside) or by anchoring. In the end we decided just to reduce speed and potter on slowly, waiting for the tide to put enough water into the Witham. We also toasted our trip (and Jeremy’s new job) with some bubbly.

We soon reached Tabs Head (where the Welland branches off to port): from here on the water was like a millpond up the narrow and very sheltered channel into Boston, with Boston Stump getting larger and larger. Near here we saw the only other moving boat since Kings Lynn – a tiny motor boat out for some fishing.

We arrived early at Grand Sluice, at 2030, having not touched the bottom, and had to wait for 20 minutes for enough water to get over the cill into the lock. The outward facing gates were shut behind us, and then we waited for another 40 minutes for the tide to make a level so the inward facing gates could be opened. Daryl and Hugh left us at this point – Hugh had a 90 minute taxi ride back to Cambridge. Then, in fading light, a short run to the excellent C&RT visitor pontoons, supper and bed.

What a day! 56 nautical miles, two locks. (The alternative route would have been 275 miles and 139 locks).

Here’s a short video, and then click on the link for some photographs


3 thoughts on “Scholar Gypsy crosses the Wash

  1. Pingback: Wash crossing – videos | Scholar Gypsy

  2. Pingback: Wash crossing – photographs | Scholar Gypsy

  3. Pingback: Summer trip (3) – Boston to Wisbech via the Wash | Scholar Gypsy

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