Four Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Cat (or Saranchai to Shoreham)
Over a period of some 11 years Gordon Courtney has designed and constructed an enormous
50 foot sailing catamaran. He initially moved Saranchai down to the club in December
2009 and has been working on it ever since to equip it for a voyage to the Sussex
Yacht club in Shoreham, where workshop facilities are available to complete the boat.
Nobody imagined that the maiden voyage of a new home-build yacht would be easy and
so Gordon, Tony Hopkins, Mick Rogers and I set off down the Thames with some trepidation.
To Gordon’s surprise there was a little more than the expected few inches clearance
between the gates as we slid into Molesey Lock so we put away our shoe horns. Just
below Kingston railway bridge an attempt to recreate scenes from “The Spy Who Loved
Me”, swallowing up Bryan and the club safety boat between the hulls James Bond style,
was halted in the final seconds on health and safety grounds.
Rope working the boat through Teddington Lock into the tidal Thames was very successful.
We thought that HF Channel 14 was remarkably quiet until it was noted that the radio
volume control was turned right down. Once this was rectified we had a stream of
communications from Thames Barrier control.
Having passed the barrier we tried to moor for the night to a barge below the Woolwich
ferry. Unfortunately a sharp move on the Morse control rendered it useless and we
had to be rescued by a Thames Clipper which was just finishing it’s last trip. With
bow thrusters and the like it placed us neatly against the barge and Gordon set about
mending the Morse control.
The following day we headed under the QE2 bridge and having received clearance from
London VTS, moored against an old fuelling jetty, Alpha. The process of raising the
mast took some 3 hours and was even more difficult when tankers passed. The heavy
mast swayed alarmingly.
Having reviewed the Notices to Mariners we then headed down past the many casualties
on the Thames sandbanks towards Red Sands fort where the engine overheated. Rodger
was frantically taking bearings on the fort’s many towers as we drifted helplessly
towards them. Tide and wind were fortunately on our side and the engine was restarted
when we were a couple of hundred yards away. The new cooling system, pouring cold
water over a hot engine, was not ideal and eventually the water filter was removed.
Much delayed, the tides were now against us and having ruled out Whitstable we headed
up the narrow channel of the Swale passing the treacherous mud banks to find a sandy
bottom near Faversham on which to anchor for the night.
I was unsure of the security of the anchor and was concerned when the GPS showed
that we had moved 4 times the length of the anchor rope. If we had dragged the anchor
it was very little and it was merely a miscalculation of the length of anchor rope
A 5a.m. start was required to catch the tide and we weaved our way between the sandbanks
and obstacles to Margate. This is where Gordon’s laptop based charts coupled to a
GPS came into their own. Moving sandbanks kept our eye on the depth sounder while
nearby basking seals totally ignored us.
Gordon decided to kill the engine and put up the sails off Margate, but without telling
us. Mick noted “I’ve never heard you swear like that before” as I found us drifting
onto a rocky ledge. The engine was restarted and we headed west into the wind to
raise the sails. The boat sailed very well around the North Foreland past Broadstairs.
We now found that the battery was low and although we could receive VHF we were unable
to transmit. I then used a mobile to organise our entry into Ramsgate harbour. I
have to say that our entry and exit manoeuvres at Ramsgate were perfect.
We picked up water, had lunch and Tony headed back home. Progress from Ramsgate inside
the Goodwin’s but missing the shallows of Pegwell and a few other hazards was painfully
slow. Even the Ramsgate harbourmaster was concerned.
We passed the South Foreland and obtained instructions to avoid ferry movements while
crossing the busy Dover Eastern Docks entrance.
Unfortunately the Western Docks entrance was much more of a problem. The temperamental
steering gear failed again and the engine ran out of fuel. The harbour wall was to
the lee side and we were wallowing in a locally choppy sea. My concern was how to
beach the boat to the west by balancing sails and if this failed the more difficult
option of deploying the dinghy.
Fortunately the steering was repaired and the engine refuelled and we headed for
the shelter of Folkestone harbour for the night. The chart said “dredged to 6 metres”,
but in practice the harbour had silted up following the closure of the ferry facility
and we had 5 feet underneath us at low tide.
I was concerned about the noise of water in the bilges. It turned out that during
filling water had overflowed into the bilges. Gordon estimated that we were carrying
3 tons of water extra in the aft sections of the two hulls. Bedding in the aft cabins
was pretty wet.
The following day we were up early again to utilise the westbound tide. Passing Dungeness
all seemed well until we ran out of fuel again and the steering control wire became
entangled in the middle of Rye bay. We now had to use our last spare can of fuel
and I insisted that we must take cover in Rye harbour as it was too risky to try
to reach Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne. At this point Gordon dropped a steering link
arm into the sea. Having rigged the steering, recovered the errant outboard fuel
tank, and after a courtesy visit from the RNLI., we sailed up and down until the
tide was right for entry into Rye harbour, albeit now with poor steering control.
Just in the entrance to Rye harbour the steering failed again and I was continually
changing the engine from forward to astern to hold us in the narrow channel while
Gordon fixed the steering. Unbeknown to me the RNLI had offered us a tow at this
We proceeded into Rye with Mick on the outer wheel steering and myself on the Morse
control. We had been told to turn the boat in the harbour but as we entered and invisible
to me those on the quayside were telling us to come straight in. They were dismayed
as we motored past and then turned the boat. Unfortunately our stern drifted onto
a fishing boat as we completed the manoeuvre. The Harbourmaster was not amused by
Peter and Diana rescued Mick and I from Rye but the captain remained with his ship.
Tony and I returned a week later to find that Saranchai now only had two rudders,
one having been bent at low tide as the boat settled. Our departure was as eventful
as our arrival. We tried to hug the port side against a cross wind from the East.
It appeared that the harbourmaster was coming into the channel from the seaward end
and as we moved away a little from the port side we were blown onto the submerged
harbour wall on the starboard side. We had insufficient power to pull the boat off
and eventually the harbourmaster pulled us out to sea probably cursing us under his
The boat sailed well past Beachy Head and Brighton but the steering was inadequate
by now and certain manoeuvres were quite difficult. We arrived off Shoreham ahead
of half tide and had to wait an hour before entering the western arm “at our own
With an easterly wind and a following tide access to Gordon’s mooring would have
involved destroying a footbridge so a rather bolshie Rodger insisted on taking the
boat astern to the visitor’s mooring.. We then repaired to the bar for a much earned
drink before Linda came to pick us up.
Gordon subsequently moved his cat to it’s mooring and we await it’s completion and
of course an invitation to his “Round The World Cruise” – well round the Isle of
Wight to start with.
It has to be said that despite the little “snags” on the voyage Saranchai is an enormous
achievement for one man. It sailed the 200 miles to Shoreham and Gordon is now considering
modifications to give the "cat" more power and more reliable steering.
We look forward to the completion of the fitting out and perhaps a trip to France