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Blog 3 - Leg 1

Tuesday 11th April – Boulogne to Thames Estuary

In the early afternoon we cast off and left Boulogne behind with sunny but fresh conditions – ideal sailing weather. It was decided that the conditions were right for the spinnaker to
be raised. After swiftly getting the spinnaker on deck the sheets and guys followed shortly. A call went round for all available hands on deck and everyone got in their places to hoist. For a successful hoist speed is key and errors banned. With great leadership from Charlie (the mate), and even better strength and fortitude from Red watch the spinnaker went up without a hitch, filling with wind in a spectacular fashion.
Unfortunately there was not time to sit and admire our great work - with the sail up we were heading towards the shipping lanes at quite a pace. A few quick photos and we took our position for the drop. Pulling like madmen to avoid dropping it in the water we undid our earlier work.
Unlike other sails the spinnaker needs to be wooled up before it can be used again. Wooling the spinnaker involves tying the sail into a tight sausage shape with woolen thread, this way it can be raised fully before the wool ties break and the sail fills. With this in mind the Spinnaker went straight down into the saloon where Paul lead a team in getting the spinnaker ready for next time. Meanwhile on deck the more conventional headsails were raised and progress made back towards England.
Although the White Cliffs of Dover were in sight there was still the obstacle of crossing one of the world's busiest shipping lanes to overcome. One could see over 10 large ships without a turn of the head. To minimise the time spent in the shipping lanes it is important to cross them at right angles to the flow of traffic (as COLREGS require). Picking our moment we found a gap in the shipping and sailed on through drama free. With shipping lanes behind us and the spinnaker put away it was an ideal time and conditions to open up the taps and see how fast Rona could go - White Watch had the deck and quickly a competition started to see which helms person could get the fastest speed. The bar kept being raised with a final high score of 10.7 knots (12.3mph) from Will the watch leader.
If there is a good breeze on deck one can be sure that Blue watch are below and today was no exception. Blue watch prepared a meal of chilli and rice. The hot sauce was in high demand. To follow was a bread and butter pudding which seemed to have a 1:1 ratio of cinnamon to bread. Skipper Roy (with 30 + years of the Project under his belt - declared the BB Pudding a first for him).

Our beautiful Rona sailed on and as the rosy sunset the on watch (RED) crew sang their hearts out as the White Cliffs came closer. White Watch has three Toms and a Dom and one had his 20th Birthday – a cake appeared with appropriate candles at Happy Hour. The said Tom had 
been the lead role in a previous crew entertainment - amusing but publicly indescribable.
The joke of the day - "What do you call an alligator with a vest? - An in-vest-igator!"

A steady night sail with the need to press on - led us up channel leaving the Goodwin Sands to starboard where we ditched the idea of a stopover in
Ramsgate and to make the decision to stem the foul tide and reach the Thames Estuary in one go.

The Watch System is settling in and whilst the SOG was slow the progress was uneventful and in its way beautiful with a clear and nearly full moon. Silent aside from the lapping waves and slow breeze... and Red watch singing Ed Sheeran at the top of their voices. Badly.

Wednesday 12th April

The Shivering Sands Forts appeared out of the gloom and the sense of history in this "ancient"

waterway began to dawn (the number of charted wrecks in the shallows is impressive). So too was the need for accurate pilotage and the proper recognition of lights. This is a challenge with the London Array Wind Farm which are high and visible.

As the sun rose some of the crew from Leigh on Sea texted and phoned ahead - forewarning parents and family that we were about to buzz Southend pier (Longest pleasure pier in the Northern Hemisphere (??). We duly did under No 2 Yankee and Main and received by return some great pics for our troubles.

We were able to throw into several tacks - and began to spot a number of Tall Ships bent on reaching Greenwich before or after us. Plugging the tide we reached the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford (carries the M25 over the river) and though it has a charted headroom 53m (to Rona's height of 11 m) there is still the strong tendency to want to duck.

Passing Ford Dagenham port operations we saw scrap metal yards and a jumble of downriver shore side sites - gas storage, chemical plants, sand stores and other less than pretty but important activities in the economy.

We had fresh bread baked for Happy Hour.

As we rounded one bend we were presented with a great view of Canary Wharf with the Shard and other London landmarks. We were overtaken by the Nao Victoria - (replica of the only survivor of a fleet of five ships that the explorer Magellan led in the 1550s in the first known circum navigation of
the world). A black piratical looking ship - which we found we were to be moored ahead of us in Woolwich.

By the time we reached the pontoon off the Woolwich we had passed a myriad of Tall Ships and the sense of that we were to be part of the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival 2017.

Parking on the pontoon off the Woolwich Arsenal was fun - a very small very old little craft was in our slot and attempts by their crew to walk their boat aft against the tide failed but with the combined seamanship of Rona and our German neighbour and fellow race entrant Peter von Danzig got it sorted.


Thursday 13th April – London

A working day - all with its delights and foibles.

Swimming and showers in the Waterfront Leisure Centre sweetened the crew. Procuring a replacement gas bottle brought its own compensation for Joe who
"had" to assist two female crew of a Dutch craft who needed guidance and muscle power to trolley their empties and full 47kg bottles to the pickup point,

Senior Skipper Gareth delivered and hitched up (an IT Techie term?) to the Iridium Sat phone, a seriously rugged looking computer to receive weather forecasts and send blogs etc.

Bunkering diesel involved a day of evolving and changing information (initial mobilisation charges for the barge were rumoured at £750, these then evaporated but access to moorings, falling tides and a desire - on  the part the bargees to clear off home to Wapping - led eventually to the fuel barge nicking into the Clipper berth some 70 meters from Rona and rapidly pumping 215 litres before the next ferry docked. The Blue Watch Officer had to take an unscheduled trip on the said barge out into mid river whilst the paperwork was completed.

Whilst this was in progress White Watch Officer and W/Leader abandoned dinner preps to fit LED Deck Lights on the Main Mast spreaders. With some input from the trusty Blue Watch the remainder of White W produced a very respectable SpagBol.

This laid  the foundation for viewing a rather weird show stage at the Arsenal where a troupe of body stockinged dancers went through a series of routines climaxing in jets spouting water from almost every orifice. Stimulated by the entertainment an informal party erupted back on Rona which somehow attracted the entire crew of the Dutch Vessel "Morgenstar" moored opposite to come and join us. One of the guests - Maarten De Jonge will Skipper the 100 year old Oosterschelde in the Race Leg 3 up to Boston –and was hoping to make friends from Rona - he is at least now a friend of the boat. The Rona Leg 1 crew awoke to some sotto voice conversations at b'fast the following day - A good night!


Friday 14th April

Blue watch was on mother watch and felt the need to wake the crew up with some loud pots banging, they got mixed receptions to say the least.
Breakfast was bacon eggs and beans after a party it was a good idea. After breakfast it was time to tidy the decks , and clean down below, the floor boards were all cleaned to impress any visitors we may have that day we then sorted all the food boxes for the week out so food was everywhere, safe to say we won't be going hungry this week. Once everyone had finished their jobs the crew sports was starting so red and white watch and a member of blue watch headed over to play some team sports whist the others helped out on the boat. We may have been the only crew at the team sports but we all had a lot of fun at playing dodge ball with the leisure centre workers, white watch won every single match. Well done White Watch!

After that had finished lunch was pesto pasta with hot dogs or pepperoni, there wasn't much of a happy hour as we all had things to be doing and some people were with their families and friends.
As 6 o'clock came we had to be outside the leisure centre for a bus to take us to Carlton Athletic football club for our crew party, the bus was very loud due to the Rona lot singing all of their sea shanty songs, it was a great venue with lovely hosts, food and scenery as the room we were in over looked the football pitch. The music was great and all of the songs that we play on a day to day basis, from Ed Sheeran to Lily Allen, was played so we just had everyone from Rona on the dance floor at multiple times. We didn't want to leave at 10.30 but we had to catch our bus back.
With most of the crew away at the party, Rona II was by no means empty. Clive Parry, a skipper in the project was celebrating his 54th birthday party on board with a plethora of guests, sailors and land lubbers alike. A few of the crew were on hand to serve drinks and show the guests around the boat. A great time was had by all on board and it was an excellent opportunity to introduce new people to the project and raise valuable funds

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