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Idle Duck comes to Kent

Idle Duck had been languishing in her solitary gulley at Brandyhole, at the top of the Crouch, for years, gradually losing her owner’s interest. She had been hauled out for a re-paint the previous autumn, but the owner became ill so she was refloated unfinished, paint still flaking from the stripper. I bought Idle Duck in January 2006 and prepared her for the trip to Kent, and awaited suitable weather. Would that freezing wind ever stop. The Insurance had stipulated one delivery trip only, subject to confirmation from the surveyor, Boatbuilder Alan Staley, that she was ok for the trip in fair weather under engine alone.

The engine, a Perkins 4107 [36 HP] had been reconditioned some time before then sat unused; the water was clean with antifreeze, oil looked new, fuel was full and clean, all we needed was the sea-water inlet to be free of mud; I had asked a well known local diesel engineer, Henry, to be on hand to diagnose problems, so we fired her up and she ran perfectly, amazing; I only had to rebuild the sea water pump to stop the small drip becoming a bigger drip, and replace the seized ignition switch. However, I would feel happier if she had run under load, before setting off down the coast. That meant leaving her comfy mudberth, positioned by a cat’s cradle of warps to either bank, and wriggling back in again afterwards, astern; So I decided to wait until we had a full crew and could leave, trial the engine and all being well, sail away to Kent.

As she ran so well in her berth, including the Meadows TMP hydraulic gearbox, the risk seemed small. The weather was beginning to look good for Easter weekend; the crew was to be my son Tom and friend Steve. Judy drove us up on the Saturday morning. We bent on sails that I had left off deliberately as it is much easier with many hands, but actually I can only just about lift them bagged. There was some concern when a nut seized on to the sheered off end of a shaft that was clearly a from a sheave, fell onto the foredeck, but we were only rigging for emergencies, weren’t we?

The tide came up; time to start the engine, and try her in the river. John Negus, the yard manager [and boatbuilder], kindly agreed to be on standby with his launch; I had no desire to spend the first night on the mud. The main anchor, a 30kg CQR, on10mm chain, is too heavy to lift manually, and the windlass appeared to be seized, so I had bought a 15kg claw [Chinese copy of a Bruce] as a kedge, which, with a 25mm warp, can be lifted by an able crew. Just to give the crew some proper exercise, I added 5 meters of 10mm chain that I found in a locker. Where exactly did that nut fall down from? I found months later, and worse…

An hour of continuous engine running, forward and reverse, keeping fairly close to the yard in case it failed, and she was going well. The gearbox was fine, but steerage astern was not. The 17inch prop and a very big rudder on a long straight keel did not make for easy manoeuvring astern, and prop walk forward was not much better. So off we went, down to Essex Marina for the night, so that we could leave with the ebb early in the morning, and pick up the flood at Whittaker.

Unfortunately my crew insisted on going to the local hostelry, regardless of the quantities of bevy that I had on board. Unfortunately also was the fact that they served Adnams Broadside and did not appear to have any particular closing time. Worse was the octogenarian Disc Jockey relishing headbanger music in a near empty pub; one wandered about cause and effect.. or was he just deaf… We returned in the early hours, crew now demanding more food, and me thinking – I am too old for this…

The next morning, to cries of ‘couldn’t we go another day, or month’, we departed to make the tide, breakfast now to be had on the move. She cruised quietly at 5 knots so going below was not the painful experience I expected from 36HP with no sound insulation. Tom even slept, but then he does, anywhere. It was, thankfully, an uneventful trip as the light breeze was on the nose and we needed to catch the full flood up to Oare, so we continued under power until we bore away to Red Sands when we were able to try out the Jib and Main, for a short while until the wind died. She responded well, given her 10ton displacement, and it was a pity that there was not time and weather to sail more, as she also carries a wishbone staysail, which we had not set up.

ID was designed by Maurice Griffiths as a cruising boat for the owner of a fast deep-keeled ‘war trophy’ yacht. He wanted a more comfortable yacht that stayed upright, and could go places he could not previously, hence the 3ft 6inch draft, 6ft 4inch with centre board down; he did not consider that should preclude good performance. So I look forward to the day when I will be able to find out.

We arrived at the temporary berth [Pat & Kim’s Marina] at Oare with 15 minutes to HW. I knew we would only be able to get in at the top; unfortunately the tide did not quite make so we stuck 10 meters short on what I thought was a mud bank. As the water disappeared, to my horror ID was sitting bolt upright on her 15inch wide keel, supported by – nothing. The mud turned out to be a flat scrubbing pad made from the wooden bottom of an old barge. I went back on board very carefully to attach warps to the mast, but she was rock solid. 2,381 kg of lead in the keel has something to do with that I suppose.

However I added shores to be safe; there she stayed for 2 weeks till the next full tide, when I tried unsuccessfully to pull her forward into the mud, so there she sat half on half off… bum in the air… potentially damaging but fortunately she has a massive keel.

We stuck there till August, when Barry Tester pulled her out with his tug. Mast off at Ironwharf – good job we didn’t sail in any breeze as one spreader collapsed, rotten – then craned onto a cradle and into Alan Staley’s shed at the end of September for a new coach roof and deck.

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