Our Project Boat sails to her new home in Cobbs Quay, negotiating bridges, engine troubles, Border Patrol and a foiling IMOCA
The day was finally here; time to take Maximus, our Maxi 84, from Chichester Marina to her new home in Poole.
After many sleepless nights, last-minute trips to Force 4 chandlery, and a practice run through the lock, I was ready. My notebook was full of pilotage sketches and memos to watch out for ships turning and tidal races.
I had Navionics on my tablet, Lighthouse charts on the plotter, and a full set of beautiful Imray paper charts – so new, I was sorry to have to spoil them with my ugly pencil marks!
The batteries were charged and the tank refuelled. With the help of PBO contributor Gilbert Park, my uncle Steve and husband James, we’d have plenty of capable hands on deck for the two-day voyage.
There was just one thing I hadn’t managed to do, and that was to unfurl the genoa. Leaving it to the last-minute, I’d tried briefly on the dock, but it had jammed a metre out, and no riggers were available to help.
Ah well… we’d have to work that one out underway. Besides, there was little wind and we had a decent engine. What could possibly go wrong?
Time to go
Gilbert entered the details of our trip into his RYA Safetrx app on his phone. This free app alerts a nominated emergency contact – in this case, his wife Maire – should we not arrive on time. If Maire were then to call the Coastguard, they’d have our location data to hand.
Lifejackets on, lines slipped, we were away! Our maiden voyage (excluding the short trip from Dell Quay to the marina) had begun. I couldn’t contain my excitement as we went through the lock and out into Chichester harbour.
It was a grey but mild November morning, and I felt sad to leave the marina where we’d had so many fun weekends. However, winter was closing in, our weather windows were diminishing, and I was looking forward to having Maximus closer to home. A four-hour return trip every time we needed to work on the boat was just not feasible.
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With Maximus, our PBO Project boat ready for her shakedown voyage from Chichester to Poole, I turned my attention to…
Upgrading electronics on Maximus seemed like a huge leap in the first weeks of ownership. We were still discovering new…
The day was approaching for Maximus’s shakedown cruise, a two-day voyage from Chichester to her new home at Cobbs Quay…
It took about an hour to reach the harbour entrance. I watched the expanse of pretty creeks and oak-fringed shores retreat, wishing I’d had more time to explore.
Though the water was dead still and glimmering in the occasional burst of low sun, Chichester bar was eerily choppy. The waves seemed to appear from nowhere – so big you could surf them – then died almost immediately. We held on tight, and Maximus rattled and rolled as we motored over them before returning to a flat sea.
It wasn’t long before we were combining my carefully plotted course with Gilbert’s local knowledge, and ‘live’ chartwork. I realised some of my pilotage notes had been over-cautious. At high water, we didn’t need to round all the buoys, and could save valuable miles.
With the help of the Admiralty tidal atlas, I’d chosen a great time to leave. While we had no wind, we had the west-going tide with us for almost all the voyage, and made good progress.
Gilbert suggested I do a radio check. I recalled the advice of PBO contributor Andy du Port, who despises ‘constant yatter on the radio. If it is receiving clearly and was working last time you were out, it will almost certainly be working this time,’ Andy wrote in a recent PBO feature on boat etiquette.
However, this was a brand new Raymarine VHF AIS radio, as yet unused, and I was grateful to get the chance to test it using NCI Gosport on Ch65. I could certainly do with the practice.
While Navionics had been fantastic for route-planning, using a tablet wasn’t so handy on the boat because mine was just too dark to see, so now we switched to the MFD (multifunction display).
I’d opted for Raymarine’s 7in Element series, which at £499 – less than the cost of my tablet – is designed with simplicity and value in mind. It comes with a keypad, rather than touch-screen, which took a bit of getting used to.
We all found ourselves tapping it before realising we needed to use the cursor. Not being able to ‘pinch-zoom’ did make it seem much slower now we’re all rather impatient and accustomed to using smartphones.
Raymarine’s Axiom 9 Pro-S includes ‘HybridTouch’, which for £2,545 offers the more intuitive touch-screen with pinch-zoom, as well as keypad control for when seas are rough.
While it was great to have an electronic ‘close-up’ of where we were going, and I was happy to use electronic charts as my primary means of navigation, I still regularly reached for the paper chart (protected by a waterproof case) to give me a quick bird’s eye view.
We must have been at sea for all of two hours when the crew got hungry. It was time for Maire’s chilli. A Jamie Oliver recipe (Versatile veggie chilli) this spicy dish of sweet potato and beans was just delicious, served with yoghurt and salad.
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Our course took us past Horse Sand fort, one of the four Solent sea forts built in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth Harbour from French invasion.
By the time they were finished, however, they were obsolete, and nicknamed ‘Palmerston Follies’, after Lord Palmerston, the prime minister who commissioned them. Today, they’re privately owned, and three have been turned into leisure and hospitality venues.
Having taken the ferry from Portsmouth to France many times it felt good to be sailing in our own boat, and admiring the dramatic skyline with its Spinnaker Tower and large ships.
It was at this stage that the AIS (automatic identification system) got exciting. Its constant beeping made the same noise as my oven timer, sending me into a cold sweat each time, thinking supper was burning (before I remembered we didn’t have a stove).
We watched the many ships and ferries come and go, both for real and on our MFD, working out their closest point of approach. Some were heading across to the Isle of Wight, others were making their way to the Channel Islands and beyond.
Like with the depth-sounder, we’d been over-cautious and set the parameters wide. Vessels passing no way near us still triggered the alert.
For example, we watched Menai III, a 37ft Jeanneau, pop up on the screen, closest point of approach 0.93NM, occurring in 37 minutes if she maintained her course of 075° at 4.2 knots.
We resolved to tighten these; after all, by summer the Solent is the maritime equivalent of the M25. I think the beeping would drive me insane!
Happy with the MFD and the radio it was time to test our new tiller pilot. It didn’t take long to get the hang of adjusting the course 10° to port (-10) or 5° to starboard (+5), though I did find when I quickly wanted to switch back to manual – to avoid a lobster pot for example – my instinct was to wrestle with it, rather than do it the proper touch-button way.
The tiller pilot is far more sophisticated than I had the opportunity to test at that point. Its AutoTack feature lets you handle the sheets while it tacks the boat, and it can also talk to the GPS to follow a course. I planned to test those functions the following day… but those plans, it turned out, were to be scuppered by an engine fault.
We’d passed Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and were pleased we were making good time when the engine changed tempo. My first instinct was maybe I’d knocked the throttle.
It was in a fairly awkward position behind my legs but I hadn’t. The engine was getting slower and quieter and, to my dismay, the needle on the rev counter dropped, as did our speed. We were losing power.
I pulled back on the throttle, and strangely it seemed to settle at 1,000rpm then after a couple of minutes crept back up. Puzzled, we continued for another 10 minutes or so and it happened again. Not wanting to push the engine too hard, we kept it at a low speed, and hoped it would get us into Yarmouth.
Gilbert suggested it was possible a bit of dirt, air or diesel bug had got into the fuel filter. “Were the engine to stall now and stop, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “There’s virtually no wind, we’re at slack water, and if we thought we were getting into danger we’d anchor up.”
The engine kept us on the seat of our pants for the remainder of the voyage, losing revs then settling and creeping back up again, but fortunately we made it to Yarmouth.
Fun in Yarmouth
I meant to send my mum a photo to let her know we’d arrived, but accidentally sent it to 40 parents on my kids’ WhatsApp sailing group. Although mortified, I was instantly messaged with congratulations, warm wishes and invitations to summer cruises, so it wasn’t such a bad move, after all.
Stepping onto the pontoon at Yarmouth Harbour I was reminded of the cruise I did with my dad many years before. We’d been stormbound, and spent three days there listening to the rain while we read novels, planned passages and drank endless cups of tea.
Yarmouth is such a pretty town with its narrow, cobbled streets, independent shops and Georgian buildings. We celebrated our arrival with a pint of Sailor ale in the beer garden at The George Hotel, overlooking the water. Stu Davies, PBO’s engine expert, was keen to know how we were getting on, so we called him and picked his brains about the engine.
“Those symptoms are definitely fuel starvation,” said Stu. “If the needle valve has vibrated half-shut, it will restrict the flow of fuel.”
Stu explained that the engine’s governor will determine how much or little fuel is required to maintain the revs in a given sea state. So if, for example, the bow climbs a wave, the governor will open up the fuel feed to use a bit more, even though the throttle is in a constant position.
If the governor needs more fuel, but the flow’s restricted, the engine revs will drop. This explains why it seemed to be an intermittent fault on higher throttle, and why it wasn’t such a problem at a lower speed.
After waving goodbye to Steve on the Lymington ferry, we returned to Maximus to take a look at the engine. Thankfully, no filter changes were required, and it was – as Stu and Gilbert had suspected – a fault to do with the fuel supply. The fuel tank valve had vibrated partially shut. Opening it up solved the problem.
The marina was very quiet, and the facilities fresh and modern, so we took full advantage of the hot showers before heading to an old coaching inn for dinner. As we sat by a roaring fire, eating onion rings, steak pie and chips, we did some course plotting on our tablets.
Gilbert showed me MemoryMap which, at just £25 for an annual subscription for UK and Ireland charts, he’d been very impressed with. It was a lovely evening, with great company, and brought back fond memories of past cruises.
James and I slept in Maximus’s forepeak cabin, and Gilbert had the saloon. Despite the time of the year, I was surprised by how warm we were, just in our sleeping bags and thermals – not at all like camping, where we tend to go to bed shivering and wake up sweating. This sturdy little yacht retained the heat well.
I woke early to the chatter of fishermen and rumble of engines. The sunrise had turned our decks a deep shade of gold, and Maximus was reflected perfectly in the mirror-like sea.
Next door, four young men in bobble hats and T-shirts quietly hoisted the sails on their training boat. We’d seen them the evening before, circling a fender MOB. I guess with winter daylight they need to be up early to tick-off all the RYA requirements of their course.
I got chatting to the skipper about our furled headsail, wondering if he had any advice. He suggested there might be a halyard wrap. The other thing I couldn’t work out was how to attach the flat-pack reefing system.
We’d managed to get the mainsail up and make sense of the reefing lines, but couldn’t figure out how to attach the sailbag. Daniel Kirtley, Maximus’s former owner, had kindly sent me photos and instructions, but I’d still not figured it out.
Again, I chastised myself. How, after six months of owning a boat, had I not managed to hoist the sails and check they were OK?
We had no fridge on Maximus, but our little cooler backpack from Red Original proved perfectly adequate in keeping milk and food fresh.
By the time Gilbert woke, James had bacon and eggs sizzling away on our camping stove in the cockpit. We’d made the mistake once of lighting it in the cabin, and had to hastily throw a blanket on it when the leaky gas canister caught fire! Never again.
Engine checks done (and the fuel-valve firmly open) we filled up at the fuel pontoon, and left on a crisp, bright morning under the slightly disconcerting gaze of a plastic penguin. From here, it was a straightforward sail across Poole Bay… except there was no wind.
We passed our house near Christchurch and gave it a wave, then looked behind us to see the ‘polar bear’ in the cliffs at the Needles, Isle of Wight. It’s an angle of the rocks you can only see from our stretch of beach. Nearly home!
There seemed to be a tiny bit of wind, so we turned off the engine to see if this was apparent wind or real wind. As Maximus slowed, the windex dropped, but there was still a few knots.
I decided to get the genoa out. Knowing it wouldn’t furl, I removed the sheets and unwrapped it by hand at the clew, before reattaching them with bowlines. I didn’t unfurl fully as, even in light winds, it was surprisingly powerful and I wanted to be able to wrap it back up in a hurry.
Our speed, under full main and half-unfurled genoa was about 2 knots. It was slow but wonderful. Our first sail!
It was at this point I lost my yellow hat. My Estonian friend Marju had knitted it for me many years earlier and I was very fond of it. There was no option but to do an MOB (or ‘HOB’) drill.
We motored a few boat lengths downwind, turned back into the wind and motored back towards it, approaching it from the leeward side, aft of the mast, where James recovered it expertly with a boat hook.
Hat safely recovered, I enjoyed the quiet and the motion, and would have liked to sail longer, but I didn’t want to push our luck. We had a two-hourly bridge opening to consider, so reluctantly I wrapped up the genoa by hand.
Back motorsailing, we were approaching the channel to Poole harbour when the rev counter dropped right down to zero. No warning lights flashed, and the Volvo MD2020 engine kept running, no problems.
The rev counter is taken off the alternator, which, of course, charges the batteries. The fault could therefore have been the rev counter or, more seriously, the alternator. The alternator belt, which had only been replaced a few weeks ago, appeared fine.
There was a good way to check: the Victron battery monitor. For much of the voyage, while motoring, battery voltage had been showing around 14.1V. Now it was down to 12.8V, which was much lower than we’d have expected for a charging voltage.
“The engine is purring away quite nicely, but we don’t know how fast,” said Gilbert. “We’re not going to get in any trouble, but because all the electronics are running completely off the batteries, without any charging from the engine we should shut down any unnecessary electronics.”
It was no different to sailing, but the worry was, if the batteries lost too much charge, we might lose the power to restart the engine battery, as that needs a high burst of amps.
With the chain-ferry, two lifting bridges and then a shallow channel into Holes Bay, we didn’t want to risk that, so aimed to reduce power consumption.
We turned off the tiller pilot and MFD. Not a problem, we still had the tablet with Navionics charts as backup, as well as Imray charts. Plus, I’d done some detailed pilotage sketches to get us into Poole Harbour, an area I knew well from years of cruiser racing and a spell as volunteer RNLI crew.
Sailing into Poole
I looked forward to sailing into Poole. One of the largest natural harbours in the world, it’s been a busy port as far back as the 13th century, and in the 16th century sent fishing boats to Newfoundland, bringing back wealth to the town.
The trade ended after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, but the town continued to thrive, and for a time, sent more ships to America than any other port.
Many of the old merchant houses still exist in the old town, including the very first flat James and I lived in, and the quay itself is a picture, with all its colourful 17th and 18th century converted warehouses, mills and pubs.
Before sailing down ‘memory channel’, however, we needed to negotiate the harbour entrance.
One of our favourite family days out is to park at Sandbanks, catch the chain ferry across the harbour to Studland beach, and walk out to the white chalk cliffs of Old Harry. Many times we’ve stood on the ferry waving at the yachts, and now we were the yacht waving back at the passengers. What a great feeling!
As we approached the entrance to Poole Harbour, the chain ferry raised its black ball to indicate it was about to depart. The currents at the harbour entrance are very strong, and there have been accidents where yachts have tried to nip in ahead of the ferry and got caught out. The ferry has right of way so, if in doubt, it’s wise to always to go astern of it.
With the tide flooding it was slow progress through the harbour entrance, and I had to put maximum revs on, hoping that the engine wouldn’t fail on us now.
We passed the pretty Haven Hotel, and the grand houses of Sandbanks. It brought back memories of a PBO colleague’s wedding, where the Poole Belle tripper boat took us all to the church. As we’d motored past the home of football manager Harry Redknapp that day, he ran out and gave us a wave.
No Harry today, but we did find a celebrity boat at Poole Quay Boat Haven… and got far too close for comfort.
Heading for Cobbs Quay Marina
There are two bridges separating Poole harbour from Holes Bay, the location of Cobb’s Quay Marina, which would be our final destination. As we arrived early for the first bridge, and needed to drop James off for the school run, we radioed the marina to ask if we could temporarily moor up.
They kindly agreed but warned that the Border Force vessel would be coming soon, so we only had 10 minutes.
That’s when I spotted Medallia, Pip Hare’s foiling IMOCA 60, the boat she aims to sail around the world in the next Vendée Globe Race. There really wasn’t much room between Medallia and an expensive looking catamaran, and I tried not to think of the headlines (or next year’s insurance premium) if the PBO Project Boat crashed into her protruding foils.
Fortunately, I managed to berth smoothly, but no sooner had we dropped James off than the Border Patrol vessel returned, clearly wanting their berth back.
Border Force nudged in behind me, not leaving much space, and now, under their watchful eye, I had to reverse out and moor on yet another vacant berth. Gilbert, ever the teacher, saw this as a wonderful opportunity for us to practise lassoing cleats. I did enjoy Gilbert’s calm presence. He kept me busy at all times, leaving no room for me to entertain any fears.
To say I was relieved, though, when it was time to leave those expensive boats was an understatement.. even if it meant stemming the tide in front of the Sunseeker factory.
At first, this was quite uncomfortable, especially with all the multi-million pound superyachts just metres away, but I soon managed to hold the boat perfectly still with the correct revs. Just as well, because ‘waiting for the bridge’ will be a necessity of most trips out of the marina.
When I first joined PBO, the office was in Poole, and I lived in a top-floor flat on the quay. I enjoyed watching the superyachts being built – including Michael Schumacher’s silver Sunseeker 105, which seemed very futuristic at the time. They’d be wrapped in plastic, then one day suddenly unveiled.
On summer days I’d watch yachts queuing in front of them for the bridge, and marvel at how they manoeuvred without ever getting too close to the superyachts! I never imagined that one day I’d be at the helm of one of those yachts.
Being in Poole certainly brought back lots of happy memories. I felt like I was coming home, and in fact, Maximus was coming home too. We know at some point in her 44-year history, she was berthed at Poole as we’d found the faded decals on the stern.
Poole Bridge opened first, then we waited in the basin as the 19th century bridge closed and the 21st century one opened, its iconic twin sails lifting skyward to let us through. After the bustle of Poole quay, it was striking how quiet Holes Bay seemed.
To port we passed a line of liveaboard yachts, with laundry drying on the guardrails, to starboard were yet more Sunseeker buildings and the huge RNLI headquarters – another landmark, whose construction I’d watched from the PBO office on West Quay Road.
Approaching low tide, the depth alarm sounded and I carefully picked my way between the red stakes as cormorants dried their wings on the mudflats. The channel was very narrow, and a lapse of concentration now would see our voyage come to an abrupt and embarrassing end.
Fortunately, we made it to the pontoon with no problems, and Gilbert expertly lassoed us to the berth.
Maximus is home!
It was great to be home in the large, yet peaceful, environment of Cobb’s Quay Marina. Once safely tied up we had a look at the Victron smart monitor. We could see the battery voltage had dropped from 13.5V to 12.7V, and was now measuring 98.9%.
It was clear that the alternator wasn’t working, but fixing it was a job for another day. We poured ourselves a celebratory mug of tea and quickly packed our bags as Maire had kindly come to collect us.
In our rush to leave, what I didn’t do – and this would prove a costly mistake – was remove the headsail, which I hadn’t furled properly.
As we drove back to Chichester to collect the car, I could hardly believe a three hour journey (and that was in traffic) should have taken two days by boat – but what a lovely way to travel!
It was good to have Maximus nearby in a lovely marina on the doorstep of Poole Harbour. We had plenty of time now, over winter, to get to know the boat, ready to introduce the kids to sailing in the summer.
It had been a fantastic two days, and a successful delivery, despite the engine hiccups. I couldn’t wait to start our new adventure.
About Cobbs Quay Marina
MDL’s Cobb’s Quay Marina in Poole has 850 marina berths, and is particularly popular with motorboats, some of which can fit under the span of the two bridges.
It’s well placed for exploring the idyllic islands and creeks of Poole Harbour, while being a short hop away from Poole Bay and onward cruises to the Solent, West Country or France.
There’s also a 280-berth dry stack system with unlimited launching on arrival, a chandlery, bar-restaurant, and smart shower, toilet and laundry block. Find out more at mdlmarinas.co.uk
Thanks to our Project Boat Supporters
Dell Quay Marine, Osculati, Raymarine, Shakespeare Marine, TruDesign, Screwfix, Coleman Marine Insurance, MDL Marinas, Premier Marinas, seajet,, Clean to Gleam, West System, Farécla, Navigators Marine, RYA, Aqua Marine, Ecobat, Victron Energy, Scanstrut, T Sails and XP Rigging.