After long hot days spent scraping paint, fixing leaks and changing seacocks it was time to launch our 44-year-old Maxi 84

Chichester’s Dell Quay boatyard had been Maximus’s home for two years – and felt like our second home too, since we’d acquired the Maxi 84 project boat.

We’d spent long hot days scraping paint, fixing leaks, and shadowing experts as they talked us through seacocks, electronics and engines. 

Out of time

There were many jobs left on the list, from fitting a bow-roller to replacing the running rigging, but we were out of time. Our three kids were now on their summer holidays and a long-awaited home-exchange in Chichester (from where we’d planned to do more boat work) had fallen through.

“Shall we just launch and be done with it?” I asked my husband James. “At least then we can have a holiday in the marina.”

The electrics were only partially finished, but the engine had been serviced and Adam, our electrician, had fitted a temporary starter battery to get us the 20-minute passage from Dell Quay to Chichester Marina, where he was happy to continue the work.

Maximus‘s new home for a while would be Chichester Marina

For our fin keel yacht it was only possible to launch at the top of spring tide, so we checked the dates. With a week to spare we decided to go for it. James camped in the boatyard for the last couple of days, applying the remaining coats of antifouling, while I made hasty arrangements to lift-out and get some last minute jobs done. 

Matthew at Premier’s Chichester Marina was very helpful and talked me through the marina lock. “Don’t forget you need a handheld VHF to call the lock-keeper,” he reminded me, prompting a closing-time dash to Force 4.

Despite being busy, Andy at Dell Quay Marine kindly fitted the remaining Trudesign seacock, and checked that all seacocks were all closed ready for Maximus to be driven in cradle down the slipway, and tied alongside the pontoon. 

Launch day  

My uncle Steve and aunt Judith were only too glad to help out, having themselves once owned a Maxi 84 called Duggio. I was delighted when Maximus’s previous owner, Daniel Kirtley, asked if he could wave us off. I persuaded him to join us and knew I was in safe hands! 

Maximus’s former owner Daniel came by to help with the launch

Finally it was time to launch. My children were so excited to see Maximus for the first time. They threw open the car doors and sprinted down to the slipway.

There she stood, alongside the pontoon, as water splashed around the keel. She looked magnificent, our Maxi 84, with her shiny dark Ecojet antifouling and gleaming topsides, polished with the help of the experts at Farécla.

“She’s so big,” exclaimed Brenin, my eldest, who was used to sailing a dinghy. 

“Can we sleep on her?” asked 5-year-old Fearne. “Bagsy the front.”

“Is that an ENGINE?” asked Dylan, who’d learnt to sail an Optimist only the month before. “Can I drive?” He then announced that ‘the daggerboard’ was in completely the wrong place. 

Dell Quay staff Jonathan and Jack, who’d helped us lots, were heading out on a launch. I was sad to see them go.

“Don’t worry we’ll be back to see you off,” said Jonathan. “It’s easy, nothing to worry about. Just head out to the moored boats, sail through the middle of them then follow the buoys. Aim for the buoys,” he added, “not the centre of the channel.”

Waiting for the tide

The kids were like little pirates, trying to climb the ladder up to the boat, despite being told to wait. We still had an hour or so until Maximus floated so we walked along the harbourside path.

Any other day I might have been admiring the shingle beaches and quaint boatyards but all I could think about was the snaking channel, the sandbanks and the fact we didn’t have a depth sounder. 

Maximus waiting for the top of the tide to launch at Dell Quay

We walked to Sophie’s boatyard, and with each step the nerves increased. I felt like I was about to do my driving test. What if the engine didn’t start, or worse still, cut out mid-passage? What if we ran aground? What if a skin fitting failed or there was a hole somewhere I hadn’t noticed?

I worked through every unlikely catastrophe while the rest of the family jumped about with excitement. The tide couldn’t come quick enough. I just needed to get going.

Farewell party

We returned to Maximus, by which time Judith and Steve had arrived. We climbed aboard and I opened the engine seacock. I checked the bilge and saw a tiny bit of water around the transducer. 

“I wouldn’t worry,” said Jonathan, who was back at the pontoon. “Just mop it up and see if it comes back. People always say to taste it. Don’t! You don’t know what’s in there!”

Fortunately the bilges stayed dry. 

Next to arrive were Daniel and his father, who’d had lots of happy memories on board Maximus, and then Daniel’s father-in-law and his niece and nephew, who all wanted to wave us off.

I felt a bit guilty, as we were only going up the river in a half-completed refit, but they were very kind and commented on the good work we’d done. It was exciting, and nice to have a bit of fanfare. 

The kids wanted to go down below but the companionway steps were still being repaired, and the engine exposed, so they’d have to wait. Rather than have them running riot on our maiden voyage I sent them with Judith along the harbourside path, promising we’d race them to the marina, and if they got there first I’d buy them an ice-cream. 

Afloat now

Maximus was floating now. It was time to go. While Steve, James and Daniel busied themselves finding fenders and mooring lines for our arrival in Chichester marina, I attached the leads to the battery, positive to positive, negative to negative, and tightened them with a spanner. I turned the ignition. Nothing happened. 

“Don’t worry, it takes eight seconds for the glow plugs to light,” said Daniel. 

I wondered how many other boat owners had the pleasure of the previous owner’s company on their first voyage. 

I tried again, remembering our engine expert Stu Davies had said to give it 30 seconds. This time it caught, the water splurted out of the exhaust and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

‘‘Ready?’’ asked Jonathan, smiling. I realised I was going to miss him. I doubted he’d miss me with my non-stop questions and last-minute appeals for help when things went wrong. “Ready. Let’s go!” 

Jonathan, in the RIB, manoeuvred us away from the pontoon, spun us around and let go. Six egrets stood in a line on the mud bank opposite, and I made my way towards the moored boats, engine chugging nicely. 

I gave Steve my tablet with the Navionics charts and my pilotage plan, sketched out on an A4 sheet of paper. 

Dinghy charge

A group of Toppers and Lasers charged towards us. The channel was so narrow we had little room to manoeuvre but fortunately they tacked, just as I knew they would, being a dinghy sailor myself. 

Just as I was beginning to relax – looking for herons in the old twisted oak trees – James asked if we were going the right way. He had a point. We were dog-legging quite dramatically.

But I’d checked the buoys. They were definitely reversed as far as the marina. Green to port, red to starboard. Navionics confirmed this, but I hankered for the reassurance of a paper chart (still on the to-do list).

Before long we spotted the outermost green marker with the triangle, where the main channel starts. 

I radioed the lock-keeper, aware of how formal I sounded, and hoping he couldn’t detect the tremor in my voice. It had been over a decade since I’d skippered a yacht.

Fortunately, the lock-keeper was very jolly, and had been expecting us. The lock was on free-flow so I could leave the worries of going up and down, getting the lines jammed and capsizing the boat in front of 30 onlookers for another day. 

“You’re on B pontoon,” added the lock-keeper. “B46. Port-side to. That’s where all the cool boats go.” That made me smile. 

Steve, James and Daniel readied the lines and fenders. Their amiable chatter throughout the voyage had been reassuring, and I was grateful for Daniel’s local knowledge and encouragement.

Approaching Chichester Marina

I’d been driving the safety boat a lot at my kids’ sailing club so the boat-handling felt very natural. Maximus was, of course, a lot heavier than a RIB, and I soon realised I could travel several boat-lengths with the engine in neutral.

As we approached the pontoon, I put her in reverse and one of the marina staff was there to take the lines. We’d done it! 

Soon after, the kids arrived with Judith, and we met Daniel’s wife and daughter on the pontoon. How nice to have a welcoming committee – just a shame we’d left the picnic and bubbles back in the car at Dell Quay! 

Finally, the children got to explore their new holiday home. They swung down below, avoiding the still-warm engine, and raced around the boat declaring which bed was theirs, and marvelling that there was a table and curtains! 

Euphoric, they flung open the fragile forepeak hatch and ran in circuits across the coachroof, down below and back through the hatch. At one point Dylan was hanging off the boarding ladder and had to be hauled back in by his armpits. Clearly we were going to have to have words about boat safety. 

While James went back to the car for the picnic, my aunty pulled a fabulous Victoria Sponge from her rucksack, and we celebrated being afloat. 

Brenin was seasick that night – I think it was the smell of diesel – but on subsequent nights we slept with the hatch open, and did so right through to October.

Happy days

Being on our own boat in this beautiful marina was better than we could have imagined. We spent that week – and many more weekends throughout the summer and autumn – on board Maximus. 

With Adam working away at the electrics in between we couldn’t go anywhere, but that didn’t matter. We were perfectly happy on the berth. We cooked with a camping stove in the cockpit and used our excellent Luceco torch to light up the cabin, charging it each morning in the shower block while we boiled the travel kettle.

Beautiful Chichester harbour at low tide

Unlike a lot of marinas, which are gated or in a more industrial part of town, Chichester marina is right in the middle of beautiful countryside, and has a very relaxed vibe. It was a blissful experience and we very much looked forward to our weekends on the boat. 

I liked that the children could come and go to the shower block, and push the trolley through the gate without having to worry about keying in codes.

Fun in the marina

The toilet block, with its luxurious hot showers, TV and sofas, was quite a novelty. Having no working toilet on Maximus meant we walked there frequently – sometimes in the middle of the night, where it was magical to stop and look at the stars, or be startled by the splash of a diving mullet.

We spent our days swimming at high tide, and climbing trees in the mudflats. We became regular visitors to the bird hide, and to the pizza oven at the Boat House cafe (though you had to be quick – they were usually sold out by 2pm). 

Our favourite experience was dinner in Chichester Yacht Club, where visiting berth-holders were made very welcome. While the sun set over Birdham Pool, and the kids did skimmers over the water, we’d watch boats navigate the narrow channel.

At times the mud was so high around them you could just about make out the coachroof, really driving home the meaning of drying 2m below chart datum. 

Lock shenanigans

The lock, which separated the main marina from the harbourside path and beach, provided constant amusement. While it was fun to watch the water pour in and the boats rise, there was no standing on ceremony.

As soon as the bridge opened for pedestrians you had to be quick. James, being polite, and still conscious of Covid, waited patiently for the incoming pedestrians to cross, only for the gates to close before it was his turn. He quickly learned his lesson. 

I didn’t envy the lock-keepers. It’s dangerous to keep the gates closed for too long, they explained. They might end up having to drain the lock, but the public didn’t always understand. At one point the lock-keeper had to have stern words with an elderly gentleman who was getting angry about the wait.

There is an alternative route around the marina, which takes a while to walk, but is very scenic, passing agricultural land, a bird hide and the boatyard.

It was well worth the walk (or wait) as the little beach on the other side, surrounded by ancient woodland, was a gem. We often took a picnic and watched the sailors from Chichester Yacht Club out and about on their dinghies… as well as the occasional yacht running aground.

Further afield in Chichester

Wild West Wittering beach was a hit with the kids, with its sand dunes, ‘fun’ strong currents and pulled pork brioches served till late in the cafe. We visited quaint harbourside towns, such as Bosham, with its lovely arts and craft centre, and Emsworth, where we ate fish and chips on the quay. 

I especially liked the walk past sugar cane fields to Birdham Pool, a very peaceful marina popular with traditional boats tied to wooden piles. While we sipped coffee from a kiosk the kids threw stones in the water.

A fisherman told them to stop filling up the harbour – otherwise they’re going to have to jump in and fish them out. They ran away, not sure if he was joking or not.

A highlight was the historic city of Chichester with its Novium museum, and North Bersted Man. The 2,000 year-old skeleton of a warrior was buried with the most lavish helmet and weapons, though is sadly no longer on display. 

Portsmouth was just 15 minutes away, and so we decided last-minute to sail to France. My poor mum had a panic when I texted her this fact, failing to mention we were on the Brittany Ferry not Maximus!

We’d have liked to have stayed and explored the harbour by boat, but by the time our electrics were finished (delayed by supply issues and poor Adam breaking both arms), winter was closing in. We had to take advantage of a weather window and favourable tides and get ready to set sail to our home port of Poole. 

Chichester Marina had been a lovely episode in our new boating lives, and we look forward to returning one day.

Thanks to our Project Boat Supporters

Dell Quay Marine, Osculati, Raymarine, Shakespeare Marine, TruDesign, Screwfix, Coleman Marine Insurance, MDL Marinas, Premier Marinas, seajet, Marine & Industrial, Clean to Gleam, West System, Farécla, Navigators MarineRYA, Aqua Marine, Ecobat, Victron Energy, Scanstrut, T Sails and XP Rigging.