George Stanton battles mal de mer as he crosses the North Sea from Suffolk to Oostende in a 17ft Hurley Silhouette

After an idyllic family cruise in the Solent in glorious sunshine and light winds, I felt inspired to take my Hurley Silhouette offshore, writes George Stanton.

My wife, two children and I, plus our dog, had spent just over a fortnight bobbing about the Isle of Wight aboard Emma Too.

Emma Too is 5m long and was made by Hurley Marine in 1970. Robert Tucker had designed the Silhouette as an affordable family cruiser for estuary and light coastal work.

My father owned two in the 1960s and I remember playing under the tarpaulin of one in our garden as a child. At his recommendation, I’d bought Emma Too from ebay for £1,500 in 2010 to sail at our home port of Rutland Water and to trailer-sail to Suffolk or the Solent.

17ft Hurley Silhouette outside a house

It helps to have understanding neighbours when undertaking boat work close to home!

The plan

Dreaming of venturing further, I thought it would be nice to do a short offshore passage to another country, with possibly an overnight section.

I knew Mike Atkins through the Silhouette Owners International Association (SOIA). He had offshore experience in bigger boats but knew the Silhouette Mk3 well and we’d spoken previously about completing an offshore passage in our boats.

To consolidate our plans we had a day sail on Rutland Water in early November.

It was a glorious day with light wind and bright sunshine. The next weekend I packed up the boat for winter.

Voyage practicalities

Plans were discussed and Mike and I agreed on sailing from Harwich, Essex, to Oostende in Belgium in the spring. We wanted to do more than a quick Channel hop but didn’t fancy a long northern passage without a support boat.

Mike has a bigger boat on the Orwell and if the weather didn’t cooperate that would be our plan B. We both had a good working knowledge of the East Coast rivers and after reading the pilot guide Oostende seemed like a fun place to visit.

Acquiring insurance for Emma Too had never been an issue. My policy was due for renewal so I checked if I would be covered for the trip.

After speaking to my insurer and several other insurance companies, it became apparent that I needed to get a boat survey completed.

I’ve always maintained Emma Too myself and have never felt that she had any inherent weaknesses, however, like any old boat there was a jobs list! She had never let me down and I had sailed her hard in some challenging conditions.

Despite my initial trepidation, marine surveyor Richard Thompson was so helpful, knowledgeable, and encouraging that I soon felt positive about making a success of the passage and getting the insurance we needed.

Survey convert

I would recommend getting a survey done to anyone regardless of whether you intend to sail offshore. I found it informative and it gave me the drive and determination to get through the jobs list.

It was massively reassuring to know that I’d done everything within my power to get the boat ready for the voyage. There was nothing on the report I didn’t agree with, even though I knew it was going to fill most of my weekends between now and our spring departure date.

I opted to do the work myself to save money, upskill and maintain a strong working knowledge of my boat.

I kept Mike updated via WhatsApp and he was a great source of encouragement and advice while I was working outside my house. Emma Too was a real talking point among my very understanding neighbours for the months that followed.

Jobs list

The main findings of the survey were:

  • The stem head had five mild steel bolts that needed replacing with stainless steel. I knew about this job but had never got around to doing it. After removing the old stem head I was confronted by what looked like Swiss cheese. Fortunately, I was able to use the existing holes so just needed to reinforce the backing and fill unwanted holes before replacing the fitting.
  • Keel joints: this was the biggest and most concerning job. Emma Too has twin bilge keels containing encapsulated concrete. Stress cracks had appeared on both sides. After deliberation, we resolved to grind the joint back to the laminate, insert a layer of fibreglass tape and put a fillet of micro balloons over the top. I think the cracks were caused by the stresses of trailering rather than sailing, and after the trip I was relieved to see they’d not reopened, so I believe the problem is solved.
Keel banding

Keel banding

  • The rudder had a small split in the bottom section, so I ground back a square on either side and bandaged with over-lapping tape. This was completed from the leading edge and bottom to provide a strong bond. Once dried the fix was filled using epoxy filler, primed and antifouled.
  • The battery was too small for our trip and unsecured in a battery box under the companionway. I constructed a shelf for the battery to stand on, sealed the locker, bought a larger AGM (absorbed glass mat) battery, and strapped it down in case the boat inverted.
New cockpit drain seacocks

New cockpit drain seacocks

  • Seacocks: Emma Too has a self-draining cockpit, but there were no seacocks fitted to the skin fittings. After removing the original fittings, I decided to refit the entire system using TruDesign composite skin fittings and load-bearing collars. The PBO YouTube tutorial was really useful. We attached wooden bungs next to the fittings as a last resort.
  • Fuel tank: there was no mention of this in the survey report; however, I felt that if the battery can fall out then so can the petrol tank. A shelf was fabricated and the tank secured. We bought a larger fuel tank that potentially gave us the range to motor the entire way. I also had the outboard serviced.
  • Forehatch: this needed a more secure locking mechanism. A couple of porthole catches and a car rubber seal solved this. I stuffed pipe lagging in the join, which proved secure and did not leak. I also replaced some missing screws. In the companionway, the loose washboards were attached using a line that could be cleated from within.
Re-glassing the stringers

Re-glassing the stringers

  • Internal struts (stringers): there were patches where the fibreglass on the internal mild steel stringers had blown. These were cut back to bare metal, cleaned and rewrapped in fibreglass on all four of the sections. I managed to work around the internal bunks fittings without having to remove too much material.
  • Tabbing in the quarter berths had come away from the ply. I managed to reattach the existing material and added another two laminations of GRP tape.
Tabbing in the quarter berths

Tabbing in the quarter berths

  • Windows: all were removed and reseated on Sikaflex. Originally they’d been screwed into the laminate but I replaced the screws with M4 nuts, bolts and washers. This stopped the leaks we’d previously endured.
  • Navigation lights: I bought a new port, starboard and stern navigation LED lights set from a boat jumble to boost visibility.
  • Electrics: the radio had to be registered with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number and hooked to a Global Positioning System (GPS) for the digital selective calling (DSC) function to work. The new lights and a couple of Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports required a new fuse panel.

I completed all the repairs by mid-April, floated the boat at Farndon Marina and did a shakedown sail to Rutland. With a few minor tweaks, we rigged our new spinnaker and we were ready.

Outward passage

Hurley Silhouette on trailer at Suffolk Yacht Harbour

Emma Too at Suffolk Yacht Harbour

After a full week at work, I finished on a Friday afternoon, picked the boat up from Rutland and trailed her to Suffolk Yacht Harbour (SYH). Mike was waiting with some friends from the Silhouette Owners International Association (SOIA) who kindly put us up for the night.

We rigged the boat the next morning and loaded extra equipment from Mike’s big boat Tranquillity, including a liferaft. It all felt a little rushed, but with work and family commitments sometimes we have little choice.

We launched the boat and passed her around to the visitors’ pontoon with a long warp. At 1500 we started the outboard – it wouldn’t go into gear, this was a major frustration as it was one of the only jobs I’d paid for professionally.

Mike removed the observation plug on the outboard leg. The gear connecting rod had come loose.

After tightening the bolt joining the two rods the problem seemed to be solved. We showered, parked cars and loaded the last of the gear. Just as we reversed from our pontoon the engine failed again.

We removed the plug and tightened the bolt more forcefully. This was the last engine issue we had, but it was a cause of significant anxiety just before what was to be a long 24 hours.

At 1630 we departed for Oostende. The wind had increased to a north-easterly Force 4 gusting 5.

We motored towards Harwich, raised the sail at Green Ramp and with one reef in the main and three quarters genoa, we passed Languard North Cardinal and headed south.

Mike made chilli as we rounded the Medusa mark and we sailed for Long Sands Head.

Union Jack flag flying at sea

Last view of the UK

Extra challenge

At this point, my seasickness started and unfortunately continued until we arrived in Oostende. At 2300 Mike asked if I wanted to continue.

I must admit it had crossed my mind to turn back, but I hoped it would ease. If anyone ever alters course because of sickness I will never question their actions!

We decided to carry on, heading due south to our fifth waypoint, Kentish Knock, where we changed course to cross the traffic separation system (TSS).

At 0300 the sun started to rise. We sighted a fishing trawler and the cruise liner Iona, both moving quickly.

It felt strange to be so close to others who were having such a differing time on the ocean wave. We continued into the TSS heading for West Hinder lighthouse, then turned to port. It was a relief to have daylight as we sighted markers and semi-submerged objects.

We crossed another TSS towards West Hinder anchorage. As we sailed slowly past the anchored ships, we were overtaken by a cargo vessel which then immediately slowed down. Our AIS informed us that he was anchoring. Progress was slowed further by a wind change, so we were now close-hauled.

When I sighted some tower blocks on the horizon I got so excited I woke Mike up. We continued to our last waypoint and set our new heading towards Oostende harbour. It was a rolly ride but we kept the main up to try and surf the waves. At 1630 we finally arrived in Oostende tired, dehydrated, wobbly and relieved.

Continues below…


Hurley Silhouette pocket cruiser at Royal Yacht Club Oostende

Emma Too at Royal Yacht Club Oostende

After checking in at the Royal Yacht Club Oostende (RYCO), we walked into town to get our passports stamped. It took us an age to find the passport office (next to the train station behind glass doors), so we were relieved our electronic passage plan had worked and they were expecting us.

Monday was spent drying clothes and sorting the boat. Surprisingly the bilges were bone dry and we’d sustained no breakages.

After lunch in a pizzeria, we returned to RYCO for our first glass of Belgian beer.

Over the next few days we met several club members. and when it was clear that we’d be staying for the rest of the week until the wind eased, we were encouraged to join the Oostende Voor Anker classic boat festival.

After a really enjoyable couple of days of live music, Belgian cuisine and classic boats, our weather window arrived on Friday for a dash back to Blighty.

The return

We bid farewell to our new friends, had our passports stamped, and motored out of the marina, through the lifting bridge and raised sail in the outer harbour.

By the time we reached Kentish Knock, both the wind and tide were against us so we started the engine.

This was a long hard slog with waves dowsing the boat and helm, however, I had not had any seasickness.

I wanted to repay Mike for his Herculean effort on the trip over, so I offered to swap an hour on the helm for a Bourbon biscuit. Quick as a flash Mike dropped below and returned with a pack of six saying ‘let me know when we arrive’!

It was reassuring to see the frequent bashing hadn’t broken our sense of humour. Once around Trinity Long Sand Head we raised sail, before dropping it at Languard.

At 0500, we motored into SYH having covered 91 miles.

Royal Yacht Club Oostende (RYCO) burgee

Royal Yacht Club Oostende (RYCO) burgee

Barges for Oostende Voor Anker classic boat festival.

Barges for Oostende Voor Anker classic boat festival

Lessons learned

1) The survey process was both informative and ultimately equipped the boat for an offshore passage. If possible, make yourself available as the advice and discussion were invaluable for the months that followed. Talk to your insurance company early and make sure you have adequate cover.
2) Take a couple of days to acclimatise to boat life before setting out, and take seasickness tablets. Severe seasickness was like having a hangover in a washing machine.
3) Don’t assume that because something has been attended to by a professional, it will be problem free. Test everything before you set off. We’ll never know if the problem with the engine was created before leaving the workshop or on the trip down.
4) While Emma Too is capable of making trips of this nature even in the challenging conditions we encountered, this type of activity is not really what the boat was intended for. Both Mike and I know these boats well and are experienced sailors. With the proper preparation and training it is possible, but trips like this must not be taken lightly and without preparation.

About the author

George Stanton

George Stanton

George Stanton started sailing dinghies, enjoying both cruising and racing. He has been an RYA senior dinghy instructor for 15 years. He usually sails Emma Too with his wife and two children. A bigger boat is a constant point for discussion, however, after weighing up the additional cost and travel time to the coast they always come back to Emma.

Expert response

Richard Falk, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) director of training and qualifications

Richard Falk, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) director of training and qualifications

Richard Falk, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) director of training and qualifications, says: “One of the most satisfying elements of sailing is the challenge of venturing beyond areas and activities with which you are familiar, to passages that stretch you beyond what you are used to.
“George had significant experience in other sailing contexts, but recognised the need for thorough checking and preparation of his boat, diligent passage planning and the inclusion of a crew member with significant experience.
“The result was a safe and successful trip. There are various ways in which to improve your knowledge, skills and confidence. These may involve undertaking a relevant course, going out with someone more experienced to learn from them, or simply experimenting in a controlled environment.
“However it is achieved, ensuring both you and your boat are well prepared before any planned trip is essential. If that trip is pushing the envelope of your previous experience, preparation becomes even more crucial.”