During the first day of June 2010 I set sail in 'Equinox' my 24ft 6' Cornish Crabber from Chichester Marina and headed West down the Solent on a once in a lifetime adventure. Three and a half months later I completed my challenge; having sailed solo around the entire UK; visiting the Scillies, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Hebrides; going with huge trepidation over the top via Cape Wrath - the 'big right turn', before the next 'big right turn' heading south, at John o'Groats. This blog is my diary, written most evenings as I took stock of the day's progress; often with a huge lump of Cheddar cheese in hand and a pint of Speckled Hen to keep it company. Sometimes I was almost in tears; tiredness and frustration having taken its toll. Other nights exhuberant after breathtakingly beautiful passages along our stunning coastline with favourable following winds. It describes the ups and downs; the tears and laughter; the extraordinary kindness shown by complete strangers who offered a tired sailor in their midst refuge, solace, warmth and company; their generosity often humbling. My hormones were, I'm sure, in a mess making me perhaps rather vulnerble; as just six months earlier I'd endured the surgical removal of a cancerous prostate gland; laprascopically - a six hour procedure that left me physically weaker than before. You can read the background to the illness and the reasons for the challenge - to raise awareness of this terribe disease; that could have so easily have killed me elsewhere on this blog.

I am indebted to many; and recorded their names elsewhere; but as I reflect on the voyage many months later, I have not fully sung the praise of Cornish Crabbers, the builders of my sturdy little yacht and Roger Dongray the yacht's brilliant designer who drew upon a hull shape that had developed over hundreds of years by men who worked and fished at sea and whose very life depended on their vessel's seaworthiness. It's long keel, sail configuration and weight distribution in seemingly monsterous seas; quite incredible for a yacht so small. A Crabber 24 is not the swiftest yacht to be had for her size, for sure. But what she lacks in that respect she makes up for by her abilty to take heavy weather and harsh conditions in her stride. Built solidly without compromise, Equinox delivered me safely home after a voyage of well over 2500 miles in some of the most hostile and dangerously tidal waters you can find anywhere in Europe. In Wales, for example, the RNLI were phoned by an experienced commercial fisherman watching Equinox from his harbourside office; reporting to them, that a yacht was struggling in heavy seas and a F7 a mile outside the harbour entrance. By the time the lifeboat had been launched, I was tucked up in Aberystwyth marina; a little bruised and battered it has to be said, but safe and sound; I never even saw the lifeboat!

I've recently set up the blog so that readers can cover numerous diary entries in one go. To access earlier diary entries just click on the link 'Older Posts' at the foot of each page. Only a few clicks are needed to get to the entries at the beginning of the voyage and my preparation beforehand.

I hope you enjoy reading it; and if you do, or have done, please be kind enough to leave me a message. For which, in anticipation, I thank you.
The voyage also raised over £10,000 for the Prostate Cancer Charity - not my main goal but those who donated on my 'Just Giving ' page made a huge contribution too; as I was notified by email of each donation as it was made; each raising my spirits immeasurably. My main goal was to encourage 2500 men to get PSA tested - one for each mile sailed; and I beleive that goal was achieved too. And finally, I would also like to thank the growing number of men who have, both during and after the voyage ended, taken a PSA test, as a result of the publicty the voyage attracted; been diagnosed with the disease and taken the time and trouble to email me.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Ballycastle, NI to Port Ellen,The island of Islay August 27th

The last weather forecast from Clyde Coastguard I heard, before falling asleep and still groaning from the jumbo Cod and Chips, made Islay possible, so primed, I woke early with laundry on top of the list of things to get done. An ebb tide being a mandatory element to get there, meant an 11:30am departure was perfect.
   A full rather smelly load on a quick wash followed by a 60 minute tumble, gave me time to do a three bag shop at Spa unpack and stow! Happy that the fridge was full and laundry dry, I moved Equinox to the fuel berth and topped up. Heaven knows when I’ll next get a chance; and while waiting, for the marina manager to arrive, filed a Passage Plan with Belfast Coastguard. Once outside the huge stone breakwaters with a brisk NW’ly wind on the port quarter passing to the West of Rathlin Island would be difficult, despite 3 knot favourable tide trying to coax me. Instead with a 14 knot wind to help me on a reach, we sailed East and met head on first a gentle race on the South East corner of the Island, then a roller coaster of a race on the North East corner. Rough! Seagull poo and anything not firmly screwed to the deck were washed off – but, for the first time ever, Equinox registered 12.1 knots SOG on the GPS – Brisk indeed! As we parted company with the island, the wind backed to the West and we flew the final 23 miles to Port Ellen in less than five hours; the sun shining most of the way. A tricky entrance was made easier by watching a ferry depart; his track reversed led me to a perfect little marina – two pontoons and just four visiting boats - so plenty of choice.
   Once berthed, I slipped ashore to the White Hart Hotel nearby, ravenous as I’d not eaten a thing all day. A splendid meal of local mussels followed by Hebridean chicken – a chicken breast wrapped around haggis served with a whiskey sauce was delicious and the local Islay ale outrageouly good, though expensive at £3.80 a pint. While eating, I could not help but notice the rain trying to take the paint off the windows! Force 6’s forecasted tomorrow. Hmmmm! There are at least three distilleries nearby, to keep me occupied........? Tempting?

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