Aged 57 I'd never, as far as I can recall, been to hospital other than as a visitor, rarely taken more than a day or two off sick and certainly was not suffering any of the recognised symptoms associated with prostate cancer. I was however, encouraged by my wife to have my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) checked along with the usual cholesterol test - a single combined blood test - taking just a few minutes - a male MOT! She is a Practice Nurse and knew it made sense for a man of my age. I agreed; but have to say I did not fully understand what the PSA test signified and thought the exercise was rather pointless, being reasonably fit and symptomless. When the PSA test result came back 5 days later, in October 2008, my GP deemed the level a little high so a second test, a month later, was arranged. This was higher still so a third test considered obligatory. The result, alarmingly, indicated my PSA had shot up both further and faster. On the strength of which, I was immediately referred to an Urologist, who I saw a few weeks later. He decided immediately that the next step was to have confirmed or otherwise the presence of cancer and to grade it for severity (a Gleason Score). A biopsy was organised at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford a few weeks later which took just a few minutes to perform and, I have to say, was not a particularly pleasant experience; being uncomfortable and stressful rather than painful. A short course of antibiotics accompanied the procedure. My anxiety grew daily while waiting for the results and became all thought consuming. Looking back, as I write this, I think I had already resigned myself to the fact that the news would be grim. An appointment was made with the Urologist on St Valentine's Day 2009. “I'm sorry to have to tell you” he said, “You have mildly aggressive cancer of your prostate”. Despite being mentally prepared for it; the news is absolutely devastating. My wife and I just looked at each another in total silence as the ramifications slowly sank in. I recall her face drain of colour before her tears arrived as the news sunk in. Mine did the same as we tightly held each other’s hands for support. I recall being angry during the drive home. I went through the “Why me?” and, “Could I have lived my life differently and been spared.” As in the interim, I had read that diet and lifestyle could well have played a role. In the weeks following the news I read everything I could lay my hands on about the condition, spending hours on the internet and reading countless research papers, books and pamphlets. Information overload! The emotional rollercoaster totally and utterly envelopes you and you think of little else every waking moment. Not least, the dilemma of how best to tell your close and extended family and friends; and which, unfulfilled dreams and plans will need reappraising? I clearly recall feeling terribly fragile, very vulnerable and more than a little scared. My destiny was no longer entirely my own. The Urologist gave sound advice, outlined treatment choices, made recommendations and asked me to give thought to what I would like to do. He recognised and acknowledged I had done my homework. The choice, he said, had to be mine and it needed to be made before I met him again a few weeks later. He said, I had to factor in that I was considered young and the cancer quite aggressive, so 'Watching and Waiting' - one of the many options - was ruled out. Looking back, it seemed odd, that the treatment had to be my choice and not totally prescriptive. This is a positive attribute of modern medical practice in that it meant that I was forced to take ownership of my cancer and how I was going to beat it. We are, after all, unique; and what is an acceptable side-effect for me may not be acceptable to another sufferer. For the non-medical, there is a bewildering choice of treatments to consider. Some tried and tested, some new with, of course, less long-term supporting evidence. The pace of change for prostate cancer treatment is exciting and relentless; probably made more so by men living longer – undiagnosed or late diagnosed men dying from the disease rather than with it, when life expectancy was considerably less. A good example of this is robotic aided laparoscopic surgery that has in the last two years been introduced. The main options for treatment I considered were: External Beam Radiotherapy often combined with Hormone Therapy, Conformal Radiotherapy, Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy, Surgical Removal, HIFU (High Intensity Focused Ultrasound), Brachytherapy (injecting low or high dose radiation seeds directly into the prostate) and Cryotherapy (freezing). After much soul searching and deliberation I opted for surgical removal. It seemed the best solution and, if successful, a complete cure as long as the cancer was contained within the prostate. A MRI and bone scan in April suggested that it probably was. My elected treatment would mean, however, I would, for ever, be sterile. You can perhaps see why treatment is such a personal choice as some of the other choices leave you fertile A laparoscopic procedure was carried out in August 2009 by the most wonderful surgeon – Mr Chris Eden, at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford - it took rather longer than usual as I was told later that I had a narrow pelvis - my tailor wouldn't agree! Mr Eden said I could have been diagnosed 4 or 5 years earlier at our first formal meeting - exactly two weeks after the procedure, when armed with the lab reports from the 44 biopsy samples he’d taken from nearby glands and tissue. The cancer, he said, was only just contained within the prostate. I had, he said, been very fortunate to catch it when I had! How I wish I had undergone my first PSA test when I was 50 and not left it until I was 57. Hindsight is the only exact science! Since the operation, there are regular three monthly PSA checks together with a short consultation with Chris Eden to attend that will continue for some years. As I write this my PSA is still immeasurably low and I now only need to see him once every six months.
Cancers, as I understand it, are named after their origin which means if my cancer has spread, it will produce the same antigen that the prostate did; making the same PSA test applicable and valid. In the future, a rising PSA level would indicate secondary tumour/s developing elsewhere - even thought I no longer have a prostate gland.
If case you are not aware, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the UK. Over 35,000 mean are diagnosed with it each year and over 20,000 will die of it; a staggering one man an hour. Today and every day 100 men will be told they have prostate cancer in the UK! For many the news will come too late to affect a complete cure, as the cancer will have spread outside the Prostate. For them the only hope is to slow its progress down; hopefully for them to fulfil their full life potential.
The Prostate Cancer Charity kindly agreed to help me attract as much media attention as possible during my voyage; our joint aim to highlight, in every way we can, the importance for 50+ year old men to both understand the dangers of undiagnosed prostate cancer (often symptomless, as in my case) and the importance of arranging an annual PSA test with their GP and for those men, who have a family history of prostate cancer, as young as 40, to urgently discuss with their GP their additional genetic susceptibility. My target is to get a minimum of 2500 men to have their first PSA test - One PSA test for every nautical mile sailed! A little known fact is that in the USA 70% of 55 year old men can tell you what their PSA level is. Here in the UK only 7% can!
This voyage is the biggest personal challenge of my life after facing and hopefully beating prostate cancer. It's my contribution to the Prostate Cancer Charity's efforts to raise awareness. The biggest reward would be to learn that having dipped into this book you have organised a PSA test for yourself; if you haven't already had one, or you have recommended a friend or member of your family to do so.
I remain indebted to those helping me prepare both myself and Equinox for the journey. But none more so, than my surgeon, Mr Chris Eden and for my wife Gina and three children for giving my voyage their full support and blessing.
Particular thanks go to the extraordinary Andy Ripley, Rugby International, sailor, canoeist, rower, athlete, linguist and motorcycling legend and author of 'Ripley's World'. I am indebted to him. His autobiography, read after I was diagnosed, traces his battle with Prostate Cancer, which finally beat him in June 2010. His contagious zest for life and desire to remain at levels of fitness, few of us could aspire to, even when very ill, told honesty with humour and wisdom, following diagnosis, is deeply moving, candid, enthralling and unforgettable.
Getting ready to get ready..........
It is late February 2010, the weather cold and miserable. As I sit at my desk watching branches and twigs, blown off by the wind, collect on the lawn under the huge beech tree that dominates part of our garden, I can’t believe it’s just three months before I plan to set sail. What was just a pipe dream before Christmas; an embryonic idea voiced to family and friends, has now become a reality; I’m committed, because I’ve told too many people I AM going to do it; it’s that simple. I’ve talked myself into it! My final appointment with Chris Eden a few weeks ago on the 9th Feb armed with the results of a recent PSA blood test result of >0.01 means, I hope and pray, still free of cancer. So far my only preparation has been reading other solo voyagers trials and tribulations as they embarked on similar challenges, published as diaries and books; many on the internet. My test result mean preparation for the challenge can now begin in earnest! Both Equinox my 24ft Cornish Crabber and I need a great deal of it too. Her keel was laid in 1999, mine in 1951; she was exhibited at the Southampton Boat Show; perhaps my mother exhibited me, but looking at photographs of myself as a baby, I doubt it! She was launched for the first time in Feb 2000 and remains in pretty much the same shape; I, on the other hand, have become somewhat beamier in middle age! She is berthed at Chichester Marina; a delightful and secure spot except when the weather is perfect, when the queues for the lock become tiresome. I’m berthed 34 miles away on the Hampshire Surrey border. Most of my sailing has been in dinghies – lasers and a beautiful classic Uffa Fox designed Fairey Swordfish, which I’ve owned for twenty years. In my youth, I sailed with my parents for many years in a bilge keeled yacht called a Debutante; much of that, if time hasn’t corrupted my memory, was spent aground on the mud in Poole harbour watching others sail.
Safety, a primary consideration stems from a reoccurring dream I have of treading water while watching Equinox sail, her self steering holding a perfect course, off into the sunset. I simply cannot conceive of a more lonely and pointless way to die. So first things first, I decided to send my life raft away two weeks ago; picking it up today from a complete and rather expensive mandatory overhaul. Rather worryingly it still had manufacturing faults that had been subject to a factory recall, which judging by the lengthy report accompanying the invoice, hadn’t been addressed. It was rather sobering to discover that for the last five years, since its last overhaul, I’ve been humping the bloody thing around the Solent and should I have needed it, it wouldn’t even have inflated! It’s very reassuring to have it, but needless to say, hope I never need to resort to it. My father a pilot in the RAF, who flew amongst other, Tempests, Hawker Hunters and Vulcans; I remember saying ‘For a pilot to eject and resort to his parachute is an admission of failure’! I feel much the same way about a life raft; in that if I need it, it will almost certainly mean I’ve done something stupid!
While down on the boat, I called a marine electrician who knows Equinox well. Roger Upham, always busy, is scheduled to undertake a full check of all the on-board electronics. He hoped it would be mid March when he and I can meet up. In the meantime he’s ordering an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) a Furuno Navtex Receiver for weather, marine and safety updates. He is also installing a stereo with MP3 and iPod interfaces. This, I am sure will provide enormous comfort and company on the long passages and lonely nights; more importantly access to the BBC’s shipping forecasts.
On the way home I dropped off two dodgers, the Tonneau and sail cover with C&J Marine Ltd for refurbishment and strengthening. They should be back in mid March.
Using a hardwood plank, I've constructed and varnished two strong Fender Boards of 1.5m each; an absolute 'must have' according to other circumnavigators; to protect the hull when mooring against quays, docksides and mooring piles designed for vessels less fussy about their topsides. Back on the boat, I checked all the cordage, jib and staysail sheets, furling lines and the mainsheet. The staysail and jib sheets needed replacing, as they were looking tired; the rest seem in fine.
I've ordered from an online stockist a recommended set of Yanmar engine spares - belts, water impellers, filters, gaskets and anodes. Warren Butlin, who looks after my engine is happy for me to sit in and watch him fully service the GM20 Yanmar diesel during the week prior departure. Doing so will give me enormous peace of mind. As with most things, there is a right and wrong way to do the job and in case I have a breakdown, it would be nice to know the right way to identify faults and fix them properly. I’m reasonably au fait with engines, having services and maintained all my cars and motorbikes over the years; especially when I was younger and hard up; but diesels have never featured among the twenty or so cars and bikes owned until recently. Equinox’s little 500cc GM20 Yanmar twin could be a life saver, if things (and they did) get difficult; besides I need the engine to keep Equinox’s batteries charged too, so that the reassuring array of navigation kit that tells me where I happen to be in the world and how much water, or lack of it, is underneath me works faultlessly.
The dinghy sits in my home office fully inflated – a final check for slow leaks. A replacement Lodestar repair kit was ordered over the phone together with a spare hand pump. By pure chance, I found the tube of adhesive had set solid, although it had never been opened. I shouldn’t been too surprised, as it is eight years old! A new, longer and much stronger painter has been attached securely to all three of the dinghy’s mounting points and a small folding anchor purchased - for shore excursions - being a sensitive soul, I hate dragging them up beaches and ramps, if it can be avoided.
I've spent the day stripping down, cleaning and servicing my ancient Seagull outboard engine and packed up a selection of spares for the voyage. Better the devil you know; although it can be a real pain to start sometimes, especially if the tender is loaded with passengers, dogs and kit. A trick for those who own them is to start them out of the water first and leave them running for thirty seconds, before asking your passengers to alight. If the exhaust outlet is too far underwater, which it will be if the tender is loaded, they can be a nightmare!
I spent the morning updating both my Ofcom VHF licence and the Coastguard's database with Equinox's details; over the internet. The Coastguard now has a recent picture of Equinox under full sail. I'll need to register the new EPIRB too, once I have the serial numbers and details.
An email arrived from the Prostate Cancer Charity saying they are organising hull stickers using a very helpful firm called SAC Graphics. The charity is also sending an X large T-shirt for me to wear for media events too and apparently the Daily Mail are keen to get in touch too!
I've taken another circumnavigator's tip; designing and printing hundreds of little 'boat cards' with both mine and the boat's details on them. I've also printed out safety and personal data sheets and laminated them against the all pervasive damp found afloat! More good news, James Moody at Premier Marinas has confirmed they are linking my blog to the Group's website. The list of things to do seems to grow each day. It is proving fatal to read other voyager's tales! Their recommendations and suggestions, as to what kit to take, makes such sound sense, I feel obliged to follow their lead.
As I was packing up to return home at about 3pm my mobile rang. GMTV wanted to send a presenter and cameraman to my home this evening to interview and film me promoting Prostate Cancer Awareness. They needed the item for a spot the following day so dash home for a shower and tidy up and deflate the dinghy. They arrive at 7pm and stay for an hour.
Two clips of me on the GMTV news were shown, together with the Prostate Cancer's CEO. Good publicity for the Charity, but sadly no mention of the voyage even though they filmed me and the mound of sailing kit that half fills my office.
More kit....more cost... but a growing sense of security! Met up with Roger Upham yesterday on a gloriously sunny but cold afternoon, on Equinox and spent a happy 30 minutes working out where best to install the Navtex and stereo systems. He is, while fitting these, happy to check all the instruments - Radio DSC, GPS connections and the Raymarine Wind, Depth and Speed display heads and sensors; while he has the boat's gizzards exposed. It makes total sense to have an expert uncover any potential weaknesses in them now rather than risk a failure at a critical moment later on! A 2010 Reeds Nautical Almanac together with an emergency coastal flare pack, to compliment my existing pack of rockets, flares and smoke canisters, some of whom have passed their use by date, was purchased too. These together with an emergency VHF aerial, and gas operated had held fog horn made quite a hole in my wallet! The Almanac, seems to get fatter ever year and carries a serious weight penalty; but it's a 'must have'! A big thank you to Garmin who have kindly sent me an eTrex Vista® HCx handheld GPS with a Garmin MicroSD charts for the entire UK and Ireland coastlines for the duration of the challenge. Knowing I have this GPS facility independent of the main navigational system is a real confidence booster. In passing, I've made a habit of always carrying a handheld GPS when going ashore having first entered Equinox's anchorage position as a waypoint or simply pressing the MOB (Man over board facility). It makes finding her again, especially in a crowded anchorage, a whole lot easier and a lot more considerately (Seagulls are noisy engines) after dark – particularly following a good session ashore! Fog too, has caught me out two or three times over the last thirty years; as recently as last May, returning to Equinox, having taken the dog ashore to stretch his legs, I simply couldn’t find her in the fog! The strong ebb tide took me well West of my intended destination; by quite a margin. An easy mistake to make that was handicapped further by the engine drowning out all shore based sound references too; resorting eventually to my old Garmin as I became hopelessly lost and confused.
Roger Upham has all but completed the electrical work on Equinox which means I can at last begin embarkation; the car loaded to the roof with kit – most of it in well labelled waterproof tupperware boxes to be stowed aboard. The Charity emailed details of the hull sticker – it’s big - but there remains some confusion over the exact message!
I decided a few weeks ago to try out wearing contact lenses, as glasses can be a bit of a handicap when sailing, especially when the going gets rough; in that you constantly run the risk of having them whipped off into the sea as you wrestle with canvas and cordage. I’ve worn glasses for reading and computer work for 15 years but more recently need a slightly different prescription for distance too, so wear varifocals. Specsavers have come up with a solution that seems almost ideal. One prescription for one eye for close computer and map work and the other for distance! Hard to believe it, but the brain switches from one to the other, as required. What is even more remarkable is that they can stay in while I’m sleeping and for a few weeks at a time! Within an hour of putting them in, I felt totally at ease and could easily forget I was wearing them. With hindsight, I really should have tried these years ago.
I spent a wonderful two hours at Kelvin Hughes in Southampton who were incredibly helpful sorting out all the charts and pilot books needed for the circumnavigation; to add to those I already owned. What a fantastic shop with every publication you could possibly want under one roof; helpful too. A massive additional weight penalty though! But needs must; and they give me confidence to have a paper backup to the electronic charts for the entire coast – a mixture of Imray and Admiralty. The Admiralty Leisure Portfolios are good value and each chart can be used in conjunction with my old Yeoman plotter when needed. The Imray charts, I was later to find, were rather too large and cumbersome unless folded and put back into their waterproof sleeve. If the fine weather continues, I'll sail Equinox to East Head and spend a day or two on 'beaching legs' polishing her topsides and scrubbing any growth that has accumulated over the winter, off her hull! It will be cold wadding about with a scrapper and brush; but a job that has to be done.
I'm still swimming every day at home in a barely heated pool – it just under 62F first thing this morning; hopefully building up some resilience to the cold. I began this regime in January! One of my greatest fears, besides falling over the side, is tackling a fouled prop armed with just a face mask and knife. Although Equinox has a rope cutter fitted to her prop shaft, more than a few of my sailing chums have had to resort to a swim after their prop suddenly ground to a halt; even those with a rope cutter fitted. Going for a swim is OK'ish if you have a crew to help.... but when on your own; the thought of leaping over the side at night or in a rough sea; and maybe out of site of land, seems altogether too daunting.
I had my photograph taken today at Specsavers in Farnham with the manager, Hugh Draper. There should be something about The Challenge in the Herald next week. The PR release from Specsavers, who are one of my sponsors, is brilliant and great publicity for the Prostate Cancer Charity.
Lucy Dormer, a freelance journalist has been commissioned by The Daily Mail who are, she told me on the phone, keen to run my story on their men’s health page. She was not sure when, but potentially good publicity for the Charity and the Challenge. With just over 2 weeks to go, this is great news!
I launched my Blog today and linked a JustGiving page to it; after checking that the links all seemed to be working. I’m reasonably happy with the layout too; but design is not my forte; I then sent out emails to all my chums, work colleagues and family asking, they in turn, pass on the web address.
Good news; already 5 people, mostly old work colleagues, have promised to have their PSA checked. That's in the first 4 hours of launching the blog!
So far 26 PSA tests confirmed have either been booked or attended! My Old School Ellesmere College in Shropshire tell me they’re running with my story in the Old Boys magazine. That should get the message to thousands of potential candidates
I turn 59 today and my three children have just completed the hottest ever Edinburgh Marathon in a little over 4 hours; all three quite badly sunburnt, dehydrated, exhausted and unanimously agree it was by far the toughest thing any of them had ever done! Knowing how fit they all are and how hard they trained, that's saying something! Sadly hundreds failed to finish in the blistering heat with medics treating collapsed runners every hundred yards! The local weather forecast was totally wrong! They started in thick fog but within minutes were in clear blue skies; a mighty effort by all three which raised a great deal of money too. It is difficult to describe in words how very proud of them I am. Not for the first time, I shed a tear at their exploits.
Radio Wave FM called and I recorded an interview over the phone. Very excited to be getting the airtime and coverage.
D Day - was a washout. Gina, my wife, took me down in the Volvo; full to bursting with the last of my kit and food. Saying goodbye was awful, both of us emotional and tearful. Although excited, I feel desperately guilty leaving her with our family house, biggish garden and swimming pool to look after on top of a hectic job as a Practice Nurse. She, understandably fearful that her inexperienced husband is about to embark on a madcap adventure, the like of which he has never attempted; and knowing that he had confined his sailing to the Solent and the odd hop down to Cornwall. I’m left alone feeling very excited on the one hand but equally selfish and indulgent.
A local photographer met me, as arranged, at 12:30 on Equinox in Chichester marina and we both got wet - me in just a short sleeved Charity T shirt! After drying out and changing clothes, I locked out of the marina at 1:15pm. A rather bemused lock keeper’s jaw dropped, when I answered, 'Probably not for four months, in response to the usual question. 'Are you back today, Sir'?
The first night was spent at a rather damp and windy East Head; located at the entrance to Chichester Harbour; immediately followed by two stunningly hot days, sailing west for a date at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival. Equinox feels rather strange and sluggish on the helm; the waterline now half way up the boot-top; approximately she’s two inches lower in the water. I was joined by Peter Moore and his submariner chum Ian Finlayson on the second day; sailing back east up the Solent to meet them coming west in Peter’s identical Crabber. We then spent a night moored within hailing distance of one another in Newton Creek; a delightful spot; a seriously hot Chilli was rustled up; made at the cost of the tip of my index finger - I blame a new Teflon coated and razor sharp knife! More wine than was sensible and much laughter the accompaniment! With rather subdued reflexes, we sailed in convoy to Yarmouth under Jib and Staysail in a brisk 3 knot following tide, much later than we should have, the following morning. The weather remains impressively sunny; acquiring a tan like a lobster! ‘The Accelerators’ a local band, scrumptious fish and chips, more beer and a tender ride with my rebuilt Seagull up to Freshwater filled the first day there; simply perfect! The harbour looks wonderful with all the Gaffers 'Dressed Overall'. It could be 1910. So many familiar faces and yachts and yet one simmering doubt has crept into my mind 'Can I keep the pace up'?
It’s Saturday and already getting blisteringly hot, as I update my blog at 7.15am then wander ashore to stretch my legs before it gets to hot to contemplate exercise. Yarmouth is bustling already; the ferry disgorging cars and cyclists; stalls setting up and preparing for the influx to the festival.
Catching the last of the ebb tide and getting washed out of the Solent past Hurst Castle; I decide to keep close to the mainland; enjoying the best of an onshore breeze; arriving in Studland Bay just as the sun fell below the hills that surround the bay. My sister and mother are driving down from Wiltshire tomorrow for a picnic lunch on the beach; so after a good nights sleep, chose to have a light breakfast before spending the morning on my laptop jotting down some embryonic ideas for a novel; then getting too hot in the cabin decided to have a swim, as once again it is another scorcher. With mask on, I leap over the side and swim around Equinox marvelling at the number of little fish that gather in her shade; fully refreshed I smarten up and row ashore to meet them in the tender that, thank goodness, remains firm and plump; having had some abuse in Yarmouth. Saying goodbye was difficult as we are a very close family and along with promises to be careful more tears were shed, as I sailed out in a gentle breeze around Old Harry and westward; my sister waving frantically and whooping, until I’d rounded the headland; Lulworth Cove, a short seventeen nautical mile passage, the destination. A sensible distance to cover after lunch; as the forecast warned of deteriorating conditions as the afternoon progressed. The narrow entrance to the cove is quite well disguised; on entering I found only one visiting yacht bobbing about at anchor. And rain it did, on and off, sometimes heavily, until dawn which, together with quite a swell ricocheting around the cove made for a rather uncomfortable and sleepless night.
Fully conrnflaked by 7:30 am, I set off hoping to cover the respectable distance past Portland Bill and across Lyme Bay to Brixham – some 70nm. To start with, I nearly grazed some rocks less than a mile or two after leaving Lulworth and kicked myself for making a simple GPS waypoint error; setting the ‘Goto’ while still inside the Cove. This simple error introduced a fresh hazard, as once outside the Cove and in fairly thick mist, I engaged the Raymarine Tillerpilot so that Equinox would sail along the track from her start point inside the cove to my waypoint abeam Brixham. What an idiot mistake! Once I had calmed down, I enjoyed a splendid although almost horizon-free sail into the gloom in an easterly F4+ gusting 5. Portland Bill was awesome; I took the northern route past The Shambles and in what seemed quite hairy conditions shot through the gap; not quite within hailing distance of the lighthouse, but pretty close. The event heightened by a RNLI lifeboat thundering past me within 200 yards; being joined by an Air Sea Rescue helicopter whizzing around at what seemed to me to be mast height in two swooping passes before dropping a passenger via winch into the lifeboat –as if one didn’t have enough distractions in such poor conditions! A large 60ft French yacht made very heavy weather of the Portland race; her size hampered her progress as she punched her way through the crests; great lumps of water flying backwards, drenching her crew repeatedly; poor souls! Equinox however, bobbed about like a cork, shooting through the race with barely a scrap of water flying aft and eating up the three miles of rough with glee. Once through though, the French yacht quickly overhauled me and sailed off into the distance. Sometimes size matters!
Arriving tired and hungry in Brixham, I was first offered a berth barely fit for a 15ft speedboat; rejecting it on the radio, I was offered and took a much better berth, seemingly miles from anywhere. By the time Equinox and I were shipshape I made my way ashore to find Brixham had closed - it was 21:30 and nowhere could I find somewhere open other than some pretty appalling looking fish and chip takeaways. Having almost given up, and walked myself into the ground I stumbled upon The Poopdeck, a busy restaurant who, bless them, came to the rescue. Welcoming me royally, even though final orders had long passed, they saw I was desperate and served me up one of the best fish meals of my life. Huzzay thrice, I say! I don’t recall my head hitting the pillow. Fish and wined to the gills! The following morning, showered and laundry completed by 7am in the new facilities; which are first class, Salcombe beckons some 27 nm away. The wind a comfortable F3 from the NE made the passage stress free and enjoyable. Choosing to hug the coast much of the way, as it is so stunningly beautiful; giving myself enough sea room, not to have the tedious task of constantly scanning ahead for Lobster pots the whole time. The passage began with barely enough wind to blow the steam of my morning coffee but once out of the influence of the hills it soon it picked up and had me on a bracing reach and 8 knots SOG. I made the Skerries in no time at all; next Start Point, with it’s magnificent lighthouse and finally a broad reach topped off a glorious 'balls out' sail into Salcombe just before the wind suddenly died completely late morning. If only every day’s sailing was like this. Dartmouth looked spectacular from the sea; I just wish I had given myself more time to pause and explore.
Salcombe’s Harbour Master is utterly brilliant; arriving by launch, moments after I had anchored; he’s both welcoming and helpful. Plying me with ideas, maps and tokens for showers and sound advice as to where to anchor for the night, as I was not, he advised me in a good spot, bearing in mind the expected storm from the NE, forecasted as imminent. So here I am anchored in Frogmore Creek, after a much better-than-expected meal at Captain Flint’s. Salcombe is just like Oxford Street in miniature – the offering; Fat Face, Musto and other ‘have-to-be-seen-in’ brands. The place feels rather rundown and unexpectantly quiet, most eating places are still closed; the season not yet in full swing. It is twelve years since, as a family, we stayed here; sailing daily in our much loved 1957 Fairey Swordfish. I recall that we rented a house in Batsen Creek; the children loved it; especially the rather famous sweet shop that was on the daily agenda. It didn’t seem too over crowded then, but now you are greeted by wall-to-wall moorings almost as far as the eye can see, with little room for manoeuvring, it seems, let alone racing. My first impressions were therefore a mixture of amazement and sadness at how much it’s all changed. An early and hopefully peaceful night beckons and just before I struggle into my sleeping bag, the first spots of rain started falling gently from a leaden sky; the mullet splashing around me in the weedy fringes hunt into the night for fry. I could not help but notice earlier that the shore was lined with herons standing like sentries, fishing in the fast-falling tidal shallows. Maybe it is after all, just as I remember it. Bliss!
I sleep fitfully; being woken often by the sound of wind howling through the rigging and according to the ST80 mounted above my bunk, gusting to 28knots. Suddenly I’m jolted wide awake by nearby shouts and yells. It’s not yet 7am as I scramble out of my sleeping bag and naked rush up to the cockpit in time to witness a shirtless middle-aged man in his pyjama trousers struggle to retrieve fathoms of chain and accompanying dragging anchor. At the mercy of wind and tide his 30ft yacht is being driven at a frightful pace towards a cluster of moored cruisers. Just, in the nick of time, the other occupant; I guess his wife, gets the engine running and with just centimetres remaining, steers the yacht out of trouble. As she motors forward he retrieves the last of the chain and along with it, his anchor completely hidden and draped in weed. I’m not sure he can see it, as he’s standing, back braced, with the chain clasped in both hands, well back from the bow. The long fronds of weed must be weighty. A second attempt to anchor fails quickly. Again he struggles, red-faced to retrieve hand over hand some 25 meters of chain; his hands must be raw. Then he shouts instructions to his wife to motor past me and further up the creek to find better holding; a decision that gives me the chance to both smile in sympathy and at the same time point and shout ‘Weed’ to him, when he got within hailing distance. Getting the message, he kneels down and looks over the bow; waving back and acknowledging my assistance. His wife, thank goodness, still fully focused on helming looked shocked and pale; I’m not sure whether it was the close shave they’d just had or the sight of me standing in my cockpit naked, smile on face, shouting and gesticulating at them. Both experiences, I conclude, equally traumatic. In any event they moor almost out of sight way up the creek.
Excitement over with, bacon and eggs and a half pint of strong milky coffee set me straight and with it time to ponder my first hold-up. Looking back, three pre-voyage demons have been slain – Portland Bill, Lyme Bay and Start Point; a real confidence booster in terms of proving to myself that my seamanship can’t be all that bad as are my navigational skills. More important is a growing faith in Equinox’s ability to take on some pretty harsh weather with great composure. The forecast doesn’t inspire me with confidence; so maybe I’ll be here for some time. A beer run ashore will raise spirits and, depending on how bad the weather is, the time to make a start the novel!
You find me moored at Fowey at 4:20pm. Quite simply a picture perfect postcard of a place! I was catapulted out of Salcombe this morning at 7:30am having spent two days marooned by bad weather. So excited was I to be on the move again, I set off on an empty stomach; the ebb tide washing me out of Salcombe at over 5 Knots with the engine barely above tick-over, dodging the armada of moored craft straining at their tethers. It looked ominously dark to the East but much brighter to the west. Once out of the harbour and accompanying wind shadow and on a broad reach, I was soon scudding along at 7+ knots and on occasions 8 and even 9 knots SOG – speed over ground! Flying indeed! Watery Landmarks shot by, many with names steeped in sailing and wrecking history; the Eddystone Lighthouse with the stub of its earlier namesake standing proudly out of an empty but dangerous sea. Seabirds keep me company, as do the Navy; proffering incessant VHF radio advice of imminent LIVE firing. I never heard a shot fired from any of the numerous vessels present and wonder what the hullabaloo was all about. Have I just sailed through and thwarted a naval exercise?
Plymouth, viewed through a massive wound of an entrance, seemed incongruously large and out of place on a coast littered by such romantically named places as Polperro, Looe and Newton Ferrers. More demons are slain as Prawle Point and Bolt Head are passed and left behind. Equinox has found her legs, she’s responding to the challenge; helping me find her sweet spots where small adjustments to sail trim transfer to greater speed or a lighter helm. I’m beginning to get to know her and how to get the very best out of her. She thrives on the wide open spaces, empty seas and consistent winds. She’s fledged from the confines of the wind-erratic Solent to her spiritual home. Her Gaff rig has come alive; her seaworthiness and stability, mostly asleep in the Solent wake to reward me with power and grace. I feel very privileged and almost sorry for having confining her in the past to those hostile silt laden grubby waters; and now see why men who worked and fished these crystal clear waters for generation upon generation; long before engines were invented, used boats with similar hulls shapes and sail configurations. My face aches from smiling; I could happily sail these waters for ever. As I motor into Foweyand find a free mooring I make a snap decision to take a rest day or two, and give myself time to explore the creeks and town itself; the decider was seeing a stunning 50 foot pilot cutter on the hard under restoration. I just know I’m going to like it here.
I left Fowey asleep at around 07:15 and motor sailed gently out on a falling tide; giving both batteries the chance of a much needed top up. Both were so flat that I had to hand crank the engine into life– one of the penalties for insisting on chilled Speckled Hen and charging my laptop’s battery using a converter! My destination is Falmouth; although I’m sorry to be leaving having found excellent company in the yacht club and elsewhere. Once outside the harbour in 12knots of wind, I set the Raymarine Tillerpilot; my devilish plan to make a bacon sandwich on the way.... But no sooner had we rounded Cannis Rock than the wind increased to 17-20 knots and came from just where the Jib and Staysail remain purposeful and not in the dirty air behind the mainsail; as they do, when on a run. 7+ knots steady SOG, sometimes 8+ meant I was within hailing distance of Falmouth by 11:30 some 22 NM covered on an empty stomach! I was thinking about carrying on to Penzance but was breakfastless; and thought too much fun and excitement on an empty stomach may not be good for one! Just before I had finally making up my mind, my PDA bleeped, heralding a fresh email. It was from Lionel Hoare, a Yarmouth Old Gaffer chum offering me his mooring in St Mawes; which lies adjacent to Falmouth and, so he tells me, far prettier! What luck! He had read my blog while sailing in Croatia; and decided to made contact, knowing where I was. So here you find me, bacon and egged, hair blown into a haystack and wind burnt; feeling thoroughly replete and watching a huge Bass nibble crustaceans off my huge red mooring buoy; it must be seven or eight pounds and not in the least phased by me watching it from above. Can it get any better? A tender ride ashore; a meander to the sailing club in the evening together with a couple or four pints of ice cold Guinness; confirm it can; Lionel’s father a generous and entertaining host!
97 PSA tests and an email from a complete stranger, who had come across my blog by accident and having read it, booked himself in for a PSA test with his GP, tomorrow in Lewisham. How randomly wonderful is that? I’m elated that the blog is creating some awareness.
Yesterday was a tough one. I left St Mawes/ Falmouth at 07:15 under engine and sail to charge the batteries for the 68+NM sail to The Scillies. Initially a following 16-18k wind from the East combined with a moderately rough sea made for quite hard work at the helm; despite trying first one then two reefs, changes of course and combinations of foresails. Every combination had a negative effect on progress which threatened my chances of being safely moored in daylight. I have never sailed to the Scillies before – and they have a bit of a reputation for being somewhat tricky. By 2pm I was already quite tired when the wind almost completely died; leaving me rolling uncomfortably. A decision had to be made motor on or re-route to Newlyn. No sooner had I made up my mind to head for Newlyn, it being marginally closer, than it suddenly returned, but directly from the North. It visibly arrived across the sea and started building to 17+ Knots within minutes with gusts up to 20knots. By now the tide was taking me North; so my course from being Westerly became more Southerly; not helped by a crossing lumpy sea that made for equally hard work at the helm and more than the Tillerpilot could cope with. Along with a change of wind direction, came a sudden drop in temperature and while clinging to the helm with both hands, struggled to put my wet weather gear on while keeping braced in the heaving cockpit. Despite the strength of the wind my SOG (speed over ground) dropped to a mere 4 knots – the foul tide and conspiring waves stopping me dead in my tracks as we ploughed on. Eventually, aching all over; after 13 hours at the helm, I pulled into St Mary’s Sound and turned starboard into Port Cressa; a safe, but quite crowded and windswept, anchorage. A bowl of soup was in order to drive out the chill, as indeed, was a Speckled Hen and lump of cheese! I don’t recall my head hitting the pillow. A rather lumpy and angst filled night followed, as the wind refused to die; not helped by my depth alarm going off at some unearthly hour. I spent this morning, (Wednesday) after a hearty cooked breakfast, motoring around St Mary’s Sound. It’s still windy and chilly, as winds often are from the North; despite cloudless skies. After searching for a quieter less wind blown spot, I’ve ended up moored in New Grimsby Sound, just off Hangman’s Island between Tresco and Bryher isalnds. Certainly calmer and with, as a big plus, easy access out into the Celtic Sea before as I attempt the North side of Cornwall. The sea is incredibly clear and the sand almost white! The New Inn in Tresco does a sterling Guinness and Salt Beef Pie and the beer is particularly good! Back for forty winks as its 2:30pm!
Padstow - but only just! Decided to make best use of the NNW wind to strike for Padstow some 68NM away. I crept out of New Grimsby Sound at 5:15am and hit a horribly rough patch of sea almost immediately. The wind had a real chill to it and I was glad I had dressed in full offshore kit. I aimed to go to the west then north of the Seven Stones but the tide and less westerly wind forced me south and east of them. Good progress was made although a passing large Gas Carrier nearly swamped me with its wash, despite being in radio contact with it and the coastguard. Wherever I turned it seemed to be heading directly towards me - although his wake was expected, the size of it when it arrived came as quite a shock. Little did I know it, but the vicious movement caused my 100lt fresh water bladder to rupture and the entire contents spread through the starboard side lockers - a bit of a design fault; although I didn’t discover the mess until much later in the day. When within 5 miles of the North West of the Longships the wind swung round to the NE – bang on my nose and dropped from 14k to 9-10K. My SOG fell to a mere 4knots and then less and less as the tide was hostile for an hour before turning fair. In that hour I was pushed back to within a stones throw of the Longships and resorted to the engine. I don’t do backwards for long! The wind remained stubbornly from the N and NE although on occasions it shifted back to NNW allowing for engineless progress under canvas; it was hard going. Yet again, the Raymarine ST2000 Raymarine Tillerpilot couldn’t cope, so the forearms took a second pummelling. The seas seem particularly steep and short with inevitable packets of aft-flying spay a penalty. I’m now a world class ducker! Once you’ve been hit in the face with a bucket of cold seawater and cleaned your sunglasses and replaced neck-towels and hat; you learn quickly! The wind fell to a slovenly 7 knots as I passed Newquay and again the iron topsail was asked to due its duty. Trevose head was just visible but hours of motoring remained. In fast dying daylight, sanctuary in the Camel Estuary, with two inbound fishing boats to keep me company, was a huge relief. I radioed ahead to check that the lock for the inner harbour was still open. Hurry up or you’ll miss it was the message. The faithful Yanmar was given another full throttle thrashing, as by now I was dead on my feet; and would have struggled to make a mooring decision in a fast-drying estuary, had I not made the lock in time. The gate lifted within minutes of me passing through and a wonderful harbour master took my lines after first directing and then coaxing me to my quayside berth. I had barely enough energy left to stand. Going below to open a ‘cold one’ I opened the under sink locker to put th empty bottle in my trash , only to find 6 inches of water in there in which all my rubbish was floating about! A taste test determined it was fresh water rather than seawater and with it a sense of relief that I hadn’t sprung a leak and wasn’t taking on water and holed. But even so, it’s not what you need when you’re totally drained and exhausted. The sheer quantity of water momentarily confused me until I checked the water bladder in the forepeak locker - all but empty! Mystery solved; and not for the first time has this happened to me. The Plastimo water bag is not nearly tough enough, I feel, for the job it has to perform. Also, for all you Crabber owners, to ponder upon, why are all the lockers connected y air or cable vents? Bloody silly! If water enters one it finds its way into all of them! Some five minutes later, the Harbourmaster had returned with a sheet of paper with everything a dog-tired sailor needs – combinations to gain entry to the shower, lavatory and laundry rooms, free WiFi password, and useful local numbers. He then turned on my shore power too. I could not have asked for more; and all of it done with such grace and professionalism. Three Huzzays for the Padstow Harbourmaster! With a Hen or two under my belt, I began what turned out to be two hours of mopping out lockers while sorting tins, jars and bottles; many without labels. So it’s possibly Baxter’s spicy parsnip soup and Ambrosia rice pudding for supper tomorrow! The combinations, in future, should not prove too repetitive! Sadly my entire stock of pasta, rice, cereals and biscuits is ruined; three carrier bags full heaved into the quayside skip. As I drift off to sleep the deck above me is littered with soaking clothing; its 1:10am and all I’ve eaten today is a couple of rounds of marmite sandwiches and two Speckled Hens. What a day!
My search for a replacement water tank was over before it began. Cornish Crabbers, the maker of Equinox, is over the river in Rock. A phone call to them and Peter Thomas agreed to come and meet me off the ferry; and t'boot offered to show me around the factory too which was impressive to say the least with lots of boats under various stages of construction. A Cornish Shrimper a week is leaving the site, I gather. I was also shown the new, first of the line, Crabber 26; the hull looks right and like all Crabbers, well engineered. 32 staff now work there and the quality of everything they build shows through. Padstow is heaving; well at least the harbour is. Walk back into the delightful rows of cottages and houses behind and the streets are all but empty - the real Padstow. Rick Stein dominates the place which somehow retains its charm and is not too spoilt by the same fashion shops seen elsewhere. Someone gave a lot of thought to the harbour facilities which are first class. Heaven only knows where all the thousands of folk go at night; as by 11pm last night the place was all but silent. Although it's been noted the seagulls don't sleep here! Maybe the sodium street lights keep them awake. Their calls seem to get more desperate as the night progresses - as if to say, 'Well, if can't sleep I'm going to make damn sure you aren't either!' Tim and Fiona Wright, chums from our village are down for the week; the good news is they have a washing machine and tumble drier; and despite protestations let me start a heavy duty cycle. Two weeks, one load. You can be frugal when needs must; and you're sailing alone! You wear them backwards, then inside out and then forwards again.... simple! Mind you when you've had a few Speckeld Hens and you can't find the opening things can get very tense! It's suddenly all catching up with me now; the stress of sailing from the Scillies; the near miss with the Gas Carrier and tiredness have sunk in; now that I’m relaxing. So another day here, I suspect. Well why not?
Padstow - for a second day. After a bottle of Champagne on Equinox with Tim nad Fiona we went and ate at Rick Steins last night - surprisingly empty because of the football – England V Germany. The food was fabulous, as one would expect and the staff first rate - no gorgeous! Feeling rather mellow and very full on a Far Eastern themed fish three course meal, I slept the sleep of the dead. The lock gate sank at around 10:30 so jumped into the tender with the Seagull farting on the transom and a gallon of fuel and set off to explore, not before sampling a handful of Rick Stein's breakfast pastry products - when in Rome......Scrumptious! The estuary needs constant dredging and even so they barely keep up, but great fun to poodle about with the trusty Seagull warbling away for mile after mile; the tide taking me upstream. A gallon of fuel later and both banks explored for miles my appetite returned, so Rick's fish and chips, seemed in order! First class too! A couple of Speckled Hens and I need props to keep the eyelids open; which, I didn't have. So I've now got burnt legs from falling asleep in the cockpit. Lucky I had a hat on! What an ass! Clovelly is the target for tomorrow and a quiet spot to recover and rub cream in to the sore bits! First I must hose the boat down; the seagulls here all seem to have the trots; hardly surprising as they live on fish and chips, it seems.
Padstow - Day 3.
St Dennis is what they (a band member) call a 'Clay Village'. Close to St Austell where china clay is extracted and exported by ship from Fowey around the world to discerning customers – It’s the best apparently. Quite miraculously, or perhaps it isn’t, they have produced a Brass Band of some 22 players. Many of whom looked in their teens, who played at lunchtime on the Quay here in Padstow. Overheard conversations during a water break in proceedings alluded to Albert Hall appearances and all manner of musical success. Now, either this voyage has got to me more than I thought it had or, and perhaps, and much more likely, my nerves are far closer to the surface than I ever thought they were, but one soloist had me embarrassingly in tears. Quite the most moving piece of music I think I’ve ever heard played on an instrument – which I later discovered was a cornet. The young girl, maybe 19, who played the piece must be a protégé as she played seemingly without taking a breath for entire passages with vast musical range, depth, sensitivity and sheer technical brilliance – not that I know a thing about Cornet playing. But the rapturous applause from the bands family, there in support, the growing crowd together with her fellow band members, suggested I’d heard something quite out of the ordinary. Isn’t life full of surprises? The experience was complimented by a truly appreciative audience, who, like me, didn’t, I assume, have a clue what to expect, but like me, were held in rapture for two hours by a group who played their hearts out in the baking sun; perspiration beading copiously and freely on every forehead. Maybe, my state of mind has been influenced by the sheer relief felt ,when I heard this morning, that Equinox has been offered a RNLI mooring in the Pool at Appledore - one of very few in the entire Tor/ Torridge estuary complex. It means Equinox will now remain afloat in all states of the tide, where as before I had anticipated either using my beaching-legs or the associated risks or drying out leaning against some wharf or dockside wall for the duration of my week long Salmon and Sea-Trout Boys Fishing Week. I don’t however; want to take anything away from the St Dennis Brass Band, who will have me in their audience this evening when they again perform. I’ll try not to blub and even if the sun is long set, will still be wearing sunglasses and a hat pulled low!
It’s time to say farewell to Padstow; laundry done and fridge restocked. Incidentally, I would recommend that if you sail there is to try and get one of the berths in the middle of the Inner harbour on the pontoons. The Quayside berths are prone to a deluge of cigarette ash and muck that gets blown off the road 10 ft above your head onto your deck. A gritty mixture that really needed hosing off every day together with the aforementioned Seagull Poo that’s so caustic it could take the shine off chrome. The lock gate sank beneath the incoming tide at about 1200 and, as a precaution; I refuelled on the outer harbour wall; before heading NE along the North Cornish Coast towards my fishing rendezvous in Devon. But first, I needed to overnight on Lundy Island – a nature reserve off Hartland point and guarding the entrance to ‘Barnstable or Bideford Bay’ – Yes, that’s what the bay is called on my Charts. Heaven’s above Devon make a choice and be done with it or, compromise and call it Barneford or Bidstable Bay! A high pressure weather system has settled over the UK so for the first time, in the bright warm sunshine I could go native and sail stark naked in the delicious 8-9 knot SE’ly – a perfect reaching wind and worth waiting that extra day for. The North Cornwall coast is dramatic with very few bolt holes to run to, if the weather deteriorates - made more, so by the long Atlantic swells crashing at the base of the seemingly endless cliffs. Lobster Pots are a real hazard but well marked generally by the fishermen using two or three coloured plastic footballs in a mesh net, as a riser float. About 2 hours into the passage a single dolphin appeared close to the boat heading in my direction. Looking for others I saw another two either side of me some 50 yards apart. Then a few seconds later I spotted in a straight line extending some 300 yards either side of the boat and about 200yards astern and following behind the three scouts perhaps a 100 or more dolphins – how do you count them! Many, I assume, mums had half sized young with them seemingly joined by invisible string that kept hem within inches of their mother. They swim effortlessly and could seemingly change direction, aspect and depth in an instant. They played with Equinox for over 20 minutes, darting around, under and across our path. Again and again a full grown dolphin came up alongside, within 10 feet with her calf, turned on her side when coming up for air and looked me and the boat over with one watery eye. Then her calf did the same. I imagined she was saying now it’s your turn to have a look at this strange boat with strange brown sails; dolphin school lesson? Among them were, what I can only assume to be, teenagers; showing off by flying out of the water next to the boat – less than 15 feet away - and landing white belly upwards, with a huge splash. One kept roaring past then flying three feet out of the water and no sooner than landing than leaping again and again and again. What show offs, what wonderful free spirited pinnacles of evolution! I whooped with joy and called to them, laughed and marvelled at their freedom and antics and apologized out loud on behalf of the entire human race for messing up their seas with our rubbish, toxins and oil. Suddenly they just vanished; not faded into the distance... simply vanished. I really cannot explain how they did it; quite bizarre! My spirits lifted immeasurably by this wild spectacle, I went below to get a cold one from the fridge and on returning to the cockpit had another memorable experience. Colin, as he has become known, is a cormorant. A sleek star-fighter of a bird busily pruning himself, after what I can only assume, had been a good lunch - sand eel soufflé and one more brandy than he should have. He was replete and prettying himself before flying home for a night out with the lads. He’d had a bad hair day and two feathers had worked loose on the top of his head which is why I noticed him about 40 yards away 3 points off my Starboard Bow; the gap narrowing quickly. Colin suddenly noticed me and started to paddle in the opposite direction, turning his head first to the left to look at me with his green eye and then to the right to do the same. After doing this a dozen times he realised I was gaining on him fast; so he abruptly turned into the wind for take off, as all sensible cormorants should do. I am not sure Colin had excelled at Cormorant flying school – Cormorant Cranwell. He quite correctly applied full power and instructed his feet to paddle madly while desperately leaning forward with the effort of beating his long slender wings furiously to gain flying speed. His wingtips after 8 or so beats were still just clipping the surface on each stroke but, as the gap was narrowing fast, Colin decided to speed up his climb rate by, with hindsight, prematurely folding away his undercarriage. This done and neck still stretched forward and slightly arched he strived for altitude on a path that would see him pass close by my stern on the diagonal. It suddenly all went terribly wrong for Colin. At a mere two feet off the water, he flew straight into Equinox’s wind shadow – the dirty air left by the sails after extracting the power from the wind; for Colin, without this 8-9 knot headwind, a stall was very much on the cards. Now if Colin had graduated with honours, he would have learnt that, in such an event, you drop your nose and apply more power. Colin didn’t! This was his first mistake. His second mistake was that he panicked and stiffened up. And as he did so, his wings shivered and his flight feathers lifted as the airflow failed. His third mistake was leaving them outstretched and in doing so he failed to remember his undercarriage was still in the up position. His final mistake, and most embarrassing for a cool dude cormorant, was he opted to let out a squawk of panic; because no sooner had he opened his beak to let out an utterance, he stalled in a puff of feathers, chest first straight into an oncoming wave. He reappeared rather like Dell Boy did after falling through the open bar in Only Fools and Horses. Without giving himself a chance to reorganise his messed up flight surfaces he was off again, this time just about airborne as he passed me by, sounding just like Muttley from the Wacky Races. Wheezing and complaining! The two loose feathers on the top of his head were missing. So the boys in the bar tonight will have nothing to throw scorn at him for! So you find me moored to a visitor’s buoy with an extraordinary looking fishing boat and one or two other visiting yachts rocking gently in no wind and a dying sea under the cliffs at Lundy Island. A perfect evening to settle down to a Jamie Oliver pasta dish and probably a Hen sharpener or two, to keep it company. Tomorrow I plan to sail to Clovelly some12 miles or so from my destination at Instow.
A stunning sunny, baking hot, June morning and time on my hands to cook breakfast. A delicious, 3slices of smoked bacon, 2 fried eggs and 2 slices of fried bread with, off course, black pudding and Lincolnshire sausages accompanied by 2 plum on-the-vine tomatoes, all done in one saucepan – not frying pan - to keep the fat spits and washing-up to a minimum, while sitting as naked as a jay bird overlooking the sea bird laden island of Lundy. (Norse for puffin) Earlier a fast motor boat, had expertly docked, while I was cooking, its wake rocking me uncomfortably, before it disgorged its binocular clad visitors some 400 yards away on a purpose built promontory. Within minutes of disembarking they were climbing the concrete pathways to the various perches to spy on the varied and bountiful wildlife. Equinox is equipped with dodgers; these functional cloth arrangements use the safety-rails to provide a wind-break for the crew, useful pockets and a place for the boat’s name to be emblazoned. They also screen the occupants from inquisitive eyes when either sitting or eating – from the shoulders down. Not for one moment did I think I would be visible from the shore. So, settling down to eat, I casually looked up from time to time to see the twitcher’s progress up the 245ft high cliff. My breakfast was delicious, the bacon cooked, just so, the eggs prefect and the tomatoes piping hot but still complete within their unbroken skins. The incident took place while I was looking up at the toiling climbers, in that a tomato skidded from my plate into my lap, having been cued off in a sorry attempt to cut a wedge off my crisp fried bread. Fortunately for me, the tomato was captured quickly. Sitting like a solitary red egg in a hairy nest, it failed to touch the nearby sensitive skin; thus giving me time to consider the numerous options. I settled on my preferred one fast... just in case. By standing up and using my knife, I coaxed the tomato out of its resting place back to its rightful spot next to the remaining fried egg. Sitting down again, I looked up to see a lady spying me through huge binoculars, some 190ft above my head and some 200 yards away. The lady lowered her glasses and turning to her partner said something to him... which I can only guess to be. ‘Derek, would you believe that man on the boat down there has just cut off the end of his own willy and is eating it!’ In response, he immediately tuned his equally large binoculars on me! I gave my predicament some thought for a moment and then still sitting and thus partly hidden, placed my left foot on top of the dodger; and pretended to hack into it with knife and fork! I can only guess what he told the others! Re-togged to spare the voyeurs, the sail to Clovelly was perfect. A steady 9-10 knot westerly set in soon after casting off from one of the very impressive visitor’s buoys and within minutes; and out of the lee of the island, we were scudding along at a brisk 5 knots under full topsail rig and a following sea. Half way back to the mainland a single porpoise passed me by, at an even brisker pace, and for the next ten minutes I pondered on versions of ’A pilot passaging past Portsmouth, Portland, Penzance and Padstow purveyed Patrick the porpoise passed portside purposefully, proving porpoises with a purpose can pass portside without pausing or permission!’ You get the drift! It’s what cannibal yachtsmen do to fill in the hours! With growing confidence and my destination in sight, albeit some 12 miles away, I’ve taken to switching off all the electronics, other than the VHF radio, to save battery life. I take half-hourly bearings on visible and obvious landmarks and plot my position directly onto the relevant chart in pencil... just in case! So should something go horribly wrong I’ll have my approximate Lat and Long position to relay over the radio to the Coastguard. All well and good I hear you say, but the thought occurred to me, that if I came to a sticky end ....perhaps wrecked on a well-charted hazard, what would the inscription be on my tombstone? ‘Here lies, turned off for ever, Simon D’Arcy, born 22 May 1951 as was his GPS and Chartplotter on June 25th 2010. May he rest in peace the silly sod!’ Sums it up nicely, don’t you think?
Another disturbed night afloat, this time at Clovelly, some 6 NM from the Tor/Torrridge estuary. I had intended this to be my port of call after Padstow, but wind and tide made Lundy Island a better late decision destination. Clovelly looks from the sea as though each house has been built on the roof of the one lower down the hillside, so steep is the gradient. A tiny stone harbour for the braver sailor offers a drying berth. Clovelly’s not a place to sail to in the dark as lobster pots/keeps litter the shoreline by the dozen and although clearly visible in daylight - tiny black flags, one could easily sail through the middle of them when making for the recommended anchorage after dusk, especially if you approach from the direction of Hartland Point. An odd mixture of incoming tide sweeping along the coast, wind coming inshore and swell coming in diagonally kept the long-keeled Equinox spinning on her anchor and spasmodically broadside to the swell. Rattle and Roll does not make for a good night. After a late scrambled eggs and coffee, I headed for the RNLI mooring in Appledore Pool - my home for the next week. Timing is everything as up to a 5 knot tide run out of this fast drying estuary and accompanying constantly shifting bar, at the entrance, on which impressive rollers crash., A mixture that demands precise planning and careful navigation for a first timer. You pick up the fairway buoy no earlier than 2 hours before high tide and head on a course of 118 degrees precisely. The joyride begins just offshore and parallel to Braunton Sands at some 7 knots SOG with the engine at little over tick-over, massive waves breaking to starboard and constant helm adjustments needed in the swirling eddies. Then a dog leg to starboard and still running at incredible speed you’re swept upstream towards Bideford. Loose your concentration for a moment and the depth reduces alarmingly - alarm blaring and accompanying panic attacks. The underwater ledges, to your port, are wicked. I’ve fished off their jagged ridges at low tide; and I dread to think what the consequences of an engine failure or a misread approach would be. I then had trouble finding the RNLI mooring and resorted to asking a chap on a massive rib where it was. He pointed out a single red buoy, which I had passed twice but was deterred by the ‘No Landing or Mooring’ printed on it. The No Landing gives a clue as to its size; and even so, the sheer power of the tide was pushing it half under. Trailing some 12 feet behind it in the 4 knot current, were two tethers as thick as my arm! Writhing pythons! I’ve never picked up a mooring in such circumstances; and it took four attempts before I got the throttle set correctly - approaching upstream at barely a snail’s pace. Then using my Raymarine Tillerpilot’s hand-held remote control coaxed her to a rendezvous with the tethers. This meant kneeling at the bow, boathook in one hand, remote in the other, making constant directional changes in the swirling current and then finally, when close enough making a lunge for one of them....... Never again! I really mean never! The three failed approaches had me sweating with angst as each was made slightly too fast, so I either ran over the tethers, dashing back to the cockpit to put the engine in neutral before a tether tangled in the prop; or simply messed up grabbing one with the book hook. With hindsight, I should have waited until slack water, but in my defence, I never expected the mooring, described in Reeds Almanac as being in ‘Appledore Pool’ to be in the main channel. Pool to me means tranquil, still or slow moving. Evidently I'm wrong, so a lesson learnt! A well chilled Speckled Hen was in order, as I started packing for disembarkation! I do so love that word. It sounds like a Jamaican vet’s description of canine surgery. ‘Cum back t’morra mornin Miss Marley and collect y’dog; I’ll disembark him in d’operatin theatre dis’afta noon . He’ll be reel quiet f’you den!’
I’m leaving Equinox for a week’s Salmon and Sea Trout fishing. I am rather nervous about leaving her in such a strong current; so belt and brace everything; choosing to leave the engine in gear, as the current, I notice spins the prop when in neutral; then lock everything after removing all the instruments from the boat. Perhaps overkill, but I’d be stumped if it was stolen or vandalised. Equinox has a fitted cover which I hope will be a deterrent. I motor ashore to be met by Tim Stoop and Angi his wife; first deflating the dinghy I load their 4x4 to the brim.
The heat has been so intense that daytime fishing has been largely abandoned until today. The odd foray to flick a tiny dry fly for brown trout in some of the shadier stretches curtailed after an hour or two by thirst and lethargy of both angler and fish. There seems to be so much fly life, I suppose due to the heat, that the trout are full to the gills....literally! Our usual daytime quarry, the salmon, has been seen in small numbers and by their silvery colour, considered fresh-run, so they’re obviously coming into the river; despite the dearth of water; but it’s unlikely they’re catchable; so instead we conserve our energy for the night – and what fishing we’ve had. A record sized, for us, sea trout is now featured in ‘Trout and Salmon’ magazine, as are the 4 caught in one night by yours truly. A good-sized fresh run 9lb.8oz salmon too at 12:30am, yes, that’s AM, also features. What’s been so incredibly encouraging is to witness the sheer numbers of running sea trout. Untold hundreds even thousands pouring into the river from the estuary each night despite the state of it; then somehow to forge their way upstream. It’s magical to watch them in the moonlight fight their way through the rapids and shallows and into the next pool, resting and then pushing on - easy pickings for the otters that interrupt our fishing most nights in one or other of the numerous tranquil pools. Last night Tim and I had a hissing match with a mother and two quite mature cubs! Eel numbers have dropped savagely recently, their usual dietary mainstay, so Lamprey now feature – a fish I’m not sorry to see eaten – as ugly as sin! Mink too make their presence felt - one, unseen but heard, black devil savaged a rabbit in the margin at Cattle Drink Pool a few nights ago – a truly dreadful heart-wrenching sound at 2am in the morning when one’s hearing is more acute to make up for the eye’s deficiency – a very unsettling moment, to say the least. Catch sizes and weights, although religiously recorded, are not; and never have been the primary focus; instead our ‘boy’s week’ is measured by laughter, each other’s company and the excellent food enjoyed by us all each night as we take in turns to serve our ‘signature dish’ – in my case a fish pie. Then bursting at the seams, we head for the river around 10pm; all of us sweaty and some – no names here, venting like troopers – a self inflicted noxious penalty when done inside chest high wadders! Yesterday evening it all changed, along with southerly winds came almost continuous rain for 6 hours - until sometime early morning. The river responded, rising an inch or two and dropping quite a few degrees – huge relief, no doubt, for the fish. Our tally rising with a stunningly beautiful 5.8lb sea-trout caught in Log Pool. Tonight’s our last night. The river is in perfect condition but first we have Roast Lamb to content with. One of Richard Wood’s self-reared 2 horned Jacobs. I see yet another sweaty night’s work ahead! Tomorrow a big shop and then back to Equinox and prepare for perhaps my toughest leg yet – Milford Haven.
Appledore - restocked and fished out!Last night’s fishing was incredible. I drew Log Pool; a dark 30-50ft wide stretch of river with the opposite bank overgrown with trees that makes the pool rather forbidding and sultry. The overhanging trees provide excellent shade, as do the bank’s numerous bays- scars left by ancient oaks and willows, flourishing one year, gone the next, that bear testament to the river’s awesome power which bodily tore them out. One or two lie stranded and bleached in the shallows, their sunken braches a haven for sea trout. It was among these that I silently slid into the water at 22:30. Over the next two hours I lost two Peels – young sea trout - and then, just as the moon showed and mist started settling on the river a huge fish took my fly with shocking force. My rod was yanked down and the fly line shot out of the water to form a straight line to the fish, the line in hand torn from my fingers. Then nothing...gone! That was it. I will never know how big it was, or indeed what it was, but never in 45 years of fishing have I experienced anything like it. It was very hard to get to sleep, when I eventually hit the hay at around 2:30; with one further sea trout landed and taken for the larder. It’s what dreams are made of! Goodbyes over breakfast followed by a quick trip to the supermarket and here I am back on Equinox. The wind, although dying now at 8pm, was gusting F5-6 earlier and left their legacy; massive breakers crashing on Bideford Bar a mile away, as I arrived here this morning. After last night’s excitement, together with a forecast warning of gale force winds dictates a further day here to recover and time to give the engine a service. Of some surprise is the extent of the weed that has grown in just a week on the hull. How on earth it retains a grip in a 4 knot current is a mystery. Maybe it was there already and mooring in this tidal stream provided it with perfect growing conditions. Another job......
Appledore day 2 and family time, Gina, my wife, decided many weeks ago to attend a school reunion near Bridgewater, a lunchtime affair and within striking distance of Appledore; so at the last minute, we arranged to meet on the RNLI slipway at 14:30 - how romantic is that! This would probably be our last chance to meet before Anglesey in August. James, our eldest son, jumped at the chance to join us; taking his Yamaha R6 the scenic route down the coast from Bristol; a three hour ride. Arriving blue with cold and suffering from the motorcyclist’s curse ‘dead man’s fingers’; a vibration and temperature induced symptom, that drains blood from your fingers. Sunshine, he said, had turned to drizzle halfway and he was not properly dressed for it. Within minutes it started drizzling in Appledore too! A warm waterside pub was found overlooking the estuary and a relaxing time spent catching up on a month’s separation, as the men’s tennis final was screened unwatched in the corner. A fruitless search an hour or two later for somewhere to eat prompted James to head back to Bristol, the sun breaking through as he left. A curry was on the cards with Heff, his flatmate, later that evening would no doubt, restore some blood flow. Gina and I had a lovely al fresco evening on the boat, a Pasta supper and rather too much chocolate. An early run ashore next morning in the tender was planned as Gina had a Practice meeting at 2pm and I had to vacate my mooring too. Another rough and restless night, as the wind got up and while Equinox strained on her tether, her skipper pondered what the notorious Bideford Bar would have in store!
With Gina, safely shore side and mostly dry, in the choppy conditions; I had two hours to prepare Equinox before the flood tide made it safe to cross the bar. Then casting off, my first problem became apparent. The weed growth hampered performance alarmingly. Indeed, I could manage just 1.3 knots over the incoming stream. Gunning the engine to try and clean some of the crud off the prop, I inched out past the lifeboat and a then two miles with 18k wind, 3k+ tide and growing seas, right on the nose, made for torrid progress. The seas grew as I approached the bar, to the point that one mighty wave caused my hatch to fly forward on its runners with such force that when it hit the two rubber stops they shattered the fibreglass and flattened the handle used to open the hatch from within the cabin. Then the anchor dislodged itself from its cradle and threatened to embed itself in the hull, or fly loose on the deck, so an urgent run forward to replace it was made. The two retaining pins had bent, so securing the anchor with one bent pin, I returned with a hammer to straighten it and then repeated the exercise with the other; getting numerous soakings for my pains. Although harnessed, it hampered my progress to the point that I considered abandoning it; until that is, a huge wave nearly knocked me off my feet not once but twice. Scared? Yes, VERY! The rough seas and lack of engine power made the exit a 2 hour affair; so freezing cold, wet and tired, I decided to head to the familiar anchorage on Lundy Island and seek refuge in the lee of its huge cliffs. How I thought I could ever have made Milford Haven, I really don’t know. Conditions in Barnstable Bay were far worse than I had envisaged and I suppose, I really should have turned back.....but The Met gave me just a 48 hour window to get to Wales; and I though I would be strong enough to sail there overnight. As it was I didn’t get to Lundy until 5:30pm – a 7 hour sail to cover under 23nm! Completely exhausted having pickled up a very welcome visitor’s mooring , I first wolfed down a bowl of soup then straightened out the mess below which included, not surprisingly, more water ingress; then dead on my feet, hit the sack to warm up both my aching body and bruised body and soul. My worse day yet.... yes; and by long way.
Yet another rough night, the wind changed from a northerly to a westerly so by midnight the boat was being tossed about uncomfortably in the swell, in the now exposed bay. By 6:30am it was easier to sit up than lie down, so abandoned the idea of further sleep. A quick peek out of the hatch showed that three other yachts moored close by had had enough and fled. First I cleared the speed sensor of weed, as I had no boat speed yesterday during my sail to Lundy; only SOG from the GPS. The brass paddle wheel covered in greenery and gunge, so no wonder it didn’t work! Then after a pork pie and can of coke for breakfast, I slipped my mooring and motor sailed around the south of the Island and headed for Milford Haven. In contrast to yesterday, what little wind there was soon dropped to almost nothing, so progress was painful as the spars crashed around in the choppy conditions, especially in the tidal race around Rat Island. Long Atlantic swells from the west making matters worse. A small pod of dolphins cheered me up as they hesitated for a few minutes; playing around me. My engine probably an assault on their fine tuned senses. Then the wind slowly returned from the west and with it a gentle reach became possible without the noise, thank heavens, of crashing spars to contend with. So, thankfully, with the engine off and topsail flying we made steady progress north. Some hours later and well out of site of land, still in blazing sunshine, the wind slowly increased and with it our rate of progress, averaging just over 5.5knots. By 2pm the wind had backed more southerly and our pace improved further along with weather helm! A penalty I decided to put up with, as it shortened journey time; I should have taken the topsail down but a consistent 6 knots is intoxicating. With the entrance to Milford Haven just in sight, some 12 miles away, I opted to sail into the harbour entrance and into calmer waters before taking down the topsail, as the sea really was building and really getting pretty rough. Closing in fast from behind, a beautiful black hulled Bristol Pilot Cutter, which I’d seen moored at Lundy Island and which had probably left hours after me but was within a mile as I closed the entrance. She had moored shortly after me last night, approaching from the South in a cloud of brown canvas, her perfect 70ft hull and massive mast and bowsprit made me green with envy. As we approached Milford Haven she must have been doing at least 10 knots or more, her bow covered in foam, her sails full, taught, wrinkle free and translucent in the evening sun. What an awesome, truly awesome sight! Milford Haven is huge, mile upon mile of oil related terminals and now with topsail down, we sped the last 7 miles upstream to Neyland yacht haven in deliciously smooth conditions. The Neyland Lifeboat brought in a motor boat on a long tow line that had reported engine failure near St David’s head. A petrol driven water pump, sat on its cabin roof disgorging a thick stream of water, it was pumping from within. I assume it must be holed to disgorge such a constant volume. Hours earlier, I’d been listening on Channel 16 to the unfolding story, as Milford Coastguard dealt with the event in a most professional manner; a rescue that involved a small rib offering a temporary tow to the stricken motor boat away from rocks that its drift suggested it would founder on; well before the lifeboat arrived. Why the pump? Maybe it was more than engine failure and had hit the rocks!
Neyland Yacht Haven, sits in a cleft in the hills. We were given a wonderful berth which we could blow onto. A berthing master took my lines and made me welcome. Within minutes it really began to blow and with it came rain, drizzle, mist, the lot.... Welcome to Wales! We had got here just in time. The wind alarm was sounding as I switched off the engine and electrics - 25Knots! Phew, by the skin of my teeth, I’d made it.....just within the 48 hours that the Met had indicated. Good planning or just luck! A fantastic much-needed meal at the Neyland clubhouse, a few pints, then back to Equinox and my first good night’s sleep for what seems days, stuffed to the gills. Perfect! I woke at 10am - 12 hours deep, deep sleep. I don’t recall ever sleeping that long....Is it getting to me?
Clear water in Neyland Marina gave me the chance to have a closer look at Equinox’s hull and prop from the pontoon. Not good! I’ve never seen her hull so fouled with billions of 3-4inch strands of very fine hair-like weed, despite the mullet grazing on it almost continuously. Barnacles cluster on the props brass hub and the first third of each blade. I have no choice but to address this, as the engine gives little more than three knots before the prop starts cavitating – making manoeuvring in a marina difficult and certainly not enough oomph to tackle some of the obstacles on the Welsh coast ahead. Looking at the charts, Dale looked ideal. A shingle beech and excellent facilities at the nearby yacht club, a local pub and anchorage with plenty of visitors buoys; made it an easy choice. A dreary drizzle set in as I left Neyland under sail, the 8nm sail took 4 hours, hampered by the garden I was dragging and variable to light winds coming from every direction as it bounced off the mighty tankers moored along mile after mile of Milford Haven’s numerous jetties. Halfway there and having just put a tack in, a powerful rib screamed out from under a concrete jetty and its wetsuit clad helmsman politely scolded me for getting within 100m of a gas terminal jetty, the bearded Duke of York look-alike, relaying the harbour master’s displeasure! Sorry your Royal Highness, it won’t happen again! Arriving at Dale, two hours after high tide I quickly put on her beaching legs and motored cautiously towards the beach. Crunch! We’ve landed! A kedge anchor lowered from the stern, some 80ft before grounding will hopefully help me haul her off later on or, prevent me being nudged further up the beach by wind and waves, if the weather deteriorates. Eight hours of scrapping and scouring later and exhausted, I slump into bed, hungry, rather evil smelling and itchy from being salty and wet; despite wearing wadders. Setting the alarm for 2:30am I doze fitfully as Equinox has dried out at a jaunty angle and I need horizontal to sleep properly! Silencing the wakeup alarm and boxer clad only with Equinox gently grinding on the shingle I left the warmth of my sleeping bag to face the drizzle and surprisingly warm wind to relocate her. Engine running, I hauled in the kedge, carried it up to the bow and tied it on; then motored out to an empty spot in the anchorage dumped the whole lot over the side while reversing. With anchor set and the GPS anchor alarm on, I towelled down and crawled back into bed; warmer and less salty than before I started this odious task. I slept well knowing it was a job well done! I can safely tackle the next leg to Fishguard – around Skomer Island, St Brides Bay and the Bishops and Clerks and Saint David’s head. There are shortcuts that could save many hours......but... I’m not sure I’m brave or experienced enough to take them on unaccompanied.
An apprehensive ponder in Dale
Why is that vast tracts of our offshore coastline have become dumping grounds for unexploded ordinance? I am sure there’s a very valid reason; but I’ve now crossed over or skirted 12 sites since leaving Chichester! Someone in munitions procurement seems to be either overly exuberant or perhaps on a serious kick-back, if the only way they can expend the unused stockpile is drop them onto the seabed. Rotten chickens, rancid butter or stale bread, I can just about understand; but munitions? Have they got a shelf life? It seems they must have. I’m crossing two huge dumping grounds tomorrow. If these dumps consist of largely redundant cannonballs from Waterloo or Long Bow arrows from Agincourt they wouldn't, one assumes, get a nmention on marine charts. Obviously they're not; so one is drawn to conclude that they’re probably WW1 mustard or chlorine gas shells or some recent devilish bacteriological contraption with an intricate timer and corroded fuse that’s being nibbled at by a crab with a death wish and a penchant for a serious high. What was wrong with letting the bloody things off anyway; just for the fun of the bang or selling them to some interested party while they still had a chance to impress. Maybe they were just too damn dangerous to do that, if so, why dump them just a few miles offshore? What’s wrong with 50 or 100 miles out to sea? I read somewhere there’s a wreck in the Thames estuary that has enough explosive potential to blow the windows out of houses 20 miles away. Maybe I’ll put my clothes back on again tomorrow to keep all my bits together.... just in case.....
Dale to Fishguard Another rather restless lumpy night at Dale together with a forecast of a reasonably good weather for the next 24 hours, combined with the clean hull and prop, gave me a good reason and the confidence needed, to slay the next series of demons – St Ann’s Head, Skomar Island and Jack Sound, ST Brides Bay, the daunting Ramsey Sound and the Bishops and Clerks complex of islands and rocks before St David’s Head and finally Strumble Head - a 40+nm passage and a tough day’s sailing from all that I had read and seen – pictures in Dale and Neyland’s pubs and clubs of shipwrecks and storms! On the plus side, there are quite a few safe havens and numerous possible anchorages along the route intended. But the series of low pressures surrounding the UK meant wind direction could easily change as the day progressed, making many of them unsafe, if not downright dangerous. In addition, there are numerous route options and shortcuts in between the islands and the mainland itself. The tidal flows that surround these hazards are some of the fiercest in the UK and nigh impossible to tackle if approached outside the small tidal window most of them offer – making timing absolutely critical. So following a rather good fish gumbo and a 10 oz steak at Dale Yacht Club and input from three other skippers drinking pints at the bar was able to filter out from them and what I had read, what was probably my best solution. One said he would be leaving Dale at 10am to cover half my anticipated route, picking up another sailing chum in St David’s before sailing on to Cardigan the day after. I too aimed to slip moorings at the same time and take advantage of some welcome company. Sure enough next morning at 10am, not one but two yachts were leaving Dale and both turned right out of Milford Haven, as did I. Confidence building! All of us kept Stokholm Island to port and then one veered off, setting course for Ireland, it seemed; leaving just the two of us. I had opted to go around the outside of Skomer Island and thus avoid Jack Sound and the much narrower sound to its west. My decision was based on that route giving me a better reach across St Brides Bay; and kinder on Equinox in the expected heavy’ish seas. The other yacht chose Jack Sound. That’s odd I thought, taking a different route to the one we discussed the night before- if indeed he was the same person I had had the discussion with. Silly not to have made arrangements, but I didn’t want to ask for company or assistance – ego! But no sooner than we had Stockholm Island behind us and on course for Ramsey Island than the wind veered, negating the extra miles I’d sailed. I had also forgotten to change my VHF back from Ch 86 to 16 where Milfod Haven Coastguard provide a regular local weather service; so I missed, as I was later to learn, an imminent gale warning! The other yacht must have heard it and changed plans. So it was with some surprise that the wind increased quite dramatically to 17-23knots and visibility dropped with it, as I made our way across St Brides Bay. The Bay is a mooring spot for tankers waiting to take their turn in Milford Haven and it was in the lee of one of these Behemoths’ that I was forced to take shelter, put a reef and set off again as the wind increased further; gusting to over 25 knots. Visibility was falling too as drizzle and mist closed in. No sign of the other yacht either in front or behind me. Had he turned back? Fortunately, after three further tacks, the wind came back around to a more SW’ly which, allowed for much better progress, as I approached my next decision – go west and to seaward of the Bishops and Clerks or the much shorter route through Ramsey Sound. I chose Ramsey Sound, having realised that I’d forgotten to change the VHF back to 16 which; on doing so, heard a repeat of the gale warning! We shot through Ramsey Sound in disturbed choppy water; Equinox being thrown off course by the swirling currents. Not unpleasant but it keeps you focused on the task in hand as your SOG is 9+knots and there are hazards! Crossing Whitesands Bay, the wind slowly dropped and even the sun made a brief appearance and of huge relief, the seas calmed considerably; so thinking conditions had settled for the time being and seeing no dark clouds, shook out the two reefs. St David’s Head has a well publicised race, once you’ve passed it, heading NE, as I was about to discover, which throws, what appeared to me to be, when I first noticed them, a line of waves, exactly the same as those breaking on a sandbar, so I quickly re-checked both the map and plotter to make doubly sure I hadn’t made a navigational error. No, I was where I thought I was, and there’s plenty of water some 17-33 meters of it ahead..... but why the waves! I had barely a few minutes, I guessed, to both fret and get ready for a pummelling! The next twenty minutes were .....well ..... rather mind blowing! With both engine and sail, I rode this bucking bronco of a race; facing Equnox’s bow into the waves which I thought might break on us and then turning back on course to rise and fall, like a roller coaster, the ones that didn’t seem to be a threat. Inevitably I read some wrong and poor old Equinox was thrown sideways and buried in foam. It’s going to be messy down below again, I though; having earlier put the washboards in, so for time being, couldn’t see how bad – I could just hear it! I first double checked then triple and quadruple checked my grab bag with essentials was clipped on beside me. I even removed the life-raft cover! On and on it went; and after yet another crunching, cockpit filling wave left me still upright and with nothing broken, decided Equinox was up to the challenge and actually started to enjoy it... a bit! Hell, it’s what makes the voyage a challenge, after all! Suddenly it’s all over and you’re back in, what seem to be, ideal conditions. A sigh of relief, a quick check all is in order, a peek though the hatch to realise it’s not too bad down there and then focus back on getting to Strumble Head as quickly as possible before the gale that had been forecasted arrives. I didn’t make it. The wind got up when we were some four miles away and although on a reach found it almost impossible to helm Equinox as she wanted to broach, turning into the wind, as gusts reached 30+Knots. Around the head we flew and then another race to contend with, not nearly as bad, as the last one, but still hard work. With that behind me, I needed shelter fast, so in a small bay with my bow just 20 meters from the cliff face, but still in 20 meters of water, took down her sails and motored the remaining miles into Fishguard Bay and past the huge breakwater. Relief at last! Motoring into Lower Town, the recommended anchorage, opposite the ferry terminal, I saw some empty buoys and also three men who seemed to be cleaning up after a sail. With engine idling and close by, I shouted out a request for guidance and was immediately directed to a buoy some 200 meters away. Thanking them profusely, I motored across, picked up the suggested buoy and then slumped down among the mess in the cabin, with the kettle on, to make a much needed brew. 10 hours at the helm! What a day! Little did I know it, but three fun filled days were to follow with some of the nicest people you could possibly meet. With tea half drunk, I could hear the sound of oars approaching and one of the men from the yacht, I’d been given directions by, following introductions, asked whether I cared to join them for a pub dinner ashore and a few beers! 5 minutes later, mess left, wet clothes abandoned, I was in my tender dressed in best drinking trousers, rowing towards their yacht for joining instructions........!
Fun in Fishguard Antony, Nicolas and Richard proved to be excellent company and over the next three days we sailed in Antony’s Moody, visited pubs, fixed Nicolas’s ancient Kingfisher diesel engine, newly installed in his Drascombe which, had not run for years and shared a great many laughs – mostly at each other’s expense! It's made much easier, when you have many common interests – fishing, shooting, dogs and sailing and, as is often the case, shared values too. I hope we keep in touch, as indeed I do with Ant's friend Nick who joined us for a meal, early sail and got a ducking while disembarking into Nico's tender for his troubles. Fishguard, once a major hub for shipping cattle and horses to and from Ireland, prior to the railways, suffered from it’s remote location and unsuitability to be added to the rail network; so lost out to Holyhead further North and Cardiff to the South - exacerbated by the breakwater being built in the wrong place – and the suicide of the man responsible. On the plus side, it is largely unspoilt with wonderful sailing along the coast with numerous bays, inlets and fishing villages to explore. One or two of these villages have become Chelsea-by- the-Seas, full for a few brief months and populated largely by those who can afford second homes. A reflection of the times means that quite a few are up for sale; but still at absurdly high prices, although 30-40% less than what they were selling for two or three years ago. There’s talk of a new marina being built, which could be a great success with easy access to Ireland and wonderful sailing nearby. Nicolas, the only one of the musketeers, who lives nearby, remains; the others have left for the Midlands. So alone again, I sit on my mooring in bright sunshine one moment and torrential rain the next. Aberystwyth, some 40 miles away; is my next destination, but first the wind, gusting madly, with worse forecasted, means I may be stuck here for a further day or two yet. Of some concern, I’ve just discovered my milk has gone off and my bread mouldy in the damp! Stocks of Speckled Hen are dangerously low too. The crew will, I'm sure, be forced to mutiny. It’s time to call it a day!
In trouble at AberystwychI decided last night it was time to flee from Fishguard after spending the day on the computer. The weather admittedly was slightly marginal with a SW wind up to F5 gusting 6. I dropped the mooring at 7am and in sunshine with one reef in and engine running set off for the 50+nm – almost a dead run to Aberystwych. I picked up a favourable tide and was soon without engine and batteries charged, wallowing along with following waves at 6+knots. The coastline is made up of near vertical cliffs and headland after headland and as each sped by so it was marked off on the chart. The rock formations vary as do the fields perched on their steep sides and both make for interestng cruising. Cardigan Island at 20 nm, provided a suitable spot to hide behind and tie in a second reef, as the wind had increased and worryingly ominous looking clouds closed up from behind, totally reducing visibility of the more distant headlands already passed. The miles sped by as Equinox hovered around the 9knots SOG. When within 10 miles of Aber, a gale warning was issued for the Irish Sea, by Milford Haven Coastguard, indicating winds gusting F8 and more! With foresails furled after hearing the warning, the wind started increasing and with it, the following sea ... quite quickly and dramatically! By the time I could see Aber clearly thorugh the rain and drizzle the seas had grown further and with engine running, I turned into wind to drop the mainsail and prepare to enter the rather tortuous concrete entrance a mere 25-50 meters meters wide with huge waves exploding on the breakwaters on both sides which, has to be approached at a precise amgle of 133degrees. I was unable to stow the sail, the sea being just too rough to stand up on the deck and deal with the ties, but as there were two reefs in, only a small billow of sail hung down to hamper matters; once, that is, the gaff was lowered and topped off. Gusts of 38 Knots and more were making helming interesting, as I followed exactly the recommended course in. Thank God for chart plotters. My screen, set to highest detail gave me precise bearings and attack angle and fighting tide, waves and wind, shot through the narrow entrance into calm water, albeit with a strong outward flow as the tide was now ebbing fast. Quite a few people had gathered on the breakwater to watch. Indeed some were gesturing to me. Once inside, a further call on VHF Ch80 to Aber Marina was answered with instructions on where to go; as I had already told them I was unable to fender up and had not prepared my lines, for risk of them being washed over the side and into the prop! Aber harbour is tight and congested... very, at low tide! So there’s little, if any manoeuvring room. The instructions given were concise and having followed them, could see two men indicating frantically from a vacant slot on a pontoon. With engine idling, I let the wind do the work and it blew me sideways into my slot where professional hands held me off while I fended up and with their help tied Equinox on securely. At this point, the marina manager gave me a bollocking for being out; adding as a rider, that he was the recently retired coxswain of the lifeboat! I explained that I had judged the passage as OK, or at very worse, a little marginal. He however, was adamant that I should not have even set off! Claiming he knew about the weather warning long before Milford Coastguard announced it! He said that Marinemet had forecasted the gale as early as 7am this morning! A service I don’t use, but maybe should? Then a charming man, called Keith, all smiles, in a RNLI sweater and carrying a clipboard, introduced himself and asked whether I would mind filling in an 'incident form' as they had launched the inshore lifeboat on my behalf! I hadn’t even seen it. He explained that a member of the public had seen me out a sea trying to stow the mainsail and had called the RNLI on his mobile. They in turn had called Milford Haven Coastguard who tried calling me on Ch16 and failed. The RNLI too, had tried calling me on CH16 and having not received a response assumed I was in difficulty. By the time they had launched, I had passed ‘The Trap’ an evil rock formation right on the northern side of the narrow harbour entrance, that they had judged, by looking at my inbound track, I was about to wreck myself on! The explanation I gave Keith was that I was on Ch80 talking to the marina, so could not have heard either of the calls on Ch16. Anyway, he left all smiles and happy, once he realised I had some experience, had done all I could, and had all the right survival kit on board and had just been unlucky to get a gale blow up at short notice on a longish passage. Apparently, ‘The Trap’ is responsible for a considerable number of lost souls over the years, in conditions not too dissimilar to todays! The boat prettied up with a ‘Harbour Stow’ and with me showered and shaved and coded up with WiFi and gate locks, I grabbed a large bag of appallingly dirty and very niffy washing and set of for the Laundrette – such a romantic life! Surprisingly no one followed me, as I walked with the bag held out at arms length! Had anyone asked, I was returning a nervous skunk, with a case of bad flatulence and halitosis, to its owner! A pizza and two dreadful locally brewed beers from a chilly and very dour wine bar across the bridge finds me tucked up with the rain thrumming off the cabin roof and gusts blowing Equinox quite some way from the vertical, I’m settled in for the night, tucked up in my sleeping bag with a Speckled Hen – the last one! A supermarket sweep is mandatory tomorrow to track some more down... Vital survival kit and only a suitably impressive stockpile will induce the crew to stave off their planned mutiny! The gossip on board is rife! A footnote! Just heard that Melanie Jago has written a peice about the voyage and Prostate Cancer awareness in the Cornish Guardian.
The Gannet - Day 2 - Aber - Woke very late and after a long chat with Peter Moore on the phone, who had read the previous day’s blog; felt the need for another scalding shower (the call and shower arn't connected!) and then a wander into town; where vital stores were requisitioned at Somerfield’s and then stowed securely on board. A case of Speckled Hen being squirreled away in secret corners was on special offer – a real bonus! Mutiny over! The voyage may continue...... A wander along the breakwater to re-evaluate my entrance into the harbour yesterday, was not as pleasant as it might have been due to a very fishy smelling breeze coming ashore over a granite coloured sandy beach that eventually led me up to the castle ruins and then on to a recommended restaurant ‘The Gannet’ at the top of the town. Pictures of Concorde and famous celebs on the wall suggested someone connected with the restaurant had a past career at British Airways. My waitress, the owner's wife, explained that it was her husband who was in most of the pictures and the man in charge of menus and recipes for all of Concorde’s food. Good omen, I thought. And I was right. I’ll be damned if I know how they remain in business having first a huge delicious smoked fish pie with cheesy mashed potato on top to start with (in a ramekin the size of a soup bowl and a peppered sirloin steak and locally grown vegetables to follow. A crying shame that there was simply no room left for puddings as those served on adjacent tables looked splendid. Two good sized glasses of wine and excellent fresh bread and unsalted welsh butter kept the meal company as did a cup of coffee. £12 the lot! No wonder the place was almost full. Having semi digested lunch; I got around to fitting the new water tank/bladder, at last, and have thankfully, dispensed with the huge plastic water carrier bought in Devon that I’ve shared the cabin with. I will not miss the sloshing noises at night that emanated from it one little bit; nor the way it slid dangerously around the cabin sole when sailing in a bit of rough. As part of the exercise, I turfed out the contents from all the lockers as one or two seemed to have got a bit musty; then gave the lot a good airing before re-stowing. It’s good to have a fresh idea of inventory too; having been at sea for 6 weeks now; I’d forgotten what was where. All this activity makes a growing boy hungry...
Aber day 3 - Strange Goings-on!The wind whistles constantly through the rigging of nearby boats and the constant slap slap slap of halyards against masts, a reminder that another depression is on its way from the SW. Bouts of heavy rain and F7 gusting winds preventing me from sailing north; although one bilge keeled yacht, also circumnavigating the UK, headed off for Barmouth , a short hop up the coast. In between showers a long solitary walk around the University and town, was rudely interrupted, when a uniformed policeman wearing blue rubber gloves grabbed my attention when he started smashing the front passenger door window of a parked Ford. His truncheon proving not a very effective weapon as, again and again, it bounced off before the glass suddenly succumbed. Sadly, the occupant had parked to watch the impressive waves batter the seafront and had, it appeared died, behind the wheel. An ambulance crew took her away, while the police cleared up the broken glass with a handy yellow plastic dustpan and brush they produced from their car’s boot. Seems it may be a regular occurrence in Aber, so well rehearsed were they at cleaning up. Mind you, she might have just pulled over to have a quick lunchtime snooze. The noise of the truncheon on glass, loud for me a bystander, must have been horrific in the car, a catalyst for a heart attack! The two rivers called the Rheidol and Ystwyth that meet in Aber are very swollen and although appear crystal clear, are actually iron brown and make an extraordinary stain, in the proximity of the harbour entrance, as they run out and mix with the sea. This iron, I leaned yesterday, reacts with the sea water and produces the weird fishy smell mentioned in an earlier post. Another rather quirky occupation is for, what appear to be seemingly normal middle aged men, to get their partners to photograph them standing right on the edge of the seawall as spay spectacularly bursts skyward accompanied by a wonderfully deep crump from below. Absolutely soaked, itching and cold, they go home happy in the knowledge that they can show friends what a wonderful time they’ve had in Aber. The giggling and rather embarrased, photographers often messing up their first attempts to get the composure just right meant that two had to go back for a second ducking. Leaving the scene, after first checking the camera that the act had been captured, between gritted teeth and wondering what the hell were they thinking of! ‘Daft Buggers!’ You can almost hear onlookers mutter in unison, as they wander off shaking their heads in disbelief!
Aber to Pwllheli – July 19thPronounced Pa-thel-ee, this World Heritage site, is where you find me, after a rather frustrating wait for the flood tide to deliver sufficient water into Aber harbour to make good my escape which, eventually it did at 11:40. Even so, a momentarily gravelly kiss in the narrow channel before turning hard to starboard at the end of the wooden jetty and then holding a recommended course of 310deg; alluded to my unbridled enthusiasm to get on the move again. The depth alarm continued to keep up its annoying warning, that less than a meter of water was under the keel. Stopping for a second or two each time Equinox lifted to the incoming swell – a residue of the previous day’s storms; then expecting each plunge to culminate in a gravelly thump; which, thankfully never happened. Eventually silenced and when well away from ‘The Trap’ and the nearby pier head perils, turned Equinox into the wind, quickly hoisted the mainsail, killed the engine and while still turning back on course, let fly the staysail and gib; sheeting them in quickly to do their duty. Done well, this looks impressive; and I knew some of the other crews were watching, as we had exchanged goodbyes on the way out! Joy of Joys, my demonstration of solo seamanship was executed to near perfection and Equinox with all three sails drum tight, first heeled then rocketed forward with the help of a following sea and 18 knots of wind, foam creaming down her lee side up the rails. Her tan sails and dark hull must have looked stunning in the sun, contrasted by dark storm clouds coming in from the SW over a grey green sea covered with white caps. Just time for a final wave and one last lingering look at the brightly multi-coloured sea front houses, ruins, monument and Funicular Railway before refocusing on the lengthy passage ahead. Had I made amends for my rather chaotic arrival days before? I doubt it; they bear grudges around here! Cardigan and Tremadog Bays offer numerous options for the sailor; with Sarn Badrig (St Patrick’s Causeway) by far the largest and most intimidating obstacle, separating the two. In addition, there’s Sarn Cynfelyn, Sarn Wallog and The Patches together with Sarn-y-Bwch. All jut out, often miles, into the sea and remain hidden during most of the tidal range. As such, they’re a worthy adversary for a solo yachtsman, still a little shaken from his Aber experiences! With the wind predicted to be a SW’ly my chosen route was to go through the middle of ‘The Patches in the main channel then West of the second obstacle and then take the East Passage close to the shore; hopefully avoiding the Bemar Bank and so crossing the final and biggest hurdle - St Patrick’s Causeway. Shoals, banks and ridges add to the fun as did the weather forecast which correctly predicted heavy rain with accompanying visibility restrictions. Rain, if you have the right kit is an inconvenience not an obstacle. Wind is; and as I nervously threaded my way along the Main Channel of the Patches, just 5 miles NE of Aber, so it picked up. A reef was called for, to reduce weather helm; which no sooner executed became almost redundant, as the wind further increased and backed to a southerly – near gale! A second reef stabilised matters and some wonderful drizzly sailing enjoyed; other than for my blow-up tender to repeatedly surf into my transom with an unnerving bump, followed by a rubbery twang as the painter was snatched tight on the ricochet! Drizzle steadily turned to rain which increased still further to flatten the sea. Buckets of it streamed off the mainsail and much of it blew into the cabin as the hatch had to remain open to see the chart plotter’s screen and to fix a 30 minute plot on the chart under the Yeoman plotter’s plastic protective overlay – the cabin sole soon awash and slippery. With the wind now gusting F6, I opted to change my passage plan and go to the West of St Patrick’s Causeway; plotting a new course to The Causeway’s Cardinal Bouy with its accompanying bell. This more westerly route stopped to great extent the awful rolling you experience on a run; where the foresails are back-winded and largely useless. Boat speed increased to 7.1 knots and confirmed on the GPS. Progress indeed for a Crabber! As I rounded the Cardinal and set a course for the buoy marking the Gimblet Shoals, the rain increased further, were it possible! I’ve seen rain like this before in Malaysia but rarely here. The cabin sole floorboard started lifting on the inch of water in the cabin, any higher than that, the water flows through two drain holes into the bilge. A pump was in order and the cabin hand pump cranked 21 times before it whistled! With the two headsails furled, as we were on a dead run, we stormed past The Shoals, guarding the entrance to the harbour and with visibility down to a few hundred yards sought out Pwllhei. When found and with engine started, we turned into wind, dropped the Main and stowed it reasonably neatly, considering the awful conditions. I called Holyhead Marina and told them I had arrived. It was 18:30and I was 30 minutes later than my estimated arrival time, not too shabby after 38nm, I thought. Motoring against a strong current in a channel barely wide enough for two boats to pass one another, sought out the berth given that morning on the phone, after first fendering up the starboard side and making ready the mooring warps’. The Marina, on first inspection, is huge, brim full of boats of all sizes and in a very good state of repair. Finding it, I spun around to face the weather and prepared to dock. From nowhere a young man in his 20’s T shirt, shorts and bare feet appeared and took my lines; tying me on with well rehearsed expertise. ‘Come form far’, he asked, with a Scandinavian accent? 'Yes quite', I said, puffing myself up with pride, ‘from Aberystwyth... and you’? We’re both from Norway; he said... we’re sailing around the world. Scilly Isles tonight, I think or, maybe just go straight to Madeira......depends on my girlfriend really, she’s the skipper; and she’s had enough of the rain and is working on the charts now! The loudest noise in the marina was my ego deflating. Sure enough they slipped their mooring around 10pm, a row of plastic water casks securely strapped to their guardrail, in a boat not a lot larger than Equinox, but very purposeful. A cheery wave and they were gone....Well I’ll be damned! The rain continues unabated, the water flowing past equinox carrying detritus washed down from the hills by the much swollen River Erch. A small half feathered chicken momentary hangs up on the dinghy’s painter, before the current moves it on. I carry on the job of cleaning up and drying out. Equnox’s heater, full on, has turned the cabin into a warm but damp fug. Bacon, sausage and eggs with a Speckled Hen, or two, will come later, the reward for getting us back in good order.
Is Colin following me! - July 20th Woke to heavy rain yet again and while listened to the news on Radio 4, put together a mental ‘to-do’ list for today. Top of the list will be to empty the lockers yet again and carry on drying the boat out! During a gap in the clouds, a job on one of the Gaff’s halyards which, had become twisted around itself to and from the pulley mounted at the throat. The friction this caused made lowering the whole affair rather torrid and protracted. Standing on the cabin roof with tools in hand, I became distracted by a disturbance in the water nearby. A cormorant, not Colin surely, had caught an eel which, put out at the thought of being swallowed, had wound itself around Colin’s neck like a python! The eel’s head already somewhere deep in Colin’s throat must have been a discomfort and, for all I know, made breathing difficult, for he tried desperately to shake his head and I suppose cough it out or, get it to lose it’s grip around his neck. Stalemate! The eel, which was about 2ft long and as thick as Cumberland sausage remained where he was. Can birds look panic stricken? Still squirming and shaking his head as much as he could, Colin decided to dive which, did the trick, for when he surfaced, a few moments later, the eel had gone – eaten or lost? A chance meeting in the fantastic shower block led to the offer of a lift into town and a shop in the Co-op. Having seen all that there is of this seaside town, I cannot find a single reason whatsoever, to stay here for another moment and will plan the next leg, weather permitting, even if its just to Abersoch, a few miles up the coast. As the evening draws in, Its raining again with much worse to come forecasted – indeed flood alerts were announced on the news for Wales tonight. A quiet evening aboard seems to be in order. But no sooner was supper frying away merrily, than Flossie, my sister in law, followed shortly afterwards by Neil, her husband phoned; and are driving to Abersoch from Chester for lunch tomorrow at the Sun Inn, an old haunt from my sea kayaking days, near Porth Ceriad.
A short hop to Abersoch - July 22ndThe sun is actually shining as I prepare to leave Pwllheli Marina; so very good after three weeks of sailing in almost continuous overcast and wet conditions. A joy to feel its warmth; and a good time to open all hatches to air the boat fully and to get rid of the last traces of damp. Full marks to Pwllheli Marina; its immaculate – the showers and washing facilities, the best yet. If only it had a decent restaurant as part of the package. As I was emptying out the tender of rain water for the umpteenth time, a huge black rib with two 300hp Suzuki engine passes close by; the slim fit looking man at the helm vaguely familiar smiles an acknowledgment to mine. More for the fact that he was motoring with engines on tick-over – a very rare occurrence for most rib owners! Two small boys take the lines while his giant rib fills up with fuel, the engines still whispering. Then he manoeuvres the boat between the fuel barge and pontoon with practiced ease. Why does he look so familiar? A glorious sail to Abersoch just 6 miles up the coast turns into an 18 mile sail, as a phone call from Flossie informs me their ETA is now 2:30, so I’ve time to kill sailing in a wonderful 10K SW wind in shirt sleeves and shorts – such welcome freedom after sailing constantly in oilies. I head towards the dramatic mountainous coastline to the east, generating their own clouds, ensuring a relaxing reach back into Abersoch and a rendezvous with ’Katy’ an immaculate old Portsmouth built working boat lovingly restored to the highest original order with a splendid cuddy. After furling sails and anchoring I leap aboard Katy, as she draws alongside and meet the owners, Paul and Gay Murphy, along with Flossie and Neil, who both look bronzed and well, after some seriously hot months in their Alpine home. We motor off towards the two islands that guard the approach to Abersoch for a picnic. Both are havens for seabirds, mostly Shags and Cormorants, seals and.......the TV personality and youngest Britain to climb Everest, Bear Grylls who, I discover, owns and lives for some of the year on the larger of the two islands in a refurbished rather imposing house, beautifully painted in sympathetic colours, under the lighthouse. It was him on the rib, that I saw this morning, with his two young sons. Neil swims before we eat a fantastic picnic lunch, anchored in a tiny inlet out of the swell and in, and I still can’t quite believe it, bright sunshine. Facts about the islands that included an attempt to breed red deer, that eventually swam ashore, through lack of food, hermits and an owner who built a sort of Stonehenge facsimile that had to be bought in by Chinook helicopter; keep us entertained, as indeed did the seals that pop up nearby, seemingly unfazed by us. A short tour around the other island before heading ashore for a fish supper in the Sun Inn, an old haunt from my sea kayaking days, 39 years ago, ends a perfect day. By 10:30, as I row back to Equinox the sea has settled but the Navtex foretells of increasing winds during the night, so before I unpack a goody bag Flossie has put together for me, up-anchor and motor a mile or so, to moor up close to the old Lifeboat Station; a recommended spot for a quiet rock-free night. Once moored, I eat half a pound of Cadburys Whole Nut, one of the treats that includes strawberries, cheese, pork pies and more chocolate. I feel very spolit, as I drift off to sleep!
Abersoch to AberdaronThe wind moved around to the North at some point during the night, so chose to anchor back at my spot in front of RCYC where the swell was less pronounced, before breakfast. With time to kill, I rowed ashore and had a wander around town which is a bustling little place with everyone enjoying the first sunshine for days. On the way into town and lying around Tintown - an appallingly ugly high rise stack of concrete and corrugated iron beach hunts, lay the remnants of hulls and masts and pieces of wood and fibreglass from dinghies lost or damaged in last Thursday’s storm. Others were lying on their sides still strapped to their launching trolleys as testament to the wind’s strength, as does the massively stout stainless steel banisters, bent and twisted, on the Club’s slipway. By 2pm the tide was flooding and made the run to Aberdaron possible. With the sun still shinning, a wonderfully memory laden, sail up St Tudwal’s Sound past the two Islands, visited yesterday, and then past Porth Ceiriad, a bay we used to surf at during and just after my Ellesmere College kayaking days. I could see the campsite on the hill where for weeks on end we stayed; hiding from the owner, each morning, when he came to collect the campsite dues. I wished I had time to stop and wander up the steep path to the campsite and see whether the grassy bank on which we turned an Austin A35 on its side to Isopon the sump after an oil-emptying argument with a rock was still there, as was the waterfall on the beach, we used to wash the salt off, after canoeing. And the dark damp cave that seemed to be an endless source of driftwood collected during the day and dried for the beach goings-on most nights! What sunny carefree times they were. Round the next headland and Porth Neigwl – Hell’s Mouth, comes into view, a daunting wild untamed and featureless sandy bay that rekindles surfing memories; and the nearby pub – The Sun Inn, where casual romances developed during the few weeks’ freedom; made possible by being paid handsomely to dive and attach air bags to a score of mostly speed boats, sunk on their Abersoch moorings. The islands that mark the entrance to Aberdaron Bay hove into view, as does the much larger Bardsey Island – the island of swirling currents – where hundreds, if not thousands of pilgrims lie buried; heeding to its religious significance, from as far back,as the Middle Ages. Aberdaron is not a recommended anchorage, according to Reeds, more a waiting room, before you attempt Bardsey Sound and The Tripods, the race on the northern side. The race on the southern end – The Devil’s Ridge is best avoided by hugging the coast. Apparently the ground is not good holding and Reed’s suggest you do not leave your boat unattended! As the wind had dropped to a mere whisper and the bay almost swell free, I let out 3 times the recommended chain and risked it. A delightful meal of locally caught sea bass, spinach and samfire in this totally unspoilt village of 60 or less souls, according to the Ship Hotel’s owner, boasts a Post Office a real bakery a shop and two hotels! The church recently rebuilt, has its immaculate graveyard perched on the side of the hill overlooking the bay. On such a still night, it is hard to believe how many souls have been lost on this stretch of coast, an illustration of the LLeyn Peninsula on the hotel wall, showing all the shipwrecks from 1700’s, suggests many – thousands too many. With that in mind I sat on the balcony and kept an eye on Equinox... just in case! Tomorrow’s passage to Porth Dinnlaen further around the tip of the Peninsula and up the other side, will be planned with just a little extra care!
Aberdaren to Porth Dinllaen - LLyn Peninsula - July 23rd.The gentle sound of wind in rigging woke me as did the tide which swung me broadside and uncomfortably into the incoming swell; the sky initially overcast and grey, seen through the foreward hatch, would soon burn off as the promised sunshine broke through later. I spent a few hours updating the blog then breakfasted on fruit and cereal, before hoisting the mainsail and retrieving fathoms of chain from yesterday's over cautious anchoring. With no mobile signal at the end of the peninsula, updating the blog would have to wait. Bardsey Sound boasts spring tides of 5Knots which, fortunately for me, are not due for nearly a week; so decided to have a closer look at the Island; despite a hostile tide for the first two hours. Close to, one can see why Bardsey would make an ideal refuge; the tides fierce, even on neaps would be a huge barrier for unwelcome visitors. Under sail, I could barely manage 3 knots and was swept out north of the island and far further than intended, as distracted; I scanned the island through binoculars viewing odd mounds and evidence of past habitation. A long pleasant battle with the race back on course with a SOG of less than 2 knots was the penalty; but I was in no hurray and the scenery spectacular, with gannets diving for fish nearby and huge grey seals basking on rocky ledges close to the water’s edge. Some just gazed at me with mild interest, others shuffled nervously, others startled, by my approach, panicked and waddled briefly before diving to safety in the deep. In the warm sunshine, I was thankfully, sailing as nature intended and wonder whether it was this that startled the seals – probably the females! The north shore of the Llyn peninsula boasts a few, but almost empty beaches, pleasant sailing and extraordinary rock formations to admire. Sailing just yards from the is never tiring, although a few fishmermen, perched on precarious ledges, would rather you didn't! The further NE one sails so the cliffs diminish in size, softening and becoming more uniform. I watched a lobster fisherman retrieve pot after pot with one, two and sometimes more in each one, as I mirrored his pace up the coast; the tide now favourable. Two mini Pork Pies for lunch with a wedge of Cheddar and Cheshire cheese and a banana washed down with ice cold grapefruit juice kept morale high as did two naked sunbathers, their swimming togs drying by their sides, who became aware of my presence, rather too late to hide their modesty, as I ghosted up the coast. As we all saw each other at the same time, we waved hesitatingly at each other before they resumed their horizontal postures, and I my helming. By 4pm the wind had died completely, reluctantly the iron topsail was called for, to catch the final and weakening offerings of the tide, before it turned foul. At least the batteries will be fully charged for a night on board and some computer time. I’ll leave exploring my new destination for tomorrow.
Day 2 Porth Dinllaen - July 24thA day on board seems in order, as rain, yet again, drums on the cabin roof and the wind howls through the rigging. The fantastic backdrop of mountains, so familiar in the distance from Rhos Colyn, our summer haunt for many years, from across Caernarfon Bay, are today, all but hidden in the mist. I'm very low on fresh water and almost out of petrol for the Seagull, a trip ashore today, a must - but it's a long way to row with the wind right in the teeth, if the Seagull runs out which, it probably will, with less than a cupfull left in the tank. Patience Simon, Patience!
Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey -25th JulyA 16nm gentle sail diagonally across Caernarfon Bay ended mid afternoon, in a tiny bay at the tip of Llanddwyn Island, right next to the lighthouse at the southern entrance of the Menai Straits, after a morning row ashore to get supplies and petrol in Morta Nefyn. The island and adjoining Newborough Burrows are a nature reserve, with wonderful walking for miles on huge beaches and through one the largest range of dunes in Britain. Pilot Bay, where I’m moored, at the tip of the island, is where pilots launched their boats to give local knowledge and assistance to sailing ships taking mainly granite and slate through the straits – a treacherous stretch of water, if ever there was one, separating the Island of Anglesey from the mainland. Newborough Burrows was extensively destroyed during the Second World War as tanks and tracked vehicles churned up the fragile habitat, while preparing for D Day. So extensive was the destruction that after the war bitumen had to be spayed on the sand to hold it place and halt the invading sea and give nature a chance to slowly recover. Holes were then punched thought it to plant thousands of conifers – now 63 years old! Before the army arrived, the warren supported so many rabbits that 20,000 a year were taken for food. Mixy and presumably the bitumen wiped them out, so giving the habitation a chance to recover to such an extent that the sea has retreated largely back to where it was before the army invaded it. The warden, who showed me around one of the lighthouse keeper’s cottages, finds lumps of bitumen to this day. The rabbits have defiantly re-invaded the island too!
Llanddwynn Island Day 2 – July 26thConditions were ideal to spend the day fishing, as bass are about and it was warm, overcast with barely any wind. A plan formulated on the back of the warden mentioning yesterday, that an 11lb Bass had been caught nearby just days earlier. Bass there weren’t, but mackerel, there were. Before setting off however, a decision was made to move Equinox closer to the shore and into calmer water. Once anchored and in the tender, I rowed around for no more than 10 minutes before 4 fell on the hooks – and t’boot all at once on a string of 5 flies! I let them all go bar one – selected for being a perfect fit under the grill! A change of tactics to lure a bass failed miserably, just more mackerel – all released; so gave up at lunchtime and decided to go for a swim; having got rather hot and sweaty fly fishing. Once dried and settled back on Equinox, I started to put the two rods and tackle away, when I realised I was ‘Touching Bottom!’ - a nautical term! The gravelly thump.. thump.. thump, quickly had me in the tender, with kedge anchor and 20 metres of rope and rowing out to deeper water. Back on Equinox and pulling furiously, I failed miserably to make any impression, so gave up.... or, was about to. Suddenly three very beautiful girls in bikinis and their equally yummy mummy and a young man appeared at the water’s edge! As they were already wadding in for a swim nearby, I asked whether a push might be possible. All four put their backs into the task and to help matters, had the engine running on full throttle too; with me heaving the kedge from the bow. Move.....no not an inch! Thanking them for trying, I found out that one of the girls was celebrating a 27th birthday and that Llanddwynn Island has a special significance, as family ashes have been sprinkled nearby. What a close fun family they were too - two teachers – one art, one PE and an aspiring actress! I never did find out what the young man did. Their Mum ran a B&B in the Pennines. As Equinox settled far off the vertical, I did the only chivalrous thing, any man would do in my predicament... abandon ship with a bottle of prosecco and glasses and make for the shore and have a party! A fun hour or so later, the family left for the long two mile walk back to the car park. I sat forlornly for another hour watching Equinox slowly come upright; before moving her back into deeper water. I write this having burnt the mackerel. The smell was so awful that I threw the whole lot over the side and had bacon and eggs instead, washed down, with a speckled Hen or two, to try and try make amends. It didn't. Somehow, the bacon had acquired a taste of burnt fish; so didn’t enjoy supper one little bit. Where’s Mr Oliver, when you need him? A Famous Grouse then bed, I think.
Llanddwynn Island to Rhoscolyn – July 27thSome sailing days are perfect and this was one of them. Lightly breakfasted by 8:30 with the mainsail hoisted, I motored out from my spot from in among the rocks and headland before setting the jib and staysail; both tend to block the view from the cockpit; so felt it was prudent to be without them until out in safer water. The wind, all 9 knots of it, was perfect for a gentle reach up the coast, reacquainting myself with this much loved coastline, passing Bodowen, Abberfraw and Rhosneigr ; looking clinically clean, white and unspoilt in the morning sun. Helicopters from RAF Valley,were beating here and there, on training missions; their clattering for a brief moment drowned out by two incredibly noisy racing cars that took it in turns to roar around the circuit at Trac Mon; an acoustic insult as I sailed past – but it did look fun! The track, right on the side of a hill, overlooks both the Irish Sea and Snowdonia. I think it’s where Tiff and Co test cars for their TV program – Fifth Gear. Rhoscolyn clearly in view from way down the coast looks wonderfully welcome, the white cottages clinging to the edge of the rocky sided bay; the eldest among them nesting as best they can in natural hollows, out of the wind. This is a raw coastline; bushes and shrubs grow away from the prevailing wind, sculptured and burnt by the blast of salty air from the Irish Sea. Few trees manage to thrive; many of those that have tried have had their crowns torn out. Some say ‘You know when you’re on Holy Island, the Seagulls practice their landings flying backwards and the sheep are tied together, like climbers. When a storm comes in from the Irish Sea, they’ve learnt to point into the wind and hang on to a tuft of grass with their teeth! As for the chickens, each one is tied by a length of string to a house brick to stop them getting blown away.’ I sailed right into the bay before furling the jib and staysail then spun into wind and anchored in 9 meters of water close to the entrance of the bay where a dozen or so moorings offer some respite from the SW swell; neatly tucked in behind the headland. So clear is the water, that I could see the anchor bite into the sand below. Sometime later, as I rowed ashore, so many familiar faces looked out; as you do. Time for hugs, hand shakes and welcomes. I’m here for the next two weeks. I’ve actually made it! The ship’s log an unbelievable 897 miles sailed......One third of the way and time for a two week rest with the family. But first, a short hop remains - to tuck Equinox up in Holyhead Marina around the tip of Anglesey. Is it all right for me to feel rather proud of myself and more than a bit emotional? I hope so.
Rhoscolyn - Day 3 - July 29th.Equinox, rather surprisingly, remains moored in front of the old lifeboat station at the entrance to the bay; with colony of seagulls keeping her company and her deck speckled! Justification for yesterday’s delay to set sail for Holyhead and conclude this phase of the voyage, was due to being ‘Warnocked’ my first evening – being invited, as you find us, by friends to join them for a casual supper. And what a delicious meal it was. I was ravenous too, having only eaten a bowl of cereal for breakfast! During the evening far more wine was consumed than was strictly necessary or indeed sensible! But it was so wonderful to sit still on something solid that didn’t rock, with conversation flowing, more often than not, hilariously that for the most part, had nothing to do with boats or sailing. Deep Joy! The following morning, Sally, my host together with Jennifer, a long standing friend and her daughter Alice, came aboard for a sail which, we had arranged during supper. I have to admit, I was feeling a little delicate; and the 12-14 knot wind combined with the swell, didn’t improve things, once out of the bay. So when nearly abeam Llanddwyn Island, after 90 minutes of brisk sailing, a decision to return to Rhoscolyn went unchallenged. Once safely anchored a chilled glass of wine on Equinox in warm sunshine; before rowing them ashore, restored order and to a greater or lesser extent, the colour to four sets of cheeks! As for today's delay ..... Well, frankly there isn’t an excuse yet..........
Rhoscolyn to Holyhead - July 30thI found an excuse to stay moored in Rhoscolyn for another night! Max and Lucy Berry took pity on me and kindly invited me around for supper – and delicious it was too! I feel very spoilt. The wind came round to the NE at some point during the night which eventually woke me as Equinox snatched and tugged increasingly violently at her anchor; the wind droning through the rigging. Sticking my head out of the hatch, I was dismayed to see yesterday’s sunshine had been replaced by drizzle which, turned to light rain as I cornflaked. Motoring out of the bay and straight into Rhoscolyn Head’s race, Equinox started burying her head into the confused swell forcing me to duck under the screen as great dollops of spay fizzed back in 19-22 knots of wind. With a favourable 4-6 knot tide; and making sure we didn’t come to grief on Maen Piscar, a nasty solitary rock in the middle of my passage, the coast shot by. A blue and yellow helicopter from RAF Valley practiced hovering on a nearby cliff edge, my only company in an otherwise empty sea. Next we rounded Penrhyn Mawr and Abraham’s bosom where the wind gusted to 28knots in the confused race. Then the forlorn sounding horn on South Stack, heard long before the light became visible through the mist, groaned out its short warning every 30 seconds. Across Gogarth Bay and around North Stack and another race, where suddenlly in the gloom the mile long breakwater, that shelters Holyhead harbour, came in to view, just as a massive twin hulled ferry sped past me, on route to Dublin. Once inside the breakwater the sea remained quite rough until half way to the marina, at the far end, when finally Holyhead Mountain’s influence was felt and things calmed down appreciably. I moored on the huge visitor’s pontoon before heading to the marina office for berthing instructions. Just as I was about to move Equinox, Max, who I had supper with last night, came bounding down the pontoon and helped with lines and fending off, with the wind still gusting to 20 knots! He’d driven in from Rhoscolyn to the chandlers in the marina to buy a replcement set of rivets for his Laser’s goose neck, that broke yesterday. No sooner had he helped me secure Equinox on her new berth than he was off, and only just in time, before a fresh squall came through. So here you find me tucked up in Holyhead! Shore power’s attached, the heater full on, drying out sailing clobber, yet again and I'm blowing over the top of a freshly made piping hot mug of Horlicks to warm the heart and soul. Outside, it's still raining......even harder! My summer holiday has begun! I think I’ll wait until it dies down a little, before venturing in for a shower and some food!
Reflections - lessons learned - One third of the way round - August 3rdTo put my mind at ease, I’ve repeatedly asked myself, whether I’ve put the boat in any precarious situations; either through poor planning, carelessness, stupidity or simply lacking appropriate sailing skills, needed for such an endeavour as this? I really don’t think I have! But, and it’s a big but, I’ve also been luckily insofar as there have been no equipment failures or serious breakages to cope with; which, could easily have happened during one of a number of un planned gybes ; when the helmsman’s attention waivered - dolphins and gannets have a particular fascination. Have I always sailed safely? Yes... with one or two silly oversights very early on. And as long as ‘safely’ is interpreted as having a heavy reliance on modern electronic charting technology, GPS, Navtex, Yeoman Plotter and supporting depth, wind, speed and graphic displays to constantly reassure me. Could I have navigated just as safely using traditional navigational techniques - without much of the electronic kit? No! I am neither nimble enough of mind, nor do I have the constitution to spend time below at the chart table, plotting bearings, factoring in tide, leeway and boat speed onto charts while hanging on to the chart table for grim life. If I go below, even for a minute or two, I start to feel a little queasy. Sailing, for me, is helming the boat as effectively and as safely as possible in any given set of circumstances– maximising the rate of progress while enjoying the coastline, if visible, along with the sea and bird life. In doing so, I exploit the GPS wizardry to provide the data needed to reappraise the unfolding passage plan and make real-time changes, as and when required. I’m sure Nelson would have offered his other arm for the same capacity, had he been alive today. Passage plans do have a habit of needing a tweak here and there as the day unfolds - changes in the predicted wind and wave action curtailing anticipated progress. I’m also a very reluctant engine starter too, during a passage; for a number of reasons, not least the intrusive noise it makes but I’ve developed a habit of motoring the last mile or two anyway, to recharge the two batteries; on which I rely so heavily; while tidying away sails and preparing the boat for mooring; talking to the marina and fendering up, etc, so try and only use the engine once at the beginning and once at the end of a day's sailing. There’s still quite a bit of pre-passage preparation to do. Tidal gates for both marinas and harbours, depth clearances, races, wind and weather factors to take a view on; to give both a departure time and anticipated arrival time – not least, the best route to take. Then, there are the secondary ports to plan an escape to - 'In the event of' - and a host of ’What If’s’ to satisfy – all are confidence building as you recheck your figures and then enter the waypoint data into your Chart Plotter, then again in the back-up GPS and finally in one of the two portable GPS’s. Finally, as I sail along, every 60 minutes, I plot my exact position on a paper chart using my Yeoman Plotter. As a matter or routine, I also file a passage plan with the Coastguard who want an ETA and who then expect a call from you to say you’ve arrived and, I take considerable pride in being as exact as I can. Have I scared myself? Oh Yes, and probably half a dozen times too! Why? I think it’s because I forget or, perhaps, have discovered, that I’m not as strong or as agile, as I used to be or, thought I would need to be to cope with some of the conditions experienced. Examples of where I have floundered a bit are; going forward, on a heaving deck, to release a sheet caught in a fairlead or round a block or, when putting in a long series of tacks in rough conditions, where I find myself succumbing to the sheer physical demands needed. Picture if you can typical tack in roughish conditions. Firstly, the tiller is jammed under one arm or in the small of the back, or even between your buttocks/legs to hold it where it needs to be. And as you’re running the risk of being catapulted around the cockpit, so your knees are both braced against the cockpit sides, while at the same time, first freeing up and then tightening the two backstays then freeing off and tightening the four sheets – jib nad staysail!; while making damn sure you keep your head well down, so you’re not knocked unconscious by the 100lb solid wood boom flaying about inches above your head! Then, for added entertainment, have the odd bucket of water thrown at you from time to time, while tap dancing on a bird’s nest of rope ends on the cockpit floor; with you always, it seems, standing on the one you bloody well need! Then factor in Equinox’s hull length of just 24ft 6’, which, even in moderate seas can have her bow thrown back by wind and wave, as you go through the tack; and as she does not point as close to the wind as a Bermuda rigged yacht, she sometimes falls back onto the previous tack with the palaver of repeating the exercise again after building up enough speed to have a second attempt. And yes, it sometimes fails again for a third time; leaving you cursing out loud for carrying too much sail and cocking thing's up! Believe me, it can get tiring! My judgement, on occasions, has been questionable too. For example, it is so easy to get exhilarated at your magnificent progress when storming along in 20 knots of wind on a broad reach or run; especially, if you’ve the help of a favourable tide. Add the tide of, say 3 knots, with the boat speed of, say 6 knots together and subtract the combined speed over the ground of 9’ish knots from the true wind speed of 20 knots; gives you an apparent wind speed of just 11 knots. Equinox feels as though she’s coping easily. But turn into the wind to put a reef in, and all hell breaks loose! Too many times I’ve left it rather too late and regretted it! Then there was the Aberyswyth event, when I simply could not stand up without using both legs and arms to hold on - and only then, just about helm the boat. Put simply, I should not have been at sea on that day – poor passage planning by failing to interpret the weather forecast correctly and getting it from two sources to double check! Lesson learnt! I write this having spent the last three day at the beach and most of that thrashing about on a laser getting thoroughly cold and wet. What ridiculous behaviour for a chap of my age? Footnote: There's a newly arrived and rather scruffy cormorant on the headland, often found with his wings outstretched, drying himself in the sun, who eye's me as I sail past, rather knowingly. He's the only one on the rock among hundreds of common gulls who roost there. Colin? No surely not,,,,,,,,,,,,!
Getting ready to get ready - 11th AugustA complete break from Equinox has been a tonic. The monotonous self-inflicted diet replaced by wonderful home cooking, full of variety. A watery world replaced by the vibrancy of a landscape full of butterflies, lush ancient stone hedgerows overgrown with wild flowers; alive with insects and ancient rocky fields full of cattle and sheep. How wonderful to have meals accompanied with conversation and laughter; to hear differing views and fresh ideas and to simply catch up with family and friends. To walk the spectacular headlands and coastline of Anglesey, excitedly finding mushrooms to complement our huge breakfasts. Long treks to empty bays, inlets and deserted beaches fill our days as do regular trips to the 'White Eagle', a nearby pub - having worked up a good thirst thrashing the lasers around the bay and out into the Irish Sea. To stock up on home made pickles and jams and organic flour from a working windmill and to repeat activities that have filled holidays for for most of my life. Nothing can beat it. The weather has been kind to us... and long may it continue, for today, after ten days of not going near her, I'm off to Holyhead Marina, to start preparing Equinox for the next phase - filling her tanks with water and diesel and starting the process of restocking her with provisions. A lot has been learnt from the first phase - not least, mark each can with a waterproof pen! I'm not sleeping so well now; waking early and fretting about this and that and whether I've left the tip of Scotland a bit too late, as many have suggested. Put those negative thoughts to one side and focus on the challenge ahead, is what I keep telling myself. But it's not easy!
All set to go – Holyhead - August 14thI never did get around to fettling the boat as planned but climbed Snowdon instead with Gina and her half brother Fred and his wife Gayle - both keen experienced walkers. A three hour climb up into the clouds to join a throng of soaking wet, blue lipped, but curiously exhilarated climbers in the cafe at the top. As we dripped, munching sandwiches and looking somewhat shell-shocked, the rain hammered on the windows and the odd sulphurous gust blew through the doors hinting at the steam train waiting outside. The idea of taking it down rather appealing, other than from the fact that we’d left the car the other side of the mountain, complicating things no end. The odd view of the Menai Strait, Anglesey and the stunning foothills on the way up and down, made the climb truly memorable; as was the hot chocolate at the cafe - simply delicious! The Oggie, eaten with it, not so –a giant tepid Welsh equivalent of a Cornish pasty filled with a glutinous mix of stewed cow together with the odd chunk of potato to give it some substance; was grim. The climb down, as stiffness set in, was equally tough, as the cold bit through soaking wet trousers while complaining joints were given a good hammering and chilled feet sloshed about in wet climbing boots! Getting out of bed on Friday morning, found me so stiff I could hardly walk. The best thing to do, everyone said, was walk it off, so opted to join another 6 mile walk from King Arthur's Table to Red Wharf Bay and back. An easy decision, as the wind has swung around to the North, making even Laser sailing horrid in Rhoscolyn Bay. So here you find me on Saturday evening on Equinox having vacated and cleaned the house; fully fettled and fuelled and still horribly stiff! As my next stop is the Isle of Man a conservative quantity of Speckled Hen accompanies me, as it may be a rare breed up there. Bless Holyhead Tesco for stocking it. James Vernon, a sailing chum called earlier on and has asked me to join his family for dinner tonight back in Rhoscolyn! So I’m showered and shaved and decked out in my best pink drinking trousers. Crew from incoming yachts say the Irish Sea is rough and some plan to remain here until things improve. Not a good omen!
Still all set to go – Holyhead - August 15thHaving feasted like a King with the Vernon’s last night and delivered back to Equinox before midnight, thought it time to give the engine the once over with a view to leaving first thing on the flood tide. A ten minute job at most; I started by checking engine and gearbox oil levels, the two belts and finally the two fuel filters. Surprisingly, the primary fuel filter had both water and grubby sediment, so decided to wash up, go to bed and tackle fitting a replacement with better light, first thing in the morning. So, after wolfing down a Kellogg or two at 8am with milky coffee, I set about fitting the new cartridge and then decided to replace the smaller filter before bleeding the whole caboodle of air. Then feeling virtuous, decided that as the engine has been run for mostly battery charging duties, an oil and filter change would make sense, so tacked that. All screwed back together the little two cylinder Yanmar burst into life on the first attempt. A nice warm glow, from a job well done and little bit of extra insurance, I feel! That leads me to comment on Holyhead Marina. When making a berthing reservation and telling them about this challenge they immediately offered FOC board and lodging for Equinox. A hugely generous offer and one the Prostate Cancer Charity will benefit from. There’s much to praise it too. Not least Sue and all the marina staff, who made me and everyone welcome and manage all the comings and goings very efficiently. They’ve given a lot of thought to what yachtsman want. Excellent showers, free WiFi, use of a computer with printer, a shop and chandlery and even a nearby hair salon and cafe! A nearby yacht club has a great range of beers and good homemade meals to add to the self contained nature of the marina. Without doubt, one of the very best I’ve ever visited. Just as I finished servicing the engine, a squadron of immaculate Half Raters from Treaddur Bay came into the marina, a beautiful sight on a glorious sunny day such as this, each one given much love an attention, as racing is highly competitive and taken all too seriously for many. Showered and settling back on board with charts and tidal stream maps, an outline of the next few days sailing is taking shape, waypoints entered and goodbye’s said to the Marina and neighbouring yachts. The phone then rang and Nigel and Ronnie invited me to supper with them tonight at The Point, back in Rhoscolyn...! Enough said! Tomorrow I’ll be gone. Douglas on the Isle of Man, the destination – 51 miles away.
Holyhead to Douglas – Isle of Man – Monday 16th AugustWaking at first light yesterday, I set about a cornflake or two as a precursor to preparing Equinox for the longest passage so far and decided, for the first time, to leave the tender deflated in her bag; and likewise Doris... (In joke!) With the early morning sun, still low in clear sky with just a hint of a breeze ruffling the sea, I motored parallel with the mile long breakwater; hoisting the mainsail as I went; and reminisced about the wonderful evening spent with Ronnie and Nigel, following a gentle sail on Moneypenny, their deliciously equipped yacht. They stay at ‘The Point’ which proudly sits on Rhoscolyn’s headland with the most breathtaking views of Snowdonia and the Llynn Peninsula in the distance. Supper in a newly built conservatory was perfect; made more so by being treated to a spectacular Turneresque sunset, following which, a lemon moon gently died in its own reflection in a still sea. Thank you! As the breeze gently heeled Equinox to starboard, as we turned North, at the end of the breakwater, I let fly the staysail then the jib; a final act, committing Equinox to the passage ahead and far out into the Irish Sea. The time 08:10. Gathering pace, as the tide made it presence felt; and leaving The Skerries to starboard, the wind gradually gave of its best and with it, at rewarding 6 knots under topsail. Five empty hours later and still on the same tack, with not a hint of land in sight and just the odd seabird for company, the sky clouded over, as forecasted, and with it, the temperature took a tumble, along with the visibility; prompting a change into oilies. Two hours later, first the island, then Douglas appeared out of the mist and when I guessed there was less than 30 minutes motoring time remaining, started the engine to charge a very tired slave battery, while reducing sail, calling up Douglas Harbour Control for berthing instructions and letting Liverpool Coastguard know I'd arrived. A rather terse response from Douglous Harbour Control proffering a list of instructions that involved waiting for an unseen ship to enter, then to a further wait until 6:15 for the bridge to lift and then finally to call them again, once the ship had docked, for yet more instructions; at the same time they took details of Equinox, where I’d come from, length and draft, surname and contact details, number of crew, etc, etc. Heaven’s above, I want a berth for a night or two, not a bloody mortgage! Come on DHP, you’re located on an island in the middle of the Irish Sea, wherever you’ve arrived from in a little yacht, you’ve sailed at least 40-50 miles! If you then discover you’re talking to a solo yachtsman, as you did, who has just sailed 54 miles, welcome him in, be gentle with him and not make the whole experience fraught! It’s tough enough as it is, coming into a strange harbour single handed, without throwing the local harbour rule book at him. If it's that important have it printed in Reeds, so we know in advance! Ten minutes later out of the mist, a steam packet ferry hove into view and entered the multi harbour complex, a signal, so I thought, to follow it in at a respectable distance – at least 400 yards behind. Barely underway and watching her expertly spin around and reverse into her berth, I kept my distance, only to receive a dressing down on the radio, that I’d illegally entered the harbour! A scolding that sounded as though I’d strayed into a Royal Naval base in a speedboat named Taliban wearing a turban and brandishing an anti-ship missile launcher! Following which, further calls were made to the Harbour Control from other vessles, as one by one, other craft I’d seen bobbing about, that I’d assumed to be fishing, started calling up for PERMISSION to enter the harbour, SIR! The DHC response was attached with ‘Sir’ too! Following the earful, and still somewhat shaken by the ticking off, I was given, among a host of whispered instructions, a berth numbered 25 on the North side together with a complex description of its location – something to do with the North wall; but first had to loiter around with other craft for the next obstacle - a road bridge to open which, it promptly did at 6:15 - to let me and the small queue in. Once inside, the inner harbour is crammed full almost to bursting point and there’s little room either side of vessels moored both to the harbour wall and on a finger pontoon that threads its way through the middle. In some places boats are rafted up to the harbour wall in pairs, narrowing the clearances still further. Google it and see what I mean! Motoring gingerly, I passed on my left the finger pontoon and an empty berth numbered 25; but along the North wall were also numbered berths, so on the assumption, that’s what I’d been allocated, made my way further and further up the narrowing marina and eventually moored up against a semi derelict wreck of boat that seemed to me to be too dangerous to clamber over, but needs must; and she was on N 25 (North?). Her cabin roof groaned under my weight as I climbed over her and up a ladder to make Equinox fast. Out of my oilies, I then made my way to the harbour office, located, I was told, by a loitering onlooker, where the ferry terminal was – a good 5 minute walk away! So off I set to the terminal building, then up in a lift to the 2nd floor only to be told that office was for the outer harbour and I needed the inner harbour office which was closed, down the other end of the inner harbour, and also that I’d moored on the wrong 25 – as I’d missed the word pontoon in the quietly spoken list of instructions! So back to Equinox, start the engine, untie and 6 point turn her around with barely enough room to swing a cat in, after first shipping my bowsprit - I had no choice - to again thread my way back along to the berth on the finger pontoon in the middle of the harbour; which I’d spotted earlier, that could only be addressed from one direction, so had to pass it, turn around and come back. And in the middle of doing all this, the rain went from drizzle to a downpour, so got thoroughly soaked through to add to my general despair. Safely moored once again, I put on oilies over my damp clothes and headed along the pontoon to make amends, only to be faced with a barrier that had a push button exit that needed a card for re-entry. I dared not risk using it, in case only the inner harbour office could issue the card, thus leaving me stranded and boatless. Resigned, I returned to Equinox, closed the hatch which prompted the rain to fall even harder, if that were possible. I’d made the right call to call and eat in, it seemed. Stripping off and putting on a clean set of dry clothes I was fully tuned and overdue for a self-congratulatory bidet of beer, so opened the ‘Speckled Hen’ locker under the starboard bunk to be greeted by an all too familiar 6 inches of water! A burst water tank again, surely not! One by one the starboard lockers were opened and each was accompanied by a fresh groan of despair. The cardboard wine boxes had disintegrated leaving me with their silvery implants to wobble a drink from. The sail cover and cockpit awning soaked, fishing tackle soaked and tins yet again label less! Eventually I worked my way forward to the water tank locker, cleaning as I went, expecting to find another tear in the new bladder, only to find that the hose connecting the tank to the external filler cap had disconnected itself. As it had not been touched for ten years and never leaked a drop, I can’t see how it had worked loose, but loose it was! Soaked in sweat from my pumping, purging and mopping exertions, the first Hen went down without its feathers touching the sides some two hours later; and still ravenously hungry and tired from 8 hours of sailing, quickly rustled up a full monty fry-up before falling into my bunk completely exhausted! I need another holiday already!
Douglas Day 1 - 17th AugustOne year ago, on this very day, I went into hospital for my Prostate surgery! It was also the eve of my 30th wedding anniversary! Where better to spend it, than in Douglas! Letting myself out through the electric gate, at the push of a button, wash bag and towel at the ready, I sought out the Inner Harbour Office, where I was rather unceremoniously handed an empty form asking for exactly the same information given over the radio yesterday. Err, why? A plastic card pass was proffered and begrudgingly a shower card purchased for £1.10 for a 4 minute shower! Full of anticipation at the thought of a hot shower after yesterday’s exertions, I used my newly acquired pass to let myself into the showers. Where do I begin? The showers were a disgrace after Holyhead. Incredibly smelly, with black mould growing around the metal shower tray and appallingly badly lit by a token number of low watt energy saving bulbs, they reminded me of 1970 motorway service station. My 4 minute shower turned out to be less than three minutes, because only cold water reluctantly made a weak multi-directional appearance for the first minute or so, before it barely became hot enough to climb under. Feeling a little better, all the same, I headed back to Equinox to breakfast on a handful of muesli; reluctantly unable to face a fry up, just yet. First,having popped into a chandlers with a clearance sale on - just in case I found something that I didn’t know I needed, until I stumbled upon it; and had to have it; and there, met a delightful and helpful couple.. After which, I headed into town to stretch my legs, knowing that strong winds had been forecasted for today, so was stranded! A mega-sized Costa Coffee cheered me up no end, as did a very breezy walk around the town’s extensive shopping area; spending a delightful 15 minutes watching unseen footage, expertly edited, of the recent Isle of Man TT on a huge screen, before feeling I’d overstayed my welcome. Back on Equinox, over a Pork Pie and Hen lunch I plotted my escape... or tried to! There’s a sill that’s raised and lowered to keep a sufficient depth of water in the Inner Harbour located under the road bridge which, in turn is raised and lowered at quarter two and quarter past the hour, on request. The gate or sill rises tomorrow at 8:15am + or – depending on conditions, so I have to be out of my berth by 0730 and loitering close by, when the bridge opens at 0745. Miss it and I’d miss my chance to escape off the Island for a further 24 hours. I discovered this, after talking to the Outer Harbour Office on the radio – saving myself another long walk - as ludicrously, the Inner Harbour Office is closed outside normal working hours! Quite how visiting crews from yachts, coming in this evening , after the gate was lowered and long after the Inner Harbour office had closed, venture out into town and get back to their boats is beyond me! I also asked, while on the VHF radio, how I should pay my dues and was told ‘Pay next time, send a cheque or, you could come down here with a ‘if you must’ intonation and pay! You can send me the bill!
Douglas to Whitehaven - 18th August.Todat's our 31st Wedding Anniversary, spent apart sadly ...yet again! Last year I was under the knife for six and a half hours. Sorry Darling! Georgina, my daughter called from London offering to buy, on my behalf, flowers and chocolates to take home to Gina. Thank you G. Much earlier at 6:15am after a troubled night, I cornflaked and prepared myself and Equinox for another 50+ mile NE slog up the Irish Sea to Whitehaven; my next port of call. An easy exit under the road bridge, from the Inner Harbour was delayed by a fastcat ferry leaving. Again the voice on the VHF was so weak I could barely hear it. I'd mentioned this fact to another couple moored nearby and they too had difficulties hearing too. It's odd that I can talk and hear Liverpool and Holyhead Coastguard with ease and total clarity from here; but not Douglas Harbour Control! A glorious sail, in the buff, along the island's east coast with stunning views of a heather clad hills was a joy, as were the first views of Scotland and Cumbria. It was nice to feel the sun on all the wobbly bits again. Although I did keep my Tilly hat on! With ten miles to go, the wind picked up to 18Knots and with it, the sea suddenly became ferocious. Under mainsail only and on a run, I was pooped twice, not seriously, but for the first time a bucket or two of water came over the sterrn, into the cockpit, washing my feet before draining - rather pleasant actually! Time to get dressed and prepare to lock into Whitehaven. Wonderfully clear simple and LOUD instructions were given and the Sea lock a real joy, as it is lined with wood floating pontoons, you moor against that rise and fall in the lock with you and your boat - so much better than the setup I'm familiar with at Chichester. The lock keeper lowered on a rope a bag with instructions in it together with a map of the marina he'd marked showing me the route to take to my allocated pontoon. Deep Joy! The lock opens to a hnge walled mariner with a gap in the corner that leads to a further harbour for fishing boats that also has a gap through its wall to an inner sheltered harbour for visitors and smaller working boats. Perfect! Two marina staff were there to take lines and made me feel very welcome, pointing out gates,shower block and laundry facilities; all just a few minutes walk away. That's how you do it Isle of Man! Showered in excellent and scrupulously clean facilities, 20 minutes later and feeling hungry I wandered into town to stretch my legs. Lots of places to eat and settled on a Chinese. The Orchid House is a real find. The best crispy duck and delicious home made hoisin sauce ever tasted, came with plenty of pancakess, then a delicious spicy chicken dish followed it. Full to the brim, and back on Equinox, I slept the sleep of the dead. Guess what, It's 11am on Thursday and I've just received a phone call from Douglas Harbour Control, they can't find a record of my payment!!!! Eer, it was your suggestion that you send me an invoice to save me a walk in the rain up to the Outer Harbour office..... not mine! So they're now sending a bill! What a wretched episode all round!
Whitehaven - Day 2 - August 19thA glorious sunny day which, would have had me ploughing North; were it not for a weather forecast heralding Severe Gale Force 9 for SW Scotland and gusts of F8 here in Whitehaven. It's hard to believe, as I sit here in glorious sunshine, taking a breather, in shorts, hot and sticky after pumping up the tender. Richard and Ann Wood, are joining me for dinner tonight, back at the same Chinese restaurant; so hope yesterday's excellent meal wasn't a one off; as they live over an hour's drive away! He's one of the Taw fishers. Before they arrived, I spent the rest of the day shopping and giving Equinox another 'once-over'. The starboard lockers, yet again, were emptied and a final drying session given to their contents, following the last watery mishap. Hopefully a task not to be repeated! Whitehaven is a 'must visit' for yachtsmen. Close to the town centre with some great pubs and a wide choice of places to eat. The harbour complex is massive with huge 21ft thick dock walls providing superb protection from all the Irish Sea can throw at it. The first dock was built in 1633, a second in the 1700's making Whitehaven the third largest port in Britain, exporting coal from the nearby and deepest mine in world to Ireland, manufactured goods and slaves to America and importing tobacco from Virginia and Rum from the West Indies. Considered so vital, it was attacked by the Americans during the War of Indepedence. Over a thousand ships were built here during the period up to 1832 from 300-3000 tons when the outer harbour, pier and a lighthouse were built; then finally in 1876 Queens dock was built. Steam trains running along the huge docksides and 400 horse drawn waggons daily moving goods around the complex and into warehouses. Fortunes were made; but time has since taken its toll as Whitehaven lost out to other ports better connected to the railways, the demise of the slave trade and finally to steam powered ships just too big to dock here. It was not until 1990's with grants given to update the docks, dredge the outer harbour and install a new Sea Lock and huge, state of the art, boat repair shed that the site again started to prosper; and now boasts hundreds of pleasure craft berthed here with room for many more. So well protected were we last night, despite a gale blowing over our heads and rain thrumming on the cabin roof, we barely tugged on our lines. Simone, the manager is a treasure; nothing is too much trouble for her. My shore power went off at some point during the night, so popped up to report it. Offering and making me a cup of coffee, she had someone address it instantly, while we chatted. Within minutes a colleague returned to report he had to use an extension lead to marry Equinox to another source further away; and power was back on. Not only does she have a smile that would melt any sailor's heart she runs a tight ship too. The showers and lavatory areas are absolutely spotless; as is, the laundry room. All deliciously warm and welcoming and even boast a rack of paperbacks to borrow; for the storm bound. The cleaner, who I met, and had a chat with, this morning is a real diamond who takes enormous pride in all she does. May I suggest to the Isle of Man Harbour Management, that they invite this team over and get a lesson in hospitality and human relations? They might just learn a thing or two! Meeting up with Richard and Ann was a delight as we caught up on each others news in Equinox's cabin, drizzle preventing us from sitting outside. After a few drinks aboard we had a fabulous meal at the Orchid House. By the time they left, it was tipping down, so rather than getting a soaking, took shelter in a pub, for a 'cheeky one', while watching a very good Karaoke version of Hendrix's 'All along the wachtower'. The young drinking like fish, presumably after getting their 'A' level results! It's certainly very different here; and I love it! The rain never let up, indeed it became torrential, so got a complete soaking durng the 400 yard dash back to the boat. I'm getting rather tired of being damp!
Whitehaven - Day 3 - August 20thIt's rained most of the day, but as I write this at 17:00, blue sky is appearing from the SW and it's looking brighter by the minute. Anticipating an early start, I called into the marina office to settle up and was dismayed to receive an updated forecast; contradicting one I read only a matter of hours ago on the Internet. Instead we can expect 13-20 mph SW winds with gusts up to 42! Much the same as today, but without as much rain! Few have ventured out of the Sea Lock and a large rescue craft that was due to escort someones windsurfing exploits from Ireland to Cumbria, has come in and reported torrid sea conditions. I'll make a fresh call in the morning, but it looks as though I'm here for a further day. At least I can pig out on Ann's fantastic chocolate brownies, she baked yesterday. They're absolutely delicious!
Whitehaven - Day 4 - August 21st.0900 A fabulous morning with clear sunny skies finds me itching to get on the move again, but the gusts of wind are something else! Even inside this fortress harbour I'm being blown about just a little bit. Liverpool Coastguard's weather forecast, just heard on Ch86 gives me hope it will drop as the day progresses; so may chance a sail this afternoon across the Solway Firth to Wigtown Bay which, I'm told, is very picturesque and a passage of 20 miles or so. The wind would be perfect were it not for the 40mph gusts! Fingers crossed! 1400 A large Moody with 6 crew leaves the pontoon opposite and return within the hour. Keen to know what conditions were like, I walked around to ask. 'Lumpy...very lumpy and not much fun at all'! They all looked rather disheartened. 1530 A small 24ft French built yacht with two crew approach the empty berth on the same finger, so leave my gripping Stig Larsson novel and offer to take their lines. While handing it to me from the bow and fending the boat off, I asked where they had come from. 'Douglas comes back the response and from St Bedes Head (the last 10 miles) it's been rough going! Until then, a fantastic sail on a reach all the way until the wind veered, and with it the sea really got up', he said. It seems they experienced much the same conditions as I did! That settles it.. I'm here for another night. At least I'll finish 'The girl who played with fire'!
Whitehaven to Luce Bay - Scotland - August 22ndLocking out of Whitehaven’s sea lock, accompanied by a rather smelly fishing boat, found us heading straight into the nose of a lumpy and uncomfortable Irish Sea boasting a SW’ly wind of 9-13 knots. Two days of severe gale force winds had left the shallow Solway Firth angry at being rudely interrupted from its summer recess. Our destination, the far side of Luce Bay and the tiny inlet called East Tarbet Bay right at the tip of the Mull of Galloway. A perfect spot to wait before the challenging North Passage - the fiercely tidal narrow gap between Northern Ireland and Scotland, just sixty miles long, twelve miles wide with up to 10 metre tides. It’s critical to get everything right – wind, weather and tide! On just one single tack we sailed into Wigtown Bay, passing the tempting entrance to Kircudbright harbour at 1500, along with hundreds of throbbing surface swimming brown jelly fish in bright sunshine then when close to the western shore, tacked out past the Isle of Whithorn, another tempting little harbour, to meet head-on the race at The Machers, the headland that separates Wigtown and Luce bays. It had taken far longer to sail the twenty five miles than planned, as the disgruntled Irish Sea continually threw batches of ugly sisters at me in threes’ – a set of waves that smack you this way and that and knock you almost to a standstill, despite best efforts to helm around them. I’ve met them before near Cowes. One particular batch sent a packet of spray thumping back into my spray hood along with a huge cafe au lait coloured jellyfish which was stranded between the windlass and Cranse iron – the metal structure that takes the varying loads at the butt end of the bowsprit! I am not sure who was more surprised and was not in the least bit sorry to see the shiny mass, the size of a large Frisbee and as thick as a telephone directory, get washed overboard some moments later by the next big batch of ugly sisters. Resorting reluctantly, to the engine, as groundspeed faltered to less than a knot as the wind fell to7 knots was a must if I were to reach my destination. Once in Luce Bay the wind picked up and we had a lovely sail engineless towards The Scares – a small group of tiny islands and a nearby larger island in the middle of the bay; Gannets diving all around me providing compelling viewing; some from incredible heights and back or should that be beak-breaking speeds. A two knot hostile tide was making progress torrid; the sun long set, by the time we passed the larger island which prompted an engine restart; motor sailing the last eight miles in near darkness, the lighthouse at the tip destroying my night vision every 20 seconds. By the time we were below the beam and well inside the bay, it was completely dark, with a very fine drizzle damping enthusiasm for anything other than getting under cover. With sails furled, we gently and cautiously motored blind, relying totally on instruments, to the far end of the bay and moored in 8m; a mere 30m from the rocky shore. Too tired to cook, a lump of bread, cheese and pickle and two Hens sufficed, before falling exhausted into bed. The daily log read 73 miles; my longest passage both in hours at the helm and distance covered!
Luce Bay to Portpatrick - Scotland - August 23rdI'd planned on Stranraer as my destination and needed the ebb tide to squeeze me up the North Passage, so didn't leave until 11am - high water. No sooner than round the bottom of the Rhins of Galloway and heading North at a terrific rate, than over the radio came a severe gale warning - a Force 8 and soon! If it had come an hour earlier I'd have stayed where I was but, diving below, I entered Portpatrick as the destination in the plotter, having earlier entered the Lat and Long as a precaution. The GPS gave me an instant fix and told me it was just 8.9 mile s away - an hour's sailing due to the 4 knot tide under me. Having confirmed it as my destination, I stuck my head above the cockpit and spied a solitary whale heading South, not 50 yards away. I say whale, but I'm really not sure what it was. It behaved like a dolphin, but was humongous ; black and at least five times the size! An hour later Portpatrick came into view and using the Irish Sea Pilot Guide book used the two red leading marks - one on the harbour wall and the other on a building in the village as the angle to steer into a tiny almost empty harbour with lots of seaweed, rubbish and dead brown jellyfish. The harbour master was waiting for me up a rather daunting metal ladder! Portpatrick is rather cute and boasts at least three pubs and restaurants - local caught fish a speciality, it seems. It's a favourite haunt for Irish sailors at weekends apparently! The first pub I went into, and it was lunchtime by the way, sold Speckled Hen and Timothy Taylor! My two most favourite beers in all the world in just one place. Fate, some would say, so drank a toast to whales, with both! That made me feel much better. The rain came in bucket loads the wind didn't! It could have been worse, much worse!
Portpatrick - Midnight!Footnote! Following a rather mediocre steak at the nearest pub and seeing the window box flowers getting more and more animated, as the evening progressed, decided it was time to head back to Equinox - around 10:30, having met a splendid couple, Tim and Sarah, from Norfolk and their dog hating, but docile black Cumbrian terrier. The promised gale had arrived, somewhat later than forecasted, but never the less..... it had arrived! Back on board and having taken stock, extra fenders were quickly attached as Equinox was squirming restlessly on her mooring lines and doing her very best to coax those already deployed from doing their duty, exposing her delicate teak rubbing streak to the ancient barnacle encrusted harbour wall; a marriage with a repair bill attached! By 23:45 the gusts were strong enough to induce a heel from just the six, or so, feet of mast sticking up above the harbour wall! I don't suppose I'm going to get much sleep tonight.
What a night - Portpatrick - August 24thFrom 2:30am onwards Equinox increasingly shuddered and creaked as she squashed and rolled her fenders along the harbour wall. Her mooring lines loose to cope with the ten foot rise and fall of the tide. To overcome this, I'd hung two heavy lengths of chain, found on the dockside, halfway along the lines, helping maintain some tension - an old fisherman's trick; even so, we surged forward and backwards as the wind pushed us in every direction in the confined harbour. As the night progressed, the temperature dropped markedly, making each dash from my sleeping bag to see where the last crunch or scrape had emanated from an effort and then with headlamp on, readjusted the fenders; before heading back shivering to the cabin. By 4am the wind had eased a touch; but I'm staying put today, as it's very rough outside - I can hear it and I’m in need of sleep!
Killler Whale and Irish Stew - August 25thA spur of the moment decision, simply because weather, wind and tide made it possible, put Ireland on the agenda. Slipping lines at 11:00 and setting sail for Glenarm, a small marina some 20 miles North of Belfast, was a joy. The sun blazed down and combined with 7 knots of wind and a 2.5 knot tide made the crossing delicious, the tide helping all the way. Suddenly a noise like a truck tyre being deflated by having its valve removed made me leap up, and there not 50 yards away was a Killer Whale - black with white belly and huge dorsal fin; and, somewhat scarily, it was heading straight for me, along with two smaller ones – one minus a dorsal fin! Another huge exhale a few moments later made me gasp, as did the subsequent ones! How can anything breathe out with such force? The vapour exploding 6 feet in the air! It passed less than 25 yards away. Awe struck Utterly and completely! Arriving in Glenarm Bay having sailed up the coast from Belfast Loch and passing The Maidens – two rocks that look exactly like a young girls chesty bits, followed the harbourmaster's instructions and chose any free berth available inside the marina. Again following orders and after mooring, I found the key hanging in a green plastic bag behind the fuse box! I could now leave the marina via the electronic gate and equally important, get back in! Glenarm has seen better days, but the pub - The Bridge End Tavern is a real find. The landlord and owner Stevey McAuley a true professional. A roaring fire, a perfect pint of Guinness and on mentioning food which, they've never done, unasked produced from nowhere a huge bowl of delicious Irish stew, he'd made earlier. Where else but Ireland? God it was good. Then in came a three man crew, having parked a big Moody in the same marina - the owner having had the same operation as me, for Prostate Cancer. Then a motorcycle racing photographer came in and suddenly it's midnight and I found myself on the fat end 6 pints! Ballycastle tomorrow if I can make any sense of life!
Ballycastle - Antrim - NI - August 26thI finally managed to get my thunderous head together and made my way up to the facilities block and had a scorcher of a shower, looking, it has to be said, rather worse for wear! Once scrubbed, I paid my dues, having first topped up the water tank and cast off at 10:45, motoring past some huge salmon cages before the promised Northerly wind had found its way into the bay. Finally a zephyr from the North made a stab at giving the engine a helping hand. For the next five hours, with the tide doing nearly all the work, I sailed or rather drifted past the most beautiful coast I think I’ve ever seen. Antrim is simply stunning; particularly so on this sunny but chilly day. Sailing a couple of hundred meters from the shore in 70 meters of water is an odd sensation; and one I find hard to come to terms with. So deep were some stretches of the passage, that my depth gauge gave up and started offering me silly shallow readings! The first couple of times this happens, there’s a mad dash to the chart table to see if you’ve missed something; but once you’ve checked you’re still in 150+ meters of water you relax, just a little! Passing Cushendun Bay then finally Torr Head the wind finally found another gear (12Knots )and we had a spectacular sail into Church Bay on Rathlin Island at 8-9 knots SOG, before turning South and dashing back across the race back into Ballycastle Bay, paying a stiff penalty for doing so, by being carried too far West by the tide. But it was worth it, as we scudded back into the calm bay and sailed to within a mile of the tightly packed marina, located at the far end of the bay, before dropping sails. Once moored to berth 9 on ‘C’ pontoon and connected to shore power, I headed off to the harbour office to make introductions. Kindly they have waived their fees, so the Charity will benefit by the same amount. Codes given, I wandered around town and checked out the shops that tomorrow will fill Equinox’s larder and fridge. Not a bad choice and all close to the marina. Back on board and still feeling a little below par, decided a fish supper was in order, I could not help notice the odd whiff of cooking fish waft over the marina and with it my appetite returned. Morton’s fish and chips are a legend. Using lard is part of their secret, but they must have others. The queues speak for themselves and it’s said some regulars drive 100 miles for the experience. Having only just managed to finish a Jumbo Cod and Chips, I can safely say their reputation is well deserved. The batter so crisp it defies description. Port Ellen on the Scottish island of Islay tomorrow! So its time to bury my head it in tidal flows, Admiralty charts and GPS waypoints to ensure the passage is safe. An initial look leaves me rather perplexed!
Ballycastle, NI to Port Ellen,The island of Islay August 27thThe 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?
Port Ellen - Islay - Rupert the seal - 28th AugustRupert has been visiting Port Ellen for 5 years, A grey seal, fat on the titbit's thrown to it by fishermen. He arrives every spring and stays throughout the summer before vanishing to reappear the following year. A strange habit of extending his nostrils while sampling the air for food is accompanied by much mirth from onlookers. As soon as a fishing boat pulls in, and there are plenty, he makes an appearance by its side. He seems to recognise them all. It's not looking too good to go North today as the wind is gusting to F6+. High tide is at 14:34 this afternoon. Crunch time.... I hope it settles, but if anything, the gusts are growing stronger. Such a shame, after making great progress over the last 4 days.
Wind bound in Port Ellen - 28th AugustHigh tide came and went around 14:30 and, if anything, the wind has increased since; bringing with it heavy squalls and gusts of F6. A walk to the local Co-op, less than 400 yards away, resulted in a horizontal dousing! Rupert loiters horizontally, stomach up, nearby, half asleep, eyes closed and floating almost motionless with his nose twitching from time to time to catch the slightest whiff of anything edible. And new to the scene, is a slightly bedraggled cormorant that has taken up station on a heavily bird stained buoy nearby and keeps a restless beady eye on life in general, but particularly on Rupert. It can't be Colin? I'm getting cabin fever! I've recieved a reprimand from Stevie, the landlord at that wonderful pub in Glenarm, for not mentioning the chocolate muffin his daughter made him, that he kindly cut in half and shared with me, still hot from the oven, using a fresh egg, just laid, by his own chicken. Stevie, I could hardly remember my own name in the morning after 6 pints! But sorry all the same; as it was a delicious morsal to compliment your Irish Stew. Please thank your daughter. And yes, I did spot you waving like mad and your crazy terrier by your side! Who is in control of who, by the way?
Port Ellen - Gales and sunshine - 29th August Another night with the wind making strenuous efforts to deprive me of sleep. Equinox again being buffeted against the pontoon, her fenders squeaking in protest and her four groaning mooring lines taking it in turn to take the strain as the wind veers this way and that. Bob Harris on R2 keeps me company, and calms my growing anxiety at being stuck again. His eclectic mix of new and old music soothing, as rarely he plays anything that grates on a restless soul. What a natioanl treasure he is. Eventually I must have drifted off to wake in glorious sunshine, but with a bitingly cold wind, gusting to F8 with the occasional squall forecasted. It may, so the Met predict, drop to a F3/4 'later' with an accompanying temperature drop to near freezing overnight! Very autumnal and of some concern! My next leg is to Craighouse on the Isle of Jura, NE of my current position. With the wind currently coming from the NW the 23 mile run is feasible. The optimum time to leave would be around 1;30pm and with a favourable tide take me around 6 hours. Will the wind follow orders? Footnote:- No, they didn't! It's now 1515 and the wind is still gusting F7 although, in the Met's defence, it has dropped marginally; but not enough to set sail. A great pity and very frustrating!
Islay to Lowmanland' Bay, Jura - 30th AugustIt will forever remain a mystery to me how two days can be so different. A wonderful stillness greeted me as I awoke. No tugging on mooring lines, no squeaking fenders; just complete and utterly perfect silence. I needed to catch up on missed sleep it seems, as it’s 7:00am. Late for me! Blinded by the brilliant sunshine as I ventured topside, I was staggered to see my two neighbours had departed and I hadn’t heard a thing! Showering at a nearby B&B woke me fully and without cornflaking was under sail by 8:15 helming around the Isle of Texa before heading north to Jura in a steady 6k breeze. Last night a chaotic Indian meal at the Maharani in Port Ellen marked my final night on Islay. More like a 60’s cafe with basic and totally unpretentious fittings and decor. The food however, was excellent; the Chicken Jalfrezi and Peshwari nan particularly so. The two Indians who owned, cooked and served, seemed absurdly ill prepared for the Bank Holiday onslaught. Every one of the tables was full and there was a queue for take away meals too! Add a continuously ringing phone that was answered with .... ‘It will be at least a hour......!’ Finally a local called ‘Dave’ came to the rescue and some semblance of order was restored as the two sweating owners focused on cooking. What seemed very strange was that everyone bought their own booze; except that is for me! The owner sometimes going behind the bar to bring out a carrier bag full of cans and bottles to new arrivals! A wonderful sail followed that took most of the day, with breathtaking views on either side of Jura Sound. I was in no rush having set my sights on Lowmanland’s Bay on Jura, so happy to drift along at 3 knots. The bay proved to be a perfect setting, secluded, empty other than for one Drascombe lugger on a swing mooring, windless and ‘The Paps’ of Jura as a backdrop – Impressive hills, the largest of which looks as though it is volcanic and had recently erupted. I though I heard a stag bellowing as dusk fell, and so still was it that I feel I could have done without the anchor. Two hens and my own stew for supper and then a wee nip of something found in Islay to keep the cold out; before falling asleep to radio 4. It doesn't get much better than this!
Jura to Loch Crinan - 31st AugustThe silence woke me at 6:15am. I’m not sure I have ever not heard nothing before! The bay so still that the only ripples in it were emanating from me moving around on the boat. A cup of tea in hand, I lay down on the damp deck and studied the sea floor 6 meters below which was alive with critters, crabs and tiny little fish. Chopping a small lump of ham off and dropping it where I could see it land, it was engulfed within seconds of hitting the bottom by crabs; being too big for the little fish who had a stab at eating it on its way down. Cornflaked and toasted up, by 7am a slight breeze could be seen out in the Sound, so hoisted the mainsail and motored out – destination Crinan Loch. Just as I reached the bay’s entrance and almost right in front of me was a shark's fin with another slimmer one some 6 feet behind – but moving to and fro - and the two were attached! Shutting down the engine, I raced for my camera, but I must have unsettled it as by the time I had retrieved it from below, it was gone; reappearing 50 yards away, back on the surface; with just the top of it’s tail and fin above the surface again. I don’t think it was a big one, but all the same ... a whale shark! Another first! The tide was against me for the first hour, so kept close into the shoreline; but still in 40 meters; keeping out of the worst of the flow. With the engine off, I was barely doing 2.5 knots but enjoying the bird life – they are much tamer here and allow boats to get very close before they either dive or fly off. I’ve never been a fan of binoculars on a boat. I can never get the subject to stay still enough to enjoy viewing it. But on a day like today with barely a ripple they’re a joy. An hour later on a very remote and deserted part of Jura’s coast, I saw tucked right into the shore, a sea otter lying on its back bashing something on its tummy and then chewing it as though it either tasted disgusting or it was fighting back! Another first! They’re quite a lot bigger than I had imagined. For the first time on the whole voyage – outside the Solent of course, there were quite a few yachts out; mostly motoring south, it has to be said with no sails! Do they know something I don’t! One beautiful racing Old Gaffer with a huge gaff and mainsail with stunning white sails shot out of Crinan when it was still about 7 miles away, beating south, towards me before turning North and running for home at remarkable speed. Crinan is busy, with plenty of moored yachts ; quite a few of which, have people on board. Obviously a sort of spaghetti junction of the Highlands, as it’s the busiest spot seen so far. Only a few miles away is the famous Gulf of Corryvreckin, with its whirlpools and dangerous tidal streams – not part of my agenda! Tomorrow I sail up the Sound of Luing, past Scarba Island then across the Firth of Lorn and find a quiet spot on Mull for the night. I do need some more wind than today though! It’s time to warm up some more of my homemade casserole and dig some hens out of the fridge!
Tobermory - Mull - 1st SeptemberA decision to make a very early start to both reach Tobermory before it gets too dark and to get as far away as I can from the tempting entrance to the Caledonian Canal was made over a cup of Ovaltine late last night after hearing the weather forecast! You’ve guessed it, Cape Wrath it is! So sneaking out of the bay at 6:45 I had a challenging weave between islands most of which, I’ve never heard of; along with isolated shallow hazards for most of the day before reaching the far end of the Sound of Mull. Again, even though the weather was not too good there were plenty of yachts out and about, mostly motoring; just as they were yesterday and the bulk of them were heading south and going flat out too! Is fuel free up here? Between Scarba and Luing another sea otter made an appearance, about 150 yards away, but well within binocular range. This one was about a mile from the nearest land - he must have a Gold ASA Duke of Edinburgh’s swimming badge, stitched on his trunks, by his mum. The sea was about 30 meters deep and on reappearing after a prolonged dive that took well over a minute, hardly took a breath before starting to chew on what looked like a live lamprey to me; with a look on his face as if he was chewing a lemon made of biltong! Just like yesterday - though not on his belly this time. I hate Lampreys. God must have had a hangover the day he made lampreys, wasps and slugs! All utterly pointless, as indeed are midges; a number of which bit me last night around my ears. How they itch! Here's why....A few years back, I turned on my torch to change a fly while night fishing for Sea Trout on the River Taw and there was a lamprey not five feet from me in the eddy created by my wadders! Who needs laxatives! I'll have bad dreams again tonight, having jogged my memory of this awful event . So here I am in Tobermory, moored on a visitors buoy with a waterfall pouring into the bay not 200 yards from me and the famous multi coloured houses on the sea front to feast on, with my second hen in hand! The time is 19:45 and all is good with the world, although I’ve sadly had to run the engine for over half of the day, as the wind was sulking! Still 32 miles covered and much of it north. Pretty much the same weather is forecasted tomorrow with Mallaig the target; round about the same distance to cover as today. Cape Wrath is getting closer!
Tobermory to Talisker Bay - Isle of Skye - 2nd SeptemberTobermory looks splendid in the early dawn. Eating breakfast standing up in the cockpit while marvelling at the waterfront houses and shops, boldly painted in a plethora of eclectic colours. A film set! With the topsail hoisted, I motored gently out of the bay. Entranced, yet again, by a small otter that made a brief appearance as did a pod of porpoises within minutes of turning into the Sound of Mull; the tide then whisking me towards the Hebridean Sea, where it joins the Sound. A chilly early morning northerly breeze combined with briskly sailing into it's eye, at 7 knots, made the decision to wrap up well, wise! It is September after all... What's the point in Ardnurmurchan? The Point is mentioned every morning on the weather forecast and marks both a change to Stornoway Coastguard from Clyde Coastguard and a different weather, more often than not, for all that's north of it. And dammit, no sooner had I taken a photo of the lighthouse at THE point, than the glorious wind died, as though ordered! But,enthused by my progress so far, as I was now nearly half way to Mallaig, my original destination; and it being just after 11am, decided that it was no longer ambitious enough, so calling up Stornoway Coastguard, after studying the charts, changed my passage plan to go to Talisker Bay on Skye. This route took me via the Isle of Muck, Eigg and Rhum and up the West coast of Skye. An unexpected bonus as my Godfather, once the Laird of Eigg, spoke of it fondly and he was a man I admired beyond most. A pleasure to sail past and to pay my respects. Indeed,as if he had commanded it, I could see a wind induced ripple on the surface ahead and just as we closed on Muck, a close neighbour to Eigg, it returned, with spades and a glorious sail between the islands, across to the Isle of Soay and then along the precipitous coast of Skye was revelled in. More otters, dolphins, seals and gannets diving from incredible heights were spied and just two other yachts; again heading in the opposite direction! The seas, other than the odd fishing boats, empty! Having just tucked into some more of my stew, I can reflect on the last few days sailing and feel we’re making the best use of this fabulous spell of fine weather. If it continues tomorrow, it’s across The Little Minch to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on the Outer Hebrides, after which, it’s across the North Minch to Kinlochbervie and then........ Cape Wrath!
Sky to Stornoway - Outer Hebrides - 3rd SeptemberA disrupted night’s sleep made Talisker Bay one to forget. For reasons I cannot fathom, the anchor refused to bite. I laid out 4 times depth of water in chain, but still it kept dragging, the alarm waking me every couple of hours, telling me I had moved 20 meters. The steady breeze would have blown me straight out of the bay and out in to the ocean with no risk to life or limb for hours, if not days; but it’s not, by a long chalk, an ideal scenario for a good night’s sleep! The incoming swell may have been a contributory factor, building up from nowhere around 2am and eventually the reason to give up at 4:30 having motored to a different spot three times, to try again. Coarse Sand ....maybe - the anchor leaving a deep furrow on the seabed, as it skated along the surface? I’ll never know, as I gave up, taking advantage of a surprisingly warm and enthusiastic breeze to set sail in the dark, and worryingly, on an empty stomach to Stornoway, on Lewis – a 55 mile journey, as the crow barks; but 76 by boat! I do enjoy night sailing and today's sail was no different. Indeed watching the the sun come up and feel its warmth on your back while helming is one of life's great pleasures. Add a freshly brewed steaming hot cup of tea and breathtaking views all around and you have to pinch yourself and ask whether life can get any better? Perfect, that is, until, still on a broad reach I rounded the headland called Neist Point, one of many on Sky, where, I think, a Katabatic wind coming off the hills, nearly broached me. Suddenly, over seconds building to 28 knots! So strong was it that it blew my tender off the top of a wave overturning it and at the same time, pulled the foresail sheets off their winches. The inflatable tender dug in and acted like a sea anchor and quite why it didn't rip all the towing eyes off, I’ll never know. I’ve never experienced anything like it; but lesson learnt, keep away from headlands! It took twenty minutes to untie the four sheets which had shaken themselves into a ‘right bugger’s muddle’ (A nautical term’) right and empty the tender and generally regain my composure. In a right sweat after all this pre-breakfast effort and again sailing sweetly on a reach in an empty sea in a delicious breeze with the sun beating down, stripped, cooled down, coffeed and cornflaked. As happened yesterday, the wind died around 11am and I had to motorsail for hours until a mile south of the Shiant Islands, off Lewis when, just as it did yesterday, it dutifully returned to flush me on my way to Stornoway; arriving just before 7pm. A long day indeed! Although seals, dolphins and sea birds kept me company as did the stunning coastline. Calling up the Harbour Master earlier, I had been advised to call on Ch12 when close. Clear instructions were given, when I did, and I was met on the hammerhead by the Harbour Controller in a high visibility jacket who took my lines and made me welcome. He then took me in his car for a quick ride around Stornoway, showing me shops, banks, his office and all the stuff you might need after being at sea and arriving in a strange port. Perfect and thank you. In addition he left me with a welcome pack, with super map and local guide together with credit card entry key and a spare, just in case, all in a folder. How different to the Isle of Man! I must have looked a sight, unwashed and unshaven, windblown and burnt. But here I am about as far north as you can go in the Outer Hebrides.... I need to say it again, Outer Hebrides! I find it hard to believe I’m here. So many dragons’ slayed, so many doubts, fears and misgivings cast aside. I think I should be feeling rather proud of myself, but I’m not really thinking straight. The Caledonian Canal shortcut option long forgotten. When was that choice made? Was it yesterday? The day before? I’ve no idea it’s all become a beautiful blur of raw nature at it’s unspoilt best. I feel very privileged and thank you God for sparing me from Cancer and for giving me the chance to experience this incredible journey. Its 9pm the last of the stew is heating up on the stove, the few remaining hens will keep it company. I will hardly taste it, just too tired to care. I need the calories and then I need sleep badly. I’ll leave washing and cleaning up for tomorrow..........the energy to just brush my teeth.
Stornaway - Sept 4thI woke up late and went straight back to sleep again while listening to the 9am news feeling dreadful. I think I became very dehydrated yesterday and didn’t drink enough before going to bed; and what I did consume, was beer! Around 10am and finally kicking my way out of my sleeping bag, wandered along the harbour wall, noticing that the leaves on the trees in the nearby castle grounds both looked autumnal and were dropping steadily in time with each breath of wind. Wash bag, towel and laundry in hand, I’m off to a deserted community centre to have the most powerful shower of the voyage. My head hurting from the pressure and not helped by a bit of carelessly acquired sunburn yesterday – It’s getting thin up there! Refreshed with all my laundry done in the biggest washing machine and drier I’ve ever seen; so big that it took my double sleeping bag and three weeks washing in one load! Leaving with a smile on my face, as I read the instructions on the drier. ‘No shoes, trainers, boots, balls or pets’. So left both out! Back on board a full Ulster Fry seemed appropriate and just as I was finishing the washing up; with fuel on my mind, I spotted a man walking along the harbour wall with a jerry can. So unashamedly asked him if he was fetching fuel to which he replied yes, then whether I could join him, as both my spares were empty. Jumping into his car, we were there and back within ten minutes. It saved me a long, awkward and tiring walk with two 25 litre containers; the garage being the best part of a mile away. The first garage I’ve been to with chained up rifles and guns for sale in a rack behind the till! I had earlier, while breakfast fried, considered a taxi having googled a local firm’s number on my PDA; but ringing them thought the £7 quoted more than a bit rich. As we drove through town, I could not help but notice two huge white cruise ships had arrived which goes some way to explain why the town seems to be heaving. One moored on the main quay the other at anchor just outside, with bright orange launches going too and fro! Why here? Perhaps it’s Harris Tweed from the island? That’s it. All my jobs are done, including giving the engine the once over and the tender which, I think may have gone down a tad, a pump of fresh Hebridean air and a closer look at the three towing eyes. Sadly they have suffered a bit from yesterday’s trauma, but should just about last until I get home. By 4pm the sky has clouded over and there’s a chill to the wind that’s suddenly got up. Two grey seals are following each fishing boat that comes in and greedily get their raised noses within inches of their sterns and props. And there was me thinking Rupert in Port Ellen was unique! Later on a few beers in O’Neil’s before walking a few yards to an almost empty Chinese restaurant. Huge dishes, which I could see being cooked from raw ingredients through a glass kitchen door were both well cooked, spicy and delicious. I felt like treating myself as I’ve become so bored with my own cooking, especially the rather dull and monotonous stew eaten for the last three nights! It’s a bit limiting having only two rings and a grill. I do miss our Aga, but having one on board would take a knot or two off and give us a bit of a list!
Stornoway.... still - September 6thEverything closes here on Sunday including Tesco, except bizarrely for the filling station, that I got the diesel from – the one that sells guns and groceries – the shelves emptying quickly with a lengthy queue forming for the one till staffed. Earlier in the day I’d arranged to meet Edward Sharples at Tesco, so finding it empty, went to the garage. The queue too long and off-putting to bother with a shop. Edward had invited me to dinner at the most incredible Garynahine lodge - www.garynahine.com/index.htm together with his sister Sarah Sharples, they and a like-minded group of friends had taken for a week to fish for salmon on the entire 4 miles of one of the shortest salmon rivers in Scotland – The Blackwater. The river holds sea trout and wild brown trout too. The party of eleven have two afternoons’s ‘walked up’ Grouse and Snipe shooting and they can take a rifle to a deer too; if they choose. The vast lodge was beautifully furnished could sleep 24 and seemed to be like a Tardis, seemingly with rooms for everything! The estate, although very remote, is only 30 minutes drive on empty roads from Stornoway. Not a soul could see in any direction – just hills, lochs and the beautiful river lost in a complete wilderness. A fabulously cooked roast dinner, good craic and a staggering quantity of wine, ice cold sloe gin and beer was consumed, while playing pool and singing around the piano. The party ending around 4am this morning. And how the young can party! I was the oldest there by30+ years and just about holding my own... but only just! Conrflaked by 9am I accompanied Sarah and Edward to Beat 1 on the river – close to the lodge and watched Sarah catch her first ever fish on a fly – a beautiful half pound brown trout having lost two more minutes earlier; one of which may have been a small salmon or perhaps a sea trout. What ever it was, it followed her fly before turning; so quickly covering it again, had it on for a few brief seconds, before it took off! What an extraordinary first hour’s fishing in a pool less than 500 yards from the tidal Loch the river flows into. A little too bright perhaps and a non compliant easterly gale, that reputedly means don’t bother, didn’t seem to be hampering matters one little bit. It looks good for the rest of the week; especially if they have some rain, as the river is low! Sadly it’s not looking good for me...It could be Wednesday before I can get away. I’m back on the boat having stocked up with provisions and unashamedly looking forward to an early night.
Cabin Fever - 7th SeptemberAnother F7/8 day with gusts funnelling down to even this remote end of the harbour. Not a single fishing Vessel has ventured out the harbour, so feel reasonably confident my decision to stay put is right! A silly mistake yesterday with the battery master switch found me with both batteries completely flat; and I don't recommend starting a diesel engine; swinging it by hand. After numerous attempts, with sweat beading on my forehead, the engine finally rattled into high speed life..... BUT, with the starting handle remaining firmly stuck on it's cam, spinning like a scythe. Had it come off.... well it's probably best not to dwell on it! More to the point, I had to climb right over the top of the engine to get out of the cabin and into the cockpit to turn the engine off, as the key and Fuel cut off Toggle are located at the aft end of the cockpit. Leaping like someone possessed, I made it out of the cabin, but then realised I would be defeating the object by turning the engine off; so left it running for a couple of minutes at low revs to warm it up and put enough oomph into the batteries, to start the engine conventionally. Success! The engine is purring away in the background and all is well again with the world! I'm getting or, have got, Cabin fever and really hope tomorrow's weather improves. But sadly, I think Thursday looks safer.
Stornoway - Cape Wrath - Loch Tongue - 9th SeptemberStornoway harbour at the top of a Spring Tide was not a pretty sight this morning. The fishing Vessels that left as dawn broke, deposited an oily sheen that joined cans, bottles, polystyrene and all manner of rubbish that had accumulated since the last spring tide. Smelly Too! A huge day lay ahead – Cape Wrath! The wind played fair and every aspect of, what I had expected to be traumatic, was easy going. Cape Wrath tame, although the race was exciting and we hit 11 knots SOG in it – 5 being the tide. All the crud that had accumulated on Equinox’s topsides and hull that had gathered in Stornaway, was washed off, by very steep waves which we ploughed through rather than ride - A boat wash! So quickly had we made the passage that I decided to press on to Loch Tongue with a huge tide pushing me; arriving at 21:30 I crept into 6 meters and moored in complete darkness. A rather daunting 14.5 hours sailing.... but I’d sailed 78 miles and terribly pleased to have slain the BIG ONE! A bowl of soup and I fell asleep listening to the news and spilling a whiskey in my lap. A bit of a shock when I woke up at 4:30am freezing cold, damp and still slumped over the table; I thought my bladder had turned into a distillery! Peeing Famous Grouse; now that would be a show stopper!
Loch Tongue to Scrabster, Thurso - 10th SeptemberJoy of Joys Loch Tongue is stunning, Sticking my head topsides for a first glimpse of my whereabouts was a thrill. In every direction beaches, beautiful hills and some wonderful islands at the sea entrance of the loch keeping all the weather out. The wind played fair again today and before cornflaking was up and away to make best use of the tide. I thought I could make Wick. Not a chance, as I was to discover! I made it as far as Thurso, but it was hard work. By 9am the wind was gusting 20Knots and with two reefs in the sea became dreadfully rough. My anchor became dislodged and threatened to crash through the hull, so had to turn and run with the wind, while I put things to right. I then decided to put into a Sandside Bay, right next to Dounreay, the nuclear power place, to have a rest and take stock – it was that rough! When nearly there the wind went for SE to SW within minutes and the going became a lot easier, especially as I'd furled the jib and staysail, while the wind was making its mind up where to blow from! Once underway under double reefed main the wind became stronger and stronger again topping 24+Knots. Wick was now out of the question and I was getting very tired, so changed course for Scrabster a busy harbour adjacent to Thurso. Typically, no sooner had I sought refuge, after radioing ahead and with help from the Duty Officer to tie on a harbour wall 20ft above my head, than wind died . Never mind, time for a shower in the deserted yacht club and eat in a harbour side pub. I'll sleep for England tonight! Next stop Wick or beyond, the wind is supposed to drop back tomorrow.
The Big Right Turn - Wick - 11 SpetemberAfter a rather grim meal ashore in Thurso, I spent the evening on Equinox catching up on blogwork and tide tables! The ‘Big Right Turn’ to Wick being the preferred passage. Waking early, I double checked the weather and then my late-at-night tidal sums and GPS settings, as a precaution against 5 pints of Guinness getting in the calculator; then just as I was about to radio harbour patrol for permission to leave, than in through the narrow entrance into the tiny 200 metre square middle harbour, came a tanker that was 80 meters long, which squeezed through the entrance with about 3 meters spare. How they managed to swing the behemoth around and moor it, remains a mystery! Bow thrusters and some other wizardry, I assume. What had been crystal clear water was churned into a muddy mix that the seagulls loved! Seabed critters being swept up to the surface in the maelstrom, I’d guess. Freed to go, I had a glorious sail past Dunnet Head, picking up speed as the tide built. Sadly from Dunnet onwards the wind died to a mere 7 knots but conversely my speed increased minute by minute, until finailly, we were squeezed between Stroma and Groats; like a pip between two fingers. 10.3knots of tide and 3 knots of boat speed – 13.3 knots!! Quite the most extraordinary experience, as the sea was almost calm except for the swirls and mini whirlpools that spun us 40 degrees this way and that! Stroma an empty island with lots of derelict crofts; their black windows looking like empty eye sockets in human skulls. John o’ Groats flew past, with barely time to take a picture before Duncannby Head was reached - The ‘Big Right Turn!’ Feeling emotional and still trying to take in the significance of this major milestone of the voyage in that, for the first time, I was pointing south, the sea state went from dead calm to being very unpleasant and without the wind in the rig to stabilise things, exceedingly tiring, as Equinox was throw all over the place. Discretion being the better part of pain, I remained sitting and braced; the only sensible option. Slowing to 5 knots it took 30 minutes to get through the race; and as it died, so a NE swell took over and still with no wind an equally uncomfortable proposition. With no other choice, the engine was called for, and reluctantly motored all the way to Wick, some 12 miles away. A rather disappointing way to pass such a milestone! All the same, I’m overjoyed; I’m heading for home. Wick harbour is terrific. The Inner harbour a really pleasant surprise. Generously equipped with pontoons and large gaps between the fingers for yachts of any size to moor; and all of it looking brand new; which it pretty well is. I moored 100 meters away from to a Mark ! Cornish Crabber in original condition; which left after I arrived on a fishing trip. A delightful chap owned her, who came over to say hello, before he went – well all Crabber Owners are! I could not help but note, that no sooner had I arrived than a nice breeze picked up; but heavy rain is expected with it! As I made Equinox fast, a boat owner came up the pontoon an introduced himself. I hadn’t radioed ahead, as looking at Reeds and another harbour guide; I’d assumed that the marina office was closed. Not one bit of it! Norman Macloud first generously lent me his spare pontoon keys; which he jumped in his car to fetch and was then incredibly helpful with directions etc. He also called the Harbour Master to let him know that I was here. Unprompted kindness is always humbling. 30 minutes later, with shore power connected and everything ship shape the Harbour Master came and said hello too; with a map of al things that matter to a visitor. Malcolm Bremmer, an interesting man who first kindly offered to waive harbour dues and then arranged for a 25 litre drum of diesel as a contribution! I’m overcome how kind people are here in Wick. It’s 7pm, the rain has been and gone, the marina bathed in a wonderful sunset. Jim Bruce has just arrived on my pontoon with the fuel; and helped me top up Equinox’s tank. A fascinating man, who sadly had to leave to meet his wife, who’d just been to see ‘Calendar Girls’; I could have talked to him for hours. With a hen in hand – it’s better than a bird by the bush, as I sit in the cockpit taking things in, I can’t help but notice that the harbour wall is lined with immaculate well kept fishing vessels; two from the Isle of Man, who have found Wick women irresistible; so I’m led to believe!. All very different from most fishing ports I’ve been to that look rather tired and down at heel. I’ve also noticed that there isn’t any rubbish floating around; a pristine harbour – a rarity. Even the seagulls wear dinner jackets! To all yachtsmen reading this blog; put Wick in your ‘Must Visit’ list; it’s a gem. I’m eating in tonight. Sausages and Hens! The sausages I bought a week ago and if not eaten tonight will mutiny! I should have eaten then last night and been spared a grim fibrous steak and oil soaked limp onion rings.
Wick - A Rest Day - 12th SeptemberIt being Sunday, the F1 circus at Monza and Wick Marina equipped with wifi, made it easy to pronounce this a day of rest! And I was tired yesterdaywhen I arrived here, so need to play catch-up. A leisurely shower in the marina facility followed by a walk through a silent river side town to a supermarket, between bouts of rain enabled me to stock up. Milk goes off very quickly at sea, it seems – curdled, despite being kept well chilled! Andrew Morgan, the owner of the Mk1Crabber came for coffee and we’ve agreed the two yachts will set off at 8am tomorrow; he accompanying me for as long as his livestock will allow; he’s an organic beef, sheep and oats farmer, by the way. I think Buckie is my first choice destination; 48 miles away across the Moray Firth. Alternatively I could hug the coast and go for Nairn or Lossiemouth; the weather being the decider; and it looks as though it will be a F5/6 and 7 at times! Breezy; so will make the call once I’m out there; as the Moray Firth and North Sea are new to me; added to which, last week’s storms sent waves over the harbour entrance lighthouse; and its got to be 20ft high, so it can cut up rough here! I did enjoy the racing along with scrambled eggs on toast! Odd choice, but It's what I felt like!
Wick to Wick - Beaten! - 13th SeptemberAndrew Morgan, the owner of 'Mudlark' the Mk1 Crabber arrived at 8am bearing organic sausages and fillet steaks. A very generous gesture. We set off in our respective boats and as soon as we both got into the middle of Wick Bay and close to Proudfoot Rocks it became clear it was going to be a tough ol'day. Beating East and as close to the wind as possible, with just the jib and two reefs in the mainsail, progress was slow and uncomfortably lumpy. Buckie the target. Before I had a chance to straighten up the rig after reefing, I caught my knuckle on the hatch which bleed profusely and as the first aid kit is buried in a forward locker, decided to stay at the helm and just dribble; so didn't tie in the reefing pennants as I'd didn't like the idea of blood on the sails; as it was, the cockpit was liberally sprinkled with spots which I hosed off later. A call on the prearranged Channel 8 from Andrew indicated he was turning back. A chance for a quick wave, before he tacked and was gone. I carried on a mile or two further and then tacked back; again as close to the wind as possible. Wind and wave took me straight back into Wick Bay, so decided I was not going anywhere South and called it a day! This SE wind is set for a day or two with F8 storms tonight.
Wick - Keeping my head down - 14th &15th SeptemberWe remain at Wick and for the 4th day are being buffeted rudely by gusts; If anything they're harder today with gale force 9 winds forecasted later. There's an autumnal feel to the wind too! Little ventures out of the harbour or marina. A couple on a nearby yacht left yesterday hoping to reach Inverness, but were back within 30 minutes saying conditions were very uncomfortable. We joined up in Weatherspoons last night to commiserate; a slight headache this morning makes me think we're rather good at it! Friday is looking possible but Saturday more so; but wet and miserable. A short walk into town this morning found me at Wick's Heritage Centre; a real must visit, if you're ever near. Wick used to have well over a 1000 herring boats here - fishing for the silver darlings. Along with the boats came all the trades needed to support them, the crews, and of course, the fish that were generally salted in barrels or smoked. The museum conveys the rise and fall of this entire infrastructure; once they had been fished to near extinction. At one point over 800 gallons of whiskey was consumed here a week! A fascinating three hours was spent there; before a very mundane trip to the shops and some grit that managed to get blown in my left eye.
Wick - And still the wind blows. - Sept 16thA degree or two colder today, the wind still gusts to 30 knots and more. Carelessly, during a fine spell, I left the hatch open, while assisting the Harbour Master, by rowing a line across the harbour in the tender, so a yacht that was bought in completely awash by the RNLI, a week or so ago, could be pulled across the harbour and first lifted then transported back to the owner's home. The boat had only just been put into the water after a seven month refit. Sadly it was not fully tested before embarking into a North Sea gale; water coming through an anchor hawse pipe and up through the sink's waste outlet; and probably one or two other places too! A very close call! Water had unsurprisingly got into the alternator, electrics and engine preventing the 66 year old solo sailor from leaving under his own steam. While I was over there lending a hand here and there, to take the mast down, then positioning the yacht, a classic baby Nickolson, on the transporter, a squall left Equinox's insides drenched as far forward as the galley table on which, sat my laptop! Somehow it lives to tell the story, thanks to the boat's heating system drying it out which, I left running for an hour, doing the trick. What makes Wick special is that half a dozen locals - all men of the sea, engineers, fishermen and the like, responded to the call; willingly helping the owner get things ship shape on the boat and transporter before it set off, despite it blowing a gale along with an accompanying short sharp shower every 15 minutes or so. Where else would that happen, I wonder? Some had already taken his soaking kit home, washed and dried it and fed him and generally made his utterly miserable experience bearable, while for a week he sorted out his belongings and equipment, as best he could. They rally round the needy here in Wick; the whole experience has been rather humbling. Their generous gift of time and expertise was, for Michael, the owner of the boat, a blessing. I'm going to be sorry to say good bye to them all. I'm ashamed to say, I've just finished eating another organic fillet steak donated by Andrew and it, just like yesterday's one, stunningly good. I don't think I've ever tasted better. Down to earth tomorrow - beans on toast, probably!
Wick to Whitehills and Isaballe for company - 16th SeptemberA sound nights sleep withourt a gale howling thorugh the rigging left me refreshed and raring to go. A quick cornflake and a chance to say goodbye to Malcolm Bremner; and I was off; with Whitehills marina right across the Moray Firth, next to Buckie, the destination. A 58nm mile run on a broad reach, I thought. When barely out of the Bay, a shout from behind startled me and turrnig was shocked to see Malcolm and two crew on Isabella Fortuna. I simply couldn't believe it and very moved indeed by this extraordinary generous gesture. A treasured memory and the highlight of the voyage so far. With fog horn blaring they turned and went back after keeping me company for fifteen minutes. I waived until they were out of sight. Quite iincredible! Here she is under full sail For those interested in the History Of The Isabella Fortuna Built by James Weir, Arbroath, the Isabella was launched on the 15th September 1890. With an overall length of 45 feet, 13 feet 9 inches beam and a draught of 6 feet the vessel was intended for line and drift-net fishing. She was powered by two big lug sails, a jib and five oars. For 86 years generations of the same Smith family fished with the vessel from Arbroath. In 1919 a 15hp Kelvin engine was fitted but by 1928 greater power was needed for the seine-net fishing and a Kelvin K2 44hp engine was installed. This was upgraded in 1932 when a Kelvin K3 66hp engine was fitted and this engine continues to power the boat today - an extraordinary petrol/diesel engine. At that same time the name was changed to Fortuna. When in 1976 the Smith family retired from the sea Hobson Rankin, an enthusiastic restorer, bought the vessel and began a 4-year restoration project. In 1980 the Fortuna became the Isabella Fortuna incorporating once more the original name. In 1997 the Wick Society bought the Isabella Fortuna from Hobson Rankin and Michael May for £6000.00. Mr Rankin donated his share of the vessel to the Wick Society to assist them in using the vessel to promote the rich heritage of Wick's fishing industry. Since that date enthusiastic volunteers have been engaged on a continuous programme of renewal and restoration. (A pictorial record of the vessel and the restoration is available from The Wick Society.) Major reconstruction, renewal and overhaul have been necessary to keep the boat seaworthy. The Wick Society acknowledges with gratitude the countless hours given by volunteers and skilled tradesmen in bringing the vessel to life. We also thank local businesses for the generous donations of money and materials that have made the restoration possible.The Isabella Fortuna is normally berthed in Wick Harbour but during the winter she is housed in the old Lifeboat Shed on the South shore of Wick Bay. This enables maintenance to continue throughout the year. With a voluntary crew the vessel visits ports for festivals and other sea-based events and promotes the aims and purposes of The Wick Society Peterhead tomorrow around the next big 'right turn'!
Whitehills to Peterhead - 19th SeptemeberYou have to give it to the Scottish, they know how to make you feel welcome. Whitehills Marina was no exception. The harbour master went out of his way to be helpful. The facilities there are excellent and the tightly packed boats in marina, as snug as a bug in a rug. Topping up the tank with water after a wonderful hot shower, I was off; Peterhead the destination. The wind SSE just made it possible to make progress under sail and with help from the tide, ate up the miles; although Stentor a beautiful Colin Archer designed yacht; heading for Peterhead too, shot past me, like I was standing still. I learnt later they had the Iron Topsail running. They'd been at Whitehills too. The wind picked up and became more easterly as we approached Rattray Head, the next ‘Big Right Turn’ so a tack back into the shore near Fraserburgh seemed sensible as the sea was getting more than a bit lumpy. Coming through the tack, I heard a strange ripping noise from the bow area; thinking it was just the sails catching on the forestay. Once the boat was settled on the new tack and under Raymarine Tillerpilot, I went forward to investigate; spotting the problem instantly; once I’d stuck my head round the staysail. Three sets of reinforcing had gone around the clew on the jib. The sail under huge tension ran the imminent risk of self destructing. One reinforcing panel's stitches must have gone, overloading the next and then the next, leaving just the one nearest the clew intact. Quickly turning to run with the wind, with the jib out of the worst of the wind behind the mainsail, to take as much pressure as possible off it, I furled it; then sailed under staysail and main only. Slow progress and little reward for the next two hours as the tide turned foul; finally giving in and started the engine. 5 hours of very uncomfortable motoring followed; the wind picking up to 14-16 knots. There’s not much of a race around Rattray Head but the sea certainly picked up and gave us bashing as both wind, sea and tide were against us; and no fun at all with clumps of spray rocketing back and thudding into the canopy making 4 knots is tiring; and it was the same all the way to Peterhead, a welcome respite. There to usher me in a berth were the Dutch crew off Stentor who’d been there for hours - they could have probably have grown beards waiting! I think they felt rather sorry for me and invited me on board their stately home, for roast chicken, no less and served with a delicious fried vegetables, ginger, garlic, wine and rice dish! Two wonderful glasses of a 40 percent proof 6 year old drink called Cosenwyn; put me right instantly – Stentor is skippered by a Doctor who has sailed right around the UK via Belgium, France, the Channel Islands and Ireland and through the Caledonian Canal, being joined by chums - doctors and anaesthetists - that’s who’s on her now. Their fishing tackle was something else, God knows how they caught two mackerel on 6 inch long day-glow rubber baby octopuses – probably the Venturi Effect! (in joke) To Robert Janssen, Arno Timmermans, Jan Van de Ven and Bart Rudemaker; here’s to wind in your sails and the sun on your upturned cheeks for the remainder of your voyage; and thank you for a wonderful evening and many laughs. A sail maker has been found; the jib ready for collection around midday. Next stop Arbroath; if the wind would come from any direction than the SE! The daunting Moray Firth behind me.
Peterhead to Stonehaven - 21st SeptemberI filled up with fuel at Peterhead before setting off, as today was by all measures going to be a tough one. I'm not sure where I'll be able to get some more fuel in the minor harbours on the schedule, so thought it prudent. I didn't know quite how tough it was going ot be until I poked my nose out of the harbour. Poor old Equinox got thrown all over the place; while avoiding lobster pot risers that the tide had dragged under too! A mile or so out conditions improved a little so with just Jib and Staysail set to lift her over the swells I made good progress with the helpful tide; but it was rough, uncomfortable and the spray wet! The coastline, with shallower water than I'd experienced for weeks, mainly consists of golden coloured sand dunes, a portion of which, Donald Trump wants to buy, or perhaps has, to develop a huge golf course complex and thousands of homes. Aberdeen hove into view through the murk, the stream of helicopters passing overhead to and from Dyce to the oil rigs coming thick and fast; then with the wind suddenly dropping finally hoisted the main with two reefs; before sailing through a flotilla of rig service vessels moored outside the harbour; and tacking out in 10m water close to the town's waterfront. Tacking back out the wind just died leaving me with the grim options of 5 knots of wind a growing tide and both right on the nose together with a cross chop mixed wiith a SE swell offering a horrid gyrating movement; especially without the sails to steady her! I finally made to Stonehaven at 6:30 mooring up three abreast to two yachts that had both left Peterhead too! Stonehaven is a wonderful place. A sort of Scotland's equivalent to Padstow. The sea front rich with a choice of restuarants, bars and hotels. Starving hungry and tired I made my way to the first one, who produced a fine Tomothy Taylor and fish n'chips! Perfect, I'd say; Perfect!
Stonehaven to Arbroath - 23rd SeptemberAn early start as Stentor wanted to reach Eyemouth, an ambitious voyage as the forecast is poor, so my teeth were brushed by 0530; as I was moored against her! After she'd left, with many a 'Bon Voyage' I tied Equinox to some rusty chains and the vertical harbour wall steps and had a bit of a wait for the Harbour Master who arrived at 07:30. Paying my dues, he confirmed Arbroath would be my best bet as the wind is scheduled to gust to 8 or 9 'later'. At least it was from the NE so made the most of it and with tide's help was soon rattling along in calm seas at 6knots. A few miles later the rain turned from drizzle to torrential and with it, the wind rocketed to F5- F6 and gusting F7! Fortunately, the sea hadn't had a chance to pick up so flew along under jib and heavily reefed main. About 15 miles into the 34 mile voyage, I needed to put the last and final reef in - I've never used it before; but had prepared points to tie in as there are no fixed reefing lines. As I lowered the gaff, after first topping up, I looked up and saw the beads that are attached to the jaws of the gaff and go round the mast to stop it from parting company with it; had come undone! That's another first! I pondered for some minutes how to tackle this problem; eventually turning into wind, dropped the main and struggled to stand up while tieing them back on; in the mounting sea. Finally done, I tied in the reef points and turned to run the last 18 odd miles to Arbroath. Rain... it just poured! With it visibility dropped to a few hundred yards and the drops so large, they actually hurt! Then I noticed a large bulge forming in the reefed part of the sail above the boom - it was rain water collecting by the bucket load in the furls! Another first! I then had to furl the jib as the wind went more northerly and it was in danger of splitting, as it cracked back, like a pistol shot, when the wind caught it from the wind shadow behind the main. Still flying along at over 6 knots with just a tiny mainsail was rather exhilarating; but the seas were getting very daunting and we started to surf rather dangerously, so decided to gibe and run off a bit, to avoid getting broached. Two more jibes and we made it .... in one piece. Perfect timing too, as I followed a fishing boat into the harbour; which saved me the anguish of arriving at a new port! Out of the wind at last..... Phew! Arbroath marina is perfect. A guy was waiting to take my lines; handed keys, and all done and dusted in five minutes. The Dutch guys were there ahead of me having seen F9 on their wind display! Much waving and clapping! We'll be here for a day or two, I think. It took ten minutes to get the worst of the water out of the cabin. The wooden floor flaoting about again on half an inch of rain water. 32 pumps on the bilge pump - a record! What a day..........!
Arbroath - Day 2 - September 23rdArriving yesterday I thought there was rather more water in the boat than I'd experienced before, and long after I'd written up the blog, discovered the bloody water tank had either developed a leak or had burst again. Sponging the last of the water out of all the starboard lockers was a chore before inspecting the tank; angrily finding two holes close together almost immediately. Using Aquaseal a wonderful wadder repair kit, I sealed both holes and left the glue to cure for 12 hours. Reattaching it this morning and watching it fill spotted at least three more leaks; so gave up. A really bad design means that in rough seas creases in the polythene bladder flex to the point a hole develops; and as the space for the tank is not the same shape as the tank so it's impossible not to have creases; and have I tried to smoothe them out! This is the second tank that's burst on the voyage and third I've replaced since buying the boat. I don't intend to replace it at £67 a time. When I get back to Chichester I'll have a stainless steel tank made to fit the space; which is what should have been fitted in the first place. It's cold and blustery today and the boat damp from both the rain that blew in during yesterday's sail and the burst tank, so decided yet again to empty the boat's contents out into the cockpit, where it had a chance to dry out. A curry tonight; was both expensive and not particularly good; I'm getting restless already. I hope the wind drops over night; but doubt it.
Arbroath to Eyemouth - 26th - 27th SeptemberSunday saw me wave farewell to my Dutch friends who have run out of time. They plan on sailing to Lowestoft then motor across if the wind stays from the east to Holland; 48 hours on the go. A great bunch of guys who made the most of every port! I watched the Grand Prix with Paul off the Southerly yacht, Mettlesome, at a quayside pub. Then Anthony, who I met in Fishguard, with his chum Giles, called in on their way to Huntly for some Salmon fishing. A wonderful rest day; some moules and Pizza finishing it off. The moules came back to haunt me yesterday as Ruth and Paul and Mettlesome and I planned to set sail for Eyemouth a rather daunting 56 mile sail across the Firth of Forth with poor visiability, with the wind turning foul to blow as a SE’ly, as the day progressed. It did! The North Sea is a troubled place; messy. Not the long rolling predictable swell of the West Coast; as such, it’s very tiring and by the time I reached Eyemouth with a horrendous looking entrance; waves crashing on rocks either side of the harbour entrance; I was dog tired. Once inside though ti's all peace and calm. A sad place though that's seen better days with the demise of fishing. Bless Paul and Ruth, their much larger yacht had made better time and not only helped me in; but had put a pie in their oven for me; so joined them for a fun evening before calling it a day at 10pm, cream crackered.
Eyemouth - 28th SeptemberWaiting for the Harbour Master to arrive this morning; towel over my shoulder and wash bag tucked under my arm, I got chatting to the Ice Man – he supplies ice to the trawlers, to keep the fish fresh. Times are hard; and if I understand him correctly, it’s the same along most of the North Sea coast. Eyemouth, as have most of the Scottish Ports given up fishing for white fish; the Spanish doing that for us! Here if you go into port with more than your quota the fisheries officer puts you over his knee! The Spanish don’t give a damn and catch everything. So absurd is the situation that a boat here inadvertently last week caught codling; which they had to tip back into the sea – most dead or dying – around 100 boxes! So instead they fish for prawns; and to pay the bills have to fish aggressively; and guess what, they’re fishing them to oblivion and it’s getting harder and harder to find them; so have to fish further and further away. And what eats prawns – the very fish that we’re not allowed to catch because they’re illegally also getting fished to oblivion by the Spanish. Who said the EEC have a finger on the pulse? All our fishing vessels are fitted with satellite tracking technology so big brother is watching them wherever they fish or land their catch; constantly they’re under the microscope..... and the Spanish? Showered and feeling much better and loaded with a month’s worth of laundry, set off into town to find a laundrette; ending up at the Fisherman’s Mission, where, bless them, they let me use theirs. The wash done, I loaded it into the tumble drier, which hummed noisily and smelt hot! Nothing revolving, as expected; and it wouldn’t work with no load in either; so it wasn’t overfilled. I now have, rather embarrassingly all my smalls and laundry hanging off radiators all over the Mission. Need’s must! The wind’s still from the SE and due to gust to 29 knots overnight, so here I stay for a day or two. Next stop will hopefully be Amble; back in Northumberland...England.
Eyemouth - 29th SeptemberI rather regret not going to Amble today. Easy to say that with hindsight though. The wind never arrived as expected; the sea conditions remaining not too bad. On the plus side, an angel at the Fisherman's Mission, saw my laundry, took it home, tumbled dried and ironed it- creases in my underpants, no less. I felt rather guilty putting it into a bag to take back to Equinox; so beautifully folded, it seemed an insult to disturb the symmetry; but it's raining stair rods; so had to. The expected wind has now arrived; a low pressure coming up from the Irish Sea and passing the Firth of Forth tonight. Tomorrow should be on. I've got cabin fever now for sure; if I hadn't got some day trading to keep me amused and a bit to add to the novel ....'Everyone has one in them'..., so prized mine out with a crowbar; I'd be chewing the mattress otherwise. Truthfully, I'm actually thoroughly enjoying writing it, but doubt it will ever see the light of day.
Eyemouth to Amble - 30th SeptemberSome days are good; some bad. Today was bliss. Dozens of Seals spied, with Gannets diving among them, clear blue skies and sunshine. I think, the first since mid August! Leaving Eyemouth at about 8:30 a fantastic 12-13k SW wind bowled us along almost due south - and homeward bound. First came Berwick on Tweed, then the stunningly beautiful and unspoilt Berwick Bay, Holy Island, Bamburgh Castle, Farne Islands and into a herd of seals out at sea hunting; so many shiny black heads bobbing, that they were impossible to count; Gannets whirling in their hundreds diving and feasting on the fish forced to the surface. As you drew close to one, it suddenly panicked and with a splash disappeared; to bob up a few minutes later and join the dozen shiny back cue balls staring at you. Past the derelict but beautiful ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle bathed in sunshine; glorious green pastures and endless golden sandy beaches and wave lashed rocky outcrops, the backdrop. For the last ten miles the wind eased to 5knots and swung back to the dreaded SE; the old iron topsail called for, yet again; but nothing could wipe the smile of my face. Paul and Ruth in Mettlesome moored across the pontoon, had kept me company all day too; all agreeing it was a memorable one. Amble is a perfect spot for a day or two; out of the predicted gales. A crowded marina fed by the River Coquet keeps the water iron red after rain; and have they had some! Within hours of arriving first more torrential rain arrived and through the night the wind rose too. It's now gusting 20-27 knots; the surrounding yachts halyards 'tinging' urgently; the rain off and on giving me no excuse not to crack on with the novel. A short walk ashore last night found me in Zucci; a restuarant with a wood fired Pizza oven. I watched mine first made then cooked over a Peroni or two; for all of the 60 seconds it took to cook! I kid you not. So delicious was it, I'm compelled to go back tonight and check it wasn't a fluke.
Amble - day 2 - 1st OctobberCompelled to remain on board all day as the wind howled around the marina, accompanied by near horizontal rain that battered Equinox until 19:30; when it suddenly and unexpectantly stilled. With renewed enthusiasm, I hope to be on the move again tomorrow; but around us the isobars are so tightly grouped that the predicted short break in the grim weather could change the current forecast beyond all recognition. As always, I'll take a view first thing in the morning. Ruth, Paul and I decided to take a stroll up to the Pizza place, hoping to find a table; finding it booked solid until 9pm; though it worth the wait, so went for a drink nearby. The meal, nearly as good as last night's, was followed by a visit to the local Karaoke pub. In my wildest dreams I've never seen such horrific mutants try and keep up with the machine. Being out of tune, is one thing; not keeping in time another; but when you're 60 dressed like a teenager and can't read the screen without glasses as thick as the bottom of Coke bottles, that made them look like owls; then surely it's time to surrender to Father Time. Not one bit of it, they all had hair died so black that they looked like Goths; amateur tattoos of Dennis the Menace on exposed bits of dimpled flesh, that I'd have long ago wrapped up in something long-sleeved - ideally a body bag. Those Italian Salami you see hanging in shops, grey with mold, came to mind. Sadly, these harpies queued up to massacre tune after tune; my pint of beer being left half consumed on the bar; so awful the vision, I just had to leave. Never, I repeat never, have I done that before! Had Churchill had them at his disposal the war would have ended in 1942. Our Minister of Defence, should scrap the Typhoon fighter, the Aircraft Carrier order and the Trident submarine replacements; I've just found all we'll ever need. Fly them to Afganistan, put them on a loudspeaker and Osama would come out of his cave pleading to be taken into custody. Ruth and Paul had sensibly gone ahead to shop at one of those late night Tesco places. I'll sleep well tonight as long as Amble's version of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video doesn't feature in my dreams; if indeed I'm capable of falling asleep, being so traumatised. It would help if all the local dogs would stop howling too! ........................No, I 've just realised it's not dogs; they're at it again, slaughtering 'My Way' Sorry Frank!
Blyth - 1st OctoberDecision made; there's a small window before the next strong wind warning. Fueling up, as a precaution, we headed for the entrance; past the speedboat, sunk on it's mooring; just its vertical bow sticking above the water; to be greeted by incoming rather daunting breaking rollers. Less than .6 of a meter under the keel as we surged over and through them; like riding a rollercoaster. Once clear of the entrance the sea was desperately confused and uncomfortable. A 15 mile motor, with the wind right on the nose, is not a fun way to spend the day; but the window before the next blast hits Blythe, so small, that sailing was out of the question. Arriving around 2pm and surfing through the entrance was relief. The yacht club is on the old Calshott Spit lighthouse - a solid oak, teak construction built in 1890 with ceilings low enough for the massive bolts holding it together to catch you painfully. I'll only do it twice!
Blythe - Water in the fuel - 3rd October
An attempt to sail to Hartlepool came to nothing today. I set off at 8am in pouring rain with little wind and what there was; again straight on the nose. Despite this, as I got about two miles out to sea, the wind picked up nicely and some good progress made on my first tack. Out of sight of land in murky conditions, I tacked back in towards the coast; soon realizing as the coast came back into view, that I'd failed to make it past the headland light house for what should have been a long productive leg, so started the engine to help me get me past it. Closing in on light house, the waves got more complex and the wind started gusting to 14 knots; when a larger steeper wave caught me broadside; making Equinox roll horribly, the engine for the first time ever coughed and spluttered for ten seconds before running again smoothly. This unnerved me as I had a 30 mile sail ahead of me and a lock to contend with at the other end; so having covered only about 6 miles, decided to go back to Blythe and find out why it had hiccoughed. Undoing the grub screw at the bottom of the main fuel filter I filled half a paper cup with water before fuel appeared! Where it had come from is a mystery; as I put in the fuel an additive that is supposed to keep water in suspension, so that it gets burnt by the engine? I’ll investigate it further after I’ve dried out and had some lunch! Later: The filter had some more water in it; a tablespoon; so reassembled the unit and assume it has been an accumulation over the entire voyage, as the filter was not changed when I serviced the engine in Wick. Ended up in the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club for supper again tonight with Ruth and Paul; as they'd decided not to venture south in the pouring rain and accompanying wind warning. Surprised to see me back after my short voyage; they welcomed a very damp me with a steaming cup of coffee! The same delicious Beef Pie meal as last night - it was that good and at £3.00. Well...! The Club members make visiting yachtsman really welcome, the bar on the lightship cosy and deliciously warm after a cold damp boat, the showers powerful; the beer good. The entrance to the harbour is easy, the visitor's berths perfect with shore power and water to hand; the nearby coastline dramatic. Who would have guessed it? I, for one would never had put the NE coastline on my list of cruising 'must do's' - but it certainly is: I'm sure I'll be back.
Blythe - Scarborough - 5th SeptemberSet off with Hartlepool in mind but the lack of swell and a wind that veered to the SW made Scarborough possible; arriving long after dark at 21:30, I was exhausted. Paul and Ruth are safely moored in Hartlepool and have negotiated a secure spot for their beautiful yacht for the winter; their summer long cruise over. Saying our goodbyes on Ch8 is not ideal, but I'm sure they understand. I'm not sure I can do many more night passages; far too many close calls with lobster pots including one with a huge stick and black plastic flags than ran along the entire length of the boat; I though I was being attacked by birds; as they flapped by; all absolutely invisible at night until you're almost on top of them. Scarborough's entrance, minus the lights that should be there, that are broken, is rather daunting as the water's not deep at low tide; you seem very close to the shiny wet beach and amusement arcades and bright lights that hamper your night vision before the entrance is visible. The night keeper gave clear instructions; an easy berth proffered on a pontoon covered with seagulls that complained noisily at being moved on. As I was heating my beef pies, donated by the RNYC, a huge juvenile gull flew into a stay with a twang and flopped into the sea; it seemed OK - well it was swimming with it's wings folded correctly. I'll report it when I go to the marina office in the morning. Hull maybe tomorrow?
Scarborough - 5th OctoberLooking at the next three passages last night left me concerned that I'll need to top up with fuel before leaving Scarborough; as to make any progress, the engine has been used quite a bit over the last three days and the tank abut half full. Showered and shaved by 7am and talking to a fisherman fixing a duff engine, I learnt that to reach the entrance to the Humber, anchoring at Spurn Head, I need to leave here two hours before low water and I'd missed that already. Decision made; a day in Scarborough; time to sort out fuel; mail a birthday card to my mother, stock up on food and stretch my legs. Scarborough's marina is fine, the town, not so; especially the seafront which is assaulted constantly by the, not nice, smell of crab and shellfish packers that line the old harbour; and do they pong! It rather spoilt my night too; not knowing what it was until daylight. The tank's full as is the fridge; weariness from yesterday's epic long forgotten; I'll be gone by 0645 tomorrow. The coast, I've been warned, is dismal, so hope there's some wildlife to keep me entertained. Force 4's to 5's yet again from the dreaded SE, so the engine's going to get another work out.
Scarborough - Spurn Head, Humber - 6th SeptemberA dull grey morning with drizzle accompanies the noisy seagulls that have, overnight, regurgitated their stomach contents and emptied their bowels on the pontoon. Neat packages of bones many with plastic film suggest refuse raiding; dropping off my rubbish and keys, on tiptoes to avoid these smelly landmines keeps me focused. A call to Port Control for permission to leave and I’m off; a run of 58 miles to Spurn Head on the cards. Pushing tide for the first three hours was a struggle despite engine and sail doing their very best to break 4knots; the sea knocking way off; just as you're on the cusp of progress; Filey Brigg, the headland and target, remains mist shrouded and distant. Once passed, Falmborough Head appears as the next waypoint, a rough old spot if ever there was one. Today was no different; very rough; but the tide suddenly came good and within a minute we were averaging 6 knots and trying to helm through dozens of pots strategically placed and largely submerged in the current and standing waves, to catch you out. Two did and I went over the top of them; engine by now off! It was 13:30 as I just missed the last one; accompanied by two fishing vessels that came out of the mist to wave and wonder; returning to Scarborough. The next 5 hours of sailing was a joy; great progress without Mr Yanmar warbling in the background. The coastline desperately dull; the wind by some miracle of fortune from the SSW, against all predications. One extraordinary event took place. A huge Black Backed Seagull came and flew with me. I could have stretched out and touched it, so close it came. It stayed for minutes; sometimes off the stern, then in the billow of the mainsail then in front of the mast using the draft from the staysail and jib. Effortless progress and total mastery of flight as its head turned this way and that hunting, accompanied by a slight watery dribble from its beak. Such a pristine example of evolution would be hard to envisage. A winged angel had paid me a visit. I’m quite sure a thousand fishermen have seen the same thing; for me however as a lonely sailor, it was very special. Spurn Head came into view just as the watery sun gave up and sank. Darkness followed alarmingly quickly. Although the land ends; there’s a huge submerged bank to avoid before you can tuck up in the curl; behind the Pilot’s Jetty and moored RNLI Lifeboat. 3 hours later I at last dropped the anchor after battling the formidable ebb tide and entry race; I’d missed my tide slot! Had I arrived an hour earlier; all would have been well. As it was I dropped the anchor with the engine still running, in gear and holding course on the Raymarine Tillerpilot; but going backwards slowly; in five meters of water, I scoped out 20 meters of chain! It would be embarrassing to drag anchor in the Humber Pilots Powerful launches; worse the Lifeboat! Cutting the engine the chain went forward into the depths at an alarming angle. The Boat Speed still reading 3 knots; as it dug in. Tired but thrilled, I set about supper. The Full Monty cooked; a chilled Speckled or two already consumed, as I watched things brown; before sitting down. The next minute my world went mad. Some passing tanker or vessel set me rocking on my beam ends. Diving for my glass that shot across the table meant I missed the plate and glass. Both ended up on my bed, fortunately separately. The food back on the plate the beer lost; all sponged up with no stains as I’m scotchguarded - it’s worth every penny. Sleep interrupted by the same event twice. Not a spot I’d recommend; but a fantastic launch pad for tomorrow......
Spurn Head - Wells Next the Sea - Norfolk - 7th OctoberA Pilot’s Launch woke me at dawn, as it thundered off to engage some incoming vessel; it’s wake rattling everything in the boat; including my teeth! Cornflaking was out of the question; the milk would have curdled; so had some orange juice instead. Dressed up in thermals as well as the full Musto Ocean Kit; I went to do battle with the anchor windlass. It was such hard work , that I put Equinox into gear motored up the chain. Eureka, easy peasy! I’d already hoisted the main so shot out of the river at 6 knots having first obtained clearance from Humber VTR; nice and helpful they were too; asking that I give them a final shout as I passed Rosse Spit and out of their control. Miles of dreadfully boring coast followed; but at least progress was brisk; just mile upon mile of empty beaches with the odd fairground betwixt; the water barely 9 meters deep miles from shore, with patches of well marked shallows interspersed. A call to Wells Next the Sea’s Harbour Master said if he was there he’d come out and accompany me in. Very reassuring indeed, as it has a reputation for changing often and meandering; a healthy warning in Reeds too. I’d decided to keep to the west of the big Wind Farm at Cleethorpes. I shouldn’t have done. Not only did the boat get covered by millions of little flies; from where they came from is a mystery; but I think the 80+ turbines may have something to do with it; as I was in their lee. They must, I assume have been blown from the continent. My chosen route meant crossing Burnham Flats and the Woolpack; shallows that guard the centre of the Wash. Rough! Just as I motor sailed into the first of them, the tide turned foul; unexpected and along with it, the wind rose to 17Knots from 8-9. King John lost his Jewels there; I nearly lost my stomach! The seas heaped up in the shallow water and simply Equinox could not punch her way through, so had to veer off South for two hours motoring; where I picked up a favourable east setting tide; as expected. Good progress re-established with ten miles to go the phone went; the Harbour Master wouldn’t be there and it would be dark when I arrived! Not good! The channel in to Wells is well marked for daytime use. For night entry, some buoys flash some don’t. So the meandering curves in between, got me very confused. Not helped one little bit by a launch going out to the wind farm with a massive array of lights pointing into my eyes to light up the way out for him; but totally blinding me on my way in. Bustard! Once past, he left me with no night vision at all. Picture this – I had one hand holding my Garmin GPS Plotter , the other holding a 3million candlepower torch and my foot on the helm; standing on the cockpit seat; the depth alarm jangling every time I strayed; with a cross tide to contend with. I’ve checked, it’s not on the Day Skipper’s syllabus or recommended! Inevitably I got lost and ended up weaving my way among moored yachts; before finding the channel again, and at last, the pontoon; invisible under the harbour wall with the town’s lights; as they did in Scarborough, blinding me. Turning to face the exit as instructed I tried to come alongside; not easy in a brisk current on your own with a growing band of onlookers drinking on a Barque and on the Quay! Eventually I managed it, without hitting anything, and with some decorum, jumped off and tied on. Sweaty to say the least! I may take a second heart pill tonight! Stripping of my oilies and changing into drinking trousers , I was off for a well deserved pint of Adnams; within minutes. Well, I’m in Norfolk after all! A bowl of Crab soup and Haddock and chips went down without touching the sides. Then onto the 100 year old Dutch sailing barque, The Albatross, for another pint of local brew; as it’s moored next to me. Completely pooped, went straight to bed; too tired yet again to do anything other than brush teeth. As I drift off I realise, my sleeping bag feels damp, as do my pillows. In fact, everything is! My spirit’s up though. Day off tomorrow to recover after some good progress made. Lowestoft needs planing carefully; my next port of call.
Wells Next the Sea - A rest day declared - 8th OctoberGusting 20 knots as the Spring tide takes the sea into the harbour car park at 8am. A rest day declared by the crew; who've stopped talking to one another. The first wash for three days was heavenly, a leisurely breakfast and a wander around town while Mr Miele did his best with my near-walking laundry. Time to catch up on blog, emails and family phone calls and air bedding and yet-to-be-worn clothes that feel damp and cold. Wells is delightful, an eclectic mix of seaside fun done the Norfolk way; sort of reserved and subdued! The Harbour Office have waived berthing fees; which is brilliant. Lowestoft looks to be too far for one run; a suggestion has been a place called Sea Palling; apparently there are man made reefs one can duck inside of and anchor for the night; as I'm done with night flights for the time being! All depends on the wind, of course; so keeping all options open.
Wells Next the Sea - Sea Palling - 9th OctoberA desperately grey and gusty day found me pinned to the pontoon by the wind; with few if any other boats on the move: other than two hardy folk out on lasers, having a ball. A fishing boat full of jolly anglers left at 6am and were back looking very pale and dejected by 7am! Today was going to be a tough one. The target a man made series of reefs at a place called Sea Palling; mentioned nowhere including Reeds and my pilot books. The reefs show on Google Earth; so they must be there. I managed to back off the pontoon and was swept out on a spring tide around an obstacle course of buoys. Wells bar is horrid; breaking waves on shallow banks are very uncomfortable and with the tide now on the nose; along with the wind, it took me ages to clear. It rather forget the next 5 hours of uncomfortable motoring; but eventually I rounded the nose of Norfolk; enough to first hoist the mainsail, that added half a knot, then the staysail and finally the jib, as the wind came good – being directly from the East. But just as the wind came good so the tide turned foul for the second time; now heading North with me heading South! Motor sailing in lumpy sea is wet business and I arrived thoroughly cold, damp and tired just as it started to get dark. The only highlight was a tiny little green tit that blipped into the cockpit, after blipping around the stern railing and seagull engine for 20 seconds looking for a perch. Eventually it landed in the cockpit, warily looked at me with one black shiny eye, before pooing on my marmite sandwich that I'd onlys just retreived from the fridge. Off it went without even a sorry! Sandwich over the side! The gap between the fifth and sixth reef is marked with cardinals but once through you only have a couple of meters of depth to play with. I picked my spot, dropped the anchor and as it bit quickly realised I was not going to get any sleep; Equinox being thrown all over the place as she tugged this way and that on her anchor. An anchor snubber helped take the worst out of the jolts; but not by much. I felt sick too, as soon as I went below, so listened to music and hung on in the cockpit drinking the warm remains of a thermos of coffee. The hours dragged by; the spring tide making the reefs almost redundant; incoming swell passing over it; covering me with foam. What a battering we both took. By 5am I’d had enough. Time to get on the move and make the best of the flood tide.
Sea Palling - Lowestoft - 10th OctoberIt's 5am I'm very cold, still feeling sick and hungry having not eaten since yesterday's breakfast; but knew we had to push on as I would have wind and tide, for once,with me and the delights of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Marina in Lowestoft within 25 miles; a safe haven and glorious sleep. Going forward to retrieve the anchor; the hand cranked windlass was just about coping. Intermittently, waves broke over the bow as I slowly wound in the 20 meters put down. Just as I thought the anchor was about to break out, a wave lifted the bow accompanied by a huge graunch, louder by far than anything heard before, tore the chain off the windlass. I thought I'd broken it, but instead after the water drained away I could see a badly buckled anchor rest and Gammon Iron – the sturdy stainless steel bracket badly twisted and a three inch weld torn apart – not good. Rushing back to get some rope I tied the anchor on as best I could, before motoring out from behind the reef. Once under sail, I put on the Raymarine Raymarine Tillerpilot only to find that it wouldn’t hold a course and made a sorry noise from within. Today’s not going well! Fortunately I carry a spare. Then somehow the gaff managed to get on the wrong side of the Back Stay so had to drop the whole rig to sort it out. Someone on the shore must have been watching this and called the Coastguard; as no sooner had I got things sorted, over the radio came Yarmouth Coastguard, asking to talk to the yacht with tan sails off Waxham. I said I was fine but was so tired I forgot my manners and failed to thank him and who ever phoned who were just trying to help. Dawn was spectacular. I slowly warmed up, the sailing wonderful as we thundered down the coast at over 7 knots. Lowestoft in 4 hours the sun shining all the way! What a joy not to have the engine running, after yesterday. Now I’m here, I can’t sleep, it’s too hot! So made a better job of my jury rig that holds the anchor to the Bowsprit; it should hold, but it does mean no more anchoring for the rest of the voyage! Shotley Marina tomorrow - Harwich. A long haul but if the wind holds; do'able...just. Please no more breakages though............ I can't afford it!
Lowestoft - Shotley Marina, Harwich - 11th OctoberAnother early start; it's still barely light, but I've six hours of tide and a NE wind going my way! Clearance given by Lowestoft Harbour Control and three green lights at the marina entrance; we're off, a 40NM sail ahead of me with two reefs in the mainsail. Newcombe Sand extends for miles south of Lowestoft, so sailed along its outside edge before reaching deeper water near Southwold, which I shot past at 6-8 knots and then on to Aldeburgh where there's a Ridge on the seaward side of you - all you hear is the roar as the surf breaks 2-300 yards on your port side and somewhat unnerving, but insde the ridge we enjoyed much calmer conditions; then as the roar subsides we round Orforness Lighthouse; and there unexpectantly beating towards me, were three yachts under mainsail and engine; all taking a real battering as they beat into the weather; the wind now gusting 6-7. I don't envy them one bit. So surprised was I to see someone else out in such conditions, I didn't spot five small yellow weed covered floats until I was upon them; with two being towed on one side and three on the other, I'd picked up about 40 feet of rope with small bits of very old weed covered net and dangley bits hanging off. I turned into the wind; but didn't dare start the engine; hoping I'd drift away from it; instead a length of line and one float went around my stern. I got hold of it with the boat hook but could not lift it more than a few inches out of the water - the floats acting like sea anchors; the wind was still blowing me downwind sideways at 1-2 knots. So decided after weighing up the options, to lower the mainsail, the only sail I was using, don my topclimber harness over a wetsuit and using the backstay as well as a safety harness, as a backup, climb over the side and leaning backwards, cut through the line. Thank you Flossie & Neilo for your Christmas present; your green teflon coated razor sharp knife. It only took a few seconds to cut the line; but I got a soaking all the same! As soon it was cut, I drifted clear of the rest. Pay attention Simon, you numbnut! Mainsail up once again, we completed the last 6 miles at 7 knots+ the wind gusting to 24knots before gybing into the huge container Port of Felixstowe and calmer conditions. Entering Shotley Marina; with only a few minutes wait before it was Freeflow through the lock, was very fortunate! There's F8 blowing around Dover; so not sure whether Ramsgate - 40NM away is on the cards tomorrow. I hope so as we're making good progress, but at what cost?
Shotley - Ramsgate - 13th OctoberThe Thames Estuary, looking at the charts over the years, has always seemed a daunting place; wrecks, huge wind farms, dozens of sand banks that are constantly on the move and shipping feeding up and down the busy channels that fan out from London and the Thames. Common sense dictates you go around the whole lot, stay far out at sea and only cut back in when clear of all the hazards. The trouble with doing that today would be that Equinox would be on a dead run; and that’s the one place you don’t sail a Crabber in heavy seas and with strong winds forecasted - rolling our hip joints out! It would also mean I’d have to stay on the helm constantly compensating for wind and waves - fully focused for four hours at the end of six hours sailing; and in a half gale! The alternative is to cut through the channels; dodging the sandbanks and remain pretty much on track with a far more considerate broad reach all the way. A broad reach will also give the Jib and Staysail a workout; unlike on a run where they both flap annoyingly; back-winded by the mainsail. Decision made! Locking out of the marina at 7:45am, an hour before low water, with six hours of favourable tide in front of us, the omens looked good. I’d missed breakfast, as I had the biggest fish and chips ever at Shotley Clubhouse – a 10oz haddock fillet in batter is a vision! Marmite and cheese and tomato sandwiches made will, I hope, reamin tit free and eaten on the go. A glorious morning the sun shining; wind from the NE and Equinox on a heading of 178 degrees with Ramsgate the target 60 miles away. The tricky bits of this passage are well into it, by which time the tide would have added a few more meters of water over the hazzards. Hour by hour the wind picked up as did the sea; arriving in Ramsgate it was gusting over 22knots and I was under triple reefed mainsail alone. I gave up trying to count ships. At one point there were 16 in view; most on the move but some anchored! A minnow surrounded by Pike! A few hairy moments as parts of the passage were not as generously endowed with water as I’d calculated; but you get used to the 3 meter shallow depth alarm once it’s been beeping at you for minutes on end; and I was on a rising tide; so persised with the chosen course! Arriving at Ramsgate the wind had got up to 24-27knots at 6pm; making berthing a bit of a trial; but I’m getting quite confident at handling Equinox in close confines; the lock keeper tells me it will reach 37 knots later on tonight!
Ramsgate - Dover - 13th October.The great winds forecasted for last night never materialised and today's 11-14knot wind from the East, perfect for the shortest passage of the entire voyage by far - only 18nm to Dover; my next port, Eastbourne, was just too far to go without risking a lot of engine use and my cutlass bearing is grumbling and getting increasingly noisy, so have been using the engine, as sparingly as possible. Ramsgate has a fine waterfront and interesting harbour; with a Dunkirk litle ship moored against the quay. Good selection of restaurants too. I opted for Thai and had a wonderful meal. Trying to pay my mooring fees this morning was a challenge; the phone wasn't answered, the marina office empty; and I have no idea what the rates are; so resorted to putting a card under the door. We've now made the last 'Big Right Turn'; unless you include turning into Chichester Harbour. Dover Marina's a good launch pad too for tomorrow's run; althought the wind seems to be failing me and is now barely a breeze, as I update this.
Dover - Eastbourne - 14th OctoberA bad start to the day, I overslept! I heard half the shipping forecast at 5.27am but fell asleep before it ended, missing the bit that mattered; but thankfully a ferry exiting rekindled the fire at 7am, amid much cursing! I blame Peter and Sandra Moore who, very specially, took the trouble to drive all the way to Dover last night and forced me to join them for dinner ashore; depriving me of my usual bread and dripping fare. Given clearance, the west exit was offered and accepted; a wrinkly mainsail hoisted still showing creases from yesterday's reefing; while in the lee of the huge harbour walls; with 48 miles ahead of me. Bless the wind; it's still blowing strongly from the NE, so we stormed off, staying a mile or two from the shore; white cliffs and all. Barely two miles covered before the Range Police came up in a powerful launch and proffered route guidance across an active range; I think I understood the instructions shouted over the noise of his engine; but not too sure. We'll see! 7-8Knots SOG is a rare treat in a smooth sea, so thoroughly enjoyed eating up the first 20 odd miles before passing the Nuclear Power Station located right on the shore at Dungeness; at which point, a stronger gusting wind and accompanying weather helm dictated a reef which, no sooner executed, than for a second time a visit from the Range Police launch, keen to shuffle me further south; and given little choice with a 'Follow Me' set of instructions; but done very politely indeed. The tide turned against us as we passed Hastings and Bexhill and our speed dropped accordingly. Eastbourne boasts a London Dockland's like landscape, high rise very new and modern blocks surround a vast marina complex accessed through two locks that open and close every half hour. They put Chichester's single lock to shame. Berthed, I made my way to the Marina to sign in; returning to Equinox William Lawrence, a fellow Crabber owner, who'd made contact much earlier in the voyage greeted me on the pontoon. A colleague of Chris Eden, my surgeon; generously suggested we meet up at the yacht Club and go into Eastbourne to eat; leaving on Equinox a bottle of wine as a welcome present. Joining us for a scrumptious Italian meal in a town that reminded me of Leamington Spa - with wide avenues and huge white Georgian buildings and boasting the most lavish hotel I've ever seen - The Grand; was Liz, William's wife, also medical. A more delightful evening or couple to enjoy it with, would be hard to envisage; their generosity to a complete stranger bewildering; point blank refusing to let me pay my share; a totally unexpected and humbling experience. Crabber owners are, it seems, a very special breed indeed; they have a 22 called Grace; kept in France; which reminds me, I should have mentioned that berthed next to me in Dover, was a retired P&O officer with a stunningly beautiful racing yacht. A chum of his, also moored in Dover Marina, has a Crabber 22 which he sailed to the Caribbean and cruised for 4 years extensively - makes my little sorty rather pitiful, doesm't it? Tomorrow it's Brighton or Chichester; one easy the other a challenge. The decision will have to wait until the wind has let me into its secret in the morning.
Eastbourne - East Head - 15th OctoberHang in there NE wind please; were my final thoughts as I drifted off to sleep in Sovereign Marina; would they be kind and give me run to Chichester or turn sour on me; in which case it's Brighton tomorrow night. The met at 5.25am said NE backing N, 3 to 4 with 5's later. We're on for Chichester! I conrnflaked in the lock; waiting for the half-hourly opening; joined by a small armada of fishing boats heading out to enjoy a day in the sun; which promptly burst out from behind a cloud as we rounded Beachy Head; the wind very fluky and strengthening all the time; the coastline ahead of me looked stunning and with few obstacles an easy and relatively carefree passage. I chose to head directly for the Looe Channel at Selsey Bill which meant sailing some way off shore; first having to skirt a huge rig on legs off Newhaven. The wind picked up as we passed Littlehampton and the temperature dropped markedly; indeed I got quite chilly. Winter's around the corner. Selsey Bill takes for ever to appear; despite being able to see the Isle of White in the background, at last it rises out of the sea.... the home straight. Eyes watering in the wind and unsure whether to put a reef in we entered Bracklesham Bay; Hayling Yacht Club soon became visible and a stream of yachts were pouring out of Chichester Harbour; the Friday night rush hour. At 6:30pm I entered the harbour; eighteen weeks and 5 days after leaving. Mooring at East Head, as I did the first night, was a joy; the heating on, my last Speckled Hen or two and a massive fry up soon had me warm. Time for sums. I've sailed 2299.1 miles with about 4 more to do - to the marina. Average speed for the entire voyage is 4.1 knots My wonderful Yanmar engine has drunk 327 litres of fuel. My slowest passage was from Wells Next The Sea to Sea Palling - Average 2.4 knots My fastest from Stangster to Wick; average speed 9.2knots! Fastest moment under sail without engine - Duncansby Race between the Isle of Stroma and Scotland - near John O'Groats - 13.4 knots Deepest water 188 meters before the transponder couldn't reach the bottom and get a return echo. The lowest depth recorded while sailing was .3 meter under the keel, Thames Estuary! Ooops! I dread to think how many Speckled Hens, sausages, rashers of bacon and helpings of fish and chips have been consumed. Damages and breakages: One Raymarine ST2000 Raymarine Tillerpilot - burnt out One Tachometer - glass broken but still works One blown Jib, repaired One cranse Iron, badly bend and buckled - will need replacing. A few scratches on the hull at the bow from riding over the anchor chain The Cutlass Bearing will need to be replaced as it's noisy. 2 Plastimo water tanks I think I've got off quite lightly.
East Head - Chichester Marina - 16th OctoberPeter Moore, and I spoke a few times yesterday as I sailed past Brighton; he was keen to sail his Crabber out to meet me; I should have smelt a rat; but didn't! We left it that we would communicate on Ch8 around 11am. At 10:30 I called him up and his response was odd. Forced to come clean he'd organised a small flotilla of yachts to come out and meet me; his Crabber arriving 'Fully Dressed'. I was very touched at the effort he's gone to; and for the other owners who took the trouble and made the effort. Thank you all..... but hate a fuss! Accompanying me as far as Itchenor the yachts peeled off to take advantage of a glorious sunny and quite windy day -20 knots at one point on our way to the marina; leaving just us two Crabbers to make their way home. Chichester Harbour looks stunning, yachts racing, sailing clubs and schools still competing for space; a busy place with lots to see. The surrounding countryside with a touch of Autumn colour; is very special; more so today, as I drink it all in. Lots of new boats too. It seems a lifetime ago that I sailed the opposite way full of foreboding. I think I return a better sailor; certainly my respect for the power of the sea is heightened; but what really came home was that when I got into difficulties or needed to enter a strange harbour at night; all I did was reach for the key and Mr Yanmar would burst into comforting life; taking me where my limited skills and canvas alone stood no chance. Quite how our sailing ancestors managed to do the same thing with rigs, not that different from mine, leaves me in awe. The pictures in hundreds of pubs around our coast bear testament to our fishing heritage with harbours so packed with boats you could walk right across them without getting your feet wet; 1380 in Wick's tiny harbour alone coming and going every day during the Herring season. 28 lives lost in one storm in a day; appalling statistics repeated down the East Coast in port after port; most fishermen couldn't even swim. Yes, parts of the voyage have been tough. Yes, there were days I was in tears with tiredness and frustration, as hour after hour we both took a pounding; when water tanks burst; when I got very frightened at the sheer scale and immensity of the seas and their latent power to destroy; days spent in port, storm bound and days when you're cold wet and lonely, the coast lost in the mist and you're scared. On those days you feel fragile. But I can say; not once did I ever feel like quitting; it never crossed my mind. I often doubted my sanity being so inexperienced a navigator and quite why my wife let me loose to undertake such a selfish lifetime ambition is beyond me. But the bad days were made bearable by the good ones; the sun on your back, the sea birds, whales, dolphins and our incredible, rugged and rich coastline; they quickly restore resilience and faith in one's ability. You bank those memories; cashing them when you have a bad one. It all balances out in the end. Then of course, there's the RNLI. I should have made a note of the number of times I saw them out; heard them or the Coastguard coordinating another rescue on the VHF. I witnessed first hand, broken boats being brought in, pumps working overtime, keels torn off, engine breakdowns and fires, mast failures and the irresponsible who simply ran out of fuel. Twenty events or more, I'm sure. And then there's the Coasguard, I spoke to all of them around our coast. Filing passage plans and radioing them at journey's end. Thank you for being there for your weather advice, your reasurrance. Chichester Lock hove into view and with it a huge Union Jack waving; a banner saying welcome home and a group of family and friends to cheer me home. A tear or two shed. Flossie and Neilo, had driven down from Chester that morning. Incredible! David and Avril, Angela and David, Peter and Ian and of course Gina, my wife; more tears, champagne balloons and welcomes; the sun shining; such huge relief. I've done it! Then down to the local at 7pm for more welcomes; two of my children driving out of London join us. Just About Perfect! I'm home.
Dry LandThe first few days home have been hectic; not helped by going down with a foul cold. It seems I've got back just in time; the lawns and cars white with heavy frost most mornings. I'm finding it quite hard to adjust. While sailing, I used to get up, eat, sail all day, anchor, eat again and go to bed and worry about how and where to go next, while I drifted off to sleep; deliberating the options! A life dictated by wind and tide. For days I barely spoke a word; other than in clipped tones to the Coastguard; filing a Passage Plan or to tell them I'd reached my destination. A simple life, uncomplicated, delicious and rewarding; in that it was task and goal orientated. How different shore life is;
Is this the final Word............?Equinox was lifted and pressure washed last week and sits on the quayside looking surprising clean and prim. I was amazed how clean her hull was as she rose up out of the water on the crane's straps. I immediately spotted a small length of very familiar looking fishing net wrapped around her prop - the 'Norfolk Incident' The vibrations experienced when motoring during the final stages of the voyage may well be due to this rather than a tired Cutlass Bearing. The Gammon Iron should have been rebuilt by now but Chris at CB Marine has slipped a disc; no doubt in agony, poor chap. Warren Butler has in hand the replacement tachometer. The one fitted to Equinox had a cracked glass and misted up. Of note, it had only three wires coming from it; easy to fit and, of course, no longer made. It's visually identical replacement from the same manufacturer, has a staggering 26 wires; and no accompanying instructions. Someone please tell me this is progress. Tomorrow night I've been invited to join a regular gathering at Chichester Yacht Club as a guest speaker/ entertainer. Of great concern is that everyone in the audience will be far more qualified that moi; having done little if anything formal, by way of recognised courses. Gina, my wife has one more qualification than me - having done a Competent Crew; and she shows me up! Stupidity and a little bit of courage, fortified by liberal and frequent doses of Speckled Hen are not recognised as qualifications by the RYA which, is a pity really, as I might have made Yachtmaster. As the wise sage said when giving advice on how best to present your Christmas wines. 'Open the bottle and let it breathe. If it it's not breathing, don't hesitate, give it mouth to mouth...........!
Equinox - Sea trial -Tuesday 22nd March
Fully restored to her prime, Equinox sits back on her berth in Chichester Marina looking splendid after a day's sailing. The Gammon Iron, Raymarine Tillerpilot, Thru-hull Speed Sensor, Cutlass Bearing and Rev-counter replaced or repaired and the cost of it all partly forgotten; as yesterday I took her out for her first sea trial in glorious spring weather. I must have put at least 30 full days of labour into varnishing, antifouling,scrubbing and polishing; the last vestiges of detritus from the round Britain voyage removed from her bilges and intimate crevices.The smell of fresh varnish and Flash all pervasive; everything gleams and for the time being, sweet smelling. Chichester Harbour with an exceptionally high tide, all but empty of other vessels, was utterly perfect. An hour spend going round in circles at slack water in order to re-calibrate the wind direction and water speed sensors, and the Raymarine Tillerpilot's internal compass worth every second, as it all works and interfaces as it should. A bonus is I now have accurate sea water temperature readings again having lost it early in the voyage; and when you leap over the side most mornings for a dip, it's nice to know how far up into your body your shocked testicles are going to ascend first! Her new antifoul makes an amazing difference; in just over 9 knots of wind without the topsail we scudded along on a reach at between 4.8 - 5.1knots SOG; an impressive difference. How wonderful to have the sun on your back, a half pint mug of builder's tea in hand and Equinox balanced and heeling gently, the crystal clear cold water creaming down her sides, her taught sails. wrinkle free, doing their duty to perfection and the Solent largely to yourself. Finding the time to once again dream and plan future passages, reassured by your efforts over the winter, to make good and mend; efforts that have renewed your confidence in Equinox's strength and ability to take you safely to new shores. Southern Ireland is a must this year, with some company for parts of the passage, to share the chores, the exhilaration and the fun.