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

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

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

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

Sunday 27 June 2010

The first night spent on dry land

Twice I woke during the night with a start. I must have gone aground. No rocking, no lapping and tinkling water on the hull and none of the discordant harmonics that wind makes passing over tensioned rigging. Familiar sounds that instantly reassure a resting sailor that all is well with the world; as by their stridency, pitch and intensity he instantly senses changes in wind, weather and tide.
Birdsong fills this beautiful Devon garden with its views over Instow, Barnstable Bay and out to Lundy. Ducks have nested again this year and valiantly try and raise their young in a small and fast drying natural pond. Weasels and Crow sadly take their offspring one by one.They have their young to feed too. The ducks ssecond attempt to raise a clutch of chicks is already in trouble. Their numbers, Tim tells me, visibly dwindling daily. Nature can be so cruel.

For the next 7 days Huish Moor Farmhouse will be my home. Pretty much the same group of seven have fished together for over 25 years. The group used to be larger, but we’re all getting to the age, where we rejoice most of us are back, despite a growing list of ailments; and together again we remember fondly, the souls that now fish elsewhere, some celestial. An inflexible mandatory bond has held us together under the stewardship of Tim Stoop, our host. The man who thinks like a fish... as Hugh, one of the group puts it. To watch Tim fish – fly only - is an education for those of us who strive to make the practice an art. The fly placed time and time again exactly where he wants it, whatever the wind is doing and whether he’s fishing under overhanging trees, bushes, banks or waist deep in swirling water, left or right handed at three in the morning in the pitch dark or three in the afternoon in bright sunlight. If there’s fish to be caught, be it salmon, sea-trout or a wild brown trout Tim will know what fly, what depth, where and when to catch it. He knows many miles of the Taw River inside out, each pool, resting place, taking point and lie. Together we walked a two mile stretch yesterday. The river is bare bones. There’s been no rain to speak of in Devon for nearly a month. At regular intervals Tim points out a spot where a guest had a five pound sea trout there, 2 school peel there of about a pound and a half each. Another regular had a 6lb salmon there a small 3 pound grisle there and that’s where Gary, another of our team had two salmon in two days on the first days of the season; and on we walk. Pied wagtails flit from bank to bank, Kingfishers like electric sparks flash past, Buzzards cry overhead while butterflies dance together in patches of sunlight seeping through the canopy of the steeply wooded banks. Woods that have remained untouched for hundreds if not thousands of years. Old and twisted oak, ash and willow trees along the banks, with their erosion exposed roots, carry the detritus of last winter’s floods as high as 15 feet above our heads; that come with huge and regular ferocity from high up on Dartmoor and Exmoor. A true spate river, scoured clean each winter. Tiny wild brown trout rise to sip insects from the surface in shaded spots and electric blue and green damsel flies dispute their territories. A rare green sandpiper lifts off a silt laden exposed bank and flees as does a white egret disturbed from fishing in the margins. The water, gin clear, looks sterile. And yet deep in among roots and in deep shaded pools lie our quarry in untold numbers. All but invisible in bright sunlight and rarely seen or heard until late eveining, when a maybe a few or sometimes many start to splash athletically, providing focus and impetus to our night’s sport. Yes, we fly fish at night! Only starting when 7 stars are visible and continue until too exhausted or two cold to continue. Stealth and an intimate knowledge of both the river bottom and banks essential to avoid a soaking or the loss of fly after fly. The reward, an infrequent fish that when caught, maybe fresh from the sea just days earlier, is a tremendous fight with a powerful silver athlete; whose aerial antics and reel emptying runs, heart stopping.

True to form, Tim had the first fish a 9lb7oz Salmon, Landed with some help from Malcolm Findlay who along with me lost decent sized fish - mine right at the landing net which got into a tangle with my wadding stick. The week looks promising,as plenty of fish are making their presence known and rain is forecast for tomorrow and possibly even tonght (Sunday) which should liven things up considerably - as long as there's not too much.

This will be my last post until I set off again next Saturday - weather permitting. Next stop Milford Haven in South Wales - quite some way away....!

Friday 25 June 2010

Appledore Pool - a 4 knot mooring

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 – all those sailing from the SW

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; a mainly drying estuary and a constantly shifting bar, at the entrance, on which crash impressive rollers, makes for precise planning and careful navigation. 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 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 messing up 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 Almanacas being in ‘Appledore Pool’ to be in the main channel. Pool to me means tranquil, still or slow moving. Evidenty 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!’

Hot tomato and no GPS

Breakfast on a stunning June morning took no time to cook and was delicious, 3 smoked slices of bacon, 2 fried eggs and 2 slices of fried bread 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 naked 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. Within minutes they were climbing the concrete pathways to the various perches to spy on the varied nature.

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 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 300 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?

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Dolphins and Colin the Cormorant

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 of 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 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 us 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 sails. Maybe a 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 for a third time. 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 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 it or 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 is now 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, so he abruptly turned into the wind for take off, as all sensible cormorants do. I am not sure Colin had excelled at 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 is 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. And 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 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. A perfect evening to settle down to a Jamie Oliver pasta dish and probably a sharpener or two to keep it company. Tomorrow it’s Clovelly so I’m a mere stones throw - well 12 miles or so from my next destination. A mere hop!

Sunday 20 June 2010

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 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 learnt was a cornet. The young girl, maybe 19, who played the peice 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 damn 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 who, like me, were held in rapture for two hours by a group who played their hearts out in the baking sun. Perspiration beading copiously on many a band member's forehead from their effort.
 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. Equinox will now remain afloat in all states of the tide, where as before I had anticipated either using my beeching-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 wear sunglasses and a pulled-down hat!

Saturday 19 June 2010

Padstow - for a second day

After a bottle of Champagne on Equinox with Tim nad Fiona we went and ate at Rick Steins Cafe last night - surprsingly empty becuase of the football. The food was fabulous, as one would expect and the staff first rate - no gorgeous! Went to bed feeling mellow and full on a Far Eastern themed fish three course meal.
The lock gate sank at around 10:30 so jumped into the tender with the Seagull and a gallon of fuel and went an explored, not before sampling a handull of RickStein's breakfast pastry products - when in Rome......! Scrumptious! The estuary needs constant dredging and even so they barely keep up, but 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 eylelids 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 wash the boat down, the seagulls here all seem to have the trots. Everything is also gritty - muck blown of the quayside.

Friday 18 June 2010

Crabber's Tour

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. Impressed, to say the least. Lots of boats under various stages of construction, not least, a Cornish Shrimper a week is leaving the site.

The new Crabber 26 hull looks right and well engineered.  32 staff now work there and the quality of everything they build shows.  Padstow is heaving; well at least the harbour is. Walk back into the delighful rows of cottages and houses behind and they're all but empty - the real Padstow. Rick Stein dominates the place which somehow retains it's charm and is not too spoilt by the same fashion shops seen elsewhere. Someone gave a lot of thought to the harbour facilites which are first class.  Heavan 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 the 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 all catching up with me now. So another day here, I suspect. Well why not?

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 rough patch 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 north of the Seven Stones but the tide and less westerly wind forced me south of them. Good progress was made although a passing tanker nearly swamped me with its wash - although expected, the size of it came as quite a shock. Little did I know it, but I think the very vicious movements caused my 100lt fresh water bladder to rupture and the entire contents spread through the Starboard side lockers - a bit of a design fault I feel. 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. SOG fell to a mere 4knots 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!
  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 autohelm 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 hats 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 light sanctuary in the Camel Estuary, with two fishing boats to keep me company, was huge relief. I radioed ahead to check the lock for the inner harbour was still open. Hurry was the message. The faithful Yanmar was given another full throttle thrashing, as I was by now dead on my feet; and would have struggled to make a mooring decision in a fast-drying estuary, had I not made it 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 trash the bottle only to find fresh water 6 inches deep and with it all my gash - floating - nice!
  The shere quantity 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 bags are not nearly man enough, I feel. Also, for fellow Crabber owners, to ponder upon, why are all the lockers connected? Bloody silly! Flood one, flood them all!
  By then 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 WiiFi password, and useful local numbers. He then turned on my shore power too. I could not have asked for more; and all done with such grace and professionalism. Three cheers for Padstow Harbourmasters, I say!
  So began two hours of sorting tins, 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! All my pasta, rice, cereals and biscuits have filled two carrier bags and space in the quayside skip!
  Bed at last 1:10am; after a marmite sandwich and two more Speckled Hens. What a day!

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The Scilly Isles - Lizard Point and Land's End behind me..... for now!

Yesterday was a hard one. I left St Mawes/ Falmouth at 7:15 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 in a moderate 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. I was already quite tired by 2pm when the wind almost died and I was at the point of re-routing to Newlyn under engine when the wind suddenly sprung up directly from the North. It visibly came across the sea and started building to 17+ Knots with gusts up to 24knots. By now the tide was pushing me North so my track from being West became SW which together with the following sea made for equally hard work at the helm – as it was more than the Self-Steering autohelm could cope with. With the wind came a sudden drop in temperature and while clinging on to the helm with my left hand, had to put on my wet weather gear with the other. Despite the strength of the wind my SOG (speed over ground) dropped to a mere 4 knots – pushing a foul tide. Eventually, aching all over; and after 13 hours at the helm, I pulled into St Mary’s Sound and then a turn to starboard into Port Cressa. A safe but quite crowded and windswept little anchorage. A bowl of soup was in order to drive out the chill, as indeed, was a beer and lump of cheese! I don’t recall my head hitting the pillow. A rather lumpy and rocky night followed, as the wind hung in and refused to die.
 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 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 their beer is particularly good! Back for forty ZZZZZZ’s is in order! It's 2:30pm!

Monday 14 June 2010

97 PSA tests!

Just had 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 tomorrow in Lewisham. How randomly wonderful is that? That makes it 97confirmed.

Moored at St Mawes

It’s just gone 1pm and I’ve just finished breakfast; which took longer than usual as the gas ran out and had to swap bottles. The sizzle just went out of my pan! It can happen you know, to men of my age!
  I left Fowey asleep at around 7:15 and motored gently out on a falling tide to charge the batteries up having had to hand crank the engine as both were near flat – one of the penalties for insisting on chilled Speckled Hen! Destination Falmouth which lies West of Fowey.
  Once outside the harbour with sails hoisted in about 12knots of wind off we set. My plan was to make a bacon sandwich on route.... But no sooner had we rounded Cannis Rock the wind increased to 21-23 knots coming from just where the Jib and Staysail remain purposeful and not in the dirty air behind the mainsail; 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! I was thinking about carrying on to Penzance but was breakfastless and too much excitement on an empty stomach is not good for one; I’m told!
  Befoe I could finally make my mind up, my PDA bleeped, heralding an email had arrived. It was from Lionel Hoare, a Yarmouth Old Gaffers chum offering me his mooring in St Mawes; which lies adjacent to Falmouth and far prettier! What luck! He had read my blog while sailing in Croatia; and made contact. Decision made!
  So here you find me, breakfasted with hair blown into a haystack and wind burnt; feeling thoroughly repleat!
Can it get any better?

Saturday 12 June 2010

Fowey in a flash

I find myself at Fowey at 4:20pm. Quite simply a picture perfect postcard of a place!
I was fired out of Salcombe at 7:30am on an empty stomach and an ebb tide which washed me out to sea at 5 Knots with the engine barely above tick-over, as I dodged the armada of moored craft straining at their tethers. It looked ominously dark to the East but brighter westwards. Once out of the harbour on a broad reach I was soon scudding along at 7+ knots and on occasions 8 and even 9 knots! Flying indeed! Watery Landmarks shot by, many with names steeped in sailing and wrecking history. The Eddystone Lighthouse with the stub of it’s earlier namesake standing proudly out of an empty but dangerous sea. Seabirds keep me company as do the Navy offering incessant radio gaga advising the neighbourhood of imminent LIVE firing. I never heard a shot fired from any of the vessels present, so wonder what the hullabaloo was all about. Plymouth viewed through a massive wound of an entrance seems incongruously large and out of place on a coast littered by romantically named seaside vilages of Polperro, Looe and Newton Ferrers. More demons are slain as Prawle Point and Bolt Head are 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 instantly transfer to greater speed and balance. I’m really getting to know her and how to get the very best out of her. She loves the wide 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 asleep in the Solent wake to reward the helmsman with power and grace. I feel very privileged and almost sorry for having confining her in the past to those hostile silt laden waters; and now see why men who worked and fished these crystal clear waters for generation upon generation, long before engines, used boats with similar hulls shapes and sail configurations.

I could happily sail these waters for ever.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Salcombe - for a second day

The wind howls through the rigging, gusting to 28knots. Shouts before 7am from a nearby yacht woke me, as a shirtless middle-aged man struggles to retrieve his dragging chain and anchor. The wind blows him precariously towards a moored yacht at a frightful pace. I guess she’s a twin keeled yacht judging by her drift rate and now totally at the mercy of wind and tide. His shipmate manages to get the engine running and struggles, only just in time, to get their yacht heading back into wind and away from what seemed an inevitable collision. He retrieves the last of the chain and his plough anchor has a garden of weed trailing from it. I’m not sure he saw the weed, as he’s standing braced way back from the bow. A second attempt to anchor fails quickly. Again he struggles, red-faced to retrieve by hand some 20 meters of line and chain. As he motors past me to find better holding I smile in sympathy and hail ‘Weed’. He kneels down and looks over the bow and gives me the thumbs up at his anchor completely hidden in weed. He anchors way up the creek in quieter waters.

Bacon and eggs and a half pint of milky coffee set me straight and give me time to ponder my first hold-up. Looking back, three pre-voyage demons have been beaten – Portland, Lyme Bay and Start Point. A real confidence boost in terms of proving my seamanship and navigational skills but also a growing faith in Equinox’s ability to take it on.

The met doesn’t inspire me with confidence. Maybe I’ll be here for some time........

A beer run ashore will raise spirits! Any excuse....!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Salcombe already!

You find me anchored at Frogmore Creek, after a better-than-expected meal at Captain Flint’s in Salcombe following three splendid sailing days. It's Wednesday 8t June. Salcombe is just like Oxford Street in miniature – shop after shop offering Fat Face, Musto and other ‘have-to-be-seen-in’ brands. The place feels rather sordid and unexpectantly quiet, most eating places are closed. On entry, you'e greeted by wall-to-wall moorings as far as the eye can see, with little room for sailing, it seems, let alone racing. Rather amazed and saddened by how much it’s changed since I was last here 12 years ago. The Harbour Master is brilliant though, welcoming and helpful. Plying me with ideas, maps and tokens for showers and advice as to where to anchor, bearing mind the expected blow from the NE imminently.
I digress, having lunched with my sister and mother in Studland Bay, on Monday, I set sail for Lulworth Cove, a delightful sheltered cove some 17 miles west of Studland. The tiny entrance is well disguised and on entering I found only one visiting yacht; and, as custom dictates, I moored on her bow. Rain it did, on and off heavily; which, together with quite a swell made for a rather uncomfortable and sleepless night. With visibility down to 200 yards and despitet more heavy rain and mist I set off at 7:30 am to cover the daunting distance past Portland Bill and across Lyme Bay to Brixham – some 70nm. To start with, I grazed some unexpected rocks a mile or two after leaving Lulwoth and kicked myself for making a simple GPS waypoint mistake. Once calmed, I settled down to a splendid although horizon-free sail into the gloom in a F4+ gusting 5.

Portland Bill was awesome; I took the northern route past The Shambles and in what seemed hairy conditions shot through the gap within hailing distance of the lighthouse. The event heightened by a RNLI lifeboat honking past me within 200 yards and a ASR helicopter whizzing around mere feet above me in two swooping passes before dropping a soul via tether into the lifeboat –as if one didn’t have enough distractions in such poor conditions! A large 60ft yacht with a French Flag at the stern made very heavy weather of Portland; her size hampering her progress.Greenies over her crew, poor souls! Equinox however, bobbed like a cork and ate up the three miles of rough.

Arriving at Brixham, I was first given a berth fit for a 15ft speedboat, rejecting it by radio, I was given a better slot but seemingly miles from anywhere. By the time I got ashore Brixham had closed! 9:30! The Poopdeck, came to my rescue. Welcoming me, even though final orders had long passed, they saw I was desperate and gave me 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!

Shower and laundry completed by 7am, in the new facilities; which are first class, Salcombe beckons. Little or no wind to begin with but soon a bracing broad reach and 8 knots SOG I made the Skerries in no time, which, I addressed from the North, then Start Point, with it’s magnificent lighthouse and finally a fantastic run topped off a glorious 'balls out' run into Salcombe just before the wind died. Dartmouth looked spectacular from the sea, I just wished I had more time to pause.

A peacful night beckons with the first spots of rain falling gently, as the mullet splash hunting around me. The shore lined wth a parliment of herons fishing in fast-falling tidal shallows. Maybe it is as I remember it, after all. Bliss!

Saturday 5 June 2010

2 scortchers and a wet one.

June 1st - D Day - was a washout. A local photographer met me, as arranged, on Equinox at the marina and we both got wet - me in just a Charity T shirt! After drying out I locked out of the marina at 1:15pm to a rather bemused lock keeper whose jaw dropped when I answered, 'Up to 4 months' to the usual. 'Are you back today, Sir'?  A damp night at East Head in Chichester Harbour was followed by two stunning days sailing to the west end of the Solent and a date at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival. I was joined by Peter Moore and his submariner chum Ian, in Peter's Crabber at Newton Creek. A serious Chili, made at the cost of the tip of my finger - I blame a new knife! More wine than was sensible and much laughter! With rather subdued reflexes we sailed in convoy to Yarmouth under Jib and Staysail in a brisk 3 knot following tide, the following morning. The fine weather remains imppresive.  Tanned like a lobster, I'm told!
The Accelerators a local band, scrumptious fish and chips, more beer and a tender ride with a rebuilt Seagull (now run in) up to Freshwater filled the day. Perfect! The harbour looks wonderful with all the Gaffers 'Dressed Overall'. It could be 1910.  So many familiar faces and Yachts. One doubt has crept in 'Can I keep the pace up'?

Today's Saturday and it's already getting blisteriningly hot, as I scribble this at 7.15am!