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.

Monday 25 October 2010

One very bent Gammon Iron - note the torn weld

This damage was done from a single wave - Equniox wanted to ride over the wave - the anchor, deeply imbedded in mud, didn't want to let her! Something had to give!

I had wrongly called this a Cranse Iron earlier. The Cranse Iron is a casting that's located on or near the outward end of the bowsprit.  It usually has three or four rings or eyes welded on it which, the bobstay, the two whiskers and sometimes the jib (if its furling) are attached.

Friday 22 October 2010

Dry Land

The 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;

Monday 18 October 2010

The Two Crabbers - coming home

Equinox safely into the lock with Peter Moore's Crabber just as the lock gate closes behind us.

Sunday 17 October 2010

East Head - Chichester Marina - 16th October

Peter 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.

Eastbourne - East Head - 15th October

Hang 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 autohelm - 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.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Dover - Eastbourne - 14th October

A 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.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

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.

Shotley - Ramsgate - 13th October

The 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!

Monday 11 October 2010

Aberdaron - An incredible picture taken by Andrew de Salis back in July!!

Taken about 9:30pm from the terrace of a pub overlooking the islands that guard the entrance to Aberdaron Bay. Equinox is at Anchor with the moon above. Pembrokshire is perfect. Thanks Andrew for taking and forwarding it. Double Click on the picture to super size it!  It's worth it!

Lowestoft - Shotley Marina, Harwich - 11th October

Another 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?

Sunday 10 October 2010

Sea Palling - Lowestoft - 10th October

It'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 autohelm 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!

Wells Next the Sea - Sea Palling - 9th October

A 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.

Friday 8 October 2010

Wells Next the Sea - A rest day declared - 8th October

Gusting 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.

Spurn Head - Wells Next the Sea - Norfolk - 7th October

A 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.

Scarborough - Spurn Head, Humber - 6th September

A 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 autohelm; 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......

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Scarborough - 5th October

Looking 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. Returning to Equinox after a coffee and brisk walk, I noticed when turning on the instruments that my wind direction was frozen. Something looked amiss up top throught the binoculars. My Topclimber was dug out of the forepeek locker and in minutes was up removing with disdain a huge clump of seagull poo that had jammed the whole affiar. A horrid job as it was full of very smelly bleached white tiny fish bones that rained down oveer my prsitine deck; another job!
Fuel is issued in plastic drums here and it took an age to heave them both back and fill Equinox's tanks; another smelly sweaty job; but satisfying! A full tank is like an insurance policy; reassuring but hopefully not called upon!
The water 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 by the look of things.

Blythe - Scarborough - 5th September

Set 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?

Sunday 3 October 2010

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!
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.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Blyth - 1st October

Decision 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! 

Amble - day 2 - 1st Octobber

Compelled 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!

Friday 1 October 2010

Eyemouth to Amble - 30th September

Some 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.