West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 10 (Fowey to Falmouth / Mylor)

After the night of a gale blowing swell into Fowey, whistling in the rigging, rocking and shaking us about, we arose bleary eyed and stared dumbly at the tugs thundering past, going about their business. Fortunately the weather had passed in the night, howling off to torment those further East during the day (we heard the BBC news of floods and damage), leaving a calm harbour with no sign of our night’s unrest.

Eventually, the reason for the tug’s activity became apparent when, shyly, the pointed prow of a large cruise ship tentatively poked her nose into the harbour entrance, as if peering around the corner to check there was room (and immediately dwarfing everything else). The tugs scurried away after it, pushing and pulling it out of sight, before re-emerging, ignominiously dragging their prey backwards behind them.

The yellow beasts huffed and puffed: slowly, inch by inch, drawing this leviathan into the now calm pool of Fowey.

MY Holland had been moved, banished to a new mooring outside the harbour and, after an hour or so of careful negotiation, the work crews had her stern’s three thick hawsers secured to the mooring buoy nearest us; her passengers (some in dressing gowns) regarding the bedraggled crew of Krugerrand with as much interest as we watched their proceedings as the Prinsendam (more Dutch connections) was shackled and bound.

Cruise liner Prinsendam enters Fowey. This is her stern: sideways she’s huge.

Juxtaposing this oily, belching, behemoth’s successful restraint, a small human propelled craft plugged quietly past us on their Saturday morning row. Odysseus taunting Cyclops.

Old Boat House and rowers at Fowey

And so, our thoughts turned to the possibility of leaving, the fury of the recent winds making us cautious. The peculiar forecast gave us the possibility of a bit of everything – including a F7, although this was a relatively short trip and so we decided to risk it.

Strange forecast, but we only saw calm and the top end of a F6. It was fine sailing

We left Fowey, crossing St Austell Bay in a gently running swell and an eerie weather impasse: an uneasy truce between the gale and whatever was coming next.  The visibility was reasonable but weather felt close, low dark clouds scudded across the landmass, precipitation most definitely in sight. By the time we passed Megavissey Bay the rain and mist had reached us too, obscuring the land, but were soon blown away to be replaced by clearer skies and a rising wind.

The final hop: Fowey to Mylor, via Falmouth. Saturday 7th July 2012

Both sails were up off Dodman Point and, by the time we cut across Veryan and Gerrans Bays, it was in a healthy NW wind, close hauled, main reefed (eventually – must resolve that), a tuck out of the roller headsail and howling along beautifully. One of the finest sails of the past few days (conveniently ignoring the fact that this put the gunwales under with associated gallons of seawater inside the main cabin – time to get that hull deck joint sealed!).

Pendennis Castle, Falmouth. Almost home!

We all took turns to helm and managed to clear St Anthony’s Head easily, easing off the wind to pick up speed, up to 7 knots readily seen. From the ships anchored outside the Carrick Roads, another tack cleared us into the entrance to St Mawes Harbour and then another across, ready for either a close shave up the east coast or resigned to short tacking (rather appealing in these conditions) most of the remaining couple of miles to Mylor.

Fine sailing at the sheltered entrance to the Carrick Roads.

However, circumstances conspired against us: the bodged gooseneck parted, the boom pushed forward, the main took on an unhealthy balloon, and we could no longer point well enough to make short tacking a worthwhile exercise. Instead, we motor sailed up the channel, enviously watching the fine sport about us but still satisfied from our own wonderful sail.

St Anthony’s Head, entering Carrick Roads

With the very last half mile came the final small drama: we stared at the deepometer in wonder: 20 metres, 10, 5, 2metres, 1.8metres!  Quick! About turn, get back to the channel and lick our wounds.

I realised that, despite all of the careful passage planning during the previous 500 miles of the trip (I think the log showed 490 by then!), I’d neglected to consider that this last section could be anything other than the deep harbour I’d assumed it to be when staring at it from the shore. But there, staring at me from the chart, was a dredged fairway leading into Mylor and, at low water (shortly after springs), the 1.4s and 0.7s mocked me.

Mylor and the north Carrick Roads. More shallow than I’d imagined outside of the main channel

Of course, it all made perfect sense: the gently sloping kelp and bladderwrack cloaked rocky shores on which I’d walked with Catherine, Poppy & Rose (and which Hamish had galloped across, chasing herring gulls at low tide) were unlikely to have shelved steeply to the 5 metre depths I’d imagined.

After radioing Mylor Yacht Harbour (VHF channel 80) to ask which buoy we should pick up and tell them we were arriving (another glaring, but now obvious, omission) the launch motored out into the chop to guide us in, a generous gesture considering the soaking the lad got.

As it happens, our course north west from the main channel would probably have got no shallower than 1.8, however it’s rather more shoal (shown 0.4m at Chart Datum) approaching from the north. This was confirmed later in the bar by a local sailor who reported the occasionally drying dredged bank edges of the bank visible at some very low springs – and varying depth elsewhere, depending on where the channel dredgers had heaped their mounds of underwater spoil.

By way of a silver lining, we were given a temporary berth on Mylor’s outer pontoon. Although we’d obtained the mooring in March, it still required mooring chains due to our unannounced arrival. Therefore, whilst these were being attached, we un-shipped two weeks of baggage and detritus and moped around in the general malaise of anticlimax which one experiences at the end of an adventure.

Mylor! Apart from the trip from the pontoon to our swinging mooring, the journey was over.

Catherine, Poppy and Rose, a sight for sore eyes, arrived from home just in time for a drink in the yacht club (and a chat with a couple mentioned earlier in this story – of J Class and Super Yachts) and then we were home. Phil and myself due to travel up country for work in Hertfordshire and London on Monday; Rebs expected to row for her Cambridge club on Sunday evening, to where we headed the next day after the first night in a comfortable (dry) bed for a while.

It would be at few days before I would be home again and able to explore the fine sailing territory of the Carrick Roads with the girls, but that’s another story.

Helford Passage, bottom; Falmouth & St Mawes, centre; Mylor & St Just, above. Restronguet, King Harry Ferry & Rivers Fal and Truro, top

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 9 (Salcombe to Fowey)

Where was I? Ah yes. We motored much of the way from Salcombe, in an almost flat calm sea.  Passing the entrance to The Yealm the wind picked up a little. By the time the Eddystone Rock Lighthouse looked a stone’s throw away (it wasn’t, unless you’re Trecobben or Cormelian), we could set both sails.

Leg 9 (more of a hop): Salcombe to Fowey. Friday 6th July 2012

Polhawn fort, the site of the first Not The Millennium Party and now mainly a wedding venue, was the last part of the huge expanse of Plymouth Harbour to slide past. The last time I sailed here was watching the Total Solar Eclipse with Catherine, from a friend’s Nic 45 ‘Innisfree’, during our return to Haslar via the Isles of Scilly. We recall seeing the shoreline clearly defined and outlined by seemingly millions of pinpricks of far off flashbulbs, as totality sliced across the sea towards us.

This time it was a more subdued affair, as the previously reliable Standard Horizon Chart Plotter (which had looked decidedly peaky earlier) flickered out. A quick wiggle of cables indicated that it wasn’t a power problem and, furthermore, the trickle of water which ran our of the card slot, upon turning it upside down, hinted at something more involved. That was nothing compared with the torrent which emerged when I finally plucked up courage to take it apart. The only surprising thing was how resilient it was not to have succumbed to a watery death earlier (although technically, it’s waterproof – I still have no idea how the water got in). We resorted to taking bearings, working out the magnetic deviation and compass variations.
note: after a day warming its self on the engine the screen occasionally flickered into life once reconnected, rather hindered by the rusty capacitors, but still reliably giving the Standard Horizon GX2100 DSC radio a position, meaning we could again navigate from the chart table.. and display AIS targets on the radio (essentially some rather useful advance warning about the big ships about to run you down in fog).

Phil on the Helm near Plymouth

The breeze weakened after a short while so we furled the genoa and started the, now reliable*, donkey in order to avoid our continued game of marine-chicken with some pair trawlers who appeared to be chasing shoals of fish (or us) in unpredictable circles. Finally, when somewhere between Looe and Polperro, we could discern our destination ahead: the huge Red and White victorian daymark ushering seafarers into the safety of Fowey’s deep harbour and shelter.

*The engineer from SMS had visited around 9am and soon found a failing olive, replacing the copper pipe with rubber hose and changing the pre filter. It was a worthwhile exercise, considering the outcome, however we paid for the time taken to find, or make, parts which one could reasonably expect in stock at that rate (£240: £80 call out, 2 additional hours labour, parts and VAT). Still, this is boating, and it comes with the territory: I don’t particularly begrudge it. Anyway, nothing gets remotely near Ollie’s bar bill for a week (luckily, he’s a man of independent means when it comes to slaking thirst, otherwise we’d have rarely afforded to start the engine and it’d have taken significantly longer to get here in the first place, let alone without mutiny).

Pilotage into Fowey

Gradually, we became aware of a presence – a large UK Border Agency cutter, shadowing us, disguised by the cliffs inshore. It had crept up silently, grey as old ocean himself. This mysterious vessel maintained intimidatingly perfect speed and distance for quite some time, a large calibre gun meanacingly prominent on its foredeck. Eventually, it disgorged a RIB and we excitedly thought of adventure in the form of a boarding party. However, the RIB sped along the coast towards the now nearby entrance of Fowey. The Cutter smartly went about, gliding silently back to whence it came, presumably the military fastness of Devonport.

Entering Fowey

And so, in the gloaming, we chugged into the Fowey’s fairway as if it were night: guided by the reassurance of transits and the White and Green of the sector light; now in the company of some racing yachts returning home, limp spinnakers sagging in the failing wind like the breasts of sad, famine ravaged, mothers.

A Pontoon on Fowey, we’re in Cornwall!

Inside, within the expanse of this deceptively compact and busy working harbour, was a sight we’d not expcected to see: the 130′ (40m) regal sweep and thrust of a J Class, with Black hull – not one I recognised but which we later discovered was the new Aluminium ‘Rainbow’: a replica of the original, scrapped in 1940 after successfully defending the Americas Cup (possibly the world’s oldest continuing sporting trophy) against Endeavour during her short life of only 6(!) years.

The Harbour Patrol (VHF ch12) directed us to the stern of a proper working ship: ‘Holland’. However, it seemed that even this large, robust, steel boat was involved in the J Class event: she’s the ‘Motor Yacht’ acting as Mother Ship for Rainbow. After all, if I had the funds to commission and race Rainbow, I’d also probably insist that the 30 sweaty crew (remember, this is 1930’s racing) left me to enjoy the abject luxury of her staterooms with my friends and family, rather than some coffee-grinding (sorry, hemp hawser handling) gorilla. That is, if there’s 30 left after my helming (after all, there are no guard rails either).

J Class replica ‘Rainbow’: 130′ of unashamed 1930s luxury racing for the Newspaper Magnates, Woolworth Proprietors and King George the V ths amongst us.

A quick trip across the river in the water taxi, a turn around town to find a shower, drink and meal (entirely not in that order) from the extremely hospitable fellows and ladies of the Fowey Gallants Sailing Club, some table football, watching the china ships pass, chewing the cud with their old salts and admiring their Fowey River class sailing boats.

Fowey Gallants Sailing Club: Extreme Hospitality (and 24 hour showers!)

Eventually, the three of us bundled out into the night to take the water taxi back to Krugerrand, in the now pouring rain, as the first hints of a gale began to churn up the water.

The night was fairly sleepless: a Southerly gale (the harbour’s Achilles’ Heel) blew the swell straight up the Fowey River. The rigging creaked (or maybe that was Phil’s nocturnal ‘heavy breathing’) and we wished we had some forgiving nylon twist instead of polyester braid, because it was difficult to loosen the mooring lines enough to stop the wrenching crashes trying to jerk the fairleads out, as the waves tossed us to and fro. By the time it was light we had little sleep but, in various combinations of slackness and taught, now had a magnificent array of: two stern springs, a bow spring, breast line, a stern line and two bow lines.

We were finally home in Cornwall and I’d at last made use of my collection of spare string (sorry Ollie: until it’s given a purpose – lanyard, spring, sheet, shore line, cunningham, halyard, rode or shoe lace – it’ll always just be string to me).

next… Fowey to Mylor

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 8 (Dartmouth to Salcombe)

I planned this leg as ‘Dartmouth to The Yealm’, for the previous day, to meet our friends on another Varne – Osea Mist. However, because of the earlier weather, we were a day late and they were elsewhere. Therefore, we decided to stop in Salcombe for lunch (good shout Rebs).

Leaving Dartmouth – Castle at the harbour entrance

The tides were a little tight for getting in and out of the Yealm without drama and so, because of Phil’s night time arrival and our later start, by the time we found ourselves slopping the Skerries and trying to fly the cruising chute in a F3 in a swell off Start Point (it never really work, does it), we decided to put into Salcombe and remain there for the day, as it’s such a great spot. The River Yealm would have to wait for us another day (a good excuse to rearrange our meeting with Happy Jon on Osea Mist).

Leg 8 – Dartmouth to Salcombe, via Start Point (not that there’s really another way than this without crossing the channel). Thursday 5th July 2012

However, this meant we approached Salcombe Bar at springish low.. which means there ain’t an awful lot of water. We saw a couple of yachts approach, perform an immediate volte-face and clear off out to sea.

Krugerrand draws about 1.7 metres, but there wasn’t much swell and, besides, she’s used to the East Coast being a lot shallower (just not rocky).. so we gave it a bash.. and found no less than a metre and a half under the keel (OK, so we may have done a quick bit of tidal calcs rather than just relying on being gung-ho). Another boat followed us in, less close to the deeper channel than us, but spun around quickly and made out to their anchorage in the bay again.

approaching Salcombe just after low springs – very shoal: the channel’s hard against the cliff (30 yards isn’t too close).

I’d rather not have had the worry about the engine conking out again, but gave it another pre-emptory bleed and ploughed on.

Salcombe’s worth the nail biting entry. I’d not been there since staying in a YHA aged 15, during a mammouth Buckinghamshire to Cornwall cycle ride (we started on the ancient Ridgeway path and sort of got carried away). Salcombe’s even better better than I remembered – but then, everything is from seaward.

Entering Salcombe. Me: thinking about something or other

After the shallow bit, just stick to the channel (it’s still shallow and rocky either side) and.. admire the scenery.

Rebs and Phil (on helm) admiring the scenery. Fantastic on a summer’s day.

After a quick fill up at the fuel barge, enquiries of marine engineers (would be good to get the Donk sorted, ‘eh), we took the water taxi into town and made a fantastic (if rather purse-clearing) picnic from supplies at the Deli, which we ate whilst admiring the views at Cliff Gardens (?), before retiring to the pub for a leisurely read of the papers and St Austell Brewery’s finest refreshment (and some Cornish Rattler too).

Making our way back to the mooring in comfort

Pump up the (superb) Bombard AX2 and watch Phil potter about with the 2.5HP mariner at full chat (for whatever reason, Rebs decided against rowing all the way to Frogmore Creek and back) followed by a foray into town for take away Fush and Chups.

Phil driving anything: 2 position throttle (off or full). Be Afraid.

We weren’t going anywhere the next day until the Marine Engineer’s 9am visit to fault find the air leak, so it was a rather relaxing afternoon and we felt proud of ourselves for enjoying this day which, preceeded by the scenery of the sail here with minimal motoring, actually felt like a holiday.

To cap it all, we were rewarded in our sated state by a super sunset, which we watched with mugs of tea, before a gentle rainless night.

A great Salcombe sunset to boot.

Salcombe: Tranquility Base

By the way: the image which may still be the top of the page, if I haven’t changed it, is whilst moored (for the sum of £16 Harbour Dues IIRC) at Salcombe.

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 7 (Weymouth to Dartmouth)

There was no putting it off any longer: one of the UK’s most notorious tidal races and generally treacherous stretches of water would have to be navigated, in order to reach the West Country.

Rebs and I spent an awful lot of time passage planning, deliberating, discussing and reading about the fabled inner route, a smooth conveyor belt of water inside the maelstrom of the race, extending roughly a cable or two off of The Bill itself (for the uninitiated, one cable is 608ft, or 1/10th of a nautical mile (which itsself varies in length with latitude, because it equals one 60th of a degree), or about 185 metres… at least I hope so, it’s rather too easy to get confused).

Portland Bill: never knowingly undersold. Weds 4th July 2012

So, we did what the best navigators of small boats, with limited crew, do in a large spring tide near a tidal race with fog forecast and little first hand local knowledge: swallowed our pride and gave the whole bloody shooting match a good offing of a few miles, including the Shambles bank. Besides, we were heading to Dartmouth, rather than the bright lights (?) of Exmouth or the Blue Rinse of Torquay a good few degrees further north.

Lyme Bay and our approx route to Devon

As it would turn out, we were joined for a while by a smaller boat than us: a pretty 25′ sloop with 2 crew (like us) who, after waiting in Weymouth for the weather to turn for the better, were returning home to Teignmouth (between Exmouth and Torquay) after the RTI race (unlike us). They’d visited the superb ‘Stables Pizza and Pie Bar’ the night before, after our recommendation, and now followed us out of Weymouth on a misty morning. After shadowing each other for some time, we finally lost sight in the murky gloom of the fog, now down to a hundred yards visibility, leaving us alone with the rattling of the radar reflector in the rigging, as my half-arsed system for hoisting it did its job.

The immenseness of Lyme Bay in context

Thankfully, after a couple of hours, the weather began to gradually clear as we entered Lyme Bay, although clung gloomily to the dark slopes of Portland Bill so that we only got a couple of glimpses of the fabled lighthouse, through the mire which surrounded it. The S-SW F4 or 5 gradually dwindled to F3/4 and the expanse of Lyme Bay spread itself before us.

better weather in Lyme bay after the mist lifts

Apart from some mildly lumpy bits of sea and needing to perform a large tactical tack in order to make course for Dartmouth, the monotony of the crossing of this huge bay, taking in Dorset, Somerset and Devon, was broken only by the incessant need to go below and slosh ones self in diesel whilst bleeding the engine every twenty minutes (we’d never make the distance in time without it on occasion). Indeed, as the weather cleared, the wind dropped further and the Devon hills leisurely crawled into view, I’d probably done this a dozen times before we gave it a peremptory last bleed and chugged into the beauty of a sunset in Dartmouth Harbour.

Beautiful sunset and benign conditions approaching Devon

The sunlight shafted through the clouds, illuminating Dartmouth in an almost heavenly welcome, as if to say “sail in here, weary travellers”. Rebs and I happily complied, soaking in the now fine evening and the views.

Heavenly welcome at Dartmouth.

After tying up in Darthaven Marina and chatting to the RNVR geezers we’d seen in Weymouth, from a cruise in company which had somehow become a cruise in fragmented company as everyone got lost, we checked on the progress of Phil, another old mate, who was to bring our number to a staggering three. Luckily her has an unerring ability to make superb progress in any motor engined vehicle (more astonishingly, without the close attentions of the police) and his journey of a few hundred miles were completed in mere minutes, as is usual in these circumstances (he is never seen on a train, mainly for this reason).

Serene approach to Darthaven

Phil arrived around midnight; we clambered as quietly as possible across our neighbours foredeck, but no matter as they were deep into what I guess was a bottle of rum and boxes of cigars with friends, guessing from the noise below. They weren’t up with the lark the next morning, but neither were we.

Dartmouth at night, from Darthaven

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 6 (Poole to Weymouth)

An easy 7am start, not long before low water, preceded a pleasant amble down the fairway and across Studland bay, before leaving the protection of St Albans (Aldhelm?)’s head well to starboard and tacking out to sea in an overcast sky; a fresh to strong breeze with a moderately uncomfortable sea running, from days of strong wind blowing in the same direction.

Spirits were dampened slightly by the, by now, regular conking out of the donkey, used to keep up passage making time and adding a few degrees to the angle we could sail to windward (yes, still beating). Again, Ollie did the honours; I’d definitely have been unwell if I’d been required to slather myself in diesel that often, indeed food wasn’t too appealing to me in this chop as it stood.

When, with military precision, Ollie opened the bar and sparked up a rollie, poor old Rebs (huddled at the stern, wishing it was rather more Mediterranean-esque) definitely took a turn for the worse and gave the fish at St Alban’s ledges some additional sustainence. Luckily, years of competitive rowing in Cambridge has forged her of stern stuff and she soon recovered. We’d deliberately set well out to sea, avoiding the worst of the ledge’s overfalls, but their presence was still felt.

Poole to Weymouth, avoiding St Alban’s ledge. Sunday 1st July 2012

It was a matter of regret that we couldn’t sail closer past this iconic stretch of coastline: Catherine and I had canoed through Kimmeridge (one of my favourite south coast surf breaks), Lulworth Cove and Durdle door a few times before – and I know how attractive they are from seaward. However, I’ve a few friends who may have slightly poorer memories of Worbarrow bay, after a night we spent there in Acclaim, during a heavy swell, had proved less than restful (it’s a by-word for discomfort now), no mean feat for 23 Tons and 55 feet of boat.

I helmed for most of the trip and, after a few hours of crashing around motoring, sailing, and motor-sailing, including Ollie visiting the mast for another running gooseneck repair, we spotted the ominous and unmistakeable profile of the Isle of Portland looming ahead and, shortly afterwards, spotted the East Shambles cardinal buoy on the horizon so steered for the warships gathered in Portland Harbour’s shelter.

Rounding up in the lee of the harbour, sails flapping hard in the wind, the discovery was made that the morse control had stuck in astern so, whilst we half hove-to and half sailed in circles, Ollie disconnected the gear cable from the morse and gave it a few technical taps. A combination of stiff cable and proximity of an adjacent bolt had fouled it.

Weymouth Harbour – drying out, filling tummies with fish & waiting for the bridge lift

Entering the calm of one of the UK’s most sheltered harbours was a welcome relief, tempered by the gears again sticking in backwards as we came alongside the fuel barge for the customary top-up of ’60/40%’ Red Diesel (not to be confused with alco-pops kids).

We tied up temporarily to the Harbour’s waiting pontoon, for the 2 hourly lift, our sodden clothes draped over the boom and dripping onto the deck; in sharp contrast to the larger yachts, many returning from the RTI race, some of which were large enough not to be bothered by the splashes which had so drenched us. As the sun peeped out, we munched contentedly on some of Weymouth’s finest fish and chips from Bennetts (I can highly recommend the mackerel bap, which I’d have in preference to cod most days – oily fish is just luuurvely).

After the bridge lift and general bundle into the inner harbour, we tied up in front of a live aboard at the head of the pontoons, pleasantly close to the facilities which we made use of to get warm.

Weymouth Marina – sunny on arrival. The last of that golden orb for a few days.

Good things, as they say, can never last: the pressure of work and family had recalled Ollie to West Mersea who was forced to hop onto the 5pm train after a week of what, by then, was relatively uninterrupted good sailing and passage making.

I suspect his leaving was also slightly with an eye to the forecast: other than that evening, Rebs and I spent what could only be described as a miserable 2 1/2 days waiting for gales and incessant rain to pass before we ventured out.

Our spirits were lifted when Catherine, my two daughters (taking an impromptu day off school) and Hamish the Springer came to visit the next day (also John Snow wandered past minus any ‘swing-ometers’ of any sort). Although the rain only managed to subside for a mere minutes at any time, we took a trip out of pretty Weymouth to the stunning Dorset coastal scenery of Falkner’s Moonfleet. A warm pub lunch and then the inevitable disappointment as the girls drove home, leaving us forlorn and damp on the quay.

It would have been tolerable if we could have retired to our cabins to stay warm and dry, but the British summer was having none of it: as soon as dry clothes were procured they’d be drenched again by the summer weather. The entertaining Spirit Of The Sea FM kept a little joy in the boat, with a jolly but somehow haunting ‘Sailing the Portland Race’ reminding us of what was not far outside the tranquility of Weymouth Harbour.

To cap it all, it was too continually wet to be able to seal the hull deck joint, which filled the cabin and lockers with water, every time the gunwales were under, requiring bailing and later sponging out, leaving a residue of hygroscopic salt, plus a scum of bilge oil, everywhere.

On a more positive note, the gear cable was replaced, bilge pump seviced, floor repaired, cockpit cleaned, bits of string attached, breather tube cleared (meaning we could now fill the fuel tank at more than 1 litre per century) and attempts made to stop the forehatch leaking all over long-suffering Reb’s bed (with less than 100% success, to both our regrets). Unusually, a number a problems were causing a rain leak, but almost no ingress of water when the decks were awash at sea – removing and re-bedding hinges and bolstering the main seal did much for this, but condensation in the cramped forepeak still presents a dropping-on-the-nose-whilst-sleeping annoyance.

Additionally, great hopes were put in the tightening of all fuel joints, in order to dissuade the (otherwise trustworthy) Beta Marine BZ482 from inhaling too much air (no difference, as I found out on the trip to Dartmouth).

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 5 (Yarmouth to Poole)

The camera now stays away when the weather’s poor (I’ve lost a couple of phones that way), so you’ll have to excuse the lack of pictures and substitute imagination instead, although a video camera on the foredeck would have provided good entertainment.

Bumpy Leg 5- Yarmouth to Poole. Friday 29th June 2012

With hindsight, wind blowing swell into the bays all night – and the SW F7 – should have hinted that we’d get a little wet, although it was rather frustrating that the hull-deck capping joint decided to leak again too, ensuring that, even if gallons of water hadn’t come down the companionway, it would have been wet inside anyway. On top of that, the gooseneck on the Z Spars boom broke, meaning it was rather difficult to point, just when we’d rather do so, and the engine kept conking out, due to it preferring to breathe air rather than diesel. Still, we got some unexpected surfing in, and it all makes for a more interesting life, eh.

The land based forecast that morning. I don’t recall seeing any sun that day however…

I’m sure Ollie would have been fine, but Weymouth would honestly have been too far for me in those conditions. Therefore Poole, via the North Channel exit from the Solent (very fast on a good ebb, although a little bumpy, too shoal in that swell, and a bit too much of a lee shore by the time we were committed), and Christchurch Ledge (really not cricket in much of a swell, but frankly the entire bloody bay was full of breaking waves, so it hardly seemed to matter) was the plan.

On a brighter note, the 1/2 tablet of Dramamine worked its magic and I felt only very marginally unwell (a whole tab would have dulled my already atrophied brain), although I wasn’t going to risk going below to bleed the ruddy engine.

Besides, when it comes to Infernal Confusion Engines (as well as beer), Ollie is a professional and seemed perfectly happy to leave me on the helm (where I function best in heavy weather – and I don’t usually do a bad job). He spent more of the trip below than I’d have dared, bleeding the engine, tinkering with cups of tea, mugs of coffee, pints of beer, pots of noodles and bars of chocolate (for all of which, Ollie, I am eternally grateful)…. or simply trying for hours to get his sodden roll-ups alight in the relative dry.  He would occasionally stoically poke his head out, still dressed in the equivalent of (sopping wet) Sunday best crossed with Engine Room or Stevedore attire [note to self – when a millionaire, present Ollie with some actually waterproof clothes, to replace those which were once waterproof and now just pretend], hop up on deck in order to get a lungful of fresh air / survey the view of whichever breaking wave had just tried to knock us down / we’d fallen off the back of / or check I wasn’t running us onto the shore early, in a pique of cowardice.

Ordinarily, he’d get sloshed by another bucket of South Coast vintage 2012, glare bedraggledly at the sea and retreat below to light another rollie. Frankly, if I didn’t get ill at the first whiff of Derv in a heavy swell, I’d have joined him for a beer and a pipe. The Lucky Bastard.

A note for those interested in the finer points of Mal de Mer prevention: the active ingredient in Dramamine (Dimenhydrinate) appears to have been banned in the UK many years ago, although it seems to be available in every sweet shop, newsagent and petrol (sorry, gas) station in the US. I had to resort to importing a couple of tubes (and hoping it wasn’t made by Hookey Pharma Inc.), after discovering its wonders during a tropical storm in the Carribean – and the subsequent Atlantic crossing in the same Nic 45 (annoyingly, I ran out after a couple of days, so resorted to the usual stomach emptying weight loss programme).

hey, it’s a colourful picture. Don’t complain, I could have written some more dross instead.

Anyway, 31–38 mph is a F7, so I guess that put us squarely in one and the Met Office inshore waters forecast concurred. Apologies to those who work in knots (it’s 27–33 kts), but the earlier screen shot was of a land based forecast, so you can safely assume there was no less than that in Poole Bay. We wouldn’t know, because the brand new wind-ometer (sorry, anemometer for the pedants amongst us) from a company which sounds like it makes sweets, had stopped working some time ago: something to do with it being too expensive to deign to work its self on a small craft. Luckily the ancient Stowe deep-ometer as well as the TackTick one worked OK. It was certainly useful to know the sea was 14 degrees Centigrade, thank you TickTack.

Despite the windometer deciding it couldn’t see anything though the misty gloom either, we gathered that the wind had backed ever so slightly further south: allowing us, with our broken boom (which even Ollie wasn’t going to hang around on that foredeck to fix) to claw off across Poole Bay from Christchurch Ledge – and even point roughly where the fairway for Poole Harbour was supposed to be.

Eventually, in the far more pleasant conditions slightly in the lee of Old Harry’s Purbeck Hills, we spotted the Bar Buoy and waited at the shallow entrance, as a Condor Fast Cat bound for France was escorted by its Pilot boat into what I guess wasn’t the most pleasant channel crossing, even in a large ship.

Entering the sheltered, but still distinctly wind-whipped Poole harbour (the 2nd largest natural harbour in the world), we pootled past the chain ferry and ogled the silly buggers will full sail heading out for a race. Gratifyingly, most reduced sail and stayed in the shelter of the harbour.

Poole Harbour: like the East Coast (mainly rather shallow in places).

A bit more pottering about, whilst trying to find somewhere to stay, until Tom Cunliffe’s fine ‘Shell Channel Pilot’ pointed out that Poole Yacht Club had a policy of letting waifs and strays use its member’s berths whilst they were away on their adventures.

Poole Yacht Club is a magnificent sailing organisation, seemingly strongly supported and with many yachting and dinghy classes, including its unique R19 One Design. It’s helped by the fact that the Poole Harbour Commissioners, eager to secure for its self the strategically positioned land on which club was then sited and owned, offered to buy it and provide PYC with a massive and ideally suitable chunk of real estate in return, upon which the club could build a splendid new Club House and operate with minimal overheads from then on, with a massive car park and ownership of the sea bed to boot (indeed, I believe it’s only a few hundred quid a year for members – an unheard of bargain on the South Coast).

The only downside is that it’s all rather squeezed in, so the rather peculiar sight of yachts motoring everywhere backwards (something most boats do not do easily or by design) is commonplace. Indeed, I didn’t manage the turn into our berth, so we slotted into another hole, comforted by the fact that our neighbours suspected its owners would have no intention of leaving wherever they’d managed to hole up in this weather, so we wouldn’t need to attempt an un-seamanlike exit and slot into a nearby available berth.

Poole Lifeboat Station and the Sunseeker yard (1500 employees, 95% of boats exported). Taken the next day, but you need a pic amongst this sea of words, ‘eh?

We had the rest of that afternoon to enjoy, wring the boat out, secure other bits we’d lost and to make running repairs: i.e. for Ollie to ram (probably not the engineering term he would use, but heigh-ho) a bolt into hole where the gooseneck broke.

Saturday 30th June

The next day, Saturday 30th June, was the Round The Island Race; the forecast was for less wind, but still strong enough to make it an interesting one, certainly for the smaller boats. Rebecca, an old school friend and our new crew member, was also due to join us from Cambridge.

We spent some of the morning doing boaty stuff, whilst listening to the Round The Island dramas playing out on the VHF (capsized boat, injuries, winches, engine fires) and then ambled into the superb Poole Museum and spent a fascinated couple of hours looking at iron age log boats, reading about history of the harbour and inspecting various other nick-nacks. After an ogle of the Rona / London Sailing Project’s Ocean 75 ‘Donald Searle’, which I’d joined on a delivery from the Hamble to St Katharine’s Dock with the DSP when younger (or was it Rona II?) and admiring other floating objects, we could avoid our duties no longer, so obtained some diesel filters and other interesting marine articles.

Poole Museum (photo: Dorset Museums Association)

This was followed by Ollie instructing me in the fine art of Pre-Filter changing, in order to inspect and remove the gunk, which had been sucked into it the previous Saturday, when we’d discovered how badly the tank level indicator misread (and ran it dry – or more accurately, sucked the water, fuel bug, bits of string, fish and other detritus from the bottom of the fuel tank). We hoped this would help alleviate the rather annoying engine-stopping-just-when-you-least-need-it situation (it didn’t).

Rebs arrived on the late afternoon train, so we pottered into town for a combined dinner/luncheon, followed by a drink and passage planning session in the deserted PYC bar (everyone must be in Cowes for the RTI) before heading off to bed.

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 4 (Portsmouth to Yarmouth)

Being a latish start (Kevin decided against joining us, due to a hangover and work), this was due to be one of the shortest legs of the trip, owing to the likelyhood of strong winds by the time we’d be either a) passing through the Needles or b) taking the northern route past Hurst castle. Just as truthfully, possibly because Yarmouth is a nice spot and we fancied taking it easy for a day, after all we’d covered a couple of hundred miles in only 3 days and didn’t need, or want, to get to Poole immediately (with hindsight, it would have been more comfortable).

Leg4 – Portsmouth to Poole. No, sod it, Yarmouth. Thursday 28th June 2012

Call QHM on VHF channel 11, to cross the channel from N to S inside Pompey harbour, pop up to the fuel berth at Gosport Marina, rush out through the narrow entrance then take the transit (align ball-topped war memorial with edge of tan block of flats) for the safe corner-cutting channel between Hamilton and Spit Sand Bank. The Portsmouth routine completed by the close passing of the Ryde ferry and the Bothercraft buzzing past.

Ollie admires Eleanora, a replica of the 1910 schooner Westward, in the twinkling waters of the Solent

For now, the gentle F3/4 Easterly breeze pushed us Westwards, whilst the coastguard helicopter (India Juliet?) and a smaller Coastguard cutter performed some sort of coordinated exercise with a RIB and one of the larger UK Border Agency Cutters (later in the journey, one of these cutters crept up silently from nowhere and appeared a mile off inshore, apparently shadowing us, whilst we coasted along to Fowey).

Coastguard and UKBA exercise

At Cowes the wind dropped a little and we noticed, only a mile away, that yachts in the Western Solent had suddenly dropped their downwind sails and started making upwind on the same course. An curiously exotic smelling warm breeze filled the air and it was obvious a new weather pattern had taken over, presaging dramatically different conditions to the existing benign weather (either that or Ollie was working on one of his weather changing culinary marvels again).

What’s brown and steamy and comes out of Cowes? Not the IOW Ferry any more – it’s been Red and White for years.

As we passed the ever pretty Newtown Creek (I wonder how the Van de Stadt Invicta 26 ‘Newtown Maid’, which I used to sail on, now fares?), I spotted a beautiful red hulled boat emerging from its entrance, Not being able to resist the lure of another Varne, we circled Aldebaran and hailed her crew, discovering we were both bound for the same place and arranging to meet.

After the wind switch, it was now either a gentle tack up the Solent, or make for Yarmouth with the donkey on, in order to make the Swindlery for charts and to replace other broken bits (the main sheet blocks etc etc) before it closed. Besides, there’d be more time for the boozer. Oh, and I suppose we’d need food the next day too.. as our ‘fridge’ (the sink) doesn’t exactly keep food fresh.

We slipped inside the safety of Yarmouth harbour just as the wind began to pick up (it howled a bit in the night), congratulating ourselves on our superb planning as the smell of the beer got closer.

Krugerrand and Aldebaran. A splash of colour amongst boring white hulls.

After goggle eyeing in the Deli and an extremely congenial meeting with Danny ‘in Newton Creek, I ran aground for the first time ever’ (not enough time on the East Coast if you ask me) and his crewmate on Aldebaran, we all retired for the afternoon (and evening, in our case) to the Bugle Coaching Inn’s, very snug, snug (why, on earth, would one wish to sit elsewhere in there?), sampling ale after wonderful ale.

Ollie, happily ensconced in his second favourite place (“a pub’s only for when you’ve run the bar dry at home”)

The comfort of the marina facilities in Yarmouth are superb, as long as you remember your shower token, otherwise an ignominious be-towelled trip back outside is the order of the day.

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 3 (Newhaven to Portsmouth)

After waiting for the opening of the swindlery (actually, rather a good one: if we’d had time, a rummage through the second hand bits wouldn’t have gone amiss), the acquisition of some new charts (Imray, shame: I do prefer Admiralty folios) and some provisioning (mainly Old Speckled Hen and other ales, due to the lack of availability of Ollie’s smaller ‘Breakfast Beers‘) we popped over to the fuel barge, which had also finally opened, ran aground briefly and gently (it was low tide and a fishing boat astern prevented us turning) before topping up the various jerry cans and the tank (3 x 5 litres plus 64 litres representing at least 40 hours motoring).

Leg 3 – Newhaven to Portsmouth (Gunwharf Quays). Wednesday 27th June 2012

Dodging the working dredger again, we found a stiff breeze outside the sheltered harbour and got our first splashing of the trip, whilst plugged the tide westwards past the endless dreary sussex coast of Brighton, Shoreham and Littlehampton.

After the ritual of coffee, without which Ollie does not function, the coastal monotony was broken by virtue of Ollie’s magnificent ‘Baked Beans with Cheese, Mustard and Pepper’ (or was it the superb ‘Pot Noodles a la fromage, moutard and poivre’?).

After a delayed bar opening, due to the late start, followed by a few tens more miles, hours later we momentously swept into the next sea area in a failing breeze, through the pair of channel markers ‘Boulder’ and ‘Street’ and past Selsey Bill.

Ventnor cliffs on The Isle of Wight pop into view over the horizon

The Nab Tower and Napoleonic Forts slid into view, in the familiar welcoming vista of the Eastern Solent, as we chugged along.

Avoiding the shipping and submarine barriers, then skimming the forts during a calm, now almost windless evening, we phoned Kevin, an incorrigible old mate and our shore-side contact here, who’d found a berth in uber exclusive Gunwharf Quays (although not so exclusive that they wouldn’t let an old Varne in).

Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth Harbour

Incongruously mooring up alongside Leander, the NCP car park magnate Sir Gosling’s* immaculate behemoth Super Yacht (yours to charter for £500,000 per week, I guess excluding fuel – which would probably equal that in a week) we ignored all of the plush facilities as Kevin swung down the pontoon, looking at home. We’d not given him enough notice to roar out in his speedboat (he sold the Dehler 34 a few years before) so it was a short car ride to his Southsea home, followed by Rosie’s Wine Bar then continued kidney abuse during a late-night-kitchen-table-arama… then a real bed for me and a sofa for Ollie, which was marginally more comfortable than his berth, although possibly drier.

*incidentally, we met one of ‘Donald’s’ unassuming, cheerful and well travelled friends at the end of the journey, whilst in Mylor Yacht Club. This came up during a conversation about J Classes (the lucky bugger had helmed one).

Krugerrand dwarfing Leander in style (probably) at Gunwharf Quays, under the Spinnaker Tower.

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 2 (Ramsgate to Newhaven)

I’d last been to Ramsgate when working for a diving company, which was involved in construction of the Thanet Offshore Windfarm. Although the divers had now left, operations for much of the London Array Offshore Windfarm must be based at the same place and the scale of the operation is impressive, not least as reported by the bloke at the fuelling barge, who suggested almost a million litres of fuel is used weekly by the 30 or so very fast, large, catamaran work boats operating from the harbour (seemingly 24 hours per day, but by my calculations that’s almost 200 litres an hour each – possible, but implausible – maybe that was his, still impressive, total sales). The harbour is a buzz of activity and a not unpleasant place to stay, although one would tire of the town within a couple of days.

We left, intending to get to Eastbourne, before 5am – with the high tide, as the sky was lightening; a variable F2 with smooth sea, disturbed mainly by the tide swilling around Ramsgate (is it ever slack there?) . We motored across the calm sea, against the current between Brake and Goodwin Sands, the wind gently strengthening as the sun rose.

Ramsgate to Dover, between Brake and Goodwin Sands. Tuesday 26th June

By the time South Foreland then Dover hove into view, we realised the fine day would make for fine passage making, motor sailing with Dave the green and red auto pilot (bungee cord) easing some of the steering burden and the superb Standard Horizon CP180i simplifying the navigation work. As usual, Ollie counted down the opening of the bar, at 10am (in mitigation, we started at 4:30am), with almost as much fanfare as Seb Coe and LOCOG could ever plan for London 2012.

Off Dover. Dave the autopilot (bungee cord) doing sterling work, alongside the superb Standard Horizon electronic wizardry which makes sailing a little simpler… and Tom Cunliffe’s fine and ageless publication (except when it’s totally out of date).

With Ollie hissing and spitting Old Speckled Hen, we haughtily ignored the passing of Dover; the poor chap’s spent too many storm bound days in port there, wearily trudging around the castle for the umpteenth time, in order to pass the time.

If I ignore Dover, it will go away.

We weren’t near springs and the fair tide whipped us past the peculiar bleak landscape of Dungeness power station with little drama. The weather had closed in by now, a F3/4 but visibility fairly poor; we glimpsed the base of the spooky looking, although still slightly majestic, Beachy Head lighthouse through the mist as we passed close to shore, cliffs not visible in the low cloud and fishing boats trawling nearby, in that confined and closed landscape of limited visibility, with the wind failing slowly.

Sailing past Seaford

The low cloud stayed with us past Seaford until the bay at Newhaven (where, by now, we’d decided on making landfall).

Low Cloud at Seaford Head Cliffs

We approached Newhaven harbour somewhere before 19:00 (look, my log’s onboard as I write this, does the exact time matter?), noting the harbour entrance lights and hailing harbour control (and the large dredger working the outer harbour) on VHF for permission to dodge past, before taking a visitor mooring inside a very grand large modern yacht in Newhaven Marina.

Newhaven’s a strange place: small, but dredged deep for the Le Havre and Dieppe ferries which use it, in contrast to the majority of yotties who’ve eschewed it for the greater comfort of the new Sovereign (Eastbourne) and Brighton Marinas, under 10 miles to both the East and West. This decline’s probably well illustrated by the perfectly serviceable, but slightly shabby, facilities and the marina charge being collected by the friendly and cheerful girl, who lives with her partner in the back of their van in the marina’s car park.

Large ferries keep Newhaven alive; most visiting yachtsmen have forgone it for the luxury of Eastbourne and Brighton marinas.

Newhaven’s still a working port and it presents a friendly, amicable, soulful and far from unpleasant existence; I, for one, rather like the place. Certainly the extremely convivial company at the recently (most tastefully) refurbished ‘Hope Inn‘ helps. Despite insistence that it would be ‘as it should be‘, the medium-rare steak was quite well done, but it was certainly well appreciated and the local beer (Harveys?) was bloody good indeed. Somehow, room was made for the superb home made puddings. All in all very satisfactory and we retired to passage plan and thence to bunks.

Rather weirder was the tannoy system, playing a regular opus of tortured and distressed herring gulls throughout the night which, we presume, is to dissuade them from fouling everything. It must work because we saw barely anything of the dreaded shite-hawks.

Approximate route of Leg 2 (Ramsgate to Newhaven). Click for Higher Resolution

West Mersea to Mylor 2012: Leg 1 (Mersea to Ramsgate)

After finally getting her ship shape (mainly Ollie doing lots of engine work and gettng mucky in the bilges), the morning of Sunday 24th June in West Mersea didn’t provide the most auspicious beginning; at 4am it appeared that the inshore waters forecast was right and the gale presently whipping around wasn’t the best weather for navigating the shoal swatchways of the Thames Estuary.

The Swatchways of the Thames Estuary. Mon 25th June 2012.

It hadn’t been pleasant for a couple of days so we were happy to return to bed (me to sofa) and delay our start until Monday morning, to catch the tide through the Wallet Spitway and across to the North Kent coast.

Brief but heavy rain shower at West Mersea on Saturday, the day prior to our planned departure.

By midnight on Sunday, the next day’s forecast was much more reasonable: W veering NW 4 or 5, becoming variable 3 or less and showers later.

Packing Shed Island, early doors Monday 25th June 2012

Krugerrand, as always, patiently awaiting her crew


With High Tide (4.78m) in West Mersea at 4:43am on Monday, we took the ebb out of the Blackwater and watched the Gunfleet turbines glide past on the horizon as we were swept past the characterful Wallet Spitway buoy at 06:20. Being shallow, we’d left a couple of metres of tide underneath us, but no appreciable swell meant a lack of worries and Swin Spitway was soon behind us.

Ollie on the helm at the North Knoll Cardinal buoy before we slid through the Spitway

Fishermen and Foulger’s Gat were both unadvisable due to construction of the London Array windfarm, however I’ve always wondered about a connection of the name Foulger with a sailing friend of my father’s who lived in Burnham on Crouch and sailed, if I recall, an S&S 34.

London Array windfarm after sunrise

However, I’d already decided to go via the haunting sight of the wartime forts, so at S Whittaker, we turned south, passing the Maplin bank from Middle Deep; a good sized herd(?) of seals sunning themselves on the now exposed sands; later a porpoise paid a fleeting visit, one of two seen that day (the second was possibly a dolphin).

Good, easy sailing

A Thames Sailing Barge, possibly ‘Dawn’, swept majestically past at Foulness, full sail set. Only a couple of weeks before, Krugerrand had appeared in a couple of shots of a program Griff Rhys Jones had presented about Dawn and her old trading routes.

Thames Sailing Barge (‘Dawn’ ?)

Passing SW Barrow, in a pleasant F3, new mainsail setting well (except for a crease which Gowan suggested was batten tension) warm sun with little cloud, we cut SE across Oaze Deep – and away from the visceral-cavity-shock-inducing pressure waves, caused by immense explosions of missile testing at mysterious Foulness Island.

New mainsail drawing well

Probably a dozen firings followed us, as we glid towards the looming shapes of Kentish Flats windfarm; the *whooomph* <followed by a few second silence> them a thundrous CAPHWHOOOOM.  Although the sound receded, the atmosphere remained – as a fitting backdrop to the looming Knock John fort to port and the approaching Shivering Sand’s Forts, the reason I chose this route. These eerie steel structures have seen action of many sorts since their construction in the 40s, from shooting down enemy planes to pirate radio stations and SAS traning grounds. At their hight in 1945, Shivering Sands was manned by 250 men; now just a handful of herring gulls rule.

Poled out Genoa gave way to a Chute as the wind died. Shivering Sand Forts on the port bow.

Arriving just after low tide (1.05m – 10:41am) Shivering Sands was as folorn looking as I remembered, the last time I passed was in Acclaim, our Nic 55 (which we beached on sheppey) and before that in Treshnish, a Motor Fishing Vessel owned by the Dockland Scout Project.. or maybe a delivery trip on the Ocean Youth Club’s Oyster 68 (now that was a nice, large boat).

Wind dies, motor on. Shivering Sands Forts; the Kentish Flats windfarm behind

Out through the Princes channel, past Margate and Thanet windfarm whilst flopping around trying to sail through anchored ships in light winds. Motor on, down past North Foreland and Joss Bay, where I’d surfed years before and crossed Ramsgate’s fairway channel after high tide and in a large cross current whilst the large work cats plough in and out, ferrying workers to the windfarm.

We berthed smartly at Ramsgate, unberthed to fill up with diesel (read 15 litres of), but get cut up by a 50′ long, 40′ high stink pot “it’s OK lads, I’m only putting 2 grand in” .. by the time we’d waited for this leviathan to finish, all of the shops have closed so we retired to a curry house and off license, before an early start the next morning.