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.