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 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.