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 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 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.