Sailing home…Falmouth to Plymouth Friday 28 September


Who invented alarms at 3.15? This is not the time for sparkling conversation and repartee…we get ourselves ready in an even more cursory fashion than yesterday and soon we are squeaking and rustling around in our wet weather gear with plenty of layers underneath. Just time to make some coffee and neither of us feel like eating…or talking much, at the moment. We can just about pick out the dim outlines of other boats on the river as we make our way downstream and out into the inky blackness of the open sea once more. Some big warships in port have lights blazing and this helps navigation for a while…just the Black Rock to find and avoid now.

St Anthony Head light blazes comfortingly through the drizzly blackness and the silence is only disrupted by their mournful foghorn which we hear for some time even once we are well past. The rain comes and goes and once we are past the headland we set a straight line for Penlee Point and the entrance to Plymouth Sound. With nothing especially challenging (we hope) for the next few hours, we settle into a brief watch routine. We are running just on genny alone and when the showers have passed the visibility is not too bad. The radar suggests a boat about 3 miles away off the starboard beam and they track us steadily for sometime until we finally see their running lights. At first all we can see is a red and a white light but eventually, when we are about 1 mile away we can see the red above white of a fishing boat. Gradually we can make out more of the outline of the boat and can actually see the waves…a feeble dawn is clearly coming albeit without the splendid light show and colours of yesterday. Our patch of sea is suddenly more active…two tugs in line abreast are pushing steadily West and some small fishing boats are pottering around inshore.

James’ turn to grab some sleep and when he pops his head out an hour later, we have already closed Penlee point. From the sea, it is obvious why some are headlands and others are points…Rame head and Penlee Point give us a geography lesson.

John has phoned his friend who lives in some flats at Cawsand Bay and we make a short detour into the bay. We see his torch flashing at us and wave back energetically….while still on the phone!


John has loads of memories of sailing these waters in dinghies nearly 60 years ago and he enthusiastically points out local stuff as he sails Heydays into his boyhood waters. He opts to use his local knowledge and takes us through the short cut on the Cornish side of Drake’s Island.

Back in the sound and a Military Police Launch hurries over to a catamaran which is seemingly oblivious of a huge (and un-named warship) bearing down on him. We keep well out of the way…best not to argue with missiles, guns and torpedoes (and who knows what else…). The man with the gun on the bridge doesn’t wave back!!!

We tie up in the marina with enough time for a fry-up before our scheduled lift out at 12.30. We hope they don’t need to come on board, as second-hand fried breakfasts are not everyone’s idea of subtle fragrances…we even have time to wash up.

Heydays is lifted out and we are disappointed with the amount of slime we have accumulated since we antifouled in April in Scotland. We can hire a pressure washer for 30 quid, but for an extra tenner we can have it done for us…we’ve had enough of getting wet…

Our loss of speed is due to hull fouling after only 6 months but also to some fouling on the prop. Teckky alert…we used Hemple’s Tiger on the hull and it has not performed especially well, but we splashed out on some PropSpeed for the prop 2and a half years ago. It cost nearly 100 notes just for the prop but has worked well until now. The locals don’t do PropSpeed any more and like many commercial boats use a spray-on grease instead…we’ll try that out this time.

More disappointingly, it is clear that the cutlass bearing has failed after only three years and the rope cutter is also beyond repair. Mick from M&G Marine is a gem however and he sources replacements very rapidly. The work won’t be done however until next week, by which time our domestic duties have caught up with us once more. The yard is able to do us a deal and so Heydays is ashore for the next two weeks having her bottom and stern gear attended to…

Final thoughts…we expressed our disappointment at what we considered to be an early failure of gear which we thought was relatively new. Mick’s view, once he learns that we have been almost all the way round the UK is that we shouldn’t be surprised given the distance that Heydays has covered. We console ourselves that at least we are wearing gear out (like our mooring warps) rather than them just rotting away through lack of use like so many of the boats we see in the Lymington marinas…

Sailing home… Newlyn to Falmouth…28 September

A short weather window opens with some winds promising to drive us East…at least for a while. A drive back to Newlyn and we spend the afternoon checking and re-checking the diesel filters and fuel lines and then running the engine to make doubly certain that we don’t have to call for help again. The Lizard is the next tide gate we need to round and will also mark the most southerly point of the trip round the UK. This necessitates an early morning start to be there by 10am latest. Alarms are never welcome and  4.30 is particularly grim. We busy ourselves with a minimum of domestic hygiene and get the boat ready for what is forecast to be a biggish swell, courtesy of the Atlantic lows which have been threatening the western areas of the UK for some time. It seems that the culprit is a split in the jet stream with a vindictive little arm now tracking further south than usual. Along with two fishing boats, we slip out of Newlyn, determined to come back soon as part of a visit to the Scillies which we are sadly missing this time. After the lights of the harbour, the open sea seems inky black and we just have the lights of the fishing boats for company as we head out across Mounts Bay towards the Lizard.  As our eyes get used to the dark we start to make out the faint outline of St Michaels Mount, dark and brooding (over what might have been a glorious role as the capital of a Nazi Cornwall?).

The merest glimmer of light breaking over the horizon, suggests that the sun is not far behind and soon we can make out the dark grey outline of the headland. Decision number 1 for the day…do we take the inshore channel round the Lizard (and save ourselves a 3 mile detour) or do we play safe and keep well off. The pilots warn of breaking seas in SW winds and the need for local knowledge to make the inshore passage….we take the detour. As it happens, there is no sign of breakers, just the distant sight of the Atlantic swell sending up great plumes of salty spray as it arrives angrily in Europe from Trump’s America. …(OK OK….even Trump doesn’t control the waves, but we are still, just, in Europe).

There is something special about dawn at sea. Night passages have their own charm and even tranquillity. The night watches pass almost in a cocoon, with just the dim glow from the instruments for company and a constant scanning of the blackness for what is mostly not there at all. But the first sign of light brings a gradual awakening of a wider world.

Soon we can make out the ever-present threat of lobster pots (how many did we pass unseen in the night?) and take action to avoid. We see the early terns and gannets wheeling and searching for breakfast…and we see our crew appearing blearily from below after final 2 hour kip offering hot coffee.

Tiredness seems to disappear with the dawn, and we marvel at the constant and rapidly changing patterns of the morning sky.

The sun finally makes an appearance itself just as the long haul jets are playing noughts and crosses in the sky, although if they are US planes we suppose it would be tic tac toe…

We round the Lizard in a stunning September sun and celebrate our most southerly headland  with a tot of whisky from Scapa…our most northerly point, in Orkney.

Just off our beam we suddenly see dozens of gannets dive-bombing in rapid succession, heralding an unseen shoal (of anchovies, sardines?). Soon there is the unmistakable rise and fall of dorsal fins…who found the shoal first…the gannets or the dolphins? Either way there is competition and soon the shoal seem to seek shelter near Heydays as she pushes through these western approaches. The dolphins are with us for ages (but we are rubbish with the camera this time…or are they just shy?)…and then as quickly as they arrive, they leave us alone again, either having eaten their fill or having run out of fish.  We wonder whether dolphins ever fancy bird for lunch…



We turn Heydays northwards once more for the first time since April and the business of this bit of sea makes itself felt…

We goose-wing for as long as possible before finally hauling down the sails and turning once more to our ‘ol iron tops’l for our final approach.


At the third attempt, James manages to get John within an arm’s reach of a buoy and soon we are thinking of lunch…and naps. The day is bright and sunny and a swift call to the harbour taxi has us joining the day trippers and tourists…and feeling somewhat underdressed, although our version is that we look like salty sons of the sea…no-one is so impolite to point out that we are just scruffy…

We ponder lunch over a beer and hit on what turns out to be one of the highlight meals of the trip. Amanzi is a South African restaurant with a unique menu and a great range of cocktails. Afternoon rum and ginger beer very nearly does for us! Apologies for pictures of food and drinks…even sailors can snap their food!

John’s son and daughter in law (Christopher and Sarah) drive down to meet us and  we spend a happy afternoon pottering round the lanes.

As afternoon turns to evening the latest front makes its presence felt and the fine drizzle gets into every nook and cranny. We wait by the pontoon for the water taxi and watch a damp gentleman get into his inflatable tender. After a few brief pumps, he rows energetically and damply upstream. We are grateful for our warm and friendly taxi…and we pass him a little later, still rowing energetically enough but even more damply.

During the voyage from Newlyn, the engine behaved brilliantly when needed, although we seemed to have lost a bit of speed. More worrying is an annoying vibration from somewhere near the prop-shaft. We asked around in Falmouth to have a lift out to have a look, but they are all fully booked. Plymouth has a slot at 12.30 the following day. With an 8 hour sail this means an even earlier start. We get ourselves and the boat as ready as possible for a quick getaway and finally turn in around 8 to the gentle sound of rain lashing the deck…and the nagging back-of-the-mind awareness of a 3.15am alarm.

At 8.30 we are roused from almost-sleep by flashing blue lights and the unmistakeable sound of the twin engines of a Tamar Class lifeboat. We poke our heads out and they are looking for an elderly gentleman… we hear up and down the river for some time, but no news at the moment…hoping for the best.

Would von Ribbentrop have let us in?

With a forecast of SW F7 coming in over the next day or so, we sadly abandon ideas of getting to the Scillies on this trip. Shorter days, increasing frequency of strong south westerlies and the realities of domesticity mean that we are running out of time to get Heydays home for the winter. Several local sailors suggest in any case that the season has passed for comfy cruising in the islands. We set about doing the touristy thing in Cornwall and head off for what will be a very wet and gloomy visit to St Michaels Mount.

The causeway is only open for a couple of hours either side of low tide and we trudge off along with several other bedraggled groups and some bemused chinese students.

It takes a certain kind of person to live on an island like this and it appears that a member of the German High Command had been promised Cornwall. He apparently decided that the castle would be just the place to rule and retire…

The island itself is fascinating and we wander happily around despite the damp, wondering what it would have been like to have been besieged here by roundheads (or anyone else for that matter).

Before the tide turns we return to Cornwall and watch as the waters once more cut off the island…


The following day is bright and blustery and we consider a sail to Falmouth. Economics now rears its head and at nearly twice the daily rate we opt to leave Heydays for a few days in Newlyn instead of pushing East.

A lone sailor appears from the Scillies and we realise we have made the right decision. He had to move anchorage several times as the storm passed through and is now utterly exhausted…we go sightseeing again.

St Ives will appeal to some and not others, but the Tate and Hepworth is a real attraction for part of our crew. The tourists are (mostly) absent which makes the town navigable, but the Tate is sadly shut for renewal. We spend a happy few hours poking around the lanes and a couple of smaller galleries…

…and although we don’t see this…


..we get why Barbara Hepworth and generations of artists since, have been so inspired by the sea and landscape of Cornwall.

On the way back we visit the Sennen Cove Lifeboat to thank them properly. They are having a practice launch and we watch transfixed as they slide majestically into the waves…

The final bit of sightseeing takes us back in to the other big cornish industry…tin mining.


Our guide is an ex-miner who brings the reality of the industry to life. The tour underground is not for the claustrophobic and James and Chris find it ‘interesting’ but welcome the daylight at the end…

The mine closed in ’86 and with it a unique way of life. As so often, the women had a unique, physically exhausting and low paid role and the Cornish Balmaidens would have given the Scottish Herring Gutters a run for their money…


Economics, as we have seen in too many places around our coast, places profit above people, places and communities…with the state left to pick up the pieces once capitalists have left with the money…




New friends in Newlyn…


Most things seem better in the sun and with a bright Monday and the added bonus of Chris and Yee Tak on board, (and Chris’s Dorset Apple cake), we set about taming our wild diesel bugs. Research is suggesting that with bio-diesels becoming more common, the problem of bugs will not go away, it just needs managing. We consider taking out the tank for a steam clean (where?) and renewing the fuel lines, but even that doesn’t always solve the problem. In fact we meet Jacques, a depressed French sailor who had exactly the same problem last year and had all the fuel system professionally cleaned…and then encountered his buggy friends all over again. Talking to various people around the thriving fish dock, it seems that fishing boats are not immune either. Their most pragmatic solution is the one we finally opt for….regular biocides in the fuel, followed by dispersants to suspend the hopefully now dead slimes to be burnt in the engine…and a large stock of replacement filters. The message is not if you get an attack, but when.


Our problem now is to source filters and new fuel line…enter new Newlyn friend number 1. We don’t get his name, but the young engineer in MTS runs us into Penzance in his van having phoned ahead to determine that they have the parts. His knowledge of diesel filters and part numbers is encyclopaedic and even better, at  22 years old, he is a great advert for the power of apprenticeships…even if he is critical of Cornwall College’s admin! Within the hour he gets us to Penzance and back complete with parts and even better, it only takes one more hour for the guys at Mill Autos to get extra filters delivered to the quay.

A sub-plot to all this is Yee Tak’s new friend Louis, off the fishing boat Victoria Anne. He sells us 3 huge crabs and one large spider crab for a total of £10.  She spends the rest of the day plotting the cooking and serving of the crabs…

…meanwhile, back in the engine room…Heydays is treated to a new filter, new fuel lines and a shock dose of biocide. The fuel refuses to flow until we take the highly technical action of blowing down the fuel line! With a rush the diesel flows and soon Heydays responds with a healthily purring engine once more. We throw in some dispersant for good measure and the engine appears to run faultlessly. It will take a while however, for us to completely relax without hearing every little change of engine note…

Newlyn is a busy fishing port with the outward signs of relative prosperity and we are enchanted by the constant activity both dockside and in the harbour. Despite the lack of a decent shower and dedicated facilities for soft yachties, we find that it has swiftly become one of the highlights on our journey round the UK, with a welcome and friendliness up with the best of the encounters we had on the East coast.

Spider crab gives us a great late supper, washed down with some chilled Picpoul de Pinet…

New friends in Newlyn part 2…

Tuesday dawns bright and sunny and we resolve to test the engine with a sail round the bay over to St Michaels Mount. Heydays pushes through a clear sparkling sea with a few returning fishing boats for company and although we enjoy the wind in our sails, we keep the engine running and listen nervously for any coughing or spluttering. This comes just as the rock is abeam and instantly we are out of our reverie and making sure that the wind will take us comfortably back to the safety of Newlyn harbour. It turns out to be just a blip, but…

Back in our berth, two more crabs and some salmon fill us to overflowing for lunch. A very happy hour or so is spent cracking, sucking and picking very last bits of juicy sweet meat from the shells…these are then boiled up to make a fantastic smelling stock…

We then resolve to tackle the intermittent aerial problems at the top of the mast. John and Yee Tak heave James plus his share of crab (big mistake) to the top of the mast. Operations there involve the highly technical ‘wiggling’ and making and breaking connections.

The anchor light responds and so does the VHF (we think). This is not a job to be done at sea and we marvel at how the old sailors used to think nothing of going aloft to deal with wet and flogging canvas in often rough seas and icy conditions.

In to Newlyn for a drink and Yee Tak is drawn inexorably to the Elisabeth Veronique which is unloading her catch after 5 days at sea. Enter new Newlyn friends number 3, 4 and 5. The skipper Mark, together with his two crew Shan and the apprentice Adam are happy for us to have a look and very soon they are filling a bag with 5 huge squid. They refuse to take any money and yet again we are humbled by the generosity of people who, having spent 5 days at sea in a small boat are happy to give away some of their hard-earned catch to complete strangers.

After 2 days rest they will be back out to sea again, to ensure that the rest of us can casually have squid, cuttlefish, turbot and brill for tea as the fancy or the latest cooking show takes us. Safe trips guys and we’ll think of you as we tuck in to our squid.

The swordfish by the quay turns out to be simply a great old-fashioned pub (albeit with some great music). We get chatting to new Newlyn friend number 6. Tammy is from the same part of S London as James and her Dad had one of the last big traditional London funerals (as we see on You Tube later). She has named her dog after him and swears that her chocolate lab has her Dad’s spirit and genes…

On hearing our troubles in hiring a car, she immediately gets on the phone to sort things out for us. In short order, she has found a car and even arranges to drive us out there to pick it up next day in her break time from work. Once again we are humbled by simple generosity and the kindness of strangers.

We reflect that Newlyn has a special place in our hearts and raise (several) glasses to the men of the Sennen Cove lifeboat, to the apprentice at MTS, to Louis on the Victoria Anne, to Mark Shan and Adam from the Elisabeth Veronique and to Tammy and indeed all the others in this remarkable community we didn’t have the chance to meet.

Saturday 16 September… Klebsiella, Candida and Cladosporium finally get us…



More of that later…Heydays is finally on the move again after a summer where we have been doing things other than floating around on our bit of Moody plastic, although Yee Tak and James had a week just lazing around on the river and a brief foray out into the sea with granddaughter for her first time on the boat.

Our original plan had been to mooch over to Southern Ireland and explore Wexford, Waterford and Cork before heading to the Scillies and then a trundle East and home. However, hospital appointments conspire against us and we finally slip the mooring at Rudders around 5pm on Saturday 16th September. Rudders was a great place to leave Heydays and despite a few damp trips in the tender we would very happily visit again and explore Pembrokeshire some more.

We have now decided to miss Ireland this time and head instead for Newlyn, where we will pick up Yee Tak and Chris with a plan to spend a few days in the Scillies before perhaps leaving Heydays in Falmouth or thereabouts while we return home again for yet more domestic stuff.

With a forecast F4 or 5 occasionally 6 from the North and a sea state of slight we settle in for a run across the outer reaches of the Bristol Channel and a quiet but longish night. With 10 hours of darkness ahead, we are already missing the short not-quite-nights of our summer days in Scotland. The sea is definitely more than slight and gives us a very short yet steep chop over the stern. The autohelm struggles to keep a steady course and the wind is nowhere near F4. Every sea shakes what little wind there is out of the sails and once more we need to motor-sail to keep up sufficient speed to get us to Runnel Stone off Lands End before the tide turns. As darkness creeps over us, we settle into a watch routine and have a fishing boat and another yacht for company, albeit some distance off. Occasional bursts of torrential rain add to the discomfort of a rather violent motion and a few flashes of distant lightening do little to cheer us up. Nothing like sitting on the sea with a huge metal pole sticking up amidst a thunderstorm…this is not what was forecast.

The night trundles on and around 3.30 a very sodden John retires thankfully below while James huddles under the spray hood. The radar is reassuring and we have overtaken the yacht a few hours ago. No sooner than John shuts his eyes than the engine dies. This provokes instant reaction  and all thoughts of sleep vanish. We go through the routine of trying to restart without success and finally accept that we are going to have to bleed the diesel lines through…not a great prospect in a heaving boat…

Bleeding yields no success. In fact it yields no trace of diesel at all. This is worrying as we should have at least 90L of fuel, enough for around 35-40 hours of constant motoring. We manage to put another 15L into the tank from our reserve cans but to no avail. Next step…filter change. This shows finally the true extent of the problem. A black slimy sludge lies across the top and we have read enough to know that we have diesel bug. Enter Klebsiella, Candida and Cladosporium. These are the diesel equivalent of STDs. We wouldn’t have minded but we never refuelled without the full protection of biocides and inhibitors.

The fuel line is completely blocked and we gradually accept the fact that we are not going to get the engine running again without some major work and certainly not something we can attempt at sea. However we are a sailing boat so we will sail out of trouble…By now, dawn is breaking and the sun brings a lessening of the sea but sadly no more wind. In the last 3 hours we have made just 8 miles and we start to wonder if we will make the tide gate off Lands End. There are few options open to us…the north Cornwall coast is notoriously inhospitable with neither Padstow nor St Ives especially easy to enter and certainly not without an engine. Pressing on is the best bet and yet we doubt if we have enough wind to get us to Runnel Stone. We also doubt that we will be able to stem the adverse tide that will then be pushing us back round the north Cornwall coast. Option 3 is to head out to sea and away from what is now a lee shore. This solves the immediate problem but does nothing to address the longer term problem of needing to get into port. The forecast is for the very light winds to continue. We are now in the shipping lanes and have no ability to get out of harm’s way, relying solely on others seeing us.

Reluctantly we decide that we ought at least to inform the coastguard of our situation so that at least they can warn other shipping. This now throws up a secondary problem…our main VHF appears not to be transmitting. We check all the on board connections and realise that the problem is either at the top of the mast or with the set itself. Our only recourse now is to close the coast and hope to get sufficient signal from our back-up hand-held VHF to talk to the shore.

Yet despite all this, not only are we in no danger, but the day is glorious and a pod of dolphins spend ages surfing and playing around us. They truly are magical and inspiring and there are many worse situations we could be in….

Around 11 we finally get a weak signal to Falmouth Coastguard. After much consultation on their part they finally decide that they would rather not have a small boat chuffing around with limited manoeuvrability in the shipping lanes, especially as we have no prospect of getting to Newlyn before darkness descends once more. They ask us if we would accept a tow and we agree. Sennan Cove Lifeboat is duly launched at 11.15 and by 12 they are in radio contact with us and we can see the sun glinting off their windows. In the last couple of hours the wind has become even more fluky and we are down to just 2kt. We try to look reasonably efficient and have sails down and lines ready by the time they make a final approach.


In short order they check we are all OK and they feel they have no need to have a crew on board. This makes us feel marginally less like a couple of incompetent geriatrics. With a 60m-70m rope there is no nasty snatch and Heydays is soon creaming along at just under 10kts. Being towed is not easy and it is quite hard to keep from yawing from side to side. We take half hour stints at the wheel for the 4 hour trip to Newlyn.


Unbeknown to us, a watcher on the cliffs takes some picture of us being towed with the Longships Light in the background…it is now on the Sennen Cove Lifeboat website!!!


We pass Lands End and some great coastline and soon Penzance Bay opens out before us with St Michaels Mount majestic in the afternoon sun.

Just outside the harbour entrance we drop the tow and they tie up alongside to take us into a berth. The seamanship of the cox is incredible and he brings Heydays alongside so gently that he wouldn’t have crushed an egg! No sooner are we tied up than they are off. We just have time to ask about charges and donations, but his parting shot is “…as long as you’re happy, we’re happy”. With that, the magnificent rumble of the big diesels pushes them back out of Newlyn, back to Sennan Cove  and presumably back to their disturbed Sunday roasts.

These guys were not especially challenged today in our ‘rescue’, but we were equally humbled and inspired by them….humbled that they ask for nothing (although we will of course donate) and inspired by their selflessness and seamanship. Thank you so much to the Cox and Crew of the Sennan Cove Lifeboat.

As a footnote, Newlyn is home to the Penlee Lifeboat and this is an added and poignant reminder of the danger they willingly put themselves in to serve and save others.

As a further footnote: John’s brother Pete and his wife Wendy drive over from The Lizard and join us for dinner in the Red Lion on Sunday evening. This was a real treat and we resolve to return sometime soon.