A bit of data for the yachties…

A trawl through our log over the last couple of years as we made our way round the UK has thrown up some interesting and also surprising (at least to us) pointers about the nature of our trip…

If anyone reading this wants any more information from our limited perspective, we would be very happy to bore for England talk…


We used a combination of navigation aids…

  • charts of course… Imray packs seemed to be the most cost effective way of buying, but together with admiralty tide tables and paper almanacs, we spent over £500 on paper charts.
  • Raymarine cmap…Heydays has a reasonably old (8 years) Raymarine chart plotter and radar system. The cmap charts for this are not at all cheap and UK coverage with yearly updates cost over £600 for the 2 years. Our blog for October 2015 shows our coming together with a sandbank in the Thames estuary as a result of a 6 month old cmap and 8 month old chart. This resulted in us adding…
  • Navionics on both James’ Samsung 7″ tablet and John’s ipad. These have the advantage of being  cheap (approx £30 per year) and updateable wherever we have wifi. This would WITHOUT DOUBT have enabled us to avoid the sandbank which had moved in a winter storm. The small Samsung tablet proved very useful to have directly at the wheel, although the display is at times dull especially in sunlight. The ipad display is ideal, but seemed power hungry and needed an external GPS. The combination of both worked well for us until we have saved enough pennies to renew our old Raymarine.
  • We also made use of Reeds of course both on-line and paper, The Cruising Association Almanac (this tended to be rather more cautious and anxiety causing than the others) and several pilot books. East Coast Pilot, the Clyde Cruising Club books (all of them) and the Irish Sea book were all excellent and we made full use of them both for passage planning through races and past headlands as well as entering new harbours.

Distances and times…

We completed a total of  1944 miles over the ground (although some local cruising on the way round took it over 2000!).

We did 45 separate days sailing with a total of 360 hours at sea. Surprisingly, we had the engine running for just over 75% of the time although much of this was motor sailing. At first we were disappointed with such a high ratio, however this included a canal transit and we also made decisions to use the motor to support overall boat speed, to make tide gates and harbour entrances on occasions. We realise (although purists and Joshua Slocum will disagree) that passage making, often with a time pressure, is a very different kind of sailing than we have been used to previously.  Now back home, we will be burning a lot less diesel. Overall we used about 700l of diesel on the trip round.

Also slightly disappointing, was the fact that we only did around 36 hours of sailing in darkness. Some of this is accounted for by the remarkably short (almost non existent at times) ‘nights’ we encountered for much of the time we spent in Scotland and Orkney.

Of the 45 day sails, we spent the majority (35) in marinas, with just 10 nights at anchor or on swinging moorings. On another occasion we would certainly wish to do more anchoring and it is not for the want of information, as Brian and Anne provided us with an amazing array of great anchorages, of which we sadly used only a small fraction. In our defence m’lud, the east coast provided little in the way of safe anchorages with the exception of the Essex and Suffolk rivers in which we anchored on several occasions, but separately from this trip. We made most use of swinging moorings and anchorages in Scotland and the islands, but weather on occasions helped us to decide for more sheltered berths…OK, OK, pubs and restaurants also played a part! As did friends and family wanting to visit, as well as our need to travel back south for various reasons.


We carried our main VHF set (mast aerial) as well as two back-up hand held sets. The hand-helds proved to be more useful in close approaches for contact with harbourmasters re moorings, pontoons etc. as we don’t (yet) have a microphone for the main set in the cockpit.

We carried phones between us with three different networks. In general ‘3’ proved very good even for 4G up the East Coast and in Orkney, while Vodafone and O2 were less comprehensive. In West Scotland Vodafone was slightly better although all were fairly poor with 3G at best. We got used to sitting in pubs….just for the wifi!!!

The shipping forecast…

If possible, read this bit of the blog with Sailing By playing in the background…

We used three main sources of weather information;

  • the shipping forecast of course. We used the BBC broadcasts as well as listening for coastguard updates, but we found the Marineweather App to be very helpful both for the sea areas and the inshore forecast.
  • Navtex. This was OK, but in truth the display is less helpful (to our old git eyes) than the apps. We did not find any occasion where Navtex was the only option.
  • Windy App. This we used a lot and is very helpful in tracking fronts and depressions as well as for the direct estimates of wind strength, wave height etc. It is also more useful than the shipping forecast in some respects, as it can zoom in to smaller areas as well as providing some guide for up to 7 days in advance. HOWEVER, our experience showed that it tends to under-estimate the general wind strength. This was not consistent sadly and we became used to continual cross-checking with the shipping forecast. Wind direction seemed to us to be more accurate even at quite local levels.

The I-spy book of shipping forecasts showed that we covered in order…

  • Wight, Dover, Thames, Humber, Tyne, Forth, Cromarty, Fair Isle, Hebrides, Malin, Irish Sea, Lundy, Plymouth and Portland. We also used close by areas of Dogger, Forties, Sole and Fitzroy.
  • Lyme Regis, Selsey Bill, North Foreland, Gibraltar Point, Whitby, Berwick upon Tweed, Rattray Head, Cape Wrath, Ardnamurchan Point, Mull of Kintyre, Mull of Galloway, Carlingford Loch, Great Orme Head, St Davids Head and Lands End

We’ll never again lie awake at night listening to the sonorous voices reeling off the headlands without still wishing we were there, watching them slip silently past…..

And finally, the link below should take you to a word table of places, times, distances and main events if you are still reading….

UK tour summary

Sailing home…Sunday 15th October 2017 Dartmouth to ???

A 5am alarm call… on a Sunday!!!

…and a check of the forecast…

Screenshot_20171016-082539 (2)

…this has us thinking seriously about moving at all. The 24 hour inshore forecast is suggesting S or SW 4 or 5 occasionally 6 later. That bit is OK and should see us in Poole quite nicely before anything heavier but…the outlook for the following 24 hours is now suggesting that ex hurricane Ophelia may make her presence felt with gales suggested. Our concern is that things change quite quickly and sometimes the forecast winds arrive sooner than expected. A review of the options….stay put in Dartmouth, although this would be wasting the opportunity for a good 12 hours of easting, or head out with some bolt holes available. Lyme Bay has nothing to offer by way of shelter, but once round Portland Bill, Weymouth is a good safe harbour in a blow and Poole itself is also good. Both are down wind to ease any pressure on us and the gear.

In the end, with enough alternatives should the forecast change, we decide to go. We head out down a dark river with the ebb under us, scanning the gloom for moored boats and for the comfort of the Check Stone and Castle Ledge buoys and the ease of open water at night. With a cautious reef in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa we spot the southerly cardinal marks taking us safely round (yet another) Mewstone and the charmingly titled Shag rock…great birds. After that it’s 80o  for the next 8 hours or so to Portland Bill. The tidal lift east stays with us slightly longer than we expected and we are averaging well over 6 knots over the ground. Out across Lyme Bay and the land quickly disappears into the lightening haze. The sea is quite lumpy and this increases and shortens as the tide turns against us and the wind. The autohelm is working hard and we once more think about the benefits of installing wind-vane steering. We opt to run a loose watch system and take turns to catch up on some sleep.

The morning trundles on with Heydays scudding through and sometimes surfing down the front of waves. We disturb a flock of gannets who were spending a peaceful Sunday morning bobbing around until we came along. We pass a couple of cargo boats anchored but other than that not another soul although, presumably, plenty of sole…apologies.

We are around 6 miles from the Bill when we suddenly see the unmistakable dorsal fin and once more we are joined, all too briefly, by a pod of common dolphins.


It really does lift the spirits (not that we were down) to have these wonderful creatures for company. As if encouraged by them, the sun comes out (albeit in a watery kind of way) and we finally get sight of the Bill itself. We feel like we have entered the final countdown now with only St Aldhelms Head and Anvil Point left before home. We round the Bill just on slack water with Heydays still making around 5kt despite some easing of the wind.


With the Bill comes some data connectivity and a forecast update. Ophelia is tracking slightly further east and while Ireland will bear the brunt, Portland and Wight both have gales forecast over the next 24 hours. There is no need to run for Weymouth, but thoughts turn to our final leg from Poole to Lymington. A quick calculation and with a favourable tide east for the next 6 hours and a decent wind, we can make the tide gate at Hurst Narrows before it turns foul at 8.30pm. The lure of our home port ahead of the final sting of Ophelia is attractive and we encourage Heydays with a bit of engine to support a slackening wind which is now just around F3. Oddly it comes round to the SE and this was definitely in no forecast we have seen…

With connectivity comes the curse of knowing what else is happening…Yee Tak has taken Chris to see Saints against Newcastle and James’ phone pings irritatingly (can’t bring myself to turn it off…) as Newcastle score. Heydays is now creaming along at 7 or 8 kts through the water and with a favourable tide we pass St Aldhelms and Anvil Point with indecent haste.


Another ping and Saints are level….followed by another ping within the minute and the ‘Toon army are back in front…. The point of sailing is to get away from the anxiety…as they say, it’s the hope that gets you. Once more we are surrounded by haze and we see no sign of the Isle of Wight or Bournemouth as we cross the Dolphin Sands at speed. A final ping settles matters and Saints get a draw…at least Chris saw a good game for her first ever time at a premier league match. Yee Tak is spitting with frustration….

John plots a course in close to the beach and the north passage, instead of the Needles channel which can get very lumpy. It also goes past his flat up on the cliffs… The final sunset on our journey brings mixed emotions and a curious red sun courtesy of dear old Ophelia dragging Sahara dust and Portuguese wild fire debris in our direction.

…elation at an achievement for a couple of old gits, but also a sadness at the end of a chapter and an adventure. We’ll do a final reflective post later…

The haze finally clears and the Needles light is clear as it steers us clear of the Shingles bank.  We make the North Head buoy with about an hour to spare and can just about make out the line of Hurst Spit. We lose the jenny and take the last of the flood through the narrows and in to the warm embrace of the Solent. We can be cavalier with the channel markers, cutting corners with aplomb (hoping that the mud has not moved in the last 2 years) and watching the lights of Lymington drawing us in. 14 hours after leaving Dartmouth we are tied up on the harbour master’s pontoon and we’ll stay the night there before finding out where they will put us for the winter while they dredge our own mooring. Back on dry land we are still swaying around like a couple of drunken sailors…but that bit will come later. The welcoming party will arrive tomorrow, so after a drink or two we tuck up on Heydays for the final night (on this trip).

Dawn brings confirmation that it was the right decision to come straight to Lymington from Dartmouth and it is amazing to wake up in the familiar surroundings of home.

We motor out down river in increasing gloom thanks to Ophelia and are ‘met’ back on the pontoon by Yee Tak and Chris…


…there can be no better excuse for fizzy pop at 11 in the morning.


Saturday 14th October 2017…Plymouth to Dartmouth…and some sad news

With Heydays out of the water in Plymouth, we take the opportunity to anti-foul her bottom and we even have time to polish her top sides…the decks and coach roof will have to wait though. There is no doubt that after nearly 2 years away from home she is looking a little tired and in need of more detailed attention than we have been able to give her.

However we receive the sad news that John’s Dad passed away early on Tuesday 10th October. In March with all of us in Orkney, John rushed back to be with him in what doctors thought were to be his last few days. However over the next few months he rallied and John managed to take him out to his favourite pub, The Ferryhouse Inn on the river Tamar, for the occasional pint and meal. We’ll have a wake there after the funeral and toast Roy, looking out over the river and the dockyards at Devonport where he spent so much of his life.

With a domestic and weather window before the funeral, we decide to press on Eastwards with a plan to take us to Dartmouth, Poole and then home. Heydays is lifted back in the water and we slip the mooring just after 11am on Saturday morning. The benefits of a clean bottom and prop are felt immediately as Heydays slips easily through the Sound at 4 knots at only just over 1000 revs. The wind is on the nose as we head south initially, but we look forward to a straightforward beat to Start Point and then a fetch and final run into Dartmouth.

John pilots us out of his boyhood waters with mixed emotions…and a grey sky,

We skim the light at the Western end of the breakwater…

and in clear seas the wind frees and we head for the Mewstone rocks just south of Wembury point with a full set of sails.

With each headland, we make some more easting in the course and by the time we round Bolt Head we are on a fine fetch. The sky lightens and breaks (…”enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers” as my grandma used to say) and the green fields of S Devon slip by.

By the time Salcombe is on the beam, the sun is out and although the wind dies to a zephyr we are just happy to be out on the water.

We pass a few floating plastic drink bottles and grumble about the general level of pollution, the future of the planet etc. etc. …how unusual for two old men…With a near flat sea we suddenly realise that we are not looking at drinks bottles at all, but Portuguese men of war (who are doing a very good impression of floating plastic debris). We even see a gull tentatively pecking at the sac. We are not sure if that encounter finally ends in a score draw…

As Start Point comes on the beam the mouth of the Dart, although still 10 miles away, is indicated by a cluster of sails and other boats like bees round the entrance to a hive.

We pick our way up river just as the ebb is starting and with the sun casting longer shadows over the town, we understand why this part of the coast is so popular for tourist and yachties alike.

We even have time to glance back…


On cue, a steam train whistles and chuffs away up the old line. This could be a scene from the fifties….except for the rows of plastic boats now lining the banks instead of fine varnish and canvas…


We choose the town quay for the night as we are allowed to moor there while the ferries are not working from around 5pm to 8.30am. As we plan to be away by 6am there shouldn’t be a problem…except that the ferry is working later today due to demand! There is enough space for all of us but we have to put up with a few returning drunks waiting next to us for the last boat back across the river. We are not at all bothered as we head for the The Royal Castle for a couple of pints and a what turns out to be a great meal. This is slightly spoiled by 1) the price….welcome to the touristy south and 2) the fact that the service charge does not go to the staff at all. After the recent high profile stuff in the news about owners pocketing tips meant for staff, we thought that this would now be a thing of the past. How naïve are we? The prices in the Royal Castle are high enough without them feeling that they can steal from their staff…..grump over. Dartmouth is delightful and we’ll return soon with more time to look around.

We check forecasts and ex-hurricane Ophelia is looking like it will be making its presence felt over the next few days as it tracks north from the Azores. The further east we can make, the easier it will be. There are some gales forecast in Fitzroy, Sole and Plymouth sea areas…all to the west of us but some F5/6  in Portland and Wight. Looks good to go at the moment, but we’ll check in the morning.