26th August…A wet bank holiday Sunday in Dartmouth…and then sailing home.

Sunday forecast is true to its word and blows up windy and wet. The crabbers are absent (no staying power!) and so are we from any meaningful activity for most of the morning. We are booked into the bistro above the yacht club for lunch and eventually heave ourselves out for a walk around town to create an appetite. Rothko in his grey period would have been inspired but we eventually run out of expletives at the British bank holiday weather and head for lunch. There is little to add here apart from wondering why an art shop would have a painting of Jacob Rees-Mogg as the centre-piece in its window…he doesn’t even represent this constituency. We are not sure whether it is iconic or ironic. We don’t engage them in the politics of Brexit…it is Sunday after all.

We are planning to do the hop from Dartmouth to Lymington in one go…about 85 miles. There are two tidal gates to consider; the first is Portland Bill, the second is Hurst Castle Narrows. We are just about at spring tides and can expect an adverse current at each of those points of around 3kt. This is OK ish, but with a SW wind we would have a classic wind over tide chop set up with some heavy overfalls which are best avoided…and not just for comfort.

We can leave around 10 on Sunday evening but get the tail of the F7 which has been blowing through all day or 4 on Monday morning. This latter option is OK but it means plugging the ebb from Lulworth or so and across Christchurch bay to get the first of the flood through the narrows. A 3.30am alarm call it is!

Leaving the mooring is another tight one with a strong flood up river. Heydays behaves and steers impecably astern and we thread out in the darkness past the deserted crabbing quay. The only anxious moment is when we make the turn and find ourselves broadside on to a rather long bowsprit attached to an old lugger. The propellor bites and we are off down a dark river  trying to spot moored boats and not being tempted just to head for the lights. We are always mindful on these occasions of what we would do if the electronics failed. We have noted the lights we need but pot buoys and unmarked moorings are another matter…

We make out Check Stone, Castle Ledge and then the southerly cardinals of West Rock (flashes 6 plus one long) and Mewstone (very quick flash six then one long). These last two need careful recognition as it would be easy to head for the Mewstone too early…and pile up on West Rock.

We head out across Lyme Bay but no lovely sunrise today, just a gradual lightening of the sky ahead of us. The morning remains grey and overcast and visibility is poor. Soon we are once again in our own little puddle of greyness above, below and all around. The tide however is our friend for now and we are easily managing our target of 6kt.  We are tacking  downwind as an easier point of sailing, but the occasional wave still conspires to knock us off course. We have rigged preventers on the main and this keeps things stable and managed. We get to Portland ahead of schedule and keep a respectable distance off this time. As we head out across Weymouth Bay, the tide slowly but surely begins to slow and then start in earnest to head us. Progress past Lulworth and Durdle Door slows to a stately 2.5 or 3 kt despite still making over 6 through the water.

We continue to tack downwind, and get closer in to Anvil Point than planned…

The picture does not do it justice, but suddenly we are in a real frenzy of overfalls and breaking seas. It takes all our concentration to keep Heydays on track and to avoid a broach. The autopilot cannot cope with this and even with a sharp eye on the wheel we still conspire to get great gobs of green stuff rushing down the side decks. We inch interminably slowly toward the promised land of flat water just round the point and seemingly in touching distance. Some other boats are also ploughing up and down, occasionally being lost behind another hissing breaker from astern.

Finally…we’re through and cruising out gently across Christchurch Bay. We repeat the exercise once more off Old Harry Rocks. We have sailed this way many times but never quite seen the sea boiling this way at this point…another lesson learned about spring tides and the aftermath of a near gale blowing through albeit nearly 24 hours earlier.

Across the bay the log reaches a ‘momentous’ numerical milestone…

It is too bumpy to toast it now but will open a bottle later.

The Isle of Wight appears and we start to close the north channel as the tide once more stops being peeved with us. A boat is approaching from Poole and we gybe round the mark to head for Hurst just behind them. We are about an hour too early and there is still about 2kt of ebb through the main channel. They plug on gamely to the usual mark of NE Shingles. We have done this before and with a careful eye on the depth we keep within 50m of the castle and find a counter-current of about 1kt …in the way we want to go! In the space of 15 minutes sailing round Hurst we are now about 30 minutes ahead of them heading up the Solent.

We take one last look at the old castle and reflect on a summer cruise which was not spectacular or ground-breaking but which took us to places we’ve not been to before…and to old friends as well.

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25th August …Yealm to Dartmouth

The weather looks set fair for a day but Sunday (tomorrow) is forecasting  gales. The shortish hop to Dartmouth looks like a good plan and we phone ahead for a berth as it is a bank holiday weekend. Just as well…everywhere is rammed as not only have other folk decided that Sunday is no day to be out on the water, but it is also the start of regatta week! The think they can find us “somewhere” but call up on the radio when we get close.

This means an early start for us as we try to get in before lunchtime…the early boat gets the berth or something.

We slip away down the Yealm just as the sun is thinking about making an appearance and try not to make too much noise (although the hacking cough appears to be asleep).

We nose out of the river and turn left once more to be greeted by the sun just peeking above Yealm Head. These are always glorious moments at sea. Somehow, dawn and a new day has more meaning out here…especially with a hot cup of coffee and a decent breeze blowing Heydays along…

The sky lightens and we hug the rugged coast and out across Bigbury Bay…

We even have time for a titter at the shape of some headlands…did they put the chapel on top for a reason, or did they not reckon on two 60 something blokes going on 12…..?

The coast here is not spectacular in a Scottish kind of way, nor magical or even vaguely spiritual like Northumberland, but we keep realising how lucky we are to have this on our doorstep. Soon Start Point is abeam and we turn north east for the run in to Dartmouth.

We take a course outside the Skerries, even though there is plenty of water under our keels. A more intrepid (or local) boat passes going the other way…and inside.

We start to see a number of other boats heading in and start to think about making radio contact to ensure our place in a snug berth…

Sadly, they hear us but we are very broken. They get better reception from us when we use the small hand held VHF…this suggests further problems at the top of the mast. Hmm.

Dartmouth is beautiful as always…

The harbour launch suggests it will come out to meet us, but having chuffed up and down the river for a while…and with boats arriving all the time, we make contact once more and they direct us to the ferry quay on the inside. Although tight, it is within a crab bucket throw of the town centre.

The quay is busy, but when the rain comes tomorrow at least we can hop to the pub without getting our slippers wet. A paddle steamer is plying up and down the river and together with the toots from the steam train on the Kingsbridge bank, we could be back in the 50s…

The little car ferry is also an unusual craft, consisting of a tug which is tethered to the floating pontoon…

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We take the opportunity to have a closer look at the top of the mast. James spends a happy half hour working out which way round the bosun’s chair works much to the fascination of the gathering onlookers on the quay. Fortunately there are no real photo records of this escapade as everyone was either being hauled up or tending winches and safety lines…

We eat on the boat, deciding to treat ourselves to lunch tomorrow…

Friday 24th August …another day in paradise

The weather is not great for a sail, so we opt to stay here and explore for another day. Showers next to the harbour masters office help to make us sociable and we walk into Newton Ferrers itself in search of something for lunch and dinner. The co-op has to be the tiniest we have ever seen and is rammed but full of what we need. At low tide there is a walkable ford across the creek to Nos Mayo (called a voss in these parts) and we see the extent of the drying mud and shingle…not a place for the tender, let alone Heydays herself.

The houses by the waterfront are wonderful and we wonder why this is so much cheaper than Sandbanks. Cheap is of course a relative term and we could easily afford to live here…in a two bed bungalow…and if the whole family sold up….and we got a mortgage!

We take a very wet ride up the river in the tender and end up sheltering under some of the trees which reach right down to the water’s edge.

The river is beautiful…in a quietly grey and damp way…

Thursday 23rd August…Fowey to Yealm River

Fowey in the morning is bright and has a completely different atmosphere. The local luggers are getting ready to race and there is a fleet of dinghies and scows already out on the river.

The local bakery does a fine selection of cakes and bread and we have a rather more sanguine impression of the place. It is charming with narrow streets and passageways hinting at a past of fish and smuggling and other activities associated with sailors in port…

…but this flag was not the love they were hinting at…

…and we are not sure what the Rook with a Book was all about…

We decide to visit the Yealm River as another place we have not sailed to and also because it has more memories for John in both his youth and more recently with his Mum and Dad.

Getting out of Fowey itself was a bit tricky, weaving through fleets of assorted small craft hell bent on racing…

Another run with the wind just astern, but gusting up a bit more than yesterday, so we chicken out of using the chute. The sea builds a little and we surf down some of the waves over 8kts. Steering requires lots of concentration to keep Heydays on track…

….but there are some comfier options…

The day passes with some sightings of dolphins to keep us amused, but they are going in the opposite direction and don’t seem to want to play with us this time. A warship of some description is on manoeuvres out at sea and a pilot boat sets out to meet her. It is unclear what they are doing, but a helicopter seems to be involved as well. We set out across the bay leaving Plymouth off to port just as the warship decides to make a turn towards us. They cause us some consternation and also indignation at first…we have no idea what they are doing and whether we should turn or what. Somewhere in the colregs is something about making one’s intentions clear…then they give two blasts on their horn and turn to pass behind us. Perhaps they are disgruntled that we got in their way of tea-time in Plymouth. We wonder idly who pays their wages!

The entrance to the Yealm is very tight and requires some precise navigation to avoid the sandbar at the entrance. Part of the pilot recommends using a line of hedge as leading marks. Fortunately this does become clear once we have rounded the Mewstone Rock and passed safely by The Slimeys (more rocks).

A boat in front of us still has the mainsail up and rounds up in front of us to take it down…not so clever in a narrow channel. We slow down and are about to overtake when they suddenly turn back on course and speed up, presumably to make sure that they get one of the limited moorings before us…charming, but fortunately a real minority amongst the boats we have met so far. They get the last space on the first pontoon, but we mooch up river and find a space round the bend and with much better shelter from the swell coming up-river…ha!

The river is stunningly beautiful and like the Helford, a real haven of peace and tranquillity even though one of the blokes on the boat nearby has a hacking cough! We trundle off in the dinghy and tie it up to ‘Wide Steps’. This turns out to be a bit of a misnomer as there is barely enough width to even get the tender on. We take a short walk to Nos Mayo which is opposite to Newton Ferrers. The Ship Inn is where John last came with his Mum and Dad and it brings a lump to the throat as both are now sadly gone. The setting is beautiful and cars start to park on the beach left by the receding tide.

 

Wednesday 22nd August…Helford to Fowey

Continuing the theme of visiting some places we’ve not been to before, we decide to take the shortish sail over to Fowey. The harbour there is still commercial with china clay coasters plying up and down the river and some working fishing boats.

The wind is light as we slip away down the river into a sky that clearly has mixed feelings about our bit of the planet…

 

and as we round the headland towards Fowey we raise the cruising chute for only the second time in its life with us. We have all day as we can enter Fowey at all states of the tide and so we trundle gently along at no more than 2 -3 knots. We decide that it is time to try to catch lunch, so we hang a few spinners overboard to tempt any unsuspecting mackerel. Lunchtime comes…and goes, but without any nibbles. However the sun comes out and we have some smoked salmon sandwiches and some avocado and muse, not for the first time, how lucky we (and the mackerel) are. We do a bit of reading up on Fowey and realise that it is regatta week. As we get closer we see sailing boats of all shapes and sizes like bees round a honey pot. The likelihood of a peaceful mooring tonight fades into the distance.

 

As we make our approach up the river we spot the leading marks to guide us in…

 

 

…and a not so welcoming one on the rocky entrance.

 

The river itself is charming in a moneyed sort of way…

 

The harbour master directs us to find some space on a pontoon but will have to raft up next to another boat. The first one we approach is less than helpful, but we finally get sorted next to a boat whose owners seem to be out. Rafting is the usual ‘fun’ playing with bits of string but we end up looking vaguely proficient…we hope. We try not to look smug when the next boat in has to have several attempts…we are very shallow.

We have arranged to try to meet up with some old friends at the King of Prussia and we naively think that we will be able to have a bite to eat and then a nice catch-up over a few drinks. It turns out that as this is regatta week it is also carnival…this means that none of the pubs serve food today and the only nosh available is hot dogs and hamburgers, a fish and chip shop with a queue a mile long, and an Indian. This turns out to be one of the most indifferent and overpriced  meals…and as our friends turn up, they decide they want the table back. They don’t get a tip!

 

The carnival is OK apart from the endless succession of carnival queens from various villages, more than one of whom is stuffed into the boot of a hatchback, albeit with lace trimming! Not quite sure if the stylised ‘beauty’ for these 13 or 14 year old girls is appropriate (even for Cornwall), but then who am I as a old bloke to have an opinion about this…?

This is clearly not a beauty queen…

We get to the King of Prussia and find a spot to shout at each other for a while and catch up on stuff. Eventually we give up and get told off by the bouncers as we pose for some pictures outside. For a carnival, this appears to be particularly joyless. We trudge back through an increasingly drunk and leery atmosphere and head for bed. The night is disturbed as the swell comes up the river and we squeak and snatch at the mooring warps.

Tuesday August 21st…Messing about on the river…

We decide to stay for the day on the Helford River and just spend some time getting to know its inlets and creeks. We all decide to have a shower in the Helford River Sailing Club to the likely relief of anyone we may meet later in the day. The rest of the morning is spent in the inflatable just pottering around.

We head up the creek (with an outboard as well as a paddle) to Port Navas …

There is clearly a lot of ready cash in these parts and lots of waterfront house (villas?) and a fair sprinkling of Porsches.

We try for some coffee at the Port Navas  Sailing Club, but sadly they don’t open until 3. The trees hang right down to the water’s edge and we don’t have to go far before we have most of the river to ourselves save for a few canoeists…

…and some disgruntled egrets we manage to disturb…

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We mooch around Daphne du Maurier’s atmospheric Frenchman’s Creek with its dilapidated buildings and occasional rusting hulk…

…and then over to the Ferry Boat Inn for a drink and a nibble. Perhaps it is because it is the end of a long lunch service, but the service is less than enthusiastic. The beer is good however and there turns out to be a kiosk serving pasties…this suits John and Yee Tak down to the ground but is less than ideal for James and Chris…they only have steak ones left!

We have dinner in the Helford Yacht Club where John and Yee Tak share a huge porterhouse steak.

We while away the evening on the balcony looking down over a peaceful scene as the dusk falls and a few souls come back in the gloom. The creaking of some oars is spoilt only by the clatter of an air-cooled outboard.

Monday 20th August…???

The 5am alarm seems like an indecently short time since we went to bed. The plan is to catch the tide around 5.30 to take us most of the way to the Scillies. However a check of the latest forecasts is not helpful in the slightest. There is fog and poor visibility forecast over the next two days and then some stronger winds coming in towards the end of the week. We will probably get at most 2 or 3 days in the islands before we need to seek the better shelter of some mainland harbours. The pilot books all have two things in common…the Scillies is no place in strong winds unless one is prepared to move frequently to better shelter AND they all caution about venturing there in poor visibility. One pilot even goes as far to suggest that in those conditions one is better making for Mounts Bay (where we are at the moment), heaving to, St Ives Bay or heading off towards Southern Ireland! Sadly we make the decision that for the second time, we don’t have the weather window for the Scillies. A 5.30 conference decides that i) we go back to bed and ii) we spend the time meandering along bits of Cornwall and Devon which we have either not visited or not spent enough time in. This is sad but equally we are doing this to see the islands not just as a navigation exercise…

We finally rouse ourselves again around 9 and by 10.45 we are heading off back East, deciding to spend some time exploring the Helford River as our first stop. We leave Newlyn under a grey sky and drizzle but within 10 minutes, it has disappeared into the fog and mist. At least we have made the right decision, this would have been awful for the Scillies. We get some sails up but once again there is so little wind that effectively we are a hybrid boat. The radar is on and we see boats come and go without actually making eye contact… As we near the Lizard the visibility comes and goes and the boats we have tracked on the radar come in and out of direct vision. Some fishing boats and even a couple of sailing boats, all trundling along in our own pools of murky greyness. We round the Lizard and gybe as the murk lifts and a watery sun tries (ultimately unsuccessfully) to burn off the fog and drizzle. For a brief half an hour the wind picks up enough for us to get rid of the engine and we close the entrance to the Helford River in fine style, overtaking a cat and a few other boats…ha!

We debate whether to anchor or pick up a visitors’ buoy but the murk and drizzle threaten once more and we opt for the easy visitors mooring.

With the boat snugged down, the weather brightens and we blow up the tinker (dinghy) and take a trip ashore. The sailing club pontoon works on an ‘honesty’ basis and we take a short walk through the stunning Helford village to the Shipwright Arms.

A Breton (we think) duo of accordion and harpist are playing some Celtic folky tunes as we drink by the fast receding river. Dinner tonight is some ratatouille and pasta back on the boat, washed down with some red a the promise of rum and chocolate to come. Its not the Scillies, but this is a brilliant place to mooch around…great day.