It’s not only in comedy that timing is everything. I said I would arrive last Sunday at 17:30 and that’s when I arrived and was met by a cacophony of horns and cheers from family and friends at Starcross Yacht Club on the Exe.
First though I was met by our Cruiser Secretary and crew on board Kinfolk which was ‘dressed overall’. (This is a traditional sign of celebration with a continuous string of international maritime signal flags). They escorted me up the Exe estuary.
What a welcome! I am so grateful for the reception and grateful too to so many of you who have followed my blog, posted encouraging comments, and made such generous donations to Rainbow Living. Thank you once again! Together with gift aid we have raised well over £4,000. And thank you Ruth …. for letting me go off on my own for three months to realise this dream!
When I started this challenge I quoted Shakespeare’s Brutus: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune … “
I am so glad that at 70 years old I seized this opportunity to realise a dream. If I hadn’t I might have regretted it for the rest of my life!
Back on terra firma I now have much to reflect on, photos and videos to review, and many wonderful memories of places, people and experiences that will stay with me for years to come. It has been an amazing journey and I am so lucky to have completed it and enjoyed it. I think my face says it all!
A Shakespearen “comedy” is a play that has a happy ending. I’m relieved that this adventure had a successful and happy ending and was neither a “Comedy of Errors” nor a “tragedy”!
Calm seas and settled weather meant I could anchor in Carbis bay off the harbour at St Ives. Although Thalmia could take the ground, and in settled conditions like this settling on the hard sand in the harbour would have been ok, I wanted to start early the following day, at low water, to round Lands End and be able to carry a fair tide around the Lizard and hopefully as far as Falmouth so I needed to stay afloat.
The plan worked. To avoid the worst of the anticipated foul tide at the start of my passage I motor-sailed inshore. Then, approaching Lands End, I was surprised to find stronger winds than predicted. In F4/5 I put a reef in the main. Sailing, but with the motor idling as a safety precaution, I passed inside the Longships rocks and lighthouse off Lands End and inside the curiously named Kettle’s Bottom. I had rounded this Southwest extremity of mainland England and returned to familiar cruising grounds!
I passed the just inside the Runnel Stone South Cardinal Mark, which is where I normally begin my crossing to the Scillies, and then the Lizard. This area was littered with buoys marking lobster pots which are almost or actually hidden from view as they are dragged under by the fast flowing currents. It’s a real hazard especially for a singlehanded sailor trying to manage the boat and keep a watch for the buoys. I know I only narrowly missed a couple that suddenly appeared! It’s like “where’s Wally” on the water!
From the Lizard to Falmouth I carried a fair tide and after over 11 hours passage I anchored in Channal Creek in the Fal estuary, below Trelissick House. One of my favourite anchorages.
After a days rest including a visit to the gardens of Trelissick House and a swim from the boat I moved to St Mawes near the mouth of the Fal estuary where I anchored for the night. It was another hot night and the next day was still and hot so I left earlier than planned to generate some breeze under motor out at sea. I set a course for Salcombe and relaxed as the iron mainsail plodded on and Jake, my autohelm, took me close by the Eddystone lighthouse and into Salcombe. Another favourite anchorage at the Salt Stone well beyond the madding crowd of yachts, motor cruisers, speeding ribs and noisy holidaymakers in the town.
In Dartmouth I met some fellow sailors from Starcross Yacht Club – Willow (briefly passed them while sailing up river!) who have just returned from the Channel Islands, and Sirene of Exe at Stoke Gabriel, a delightful spot which I visited and loved – especially impressed with the amazing 1400 year old yew tree in the church yard. Windfall was here too but we missed each other!
I will be coming back into the Exe on Sunday (25th July) after the strong winds and thunderstorms have passed (hopefully!) and Ruth has come down to Dartmouth to allow me to offload much of the heavy load of sailing gear and charts and books and the stuff I thought I might need over this 3 month plus expedition! I plan to arrive back at Starcross Yacht Club on Sunday between 17:00 and 18:00 on the incoming tide. I am looking forward so much to seeing some of my family and friends who will be there to greet me. Feel free to join them if you want!
So … one more push as well for Rainbow Living? Several of you have recently donated now my challenge is very nearly over. Including gift aid you have donated over £2,500. It would be so good to push this just a bit higher. Your support in following and commenting on my blog and in donating to the charity was a real encouragement through this adventure! You can donate via this link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/voyagesofthalmia
I will probably post one more blog about my trip – the denouement (apologies for the French – it’s ‘the unravelling’!) with some reflections on the overall experience. Now however is not the time because it isn’t quite completed …… !
I had a moment of panic after I departed from Pwllheli when the autohelm alarm went off and the message “Drive lost” appeared! I pushed home the plug in the socket however and drive returned! I would hate to think of the implications of a failure in this my trusted crew member – especially on what was going to be a long passage south to either New Quay or Fishguard – a long way across Cardigan Bay. (The autohelm has the nickname Jake after a grandson who loves to helm when the family come out on the boat)
During the week there is often live firing at several floats within Cardigan Bay. Fortunately this was Sunday and no activity so I could make a bee line to my destination pegging a bit of foul tide at the start. The following day I heard several calls on the VHF radio coming from the firing range control asking boats to change course as they were either in or heading towards the line of fire!
I arrived at Fishguard just as the tide was starting to turn against me but I had carried as much fair tide as I could have. Proper planning and preparation prevents (p) poor performance! The bracketed p is the navy version of the 7 p’s! I anchored outside the very picturesque Lower Town Harbour and motored the dinghy ashore. The next day was wet and windy but I found a short break in the weather to get ashore to do some shopping and get a delicous crab sandwich at the sailing club, later watching the Euros final on the iPad as the rain and wind returned.
Local knowledge is very useful! Following the advice from the pilot book and the Reeds Almanac I set off prepared to stem the tide towards St David’s Head and round it at slack water. Maybe I was too close inshore but rather than 1.5 to 2 knots of foul current as predicted by the tidal atlas I found myself racing along towards Strumble Head at 6.2 knots! I turned the corner at the headland to hit some real foul currents and my speed over they ground slowed from 6.2 knots to 1 knot for a short while! We were of course at the top of Spring Tides! Slowly the speed picked up on the way to St David’s Head as the current abated as predicted.
I reached Ramsey Sound between St David’s and Ramsey Island at the turn of the tide and shot through at a fair lick of speed. Given the strong currents and narrow channel however, I gave the next narrow passage, Jack Sound, a miss and went outside Skomer Island, in through Broad Sound, and up to Milford Haven hitting 9.7 knots SOG along the way.
For those who rely on iPads and iPhones alone I have to report that while my chart plotter kept a close track on my position at all times, for a while in Ramsey Sound the smart devices didn’t update my position relative to the surrounding terrain and buoyage! Maybe they are not quite smart enough! Dolphins and puffins gave me some light relief along the way and the land/seascape was beautiful.
An overnight stay at Dale at the entrance to Milford Haven allowed me to partly dry out and check my stern gear (remember that incident in Harwich with the rope cutter stopping the engine?) As far as I could tell all was secure and sound. I then hooked up to a visitors buoy away from the protected seagrass area. This allowed an easy early start for my passage to Padstow. A calm start changed into a big quartering swell as I closed in on the coast of Cornwall. A result of several days of northerly winds. Jake, my auto helm, took it all in its stride as the boat twisted and turned!
Now, however, the circle was beginning to close – I was back in the South West!
Ruth came up to Padstow to spend a day with me. The weather has been glorious and one day became two! A swim each day in Harbour Cove and F&C from the Stein – personally I’d prefer Harry Ramsdens or Simply Fish in Brixham! It’s heaving here with holidaymakers but the beaches are massive at low water so not crowded there. Being in the inner harbour is a bit like being in a goldfish bowl. I guess Thalmia now appears in lots of people’s holiday snaps! She’s quite photogenic!
I set off tomorrow towards Lands End. My last major headland. Headlands have been the biggest planning challenge on the west coast. The Reeds Almanac and my own tidal planning have confirmed a time to reach the tidal gate around the southwest tip of mainland England. It looks as if I am fortunate to have very benign conditions so it should be an easy passage. I may first spend a night at anchor in St Ives which can be a bit exposed and uncomfortable but again should be fine in these conditions. Thereafter I’m in familiar cruising grounds. According to the forecasts some easterlies are coming through which may hold me up for a day or two but in spite of this I should be back in the Exe with Thalmia on her mooring in about a week!
That was a frequent complaint from the back of the family car on long journeys. Or on a long climb up a hill which the parents had decided was a good thing to do. For the latter the response was “it’s just around the next bend!” …… I have a few more ‘bends’ to go around!
Having satisfied the IoM Border Force online that I had had my 2 vaccination injections I then had to get clearance to land, which could also be done online but had to be done within 48 hrs of arrival. That done on 2nd July and waking early on 3rd July to no fog I slipped lines at 05:30. The inshore waters forecast for the day after gave better wind but thundery rain and occasional poor visibility so today it had to be!
The day started well sailing with the autohelm on wind vane mode 45 degrees off the apparent wind and managing 4.7knts over the ground in 12knts of wind along the rhumb line. However after a couple of hours the wind had veered and the cross track error was increasing. It was a 50NM passage so the motor went on to motor-sail at just 30 degrees off the apparent wind and at over 5knts, shaping a good course to the South of the IoM. Later I managed another hour of sailing.
I passed between the Calf of Man and Chicken Rock before heading north towards Douglas. I arrived at my estimated time of 15:00. I was instructed to raft up and wait for a visit from the Manx Border Force. All it needed was a check of my passport ID which took 2 mins! I then had to wait 2 hours for a bridge lifting!
There were no finger berths in the marina because of dredging work (hard to understand why they didn’t do this before they opened up to visiting yachts the previous week!) so I moored Thalmia alongside the wall in the inner harbour. It was actually my first time mooring singlehanded alongside a harbour wall but it went smoothly. Climbing the vertical ladder with shopping, and later a pizza, was tricky!
Due to their effective control of the pandemic (so far!) I experienced a world without COVID restrictions – no masks, even in restaurants or buses, no social distancing, just normality – it felt strange!
For two days I became a tourist!
The Monday was a public holiday on the island celebrating Tynwald day. It’s not normally my thing but it was a way to witness the pride of the islanders in their history and their self governance. It is claimed to be the longest continuous parliament. The celebrations took place at Tynwald Hill and includes an open air sitting of the parliament and declaration of new laws, preceded by marching bands, parades of traditional costumes, charity stalls, a fly past, processions by dignitaries the presentation of petitions, and on this occasion a late announced visit from Princess Anne!
My crossing from the IoM to Holyhead brought mixed fortunes. Some 6 hours of brilliant sailing starting with a beam reach and moving to close hauled on slight seas with clear skies. Under sail I crossed the Traffic Separation Scheme north of Anglesey which is unusual as it has a 45 degree turn. Several tankers and cargo vessels passed well ahead of me each way but then another approached from the south turning the corner making for Liverpool – judging our collision course was tricky for the AIS and me! A slight easing of the main sheet down the traveller slowed me enough to let it pass!
Then my passage into Holyhead became painfully slow as I faced strong foul tides and a head wind. It was tedious and tiring with speeds down to 2knts SOG at times. Eventually I shaped a course firstly outside a big group of rocks called the Skerries but then inshore of some shoals and on the inside curve of the bay to avoid the worst of the foul tide. In my memories I’m trying to hold on to the earlier part of the passage! I took some video footage which will help!
Holyhead marina was virtually destroyed by storm Emma in 2018 and currently has only a short pontoon remaining. The Holyhead sailing club however have some visitors moorings and after an email to them the previous day I had a call from them en route saying they had a spare one I could use. The first pick up strop I attempted was impossible to lift! The club launch arriving to take my dues for the night apologised for the mooring, whose riser was known to be too tight, and directed me to another! By this stage of the day I was exhausted! So fish pie in the oven, a beer and a chat with Ruth and I recovered! I slept very well that night!
I would have liked to have visited Caernarfon but on considering the tidal constraints entering the Menai Straight and the additional restrictions of the marina which is only accessible 3 hours each side of high water I decided to head for Pwllheli. That meant two tidal squeezes outside Holy Island, and the North and South Stacks on Anglesey, and Bardsey Sound at the tip of the Llyen Peninsula . The passage around the Stacks was fun! With generally slight seas the overfalls were still very big. Seeing white water on what I had hoped might be a calmer inshore passage I headed out just 1.5 NM and avoided the worst of it. Over 3knts of fair tide though!
I found a very convenient anchorage halfway between Holy Island and Pwllheli at what I call Nefyn but is on the charts as Porth Dynllaen. Ruth and I camped at nearby Morfa Nefyn many years ago, before children (!) so it has memories!
The passage to Pwllheli was straight forward but ended with motoring again in calm seas. The backdrop of the Snowdonia mountain range on the approach to the harbour was impressive.
Over 1500 nautical miles covered. Possibly less than 400 to go! In a marathon non elite competitors sometimes hit a “wall” which is both physical and mental. Physically I’m still in good form but I have to confess that this last stretch feels like it’s still a long way for this solo sailor! Too much of the daily detailed passage planning and weather watching and too long without friends and family! I’m really looking forward to that finishing line! Here’s hoping for the distraction of some good sailing as I progress towards the Southwest!
It was sad to see a marina with real potential suffer from lack of investment. The lease on the marina at Kerrera (Oban) is apparently changing hands imminently so let’s hope investment follows. Currently the ferryman is also the berth marshal and the chef is also the crane driver! Someone commented that he would be happy if the crane driver cooked the meals but wasn’t sure about trusting his boat to the chef as crane driver! To be fair the staff were very willing and capable!
After a very wet day Thalmia was berthed on the fuel pontoon overnight after getting refuelled. It was a bit exposed and the waves slapping against the transom stopped me having a good sleep. A spring line on the stern quarter to get the boat off the pontoon the next morning and I was on my way down the Sound of Kerrera, sailing with just the Genoa in F4-F5, with gusts up to 28 knots and a quartering sea. But the autohelm coped well!
Again I experienced the phenomenon of 140m depth of water on all my paper and electronic charts but saw the depth sounder changing to 3m for a little while then back to 140m! It happened twice this time! I was sailing in an area that is marked on the charts as a submarine exercise area! Was I being shadowed, did a sea mammal pass underneath the boat, or just weed or did the depth sounder give up? I even gybed, just in case there was an uncharted rock! But no – soon back to and holding at around 140m. Curious!
Into West Loch Tarbert for the next night and what a difference! I picked one of many anchorages here. It was recommended by the Antares charts as good holding in gritty mud – ideal! A stunning setting on a lovely sunny evening looking out over the “Paps of Jura”. Totally calm and a chance to row ashore and take some pics followed by a peaceful night!
After cleaning the anchor of the gritty mud and kelp it brought up in the morning we entered the Sound of Islay and jumped on its tidal escalator! It pays to choose your tidal window – on this calm day and with little wind we motored at 5.5knts through the water but hit 10.8knts over the ground! There were eddies and whirlpools along the way.
At the southern end of Islay we motored through the delightful Ardmore Islands which was crowded with seals basking on the rocks at low water. Another tight passage through the rocks. We poked our nose into Lagavulin bay. It is accessible to yachts to anchor off the distillery pier if you know the area or have good charts but that day I decided to take the easy option to go to the marina at Port Ellen.
The following day I walked along the newly laid tarmac path to the 3 distilleries which are all within a 1hr walk of the port. Actually the distillery at Ardberg was completely closed but I went into Lagavulin and Laphroaig and sampled some of their finest before buying something less expensive and having a very relaxed walk back! As I said to Ruth – it has to be done!
And so goodbye to Scotland. I really envy the local yacht owners here with their lovely cruising ground. So many anchorages and ports to choose from, majestic landscapes and seascapes and wonderful flora and fauna.
Crossing to Northern Ireland brought back thoughts of the English Channel – having to plot a course to steer (CTS) across the North Channel with Spring tides. Fortunately it could be mostly completed in one tide. For the yachties out there I used the ‘savvy navvy’ app to check my plan and it was really quite good! The only thing is that, although it shows the effect of tide and wind on CTS, it doesn’t seem to adjust your speed for tides but assumes boat speed is governed by wind! I had to arrive at Rathlin Sound to make a timely entry from the west with the rather strong currents through the Sound so my judgement had to trump any app! Get it wrong and you can end up going nowhere against the tide! I had the added interest of crossing close to the edge of a Traffic Separation Scheme and had to dodge behind a cargo vessel heading into the TSS at 20knts!
I arrived in Ballycastle early enough to take a bus ride for 27mins to the Giants Causeway. I describe this as Durdle Door on steroids! The National Trust has developed it into a major tourist attraction! In fairness the visitor centre is discretely set into the landscape and it is after all a UNESCO world heritage site. The basalt columns are part of the chain that includes Staffa. It is indeed an impressive natural feature but quite busy.
Turning right out of Ballycastle I passed Fairhead sailing on a broad reach on moderate seas with a northerly wind. Off the headland there were the predicted overfalls, turbulence and eddies which lasted for quite a while past the headland. I hate to think what is would be like in a strong wind over tide situation. Heading south I enjoyed (?) A F4 downwind sail, this time with full main and sometimes the Genoa maintaining some 5.5 knots through the water but up to 11.3 knots SOG! Thalmia, perhaps because she is fractional rigged (the Genoa is attached to the mast lower than the mast head) is sometimes more comfortable downwind with just the main and adding or furling the Genoa is easier that adjusting the main downwind. For a while I hand steered as although the autohelm coped and reacted to the wind or waves even through the eddies, it does not anticipate the movement of the boat – which the skipper can!
Entering Bangor marina was tricky as the wind was then gusting to 24knts with a big swell. Not knowing what clear space there might be inside the harbour I dropped the main outside and partly set lines and fenders before entering. It is a very big marina but quite tight.
Next stop was Ardglass, another busy fishing port but with a marina as well. This is just south of Strangford Loch and today I have motored inside the Loch riding the fast incoming tide through the “narrows” to what is a huge expanse of enclosed water. It was produced by a retreating glacier which has left deposits in its wake which now form islands and rocky outcrops. One cruising guide describes it as like the Scillies but less exposed! The shelter inside is very good though not so necessary today with very light winds and smooth sea state. I am completing this post at anchor looking out on this scene and hearing only the call of gulls, terns and oyster-catchers and the occasional moan of a seal!
Where to next is in the hands of the Isle of Mann officials. I have gained COVID clearance to go ashore by filing an application online. I still need permission to land at the only approved port of entry – Douglas – and they have very limited berthing available as they’re dredging in the marina. This is bizarre as they only opened up to visiting yachts on Monday this week but now they have limited berthing! Poor timing! A phone call tomorrow morning will decide what happens next!
Saying goodbye to Ruth was not easy. We spent a wonderful 10 days together meandering through the Caledonian canal and exploring around Fort William but now it was back to singlehanded sailing!
My plan had been to anchor in Port Ramsay tucked in amongst several small low lying islands towards the southern end of Loch Linhe. However although the sea state was calm, the cloud was hanging low and mist and fog was forecast.
I would have seen very little of it so instead I made for Oban and the marina which is actually across the sound on the island of Kerrera. Although lacking in recent investment due to competition from new transit berthing in the town of Oban itself, the facilities were good and I much preferred the option of a walk around an island rather than a town! In the marina on Kerrera I was introduced to the Westerly Owners Scotland WhatsApp Group and have had very helpful feedback from them on places I planned to visit.
My Hebridean cruise then began in earnest with a pleasant sail up the Sound of Mull, dealing with shifting winds and dodging the Calmac ferries from Oban and between the islands. Then into the well known, but a tad ‘touristy’ Tobermory. It is certainly an attractive setting with its many coloured houses which apparently pre-date the Balamory TV programme. I did visit Macgochan’s and sampled some haggis. Although it’s not really to my liking it was served with a whisky cream which made it very palatable!
The next milestone was passing Ardnamurchan Point: the most westerly point of the island of Great Britain. Yachtsmen who pass this point and return south are entitled to attach a sprig of heather to their bows! In 8-12 knots of wind from the southwest we slipped along at 5-6 knots SOG, easing the main sheet down on the traveller in occasional gusts of wind. My destination was the island of Muck – my first of the Inner Hebrides. There are so many to choose from! It was very peaceful here. No visitors ashore and just a couple of boats at anchor. There were views across to the heights of Eigg and Rum which dwarfed Muck, but I loved the small harbour and the village with its Green Hut, open 24/7, which houses crafts and gifts and which, as on so many islands, operates on an honesty basis for payment.
The next day with light breezes I motored through the Sound of Eigg into the Inner Minch and then sailed on a beam reach towards the rock strewn coast of Skye. I was heading for what the pilot book describes as the most beautiful anchorage in the world! Nestled below the towering crags of the Cuillins (some of the highest mountains on the west coast of Scotland and comprising no less than 8 munros) it was absolutely spectacular! Entrance is not for the faint hearted and I have to confess that it was more nerve racking than any other entrance I had tried before! But it was worth it. A short row in the dinghy and walk up from the anchorage and the fresh water Loch Coruisk opens before you. Awe inspiring. I spent quite a while taking photos and just absorbing its beauty! I was very fortunate to have clear skies to see the summits which are often shrouded in cloud even in summer.
It was short motor from Skye over glass smooth waters, with a pod of dolphins nearby, to the island of Canna, another low lying island. I was heading south again! I took advantage of a visitors mooring buoy and took the dinghy ashore to stretch my legs and again later for dinner in the bijou Canna Cafe – only 5 tables inside which were pre-booked as I had found when phoning ahead. They had said they would accommodate me outside which meant dinner with a view. But there were midges! Luckily I had Smidge spray and Avon Skin so Soft (an alternative to insect repellent apparently used by the army!). I used both and didn’t get bitten! One of the features of these islands is lack of mobile coverage so no data to check weather or make calls and no way of updating my blog – hence the delay and this rather extended episode!
From Canna I had a splendid downwind sail, partly with sails goosewinged – a preventer on the main to hold it steady and the Genoa poled out on the other side. I sailed over depths of more than 230meters – the echo sounder gives up at about 180! Coll was just a staging post and the waters were choppy so no dinghy visit ashore but a very pleasant harbour with buoys or space to anchor.
The next day, taking advantage of the continuing northerly winds, I sailed to Staffa en route to Iona. With its basalt columns and sea caves including the famous Fingles Cave the small island is indeed a spectacular natural feature. There was a swell running and F4 wind so I was far too scared (or cautious!) to anchor let alone leave Thalmia to go ashore or into the cave although in settled conditions it is possible. I pottered around and watched as trip boats were backing in for people to view close up. There were yet more puffins around here – lovely to watch their frenetic flight!
In the sound of Iona I had a tea break at anchor but didn’t go ashore. I wanted to arrive reasonably early in my next anchorage amusingly called Tinkers Hole! One visitor apparently likened it to a half flooded quarry. With pink granite walls and less than ½ cable wide it was beautiful on this, another sunny day (though not very warm!). It was used by R L Stevenson as a location for several of his writings including “Kidnapped”.
As a visitor using these tight anchorages I have been helped by good up to date electronic charts on plotter, iPad and iPhone but especially by having the very detailed charts produced by Antares, researched by local people, carefully sounding depths and charting rocks not accurately recorded on paper charts. I would have been far less confident without those!
The forecasts were not ideal for the next stages of my progress south so now I am holed up in Karrera, Oban again! Once again it’s misty, foggy, drizzly and heavy rain is forecast for today! I’m not grumbling though – there are no gales in the forecast! Time to stock up on food, shower (!!!), and do some laundry. The next few days have the promise of fair winds so be patient!
Since Skye I have in fact been edging slowly south closer to home. However I have a couple more ports or anchorages I hope to visit along the way before leaving Scotland, including the islands which are home to some of my favourite whiskies – Jura and Islay. I’ll raise a glass to all my followers and especially all of you who have donated to Rainbow Living. Thank you!
So for this stage Ruth joined me having flown to Inverness from Bristol! Talk about taking the easy route! Actually handling a 32ft yacht through all the locks singlehanded would have been very difficult and very unpopular with the canal staff. Smaller boats can possibly be walked through singlehanded but not Thalmia! So Ruth’s company was lovely but also very useful!
In total we’ve transited 4 Lochs, 29 locks and 10 swing bridges! With such a variety of scenery, we took our time so as to enjoy it all!
Ruth leaves on Sunday to fly back south and I resume my singlehanded sailing. I’m taking a week or so to see some of the Western Isles before heading south by a slightly longer route!
Thursday 20th May and I was still in Eyemouth. We had heavy rain for 24 hrs. In reality I haven’t had that much rain (so far). I’ve sometimes seen it over land but stayed dry at sea! Anyway, I set up my rather splendid cockpit tent. The tent must have cost the previous owners a pretty penny or two! I’ve only used it once before but on both occasions it has been most welcome. The following day it dried off quickly and the boats outside of me had left – the wind was northerly and they were heading south. The Westerly that had been outside of me was newly acquired but in need of some TLC! They only had old halyards as mooring warps which have little stretch and they had no line ashore. I leant them some of mine!
Entrance into my next port, Arbroath, was ‘interesting’! The advice is not to attempt it in strong onshore wind and swell. The day had started with light winds and, approaching port, it was only a F4 onshore but the swell was building. Thalmia surfed into the harbour with my hand gripping the tiller firmly, straining my muscles and steeling my nerves! A sharp turn to starboard around a pier where I saw someone taking photos of me – I think they were willing me to fail! Like a roller coaster ride, though, it’s fun if it’s safe!
In Arbroath I met Aoelian, a boat I had already met in Ramsgate and Lowestoft and Wells-next-the Sea. Phil and Steve took my lines. I later returned the favour in Peterhead! They had been stalled by a gearbox failure and were waiting for a delivery. Very useful that Steve was a very competent marine motor mechanic!
I stayed in Arbroath for a couple of days waiting for better sailing conditions. A chance to try the local specialty – Arbroath Smokies – smoked haddock – delicious! Then with Phil and Steve I took a train ride to Stonehaven. This is a lovely little harbour that mostly dries out and requires settled conditions to take advantage of it.
On 25th May I left the inner harbour at Arbroath and rafted outside the lifeboat. This time without an attendant crisis – the lifeboat was out of its station while some work was being done there. This allowed a departure the next day at 03:45! It was already getting light. This day however proved to be my most gruelling so far. The northerly wind had backed somewhat but I faced a F5-F6, close hauled with lots of swell and breaking waves. I sailed some of the time with 3 reefs in the main sail and a small amount of genoa as this was faster than motoring but motor sailed a fair bit to be able to point higher. It took over 14 hours to cover what should have been 63NM but became 73NM with all the tacking! In a coastal passage of this length you will of course get 6 hrs of foul tide. This came in the middle of the passage and it was really disheartening to fight that current in those conditions. Stonehaven was along this stretch but was not an option in these conditions. I also passed Aberdeen but they do not welcome leisure sailors so I laboured on. It was such a relief to enter the relatively vast harbour at Peterhead with calm water and loads of space to set lines and fenders and then to have a choice of a number of berths to use. A hearty meal from a freeze dried pack, a beer and chat with Ruth before a well earned sleep!
The next day had to be a rest day! Aeolian came in to Peterhead. They had set off later from the inner harbour in Arbroath and had met the foul tide and foul conditions earlier in the passage. They had managed to persuade Aberdeen to find them a space alongside a wall in one of the big docks.
After the ordeal of the last passage the trip to Whitehills was a breeze! A mixture of sailing and motoring in lighter ENE winds. And then, on arrival, I was greeted by the harbourmaster standing on the pier taking many photos of me entering. Bertie was a true gentleman – he also took my lines and later helped me turn the boat around to make my exit easier as it was a very tight spot in the quite cramped inner harbour. Then, to top it all, he waived my berthing fee because I was on a charity challenge! That money has now gone into the Rainbow fund. Whitehills is a lovely fishing village which has kept its friendly and attractive character even though the fishing has in large part been replaced by leisure.
I made a short stopover in Lossiemouth, again meeting up with the crew of Aeolian who took a leaf out of Bertie’s book and took my photo from the harbour entrance! Thalmia has never been photographed so much!
The last 2 days from Whitehills to Inverness I have sailed (or mostly motored) in dense fog. As little as 50m at one point but generally about 200m! This is only possible for me by having an AIS transponder, transmitting my position, direction and speed and displaying other vessels on my chart plotter, which will also control the steering of my boat to a destination, backed up by an iPad and iPhone both with electronic charts showing my position and direction of travel. This replaces my non existent crew (!) and leaves me free to use my eyes to watch for any vessels not using an AIS transponder and the dreaded crab/lobster pot buoys!
What I haven’t mentioned enough is the wonderfully varied and abundant sea birds. The puffins and terns around the Farne Islands were amazing and so plentiful. Now it was the gannets swooping gracefully so close to the water or diving like arrows to catch fish. And the masses of guillemots who sit in groups on the water and at the last minute duck dive under the water when Thalmia gets close to them. And there were so many more that sadly I couldn’t identify but could admire.
Inverness is where I am writing this update. 6 weeks to here was my plan and that’s what I’ve achieved! It is a milestone …. and a turning point as I plan to enter the Caledonian canal later this week. Ruth is joining me for this part of the voyage and I’m hoping for calm waters as we pass along the canals and through Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy en route to Fort William. We’ve missed each other a lot and it will be so good to have her company even though it is only for one week before I return to sailing solo!
Oh! And I’m now wearing shorts and a tee shirt! It’s summer!
It’s late May and it’s still cold! I didn’t expect to be still using my cabin heater but I’m glad I’ve got it! From Scarborough to Whitby the wind was light. I turned off the motor from time to time for the peace and quiet of sailing but when you’re moving you create your own breeze and it’s still cold!
Entry into Whitby makes you feel important as the road bridge is swung open to let you through.
It’s a delightful seaside town. I walked up the 199 steps to the impressive Benedictine Abbey but didn’t go in (English Heritage prices are way too high!). I did sample a craft beer however from the micro brewery close next door! Just a light amber ale as it was lunchtime!
Newcastle was a short stopover after a cracking sail, broad reaching in a F4. The Royal Quays Marina is top quality and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. I was berthed close to an owner-built motor boat that I had met in Wells, Grimsby, Whitby and now Newcastle! They said Thalmia was a stalker boat! They were very hospitable to a solo sailor. There is camaraderie amongst all boat folk not just yachties!
Amble was my next stop. They gained a lasting reputation as the friendliest port when they sent a telegram to the RMS Mauritania on her last voyage to the breakers yard at Rosyth, saying “still the finest ship on the seas” and received the reply “to the last and kindliest port in England”. They were friendly to me as well, though hopefully I’m not bound for the breakers yard yet – nor Thalmia! It was however my last port in England!
Before leaving England I paid a visit to Holy Island aka Lindisfarne. It was a real treat – a holiday (pun intended!). Almost unbroken blue skies, light winds and calm seas. Lots of puffins, a variety of terns and other sea birds, seals and dolphins!
We had crept into the shallower water of the Ouse anchorage where Thalmia took the ground for a few hours around low water. The advice is to set a buoyed trip line on your anchor around here and this proved essential. Even though I had checked the anchor visually in the clear shallow water, when weighing the anchor I found it had snagged on the substantial arm of a rusty old fisherman’s anchor. Using the trip line and my invaluable motorised windlass I was able to free myself and make passage across the border to Eyemouth, the first port on the East coast of Scotland.
Now we have a low pressure system moving through, with associated strong winds and rain over several days so I’m hindered in making progress north, waiting for those fair winds and following seas!
After sheltering in Ipswich for a couple of days a good wind was forecast for Wednesday 5th May so I motored down river to prepare for heading further north – Ipswich is not the most convenient for departure, being some 8 miles up river! The river was surprisingly choppy and there was quite a blow and on approaching a pontoon, which I had used previously, a wave dragged my prepared stern line under the boat and it caught around my prop. Engine stopped! Ouch!!! I managed to secure the boat and, after some gentle fore and aft use of the motor, the rope cutter (a “Stripper”) severed the rope and I had drive again. I moved to Shotley Marina across the river for a more comfortable overnight wait for early departure!
The engine and propeller were running smoothly the following morning to get me out of the marina and out to sea and then we sailed all the way to Lowestoft. I only used the engine again to enter the rather grand sounding Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. A first class Chinese Restaurant there does top quality take-aways!
An even earlier start was needed on Thursday to reach Wells-Next-the-Sea which has a drying sandbar and so timing the arrival is critical.
It started as a day of mixed sailing and motoring with 2 other circumnavigators who left Lowestoft at a similar time – not singlehanded though! 5NM short of Cromer a loud rattle from the prop or prop shaft started and gradually increased. Not knowing how serious the problem might be I turned off the motor and I managed to make good progress under sail in some welcome (!) squalls. But then about 8NM short of Wells I was becalmed and the tide had turned so I was going backwards with no alternative port nearby to head to. I explained my situation to the very helpful Wells harbourmaster and he suggested deploying their Lifeboat to tow me in! I had no realistic alternative so I gratefully accepted.
A crewman came onboard and set up a substantial bridle to my Genoa winches for the tow. It was now going to be well past the tidal gate for entry and I was expecting to be left at anchor in a bay just outside the harbour for recovery in the morning but the coxswain decided there was enough depth to make it in – with my bilge keels and 1.2m draft!
Thalmia slewed through the breaking waves with the tow line snatching at each turn and then we bumped over the sandbar – there really wasn’t enough water! It was scary! But she is built to take the ground – just not like that!
After a much needed rest the next day and a visit from my elder brother, as planned, the following day I took Thalmia onto a sandbank (in a planned way!). I found a second entanglement of twine which was probably the cause of the problem approaching Wells. I also found the rope cutter partly loose and slightly distorted, probably from the first episode – it was a double whammy! I stripped and rebuilt the rope cutter using some spares, which fortunately I had kept from servicing it a couple of years ago! I had another visit from my brother and also my niece so it was not all work that day!
Back in service, thankfully, I sailed to Grimsby with a delightful F4 becoming a less than delightful F6-7, maxing out at 34 knots nearing the Humber which, with the very shallow water in the approaches, made for a bouncy approach. Humber Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) involves communicating with VTS over 2 VHF channels and then a 3rd for entry through the lock to the marina. Single handing, following lots of boat movements on AIS and visually and getting ones own directions to go via one route or another with a multitude of unfamiliar named buoys as reference points is challenging!
Grimsby was, well, grim! But the Humber Cruising Association was welcoming and had good showers!
Coming out of the Humber, I was surprisingly directed to use the outgoing channel normally reserved for large vessels and then cross the incoming channel off Spurn Head. There were not too many vessel movements that morning!
Yesterday saw the first use of the cruising chute on this passage to Scarborough! Carried it for a couple of hours until the wind built to 16-18 knots and it was opportune to switch to the Genoa!
Scarborough is a quintessential northern seaside resort. Having been brought up in Bradford I have enjoyed hearing the Yorkshire accent again. The Scarborough inner harbour now has deep water pontoons for leisure boats including visitors. A walk around the outside of the castle had to be enough for me yesterday morning as entry has to be pre-booked and only the grounds are accessible for now.
Distance travelled so far is 548 nautical miles in just over 3 weeks. Maybe now is a good time to remind you that in doing this circumnavigation, with it’s ups and downs, I am also hoping to raise some additional funds for the charity Rainbow Living. I have a donation page at Rainbow Living. If you are able to support them and me I will be very grateful.
By starting after noon I rode what someone described as a tidal escalator from Newhaven to Dover and then Ramsgate. Big spring tides under the boat boosted my speed over the ground (SOG) to as much as 10 knots at one point. I started on a beam reach, went to close hauled but eventually had to motor when the wind came more onto the nose.
Dover and Ramsgate are busy ports requiring permission to be given, over the VHF radio, to enter and leave. Port control was sharp but also very friendly and helpful to this singlehanded sailor. In Dover I went into Granville Docks Marina which was ok and the staff very helpful although a very smart new marina in Dover’s western docks looks to be virtually completed – they are obviously looking to cater more for leisure sailors – it will be much more comfortable – and probably much more expensive!
In Ramsgate I met up with another Fulmar owner (he’s just recently bought it in Dover) also sailing round Britain but preparing to take a lot more time than me! Fair winds to you Ric, we may meet again along the way!
On Saturday 2nd May, after much careful planning of routes and tides to maximise SOG and minimise distance (and to arrive in Harwich before dark) I crossed the Thames via Foulgars Gat and the Sunk sandbar approaching Harwich via the Medusa channel. I improved on my planned speed taking just 7½ hours from one harbour entrance to the other.
I do seem to have an intermittent problem with one of my instruments. It seems some data is not being shared across the network. All the feeds are working and the SOG is confirmed by the iPhone: to paraphrase Eric Morecambe – I have all the right data just not necessarily in the right places! I’ll get it checked out somewhere along the way.
On Sunday I sailed and then motored up the Orwell and I’m currently sheltering from the strong winds in the well appointed Ipswich Haven Marina. Another fellow Westerly owner is living on board a very nice Oceanquest here (boat envy I’m afraid!). He sailed around Britain in 2012, clockwise, but in a previous boat. Thanks for your hospitality Ian. I’m right in the centre of Ipswich which gives me the opportunity to catch up with shopping, laundry, cleaning and rest!
When the winds abate, perhaps on Wednesday (?) I shall press on to Lowestoft and then, hopefully, the lovely sounding Wells-next-the-Sea where I look forward to meeting up with my brother Gordon who lives in north Norfolk.
After a short interlude there is then another low pressure system heading towards the UK. More sheltering somewhere?
In case anyone is interested, Thalmia transmits her position using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) as do the big tankers out at sea and passenger vessels (though not many of them are moving about at present). It’s very reassuring to know I can be seen by other boats who use the system – and useful for me to see them and where they are heading and at what speed. That information can also be seen on apps you can see on your computer or smart phone. Try MarineTraffic or VesselFinder and just search for Thalmia. There aren’t any other boats with that name! You’ll know exactly where I am!
The stream of easterlies was anticipated which is why I set off a bit earlier than planned. However, knowing it was expected hasn’t made it easy to cope with! I have been clawing my way slowly along the south coast bit by bit calling first at Poole harbour and then Lymington, where I enjoyed lunch with my brother and sister-in-law and nephew.
The Solent held me in its clutches for several days. It was like running a marathon but not getting out of the starting blocks! Bucklers Hard on the river Beaulieu provided pleasant compensation for a couple of days. They deserve their crown for being voted Coastal Marina of the Year 18/19. They have expanded and improved vastly since then and have attentive, very helpful staff. Then Portsmouth – Haslar marina – took me closer to my release from the Solent and, on Monday 26th, I enjoyed a good sail past the forts and through the Looe channel past Selsey Bill. Hooray! PS there are video clips that may not show on a mobile phone – follow the URL hyperlink!
Littlehampton provided a challenge! There is a drying bar across the entrance and when I arrived there was inadequate depth to enter. I anchored off (so good to have the motorised windlass!) and savoured some Fiery Fish Bisque (thanks Liz!) while waiting for the levels to rise. On entry I still just touched ground (well that’s one way to scrape the barnacles off!) but then enjoyed a very peaceful night..
Brighton and Eastbourne marinas have not yet opened up for visiting yachts after lockdown, which is why it was Littlehampton and now Newhaven as stopovers. If Bucklers Hard scored 10/10, Newhaven would be 1! Easterlies again today(!) but Thursday’s forecast is for northerly winds, which should be pleasant sailing E/NE with not big seas. There is a tidal sequence along this stretch of the channel which could give me following seas for more than the usual 6 hours!
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.
A bit dramatic perhaps! It’s a quote I have often repeated to myself at key decision points in my life. And as decisions go this is amongst the most significant I have made. The weather was set fair and we rode the current past Portland Bill and into Poole to a very calm anchorage behind Brownsea Island.
Yesterday was a shorter trip, mostly tacking against a head wind, which brought me to Lymington to the recently upgraded Town quay. No dramas (!).
As the easterlies diminish, hopefully after the weekend, I shall be making my onward passage to Ramsgate before turning left, and turning left and turning left and so on! Well hopefully it will be a bit more interesting than that!
In case you were wondering – Thalmia is behaving very well and the skipper is doing well also! Next update hopefully from Ramsgate! Thanks for following me!
Thalmia launched safely from Topsham Quay on Tuesday 30th March with Aidan as crew! A short trip out to sea to check all systems were working well. No problems, and the new winches and windlass were making life easier on the back! When restrictions on overnight stays are relaxed a more extended shakedown trip will allow final checks and stocking up and then wait for a weather window later in April. Nearly there!
The harbourmaster, after taking advice from the relevant government department, has decreed that we may launch our boats at the end of March and ‘fettling’ – that favourite pastime of boat owners – is now well under way. I wore full PPE last week – nothing to do with COVID 19 – I was painting Thalmia’s bottom with antifouling. Fitting ropes (laundered), sails (valeted) and other fitting out is also well in hand and she will get her bottom properly wet again in the river Exe on 30th of March, then back to her mooring – whoopee!
Over the winter lockdown Thalmia, who is now 41 yrs old (she may even have been the first bilge keel Fulmar out of the mold!), has been treated to a new motorised anchor windlass and2 new (well second hand and refurbished by me) primary winches which are beefier, self tailing and better positioned than her old ones. Thanks to Trout’s Boatyard for their very professional services. The soon to be 70yr old skipper could do with a new back but these additions to Thalmia will at least minimise the risk of damage!
All being well harbours, marinas and facilities will be fully open from 12th April. My second COVID jab is due mid April as well. So then, after a short “shakedown” trip to check everything works (including me!), I should be on my way East by the end of April! Yes my preferred route is anti-clockwise and over last few weeks I have revisited potential routing, pilot books and cruising guides. After such a long delay it’s hard to believe it might actually happen – no more crises this year please!
Of course there will always be the weather to factor in. Fair winds and following seas is our plea! I’ll keep you posted as we launch and make final preparations and plans. Thank you for following.
8 months since my last post and there is still so much uncertainty about the future. I am determined, however, that when we have beaten this virus into retreat my circumnavigation will happen in 2021.
On 2nd November Thalmia was lifted out onto Topsham Quay by Trout’s Boatyard with their usual slick operations. I delayed the lift out until as late as possible in the hope that, being close to the front of the Quay, Thalmia might be one of the first boats lifted back in, at the start of April. Fingers crossed!
But for now there are the usual winter jobs to look after & to improve this fine 40 year old lady. The only major project planned for this winter is the fitting of a motorised windlass to manage the anchor, which will play an important part in my circumnavigation. My wife Ruth was keen for me to get one to save my back from strain. Before the launch next year I will hit 70 and Thalmia and I both need a bit of TLC to keep us running smoothly!
The early hot spell in Spring was a blessing while we were in lockdown … but we couldn’t get to or use our boats! We eventually launched in late May, however, and in July I sailed via Portland and Studland Bay to the Solent. There, a circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight instead of Britain had to suffice. Ideal tides, fair winds and weather allowed me to sail ‘Round the Island’ (well very nearly – from Yarmouth anticlockwise and back to Newtown River) in just over 8 hours. Not the official race which didn’t happen this year! You can watch an abridged version at https://youtu.be/DBRZ5620-MI
Then in late August I sailed via Salcombe & Plymouth to Falmouth and was joined by Ruth for a pleasant week on calm inland waters.
Overall I covered 1071 nautical miles this year. That’s close to half the distance around Britain. At least it has kept me and Thalmia from getting rusty!
Thank you to all who have already made donations to the charity Rainbow Living. There will be an update on their page soon and I’ll give more details of the particular project I am hoping to support nearer the time of my departure.
For now, stay safe, stay optimistic, and stay focused on a better year next year!
When I quoted Robert Burns in my last post I never anticipated a storm quite like Covid19! Thalmia will not now be launching on the 8th April and I will not be starting my circumnavigation any time soon! Recreational boating is in lockdown and I am staying at home. The bikes have been cleaned, degreased and fine tuned and we will be cycling, walking, gardening etc. and keeping in touch with family and friends through the variety of technologies we have. Thank you all those keeping working in the NHS and helping in other ways during these difficult times. We will look at ways we can help as well.
With everyone else I am yearning for the time when we see the light at the end of this tunnel and ‘normal service’ is resumed. Speculation on dates is futile. I would like to hope I can start the voyage later this year but nothing is certain.
On a positive note for the Rainbow Living charity, the ‘fitting out’ of the 4th Rainbow house was completed before the shutdown and 2 tenants will be moving in imminently. The money already donated in support of my voyage and future donations will help with developing a sensory room at Rainbow House 1 or be part of the fundraising for the next house. Thank you to my supporters.
I now look forward to updating this blog soon with some good news about my voyage. In the meantime stay safe and well.