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Accompanied through the Caledonian Canal

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!

A promising sky at the start of the transit of the Canal
Quiet night at Dochgarroch
Fort Augustus flight of 5 locks
Anchored by Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Gorse everywhere along the canals
Very capable crew …….
….. makes for a very happy skipper!
And so to Banavie with brief glimpses of Ben Nevis. The snow on the summit is real!
The finale – Neptune’s Staircase – downhill through a flight of 8 locks followed soon after by another 3 to get out to sea. A calorific breakfast needed!

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!

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To Inverness – another milestone! (and 897 Nautical Miles (NM) so far!)

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!

Comfort Afloat!

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!

Into Lossiemouth

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!

This was one to miss!

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.

This is a video which may not display on a smartphone.

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!

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Crossing the border!

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.

This not Thalmia!

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!

Anchored below Lindisfarne Castle

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!

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It’s not all plain sailing!

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.

The reward for an early start!

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!

Images courtesy of Wells RNLI Facebook pages!

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!

Fair winds!

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.

Moored below a castle steeped in 3,000 years of history

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.

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Heading North!

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.

It’s not often you can achieve that speed from that amount of wind!

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.

An impressive array!

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!

Under the Orwell bridge towards Ipswich

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!

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Patience is a virtue?

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.

Bucklers Hard

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!

And we’re sailing!
How we like it!

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..

But it was cold!

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!

Next stop Dover?

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The voyage begins!

Starcross Yacht Club recedes into the distance.

To quote Shakespeare:

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.

Sunset over Old Harry Rocks

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!

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One Step Closer

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!

A Beautiful Day for it!

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Proper planning and preparation….

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.

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Another Year!

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!

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The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…..

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.

Last minute checks being made before the shutdown.

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.

Dawn will come!

I now look forward to updating this blog soon with some good news about my voyage. In the meantime stay safe and well.

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