Into the home straight!

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!

Leaving Pwllheli on a smooth sea.

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.

So glad these fellas could join me on my passage!

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!

Early morning before the crowds!
Looking from Padstow to Rock across the Camel Estuary

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!

Published by Derek

Having started sailing later in life I have migrated from a 14ft dinghy via a Sadler 26 to a 32ft Westerly Fulmar. I sail mostly single handed in the South West from the Solent to the Scillies or across to the Channel Islands and ajacent French coast. In 2020 I planned to sail mostly single handed around Britain. Due to Covid-19 this was unfortunately not possible. I finally completed that challenge starting in April 2021: finishing in early July. You can check out my journey and experiences, good and not so good in the blog posts below or my YouTube channel - search for “voyages of Thalmia” -

2 thoughts on “Into the home straight!

  1. Thank you Derek. Another fascinating read with great photos. And I have to report that I have finally cracked one of the sea-goers phrases – I figured out the naval 7th p. Safe onward passage.


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