Heading South!

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!

Over the sea to Skye

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.

A tall ship, registered in Jersey, in Loch Scavaig. Loch na Cuilce is on the left.
Freshwater Loch Coruisk

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!

My Hebridean Cruise

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!

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!

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!

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!

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.

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!

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?

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!

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!

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.

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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