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The Adventures of Snark in 2020 pt. 1

Well this has been a year to remember for mostly all the wrong reasons and I fear a few more issues to come before the month is out. Covid 19 has decimated the holiday and leisure industries, official confusion and misdirection have not helped but in the end it has been about how to operate safely in the midst of a pandemic. The simple answer is you can't really enjoy sailing at any level when you are socially distanced. People have tried and some have bent the rules to stay operational but in the end boats just aren't designed to be operated standing 2 m apart, even ones as big as Snark! So for our own safety and that of our prospective customers, we have have been pretty much closed for business most of the summer and autumn.

As a result our nascent charter business has struggled to get a foothold this year, something we fully intend to change next year. We have had a little financial help from our local authority through th discretionary grant scheme but mostly we have just trimmed our costs and find some alternative income. We have been luck in this respect and so end the year solvent and ready to go in 2021. We know many of our colleagues in the classic sailing and charter world have not been so fortunate and others are hanging on by a thread. We do hope that they can make it through to next season, we all benefit from the diversity of supply and the higher profile a more dynamic sector creates.

But not all was lost this year. We have managed a couple of bubble cruises with guests on board. When not otherwise engaged we have had a chance to explore some of the more unusual destinations that we might have hesitated to visit for the first time with paying passengers. We have also had some wonderful sailing days and only a few days which we would rather forget. Snark has proved herself to be as versatile as we had hoped. Equally at home motoring quietly up the upper reached of the Tamar as she has been reaching across Lyme Bay at 8 knots under full sail.

We have cruised entirely off grid, anchoring overnight in some beautiful spots; sometimes alone and other times cheek by jowl with other much smaller cruising boats. This can lead to stressful nights as we swing in much larger arcs and tend to use a longer anchor scope than a small yacht. We only had to move once as a sudden wind shift revealed that the 28ft bilge keeler next to us was already on the mud while we at 110 ft were still floating and in danger of rolling over her.

The map shows our passages this summer and the numbers identify the main anchorages and other highlights. They are not in chronological order but each has a little story of its own. In part one we look to the west. In previous years we have ventured as far as Falmouth and Truro but this year we stopped at the Tamar.

1 Cotehele Quay

In May, towards the end of the first lock down, we set off from Dartmouth to explore the Tamar north of Plymouth. As a commercial vessel we were not restricted in way leisure boats were but we still stayed strictly away from any other river users.

The river divided Devon from Cornwall and is spanned by the famous Brunel rail bridge and a modern road suspension bridge. Both of these are higher than our 26 m air draft but the high tension cables at Weir Quay are only 16 m at the bottom of the catenary so even though we lowered the top mast still had less than a meter clearance. The answer is to scrap along the east bank inside the moorings. A 65 tonne boat motoring past the dinghy club slip only 20 ft away was a shock to the guys launching for the afternoon racing!

Once clear the rest of the river is a series of gentle meanders through an increasingly steep valley until past Cotehele you get to the Calstock viaduct. We opted to anchor for the night just south of the Quay in the spot recommended in the Channel Pilot. Tom isn't really thinking of boats our size when he say's there is plenty of water. As the tide turned to the flood we swung broadside to the stream with just only a couple of feet to spare off each bank. I spent an anxious hour in the dawn twilight poling her off the banks before she settled parallel with the stream.

By mid morning all looked tranquil. The boat under the covers in the picture above is one of the only two surviving Tamar barges, now owned by the National Trust. It's restoration is suspended for lack of funding and her future is very uncertain.

2 Dandy Hole

So named because it's a super safe spot to anchor your sailing ship when out of commission. Deep water protected by wooded hills on three sides and only a bit open to the east. St. Germain with its pub and boatyards is just upstream and Plymouth is out of sight around the bend.

This time we only stopped for lunch on deck, making the most of the wonderful sunny weather, before lowering the mast for our trip to Cotehele.

Later in the season we anchored a bit closer to the entrance to the Lyhner for a quiet night with two guests on board. On that occasion we were treated to a police escort up the Hamoase as a navy destroyer was leaving Devonport.

3 Cawsands

Those of you who have cruised the south west coast will know this spot well. A safe and sheltered anchorage protected from the west but a convenient stop on passage between between Dartmouth or Salcombe and Fowey and Falmouth. We stopped here to raise the mast again and were entertained by a landing craft full of Marines, in trunks only, jumping into the deep water one at a time and swimming for the shore. Not all made it, some being picked up by a rib which hovered in attendance.

We stayed the night here and left in the early morning mist on passage for Dartmouth. This was also our first serious attempt at sailing off an anchorage, an essential skill for a barge master, which went better than expected!

4 Yealm

At the tale end of the first lockdown this was a popular spot for boats from Plymouth to anchor for the day and party on the beach and rocks with very little interference or regard for the lock down rules. We anchored just inside the bar at around 16.30. By dusk the trippers had all gone and we had a quiet night swinging on the tide until we were rudely awakened by a banging on the hull.

It was pretty early and the Yealm harbour master had come out to see who was illegally anchoring on his patch. He took some convincing that we were the professional crew of the vessel, who lived aboard and were doing checking out potential spots for future cruises.

5 Bantham Bay and Burg Island

On another trip around the coast, one of our guests wanted to swim in the sea. A NE was blowing so we headed into the coast at Bantham and anchored in about 3 m just shy of the bar. The beaches were packed with no social distancing possible, so we decided to jump straight in rather than go ashore.

When swimming off the boat we either man the tender or provide a buddy in case the guest has problems. The tender was on deck and rather than launch it I decided the water looked inviting on a hot sunny July day so it fell to me to take the plunge. The water was freezing by comparison with the temperature on deck. It was all I could do to keep up with her, she was a much stronger swimmer than I am but you never know. It was a relief to climb back on board up the pilot ladder.

6 Bolt Head and Tail

Returning from a cruise to the west involves rounding Bolt Tail and then Bolt Head. This is usually against the last of the tide so we round Start Point at slack tide and pick up the flood across Start Bay. This means we arrive back at Creekside an hour before high tide so we can get into our tidal berth without hanging around in the river.

On this occasion we had a cracking sail back not realising that a big rib which we saw messing about inshore actually had engine failure and was drifting towards the cliffs. A 'pan pan' call a few minutes later from another craft informed the coast guard they were towing the stricken vessel into Salcombe. The big rib had radioed a 'mayday' but their radio signal was so weak we hadn't picked it up a mile or so away. The inshore boat only just heard it and had motored over to investigate just in case. Luck guys.

7 Salt Stone

Salcombe is a pretty place but now full of expensive yachts and even more expensive houses. No longer the port that John Masefield described in 'Christmas 1903' with 'the twisted chimneys, and the gnarled old inns on the quay.'

A couple of miles through the densely packed moorings is an anchorage just down stream of Salt Stone, which has been a safe haven for sailing ships for centuries. It has avoided being taken over by fixed moorings but is still busy on a summer night. We anchored here for a night with some guests on board.

We were just finishing our ice cream dessert on deck when a couple of women, one trying to row a small rubber dinghy with the other in the water hanging on to the bow, were swept past on the tide heading straight for the rocks. We threw them a line and the swimmer clambered up the emergency ladder dressed in a bikini and looking distinctly chilly. The rower started making some progress in stemming the tide. I climbed down into our tender and the swimmer lowered herself in. They had come from sailing school yacht a couple of placed up tide and been swept away. I rowed her back to the yacht and then returned and towed the dingy back as well. The yacht master seemed remarkably unconcerned that he had nearly lost his two passengers into the saltings.

8 Start Point

Some headlands have a special character of their own and Start Point is one of them. It has a mean race in strong tides and winds and though there is an inside passage usable in good weather we tend to give it a wide berth whenever we head round.

Going west, it is the end of our 'back garden' of Start Bay and the beginning of the real adventure. Sometimes we have been tempted to turn back as the full force of a westerly and the associated swell makes itself felt but we normally plough on and the waves soon settle down and the wind abates a little as we leave the distorting effect of the headland.

Returning home, we often pass as the evening is setting in and the light is falling, the lighthouse is a comforting sight though sadly it has lost its loom now the rotating lantern has been replaced by a static flashing LED light.

9 Valley Sands

This is a smaller beach just around the rocks from the more famous Blackpool Sands. Shore access is via a very steep footpath so it tends to be much quieter. It is favourite lunch time anchorage on a day sail with good swimming and a beautiful view. Those swimming ashore are sometimes surprised by the lack of swimwear of some of the sunbathers but everyone tends to ignore the oversight and focus on the barbeque.

In a quiet weather it is also a beautiful overnight anchorage with beautiful sunrises over the sea for the early bird.

10 Creekside

This is home when we are not sailing. We have a tidal walk-ashore berth here and it is where we start our cruises from when tide and winds are favourable.

While the view is prettier with the tide in, the place is much more interesting when the mud is exposed, with over 15 different species of bird scavenging on the mud and tideline. The surrounding woods and fields offer a home to many more birds and we have ticked off over 40 different species seen from our berth.

Our favourite is the resident kingfisher who perches on our lifelines searching the water below for a suitable meal.

Part two will follow shortly and will look to the east and unfinished adventures.

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