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The wind gods finally win...

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

This morning we disembarked our last passengers in Newlyn (Penzance) two days short of our destination Plymouth. The wind gods had finally beaten us. The leg was dominated by a huge complex depression hanging over the western approaches for days on end. This brought constant force 5 – 6 winds almost always in in the wrong direction and with them the resulting swells and waves.

Our final passengers had arrived at Mount Stuart Graving Dock, several having walked from Cardiff station through a rowdy crowd of WWA wrestling fans. The weather was already looking iffy for a passage to Bristol and we had realised we could not set off the next day. So after breakfast they headed off to explore Cardiff Bay and the city centre, returning for dinner on board. We had hoped to make Bristol the following day but considerable confusion over Bristol Docks new lock booking app requiring 48 hours notice (not mentioned on their web site, Reeds or the Imray Pilot) meant we did not have guaranteed entry once we had run up the Avon gorge. We tried Portishead as a fall back but they had no berths so at the last minute we cancelled our lock out of Cardiff and stayed another day. Time for trips to Castel Coch and other Cardiff treats.

The cancellation of the Bristol stage was a blessing in disguise. The predicted weather windows for the passage SW down the Bristol Channel were very limited and we decided to skip Bristol and Watchet and head straight for Ilfracombe the next day. They had a outer berth we could use moored against the Lundy ferry, not ideal but any port in a storm. We set off at dawn to lock out of Cardiff Bay and pick up the ebb, crossing over to Foreland Point to hug the coast against the new flood. The wind gusted to 30 kn on the beam off the Valley of Rocks in N Devon and even with the short fetch the waves were rolling us as we progressed under motor. Ilfracombe is tidal so an early arrival was not needed but we arrived to discover the ferry was 2 hours late from Lundy and we had to anchor off in a considerable swell for three hours until they arrived.

We quickly raised the anchor and slipped in after them and were soon moored up. The ride was pretty uncomfortable as the two boats were swung and pitched by the send that rounded the breakwater. The crew of the ferry could not have been more helpful, helping the passengers on and off and helping us generally. The weather suggested we had to stay at least one day so we made the most of it. Ilfracombe has a museum, an art galley, an aquarium, beaches and several minor attractions. In the event our passenger tried them all out over the next three days as we waited patiently for another break in the strong SW winds. Drying out each low tide with much bumping and creaking.

All the while we were looking up at Verity’s bum, barely covered by the scales of justice held in her hand behind her back. Needless to say, our guests were not convinced by the artistic merits of the massive figure. I am not so sure. The imagery of part flayed pregnancy with the sword of truth (?) held aloft seems a strange message for a seaside resort but it is powerful and full of overt and more subtle references.

Finally, the winds swung to the NW and we could risk setting off on another long passage to Padstow. Very rough seas off Hartland Head gave way to a more manageable swell and waves on the beam as we headed in to Tintagel and then hugged the coast again against the new flood until we reached the ominously named Doom Bar at the mouth of the Padstow River. The spring tide runs at nearly 4 kn off St Saviours Head just before the harbour entrance and we rushed in thinking we could head straight into the inner harbour. Unfortunately, I had got my tides wrong. I had updated the passage plan two days before by one day but forgot to do it again when we were delayed another day. We had to hold station in the river against the tide for 50 minutes until we were finally guided into the inner harbour by the river patrol. This involves a hand break turn into a small outer harbour where the tide swirls fiercely making it impossible to align Snark with the narrow entrance. We bumped off the abutments and finally slid into the tranquil berth having signed the lock with a flash of green paint. On the whole trip round this only happened twice before at Eastbourne and Clacknaharry so we aren’t to embarrassed by it.

We had hoped to set off again in the morning, but events took control. The death of the Queen was announced the day before and sadly the mother of one of our passengers passed away the next evening as we sat in the harbour. This meant she needed to disembark to head back north the next day. Add to this the winds had swung SW and rain was forecast and we decide to spend the Sunday in Padstow. More museums and long beach walks suited our passengers, who fortunately were not complaining (at least not to our faces!).

Two more passengers had to leave the next morning for family reasons. The tides dictated this was at dawn as we had to caste off before the tide gate was raised at high tide. We reversed backwards through the lock, without any scrapes this time. A quick stop at the fuel berth and we were underway for one of the most anticipated days, around Lands’ End to Newlyn. The seas can be brutal where the two Channels meet but we were blessed with a NE wind and calm seas and even managed some sailing on our way to the end of England. This is a 60 mile passage which means you only get fair tide half the way.

As we rounded the Bison off Cape Cornwall the tide turned a strong 3 kn on the nose and we made slow progress inside Longships and on to the Runnel Stone buoy were we finally managed to get inshore into weaker tide for the last ten miles motoring head to wind up to Newlyn Harbour.

We moored up in the busy fish dock alongside the fishery protection vessel and cracked open a bottle of fizz to celebrate the end of our voyage. This was the last day of the leg and the three remaining passengers elected to disembark as scheduled. The option was open for them to stay on board to Plymouth, but we were going to be weather bound in Newlyn for at least one more day so the next morning they taxied to Penzance station to head off home.

We had made it!

Travelling all the way around the UK. Stopping at all four capitals in celebration of the late Queen’s Jubilee. We had visited 36 harbours, 18 anchorages, passed through 42 locks, covering over 2000 miles under sail or power, in fair weather and foul, carrying over thirty passengers, cooking and served endless meals, changing beds, scrubbing decks, the list goes on.

Was it worth it?

Well financially we covered all the costs plus a bit, for our first full season, that’s okay. Snark has proved herself up to the coastal cruising and well suited to this kind of operation. We are pretty exhausted, but it has been a fantastic adventure. We have a tremendous sense of achievement and many fond memories of people met, stories and knowledge shared, places visited, landscapes and wild life seen and challenges overcome.

What next?

Three more days at sea will see us back in Dartmouth and onto our winter berth at Creekside. We have plans to offer B&B on board during the autumn, a few major refit tasks over the winter including a lift out for new anodes and hull painting and maybe a new spar or two. Then next summer we will be off to Copenhagen and back. The preliminary itinerary for that will be posted on our site next week, so watch this space!

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