Noel (Desmond) Morely and Brian Smith travel to the Isle of Mann in ‘Pilgrim’
THE CONTINUING SAGA OF
Friday 14 June
The best laid plans etc. Our plan was to leave the Creek two hours before high water at about 9.30am. punching the tide to the mouth of the Medway to catch the flood along the North Kent coast down to Ramsgate or possibly Dover. As we waited for enough water to float Pilgrim the wind increased making the forecast look marginal. After some deliberation and yet another coffee and ‘kit kat’ in the club house, we decided to leave it a day and spend the time finishing off odd jobs. Not much progress made, but in the style of the gentlemen sailor their is always tomorrow.
Saturday 15 June
The forecast was not much better than Friday, but we set off anyway at 11.00am. As soon as we had a little river space raised the mainsail from its NEW stack-pack. Slight hiatus as we sorted out the first reef and then with sails pulling well soon settled to six knots. In what seemed a surprisingly short time, reached Garrison Point and turned West to run down the North Kent coast. The wind began to increase to 15 knots, gusting to over 20 knots, and on a broad reach we tramped along at a steady 7 knots. After the Spile headed for the channel at Reculver and on an almost straight line course reached the Longnose buoy. As we rounded the North Foreland it became very very rough indeed. At this point we decided our destination was Ramsgate, not Dover. Brian made one long tack out to sea until we had a good angle to tack back almost to the harbour mouth. I had the novelty of dropping the the main neatly into its NEW stack pack, which was a change from wresting with tapes and armfuls of canvas. We then motored-in to battled the cross winds to nearest pontoon. Glad to be moored up we celebrated the start of our trip with fish n’ chips and a pint at the The Royal Pavilion. The casualty of the day was the masthead wind sender, which after beeps and strange readings gave up the ghost off North Foreland. The forecast for tomorrow does not does seem that good but we will see.
Sunday 16 June
Woke to squealing fenders as Pilgrim crushed them against the pontoon. High winds from the S/SW means no movement towards Dover for us today. Its seems we are storm bound and have to wait for the forecast for tomorrow.
Monday 17 June
The morning gave us the complete opposite of yesterday, absolute calm with hardly a breath of wind. We packed up quickly and although we had a few knots of wind against us it was a glorious bright sunny day motoring down the coast towards Dover. We had to wait at the East entrance yellow buoy for the ferries to clear, but were soon through to Granville pontoons. We were surprised to be in the old Granville dock, as the smart new marina looked complete, but it seems all work has stopped. A miscalculated on the degree of tidal swell has made the new marina pontoons unusable. This expensive mistake is now back with the designers. Three 60ft ribs of the Border Force are now stationed at Dover to combat the increasing flow of illegal immigrants crossing the channel in inflatables. There were two impounded inflatables moored on our pontoon that had carried 40 people. They appeared to be ex-military with new outboards and strewn with abandoned life jackets, some new and unworn. I think Brian showed too much interest in them, because when we past again, boats, outboards and life jackets were gone.
Tuesday 18 June
Arriving at the Granville we did not realise we had gone through wide entry gates and these gates would be shut until 10am the next morning. This delayed our departure to the Royal Sovereign at Eastbourne, until 11.00am. The forecast was nondescript, variable winds 4 to 5, possibly 6 later. Possible heavy rain. It turned out to be almost flat calm with some following wind and no tidal assistance. We tramped along under engine and main at 6 knots arriving at the Royal Sovereign at 8.00pm just before being hit by extended period of torrential rain accompanied by the noise and fireworks of an intense electric storm.
Wednesday 19 June
And it rained and rained all night. We started looking at our next move, wanting get in some longer hops, anything up to 100 miles in one go. At the moment the wind is all in the wrong direction. As we do not want to motor all the way to the Irish Sea, we need something with East in it and below force 6. This looks like Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So we stay at the Royal Sovereign until the winds improve for us.
Thurs/Friday 20/21 June
Bit boring waiting for wind.
Saturday/Sunday/Monday 22/23/24 June
Saturday gave us a forecast which seemed Ok. Not perfect, but OK. We left the Royal Sovereign lock at 11.00am and set a course for the St Catherines Head, the most southerly tip of the Isle of White. We had been hanging around Eastbourne for four days and were ready for a long run to Weymouth almost 100miles hundred miles or 20 hours away, which meant sailing through the night. As a one-off we did not intend running watches, but be up for the entire 20 hours. Initially all went well. A following light wind with all sail set gave us a constant 4 knots through the day. The increase in wind went unnoticed until it began getting dark, when it was a barely sailable force 6. It was too late to reef, but for all that were making good progress and thought the wind would die in late evening as it had done over previous four days. It was dark as we approached St Catherines Head and after a series of involuntary jibs, things were getting very unsafe. The best option was to get the main down into it’s stack pack and run on jib alone. I let go the main halyard at the cockpit, but the sail did not drop cleanly into its stack pack, so I clipped on and went to the mast to pull it down leaving it bagged, but unzipped. It was was very rough, but I got back to the cockpit safely. That is when we heard the thud as the goose neck gave way and boom rolled on its side onto the spray hood. Little to be done in the dark, so Brian secured it as best he could while I pulled out the jib and started the motor. In the darkness it was not clear what had broken so we needed to get-in somewhere safe to sort the rig out. Yarmouth was nearest, but the wind and tide would be against us in the Needles Channel and it was not on our route. Pool, more on our route, was the next option and the one we chose. The tide would be initially with us, the most comfortable and safer running under jib and motor. Sunrise was an ominous blood red sky, but we could at last see the problem. The heads of the rivets holding the goose neck had given way and the whole boom assembly had rolled onto its side, held by the stack pack and the solid kicker strut, which might or might not be bent. We eventually arrived at Pool at 8.00am. The damage had looked worse in the dark and on review we decided it could be fixed by renewing the sheered rivets. The solid kicker strut proved not to be bent and its strange angle was just the flexibility in its linkage. Feeling better that with repair our trip could continue, we went and had a full English at Witherspoon’s and returned to get some rest. I slept for four hours and was woken by Brian, the insomniac, knocking out rivets and aligning the boom. We had monel rivets in the tool kit, but no rivet gun. We had to wait until Monday when I found a local sailmaker who agreed to lone us a gun for a £5 donation to the RNLI and within an hour had Pilgrim back in business.
I pay every thing by plastic, but to pay the £5 donation to the RNLI I had to draw out £20.00 from a cash point. As I swung my leg over the wire to get on board Pilgrim, a slippery new plastic tenner dropped from my pocket into the water. A Swan thought it was food and hampered efforts to recover it with a boat hook. Soon out of boat hook range it began to drift across the moorings. Brian was determined he was going recover it, waited on the far pontoons with the boat hook, eventually managing to capture it as it floated by. Good result and he could feel satisfaction that he had stopped one more piece of plastic littering the ocean. All this was watched with some amusement by a couple in a Baveria moored alongside us. They proved to be from the Medway and kept their boat at Chatham Maritime. Small world.
Monday 1 July
While we waited for news about the sail, we had a full English breakfast at Yates Bar and used the free WiFi. The Marina offering is very poor, disconnecting after what seems seconds. I rang Sean who said the work was complete, and he would bring the sail from the Dartmouth loft to the Brixham club at 5.00pm where he was running an under ten’s sailing class. So that was the plan. We caught the bus and did a tour of the local villages, picked up the sail and bused it back.
Tuesday 2 July
Always easier to take sails off than to put them back. The only problem was the new slider was a little too tight for the foot bolt rope guide, but a little sanding had it sliding into the bolt rope groove nicely. It took the morning to reassemble the stack pack and get it back, fully adjusted and functioning. Not difficult just a little time consuming. On to the next problem. Torquay, like so many Marinas has no refuelling barge. It seems the regulations are now so tough and the amount sold so little, they all are giving up. We are mainly buying from car filing stations. A 10 litre can fits into my rucksack and not too heavy to carry, but amazingly filing stations are also becoming less common near marinas. So reviewing the fuel situation is made daily. If the forecast wind fails to materialise and we are slowed to a point where we run out of tidal assistance the most disliked situation of all arises. The tide is against you and running on engine gives only 2 knots over the ground. Apart from being frustrating slow, it can also mean destination port entry is made in the dark. A stress we both dislike.
Wednesday 3 July
With the repaired sail fitted we set sail with a comfortable wind down to Start Point. In the past we have called in on Salcombe and Dartmouth, but leap frogged them in favour of Plymouth some 45mile on. Getting a little disappointed with absence of wild life, no seals, dolphin or whales. Last years we saw something interesting everyday, but never-the-less it was a good sailing day and we made Plymouth Sound in good time. We have been there in the past and always stayed at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina. We cruised around to look at the alternatives, but ended up at QAB anyway. It is very smart and shared with the Single Handed Ocean Racing Club. It is also home to thousands and thousands of large mullet over a foot long. At times the waters are broken by the fish fighting over what must be a choice piece of weed. QAB was always good for Diesel, but the refuelling barge failed an inspection and was condemned at the beginning of the season, so it is off to the filling station with the rucksack. On past visits we have noticed an over-the-top Indian restaurant with an amazing interior of chrome, scarlet veiled chairs, blue led lighting and Bangera music. It seemed so extraordinary we had to give it a try and found the food much better than the design of the interior.
Thursday 4 July
It was scorching day as we set off for Falmouth 45miles away. Initially keeping up 6 knots under sail for half the day, but the wind died during the afternoon and we were back to motoring with the tide giving us less and less advantage. We got into Falmouth Haven during the evening and grabbed the last alongside berth on the visitors pontoon. It was also the furthest away from the WiFi and showers. After a meal of soup, toast and cheese it was time for bed.
Friday/Saturday 5/6 July Last time we were at Falmouth the dockyard was working on two new tide class naval supply ships. It was 24 hour working with accompanying noise. No ship work now only scorching hot weather and no wind. Beach weather, but no good for sailing. After much deliberation over the Charts and Reeds we have decided our next move will be thirty or so miles to Newlyn and then a long haul to Milford Haven. Lets hope the weather remains settled. We spent the morning sorting out the diesel, water, and supplies. Then walking up to the pub and on the way bought a small Cornish Pasty. The same thing happened to me as on the Frisian Island’s trip a couple years ago. As I took my first bite a radicalised bandit gull swooped down and ripped it out of my hand. Grrrrr………hate gulls.
Sunday/Monday 7/9 July Well the weather looked marginal this morning, so we didn’t leave. By lunch time things looked better and we wished we had. Sometimes its better not to dilly dally and just go. Staying meant I did get my Cornish pasty for lunch, but this time I left the bakery with it zipped into my rucksack keeping an eye out for the bandit gull. I saw him in the end looking belligerent, as he arrogantly strutted up and down the quay near families eating fish and chips. Grrrrr………hate gulls. No wind and more indecision. Wind looks better on Tuesday.
Tuesday 9 July Yet another scorching day as we set off for Newlyn 35miles away. Wind no better than Monday. With sails set, good use of the tide and the motor scarcely above ticker over and we were making 5 and at times 6 knots for half the day. At last we saw our first dolphins of the trip. Several dozen were jumping and diving in a tight circle around a cloud of fish causing gannets and other diving birds to drop from the sky in a feeding frenzy that lasted several minutes. One lone dolphin did stick its head
out and looked at us at the stern, but as yet we have not had them running either side of the bow as previous years. Reached Newlyn at about 7.00pm and met by a cheery duty-harbourmaster, but the facilities are still lacking. The toilets are still public conveniences 300 yds from the pontoons and the main improvement is one unisex shower worked by a token costing £2.00. Yachtsmen are definably not encouraged. Although the EU grants have rebuilt new fish processing sheds I think the fishing port, like so many in the UK, is in decline. In the larger basin are a dozen or so deep sea fishing boats, rusting away, that look as though they have not moved in months or even years. I presume, in an attempt to forestall this decline some of the mid sized boats are having a new aluminium raised topsides fitted, which must make them cheaper to run and gives a protected work area, but it does give them an ugly, shoe box, high windage profile.
Wednesday 10 July through the night to Thursday 11 July Newlyn is definitely not a place to stay for long, so the plan is to set off for Milford Haven today at 3.30 pm and make a 24 hour run arriving at Milford Marina in daylight. Despite being a fishing port the trawler companies buy fuel by the tanker load so diesel has always has always been a problem here. Luckily we have enough for the complete journey and the forecast giving us good wind direction up the Bristol channel, we might be able to do some real sailing. As we progressed down Penzance Bay we felt the chop and disturbed water of the Runnel Stones, which rocks Pilgrim energetically and throws the auto helm into disarray. We had another display from dolphins and saw pods of them as we rounded Lands End at the ‘Longship’ light and something new, Puffins. Puffins are so good looking with a massive coloured beak, white chest and oversized feet, but I now learn from my bird book its all a seasonal show. For a good part of the year they have a small beak with no colour and are quite dull to look at. On our northerly course towards Milford Haven the sea was flat calm and when the forecast winds did arrive they were so weak and variable we resorted to the engine, full sail and tidal advantage. This combination can give 6 knots plus at times, but every six hours the tide reverses again and you fall back to tinkering with the sails, as the wind changes direction a little and up engine revs slightly to give the magic figure of 4.2 knots OTG. This is the average speed a boat needs for 100 miles in 24 hours, which I feel is the lowest realistic figure for a distance run.
We saw very few other vessels on our journey. During the night we altered course to allow a trawler working across our course to pass, but that was the only one close too. The rising of the sun brought not the warmth of Cornwall, but a cool cloudy start to the day. We plodded on getting the best out of the little wind with the main entertainment being the increasing numbers of Puffins. Arrival at the Milford Haven on Thursday afternoon at 4.30 certainly raised our spirits, but it was then some miles inside the large natural harbour to the marina. We moored on to the lock waiting-pontoon for over 40 minutes to await our turn to enter. Directed to Foxtrot 02, the knackered hearing-aid-needing gentlemen sailors, spent some time trying to find the non existent Echo 02 pontoon berth. Eventually secured to the correct pontoon, had an excellent haddock n’ chips at the Gordon Bennett eatery and retired to a very welcome bunk.
Friday 12 July The restorative effects of a nights sleep and a good breakfast soon had us back to normal. Milford Haven is a beautiful natural harbour some 22 miles long, with low rusty cliffs either side and unspoiled country beyond. The oil installations are visually low key and a very small part of the general country and seascape. The Marina itself is a converted commercial fishing dock surrounded by a 21st century take on old warehousing. Fashion shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants are on the ground floors and apartments above. The new day had us up pawing over charts and planning our next move towards the Isle of Man. Unfortunately the forecast for tomorrow is northerly winds the very opposite to what we need, so we stay put for another day.
Saturday 13 July Now we had more time to consider our chosen Fishguard/Aberystwyth/Holy Head route. It did not look so good. Although the marina at Aberystwyth is excellent, Fishguard would mean anchoring off and the marina at Holy Head was lost to “the Beast from the East” last year and not replaced. Marina facilities are few and not well placed up the east coast, which made the original plan of marina jumps to the Isle of Man difficult without long sea stages. In a conversation with the harbour master and his colleague, it was suggested a crossing to Kilmore Quay in Ireland was a better option giving non-drying, easy-access marinas all the way up the coast to Ulster. The new plan. If we left at 4.30am on lock free-flow, we would save an hour’s delay on the lock with would give us additional time to reach Kilmore Quay by late evening. Moving from there up the coast on to Arklow, Dun Laoghaire, Carlingford and Ardglass. Ardglass offered a short crossing to the Isle of Man. It would mean probably returning on the same or very nearly the same route, but it would avoid the long night passages, that are so tiring to us septuagenarian gentlemen sailors.
The only down side, we were running out of time. Short marina jumps, though comfortable and less tiring, do not cover distance. With gear failure and adverse weather conditions it had taken us 30 days to get to Milford Haven and a realistic estimate of time including delays etc., to get to the Isle of Man and back to Milford Haven would be 18 days. “Hell! If it is taking too much time, we can always forget the Isle of Man and go as far as Dublin and work our way back to Kilmore Quay and Milford Haven. Still a good trip”. Loaded diesel and food and I booked the lock free flow exit for 4.30am. We began to cook our last meal at the marina when all our plans came to an abrupt halt. Their was an almighty crash as Brian fell down the companion way steps and hit the galley unit side on. This was obviously more than “Ill be okay in a minute” fall. “Is this bad enough for me to call an ambulance” I asked. Brian groaned from his bunk, “No. I’ll see how I am in the morning”. I walked up to the lock control and cancelled the free-flow lock exit. Sunday 14 July After much talking on the Medical Advice Line, we took a taxi to the casualty department nine miles away at Haverford West. The x-rays seemed to confirm no broken ribs. A very boring long day in the casualty waiting area, but we were back on board Pilgrim by late afternoon with a big box of pain killers.
Monday 15 July What do we do now? Given Brian is stiff and in pain when he moves, our plans for Ireland are cancelled. It is now a matter of getting us and Pilgrim back to the Medway safely. If Brian returns home immediately I do not feel I can single-hand Pilgrim all the way home. The options are we wait here and see if Brian is fit enough, in say 5 days at Milford Haven to sail Pilgrim back or we get our friend Jason aboard to give us a hand.
Tuesday 16 July Jason has agreed to join us for a week from the weekend of the 21 July. This was an arrangement which had been a suggestion some weeks ago to give him a weeks sailing, but it will now get us out of a hole. The plan is the three of us sail Pilgrim as far home in the time Jason can give us, hoping Brian will have recovered enough for the two of us to continue together. If he does not feel fit, I will have to rethink.
Wednesday/Thursday/Friday 17/18/19 July Brian has improved a little, so he can now get dressed more easily, but laughing jerks his chest muscles, so no jokes please. Until Jason arrives on Saturday their will not be much happening. As mentioned before, Milford Haven is an old fishing port. Now with fishing fleet all but gone, the once thriving town has a run down, depressed air about it. Too many charity and budget shops, with the main retail area headed by Tesco, isolated at one end near the marina. The Marina itself has all the smart shops, galleries and the best places to eat. The country side around is unspoilt, ideal for walking and the local authority is doing its best to build up interest in the area, but as a place to fill in time it is not good. The very Welsh taxi driver who took us to the casualty department, told us he had been a fisherman on Spanish owned boats. It seem their is no fish market any more and if you want fresh fish, crab or lobster you have to order it from the harbour agent. Three deep sea trawlers came into port today, which can only enter port on free flow, because the marina have shortened the lock. The catch appears to be off loaded into large chiller trucks with a Zeebrugge address on the side. If this is how they operate it is no wonder their is no fishing industry here. Its all straight off to Belgium. I noticed the same thing happening at Weymouth with crab and lobster catches being weighed at the back of a chiller truck and an elevator loading them straight in. This time they were off to Spain. Pilgrim is moored on a pontoon near the ramp leading up onto the quay opposite the marina office, so people have to pass us to get to their boats. Seeing Rochester on our stern, they ask if that is where we are from, are curious to why we are still here and are now stopping for a chat. One guy stopped for a chat while pushing 40 litres of red diesel in a marina trolley to his boat. On his way back he wanted to give us the three litres he had over. Unfortunately tank and cans were full. Their are dozens of mullet swimming in the marina, which seem to consider the weed covered the antifouling on Pilgrim’s bottom, a smorgasbord of delights. The rasping sound as they tuck-in is amazingly loud and can be heard quite clearly as we sit at the saloon table. So much for modern antifouling that does so little harm to marine growth and produces food for fish. Sorry! Not much happening so some of my musings, this time on boat names. I have seen three yachts in various places with the same name and on arrival at Milford Haven a Maxi 38+ with the same name. It is “Carpe Diem”. Google tells me it comes from a Latin verse by the Roman poet Horace usually translated as “Seize the day”. I am now noticing it everywhere even on mugs and wall art. Great sentiment, but how amazing it is to find the obscure becoming so common place. I am now waiting to spot it on t-shirts and tattoos.
Saturday 20 July Jason arrived today. The two carriage train arrived at Milford Haven, a single track, unmanned terminus that surprisingly has escaped closure. For all that, what an amazing service, Yalding in Kent to Milford in Pembrokeshire in six hours. We took fish n’ chips back to Pilgrim and out-lined our plans.
Sunday 21 July Brian’s fall was on the 13 July and he is much improved, but it is good to have Jason along and we are keen to be on our way. In the week before his arrival we had had the ideal winds to take us down to Lands End, but now their was a 180 degree turn-round and everything was from the south. Monday’s forecast looked very slightly better and that is what we based our plan on.
Monday 22 July Our idea is to sail overnight to Padstow. Not an ideal stop-over, about two thirds of the way to Newlyn our preferred destination, but the forecast was not giving us decent wind direction. Our journey would be tacking and pinching with motor running, hoping we could keep up the magic 4.2 knots towards our destination. The estimate is that we would be sailing for 17 hours and with luck we might get enough wind variation to give us a broad reach. We left mid-morning, cleared the lock and the seaway entrance to Milford Haven and set off in the general direct Padstow. We knew how we used the wind would be a bit of a challenge, but it was much stronger than forecast. The swell began to rise reaching about three metres which destroyed pilgrim’s forward momentum. On one tack we were making six knots and on the other three knots, and after four hours of very uncomfortable short seas, we had made 8 miles towards Padstow. That converts to 2 knots an hour or potentially 34 hours at sea. Not a viable time scale, so feeling slightly sea sick, I called a halt and we turned back to Milford Haven. With tide and wind with us, we made good time back.
Tuesday 23 July The weather was more of the same. Brian thought it was just still possible, but I decided against it, because of the near certain extended time at sea. I got a call from John Malloy. He and Pat Goodman were storm bound on board Nelly in Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. They were waiting for a break in the weather to get over to Bangor in Northern Ireland, but we both had the same problem. We need wind with no south and some north and calmer seas.
Wednesday 24 July The forecast was worse. The wind was directly from the south and a lot more of it. Definitely not going today. Looking at the forecasts for the next few days, Saturday and Sunday looked the most promising. To confirm it Ian Pollard rang to tell me Saturday and Sunday looked good for us. It also seems as though John Malloy has got tired of waiting and is going to tack all the way to Bangor. Half as far as we have to go, probably hand steering all the way. Hard work, Mmmmmmm………. Not for us gentlemen sailors. With Saturday being the earliest we could get on our way, Jason had run out of time. On reviewing the whole situation it was decided he would return home and catch up with us on the south coast, for a few days sailing when the weather was more settled. We then all went off to the Crows Nest Cafe and had a large full English before he caught his train back to Kent.
Thursday/Friday 25/26 July We have now been kicking our heels in Milford haven for two weeks and its not very exciting. I have read a couple of novels from the marina free bookshelf and caught up on cloths washing. Brian is almost back to his old self, so we are ready to be on our way.
Saturday 27 July through the night to Sunday 28 July The gentlemen sailors rose at 8.00am to the best forecast in terms of wind direction in over a week. Although in the marina it seemed virtually a windless day, this was the day to go. We cleared the lock on free-flow at 1.30pm, reached the seaway entrance to Milford Haven and set off in the general direct of Lands End, 99 miles away. When we got there we would decide on final destination port, Newlyn or Falmouth.
Once clear of land, with first reef in the main, we got a good broad reach for 5 to 6 knots SOG. The wind varied through the day, speed dropped to 3.75 knots SOG, and on gusts, up to 6 knots again. On one occasion the dolphins returned swimming either side of the bow, for over half an hour. As the sun began to set we put the second reef in the main and ran with the engine on tick-over. We tramped down the Bristol Channel steadily eating up the miles through the night. Not very exciting, but with the sunrise came a little more wind and we shook out all the reefs from the main, but it soon died Pilgrim was doing very well and as time passed we were pleased to see the Longship light off Lands End in the far distance, but then a massive black cloud with rain below heralded a squall from the west. We dropped the main in a rush and lashed it down, but luckily the squall seemed to skirt us with little effect. Under engine and jib we finally rounded Lands End and made for our least favourite place, Newlyn. As mentioned previously, it is a fishing port with very few berths for yachts and next to no facilities, but the weather was deteriorating. When we arrived we were at the head of a queue of any-port-in-a-storm yachts. We ignored the duty harbour master’s offer of a place against a rusty trawler, because the top sides were too high to board and grabbed the last pontoon berth, before it was lost to one of the new arrivals. With so many boats rafted-up using multi-adapters, the electricity supply went down. We had been going for 27 hours, so after one of Brian’s creative meals ‘boîte de conserve’ and couple of gin n’ fever tree we retired to our bunks.
Monday 29 July The gentlemen sailors woke to torrential rain, a leak from the starboard coach roof light and a bad forecast. So here we stay for the time being. We have news about Nelly in Campbeltown. John and Pat made a break for Bangor in poor weather, but like us were beaten back to port. They tried again with a plan to attack the southerly wind by making Bangor in three tacks. It seemed to work, but they did not make Bangor and had to take shelter at Ardglass, an Ulster marina a little further south. John is a very determined sailor, which bodes well for his round the world sailing ambitions. During the morning the wind increased and the rain began getting progressively worse. Yachts were not leaving because of the bad weather forecast, but more were arriving all the time, finding space and rafting up where they could. A motor cruiser, Party Essence, much larger than Pilgrim began rafting up along side us. We felt the size and weight difference was proving too great, so we swapped places putting our boat on the outside. The owner invited us aboard for drinks with his friends and we had a pleasant couple of hours discussing boat. He knew the Medway because he had done courses with Elite Sailing out of Chatham. Though it was hardly mentioned, you could not fail to notice he had been in the Royal Marines because of the oversized regimental flag over the flying bridge and the crest embroidered on all his kit. Swapping places proved a sensible move, because by the evening it was blowing a full gale with horizontal rain and Pilgrim, with every fender out, was being blown onto the slab sides of the cruiser.
Tuesday 30 July By 9.00 am the gale had blown itself out and Pilgrim was rocking to F4 with steady rain. Tomorrow would give us better wind for Falmouth, our next port of call. Party Essence, our neighbour, left us our original pontoon berth when they went to be refuelled at the fishing boats commercial quay by road tanker. They had ordered 400 litres of diesel for their trip to the Scillies and back. We bought 10 litres in a can from the co-op filling station on the Penzance road and ruck sacked it back.
Wednesday 31 July Pilgrim set off for Falmouth, but the forecast wind failed to appear and we used engine and jib all the way. When a usable wind did come, we were so near Falmouth it was hardly worth hauling up the main. Yes, we are turning into lazy gentlemen sailors. No hot showers since Milford Haven, because of the lack of facilities at Newlyn, so the first priority at Falmouth Haven Marina was a visit to the shower block. Oh the joy of a clean body and clean clothes, followed by Chicken Night at Witherspoon’s.
Thursday 1 August The weather is settled, so today is a rest day. We loaded diesel and tidied up the boat generally for the move on to Plymouth tomorrow. Ian rang and let us know that John and Pat had put into Grey Stones, South of Dublin, and they, with Nelly their time machine, were now anchored off Tresco in the Scillies. I bought a medium sized timber model of the J class Britannia from the Falmouth Maritime Museum as a memento of the trip. I think I can improve the slightly crude sail detailing, but overall it looks pretty good.
Friday/Saturday 2/3 August We left Falmouth at 8.00am for Plymouth. Light winds forecast. What we got was light winds on the nose over a calm sea. We had completely miscalculated the tides and found them strongly against us, so we motored slowly all the way to Plymouth with only tidal advantage in the last three hours. Completely hopeless. It was a slow boring day and the only heart racing moment was when Brian spotting a pot buoy as it vanished under our bow. In the nick of time, he knocked engine out of gear and we both watched to see if it floated from under the stern. The pick-up line part of the buoy appeared with bright yellow floats, but not the larger buoy. We managed to grab the float line with the boat hook and found it to be securely caught on something. Brian teased it back and forth until the rest of the larger buoy appeared. Great sigh of relief to find it had not wrapped itself around the prop and thank goodness it had not happened at night. At long last we turned in to Plymouth sound and made our way up to Queen Anne’s Battery Marina. We found it overcrowded, but because Pilgrim is undersized in modern boat terms, we managed to squeeze into the last alongside mooring reject by others. Tomorrows forecast is more of the same and to get us back in sync with the tides so they run up channel rather than down, we will have to leave latest 4.30am. The wind direction on Sunday is better and the clincher, we will be able to leave that bit later. So the decision is we leave for Brixham on Sunday.
Sunday 4 August We left QAB at 8.00am for Brixham, the next hop on our voyage home and a place that has a fuelling station. A most odd journey. We had waited until Sunday for a wind which simply did not happen. As we passed the group of headlands to get up to Brixham, every thing was against us, the tide, the choppy water and our luck, which shown itself as 0.75 of a knot SOG. Never the less we just about made Brixham before the sunset.
Monday 5 August Now loaded up with Diesel from the Brixham Marina pump, we motored the four miles over the bay to Torquay to meet John Molloy and very good it was to see him. Pat had gone home and he was now occupying himself getting his sails sorted out with a local sail maker. Surprisingly he did not recognise us as we rafted up along side. Probably bearded and scruffy was too much of a confusing disguise. We had a mug of very good coffee on board Nelly, eventually leaving him to refit the repaired sails, while we went off for further refreshments at Witherspoon’s.
Tuesday 6 August I had slight misgiving about the weather, but it forecast days of the same high winds and getting worse. We were off to Weymouth and John to Portland harbour to get his water maker fixed, so we left together at 9.00am. It was quite windy. John set Nelly’s large masthead genoa and we set Pilgrim’ s small self tacking jib. The time machine soon vanished off into the distance, but we tramped happily along all day under jig alone getting between 5 and 6 knots. All went well until Portland Bill, when the tide turned against us and winds increased. Despite being well out to sea, we found ourselves in a caldron of confused quartering seas that seemed to be trying to roll the boat over and the wind was still increasing. “Hell! How do we get out of this one?” In the end we ran further south and west well past the Bill, then put a waypoint between the Shambles and the Bill. Now with a high following sea that looked as if it was going to pay Pilgrim a visit, I put in the wash boards and locked the hatch. With engine racing, jib pulled tight we ran one long tack and slowly edged our way up into the lee of Portland Cliffs. Now in much calmer waters, we made the three or so miles up to Weymouth Marina. In recent times we have gone around Portland Bill many time with no problems, but this day the sea gods were not on our side or maybe they were, as we got into port safely. Below was in disarray. In the rolling and tossing seas Pilgrim had managed empty virtual ever locker onto the cabin sole. The kettle, kept full of water for hot drinks at sea, was rolling about amounts a heap of books and charts, and the rim of the frying pan had suffered a substantial dent (still have not found out against what). The mess would have to wait until the morning. We recovered from the pile what we needed to make our beds and went to sleep.
Wednesday 7 August John had tried to contact us by phone to check if we had got in OK. My phone was out of power, but when I was able to plug in I was surprised to hear he had a very similar time around Portland Bill, even down to his kettle and coffee maker emptying out onto the cabin sole. He also said winds had reach near gale force, so he was getting concerned for us. Never fear John, the Gentlemen Sailors are quite robust. In Portland harbour the engineer had turned up and had replaced most of water maker system on board Nelly. Parts under guarantee, but John was definitely smarting over the callout charge and was returning to Torquay where marina fees are much more realistic for his budget.
Thursday 8 August We woke to hear the howl of the wind and heavy rain. The only boat movements today are those coming in to take refuge or the hardier souls making the comparatively short passage to Poole. Our next move is to Yarmouth, where getting into the needles channel with the tide is critical. If it looks as if we are going to miss it, Poole is our best option. Exact planning for tides could be a bit premature as the weather does not look good for days. The owners of the French boats rafted up with us say “Il fait beaucoup de vent.” So they will not be moving until Sunday. Just noticed Essence Party with the Royal Marines flag still flying, on the far side of the harbour. We had left her in Newlyn being refuelled from a road tanker and here she is being refuelled from yet another road tanker. It has been raining stair rods all afternoon. We are now fed up and going to treat ourselves to a meal out.
Friday 9 August I don’t think I have ever seen the 30 areas of the off shore weather map with 26 gale warnings. Yachts are preparing for the ‘big blow’ so I was happy to see more shore lines being run out as Pilgrim is on the pontoon side of a four boat raft. The forecast gives gale warnings F7 to F9 in most sea areas. By lunch time the rain had stopped and the wind had subsided to a gentle breeze. “Where are these F7 and F9’s”. Then a hammer blow of wind hit us from over the Bill, leaning our raft of four over and stretching our mooring lines so we were a full 3 feet from the pontoon. Then the energy subsided and the warps snapped us back. By early evening we were getting the expected high winds and horizontal rain with squeaking fenders and jolting mooring lines.
Saturday 10 August The ‘big blow’ is in full swing. The angling boats have not gone out and trips around the bay have been cancelled until further notice. The wind is ferocious but not constant, F3 and then anything up to F8 in punchy gusts. John Molloy is storm bound in Torquay and messaged on WhatsApp “40.2kts a record” and “24 hrs to go before it is predicted to diminish”. 24hrs is our reading of the situation too. Our plan to move on to Yarmouth on Sunday might change to Monday. We will review it. I had to walk over to the chandlers to replace a gas cylinder and looked out to the beach. It was reminiscent of a Lowry painting with lots of black match stick people walking about and the odd match stick dog, all on a windy beach. It is so sheltered with an absence of fetch it was virtually flat calm water. This is amazing when you consider just how bad conditions are out at sea. Being the inside boat of the raft of four we are used to people crossing Pilgrim, so we hardly noticed a flurry of foredeck activity. A French lady off the second boat of our raft tripped while crossing our stanchion wire and fell onto the pontoon. She looked very shocked, with deeply grazed knees, chin and bleeding from the mouth. A taxi took her to the local small accidents unit and she returned within a couple of hours, looking a lot happier with stitches inside her lip and dressings on her knees.
Sunday 11 August We have reviewed our plan to move on to Yarmouth today. The forecast offers moderate winds in a good direction, but regular gusting over 30mph, so have decided to review things on Monday. We should have been well past Isle of White by now, but bad weather have caused us to drift into Cowes Week, the biggest annual event in the racing yacht calendar. The same bad weather was causing postponed and cancelled races, so the area will be packed with visiting spectators and competition boats, which we suspect will make the availability of marina berths yet another problem.
Monday 12 August After I rang Yarmouth Marina and to my surprise found no berthing problems, so we Left Weymouth at 9.00am. It was a mass exodus leaving a completely empty visitors pontoon as everybody took advantage of the good forecast. With a light wind at our backs, it was an uneventful sail until we neared the Needles. The wind increased, the sea became very rough and to keep good course to the Needles Channel we had several accidental jibes. Pilgrim was completely over powered and needed to reef, but it was too late and unsafe. It sounds all to familiar. In the same area earlier in the trip after failing to reef early enough, we broke the boom/goose neck joint. We could not continue as we were, we had to get the main down. Pilgrim was brought head to wind for a brief moment. I clipped on, let go the main halliard and scrambled up to pull down the sail and secured the head with a loop of its halliard over a reefing horn. Brian brought her back on course and Pilgrim ran on with a half rolled jig, engine and strong tide dragging us through the Needles Channel at well over 6 knots. Under a hour of Solent chop brought us in sight of the Yarmouth Ferry loading cars and turned down past it into the marina. We rafted up to a Sigma 36 who’s owner and family took our lines and asked us how we got on coming in. It seems the fetch across Christ Church Bay, wind strength and state of tide can combine to create a lumpy entry into the Needles Channel and it was particularly bad that day. Despite this, overall it was a good days run arriving at 6.00pm. Yarmouth is a Gentrified collection of shops and pubs around a small ferry terminal, no more than a village. We had an over priced pint in one of the pubs, grabbed some food and returned to the boat.
Tuesday 13 August We woke to a sunny morning and as we ate breakfast the distinctive sound of a Spitfire roared overhead. I looked out see it circle and fly off inland, supposedly part of a Cowes week display. Our next stop Hasler Marina at Gosport, some 14 miles away on the mainland on Southampton water. A 3.00am in the morning start is needed to catch the tide or a late start, about 3.00pm. We chose the later and spent the morning watching Cowes Racing Live on the laptop. By the time we left for Gosport, a fresh tailwind had us swaying and rolling up a virtually deserted Solent. We had expected to dodge our way between the competition boats of Cowes Week, but saw none. The high winds are playing havoc with racing, causing the organisers to run shortened courses and cancelling some races altogether, so the days racing was probably all over by the time we past. 6.30pm saw Pilgrim pulling in to berth Juliet 28 in a very crowded Hasler Marina. Gosport should give us a good striking off point for Brighton or Eastbourne.
Wednesday 14 August Our wakeup call came as howling high winds and driving rain. Brighton or Eastbourne were never seriously on the cards for today, but Thursday had always looked promising. I got a weather chart from the Marina Office which showed front after front, that was so complex I would need a degree in Enigma to work it out. One thing was clear every channel area showed F5 to F6, gusting F7 later in the day.
Thursday 15 August Unbelievable! Next to no wind in the marina. Should we go. After some debate over the forecast that included very strong wind forecast later in the day and it would now be a late start, we decided to stay put. By noon higher winds had developed and we were rocking and snatching on our marina mooring to a F7. It made us feel even more certain we had made the right decision, when large yachts coming in from the sea had a double reef in the main, the genoa rolled down to a scrap and one sporting a bright orange storm gib. Storm warnings continue and waiting for good weather is all too boring. Despite Brian determination that he will stick with me to finish the trip, I have feelings of guilt in allowing him to continue. The slow pace home is getting very near Brian’s GP appointment on the 22 August. The arrangement is now that whichever port we are in on the 21 August, Marian will come and pick him up. Meanwhile we remain in Hasler waiting for a weather break.
Friday 16 August – Tuesday 20 August Three young men from Cork sailed in today. They were trying to get down Channel and continue home to Ireland, but after failing to round Portland Bill, simply ran out of time, and decided to fly home leaving the boat at Hasler. I have great sympathy for them as they are not sure when they could come back for it. John had sailed Nelly back to Portland harbour and picked up Gerhard, Erica and Martin, his crew for the Biscay crossing. WhatsApp messages had them setting off on Sunday 18th for Brest, aiming to cross to Santander in Spain. The wind was not very favourable and the forecast not that good. Definitely not for Gentlemen Sailors like us. The weather hold-ups have made us avid forecast readers. A couple of Aussies in a yacht moored opposite said they could not see any break in the weather to give movement up-channel until Tuesday. We thought Monday, but as it turned out they were right and we left almost together on Tuesday morning at 7,00am. It was a day of gentle summer sailing, one of the best in weeks, until our decision to pass Brighton and go on to the Royal Sovereign at Bournemouth. The wind suddenly began gusting F7 and for over two hours we had choppy seas and the fetch off Beachy Head until we managed to get into its lee. We motor sailed the disturbed three miles of sea up to Royal Sovereign and once safely moored in the marina it somehow felt like home turf.
Wednesday 21 August This was the day Brian was to leave. He tidied up his kit, packed a bag of clothes to take home for washing and we walked up to the car park to meet Marian. I had turned down the offer of clothes washing, but I took up the offer of a lift to Currys PC World to pick up a new charging unit for my computer. Despite Brian saying he would be back after his appointment with the doctor, I thought his GP would send him straight off for better x rays, so I was not very hopeful and had already planned to continue alone on the 23rd to Dover.
Thursday 22 August I busied myself tidying my aft cabin and the boat generally. When I loaded diesel I miss keyed my card number on the marina diesel pump, found the card blocked and spent over an hour on the phone with the Halifax Bank getting it unblocked. When I did get into buying mode with the card I was amazed to find my 10 litre can takes 16 litres. Good, but I can barely pick it up. To my surprise, Brian arrived back at the marina full of enthusiasm for continuing our journey back to the Medway. His GP wanted better x rays, but without a confirmed date at the hospital, we could be on our way. I put my planned supper, the tin of Stag Chilli and the boil-in-the-bag rice, back into the stores locker and went out for a meal with Brian and Marian before she drove home.
Friday 23 August We locked out of Sovereign Harbour at 7.00am with pot boats and a group of four other Yachts all making for Dover on the flood tide. It was a beautiful summers day. Now on familiar ground, we watched Dungeness and the marshes of New Romney pass by, followed by the entrance to Rye harbour, Folkestone harbour and finally Samphire Hoe and Dover harbour came into view. A VHF call to Dover port control got us into the outer harbour and another got us onto a tidal pontoon berth next to Alert, one of the new Border Force 60 foot ribs.
Saturday 24 August We woke to another beautiful summers day. Our next port of call, Ramsgate, 18 miles up the coast and despite being in “getting home mode”, we could not go until two hours before high tide at 1.00pm. Leaving Dover generally entails standing-by at the knuckle light on the outer breakwater, until port control can slip you out between ferries. On this occasion it was only a half hour wait and an orderly port to port pass with the three yachts coming in, but we were soon motoring towards Ramsgate with good tide but no wind. The journey ending with the normal tide tussle at Ramsgate harbour entrance. The Marina visitors pontoons were very overcrowd. We shared a slot between two fingers with a Moody and barely fitted in. It seems because of the increase in yacht length and particularly beam, space between pontoon fingers is now getting very tight and bemoaning this with the Moody owner, we ended up comparing bad weather stories. Storms caused him to give up after 5 days and go home for two weeks, leaving his boat at Lowestoft until the current break in the weather. We have had our fill of storm stories and wearing my last clean shirt and Brian at last changed out of Crocks, went off to Witherspoon’s Royal Victoria Pavilion and our final meal of the trip. A large Sirloin with all the trimmings, a pint of Doom Bar for me and a Guinness for Brian, seemed a fitting last supper.
Sunday 25 August The weather pattern for Thames is giving the continuing summer days without a breath of wind. We left at 9.00am for Medway punching the tide up to North Foreland and turned west catching the tide along the North Kent coast, in a crocodile of three yachts all going our way. One did unsuccessfully play with a spinnaker for a time, but eventually gave up. We lay back letting the auto helm, plus and minus Pilgrim’s track, past the Margate Sands, through the Coprus Channel, out to the Spile and on to the Cardinal buoy at the mouth of Medway. Timing was perfect and the flood swept us up the river to Segas Creek, arriving an hour before high tide. We past Bill Finch waiting for water, who did not recognise us. Nor did Gary Turner on “Aquarius” or Stewart and Maggie Topping on “Violet Mai”. Probably scruffy beards were too much of a confusing look. It was not until the we came about and went into Pilgrim’s permanent berth, the recognition penny dropped and we got the enthusiastic waves of “Welcome Home”.
Noel Desmond Morley and Brian Smith 2019.