The Cruise – Part 16
Post script for Monday, 12th May.
John and Josephine Perry, distinguished members of the Dinghy Cruising Association, visited both Al's boat and mine late in the evening at the anchorage behind Plymouth Yacht Haven and we had an enjoyable time discussing things, mainly boats, as you can imagine.
Tuesday, 13th May
This was a day of total relaxation for me. I wanted to spend most of it ashore exploring the old haunts of Plymouth I knew when I was a lad. I started by taking the boat to Saint Anne's Battery Yacht Marina, but they would not give me a berth because all visitors were being cleared out in preparation for the Mini Tansat boats. As I was next to Sutton Harbour where the Artemis Transat boats had been berthed I called them on the VHF, but they also said there was no room for visitors. My only option was to return to Plymouth Yacht Haven and find a berth there. I was in urgent need of a shower and I wanted the facilities of a marina – water and electric.
When I had sorted myself and the boat I took the ferry to the Barbican and started my exploration by looking at the Mayflower Steps from which the Pilgrim Fathers departed for Newfoundland; I think their ship the 'Mayflower' set sail in 1620, or thereabouts. Then I explored the Hoe where the old Smeaton lighthouse stands and old cast iron canons face seawards.
The day was sunny, but very windy – too windy for sailing to Fowey, the intended next port of call. The panoramic view over The Sound brought back memories of when, at the age of 14, I sailed a small canvas canoe there while on holiday. I took the canoe I had built by train from Taunton and initially kept it in the corridor of my uncle Charles's house, but when the local sailing club saw me with the canoe they let me have one of their haul out moorings free of charge. Back in 1948 little thought was given to safety equipment, things like life jackets or internal buoyancy for boats and I wonder how I survived, because I didn't wear a life jacket or have buoyancy bags in my canoe. Incredibly the tiny boat had two foresails, a mainsail, a small keel, a plank across the cockpit for sitting out and an extension tiller for the rudder. I was inspired by Uffa Fox, that inventive sailor and designer who lived on the Isle of Wight and who used to cruise open sailing canoes across the Channel to France and back.
I treated myself to a meal at a pub and further explored the Barbican where there are excellent examples of genuine Tudor houses. I also visited the National Aquarium which was a bit of a let down; on the other hand there were some beautiful fish and shells on display. Before returning to the boat I enjoyed a real Devonshire ice cream mixed with cream.
That evening Al and I had a very long walk along the coastal path to Staddon Point, very high above The Sound. From there the view was stunning. We could see the River Tamar beyond Drake's Island, the River Plym, the Breakwater and beyond to Rame Head. A large group of canoeists where heading towards Mount Batten and they looked like tiny water beetles.
Wednesday 14th May
It was still a little too windy for sailing, but Al and I decided to go anyway as it would be downwind trip. At the western end of the Breakwater the seas were breaking and the ride was bumpy. A warship was heading into port, but we were well clear of her. Another navy vessel was out at sea on a firing exercise. By 0915 we were rounding Rame Head and a large yacht overhauled us. We had to be vigilant and take care with the steering to avoid gybing. In the first part of the passage to Loe Island our average spead was 5.6 knots with the tide helping us.
Running close to the Udder Rock buoy the seas became a bit tricky because of the shallows. At 1300 we rounded Punch Cross Rocks to enter Fowey Harbour; there the wind failed because of lee caused by the high land of Polruan. I started the engine and towed 'Little Jim' towards the Town Jetty, but only a cable form it the engine stopped for some unknown reason. By using our yulohs we reached a nearby buoy and rafted alongside one another for a cup of tea. Later the engine started with no problem and we tied up at the Jetty for a short walk through the Town.
Next we went up the River to find a quiet anchorage at Wiseman's Reach. Not long afterwards the Harbour Master's Assistant came to collect the dues, but he was called away for urgent business which may have been in connection with the arrival of a ship for a cargo of China clay. On the instructions of the Harbour Master's Assistant we tied up to mooring buoys to eliminate any possibility of dragging our anchors.
That evening there was a heavy downpour of rain with thunder and lightning.
Thursday 15th May
When I woke it was still raining and the bucket containing the anchor and warp that I had left on the stern deck was one third full of water! Because the wind was still from the east the opportunity of sailing to Falmouth could not be wasted; therefore, although it was raining, Al and I elected to go. I started the engine at 0800 and took 'Little Jim' in tow. By 0950 we were off Gribbin Head, on which there is a very visible day mark that looks like a gigantic barber's pole striped in red and white. Here we made sail with the wind and tide pushing us towards Dodman Point which is a very formidable headland towering above the waves. The race that runs to the south has brought about fatal tragedies, the most notable when a tripper boat from Falmouth was overwhelmed and all aboard were lost.
As our little boats kept a mile and half south of the Headland to avoid the race, the waves built up and we reduced sail, because the wind also increased in strength. Two yachts were approaching the headland, both motor sailing because they were going against the wind and the tide. We set a new course for a point south of St. Anthony Head, eight and a half miles away. Steering directly downwind required concentration, because the seas were doing their best to fling our boats too and fro and as the wave crests were breaking, we both closed our hatches to be secure and dry below. We communicated now and again by VHF on channel 8 - one of the four official ship to ship channels for the UK.
We made a very fast passage, arriving at St. Anthony Head at 1240, where we gybed to starboard to reach into Falmouth Roads; then on the wind we proceeded towards the picturesque village of St. Mawes. Using the engine we rounded Amsterdam Point at the entrance of the Percuil River and anchored in a delightful cove named St. Antony, which was surrounded by woodland. Pity the sun was absent, but the place still had great charm; a heron stood at the water's edge and there was a welcome peace, away form the cold east wind.
Later in the afternoon we rafted alongside and enthusiastically compared our boats in detail; there were slight differences with the sails and yulohs; mostly they were identical, apart from their colour. We also discussed a sailing plan for the next morning when we might opt for the challenge of rounding the Lizard Headland while attempting to reach Newlyn – a good starting point for a crossing to the Scilly Isles. We wonder if the easterlies will hold, because the weather pattern is slowly changing.
Friday 16th May
With the prospect of a 35 mile passage around the Lizard to Newlyn we took up our anchors at St. Anthony and motored out to sea, but there was very little wind; therefore we continued using the engine with 'Little Jim' in tow. Unknown to us we were to continue thus until arriving at the fishing port of Newlyn.
At 0835 we arrived at The Manacles which is an off-lying reef 9 miles south of Falmouth Harbour entrance. We had passed idyllic Porthallow nestling in a natural cleft within the high coastline. Because there was calm weather we took the inshore passage around the Lizard which gave us a superb view of the off-lying rocks. Running down the coast we ticked off salient marks such as the Black Head, Kennack Cove and Cadgwith, the latter identified by a church tower.
Rounding Lizard Point was painless, but a close inspection of the rocks that resemble the spiky spine of a primitive lizard it was plain to see that getting it wrong could be very painful indeed!
Drizzle towards the end of the passage had us down below with the hatches closed. As we approached Newlyn several fishing vessels overhauled us and showed us the way in. Just before 1630 we tied up to the first pontoon for smaller boats and we were greeted by the Harbour Master who at first wanted us to move our boats further into the harbour to leave room for fishing vessels, but he changed his mind and said we could stay where we were if we rafted alongside. His assistant only charged for one boat. The assistant and another port employee were very interested in our boats. They told us that the Town Council were considering allowing planning permission for a smart marina just down the coast.
Saturday 17th May
With a good forecast for the passage to the Scillies we set off at 0610. Once outside the harbour we picked up a fine northerly wind that had us racing along to Tater-du light and the Runnel Stone. That part of the coast is all rather fine with high granite cliffs. Many fishing and crab boats were about their business. The Runnel Stone south of Land's End marked the beginning of the crossing of 27 miles to St. Marys at the Isles of Scilly. Beam reaching all the way gave us a very fast trip. The 'Scillonian' passenger and freight vessel on her outward leg to the Islands reported us to Falmoth Coastguard who asked us to let them know when we arrived at our destination.
Entry through St. Mary's Sound was against the flood which meant our speed dropped from 5 knots to 2, and the final approach from the craggy Peninnis Head to sandy Porthressa Bay was on the wind, so I put the engine on for both boats to make it easy. There in clear water we chose a bottom free of weed for setting our anchors.. Totally protected from the northerly wind we rafted alongside and discussed the passage. The time was 1420 and only a few cumulus clouds hovered above the Islands. We resolved to let the boats dry out on the beach to allow us ashore for the evening.