West Country Cruise

Crew and Planned Destination

It was originally planned to sail to Ireland’s south and west coast. As crew member I invited Greg Peterson, a former fellow student of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia and with whom I had shared a semi-derelict house in Ruislip Street, West Leederville, Perth, in our student days. I’d invited Greg for a three-day sail in the Solent the previous year stopping overnight by Cowes Yacht Haven and Ocean Village Marina to attend The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) Boat Show Dinner at the Southampton Yacht Club. Despite the very autumnal weather with the cold,  rain and strong winds, and knowingly not immune to the odd bout of seasickness, Greg bravely elected to accompany me on a cruise to Ireland via the West Country planned for the following year.

Greg arrived on Sunday 26 June at the Southampton Bus Station and was duly collected and welcomed aboard. He appeared well prepared for the trip, having participated in yacht crew training over several weekends during Perth’s summer months. All that was needed was a little Stugeron!

Engine Repairs

Although the weather was fine, our departure was delayed for several days while engineers from Motive Marine at Shamrock Quay ordered and fitted replacement parts for a corroded oil cooler and salt water heat exchanger on Baybreeze’s Yanmar 4JH3 diesel engine. Admittedly, the engine should have been checked months before and the repairs made in a timely preparation but that wasn’t to be the case.

A Leaking Boat!

By Wednesday afternoon, the engine work had been completed, our supplies and gear were on board and I felt we were ready to depart early the next day. However, when returning to the boat at its berth after a brief departure, I was surprised the hear the bilge pump roar into action just as we walked by. Several litres of bilge water was being discharged overboard! Ugh! A leak somewhere on the boat!  Alas, a quick look at the stern gland on the prop shaft revealed an ingress rate of about a drop every second – about four times greater than what it was just before she was hauled out of the water and onto the hard seven months earlier. I concluded that it was not so serious as to delay our departure but, nevertheless, needed to be monitored in case it worsened.  I expected the drip rate to return to normal as the stuffing box re-hydrated over the next week or so (which turned out to be the case).

Thursday 30 June 2016: Shamrock Quay to Studland Bay

I elected to leave at 0415 UTC (0515 BST) leaving against the mid-flood tide with the prospect of hitching a ride on a fair tide though the Solent, through the Hurst Narrows and out via the North Channel to head for a Studland Bay anchorage. We arrived in at about 1230 UTC, anchored, admired the scenery and rested. The next day’s journey was expected to take about 14 hours and a timed departure was needed to negotiate the Portland Race with a fair tide.

Friday-Saturday 1-2 July 2016: Studland Bay to Torquay

We departed 0500 UTC as planned with a SW wind expected to increase to Force 6/7. This meant serious tacking against headwinds and increasing waves (as the track at the top of this post shows). By the time we reached the Portland Race, the waves had increased to moderate/rough. There was a Pan-Pan VHF transmission from another yacht asking the coastguard for assistance as they could not make progress because of the sea state. Soon after passing the Portland Race in strong Force 7 winds the relatively new half-furled genoa furling line broke near the furling drum. Suddenly, the genoa quickly unfurled and became fully deployed! If the wind increased in strength, the boat would have excess sail. Something needed to be done urgently.

My first response was to try trying the broken ends together and rewinding much of the line around the drum so that it could at least be partially furled until a sheave came in the way of the knot. It was soon realized that this wasn’t going to work very well. I thought of the possibility of dropping the genoa but that would have meant cutting the engine to avoid fouling the prop in the likely event that it spilled overboard during the process. Being short-handed would have made the task more difficult. At the pulpit, the waves continued to wash over my feet.

In the meantime, Baybreeze, with both main and genoa fully deployed, was pitching under motor heading into the waves with Greg ably at the helm. Fortunately, I had kept the original genoa furling line on board as a spare. I retrieved it, removed the offending line and proceeded to install it. While in the process, the genoa suddenly backed and we found ourselves unwittingly hove-to! What a transformation! Whereas before, the waves were spilling over the foredeck, now the boat was far less agitated almost to the point of being serenely tranquil! I could now easily get on with the job of reinstating the old furling line. Within an hour, the problem had been rectified and we were underway again. Had I been properly prepared the job would have taken 15 minutes perhaps!

Threading the replacement furling line 25 times around the furling drum in strong winds!

[Although hove-to on a starboard tack, the large genoa had backed onto the standing rigging – not an ideal situation. Nevertheless, it worked in the sense the boat steadied quite remarkably. A previous attempt at heaving-to was on return from the Azores using the mainsail and the much smaller staysail. This was not considered a success as the boat pointed way too far off the wind (at about 60-70 degrees) and she showed little sign of steadying.]

Making headway under sail alone against wind and wave (and later tide) slows down a heavy displacement boat like Baybreeze, so the remainder of the journey was motor-sailed. Maintaining some sail was essential for a more comfortable ride as the yawing motion of the boat was greatly diminished. We finally arrived and anchored in Tor Bay in the wee hours at 0315 UTC the next day. A journey I expected to take about 14 hours took 22! It was time for a rest and a lie in!

Later that day we relocated to Torquay Marina to make use of the facilities and to look about town in earnest the following day. We replenished our food supplies, then took the road train for a visit to Torre Abbey which turned out to be well worth the visit. However, the road train driver’s recommendation for the best fish and chips in town turned out to be the opposite!

Monday 4 July: Torquay to Plymouth

After staying two nights at Torquay Marina, we set off on Monday at 0700 UTC for Plymouth. Intermittent fog and light winds were forecast for the day. As we rounded Prawle Point, there was little wind so I decided to start the engine. But, alas, the  engine wouldn’t start! I checked to make sure that the engine gear was in neutral as it wouldn’t start otherwise and that appeared to be the case. Another problem! The only consolation here was that there was just sufficient wind to sail into Plymouth, a journey that would take about four hours, so I had plenty of time to figure this one out. We had to do a quick tack when the cliffs of Prawle Point appeared dead ahead through the fog about a cable and a half away, much sooner than expected!

While I was going through the motions of various checks, Greg questioned whether the engine gear was, in fact, in neutral. I asked him to put it in what he thought was neutral. He did so, and woe and behold, the engine started! Phew! The indirect cause of this problem was placing the gearbox in reverse while sailing with engine off, a practice recommended to me by people with far more experience, so as to prevent the propeller shaft from turning and thus preventing unnecessary wear. However, this practice made it difficult to place the gearbox in neutral even in modest through water boat speeds. Therein lay the problem.

The statue of Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe.

Much relieved, the fog lifted and the SW wind increased in strength. We were able to reach our berth at Plymouth’s Queen Anne’s Battery at 1515 UTC. We stayed a couple of nights taking the opportunity to visit Plymouth Hoe where, earlier that day, American Independence Day had been commemorated, as well as the waterfront and the Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium.

Wednesday 6 July: Plymouth to Helford River

Baybreeze at anchor in the Helford River, Cornwall.

We departed Plymouth 0500 UTC for the Helford River. Only in the later stages did the wind increase from NNW Force 1 to SSE Force 4 which meant motoring much of the way. We arrived at 1345 UTC and anchored in this lovely tranquil picturesque place with a couple of square-rigged vessels anchored nearby. In the afternoon, we rowed ashore in the inflatable dinghy to visit the tiny picturesque village of Durgan.

Thursday 7 July: Helford River to St Michael’s Mount

Departed Helford River 0915 UTC accompanied by the square-rig sailing ships all of us heading towards Lizard Point with the wind S at F4. As we neared Lizard Point, I noticed one of the square-riggers, having stayed close to shore, was now neatly tucked in possibly at Cadgwith Bay in the lee of Lizard Point. Depending on wind strength and direction we would head for either the western anchorage next to St Micheal’s Mount or anchor in the lee just south of Newlyn Harbour Entrance. I elected to anchor near St Micheal’s Mount arriving at about 1800 UTC and greeted by several young women training in a row-boat and braving the cold wet weather. A great welcoming party!


Friday 8 July: St Michael’s Mount to Falmouth

The choice of anchorage wasn’t the best, as we were exposed to a slight swell which made the night less comfortable. We departed 0600 UTC for Falmouth but, before doing so, thought we’d just take at look at the Newlyn anchorage. As expected several yachts were anchored there having obviously had a very peaceful night!

The journey to Falmouth took about five hours arriving at about 1415 at the Falmouth Visitors Yacht Haven. We spent a good 20 minutes looking for the two leading line markers on shore to guide us through the dredged channel to the Yacht Haven, as suggested in Tom Cunliffe’s The Channel Pilot, but only managed to find one. Luckily, we managed to wave down a staff member in a runabout who guided us through to a berth, rafting next to the yacht Capricorn. It turned out that the second mark no longer existed as sectored lights had been placed on the remaining mark – something we failed to spot!

We stayed  a couple of days in Falmouth, visiting the Cornwall National Maritime Museum with its Viking display and enjoyed ‘proper’ fish and chips!

Sunday 10 July: Falmouth to Fowey

We left our Falmouth berth at 0700 UTC as planned with the town bell chiming as we did so. Such discipline was repeated on a number of occasions! [Well done to my guest, Greg, who appreciated the value of a timely departure and cooperated admirably]. As we motored off the berth to enter the dredged channel, the bow thruster failed to switch off and so had to be deactivated by the master switch. Another wee problem which meant I had to maneuver Baybreeze into her berth back at Shamrock Quay without its aid – a good test of seamanship!

A great Sunday lunch to be had at the Gallants Sailing Club in Fowey.

We arrived 1115 UTC at the entrance to Fowey in Force 5 winds and moderate seas on a rising tide. We berthed on a pontoon opposite the China Clay Works some distance upstream and soon after called for a Water Taxi for a ride into town for a very pleasant and substantial Sunday roast lunch at the Fowey Gallants Yacht Club followed by a walk around the town.

Monday 11 July: Fowey to Salcombe

We departed Fowey at 0530 UTC headed for Salcombe with Force 5 WSW winds and moderate following seas – ideal sailing weather.

Fisheries Research Vessel Cefas Endeavour.

In clear weather halfway across the Plymouth Bay, the Fisheries Research Vessel Cefas Endeavour started bearing down on us and shortly before reaching us gave us a courtesy call on the VHF radio identifying themselves and to ask if we would maintain our course as they they were engaged in various maneuvers that were likely to cross behind and in front of our path. We were happy to oblige as our path continued to remain headed straight for Salcombe.

On much of our West Country cruise, fishing vessels were not uncommon, many still displaying a red ‘Leave’ the EU flag from the 23 June referendum.

The entrance to Salcombe Harbour looking seaward.

We arrived at Salcombe entrance at 1130 UTC negotiated its sandbar and motored along a series of channel bouys on the port side and picked up a yellow hi-vis mooring buoy for the overnight stay.  Soon after, sixty odd Merlin class dinghies came bearing down amongst the moored yachts weaving their way around and past them and then returning. This is a sailing coastal town! What a spectacle! These races were repeated again the following morning, delaying our planned departure at 0930 UTC by half an hour or so. As was customary, we caught a water taxi and had a good look around town that afternoon.

Tuesday 12 July: Salcombe to Dartmouth

We departed Salcombe at 1000 UTC for the four hour sail to Dartmouth. On arriving we motored up the River Dart as far upstream as Dittisham, just before which are some lovely moorings in tranquil tree-lined river banks. On our way there, the tranquility was temporarily broken as steam bellowed above the treetops from a  train as it travelled northward on the Kingwear side of the river. Ferries made their crossings, one pulled by chain, others transported by tugs just as they had been a hundred years ago. Trainees from the Britannia Naval College conducted their exercises in small dinghies.

We returned down river to berth at Deep Water Pontoon 2, fetching a water taxi soon after for a lift to town and then a walk to the 14th century Dartmouth Castle and up the hill for a view overlooking the bay. On return to the town, we entered a pub overlooking the fishing boat lock in time for a ‘curry night’. Perfect!

Racing dingies crowding the river Dart’s entrance.

Wednesday 13 July: Dartmouth to Studland Bay

The return journey across Lyme Bay wasn’t expected to be as tiring as the outward journey for the WSW wind, though initially light, was with us. We departed 0600 UTC (with the town bell chiming as we did!) and motored into Lyme Bay until a NW F3 wind picked up at around 0820 UTC. We spotted no fewer than five tall ships in Lyme Bay, including the Norwegian training vessel Sørlandet.

By the time we’d reached St Alban’s head and after negotiating the Portland Race, the wind had picked up to W F5. As it was near slack water at neap tide, we safely navigated directly over St Alban’s Ledge past the bright yellow marker buoys used for target practice by the military. We arrived at the Studland Bay anchorage 1930 UTC.

Thursday 14 July: Studland Bay to Shamrock Quay

Departed 1030 UTC for safe passage through the Needles for a flood tide expected to start around 1230 UTC. Arrived at Shamrock Quay 1745 UTC and maneuvered into Baybreeze’s berth without a bow thruster! What seamanship! That was with motor. Maybe I should try with sail only next time!

Some of the tall (and not so tall) ships seen on our cruise.

I didn’t make it to Ireland or even the Scilly Isles – that will have to be another time!

Distance travelled: 498 nm; over 98 daylight hours and 7 night hours. Total engine hours: 46 (fraction of time on engine = 43%!).