Slowboat round Britain and Ireland

We did it!
A toast to a great cruise!

After spectacular scenery on the West coasts of Scotland and Ireland, and many interesting harbours and anchorages, Spring Fever is back where she started last year, on the River Medina at Cowes. There was nothing heroic about it: the  longest single cruise  was only 24 days, from Ardoran near Oban to Truro in Cornwall this summer, taking in Iona in the southern Hebrides, Tory Island off Donegal, the Aran Islands off Galway, and the Scillies.

Altogether Spring Fever has logged 2,200 miles round Britain and Ireland over two years.  It was planned as a series of quite short and leisurely cruises, to fit around our other commitments, with the boat wintered in Scotland, and in one sense was no more than a voyage round our homes, on a small island we already know well; but it is hard to beat the distance and perspective that comes from visiting familiar places by sea, and there were many others we would never have found if we had been travelling by land.

  We went anticlockwise, exploring the Thames Estuary rivers in 2012, up the east coast, through the Caledonian Canal, spent time cruising the Hebrides, and wintered the boat at Ardoran on Loch Feochan, near Oban. This year we came home by the West Coast of Ireland.

Our route took in many places we missed on our previous two-season cruise round Britain via the Orkneys in 2007-8, in another boat, Pepper. Once was not enough: there’s something particularly appealing about a cruise that begins and ends in the same place and circumnavigates the land without ever having to cross its own track. There is nowhere else in Europe where you can do that over the satisfyingly long distance of a couple of thousand miles. We were never far from home, but it felt like a real voyage.

An account of the first stage of this two-year round Britain, from Cowes up the East Coast of England and Scotland and through the Caledonian Canal, can be reached through this link.

Leaving Spring Fever
Leaving Spring Fever

Back to the Solent

Monday 17 September: Tony picked the boat up at Malpas and took it down to Falmouth Yacht Haven, mooring singlehanded in 35 knot gusts. Dinner at the Ghurka restaurant. Forecast 5-7 from the Southwest, occasionally 8, so decided to wait till Wednesday. Falmouth has the depressed look it always assumes in rain and chilly wind, with glum holidaymakers patrolling the long narrow shopping street.

Tuesday 18 September: Rick Stein’s new Falmouth restaurant does an over 60s fish and chips takeaway special on Tuesdays for 4.95, which compares with 12.95 for grown ups to sit down and eat it. We’re not proud. Took it back to the boat, with lager to drink. Delicious!

Leaving Falmouth
Leaving Falmouth

Wednesday 19 September: A wild night, gradually cleared after breakfast, so we left just before 10, with a forecast of NW 5-6, which is perfect, because off the land. At Dartmouth, we went alongside the ferry and tripper boat pontoon, where yachts are allowed overnight, but have to leave by 8.45 am. Passage notes: 66 miles, 10 hours, maximum NW 6, min NW2, calm, good visibility.

The sun sets as we approach Dartmouth
The sun sets as we approach Dartmouth

 

Thursday 20 September: Moved from the ferry pontoon. After a day reading the papers and shopping, we left at 2100, when strong SW winds had gone NW and eased. Stared for hours at a clear moon over water.  Wrote up the deck log without the aid of a torch.

Friday 21 September: At times we were doing 10 knots over the ground as we entered the Needles Channel and approached Hurst Castle, the narrows on the way into the Solent. The wind died, and we were back in summer – out came the sun cream. We arrived at Cowes as the tide turned against us.

Mooring for the last time on this cruise
Mooring for the last time on this cruise

Passage notes: 90 miles on the log,  14  hours, max wind NW 6, min Variable 2, sea slight to moderate, visibility very good.

Truro River

Last day of the cruise. Before leaving Falmouth, we refuelled the boat ready for next time, and motored up the Fal and Truro River to a pontoon mooring we had booked at Woodbury Point, near Malpas.

Spring Fever on the pontoon near Malpas
Spring Fever on the pontoon

The Truro harbourmaster gave us the name of a waterman who would take us ashore at Malpas. The ferryman arrived, but he was on the bridge of one of the tripper boats that go up and down the river here, dwarfing the yachts. He squeezed his bow onto the end of the pontoon and we then showed off how fit a month’s sailing had made us by managing to scramble over the sides with our luggage. We disembarked at Malpas, taxi to Truro, then a self-drive hire car home.

Our 'water taxi' berthed at Malpas - not quite what we were expecting
Our ‘water taxi’ berthed at Malpas – not quite what we were expecting

In summary: We had almost four weeks cruising, logging 880 nautical miles, from Ardoran, near Oban, to Truro.  If we include the commissioning cruise with David Fairhall in May the total comes to more than a thousand miles.

If one fact stands out, it is that we were extraordinarily lucky with the weather. After guessing at the planning stage that we would be held up by typical west of Ireland bad weather for at least a week on the cruise, we actually had only one forced day in port, and that was at Baltimore, after we had turned the corner onto the South coast.

What was best about it? The weather, for once looking like the pictures in the Irish Cruising Club pilot books, the company on board, the delightful places we visited, the friendliness (and absence of charges) in the harbours, the peace and quiet (seeing another yacht once or twice a day was an event) – all that made it one of the most memorable cruises.

Off watch - not often that you can relax like this on the Atlantic Irish coast
Off watch, Donegal – not often that you can relax like this along the Atlantic Irish coast

Bryher to Falmouth

Leaving the Scillies, Tresco in the background
Leaving the Scillies, Tresco in the background

Perfect still morning, but forecasts says weather deteriorating. Left across Tresco Flats. Sun and light breeze to Lizard and beyond. Mobile reception so good out here we were able to check train fares on the web, book a Hertz car by phone instead, and reserve a mooring near Truro by email, all during the 60 mile passage. Passed close to Wolf Rock. Reached up past Manacles. Rain as we approached Falmouth Harbour. Dinner on board at Falmouth Yacht Haven.

Passage notes:  log 68 miles, 11 hours, max wind SW 4, min calm, visibility excellent

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Early morning sun as we head out to sea
Wolf Rock
Wolf Rock
The Lizard
The Lizard
Falmouth Harbour
Falmouth Harbour

Tresco and Bryher

Jean-Jacques and Tony at Abbey Gardens
Jean-Jacques and Tony at Abbey Gardens

Ashore again to visit the famous Abbey Gardens on Tresco, and its museum of figureheads from wrecked ships, which is now overseen by the National Maritime Museum.

£12 to go in, but exotically worth it, because the garden is a display of plants from warm climates all over the world, which survive and thrive in the Scillies. I didn’t, however, see much that made me think I want that design or those plants in our garden. Many of the colours and plantings would not seem quite right in a mainland garden, even if they survived, or in the case of some of the more familiar plants, reached the size they do on Tresco.Round Britain 2013 244Round Britain 2013 253

Motored over to Bryher in the dinghy for lunch, with a foot or two of water most of the way, because it was low spring tide.

Clear water, white sand
Clear water, white sand
Tony and
Tony and..
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…Jean-Jacques on way to Bryher

Bryher is so delightful that we cancelled plans to go to St Agnes for the night and decided to stay on. A more relaxed atmosphere altogether. So different from Tresco.

The pub was simple and friendly, more a bar with a Mediterranean-style outside eating area. After lunch went for a walk, or rather a sleep at first, lying down on the soft, green ground of the rocky hill overlooking our mooring. Higher up, there was a ‘turf’ of a plant like a small heather or ling, which was so closely packed and firm that it fell like a smooth, thick mattress. A blanket would be all you would need.

Tony on siesta, Spring Fever in the distance
Tony on siesta, Spring Fever in the distance
Not quite Switzerland - Jean-Jacques on a peak
A long way from home in Switzerland – Jean-Jacques on a peak
New Grimsby Sound from Bryher, Spring Fever on the far left
New Grimsby Sound from Bryher, Spring Fever on the far left

Then a stroll round most of the island, a mixture of grand seascapes and islands out to Bishop Rock and tiny domestic hollows with walled garden sheltered by small trees.

Looking west on Bryher
Looking west on Bryher
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Tucked away cottages…
...and tiny fields
…and tiny fields
Informal sculpture - couldn't resist adding our own stones
Informal sculpture – couldn’t resist adding to it
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The Bryher pub is centre right

Back to the dinghy and the boat, for a siesta and a trip ashore again to the same pub for their burger night. We left as the band started playing. As the tide fell, the beach was giving way to boulders over which it would have been hard to re-launch the dinghy. Back for the final episode of The Killing – perhaps a little incongruous, watching a Danish murder mystery in an island paradise. Won’t give away who, just in case.

Passage notes: moorings (£15) in great demand and not much room left to anchor if miss one. Shelter very good, except from north.

Beach by the pub on Bryher
Beach by the pub on Bryher

MORE TRESCO AND BRYHER PICTURES

Getting the dinghy read
Getting the dinghy ready on Bryher
Tresco Flats near low tide, looking towards St Mary's
Tresco Flats near low tide, looking towards St Mary’s
Tresco flats near low tide, looking towards our mooring
Tresco flats near low tide, looking towards our mooring

 

St Mary’s and Tresco

Ashore for a walk, and lunch in a pub. Beautiful day, sun shining, children swimming on the golden beaches; what an extraordinary contrast with the day before.

Hugh Town, St Mary's
Hugh Town, St Mary’s

Went to the vicarage’s annual garden fete, a feast of nostalgia, with cakes, ice creams, books stalls, bric-a-brac, raffles, a Punch and Judy, an auction of meals in local restaurants (the bid prices ought to be a useful restaurant guide) and a treat in the shape of a band that recreated hits of the 1920s and 1930s.

The band at the vicarage garden fete
The band at the vicarage garden fete

The band was started after someone found a trunk full of sheet music from the period in an antique shop, and they have learnt to play it – not brilliantly, it has to be said, but well enough to create a delightful time warp that afternoon.

Motored gingerly across Tresco Flats, which dries at  low water, to New Grimsby Harbour, where almost all the buoys were taken. Found one free at the seaward end, near Cromwell’s Castle, and then nearly half a mile ashore for dinner at the New Inn. Great contrast with 15 years ago, the last time the weather allowed us to get into the Scillies while near. Much investment and a move up market from the pub I remember. Fits with other changes on Tresco, where a whole holiday village, also very upmarket, with its own restaurant, has been built by one of the beaches.

We walked over to Old Grimsby Harbour on the other side of the island, past many manicured holiday cottages, with cocktail party talk drifting from wine-sipping holiday makers partying in some of the gardens. (Another Rock?). Extraordinarily pretty, and flowers everywhere.

Old Grimsby Harbour
Old Grimsby Harbour

Made a mental note that Old Grimsby Harbour was an attractive alternative to New Grimsby if we ever came back this way, harbour being an exaggeration – a more accurate description of either would be anchorage.

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The view north from the mooring after sunset

Back to the boat to contemplate the sunset and then the penultimate Killing Series 1 – how out of date can you get.

Passage notes: There are two versions of how to cross to from Hugh Town to New Grimsby Harbour off Tresco in a keelboat, depending who you ask and what you read. When depths are marginal, there is a complicated double dog leg route shown, but most of the time there is a much  simplified version which has a single dog leg between two marks, when approaching Tresco Sound, without a subsequent detour. This was the route the Hugh Town Harbour master suggested. Details of pilotage are in the Cruising Association Almanac, Reeds and the Scillies pilot. Our old copy of the latter showed only the complicated route.

OTHER PICTURES FROM THE DAY

The harbour beach, Hugh Town
The harbour beach, Hugh Town
Tony strolls along the front
Tony strolls along the front

Quiet after the storm – the Scillies

The less said about today the better. One for those who enjoy surfing down the face of very large waves at 14 knots! You wouldn’t believe it from the photo of Hugh Town Harbour in the Scillies, as the sun set. The bad weather started clearing the moment we arrived there in the evening.

One scene that was unforgettable: before the wind got up, it was a night of the brightest phosphorescence, with each breaking wave crest shining like sparklers. Then a troupe of creatures came and played around the boat; or rather we saw fast-moving phosphorescent shapes, leaving behind them trails of underwater sparks with the palest of green tinges. They wove their way past, turned back and turned again, sometimes dropping deep and fading, and then surging to the surface, creating a shower of light whenever they broke through to the air. By the pattern of movement we guessed they were dolphins. What else would have followed a boat in this way?

Passage notes. Log 142, 25 hours, max wind gust NW 8, mostly 6 and 7, min SSE 2, visibility moderate, max wave height 3 to 4 metres, double reefed then reefed genoa only.  Reassuring fact: the North West Passage into the Scillies is a wide and clear entrance in a strong northerly wind, and with GPS or a chart plotter pilotage is easy. It would be far tougher using only bearings, because the marks are hard to make out at a distance in bad weather and there is a sharp turn to the east round the reefs before the approach to St Mary’s.

Just arrived in St Mary's Harbour, Scillies
Just arrived in St Mary’s Harbour, Scillies

Kinsale – leaving Ireland

Ashore for brunch, shopping and a walk up Compass Hill. Pretty views, stone-walled gardens and the imposing Officers Club above the bowling green. There is one large, empty, austere looking building left, which might just have been part of the 23 acre site, but it could equally have been a school, a hospital or a convent. Something to check out another day.

Empty building on Compass Hill, near where the Military Barracks was demolished in1922
Empty building on Compass Hill, near where the Military Barracks was demolished in1922
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The skipper of the day looking pensively at the weather as we head out from Kinsale

Fuelled at the other marina across the river (which ran out of diesel for the next boat) and set off for the Scillies at 1600. A bit of a risk, since we have a forecast of a northerly five to seven for the next 24 hours, veering from lighter mainly southerly winds, but at least it will feel like a downhill ride.

Passage notes: max wind to midnight SSE 4, min SSE 2, visibility moderate, rain, sea state moderate. Rest of notes, see next day.

Jean-Jacques seizes a quiet moment for a cigarette
Jean-Jacques seizes a quiet moment for a cigarette