Windy West Country – August 2020

We might think of August as a month of indolent holiday, high temperatures and long, lazy days.  My experience is that in addition to the aforesaid characteristics, the month is quite capable of throwing up some really bad weather, as the sailors of the 1979 Fastnet found to their cost. So it was in 2020, with storms Ellen and Francis serving up the goods,  causing Spellbinder and her crew to modify their plans.

After our family holiday I had left Spellbinder on a buoy at Mylor marina, and during our absence I had a new stainless steel hoop made for the cockpit canopy,  which has improved things considerably. I also had some minor repairs undertaken to the Furlex foresail furler. I returned a couple of days before the next crew to carry out some minor boat jobs, during which time I hid from Storm Ellen by anchoring way up the Truro river, anchored in thick mud near Malpas. Despite the excellent holding up there, I nevertheless had one sleepless night as the storm passed over, maintaining my own anchor watch from 1100 – 0300 and recording 39 knots over the masthead, even in the shelter of the river.

Crew for the next trip was eldest son Tom and friend Crispin, who had accompanied me three times each during my Atlantic circuit and who know Spellbinder well. I met up with them in Falmouth while anchored opposite the Customs House Quay, a historic anchorage and one of my favourites in the UK, although now sadly increasingly hemmed in by the adjacent marinas.  It was here, for example, that Robin K-J  finished his epic round the world trip in 1969.

With the recent relaxing of quarantine rules for Portugal, we had been fully planning to sail for 4 or 5 days to Oporto, to allow me to sail down to Lisbon and overwinter there. The weather, however, had other ideas and although the decision was a tight one we reluctantly decided that discretion was the better part of valour.  We took our decision over some traditional fish and chips before settling in for the night and heading to Fowey the next day, enjoying an excellent broad reach and enjoying the cruising chute, accompanied by dolphins.



Fine conditions for a short sail up the coast to Fowey

Having been to Fowey a few weeks previously I expected it to be fairly busy, but in the end we were the only ones on one of the pontoons, for which one pays the same mooring fee as a buoy.  Tom and Crispin took the opportunity to run around the wonderful countryside and coastal footpaths which are a feature of this delightful harbour, while I prepared and cooked a BBQ for their return.






Views of Fowey and the coast from a memorable run by Tom and Crispin, and the skipper studiously cooking

Next stop was Plymouth. The storm clouds of Francis were gathering, and we felt it prudent to lock into Sutton Harbour Marina for a couple of days to escape it. We had time, however, to anchor for lunch in Cawsand Bay and to explore up river, heading past Devonport dockyard and poking our noses into the Lynher and Tamar rivers.  The former has a lovely remote anchorage called Dandy Hole, which I have never quite got to and this time, again, the tide precluded us from getting there.  The Tamar bridge is quite fun to sail under, and you are right on the border between Devon to starboard and Cornwall to port as you head upriver.



Heading towards and under the Tamar bridge

We locked into Sutton Harbour without difficulty, nestled right in the corner of it as Storm Francis blew over.



Locking in


A suitable berth for sheltering from high winds

We enjoyed Plymouth, and in particular the area around the Barbican, which has been developed sympathetically in my view.  It was certainly bustling, with most restaurants packed as people took advantage of the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme.

Once the weather had calmed down we sailed round to the Yealm, enjoying a short downwind passage. The weather had improved and we headed by dinghy up to Noss Mayo, where we had an excellent lunch at The Ship. My experience this summer is that many pubs and restaurants have gone overboard on the CV-19 regulations, putting up too many red warning signs and imposing unnecessary rules and regulations, and rather forgetting that from the customer’s perspective it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Others (more enlightened in my view) fully respect the government guidelines but do so in a low-key, undemonstrative way, pretty much mirroring the experience of the status quo ante. The Ship Inn in Noss Mayo is one such laudable institution.


Thank you to The Ship Inn in Noss Mayo for getting it right.  I’m much happier than I look…


Noss Mayo, looking towards Newton Ferrers


Newton creek, looking westwards towards the main river


We spent a pleasant evening with a spectacular sunset with fellow RYS members and then old Army friends who were moored adjacent to us, before saying goodbye to Crispin and heading out the next day towards Salcombe.


Good to have you on board again Crispin, and glad you had time to practise your instrument flying skills on your own portable simulator

The trip to Salcombe was one of the windiest and rainiest short passages I have ever made.  We got soaked, and were sailing in 2 – 3m waves and a F6 gusting F7.  We enjoyed it though, but it took a while as we gybed back and forth and we were grateful to get over the Bar (cf Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem) and into the relatively calm waters of the harbour.


Tom enjoying the helm on a blustery day…


…and while the camera always flattens the waves, a straight ensign is always an indication of a strong wind!

The need to go with the tides had dictated the time of our departure from the Yealm, and typically just after we arrived the rain cleared and the wind abated. We enjoyed a brief walk around Salcombe, having picked a buoy.


Salcombe after the rain had cleared through, overlooking Spellbinder on her buoy

The final destination on this part of the year’s cruise was Dartmouth, and Tom and I enjoyed another rolling downwind passage in the residual swell, which calmed down east of Start Point. We arrived in Dittisham, which we know well having had a house there for several years. It was good to walk around the village, have a pint at the Ferry Boat, and cook a BBQ for the crew of Stardust II, who rafted up and came aboard for the evening.


Looking downstream at Dittisham…


…where we found time to service all 7 of Spellbinder’s winches

Spellbinder will now remain in Dartmouth before her next adventures later in September.




3 thoughts on “Windy West Country – August 2020

  1. Neil

    Your blog brings back many happy memories of places we know well and have enjoyed sailing into. A shame our tracks didn’t cross again this year.


  2. Ian Large

    I did my Yacht Master (Offshore) assessment in Plymouth. The blind navigation was to the Dandy Hole, I also remember a very strong tidal flow under the Tamar Bridge; your pictures brought back memories of an intense 24hour period done on Spring tides!


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