Having arrived in Kiel with Rupert, Paul was my next crew, arriving a few hours after the former had departed. Our aim was to spend a week heading north out of the Kiel Fjord and exploring a few Danish islands en route to Copenhagen.
We managed to extricate ourselves out of the long Baltic box mooring into which we had been placed, and had a good day’s sail north and east, heading to the island of Aerø and in particular a little town called Aerøskøping. Although it rained while we were there, Paul and I enjoyed the sail – his first since our Hebridean and Orcadian adventures of 2021. We also enjoyed a town which has been preserved in its architecture and heritage, and looks much like it did 200 years ago.
Arriving just before the rain, we found the only place open was an Italian restaurant, and some delightful Italians looked after us with some fine pizzas. So much for our introduction to Danish culture! The next morning we took a free bus to the main town Marstal, where little was happening slowly, and waited for the front to pass, the wind to veer and the sun to come out. This it duly did, and we had a very breezy (3 reefs in the main) reach up a narrow channel and across to the old town of Svendborg, where we moored against the town quay. It’s a pleasant town, with a great maritime history, and it attracts tall ships from all around the Baltic region.
We strolled around the town, enjoying its heritage, before eating on board and getting an early night.
Sailing out of Svendborg Sound the following morning was a delight. There was not much wind, but the scenery was almost American, with large houses with lawns leading down to the water’s edge, and private pontoons with large yachts moored for the owners to look at.
Our destination was Femø, an island known for its jazz and women’s festivals, neither of which were taking place when we arrived, sadly. It was our first taste of a small harbour, with enough room, but only just. Parking a yacht is like parking a car in these places – you just pitch up and find a space. Payment is taken on an honesty basis using an app, and as we arrived we saw a very well stocked grocery store just 30 yards from our mooring. We also noted that the one restaurant on the island ran a free taxi service to and from the dock, and we made good use of it, dining in an agreeable old hotel overlooking the northern sound.
After Femø, we had a good long, downwind run under a couple of major road bridges and down and around various channels, ending up at a place called Klintholm on the island of Møn.
Klintholm was another delightful spot, where Paul and I practised our box mooring technique. It was a great pity that the only restaurant was putting on a 7 course gourmet tasting menu, with wines, and that there were a couple of tables unreserved. Paul and I didn’t demur, given that burgers and sausages had been taken out of the freezer for the alternative, on-board option. Highlights were garfish, chicken hearts and nasturtium flowers, white asparagus, crab and some delightful little puddings. The photos tell some of the tale. The chef had won ‘best Danish chef’ before, and we were rewarded by a fine meal with excellent and very friendly service.
Suitably fortified, we headed off early the next day, knowing we had a fair distance to cover to get to Copenhagen, and some head winds. It took a while, and we experienced quite a contrary current, but we managed to find a spot right in the centre of this fine city, in a little quay at Nyhavn. It is bustling as I write – a bank holiday (Whitsun), a carnival atmosphere, and fine weather.
On the way in, we dipped our ensign to the Danish royal yacht; the compliment was rapidly returned.
Thank you Paul, for being such excellent crew. It’s always good to sail with a pilot! Please come aboard again soon.
We loved the Danish islands we visited – all very laid-back, well run, well resourced and informally managed. We were the only Brits seen. Next stop – Sweden!
In 2003 Griff Rhys Jones wrote a book entitled ‘To The Baltic With Bob’, a story of adventure and plenty of misadventure as he sailed his yacht with a difficult crew to the Baltic. I have had this book on board, together with a few others like it, as Spellbinder and I have made our way over the last week to Kiel, from where I write.
After our enjoyable return in April from Lisbon and the Biscay crossing, it was clear that Spellbinder needed a bit of work to fix a few things which had broken. Over three weeks I managed to replace the bent anchor (I now have a 20kg Rocna), replace my main halyard with a new Dyneema one (reassuringly expensive), replace the gas strut in my vang, reseal a leaky hatch and clean up some corroded fittings on my calorifier, as well as sundry other repairs and improvements, including a nice new bin and some very sharp kitchen knives. I won’t go on, but Spellbinder has had some tlc and appears very grateful for it.
I also spent a bit of time attending several events in the Solent – a Hallberg Rassy Owners’ meet at Yarmouth, the Camrose weekend at the RYS, an Ocean Cruising Club Rally in Beaulieu, and the Coronation weekend and Anchoring Meet back at the Castle in Cowes. All three were great fun, and I owe a big thank you to Charles and Caroline for their help and company at the two events in Cowes.
It was nice to be back in the Solent in the early season and we had some fine sailing. The time came, however, to start heading up to the Baltic, and Charles remained on board as we undertook the first leg to Ramsgate, which comprised a motor and occasional sail in light winds.
Charles and I arrived just after dawn at Ramsgate, and I spent a day shopping and readying Spellbinder for her forthcoming trip across the North Sea. I quite liked Ramsgate – it had been a few years since I had last looked in, and although a little shabby and down at heel in places, I detected signs of revival. Smashed avocado has come to town! I also had a drink at the Royal Temple Yacht Club, which has great views over the harbour, and a fine history. I met some of the cruising members and enjoyed chatting to them.
My next crew was Rupert, and he joined me for our North Sea crossing. We left fairly sharply at 0630 to catch the north-going tide, into a lumpy sea which quickly flattened as the wind dropped. It turned into a long motor over a smooth sea – preferable to a bumpy ride in many ways, as the North Sea produced a cold and heavy wind. We negotiated the many obstacles – Traffic Separation Schemes, wind farms (of which there are many) and gas and oil platforms. It has all got quite complicated. After 28 hours we arrived safely in Den Helder, going into a small marina in a Dutch naval base.
We did, of course, have to check in with the authorities and the harbourmaster phoned the immigration police, who came and politely and professionally checked our credentials, stamping our passports. I have yet to get used to this new madness.
After hunkering down for the rest of the day, we were invited on board Hero, one of the other Squadron yachts heading up for the June rally in the Swedish Archipelago. Thank you, William and Susannah, for your hospitality on this and subsequent occasions.
Once the bad weather had passed over, and after a morning stroll around Den Helder, Rupert and I headed out and round to catch the flooding tide to Oost Vlieland. We had a great sail in good winds, and a bit of a bumpy sea, along the Friesian Islands, deep into the country so well described by Erskine Childers in Riddle of the Sands. I have always felt a connection to Childers, as he was much spoken of at school, being the only old boy known to have been shot for treason (by his own country, the Irish Free State). The book is wonderful though, and describes very well the tortuous land and seascapes, with swirling tides, shallow and muddy waters, and treacherous sand banks at the eve of the First World War.
After a good night’s sleep, Rupert and I headed out into German waters, having a good sail in still quite lumpy waves. It was a long day, culminating in a night entry into Norderney, which wasn’t straightforward with quite a sea running over the shallows, rolling Spellbinder about as we came in, and with some of the channel markers unlit. Hero, which had gone in a couple of hours ahead of us, had had quite a challenging time of it. We came in at high water, when things were rather better, but it was still testing.
We slept well (again) and mid morning the next day started another long passage to Cuxhaven, aiming to get into the Elbe estuary as the flood started. It is a long way in, with shallows to the south and a considerable distance to sail before you have a semblance of a river forming. Again, we got in at dusk, and I had a whisky on Hero to discuss the day’s sail and plans for next day. Transiting the Kiel canal was the objective, and we motored out down the Elbe for 15 miles or so and waited for the lock at Brunsbüttel to open. The locks are huge, originally designed to take WWI Dreadnought battleships, and now quite large container ships and tankers.
Once in, it was all very efficient, with little noticeable change in water level, and we were soon on our way up this 98 km canal, with no further locks except those at the other end at Holtenau.
The canal is an impressive feat of engineering, and was completed in the late 19th century, well before the Panama . It was all very easy, if a bit monotonous at times, and we pulled in overnight at Rendsburg.
Rendsburg was very quiet – it was a German bank holiday, and unlike in the UK people weren’t out drinking and eating, We ate well at a marina restaurant and completed our canal transit the next day, arriving at Kiel.
Spellbinder is now moored at Kiel Yacht Club, in a box mooring (not an easy way of mooring, especially in a cross wind) and we met up with the crews of Hero and Atlantis and had a good evening together.
The plan now is to head into Denmark, and explore some Danish islands before heading to Copenhagen to meet Sue next weekend. My new crew Paul arrives imminently.
Thank you, Rupert, for being such good company and crew, being my cultural guide to Germany, and for buying supplies of Baumkuchen and Berliner.
As a slight addendum, and if you are very keen and are still reading this, you may be interested to hear that I was recently awarded the RYS Camrose trophy for the log of my 2022 cruise from Ijmuiden down and around Biscay to Porto. It’s a great honour, and I faced some very stiff competition, but I’d just like to thank all those who came with me along the way, without whom I would not have been able to make it happen.
I much enjoyed keeping Spellbinder in warmer climes this winter – Porto initially, then in Oeiras Marina, Lisbon. It gave us the opportunity to discover both cities and escape the UK weather at a time when it is good to get away. The plan was always to come back to the UK in April, however, and I made plans to sail back, hoping that conditions in Biscay would allow me to do so.
For this trip I was joined by younger son Jonty and by Bruce. Jonty and I arrived ahead to buy food and to prepare Spellbinder, and once Bruce arrived we dined locally at the excellent Charkoal restaurant at the marina. The next day we headed up river to Algés Boatyard, where we lifted out by prearrangement. The boatyard team was very efficient, and there was not much fouling, so after a quick wash off, a change of anodes and a scrub of the propeller we were off again.
We were back in the water at 1130, so motored out of the Tagus river estuary, headed north and found some gentle winds to propel us up the coast. Orca attacks had been a concern, but luckily at this stage of the year the activity is in warmer waters around Gibraltar, and concerns lessened as we headed north.
Our first destination was Peniche, a fishing harbour with a small number of pontoons where we found a berth. It was a relatively short sail and we got used to being aboard again, ensuring everything was working on board. There was not much in town, but Bruce and I had a stroll and a coffee the following morning before we set off again.
Nazaré was our next stop, where I had called in with Charles back in December, coming in at night to take on fuel. We had a good sail up, and arrived with time to explore the town and to eat out very well at a restaurant called Mario do Mar, where the fish was very fresh and expertly cooked and presented. This trip was already proving gastronomic, a feature of most of Spellbinder’s voyages, as the cognoscenti will know.
Nazaré is known for its surf conditions, and we ventured out with caution the next day as the Atlantic swell was predicted to be up to 4 or 5 metres in height. In the end we found a delightful sea, with a fair wind and we progressed up the coast, bypassing Porto and heading overnight and into the next day.
The wind eventually died, and at this stage we had our first real challenge – the main halyard had chafed at the top, bringing down the mainsail. Chafe is an ever-present challenge to the yachtsman, but I suspect that the masthead sheaves have worn, causing undue friction.
We decided to put into Baiona and try and effect repairs. Despite our best efforts raising Jonty to the top of the mast, and dropping a mousing line weighted with some bicycle chain, we couldn’t get a line through, so opted instead to use the topping lift (which normally supports the boom weight) as an alternative. This diversion to Baiona did allow us to enjoy a good night out though, with more excellent seafood.
The next morning brought blue skies, and we sailed out and through the islands of this part of the Spanish rias.
We picked a spot to anchor for lunch, then sailed up through the rocks and around into the Ria Muros, where we found an anchorage for the night at the Enseada de San Francisco.
I had thought that the anchor had bit quite abruptly the night before, and on retrieving it the following morning to start our Biscay crossing, we found ourselves very stuck. Eventually, after attaching a rope via a rolling hitch to a cleat, to stop undue pressure being put on the windlass, we managed to free the anchor, which came up rather bent, sadly.
This slightly inauspicious start to our Biscay crossing was followed by a gentle motor up past the hauntingly-named Costa da Morte, and Cape Finisterre, before heading into Biscay and finding some quite strong easterly winds coming off the bottom of a high pressure system. This gave us some bumpy and wet sailing for a while, with the Hydrovane doing the steering, but allowing us to make great progress.
Lighter winds followed, we dried out, and enjoyed a sail most of the way to Ile d’Ouessant (Ushant) where we came in at night to Lampoul in slightly testing tidal conditions, and a welcoming drizzle, at 0400 in the morning, and picked up a buoy. The crossing of Biscay had taken just over 3 days.
With Biscay behind us, we had to respect the Brexit obligations of checking out of Schengen, so made for Roscoff in some excellent sailing conditions, sailing off our buoy, gybing out and heading east under cruising chute with the tide, making rapid progress.
We motorsailed through the channel south of the Ile de Batz and came into port in time to have a very agreeable supper in one of the marina restaurants, before turning in for the night, somewhat tired after our Biscay adventures.
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast in the same restaurant, we headed over to the Police Aux Frontières to check out. It remains a great pain to get one’s passport stamped, and very old tech, and I await the arrival of a promised electronic version with a fair amount of impatience!
We had time for a final lunch in Roscoff, and to buy more supplies, before we headed out across the Channel for a fabulous reaching sail through the night, arriving at the Needles in time to motor through and ride the tide to Cowes.
After a celebratory Easter breakfast in the Castle at Cowes we headed back to Gosport, to Spellbinder’s berth.
I’m delighted to be home, and now have a couple of weeks to fix various things before Spellbinder’s next adventures, planned for France and the Baltic. It was an excellent 984 nautical mile cruise, all complete by Easter, and in great company – thank you Jonty and Bruce for much intelligent exchange, generous invitations at restaurants, gargantuan amounts of washing up, and such able, calm and willing crewing. It was an adventure to remember, bringing its own challenges, but all the more memorable for them.
At the beginning of the year I planned to sail to Amsterdam, then follow the Continental coast down to Lisbon. The last stage has been rather delayed – the weather through October and November has seen a succession of depressions cross the Iberian peninsula, with little chance of coinciding crew and the right conditions. It’s not just about the wind and the weather – ocean swell plays a big part when heading down this coast, occasionally closing ports for days, and sometimes weeks.
Luckily a short window became available at the end of November, and friend Charles, fresh from an Atlantic circuit of his own, was able to come and join me. We got away from Porto fairly sharply in the morning after our arrival, and immediately the residual swell from a previous depression made itself obvious, with 3-4 metre waves crashing into the harbour walls as we left. Once out beyond the immediate coastline, however, conditions became more stable and we had a good passage down to Nazaré, arriving in the middle of the night and mooring on the fuel pontoon to await its opening. We had not been able to take on fuel in Porto, as the conditions were decidedly heavy at the harbour entrance.
The fuel pontoon was attached to a Shell garage, which opened promptly the following morning, allowing us to refuel and head off into the swell again at dawn. Nazaré is known for its extraordinary surfing, and a big undersea canyon greatly accentuates the waves. The effects were very obvious.
We then headed further south, with conditions becoming calmer. Rounding Cabo da Roca, we headed into the mouth of the river Targus and into the one marina which had offered me a space for the winter (the others were full up).
The Portuguese were very efficient, friendly and easy to deal with, and once formalities were completed Charles and I celebrated this quite challenging 170 NM short passage by eating out very well in one of the marina restaurants. We were also able to give the engine its annual service the next day, and fix an electrical problem which had meant the domestic batteries were not charging properly under engine. Spellbinder is now well settled in a nice marina, and Lisbon – which I have not yet properly visited – awaits us. Thank you, Charles, for making time to come and help me achieve this year’s final sail. Despite some concern, we have also fully transited ‘orca alley’ and escaped any interaction or damage. We were lucky – many yachts have suffered this year.
I had already gained a sense of the Spanish rías when Neil, Clare and myself looked into several on the north coast, east of A Coruña. Some of the best known, though, are on the north west tip of Galicia, and they became the focus of the final part of this summer’s cruise.
Having been back in UK for a couple of weeks generally catching up, Jonty and I returned to Sada marina near A Coruña to find Spellbinder sitting waiting for us, unharmed by the quite swelly conditions to which the marina is prone. Having done a big shop, we headed out to anchor for the night off Ares – a small town with a beach, which gave us a swell-free night and a stroll along the beach and into town.
The next morning we headed into A Coruña itself, berthing in the Real Club Nautico. From there it was a short walk across into town. We wanted to visit the grave of Sir John Moore, a British general who had died while commanding British troops retreating from there in 1809. Sadly the gardens where he lies were shut.
Alastair and Caspar arrived that evening, and we enjoyed some fine tapas in the back streets of A Coruña, before setting off westwards the next morning, into an increasing wind which allowed us to sail at first. We anchored for a brief lunch at the Sisargas islands.
The wind turned on our nose and increased, heralding some expected poor weather, and after a few hours of bumpy motor sailing we came into the Ría de Camiñaras, finding a delightful anchorage just near Muxia marina, where we hunkered down for the night. The following morning we strolled into town in the drizzle, meeting some young people who had walked from France on the Camino de Santiago, arriving at Santiago de Compostela but wanting to finish their walk by the ocean, visiting the chapel which dominates the entrance to the ría.
In the afternoon, with clearing weather, we toured a couple of anchorages in this very unspoilt ría, which in many ways was my favourite.
That evening we headed into Camariñas marina, a slightly dilapidated place. We enjoyed wandering along the quay to see the fishermen unload sardines, and then ate some nice food in town.
Next was Muros. We had a pleasant sail around into this nice ría, passing Cape Finisterre (Cabo Finisterre), a somewhat notorious headland on the tip of NW Spain. We were still getting reports of orca attacks in the vicinity, but stayed quite close to shore and mercifully were not approached.
Pedro, the delightfully efficient harbourmaster at Muros checked us in. We then enjoyed a stroll around the old town and harbour front in the evening and the following morning.
The next ría south, Arousa, was noticeably more built up: this became increasingly the case as we headed down the coast. We had a great sail down, accompanied by dolphins as we approached downwind, then tacking gently into the ría to find an isolated anchorage for the night in its upper reaches. That night we had a fine BBQ.
After a night at anchor we left downwind and threaded our way past off lying islands (Ons and Cíes) towards Baiona, enjoying light airs but finally motoring. We had a brief stop to anchor and swim off the beach at Panjón before heading into the Real Club Baiona, to be met by two very smart uniformed marinieros. It is a fabulously situated club, sitting below a citadel and commanding great views. We strolled around the battlements and into town before heading to the club for one of their famous G&Ts.
We had anticipated eating at the Club but sadly found the service so poor that we headed into town. It’s a pity, as the club has a good reputation. In my experience the one at Gijon was far, far nicer and better run.
We slipped Baiona early the next morning for the long passage down to Porto, having occasionally excellent periods of reaching in offshore winds, but finally motoring in calm seas.
It was a long day sail, ending in a few hours of motoring as the wind died. Our destination was Leixões, the main industrial harbour for Porto and a couple of miles north of the mouth of the river Douro. I chose it as the marina in the Douro is notorious for swell, being more open, and I wanted to find somewhere more secure to leave Spellbinder for a few weeks. We arrived in the early evening, settling down for the night on the reception pontoon.
The main event the next day, sadly, was to watch the Queen’s state funeral. I had been wearing my ensign at half mast for the previous few days, following protocol, so it was all very much on our minds. We set up the laptop and watched the extraordinary event on the BBC, not without emotion.
Once the Westminster part of the occasion was over, we needed a change of scene and so grabbed a taxi into Porto, walking up and down its streets, hiking up to the cathedral at the top and generally taking in the views. I had never been before and found the place intriguing; the river cuts through and the city is built in a ravine.
Back on board, Jonty cooked us mussels before we retired for the night. The next day was about admin: cleaning up Spellbinder, carrying out some minor repairs, and doing a deal with the marina to keep Spellbinder there until the end of next month. They were most amenable and keen to do business.
We took a break from all of this to take Spellbinder round into the Douro to see Porto from the river, which is the best way really.
We had booked a port tasting at Cockburn’s wine lodge in the cool of the evening, and headed there when our work on Spellbinder was complete. We much enjoyed the tour, learning a great deal about the history of port wine making, the way the wine was transported great distances down the Douro river, and how Porto as a city thrived as a result, as well as the English influence.
After the tasting, which was most refreshing, we headed down into Porto and enjoyed the city by night, eating at a good meat restaurant and enjoying the sights and sounds.
And so ended the summer cruise. I have logged 2397 miles this season, and the changing continental coastline has been a pleasure to sail down. I have much enjoyed the contrasts between five countries: the Dutch canals, the bleak Belgian coastline, the beautiful faces of Normandy and North and South Brittany, the Vendée and Gascony, the brutal but stunning north coast of Spain, the wonderful rías of Galicia and finally northern Portugal. Thank you, this time, to Alastair, Caspar and Jonty for accompanying me on this last bit, but more broadly a heartfelt thanks to all my other friends and family who have crewed for me this year. It has been great fun.
Having had a few days meeting up with friends in Armagnac and Cognac country (thank you François and Bérénice, and Neil and Linda for your fine hospitality), and having stocked up accordingly, I dropped my hire car off at Bordeaux airport and met my new crew, Neil and Clare. We returned to Port Médoc by travelling up the marvellous railway line which takes you up the left bank, past stations like Margaux and Pauillac, and got ready for a 24 hour overnight passage to the French – Spanish border.
I had originally planned to cut the corner of Biscay to Gijon, but a strong westerly airflow meant that we had to head pretty much due south, leaving the likes of Bayonne and Biarritz to port. We had a good passage, in brisk winds, close reaching all the way with a fine, moonlit night.
With the Pyrenees appearing in the dawn mist, we arrived at Hondarribia, situated on a river which is shared with the French town Hendaye. I love France, but having spent a fair few weeks reacquainting myself with it, I opted to go to the Spanish side. It is also in the Basque semi-autonomous region, with the locals keen to express their sense of independence, and Basque flags flying everywhere.
Unlike French marinas, Spanish ones always insist on seeing your ship’s documents, insurance details and crew passports. Such formalities complete, we took a well-earned siesta, having just sailed through the night and being a little short of sleep. Adapting to Spanish cultural rhythm was easy – get up late, do something, enjoy a good lunch, have a siesta, do something else, then don’t think about going out until at least 9 or 10pm.
We enjoyed a fabulous first evening, sitting on the main drag of the old town, watching the Spanish promenade up and down and enjoying tapas.
Next stop was San Sebastián. Everybody had told us to go there, and we weren’t disappointed. It’s a magnificent old town, with a big scallop-shaped beach rightly called La Concha and a large statue of Jesus overlooking everything from the top of a castle, perched on the hill above. It is also well known for its gastronomy, which we enjoyed hugely. We had to sit out a couple of days of bad weather here, but what a great place to do so. It was also festival time, which meant nightly fireworks and loud music, which went on late – until 7am, then restarting for breakfast. We didn’t sleep particularly well, but somehow it didn’t matter.
We strolled around the town, took in the cultural activities, visited museums and did some boat jobs and laundry while we waited for the weather to pass. We were squeezed into a tiny berth in a little harbour and felt very snug as it poured with rain, with near gale force winds.
Once the weather had passed over, we left San Sebastián rather reluctantly, having enjoyed it hugely. Heading out into some considerable swell, our next destination was Castro Urdiales, a beautiful town with a church and castle which overlooks the harbour. We arrived at the same time as a yacht race, and anchored in the harbour. A very efficient water taxi service took us to the yacht club, where we checked in and explored the town.
Castro Urdiales was a lovely stop – a vibrant town with a lively yacht club. We would probably have spent an extra day there, but given that we had lost a day decided to head on to Santander.
The coast of northern Spain is not that easy from a yachtsman’s perspective, as it is subject to northerly swell with many of the harbours of refuge having quite narrow entrances. There are also not that many anchorages. One exception is Santander, which is wide and straightforward, with a choice of anchorages which enable you to visit the city (the marina is some distance from it). We initially anchored off a beach, then headed further upriver to anchor off the city centre and its cathedral and to buy supplies.
We headed back to the beach anchorage for an evening walk and a quiet evening. Our walk took us past a sea life park, with penguins, sea lions and seals held captive beside the sea – a slightly sorry and somewhat old-fashioned sight, to be honest.
Ribadesella, our next stop, was challenging. The coastline was changing though, and we were beginning to see the Picos De Europa, a small but beautiful chain of mountains which dominate the skyline. Ribadesella involved coming in between breakers and a beach to starboard, and a harbour wall to port. We negotiated it without difficulty, thankfully, and tied up in the marina to enjoy the views.
After a fruity swim amongst the breakers, we enjoyed the town and its buildings, and had a slightly indifferent meal out, with Neil and Clare somewhat regretting their copious bean stew, and me my voluminous veal steak, having tried to go with local recommendations. The following morning we had to wait for the tide to depart, and I had a plumbing job to fix (poor water pressure). While I changed the fresh water pump and filter, Neil and Clare enjoyed a walk which brought them some great views.
The next morning we headed out and round to continue our journey west. We wanted to visit Ria de Villaviciosa, as it was well reported, and found a narrow entrance with considerable swell on one side, and rocks on the other. It was slightly unnerving but once in, we anchored in a deep pool and had lunch and watched the world go by. There was not much world going by.
Gijon was our destination, a large port and town with a sizeable marina. We arrived quite late, but wandered into town and had a wonderful drink at the yacht club, which overlooks the town. It took a little while to get admitted but in the end our credentials were deemed sufficient and we were allowed in. It’s a great club, full of tradition and with excellent service. The main area outside is shaded by wonderful old tamarisk trees.
After Gijon we left on our journey, aiming for Puerto Cudillero for lunch. It was another narrow entrance, which turns sharply to starboard, but by now the swell had attenuated and it posed no problems. There was a slightly odd buoy arrangement, which we never really worked out, but we attached ourselves for the purposes of lunch and enjoyed the sight of a vertiginous town tumbling down to the harbour. We wished we had more time to explore.
Ribadeo was our destination for the night – a wide river entrance, where you come in under a tall bridge and moor up in the marina. We arrived quite late again, but had time to stroll up the steep streets into the town for a drink. We enjoyed it, but felt perhaps that it was more a means to an end.
The winds were light the next day, and clouds and drizzle had arrived. This part of Spain is very green, and quite unlike the rest of the country. We could see why. We nudged into Viviero, a grand ria which is apparently quite impressive to enter, but we saw little of it in the mist. The pilot book and guides rather big it up – perhaps with reason – but as we anchored off the beach for lunch, and explored the entrance to the marina, we were less than impressed. I will need to go back another time.
Cedeira, on the other hand, we enjoyed. A big wide ria, it narrows then widens again, revealing a large anchorage and a pleasant town, which we enjoyed taking the dinghy into. We found a great bar, met some locals, and even came across another British yacht – the first since La Rochelle! Perhaps it was a bit late in the season; perhaps it’s a consequence of Brexit; perhaps it’s too challenging a coast to cruise.
Our final leg was to A Coruna. After a bit of a lie-in, and a proper cooked breakfast (we needed to use up food) we departed into a light following wind, which was a bit tedious, but in a while we had a better angle on the wind, which had increased. We then had one of our best sails of this leg, with the added bonus of lots of dolphins accompanying us.
On arrival at A Coruna, we berthed with some difficulty in breezy conditions, and then prepared to leave Spellbinder, cleaning up a bit. We strolled locally and I chatted to a French sailor who had had both his rudders chewed off by orcas. This has become a real problem on this coast, only materialising over the last couple of years. Several dozen yachts have suffered damage, and one has been sunk. I hesitate to say that they were ‘attacked’, as it is thought (a view shared by the French sailor) that these are playful ‘interactions’, albeit with harmful consequences. There is debate and argument about precautionary and deterrent measures – they are a protected species – but the advice to lower sails and do nothing clearly doesn’t work. Spellbinder, if approached, will try and take a more proactive approach, while not harming the animals.
Our last evening was an enjoyable one in a local restaurant. Thank you, Neil and Clare, for being such great sailing companions. It was a memorable cruise.
I plan to return to Spellbinder in September, for a trip towards Portugal. Orcas willing.
The mini refit behind us, it was time for Jonty and I to take Spellbinder on the next stage of her travels – down to the south-west Atlantic coast of France. We had a steady start, anchoring in Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight for the night before taking the tide across the Channel to Guernsey, where we anchored behind the Castle in Havelet Bay (so much less faff than going into the marina) and picked up some more fuel, at a most amenable price, from the fuel pontoon in St Peter Port. The crossing had been the first proper outing for the new cruising chute, which has been a joy to use; it is cut a bit higher, improving visibility and performance on a close reach.
After Guernsey we had a quiet sail over to Roscoff, where we checked in with the authorities (a European electronic visa system needs to come soon, as it will make life so much easier for British yachtsmen) and picked up Belle, who had come over on the ferry from Plymouth, and who was to accompany us for the next week or so. We strolled around Roscoff, and had a fine lunch, listening to the local Breton singers.
We left on the tide, aiming to head west towards the tip of north-west France. We negotiated the narrow channel between Roscoff and the Ile de Batz before heading out along the coast. Belle had a bit of a severe introduction to yachting, as we found ourselves motor sailing into quite a swell and it was all quite a roller coaster of a ride. She remained very stoic though, and a few hours later we arrived in L’Aber Wrac’h, a river well known to British yachtsmen as it is a useful staging post. We picked up a buoy to recover and waited a day or so to let the swell die down, before heading round to another river, L’Aber Benoît, for the night.
It was a dawn start the next day to head down through the notorious Chenal du Four and Raz de Sein – notorious in the sense that in poor conditions, or when tides are misjudged, they can be very dangerous. The weather had abated though, and we had a relatively easy passage through, even stopping for a couple of hours to have lunch at anchor off the Ile de Sein, a beautiful island which I had not had time to visit on previous trips.
Once through the Raz de Sein we made for Audierne, where getting to the marina involves heading up a fairly narrow river which is subject to the tides and can present a challenge depth-wise. Once in, however, you are right in the centre of town, where there is an excellent poissonerie and patisserie adjacent to each other all of 50 yards from your berth. We took advantage of both.
The following morning we headed round the Pointe de Penmarc’h, south of which it always seems to me that southern Brittany starts, and better weather begins. After passing the Pointe, we benefited from lovely northerly winds, propelling us gently down the French coast, all the way to the Gironde, much of it under cruising chute.
Our initial destination was Port La Forêt, where Sue arrived from Paris by train. It was lovely to meet up with old friends Yves and Claire, who helped by picking Sue up from the station and by treating us to a fine dinner at their house.
The following morning we left early while we still had tide, anchoring off in the bay before heading to Port Manec’h, another place I had not been to. We explored the Belon River (known for its peculiar oysters and restaurant ‘Chez Jacky’) before anchoring off Manec’h, strolling along the coast and meeting up with friends Peter and Janet in their very similar Hallberg Rassy.
The next morning we had another rendezvous with yacht-owning friends, this time off Doëlan, where Jeremy and Debbie rafted alongside us for an enjoyable lunch. Their new Amel 50 Swyn y Mor is superb, and they have equipped and prepared her beautifully for what they hope is a circumnavigation. As I write this they are well on their way from Brest to Madeira.
After Doëlan we went island hopping – Houat, Ile d’Yeu and Ile de Ré. They are all lovely in their own way. Houat has a lovely beach to anchor off, and is small and accessible to walk around. We met up with RCC friends David and Jill, and Peter and Sandy, who were anchored near us. Yeu is a bit bigger than Houat, but can be easily cycled around in a day. It is wild in places, with lovely beaches and forests. We went into Port Joinville for a couple of nights, meeting more RCC friends William and Susannah on their Hylas 46 Hero, and we biked and walked, spending a final night at anchor off the beach at Anse des Vieilles on the south side. At Yeu we said goodbye to Belle and Jonty.
After a brief stop at Les Sablons d’Olonne, where we picked up Tom, we headed to Ile de Ré. It is larger still, with some amazing and beautiful harbours and villages, Italianate and Mediterranean in parts, and at this time of year heaving with Parisians, as it is joined to the mainland by a bridge. We enjoyed each island in different ways, and I’ll let the photos do the talking.
If you have young children, and want to turn them into French ones, just come here
After Ré we sailed under the bridge linking the island to the mainland, heading into La Rochelle. I had wanted to berth in the Vieux Port, but it was a bit crowded when we went in, so we opted for the huge Minimes marina, taking the solar-powered vedettes up the river and back. We also met our French friends Arnaud and Géraldine, who came with two of their sons for a cup of tea.
We had an early start from La Rochelle, to catch the tide down past the Ile d’Oléron and into the Gironde estuary. It was a fantastic eight hour sail, using a variety of sail combinations and using the engine just at the beginning and end. We found our way into Port Médoc, just at the mouth of the estuary, where Spellbinder will remain for a few days, as Sue and Tom fly back, and before Neil and Clare arrive. Here we have been royally looked after by old French friends Christophe and Virginie, and their daughter and grandchildren.
It was a great passage down the French west coast. Now for Spain…
The last time Spellbinder was lifted out of the water was in 2017 – 5 years ago. Since then, I have regularly dried her out between tides to clean her hull with a pressure washer, to change the prop anodes and service the prop – all that has been required, given I have Coppercoat long-lasting epoxy anti foul applied. There have been a number of small jobs accumulating though, and I took the opportunity in July – when boatyards are usually at their quietest – to get them done. I did this at Hornet Services Sailing Club, using the services of the excellent shipwright Barry. This is a bit of a yacht owner’s post, and less about my travels, but please forgive the indulgence!
The first job was to change the anchor chain. Over time, it loses its galvanised surface and as it lies in an invariably wet and salty locker can begin to corrode. Mine was original (2006) and had seen a lot of action, and it was probably ok, but the part which spends most of its life at the bottom of the locker was getting distinctly rusty. I spend a lot of time at anchor and so didn’t want to trust my and Spellbinder’s existence to it, so after some research I found a 75m lot of new 8mm chain which I used to replace the old, with new shackles duly moused on (this means securing the shackle pin with wire to stop it unscrewing), and the chain marked at 10m intervals with luminous para cord.
Next Barry started to repair some minor scratches and dents in the gel coat, which had accumulated over the years and which needed attention. First the bow, where occasionaly the anchor had swung down and nicked the hull. Once the gel coat was repaired, 5 new layers of Coppercoat were applied – it starts its life copper brown, but in contact with seawater gradually turns green.
Next was the keel. Crew members Alan and Neil will remember a sandbank in Martinique which Spellbinder settled on for a while, owing to her skipper’s momentary navigational ineptitude. While it was not a serious grounding, we did scrape off some of the Coppercoat while getting off the sandbank, and there has as a consequence always been a bit more fouling there. Barry fared off the bottom of the keel, made repairs and reapplied the anti foul.
Next was the rudder. Crew David, Johnny and Lucy may recall a wall in Nelson’s dockyard Antigua, to which we were moored stern to in 2018. There was a lip which crunched a small bit of the rudder – nothing serious, but a small repair was needed.
The next job for Barry was a bit of the toe rail, which I managed to bash in windy conditions at the sea lock at IJmuiden earlier this summer. It was a bit unsightly but this was small task for the traditional shipwright, gluing in a small teak off cut and faring it to blend in with the remaining toe rail. He did a beautiful job.
The final one for Barry was to replace the stern seal. This is a rubber flange which prevents water ingress where the prop shaft leaves the hull. Mine was several years old, and in theory – particularly if your engine prop is slightly misaligned – they can wear and need replacement. I did have a spare on board from the previous owner’s time, but we discovered it was the wrong size and so a new one was bought and installed.
Once done. it was time for the lift back, and Spellbinder’s onward travels.
While this work was going on, I had set in place two new items for replacement. Firstly, Kemps sailmakers have made me a replacement cruising chute to replace my old one. Using the old furler, they made it in bright orange, which is great for other vessels to see from far off, and also gives the teak a pleasing glow in sunlight, which I had not expected. We trialed it crossing the Channel this week, and it is excellent. Slightly higher cut than its predecessor, it handles easily and is a joy to sail with.
I have also treated myself to new cockpit cushions. The old ones rubbed against the wheel, and were grubby and losing their springiness. Comfort Afloat in Gosport made me new ones, with cut outs for the wheel and piped in grey against dark blue. I’m pleased with them. I have also purchased two seats, inspired by my ocean-crossing mentees Charles and Caroline, who have them in their yacht Caris. My crew should be more comfortable henceforth. Eagle-eyed regular crew will also spot that I have finally solved my mug-holding dilemma, and have found just the thing on Amazon for the compass pedestal.
Spellbinder is now on Phase 2 of her summer travels, heading to Southern Brittany and a leisurely cruise down to La Rochelle, Bordeaux and the Spanish coast.
In the last couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to take part in my yacht club’s cruise of Northern Brittany, from Trébeurden to Saint Malo. We had about 90 members spread across about 25 yachts, and had some very good sailing and a very sociable time. Crew for this period were Johnny and Lucy, and we were joined by François for a couple of days in the middle, and son Jonty at the end.
After welcome drinks and a dinner at Trébeurden, we lost a day of exploring the local islands to bad weather, but made the most of it by walking in the surrounding hills and hiring electric bikes, some of us getting a bit wet. Once the poor weather had passed, we headed out to a quiet anchorage in calm weather in Lannion Bay.
The next day we sailed to Tréguier, enjoying a fine beat along the coast, nipping back out from time to time into the Channel to avoid the rocks, until we entered the long river which winds its way down inland. It is a pretty tidal place, and you ideally need to arrive at slack water to make mooring easier.
Once moored, we explored the beautiful town with its Cathedral and market square, and went on organised visits of the local Kerdalo gardens and beautiful Chateau de Roche Jagu, where we had a drinks party.
After Tréguier we headed out to the Ile de Bréhat, anchoring for lunch at the north west end of the island (La Corderie) before heading down the Kerpont Channel to La Chambre, on the south side, from where we enjoyed a long walk around the beautiful island.
We much enjoyed strolling around the island on what was a beautiful day. Like Sark, it has no cars and so is peaceful and seemingly far removed from the mainland.
The next day we undertook a timed passage to Fort la Latte, aiming to win on handicap. Sadly, like many of the competitors, we left too late, having aimed to make the most of stronger winds and fairer tides forecast for later in the morning, with the former not appearing. We arrived 15 minutes after the cut off time, but anchored briefly below the castle to drop off François before heading into Saint Cast. We had planned a group picnic in the castle grounds but sadly the conditions to anchor became untenable.
After a breezy and somewhat bumpy night on the outside visitors’ pontoon of Saint Cast, we headed over to the Ile de Hébihens for a generous party at the house of one of our French Members. The views were delightful, and we were royally hosted, as I hope the photographs show.
The final part of the cruise took us to Saint Malo, where we dressed overall to mark the end of the French part of the cruise, and headed out to another French Member’s house to drinks, then a final dinner in a local restaurant.
Jonty came on the ferry from Portsmouth for the final festivities, and Johnny and Lucy left on the morning ferry after them. We had a final invitation to take up from other French friends who invited us to their house overlooking the Rance to play boules, which ended up being very competitive!
Having checked out with the French border police the previous day, Jonty and I headed through the Saint Malo lock the next morning, flying the Parasailor in light tail winds all the way to Guernsey, where we had a final dinner with Members for heading back to UK.
We had a fine time in Southern Brittany. Thank you Johnny and Lucy, and François for being such delightful crew and for coping with various plumbing issues which rendered life a bit complicated at times! Spellbinder is now having some work done to her, and getting a new cruising chute and cockpit cushions before heading off to Southern Brittany later in July.
The last couple of weeks has seen Spellbinder go from one rally to another, progressing down the Continental coast from Belgium to Brittany.
The first rally was that of the Hallberg Rassy Owners’ Association (HROA), of which I have the honour of being Vice-Commodore. The HROA fleet had left a few days before, and I motored round from Vlissingen to Zeebrugge to meet them as they arrived. We were almost 20 yachts, of various sizes, and while I was sorry not to join them for the their onward rally up the Dutch canals (whence I had come) I had an enjoyable 48 hours with them, hosting a pontoon party along with the Dutch and Belgian equivalent organisation (HR Connectie) and then partaking in the welcome dinner at the Royal Belgian Sailing Club.
An early morning start was then called for to catch the tide down to Dunkirk, where I was to meet my next crew Crispin. It was a bit bumpy, but I was leaving the port at around 5am when the sun rose.
It was a bit of a motor, but a few hours later I entered Dunkirk – another first for me. Having changed my courtesy flag from Belgium to France I tied up at the Yacht Club Mer du Nord, and started to re-acquaint myself with French food.
Crispin arrived later that evening, having taken the Eurostar to Lille and a local train, and we set off to have dinner and to explore Dunkirk. It clearly suffered during the war but some key buildings survived or were re-built. It is not the prettiest of places though, and had the sense to me of a bit of a French outpost.
A rather splendid depiction of this year’s Tour de France route
We ate well, and retired early as we had a 30 hour passage ahead of ourselves, crossing the Baie de Seine to Cherbourg. Up at 0400, we had a good sail initially past Calais and Boulogne but the wind died, as predicted, and we had a long and very sunny motor across some very calm seas.
It was time for a couple of boat jobs, and I re-ordered my courtesy flags and found some useful steps (Sue has long complained that it can be a bit of a step up to climb aboard) before Crispin and I headed out into town in order to find somewhere to eat.
Alas my two favourite restaurants, Le Pommier and Au Tir Bouchon had closed in the four years since I had been to Cherbourg but we found the long standing Café de Paris to be wholly up to the job.
The following morning we awaited the tide to go round to Guernsey, enjoying the sights of the dinghy classes and fishing boats coming in and out.
To get to Guernsey means crossing the Alderney Race, which sends you sideways at 8-10 knots, meaning you have to crab across in order to stay on course. Even with modern chart plotters it is quite a challenge. We did however achieve it reasonably easily, coming into Guernsey in the early evening, having managed a bit of a sail under cruising chute, until alas it ripped and gave up the ghost for a final time. A new one is on order.
We had an early night, as our neighbours were leaving at 5am and we needed to be up to see them off.
We filled up with diesel before sailing out in company with fellow Squadron yacht Speedwell of Cremyl, heading to Trébeurden to join the Royal Yacht Squadron Brittany cruise. Tides are all important along this stretch of the coast, and with a tidal difference of 9 metres we had to time our arrival and entrance quite carefully. Once achieved, we wandered around this lovely port and awaited the arrival of the remaining fleet. Thank you, Crispin, for accompanying me on this long delivery passage.
Sue and I had an excellent couple of days exploring Amsterdam on foot and bike, including memorable visits to the Rijksmuseum and Tulip museum, and some great people watching while eating and drinking beside the canals. We then departed to take the Standing Mast Route (SMR) south from the city. The SMR, as its name indicates, allows a yacht to pass through the canal system without having to lower her mast. There are a series of lifting bridges and locks which allow one to do this.
After returning to the Nordseekanal we headed first west then south, aiming to spend the first night in Haarlem. We soon got used to the routine – most bridges are ‘on demand’, and when they see you come (or when you call them) the lights change to red and green, indicating that they have seen you and will open shortly. There is then typically a bell, the traffic is stopped, and the bridge opens. It is all done very efficiently. Some only open at certain times of day (particularly if they are part of a motorway or mainline railway) or shut during rush hour, so some degree of planning and waiting is required.
Haarlem was lovely. We arrived in the early evening, and managed to find a slot very near to the town centre. The beauty of Dutch towns is in some way directly related to the degree to which they suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe – Haarlem and Leiden, in particular, were largely spared, like Amsterdam. The architecture is splendid – small brick construction, beautiful asymmetry in roof lines, neat gardens and flower pots everywhere, and cobbled streets and large and ornate old buildings.
After an evening stroll around beautiful Haarlem, we retired for the night and in the morning headed to Leiden, another stunningly beautiful town, in which again we were lucky enough to find a mooring right in the centre.
We strolled around the Botanic gardens, which were a sort of mini Kew, full of tropical plants in greenhouses and interesting garden designs. Leiden is a university and very multicultural town, and we heard much English spoken.
The next day we were lucky enough to meet up with Sue’s old friend Bijan, who lives in The Hague. He took us to his house, and we enjoyed a day on bikes, having lunch by the sea and enjoying The Hague’s cobbled streets and administrative buildings. It was fascinating and enjoyable – thank you Bijan. We learnt a great deal.
After two great days at Leiden we continued our journey south, stopping for the night just north of Dordrecht at a small marina at a place called Alblasserdam. This was nearest to the Kinderdijk, a UNESCO site renowned for its old windmills. We were able to hire a bike and had an enjoyable morning touring the old mills, which are beautifully aligned along a dyke. Some are thatched and inhabited.
Sue enjoying the sights
Continuing our journey, we had a bridge to wait for in Dordrecht, so we found a small pontoon right in the centre to go and have an ice cream and explore.
After Dordrecht we crossed over to Willemstad, a beautiful old fortified village, with two marinas which nestle in the marshes below the ramparts. We enjoyed a great walk around the latter, and the ambiance of the place, where we were to leave Spellbinder for a few days to head back to the UK to sup up the atmosphere of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
I returned to Rotterdam after the weekend to take Spellbinder down to Vlissingen, and on to Zeebrugge where I was to attend a rally. This part of the voyage took me via Middelburg, another beautiful town where I was able to moor in the middle of town. I had a very rainy day to get there though, passing through massive sea locks and bridges.
In the morning I climbed the 205 steps of the Lange Jan (Long John) tower of the Koorkerk at Middelburg, which was good exercise and afforded great views of the countryside around, and of the remainder of the canal trip south. The town is interesting – it was partially destroyed in the war, but rebuilt using modern materials, but in a traditional style.
The final bit of the journey was south to Vlissingen, or to give it its traditional British name, Flushing. To do this you join a ‘blue wave’ of yachts all going at the same time at predetermined intervals, enabling the bridges to have synchronised openings. In practice it was Spellbinder and Frenchman in a small boat, and we had to wait a while. On arrival I hired a bike again and explored Vlissingen – an industrial port, with a fishing and ship building industry, but with a beautiful old centre. I had heard of Flushing, like many British schoolchildren, because that is where the children ended up in Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea.
And so ended Spellbinder’s Dutch adventures for the year. It has been hugely enjoyable. The Netherlands works – we saw nothing but integrated infrastructure, immaculate streets and gardens, and people who seem healthy, happy and anglophile. We didn’t see it all, of course, but what we saw was fabulous. Next stop – Normandy and Brittany, more familiar cruising grounds.
Having got to my mid fifties I consider myself to be well travelled, having spent time in many corners of the globe. Rather embarrassingly though I have yet to set foot in three major European cities – Venice, Amsterdam and Dublin. I had hoped to change the situation with the latter during my cruise last year, but the Irish were still imposing a Covid-related quarantine. This year, for various reasons, I decided to start my summer cruise by turning left out of Portsmouth and heading up the European North Sea coast to IJmuiden, with the express intention of visiting Amsterdam.
Crew for the passage were the duo with whom I crossed the Atlantic in 2018 – Alan and Neil. We were joined by friend Sean, gathering at Itchenor in Chichester Harbour where Spellbinder had been at a rally. Once gathered, we anchored out and got an early night, anticipating several days of sailing ahead, with quite brisk following winds.
First stop was Eastbourne Harbour, which we arrived at after a fairly uneventful downwind leg with light winds at first, allowing us to fly the cruising chute.
Once safely in, we plotted our next day’s route along the coast, planning to turn south before Dover to cross the busy shipping lanes at right angles and going into Calais. Sadly events meant a change to our plans, as Alan received news about a bereavement in his family and we headed to Dover to drop him off. Dover is currently closed to yachts for marina renovations, but they were understanding and allowed us to do a quick in and drop off, at the very pontoon where in calmer conditions asylum seekers are routinely landed, having been intercepted trying to cross from the French coast.
Once Alan had been dropped off we had a short and quite bumpy crossing to the French side in that worse of all sea states – residual swell and little wind. We got into Calais at last light, thinking that we might have to spend the night on a buoy outside the marina, but the bridge opened (automatically we think) letting us into the marina for the night.
Brexit has complicated matters for us yachtsmen, as in common with other travelers with UK passports we now require a stamp to start a clock which limits us to a 90 days stay in every 180 days. Calais didn’t seem in that much of a hurry to help us, and since we hadn’t left the environs of the marina we decided to immigrate at the next destination, Zeebrugge.
It was a fairly quick passage up the French coast, past Dunkirk and Ostend, with strong following winds which we were glad to gain shelter from as we rounded the big entrance.
Having arrived safely we phoned immigration and they promptly arrived at our pontoon to stamp passports and ask us various questions. I didn’t sense they were impressed with this new workload imposed by Brexit. We were able to head out and enjoy an excellent dinner at a nearby fish restaurant but didn’t have time for an extensive tour. I am returning there in a couple of weeks’ time, and hope to go through a bridge which takes one to Bruges, a few miles inland.
The final leg was up to IJmuiden, some 81 miles, but we decided to cut it a bit short by heading into Scheveningen, a small port adjacent to The Hague. It was blustery again, as I hope the photos below show, and we were pleased to get into what proved to be a very crowded little marina, raising our third courtesy flag of the trip (after the French and Belgian ones).
IJmuiden, and the entrance we wanted into the Netherlands inland waterways, was 24 miles north, and we had a boisterous 3 hour fast beam reach up the coast the next day, leaving a crew member or two slightly green. Once into IJmuiden we headed straight for the small lock (there are several big ones) which allows entry into the Nordseekanal, the canal which leads to Amsterdam.
It is a busy 24km into Amsterdam, and you have to monitor VHF traffic carefully. We met lots of different types of craft, including huge container ships and several other yachts. Once into Amsterdam though we found a berth at the main marina, from where we have been able to explore the city.
The plan is to head south now through the Standing Mast Route over the coming few days. I leave you with a few photos of this beautiful city and some of its cultural attractions and interests.
I am delighted to announce that the 2023 CA Imray Almanac will feature Spellbinder at anchor in Tinker’s Hole last summer.
I can’t recall whether it was I who took the photo, or my then crew Crispin, but I entered the photo in a competition as I liked it. Clearly others did so too! It certainly brings good memories of a fine cruise up in Scotland last year. Spellbinder is the yacht in the foreground, but we got to know the crews of the others too, and shared much merriment.
Spellbinder is in good shape after the winter and just needs a hull scrub before being ready for the season. I took her to Cowes last weekend and all seems fine. Apart from servicing the engine and undertaking some minor repairs I have not done much to her, other than to replace her carpets. A local firm (non yacht industry and therefore reasonable in price) copied her old ones and I am very pleased with the result – the blue seems to suit her.
Plans for the 2022 season are coming on well. I’ll be sailing locally in April and May, but plan to head to IJmuiden in late May to spend time in Amsterdam and the canals. The rest of the summer sees a gentle cruise down the French coast to Northern Brittany, a return to UK for some maintenance, then Southern Brittany and the Spanish rias beckon later on.
I have crew in place for the legs but there some berths available for those with whom I’ve sailed and who have not yet been able to commit.
Spellbinder is put away for the season – still in the water, but with a heater and dehumidifier keeping her warm and dry. If we get a period of mild and calm weather I do not exclude taking her out, but having been regularly wet and cold in my professional life, I now limit the numbers of occasions when I impose it on myself! After returning from her main cruise, she sailed locally, including down to Weymouth and back under parasailor, which was memorable.
I have just written up the 2021 season and reviewed the statistics for my log book: 2755 nautical miles, and 79 days on board. Not bad, given that at the turn of the year we were in lockdown and I was wondering if we’d get any sailing at all. My old log book, which records a first entry in 1995, also reveals that I have sailed 35821 miles and spent 855 days of my life (2.3 years) sailing! This is clearly not enough…
My main cruise of this year, which I have entitled ‘Picts, Celts and Manx: a Tour of the Four Nations’ was immensely enjoyable. It was good to get up to the Outer Hebrides and Orkney, to transit the Caledonian Canal and to spend time revisiting Northern Ireland and exploring the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast. Lundy and Padstow, new to me, were fitting places to pass through on the way back. I also found it fascinating to see how different parts of UK viewed Brexit, and how each of the devolved governments were dealing with Covid. For those interested, I have written an abridged account of the cruise, which includes the best photos, here:
Plans for 2022 are coming together. I expect to sail locally in April and May, perhaps hopping over to Cherbourg if conditions (meteorological and pandemical) allow. Around 23rd May I intend to sail to the Netherlands, joining a Hallberg Rassy Owners’ Rally, before sailing down the Continental coast to join another rally in Northern Brittany in late June. I then plan to head back to UK, lift out for a couple of weeks for some maintenance and repair (a new cutlass bearing and sea cock, some touching up of the Coppercoat and a small rudder repair) then head back to France, probably to Southern Brittany. I have wanted to explore the Spanish Rias and overwinter in Porto or Lisbon for the last couple of years, so perhaps 2022/3 will afford me that opportunity.
I will be emailing regular crew in the coming weeks, but if any other reader would like to be involved, do please contact me.
Recent days have seen Spellbinder negotiate some well known and notorious passages between the Welsh mainland and outlying islands – namely The Swellies, and Bardsey, Ramsey and Jack Sounds. I recounted our passage through the first in the last blog post, and having left Caernarfon and negotiated its bar, Bardsey Sound was the next. Thankfully these passages rarely present a problem in calm conditions (strong wind against tide being the real danger) but even so Bardsey kicked up some broken water and pushed us through rapidly, with 5 or 6 knots of tide helping us.
One of the advantages to writing this blog is that every now and again someone gets in touch and says ‘I’m around where you are – let’s meet’. And so it was I got a message from Ian, who invited me to call by on the way down. Once through Bardsey Sound, we paused at anchor for a cup of tea in Aberdaron Bay, before taking up Ian’s invitation to meet him and his family at Abersoch, known locally as ‘Cheshire on Sea’. We sailed past an island now owned by Bear Grylls, and the harbourmaster allocated us a buoy. Ian picked us up in his RIB and we had a couple of drinks at the welcoming South Carmarthenshire Yacht Club before having a delightful pierrade / raclette at the family house. Thank you Ian and your family for such a welcome and for all your advice.
The next morning was an early one, as we needed to get cross Cardigan Bay and get to Ramsey Sound with a fair tide. This summer, apart from the initial delivery trip, Spellbinder hasn’t sailed at night, and we have kept to quite civilised schedules, but this time we had no choice. It was a nice sail across, and once in Ramsey Sound we hit the tide at the right time, recording 12.8 knots Speed over Ground (SOG), as the chart plotter records below.
Our destination was Solva, a delightful inlet and drying harbour not far from St David’s. We anchored outside in the calm northerly breeze, and went ashore by dinghy to explore one of the nicest corners of Wales I have been to.
After a slightly rolly night (the wind had got up in the night) we sailed away and through the next tidal gate – Jack Sound, which separates Skomer Island from the mainland. Again, conditions were benign and we were able to pass through without much difficulty.
Destination this time was Lundy, and we had a fair breeze once clear of the Milford Haven peninsula, and a cracking sail across. As the winds were in the east, we used the lesser-known but rather spectacular anchorage at Jenny’s Cove, on the west side. This brought us shelter and relative calm, but shore access is described in the pilot book as ‘difficult’. Undeterred, we rowed ashore, dragged the dinghy up the rock face to above the high water mark, and clambered up the cliffs and heather to attain the level of the plateau, from where we walked south down to the main settlement on Lundy.
We had a look at the eastern anchorage (which was deserted) and church, and had supper in the pub, the Marisco Tavern.
The walk back brought us further fine views as the sun set against a clear blue sky in the west.
We clambered back down the cliffs, found our dinghy and paddled back as it was getting dark. Waking in the morning to more swell, we headed away south east, aiming for Padstow and taking advantage of the morning ebb.
Arriving too early to cross the Doom Bar in the River Camel, we anchored off Polzeath Beach, which was seething with humanity in the fine weather, with RNLI lifeguards issuing regular tellings off and advice over their loud tannoys, reminding me of how I would most not like to spend my holidays.
At High Water minus 2.5 hours we weighed anchor, and headed with the flood tide over the famous bar and into Padstow Harbour, which opened shortly after our arrival. We were allocated a space on the wall, and chatted to the harbourmaster who decried the people thronging around, who ‘would normally be in Benidorm’. It was certainly busy, and I couldn’t help noticing that even Rick Stein’s café was closed for want of staff.
We left the next morning, having had a quiet night when the crowds had dispersed. There then followed a long motor around Cornwall, passing Land’s End and Lizard in calm conditions, before arriving in Falmouth to anchor in the town anchorage at dusk, after 14 hours.
Spellbinder is in Falmouth for an Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) meet, and I will leave her here here next week while I wait for the easterly wind to abate. It brings fine weather, but is not conducive to heading back up the English Channel…
Having enjoyed the Clyde, I headed home for a while before returning to take Spellbinder to the Isle of Man, single-handing. I am a sociable sailor by nature, but I do enjoy the odd spot of single-handing from time to time, as I get time to think and organise things. It is also a good challenge which requires one to think ahead and get everything ready, particularly for the first and last 200 metres of any passage, which are often the hardest. It also requires one to be scrupulous about personal safety – I always wear a life jacket which carries a Personal Locator Beacon.
It has also been a tough week for those of us who have served in the Armed Forces. The news coming out of Afghanistan is truly dreadful for those who have been involved in the country, and particularly for those traumatised by their experience there. I was pondering all this while listening to England folding against India on the last day of the fine test match at Lords; it was not a good day.
I was glad to be aboard though, and had a good sail from Ardrossan to Loch Ryan, where I arrived at dusk and passed a quiet night at anchor. I thought I was going to be the only yacht there, but two arrived just after. It’s a classic passage anchorage, albeit one which suffers wash from the ferries heading to the island of Ireland. I left just after dawn, catching the early southerly back eddy which runs down the Mull of Galloway, which spat me out nicely in the direction of the Isle of Man as a good sailing wind built. I arrived in Douglas without incident, being placed on the quarantine pontoon while my credentials were checked. I had had to email proof of double vaccination beforehand, and gain various reference numbers and permissions.
Thankfully the berth was an easy one to access, and I tucked in without difficulty. It had been a long day; single-handing, at least in coastal waters, is far more tiring, as you never really get a break.
I had a couple of days to explore the Isle of Man, of which I knew little other than its constitutional status, tax efficient arrangements and TT race. On the first day I took a steam train from Douglas to Port Erin over on the west side of the island, which was an enjoyable trip washed down with a pint and a pie in a local pub.
The next day I hired a car from the airport, and drove around the island in a clockwise direction, some of it on the TT circuit (but at somewhat more modest speeds). Below are a selection of places I visited.
I enjoyed my tour of the island, but had a sense – as one gets in the Channel Islands at times – of stepping back in time a little. I would not describe the island as very obviously flourishing, and I did wonder quite how much of its apparent wealth trickles down to the general public good.
My departure was timed for a fine northwesterly breeze which set me on course for Whitehaven, where I was to meet Sue and pick up Jonty, with is crewing for me as we return Spellbinder down south.
I had a good fast sail, broad reaching in a force 4/5 over six hours, and Sue helped me lock in and get a berth. Joined by Jonty a couple of days later, we locked out and headed for Anglesey, and had a long 13 hour motorsail, through wind farms and past gas drilling rigs.
We made it into the Menai Strait past Puffin Island, just as dusk was falling, and we picked up a buoy at Beaumaris. A rainy but otherwise quiet night followed, before we tackled the notorious Swellies.
With The Swellies behind us, we continued down the Strait to Caernarfon, where we went into the Victoria Dock marina and explored the town with its Edward I castle.
Spellbinder’s journey south continues, and I hope in the next week to visit various points on the Welsh coast and also Lundy and Padstow, before getting to Falmouth at the end of the month.
The last few days have seen us explore the relatively sheltered waters of the Clyde, in some fine weather. When the waters west and north of the Mull of Kintyre can be rough and tidally constrained, the Clyde, benefiting from the Mull and the various mainland peninsulas, is often calm by comparison. In recent years marinas and buoys have proliferated, which has made life easier in some respects, but there are still many places where you can get away from it all and anchor. Compared to the waters of southern England, there are far fewer yachts.
Sue and I were joined by Johnny and Lucy, and together we set off from Ardrossan and anchored for the night off the island of Little Cumbrae by its castle. After a calm night, not far from a seal colony, we headed over its sister island Great Cumbrae and moored at Millport for a stroll around the island.
After a cup of tea with the crew of another Squadron yacht we headed up East Kyle, one of the passages around the Isle of Bute. We passed through the very beautiful Burnt Islands before anchoring in behind Eilean Dubh, in Caladh Harbour.
The next morning the girls went for a walk, and Johnny and I sailed down West Kyle and joined them in the purpose-built Portavadie, where we had a celebratory birthday lunch for Sue.
We then decided to head up Loch Fyne, one of the typically long sea lochs which stretch right up into the mainland. Passing through the Narrows, we continued on and found a settled anchorage in Loch Gair for the night.
Our aim the next day was to get to Inveraray, near the head of the loch. Its well-known castle is the seat of the Duke of Argyll – the current incumbent is the 13th – and it made an excellent visit after we had strolled past and taken in the views from the surrounding hills.
We then tried to anchor at the head of the loch, but finding the depths and holding uncertain, went back to one of the buoys off Inveraray for the night.
Having had northerly winds up to now, our passage back south meant we could deploy the cruising chute, and while the speeds weren’t great, the weather was fine and we enjoyed a gentle sail down the loch to East Loch Tarbert.
East Loch Tarbert is a beautiful sheltered port, where a new marina jostles alongside the fishing port, shops and restaurants surround, and hills and islands provide the required shelter.
The crew enjoyed the facilities and we filled up our water tanks before heading out and down the loch and around to Brodick, where we picked up a buoy and went for a long walk down to the point at which Lamlash and Holy Isle were visible.
That evening we were taken out by Johnny and Lucy to the Brodick Brasserie, which was excellent. Thank you both!
I had been to Holy Isle a fortnight ago with Crispin, but hadn’t had time to climb up to the top. We took the opportunity the next day, in fine weather, and having anchored by the shore much enjoyed the climb and consequent views.
Our final evening was back at Brodick, in calm conditions and warm sunshine. It’s a delightful spot, dominated by Goat Fell above.
Our final sail back to Ardrossan saw the wind climb to a heady 14 knots, and we enjoyed a good sail back. It was a great week of exploring, and we were blessed with the weather. We sailed each day, despite the calm conditions. We could have spent all summer there though, as there are may places to explore. I’ll be back. Thank you Johnny and Lucy for being such great crew!
The passage south begins in a few days, and I hope to be back on the south coast by the end of August. Crew who have sailed with me recently will be pleased to hear that Spellbinder now has a new autopilot and wind instrumentation, and all is working fine!
Neil and Clare arrived shortly after Crispin’s departure, and enjoyed a day in Belfast before we left the following morning. The Titanic Centre is excellent and gives a real picture of life in the docks in their heyday at the beginning of the 20th century.
Our first destination was Portpatrick, across on the Scottish side of the North Channel and on the exposed Mull of Galloway. Fortunately conditions were fair and we negotiated the tides to arrive in this charming harbour and tie up against the wall.
Portpatrick was remarkable for its neatness and sense of community spirit; the harbour is owned and run by the community itself, and staffed by volunteers. Good things abound – floral displays, information boards, helpful signage and facilities and so on. Also remarkable were the guillemots, which inhabit the holes in the harbour wall and feed off the little fish which seem to abound. Their acrobatics were a joy to watch and occasionally they would miss their nest and rebound of the wall, falling in the water or onto our deck.
We strolled above the town, visiting the ruins of Dunskey Castle, then settling down somewhat more prosaically to watch the football.
We then debated whether to head back to Northern Ireland, or go to the Isle of Man. We had filled in our proof of vaccination forms for the IoM, and the very efficient system gave us permission to enter, but on investigation learned that we must first land in Douglas, rather than Peel, which would have made for a longer journey. The winds were fairer for a re-crossing of the North Channel though, so we aimed for Strangford Lough and had an excellent cruising chute run most of the way there.
I had visited the Lough before by land, but coming in by sea is quite spectacular. The tides race through the Narrows between Portaferry and Strangford and timing is all. We registered some quite impressive speeds as we slid through and headed north up the Lough.
We aimed for a little inlet where Down Cruising Club have their pontoon and clubhouse, which is an old light ship. Unable to land on their pontoon owing to Covid restrictions, a friendly member lent us their buoy for a couple of nights and we enjoyed pausing in a very tranquil and beautiful environment, walking and kayaking and chatting to the locals. We were also joined by Charlie, an old friend and work colleague.
We headed out and picked up a buoy (kindly lent to us by another Down Cruising Club member Ivan) nearer the Narrows, in Ballyhenry Bay, where we had a BBQ and a quiet night, before heading out in the dinghy to explore Portaferry and Strangford itself. The latter was more picturesque, and we enjoyed a good lunch at the Artisan cafe.
That afternoon, to get out and make the most of the north going tide, we stemmed the last of the flood and punched out, riding the northerly set as far as Glenarm, a charming little town set at the foot of one of Antrim’s nine glens, arriving at dusk in the little marina.
The next day saw us stroll around the town, visit the lovely castle gardens and walk up the glen.
The final voyage of the week took us back to Scotland, to Lamlash in Arran. We had another good sail in fine weather, picking up a buoy as the light faded, and waking up to the fine view of Holy Isle, and the sail training ship Tenacious which occupied a central part of the anchorage. We strolled around Lamlash then motored over to Holy Isle, anchoring off and walking around the edge of it.
After lunch we headed up the Clyde to Ardrossan, where I will be leaving Spellbinder for a while, during which time she is due to have a bit of an electronic refit, with new wind instruments, autopilot and VHF to be installed. The originals date from 2006 and are coming to the end of their lives.
Thank you Neil and Clare for your company in what was an excellent week, in lovely weather.
This last week has been full of adventure and new places. I was joined by Crispin in Southampton airport and we took a flight to Glasgow and onward taxi back to Linnhe Marine, where Spellbinder awaited us, having enjoyed rather better weather than we had had in the South. Linnhe marine were excellent – thank you to Nick and his father for running such an excellent service. It’s a great place to leave a yacht.
Having checked all was well on board, we motored in very humid weather down to Oban, where we had a first meal out in the same restaurant I had enjoyed with Sue and Jonty a couple of weeks back.
The mussels were superb, but not as good as some we had the next day, as we were to find out. It was a driech start, and having done some shopping, we headed out into the drizzle to Loch Spelve for lunch.
Loch Spelve has a slightly tricky entrance, but having negotiated it we anchored off a mussel farm, and bought a 2kg bag for later consumption.
There then followed quite a lengthy motor down the south side of the Ross of Mull in improving weather, as we headed for one of the most iconic anchorages in the Western Isles, Tinker’s Hole. It is really just a cut in the rocks and a pool behind, but the setting is stunning.
There was just about enough room to anchor, and after eating our Loch Spelve mussels (deliciously sweet) we enjoyed an excellent evening with the crews of Ptarmigan and Seanachaidh, whom we joined the next day. Thank you for your hospitality and some memorable entertaining, most notably some fine singing from the young girls in Gallic!
After a stroll around the hills above Tinker’s Hole, we threaded our way out of the anchorage through some narrow, rock-strewn anchorages towards Iona, where we anchored to explore the ancient abbey and its surrounds.
Iona was delightful, and the weather superb. It is somewhat touristy though, and we were unable to tour the abbey for want of guided tour slots. We enjoyed our time there though, and enjoyed a good lunch in the St Columba Hotel.
An hour or so north of Iona is the wonderful island of Staffa, full of columnar basalt, tame puffins and Fingal’s Cave, a spectacular sea cave named after the eponymous hero of an epic poem by the Scottish poet James Macpherson. It also inspired Mendelssohn’s concert overture The Hebrides. Anchoring off the island, we dinghied ashore and explored all of this, enjoying the spectacular rock formations.
After a couple of hours on Staffa, we sailed over to the Treshnish Isles, spectacularly remote and with some more stunning bird life. Anchoring just east of Lunga, Crispin went for a run and we joined our new Scottish friends for another evening of general merriment.
After a calm night we headed over to Tiree, picking up a buoy in Gott Bay, and strolling around the local area. I’m not a great football fan, but felt that it was worth tapping into the zeitgeist and we found ourselves that evening in the newly refurbished Scarinish Hotel, clinging onto some slightly unreliable WiFi and watching the Euro semi final on my phone, with some somewhat ambivalent locals!
The next day we undertook the first of two quite lengthy passages. Up early, we motored out and headed down towards the south coast of Islay, some 60 miles distant. The aim was to visit a couple of the distillery bays. First was Laphroig, where the holding wasn’t that good, but we flew the drone and savoured the atmosphere, smelling the distilling process in the air.
Around the corner was Lagavulin, where we had about 30cm below the keel at low water, but given the calm conditions it was a perfect place to stop for the night.
Views of Lagavulin Bay, on a serene evening
We had a great little stroll around the Bay, although we had arrived too late to visit the distillery itself. We had a calm night though, before getting up at 5am and heading out towards the Northern Irish coast, aiming for Belfast, which we reached 12 hours later, heading up the Loch, reporting in to Belfast Harbour Radio, and into the channel right into the heart of the City, in the Titanic quarter, which has been recently developed to great effect.
Crispin and I had a final night in the company of Tony and Penny, old friends of mine, with whom we dined in the Titanic Hotel. It was great to catch up.
Spellbinder has another week with new crew Neil and Clare before I leave her in the Clyde and head back south. The weather looks set reasonably fair so hopefully we’ll have some more adventures in new places. This last week has been fabulous though, and everything I anticipated cruising the Western Isles would be. Thank you Crispin for being great crew again!
With younger son swapped for older, my crew change at Inverness was complete. Inverness wasn’t a bad place to do it, as the marina is just a short taxi ride from the airport, which both sons used. The disadvantage was that it was a fair walk into town, so I dug out my Brompton bicycle, which had languished deep in the cockpit locker for the last couple of years. It was none the worse for wear and I accomplished a decent shop. While crossing the Pentland Firth I had also put a call in with Majestic Wine, who kindly delivered to the marina to resupply vital lubricants.
Leaving Jonty to head to the airport, Tom and I headed round to the Inverness sea loch at Clachnaharry, where we were greeted by a friendly American member of staff who told us what to expect. The Canal was completed in 1922 and was constructed by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. 29 locks, four aqueducts, ten bridges and some 60 miles awaited us.
We soon got into the swing of it and adapted to the routine of going through the locks and waiting for bridges to open. Before long we found ourselves in Loch Ness. Often the prevailing winds make this an uncomfortable motor, but we had a fair wind for a while and managed a brief sail and a coffee anchored under Castle Urquhart. We also made good use of the drone to get some fine footage.
At the end of Loch Ness we ascended the locks up Fort Augustus, which seemed like a suitable place to stop for the first night.
After a quiet night we headed off from Fort Augustus, climbing up the locks until we met the mid point of the canal, from where we started to descend. For me this part was the most beautiful, as the canal wound through quiet upland countryside.
Once through the mid point, we headed down Lochs Oich and Lochy, past Invergarry Castle and eventually to Banavie, at the top of a series of lochs known as Neptune’s Staircase. The countryside changed, and Ben Nevis and its surrounding mountains appeared, with snow patches still clearly visible.
We arrived at the top of Neptune’s Staircase, and stopped for the night, enjoying the views and the engineering.
In the morning we took the first descent down the 8 locks, and moored shortly afterwards to allow Tom to run up and down Ben Nevis, which he did in a remarkably brisk time.
Tom’s rapid mountain bagging allowed us to head down to Corpach and exit the canal, with Spellbinder once more floating in salt water.
In increasingly poor weather we headed down Loch Linnhe through the Corran Narrows to the very friendly mooring field at Linnhe Marine, which is to be Spellbinder’s base for the next ten days. The next day the weather was foul, but we did motor down to Port Appin where we had an excellent celebratory lunch at the Pierhouse Hotel.
It was a really enjoyable transit, although very different from rounding Cape Wrath! I was impressed by the laid-back efficiency of the lock keepers and the general administration of the place. We were helped with sunny weather, which helped greatly, and the midges had not yet arrived.
Spellbinder will remain in Loch Linnhe for the next ten days while I return south, but her adventures will recommence in early July.
The passage from the lochs in the extreme north west of Scotland, around Cape Wrath to Orkney, is not an easy one. Unencumbered by the protection of the Outer Hebrides, the seas north of the Butt of Lewis are unconstrained, and the rollers have their origins in winds far out west in the Atlantic – from Canada even. In addition, in order to make the tidal gate of Hoy Sound – the western entrance of Scapa Flow – you have to fight the tide around the Cape.
We left Kinlochbervie at 4am, rounding the coast and entering a quite confused sea. The sun rises in the north east at this time of year, and we were greeted by spectacular vistas shining across a sea stack.
Once round the Cape, the Atlantic swell stabilised somewhat and we motor sailed a mile and a half off. Paul, a former Navy pilot, indicated a rocky island which he had bombed several times from a Sea Harrier, and which is still in use by the MOD for that purpose.
Arrival in Orkney went as planned, although we just squeezed through into Hoy Sound, and I should in retrospect have got up at 0300, as at one stage we had 1 knot of speed fighting the beginnings of the foul tide.
Once into Stromness, we were delighted to be joined by St Barbara V, the Royal Artillery yacht, which was skippered by regular Spellbinder crew Neil. The yacht is conducting an anti-clockwise UK circumnavigation. We even managed to fix their heads with a spare part I carried, for which they very kindly gave me a bottle of single malt, as their morale had been somewhat boosted by the repair!
The next day we hired a car and explored the mainland of Orkney, which expanded somewhat in the Second World War as ‘Churchill’ barriers were built linking some islands and in so doing cut off potential routes in to attack ships anchored in Scapa Flow.
Scapa flow is known mainly for the scuttling of the German fleet in 1919 and for the daring and successful attack by a German U Boat in 1939 which sank HMS Royal Oak. We learnt much about these events as we toured.
Having spent a while appreciating the history of Scapa Flow in the two World Wars, we then drove to some of the peninsulas and appreciated the vistas and geology. We also found a bistro at the southern tip of the mainland which not only served us a very fine and warming seafood chowder, but also afforded us fine views across the Pentland Firth, another notorious stretch of water which we would cross two days later.
The next morning Paul and Caspar flew out of Orkney and Jonty and I headed south to explore Scapa Flow by boat. Jonty caught several mackerel, and we ended up at Long Hope, sheltering from the west winds before crossing Pentland Firth the next day.
The next morning we headed out at the right time for the tides, and crossed Pentland Firth uneventfully. It can run up to 16 knots, making it perhaps the most fearsome bit of water in the UK (more so than Portland Bill) but we crossed at neaps in fine weather.
Destination for the evening was Wick, which has a well-sheltered harbour and, much to my delight, a fine French restaurant which has been in business for 22 years. Never one to turn down such an opportunity, I indulged in escargots and confit de canard in Bord de la Mer, reveling in the oddness of doing so in the far north east of the UK.
Our final passage was along the coast to Inverness, in a steady easterly breeze, which made for some enjoyable sailing.
We now have a couple of days of admin; Tom flies in and Jonty flies out. The Caledonian Canal, with Loch Ness, 22 locks and fresh water awaits us.
Having picked up new crew member Paul in Mallaig, we headed up towards the Kyle of Lochalsh but dipped into Loch Hourn for a night. A typical wide open sea loch at the entrance, it narrows a little and we found a wonderfully quiet anchorage to starboard, protected by an island with resident seals who watched over us.
After a quiet night we had to time our passage north through the tidal gate of Kyle Rhea, which sends you smartly backwards if you get the timing wrong. Sadly we saw no otters at the well known spot on the left as you go up, but we passed through without incident and passed under the bridge to Skye (I remember my first visits to Skye in the 70s and 80s when it was ferry only).
Once round, we had a good sail up past Kyle of Lochalsh and round to Plockton, our destination for the night. It is a lovely setting, with sub tropical gardens, a dominating castle and a beautiful anchorage. We picked up a mooring and explored. The photographs give you an idea.
In the morning it was a bit driech, but we headed off, aiming for Rona but with a potential further destination in mind.
On passage to Rona we were invited on the radio to skirt around some MOD testing which was going on, which we did happily. We anchored briefly in the delightful Arcarseid Mhor in Rona, but found it a bit crowded (although very beautiful) and so after a cup of tea decided to cross the Little Minch to Loch Seaforth, which is at the top of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. By now the wind had got up, and Seafort is known to funnel the wind beautifully, which it did. After negotiating a large salmon farm at the entrance, which appeared out of the mist, we hived off to port into the relative shelter of Loch Mharaig, to escape the wind and the driving rain.
The next day the wind continued to howl but we explored up into Loch Seaforth, encountering a gust of 44 knots as we motored back out. We hadn’t seen a great deal of the surrounding mountains either, given the mist, but got a glimpse on the way out.
We motored around to the next loch, Claidh, and found a wonderful anchorage which gave perfect shelter, with red deer waiting to greet us on the hillside. Eilean Thinngarstaigh is a special place.
The next morning the poor weather had passed over, and we decided to sail out to the lovely Shiant Islands, known for their beauty and bird life. They were stunning, and we took the opportunity to stretch our legs, having been rather cooped up at anchor over the previous 48 hrs. Landing at the foot of Garbh Eilean, we climbed up to get a view, and Jonty, Caspar and Paul ascended a ridge to get a fine view over the islands, and of the many puffins and guillemots, amongst others.
…admiring the stunning rockfaces and thousands of birds on the water and wing…
They were fabulous islands. Having enjoyed them we then had a broad reach on the other tack to Stornoway, where we were met by old friends James and Dorothy, who looked after us royally. Having entertained them on board the first night, James showed us around part of Lewis the next day and invited us to dine in their lovely house the next.
We enjoyed Lewis a great deal – many thanks James and Dorothy.
Our final voyage before heading up further north saw us cross the Minch is some quite lively conditions – a SW wind gusting regularly to Force 7, with two metre seas, with frequent rain. Not for the fainthearted, but entirely tenable when the wind is behind you. We had a fast, if rather damp crossing, entering Loch Laxford and finding a great anchorage in Loch a’ Chadh-fi, where we escaped the wind and swell.
After a quiet night Paul and I dinghied across and were delighted to meet some residents of this really remote place – the road head is a mile and a half away, and everything has to be carried along a steep and rocky path, or brought round by sea. We first met the remarkable Rita, who told us about her life here.
Rita, in front ofherremarkable andremote cottage, where she has lived with her husband for 30 years, despite the huge logistical challenges
We then headed on and were delighted to meet John and Marie-Christine Ridgway. John was hugely famous in his time as a yachtsman and adventurer, and they have lived on and off in this remote place for 57 years, founding an adventure school which is now run by one of their daughters. They are remarkable people, and we much enjoyed our coffee with them.