Belfast – Portpatrick – Strangford – Glenarm – Clyde

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.

The Titanic Centre. The slipway where Titanic was launched is marked out by posts
HMS Caroline, a light cruiser

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.

Leaving Belfast
Portpatrick harbour with Spellbinder moored 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.

A guillemot in its hole, with little pink feet and fish for its young
…and a slightly concussed one, recovering its poise

We strolled above the town, visiting the ruins of Dunskey Castle, then settling down somewhat more prosaically to watch the football.

Dunskey Castle
Not the final result we might have wished for, but a good place to watch the match

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.

Cruising Chute in action in the North Channel
A fair speed over the ground, heading through the Strangford Narrows
Entering the Narrows

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.

Down Cruising Club HQ
Low tide in the creek
Great to see you Charlie
The kayakers depart
More fine sunsets

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.

BBQ weather, Strangford Narrows
On the Strangford ferry
Strangford

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.

Glenarm marina
Glenarm Castle gardens
Apricots galore
The Antrim glens are well worth visiting
We visited during the marching season. The town wears its colours at this time: the lady in the visitor centre said to us ‘we never see them being put up or taken down…’

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.

Tenacious’ at anchor
Looking across to Holy Isle
Prayer flags, Holy Isle. There is still a nunnery, and a ‘Centre for World Peace and Health’
A poignantly dedicated grove
Looking back from Holy Isle to Lamlash

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.

Leaving Holy Isle for Ardrossan

Thank you Neil and Clare for your company in what was an excellent week, in lovely weather.

Oban to Belfast via Iona, Staffa, Treshnish, Tiree and Islay

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.

Linnhe Marine

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.

EE-Usk: a great restaurant by Oban Harbour

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.

A reminder that sailing in Scotland is often damp…
Driech, temperamental conditions

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.

Mussels for sale
A bargain, as we were to find out later

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.

A view of the entrance to Tinker’s Hole, as seen from the drone. Iona is behind and to the left.
At anchor in Tinker’s Hole

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!

Loch Spelve mussels, cooked to perfection by Crispin
Thank you to the crews of Seanachaidh and Ptarmigan for your hospitality!
A great place to fly the drone
One of the finest anchorages I have taken a yacht
Another drone view, looking the other way

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 abbey
The grounds of the old nunnery on Iona

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.

Fingal’s Cave, a short stroll around the cliff from the landing place
Tame puffins, with Spellbinder at anchor in the background

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.

The anchorage at Lunga, Treshnish
Sunset at Treshnish – photo taken not long before midnight

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!

Watching England beat Denmark

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.

Laphroig Bay. I love peaty whisky, and sometimes prefer Laphroig to Lagavulin, which is amongst the peatiest. It’s a question of mood…

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.

Passing the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, heading into Belfast City Harbour and the Abercorn Basin
Spellbinder moored in front of the Titanic museum. It is great to be in Belfast in happier times

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!

Inverness to Fort William – The Caledonian Canal

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.

Claret resupply. Logistics are important on a yacht

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.

Entering the Caledonian Canal. This is probably the first time Spellbinder has floated in fresh water. The Brompton proved very useful along the route. The locks were all manned, and the staff unfailingly polite, easy-going and helpful
An early stretch of the canal, not far from Inverness

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.

A fine, albeit brief sail up Loch Ness. No monsters seen
Anchored under Castle Urquhart. Not a bad place for a coffee
Castle Urquhart from the side
Mid Loch Ness

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.

Typical lock action. You just need longish bow and stern lines, and lots of fenders. We didn’t see many other yachts, but quite a few hired small cruisers. The crews were obliged to wear old-fashioned thick foam life jackets though, which would have put me off…
Fort Augustus
First berth for the 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.

Mid canal scenes
Approaching the Canal mid point, from where we started to descend

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.

Ben Nevis appearing, viewed from the water….
..and across wild flower meadows. Almost Alpine
Rhododendrons on the mountainside. An invasive species, they nonetheless give agreeable colour at this time of the year

We arrived at the top of Neptune’s Staircase, and stopped for the night, enjoying the views and the engineering.


Neptune’s Staircase viewed from the top and bottom

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.

Summit photo. I wasn’t there…

Tom’s rapid mountain bagging allowed us to head down to Corpach and exit the canal, with Spellbinder once more floating in salt water.

Corpach sea lock opening for us. Our arrival coincided with the first of the 3 Peaks yachts who had finished their race

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 current view from the heads
Linnhe Marine, Spellbinder’s current mooring

Around Cape Wrath to Orkney

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.

A north eastern dawn, shining through a sea stack just south of Cape Wrath at 0430
Cape Wrath, a short while later

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.

Jonty having a good helm as we approached Orkney
Through Hoy Sound – just. There was quite a tidal rip (the camera always flattens the angles) as the ebb tide met the Atlantic rollers…

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!

Spellbinder moored alongside St Barbara V in Stromness marina

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.

The outside of a chapel built by Italian POWs in WWII…
…and the beautiful inside
Driving along one of the ‘Churchill Barriers’ with evidence of blockships sunk in the war
The sad history of the sinking of HMS Royal Oak. Lauded by Hitler, the daring U Boat captain died later in the war
Paul was also very interested in the memorial to the first pilot ever to land an aircraft on a ship. He did so twice, before a terminal third attempt

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 distillery was sadly shut, but Jonty and Caspar nonetheless posed before it. The other distillery in Orkney is Highland Park
The sea forcing its way into the Orkney coast
Orkney’s east coast
Lunch overlooking the Pentland Firth
A rare foreign yacht arrived the evening after our drive around Orkney mainland. They enjoyed traditional Francophile and Francophone Spellbinder hospitality. Fair winds Didier, Patrick and Pierre. I was delighted to entertain members of the Yacht Club de France

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.

Farewell to Stromness. There’s a musical connection…
Spellbinder at Long Hope. We enjoyed a walk over the hill to look at mainland Scotland
A tranquil but fiery sunset. This RNLI lifeboat is situated a few minutes from some of the UK’s most treacherous waters, and I met some of the volunteer members in the pub later that evening. It was a refreshingly normal experience

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.

Passing Scotland’s north eastern tip, with help from a bit of flood tide
Duncansby Head

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.

Snails in Wick. I have never said that before
Wick marina. Wick was once the herring capital of the world, and the heyday was 1912

Our final passage was along the coast to Inverness, in a steady easterly breeze, which made for some enjoyable sailing.

Coming into Inverness

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.

To and from the Outer Hebrides

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.

Anchorage at Eilean a’ Phiobaire, Loch Hourn, with seals on the rocks and a volcanic backdrop

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).

Sailing under the Skye bridge

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.

The castle is on the extreme right
The view from the Plockton Hotel, where we had a good meal, starting with…
Haggis with whisky poured over
…and finishing with more of the latter back on board

In the morning it was a bit driech, but we headed off, aiming for Rona but with a potential further destination in mind.

Admin in Plockton: taking on water, taking out refuse, and pumping the dinghy

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.

Anchorage at Loch Mharaig. I’m sure it is pretty but we were just grateful for the shelter…and the anchor held well in some big gusts. The pontoon is one of many in the area for the fish farms
I keep the chartplotter zoomed in when we are settled at anchor, as it gives an immediate indication should we drag (and also has an alarm). Here is the night’s plot after some gusts of 25 knots+ through the night; we barely moved, swinging in a gentle arc as expected. The lines at the bottom were when we set the anchor

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.

Motoring out of Seaforth in a strong headwind

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 photo doesn’t do justice to the beauty of Eilean Thinngarstaigh, which cuts out the swell of the Little Minch in beautiful surroundings

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.

We had a fine broad reach out to the Shiants

…admiring the stunning rockfaces and thousands of birds on the water and wing…

...motoring through a sea arch in the dinghy…
…getting close to guillemots…
…and puffins…
and seeing Spellbinder from one angle
and another

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.

Spellbinder dressed overall in Stornoway harbour, to mark HM’s official birthday
Carloway Broch – an Iron Age structure
Calanais Standing Stones
Jonty surveying a fine Hebridean beach, and another below

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.

3 reefs in the main and genoa, and reaching fast into Loch Laxford in the mist
Loch a’ Chadh-fi is known for its pink rocks and adventure school

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.

A slightly ‘Swallows and Amazons’ feel to the dinghy landing

Rita, in front of her remarkable and remote cottage, where she has lived with her husband for 30 years, despite the huge logistical challenges

As the owner of a croft, Rita has to keep livestock. This is her front garden

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.

John and Marie-Christine
English Rose IV, the yacht John sailed in the famous 1968 Golden Globe race
English Rose VI, a Bowman 57 which has been around the world twice, hauled up to the bottom of the garden

After a wonderful morning we headed back to Spellbinder, and motored round to the last sea loch before Cape Wrath, Loch Inchard, and berthed at Kinlochbervie. Here we await an early morning start, to time the tides right to get to round the Cape and get to Orkney tomorrow.

Kinlochbervie, just south of Cape Wrath. There is a surprisingly large fish factory here

The Small Isles

Back in 1982 when the Falkland Islands were invaded we all reached for our atlases – for there were no Google Maps back then. Most assumed the islands were somewhere north of Scotland, and wondered why the Argentinians were interested. The same geographical ignorance was evident when it was suggested that I should visit the Scottish Small Isles (consisting mainly of Muck, Rum, Eigg and Canna). I had heard of them individually but couldn’t place them. On looking at the map it was clear that they would be an ideal first venture out with my new crew Caspar, and son Jonty.

On leaving Oban we needed somewhere to stay for the first night, and we headed back up the Sound of Mull, largely motoring in calm conditions and a bit of drizzle. Past Tobermory and to the right is the lovely Loch Na Droma Buidhe (more and more Gaelic versions of names appear to be used in the charts) where, coming around a corner, we were met with several other yachts sharing the tranquility.

Entering the murky narrows of Loch Na Droma Buidhe, on a driech June evening
Preparing to go after a quiet first night; seals snorting and cuckoos calling

To get up to the Small Isles necessitates heading up and past Ardnamurchan Point, a slightly totemic landmark for the cruising yachtsman as past it you are in the high north west of Scotland. When passing it on the way back tradition dictates that you append a sprig of heather to your pulpit, to signify your safe return.

Sailing past Ardnamurchan Point and its lighthouse; a slightly notorious landmark that demarcates inshore waters forecasts and pilot books…
Caspar at the helm

Once past this slightly notorious point, and having tried to fish to no avail, we headed to the first of four islands, Muck, for a brief visit. We anchored in the small harbour, had lunch and strolled around corner of the island, flushing out grouse, pheasant, snipe and curlew as we did so.

Muck harbour (above and below). I have avoided puns in this blog.

It was a pleasant stroll, and the island is quiet, with few inhabitants. The next stop was Canna; the entrance into this island is quite spectacular, and after we had picked up a buoy we sat and drank in the view.

Entering Canna Harbour

It was a beautiful evening, and we went ashore by dinghy to explore the foreshore, some of the buildings and the grand house and gardens.

Canna house and gardens
Canna Harbour, looking south
A window on the Atlantic

A wonderful backdrop to wake up to

We had a great walk and drink at the community-run bar, and settled into a calm night surrounded by hills and beauty on all sides. Canna certainly leaves an impression on you, and I will be back.

The next morning we sailed round to Rum, into Loch Scresort and its spectacular surrounds. Like Canna, Rum’s history is interesting: various owners / lairds, some benevolent, some not, and fortunes rising and falling over the decades. These islands seem to be thriving at present, on a very small scale; tourism and fish farming seem to be the main industries and there is very much a sense that investment in the form of Ro-Ro ferry terminals have bought in some prosperity (although the Scottish Government is keen to attribute this to EU funding). There is also a strong sense of community ownership, decision making and cooperative organisation.

Rum is dominated by mountains and has interesting deer and other wildlife bought in by previous generations. You could happily spend a week walking its hills.

Arriving in Loch Scresort, Rum
Looking out at the mooring (above and below)
At last! A viable use for an old phone booth
Coffee at the Rum community shop
A former laird’s baronial castle, now sadly in need of much repair

The final island to visit was Eigg. Dominated by a very distinctive cliff bluff, it was a pleasure to sail down. We entered its small harbour for a quick look around.

The southern shore of Eigg
Spellbinder at anchor in Eigg Harbour

And so ended a brief tour of the Small Isles. They were lovely and next time I will dedicate more time to each, as the walking (weather permitting) is spectacular on each, for different reasons.

Spellbinder headed to Mallaig and to pick up one more crew, and to send Jonty up the mast to try and fix the wind indicator. We have now gone around the east coast of Skye, and plan to head north towards the Outer Hebrides in the coming days.

Sending one’s son up the mast. The process is much easier now I can use a cordless drill with an appropriate bit to do the lifting.

Mulling It Over

Having had a successful trip north, thanks to the sterling efforts of Alan & Alan, I was joined by Sue and Jonty in Whitehaven for a couple of days of family visits and reprovisioning. Jonty stayed with me for the next three days as we made our way up past the Mulls of Galloway and Kintyre to Oban.

Spellbinder leaving Whitehaven – very calm conditions. Photo taken by Sue from the lighthouse.

We had a calm motor over to East Tarbert Bay, a little cove just in the hook of the Mull of Galloway. The passage north is all about getting the tides right, as they run quite ferociously through the North Channel. This meant taking the passage north in 6 hours blocks, which turned out to be 0600-1200 and 1800-midnight. Luckily at this time of year it is very light, and we made the most of it.

Approaching East Tarbert Bay as the sun was setting

We had a very quiet, albeit rather short night and were up at 4am to the dawn, rounding the first mull and heading to our interim destination, Sanda Island, which served as a passage and lunchtime anchorage as we awaited the next fair tide.

Rounding the Mull of Galloway at dawn

Sanda was breezy, with a significant tide race to its south west, even in quite calm conditions. You can see why many people opt for the Crinan Canal rather than head up the Mull of Kintyre. Conditions were settled though, and we caught the first of the fair back eddy which took us close into the peninsula, and kept us heading north at a brisk pace.

Anchorage at Sanda Island, awaiting a fair tide around the Mull of Kintyre
Following the Mull of Kintyre close-to, with the first of the northerly tide

By this time the autopilot, which has had a mind of its own so far this season, was starting the play the game, much to our relief. We carried the tide up past Islay to Jura, where our destination for another short night was Craighouse, which nestles under the Paps of Jura, pimple-like mountains which dominate the small harbour.

Approaching Craighouse, with the Paps clearly visible

The usual mooring buoys had yet to be laid in the harbour, and despite its reputation for being a rather kelp-ridden anchorage we set first time and well, enabling us to blow up the dinghy and head to the Jura Inn for last orders, as well as to buy a bottle of Jura Single Malt. For me it is not quite as peaty as the Islay ones (although certainly of that ilk) and is slightly sweeter.

Another early start beckoned and we were greeted to a magnificent dawn as the sun rose behind the Paps.

0430 in Western Scotland in early June – the light certainly extends the cruising day…

Heading up the Sounds of Jura and Luing, we made fast progress in quite flat waters past the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan to port and Fladda lighthouse.

Racing past Fladda lighthouse – the fair tide is evident from the lobster pot in the foreground

As we approached Kerrera and Oban, Jonty cooked an immaculate scrambled egg breakfast and all was well with the world. We found a berth in the new Oban transit marina, which is much more conveniently located right in the centre of town. It was here that Sue was to arrive by train later.

Top breakfast Jonty – thank you
Spellbinder in Oban marina

The next day we sailed up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, which brought back memories of the BBC children’s TV series ‘Balamory’. It’s a beautiful little town, with its signature pastel-coloured houses on the seafront. We enjoyed touring it and had a couple of enjoyable walks to the north and south of the harbour.

Spellbinder in Tobermory ‘dressed overall’ for the anniversary of HM’s Coronation
An imaginative collection box for the lighthouse path – but who carries cash these days?
Rubha nan Gall lighthouse just north of Tobermory
The view over Tobermory, looking south

The next day saw us head to Loch Aline, a beautiful short loch which is enclosed by mainland Scotland. We anchored near the head of the loch, which is overlooked by Ardtornish castle and its 35,000 acre estate, into which Sue and I wandered in the afternoon, undertaking an 8-mile circuit which took us up into some remote Highland territory.

Ardtornish – a typical baronial-looking Scottish castle in my book
View from a mountain bothy
We found deer hooves on the beach of this loch
The electric outboard back in use

Fossils found by Sue

After a night on Aline, we headed back down the Sound of Mull to the north coast of Kerrera, where we sailed past an island full of seals and anchored in a quiet bay to get a walk of the island in. It was lovely – although just a stone’s throw for what counts as urban sprawl in the Western Isles, it seemed delightfully remote.

Highland cow in Kerrera – I have never worked out how they see where they are going…
Spellbinder at anchor in Oitir Mhor Bay. We climbed a local hill to get the view north up the Firth of Lorn
Better days have been seen…
Local enterprise
Wild, what we would call English bluebells everywhere, amongst this year’s emerging bracken
Monument at the NE end of Kerrera island
Young Canada geese. Spellbinder in the background.

Somewhat tired after our walk, we repaired back to Oban, and went out to dinner in a rather good seafood restaurant adjacent to the marina. Sue departed by train this morning, and a new crew member, Caspar arrives this afternoon. We then head to the Small Isles and Skye…and the weather forecast is benign.

Oh – the joys of eating out once more!

Heading North – May 21

The early part of the season has seen Spellbinder engaged in some very sociable and local sailing in the Solent. Thank you to all who came and enjoyed the considerable opportunities afforded between Chichester and Yarmouth. Whenever I have been sailing elsewhere I’m reminded of quite how good and varied a cruising ground the Solent is. The photos below give an idea of what we enjoyed.

A peaceful Newtown Creek (great photo: credit Sean Henry)
Sean and Harriet enjoying a day out
Good to have friend Julian and godson Arthur on board
Some polish applied to Spellbinder’s blue lines
On her home berth, and ready to go

In addition to the sailing, I have finished quite a long list of maintenance tasks. The watermaker has been refurbished; a new stack pack made, and life raft cover; the LED bulbs in the anchor and tricolour masthead have been replaced; the engine serviced; buttons made and replaced on upholstery, and countless other minor jobs. It has been great to have time to do all these. Boats don’t like being left alone, and the pandemic and lockdown have not been their friend.

May 24th was the start of Spellbinder’s summer adventures. Crew for the journey north were the two Alans, who had accompanied me on Atlantic legs and knew Spellbinder well. Our start was delayed somewhat by the unseasonable depressions we experienced in mid May, but it was as the weather moderated that we headed out into a breezy Solent. The first day we managed to get to Studland Bay, where after a rest we continued into a still bumpy, and rather windy English Channel.

Studland Bay rain clouds delivering…
…then clearing

After a few hours’ break we headed off and made bumpy, wet, motor sailing progress to windward, finally pulling into Cawsand Bay, Plymouth for a rest and a night’s sleep. Rising at dawn, in still moderating conditions, we pulled into Penzance to refuel before heading off around Land’s End.

Leaving Cawsand at dawn. We made much use of the Hydrovane, as my Raymarine autopilot is currently having a disagreement with my flux gate compass…

Once round Land’s End, conditions were calm and we had a good passage north. There was enough wind for a brief cruising chute run, but I will remember this part of the passage for the strong tides (we made 10 knots in a fair tide or 2 in a foul, when headlands seemed to stay out for hours) and wildlife. We saw many, many dolphins and porpoises, a solitary seal just by Longships lighthouse, and puffins, gannets and guillemots galore.

Sunset in the Irish Sea…
…followed shortly afterwards by a spring moon rise...
…turning night into day again
Porpoises at dawn
Past Wales, and the final stretch leaving the Isle of Man to port. 9 knots means a 3 knot fair tide…

Five days after leaving Gosport we arrived at Whitehaven in Cumbria. It’s a modern port with a marina, though you need to time it well to pass through the lock. We arrived with an hour to spare, and even had a bit of a night out. It has been a while since I have gorged on poppadoms sitting at a table in an Indian restaurant.

Locking into Whitehaven

Thank you to the two Alans for coming with me on what proved to be more of a delivery trip than a cruise. We are now well set for voyaging north, as planned: next destinations planned are Islay, Oban and the Small Isles, and the weather forecast even looks reasonable…

Break out of lockdown: plans for summer 2021

Now we are formally allowed back onto our boats for day sailing, I have been making the most of the opportunities to conduct routine maintenance. A bit of fine weather and some spring tides allowed me to dry Spellbinder out at Bosham in order to pressure wash her hull, reinvigorate her Coppercoat antifoul and change her prop anodes. Put on in 2017, the Coppercoat continues to give good protection from major fouling and it is only a question of taking off some base slime.

Spellbinder’s Gori prop, fitted with new anodes and burnished to a gleaming gold – thank you Charles!
A beautiful calm day at Bosham – ideal conditions for some hull maintenance

I was accompanied by Jonty and Charles, who did much of the hard work, and we were in the company of Peter and Anabel who did the same to their yacht Sea Jester, and who joined us for supper. Lifting off at the next high tide, we headed back glad to have got this necessary pre-season job out of the way in pleasant circumstances.

There are some further jobs to complete in the next three weeks. Spellbinder’s watermaker has been out for refurbishment, and goes back in shortly; her life raft needs its three-yearly service, and I am having a new stack pack for her mainsail made, which will smarten things up (the old one lasted 15 years before UV light and chafe took its toll).

I intend to sail locally until around 20th May, when Scotland beckons, given that travel to the near continent looks unlikely in the near term. I have been helping out a firm called Imray by buying plenty of charts and pilot books! The plan is to head up to Oban or Mallaig for the end of May to explore Skye and the Small Isles, before heading up to the Outer Hebrides. I’d then like to do a circuit of Shetland and Orkney before returning to Fort William via the Caledonian Canal. I’d dearly like to take in Faroe but wonder whether that will be possible given the circumstances. After Scotland, Ireland beckons.

Charts and pilot books ready for perusal

Autumn 2020 and winter refit plans

Spellbinder has been out and about in the Solent a couple of times, when lockdown has allowed. I was joined for one weekend by Alicia, Emily, Peter and Tom, Squadron Sailing Associates, who came sailing alongside the crew of Gladeye for a tour from Gosport to Cowes and Buckler’s Hard and back. We had some good weather, fine sailing breezes and good fare both in the Castle at Cowes and in the Master Builder’s at Buckler’s Hard. Just prior to the most recent lockdown, Sue and I also went out for a day with great friends Jim and Jo, to have a fine lunch in Cowes.

Fine autumn colours

The new marina at Buckler’s Hard: it has rather overtaken this tranquil spot, but there is now much more walk ashore pontoon

Tom, Peter and Emily enjoying traditional Spellbinder fare

Sailing down the Solent into a fine sunset

With Sue, Jim, Jonty and Jo, thrashing westward. We had a more genteel sail back to Gosport under genoa alone – as is so often the case

With the weather becoming less amenable, I plan a mini refit on Spellbinder over the winter. In addition to the routine matters of engine servicing, and safety equipment checks, I have removed the genoa / staysail travellers for servicing, I am having the watermaker overhauled, I have removed the material from the navigator’s seat to get new buttons made, I am having a new zip holder placed on the new spray hood to allow for a solar panel, I need to repair an LED on the engine panel to re-show engine hours, and I shall replace the stack pack. We should be good to go next March, Covid willing.

New bolts and rubbers for the traveller system…

…and new buttons have arrived.  I will need to get the navigator’s seat reupholstered in a suitable material, but I can now replace several of the saloon cushion buttons, which have corroded.

Back from the West Country – September 20

Spellbinder has returned to Gosport, a couple of months from leaving there in early July when we were finally allowed to cruise and stay aboard overnight. While not going abroad (I missed the window when we were briefly allowed to go to continental Europe without quarantining) it has, on the other hand, been an enjoyable time during which I was able to re-visit at length many of my favourite West Country cruising haunts.

I returned to Dittisham, where I had left her, and before the arrival of the next crew had an enjoyable time doing various boat jobs and walking and exploring, and anchoring upriver. I also took her round to Brixham to remind myself of the town and its fishing heritage.

One of my favourite views above Dittisham, overlooking Galmpton Creek and across to Greenway

Near Stoke Gabriel

The remains of a Brixham Sailing Trawler called ‘The Glory’

Spellbinder at a quiet anchorage near Bow Creek on the Dart.  A short dinghy ride up the creek is an excellent pub at Tuckenhay called ‘The Malster’s Arms’, once owned by Keith Floyd. The food there is excellent

Crew for the leg home were Alan and Rupert.  We met in Dartmouth, Rupert having come down by steam train from Paignton – a fine way to arrive. After a swift drink at The Ferry Boat at Dittisham – a classic Dart pub – we turned in for the night, anchoring in Parson’s Mud, just upriver from The Anchorstone. Parson’s Mud is a delightful anchorage, and it is not hard to fall asleep and wake up there to the sounds of the river gurgling by and the many birds.

Breakfast before departure from Parson’s Mud

Our first leg was to Weymouth, in light winds.  We had a good run, initially under cruising chute but then motor.  Rafting up being the norm elsewhere in The West Country, Weymouth Harbour has (in my view) been overly cautious in that regard and as a result there were very few berths available in The Cove and we had to go through the bridge and anchor in the marina.

Leaving Dartmouth

Not much for the crew to do except enjoy a good initial sail under cruising chute, and watch the dolphins, which were were plentiful.  I saw many porpoises on my way around to Brixham earlier in the week, and even thought I saw a tuna jumping…

On the waiting pontoon at Weymouth, before going through the bridge at 2000

The following morning we awoke to a fine dawn and the expected easterly breeze.  We decided to sail anyway, and tacked for several hours as we gradually neared Poole, our next destination.

0800 bridge at Weymouth, heading out

The extraordinary sight of cloud rolling off the Jurassic Coast – it looked like snow from a distance…

….and a sign of the times, with 6 large cruise ships anchored in the lee of Portland, awaiting better times

Eventually, with the tide against us, we motored around a bumpy Anvil’s Head into Poole, where we dropped off Rupert and headed round to Pottery Pier anchorage, which is ideal in easterly winds.  There we were met by Alan and Julie, who came out on their kayaks to meet Spellbinder for the second time this year.

It was good to see Alan and Julie again in Poole, at Pottery Pier, at the west end of Brownsea Island

The following morning we left before dawn to catch the tide, having an unexpectedly good beam reach in northerly winds which allowed us to sail almost to Hurst Narrows before the wind died.  Entering the Solent via the North Channel, we motored up to Cowes where we had an enjoyable lunch at The Royal Yacht Squadron before sailing up to Chichester, where we anchored in the Thorney Channel near friends Ed and Jeanna in their lovely Morris 34.

Dawn start, heading out of Poole

Aboard friend Ed’s lovely Morris 34, a small cruiser based on the Victoria 34, and fitted out by an American company

After a peaceful night at anchor, we headed round to Bosham Quay, as I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wash Spellbinder’s hull down, check the anodes and reactivate the Coppercoat, which I had failed to do properly earlier in the season.  It was lovely weather for it, and we achieved the aim, coming off at midnight, threading our way back down the channel with Alan operating a strong torch at the bow, and re-anchoring.  The following morning we had an excellent downwind run back into Gosport.

Spellbinder with a clean hull, in the evening sun.  There is rather less Coppercoat at the bottom of the keel than I would wish, after an encounter with a sandbank in Martinique 18 months ago

Windy West Country – August 2020

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

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

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

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

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Fine conditions for a short sail up the coast to Fowey

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

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

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

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Heading towards and under the Tamar bridge

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

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Locking in

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A suitable berth for sheltering from high winds

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

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

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

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Noss Mayo, looking towards Newton Ferrers

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Newton creek, looking westwards towards the main river

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

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

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

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Tom enjoying the helm on a blustery day…

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

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

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

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

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Looking downstream at Dittisham…

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

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

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Daphne du Maurier Country

After Scilly, we spent a day reprovisioning and restocking in Penzance before heading over to Falmouth, where Spellbinder has spent the last fortnight cruising the surrounding area.

I have always loved the Fal, and its continuation the Truro River. A classic Cornish ria, it is multifaceted and we enjoyed the many creeks and anchorages it offers. We also spent a fair bit of time in the adjacent Helford River, enjoying walks on both sides of the river, and kayaking up Frenchman’s Creek. Finally, we spent a couple of days in Fowey, eating, drinking and walking well. It was a very pleasant period of gentle cruising and immersing ourselves in a beautiful Cornish setting which was brought to life in several of Daphne du Maurier’s novels. Rather than give a blow by blow account, here are some photos which tell the story:

We covered a fair chunk of the South West Coast Path – here, near Fowey
Trelissick. We anchored just short of Malpas for a night or two, and enjoyed walks around the beautiful riverside gardens
It was a fair paddle against wind and tide to get to Frenchman’s Creek – thanks for the lift Jonty. Once there, it was as magical as I remember. Must read the novel…
Spellbinder at anchor in St Mawes, in front of a waxing gibbous moon. I had not been here before, but loved the town and the walks above it
Very nice to meet friends of friends, who live above Fowey and have a magnificent view. Thank you Lulu and Mary, and thank you Lucy for arranging it!
More walks around Helford
Mackerel caught and filleted by Jonty, to which I added a large scallop, brought up with weed on the anchor
Supper on board Jolie Brise with Pierre and Christina, fellow Hallberg Rassy owners. Thank you for a delicious supper
Birthday lunch at Sam’s, Fowey: seafood extravaganza washed down with Pouilly Fumé

Spellbinder remains in Falmouth and we return to her at the end of the month for further adventures – destination uncertain, but Brittany looks likely.

Scilly July 2020

Spellbinder’s journey west has continued and she has just enjoyed 9 excellent days in Scilly.

Having bade farewell to friends Charmian and Julian, we were joined by Tom and Tiger for the passage onward from the Yealm. After an uneventful passage we anchored overnight in the Helford River, off Duggan Point given that the winds were northerly.  There we were joined by Simon and Karen who were aboard their lovely Swan Questar.

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A peaceful night anchored near ‘Questar’.  Great to catch up with you Simon and Karen!

From Helford we rounded Lizard in calm conditions and headed into Penzance, anchoring off to wait for the harbour gates to open. It’s a wet dock, where you jostle alongside supply ships for Scilly, fishing trawlers, and the odd visiting yacht.  Nothing very grand, and little in the way of facilities, but you are near the town centre and it’s good for a night.

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BBQ at anchor just outside Penzance Harbour. The Scilly passenger ship, ‘Scillonian III’, is in the background

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Entering the wet dock, which is open HW-2 to HW+1 approx

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A modest but convenient berth against the harbour wall

Jonty and I said good bye to Tom and Tiger after a night out in Penzance, which seemed to be opening, with great caution, after the pandemic lock down.  We were then joined by Johnny and Lucy, who were to be crew for the next 9 days as we headed to Scilly.

The journey over – which can be difficult against the prevailing winds and is effectively in the open Atlantic – proved to be an easy motor in calm conditions. First stop was The Cove, between the islands of St Agnes and Gugh – a delightful spot, with a sandbar which uncovers and helps prevent the Atlantic swell from entering. It was where we first landed in Scilly, 10 years ago, in our previous yacht Kianga.

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Views of The Cove, in ideal calm conditions

We spent a couple of nights there, walking around both islands, having lunch in the Coastguards Café, the UK’s most south western, and dinner in the Turk’s Head, which has the same qualification in terms of pubs.  Again, caution abounded as we were amongst the first guests of the season; over our stay people relaxed, and eating out has become a more normal activity.

Next stop was Porth Cressa, an anchorage south of the capital Hugh Town, on St Mary’s.  Often this anchorage is untenable owing to the prevailing winds, but it was ideal for us as the northern wind flow had continued.  It made it all a bit chilly, but we were well settled there and it was ideal base to walk around St Mary’s and to reprovision.

The flora and fauna this trip were excellent.  In terms of the former, here are a few Scillonian flowers, and some windswept vegetation for those who are interested:

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After exploring the ramparts around Star Castle, we then left with the tide to go over Tresco Flats.  The pilotage needs attention, and at high water neaps Spellbinder only had 50 cm under her keel at one point. Once over, however, we were able to pick up a buoy in New Grimsby sound, from where we were able to explore Tresco and Bryher.  While the former is more developed, and has become a well-provisioned timeshare centre, Bryher remains relatively untouched and is one of the wilder islands.

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A sign of healthy air: lichen growing abundantly on a bench on Tresco

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Spellbinder on her buoy in New Grimsby Sound, under a Cromwellian castle.  More views of the Sound below

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A view from Tresco, looking out to the Atlantic.  Scilly had a fearful reputation with mariners of yore, and one can understand why.  The Royal Navy had one particular disaster here, precipitating the search for a reliable means of attaining longitude at sea

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A young seal at rest between Bryher and Tresco

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Stone art, and (below) an artist’s studio on Bryher

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Green Bay, Bryher, where there were also many bilge keel yachts, and others which can take the ground.  It’s a lovely spot.

We then headed round to the other side of Tresco, to Old Grimsby Sound, so we could take up an invitation from friends David and Patsy to have a family supper in their timeshare.  It was great fun, and after a bit of a bumpy night owing to Atlantic swell coming in, the next day we headed out into the Atlantic, and round into Tean Sound, picking up a buoy to allow us to explore St Martin and Tean itself.

St Martin’s is my favourite island as it is quite wild, but with a little helpful infrastructure.  As well as a shop there is a hotel, pub, bakery, vineyard, campsite and a few little other establishments selling things.  We enjoyed it hugely, having lunch in the Karma Hotel and the Seven Stones pub, both of which have fabulous views. Having walked around St Martin’s, the crew had completed a circuit of each of the inhabited Isles of Scilly.

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St Martin’s Church

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One of the many beaches on St Martin’s.  It could be the Caribbean – were it not for the small matter of air and sea temperatures…

We also joined forces with old friends Rupert and Jules and their family on board their yacht Wind Song, enjoying a BBQ on the beach below the hotel, opposite our moorings in Tean Sound:

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Our final night in Scilly was spent in the Eastern Isles, which are quite remote and uninhabited.  We anchored near fellow OCC members Derrick and Ali, and had drinks with them after a stroll around Great Ganhilly and a trip to an uncovered sandbar, surrounded by azure waters.  There were seals everywhere.

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Anchorage in the Eastern Isles, viewed from Great Ganhilly. If you look carefully you can see a couple of inquisitive seal heads…

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Jonty thinking he was in the Caribbean, and (below) enjoying driving us around

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Our trip back was a fine close reach, with the wind freeing up enough for a fast passage back around Land’s End, with the tide lee-bowing us nicely.  The highlight was an extended visitation from dolphins.

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Johnny enjoying a good helm

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Bottlenosed dolphins (I think) playing with us

Safely back in Penzance, we said goodbye to Johnny and Lucy – thank you for being such excellent crew! We had walked around every inhabited island, seen much flora and fauna, and had a healthy and sociable time.  Spellbinder will now remain in Cornwall, based out of Falmouth for the rest of the month.

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End of Lockdown

The news that we would be able to spend nights onboard came as a welcome invitation to go cruising, and to develop firm plans for the summer.  Before departing, however, I was able to take Spellbinder out for 3 day trips to make sure all was working and ready to venture further afield.

First came Charles and Caroline, who are busy preparing to buy a yacht themselves and have some adventures.  Charles came with me from the Canaries to Cape Verde in November 2018 and therefore knows Spellbinder well.  We took a trip upwind with the tide in very warm weather to Langstone Harbour, picking up a buoy for lunch, before turning downwind to end up in Poole Harbour, meeting friends Alan and Julie who live there and who were able to come out to meet us in their kayak.  With the wind turning usefully back to a westerly, we were then able to sail back to Gosport with the tide, around the south of the Isle of Wight.

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A strong tide in Langstone Harbour.  Being a bit of a free diver, Charles had no difficulty using it for a refreshing swim, hanging onto the boarding ladder

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Long cruising chute run down the length of the Solent

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Drinks in Poole Harbour

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Thank you for coming to see us, Alan and Julie

I was also able to have elder son Tom on board for a very windy outing in the Solent, bringing with him his student housemates from London.  We deployed the main with 3 reefs, and a storm jib on the removable forestay, with back stays deployed. It was a bumpy ride, but a good experience, and after an hour or so we headed back downwind and into the relative calm of Portsmouth Harbour for a long lunch, but not before dipping our ensign to a passing warship, and having the compliment returned.

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Thank you George, Sam and Yuyu for coming on board and experiencing the wind in your hair…

We then took Spellbinder to Cowes for a socially-distanced lunch with some other RYS members, which was an enjoyable day out.

I have also been undertaking a bit of routine maintenance, and one job which needed doing was to plane down the deck caulking, which had become rather too proud of the teak. To do this, I bought a Mozart tool, which is ideal for the job, and I spent a pleasant and rewarding morning in Gosport shaving the excess off.

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The Mozart tool, and resultant caulking shavings

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A smoother, less ridged feel to the deck

We got the go ahead to spend nights aboard from 4th July, and on the 6th I had a weather window to get west.  We left Gosport with the tide late morning, with my crew being younger son Jonty and friend Charmian. Beating gently down the Solent with the tide, we were pushed out strongly through Hurst narrows and had a fine sail to Swanage, where we anchored for supper and for me to attend a Zoom meeting. There then followed an enjoyable close reach down the coast, with the wind having just enough north in it to push us past Portland Bill and down into the West Country.

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Fine sailing off St Alban’s Head, into the sunset.  Feeling back at home on Spellbinder.

After a great night sail we arrived at our destination, Dartmouth – one of my favourite river entrances, which I have seen many times whilst approaching in a yacht, and of which I never tire.  We then proceeded up to my old village Dittisham, where we took a buoy, had a pint in my favourite Devon pub, enjoyed a drink with friends, and enjoyed a BBQ.  It was great to be back in the the cruising lifestyle.

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Fine sailing off the Dorset coast

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Arriving in Dartmouth, with Britannia Royal Naval College before us, as ever

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Jonty helming us in

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The RAF flew over to inspect our masthead burgee at close quarters

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Charmian making herself at home

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Dittisham looking as lovely as ever

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Nice of Joe and Sarah to pop by on their RIB – thank you for the drinks later on!

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First pint since lock down, in a most suitable venue

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Sunset BBQ

The next morning we anchored in Dartmouth to visit the chandlery and do some shopping, before heading out into a quite brisk westerly to get round Start and Prawle Points and beyond Salcombe, to find the relative calm of the Yealm, one of my favourite places in Devon.  Nestled on a pontoon, we slept well after what was quite a blowy and bumpy afternoon at sea. The next day we toured Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo, and had our first pub lunch for three months, in the Dolphin in the former village.

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Spellbinder at anchor in Dartmouth.  Like in Falmouth, I enjoy anchoring in the middle of bustling towns

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A misty, murky River Yealm entrance

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Calm inside the Yealm

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Reacquainting myself with comforts aboard!

The plan now is to head further west, taking advantage of an emerging period of calm to enjoy Scilly.

Out at last

Lockdown and measures to combat CV-19 have meant almost 10 weeks away from Spellbinder. It is never good to leave a yacht for long, particularly when it is in the water, although external checks and latterly one internal check had been carried out on my behalf (thanks Phil and Brad).

The first trip out was with Rupert, and we managed to choose the first rainy day after the best part of eight weeks of delightful unbroken sunshine – what a Spring we have had. It was good to be on the water though. After checking all the systems were working, we motored to Cowes, which looked as if it was still in winter. Mooring alongside a midstream pontoon, we had a good lunch and then took the tide back to Portsmouth, beating into a freshening northeasterly. An unremarkable day’s sailing in normal times, but a great one in this odd period. I experienced a significant sense of release and freedom.

Rupert at the helm
A dull but nonetheless delightful Solent – so good to be back on the water!
Socially distancing on a 12 metre yacht isn’t too hard…
A decent lunch: Pouilly Fumé and garden produce

I had originally planned to take Spellbinder to scrub off at the end of March, but it never happened, for obvious reasons. This weekend allowed me an opportunity, however, and a quick call to the Bosham harbourmaster confirmed they were open for business. I was joined in Gosport by Neil and Molly and we had a pleasant sail up to Chichester in a developing sea breeze, coming alongside Bosham Quay at High Water Springs without difficulty.

The sea breeze helped blow us on
Settling down, waiting for the tide to drop. To make sure Spellbinder leans the right way (into the wall) I put the boom across, and if necessary take the spinnaker halyard across and apply leaning pressure using a winch
Fishing waders prove useful to get a head start
A happy skipper, reunited with the bottom of his yacht
My Gori 3-bladed prop needed some maintenance: I gave it a good polish, and I replaced the anodes along with the rubber end stops
Thank you Neil and Molly for pressure washing the hull, and for enjoying playing with the toy! At the 2 metre socially distant minimum distance, I was still in range…

People often ask me why I don’t just pay a yard to do this sort of work. The answer is simple: doing this puts me in touch with my yacht, and I get to know her better. It makes me a better sailor, and is, of course, far cheaper. But it’s also fun and sociable, and without the need to paint thanks to Spellbinder’s Coppercoat, an easy and quick process.

It took us two hours, and once done we were able to enjoy drinks with local friends. Lifting off without difficulty at High Water, we had an excellent reach back to Portsmouth in a light northerly, enjoying the greater speed through the water which comes from having a clean hull and prop.

After Neil and Molly departed, I completed some remaining jobs on board, and Spellbinder is now ready for her season. Original plans have obviously been much changed, and where she will sail will depend entirely on the easing of CV-19 restrictions and quarantine impositions. I hope, though, to range the English Channel, and visit the West Country and Channel Islands. Ireland is still a possibility, and I haven’t entirely excluded the idea of leaving Spellbinder somewhere warm for the winter…

Late autumn in the Solent

Yachts, and particularly their engines, do not enjoy being left alone during the winter months.  I have never taken my yachts out of the water, winterising them and putting them on the hard; for me, the occasional foray during the off season can be both enjoyable and good for the boat and its systems.  I am also happier that a yacht is sitting in a bath of tepid salt water than fully exposed to the air and frost. Winterising – and in particular the removal of soft furnishings – can be a lengthy task. Instead, I run a dehumidifier and oil filled heater from November to April, and Spellbinder remains warm and dry, and in commission.

With these thoughts in mind, an opportunity came up for a couple of days of sailing locally this week.  The weather was cold but clear, with enough wind to sail well. With Julian as crew, we left Gosport and headed to Cowes, then over to Lymington for the night.  There are major redevelopments taking place on the Town Quay, which had been our planned destination – they are creating many more walk ashore pontoons.  We therefore berthed in Lymington Marina.  After a good night in the Town, the next morning we sailed up to and into the Beaulieu River, picking up a buoy off Bucklers Hard for lunch and then sailing out of the river and back to Gosport. It was a good couple of days, and Spellbinder seems fine, although the wind speed indicator is not working – a job to add to the list.

The photos tell the story:

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Sailing out into the Solent – cold and clear conditions, with a light sailing breeze

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Spellbinder alone at the RYS Haven

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Julian was last on Spellbinder in the Azores.  A bit colder here…

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Motoring into Lymington

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Sailing in over the bar and into the entrance of the Beaulieu River.  We tacked out too, which was enjoyable

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Sailing past the famous Gypsy Moth IV, moored in the Beaulieu River

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A peaceful lunchtime spot near Buckler’s Hard

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The joys of off-season sailing – no-one else around, except the odd sail training yacht

 

 

North Atlantic Circuit – Booklet

For those interested, I have written an account of my Atlantic circuit based largely on the blog entries.  It consists of a summary, a map of the voyage, chapters on the background to buying Spellbinder and how I fitted her out, and the various stages divided into chapters.  There are some reflections by way of a conclusion at the end, and an Annex giving Spellbinder’s technical details.  It is a bit long, with many photographs, but my crew might wish to view the chapters for the stages in which they were involved.

You can download it at this link:

A Sabbatical of 50 Atlantic Islands

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How to scrub up well

After a family holiday and some home time, a few days ago I returned to Spellbinder to undertake some maintenance jobs. After her 10,000 mile cruise she is in remarkably good condition – a tribute to her build quality but also to an ongoing programme of minor maintenance. If things break I try and fix them there and then, and when you are on board for lengthy periods this gives you ample time to undertake what is required.

One thing that did need doing was an inspection of the hull and stern gear, a wash off of the Coppercoat antifouling and a change of the prop anodes. This can all be done easily and expensively by lifting out at a boatyard, but I have always liked to dry out against piles or a wall: it is cheap, fun and a social activity. Some followers of the blog will remember doing this with me on my previous yacht Kianga at Hardway.

I had always wanted to dry out against the quayside at Bosham harbour, and took Spellbinder there having booked in with the harbourmaster.

Passing through the submarine barrier outside Portsmouth. It’s good to be in home waters again, although I’m reacquainting myself with things like tides and cooler, stronger wind and rain…

Bosham quay dries at 2m above chart datum, so with my 2m draft I needed a spring tide well in excess of 4m. Happily high water springs at Bosham is around midday, so by tea-time you can be pressure washing away happily and in the nearby pub by apéro time. This is my kind of schedule. You can then head away at midnight on the next high water, or the following midday.

We came in as planned in slightly breezy conditions and settled in with a couple of fender boards to spread the weight of the yacht against the mooring piles. The tricky part is to ensure that when you ground you lean into, and not away from the wall. This is where the masthead spinnaker halyard comes into its own. Led across to a nearby secure point, the leverage is sufficient to ensure that the yacht settles nicely. I also move the boom across to add weight on the appropriate side. Luckily the road at Bosham cuts off at high water, so there is no through traffic. You also need to be careful with your lines, making them long to allow for the drop.

Halyard and boom deployed

There is a good 2 hour high water stand at Bosham, but then the ebb starts in earnest.

Spellbinder settling nicely on her keel

Once she was properly grounded, it wasn’t long until the pressure washer was out. The base of the quay is concrete so not too muddy. There was some weed around the waterline, but otherwise it was just slime and the odd barnacle. It didn’t take long to wash her down and we then changed the two anodes which protect the prop.

Job done

By 6.30 pm we had changed out of our waders and wellies, had a shower and were having a drink with friends Ed and Jeanna, followed by dinner in the Anchor Bleu.

I came off the wall the next day, which did mean a slightly interrupted night as I went through the halyard thing again at 3am! But it was hugely satisfying, and I noticed a significant increase in speed as I motored back in gusty conditions. Spellbinder scrubs up well.

A thank you to my crew

My recent post reflecting on my North Atlantic circuit made mention of the many crew who came aboard and made it all possible.  This post recalls each leg and its crew, reflecting on the highlights for me.  It is written by way of  grateful thanks for those who made the effort to come aboard and share the adventure.

Gosport to Madeira (Tom and Tiger).  I knew from the outset that getting out of the Western Approaches could be one of the trickiest legs of all, and strong south westerlies could well have delayed us. In the event we were blessed with light westerlies against which we could motor sail, and once past Ouessant we had light reaching winds, with much progress made with the Parasailor and furling gennaker. Highlights were flying the drone while under gennaker; bathing in a calm Biscay in deep, cerulean blue water; learning modern vernacular (I now know what a ‘buff ting’ and a ‘peng sort’ are); listening to ‘banging’ tunes (and too much of a genre called London Grime), and riding scooters around Porto Santo. It was great to get Spellbinder’s first ocean leg behind us, and prove her systems.  Thank you Tom and Tiger for making the first leg so memorable – you were a joy to sail with!

UK to Madeira

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Madeira (Sue, Tom and Jonty).  We had a lovely time exploring Madeira, and walking many miles along the Levadas. The Ilhas Desertas were lovely.  We celebrated Sue’s birthday in a lovely castle restaurant in Funchal. We had some of the strongest winds of the whole year (the only time the wind got over 30 knots on passage) coming into Quinta do Lorde, where we left Spellbinder for a couple of months. Great family time, and a memorable holiday.

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Madeira to The Canaries (Paul and Neil). A very hasty departure as an unseasonable storm with hurricane force winds (Leslie) was threatening Madeira. It was an easy passage, during which we caught our first dorado, the first fish ever caught by Paul. Thank you Paul for showing us a bit of Tenerife, which you know well. We enjoyed visiting La Gomera too.

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Canaries (Neil, Claire, Molly and Harvey.) Some great sailing around the western Canaries. Close ups with pilot whales, wonderful food, snorkeling, swimming under cliffs and stern-to berthing.  A pleasure to have the whole Wilson family on board!

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Canaries (Sue and Jonty). We really enjoyed some walking amongst the volcanic landscapes of Tenerife, and touring the island, including visiting the highest point El Teide and the less developed north side.

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Canaries (Anthony). Great to have my best man on board, although sorry you got a bit sick on a breezy crossing to Gran Canaria! Great discussions (Brexit included), and lots of good food and drink consumed.

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Canaries to Cape Verde (Crispin, Charles and Simon).  A memorable trade wind trip, having picked up Simon from Gran Canaria. Highlights for me were Charles diving overboard to clear a rope caught between the rudder and skeg, and helping me sew up a rip in the Parasailor; catching a dorado; seeing the first blow hole from a whale; frying flying fish, and arriving in some very African islands. What a great passage – thank you all.

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Cape Verde (Simon).  The Cape Verde islands were the ones I wished I had allowed more time for.  They are still relatively wild and unexplored, particularly by British yachtsmen.  Simon and I enjoyed some fine sailing and walking, and caught two very large dorado.  We hired a guide to go around Sao Nicolau, and had a memorable day. Probably my favourite archipelago.  Thank you Simon for teaching me lots about my own yacht and how to sail her better!

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Atlantic Crossing: Mindelo, Cape Verde to Martinique (Alan and Neil). The longest of all the passages, and a wonderful fast downwind trip in good trade winds. We broke a couple of things (down to my own ineptitude) but nothing too important.  We had some great baking, and a typical heads repair episode (thanks Alan!) as a result of a curtain rail holder which found its way down the pan.  It was a wonderful, very satisfying crossing – thank you to both crew who were my ideal companions. After recovering, we had a lovely few days relaxing on the west coat of Martinique.

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The Windwards (Peter and Janet).  After a very pleasant few days exploring Martinique we crossed to St Lucia and enjoyed the RYS cruise down to Grenada. What a great time we had: highlights for me were the many BBQs and early morning swims among turtles; an amazing couple of days on Mustique; cricket in Bequia and drinks high up on the island; Tobago Cays and rafting up in Chatham Bay. It was a very special leg – thank you both so much.

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The Windwards (Sue and Jonty).  What a way to spend February half term.  Spellbinder retraced her steps, and enjoyed fine tropical sailing, swimming and snorkeling.  Highlights were walks above Chatham and Marigot Bays, lobsters in Tobago Cays, Wallilabou life and one of my favourite anchorages, Saltwhistle Bay.

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The Leewards (Johnny, Lucy and David). Arriving in the rain at carnival time in Martinique, we squashed into the dinghy and then set off for some memorable explorations of Dominica, Guadeloupe and Antigua and Barbuda. I have some fine memories of partying in Portsmouth Dominica, riding electric bikes around Les Saintes in Guadeloupe, Lucy singing at the shrouds, and our visit to the amazing Barbuda. It was all great fun – thank you for your fine company!

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Nevis, Saint Kitts, Saint Barts, and Anguilla (Patrick). We had a really enjoyable time sailing out from Antigua and exploring these mellow islands.  Fine Russian-inspired coffee in St Kitts, and old plantations which are now boutique hotels; old forts; amazing yachts in Saint Barts; a still destroyed Saint Martin, and the wonderful Anguilla, with its lovely people and laid-back life. Great to spend time with you my old friend.

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BVIs (Crispin, Ann, Lottie and Tom).  We had a fine time sailing around these easy islands, enjoying many a cocktail and meeting a couple of knights of the realm en route.  Some fine running from Crispin and Tom, great snorkeling, drone flying and a full moon party at the end of a runway!

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Anegada, BVIs (Tom).  My favourite island of the BVIs.  Lobster galore, diving down to pile rocks on the anchor, being driven by Tom for the first time, and the most azure of all azure waters.

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BVIs to Bermuda (Neil and François). A touch of seasickness from the crew, who recovered and enjoyed a fine broad reach virtually all the way.  On arrival, horrendous shop prices, great scooter rides, the lovely Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and interesting history and museums.  Thank you both very much – I hope you remember the good bits best!

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Bermuda to the Azores (Alan and Julian). OCC parties, bus tours and an opportunity for you to see some of the island before we headed off.  A wonderful passage full of long Parasailor runs, a broken autopilot, dolphins galore, fine dining and a great landfall in Flores. Terceira was an adventure too.  Thank you both for making this long passage so enjoyable.

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Azores to UK (Crispin and Tom).  Both of you count as my most loyal crew – back for the third time! We had a great dinner in the Azores before a long passage, which dealt some weather-related challenges.  Fuel consumption and routeing dilemmas, the most wonderful dolphin and whale displays, a fine landfall flying the drone over Bishop’s Rock, a re-fuel and anchorage in Scilly and a great Parasailor run up Channel.  Lunch at the RYS was a fine way to finish!

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Thank you all.  I final word of thanks to my friend Julian H – while I missed you on board, your emails and advice on weather and routeing were invaluable and greatly appreciated. Thank you my friend!

 

Reflections on a North Atlantic circuit

10 days after returning to Gosport after my year away sailing around the North Atlantic, I find myself in the Outer Hebrides on a non-sailing family holiday. It is a dreich day, and I am sitting in South Uist looking west out over the Atlantic through the mizzle.  It seems a fitting time to reflect on what has been an excellent and successful year, full of challenge, adventure and friendship.

Firstly, some statistics.  Spellbinder left Gosport on 16th July 2018, returning almost exactly a year later on 12th July 2019. During that time:

  • She logged 10,083 nautical miles;
  • Of that distance, she sailed approximately 7000 miles and motored 3000;
  • She visited 50 different islands*;
  • She had 26 different crew members, several of whom did multiple trips;
  • She undertook 4 ocean passages** of more than 1000 nautical miles each;
  • I spent 214 days on board: 152 were sailing days or on passage, and 61 nights were spent at sea.

It went to plan, more or less, thanks to lots of preparation, planning and thinking beforehand, the reliability of Spellbinder, the devotion and experience of her various crew, and plenty of good fortune.

From a personal perspective, it was the fulfilment of a long-held dream.  Having sailed my previous yacht Kianga on cross-Channel and coastal voyages only, the ocean was always going to call, and my experience in 2007 of being the mate on board a Challenge 67 yacht from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town (via Tristan Da Cunha) had whetted my appetite. The purchase of Spellbinder, and my decision to leave a career of 33 years and take a sabbatical gave me the necessary opportunity.

It was always going to be atypical; most people I met during the year were either groups in their early twenties or in their 60s and 70s, sailing as couples.  My circumstances required inviting friends and family to participate, necessitating the coordination of lots of people and the keeping to a broad timetable – so often the enemy of the cruising lifestyle, as weather and breakages can easily intervene. I was lucky on both counts. The weather didn’t really affect my plans – at worst delaying a couple of departures by a day or two. I suffered few breakages aboard which I was unable to fix straight away, or improvise around – in part due to having many spares on board, but also because I built in some time to the programme to get things fixed. My own ineptitude ripped a sail and bent a spinnaker pole during the first Atlantic crossing, but both were repaired in Martinique.  The only thing of consequence to go wrong was the Raymarine autopilot, between Bermuda and the Azores – luckily we could use the Hydrovane for most of the trip, even motor sailing. As far as crew were concerned, everyone who had committed turned up, and to them I am deeply grateful.

Spellbinder proved to be an excellent yacht for the purpose, and the ocean pedigree of Hallberg Rassy became clear to me. I was fortunate in inheriting a very well-maintained yacht, and the refit I carried out in Gosport over 2017 and early 2018 proved well worth the effort.  Life was very comfortable on board – the freezer, water maker, storage and tankage and hot water system making life particularly pleasant, allowing us to eat well and take daily showers. Communications worked well, with the SSB and Pactor modem becoming my principal means to send and receive emails and download grib weather files.  The SSB also came into its own for passage radio call-ins, which added to our safety and sense of an ocean community. The sat phone was for emergencies and the odd mid-ocean phone call.  Of the other equipment I would cite the following as being particularly useful: the Hydrovane, for many hours and miles of trouble-free and mechanical steering, requiring not a single amp; the Parasailor, which allowed us to sail dead downwind in light airs (7-12 knots) when otherwise we would have struggled or resorted to the motor; the Coppercoat on the hull, which in combination with a regular light scrub (something one can do in the tropics) kept the hull smooth and our boat speeds up; and the drone, which took some wonderful footage.  We were also very grateful for the fans which had been installed. On the electrical side, the solar panels proved a disappointment (a poor design had been installed) but after their replacement in the BVIs I found that in conjunction with the Aqua4gen (a water towed generator) I was fairly self-sufficient in the tropics.  The increase in battery power to 750 amp hours proved a wise move.  Finally, my new helm plotter, on a swivel in the cockpit and interlinked with the AIS and radar feeds, proved sufficient for all our needs and I didn’t even use the one which had previously been installed. On the sailing side, the new genoa and mainsail from Jeckells were excellent.  In the Caribbean, with more consistently strong winds, I found the working gib more than adequate. With the Parasailor (cited above) and gennaker – which was excellent when reaching in light airs – I found I had everything I needed.  Had we encountered gale force winds, we had the removable forestay and storm staysail which, in conjunction with a deep third reef, would have been ideal.  In the event we only encountered winds in excess of 30 knots once, and then only briefly.

I met some wonderful people during the voyage, of all nationalities.  The challenges of sailing binds people together (it might seem from the outside to be an idyllic lifestyle but in reality is quite hard work and full of challenge!) and Spellbinder’s guest book has many more entries.  We encountered no crime and the locals we met were on the whole extremely friendly and helpful. Joining the Ocean Cruising Club was a real pleasure, and opened the way to meeting a great group of international sailors.  I was surprised by the lack of young British people on yachts – there were many more French, German, Dutch and Scandinavian sailors in their twenties who had cobbled together to make dreams happen, sailing small yachts long distances while in the prime of their youth. Perhaps we Anglo-Saxons have lost the ability to do this – has life become too serious too soon? Do university debts impede this now, or are people too eager to gain employment or a mortgage? 

The geography and culture I encountered were as wonderful as expected.  I loved Madeira and the Canaries, but on another trip would spend more time in Cape Verde – they are wonderful, the people relaxed and friendly, and relatively unexplored.  I wish I had planned another week or two there.  Perhaps next time I will head to Suriname from Cape Verde. I had already sailed in the Windward Islands and they were as beautiful as I remembered, although increasingly crowded.  Martinique was new to me though, and I found the west coast a delight – Le Marin is an ideal landfall after an Atlantic crossing. Sailing north, the Leewards are great islands to cruise, but the effects of the 2017 hurricanes (Irma and Maria) have left their mark.  Dominica was the poorest of the countries we visited, but its lack of development is an attraction in itself.  It made me reflect on the various constitutional choices these islands have made in the last 70 years, and the consequences of those choices. Of the other Leeward islands, Barbuda and Anguilla stood out to me as being the most beautiful. The BVIs had also been ravaged by Irma but are bouncing back; I can see why they are such a wonderful cruising ground, given their closeness and the ease of sailing.  Anegada was the best of them. I found Bermuda expensive but quite interesting, and the Azores requiring a summer to be spent there – as with so many of the east Atlantic volcanic islands, the walking was superb.

By way of conclusion – it was a fantastic year, one I am already savouring in retrospect. I will continue to do so.  It was an excellent mix of challenge (the first days of a long ocean passage are full of uncertainty, and it invariably took me a few days to sleep well), adventure, beauty, fun and cultural delight. It has left me relaxed and happy, and ready for new adventures. On the sailing side, I suspect Spellbinder will remain in European waters for the next few seasons – western Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic call – but I would love to do another Atlantic circuit one day.

A final word to all my crew, and to my family – thank you for all your support.  Without you none of this would have been feasible. I will shortly publish a further blog summarising each leg, to thank you more directly.

*Islands set foot upon:  Madeira – Porto Santo, Madeira and Ilas Desertas; Canaries – Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and Gran Canaria; Cape Verde – Sal, São Nicolau, Santa Luzia and São Vicente; Windward Islands – Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, Mayreau, Union Island, Petit Rameau and Baradal (Tobago Cays), Petit St Vincent, Sandy Island, Carriacou and Grenada; Leeward Islands – Terre-de-Haut, Ilet à Cabrit, Basse Terre (Guadeloupe), Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, Basse Terre (Saint Kitts), Saint Barts, Saint Martin, Anguilla (including Prickly Pear island); BVIs – Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Cooper Island, Salt Island, Peter Island, Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada; Bermuda; Azores – Flores, Terceira, São Miguel; UK – Isle of Wight and mainland Great Britain

** Ocean passages over 1000 NM: Gosport to Madeira (1345 NM, 9 days); Cape Verde to Martinique (2100 NM, 13 days); Bermuda to Azores (1659 NM, 12 days); Azores to Gosport (1400 NM, 12 days)

 

 

 

Azores to UK

The final passage of Spellbinder’s Atlantic circuit was Ponta Delgada in the Azores to her home berth in Gosport, a trip of some 1400 nautical miles.  Normally I would expect to be in Falmouth after 7 or 8 days, but we were faced with an interesting routeing challenge, with a large depression forming over north west Spain.

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The Grib (weather forecast) file showing strong northerly and north easterly winds west of Spain and into Biscay

We were therefore obliged to head north first, using some light southerly winds to get ourselves up to around 46 or 47 degrees north, before turning east and trying to find some fair winds and favourable currents to take us into the Western Approaches.

Crew for this leg were eldest son Tom and friend Crispin, who were each returning for their third time during this year’s voyage.  After preparations had been completed in Ponta Delgada, we refueled and headed off.

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Leaving Sao Miguel

For the first few days we had fair winds, making good use of the Parasailor, motoring a fair bit and gradually gaining the required degrees north. Julian, my ever faithful weather adviser, kept us on the straight and narrow through nightly email exchanges and we had to make careful note of the engine hours used, as fuel consumption would be critical.  Eventually I made the call after 7 days to head east at 46 degrees 30 minutes north, and we cut the corner of the low pressure, motor sailing though the swell until we reached the other side.

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Sailing with the Parasailor…

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…and furling gennaker, when we had the angle. Sailing into the dawn, and away from the sunset was, of course, the exact opposite of our Atlantic crossing in December

We kept ourselves busy – reading, cooking, carrying out running repairs and for two of the crew, daily exercises.

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The advantages of having a son studying physics at university – electrical and electronic repairs were effected flawlessly

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Wholly unnecessary physical exercise carried out enthusiastically by two of the crew, while the skipper watched, glass of wine in hand…

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…their exertions seemed to make them happy though

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We baked five loaves, all them a disaster with the texture of bricks.  We think that the tropical climate wasn’t good for the yeast

Once through the low pressure system we had light winds and fair currents, and gradually made progress towards Scilly, where we needed to refuel. I had been concerned about fuel consumption, but having emptied the contents of the reserve tank into the main one, I was able to calculate it more scientifically.  Having kept the revs down, we had been sipping fuel at about 2.2 litres an hour, which gave us plenty in hand.

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‘Hands To Bathe’…post exercise dip in the deep Atlantic

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Motoring through glassy calms

We saw many dolphins, and many whales – particularly one evening, when all around us there appeared to be whale spouts, showing up white against the dark cloud which was in front of the setting sun.  You will have to take my word for it, as they were too far away to photograph effectively.

Approaching Scilly after 10 days, we flew the drone and enjoyed spectacular images and video of passing Bishop’s Rock lighthouse.

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Approaching the Western Isles, Scilly

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Sailing past Bishop’s Rock lighthouse

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Retrieving the drone – always a slightly nerve-wracking experience

Once past Bishop’s Rock we went into Hugh Town on St Mary’s to refuel and Crispin topped us up with fresh food.  To await a fair tide round Land’s End and the Lizard, we  anchored in the Eastern Isles for lunch.

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At anchor in the wonderful Eastern Isles.  We were lucky to have calm conditions

We had a good a good sail down the south coast, enjoying a spectacular Parasailor run from Portland to Swanage, before anchoring again in Studland Bay to await a window into Hurst Narrows and the Solent.

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Parasailor propelling us along nicely, a few miles off Portland Bill

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At anchor off Old Harry’s Rock – almost home…

Our night entry into the Solent was uneventful, and we tied up in Cowes in the RYS Haven at 0330. We thought we would have some kudos for sailing in from the Azores, but the neighbouring yacht had just come in from a Transat race from Newport, Rhode Island, and was turning around overnight to race to Saint Malo!

After a fine breakfast, we cleaned Spellbinder up and then had an excellent lunch to celebrate our arrival and the end of the year’s voyage.  My friend Peter had kindly ordered champagne for us – thank you for your thoughtful and timely gesture! After lunch Tom and I took Spellbinder back to her berth in Gosport, completing our circuit of the North Atlantic.   Thank you Tom and Crispin for your excellent company on this memorable trip.

Reflections on this wonderful year’s voyage will follow in a few days.

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All dressed up for a celebratory lunch

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A taste of the Azores

I often seem to write my blogs at airports – something to do with the WiFi, no doubt, but also because I tend to be at them when there is a change of crew, marking the end of a stage of this journey.  And so it is today: Spellbinder has been in the Azores now for over three weeks, and is about to depart with new crew for her final leg of this Atlantic circuit, from Ponta Delgada on São Miguel back to UK.

From Flores, with the original Atlantic crew, we headed straight for the island of Terceira.  I would have loved to have visited Horta, a great mid-Atlantic crossroads for cruisers (a night at the Cafe Sport bar, and painting your yacht’s mural on the harbour wall are rites of passage), but it will have to wait for another time.  At this time of year it is very crowded, and the winds and time precluded a visit.  However, we found a snug berth in Praia da Vitória,  from where I was able to fly back to UK briefly.  During my absence Julian stayed aboard for a few days – a good thing, as there were 40+ knot winds one night.

The autopilot had broken a couple of days out from Bermuda, so I was keen to get it fixed.  Julian and I had done a good diagnosis, which was confirmed when I took it to David at Hudson Marine on the Hamble.  A new clutch for the drive unit was required, which we duly fitted.  I’m pleased to report that all is now well – a good thing, as steering while motoring through ocean calms is no fun at all!

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Fixing the Raymarine autopilot drive unit

Once back in the Azores, I explored Terceira, hiring a car. It was fiesta time, and I joined fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members to watch the bull run in Angra do Heroísmo.  They block off a few streets, and let half a dozen bulls run rampage. Amateur matadors play with the bulls, and if you can touch their horns (thankfully protected with a soft end placed over them) the crowd roars in approval.  Beer and testosterone combine to make men do dangerous things, and every year people get hurt or worse.

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Parade before the release of the bulls.  Olé!

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Bulls on the run, Angra do Heroísmo…

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A local matador showing off…

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…but I think the bull rather got the better of him

Most spectators are safely sat on lorry beds, or up in trees, but we found a spot where a local said that in 61 years of watching it, no bull had ever come near.  He was wrong! Moray, a fellow yachtsman stood next door to me, took the following footage:

Luckily no-one was hurt, including the bull. It was a tad discombobulating though.

After an hour the bulls are rounded up and returned to their farms.  That evening there was a bullfight in the local arena, but although they place darts in the bull’s body it is illegal in Portugal to kill them.  It was difficult to envisage all this happening in UK: not the thing of Health and Safety and the RSPCA!  But in the Azores, it is part of the very cultural fabric, as much as cricket is with us.

Terceira was lovely, for its architecture particularly.

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Ornate architecture, dates of construction clearly shown

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Churches in the same style

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Statue of bulls in Angra do Heroismo

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Ugly silos spruced up with vibrant depictions

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Street in Angra do Heroismo, ready for the fiesta

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Looking south from the island: a typical Azorian patchwork of fields

My time on Terceira ended with a fun and international OCC gathering, kindly organised by Jonathan and Anne Lloyd (photo courtesy of the local OCC port officer, Lina Lane-Thornton).

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The next morning the weather was set fair for a passage down to Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel.  It was to be single-handed, so I left the marina at dusk and anchored in the harbour, so as to get an easy start early the next morning.  The passage proved straightforward – I left just before dawn into a nice broad reaching wind, albeit with a 2-3 metre swell on the beam.  At 90 nautical miles, this was the equivalent of a Channel crossing and for me the longest single-handed passage I have undertaken so far.

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On passage between Terceira and São Miguel, amidst seagulls

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Heading down the São Miguel south coast 

After 13 hours I arrived safely in Ponta Delgada, found a berth and sorted out formalities in the morning.

Before the arrival of the next crew I hired a car and explored the island.  Like all of them there is ample evidence of EU money being spent: modern roads and infrastructure, and a system which seems to work.  São Miguel is, like many of the others, volcanic in nature and I explored two areas of great beauty: Caldeira des Sete Cidades and Furnas.

The former is a town right down in the bottom of a volcanic crater, with two lakes named Lagoa Verde and Azul (green and blue). It is a truly spectacular descent.

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Caldeira des Sete Cidades and its lakes

Over in Furnas, there are thermal springs galore, where you can bathe and also eat the  local dish Cozido, a delicious stew.

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Thermal springs…

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…’Cozido’, geo-thermally slow-cooked for your delight…

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…which required a geo-thermal bath to aid digestion

The flora on São Miguel is spectacular, with ubiquitous hydrangea and agapanthus lining the roads.

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Delightful flora abounds

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The north coast of São Miguel 

It’s a lovely island.  As elsewhere in the Azores, I found the people calm, polite and helpful, and English is widely spoken.  They know how to be kind and welcoming to tourists.  Prices are extremely reasonable (and a positive delight after Bermuda) and the cuisine delicious.  I have just tasted the Azores – and I will be back. Having crossed the Atlantic twice, the distance from Falmouth (7 or 8 days for Spellbinder, with fair winds) means that the Azores will continue to call me.

Tomorrow I depart with my new crew – elder son Tom, and friend Crispin – for the final passage back to UK.  This morning I filled up with fresh fruit and vegetables in the local market, and studied the weather forecast – not that favourable, with a round-about approach needed to ride the west side of an anti-cyclone and to avoid some north easterly winds.  It will take us a few more days than it might.

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The market at Ponta Delgada

 

Bermuda to the Azores

Bermuda was fun – we had good company with several fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members, it proved a good place to stock up (albeit at prices which would make the finest organic grocer in Belgravia seem like an Asda mega-discount store), and fine weather.  My crew for the return Atlantic crossing were Alan and Julian, and when they flew in we began to prepare Spellbinder for what would be a 1700 nautical mile passage to Flores in the Azores.

We had time to make the most of Bermuda as strong northerlies delayed our departure by a couple of days.  The crew toured the island by bus, we filled up with diesel, provisioned and generally got ourselves organised.

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Informal OCC drinks aboard Spellbinder in St George’s Harbour – it’s a very international club

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Delightfully illustrated Bermudan dollars

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Waiting to fuel up.  With the prospect of light airs, we needed to fill every single litre of fuel capacity.  Spellbinder holds about 440 litres of diesel, enough for about 800 nautical miles of motoring

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Final crew dinner before departure

We left Bermuda through the St George’s Town Cut at around midday on 27th May, heading out into light winds which allowed us to broad reach, firstly under white sails then under gennaker.  It was a perfect way of easing into a long passage, with fine weather and good boat speeds.

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Leaving Bermuda

The rest of the passage served up lots of light winds, calm patches, enormous amounts of animal life, and one or two mechanical challenges.  For the most part we were either goose-winged in stronger winds (although nothing much above 22 knots) or flying the Parasailor, which proved invaluable in propelling us along downwind in true winds of 7-14 knots.

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We had two long runs under Parasailor – the longest being 44 hours, all steered by the Hydrovane.  It made a real difference, as otherwise we would have drifted at 2-3 knots, or would have been forced to motor

Mother Nature served up some real treats on this passage. We saw many, many dolphins and porpoises, and several whales – although the latter proved extremely difficult to photograph, as by the time you get a camera out they tend to have dived, leaving a blow-hole if you are lucky.  We experienced dolphins swimming with us at night, leaving trails of phosphorescence like torpedoes darting around and under the hull.  We also saw hundreds of thousands of Portuguese Men O’ War, which filled the ocean rather like the Sargasso weed had done down in the Caribbean.

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Dolphin school approaching…

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…and one of the daily displays they treated us to

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Portuguese Man O’ War.  They were everywhere, wrapping themselves in our fishing line and towed generator.  They seem to move along in the current, blown by their own ‘sail’

A day out of Bermuda the Raymarine autopilot failed – a bit of a blow, for while the Hydrovane will steer us effectively at all wind speeds and angles of wind, when it was calm we were obliged to hand steer.  Fortunately these periods were quite short, and we learnt to use the Hydrovane to steer us when motoring or motor sailing too.  The diagnosis is a broken clutch on the drive unit, which I hope to repair in the UK shortly, to allow us to use it for the final leg back to UK.  Everything else worked though, so we enjoyed daily showers thanks to the watermaker, and good food thanks to the freezer.

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Dismantling the autopilot drive unit

Life on board was good – we ate and drank well, established a very workable watch system and enjoyed some fine sailing in calm seas, with swell generally less than 1.5m. The SSB HF long distance radio came into its own, with daily OCC nets where we could talk to each other even when several hundred miles apart. Quite a community grew up. There was also a more formal evening check in with an American organisation which tracks yachts crossing the Atlantic, and also daily met broadcasts from the redoubtable American meteorologist Chris Parker, which proved very useful in planning our route. My good friend Julian would also email me regular weather routing advice, so we were well served.

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The skipper relaxing mid-ocean.  Fishing was a complete disaster though!

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Washing day

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Photographing one of the many fine sunsets

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Foredeck beers

Midday beers on the fore deck, under gennaker

We sighted Flores, the northernmost island in the Azores, about 50 nautical miles out.  Arriving in the outer harbour about 5am, we anchored and waited for daylight, before heading into what is a cramped harbour with a major hazard in the entrance.  A while back a lump of jetty fell into the water (it had been poorly constructed, and was un-reinforced). It is marked by a green starboard-hand marker, which is difficult to see in the dark.  For a tired American sailor, used to buoyage the other way around (‘red right returning’) it could prove disastrous – we saw a UK yacht almost come to grief.  Luckily we were aware of it.  We had logged almost 1700 nautical miles, and the passage had taken 12 and a half days; of that we had sailed 9 of them, and motored the rest.

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Talking on the radio as we approached Flores

Once tied up, we strolled up into the village, had some celebratory beers and flew the drone, mixing with some of the international crews who had recently crossed, some of whom we had been talking to on the SSB. It was a public holiday – no-one was about, and most things were closed, so we decided to head out the next day for the islands in the centre of the archipelago.  The next blog will recount Spellbinder’s cruise of some of the Azores.

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Flores harbour, as seen by the drone.  You can make out the dangerous lump of jetty right in the entrance!

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Saint’s Day parade in Flores

 

 

 

Bermuda to Azores – mid Atlantic report

Spellbinder is currently making good progress on her passage from Bermuda to the Azores.  She left St George’s on Monday 27th May and at 1415 UTC on Monday 2nd June was at 38 50N 47 22W. This position is 900 miles out from Bermuda with some 750 miles to run to the Azores.  At the moment the nearest land mass is Newfoundland, 500 nautical miles to the north.

All is well on board and the sailing has been good, with only 16 hours of motoring required so far. The wind has been behind the beam throughout, and a combination of goose-winging, broad reaching and in the last 24 hours Parasailor alone have allowed her to maintain her heading without recourse to diesel. The Raymarine autopilot has been playing up, however, which may mean any extended motoring may have to be done by hand; the Hydrovane has, however, come into its own and has steered us most of the way.

The weather has been fairly cloudy until recent days when the arrival of high pressure has brought fairer skies, calmer winds and flatter seas.  The passage requires careful monitoring of the developing weather systems, less to avoid gales but more to find wind. The position of the Azores High is critical in this endeavour and we have been getting nightly GRIB (weather) files each night through the SSB long range radio.  There has also been a very useful radio net run each morning by the Ocean Cruising Club, where a number of yachts making the passage check in informally.  There is also a more formal check in each evening with a net sponsored by the American Seven Seas Cruising Association (the net is called the ‘Doo-Dah’ net) which tracks progress of yachts on passage. There is also a twice daily weather bulletin by a sailing meteorologist called Chris Parker, which is useful.

We have seen porpoises, plenty of storm petrels and thousands of Portuguese Men-of-War floating by with their little blue- or red-fringed sails up.  There is a bit of shipping (which stays well clear) and some other yachts in the vicinity.

We are currently heading north to try and get around to the top quadrant of the Azores High, and profit from its westerly winds.  Expected arrival in Flores, Azores is around Sunday 9th June; we intend to spend a night or two there before sailing down to the middle islands, visiting Horta and Terciera.

Bermuda

Having left the British Virgin Islands in good time, we have had a good opportunity to explore the wonderful island of Bermuda.  After conducting our Customs and Immigration obligations, the day after arrival we headed around the north of the island to Hamilton, where we berthed at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.  From there, we hired scooters and had a most enjoyable couple of days exploring.  It brought back memories for me, as I had stayed with a friend here for a couple of weeks back in the early nineties.

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, which charges $4 / foot to dock, is easily the most expensive marina I have ever berthed in.  That said, the facilities are smart and excellent, we were made to feel really welcome, and the Club is full of yachting memorabilia and history. We split the costs and it made a great base.

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A properly royal club…

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…which was hosting a top level international keel boat regatta during our stay

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There was a good set of royal yacht club burgees, including that of my own

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There were sumptuous surroundings in which to relax…

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…and when in Bermuda, wear Bermudan shorts when talking to the members!

The first day we headed over to Dockyard, where there is an old British Naval base which features traditionally robust Nelsonian-era architecture.  It has been somewhat marred by the proximity of the cruise ship terminal, but there was an excellent museum in the Commissioner’s House, which occupied us for a couple of hours as we learned about the history of Bermuda from the earliest settlers – who were shipwrecked – to the present day.  Bermuda’s geographical isolation has in so many ways influenced its history.

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The Commissioner’s House

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Naval ramparts, looking north

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Bermuda hosted the America’s Cup in 2017 – the US entry, Oracle Team left their yacht on display

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We visited a cemetery en route to the Dockyard, with the graves of several dozen Royal Naval personnel from World War Two

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View of Bermuda , looking towards Hamilton from the lighthouse

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Welcomed back to Hamilton by the statue of  Johnny Barnes, a resident who stood and waved at traffic every day between 1986 and 2015

The second day we re-visited Saint George’s by land, enjoying some great beaches on the way.

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Church Bay beach

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The team on their scooters – note the state-of the art helmets!

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Saint George’s.  Bermudan business attire is fairly widespread still – shorts, long socks and sometimes topped with a blazer

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Danish sail training tall ship in Saint George’s

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View from Ordnance Island, Saint George’s

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Another beautiful American yacht. I liked this one as the skipper has his or her own cabin, companionway entrance and private stern deck to enjoy, while the crew sail the yacht

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Bermudan roofs – universally whitewashed, and with a unique rain-catching gutter which funnels all the rainwater into storage

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View of the Town Square, Saint George’s

We headed back to Hamilton and the next morning said goodbye to François.  Neil and I then sailed back to Saint George’s, where I had negotiated a mooring.  It was a good passage, and we almost managed to enter the Town Cut and go into the harbour under sail.

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Sailing through the Town Cut

We enjoyed Bermuda immensely.  Spellbinder is now based here awaiting her next crew to take her to the Azores, with a departure planned for towards the end of the month.  There are quite a few yachts gathering here, including the ARC return leg, and several fellow members of the Ocean Cruising Club are inbound.  It should be a sociable time.

 

 

 

 

Passage to Bermuda

The passage from the BVIs to Bermuda is about 850 nautical miles, and the pilot book advises that for the first few hundred miles, the south east Trades should help you along. As you near Bermuda, however, you are liable to meet calms.  And so it transpired – 4 days of steady winds between 14 and 22 knots just behind the beam, followed by a brief gennaker run as the winds lightened, followed by 24 hours driven by Mr Yanmar.  We arrived after a 5 day, 8 hour passage averaging 6.5 knots.  Crew for this trip were Neil and François.

My stay in the BVIs had been made greatly more enjoyable by the team from Penn’s Landing, the little 12-dock marina which made me feel very welcome and which provided Spellbinder with an excellent base.  Thanks to the marine manager Justin and Rick in particular, who were great. We left Penn’s and headed over to Virgin Gorda to check out of the BVIs, before raising the sails and starting our passage.

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François and myself preparing to leave Penn’s Landing

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Farewell to the BVIs

The winds were strong enough to push us along well, but also kicked up moderate seas which gave my crew early bouts of seasickness, from which they thankfully recovered after a couple of days.  This was a trip which proved perfect for two bits of kit which had yet to come into their own. I had used the Hydrovane a little during the Atlantic crossing, but directly downwind the Raymarine autopilot proved more accurate and faster.  Across the wind, however, the Hydrovane came into its own and steered us straight and fast for 4 whole days, keeping the wind just behind the beam and on track, without using a single amp.  The other bit of kit which proved useful was the Aqua4Gen – a towed propeller generator which put in a steady 5 or 6 amps. I had used it when crossing the Atlantic but lost the propeller due to metal fatigue after the first day. Luckily I had a spare, and having repaired the generator in Martinique I found that in conjunction with the solar panels the two kept on top of the electrical demands, meaning that I only ran the engine every 3 days, mainly to get hot water.

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Hydrovane and Aqua4Gen in action

The passage was full of delightful sunsets and sunrises, a few flying fish and the odd squall, but few other yachts.

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The Raymarine Quantum radar, when switched to weather mode, proved adept at picking up squally showers

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The skipper catching up on his sleep…

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Neil surveying the scene

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A somewhat recovered François…

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…who provided saucisson with the apéro – a Spellbinder specialty

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Coming back up into the yacht after clearing the Sargasso weed from the Hydrovane rudder – the weed proved a real impediment, and precluded fishing as the lure would always catch it.  I estimate 5% of the seas’s surface was covered in the stuff

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As the winds died we enjoyed our gennaker for a few hours

After our 24 hours of motoring, we were called up by Bermuda Radio as we approached, and they guided us via the ‘Town Cut’ into St George’s Harbour.  It’s a great entrance and landfall. One in we tied up at the Customs and Immigration dock, where we went through the formalities required and were dealt with very efficiently.  We spent the night across the way tied to the quay, and with the ‘Q’ flag down (formalities complete) we were able to go into town and enjoy a couple of drinks.  It was a fun passage, not without its challenges, but with a great sense of accomplishment.

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Entering the Town Cut at sunset – good timing!

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Docked the next morning opposite Customs and Immigration, Ordnance Island, St George’s

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Arrival drinks.  Thank you to Neil and François for your crewing duties!

We are currently exploring the wonderful island of Bermuda, and another blog will follow shortly.

 

 

Anegada and boat jobs

I have spent the last few days on Spellbinder with my eldest Tom. We visited Anegada, a small island which is part of the BVIs and to their north.  It proved to be a very special place, meriting its own blog post.  We also spent a bit of time preparing Spellbinder for the next phase of the adventure, which will be a see her undertaking three long passages to return to UK in July.

Anegada is a coral atoll, no more than a few feet high.  Only 250 or so permanent residents live there and there is little significant modern development.  It was pretty much flattened by Hurricane Irma but has bounced back.

We had a good close reach up there in 15 knots or so of wind. Since arriving in the Caribbean I have had just a working jib as a foresail, as the breeze is ever present and a genoa would often need reefing.  It has worked well, and was new out of the bag as Spellbinder’s previous owner barely used it.  The trip to and from Anegada was a great example of a perfectly balanced rig making 6-7 knots without fuss.

Anegada has some of the most azure of azure waters:

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You only see Anegada from a short distance off – it’s very flat, and the trees are the first things you see

The anchorage was at Setting Point, and we crossed the reefs with barely any water under our keel – I knew it would be tight, as we were at springs, but I reckon we had about 20cm under the keel.  It was too shallow to pick up a buoy so we anchored off in hard coral sand, digging in the anchor as best we could then doing something definitely not taught in the RYA syllabus – diving down on the anchor and piling rocks and stones over it.  You can do that when you anchor in 2.5m in tropical waters!

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Setting Point anchorage – pretty shallow!

On arrival Tom and I hired a 4×4 and toured the island.  It was the first time I had been driven by Tom, who coped well with a beat-up (no passenger side wing mirror) left hand drive automatic car driving on the left hand side of the road.  Rental cars are easy on Anegada – cash, no deposit, few details required – you can’t go far!

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My very casual-looking chauffeur for the day!

We saw many fine beaches, snorkeled on one (Loblolly) and had lunch at the Anegada Beach Club on the north side.  We also visited Cow Wreck Bay, and saw pink flamingos in the distance from a vantage point.

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Pomato Point, the other anchorage, which is more remote

Anegada signs

Tom went for a run in the evening, cooled off in the sea and that evening we ate lobster – which seems ubiquitous – at a restaurant called the Lobster Trap.  It was delicious.  The lady who runs the restaurant and the Anegada Beach Club told us she orders 700lb of lobster a day – it seems the seas can sustain this level of fishing.

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Sunset run, and cooling off in the sea…

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…before a lobster fest

Before leaving back for Virgin Gorda and Tortola we had a couple of boat jobs to do.  Nothing significant has broken on Spellbinder so far (except that which I have broken myself) but I was looking in the engine bay and saw that the water pump had sprung a leak.  Fortunately I had a spare on board and we swapped it over quite quickly.  I also noticed that the calorifier had moved on its mounting as a nut had come undone – this required us both entering the engine bay and despite the cramped surrounding achieving the fix.  Sweaty job though…

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Trying to find the source of the leak

We had a good passage back south, had a night in Gorda Sound (Leverick Bay) and Tom, seeing a mountain, duly ran up it.

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View of Leverick Bay from above

After lunch in Cooper Island, we headed back  to Tortola to our berth. The final evening was spent preparing Spellbinder for long distance cruising – jib down, genoa and furling gennaker bent on, and a trip up the mast to inspect the rigging and replace a block.

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The view taken by Tom from the top of the mast.  I do look small down there…

Anegada was wonderful, and a fitting final sail to the cruise of the BVIs.  I have thoroughly enjoyed it here, and can see why it is such a popular cruising destination.  It was also great father and son time – thank you Tom.

Next stop Bermuda – on current plans we depart Sunday.  We should have some nice easterlies but a dropping high pressure means I suspect we’ll motor the last bit…

The British Virgin Islands

After a brief trip back to UK to catch up with family and domestic life, I returned a couple of weeks ago to Tortola to await the next crew. Crispin, Ann and my god daughter Lottie arrived and were joined a few days later by eldest son Tom.  Together, we have just spent a wonderful few days sailing around this excellent, sheltered and benign cruising area.

Benign, that is, outside of the hurricane season. Hurricanes Irma and Maria (September 2017) hit the BVIs in common with the neighbouring islands and the damage caused by them is still very obvious.  The islanders are recovering well though, and despite a lack of greenery and many destroyed buildings and boats, life has resumed.  It will, however, take many more years for a full recovery.

First stop for us was Virgin Gorda, and Gorda Sound. Some of the iconic yacht bases (Bitter End, Yacht Club Costa Smerelda) are still rebuilding but Leverick Bay has been reconstructed quickly and appears to be benefiting from good trade.  We motored up there into the prevailing wind, picked up a buoy, and met the local Cruising Association Honorary Local representative and had drinks with Simon and Nichola, the crew of another yacht, Parati, we had previously met in Madeira.

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Leverick Bay

The next morning, after a motor around the Bay to see the state of the repairs, we headed down to The Baths on the leeward side of Virgin Gorda.  We swam ashore with our stuff in a big waterproof Ortleib bag, and enjoyed the boulders, snorkeling and views from the restaurant at the top of the hill.  Our destination for the night was Salt Island, an uninhabited spot which provided us with a tranquil anchorage in company with a couple of large yachts.  I took the opportunity to fly the drone, and we swam the next morning over the wreck of RMS Rhone, which sank in October 1867 after another hurricane.

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Anchorage off Salt Island.  A rather larger yacht (and ensign) belonging to another Squadron member behind.

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Stroll up to a peak on Salt Island – photo taken by the drone

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Crispin diving down to inspect the wreck of RMS Rhone…