Sailing Solo Around Britain

MILFORD HAVEN TO NEWLYN - 152 miles

Milford Haven to Newlyn Saturday May 28th Milford Haven

It's cold and windy, but tomorrow there appears a one day weather window for the 70 odd mile dash to Padstow. It will be my longest single handed sail to date and for the most part will be some 20 miles out at sea, with no sight of land - and no mobile signal. In the circumstances I decide to contact Milford Haven Coastguard to file a passage plan....just in case.

At 1930 after watching Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Cup Final, I leave Milford Marina and motor six miles down to the Dale anchorage (again) and spend the night at anchor. Found some barbecued spare ribs (excellent!) from the Tesco special offer counter and wash it down with a Cobra. It's a satisfying finish to the day.

Sunday May 29th Dale Anchorage, Milford Haven to Padstow - 72 miles

Awake and moving by 0430 only to find dripping mist and fog has again descended and the weather forecast spoke of thunderstorms over the Padstow destination by 1600. The fog is not as bad as the previous Wednesday and I can just about see across the main shipping channel.

The forecast thunderstorms are a concern but "fortune favours the bold" so up comes the anchor and off we motorsail into the mist, with one reef already in the main sail. Time 05.15.

It's a bit over 70 nautical miles to Padstow and sailing at 5 knots gives a journey time of some 14 hours which should put me in Padstow Bay around 19.30. Tidal access to Padstow Harbour is between 1900 to 21.30. Within a mile Milford Haven had disappeared in the mist.

Sailing some 20 miles off shore, I don't expect to have digital connection for about 10 hours. Last year a new Simrad autopilot had sounded sick for most of the trip and the suppliers replaced it. The "new" Simrad is hooked on to the tiller and steers admirably in a lumpy swell with little wind.

It is not very comfortable but soon a breeze picks up, from the north east, just on my port (left hand) beam. I could not ask for a better direction. The genoa (fore sail) is unrolled and we are off on one single tack, on a course of 175 degrees, for the next 70 miles.

Around 08.15 the mist lifts and the sun comes out. The sea changes from an unhappy grey to lovely Caribbean blue. Maybe "fortune does favour the bold". However the tide is against for the first few hours and best speed is only 4 knots, too slow to make the high tide at Padstow.

Some 4 hours into the trip, around 09.30, the tide turns and 5 knots then 6 knots appears on the log. This should ensure access to Padstow, but the tide will turn against for the last three hours of the journey
dolphins in Bristol Channel As Dark Star is really whooshing along (you do get a whooshing sound at 6 knots!) I hear a splash on the port side. Thinking something had dropped over the side I pop up from the cabin find a pod of dolphins all around Dark Star.

On my way round the Uk I had been often promised dolphins, especially in the Moray Firth approaches to Inverness. Never a fin did I see there, but for the next seven hours I had dolphins riding alongside Dark Star.
dolphins in Bristol Channel I have no idea of the size of the dolphin population in the Bristol channel and beyond but various dolphins, big and small, in pods, sometimes in pairs or singly, just keep appearing.

Whistling seems to encourage them but what really attracts and brings them right up close, is banging my hand on the side of the hull.

It is quite an experience. Apart from the dolphins I never see any sign of life, another yacht or even a fishing boat, until I enter the Padstow approaches.

The wind increases with force 5 gusts (20 mph) but it's still from the favoured north easterly direction and I put another reef in the main to make things more comfortable. The dolphins are still around at 15.00, but coming over the horizon (as forecast) is some nasty looking weather.

I can't believe there will be thunderstorms - it's just not warm enough! Torrential rain strikes - but no thunder. The rain is gone after an hour and by 1700 I am on the final run into Padstow Bay with a forecast arrival of 19.00 - perfect. 72 miles in less than 14 hours - not bad for a heavily laden, 27 foot bilge keeler.

Padstow harbour does not reply on the radio. It's Bank Holiday weekend but harbour staff seem to have disappeared and I gingerly potter down the narrow approach.

One last try by mobile phone gets a response. "Go through the open lock gates and find a space on the north quay wall".

It is 20.00 but the harbour quayside is still packed with holidaymakers. As I struggle to tie up, a small boy insists I tell him the nautical name of the securing rope. He is very polite but is very close to ending up secured by the rope. I Need a good sleep to restore equilibrium.

There are no floating pontoons but the rise and fall against the harbour wall is not huge since the harbour gates close less than two hours after high water. The reserved toilets/showers on the quayside are ok but vandalism is a headache.

Monday May 30th Padstow Harbour Padstow Harbour

A rest day today. The weather is poor and very misty, but it's not raining. In Padstow harbour you are part of the entertainment. Holidaymakers stroll past on the quayside, free to peer down into the yachts.

Youngsters lower crab lines between the boat and the harbour wall and their lead fishing weights bang against the hull.

Being a bank holiday, the town is buzzing. By 10.00 the car parks are full and queues are forming at the cafes. Lord knows how many Cornish pasties are being consumed. I cant wait try one, but it's disappointing, mass produced, definitely not locally baked.

However in the narrow back streets there are a couple of shops promising "baked here daily on the premises" so I will try to erase the disappointment tomorrow.

Without decent weather, the very attractive nearby beaches lose any appeal and parents are wandering around with less than impressed children.

Padstow has no amusement arcades or children's fairground. There is the National Lobster Hatchery but the smell emanating from the large building suggests the lobsters may have died rather than hatched.

Rick Stein the celebrity chef appears to own most of the food outlets and is offering a three course lunch for £40. A man with a very loud voice is promising speed boat rides.

The boats fill readily, speed off and disappear into the drifting fog.... The punters can't see anything out there and possible hypothermia is part of the "fun".

Tomorrow, Tuesday, looks another poor weather day, but there looks to be a weather window coming on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tuesday May 31st Padstow Harbour Padstow pontoons

Last night on the high tide, more boats entered the harbour and rafted against boats already tied up to the quayside wall. Occupants of the rafting boat must walk across the foredeck of the "host" boat to get ashore.

The couple in the boat now attached to Dark Star appear to wear hobnailed boots and seem to spend their time endlessly wandering back and forward. The male is older than his partner and has problems with balance.

I discretely put the lifesaver horseshoe buoy near at hand, in the cockpit, just in case.
Padstow Harbour The day turns out windy, but better than forecast and crowds soon throng test he quayside area. It's remarkable - crabbing has become a national pastime. As soon as one family give up their quayside position, a second lot appear almost instantly, heaving in leaded crab lines with the ubiquitous nets filled with bits of bacon.

Wednesday May 31st Padstow to St Ives - 40 miles

The gates on the lock at Padstow harbour do not open until 9.30 but I am in no hurry to leave since early arrival at the next destination, St Ives, in around 7/8 hours would find that harbour completely dried out.

The trip starts off nice and quietly so that rounding Trevose Head, it is possible to cut the corner and sail between The Quies rocks and Trevose Headland. Thereafter the wind settles into the south blowing 15/20 mph, which means a hard motor sail with two reefs in the main.

At last at 17.15 St Ives Bay appears through some gloomy weather. The bay is strewn with pot buoys and nets. No way could you enter this place in the dark. There are allegedly two large yellow visitors buoys in the bay but I can see no sign.

I pick up what turned out to be a pretty flimsy mooring only to be warned off by a "friendly" local. There is one other yacht nearby which appears to be anchored. From it comes a strong Scottish bellow to "Come alongside".

The yacht was yet another Moody (Moody 33 "White Lady") and is not anchored but tied up to a large buoy normally used by the lifeboat which is presently ashore. The helpful skipper was born in Edinburgh and attended my old school, Holy Cross Academy!

There's not much time for pleasantries since White Lady is off to Wales, sailing through the night with a crew of four. I tie up to the huge lifeboat mooring whilst the crew from White Lady point out two small, flat top yellow, visitors' buoys which have "handles" on the top and which they had failed to pick up after several attempts!

I spent an uncomfortable, roly night attached to the lifeboat buoy, but it's too dark to move when the high tide allows access to the inner harbour.

Thursday June 1st St Ives Harbour

At 10.00 I leave the lifeboat mooring in the bay and head into St Ives inner harbour with the high tide. There are three visitor's moorings in front of the "esplanade", all unoccupied.

I pick up the a buoy, find a confusion of ropes, but with the help of a more friendly local, it becomes clear that fore and aft moorings are attached to a single buoy!
St Ives Slowly Dark Star is left high and dry as the tide drops but with some worrying bangs as the cast iron twin keels settle annd "bounce" on the sand before settling solidly aground. I drop from the cockipit down to the wet sand, splash through the rivulets and find the "harbour Office".
Dark Star at St Ives The only facilities on offer are public toilets and water, but £15 cash covers two night's stay. For the tourist and visitor, St Ives turns out to be more interesting than Padstow. I find the "original and best" pasty shop and hand over £4 for a monster pasty, allegedly full of prime steak.

Near disaster strikes
Back on board, I am barely able to finish the huge pasty, but it makes a tasty dinner. I watch visitors strolling over the sand to watch the incoming tide. Kids are playing in the surf. Surf? This does not look good. There appears to be quite a ground swell behind the rising tide.
Dark Star at St Ives Also rising is my apprehension. Before Dark Star is fully afloat, the waves will lift and drop the boat on the hard sand, putting great strain on the heavy iron keels, but it's the exposed skeg and the glass fibre rudder which are most at risk.

A broken rudder or skeg in this holiday outpost could the trip is over. For twenty horrible minutes, Dark Star is lifted and dropped by the rising water and waves. Every blow on the sand shakes the mast and rigging.

There is absolutely nothing I can do to help. I drop the rear mooring rope and from the bow, try to pull Dark Star into deeper water but she only seems to yaw sideways. The rear mooring rope is still tied to the single mooring buoy and is now caught under the twin keels!

Eventually around 22.00 Dark Star is fully afloat. It's dark but I decide to clear out of the harbour right away, since this performance will be twice repeated at the next low (03.00) and high (11.00) tide.

Is there any water ingress?
First I check the bilges to see if any water has entered the hull after the pounding. All seems dry so I motor out into the darkness of the bay to either anchor or find a mooring.

The lifeboat mooring to which I secured last night, has fluorescent markings and thankfully glints in the light of my searching torch. I gratefully tie up and hastily turn out everything in the port side bunk space to gain access to the skeg securing bolts.

There is a little water around the three skeg bolts but it does not taste salty. If these bolts have been compromised, I am in trouble! Heart in mouth, I dry up the water and look for seepage around the bolts. After a long five minute wait, it's all dry.

I bless Brian Meerloo and the Cobramold workers who built Dark Star back in 1978. They produced a very tough boat. There is usually a little rain water which finds it's way down the rudder tube, around the top of the skeg bolts,

I phone Val who had rang earlier in the middle of the mayhem. I assure my wife all seems ok and I am still afloat. Sleep is difficult as Dark Star rolls and pitches on the mooring in the bay in the strengthening breeze.

Still jangling from the near disaster, I consult XC Weather forecast (4G from EE is excellent). A north west 4/5 is forecast but one website is predicting a swell of 2.5 metres around Lands End. I can't stay here in St Ives and decide to tough it out at sea and head down the north Cornwall coast.

There are no harbours of any kind on this inhospitable coast which stretches down to Lands End. Some 37 miles distant, round the corner is Newlyn harbour, the closest port of refuge on the mainland.

Friday June 2nd St Ives to Newlyn - 37 miles - What happened to the Scilly Isles?

It's a miserable morning, raining hard but the rain is to clear after 14.00. I can't leave until 11.00 to make the best of the ebbing tide, so I sit and sweat. The north west wind should be on the beam for much of the trip.

The plan is to sail south to Lands End and then head 25 miles across to the Scilly Isles. For probably the hundredth time I consult the weather forecast. Oh no, gales and strong winds, gusting 50/60 mph for at least 5 days, are expected, starting Monday!

There are no marinas in the Scillies. You drop anchor or rent a mooring buoy, but the only way off the boat is by rubber dinghy. With high winds, you can be marooned on the boat in rough weather.

The only sensible decision is to head for Newlyn Harbour on the mainland with it's 24 hour, deep water access. I head out into the rising wind and swell and leave St Ives Bay.

It's a hard motor sail with two reefs in the main, but once clear of the headland, I can change course more to the south which brings the wind and waves onto the beam.

It's pretty bumpy, but I have left at near high tide which means that I should have the ebbing tide pushing Dark Star along for the next 6 hours.

Where's the horizon gone?
The rugged cliffs on this coast fall away to the south east and clearing yet another headland, something strange happens. Ahead the horizon disappears as a wall of water rears up. The first real Atlantic swell, rolling along unstoppably at a 250 degree angle, finds Dark Star, right on the nose.

The speed on the GPS drops by 1 knot as we climb the swell and then rises by a knot as we pop over the crest and slide down the other side. It turns out to be quite exhilarating. The wind is not too strong (F4/5) and there are no breaking crests.

However, as the course changes to a more southerly one, it brings the swell more on the beam and the autopilot struggles to maintain course as the the boat is flipped sideways at the top of each swell.

Brisons, Longships and Lands End in sight and we finally head east, homewards!
Lands End and the Longships Through the rain and swell Dark Star pushes on steadily until we finally clear Pendeen headland and head south towards the famous nautical marks of the Brisons and the Longships. The wind falls away, the swell is now pretty much on the stern and the sun comes out.

Lands End creeps into view. I pass the Longships ruefully since this is where I had intended to set off across the shipping lanes for the Scilly Isles, just a tantalising 25 miles away.

The coastline drops away to port and glancing at the compass I realise we are heading now 90 degrees due east. We have rounded the bottom of the UK and heading for home! Except there's still the matter of the Scillies..

As I turn to the east, the wind appears to pick up from the north west. The engine is switched off and in the shelter of the land, Dark Star fairly romps along under full sail.

I enjoy a memorable sail, passing the Runnell Stone Buoy, along the cost of south Cornwall and up towards Mousehole and Penzance Bay. By 18.00 hours I edge into the busy fishing harbour of Newlyn, full of large trawlers.

There is no reply on the radio from marina staff but a couple of locals indicate a nice berth in the small marina. Within minutes the berthing operative appears and requests £15 cash for the berth. "Don't do credit cards".....

After two nights of on roly moorings in St Ives Bay, the near disaster in the harbour and the anxiety of the sail around the "bottom" of England, I thoroughly enjoy a beer and fall fast asleep.

Saturday June 3rd Newlyn Harbour

I enjoy a lie in and confirm that the forecast for the coming week is indeed dire, with 60mph gusts forecast for Monday afternoon.

After a stroll around Newlyn (pretty, no, smelly, yes) found a decent Co-op but there is no "shopping" here unless you want to buy fish. Penzance is just a 15 minute bus ride away and that's where people shop.

I have a feeling that there will be no weather window for the Scillies until the end of the coming week. I would like to spend a week in the Scillies but a period of settled weather is a a must.

Have discovered the Scillonian passenger ferry sails daily from nearby Penzance harbour to St Mary's in the Scillies. They do a £40 day return day trip....

I will take the bus into Penzance tomorrow. St Mary's church has a free Dvorak concert in the afternoon, so no chance of being tempted onto the Scillonian!

Thanks for reading this.

PS Just watched a 40/1 shot win the Derby. Trainer A O'Brien "tinks" this is "a nice horse". Can't believe it's nearly ten years since the hectic days of Superform - and Adrian still can't say "thinks".