“West of the Lizard is no place for a small boat come the end of August”, it says in the West Country Cruising Companion. So with that in mind I set off from Padstow in the early hours, bound round Land’s End to Newlyn. There was still some swell left over from the strong winds. In fact, as I worked my way out past Trevose Head, the seas were enormous.
Originally I had hoped to tackle Land’s End from St Ives, but the conditions didn’t permit, so I had to do the trip in one go. To shorten the journey somewhat I planned to take the inshore passage, but if it was going to be rough then I’d prefer to have more sea room to play with, especially in the onshore winds. But that would be a long trip indeed. On the outward journey, I’d had some rough treatment around here, and really wasn’t looking forward to the day. Apprehension was building as I worked my way south west, in fact, as I passed St Ives, I seriously thought about just taking the boat in and handing the keys to someone. After all, my journey was pretty much over, this was no longer about fun, just about getting home. At least I’d save on winter storage fees. But it sounded like a hassle so I just pressed on. As I rounded Pendeen Point, I found that the water wasn’t that rough and it was a blowing a happy Force 4.
All the tension I’d felt on the way down started to melt away as it turned into quite a nice sail. I was still keen to get around and into shelter as quickly as possible, but the fear was fading away now. I took the inshore passage behind the Longships lighthouse.
At this point I was supposed to get a boost from the inshore counter current, but I didn’t seem to be getting any help at all, although I wasn’t fighting the tide either, so I just watched the coast go by as progress was steadily made. Eventually I had gotten past the most treacherous parts, and as I was sailing away from Gwennap Head, I looked astern and it seemed like the weather was closing in. It was as though the Gods had chosen mercy and allowed me a window of safe passage, and now it was closing up astern.
Soon enough I had made it all the way to Mousehole where I checked to see if I could anchor. There was too much swell for a comfortable night so I pressed on to Newlyn. It was pitch black as I approached and had to watch carefully for anchored yachts hidden against the town lights. I wasn’t planning on going into harbour, so I found a good spot to anchor, and promptly went to bed.
The next day it was time to do battle with the Lizard once more. In the previous bout I’d been slapped around quite badly, but I felt a bit more prepared this time. The relatively easy passage around Land’s End had boosted my confidence somewhat. I clipped across Mount’s Bay in good time with favourable tide and wind, doing about 6 knots over the ground. It was a smashing day. The sun was shining, the sea was that brilliant colour that you only seem to get in Cornwall and there was wildlife everywhere. Part of me thought: when you’ve got this sort of thing on your doorstep, what’s the point in sailing hundreds of miles away?
My Dad, a birdwatcher, had informed me that there was a rare bird in the area, an unusual visitor to these parts in the form of a Brown Booby (yeah, have fun with that). It had been seen around St Ives the day before and now apparently it was sighted at Kynance Cove, which I was very close to. There were tons of gannets about and some pretty big mixed feeding aggregations, with dolphins chipping in too and I even saw a sunfish, but no basking sharks.
I kept my eyes peeled for the booby, but it’s really difficult to use binoculars on a small boat when you’re getting bounced around, one hand on the helm and the other hand holding onto to something solid. But I did see a likely culprit in one feeding group, and snapped a couple of pictures.
In the end, after lots of careful analysis, I think it was just a young gannet. I’m not too fussed about seeing rarities though, I’d rather just watch everything in action instead of stressing over an unusual visitor. The water around here was just brimming with wildlife.
I would have liked to linger a while, but had to get on. I had timed it to arrive off the point at slack water, but when it turned it’d be against me. I also set course to pass about 5 miles off, but as I got closer, the inshore route looked OK, and there were a couple of other boats passing much further in, seemingly without trouble. I decided to take a shortcut and pass closer to land.
I was almost passed the point and into safety when the tide turned and started to flow against me. And it flowed hard. It built in speed very quickly and I soon had both engines on, the inboard and the outboard, the first time I’d done this. Fighting against it, I was less than a mile away from safety and had the boat pointed eastwards but was travelling northwards. The sea wasn’t especially rough, at least not yet but I could feel the overfalls building. After what seemed like forever, I made it through into clean water, immediately east of the point itself and suddenly the boat started going where she was pointing. Feeling a bit stressed out I decided to find a cove to drop the anchor and take a break. I was a bit disappointed in myself for letting a situation like that develop. I probably shouldn’t have changed course on a whim, I nearly didn’t make it round the point. But I ended up in a nice spot where I had a swim and some lunch, and waited for the tide to turn again in my favour.
It occurred to me that my experiences of rounding these exposed headlands have all been very different, and were never what I anticipated. I don’t know how much of this is down to pot-luck and the complexities of weather systems and tidal currents, or if it’s a sign of just how little I know. I’d like to have a better idea of what I’ll face in any given situation with regards to the weather. One thing I need to do is develop more knowledge of small scale weather systems; it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Later that afternoon I set off with the tide to find a place to stop, not just for the night but for the following night too, as a front was moving in. I decided to go into Gillan Creek instead of the Helford because it looked like it would afford more shelter and I could use the boat’s small size to tuck right in.
It was quite close quarters finding a spot equidistant between the moorings but I ended up dropping hook off the picturesque little village of Flushing. I didn’t go ashore, just waited for the wind to blow through and then on the morning of Thursday 5th September 2019 I set off for the final passage of my journey, back to Plymouth.
The forecast said it should have been a great day for sailing, but it was a little stronger than I was expecting. I certainly made good progress, but the wind kept shifting from a force 3 up to a force 6. Not gusting, but blowing for about 20 minutes and then changing. I kept reefing, and then finding myself doing 2 knots, then shaking out the reef and shortly thereafter getting blasted and heeling right over with the tiller in my armpit. And the direction kept swinging back and forth through about 40 degrees, so that I couldn’t just leave the tiller pilot to do the helming.
I suspect it was because the wind was blowing from over the land. It was actually quite frustrating, but I made very good time. In fact, it was the first long passage of the entire trip where I arrived before my ETA. I usually arrive significantly after. Last year the journey from Mevagissey to Plymouth had felt like a massive undertaking, but now I was doing a journey twice as long and it felt routine. Before long, I was rounding Rame Head and then Les came out to meet me just off Penlee Point to welcome me home and we sailed along together.
I went over to Bovisand and anchored in the sandy bay, where Ness and her friend swam out to the boat and joined me for a drink. It was in this spot back in 2014 that I saw a boat at anchor, when I was up on the coastal path, looking down on it from above, I think it’s what made me want to get a boat and learn how to sail. It was such an idyllic sight and having grown up in rural Scotland, only just moving to Plymouth that year, it’s the sort of thing that had always seemed unattainable, the quintessential life of privilege. I guess that means I’m a man of privilege now, but it’s pretty amazing that you can get an old 70’s fibreglass yacht for next to nothing and just go off and mess about in it. I talked with Bernie about this later on in the pub, and it’s great that you can still do this here. Apparently in most countries you need to be qualified before you can do that, but here they’ll let a dafty go out and do what they please. Long may it continue.
Anyway Les showed up after a bit and scared them off, and then we had a few beers and waited for the tide to allow us back onto the moorings. It was a short trip back in, and it felt strange to be coming back in around Devil’s Point and then seeing Storehouse Pool open. Maybe it was just the beers. I came alongside the pontoon and met a few members who had come down to say hello. It was nice to have a few folk welcome me home, so thank you for that.
I apologise if anyone had wanted to do so, but couldn’t because of the short notice, but my passage plans always seem to be somewhat elastic and I didn’t want to schedule a date I might miss. On that note, I’ve got to leave for Australia tomorrow and spend more money. I wonder if they’ve got Lidl down there….