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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 2


The weather in Coverack deteriorated during the night and I woke up to some rather grey skies and boisterous swell coming round the corner into the anchorage, which put me in high spirits for the day ahead. After struggling to put some breakfast together and wolfing it down, I weighed anchor, put the sails up and got underway to catch the tide around the Lizard. 

The weather already wasn’t especially pleasant, even though the forecast didn’t set any alarm bells off, but as luck would have it the worst of it occurred right when I was in the thick of the tidal races going round the Lizard. I had timed it to go round at slack water, but it was still plenty rough and the squalls that passed through couldn’t have picked a worse time really. This was my first time out in big seas and the little boat was getting thrown around all over the place. I kept the engine running and had the sails reefed down and just soldiered on as best I could. I had thought about turning back but by this point I was halfway round and the ebb tide would start flowing so I’d be fighting that on the way back. I reminded myself of a great Churchill line “If you are going through hell…keep going!” and so with my chin up I pressed on. The sky was very dark, visibility had dropped down to a few hundred metres and I felt like I was in a little world of my own out there bouncing around. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I had many clouds, but the only positive thing here was that the heavy downpour seemed to flattening the waves a little. The sea was getting very confused and hard to negotiate under sail so I took the sails down and pressed on under engine power. 

Just after passing the lizard.

Eventually, after rehearsing the Mayday procedures in my head a few times, I got through to the other-side, the skies cleared up and the seas smoothed out considerably. I took some videos of my passage, but watching them back, it doesn’t seem as extreme as it felt. I’ve heard that sailors always over-estimate the size of waves when they are in them, and thought that was a bit odd, but now I understand it a bit better. Whenever I’ve seen photos of the seas around Cape Horn I’ve thought “that’s not so bad”, but I think I’ll appreciate them a little better now. 

I had seen another yacht going round at the same time as me and caught glimpses of it through the spray, getting thrown around. It was a larger boat than mine, but seemed to be pitching up and down and thrown every which way something fierce. I could see that same boat now as I was setting course for Newlyn. It seemed to be heading for Land’s End to do both headbands in a oner, and I considered doing the same but by the time I reached it, the tide would not be in my favour. The wind had basically buggered off completely now so I motored the long hours towards Newlyn but with the sails up to dry them off.

Rafted up in Newlyn.

When I arrived I found all the berths occupied and so rafted up alongside a larger boat and headed off for a shower. Dartmouth Marina, this place ain’t. But it was nice and sunny now so I took a walk along to Penzance and visited the largest Lidl I’ve ever seen. 

Newlyn’s infinitely long pontoon…

The following morning it was time to do battle once more, this time with Land’s End. I had read that the Lizard is generally worse, and so I was fairly relaxed and made good progress under sail. But once more, as I approached the point of no return, the wind went haywire and the seas rose up. I had planned on taking the inner passage; the books said this was a good option, in settled conditions. I decided that the conditions were decidedly unsettled and seeing an awful lot of white water east of the Longships, headed further offshore. For the next hour or so I just clung on tightly and rode it out, thinking about how much fun I was having and marvelling at the weather’s tendency to dish out the good stuff at the most opportune moments, but at least this time it wasn’t raining. 

Longships Lighthouse.

Once again, I was shaken up and spat out on the other side. The skies cleared and the way ahead flattened out. Now the tide was flowing north east, carrying me towards St Ives. I was making pretty good time and remembering how far I still had to go and it was already well into June, I decided to press on and watched St Ives go by on the starboard side. It looked lovely.

On the way to Padstow – glad that cloud is all the way over there!

I set course for Padstow and got out the almanac to see what the story was with this place, as I had not planned on going that far in one day. The forecast had some pretty strong winds coming and according to the almanac the only real shelter was in the harbour, which had tidal restrictions. Working it out in my head, I was going to be hard pressed to get there in time to get into the harbour, and with the wind slowly disappearing, it was time to open up the throttle. It was a long way, but the sun was shining and some dolphins joined me for a bit so the journey wasn’t so bad. I made the questionable decision to shorten the journey by passing between and the Quies Rocks and Travose Head, and ended up dodging endless lobster pots whilst getting rough treatment from the tidal races. I called up the Harbourmaster, but I was too late to get into the harbour. He saw me racing down the channel though as darkness was falling and being a nice chap, he let me spend the night on the outer pontoon and gave me keys to the shower block. With some bad weather coming in the next 24 hours I was glad to be where I was and was able to get into the harbour the following morning.

This has turned into quite a lengthy post, and this is only half of the story for this past week. As I type this I’m at anchor in Milford Haven sheltering from yet more bad weather, but I’m aware that the attention spans of some SPBA members may be under strain at this point so I’ll do another post soon about the journey across the Bristol Channel (spoilers: more bad weather).


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