This past week has been VERY busy.
As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, I was skippering a yacht delivery from Levington in Suffolk to Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Spoiler alert, the trip was successful, and as I’m writing this now I’m snug in my bed with a cup of coffee and a crumpet, thinking back on what an incredible experience it was and how lucky I am to be able to do something like it.
The boat was a Beneteau, which was good, because I know my way around the “Plastic Fantastic” French Yachts. The only difference to our yacht ‘Steady on Jean’ however, is the yacht I was delivering was somewhat smaller….32ft to be precise!
Now anyone who sails will realise that packing liberally for a sailing excursion is essential, especially since Yachts in general have very limited space. So I spent Monday evening last week organizing things to take on my epic voyage half way around Britain.
So Tuesday comes along, I get up at half past five in the morning, prepare the last things and tidy up the apartment I’m staying in, jump in my ride down to the marina at seven o’clock, and away we go by seven thirty…
Not quite. I certainly jumped in my ride at 7 o’clock, but in typical sailor fashion no one was there. The boat I’m delivering is locked, so I can’t even brew the kettle! I walked up to the sea schools office that is organizing the delivery. No one there. So I sit, and wait…
After some considerable time of twirling my fingers, admiring a Halberg Rassey in the boatyard, and checking over the last bits and pieces of the yacht, my crew and voyage companions arrive. So we get the boat sorted, prepare the last few odd things, fuel up, and (at last) we’re off…only an hour behind schedule!
Now before I continue, you’re probably wondering why a 16 year old is taking charge of a 32ft sailing yacht on a 500 mile (800km for my Continental followers) trip. To answer that, in a none superfluous and simple way (which I will find extremely difficult as I like talking!) basically, I am qualifying myself to do an RYA Yachtmaster Coastal exam, which needs the person to have done a 400 mile trip in Tidal waters, acting as 2 days as captain, and must have lived on a yacht for a minimum of 30 days(hahahahaha), along with 12 night hours…
Out of those 4 things, the only one I needed to get was to have done 400 miles in Tidal waters.
So now you understand why my first sailing trip in UK/Atlantic waters in 6 years or so is quite the baptism of fire!
The trip in general wasn’t particularly hard, but there were some parts that were difficult. Most notable, there was crossing the Thames estuary, were you’ve got to avoid the innumerable amount of Wind Turbines.
There was also the Goodwin Sands, which can be quite difficult in strong tides. Luckily, the only thing we had to worry about were the UK Border Force, who had a nice good look at our boat from afar.
After that, Dover, and the worlds busiest shipping lane, the English Channel. It’s standard practice as a yacht to call up Dover Port Control and ask permission to cross the entrance of Dover port, since the traffic is really quite incredible. Ferries, tankers, cruise ships diving in and out, passing you on all sides. I can only imagine the hard work the people at Dover Port Control have to cope with, so well done and thank you!
Passing Dover was quite mystical, since the sun was setting and the silhouette of Dover castle stood menacingly over the outrageously busy docks.
Once we passed Dover, our beautiful, warm sunny day turned into a traditional English day, as it rained all throughout that evening. Thankfully, by the time the night watch sessions began, it had cleared, and during the night it held off.
My watch session was 3 o’clock the next morning, so I settled in to a deep sleep, ready for what lay ahead.
Wednesday came along. The boats still floating, so obviously my plan worked haha!
As I start my watch session, we’ve just passed Beachy Head and passing Brighton, heading towards some flashing red lights (which later turned out to be ANOTHER wind farm!).
We had originally planned to stop in Brighton Marina to fuel up, but it seemed like the old girl still had some miles in her!
As the day rattled on, we passed the Isle of Wight, where a massive cruise ship lay at anchor, redundant due to Covid(!), Poole and eventually the day ended just off Portland Bill.
Still no need to fuel up, so we set our sights on Plymouth for the next day. I had the 9 till 12 watch tonight, which was good fun since off Portland Bill and the Shambles there was a considerable breeze, so I managed to get us sailing at six and a half knots over the ground… I don’t know how many of you have sailed at night, but if you ever get the opportunity to, do it. It’s so peaceful and quiet. Especially that night since there was no traffic and light pollution, which meant the stars were incredible!
Besides my spectacular night watch, Wednesday in round terms of the whole trip was probably the most boring, since navigationally, it was pretty much straight lines…
Next morning, I take watch from six o’clock. We’ve made it across Lymes Bay, and we were just off Start Point and Dartmouth.
As we round the headland and start our approach for Plymouth, we get amazing wind. Bearing in mind it’s a delivery, we want o be as quick as possible. However, since all of us onboard were fed up with the whirring of the Yanmar engine, we started beating upwind towards Plymouth Sound.
What we found to be the biggest nucance throughout the whole trip was the placement of fishing pots. It seems as though the fisherman aren’t very concerned with where they place them, since they are right in line with the approach from Salcombe to Plymouth Sound. Luckily, unlike the Turks and Greeks, the fishing pots are bright orange balls, which are somewhat easier to spot…
After many hours of great sailing, the wind, (in its typical fashion) died off, leaving us to drift.
So we cranked the engine back to life, and followed the Eastern channel towards Queen Anne’s Battery Marina, right on the Barbican, where the Mayflower set off from.
I hadn’t been to Plymouth in many years, so it was nice to see the Plymouth Hoe and it’s iconic Lighthouse again. I was looking forward to be right In The centre of town and go for an explore that evening…
Unfortunately for us, QAB had no fueling pontoon, (or at least they had a fueling pontoon but no fuel), so we quickly came up with our next plan of action, and decided on going around the corner to Mayflower Marina.
This marinas a bit too far out of town, but nonetheless, it’s a secure place where you don’t get thrown 5 feet into the air every time you go over a wave…
So we had done 302 miles so far, in four days…not bad going, especially keeping in mind we were going into the prevailing weather and wind!
So back out to sea on Friday. Rounded some very significant headlands today, such as Lizard Point (the most southerly part of the British mainland) and Lands End (the most westerly part of the British mainland).
Both headlands are significant aswell for seafarers, as they represent very dangerous areas where the sea can whip up and cause many problems. Lizard point is sometimes known as the “Graveyard of Ships”.
However, Cornwall in general isn’t that hospitable to ships, since it is thought that on Cornwalls 250 mile coastline, there are an estimated 6000 shipwrecks!
It’s no surprise really, especially if you consider the county’s position and how unprotected from the Atlantic it is.
Lands End was very impressive. Not only the fact it symbolizes the end of Britain before the expanse of ocean, but also the phenomenal cliffs, that are incredibly jagged. It’s no wonder countless ships have been wrecked!
However, we safely rounded both points, and that evening we settled in for the last leg of the passage. A simple straight line from Lands End to the entrance of Milford Haven Basin.
I had the 12 to 3 o’clock watch, which was good fun, especially since we were sailing really well in 17-25 knots of wind.
Funnily enough, I managed to see the distant lights of my hometown Newquay, so for my Newquay followers, just know that I waved hello!
So, Saturday. The last day of the trip was very rolly, bearing in mind we had a some big Atlantic rollers coming in. At this point we were still sailing, and had been for the past 10 hours-it wasn’t until we entered the basin of Milford Haven that we dropped our sails, and that wasn’t for another 3 hours!-though what made the last leg even better than was for about an hour and a half, we were surrounded by about 40+ Dolphins, who gleefully danced and lept out of the water really rounding out an epic and impressive voyage.
I love seeing Dolphins, especially when they seem so cheerful and happy to play on the bow of the boat and cruise alongside us. If they could make it more obvious when they are jumping out of the water, that would be better, since they’re really difficult to get good pictures of!
However, in true Welsh fashion, there had to be a bit of rain. Luckily for us, the trip in general had had very little. Certainly at night it was chilly, but I had thermals, gortex, gloves and coats layered on to deter wind chill.
It was only in the last 2 hours of our approach to Milford Haven that the rain really started throwing it down, which dampened the mood considerably. But after following another one of my great passage plans (the other one being entering Plymouth Sound) we made it safely through the bouyage and through the lock into Milford Marina.
And there we go, my great baptism of fire for sailing in British waters again, and first time as skipper without the security of going out with my sailor friends in Turkey or my family. It was really a great experience, and certainly one I will remember and cherish for many years to come.
If I were to be critical of my approach, which every captain after a voyage must be, then I would change only a few things.
Firstly, I would have made the nightwatches fixed times, whereas on this trip we were on a router, which not only messed up our sleeping schedule, but also meant there was a lack of discipline as such on board. As you can imagine, being on a 32 ft boat out of sight of land can be quite boring, so knowing you have set times adds some organisation, which is essential on yachts.
Secondly, I think (and the people I were with agree with me), that my way of waking up the crew was a bit….gentle. What I mean by that is if that person wasn’t on watch at a particular time, I’d be doing it for him. I suppose I should of stuck to my guns, but hey ho!
I won’t chat about the drive back or Milford Haven itself, since regarding both things there isn’t actually much to talk about.
However, I will leave this poem here, since I find it quite poignant and I hope whoever’s reading this will appreciate that it really shows how I feel towards the sea, and boating. It’s a really beautiful poem:
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”
Sea Fever by John Masefield
Keep an eye out for my future blogs, as I will soon be documenting my travels on the Pelican of London…
If any yachtsmen are reading this, I’d be really interested to know how you organize you’re crew for a long haul delivery. Leave your comments down below!