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Long Ships

Much water has passed beneath our keels since I wrote for this blog although in reality it is only a few days. Time has stretched itself in our memories.

Milford Haven gave us a surprise when we visited the town’s museum, housed in one of the old dock buildings and entry only costing £1 for ‘concessions’ (the current politically correct term for someone over sixty years of age). Featured large in photos and stories relating to Milford Haven is the Brunel-designed ship, the Great Eastern, which was berthed and in fact ended its working life here just as the construction of the present dock was nearing completion around 1890. In its day this was the largest ship ever built so with its four tall funnels and enormous paddle wheels set on each side when it was sitting on the silt at Milford it must have dominated the entire town.

The Great Eastern spent most of her twenty-five year working life on Atlantic crossings, eventually as a cable-laying ship, but she was built on the Thames at Millwall in London, very close to where our journey started in April 2009. The ship is remembered there by the preservation of the wooden ‘ways’ down which she eventually slid and sections of the large chains which held her back still lie on the river bank. In some way, therefore, our own journey seems linked with the launch and with the repose of this massive ship.

Although it is in Milford that she will be remembered most, the Great Eastern was eventually towed to Liverpool to be broken up. We reckon Cirrus still has some life left in her yet so we turned south from Milford Haven to face the last two significant challenges before we can consider our circumnavigation complete – the Bristol Channel, a passage of over a hundred miles of sea exposed to the westerlies and with strong tidal currents, then Lands End, the ultimate headland. And it was whilst looking for a way to break the journey up into manageable chunks that we noticed a tiny sliver of land placed conveniently midway between Wales and Cornwall that might just give us shelter for a night. Which was how we ended up anchored off the island of Lundy.

Despite Lundy’s isolated position there is an archeological record of settlement and land use here going back over four thousand years, partly due to the fact that it holds a strategic position too, a convenient mid-channel shelter for an invading fleet. For us, however, Lundy is significant in another way – it can fly the flag of St George from its church tower. Rather surprisingly it dawns on us that Cirrus has not been in England since May 2009 when we sailed north from Northumberland’s Holy Island. First Scotland then Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Wales; there is just so much of the British Isles and so many of its people that are not English. Our chosen route has given us a new perspective on the country we live in.

In the end the Bristol Channel treated us quite well, light north-westerly breezes, although the long ocean swell we have been experiencing since leaving Northern Ireland still lies underneath any surface choppiness. Best of all though were the dolphins, a pod of thirty or so mobbing us off the coast of Newquay. Close under our bows swam beasts of all sizes, including some very small youngsters tucked under their mothers’ tails, all clearly delighting in our twin hulls bouncing through the water above them. These were Common dolphins, smaller and markedly different from the lone Bottlenose dolphin who guided us into Padstow the day before. Whether or not these animals can experience human emotions is debatable so we can only hope that the encounter brought as much joy to them as it did to us.

Our evening arrival in Padstow was heralded by a brass band playing on the harbourside, just what we needed after a day at sea. But despite the tourist throng who watched our every move from above, all became quiet as night fell, the musicians departed and we spent a peaceful night at rest.

Lands End lay waiting for us the next day but by the time Longships lighthouse gave us its 10 second wink, as it does to all passing ships, we realised that we had finally rounded our most scary headland safely, in the rarest of weather, almost calm conditions. Our timing was not perfect and we motored hard against the tide for most of the way, but rather this than rough seas any day. It was evening when we finally dropped our anchor in perfect calm just outside Newlyn harbour, not even needing the shelter offered by this busy fishing port.

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