Category: Cornwall

Cornwall to Scotland day 1 & 2

Day 1 – From the boatyard slip at Millbrook we motor to a safe spot on the river just across from Plymouth, somewhere from where we can watch the city but not get too involved with it, and drop the anchor off the bow into a soft muddy bottom only a few metres below. By morning it is raining (we are in Cornwall after all) and the wind has shifted around to the south-west. This is a good breeze to send us on our way but before we can use it we have some important jobs to take care of on board.

We motor across to Mayflower Marina and berth alongside a pontoon. We have a long list of tasks to be done and another of things to buy, an assortment of bits and pieces we could not carry with us or that now need renewing. One job is to clean out Cirrus’ water tanks. We have one of these fitted low down in each hull and the task involves filling them to the brim then adding some sterilising powder. Hours later they are pumped out, refilled again with fresh water and pumped out again. Each tank holds more than thirty gallons (125 litres) which basically means we pump until our arms fall off then start all over again on the other tank.

While I am away trying to buy an oil filter for the engine Kate washes our decks of most of the detritus a winter ashore has deposited there. The transformation is striking, to us, who knew how bad the mess was and Cirrus looks smart and ready to go. Our boat is now over thirty years old but structurally she is as strong as she ever was. Some of the equipment, however, which is less old, has begun to let us down. One thing that is nice to know when we are out sailing is the depth of the water beneath us but our echo sounder now refuses to divulge this information no matter what I do or how nicely I speak to it.

Day 2 – We check the forecast for the next few days ahead and can see a small depression over Ireland which is going to dump some rain here later today. So it’s off to the shops early to stock up with provisions and invest our pennies in a new echo sounder then back to the boat just in time to hide from the rain, torrential rain, which arrives early afternoon. Crawling through the smaller spaces inside the hull to run a new transponder cable I can hear the rain beating a tattoo above my head but finally, as the rain eases, the echo sounder starts talking to us again.

We have decided now to sail east up the English Channel then turn left (north) for Scotland, not the quickest way home but one that will enable us to meet up with friends and family en route. It is also the coast that is most familiar to us from years ago. All is set now, plans laid for an early departure in the morning, so off we go to the marina restaurant, Jolly Jacks, for a wee celebratory meal.

From land to sea

Visiting a big city like Glasgow is always something of a culture shock for us. Earlier in the day we were staggering along the road to the bus stop in Carradale with our giant suitcases, greeting our neighbours with a friendly word here and there, explaining to those who didn’t already know that we would be away from a while, then before we know it we are stepping down from a bus meeting the noise and the rush of a big city full on. People are strangers here. Nobody stops for a chat and often will not even step aside to let us pass along the pavement, overburdened though we are. We feel like aliens, strangely uncomfortable with our fellow humans.

We spend the night at the Travelodge as we have business to conduct in the city and Glasgow has the nearest branch of our bank. After checking in at the hotel we rush off to arrive just before closing time and, business completed, then relax and celebrate a little, eating out at Dino’s in Sauchiehall Street. This is a little island of Italian-ness and once inside, seated before the red and white chequered plastic table cloth, we can pretend that we have just stepped off an Italian village street. We can even order our meal in Italian, if we dare. The Spaghetti Napoli is a delicious thing to behold and the owner exudes excessive Italian charm right through the meal – what more could you ask for.

Cities are noisy places at night (everywhere is noisy compared to Carradale)Kate on the bus to Plymouth but despite this we sleep well and by mid-afternoon the following day we are in Birmingham and setting off on the last leg of our long journey. Puffy white clouds float about aimlessly above us as the day warms up and the fine weather continues; we are travelling south, towards the sun, and at each stop we notice a slight increase in warmth, degree by degree, until finally we arrive at our destination, Millbrook in Cornwall. Road to MillbrookHere we have barely set off with our luggage to walk the last mile down the lane to the boatyard when the yard owners, Pip and Debbie, pass by and kindly stop their car to take our bags for us. We are expected and they have made us feel less like strangers here in this foreign land.

Millbrook Lake is actually a tidal inlet off of the River Tamar which itself forms the boundary between Devon and Cornwall. The word ‘lake’ does not do this place any justice at all because for most of the day the water is absent and a muddy desert shimmers in the heat, quietly leaking an ever ripening smell which drifts across the boatyard where we are working to bring Cirrus Cat alive again. Fortunately there is plenty to be done so we ignore our senses for the moment; launch day is a weekend away and the anti-fouling paint has to go on, sails bent on spars and the engine run up. Considering that she has been lying here since October last year, the air inside the boat is quite fresh (a tribute to the ventilation) and everything we need to live comfortably aboard is soon unpacked or re-fitted in its place. We begin stocking up with food, connecting the instruments and other electrical equipment and brushing away ten months of dust where this has accumulated, ready for the land to sea transformation that is about to take place.

The heat is now oppressive and by afternoon it is sapping our energy. Activity begins to slow down a little as, with so little breeze, the temperature inside the boat rises to 29 degrees Celsius in the shelter of the boatyard. The moment will soon arrive when there will be cooling water lapping against the hull making things rather more comfortable on board.

Sunday is the day our son Mike arrives for a visit, with Yeovil’s newest inhabitants, Kate’s brother Peter and his wife Liz, who are now living in our renovated house there. Cirrus launch1We spend a hot but enjoyable day with them trying to deal with Liz’s apparent fears about whales rising up from the depths of the sea and tipping over our catamaran with one toss of the head (surely not!) then finally they return home to leave us alone to spend what will be our last night on land for many months.

Launch day finally arrives and a specially adapted trailer is slid between our hulls which jacks Cirrus clear of the ground. A tractor is hitched up and our home from home slowly trundles across the boatyard towards the slipway which leads… to the muddy expanse of Millbrook Lake.Cirrus waiting for the tide at Millbrook

Here we are deposited, gently, and abandoned for the rest of the day, forgotten by the world until the tide brings Cirrus’ natural element, water, to us. And before we know it we are floating away on a new adventure.


Finally we could resist it no more. The strings attaching us to what has been our floating home for so long have eventually and inevitably pulled us back on board Cirrus Cat for a short, late-season break. A quick study of the five-day forecast tells us that there is nothing in the way of equinoctial gales in prospect so we gather the necessities, some food and a few clothes, then charge off west to Plymouth. Our son Mike is with us, which surprisingly is all it takes to tilt the economics of public transport away from trains and buses towards a hired car, still a form of public transport, but one usually thought of as expensive by comparison. Not so, it seems and certainly when you take into account the inconvenience of changing trains, missing buses and walking for more than thirty minutes up hill and down dale with luggage, the decision is an easy one to make. Cirrus at SalcombeWe are not strangers to hiring cars and this time the hire company, almost apologetically and for the same price, gives us one larger than ordered and so brand new it still has that lingering smell of molten wax that is unique to all new vehicles. My only complaint was the colour, black, a rather obviously negative safety feature.

A fast but rough sail on Cirrus has taken us to Devon’s Salcombe Harbour, a place clearly reaching the end of its busy season for this year. We know this because moorings are available for us to pick up and there is space on the visitor pontoon. In the main street the town’s shops are well, to be brutally honest, rather strange in that they are all remarkably similar, being small and selling high fashion leisure clothing of one sort or another. It is the end of season and we find the word ‘Sale’ pasted here and there across the plate glass although obviously there is a ‘Salcombe’ way of doing these things. There is a shoe shop, for example, where a price reduction means that everything is reduced to a mere £100. We consider ourselves fortunate indeed that we have enough shoes between us so we can pass on by without being tempted.

Mike relaxing in SalcombeSo here we are lounging about at leisure on board as the sun dips behind the surrounding hills, entertaining ourselves as usual by observing the comings and going of others on boats and bemoaning the misbehaviour of our dinghy’s outboard engine which forces us to row ourselves ashore. We try in vain to persuade the thing to run for more than a few seconds without over-heating and leaving us stranded just out of reach of land or boat. I have cleaned it by poking its inner parts with stiff wire, replaced its little rubber impellor which is supposed to pump cooling water up from the sea and generally molly-coddled it by polishing various parts, all to no avail. We watch enviously as everybody else’s outboard engine chugs smoothly past. We end up contemplating ways and means by which we might casually exchange our non-working outboard engine for an identical but fully-functioning one we have just seen going past on the back of a small dinghy. Can we resist the temptation secretly to row over in the dead of the night and swap ours for that hanging off the back of this boat?

Maybe because of the influence upon our consciences of the Papal Visit (Deo Gratias) we are still bereft of motorised dinghy power when we depart Salcombe the next day.Sailing to Plymouth The light wind is now from a south-easterly direction so once out past the turbulence of Bolt Head we hoist our secret weapon, the multicoloured spinnaker, which brings out the sun and pulls us along for hours across Bigbury Bay towards Plymouth. Suddenly there are German voices on the radio warning all ships to keep clear of an area just three miles to the west of us. Loud booming comes echoing across the sea as warships start firing out to sea. This is not playing, it is live ammunition and only a few miles away from us! Strange, we think, didn’t the war end over fifty years ago? We hear the radio operator on the German warship Hamburg getting excited when a sailing boat (not us) sails too close beneath the guns and a rather alarmed and embarrassed yacht skipper replying over the airwaves for all to hear. All ends well for them while we escape unnoticed into the River Yealm, a beautifully sheltered, wooded chasm that has no less than three pubs at its head. It is a favourite stopping place for yachtsmen all along this coast. We can cope with a little excitement at sea but being this close to significant naval action is not really our thing and we are glad to be out of it. We leave them to their games.

Tying up to a convenient pontoon we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by large catamarans – Cirrus is amongst her big sisters between whose hulls we could almost slip unnoticed.under-pontoon life The south-west just seems to have more multihull yachts per square inch than another other corner of this country and they are here in the Yealm because it is mid-week and end of season; the river is a little too overcrowded with moorings to attract them normally. This is a busy place but the fast-flowing tidal river is rich with life, much of which hangs onto the pontoon itself just below the waterline. Peer over the side and you’ll see a colourful world which is unnoticed by most of those who stop here overnight.

It seems we have had the best of the weather for our few days away. Our final night is quiet but the day dawns misty with rain floating in the air although just enough wind to enable us to sail our way past all those warships into Plymouth Sound. Hamburg is still there making trouble for small vessels but we ignore it and sneak stealthily back to our mooring.

Adjusting to life on land

Our Round Britain is complete and suddenly we are rocketed into a new world, one that is not continuously moving. We are so used to the movement – tiny shifts in stability in response to small, wind-blown ripples across the sea or occasionally significant lurches to one side then the other as Cirrus is lifted, first one hull then the other – that even after several days on dry land our legs are still responding to phantoms, muscle-memories of movements. We stagger about the streets. For those experiencing this the effect is quite bizarre but when it happens it is important to appreciate that those close by will not be experiencing the same phenomenon. To them, the floor is not bobbing up and down, randomly, and it is no use discussing the experience with them; sympathy will be lacking.

With Cirrus on her mooring we set off on heavily loaded bikes to catch the Cremyll ferry across the River Tamar to Plymouth and turn our heads to look back at her, our proud home since April this year, as she floats serenely in Millbrook Lake, an area of shallow water perfectly suited to catamarans and similar craft. As the tide ebbs away it will lower her hulls gently onto soft mud where she will sit upright waiting for our return. We have a complex journey to undertake now, one involving trains, bicycles and a boat which ends at the door of our new home in Yeovil. We are conscious that what we have achieved sailing-wise during 2009 and 2010 is something most people would not understand, let alone attempt. To sail our own boat around Britain’s shoreline, unaided and for most of the time alone, is something we are now realising we can feel proud of. It is something we might never do again ourselves but nevertheless we know we could, if we so desired. We surmounted the challenges and lived through them. Timely it is, therefore, to thank all those who have encouraged and supported us on our travels by reading this blog and sailing with us in spirit.

It is dusk when we open the front door to our new home and roll the bikes inside. We can expect that these machines will be worked hard in the weeks ahead as we get to know our way around, popping into shops or just visiting our sons who live on the opposite side of town, for bikes are our sole means of private transport at the moment (discounting our legs, of course). We are soon to discover that Yeovil has a surprising secret. The route by road into the town centre or across town to our son Mike’s apartment is heavily trafficked and an unpleasant ride on a bicycle. There are hills and potholes to negotiate and unforgiving drivers who care not for the lone cyclist. Our discovery of a traffic-free route, specifically constructed for pedestrians and cyclists who can use it to navigate along the River Yeo thus avoiding hills, cars and lorries alike has brought a whole new dimension to our lives. The route is only lightly used by cyclists, I suspect largely because it does not appear on any town or street maps. Yet it provides us with a pleasant ride which gives us access to the central shopping area as well as the larger out of town stores. More importantly to us at the moment, the route passes close by Yeovil’s B&Q hardware store which is a Mecca for collecting ideas and getting many of the essential bits for our home refurbishment project.

Simple, clean designs like this attract us so we stop and squint… yes, this might be fine for our proposed combined kitchen/living room, the room, I might add, that we have yet to create by demolishing an internal dividing wall. Having now started the ‘destruction’ phase of the renovation plan – stripping wallpaper, ripping apart cupboards and panelling – next comes the knocking down walls phase for which we shall need professional help. We expect that there is a long period of living with the untidiness, the dust and the dirt yet to come before the re-construction phase starts, the new flooring, the painting and decorating. Until then we find ourselves living in less comfort than that which we are used to from being on board Cirrus. The fridge and washing machine arrived yesterday yet we still have only a few basic pieces of furniture. What we do have is lots of plans to change almost everything we see around us, we are warm and dry, enjoying another challenge and getting to know the place which is to be our home for the foreseeable future.

Whilst living in Italy during last winter we did most of our shopping at a Ventimiglia supermarket which goes under the name of Lidl, this being conveniently close, the cheapest option around and it was also the shop which stocked items which were least ‘foreign’ to our tastes. Now it has to be admitted that Lidl is not everybody’s cup of tea but over the months we gradually became ‘Lidl-ised’ and used to some of their more strange offerings, not least because reasonable Italian wine could be purchased at 90 cents a bottle, something around 80 British pence at the time. Finding a Lidl store within walking distance of our new home, therefore, was a strangely exotic experience. Of course once we had explored the place and familiarised ourselves with the loaves of German black bread, the side-sleeper pillow and the jars of preserved cherries it began to feel quite homely to us. As a source of fresh produce it just cannot be beaten locally although sadly the duty imposed on wine in this country means that we cannot return to the drinking habits we acquired in Italy without bankrupting ourselves.

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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