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Contrary winds

longships from senitoa

I normally try to avoid including ‘sea and sky’ pictures here but for once I am making an exception since this was taken just last week from the heaving deck of the yacht Senitoa as she turned north towards Scotland. The scene could be almost anywhere in the world but for the presence of the lighthouse, which is known as ‘Longships’, and stands on a rock a mile west of Lands End, the extreme south-west point of the British mainland.

There has been a lighthouse here since 1791 but the first one to be built placed the light only twenty four metres above the sea and (a sobering thought) as a result its beam was often obscured by the waves that crashed over it. So in 1875 the present tower was built, bringing the light up another eleven metres in height. Until 1988 there might have been a lighthouse keeper or two watching us as we bounced over the lumpy seas but today, like all Britain’s lighthouses, things run automatically with only occasional human intervention when maintenance is required so we slip past largely unnoticed but for the occasional gannet.

A month ago a message I received from Spencer, a yachtie friend, to help him collect his recently purchased boat from Gosport in Hampshire and deliver it to Campbeltown Loch, has led to my peering out of the pilothouse window at this far flung corner of Britain. But it has taken more than a week of sailing to get here, far longer than we might have hoped, largely due to the influence of tropical storm Bertha after its remains crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Until its arrival we were all basking under a scorching heat wave, welcoming each wisp of breeze and every puff of cloud. But no sooner have Spencer, his daughter Claire, and I set off on Senitoa than the wind arrives by the bucketful, always blowing from just where we want to go, as if it is trying to prevent us from leaving.claire and spence on senitoa Just once or twice we do manage to raise the sails so that Senitoa can behave like the sailing boat she is but in the main we have to rely upon the seventy-five horsepower diesel engine to push us along, which is disappointing to us sailors.

The most southerly point on the British mainland is known as The Lizard, for reasons associated with the fact that it lies in Cornwall, a place which has its own language. As we motor past on our journey, the boat bumping and thumping into every lumpy piece of water, we have a brief visit from a large black mammal, which dives less than a boat length from our bow, just missing a nasty collision. I like to think that a Minke whale is the master of its environment and knows exactly what it is doing, perhaps is just being curious, but it gives us a treat and a scare both at the same time as its smooth black back rolls away just beneath our boat. And where are the photos I hear you ask? You have to be joking! There is barely time to catch breath, let alone get a camera out.

spinnaker tower with man

Miles further on and much closer to home we meet yet another batch of strong winds and take shelter in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin’s yachting playground. So keen are the locals to race their yachts that they dry-launch them from the quayside by crane with their sails already set so they can get to the start line for an evening club race. Surely this is yachting at its most intense, and is a million miles away from the leisurely pastime Kate and I used to engage in. Two hours later these same sailors are hanging off the bar in the yacht club exchanging yarns, no doubt, of how they missed that crucial tack on the finish line. We are, of course, on the doorstep of the capital city of Ireland so must expect to encounter a different pace of life, the rushing about, the money spent in pursuit of a few hours of pleasure after a day at the office. Perhaps we should be missing this.

Inevitably, I have barely returned home from the passage on Senitoa when a wind arrives from the south east, one that might have blown us home in half the time. Still, at least there was a big engine pushing us along, something the chap caught staring at Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower never had.

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