Thursday, 26 September 2013

One last post, two final photographs that capture the essence of Capraia's Round Britain Challenge and some final reflections.

One of the most exhilarating sails was from Arbroth to Eyemouth.  We awoke to a miserable rainy morning with little wind and limited visibility - getting going in the early morning to catch the lock gates, with the noise of the rain on the cabin roof, was a challenge in itself!  By mid afternoon Capraia was romping along in 25 knots of wind doing 8.5 knots despite her shortened sail.  A reluctant start had turned into one of the best sails yet.  So often on this trip unexpected changes have surprised, delighted.....and even scared or horrified us! 

As we neared Eyemouth we were approached by a local fishing boat, the crew of which took this photograph.  That evening, tied up alongside in Eyemouth Harbour, the young man who had taken the photograph found Capraia and came aboard.  A generous and spontaneous act which thrilled us since we so seldom get decent shots of our own boat in open water - especially in conditions like these.

A few weeks later, and over 300 miles further South, we were approaching Southwold in very different conditions when Edgar and Elsa from Windbreker took this photograph in the shimmering heat of a perfect summer's day.  Later that day they invited me aboard their home and gave a slide show of Capraia's approach to the harbour.  This lovely couple gave much to the Round Britain Challenge in camaraderie, humour, song, knowledge and expertise.  They, and the other crew from the fleet of eight Dutch boats that completed the Challenge, gave us so much and asked for nothing in return.

My overriding emotion now that it's all over is a feeling of immense gratitude.  Gratitude for having had the opportunity to take part in this adventure - 3 ½ months away from home is a big 'ask'!  Grateful to my 13 crew who travelled, some from Switzerland and France, to join me and Capraia for various stages around our coast. Grateful to those we met on our travels who welcomed us and offered assistance, whether it was taking our lines or providing invaluable local knowledge.  Finally thanks to family and friends who have followed my progress and provided encouragement and support.  It has been a truly fantastic adventure.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

For the final leg it's just me and Capraia, not even any wind!  Getting the timing right for favourable tides around Land's End and making it in time for Padstow's lock gate requires some careful calculation and a need to maintain a decent boat speed!

Passing inside the prominent Longships lighthouse, we take the inshore passage to make the most of the tide and save some time.  Past Cape Cornwall’s rugged coastline festooned with ruined chimneys and pumping houses giving evidence of the extensive mining operations that reached out far beneath the sea bed. As the coast followed a north easterly direction we make a bee-line for Trevose Head, Stepper Point and the Camel Estuary beyond. 
We just made it in time to get into the harbour before the lock gates closed.  My lines were taken by the berthing master who fondly remembered my father who was a Harbour Commissioner here.  Padstow is such an appropriate place for my last port of call - this estuary has always been my second home.
 After a couple of days of visiting favourate haunts and seeing family and friends we left Padstow for Milford Haven last Wednesday.  Again no wind so a long and rather tedious motor for 14 hours with only the dolphins for company. 
We anchored off Dale for the night, where the adventure started 16 weeks and 2020 miles ago.  In the cold and misty morning that marks the end of a summer adventure and the start of autumn we made our way up the Cleddau River to Pembroke Dock. 

By late afternoon Capraia is on her winter 'mooring'.  Apart from the starter motor that we replaced in Holyhead, a broken wooden cleat and some healthy wear and tear, she is in perfect health and ready, like me, for a rest!

This isn't my final post.  I will do a 'postscript' next weekend when I have had time to reflect on this adventure.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Brighton to Newlyn has been rather different to the journey so far.  We have had highs and low (metrological and emotional), three crew changes, chance meetings and, as we near the end of this Round Britain Challenge, a feeling for the first time of looking forward to the end.  Maybe that’s because of the 20 boats that started this Challenge, Capraia and Minstrel (also from Milford Haven) are the only two who haven’t finished - despite the celebrations at Cowes marking the ‘official’ end of the adventure.

In Brighton Sarah joined us, bringing racing experise for the Cowes' weekend  and an enviable network of family and friends on the south coast!

We waited in vain for the wind to change direction but in the end battled our way to Portsmouth against a strong and unrelenting head wind reaching our destination 14 hours later!  It's times like these that question our loyalty to a gaff rig!  A least we had the benefit of the Lyrid Meteor Shower as darkness fell and, having arrived in the early hours, we qualified as a 'short stay' visitor at the expensive Haslar Marina - bargain!

The next two days were spent in and around the Solent with a sunny day anchored off East Head in Chichester Harbour where two south coast gaffers were cleaning their bottoms - no doubt in preparation for Saturday's race! - we walked to West Wittering in search of an ice cream!  We arrived at Cowes Yacht Haven in good time to find a berth near friends and to avoid the mayhem of 250 gaffers squeezing their way into every available space.

The OGA Jubilee Celebrations in Cowes, which consisted of three days of events, racing, parties and competitions, was extremely well organised and hats off to the OGA South Coast Committee.  It was a special and unique event but somehow the special camaraderie that had been built up over the months amongst the Round Britain boats was watered down by the formality of the weekend.  We had an emotional farewell on Sunday morning with some final songs from David, (from Syene) and Else (from Windbreker) pictured here at Friday’s party.  Two talented musicians who, with others, captured the spirit of this summer through spontaneous and unforgettable song and music.

As the gaffers dispersed we bid farewell to Sarah and welcomed back Rose and Tamsin for the next leg back to the West Country.  It’s a shame, but I suppose inevitable that the friendliest, most helpful and welcoming receptions that we have received around our coast have been from the least populated areas where people arriving by boat are still regarded as seafarers seeking a safe haven rather than a commodity to boost profit.  It’s a relief to be leaving the South Coast.  We have a brief stopover in a crowded anchorage in Poole Harbour where friends Tom and Sarah come on board for a rowdy supper and we discover that people are drilling for oil nearby! 

The next day it's past Old Harry and Harry’s Wife where our own on-board Geography teacher is able to pass on some knowledge!

We have a night in Weymouth to drop off Tamsin, and around a tranquil Portland Bill to Dartmouth where Rose also has to leave to return home.

In Dartmouth we anchor opposite Darthaven Marina, where we bought Capraia in 2009, in the midst of the busy waterborne traffic working its way up, down and across the Dart.  A favourite was the last remaining coal fired  paddle steamer, the Kingswear Castle, built on the Dart in 1924 but spent 47 years operating out of Cowes and Chatham before returning to the Dart this year. 

With a new crew, cousins Peter and Tristan, we are off to Newton Ferres for a brief stopover keen to leave the crowds.  The next day we have a Force 6 in the forecast but with two fresh and competent crew we leave for an exhilarating sail and a chance for Capraia to gather her skirts once again as we lay a course for Polperro. Cornwall at last!
The next day we have an excellent sail to St Mawes arriving early enough to enjoy a swim off the boat in glorious sunshine and then a run ashore for even more glorious Fish 'n Chips washed down with Betty Stogs of course!

The next morning we cross over to Falmouth - for a shower at the welcoming Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, crab sandwiches for lunch and an afternoon in the Maritime Museum.  In the late afternoon we venture up the Fal to Malpas and anchor in complete and welcome stillness and silence.

We set off early on the ebb and make the short passage to the Helford river where we anchored off Polgwidden Cove near Trebah which has a garden described as the ‘Garden of Dreams’ – a steeply wooded ravine full of tree ferns, waterfalls, and rhododendrons leading down to the beach.  We were surprised to come across a memorial for members of the 29th US Infantry Division who died in the D-Day landings.  7500 men embarked from Polgwidden Cove - incredible given the size of this small cove.

Next stop Coverack where we walked to Black Head and encounter the Terence Coventry Sculpture Park, my favourite of was 'Jackdaws on a Chimney' which reminded me of home!



Our last stop before the Lizard is Church Cove, which used to be the base for a prosperous pilchard fishery.  The old lifeboat house was built facing across the slip so that the boat had to be turned through 90 degrees before being launched.  For our family crew it's the church, St Wynwallows Church, Landwednack that is of particular interest being the resting place of several ancestors and with strong family ties.  In Church Cove we were offered hospitality from a couple staying in the cottage opposite the old slipway.  After a few minutes chat we discovered that we both worked for the same organization many years ago and had numerous shared acquaintances - a small world indeed!


After a full day at Church Cove (which also included witnessing the launch of the Lizard Lifeboat to attend the stricken French Trawler Scuderia), we rounded the Lizard Peninsular and enjoyed a gentle evening sail.  Once again we enjoyed a mackerel supper before arriving after dark in Newlyn Harbour.

In Newlyn it's thank you and farewell to Peter and Tristan as they head back to Lac Leman - it's been a great week. 

I have a couple of days in Newlyn waiting for a favourable tide and a decent forecast before embarking single-handed on the final leg around Land's End to Milford Haven via Padstow.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Two and a half weeks since my last post and Capraia finds herself in Brighton awaiting new crew for the final leg to the 'official' end of the Round Britain Challenge - the OGA Jubilee Festival in Cowes.  I will report on this epic sounding weekend in my next post!  After that it's just a matter of getting home to the River Cleddau, some 300 or so miles depending on diversions and wind direction, to complete Capraia's Round Britain Challenge.

But back to the last week or so and our passage from Ipswich to Brighton.  I returned to Capraia in Ipswich a week ago last Sunday without a crew, but with strong winds and the daunting prospect of negotiating the Thames Estuary with its array of sand banks, shipping and turbines single-handed.  Keen to leave the marina we headed down the River Orwell to Felixstowe then up the River Stour to Wrabness to await quieter weather and perhaps a ship-mate.  This was a relatively short but highly energetic and exciting sail involved putting in one and then a second reef with the wind gusting F6 as we tacked past container ships in Felixstowe Docks willing Capraia to stay on course as the skipper/crew pulled and heaved to reduce sail!  

Wrabness is a small, secluded boating and beach hut resort opposite the imposing buildings of the Royal Hospital School. Founded in 1712 as part of Greenich Hospital, it became Britain's largest school of navigation and seamanship.  In 1933 the school moved to its present location and maintains its maritime heritage providing bursaries to children and grandchildren of seafaring families as well as giving pupils the opportunity to attend their Sailing Academy.

Happy on our mooring at Wrabness there was a chance to explore ashore and walk along the rows of beach huts that characterise this river bank.
The village of Wrabness is a short walk inland with its community run village shop, railway station and church, the oldest building in the village.  The bell tower of All Saints' Church, which dates from around 1100, collapsed in the seventeenth century, and the bell was moved temporarily to a wooden bell cage in the church yard. The bell cage remains to this day!
Despite throwing the net for potential crew far and wide there is no response and as the wind abates and other gaffers leave the river it is time for us to head South again.  Plans to visit Brightlingsea, Maldon and Burnham will have to be put on hold for another visit.
Up and away at first light for our 12 hour passage, we motor down the channel and eastwards into the wind to take the safer, outside route across the Thames Estuary.  Once past the northern end of Cork Sands we turn southeast and are able to sail. Event free apart from a strange visitor who must have been attracted by the smell of the sun cream!

We past well clear of two huge wind farms, which appear ghost-like out of the haze when the sun-reflecting blades first show over the horizon. One can't help wonder about the cost effectiveness of these ugly invaders offering only a meager contribution to our National Grid.

Capraia was one of the first to arrive in Ramsgate's Inner Harbour but over the next few days others arrived to join in the weekend's socializing and exploring.  We are joined by our next crew, James, who will help us get to Brighton. Before that though there is a brisk walk along the coast to Broadstairs, Charles Dickens' favourite  seaside resort; a visit to the Maritime Museum to learn about Ramsgate's heroic role in the evacuation of Dunkirk and a visit to the Sailors' Church which looked after the young apprentices, known as Smack Boys, off the sailing smacks when they were ashore.  The Church also provided food, clothing and shelter for the hundreds of sailors rescued from their wrecked ships on the nearby Goodwin Sands.


Ramsgate has the only Royal Harbour in the Country, so named at the request of George IV in recognition of the hospitality the town had bestowed upon him.  We can certainly say that Ramsgates hospitality lives on as we were invited to an informal reception with the Queen's Representative, the Lord Lieutenant! 
The Round Britain gaffers huddle together in the Inner Harbour; Bonita, Toucando, High Barbaree, Moon River, Capraia and Witch in the foreground.
At 3.00am on Tuesday we set off with several others, successfully negotiating Goodwin Sands in the dark, and the ferry traffic at Dover just after dawn. 
Witch and Transcur make the passage even more interesting!

Around Beachy Heasd on a favourable tide and onto Brighton Marina.
We will wait in Brighton until the weekend to visit family in London and welcome new crew on Saturday.  Thanks James for joining Capraia on this short leg - not much sailing but great fun!

Monday, 22 July 2013

As we prepared to leave Bridlington last Monday evening, a menacing bank of sea fog drifted in and we began to doubt the wisdom of a night passage to the north Norfolk coast; but the prospect of another night leaning against the harbour wall in this particular Yorkshire resort tipped the balance! 

As we headed southwards, hugging the coast to avoid any shipping, the visibility quickly improved and we were treated to yet another clear night.  Spaghetti bolognaise was served at sunset and thereafter skipper and new crew, Grahame and John, adopted a two on, one off watch system with military-like discipline and fortitude!
The dawn bought news of a sea-sick ship mate who had succumbed to the uneasy motion during the night.  As you might imagine he received the sympathy afforded to a comrade in arms and was allowed extra time in his bunk to recover his strength for his foredeck duties!
We were soon in amongst numerous wind farms lying idle in the still air.  As we wove our way through the navigational minefields of shallow waters and rank upon rank of parading windmills the crew discussed the merits of these environmentally 'friendly' monsters. The conversation would continue further south as we encountered another source of energy!

By mid-morning we realised that we would be too late to have enough water to get into Wells-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast, so we decided to press on to Great Yarmouth, a busy port with 24 hour access.  As we approached and checked in with a friendly Harbourmaster on the VHF, his only request was that we had a quiet night!  After our 28 hour sail (motor mostly!), this is just what we wanted!  Breakfast was interrupted by the arrival of the Cromer Lifeboat with a yacht that had run out of fuel.  We helped to secure the yacht alongside the harbour wall then hailed the Coxwain with a request for a signature!

It wasn't long before the chat turned again to energy, 'green' or otherwise, prompted by the passing of Sizewell (the only operational pressurised water reactor in the UK).  Our on board nuclear specialist gave us the raw facts which further fuelled the debate on wind v nuclear. 
On to Southwold in Suffolk, a pretty town built around its lighthouse and home of Adnams Brewery.  The beautiful day and the picture postcard sea front almost made us feel as if we were on holiday!

The River Blyth is about a mile south of the town and is equally picturesque with its fishing wharf, boat sheds, huts and yards.  We bought fresh plaice and dined on board tied up to Mr Adnam's pontoon - perfect!
The next day we headed off to the River Deben with its tricky sand bars guarding the entrance.  To the south is Felixstowe Ferry (which we got to know quite well) and to the north Bawdsey with its prominent Manor.  Now privately owned, Bawdsey Manor was a top secret research establishment where the MOD developed radar technology in the 1930s and housed a radar station in WW2.

We picked up a mooring at Ramsholt where payment is in the form of a £5 donation to the RNLI. Dues are collected by a man in a small boat who has lived here for 80+ years!  (We should have hired him as a pilot).  This mooring was particularly well placed to sample some of Mr Adnams beer in the Ramsholt Arms which I last visited over 30 years ago.

We slipped our mooring early to reach Woodbridge Marina at the top of the tide to cross the sill with sufficient depth for Capraia's 1.6 metre draught. 

The marina is located in what was once the tide ponds for Woodbridge's Tide Mill.  The records show that there was a tide mill on this site in 1170. It was owned by the Augustinian Priors for around 350 years until Henry VIII confiscated it, and for the next 28 years it was in royal ownership. Elizabeth I sold it to Thomas Seckford whose family owned it for over 100 years, followed by several private owners. In 1793 the present mill was built on the site of earlier ones. By the 1950s it had become the last working tide mill in the country, but in 1957 it finally closed. It was saved in 1968, restored and opened to the public in 1973. Recently, further protection and restoration work has brought it back into use as a fully working tide mill and fascinating museum.
The next day promised to be perfect - bright sunshine and a brisk wind - so sails up and decision made to sail, rather than motor, down the River Deben to the open sea.  What happened next, three quarters of the way down the river, is obvious from the photograph..........

No damage, only injured pride as we watched the yachts sailing past, most decent enough to look the other way and certainly no waving!  We can vouch for the lovely walk along the west bank of the Deben, the excellent Fish 'n Chips (and Adnams) at the Ferry Boat Inn, the ice cream at the Ferry CafĂ©, the flora and fauna, the tranquillity, the clouds.................
We had a sweepstake as to what time we would float and the level of optimism was encouraging - less so was an admission from the helm at the time of the incident that this wasn't the first time he had run aground but since the 'boat' was submerged waiting for the tide was not an issue!  We eventually re-floated at 8.30pm and gingerly headed off for the River Orwell.

The busy port of Felixstowe kept us on our toes as we made our way up river to pick up a mooring off Levington before heading on to Ipswich on Saturday morning.  Here Grahame and John caught the train back to Yorkshire - thank you both for your humour and tolerance (sorry about the wasted day!).
Soon Capraia was engulfed by gaffers aplenty as the Round Britain Fleet were joined by about 50 local OGA members for a week of racing and socialising. 

 The skipper has returned home to Wales for a week whilst Capraia enjoys being upright!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The magnificent coast of Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire have been a surprise.  We expected a constant reminder of the region's industrial past and present, and we got that, but what was unexpected was the raw beauty of the coastline and the small harbours.   Add to that the great sense of humour of those that we have met, and the fantastic weather, and there is no doubt that yet again the real value of this trip has been highlighted.

The crew for this part of our adventure have included two Yorkshiremen who have provided an abundance of invaluable local knowledge!  I am sure that without their encouragement and local knowledge we would not have ventured into some of the harbours visited nor would we have enjoyed the rich commentary that has filled the hours between stopovers!

Having left Eyemouth with Charles we headed for the Farne Islands, passing close to Lisdisfarne.  The glorious conditions encouraged us to spend a night at anchor in the 'kettle' at Inner Farne, a small anchorage within a circle of low lying rocks which would have afforded little shelter had the wind been any stronger than forecast.  This tranquil and isolated place was subjected to the constant barrage of noise from the roosting sea birds seen at its best in a glorious sunset.

Another lovely day as we head south to Craster, the small harbour originally built for the shipping of local whinstone and made famous for its Kippers.  The smokehouse is still operating but the herring are now imported from Norway.

The thought of kippers on board caused some concern so we opted for a picnic of kipper pate and locally baked bread - fantastic.  Our destination for the night was Amble, a large but unspoilt harbour with a small, friendly marina. The entrance to the harbour is guarded by Croquet Island. an RSPB seabird sanctuary.  We have been a little disappointed not to have seen more sea mammals but the constant company of Puffins, Guillemots and Gannets has been impressive.   

Next day (Sunday) we head for Newcastle to meet up with the rest of the OGA fleet who have been partying all weekend - hopefully we haven't missed all the fun.  We get there too late to go through the Millennium Bridge so moor up just downstream.  Here we say farewell and thank you to Charles who has left his legacy on board - a new knot called a Yeoline!

Being Sunday the Newcastle nightlife was thankfully fairly subdued but the night lights were something else - providing a perfect backdrop to the Gaffers' party.

As this spectacular bridge opened its jaws for the gaffers the next morning, we were joined by our new crew, Paul who came armed with a delicious casserole and homemade marmalade (future crew please take note!).

The two hour trip down the River Tyne was no less interesting than the previous afternoon with its abundance of wharfs, docks, works and housing, all providing stark evidence of the life blood that has flowed up and down this river for Centuries.   We are off to Seaham, Co Durham, where we find three of the Dutch gaffers in the brand new marina there.

Lord Londonderry built this harbour in 1828 to ship coal from his mines - he was displeased at the dues being charged in the Port of Sunderland so built his own facility! The chutes for loading coal from the rail wagons into the waiting ships are still evident.  This ambitious feat of engineering had no natural inlet or bay to develop but instead took shape with a series of breakwaters and harbours to give protection from the North Sea and provide shelter for the loading of vessels.

The next morning, glorious again, we set off with Raven...

The conditions and speed were ideal for the mackerel lines and keen to try out the new hooks purchased in Eyemouth, we went to work. It wasn't long before we had caught 10 fish with 8 on one line!  Guess what we are having for supper (thank goodness we managed to get some parsley!). 
Our next harbour, Staithes, is a favourite for artists (if not for yachtsmen who can't take the bottom at low tide!) and a walk ashore revealed the true beauty of this Yorkshire harbour with its fishermen's cottages, traditional cobles and Roxby Beck running to the sea.
Up early to get away whilst we are floating!  An unusually dull, cold day as we make our way under power to Whitby - not easy to miss with its narrow but prominent harbour entrance.
 The place where Captain Cook started his life, Goths gather in the ruined Abbey and Fish and Chips are par excellence - Whitby is full of maritime history, buzzing with adventure and intrigue.  We spent a couple of days here (not enough) before heading south again early on Friday morning.
One night at anchor off Filey, tucked in behind the unusual Filey Brigg, a natural breakwater of rock extending eastwards from the resort of Butlins fame!  We left before the sun rose and passed the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head.
We aimed to get to Grimsby for the next Gaffer gathering this weekend but have got as far as Bridlington where we are dried out against the harbour wall awaiting new crew who arrive tomorrow.  Thank you Paul for sailing with Capraia along your home shore and for such an insight into this part of the Yorkshire Coast.