Wind, Wight and Wittering walks

*** Happy September birthdays Matthew and Timmy ***

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Our nomadic impulses tell us to keep moving (a rolling stone gathers no moss and so on), but this year we are travelling deliberately sluggishly due to the global pandemic. Our time is staying mostly at anchorages, and avoiding expensive south coast marinas by choosing inexpensive pontoons or moorings – decisions determined by tides, wind and access to facilities.

Conditions near Portland Bill

From the delightful Fishcombe Cove anchorage at Tor-Bay we headed east with the goal of reaching Swanage, a small bay south and east of Poole Harbour. This trip of 68nm was helped along by an east flowing current and westerly wind of up to 25kn.

The sea area south of Portland can be vicious at the wrong tide as currents collide causing steep seas. Staying at least 4nm south of Portland Bill lighthouse the wind and current moved us swiftly along, reaching up to 12kn at times.

As we rounded Durlston Head and headed north towards Peveril Point, the following seas increased in size, with some waves cresting around us. Yikes! Steering west into Swanage would have the large waves on our beam, which didn’t appeal to us, so we continued a little farther on to reach the open and shallow anchorage at Studland Bay where we dropped the pick after a long day sail.

Our plan was to take our new Safefill gas cylinders to the nearest gas fill centre (around 4kms inland from Swanage). (Side note: it’s not easy to fill gas cylinders in the UK; Safefill is one brand of cylinders which can be filled at selected outlets. Most people have Calor exchange bottles but these aren’t convenient for sailors from abroad).

Storm Francis was forecast to blow through so we prepared the boat by hoisting the anchor sail and extending our anchor chain another 20m and waited.The night before the storm dozens of boats emptied the anchorage leaving Blue Heeler plus two other boats. We had plenty of swing room and space behind us in case we should drag anchor.

Early morning Tuesday we awoke before the imminent storm and had a cuppa in the cockpit. Funny thing about anchoring; at some point overnight a boat anchored right next to us. Too close I thought considering an imminent storm. At the same moment we were discussing the advantages of anchoring away from others, our anchor let go and began to drag in the weedy bottom! Within a second or two we had the engine and windless on, hauled the anchor. We re-anchored in a better area with loads more swing room. I have to say though in the almost ten years of sailing around, I can count on one hand how many times our boat has dragged and this was one of those times.

By lunchtime the storm blew in. We hunkered down that day, night and the next day with two anchor alarms on, just in case. The wind was around 30kn mostly, but gusted up at times.

Behind us at anchor were a number of stationery cruise ships including the “Queen Elizabeth” and “Anthem of the Seas”. With a truncated cruising season brought on by the pandemic, these floating hotels (some say floating petri dishes) have no-one to play shuffle-board and watch gaudy entertainment.

Once the storm abated, we sailed from the anchorage and headed east towards the Isle of Wight.

The day started off okay; some cloud, and a reasonable forecast of 15-20kn SW winds. Half an hour later a woman’s voice blared a new forecast over the VHF “Imminent Force 8” – what the..?  This was the only alert with no other weather forecast suggesting gale force winds. We reefed the sails anyway and waited for winds to reach up to 34-40kn. But reducing sail also reduced our speed which meant we wouldn’t reach the narrow entrance into the Solent at the premium time of tide.

Marinetraffic shows the busy Solent

A couple of hours later, with no Force 8 wind in sight, we reached The Needles at the western end of the Isle of Wight at a good enough time to ride the fast flowing current into the calm waters of the busy Solent which separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England. We reached the mouth of the Medina River and motored through Cowes to the Whitegate visitors pontoon. This pontoon is quite convenient and reasonably priced for boats that don’t require water or electricity as it’s a short dinghy ride across to the Shepards Marina where visitors can use the showers, dispose of garbage and get water if needed.

Visitor Pontoon, Cowes
Beer, test and trace

We spent the weekend at the Isle of Wight walking around the river paths, walked into Newport along the river path and caught the bus back. Despite COVID19, people were out and about, the shops are mostly open and besides masks and hand sanitiser, things appeared quite normal. I expect this will change once summer is over. We took advantage of the situation and had a socially distanced lunch at the Folly Inn.

To the north of the Isle of Wight is an anchorage at Osborne Beach where we anchored for a few nights. I don’t believe we are allowed to go ashore here as it’s part of the Osborne estate, Queen Victoria’s weekender, so we stayed on board for a few days.

One area we hadn’t visited was the Chichester Harbour. As it turned out, the Chichester Harbour was a pleasant surprise.

We stayed a week on the visitors pontoon at Itchenor, again no water or electricity but paying for a week works out quite good value rather than paying daily (£85 for a week). There’s not much at Itchenor, except a jetty, a good pub (Ship Inn) and a popular café. If you plan on coming here you might want to stock up before-hand as it’s a few kilometers to the nearest grocery store.

Village of Bosham

 

Chichester Cathedral
Chichester Market place

It wasn’t long before we had the bikes off and rode in to Chichester, about 12kms away. The Itchenor Ferry service is convenient to get the bikes to the shore, otherwise we use the dinghy.

There are heaps of walking tracks around the area and I happily went out each day with MapMyWalk app running in the background. The beach at West Wittering is quite good and plenty of people sunning themselves. The water obviously too cold for most to swimming though. It’s about a 12km return walk to West Wittering from Itchenor along the coastal route.

As we hadn’t stayed at a marina for many weeks, we returned to Cowes to replenish some stocks and use the laundrette in town to wash a few weeks of laundry.

The ‘winter season’ for most marinas is from 1st November through to end of March, so the winter season will be upon us.  So, as we do each year around this time, we source a place to stay over the winter months. It’s not so easy in the UK to find a place that allows people to stay aboard their boats over winter. I’m not sure why, since they don’t mind people staying aboard any other time of the year. This baffles me, considering boats are designed to stay aboard. The good news is that we have found a marina that is happy to have us stay over winter and it’s somewhere different from where we’ve stayed previously so we have a new region to explore. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post, but from the photo below, maybe you can guess where.

The ongoing isolation and distance from friends and family during this pandemic is affecting everyone, even those like us, who choose this lifestyle. So, a big thankyou to some of the kind people we’ve met recently – Robert from Plymouth contacted us and offered to help us in anyway he could, and Bill and Beverley who we met in Cowes were very generous to us during our stay at Cowes. A little kindness goes a long way…

Stay safe…

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English Riviera

Still chilly on the water

This year our pace is more leisurely than normal, but as we all know, 2020 is not a normal year! Staying in the UK for now seems to be the most sensible option for us, so we‘ll continue our slow trip along the south coast of England.

The coast of Cornwall and Devon is rugged, but also has some amazing sandy/pebbly beaches and small bays. The coastline known as the “English Riviera” has a temperate climate attracting visitors from across the UK. From Helford River, we continued east and dropped anchor at Plymouth harbour, Dartmouth and Tor-Bay.

Plymouth

From Helford River to the south of Falmouth, we sailed 40nm to Portland Harbour and dropped anchor at Cawsand Bay. The anchorage at Cawsand Bay on the southwest corner of Plymouth harbour is a good place to hole up from SW/NW winds. With a few days of strong wind forecast, we decided to stay a few days at the Mayflower Marina, located about 3kms from Plymouth centre. It gave us the opportunity to cycle around Plymouth and replenish our supplies.

Plymouth, like most of the major towns along this coastline, has a solid maritime history. In 1577, sea captain and explorer Sir Francis Drake, departed Plymouth and was the first captain to circumnavigate the globe aboard the ‘Golden Hind’. He eventually returned to Plymouth in 1580 laden with spices and goodies from Indonesia plus booty from his plundering of Spanish treasure ships. A replica ‘Golden Hind’ is docked at Brixham for tourists.

This September marks 400 years since the ‘Mayflower’ set off from Plymouth harbour loaded with Pilgrims seeking a new life and opportunities in the New World. Over 160 years later, in 1787 the cargo ships ‘Friendship’ and ‘Charlotte’ carried convicts from Plymouth to Australia. With nine other ships, this First Fleet arrived on 26th January 1788 at Port Jackson, which became Sydney, New South Wales.

There’s also plenty of good walks from Cawsand. The walk from Cawsand to St Michael’s Chapel along the Rame Head Heritage Coast is a good 9kms return.

Dartmouth

Another 40nm or so sailing day from Cawsand we reach Dartmouth. The approach to the River Dart has Dartmouth Castle on the port side, then opens up to the picturesque town of Dartmouth. Two ferries cross from Kingswear to Dartmouth, and half a mile on a chain ferry crosses the river. The Britannia Naval College, opened in 1905, sits high above the town and remains as important to sailors today as in the past.

Despite restrictions around social distancing, cafes and restaurants are filled with tourists enjoying the few days of warm weather.

The River Dart is narrow and deep and a popular destination for a variety of water craft. From the Dartmoor National Park, the river flows its way south into the English Channel. For a yacht with a 2m draft, the river is navigable for no more than 4nm to Dittisham. There are hundreds of moorings although August is the height of the season so places on the visitors pontoon are limited. Anchoring can be found just south of Anchor Stone, located south of Dittisham on the west bank. It’s a good spot, although room for no more than four or five well anchored boats. Harbour dues are payable each night whether at anchor or on a mooring.

Dart Valley Trail

Ferries take punters regularly from Dartmouth to Dittisham where they can visit Agatha Christie’s holiday home ‘Greenway’ or perhaps take a steam train ride from Kingswear to Paignton. The river is filled with all sorts of water craft – kayaks, punts, paddle boards, as well as yachts and power boats.

The South West Coast trail is a decent 7.5km walk from Dittisham to Dartmouth on the western bank, through the fields, and the forests around Old Mill Creek.

On the east bank at Greenway Quay, it’s a nice walk to Galmpton, or all the way to Ellbery Beach in Tor-Bay.

Tor-Bay

To the east of Dartmouth around in Tor-Bay is the fishing town of Brixham at the south of the bay, Paignton in the centre, and Torquay to the north. Motoring the 12nm or so from Dartmouth, we dropped anchor at Fishcombe Cove located just outside and to the west of Brixham harbour. With the weather so calm we would stay here as long as conditions remained so.

Overlooking the anchorage is Battery Gardens. Besides great views of Tor-Bay, Battery Gardens is recognised as one of the best-preserved military emplacements in the UK. On sunny days the cove is filled with people sunning themselves and swimming in the cold water. There’s a small snack and ice-cream shop open during the summer hours.

It’s a pleasant anchorage, particularly since the wind has been favourable and no more than 10kn. A strong easterly would change the situation for the worse, but we were lucky and had no such winds.

With the sea temperature creeping just over 20degC, I threw on my togs and jumped into the cold water. Second swim in two years! With the ambient temperature in the mid 20s and extremely humid, the inside of the boat had over 80% humidity and I could feel the dampness seeping into the fabric.

This is the first time our hull has been inspected since launching in December last year. The fresh water within Whitehaven Harbour and cool seawater has kept growth to a minimum. The anodes, prop and hull looked pretty good. The remains of a plastic bag wrapped around our prop cutter was easily removed.

Not only is this a picturesque place to stop, it’s also convenient. At the small cove is a step landing. From here I can jump ashore to either walk along the coastal trails, or into town for groceries. There’s a visitor pontoon in the harbour where we can tie up the dinghy for a couple of hours. Not far up the hill from Fishcombe Cove  is a laundromat, which are not easy to find outside of marinas. It’s free to anchor here and with the average cost for a marina berth between GBP30-40.00 per night, it makes sense to anchor as much as possible.

Brixham

On a hot, humid sunny day as I walk up the steep roads with brightly coloured terraced houses, it reminds me a little of walking around St Georges in Grenada. Similar buildings from the same era I suppose.

The technique of trawling was first developed in Brixham and today Brixham remains a major fishing town. Near the ‘Golden Hind’ replica ship stands a statue of King William III (aka William Prince of Orange). With his Dutch army, protestant William invaded England in 1688 and ousted his father-in-law and Catholic incumbent, James.

Walk to Berry Head

Tor-bay is protected from southwest through to northwest winds, but fully exposed to the east. In the past ships would find refuge here from storms, or to stop to load supplies. Berry Head, the headland at the southeast of the bay, was a military site with guns positioned to defend naval ships during the various wars.

This year there are plenty of tourists around, few wearing face-masks. I imagine a typical summer would have many more people visiting these coastal towns. We are still required to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

Wayne’s just finished running the watermaker and our water tanks are full. We’ve managed to keep our batteries charged with a combination of solar, wind and Honda generator. Our wind generator worked a treat during Storm Ellen but at the height of the storm we had to turn it off as wind up to 50kn were too much.

The summer season is waning and Storm Ellen is a reminder that autumn isn’t far away. Soon we’ll continue our journey eastwards to explore the next interesting coastal town.

Blue Heeler anchored at Fishcombe Cove, Tor-Bay

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Scilly season

Leaving Whitehaven

The lockdown for pleasure boats in England finished on 4th July (Scotland followed up a couple of weeks later). Consistent southwesterly winds held us in Whitehaven a few days more, and within a week a short period of north-westerly wind offered us the chance to depart and begin our journey southwards. A big thanks to the team at Whitehaven Marina for all their help during our longer-than-expected stay!

We knew that the Isle of Man was closed to visiting yachts and a VHF call from the IOM coast guard reinforced that restriction as we sailed by. I’d always wanted to visit, as it was spoken of favourably by my grandmother. So it was also for the Lake District, another favourite stomping ground of my nan’s. With camping grounds closed and most tourism businesses in a state of uncertainty for hikers and tourists, we had little choice but to be satisfied with what we did see during our visit to the region.

Back out with the dolphins

I’m delighted to report that our new Volvo D2-50 engine is running well with already over 50 hours on the counter.  Wayne’s bespoke watermaker is also working a treat, producing up to 75 litres per hour – more than double what our antique Spectra watermaker made. All the work we did on Blue Heeler over the months at Whitehaven certainly paid off and we are really pleased that our boat is in top condition.

Making the most of the north-westerly wind, we sailed 200nm overnight from Whitehaven to Milford Haven in South Wales where we stayed at anchor for a few nights. Along the trip with clear dark skies, we had a great view of the Comet Neowise on the western horizon, but our cameras aren’t good enough to capture any image.

From Milford Haven we sailed overnight to the Scilly Isles, the most south-westerly group of islands in the UK. We had good sailing, mindful of the various eddies, overfalls and strong currents where the coast meets the Irish Sea.

The Scilly Isles “the Scillys” located at the south-west of the UK is a small archipelago with channels of shallow shifting sands, and it’s recommended to go there during a spell of good weather. Lucky for us, we had a few days of light winds and calm days and stayed almost a week.

The main harbour is St Mary’s and we grabbed a mooring there for one night. This allowed us to dump some rubbish and recycling, pick up some fresh groceries and have a walk around the town and garrison. It’s a pretty place with a maritime history typical of this region. Fortunately the islands aren’t closed due to COVID19, but we had to wear masks in the Co-op Supermarket and other small shops. I was happy to walk around the town and up to the star fort for views over the harbour.

The island of St Martin’s offers some great views and walks to either end of the island. A few tourists had made the journey to the Scillys, and I image in a normal year there would be many more. The small bakery sells out fast of Cornish pasties in the morning, but they also sell cake treats and bread. The water still too cold for us to go swimming – 15degC is way too cold. But it was nice to walk along the sand on the beaches.

Great sailing from Scilly’s to Helford River

Making good use of a south-westerly wind, we departed the Scillys and had a great 55nm sail to the Helford River anchorage, just south of Falmouth.  After a few days at anchor reading books and enjoying the sunny but cool weather.

After three weeks living at anchor, we’re now at a marina in Plymouth and will spend a few days exploring, shopping, laundry and so on.

Enjoying life on the hook

Future plans? Like most people around the world in these crazy COVID times, we’ve had to cut back and budget wherever possible, so we are happy enough to stay at anchor and live within our means.  We had planned to be somewhere deep in the Mediterranean by now, but we’ve decided to stay in UK waters for the time being. Besides COVID19, entry requirements for UK visitors to Schengen countries will soon change come January 1st when BREXIT kicks in. In the past, UK citizens enjoyed freedom of movement within the EU, but out of the EU, UK folk will only be allowed to stay 90 days out of every 180 days – the same as most other countries visiting Europe, such as Australians. But there are rumblings from various maritime bodies seeking to have this rule changed and extended to at least six months – I don’t fancy their chances though.  So we’ll likely head to the Med next summer and copy with the 90/180 day thing, and eventually make our way back to Australia.

The news from Victoria in Australia isn’t good regarding the increase in cases of COVID19 and I hope they continue to be vigilant, as we see how quickly this virus gets out of control. Stay safe everyone and for the sake of others, please wear a mask!

St Mary's Harbour

 

 

 

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UK Lockdown – month three

Well, here we are in Whitehaven…still.  I’m not complaining though. There are plenty of horror stories of other cruisers around the world either trapped in foreign countries, or worse, their world has been turned upside down due to a premature death of a loved one caused by COVID19. With the worldwide death toll speeding towards half a million people, and with almost nine million confirmed cases, this virus will certainly be around for some time yet.  It’s now compulsory to wear masks on public transport in the UK, but I’ve got no plans to be that close to people for now. So I’ll continue to wash my hands and keep my distance.

Whitehaven Harbour

Rules have eased in the UK at the end of month three – we are now at Level 3; some supermarkets have relaxed queuing and there’s certainly more people out enjoying the fine weather. Supermarket shelves are well stocked; there’s even flour and yeast available now. I suspect the millions of people who panic-bought toilet rolls, flour and yeast now have buyer’s remorse.

Most people around Whitehaven don’t wear masks and the harbour foreshore can get busy with people sunning themselves, being mindful to keep their distance – mostly. Fisher-folk keen to get a nibble space themselves equally along the west and north piers at Whitehaven Harbour whilst enjoying the slow summer sunsets.

Ironically summer is typically the season where we isolate ourselves at a quiet anchorage ,and all we can do is look out across the sea towards Scotland. But we’ve got no option but to wait it out sharing one toilet with boat-owners who can now come to the marina to check on their boats. Oh, to be out sailing…

Across to Scotland

Scotland have gone into Phase 2 of their re-opening, and announced that Phase 3 will allow overnighting at anchorages (with suitable permissions), however, there’s no date set for Phase 3. Ireland still requires two weeks in isolation, although the information is sketchy regarding travel between UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland. It’s not like we need to leave, but Skipper is getting a little toey with all this hanging around. The Faroes are around 500nm north and starting to ease restrictions so that’s an option.

It’s looking less likely that we’ll reach the European continent this season and more than likely hole up again this winter on the south coast of England. Well, that’s the plan today. In the meantime, we keep as busy as we can.

One job that always gets put off is varnishing. It’s not easy to apply seven coats of varnish when you live aboard – too easy to accidentally touch newly applied painting. There isn’t a lot of varnishing to be done, but we do have some chips and scuffs, and UV destroyed areas that need attention. We both worked on sanding the entry, but only one of us can varnish. I’m using Epifanes polyurethane two component clear varnish which should bring the wood back to life and protect it for a few more years. On my next exciting instalment, I’ll post some pics of the finished job!

New red wheels go faster

And then there was the time we created a job for ourselves. A few weeks ago, my pushbike ended up in the harbour after a gust of wind blew it off the jetty (don’t ask!). Since the dunking, squeaks and stiffness has materialised despite a subsequent dousing of fresh water and lubricant after the dip. Wayne helped me strip the bike down completely – goose neck, steering stem, gears, cogs, pedals, etc. We had to clean and regrease all ball bearings to remove any trace of damaging salt water. In the end I had to replace my rear wheel as the old rear hub couldn’t be repaired or replaced. I even had to take apart my Shimano combination pedals after they seized and stopped spinning (filled with wee ball bearings). Fortunately, Haven Cycles opposite Aldi had a couple of red-rimmed and dusty 26” MTB wheels (front/rear) hanging in the rafters which I took off his hands. My multi-coloured bike is built from parts around the world!

Bike riding is the only escape for us at the moment and there’s good bike paths and quiet roads throughout Cumbria. I’d love to ride across to Newcastle on the east coast, but camping is prohibited overnight and the police are out in force. To control the influx of people, public loos around Cumbria are closed for the time being (fun fact; Whitehaven has no public toilets – zero).

And just like that after a lacklustre start to the year we have reached the summer solstice – the longest day of the (longest) year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Hopefully we can expect things to ease soon, but not at the expense of a few lives.

For that we can wait a little longer.

 

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UK lockdown – month two

Since we left our home port of Melbourne in early 2011, we haven’t stayed in one place longer than three months. Typically a long stay means major works on Blue Heeler. As much as I like Whitehaven, we’ve been here now for nine months, which also means we haven’t been sailing since end of August 2019. But we are the lucky ones.

Other sailors are land-locked on their vessels in French canals, with no way of escaping; many are stranded in the Maldives or Caribbean, hoping to be able to sail to a safe latitude before the hurricanes roll in for the season. For the sake of their small populations, the Pacific Islands are closed to yachties. A recent article in the Guardian highlights the extraordinary challenges faced by sailors around the globe.

Horta, Azores

It’s reported that around 500 vessels are heading northeast from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to Europe, cutting short their sailing adventures to return to the relative safety of their homelands. Crossing oceans is dangerous and any under-prepared sailor attempting a crossing will be faced with a myriad of problems, usually the least of which is entry into a country. A safe harbour is critical to a weary sailor coming in from a perilous voyage so it’s a real problem for many sailors.

So, what have we been up to? Not much. I’ve been busy chronicling our voyages into watchable YouTube clips. I have thousands of photos so it’s been a major task remembering all of the places we’ve been. If you’re interested in our trip from New York to Alabama through the inland waterways, I’ve finally uploaded a playlist on that trip. I’m currently finishing off our 2014 Indian Ocean trip too (yes, 2014). Plus there’s some more recent vids too. Wayne is quietly going mad reading anything to keep his mind occupied. A 12m boat is a very small space…

With no countries near us likely to fully open this summer, there’s little we can do for now. Scotland is closed so anchoring up in the islands is a no-go. Ireland requires 14-days of self-isolation before stepping ashore, and most marinas as closed too.  The Isle of Man remains closed for the time being with no reopening in the foreseeable future. A lot of our boat work is done too so there’s only a few smaller jobs to tick off the list. The longer we stay though the items miraculously appear on the ‘to-do list’. We had thought of going to Iceland but we’d have to self-isolate for 14 days or have a COVID19 test before we could step ashore. The Faroe Islands are closed for now too. The marina is allowing people to visit their boats, but no-one is allowed to stay overnight, except people with no option, like us.

Fitzroy Island

Happier times at Fitzroy Island, Australia 2011

If I could click my heels three times and say “There’s no place like home”, and end up in Australian waters, I would do it in a heartbeat.

But for now, we continue the waiting game. The remnants of Tropical Storm Arthur broke our sunny spell, but the end of next week looks like warmer weather. There are few hours of darkness here now, as nautical twilight begins around 3am and finishes towards midnight.

Stay safe everyone.

The photo at the top and those below are from Lizard Island in 2011 – happier times…

 

 

 

 

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