Isles of Scilly: Tuesday 27 Aug - Sunday 22 Sep 2002
C & N Marina, Plymouth, Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, Penzance, Fowey, Dartmouth, Brixham, Torquay, Poole, C&N Marina
(Click on any of the photographs below to see a larger image)
This was the main cruise of the year for us. We planned to spend 3-4 weeks sailing to and around the Scillies; Bridget and Valerie, our two wives and both non-sailors, were going to fly out to the Scillies to join us for a week in Tregarthen's hotel on St. Mary's, the main island. We allowed seven days for the outward journey and ten days for the return. Roger, friend of Malcolm's, fisherman and sea-going chef extraordinaire, was going to fly out for a couple of days' cruising and fishing around the Scillies before sailing back with us.
For the first time, we had a laptop on board with access to the internet via a GSM mobile telephone. This proved invaluable during the entire trip for obtaining weather forecasts and charts which we downloaded from the excellent Meteorological Office commercial service. Combined with the Navtex receiver on board Bagadeus, this was the most comprehensive weather information system either of us had used to date. The laptop was also used for tidal stream predictions using a pre-prepared spreadsheet. A 150W inverter was used to charge the laptop batteries from the boat's 12V supply and the mobile telephone could be charged direct from the same 12V source.
The other new item of equipment was David's telescopic tree lopper. Lobster pot markers had always been a concern during night sailing, particularly in certain parts of the West Country where they abound; Malcolm had once snagged a lobster-pot line in the Scillies and did not want to repeat the experience. We have a rope-cutter on the propeller but the real worry was the rudder, perfectly designed to snag lobster pot lines. The lopper would, we hoped, reach far enough down to be able to cut us free from any lines we got caught on. Happily the situation did not arise although we altered course to avoid pot markers on a number of occasions.
We boarded Bagadeus in the afternoon of Tuesday 27th August. We wanted to catch a fair tide out through the Needles, which meant a departure at around 03:00 the following morning (Wednesday), so we retired early to our cabins. We duly departed at 03:00 with a forecast of smooth seas and light north-easterly winds for the next couple of days, reporting our departure and plan in the usual way to Solent Coastguard. In view of the forecast we decided not to stop at Weymouth as originally intended but to go direct to Plymouth, even though that would give us foul tides around Portland Bill and along the South Devon Coast past Start Point. We wanted to use what we could of the good weather and there seemed little point in delaying to get better tides and thus spend less time at sea, providing we could make safe and satisfactory progress over the ground in smooth seas.
We motor-sailed for the entire leg, maintaining around 6 knots through the water. This gave us 9+ knots over the ground through the Needles, dropping to 3 knots as we gave Portland Bill a good offing, and again for a time along the Devon coast. We kept a three-on, three-off watch system day and night in order to encourage regular periods of rest during the day for the off-watch crew. The on-watch crew member always wore a lifejacket and attached his safety line when alone on deck.
As we crossed Lyme Bay in continuing good weather and smooth seas we briefly considered continuing non-stop to the Scillies. However the weather was forecast to deteriorate as a depression approached and we were probably going to get tired. We therefore stopped as planned at Plymouth, arriving at Mayflower Marina at around 05:00 on Thursday morning, some 26 hours after leaving Gosport. We reported our arrival to Brixham Coastguard, got some sleep, had a shower and had lunch ashore.
We filled up with diesel and departed for the Scillies at around 17:00 on Thursday 29 August to catch the tide around Lizard Point. Our original plan had us arriving in the Scillies on Monday 2 September, so we were well ahead of schedule.
The weather was deteriorating as we departed and the seas had increased to moderate. This was all according to forecast, and the forecast for the 90-mile trip to the Scillies was acceptable - but, with time in hand, we decided to abort and wait for the depression to pass. We therefore planned a new route for Falmouth, some 30-odd miles away. We entered the new waypoints in the plotter below, checked the new track had no dangers en route, and made the route available as usual on the plotter in front of the helmsman. The chartplotter was once again put in track mode and David went below to prepare some food.
We bought victuals in Falmouth and had lunch at an excellent pub on the old quay. We went ashore again for dinner at a restaurant in the high street. Next day (Saturday 31 August) we met John and Wendy, two old friends of Malcolm, for coffee on Saturday morning. We lunched at the same excellent pub on the quay, meeting another sailor who had just returned from the Scillies. We discussed, inter alia, watch keeping. He preferred a two-on, two-off watch cycle with a crew of two. We later decided to try this for the rest of the cruise. There are pro's and con's, as always, but on the whole we preferred it to our former three-on, three- off system.
By Saturday afternoon the depression had passed and the seas were forecast to quieten during the next twelve hours. We departed Falmouth at 02:00 on Sunday morning, the hour being decided as usual by the tide around Lizard Point. In the darkest hours David spent periods in the bows with a spotlight sweeping the seas ahead for the dreaded lobster pot markers; inevitably, we passed close to a number of these and altered for a couple of them.
The beginnings of twilight saw us off the Lizard. The radar's MARPA was once more put to good use for collision avoidance as we encountered shipping south of the Lizard, and particularly when crossing just south of the separation scheme lanes between Land's End and the Scillies.
We arrived in St Mary's Harbour, Isles of Scilly, around 14:00 on Sunday (1 September) and made fast to one of the yellow visitors' buoys which the enlightened harbour authorities have provided. A modest £10 per night secures you a reliable mooring, with a discount for longer stays, and you are within a relatively easy row (a few hundred metres) of the quay steps if you don't want to use the outboard.
Later in the afternoon we unpacked the dinghy, inflated it on deck, launched it and rowed ashore for some supplies. The dinghy, one of the necessities of life in the marina-free Scillies, would stay inflated throughout the next week and half, being towed close up from the starboard pushpit rails when underway.
We rowed ashore again in the evening for dinner at the Anchor, a short step down Hugh Town High Street from the the quay.
Bridget and Valerie were due to fly out to join us on Wednesday 4 September, so for the next two days Malcolm, who knew the Scillies fairly well, showed David around the islands. On Monday morning we departed the harbour and set waypoints for Old Wreck Buoy and Bishop Rock. At 6 degrees 26 minutes West this was the furthest west we went. From Bishop we went north, around the western extremity of the group and then east, around the north of Bryher and Tresco, two of the five inhabited off-islands.
At lunchtime we anchored on a rising tide in St. Helen's pool, a cosy anchorage which Malcolm has used on several occasions. After a leisurely lunch involving Malcolm's favourite pasta dish, we pottered slowly back down a well used reverse transit (Men a Vaur in line with St. Helen's landing carn) to see us through some shallows and eventually into St.Mary's Roads and back to the mooring in St. Mary's harbour.
On Tuesday 3 September we awoke to find a flat calm and, as the harbourmaster put it, "a cracker of a day". We went west along the north of St. Agnes then south between Annet and St. Agnes into The Cove, on the south side of the sand bar between St. Agnes and Gugh. Here we picked up a buoy while we brewed coffee and mused on life, the beautiful Scillies and the glorious sunshine.
Out of The Cove we motored north between Gugh and St. Mary's, across The Roads and on into Tresco channel, between Tresco and Brhyer. With a rising tide - but only just enough water - we crept around the two beacons and motored cautiously over Tresco flats, using the chartplotter to help us find the deepest water, and picked up a mooring in the deep water channel near Cromwell's Castle for lunch.
Lunch over, with the tide falling, we went out through the northern entrance, around the north of Tresco and outside St. Martin's, turning into the Eastern Isles to look for seals. where we found a couple basking on the rocks.
From the Eastern Isles, with the tide still falling we went around the south of St. Mary's, up again between St. Agnes and St. Mary's, looked briefly into Porth Cressa and on round the Garrison back to the harbour.
It was time to moor Bagadeus and generally prepare her to be left for a week while Bridget and Valerie were with us in Tregarthen's Hotel.
Bridget and Valerie flew out from Exeter on Wednesday 4 September. We took cases, laptop, cameras etc. to the hotel and lived the (relative) luxury life for a week until B and V flew back home on Wednesday 11 September. Some photographs from this pleasant break ashore can be seen on the 'Shore Break' page.
Despite their dislike of being afloat, Bridget and Valerie did come out one sunny afternoon for a trip to see the seals in the Eastern Isles as the photographs below testify.
Roger, friend of Malcolm, fisherman and sea-going chef extraordinaire, flew out on the helicopter from Penzance, arriving at about 18:00 on Wednesday 11 September. We picked him up on the quay and got him settled aboard in his preferred fore cabin. We all went ashore again, picked up supplies for the return trip and had dinner at the Anchor in Hugh Town. Next day we left St. Mary's harbour for the last time and at coffee-time picked up one of the buoys in Tean sound off St. Martin's hotel. These were not so well maintained as previously, and the fierce tidal stream which runs in the sound makes the mooring less attractive than some. After a brief break we threaded through the rocks to deep water near Round Island, usually a good area for fishing. Malcolm trailed a spinner line and Roger put his rod over the side.
In due course Roger the fisherman had caught our lunch (mackerel and pollock), so we took them round to Tresco channel where Roger the chef worked his magic on them. They were served up less than an hour after being caught; fish does not come much fresher than this.
After Roger's excellent lunch we spent Thursday afternoon stowing the dinghy, preparing the boat and doing the passage plan ready for the trip back. We were going to go to Penzance, the nearest mainland port with good shelter and diesel available. Our last diesel fill had been in Plymouth on the outward trip; our relatively large fuel tank had allowed us to avoid refuelling in the Scillies - never the simplest of tasks - but our fuel state now meant that Falmouth was out of reach if we motor-sailed in possibly lively seas.
Because of the weather forecast we had decided to return to the mainland on Friday 13 September, a day earlier than originally planned. It seemed we were going to have several days of easterlies with a settled high over the UK. A depression over northern France coupled with the high meant strong headwinds for the next few days and, to go with this, moderate or rough seas.
We departed Tresco Channel at 10:30 and went around the north of the islands then set the autopilot to take us to the first waypoint, the Runnel Stone buoy off Lands End. The sea state was moderate, becoming rough as we got clear of the islands. We took down the sails and motored into a 25 knot easterly. In the annoyingly lumpy seas our speed suffered and we had to reduce engine revs to avoid excessive slamming. The result was that by the time we got to the Runnel Stone buoy the planned fair tide had turned foul, adding further to our journey time. In view of the seas we were experiencing we were a little concerned about the sea state at the entrance to Penzance and called the Coastguard to discuss this; despite our fuel state we were not going to attempt the entrance in high seas. However conditions nearer to Penzance were much better, no doubt helped by being on the lee side of the Lizard Peninsula.
Scillonian passed us at around 18:00 on her regular run from St. Mary's to Penzance; we finally arrived at 23:00 - more than twelve hours for a 37 mile leg. A beer and a light meal, and we were ready for our cabins.
The easterlies continued, so the next leg was another short one - the 35 miles or so around the Lizard peninsula. We departed mid-morning on Saturday 14 September, the timing determined as usual by the tides around the Lizard. We had a splendid sail southward in the lee of the Lizard peninsula for the 17 miles or so to our first waypoint (south of the Lizard, clear of the race). The waves increased as expected when we entered exposed waters beyond the peninsula and we had a few hours motor-sailing in moderate-to-rough seas once more as we crept north along the east coast of the peninsula. By late afternoon the seas had calmed somewhat; our speed picked up and we entered Falmouth harbour at around 18:00 after a few miles of sailing in smooth seas.
On the way in we saw a replica sailing vessel which later moored near us in Port Pendennis Marina. The vessel turned out to be under charter to to a film company; she seems to have a good order book of charters since we have since seen her in a number of TV programmes, both documentary and fictional (e.g. the "Hornblower" series). A second square-rigger came in later and moored such that its bowsprit was directly ahead of our mast (see photograph below) - a little challenge in departure procedures for Bagadeus' skipper!
More easterlies next day (Sunday 15 September), and another short leg, this time to Fowey some 20 miles to the east. We bought further supplies in the morning and left Falmouth after lunch with the tide fair for Fowey. The weather had eased somewhat and the short trip was easy and pleasant. We hove to for a short break towards the end for some unsuccessful attempts at fishing, and then into Fowey.
We took a sight-seeing trip as far up the river Fowey as water permitted, before returning to pick up one of the visitor's buoys off Polruan, opposite the yacht club. A pleasant evening on a pretty mooring, excellent food from one of the best sea-going chefs in the business, good wine and good company - what more can a simple sailor ask?
From Fowey, we decided to make Salcombe our next stop, ready for the long crossing of Lyme Bay. We set off at an appropriate time for tides next morning and made excellent progress into the inevitable easterly in smooth-to-moderate seas. For maximum speed on passage we were motor-sailing, with the autopilot in 'constant-wind-angle' mode; from experience with Bagadeus, 36 degrees gives the best VMG (velocity made good) towards a destination dead into wind. So 36 degrees it was, putting in the occasional tack, until by lunchtime we had Plymouth abeam about four miles off. We decided to take a brief break from the head winds and increasing seas and hove to for a bite to eat and a hot drink. Roger went below and as usual produced a light lunch which exactly hit the spot.
After a 20 minute break, aware of our steady drift downwind, we reset the Genoa, sheeted in the main and got under way again. At this point we encountered our only problem to date with the autopilot: -
Malcolm, at the helm, entered the command to resume close-hauled at 36 degrees to the wind. The autopilot put the helm smartly over, then the display blanked, apart from the brief message “NO PILOT”. The display then blanked completely, still with the helm hard over. He pressed the standby button to switch off the autopilot but there was no response – the helm stayed hard over and he could move the wheel only with difficulty.
The obvious consequence was an unintended gybe, but since the main was sheeted in and we had sea room there was no particular problem. The unplanned manoeuvre continued, culminating with the inevitable heaving-to on the other tack. Malcolm, still at the wheel, asked David to go below to switch off power to the instruments, expecting this to free the wheel – but it didn’t. As a last resort the helmsman can manually over-ride the autopilot by forcing the wheel against a slipping clutch if safety considerations demand; however with no dangers nearby we left the boat hove-to. David crawled to the (starboard-side) access panel for the linear motor; he shook the ram, tapped the motor box with a torch and waggled the power wires to the motor. At about this time the wheel became free. It was likely that one of David’s actions had freed the motor, but since Malcolm and David were not in voice contact at the time owing to weather noise it was not clear what exactly had cleared the problem.
We got under way close hauled with manual control of the helm, then switched the instruments on again. They came to life normally and we found the autopilot now worked correctly. It continued to work correctly for the rest of the cruise.
We got under way again along the south Devon coast. As we approached Salcombe, with less room to put in long tacks we furled the Genoa and began motoring directly into wind. We had a fair tide and decided to go past Salcombe and on around Start Point to Dartmouth; this would take a few miles off the next leg, the long 60-mile crossing of Lyme bay. Once out of the lee of the Start Point promontory the seas increased and for a few hours we plugged into the headwind and 2-3 metre waves, with some occasional slams. Once we were able to turn north we had the wind well off the starboard bow so were able to start sailing again, making much better progress. We arrived at Dartmouth at around 19:00 (Monday 16 September) with the light beginning to fade; we took down the sails, motored up the river and found a berth at the comfortable Dart Harbour marina.
After the pounding and occasional slams we had experienced through the seas off Start Point, Roger found a moderate amount of chaos in his forecabin berth, and what appeared to be a dusting of white debris in the shelves along the hull. There was some similar deposit in the saloon. The debris contained the spiral waste you might get from drilling holes. It was Roger who realised that what we were seeing was debris from the many interior fixing holes, shaken out by what the boat had been through in the last few hours!
The next leg of the return trip included the relatively long crossing of Lyme Bay, probably continuing on around Portland Bill to Weymouth. Because of the weather forecast we decided to stay in Dartmouth during Tuesday 17th September. We awoke to a bright if breezy day intending to obtain supplies, do the detailed planning for the next leg and then relax. Early in the day, sadly, Roger found he needed to return home for business reasons, so we had a pub lunch on the banks of the Dart and then saw Roger into his taxi.
We went into Dartmouth town for supplies then returned to fill up with diesel before the fuel pontoon closed. Back in our marina berth we planned the leg to Weymouth. The weather forecast suggested a wind of F4-5 backing from east to north-east and to go with this an improving sea state of moderate becoming smooth as the wind started to come over the land. On the basis of the forecast we planned on maintaining 4-5 knots through the water, which indicated a departure time of 06:00 next morning to catch the tide window around Portland Bill. We anticipated a long starboard tack into Lyme Bay to try to get as much shelter from the land as possible before the wind backed.
With the planning done it was, given the regrettable absence of Roger, a restaurant in Dartmouth and then an early night.
We duly departed at 06:00 on Wednesday 18th September and were soon in seas which were moderate at the very least, not to say tending to rough. We were making only 3 knots into wind and seas, but continued because of the forecast of a backing wind and improving sea state. Unfortunately the improvement did not happen - the wind remained at easterly F6 and the wave height did not decrease.
To catch the Portland Bill tide window VMG (velocity made good toward the destination) was, of course, the important parameter; it could be displayed if required on the navigation displays, including that in front of the helmsman. With VMG displayed we alternated for a while between motor-sailing close hauled (which gave us more speed through the water but at least 45 degrees off the direct course to the next waypoint off Portland Bill) and motoring directly into wind and seas (which reduced our speed but was at least going directly towards the waypoint). By about 13:00, half way across Lyme Bay, we had used up what margin there was in the passage plan and the navigation displays were giving an ETA at the waypoint well outside the tide window. We decided to turn round and put into the Exe for the night, which would give us a better wind angle for another attempt next day.
We were aware in making this decision that the entrance into the Exe would not be easy, given the following wind and sea. With a couple of hours still to go to the Exe we reviewed the decision and decided to abort this potentially dangerous plan and go instead into Torquay or Brixham, both offering shelter from easterlies and a more tractable approach. Torquay was nearer but the contact details in Reeds were out of date and we could not get in touch with the marina. Brixham, however, had a berth.
The seas increased owing to shoaling waters as we approached Torbay. At one stage we switched off the autopilot and decided to steer manually - we have usually found that the human helmsman can handle difficult following seas better than an autopilot. Well, not this time - the autopilot had been doing a better job than we were now doing. Suitably humbled but also gratified at its excellent performance, we re-engaged the autopilot and let it see us safely into harbour. We arrived at around 17:00 and moored as instructed on the competition pontoon. We had a strong wind blowing us off the pontoon and our lines were taken by the crew of another yacht which had come in earlier for shelter. We reported our change of plan to Brixham Coastguard and reflected on the fact that we were now just a few miles from Dartmouth - which we had left nearly 12 hours earlier.
Other yachts joined us on the pontoon, all coming in for shelter. It was just one of those rare times when the normally reliable weather forecasters, who if anything have a tendency to be pessimistic just to be on the safe side, had led us to expect much more favourable conditions in Lyme Bay than those we encountered that day.
The weather was not forecast to improve in the immediate future and we decided to remain in Brixham during Thursday 19 September. We ate ashore in an excellent restaurant near the inner harbour and bought a few useful things in the chandlers. We found it was worth being off the boat around high water when there was a vicious tidal eddy around our berth which caused Bagadeus to move fairly violently in all three axes. It was an uncomfortable motion; we put out all the lines we had, fearing failure of a mooring line under the repeated surges.
We continued to keep a close eye on the forecast and decided to remain in Torbay throughout Friday 20 September. Brixham marina had to ask us to leave because they had the 2002 "Around Alone" race coming in shortly. We made the short three mile trip across Torbay to Torquay where we spent the evening and night. Somewhat tired of head winds and high seas, we started to consider leaving Bagadeus in Torquay with the intention of returning when the run of easterlies was over. There was, though, a better forecast for tomorrow (Saturday 21 September), so we decided to make a final decision in the morning.
The weather was much better on the morning of Saturday 21 September and with a good forecast we departed at around 06:00. The wind had reduced markedly and the seas were smooth.
We noted again the three large US vessels lying at anchor in Torbay - we had been struck on the way in by the name of one of the ships, "2nd Lt John P Bobo". Later internet research established that the three vessels were supply ships built for and on contract to the US Marines; each was able to provide support for a corps of Marines. 2nd Lt John P Bobo was a Marine who was posthumously decorated for his bravery in the action in which he was killed in Vietnam.
We motor-sailed all day at a steady 6 knots through the water and arrived off Portland Bill by late afternoon - earlier than planned owing to the calm conditions, so we had a foul tide for a while.
In view of the good weather we decided to abort Weymouth and to make further progress homeward. We considered Yarmouth or Lymington, with an estimated arrival around 01:00 on Sunday morning, but neither could give us a berth. We considered what anchorages we might use in the western Solent area, but in the end decided to go to Poole. Night fell as we approached Anvil Point, then it was up past Swanage and Old Harry to pick up the buoys for the channel into Poole Harbour. We berthed at the relatively new Town Quay marina; we got a late dinner ashore and went as early as we could to our cabins in order to make an early start next day.
On Sunday 22 September we departed Poole at around 05:00 in order to have fair tides through the Needles and into the Solent, albeit with a foul tide as we left Poole Harbour. We motor-sailed in light airs to ensure we would make the most of the tides, and arrived back at C & N Marina in time for a late lunch from the remains of the supplies on board. We tidied the boat, loaded our kit into the car, had a brief word with the charter agents and left Bagadeus once more in their care.
Overall, apart from the brief autopilot problem, Bagadeus had performed excellently throughout the cruise. Her fully-battened mainsail meant that she pointed well when sailing, and her navigation equipment and autopilot had proved themselves to be first-class. The availability of radar and chartplotter displays in front of the helmsman, the wealth of data which the helmsman could call up, the radar's excellent MARPA and the superb autopilot all made for accurate, reliable, and above all safe, navigation.
We could have done without that unfortunate run of easterlies for the return trip, but we had thoroughly enjoyed the cruise. Bagadeus had done us proud, and we could not wait to be aboard her again.
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