We fill up with fuel at the refuelling pontoon at the Milford marina entrance and cruise slowly out of the entrance lock. It is ‘free-flow’ time, meaning that the tidal level outside is the same as or more than the water level within the marina, so the lock gates can remain open. We head off down the way that we came in the previous day, following a giant tanker also on its way out. We pass Dale bay and make for Milford Harbour entrance. A huge cruise ship is coming in which we pass on our port side. It seems very close and we can see some of the passengers on deck.

Phew! We missed it!

After many discussions and calculations, we have decided to take the outside passage around the outside of Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey Islands. These are all islands with narrow channels between themselves and the mainland which funnel strong tidal currents through the gap, particularly during spring tides. Jack’s Sound, between Skomer and the mainland, is particularly notorious. Passages through these channels are fraught with dangers, with jagged rocks, steep cliffs and underwater reefs to avoid, all the while being whisked along at 7 knots or more. No wonder that many ships have come to grief there over the years. It seems they can be done if the timing in relation to slack water is spot on, and the correct transits are followed, but even then there is no margin for error. We had considered attempting them, but we had been advised against it with our deep keel possibly snagging the sloping edges of the channel.

Passing the western tip of Skokholm Island.

The three islands themselves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). By coincidence, Moira had been there on a field trip the week before we had met her, and she had regaled us with stories of the puffins and shearwaters that live on the island. Apparently the latter are so dense that if you step off the marked pathways, there is a good chance you will step on a burrow and crush the bird inside. As we are swept past, we are sorry that we don’t have the time to stop and visit the island and see its wonderful inhabitants.

The notorious Jack’s Sound between Skomer Island and the mainland.

We are swept past St David’s Head at 10 knots, most of which is the tidal current. In the distance we can see the bright light of Strumble Head lighthouse, even though it is more than ten miles away and daylight. Beyond St David’s, there is a little wind, but the northward current is still strong, so we set the sails and the autopilot and spend the afternoon reading, fishing and sunbathing as Ruby Tuesday sails herself along the Welsh coast. This is idyllic – who could wish for more?


I continue reading my book called “In Search of Grace: An Ecological Pilgrimage” by Peter Reason, in which he describes a voyage he makes in his yacht from the south of England, round the west coast of Ireland, then on to the far north of Scotland. He sees his trip as a pilgrimage, to reconnect with the natural world in some way. The technology of civilisation has separated us from this natural world by minimising the impact of natural forces on our lives, so much so that we are now influencing earth systems rather than being only influenced by them. This has resulted in climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, pollution of the air and seas, and all the other ecological problems we are causing. We need to rethink our place in the big scheme of things and see ourselves as part of nature rather than separate from it. We are already part of it of course; it’s just that we don’t see ourselves that way. He defines a pilgrimage as a journey of moral or spiritual significance taken to seek answers to deep questions by escaping from the everyday and, in this case, experiencing the Earth’s ecological processes in the raw. Many of his ideas resonate with my own, and, although I don’t like the word, I wonder if our own voyage is a pilgrimage of sorts. Certainly we have escaped the monotony of everyday work life of meetings, deadlines, and targets that we had, and are governed now much more by the winds, weather, currents and tides than we were. We do have a sense of seeking something more than ourselves, but the deep questions that we want to confront are only half-formed. Perhaps they will become clear during the rest of this voyage or on future ones …

The fishing line twitches, and we think we have caught a fish. We wind it in eagerly, but it is a piece of kelp that has become caught somehow. That pretty much sums up our luck at fishing so far. We throw it back.

Passing Strumble Head lighthouse.

We arrive in Fishguard and anchor in the little bay on the south side of the harbour beneath a castle on a promontory. Appropriately, it is called Lower Bay. We pour ourselves glasses of wine and watch the sun go down. The light adds a soft glow to the greenery on shore and the stone buildings of the small village of Lower Town and we are mesmerised by their beauty.

Lower Bay, Fishguard.

The local sailing club is out in force, and we watch youngsters in their sailing dinghies being put through their paces by their instructors. We think they are lucky to have such a beautiful place to learn their sailing in.

Learning to sail in Fishguard.

Later that evening, the train from London arrives with Joanne and Peter, my sister and brother-in-law, on it. They have just flown from New Zealand to Britain the day before to spend some time in Europe, and are still exhausted from the jet-lag. They are joining us for a week’s sailing before heading off to Mallorca, Morocco and Spain. We find a taxi to take their luggage from the station to the pier in Lower Bay, then load it into the dinghy and ferry them across one-by-one to Ruby Tuesday. We are well accustomed to sailing with each other, having done trips in Greece and New Zealand in previous years, so we are looking forward to having them with us.

Joanne and Peter arrive in Fishguard on the train.

Transferring to Ruby Tuesday.

They have worked out that they need to be back to Gatwick for their flight to Mallorca by early afternoon on the following Friday, and have found a train leaving from Holyhead at 0900 that would get them there on time. We carefully plan our week’s sailing to make sure that we arrive in Holyhead the evening before.

Milford Haven

“Unidentified yacht off the Firing Range Patrol vessel’s bow, please identify yourself and your destination”.

For the second time on the trip, we are intercepted by a Ministry Of Defence vessel. It seems that we have strayed a bit close to the Castlemartin Firing Range to the east of Milford Haven. We are not quite sure why we are unidentified, as the words Ruby Tuesday are blazoned in huge letters along the boom for all to see, but we think they might be too young to remember the Rolling Stones.

“Yacht Ruby Tuesday, heading for Milford Haven”, we say.

“No problem, but could you keep out of the firing area as it is active today, and we wouldn’t want any accidents, would we?”, they respond, friendly but firm. “Keep on a new course of 275° until you receive further instructions from us – that should be OK.”

They zoom off in the opposite direction. Feeling a bit like Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible, we comply with the instruction. One hour later, we are still on the same course, so we call the patrol boat on the VHF.

“Sorry, we forgot about you”, they reply. “Please alter your course to 330° and wait for us to call you again.”

Another hour passes, and we seem to be passing the entrance to Milford Haven. Thinking they might have forgotten us a second time, we call them again. This time there is no answer. We decide to head directly into Milford Haven. We are not arrested, so we assume they have all gone home. We hope they are not quite so forgetful when they are on active duty.

Intercepted by the Firing Range Patrol vessel.

We had left Lundy early that morning, and had caught the tide that helped us on our way northwards. In the lee of the island it was calm to start with, but once we passed the headland the wind strengthened to 18 knots and the sea became quite rough. We reefed to reduce the sail area and wallowed our way through the waves coming on our beam. It was cold, so the First Mate went below decks while I put on my jacket and sat in the cockpit.

Alone on the sea.

I am struck by the solitude. Lundy fades from view and we cannot yet see the south Wales coast. No other boat is in sight – we are alone and might be the only people in the world. Only a flock of black guillemots bobbing on the waves passes us. It is us and nature. It is tempting to think that we are at one, and yet we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our civilisation – Ruby Tuesday herself is the product of centuries of accumulated human knowledge and modern materials, and we are aided by the wonders of the electronic age. We are semi-sustainable in that we can last for several days on the provisions, water and energy we have on board, and can travel using the natural forces of wind and tides, but eventually we must return to our comfort zone to restock and repair if necessary.

Can mankind ever be truly sustainable? In a sense we have to – this planet is all we have, and if we can’t it may dispose of us. The evolutionary record shows that many species have disappeared because they have not been able to adapt to changing circumstances. And yet, other species have changed their environment irrevocably and created conditions for new species to evolve. We ourselves would not be here if various bacteria had not learnt how to produce oxygen as a waste product. We are now in the Anthropocene, a geological age in which the activities of humans have a marked influence on earth processes. A bobbing lobsterpot buoy off our starboard bow reminds me that even the seas we are sailing over have unseen particles of plastic detritus from our waste. What will be the outcome of our presence – new opportunities for evolution to thrive, or massive extinctions? We just don’t know.

Are we destroying their environment?

We enter Milford Haven, and turn left into Dale Bay. An old friend from university days has a mooring buoy there and has offered it to us to tie up to as his own boat is having repairs done to it. We have its number and GPS coordinates and have no problems in locating it right under Dale Fort, a field studies centre. It is near the shore. We are a little concerned that it might be too shallow for our draft, but we calculate that we will have about 30 cm below the keel at low water, just enough in these calm conditions. We relax and enjoy the evening by cooking dinner and catching up on our reading.

Dale Fort, Milford Haven.

In the morning, we cruise slowly up to Milford Marina, which has a lock gate that opens at 0900. On the way we pass giant oil tankers anchored near the petroleum storage terminal on the southern shore of the harbour. Once an oil refinery, the terminal, with its huge chimneys reaching into the sky, reminds us of a mosque and its minarets, a shrine to the excesses of the age of fossil fuel.

Milford Haven oil storage depot: a temple to the age of fossil fuels?

We have arranged to refuel and also meet an old friend at Milford Marina. Moira, another friend from university days, is an avid retired geologist and accompanied us on a sailing trip around Mull in 2016. It is good to see her again and we have lots of catching up to do. Over lunch on Ruby Tuesday, we talk about our offspring and mutual friends from long ago, and what they are all up to now. She is heavily involved in leading and supporting local geology groups around Malvern Wells, where she lives, and in fact has to be back the following day to meet the president of a nearby Geopark to help organise an outing for its members. We had thought that she might stay the night with us and perhaps sail around to Fishguard, but it isn’t possible. She’s a busy lady.


In the evening we do a big shop at the Tesco’s next to the marina and stock up for my sister and brother-in-law who are joining us in Fishguard for a week’s sailing.


The barman strokes his chin pensively before he answers. “Well, there was a yacht that was here a year or two back, and they anchored in that self-same place, it started to blow an easterly, and, well, you can see what’s left of it down on those rocks at the end of the bay.”

We are in the Marisco Tavern on Lundy Island. While buying drinks, I had asked the barman casually if the holding was good in Landing Bay, hoping that he would allay my fears about Ruby Tuesday drifting off. We hadn’t seen the yacht he mentions, but it does nothing to allay my fears in any case.

Approaching Lundy Island.

We had arrived in Lundy around lunchtime from Padstow. Another glorious day, but very little wind, and we had only managed to sail for part of the way before starting the engine. We had been met by a school of dolphins a few miles off the island, who had accompanied us for some time before breaking off suddenly and disappearing into the depths. They were probably bottle-nose dolphins, but seemed smaller than the ones that we see in Scotland.

Dolphins escorting us to Lundy.

We had anchored in the appropriately named Landing Bay on the south-east coast of the island, had lunch on board, then taken the dinghy across to the concrete slipway. We had calculated the tidal range to be a massive 7 m, so we were careful to lug it over the rocks and well beyond the high water mark, a not insignificant effort.

Anchored in Landing Bay, Lundy.

From there, we had walked up the gravel track, zig-zagging its way to the top of the cliffs, until we had reached the cluster of farm buildings that essentially constitute the ‘capital’ of the island, consisting of a pub, general stores, a museum and basic accommodation for the many visitors that come to the island.

General store, Lundy Island.

Near the museum was a camp site with two solitary tents pitched at opposite ends of the field. Being a Sunday, the store had been closed, but we had a browse of the museum before setting off along the path to the north.

Looking out to the north of Lundy Island, with overfalls visible.

Some of the inhabitants of Lundy.

We had looped back along the western coast until we had reached the Old Lighthouse, which was built around 1819 but which turned out to be too high and above the cloud cover so that ships weren’t able to see the light. Quite a design flaw, in my mind! From there, we had returned to the capital to have dinner in the Marisco Tavern, where we are now.

The Old Lighthouse, Lundy Island.

We order dinner. While waiting for the food to arrive, I find a book and begin reading of the history of the island. It seems that in the 13th century, a certain William de Marisco found himself on the wrong side of Henry III by somehow being involved in the murder of one of his messengers. Not only that, a few years later there was an attempt on Henry’s life itself, and again, William de Marisco was involved. To escape the king’s wrath, William decided to head to Lundy and barricade himself there. Henry tolerated this state of affairs for a few years, but eventually invaded the island, with his men scaling the cliffs of the islands and capturing William and his supporters. He built a castle there to maintain law and order, which was successful for a while, but the island gradually reverted to being a haven for pirates and other ne’er-do-wells, including descendants of William de Marisco, who would raid ships heading up the Bristol Channel with valuable cargo.

In the Marisco Tavern, Lundy.

The food arrives. I had gone for the Lundy sausages and the First Mate had ordered a sweet potato bake. Both slipped down a treat. Afterwards, as I finish my beer, I continue to read more of the history of the island. For some reason, it seems to have given its various owners a sense of grandeur, several seeing it as their kingdom and themselves as kings. Even as recently as 1924, a Martin Coles Harman bought the island and proclaimed himself king, and going so far as to issue coins with puffins on them. It wasn’t the first time that Lundy coins had been issued, but this was the 20th century after all, and he was prosecuted and fined. So much for self-proclaimed kings!

On the way back to the boat, we pass the island’s church. This had been built by the improbably-named Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven in 1896, another owner whose lifelong ambition had been to build a church, even more so than a new harbour which the island desperately needed. He was the son of one William Hudson Heaven who had bought the island in 1834 for grouse shooting and treated it as his own little fiefdom, which became known as the Kingdom of Heaven. It might have been better to put Mammon before God in this case, as the finances of the island deteriorated with no harbour, along with the fortunes of the Heavens who ultimately had to sell it.

St Helen’s Church, Lundy.

Inside St Helen’s Church, Lundy.

We eventually reach Landing Bay again, and find that the tide has risen almost up to where we tied the dinghy. All in a few hours. We launch it into the surf that is now breaking onto the slipway and clamber aboard and make it back to Ruby Tuesday.

High tide at Landing Bay. We were glad we had tied the dinghy high up!

Restored vision

“Look into my eyes”, says the beautiful young girl with long eyelashes and shoulder-length hair seductively. For a moment, I think that I am 20 again and that it is my lucky day. Then I remember that I am in the Specsavers opticians in Newquay, Cornwall. I am having my new glasses fitted and she just wants to make sure that they are working as they should be. She wouldn’t be interested in an aging stick-insect like me anyway, I think. She makes a few adjustments and they are perfect. I can see again! Strangely, for some reason the girl with long eyelashes and shoulder-length hair has turned into a middle-aged woman.

I did go to Specsavers!

I had lost my glasses over the side of Ruby Tuesday in Fowey while trying to attach the dinghy. Later that day I had booked an eye test at Specsavers in Falmouth, and had gone and had it done when we had arrived there. Explaining that we were travelling around the UK by boat, they had promised to make up some new glasses and when they were ready they would post them on whichever of their branches was closest to us for collection. I had received a text from them just as we were coming into Padstow, had rung them, found out that Newquay was their nearest branch, and had arranged for them to send it first class post to there. We had taken a bus down from Padstow to Newquay to collect them.

We have coffee and cakes to celebrate, but suddenly realise that the last bus from Newquay to Padstow leaves in 10 minutes from the Great Western Hotel, about 10 minutes’ walk away. Grabbing our belongings, we rush madly down the street to the bus stop, and make it with mere minutes to spare. We don’t dare think of how we would have got back to Padstow if we had missed the bus. Taxi, I suppose?

Recovering after a mad dash for the bus back to Padstow.

When we get back, David, the Mikes and Patrick tell us they have decided to go the next day, and we need to change our boat positions around so that they are on the outside of the raft for an early start. We work out a sequence of rope manoeuvres that allow their boat to slip out backwards unimpeded, Ruby Tuesday to be pulled over where they were, then for them to take the place where we were. It is more complicated than I imagine at first, but it is all beautifully choreographed by David and goes according to plan. We are invited to their boat for a gin-and-tonic in recognition for not letting the side down.

Isles of Scilly to Padstow

We leave the Scillies early the next morning, just as the sun is rising. We are aiming for Padstow, the nearest place with a deep enough harbour on the southwest coast, but it is nearly 70 NM away, and we also need to be there in time before the harbour lock gates close before low tide. We have done all our calculations carefully and think we can just about make it if we leave at 0500 in the morning. Our mooring neighbours, Noggin and Serin y Mohr, who are travelling together, have the same idea. We motor out of the Sound, past Cromwell’s Castle, and set a course for the northeast towards the sunrise.

Leaving the Isles of Scilly for Padstow.

The wind has gone round to the northeast, the same direction we are heading, but it is just enough off our nose to catch some of its energy without tacking. Close hauled, we speed along at a merry rate, even reefing from time to time as the wind reaches 20 knots.

En route to Padstow.

The Isles of Scilly fade from view. The First Mate goes below to have a nap, and I sit alone in the cockpit. Just me and the sea. Now and then the radar and AIS pick up a vessel somewhere in the distance, usually well before I can see it visually. The wind is cold and I put on one of the jackets we bought in Portsmouth. There is lots of time to think.

The small boy wakes up early and rushes into the lounge where the Christmas presents lie under the tree. His parents are already up. Eagerly, he opens the ones labelled for him; one is a book by Robert Louis Stevenson called “Treasure Island”. He curls up on the sofa and begins reading, and is immediately taken into a swashbuckling world of pirates, schooners, shoulder parrots, tropical islands and treasure chests. He envies Jim Hawkins and the adventures he has looking for the treasure left by Captain Flint – he would love to do something similar, to sail in a boat and discover new islands, fight evil buccaneers, and find buried treasure to make his fortune. Perhaps one day he would. He parents call him for breakfast …

We eventually near Padstow where the River Camel reaches the sea. The town and harbour are a little way up the river and we must cross the ominously named Doom Bar and navigate our way up a narrow channel to reach them. As calculated, it is near high water and we have enough depth to cross the bar without mishap. Luckily the channel has red and green buoys making its extent, but even so, we take a wrong turning, and end up in The Pool, a patch of deeper water where a number of small boats are moored. A weary-sounding voice comes on to the VHF and warns us that we are heading in the wrong direction, and please go back to the last red buoy and turn left. It is the Padstow harbourmaster, who had been watching us come in. It seems as if it must be a common mistake that visiting yachtspeople make.

We make it to the harbour gate eventually, and are given instructions to turn to starboard immediately after entering the harbour and raft up to two other boats as space is limited. We find the boats, edge alongside, lines are thrown across, and we are safely tied up for another night. The only thing is that we have to cross two other boats to get to shore. But we do have power and water at least. The harbour gate shuts behind us.

The harbour lock gate closes behind us.

Our new neighbours turn out to be four retired friends, David, Mike, Mike and Patrick, on their annual sailing expedition. The boat is based in Falmouth, and this year they have been exploring the Bristol Channel and had made it all the way to Gloucester up the River Severn. Now they are on their way back. Apparently the Severn is navigable to Gloucester, where there is a port, but they say that it wasn’t easy and that they had grounded several times where the depth was less than that shown on the chart. Nevertheless, they had enjoyed it immensely, and recommend that we try it. Unfortunately, we don’t really have the time, but we mark it down as a potential future expedition.

Rafted up in Padstow harbour.

We explore Padstow. It is an old fishing harbour, and is still used as such – tied up opposite us are two large trawlers. However, its main reason d’etre now seems to be for the summer tourists. It has a chocolate box charm, but most shops are selling only arts, crafts and fast food. One woman we talk to tells us wryly that there is nothing for local people any more, and that they have to travel to Wadebridge for their supplies. We try and imagine what it must be like in the winter, once all the crowds and good weather have gone.

The Golden Lion Hotel, Padstow.

We eat our dinner that night on deck in the warm balmy evening, feeling part of the nightlife. On the other side of the harbour, guitar chords come from the Custom House pub, the crowds of tourists drink, laugh and sing, and the other sailors sip their wine slowly, also on deck. There is a vibrancy in the air, the sky is blue, the water is smooth as a mirror, and we feel something special about sitting on Ruby Tuesday and being in the middle of it all. Everything is alright with the world, tonight at least.

Enjoying the balmy evening in Padstow.

The Isles Of Scilly

The little girl wipes away a tear from her eye, as she watches the members of her village wend their way slowly to the top of the hill near where she is sitting. They are carrying grandfather on a pyre of wood that her father and uncles have been making over the last few days, ever since he had kept on sleeping and not moving. The procession reaches the burial chamber at the top of the village, the pyre is laid carefully in front of it, and the chanting begins. Her grandfather had told her that the chamber had been built by the Ancient Ones and that it was the entrance into the Otherworld of spirits where all people would go in time. Now it is his turn, she thinks. She shudders, the chamber frightens her; she remembers her cousin telling her that he had crept in one night and found piles of blackened bones in there. She watches the Druid advancing and lighting the brushwood underneath the pyre. The flames gradually take hold and crackle and roar into the sky. All of a sudden she feels very lonely.

We are sitting on a small hillock overlooking the Halangy Down Ancient Village on St Mary’s Island in the Isles of Scilly. Beyond are the blue waters of Saint Mary’s Roads shimmering in the sunlight and the wide sweeping sand flats of the other Scilly islands, St Martins, Tresco and Bryher. A yacht picks its way through the shallow waters of Crow Bar, parts of which dry at low tide. It is idyllic, more like some tropical paradise than a far flung outpost of the United Kingdom.

Bant’s Carn burial chamber, St Mary’s, Scillies.

I am trying to imagine what sort of people might have lived here and what their lives might have been like. The village was occupied from about 300 B.C. through to about 700 A.D., but there is evidence of an older village further down the slope closer to the sea which was abandoned, perhaps due to advancing sand dunes. The burial chamber is much older than this even, dating from the Bronze Age around 4000 years ago, but seems to have been preserved by later people, perhaps because they respected it.

We had left Falmouth the day before after saying goodbye to Adrian and Helen. Once past the Lizard, the wind had picked up from the north and we scooted along on a beam reach. The sea had become choppier, plunging Ruby Tuesday up and down like a yoyo.

Passing the Lizard.

The mainland coast had receded into the distance, and for a short time we were out of sight of land alone on the sea before the dim shape of the Isles of Scilly appeared in the haze. We had anchored in Porth Cressa on the south side of St Mary’s, where it was relatively sheltered from the northerlies, and had taken the dinghy ashore to explore Hugh Town and the rest of the island.

Anchored in Porth Cressa, St Mary’s, Scillies.

Hugh Town is situated on a narrow isthmus of land and surrounded by beautiful white sandy beaches to the north and south. Boats of all shapes and sizes fill up the bays, and tourists throng the streets. Despite the houses being built of solid stone reminiscent of houses in Scotland, it had an air of a tropical paradise, at least on the days that we were there, with hot brilliant sunshine the whole time. We were not so naïve, though, to believe that the frequent sea mists and storms rolling in off the Atlantic would not give it a different character. We had had lunch in a small café on the Porth Cressa beach and then set off on a walk around the island, eventually reaching the Halangy Down Ancient Village where we are sitting.

Hugh Town, St Mary’s, Scillies.

We continue on our way, spurred on by the thought of coffee and German apfel-strudel cake at a small café in the centre of the island recommended to us by several people. On each side of the road are fields of freshly made hay, reminding us that there is more to the economy than just tourism. From time to time, people on bicycles pass us, and we wish that we had brought our little folding bicycles from the boat. We pass the giant telecommunications tower, and in the distance see a small twin-engined aeroplane taking off from the tiny airport on the south of the island, both providing links between the islands and the outside world. It is hot and we are glad when we find the café and some shade. The cake is delicious and we are reluctant to leave, but as it is nearly closing time we pack up and trudge on in the heat.

In the morning, we decide to move on to the neighbouring island of St Agnes. We anchor in The Cove, and once ashore explore the island. There isn’t an awful lot to it despite there being a Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town, and one single-lane concrete road running lengthways across the island connecting the three. Nevertheless, it has a charm of its own, and we shortly leave the road to explore the many small paths around the coast. We discover several small bays and coves that look enticing to anchor in, and indeed, a few already have a yacht or two in them enjoying their own piece of paradise.

The main road on St Agnes, Scillies.

We pass some odd rock formations, one of which I think resembles a sheep, and are surprised to overhear another woman remarking to her companion how much it resembles an angel. Each to their own interpretation, I suppose, but it makes me wonder how many times we project our own backgrounds, experiences, hopes and fears on to inanimate objects, trying to create some meaning out of the patterns. I struggle to see the angel despite walking around the rock a couple of times, and decide that it is better as a sheep, for me at least.

Interesting rock formation, St Agnes, Scillies. A sheep, an angel or both?

We eventually reach the only pub on the island, the Turk’s Head, and decide to have dinner there. As we eat, we chat with the couple sitting at the next table, and discover that he is a writer for the BBC and she is a university lecturer in climate change. He is in the process of buying a gîte in France and she is moving to Sweden for two years. They are currently camping on the island and have been coming here for several years. Their dream is to buy a boat and sail around the UK, and are excited when we tell them that is what we are doing, albeit half of it this year. We end the evening discussing the collapse of civilisation as we know it and whether we can sail away to escape Trumpism, Brexitism and all the other –isms that we seem to be afflicted with. That Cornish Ale is good!

The Turk’s Head, St Agnes, Scillies.

In the morning, we decide to move on to two of the other islands, Tresco and Bryher. We cruise slowly through Smith Sound, then up into the Tresco Flats, a vast area of drying sand at low tide, thinking that we might be able to make it across into New Grimsby Sound between the two islands. Alas, it is too long after high tide and therefore too shallow, so we have to turn around and head north around Bryher the long way round, and into New Grimsby Sound that way. There are a number of boats already anchored there, but we find a spot with enough swinging room.

Going ashore at New Grimsby, Tresco, Scillies.

We take the dinghy across to the New Grimsby beach on Tresco and explore the island. The island’s claim to fame are the Abbey Gardens created by Augustus Smith, who owned the island in the nineteenth century, and amassed a collection of plants from his various travels. Later this was expanded by the Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly, one Arthur Algernon Dorrien-Smith, to include plants from all over the world.

Abbey Gardens, Tresco, Scillies.

We return to New Grimsby and have a drink at the New Inn. Preparations are underway for the England-Croatia semi-final in the World Cup. We decide not to stay, but to have dinner on the boat and watch the match there. We decide it is probably the best decision given the result!

Returning to the boat from New Grimsby, Tresco.


As we tie the dinghy to the pontoon, we notice a camera team filming. Surprised that they had found us as we had tried to keep our arrival in Fowey indiscreet, it slowly dawns on us that it is not us they are filming, but someone else. The two subjects are instantly recognisable – broadcasters Michael Buerk and John Sergeant. We learn from talking to one of the camera team that they are filming a new Channel 5 travel programme on sailing around Britain in a beautifully restored wooden cutter called Bonaventura, also tied up to the same pontoon. They too are heading up to Scotland, so we might see them again. It seems that the programme will be shown later this year; we make a mental note to watch it if we can.

A TV programme in the making.

We had arrived the day before late in the evening and had had to raft up as there were no visitor buoys left nor places on the mid-river pontoons. We had found another boat around the same size as us, Smudgley, and had tied up to her, trying not to disturb her occupants who were in the middle of their dinner. We had then pumped up the inflatable dinghy for the first time in the trip so that we could get ashore.

Rafted up in Fowey harbour.

We edge past the camera crew, and walk up to the town. Fowey (pronounced ‘Foy’) is a picturesque little place, a little like Dartmouth in that there is a matching town across the other side of the river, Polruan in this case. First stop is the Fowey Gallants Yacht Club for showers, which we learn later is named after a group of privateers who were given licenses to attack French ships during the Hundred Years War in the 1300s, and later defended the town against the Dutch. Swashbuckling times! Unfortunately we discover that two of the showers have been recently vandalised. We find it difficult to believe that this can happen in such a beautiful spot – who would do such a thing? We hope that it wasn’t fellow visiting yachtspersons.

The town is also a deep water port important for shipping out china clay from Cornwall, and we are astounded (and somewhat nervous) to see huge ships wending their way through the hordes of little boats and yachts in the small harbour. Sometimes they even use the harbour area to turn around before being towed backwards up the river to the wharves where they load the clay. We are amazed that there are no accidents, but it all seems to work as it should.

Large ship passing through Fowey harbour.

We visit the small museum in the middle of the town. Much of it is dedicated to two famous writers from the area – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier. Neither of these have I read, and later I buy Rebecca from a second-hand bookshop to fill the gap.

Books to read.

Adrian and Helen arrive on the last bus in the evening. The plan is that they sail with us down to Falmouth and catch the train back from there to Exmouth where they live. After dinner, we lift and tie the dinghy on to the back of Ruby Tuesday so that we are not pulling it through the water, and in doing so, I lose my glasses over the side. I have no spares. As they sink slowly into the depths, I consider diving in after them, but there are too many things in the way and I decide that further injury is not desirable. It is 10 m deep here, and we wonder if they might be found with a mask and snorkel, but as the water is pretty murky, we reluctantly abandon them to their fate. I will have to manage without them somehow. Such are the risks of boat life!

Newly glassless!

That evening, I turn on the radar instead of the fridge. I should have gone to Specsavers. At least we can see where our neighbours are, even if we can’t offer then a cold drink.


The wind howls and the waves plunge Ruby Tuesday up and down like a cork. We are just off Start Point in Devon, heading for Plymouth. The forecast was for Force 4 or 5, but the wind speed has risen to 21 knots, almost Force 6. We are reefed already, but I decide to take in more sail area. We point the boat into the wind, but just then the in-mast furling mechanism jams and the endless loop works its way off the pulley. This is not a good time for that to happen. I crawl forward to the mast clutching a winch handle with one hand and holding on for my life with the other, and manage to wind the mainsail in manually, then feed the endless loop back through the pulley mechanism. It seems OK for now.

Strong winds around Start Point.

We had left Dartmouth that morning after a pleasant couple of days there. Dartmouth is a naval town, dominated by the imposing Naval Academy building on top of the hill. We had tied up to a mid-river pontoon with no water, electricity or land access, as all the good ones had been taken by the time we had arrived. At least our pontoons were cheaper, and we could run the engine for a while in the evening to keep the batteries topped up and to run the fridge enough to keep things cool. We needed to, as Dartmouth was also enjoying the sweltering weather the rest of the UK seemed to be having.

Collecting our mooring fees in Dartmouth.

We had met Helen and Adrian, some friends from Bedford days, but who are now living in Exmouth. It was great to see them again, and we had found a seafood restaurant to have lunch before exploring the town. This is Agatha Christie country, and not having read much of her work when I was young, I had been pleased to find a little second hand bookshop and buy a couple of her books for later reading. Nearby, someone else had seemed to have the same idea!

A quiet moment.

We had then caught one of the little water taxies run by the Harbour Authority that buzz about the harbour taking folk from one place to another for £1, and had headed to Ruby Tuesday on the other side of the river for coffee and cake. They are keen to do some sailing with us, so we agree to meet them again next weekend for them to do a leg with us.

Catching up.

We are out of the rough water around Start Point now, and the wind lessens. It is from the north and we head for Plymouth on a close reach.

Portland Bill

We are eating breakfast feeling a bit like the damned. Neither of us has slept very well, thinking about whether we will survive Portland Bill this morning, the point of land that sticks out and interrupts the tidal flows, funnelling them into overfalls and a race that is dangerous to man and beast, exceeding 7 knots at spring tides. Cunliffe, in his book The Channel Pilot, describes it as the most dangerous extended area of broken water in the English Channel. We have read all the guides and talked to several of the locals who have told us stories of doom and destruction to the extent we have worked ourselves up into a bit of a state, especially as we are doing it right on spring tides. However, we have no choice but to tackle it if we are ever going to get back to Scotland.

There are in fact two routes around the point – the Outer and Inner routes. The Outer route involves avoiding it all together by taking a wide berth but this adds several miles to an already long passage to Dartmouth where we are heading. The Inner route is a narrow channel of relatively smooth water about 200 metres off the point itself, but navigation needs to spot on or else there is the danger of being swept into the race. To make it even more of a challenge, the Inner route is also a favourite place for lobster fishermen to drop their pots and leave the buoys for hapless sailors to avoid.

Leaving Weymouth.

We have done all the calculations and aim to be at the Bill at around slack water when it is not so rough. We leave Weymouth in plenty of time and join the south flowing current just out of the harbour, which adds another know to our speed. Before long we see the lighthouse on the point and realise that we are now committed to the Inner route whether we like it or not. We continue to be swept along slowly but surely, and before we know it are passing the Bill and are in Lyme Bay, wondering what all the fuss was about. We have survived Portland Bill, but hardly know we have done it! We know the conditions are very benign today and try to imagine what it would be like normally.

Passing Portland Bill on the inner route.

We set a course across the broad sweep of Lyme Bay for Dartmouth 45 miles away. The wind goes around to the north and picks up. We set the sails and the autopilot and spend the day reading while Ruby Tuesday sails herself. This is the life!

Ruby Tuesday sailing herself across Lyme Bay.

I lie on the foredeck in the sun and look up to the top of the mast. It is mesmerising to see the sails stretched smooth by the flow of wind over them, pulling the boat forward. It all seems a world away from the troubled times we seem to be in, from Brexit to the return of authoritarian politics. Why are we doing this?, I ask myself.

Forces of nature.

The small boy pushes the old tin bath tub into the murky waters of the pond and clambers in, trying not to get wet. The plug he had jammed into the plughole seems to be keeping the water out. The bath had been left behind the shed of the new house his parents had just moved into, and it seemed to be too good not to have a use. The pond, a widening of the stream running through a field at the side of the house, is waiting to be explored, and the two seem to be made for each other, the unused and the unknown. He picks up the piece of wood in the bathtub he has fashioned into a paddle and pushes against the willow tree growing on the bank. Unbalanced, the makeshift boat tips to one side and begins to fill with water. The small boy begins to cry …

Murder most foul

The man holds his head high and looks his accusers in the eyes. His stomach churns with fear, but he is determined that it doesn’t show. The eldest of the two men facing him demands again his confession to having stolen some of the contraband that had arrived by boat the night before. Once again he denies all knowledge of it, but he knows in his heart that they won’t believe him. He knows who the real culprit is, but he will not betray his own brother. The other men around him move closer, cutting off any way of escape. Behind him, the heat of the fire in the blackened stone fireplace reminds him that there is no way out that way either. The younger of his two accusers brings a long thin whip out from under his cloak and unfurls it. The blows rain down on the accused man, who falls to the floor still protesting his innocence, his arms up vainly trying to protect himself. Blood from his wounds spills onto the hearth of the fireplace. The men around him urge his attacker on. The whip wraps itself around his throat, stopping him from breathing. The world goes dark and the pain ceases.

‘What do you want to drink?’ a woman’s voice says. It is the First Mate. We are sitting in the Black Dog pub in Weymouth, supposedly the oldest one in the town. My mind had drifted after reading some of the pub’s history on the menu instead of choosing my food. It seems that the fireplace which we are sitting in front of was the scene of a grisly murder between smuggling gangs in 1758, but in this case an innocent man was killed.

The Black Dog pub, Weymouth.

We order soup. The menu tells me that the name of the pub comes from the Black Labrador dog owned by a previous landlord, which he had bought in Newfoundland and brought back to Weymouth. People would come from miles around to marvel at the colour of the dog, and the landlord became rich from charging them to see it. It’s a good story, but we are a bit sceptical of people paying to see a black dog, even in those times. But the soup and sourdough bread is good.

We finish our lunch and amble down to the seafront. It is hot, and we toy with the idea of sunning ourselves for half-an-hour in two of the many deckchairs on the promenade, until we realise that they need to be hired for the day. Besides, it seems obligatory to wear a panama hat, which I don’t have, so we content ourselves with an ice-cream surrounded by shouting children and crying babies. At least it is in the shade.

A hat enjoying the sun, Weymouth sea front.

Further on we find a Punch and Judy show, but unfortunately it is closed and the next performance is tomorrow. We feel we have missed out on an essential piece of British beach culture. In the distance we can see the chalk cliffs and the entrance to Lulworth Cove where we were the day before.

Waiting for the show to start.

On the way back to the boat, we watch an old rocker playing on his guitar. He is good, but we are concerned about his partner who doesn’t seem to have been fed for several months!

Street entertainer in Weymouth.