by Pete Green
What Halcyon Yacht Delivery Skippers do on their days off…
Sailing around Britain is one of the challenges many sailors aspire to complete. There are so many beautiful and interesting places to explore and as well as exciting passages to sail. Many professional yacht delivery skippers have sailed boats throughout the seas around the British Isles but these journeys between ports are usually not simultaneous. This article describes a passage that two of Halcyon’s yacht delivery skippers undertook for The Blyth Tall Ship charity during the spring of 2022 in a 24m Baltic Trader.
Sailing Around Britain can seem a daunting challenge: many people have time constraints, new harbours and anchorages require pilotage, there may be weather delays and crews to organise as well as the practical considerations of preparing a boat for a passage. As with all sailing expeditions, early and detailed planning is the key to a happy and safe passage. For this trip the key ports of call were identified six months ahead and the passage was broken down into five, one-week slots.
The crew for all the legs were either volunteers or paying guests who had a mixture of sailing abilities, some people had not sailed before, whilst others had formal qualifications. There was a core team of skipper, mate, engineer, cook, watch-leader and deckhand. The ethos of the trip was to give people who have not had the chance to experience sailing an opportunity to do so. There was also a strong training element to the trip, some of the young adults who came onboard did so as part of their professional Stevedore’s apprenticeship training. In addition, several of the core crew were able to learn new skills which enabled them to sail in a different role or develop their existing talents further.
Sailing Around Britain
Week 1. Blyth (Northumberland) to Ramsgate. 280NM
‘The Williams II’ left her home port of Blyth in mid-May with a crew of 14. The initial itinerary had a scheduled stop in Whitby, 50 nm miles away (around 10 hours). However, there was a large swell running which would have made pilotage through the already tricky harbour entrance too difficult. Knowing when to change the plans you have so carefully made is key to a successful voyage. The 20/25 knot winds blew for the best part of 24 hours increasing the swell further. Baltic Traders are pretty flat-bottomed and consequently roll rather terribly! This probably explained why 70% of the crew were seasick for 36 hours….
The passage plan took us east of the TSS at the entrance to The Humber therefore avoiding the majority of the vessels in that area. We proceeded south towards Lowestoft and into the shallow waters that lead down from The Wash, grateful for the channel markers and cardinals that keep vessels off the sand banks. The tide was running hard across the pier heads as we entered Lowestoft but we were relieved to see that the road bridge had been raised for us as we requested. Non-commercial traffic must wait for the routine bridge opening times. After a days’ rest, all ails had been forgotten and ‘The Williams’ continued south across The Thames Estuary. There are several routes that can be taken, we opted to stay east of the main shipping areas and therefore avoid the sandbanks and wind farms that lie closer to the shore.
‘The Williams’ anchored just south of Ramsgate overnight to allow us to approach in the light and on a rising tide. Although it is a large harbour, Baltic Traders need a lot of space to turn around and we wanted to turn whilst the wind was light as getting the bow through the wind can be impossible in blustery conditions. It was here that we said a sad farewell to the crew of the first leg and welcomed the sailors who were going to be with us until Falmouth.
Week 2. Ramsgate to Falmouth. 270NM
Week 2 began on a very still morning without a breath of wind, this did help the new crew get their sea legs, but it didn’t help to blow the fog away. The visibility was down to 50m as we passed Dover, so the watch was doubled, the radar was monitored and the fog horn sounded every two minutes. Seeing a large ferry loom out of the fog 0.5nm away and answering our horn with a blast on its own was a surreal moment.
The calm conditions continued as we sailed by the power station at Dungeness and the beautiful lighthouses at Beachy Head. The sun was setting as the boat sailed parallel to the large windfarm off Brighton with a heading towards the east entrance of The Solent. We had a short anchorage in Osborne Bay prior to tying up in Cowes for an overnight stop.
The wind was in a blustery mood as the boat sailed west with Yarmouth on the beam so the skipper opted for The North Channel adjacent to Hurst Castle to exit The Solent. Traveling at 9 knots with five sails pulling hard we made excellent progress south but little progress west! It didn’t matter too much as the crew were thoroughly enjoying themselves and it was with reluctance several hours later that we dropped the three headsails and motor sailed towards Portland.
We arrived at Weymouth Bay at 2300hrs and dropped anchor for a few hours until first light. The wind was due to blow hard and we wanted to be snug in our berth before it did, as it happened the wind came in early and we had to ferry glide an 80-tonne vessel 25m, no easy task…
The following day we had planned to take the inner passage around ‘The Bill’ but stronger winds than forecast changed our minds and we stayed 5 miles offshore. The crew were treated to a dolphin dancing display whilst motoring sailing 50nm across Lyme Bay to Start Point and then onwards to The Dodman, through Gull Rock, around St Anthony’s lighthouse to Pendennis marina and our berth in Falmouth.
Week 3. Falmouth to Holyhead. 250NM
Leg 3 was divided into two halves; the first was with a group of young men who were employees of The Port of Bristol who would sail with ‘The Williams’ as far as Milford Haven. Once they had disembarked, a core crew of 7 would take the boat to Holyhead on Anglesey. The week began with the arrival of the Asda delivery man with a weeks’ worth of food for the crew, a chance to top up the 2000-litre water tanks and carry out a few routine maintenance tasks. The new crew then had a day’s training in Falmouth Bay prior to rounding Lands’ End the following morning.
Fortunately, the wind was in the east and relatively light for this exciting part of the passage and with a fair tide for about 8 hours we made excellent progress and were off Padstow as night fell and we started the night watches. Milford Haven channel markers came into view at 1600 the next evening and Milford VTS gave us permission to enter the channel and proceed towards the marina. Happily, we arrived at high water when the lock was on free-flow and we were able to pass through the gates unimpeded and moor up on the wall next to the fishing boats.
The smaller crew guided the boat through milky seas towards Holyhead marina. The wonderful sighting of a female Minke whale and her calf compensated for the lack of a breeze. The wind was back with a vengeance the next day when we were tied up, causing all the moored boats to buck on their lines, waves to wash the pontoons, and the Jubilee races to be canceled. Fortunately we had planned a day in port and our itinerary was not affected. It made for a dramatic start for the new crew.
Week 4 Holyhead to Oban. 200NM
The swell was confused and lumpy as we left Holyhead for Oban. With 20+ knots of wind on the starboard quarter, we hoisted the mizzen and three headsails and enjoyed a fantastic sail up to The Isle of Man and a beautiful anchorage in Port Erin. The following day’s passage was initially a 100nm sail up to Campbeltown but after consulting the crew we decided that it would be more enjoyable to break the journey in Bangor, Northern Ireland, and travel on to Scotland from there. Campbeltown is situated 12 nm east of the Mull of Kintyre and the perfect place to berth before continuing north.
Catching the correct tide around The Mull of Kintyre is crucial for a successful passage, We opted to be at Sanda Island at high water Dover to make the most of the flood. This meant an early start, but sailing seems to have its own time zone anyway… Once clear of the races it was a beautiful 30nm passage up The Sound of Jura to our anchorage off The Isle of Gigha and a BBQ on the beach. The next tidal gate to be met was the narrow passage between the rocks and Fladden lighthouse, the tide can accelerate through here at 6 knots on a spring tide.
The ship was anchored overnight in Ardencaple Bay just north of Seil, another Tall Ship, ‘Blue Clipper’ just a stone’s throw away. The final sail of this journey was into Oban, with wind gusts of 35 knots we just set the staysail and enjoyed the blue skies, white horses and amazing Scottish scenery.
The boat will stay NW Scotland until the end of June when we will return to her and sail her on the final leg through The Caledonian Canal, down the NE coast and back to Blyth were the adventure began.
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