So after all the frustrations of abandonned plans in 2020 due to the Coronavirus it was great to at last get safely out there and back on the adventure trail. As ever the weather was variable and unpredictable. Sometimes it let me achieve my goal, on other other occasions it frustrated me or completely stopped my progress, but after just over a week away we had bagged another 16 islands and it meant 2020 would not pass without at least some progress towards the goal of sailing round all the islands in England and Wales.
It was a busy week in which we saw more sunrises than we planned for! It all started on the Monday after my night shifts at work with Earl and I on the road to Wales. After a night stop near Newport to get us close to Sully Island we had an early rendezvous with Steve at Sully Sailing Club who had kindly offered to guide us round Sully Island, Flat Holm and Steep Holm. With the wind whipping across a grey looking Bristol Channel the first challenge was to launch through the waves generated by the incoming tide! With that hurdle crossed it was a quick circumnavigation of Sully Island before we headed out towards Flat Holm and the biggest fog hirn in the world!
Having safely navigated the brown soup around Flat Holm there was a short delay as a collosal container ship passed by and then at last we could set course for the towering silhouette of Steep Holm. The far side of Steep Holm was pretty turbulent and whilst watching Steve ahead of me I unwittingly let go of the tiller and next thing I know I’ve capsized. Bit of an embarassing one and the first capsize in nearly 450 miles of sailing. Maybe I should just sail alone! Upright once again we now had a long beat in to the wind back to Sully where tallship Intrepid was moored up next to our landing site, offering a great photo opportunity.
Escaping via the narrowest road Snowy has ever been down we set off for Port Eynon ready for our next planned challenge, Worms Head and Burry Holms. The weather was pretty bleak and so upon arrival we headed up to the Coastguard Watch buidling at Worms Head to find out about conditions. Following a chat with the helpful officer there we decided that tomorrow’s forecast wasn’t going to be good enough and so we needed a plan B (a common event during this trip!)
Tenby was our target in two days time, but with a forecast for almost no wind that day we decided to move that sail forward a day to tomorrow. Unfortunately the new plan meant an early departure before the campsite officially opened resulting in a tete a tete down the narrowest of single track lanes with the local delivery van! Reversing a campervan with a dinghy isn’t the easiest of options! At last we made it to a deserted South Beach in Tenby where even the lifeguards hadn’t opened for business yet! The new plan meant we were struggling with tide times so St Catherines island was the first target of the day before the tide left it impassable. Successfully rounded the wind finally started to kick in more and Yoda headed South West in search of St Margaret’s and Caldey Island.
The gap between Caldey and St Margaret’s was showing white water and breaking waves so a simple loop round both of them seemed the sensible choice. I prefer to do individual roundings of the islands but sometimes conditions dictate that it is out of the question. A large swell developed on the south side of both islands which made for an interesting ride but at last the lighhouse on Caldey was passed and Tenby re-appeared in the far distance. It was a long slow beat back to south beach, but with sunshine and blue skies it was great being out there. Landing on the now busy beach was straight forward but the long drag back up the beach was energy sapping after 2 and a half hours of sailing.
With a rare few hours to spare we took a tour of scenic Tenby taking in what used to the island of St Catherines – now land locked – and a visit to the Tenby lifeboat station who had rescued Yoda on the Race To Scotland adventure.
With our next campsite being Freshwater East it was a bit of a homecoming for me as this is where Yoda and I had been abandonned after our failed attempt to cross the Bristol Channel. It felt strange going back to tthe campsite where I’d been re-united with Ian and Jane after “Big Wednesday” but lots of great memories of people’s kindenss came flooding back. With a really low wind forecast for the next day options for island sailing were limited and tomorrow’s planned islands in Tenby had already been sailed. Checking through the islands list I noticed that Thorne island was fairly nearby and although not on our plans at all for this trip it seemed an opportune moment to round this remote island, especially as it was close to shore on what might be a difficult day for sailing due to the light wind forecast.
Arriving at Angle Beach the next morning we felt as if we could touch Thorne Island, but with an absolute millpond out there there was no way of getting to it. A quick walk along the coastal path allowed us to check out the tidal flows and plan which way to round the island, but only if some wind turned up. With nothing else to do it was time for a cuppa and to take up the armchair sport of “wind watching” across Milford Haven. After just over 2 hours of waiting the breeze started to fill in lightly in the far distance so we got Yoda rigged and ready as we didn’t want to miss our opportunity. At last the breeze reached the shore and off we launched. progress was so slow that Earl had plenty of time to walk to the promintory overlooking Thorne Island to grab us some pictures of the serene rounding. The only scare of the entire trip was the arrival of a large green tanker ship but luckily it kept well clear of Thorne Island. Only 31 minutes after launching Yoda gracefully touched down on the beach creating the shortest rounding of an island so far in this adventure.
A long drive to Weston Super Mare ended our Welsh trip, which to be honest had been fairly successful, with only Worms Head and Burry Holms unable to be sailed. The next couple of days however were to prove frustrating as conditions prevailed against us. The next morning we went to check out a windy and tidal Birnbeck Island – the only island in England that has a pier attaching it to the mainland! After meeting up with the friendly beach boss Joe we now knew wher to launch from and which part of the pier we could probably sail under, but not in these conditions. With this island scrubbed we drove along the coast to Burnham-On-Sea to check out low lying Stert Island. The guys at Burnham-On-Sea Motor and Sailing Club were really helpful but turns out we needed a bigger tide to round Stert Island so another cancelation for today and with no other nearby options we had no other choice but to drive on to Waterhead our planned base for the next 3 days. The aim was to leave Snowy here whilst we took 2 days to sail to, round and back from Lundy, the furthest off shore island in this adventure.
Fellow dinghy adventure sailor Jeremy Warren had organised this trip and I’d been embarassingly invited along as guest of honour. The aim was to take a group of Wayfarer dinghies to Lundy with a safety yacht escort, camp overnight on Lundy and return the next day. The forecast in the run up to this trip had varied literally from 40 knots plus to almost calm. In the end it had settled at a steady 15knots from the West, which meant beating in to the wind for the entire journey to Lundy. On Friday evening there was a safety meeting and briefing at which everyone could voice their opinions as to whether Lundy was a “Go or no go”. With shortening daylight, a tricky landing site on Lundy and a headwind the general consensus of the sailors was to abandon Lundy and sail to wales instead. This was totally understandable but also totally gutting for me as I was really hoping to nail Lundy on this trip as it was one of the most challenging islands on the list. Whilst they invited me to come with them to Wales I felt that after 4 consecutive days of sailing the last thing I needed was two more days of sailing with no islands to round and then to face the last three days of the trip when I hoped to sail everyday. Consequently I passed on the opportunity despite the stunning conditions for their crossing to Wales.
The next day we said our farewells to the Wayfarers and went for a stroll along the stunning coastal path to Ilfracombe, taking some snaps of the departing boats heading for Wales. Although I was really gutted about not making it to Lundy it was good to have a day off and recharge my batteries. After the walk we started to look at what options we had to try and save the lost days and bag some more islands. Time for Plan C!
We decided that tomorrow we would make a vey early start and try and sail round the challenging is;lands near Tintagel. One of the reasons they are so challenging is the lack of launch sites along this most rugged and inhospitable part of the north Cornish coastline. Our only accessible option looked like being Crackington Haven so in order to catch the tide we were up well before sunset heading South towards Crackington. As we descended the hill in to the cove that is Crackington my heart sank. The waves looked far too big to safely launch or land through and added to this there were lots of boat breaking rocks on either side of the cove. Today was just not going to happen!
We now needed a Plan D and as our intended destination for the evening was a campsite near Harlyn we decided to push on and try to reach the islands off Trevose Head. These islands can best be reached by a beach launch from Harlyn beach but the headland they lie off is extremely tidal and we were far from arriving at the best time due to our change in plans. A quick rig in the car park at Harlyn beach helped and after briefing the local RNLI lifegurads on what we were up to it was launch time.
It was slow progress to Trevose Head and then the affect of the turning tide started to push Yoda back. With only lightish winds progress was really slow and I soon realised I needed to go a long way off shore to get out of the strongest part of the tidal flow. After several long legs and tacks I’d finally built up enough progress to turn back towards the lighthouse at Trevose Head. With three of the islands safely rounded I checked with Earl who was high above by the lighthouse. His view was that the island nearest the cliffs was simply impassable with a massive swell and no wind to help me sail out of any trouble. Reluctantly I had to agree as all I could see from that direction was crashing waves. By the time we returned to the beach it was rammed with holiday makers enjoying what would probably be the last warm weekend of 2020. After judging the waves to land safely on the beach it was a long tiring drag across the sand with Yoda, trying to weave our way through the sunbathing hoardes.
With the streak of non sailing days broken we celebrated with a well earnt pub meal followed by of course a planning session for the next few days. Again the weather was being fickle with strongish winds forecast for the next day and then 2 days of light winds. With the tomorrow offering the last day of significant wind we decided to go for the challenging islands off Newquay and Perranporth. Again launch site choice was limited but the helpful harbourmaster at Newquay said get there before 7am and you ight get a parking space – launching was free. So another day and another sunrise as we wound our way down to Newquay harbour only to find the car park half full with german film crew and equipment. Luckily there was just enough room for Snowy and Yoda so took a quick break for breakfast before rigging up.
Sneaking out of the windless harbour just beyond the breaking waves I’m wecomed by blue skies and a freshening wind and soon heading off towards Fistral Beach, home of the big waves in Newquay. Off shore there are some big waves but they are only rolling in, not breaking. That’s really good news as they are taller than my mast and bring with them thier own wind! I soon adjust to this ebb and flow of wave and wind and soon the miles are clicking by on a surprising reach from todays South Easterly wind. The first two islands of the day are clearly non sailiable with the big swell generating lots of white water and crashing waves. The third island looks like it might be passable on the way back so I make the most of the tide and push on towards Bawden rocks, my furthest away island of the day. Its over 10 miles to Bawden and as I start to near it I’m joined by a pod of 6 dolphins that play underneath my hull for 5 or so minutes before heading off on their travels. It’s a truly magical moment and really uplifting after all the frustrations of the last few days. Turning round Bawden I make radio contact with Earl who is watching me from high above Perranporth. We agree that he’ll watch me until I reach Holywell and then meet up at the harbour. It’s an eventful return trip to Newquay with ever bigger waves and the challenging rounding of Gul Rocks from Poldark fame. The narrow gap between the island and the shoreline is a myriad of waves, wind gusts and bubbling water but at last Yoda emerges safely on the other side.
Passing Fistral Beach for the second time I’m blown away by the massive rolling waves out at sea that just pick me up and gently lower me down as they pass relentlessly towards the shore. The final headland is rounded and at last I arrive back in the windless harbour, right in the middle of a film shoot which it looks like Yoda has now become an unexpected extra in!
So two more difficult islands bagged and a long 20 plus mile sail completed – feels like a successful day and good to have it completed with two poor weather days approaching.
The next day is a drive through hours of rain to finally emerge in a windless Torbay. With no chance of sailing today we spend the time researching launch sites, meeting the Paignton harbourmaster and working out photo sites for Earl. With a plan made we just need some wind for tomorrow but the forecast is dire and the only chance of wind is early on in the day so looks like we’ll be seeing another sunrise.
As the alarm goes off around 5am we are less than enthusiastic but silently pack up and sneak off the campsite without hopefully disturbing any of our fellow campers. The beachside layby we had spotted for our launch site is surprisingly busy as it turns out to be the local sea swimmers meeting point. We watch them head off in to the water which is frustratingly smooth and shows little sign of any wind developing. After 3 hours of waiting we decide to get bacon butties from the local cafe which has at last opened up. It’s a great scene looking out to sea, but still no wind and it looks like our final islands might evade us. As we head back to Snowy there’s just a hint of the wind filling in so time to get rigged and hope there is enough wind to fight the turning tide.
Launching at last feels such a release and the first island of the day is the low lying Leadstone where its a tough battle against the tide to get through the narrow passage between island and shore.
As I turn my back on Leadstone and the two cruise ships anchored in the next bay I can clearly see Orestone Rock my next target. The wind continues to fill and its a quick circumnavigation before heading for Thatchers Rock, alledgedly the inspiration for Tracey Island on Thunderbirds – and you can see why. With that rounded the wind is really starting to die off but the tide is at least pushing me back towards East Shag, the last and smallest of todays islands. It’s rounding is slow and tortuous as the wind dies and I have to pump the sail to generate some wind to get safely back to shore. As I step off Yoda on to the shore the last of the breeze completely dies – we just made it!
So that was the end of this mini Yodare adventure. 16 more islands sailed, another 54 miles added to the total and most importantly another £616 raised towards the target. We have now passed the half way point with our fund raising and with the islands total starting to rise towards the 100 mark it feels like we are getting there. It has been a frustrating 2020 with the coronavirus reeking havoc with everyone’s lives and plans, but if there is one thing this mini adventure has taught me it is patience and adaptability. Whilst things might not always go to plan in terms of timing and structure there is always another option and be patient. Everything eventually comes to those who wait………