Wild, wet Whitsand.

WABI’’’ real time : 20.05.19 at anchor L’Aulne river, Rade de Brest.

In this part of the UK our normal wind and weather all comes in from somewhere between south and west, off the North Atlantic mostly which is why the whole of the south-west is usually mild but very wet.  What that means as a small boat sailor, and one who owns a boat that isn’t particularly a strong sailer upwind is that going west can be very hard work, it also defines which anchorages are sheltered. Unusually , just before I started the voyage we had a spell of easterlies which looked set to continue for a few days and that changes everything.  I thought it most likely that what would happen is that we would be more likely to be getting a westerly airstream and that would set the conditions for the voyage…essentially that I would be going east and possibly towards the east coast where this boat would be much more at home. While I definitely would like to cruise around the east coast rivers, and definitely Norfolk, I really wanted to get away from the UK for a while.

Easterly winds change everything, it means that I can go west without a struggle to get upwind as to do that along the coast really means sailing with tide and therefore with wind against tide most of the time. It also changes the usual anchorages I would use as most of the ones I know well give shelter from the south and west. Usefully , for both me and the blog those easterly winds mean that I can stop in different anchorages securely. The other feature of an easterly is that makes possible a cross-channel passage as it turns what would normally be a long and difficult beat into a ‘comfortable’ reach…..it didn’t actually work out like that but that story comes later.

After what could have been a very cold first night at anchor just down the Tamar with ice on the decks in the morning…it wasn’t of course because I was snugged down with the new heater ticking away…..but it was a very cold and clear start the next morning and almost windless in the river.  I didn’t pick up much wind until I was almost into Plymouth sound and even then I had a very choppy exit out of the western entrance of the sound.  Only a few weeks before and with similar very light easterly winds the sea was breaking heavily across the breakwater and across Penlee point which is why I didn’t just say ‘sod it’ that day and start the voyage right then.  As it was we crashed and banged our way out through a moderate chop and not much wind until we cleared Rame head and I decided to put into Whitsand bay to re-stow everything that had been thrown around the cabin and maybe relax for a couple of tides and re-start the voyage west the next day.

It’s very rarely possible to anchor in Whitsand bay and stay overnight : I have only managed it twice in all the time I have lived in the south-west. There is just one good anchoring spot that I know of in easterly/north-easterly winds and that is tucked right up in the north-east corner and today there was moderate surf breaking on the rocks and the first part of the beach there.  WABI’’’ was ‘first boat in’ so I picked the best spot of course but I was then followed in by several other boats, the first one : that make we don’t talk about here, actually made a close pass, asked me if it was ok to anchor here and then put his hook quite close to mine !.   I should have said something along the lines of it being a terrible anchorage but then my stowed and bagged sails and my anchor ball might have given the game away……as it is he ‘got the look’ and moved slightly out of swinging range.

For those readers that don’t know the south-west and this little corner of east Cornwall, Whitsand bay isn’t that well known as most people that come down this way on holiday tend to head further west to the more well known holiday destinations like Looe, Fowey and Falmouth.  Whitsand bay is an absolute local gem , at low tide there is at least a mile or more of firm golden sand between the firing range to the east below fort Picklecombe and the first rocks of Rame head. The whole bay faces south as well so on a nice day it’s a complete sun trap as well.  The useful difficulty is that the beach can only be accessed by quite steep paths and there isn’t much parking…..fine I say !.  It can be quite surf-y but there is usually a lifeguard presence during the summer.   If you visit there is an excellent small cafe right up on the cliffs that overlooks the whole bay and from there, on a clear day the Eddystone lighthouse is visible some 10 miles off.

Anyway and back to the day’s entertainment.   At anchor I did the ‘right thing’, that is re-stowed everything that got thrown around, got the kettle on and watched the parade of motor and sailboats that came into the anchorage.  One local boat I recognised, I think the owner lives on board and I have seen the boat frequently in my usual anchoring spots. One family seemed to turn up from nowhere in a small soft inflatable and it’s driver buzzed about annoyingly looking for a landing spot until he got his man-pants on and landed through the light surf.   Mid-morning and a tall set of lug sails appeared from behind Rame head and glided majestically into the anchorage : that turned out to be the Lugger ‘Grayhound’ and they anchored competently under sail as you would expect of a professional outfit.


The day’s entertainment really started when a small, modern fishing/motor boat came in with a middle-aged couple and I guess younger family including ‘mum’, kids and dog.As per usual they anchored well within my swinging circle and when we swung and nearly touched I could tell that it was them that thought I should be the one to move….MOBO’S eh ?.   The real fun, if you could call it happened when they had done lunch and alcohol and the young part of the family, dog included, all piled into their small inflatable tender and ‘mum’ started rowing towards the surf-line breaking on the beach.  Now…I’m pretty careful about landing an inflatable dinghy through even light surf, in fact the few times that iv’e had to do it I have usually gone over the side and walked the boat through the waves.  Well….the predictable thing happened : ‘mum’ sitting high in the dinghy managed to put the whole lot broadside to the surf and the next thing I saw was the underside of the dinghy as the whole package broached-to and flipped !.   I grabbed my bino’s to work out if the right number of ‘adult’ and children (plus dog) all appeared out of the surf.   Had they not I don’t know what I might have done because although I am a trained diver/rescue swimmer it’s years since I have done that and I’m not a fast swimmer.  It would have taken maybe 15 minutes for the lifeguard to be mobilised from their station further down the beach and by then we could have had dead people tumbling, disorientated and drowned in the light surf.  I don’t think I could have driven WABI’’’ in to the beach fast enough to make a rescue attempt and stunningly the MOBO’s owner didn’t seem that interested in what was happening !.


As it is the right number of heads appeared out of the surf but I think that one ‘smart’ phone wasn’t quite as smart after being dunked in the surf.  They did sort themselves out and later did manage to row back out to the motor boat. 

My. Day and night……re-stowing the boat and getting sorted for a longer sailing passage further west.  That afternoon most of the day visitors buggered-off leaving the anchorage to just 3 sailing boats for a quiet night.  I must say though that having spent most of my time at anchor recently in sheltered rivers I had to adjust to the gentle roar of surf only about a hundred metres away and the rise and fall of the boat on the gentle swell coming in from the west.   Just one small thing I noticed about anchoring seamanship that night and that was that the 3 remaining boats, including WABI’’’ each ‘showed our balls’ (black anchor ball) properly by day and we each showed some light at night : only the big and chunky motor-sailer showed a masthead anchor light….the other 2 of us both carrying lanterns lower down.  I don’t have a conventional masthead anchor light but have always hoisted a battery powered lantern from my foremast’s topping lift…in fact one of my many jobs that day, at anchor, was to splice a new loop into my new topping lift to enable me to hoist balls or lanterns.    

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