A sail and awe post.
‘We’ll need a smaller boat…..Jaws’
This is my first follow-up post to my piece about the Watertribe and the Everglades challenge which will be gathering on the beach in Tampa bay in just a few weeks now, and i wish all of the skippers and their crew good sailing and good cheer.
I said in that post that i would write 2 further posts that would be follow-up pieces and i did intend to start with a look at micro-cruisers and then go on to prepare a proposal for a similar event to be run in the UK or perhaps Europe : i have a course and challenge distance already thought out for British waters and a possible one in southern Brittany (France). Well, i’m working on my new micro-cruiser piece but instead of it appearing here it will feature in my book project instead which is what i’m mainly working on right now so in this post i want to talk about my own future plans and how i’m being influenced by a Challenge style event over here.
I would like enter a boat as a challenger in the EC although at this stage i think that my likelihood of getting to the start line is quite low and simply due to the logistical difficulty and expense of doing so. Remember that the challenge happens on the west Florida coast and i live some 5,000 miles or so away and with the minor problem of the Atlantic ocean in between me and the start line. My thinking has always been to prepare a boat and train here and then ship the boat over to Florida in a 20 foot shipping container. From Port Everglades container port i would then have to hire a vehicle to tow the boat to the start line in Tampa bay and at the end recover the boat from Key Largo and either get it home….or not. A second option is to go out there well ahead of time with tools and my personal gear, find and buy a cheap secondhand dinghy, set it up, train with it and do the race. With that option though i would still need to do my personal preparation and training in the UK because, as i have said before the race demands experience and excellence and i have neither in that kind of boat.
In a way i think of this as my own small boat version of the Whitbread race of old and which i sailed in back some time last century. Despite it being an English run race we always had a poor showing in the race because British challengers were usually late to the party with their boats and preparation, much the same was true of the America’s cup and even the old Admirals cup in which events we always seemed to enter second rate boats, always be late on the water and with badly run/financed campaigns.
Because i think that my own entry in the EC is less likely to happen unless perhaps i also include a small boat transatlantic voyage first, then i’m also thinking of a more personal challenge and voyage at about the same time i terms of my age and life. I’m thinking of it as Challenge 65 because it would start shortly after my 65th birthday, that is in 2023 and as long as i’m still alive and fit…..etc etc. In real terms i have 2 years and about 3 months to train and prepare for my own voyage or challenge as the logical starting time from here in the UK would be the late spring/early summer of 2023 for a long voyage and later in the year for an EC style event….warmer weather and warmer water !. Not having a boat right now, in the middle of winter in 2021, isn’t a great problem but the longer i go along without a boat the less well trained and prepared i will be especially given that in the most fundamental way i still need to learn how to sail a dinghy and sail it well.
At this time of year i have always talked about my cruising and sailing plans for the year, this year is similar except that i don’t have a boat so i’m not planning for a specific voyage : having said that then just look at what happened last year….. i was all finished and ready to go just 3 days before the yard got shut down. Instead of an immediate plan then what i’m thinking about now is more along the lines of the nature of my next big sailing challenge rather than the nuts and bolts of which way and where i’m going. What i am thinking about is a series of personal ‘challenge’ style voyages for which i would use a small sailing boat and then a combination of seamanship skills and what i think of as estuary and river ‘bushcraft’ : thus unlike my voyages with WABI”’ during which i lived aboard, i would instead stealth camp ashore at least some of the time.
For the main event i’m thinking about a long (for UK waters) voyage in an open boat along the same lines i had planned for my Hunter Liberty, that is a voyage around a significant chunk of the UK except done with a much smaller craft. I happen to think that going down in size rather than adopting the common ‘we’ll need a bigger boat’ kind of approach would simply be far more interesting ; as i said to friends recently….do a channel crossing in a 40 foot cruising boat and it’s a milk run but do it in a 14 foot boat and suddenly it’s a big adventure. Also i really like the idea of being in such a small boat as to be able to slip into estuaries, rivers and creeks where the big boats just can’t go and don’t go and just like many canoeists and kayakers to slip ashore and bivouac there. My lessons from last year were very much that it would be much better not to have any involvement with harbour authorites and basically sail ‘under the radar’.
The SC100 proposal.
Other interested parties have asked me to put my proposal for an EC-like challenge together and this seems as good as anywhere to do it so here goes.
Course and distance. To put a label on my proposal iv’e chosen to call it the SC100 or South Coast 100 mile small craft challenge …..thus a 100 mile sailing/paddling endurance event along EC lines along a section of the UK south coast and starting to the east of the Lizard peninsular, that being one of the more difficult points along the south-west coast avoided. I know of several places that could make a viable beach start, one just inside the Helford river, one nearby at Swanpool beach just outside Falmouth town or say the foreshore at Mylor….also a convenient place to leave car and trailer.
A hundred miler has a certain appeal i think and in this case would find a convenient finishing point at Lyme Regis within Lyme bay….and would also avoid the next major problem which is getting around Portland Bill. Why that course might work is because in normal summer conditions it would be a downwind route and there are plenty of places to get off the water quickly and/or find shelter , at the same time it’s an interesting and challenging enough coastline for any small craft to traverse.
For the purpose of this piece i’m going to assume that many of my readers don’t know England’s south west coast and that because i can see where many of my visitors come from….mainly the USA rather than Europe, so i’ll take some time to talk about this, my home patch. A useful tool for international viewers would be to have Google maps open now or if you can lay your hands on one, a maritime chart of the western English channel. I had quite a bit of fun laying out a series of charts on the kitchen floor just now and walking my dividers across the proposed course, anyway, i digress so….
From the far tip of Cornwall to my west to the entrance to the Exe in my (relative) east, the coast is bold, steep-to and rocky with mostly deep water just offshore. It’s also a complex coast, deeply embayed and with the entrances to several major tidal rivers which is one of the features that makes this coast such a good cruising area…..in my opinion the best cruising ground in UK waters. It is strongly tidal, not just in vertical range but also in flow, and that creates one of our most interesting features or problems when traversing this coast….either working with or trying to cheat the tide and often in racing for a tidal gate. In my first choice of course and distance i specifically excluded the first major (western) tidal gate which is formed by the Lizard peninsular and i chose to finish the course before the tidal gate (Bill of Portland) which divides the south-west coast from the central south coast and which i think isn’t as good a coast for small craft anyway.
Shelter and escape. One of my main concerns with creating a first event like the EC but on the English coast is having a course which naturally has lots of places where it is possible to either shelter, behind a headland say, and/or get off the water quickly and completely. If we look at the major tidal rivers first, and lets say we start in the beautiful Helford river itself then here’s a crudely worked out and non-tidal mileage between the tidal rivers.
Note here that iv’e ignored a lot of the small places where a small craft could land and that at the end the proposed finish line at Lyme Regis gives the longest potentially exposed section from the Exe….also it doesn’t finish in a tidal river entrance but at the small harbour at Lyme or on the beach there depending on conditions. Working it out this way that comes to 105 miles starting from inside the Helford and about 100 miles from Falmouth (Carrick roads). Another ‘last’ thought among many today was to start at the head of the Helford river (Gweek) and finish just before the first road bridge over the Exe…that would be nicely upriver at Topsham and the distance between the 2 a tad shy of 100 miles : that version would also create some interesting tidal problems too.
Anyway…here’s some distances from river entrance to river entrance.
Helford to Falmouth entrance. 5 miles
Falmouth to Fowey. 19 miles (note that there are escape/shelter points around half way)
Fowey to Looe. 9 miles.
Looe to Plymouth sound 12 miles
Plymouth sound (Cawsand) to the Yealm entrance. 5 miles
The Yealm to Salcombe. 14 miles (ignores the Erme and Avon)
Salcombe to the Dart. 14 miles.
Dart to Brixham 8 miles
Brixham to the Exe bar 13 miles (ignores Torquay)
Exe bar to Lyme Regis 24 miles.
I should point out that the south west (the west country) is well known for it’s hidden bays and coves which fishermen and smugglers worked out of in the past and are still viable today for a boat that can land on a beach : in my cruising around the west country iv’e often stopped and anchored in many of those places for a quick break on passage. The only part of the course that i’m slightly unhappy with is the last stage between the Exe entrance (bar) and the small harbour at Lyme. Lyme bay itself is exposed and i don’t know of an easy all weather escape between those 2 points and it is the longest leg. Perhaps a different way of looking at the proposed SC100 would be to re label it as the ‘9 Rivers race’ after the principal 9 rivers of the west country or just shorten the whole thing and call it the SC80 and run it from the Helford to the Exe…..even then a bit of course tweaking and it could be massaged into a 100 mile event.