Blog time : it’s mid July 2021 and really too warm under the shelter to get much useful work done so i’m just doing short sessions in the morning and evening, then having an hour’s bash at the garden and then hiding out in the cool of the cottage for most of the day. Times like these i’m really glad that i’m not doing one aspect of my last job which was sitting in a small cramped office almost knee to knee with another nurse and trying to have telephone consultations with our patients – that office was on the south side , in full sun for most of the day. At least now i get to say ‘sod this’ and head inside to find something else that i really should be doing.
Iv’e fallen behind on my usual blogging and of course most visitors will have noticed that i’m only really running a blog diary of my boat-building project – no health and nutrition posts, no other posts about the world of the sea under sail…..not even any odd stuff. In this post then which will be the first in a new series i’m going to pick up on the idea of talking about my little area of the coast as a sailing and cruising ground – i feel that i got to know it much better with my last boat which allowed me to get in and out of many of the places that the standard cruising yacht just can’t go…..or is too lazy to try.
My little cruising ground then – from the sticky-outy bit of the south west coast that is the ‘Lizard’ as my western boundary all the way east to the Exe river just in Lyme bay. To the west of the Lizard there’s little shelter for small boats although i’d still like to take a small boat out to the Scillies…..then beyond the Exe to my east Lyme bay can be a problem especially with the tight tidal constraints of the Bill of Portland to get around. The middle bit – from the head of the Helford river , all of the coastline and rivers from there east….to the similar head of sailing navigation at Topsham on the Exe…..that’s my home ground as it were. Funnily enough i also think of a similar area over the channel to our south also as a ‘home’ cruising ground. That area basically constitutes all of the coastline, islands and rivers of Brittany – both northern and southern and a little piece of the Pays de la Loire.
Anchored off Tremayne quay in the Helford river…..it must have been spring by the look of the trees.
The Helford river.
This time 2 years ago i left the outer anchorage at the seaward entrance to L.Aber-Wrach, negotiated the tight squeeze of the Malouine channel – man but that one is tight ! and once again put out into the English channel in my little centerboard Liberty. The tides were running strong that afternoon so for the first few hours my track over the ground was a lot of east and a little bit of north back towards England and home. I’d been in Brittany for just over a hundred days and now i had to get back to the UK , what had been a strange year for winds – lots of northerly and easterly suddenly went back into the south west which would at least give me a run or broad reach all the way home…..big tides though !.
After 3 months of continuous cruising i was well ‘dialled in’, comfortable with the boat which by then was as well prepared for an offshore voyage as i could make it – a bit slow though because i had a bit of growth between the stub keels which i couldn’t get at, even on the beach, so the boat was a tad slow and draggy in the water. No problem though, i had a good night at sea only having to dodge ships for a couple of hours in the busy east going lane – 14 ships in sight at one time – and just 24 hours after exiting the Malouine channel we were reaching fast up the eastern side of the Lizard, past the Manacles and the entrance to Gillan creek and hardening up for the Helford river. The wind was rising and backing quickly as well – what had been a light and easy south westerly was going solidly into the west and i had a harder beat up into the river on a rising tide. By the time i got to Helford passage i was fuzzy with tiredness and i really just wanted to stop – it’s a busy spot though with yachts 3 to a buoy so i hove-to, dropped the mains’l and motor-sailed the short distance upriver to Tremayne quay and anchored there just outside the channel over the mud.
The last things i remember doing that evening were lifting the centerboard , rudder and engine leg, hoisting the black ball into the rigging …..and that was all she wrote…. Often when i’m that tired, remember that i’d been awake and on the go for some 40 hours by then, i go out cold for a few hours and then wake up dry and groggy. When i woke up again it was around midnight and the ebb was sluicing past the boat so i swapped my black ball for anchor lantern and hit the sack again.
The main action in the Helford river….if you like that kind of thing…..and i don’t – is all centered around the moorings at Helford passage. At peak summer cruising time i really have seen 3 yachts to a mooring buoy, deck parties, generator noise, tenders buzzing to and fro….you get the picture. There is a narrow and shallow spot in the channel just to the west of there and then the river tends to be shallow, narrow and muddy all the way but fine if you’ve got shallow draft or variable draft and/or don’t mind sitting on the bottom. Iv’e often seen the big local luggers with their long straight keels laying alongside Tremayne quay for example and my favourite anchoring spots start about there and continue west for another half mile or so. Just as a side note the river does become uncomfortable when it’s blowing from the east – one time we there in an easterly i found it uncomfortable in the main river so we put into the famous Frenchmans creek and anchored there out of the wind and swell…..all-but dried out on a mud bottom i hasten to add.
Something that i learned with that little centerboard Liberty is that small boats, especially those with shallow/variable draft and which will take the bottom, is that they extend the range of a cruising boat far beyond the ‘noisy’ zone of deep water moorings, tenders, generators and grasping harbourmasters. Most of the rivers of the south west of the UK extend far inland in deep wooded valleys and mostly lead up to other towns and villages….and often a complex of small muddy creeks. That’s the way of it with the Helford river and the Fal/Truro complex which is just across the bay to the east. In my own wanderings around the Helford river iv’e been right up to Gweek quay (above) where there is a working boatyard right at the head of the creek just before it’s cut off by the road.