Second post in my new west-country sailing thread.
For many sailors arriving in the UK or just coming back over the western end of the English channel Falmouth is their first port of call – it’s a good deep water harbour and a nice town but even better lies upstream and largely out of view. In the past it was also often the last port of call before ‘going foreign’ as being well to the west even boats with poor windward performance could get out into the western approaches for the long beat across the bay of Biscay.
Several years ago i refitted an old and tired Frances 26 with the aim of making my long term and long distance cruising boat and , just after i retired from full time work, sailed it solo to Brittany and then home again with my partner aboard as crew….her first channel crossing. Looking back on it now it must have been a bit of a miserable one because although we came out of L.Aber-Wrach in fine clear weather we hit dense fog luckily just after the east-west shipping lanes and stayed in fog all the way to St Anthony’s head and the entrance to Falmouth roads. Not only dense fog but it blew up briskly from the east such that we came in double reefed and our vertical reefed genoa pulled down to it’s reef as well. The little Frances dealt with it well, fast and light on the helm or as we did – with the windpilot doing the work. I spent most of the night sheltering under the sprayhood and keeping watch as best i could. My main worry was running into one of the several ships that often anchor off the entrance to Falmouth so we stayed ‘high’ on our course until i felt that we were close in to St Anthony’s head…..we only saw the light and the headland when we were down to a hundred yards off it was that thick !
That time we groped our way from buoy to buoy until we found the town haven and put alongside there – in those days i still thought in terms of ports and marinas…..how times change !. I’m glad to say that my suggestion of an early breakfast at Wynne’s seemed to hit the spot for my partner . Now, many years later and had i made my landfall in a ‘thick’ easterly like that i would have anchored hard under St Anthony’s head in the little bay just to the north east of the headland itself…..i only discovered that lovely little spot a few years back. One of the main tricks with Falmouth and it’s many creeks and rivers is that there’s always somewhere sheltered to anchor although you often have to be prepared to move and ‘go find’ a better spot when the wind comes around. In a later cruise, on my own and with a different boat, i spent most of 10 days with gale after gale whistling through and boxing the compass…..i spent most of that time sprinting from anchorage to anchorage and from creek to river and back again.
From my blogs you might think that i’m not much of a townie (i’m not) and that i detest yacht clubs and the like (i do), even that i don’t like being moored near ‘the action’ – true : i’d much rather be anchored where i can’t see other boats and the only sound at night is the owls hooting away. I do like Falmouth town though as somehow it feels like , and is, a proper little seaport that has everything that i need as a sailor. I have, for instance a routine in town that takes me from one end where i buy my ice and main supplies, then back past the excellent butcher and the even excellenter ! baker on the high street. If i’m there at the right time i’ll always go into the best fish-n-chip shop in town (harbour fish and chips) and then finish my town routine with a quick peruse of the secondhand bookshop that’s right on the corner where i turn down towards the haven.
If you like that kind of thing then the maritime museum at the end of the high street is worth a visit as is the Henry Scott Tuke gallery/museum….Scott Tuke having painted most of his maritime paintings in the area.
There is, by the way, a small anchorage just off the town haven – it does cost a small fee to anchor there but it’s well sheltered from the west, south west and north and has easy access to the town via the yacht haven.
One of the reasons i have always liked Falmouth so much is the other boats that are there on moorings in the harbour and then even more so further upriver. There seems to be a refreshing lack of boring white plastic- all samey-same , rather there’s wood aplenty with several big pilot cutters either alongside or on moorings. If you like that kind of thing, and i do, and if you have an introduction…..then it might be worth going all the way up the Truro river to Working Sail where many of those wooden pilot cutters were built. I actually did have an introduction one time and headed up there one evening on the tide with the intention of laying alongside the little pontoon just at the edge of town…almost in Tesco’s car park. I got up there but found the tidal barrier closed so hey-ho…..
So yes, it is possible to get all the way up the Truro river, not the Fal itself, all the way up to Truro – there isn’t much water there but lots of thick gloopy mud.
Fal, Truro, Percuil, Tresilian.
When i had the Frances 26 i tended to stick to deep water – or at least enough to stay afloat in at low water and that excludes a lot of what i now think of as the best spots. One time, for example, i motored upriver past Mylor and Turnaware point and carried on a ways past the King Harry ferry. A little further on from that and i took a cautious poke into the Fal river itself – technically Ruan creek ; it was low water but flooding and i couldn’t find the ‘deep’ water channel so i backed off again and anchored in deep water under Turnaware point itself. Years later and i went back with the centerboard Liberty – i think the first time i went in there, on the flood again, i didn’t bother with the motor at all but paddled the boat like a big canoe. Ruan creek became my go-to anchorage in that boat because hardly anybody seems to go in there and stay overnight ; i never once shared my anchorage with another boat and as i remember it the only other boat that came in and stopped was a sole sea kayaker….and he camped stealthily in the woods on the south side while i anchored over the clean sand bank to the north of the creek.
In the summer of 2019 i returned from my 110 day cruise around Brittany and , as i explained in the first post in this series, put into the Helford river for it’s westerly shelter and a solid sleep after a long solo passage. A day or so later i sailed the short distance downriver and across the bay to the entrance to Falmouth and there did my usual high street routine : ice, fresh food , butcher, baker and a late morning brunch of Haddock and chips at the harbour fish-n-chip place. It’s funny that having been in Brittany where the seafood is said to be the dogs nads , it might well be except that i’m allergic to crustaceans and molluscs, that one thing they can’t do is ‘proper’ fish and chips ; even as well as an average British chippy can so i was really looking forward to my Haddock and chips……job done !.
After a quick break in Falmouth i made the easy downwind passage back to the Tamar in 2 short day sails with an overnight stop in Fowey on the way. Back in the Tamar and with the boat ashore i did a fast exterior makeover….all the bottom cleaned and sanded back smooth and then primed and antifouled – end of that job and i had a useful weather slot to cruise back west and to start what i thought would be an extended autumn into winter cruise. The Helford river was uncomfortable in a moderate to brisk easterly – that’s when i found that Frenchmans creek is a useful shallow water anchorage…..but then headed back over the bay to Falmouth where i thought to poke around my favourite creeks for a few days.
In Brittany that year i’d perfected the concept of a 10 day independent cruise in that small boat and without having to go ashore unless i wanted to – in France i often did go ashore for a walk , picked up fresh water if it was going easy, but always anchored off somewhere quiet and isolated. It’s a bit like wilderness hiking and backpacking except without having to carry all of the weight ; especially the weight of water. With 10 days plus of fresh food in the icebox, 70 liters of water in cans and plenty of fuel for cooking stove and charcoal pansy stove i was all set for 10 days of independent cruising. In town the yacht haven was changing from summer to winter mode with many berths being taken up by winter residents and out on the moorings many yachts were already coming ashore…..a shame i think but then i love cruising in the autumn especially with a charcoal ‘pansy’ stove to heat the boat.
That autumn i did little actual sailing except for sprinting from one sheltered creek to another as a series of gales ripped through but which went all over the compass too – sometimes in the south or south east and then all the way round to north west and north. I spent the first few days completely wind-bound high up in Ruan creek , well upstream of my usual spot ; one afternoon , between gales and on a rising tide, i was sat in the cockpit reading when i felt something knock against the rudder blade ; the uphaul had slipped a bit such that the rudder tip was a few inches in the water. I thought that maybe it was some debris floating past or maybe bouncing along the creek bed but when it happened again i looked astern to see a small grey head and whiskers looking back at me.
The gales that came through that week seemed to be going to peak with a 50 miles per hour howler from the west and hard on the heels of a pleasant light northerly. That day i ran down the full length of the river from Ruan Creek to the Percuil river where i ducked into the small bay just off a place called ‘Place’, initially settled the boat on a mud and sand bottom and then at low water walked my anchor right up into the windward corner of the bay. Yes it blowed a full gale and more , such that there was spray coming off the wavetops off St Mawes harbour and the boats on moorings were heaving all over the place…..me – i spent most of the day either aground or in a shallow pool that i’d discovered in that little bay.
One unique feature of sailing in the Fal river is that one form of fishing is still done under sail ; in fact it can only be done under sail. Here i’m talking about the oyster fishery where motorized fishing boats aren’t allowed and rather the oyster ‘fishing’ -actually dredging, is carried out by traditional long keeled and gaff rigged sailing boats. Many of them are based just around Mylor harbour and creek – the fishery is seasonal of course but the oystermen do seem to also like to come out and play of an evening….with their powerful gaff rigs most often topped by yard topsl’s they are often faster than much more modern yachts because they pick up the faster wind that is 30 feet or so above the water and can ghost along when the modern sloops can’t.