Blog time ; lets add a little blog time so……as i write it’s mid morning on a very wet early August day, typical of what you might call the dark humor of a summer holiday in England. As i write it’s raining hard, blowing most of a gale and the valley below is obscured by clag……nice. Outside there’s a bit of rain blowing in at both ends of the shelter, iv’e no idea how it can do both ends at once, so everything is covered over ; i haven’t touched anything for this past week because iv’e been dealing with what will soon be an end of life time for a family member. Last week i had a long, tiring and stressful day doing a 400 mile round trip in a hired car….i haven’t driven at all for 2 years and not driven with a manual transmission for over 10 , that and the usual problems we seem to get on British roads these days, bad weather at the end of it……etc etc…..all made for a pretty bad day.
On the Pathfinder dinghy build i’m slightly stalled because i’m waiting for parts that i need to complete the centerboard and it’s case assembly. I’m behind where i thought i might be at this stage , not that i matters too much but it does mean that i might not have the hull finished , turned over and glassed by the end of the summer. I was hoping to get to that stage because then i could cover the upturned boat from end to end and stick a dehumidifier under there to keep it all dry during our usual wet winter. Hopefully i’ll get the various bits for the centerboard pivot early next week fit that, finish the case and then drop that into it’s slot…..hopefully !
If i have a favorite harbour at this end of the west country it’s probably the small harbour and working port of Fowey, just down the coast to the west of where we live in the Tamar valley. If i remember this correctly then it was Fowey and not the larger Falmouth that was the first ever port in the west country that i visited under sail during a delivery trip from the Menai straits in an old IOR one ton racing boat. In those days it wasn’t as busy a sailing harbour and not crowded out with summer moorings so we and another yacht on passage anchored close by each other and got our anchor chains thoroughly wound up together when the tide turned in the dark hours. Today i don’t think it would be even possible to anchor off the town and if you did then the harbour ‘patrol’ would soon come along and move you on. It is still possible to anchor though – it just means heading upriver past the town and the working port and finding a spot just beyond the deep water moorings.
So, why do i like Fowey so much ?
Firstly because it’s a useful stopping place when making west, often upwind, from my home ‘port’ high up in the Tamar river ; iv’e done the passage in one day although usually i would get clear of the Tamar itself in one ebb, anchor overnight in Sandacre bay and then make the coastal passage to Fowey the next day. In the days when i had larger cruising boats – all of 26 feet !, i would usually be in the water as early as i could in a season and make my shakedown trip as a passage to Fowey/Golant. The reason that often worked as a proving or shakedown passage is that it was usually an upwind one and that i always found was the best way to test everything ; also it’s not too long so even on a cold spring day it’s only half a day on the water. Coming the other way , usually downwind, it’s an easy daysail from Falmouth where the whole passage from Falmouth to Plymouth could be a very long day on the water with the big tidal gate of the narrows at the end of it.
Secondly because it’s a nice small town where i can get alongside the town jetty most times that iv’e needed to, to fill up with fresh water and buy my provisions on the high street. Unlike other harbours and town quay’s in the southwest iv’e never had an aggressive harbourmaster wanting to move me on even in the height of summer – having said that though iv’e never tried to stay alongside the town jetty overnight and always made it obvious that i’m just there for essentials. When i have found it useful to be alongside for a few hours, especially during the sailing season iv’e found it much better to go alongside one of the several pontoons that are put into place on the eastern side of the river or my favorite…..which is to go alongside at the little marina and yard at Penmarlam. There used to be a little place there that did a good bacon butty plus i worked out the short walking route that would get me over to the Bodinnick ferry…..as useful in the season of course is the water taxi which will pick up passengers anywhere in the harbour. My usual routine though was to do anything in town that i needed to and then head upriver to Golant or even beyond the village and it’s drying moorings and nose into the upper estuary near St Winnow.
There seems to be a tendency among many sailors to view the main port, harbour or town of any place to be ‘it’ and to not realize that there might be sheltered moorings or anchorages away from the town – i noticed this particularly among the modern generation of cruising sailors who often only seem to cruise from expensive marina at one end to noisy town marina at the other. Back in 2016 when i first bought the little centerboard Liberty i realized that not only could i go pretty much anywhere that i could wade and that i could consider most of those places as somewhere to moor or anchor ; i certainly didn’t need to be swinging on a deep water mooring for example. In Fowey iv’e often picked up a mooring at the northern end of Chapmans pool just beyond the China clay quay – either early in the season or late in the day, or on the right state of tide headed a mile or so further upstream and picked up a drying mooring off the little village of Golant.
The obvious trick is to not pick up any mooring that has a dinghy or tender hanging on it because that’s most likely a local fisherman out for the day -aside from that though iv’e never been challenged or got ‘the look’ from any other boaters. The little Liberty just looked as though it belonged there and for about half of the tide it would be just sat on the lovely soft sand there and i would be wandering around the sand of the mooring field or taking a water can ashore to fill…..there is BTW a friendly and active canoe and kayak club who have always let me fill from their outside hose…..and a useful cafe opposite.
In this series of posts i’m trying to highlight the various aspects of sailing and cruising in the west country so in this post i want to talk about using one port or river as the basis for a ‘micro’- cruise. My first observation is that most cruising boats are now bigger boats that only sail (in fact mostly motor) from dull marina to dull marina and back again with just a few of the adventurous types either working out what the big while flappy things are for…..equally that heavy grey thing at the pointy end. It’s the small boats that seem to be having more fun either when sailing where they often seem to be able to get going in light weather when the bigger yachts are chugging along inside their own personal cloud of burnt diesel…..or where they get to at end of day.
I often use a trip to Fowey as a good shakedown sail because it feels like an offshore passage from my home river (the Tamar) and it can be a tough upwind sail ; the great thing though is that it’s not so far that i can’t do it in half a day and know that i can be in shelter to moor or anchor. It’s even a bit strange coming from the east because there’s no sign of the entrance at all until it suddenly appears behind the final headland ; the entrance is open to the south west so often it’s a matter of going from a full-on beat to a slipping and sliding run through the narrows and up the harbour.
Just making Fowey isn’t the end of the story though because i often make the passage up to Golant or beyond if the tide serves, often though i’ll go for a micro-cruise across the bay to the west or north-west up into Carbis bay where there are some barely known anchoring spots, put into the small fishing port of Mevagissey or even go and and anchor off Gorran Haven….if the wind is right. If the wind is in the north, or just very light and with calm conditions there’s a lovely short cruise to be had by leaving Fowey and back-tracking the short distance to Lantic bay which is a delightful anchorage in the right conditions. Sadly that one can be infested with the scourge of utter chav’s and their jet-skies (personal water craft) but the great thing is that they get bored (eventually) with preening, posing and driving around in circles ; even the other motor boaters seem to despise them. Once they’ve gone though…… then, it becomes a quiet overnight spot with often a slow Atlantic swell to remind us that we are at sea.