It’s funny to be writing this in the deep mid-winter, but one of my New Year resolutions is to write more. I’ve been blogging for the last 7yrs, but have not always been able to share or blog as much as I would like, so this year, I will. And to kick that off, I’m going to bring you some of the wonderful trips, experiences and sailing adventures that I’ve had in the last couple of years but haven’t shared thus far!
In this blog, I’m going to share with you some memories of a fantastic family sailing holiday that we took last August, exploring some of the South Coast of the UK, including Salcombe, Hope Cove, Brighton, Dartmouth, and more.
Day One – Queenborough to Sparkes
Finishing work yesterday afternoon, we did some last minute prep and packing and made our way down the river in order to catch an early tide and get the best start to our long day. Our aim is to get down to the ‘West Country’ fairly quickly to maximise our time there. With that in mind, today’s passage is a long one, we’ve spent the night on a buoy in Queenborough and will be heading to the Solent, to Sparkes Marina, Hayling Island.
It’s 0430 and Hodge and I are on deck. Below, the children are fast asleep in their warm, cosy sleeping bags. This feels like a familiar routine for us. We’ve done a lot of family sailing in the last couple of years, and we’re all well drilled. As we meander our way past the Red Sands Towers, and navigate the Thames sandbanks, the sun rises. It is glorious. It’s always magical, but today it feels incredible. The sky is awash with colour, and the warmth of the sun cuts through immediately.
After a couple of hours, the kids rouse, and one by one appear on deck, excited for the days ahead. We have a ‘boat lunch’ consisting of sandwiches and the usual snacks. The sea is calm, and is sparkling in the sunshine. I’m on leave from my ‘day job’, but there’s a lot going on at work, and so I need to join a virtual meeting. I’d been given a new ipad the day before, purely for this purpose, as there may be a fair amount of work I need to monitor and be involved in over the coming days. I head up to the fore deck, normally my sanctuary, sit cross -legged, lean against the mast, and join an all-too-familiar video call. The tech works surprisingly well! It’s incredible that I’m at sea, cruising past Margate Sands, and am chatting with various colleagues in this way, what a world we live in.
We round North Foreland, cruise past the port of Ramsgate, next it’s our safe haven of Dover, then Dungeness and the mighty power station, and then Eastbourne. The weather is glorious, albeit, we are head-to-wind, so the noisy engine is working hard.
Hodge and I have been running a watch system, taking it in turns to be on watch, and banking our sleep when we’re off. We’ve got a long night ahead, and we both want to be on deck overnight.
Before long it’s dinner, sunset, and bed for the children. They’ve spent the day taking turns on the helm, practicing knots and getting back into the rhythm of boat life. They fall asleep within minutes.
It’s now 1am, and we’re off the coast of Brighton. somewhere ahead of us I have some friends on an offshore rowing boat. They’re in the last couple of days of a record breaking row around Britain. We’ve been keeping an eye on AIS, and incredibly they’re on the same heading as us and we’re expecting to pass them in the next couple of hours.
It’s so dark tonight, there’s few stars. It’s now 0230 and we spot various vessel lights, but there’s no sign of ‘Emma’, the rowing boat. And according to our AIS we are about to run them down! We slow our speed to ‘dead slow’, our AIS distance closes from 1000m, to 500m, to 100m, where are they? Is there even a vessel here? Is it a system error? I grab the VHF and call them on the radio.
A familiar voice answers, Simone who i competed in the Clipper Race with! A tiny light comes on just off our beam, and we find that they’re really close, but are ‘staying dark’ to conserve batteries. After a short chat, we wish them well and head on our way. Passing the Brighton wind farm, we’ve made really good time.
Sunrise signals the start of another day. I could get used to this. We follow a row of red buoys, which mark our channel in. The tide is really strong, pushing us in at 7kts – how exhilarating!
We meander our way through the shallows, and find our berth – it’s no easy feat getting on – The fairway is incredibly narrow and the wind isn’t favourable. Hodge puts us alongside and we tie up.
4 hours ahead of our planned arrival time. 160nm done.
Passage Two – Sparkes to Weymouth
After a day ashore, some exploring, and a lovely pub meal. We slip lines. It’s 10am. I take the helm and we exit the narrow fairway – there’s less than a metre either side of us, and less than a metre of water under our keel. The depth alarm is blaring, angrily.
Once we’re in the main channel we look ahead, and in front of us is the largest fleet of dinghies that i’ve ever seen. This should be ‘fun’!
Hodge and I keep a vigilant look out, making constant course alterations to make our way through the fleet. The silhouette of the Isle of Wight is a welcome sight. We look up ‘Emma’ on AIS, and to our surprise, she’s just a few miles ahead of us. They’re on the final day of their gruelling row, and for the second time, we’re going to pass them.
We carefully cross the busy Solent shipping lanes, and spot the small rowing boat. Coming along side, we blow our fog horn, wave and cheer. Their faces are beaming, what an incredible journey they’ve been on. And how exhausted they must be. We flank them on one side, and on the other side they’re dwarfed by a Clipper training boat. It’s quite an emotional moment as we escort them for a short while, on their final day. We need to push on though, and after 20 minutes or so, we round them and pass them for a final time, giving them a final cheer and say our goodbyes.
We catch our tide, and are flying along at 11kts, dodging ships and yachts. The Solent is busy, it’s a perfect Summer’s day. We’re close-hauled, and have a lovely heel. Bare-footed, I spend some time on the rail with the children, the cool water occasionally splashes us. I love this feeling!
We have lunch as we pass the Needles, from here our speed slows, and the waves build. We make several long tacks, but we’re making no progress. It’s frustrating, and a stark contrast to our fantastic run earlier in the day. We make the decision to put the engine on, furl the foresail, pin the main, and drive into it. We’re now 14nm from Portland Bill.
It is the right decision, and we slowly start to tick off the miles. It’s dark, and the moon is red. A blood moon. There’s a few sailing boats on the horizon, and their sails look like red fins, quite a phenomena. And finally, Portland Bill lighthouse is in sight. It’s white light very welcome, after a long day.
We were here in the Spring, when we sailed Ruby May home, it’s a nice, familiar feeling. The cruise ships are still in the bay (a sign of covid times), the well lit seafront of Weymouth, the long, lit harbour wall. We make our way into the channel, and find a spot on the quay. It is tight, with 3 boats rafted astern, and 2 rafted in front, it is obvious why it is an empty berth! Nonetheless, we carefully ferry glide in, tie up for the night, and enjoy a couple of drinks before getting some much needed sleep.
Weymouth to Dartmouth
Weymouth was fun. We enjoyed the fun fair, arcades, a train tour, a visit to the fort, and even watched a magnificent firework display from the beach. But it’s time to push on. We’re meeting up with some of Hodge’s friends in Dartmouth, so we’re on a deadline.
Last time we rounded ‘the Bill’ we took a battering on the in-shore route. Today we’ve opted for the offshore route, and even so, the difference in the waves is remarkable, thanks to the converging tides.
As we cross Lyme Bay, I’m reminded just how much I love the open water. God it feels good to be offshore! The waves are huge, and the wind is finally behind us. With each one, we’re picked up and catapulted forward, surfing wildly down the front of each wave. It’s glorious.
The coastline, is rugged, but beautiful. Green, and craggy. The entrance to the River Dart is unassuming. Hidden on such a mighty coast. But as we make our approach, it opens up, and my goodness what a sight. We’re met by stunning castles, and enormous houses. It is absolutely beautiful. It’s picture postcard perfect, Britain at its best.
It’s regatta week in Dartmouth, and the river is busy. Two low flying military helicopters fly at speed down the river, they’re so loud, and appear to narrowly miss the top of our mast! This is going to be a fun few days.
Next Stop – Hope Cove
Dartmouth was fantastic. We spent a couple of days with Hodge’s friends, took in some local sights, and did lots of exploring. But today, we need to move on. We’re hosting some of Hodge’s friends and family, and are due to pick them up from Hope Cove, a short 4 hours sail along the coast.
We’re on a pontoon in the middle of the River Dart. In the river there’s also a ‘recycling pontoon’ and a ‘water pontoon’, we pay a short visit to both, to re-fill our tanks and get rid of our rubbish. Tonight, we’ll be on anchor, so won’t have access to facilities.
It’s another beautiful Summer’s day. The sun is shining, and we have the most perfect sail along the Devonshire coast. My daughter is having fun, dressed as a mermaid, and Hodge and I are kicking back. It’s busy in the anchorage, I count 14 other boats moored up. But we find a perfect spot, and the bottom is sand/pebble/shell, so we have an excellent hold. We inflate our tender, and the children duly test it out – rowing (mainly in circles) around the boat. They’re having a great time.
After a couple of hours of downtime, Hodge’s friends and family arrive. Hodge takes a quick couple of trips to and from the shore in the tender – testing out our new electric outboard, which I have to say is really impressive, albeit the silence is quite disconcerting!
We settle in with our guests, enjoying a fabulous sunset, lots of games and a fantastic meal, duly cooked by Hodge. What a perfect Summer’s day it has been.
Hope Cove to Salcombe
Now that everyone is settled in, and our crew has grown to 4 adults, and 4 children, we have our next destination in sight – Salcombe. Another short sail, we thought this would be the perfect place to take our guests. We’ve both been many times, but never by sea – so it will make for an interesting sail.
Hodge’s friend, Tim takes the wheel and enjoys sailing us close-hauled for most of the journey. We’ve got a beautiful light breeze, and sunshine. Ideal conditions to have guests aboard with. We tack our way along the coast. The stunning West Country coastline doesn’t disappoint.
In a similar way to Dartmouth, Salcombe is quite hidden on the coast, but again as we approach it starts to open up. Wow-oh-wow was this worth it, the approach is incredible – the houses are enormous. We speculate about who lives in them, and which house we’d prefer to have. Following the buoyed channels, it’s not long until we arrive in Salcombe itself. the beautiful, seaside town, is postcard perfect. The harbour is packed with yachts and visiting motor boats, and we’re guided to a mooring buoy, where we raft.
The trot boat is highly efficient, and after a short while we disembark to go and explore…
Salcombe to Brighton
After spending a couple of days in Salcombe with us, Hodge’s friends and family left last night, and we’re now ready for our next passage. It’s 0700, and we slip lines, heading to the service pontoon for an hour on the ‘shore-power’ and to re-fuel. We’ve got a fairly long passage ahead of us (150nm), so will be running a watch system, and banking sleep again. Our passage will take us all the way along the South coast, past the Isle of Wight to Brighton, a new destination for me.
We rustle up some bacon rolls, and slip lines at 0845. It’s blowing a force 5, and is lovely and sunny. Incredibly we are close hauled again… why is it that wherever we want to go will be the direction that the wind is coming from??!
We’re visited by several pods of Dolphins, much to the delight of all onboard. It’s always so exciting when they come to visit, such a pleasure. We’re well offshore, crossing the magnificent Lyme Bay, with it’s big swell. We’re taking it in turns to sleep, and unbelievably when I return from my first sleep, we only have 90nm to go! We’re crunching the miles today.
Approaching the Isle of Wight, we get a fantastic push from the tide. Sunset and the next sunrise come and go, along with more visiting Dolphins. It’s not long until we’re passing Brighton’s infamous wind farm. The entrance to Brighton is notoriously tricky, it’s quite silty, with shallow depths, and can be made more difficult with the waves (sadly sometimes smashing boats against the harbour wall). We’re told to wait outside for an hour, as it’s too shallow for us.
We mill about, until we’re called forward. Hodge then navigates us carefully through the meanders of the entrance, with the depth alarm reminding us continually to stay in the very middle of the channel.
Before long, we’re on our berth, and are heading off to find ice creams and the pier. Hello Brighton!
Brighton to Ramsgate… Dover
Brighton was so much fun. Cocktails at a beach bar, lots of rides on the pier, lovely seafront walks. But it’s now 5am and we’re ready for our penultimate leg. Brighton to Ramsgate. There’s no sunrise today, just ominous clouds.
As we leave Brighton marina, we’re on a fabulous beam reach. Sadly, this ends once we round the headland and are met with strong headwinds (again!) The seas are really lumpy today, and we’re all clipped on. These are the conditions that make going down below an interesting experience. A toilet trip, for example, requires you to brace off the walls, whilst trying not to fall, at the same time as ‘using the facilities’! On deck, we often find ourselves squatting a little, in an effort to lower the centre of gravity and maintain balance.
Lunch must be made though, and I head down… grabbing crisps, snacks and anything that’s easily accessible. The fight goes on. Ruby May is rising and falling, smashing into the waves. Wave after wave, is flooding over the bow, and pouring back in to the cockpit. This is a far cry from the sunshine and Dolphins we had on the way to Brighton.
Slowly, but surely Dungeness appears. But we’re making such slow progress, it feels exhausting and pointless. After a vote on deck, we make the decision to cut the passage short and head to Dover, where we can get fish and chips, hot showers, and a good night’s rest. It will mean adding 2 hours to our passage in the morning, but that works for us.
We love Dover. It’s a familiar port, and we’ve used it as a safe haven before. Tonight, I think we all love it a little bit more.
It’s home time
We slip our lines for the last time on this holiday. And leave the mighty Port of Dover in our wake. Passing Ramsgate, we’re thankful that we made the decision we did. We round North Foreland, and pass Margate Sands, to see a colony of seals basking on the sand bank. Always a special sight.
We press on, and before long we’re passing the familiar sights of the Red Sands Towers, the SS Montgomery Wreck, and we’re back in the Medway.
Thank you Poseidon for keeping us safe on our voyage. What an incredible couple of weeks on the water we have had.