Friday, April 20, 2007

Dartmouth, Plymouth, Falmouth

Hello again, this time from Falmouth where we've picked up another wi-fi signal. Thanks to everyone for your comments on the blog so far, it's always nice to read them, and as suggested, I'll try to add a bit more detail about the practical aspects of sailing, and life aboard!

But first, an update on our progress from Lyme Bay. We arrived in Dartmouth last Wednesday evening and dropped anchor in Newfoundland Bay, just at the entrance to the harbour, and just out of the area where harbour dues are applicable. Again, we had no problems with the anchor despite being close inshore to the rocks and a tiny little beach with a bit of swell coming in. Our anchor light is a paraffin storm lantern, which I hoist up the backstay using a halyard and which is still going strong despite its unknown age and rusty appearance. But I'm on the lookout for an LED light which will make things a bit easier. Our anchor watches take a bit of getting used to with the night divided up into 2 or 3 hour shifts. The last thing we want is to drag during the night due to an unexpected wind shift or mis-calculated tidal height. It is important to work out both the height of tide at the time of anchoring, as well as the expected height at low water to ensure we don't touch the bottom, and at high water, to ensure enough chain is laid out. We need minimum of four times the HW depth to keep the anchor dug in properly. The swing of the boat around the anchor is due to a combination of the effects of wind, tidal flow and depth, and so is almost impossible to calculate accurately. The effect of the wind may at some times override the effect of tide, or vice versa, meaning in some cases, such as at Mupe Bay, the boat will swing in a complete circle. The anchor needs to rebed itself reliably without too much drag on each turn. Our GPS alarm seems to work reliably and it's comforting to hear it go off now and then as we shift, but it's still necessary to monitor our position both visually using transits or compass bearings, and on the GPS and radar if visibility is low.

The next morning we sailed into Dartmouth and decided to take a visitor pontoon to allow us to rest, as well as to go into town together, as when anchored we never leave the boat unattended, or at least we keep her in sight. Dartmouth was a relaxing stopping point, where we stocked up with a few supplies, enjoyed an evening of steak and ale at the Cherub Inn, and met a few of the more interesting locals at the Ship In Dock. Also bought some fishing tackle and received plenty of advice from Rod O'Reely, so the lines will be over the side more often, and I'll be pursuing the elusive seabass with even more deadly equipment now! Also dropped in to the Dartmouth Sailing Club for a pint, and watched the racing of the traditional Cornish Pilot Gigs in the harbour which took place alongside our mooring.

We also took the opportunity to leave the bustle of the harbour behind, and row up the River Dart towards Dittisham. Making good use of the tide made things a bit easier especially as the outboard was out of petrol. We're looking forward to exploring more using the dinghy in shallow waters out of the reach of the 'mothership'.

Jaime took the helm to leave Dartmouth early Monday morning, with the passage planned for an arrival in Plymouth that evening. We started off with a lovely breeze which unfortunately dropped within a few hours, so progress remained slow, bringing us in to Plymouth Harbour just on dusk, but with dolphins paying us several visits along the way, playing alongside, and the sun sparkling on the water, I found very little reason to complain. Besides, running the engine for an hour or two guarantees us both a hot shower on arrival and plenty of charge in the batteries for the next few days. About an hour out of Plymouth the wind picked up to a surprising 25 knots and we had to reef the mains'l and furl in a bit of genoa to keep the Lady from heeling over too much. This is what we were waiting for all afternoon and we had a fantastic sail, tacking our way into the wind all the way into Plymouth harbour where we dropped the hook just across the marked channel from Drake's Island in an area charted as 'small craft anchorage'. Again, we avoided mooring fees. This area of coast has a long history of piracy and privateering, with the tradition enthusiastically upheld by the corporate marinas, one of which wanted to charge me £8.50 to park the dinghy on a pontoon to visit the chandlery for an hour! No way! I managed to get around this but we both felt disgusted at the commercial nature of sailing around such places and long to get to quieter, friendler ports. However, in contrast, I was thrilled to find a part to fix the old anchor windlass for a mere 90p, when I was facing the prospect of replacing it for £300, thanks to the expertise and great service from the guys at Plymouth Yacht Parts!

Wednesday morning and we were on our way to Falmouth, unsurprisingly located at the mouth of the River Fal. On our way past Dodman Point we were alerted by a securite announcement that the Navy were conducting an exercise in the area we were about to sail through. Not wanting to turn back, Jaime had her first radio contact with a warship to check that our progress would not cause us any problem, and more importantly that we wouldn't be inadvertently used as target practice! It was odd to hear the radio officer of a British Frigate speaking with what may have been a German or Dutch accent. The MOD have many bases along this coast and we regularly see Air Force planes in training exercises above.

Falmouth is a beautiful, thriving town with deep water access to protected estuaries, and a long seafaring history. As a working town with a reasonably sized commercial port, several marinas and a nearby university, it also has plenty to attract tourists by land. We took a mooring buoy for the first night which again gave us the chance to explore the town together, and buy supplies, aswell as dumping our rubbish and filling up with water. Falmouth has retained a small town feel but the student population and beach culture helps to maintain a youthful atmosphere reflected in plenty of galleries, interesting secondhand shops, imaginitive cafes, restaurants, and picturesque lanes and harbourside pubs. None of the trashy seaside attractions that places like Brighton and Blackpool have been blighted with. Well, enough of the advertising! We bought some seabass filets and local scallops from the fishmonger and dined aboard with a chilled bottle of white wine. This morning we were visited by the harbourmaster, not for dues, thankfully, but requesting us politely to anchor a short distance further away as another Navy Frigate was about to dock in the commercial port and we might be in the way (again!). So this was a spectacle to enjoy with morning coffee. All hands were in uniform on deck as she entered the dock about 200m behind us, with two pilot vessels to guide her in and other Naval support ships motoring alongside, and the harbourmaster zipping around in his boat trying to keep out of the way!

Falmouth Harbour, and a lovely sail training boat moored nearby. ...

Today at low water we will be heading up the river towards Truro to anchor in what is meant to be an area of beautiful wooded hills, abundant birdlife and protected estuaries containing oyster beds and bass nurseries (no, I won't be tempted!). This is where we need to do some more passage planning for the next part of the voyage, around Lands End, through the St George's Channel and the Irish Sea, and on to the Isle of Man, with several stops, probably in Wales, along the way. So the next update may not be for another week or two.