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A West Country Cruise – 3 -14 August – Trevor Nicholls

As we approached the end of June and the Covid lock-down showed signs of easing, 6 of us booked RelaX for a cruise to the West Country and possibly the Scilly Isles. Unfortunately the level of easing we had hoped for did not materialise and by mid July it was clear that any cruising, that involved sleeping on the boat, would be limited to 2 households.  So sadly, Tony Riley and Chris Maughan dropped out leaving Trevor and Verity Nicholls with Bob and Linda Cousins to form the crew.  With a reduced crew any thought of several overnight passages to take us to the Scillies was abandoned.

But this was just the start of the challenges. As we set west on 3rd July it became clear that most marinas were fully booked. It seemed the whole sailing community had returned to the water in August, though many appeared contented to remain on their home berths and visitors slots were at a premium.  With that in mind we approached Yarmouth in the early afternoon after hearing that they were keeping around 20 slots available on a first-come-first-served basis. We ended up rafted alongside a Bavaria 38 – interestingly Yarmouth seemed to be (and probably still is) the only marina allowing rafting under Covid restrictions.  Sadly our favourite Yarmouth pub the Wheatsheaf had closed down following Covid pandemic, so we took sundowners at the always welcoming Royal Solent Yacht Club.  Then we ate at the fairly new restaurant “On the Rocks”.  Great food and possibly the most conscientious Covid protocols we encountered.

The next day we set off for Weymouth/Portland. Knowing there was no space at Weymouth we phoned Portland pushing for a slot, but without joy.  It was then that I received a message from Szymon Dworski (a previous member of PYC) to say that he was already in Portland, and that he could ask the marina to permit us to raft on them – it seems they had done the same for Laurent a few days earlier.  Szymon’s negotiating skills worked again, so after a long and pretty tough sail (gusting 6 with a building sea) around the Jurassic coast we arrived at Portland Marina to be greeted by Szymon and his family. 

With the weather deteriorating we decided to stay there an extra day and give the crew a chance to explore Chesil Beach and Portland, whilst I struggled to find a berth for us at our next stop – Dartmouth.  It seemed the only way was going to be to call Darthaven Marina at 1000 the next day, which meant we would be out in Lyme Bay with limited phone signal.

The tide dictated an early start at 0400 from Portland. It was a wet and misty morning, but at least we were greeted by some dolphins just as we left the harbour.  We set course for the Bill in time to avoid the race and after the obligatory bacon rolls, we turned west across Lyme Bay. At exactly 1000 Verity phoned Darthaven Marina and after much persistence and some friendly coercion we eventually got a call back early afternoon to say we had gotten a slot.  The weather cleared and the sun broke through as we sailed into Dartmouth making for Darthaven Marina – which has to be one of the friendliest family run marinas on the south coast, complete with an operational steam train railway service.

With the arrival of good weather we decided to stay in Dartmouth for a couple of nights and give the crew a chance to explore Dartmouth and Kingswear, including a visit to the Royal Dart Yacht Club. The gastronomic highlight was dinner at the Ship, just up the hill on the Kingswear side. Here we all chose the home-made zuppa alla livornese – another great recommendation from Laurent Morlet. It seems that the pub had been taken over by a young Italian guy and his mum was doing all the cooking, and it really was true Italian home-cooking.

With the weather now settling we had a great sail to the River Yealm, one of the most beautiful spots in the West Country.  On arrival at the river pontoon I cursed as we had to force our way through a bunch of swimmers frolicking in the water, but no sooner had we tied up I saw that Verity and Linda had jumped in and were swimming with them too – well, I suppose it was 32 degrees that day.

Here we stayed for a couple of nights and used the dinghy to explore the river, its creeks and its pubs.  Even in this quiet backwater pubs and restaurants were now becoming as heavily booked as marinas and we were fortunate that the timing of the incoming tide allowed us to grab a table in the Ship Inn before the evening rush.

After spending two nights in many of our stops, it was clearly time now to start our return journey home. Unfortunately, the wind had totally deserted us, and we were forced to motor all the way from the Yealm to Brixham. I always find Brixham a strange place. It feels like it can’t decide whether it’s a fishing port or a seaside resort. The result is that it has some quite tired places and on this occasion very little respect for Covid precautions. We opted for fish and chips eaten on board. We weren’t sorry to leave early the next morning content in the knowledge that we had secured a slot on Weymouth Customs Quay.  Early starts are never easy but sometimes you get the odd reward like a beautiful sunrise or some dolphins – this time we got both, and these lovable creatures stayed with us for a good 20 minutes having endless fun passing under our bow.

We motored into Weymouth, just as the fishermen were landing their nets of cockles. Our berth was conveniently close to the excellent facilities and once suitably refreshed we began exploring this lovely town – again seeking some pubs/restaurants with tables available. Our choice was “Crustacean”, a fairly new establishment specialising in seafood.  Really excellent food, though possibly the only place in town not participating in the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme. Despite that, it was packed.

After a couple of great days in Weymouth, it was time to make our way back to the Solent.  With the flat sea we were able to sneak in and take a close look at the Jurassic coastline, including Durdle Door, but the most striking sight in Weymouth Bay was the 13 ocean cruise liners that were at anchor, sitting out Covid – no doubt at a great financial loss.  Already the local boats were offering “Tours around the fleet” so at least the spirit of enterprise is still alive.

During the week we had trolled a couple of fishing lines without any success, so as we left Yarmouth I told everyone how I had had lots of luck fishing between Yarmouth and Gurnard, so out came the lines.  Within a few minutes Verity had a mackerel and then another soon followed.  Linda, (who was new to fishing) said “I think I might have something” and we hauled in a beautiful sea bass. 

So all-in-all a great end to a great trip, with the crew taking their freshly caught dinners home in a bag!

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