PYC West Country and East Coast Summer Cruises 2021 vs 2015 – Andy Connor
You can find out more about these (and more) destinations members have visited here.
Six years on and much has happened since the PYC last launched a summer cruise double header to England’s west and east coast in the same year! I thought it might encourage “les autres” to join this year’s cruise by looking back at the delights we enjoyed last time and anticipate the fun and modest challenges of this year’s plan to take RelaX and Quartette in opposite directions. Last time it was of course our dear old 39 foot Sadler, Spellbinder, who braved the westward trip, including Channel crossings, but we still have our other dear old, the lovely Quartette with her two en-suites and reasonably shallow keel at 1.4m, for some Swans and Amazons adventures in the tangled backwaters of The Twizzle and Walton on the Naze.
I have dug out a copy of the PYC summer 2015 newsletter (called the “Mainsheet” as some of you may remember) in order to refresh my memory of both trips, albeit there are several recollections that have never left me, two that involved John Liddy, former Club Secretary who sadly died last year and another where my knowledge of Quartette’s little ways (not so little actually) was greatly enhanced. I will come to these in due course.
I have put my name down with Judith Hankey, PYC Cruise Organiser par-excellence, to take RelaX either as skipper or crew, out of Falmouth this summer and hope to retrace some of the passage that we enjoyed in 2015. Back then, I was a newly appointed PYC Inshore Club Skipper, so needed to be upgraded to “Coastal” for the proposed responsibilities beyond Poole, and had to submit fairly detailed passage plans to Peter Claire, PYC Chief Instructor at the time, so that I could be given the keys to Spellbinder. Her replacement, RelaX, is a foot longer and is faster, but – there is always a but – is not as forgiving as her predecessor.
Day 1 in 2015 saw four of us, John Liddy, Diana La Rue, Deborah Abbott and myself arrive by train in Falmouth quite close to the marina with the sun shining brightly through a rainbow. I had planned to sail south to Helford River, a splendid anchorage that I know well from family holidays spent in a tent above Daphne du Maurier’s famous “Frenchman’s Creek”. This really exists, but I do not recommend taking a club boat in there, least of all RelaX with her 2.2m keel. A gale forecast prevented us going to Helford in 2015, but this year it is certainly Plan A. As well as two pubs, there is the most welcoming Helford River Sailing Club which has a balcony view across the estuary second to none. Their annual regatta takes place on Saturday 14th August, so we would miss that, which may or may not be a shame. Some 30 years ago I distinguished myself by coming last in the backward rowing race and it might have been an opportunity to redeem myself. On the other hand, it does get busy!
Various options present themselves from Helford. It is probably best to go north-east the 25 NM or so to Fowey, giving Mevagissey a miss on account of RelaX’s draft and the crowds that flock there. Fowey is also the first port I sailed into when being examined for my Day Skipper practical in days before PYC, so it’s a long time ago, but still etched in my memory. Coming from the east, you can’t see the entrance until you’re quite close in and then there’s a sharp turn to starboard; just as I was about to make this turn, 10,000 tons of kaolin tanker appeared, who was clearly “restricted in her ability to manoeuvre”. I kept out of her way. Once in the Fowey Estuary, however, all is delightfully tranquil, a view that the aforementioned Daphne enjoyed from her house when writing her novels.
There are several pubs in Fowey, but also one in Bodinnick, near one of the visitor moorings that also have the advantage of allowing all on board a peaceful night’s sleep away from the lively town. The moorings and exit from Fowey have plenty of water even for RelaX, so tide does not dictate departure time the next day.
The run eastward out of Fowey is fairly straightforward if the SW prevailing wind is blowing, either by heading far out towards Eddystone Lighthouse for the 36NM to Salcombe, or by taking the shorter trips to Plymouth or Newton Ferrers on the River Yealm. In 2015 we did all three, the short trips first and then the return leg to Plymouth. All are glorious ports of call, but the smallest, Newton Ferrers, is not to be missed for its tranquillity and beautiful river setting. However, there is a bar and shallow water approach up the river, which has to be calculated carefully in the pilot plan!
Last time we gave ourselves plenty of time to explore and John invited the two ladies in the crew to join him in the dinghy to potter upriver and watch the sunset. He had the good sense to take the hand-held radio with him as there was then no network coverage. I stayed on board planning the passage to Salcombe; after an hour or so, the yacht radio came alive with a call from John – the outboard had packed up, the tide was still flowing strongly and they were holding on as best they could to some branches to avoid being swept further inland. Any ideas? I called the Harbourmaster who was about to close for the night but, on hearing of damsels in distress plus John, took his well equipped launch to rescue them. Alcoholic reimbursement was required afterwards.
Salcombe is a busy ria and it’s very difficult to get alongside to walk ashore. One way to achieve this, which is not recommended, is to allow the split pin holding the boom to the mast to drop out when jibing 3NM off Bolt Head and to limp into the port requesting help from the Harbourmaster (a different one) to park as close as possible to a chandlery with a supply of split pins. When this happened to us, John showed his experience as a Yachtmaster in lashing the gooseneck together with cord so that we only lost a knot or two on a broad reach over the bar. The Harbourmaster allowed us to tie up alongside the Town Quay as it was after the time the last ferry had left. From there we found a helpful chandlery and an excellent restaurant, both within about 20 yards of the boat!
The East Coast
Moving eastwards – this is a picture of Quartette speeding past the south coast cliffs – towards Ipswich where the east coast cruise of 2015 was based. Because QT draws only 1.4m she is well suited to some of the backwaters such as the River Tizzle behind Walton-on-the-Naze, shown above. Her draft is little more than a Thames Barge that you might encounter, especially if you venture up the River Blackwater as far as Maldon, where some are based. A visit can, however, only be for an hour or so each side of HW, otherwise glorious mud will envelope even QT’s modest keel.
Being based on the River Orwell allows exploration all the way up to Ipswich where you have direct access from the marina to the shops and restaurants of the old town. If you fancy a walk ashore, go down to Pin Mill with its ancient boatyard. Of course, there is a more modern one down river at Felixstowe where the sheer scale of the container port and the shipping alongside rather dwarfs QT’s 35 feet.
North from the Orwell are some challenging river mouths, the Deben and the Ore; there was an easterly blowing when we were there, so we didn’t try them out. We had excitement enough going south and I’m still trying to forget the afternoon when someone unwittingly sat on (and turned on) the then unprotected auto-helm; for an anxious half hour we found ourselves unable to steer! This problem has now been fixed, so the delights of QT along the east coast await those PYC members willing to give it a go.