Cruising the Wild West

  • Skipper – Tom Lynch
  • Crew – Steve Greenham, Janet Carroll, Bob Boughtflower

This was a return visit to the West Country, since Tom had skippered a trip including Janet and Steve at Easter. The earlier trip had only been six days, but with nine days this time (two weekends and the days in between) we were hoping to push further west and into Cornwall. To add interest, we were also departing the evening before the Fastnet race, so expected to be chased along the South Coast by the 300+ competitors.

Friday 2nd -Saturday 3rd August: HaslarSalcombe (115 miles)

Tom, Bob and Janet arrived late Friday afternoon, joining Steve who was already there, having skippered RelaX for an introductory sail during the day. Tom had ordered a huge delivery from Sainsbury’s to the marina carpark, which we stowed aboard. Our other job was to replace a damaged mainsheet before settling down to eat Janet’s lasagne, the first of many excellent meals aboard.

We slipped at 2100 with Steve and Bob taking the first watch from 2200 to 0100. By the time Tom and Janet came on watch we were heading through Hurst Narrows, but unfortunately under motor because there was very little wind. At least the tides were helpful and by the time Steve and Bob were back on watch, at 0400, Portland Bill light was in sight.

We were still motoring at the next watch change at 0700 and Tom was starting to wonder if we would have enough fuel to reach Salcombe. We added the 20l in the jerry can to top up the tank and motored until 0920 when wind had freshened to SE F3 and we were able to get the sails up.

After that we had a great sail through the day to Salcombe and by 1700 were rafted with two other yachts in the Harbour. We blew up the dinghy but the crew mutinied and insisted on calling the water taxi to be taken ashore for showers, drinks and dinner at the Yacht Club.

Tom, Steve and Bob enjoying a drink at Salcombe Yacht Club

Sunday 4th August: SalcombeFowey (40 miles)

After our overnight passage on Friday, we slept well in Salcombe on Saturday night and made a leisurely start to the day, slipping our moorings at 1000 and refuelling before picking up the West- running tide towards Fowey. Again we were obliged to motor for a couple of hours before getting the sails up at lunchtime. Directed by the berthing master, we found a spot on a pontoon on the Polruan side of the river and ate aboard that evening.

Our river pontoon in Polruan. RelaX is port side to on the middle of the nearer pontoon.
A bird's eye view of Fowey
A bird’s eye view of Fowey

Monday 5th August: Fowey – Falmouth (26 miles and three incidents)

The next morning we took a water taxi across the river to Fowey to inspect the shower facilities of the Gallants Sailing Club and Royal Fowey Yacht Club. It’s fair to say that while the latter was double the price, it was ten times the quality so guess which got our custom?

We were amused to see a sign in a book shop window telling us that “The post-apocalyptical fiction section has been moved to Current Affairs” – maybe it was an omen for the number of incidents we were to experience on the next leg of our cruise!

Leaving Fowey
Leaving Fowey

We left Fowey at 1300 and, once we were out of the river estuary, encountered big seas and Force 5-6 winds. We were doing well, with both Genoa and Main reefed, until the genoa furling line snapped. Steve and Janet had experienced this after a race last year so recognised the symptoms at once and also recalled the advice following the previous incident: “use the stub of line still on the drum to furl the sail“. Its not quite so easy when the boat is pitching about, but Tom clipped on and heroically managed to do it while Steve started the engine and tried to keep the bows into the wind.

Motor Sailing through big waves between Fowey and Falmouth

After this excitement we motor sailed towards Falmouth, when there was suddenly a loud bang and we looked down to find that the EchoMax had beome detached from the mast head and landed on the deck. Most likely it had slid down the sail rather than falling free, because the odds of it landing on the deck rather than in the sea are so unlikely otherwise, but still it made us jump!

Tom phoned ahead to try to obtain a berth but the stormy conditions meant that a lot of the Fastnet entrants had retired and were seeking shelter in Falmouth. Both Falmouth Haven and Premier Marinas were full, but Port Pendennis offered us their last remaining space. This turned out to be a very tight entrance and although we got in safely, we snagged the anchor of the boat next to us so had another incident to report – the third of the day. As if that wasn’t enough we also discovered that the heads were blocked because the holding tank was full!

Tuesday 6th August: Repairs in Port Pendennis, Falmouth

On Tuesday our first priority to try to source 25m of cruising dyneema to replace the furling line. Nothing was available in local chandlers so Steve started phoning around to more distant ones. Mylor Chandlers had stock, at a cost of £140 plus a further £30-40 in taxi fares to collect it. Looking for someone closer, Steve found a rigger in Penryn who only charged £85, including delivery to the boat. It pays to shop around!

Rigging the furling line – we were lucky that Janet could fit in the anchor locker!

The next challenge was to rig the line. The furling drum is below the foredeck in the anchor locker, with the line routing around a pulley and through a guide onto the drum. After much head-scratching, Tom and Bob were able to route a piece of wire to Janet (squeezed into the anchor locker!) that drew a piece of cord, which drew the new furling line through.

Having achieved this, it was comparatively simple to sew the new furling line onto what remained of the old one to lead it back to the cockpit. In the meantime Steve straightened the anchor pin, which had been bent on a previous trip and very difficult to remove, and repaired a light fitting in one of the aft cabins. He also failed to establish why the speakers in the cockpit no longer work, but at least brought a bluetooth speaker so that we could have music on deck.


A much less pleasant challenge was to try to sort out the heads because without them we would be obliged to spend every night in a marina. We had established that the heads were pumping into the holding tank, but that the holding tank wasn’t draining into the sea when the seacock was opened. Our working assumption, after consultation with Richard Ash, was that someone must have put paper into the system (despite all the warnings not to) and this was stopping the tank draining.

The suggestion was to try to arrange a lift-out so that the tank could be flushed back from the drain hole, but with all of the emergency repairs needed by Fastnet competitors there were no lifts available in either Falmouth or Plymouth. Consequently we resorted to trying to dissolve the blockage with copious amounts of drain cleaner, with Bob and Tom (both chemists) confirming that it was acting on something because the exothermic reaction was making the holding tank hot to the touch. Maybe, but it didn’t clear the blockage!

The lights of Falmouth

Fortunately there are no photos of the many unpleasant hours Tom spent trying to sort all this, but for the benefit of future crews who may find themselves in a similar situation we will share the following bullet points:

  • The holding tank can be flushed out by using a hosepipe to fill and then overflow it through the pump out port, which is forward of the water filling port on the starboard side.
  • If doing this cut off a length of hose and reattach to the main hose with a connector, so that the piece of hose you put into the holding tank won’t later be used to fill the water tank.
  • Having filled the holding tank (and hose) with clean water it is then easy to break the hose at the join and use the cut off piece as a siphon to empty the holding tank – you don’t need to suck on it!
  • This leaves you with a holding tank that has sufficient capacity to accommodate emergency use, but male members of the crew should be encouraged to make use of an empty milk carton where possible instead of filling the holding tank!
Janet and Bob sampling the Cider in Falmouth

Wednesday 7th August: Falmouth – Dartmouth (70 miles)

By Wednesday we were aware that a storm was predicted for Friday/Saturday so we decided to cut our stay in Cornwall short and head East ahead of it. We slipped at 0700 and enjoyed a brilliant day’s sailing on a broad reach, passing the Eddyston Lighthouse and arriving in Dartmouth at 1730. This was perfect timing because it meant we were able to raft up alongside a Halberg-Rassey on the Town Quay, enabling us to use the facilities ashore.

We had a lovely dinner aboard – Tom’s Salmon on a bed of Mediterranean Roast Vegetables and New Potatoes – enjoyed a few glasses of wine and watched the lights come on across the river in Kingswear.

The view from Dartmouth to Kingswear

Thursday 8th August: DartmouthWeymouth (58 miles)

Our stay in Dartmouth was all too short because we needed to leave early to get to Weymouth ahead of the storm, so by 0545 we were underway motoring East into light Easterly winds. We passed Portland Bill at 1400, and with a 4kt following tide achieved speeds over the ground exceeding 10kt. Our passage was along the south side of the Shambles Bank before turning north into Weymouth Bay. It was interesting to watch another yacht that had cut the corner being swept sideways at four knots by the Portland race, from the West Cardinal buoy to half way along the bank before they cleared it.

As we passed Portland Harbour we were joined by another X.40, StiX and accompanied her in to Weymouth arriving just too late for the 1600 bridge opening, so moored on the waiting pontoon to the delight of the tourists. It was raining by the time we entered the marina on the 1800 bridge lift so stayed below decks and enjoyed a fantastic chilli cooked by Bob, using his secret recipe.

Our sister X.40, StiX, catches up with us off Portland breakwater
Waiting for the bridge to open – and taking the opportunity to advertise the club!

Friday 9th and Saturday 10th August: Storm bound in Weymouth

Friday was spent making further attempts to clear the heads, exploring (the pubs of!) Weymouth, and generally relaxing. In the evening we visited an Indian restaurant close to the marina – Shalim’s Balti House – and would recommend it.

By Saturday we were getting a bit stir-crazy so Janet, Bob and Steve decided to catch the open-topped tourist bus to Portland Bill to observe the storm. To say it was windy would be an understatement; the seas off the bill were a mass of foam and we were very glad not to be out in them.

Big waves at Portland Bill

In the evening we celebrated our last dinner of the trip with Fresh Weymouth crab prepared on board to start, mixed fish jambalaya (recipe here) for main and ice cream with selected embedded candy and chocolate for dessert, all washed down with some nice wine.

A crab big enough for four.

Sunday 11th August: WeymouthHaslar (60 miles)

Our final leg, from Weymouth to Haslar was characterised by rough seas, which presented a challenge to whoever was on the helm. Once again we were hitting over 10kt as we surfed down the waves with both sides’ toerails taking turns to submerge.

Bob copes admirably with big seas

We entered the Solent tired but exhilarated, but with a final couple of treats left in store: As we reached Cowes the SailGP F50 wingsailed catamarans were going through their paces and then as we passed Southampton Water, three Cunard liners emerged to welcome us home.

Team Australia’s SailGP Catamaran
Queen Mary 2 passes Queen Victoria just off NE Ryde Middle

After that, all that was left was to refuel, moor up on our berth, clean the boat and thank Tom for another of his legendary cruises. It was certainly eventful but we had brilliant sailing and company. Here’s looking forward to next year!

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