This is a longer version of an article I wrote for the dinghy Cruising Journal of the Dinghy Cruising Association. if you are in to dinghy cruising and want to know more about the association and its excellent journal and library then you can find out more here at https://www.dinghycruising.org.uk/
“I like your boat. It’s very pretty”.
A 7-year-old girl peeks from between tall reeds at the side of the small beach stream. Her Mum grins at the bemused sailor who has just been caught off guard by her daughter’s candour.
“Do you like clams? We found them on the other beach. You can help Daddy open them and I could help cook them on your stove”.
Our sailor politely declines the clams as he’s about to have spaghetti and meatballs but the pair agree clams can be fiddly to open and that ‘boil in the bag’ meals seem so much easier. His inquisitive guest explores his little boat (“it’s very cosy”) and tells him that her boat is anchored some 200m away and “that beach BBQs are my most favourite thing ever”. An hour later, our sailor has the beach to himself. And the clams? Well, local seagulls are dining ‘a la carte’ tonight on shellfish leftovers!
But wait, we’ve rushed ahead. Let’s rewind to the early morning at Queen Ann’s Battery Marina in Plymouth and a 0700 high spring tide. Our sailor enjoys early morning launches here as he normally has the slipway to himself. Occasionally, he shares it with cruising mullet, squawking seagulls and nosy swans and once, a few years back, a very large spiny legged crab and a grey seal. Today, two swans waddle comically across the slip, sliding on slippery bladderwrack to one side of it.
His boat, a standing lug yawl, glides off her new trailer with two shoves, to sounds of odd rattles, rumbling rollers and his heavy breathing. Our sailor is getting older or perhaps, it’s just his boat is loaded with overnight cruising gear. He’ll go with this old excuse. A splash, a whoosh of escaping bubbles, she gently drifts back, painter neatly uncoiling from his hand. A well-behaved boat, a well-executed launch and he keeps his feet dry for a change too! His inelegant scramble up onto the pontoon alongside is an unedifying spectacle, thankfully witnessed only by the two swans and the night watchman.
His new trailer, left at the top of the slip, is a ‘modified’ stock one. ‘Arwen’s’ old trailer collapsed after 12 years of neglect when a wheel bearing and spindle broke mid journey home one trip. Anyway, some discussions with ‘Admiral Trailers’, a few ‘tweaks’ after the first launch test and he ends up with a well-fitting, ‘shortened’ trailer with re-spaced, raised keel and hull rollers. Clever people they are at ‘Admiral Trailers’.
With no pressing appointments, family commitments or outstanding DIY jobs, our sailor is looking forward to finding a small, deserted beach, where he can watch over a hissing stove and bubbling one pot meal and later be lulled to sleep on his little boat by rhythmic hull lapping waves.
Rigging his boat alongside the pontoon cuts out all that clambering in and out of her when she’s on the slip. Each launch, an opportunity to check rigging, masts and woodwork for wear and tear. Today, added to the ‘maintenance jobs’ list is fraying threads on the jib leech, a corroding cringle on the mainsail clew. Next spring, he will revarnish the mast and coaming.
Forty minutes, ‘arrival to departing’ and that includes a catch-up chat with early morning yard crew. Today there is no rush. In fact, there is time for a leisurely breakfast! Our dinghy cruiser motors into Sutton Pool, nips around the back of the big tourist boat pontoons and ties up at a new floating ‘dinghy dock’ at the foot of the stone steps up to the ‘Arches’ where there are several coffee shops. Returning with coffee and bacon roll, he now sits on the pontoon side, feet dangling in the water, watching the ‘nautical’ world go by. ‘Arwen’ bobs lightly in the wash of a departing pilot boat, off to escort a small coastal tanker out of the Cattedown.
This area is steeped in history. The first Anglo-Saxon settlers sailed into the pool area and made their first settlement here on its shores. From the granite steps nearby, the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ set sail in 1620. The ‘Cattedown’, an area of foreshore at the lower end of the Plym estuary, is named after ‘Catherine of Aragon’. Travelling from Loredo in Spain to this little harbour in Plymouth to be married to Henry VIIIth, she arrived in 1501. The area she set down thus named, somewhat inappropriately our sailor feels, ‘Cattedown’.
At a vacant buoy in the Cattedown, with hunger and thirst now sated, our seafarer stows fenders under side decks, recoils mooring warps and repositions drybags to improve trim. The mainsail halyard tying on point on the top yard is moved further forward, a loop of cord going around mast and halyards added to its lower end. It should stop the yard mysteriously swapping to the other side of the mast when he’s not looking! Adjustments to downhaul tackle to hopefully eliminate a throat to clew crease that has plagued him for so many years. Snotter attachment point on the mast is raised to a position halfway between the downhaul tack attachment and the bottom throat part of the top yard to help raise the aft end of the boom. Our sailor ruminates “on why haven’t I thought of all this before?”
‘Arwen’s’ ‘borrowed’ mooring is just south of Deadman’s Bay, the area between the western end of the QAB and Victoria Wharf pier. She’s just motored across some of the 80 known wrecks in the immediate vicinity. A notorious northern shore graveyard to hundreds of ships in the 1700 and 1800’s before the building of the big Plymouth Breakwater. Forty-eight ships wrecked in just one storm in 1824, so it is said. ‘Enterprising’ Plymothians welcomed their ‘Godsend’s’ every winter, a strandline frequently littered with wrecked ship debris, easy pickings! For the Admiralty, a major costly embarrassment as it was often their ships being wrecked!
Raised mainsail flutters, mizzen holds boat into the north easterly breeze; it’s time to depart this mooring under sail. Weaning himself off his outboard motor for routine manoeuvres, our sailor feels he’s judged tide and wind correctly and got the sequence of rudder and centreboard lowering, downhaul tensioning and jib unfurling, ordered in his head. He pings an ‘OK’ message from his PLB to his wife.
Painter slipped, ‘Arwen’ drifts back a metre or so, the ‘tight’ mizzen giving extra precious seconds when the boat stays head to wind. Gradually her bow edges downwind, mizzen gets eased a little and mainsail fills to starboard. ‘Does our sailor ‘finally’ know what he’s doing at long last?’
Downwind to the end of the Mountbatten breakwater, he gives a wide berth to the lone fisherman on the rocks who is pulling in a string of mackerel. The water ahead of him froths with a shoal chasing small fry to the surface. Our sailor is now smiling broadly. For the first time in many years there is no mainsail ‘crease’. The boom is higher, the sail a better bellied shape, the yard tight against the mast top, its foot staying forward of it, on the starboard side. Adjustments have worked. ‘Is this a good omen for the overnight trip ahead?’
A glance at his log book passage plan notes, he swings south, checking his steering compass on the aft end of the centreboard case. Based on the day’s Met Office forecast (Winds Easterlies 7 – 10 kts with gusts to 22 kts and 27C), his plan is to run down the steeply wooded Jennycliffe Bay cliffs on the eastern side of an empty Plymouth Sound, exit through the eastern breakwater entrance and then sail past the breakwater to Cawsand Bay and a mid-morning coffee at Kingsand. Then across the outer Sound to the Great Mewstone, into Wembury Bay and over to the river Yealm. A perfect day cruise!
Inside the main channel that sweeps south in a huge curve, the invisible 0.6 kt tidal stream helps push our sailor past the local café on the hill and up towards Bovisand Fort. His soundscape? Gurgling water, occasional fluttering of mainsail and a rhythmic knocking of his centreboard against its case. A familiar ‘knocking’, but our sailor knows it needs sorting. He involuntarily shudders as he visualises what the inside panels of the centreboard case must look like. ‘Ugh!’
Bovisand Fort is rapidly abeam. Defending the eastern entrance of Plymouth Sound, its pier and stone steps once used by old navy ships to collect fresh water stores from a nearby reservoir, it’s been a gun battery, an outdoor activity base and now, ‘a redevelopment’, to luxury houses, visitor’s centre and cafes. Such a chequered history! “If only someone had turned it into much needed affordable local housing instead!” muses our sailor.
It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by stunning scenery, warm breezes, cloudless skies and rhythmic ‘sailing’ sounds. ‘Has this not happened to us all at some point?’ Alas, in such a stupor, our sailor misses tell-tale signs of shifting winds and fails to check his course sufficiently. North easterlies are about to become fickle, ‘teasing’ winds with ‘other ideas’ about his crafted passage plans! The ‘Wind Gods’ are bored and in need of some amusement! Veering south, they force him to beat to windward just as he approaches the eastern breakwater entrance. Too far west across the Sound and now on a ‘correctional’ course back eastwards towards the entrance, our sailor is too ‘close’ to the breakwater and pinching too close to the wind! Too lazy to tack back down closer to the Jennycliffe shore to gain a better exit line out of the Sound; too inexperienced to spot the dangers ahead. The ‘Wind Gods’ will demand a heavy price for such foolish, imprudent and naïve sailing behaviour.
Our stubborn sailor finds himself pinching harder to maintain his ‘silly’ course which ‘may’ only just clear the outer rocks. Big ebbing spring tide, wind against tide, some ‘choppy’ water ahead and an outward end jumble of submerged breakwater rocks. ‘A recipe for disaster, is it not?’ This will be close. Scarily close!
From his sitting helm position, our seafarer sees too late the bladderwrack rafting on the surface ahead or the barely submerged dark shapes of random granite blocks below on the corner. Ten feet. Six feet. Three feet! THREE feet!! Insanity! Starfish, limpets and periwinkles practically leap aboard. Way too close for comfort! Almost ‘in irons’ and being pushed sideways simultaneously? ‘What is he thinking? Such irresponsibility!’ Centreboard snatches on weed rafts; thick kelp traps his rudder. Hull speed slows, helming becomes less certain. ‘Serves him right, does it not?’
Quick ‘close reach’ around the corner; immediate emergency ‘short tacking’ to gain steerage way to clear a jumble of outer rip-rap rocks and the profusion of lobster pot buoys. “When did all these get laid?” A random thought quickly forgotten as our sailor helms through these hazardous threats. Tiller pushed away, sprit boom whooshes rapidly overhead. A tan mainsail, taut, full bellied. Some speed at last! Phew!
Now only six metres off the breakwater front, some sea room is urgently required or ‘clumps of kelp’ on his rudder will be the least of his ‘towing baggage’ problems! Valued reader, give absolutely no sympathy to our sailor. Self-inflicted poor pilotage, smart-arsed indolence! No sympathy, for ‘is he not an irresponsible, foolish sailor?’
Disrespected, ‘Borrum and Aeolus’, keepers of the winds, punish our sailor, veering rapidly to the west where they fill and die without warning, funnelling and deflecting down the valleys and headlands in Cawsand Bay. Another upwind course then, along the southern side of the breakwater, complicated by a 1.2 knots ebb tidal stream at the western channel entrance. Some ‘leeway’ crabbing, or as our sailor might describe it “deliberately planned for ‘ferry-gliding’” ensues. It’s a rueful dinghy sailor who ponders the dark arts of inshore coastal navigation, but not for long. With jellyfish drifting below his hull, jumping mackerel and diving gannets ahead, and caught off guard by a semi deflated pink beach ball passing down his port side, our sailor’s mood lightens. Cloudless skies, sun sparkling ‘reflection’ shimmers dancing across the water surface like clouds of giant fireflies, he muses on how every day is a ‘learning day’ before pinging another ‘OK’ message and adding a scribbled note to his log.
Making 3.3 knots in a stiffening south westerly breeze, the snotter is eased for more belly in the sail and mainsheet gets hauled in a tad. A fraction more speed gained then but distance still lost as the ebb tide pushes his boat southwards, off course. The ‘unanticipated’ wind shadow by the old Coastguard Station forces him to a more northerly course towards Fort Picklecombe; welcomed sea room in which to heave-to. The last remnants of ‘streaming rudder kelp’ still need removing by hand.
Picklecombe, another ‘Palmerston’s Fort Folly’, now luxury flats with private moorings in a tiny, well protected harbour alongside. Our skipper represses his ‘secret urge’ to creep into the ‘private’ harbour for a quick nosey around. Another time perhaps.
Foam slips along hull sides from small cresting waves ahead, mizzen and mainsail tweaked to increase weather helm a little. Our sailor instinctively leans weatherside just as the ‘teasing’ winds lessen and veer north westerly, forcing him to change course once more. Another windward tack, 30m out, parallel to the northerly sandstone cliffs of the Mount Edgecumbe shoreline! At least he avoided the choppy water over Queener’s Ledge.
Yet within minutes, the winds back again to the south. “How irritating can this be?” laments our flummoxed, somewhat ‘tested’, if not a little ‘irritated’, sailor? ‘Will he still make a mid-morning coffee stop at Kingsand?’
Observant reader, you will have already guessed that our dinghy cruiser has given insufficient thought to the implications of these shifting winds. ‘He’ll arrive on a lee shore with breaking waves, will he not?’ Good pilotage, that art of thinking ten or fifteen minutes ahead of your current position, is something he’s still mastering, so could we extend him just a little sympathy? ‘After all, have we all not made such elementary sailing mistakes ourselves at some time or another?’
‘Arwen’s’ near vertical stem and curved forefoot slice through grey-green waters, throwing up occasional diamonds of sparkling spray; her Welsh Ensign flutters proudly above her captain’s head. Our sailor plans to reach past the approaching beach to scope out good anchoring and landing points. Alas, who was it who said “No plan survives first contact with reality”?
“Nooooo!” His plaintive wail and sharp intake of breath suggest all is not well. ‘Unexpected’ wave covered lee shore beach; a string of yellow ‘swimming only’ marker buoys beyond which boats cannot anchor? New unforeseen problems are an inconvenient reminder then, that ‘the unexpected will always happen on any trip’.
What are his options now? Drop anchor just outside the swimming zone, pump up the toy dinghy tender he carries aboard and row in? In strengthening wind’s, unceremoniously dumped upside down by breaking waves in front of a busy pub? How embarrassing and, if lucky to survive such a landing, how would our seafarer affect a departure later on? ‘Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?’
A nearby fat yellow mooring buoy, marked ‘private no mooring’, tempts his ‘rebellious streak’. A quick sail past to assess location, reverse close reach course back with some questionable pinching of sails again. More by luck than skilled judgement, our sailor literally drifts alongside it. From a distance, it looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing. But of course, ‘we all know better, don’t we?’
A 20-minute lunch stop. Marmite and cheese sandwiches, tea and an apple. Marmite haters are discouraged from boarding, unless they bring ‘peace offerings’ - Florentines, Toblerone or Fox’s Ginger Cream biscuits!
Winds veering north once more bring large yachts to his now sheltered anchorage. Our dinghy cruiser scribbles notes in his log, pings another ‘OK’ message home but after a while, becomes disturbed by the clanking of chain in and out of anchor lockers, the rattling of wire shrouds against masts, an uncomfortable corkscrew bobbing motion and loud pop music. Liking solitude and comfortable anchorages, he slips his mooring once more. Time to leave to search out such luxuries elsewhere.
Lowering his outboard into the water, a quick ‘forceful’ slap of palm against forehead, reminds our sailor that this year, he’s weaning himself off mechanical propulsion. ‘So, how to get off a crowded mooring to open water in a stiff breeze with exposed rocks only eight metres away?’ Tiny gaps between boats, turning circles clearly ignored by many, but our sailor is contemplating sailing off a mooring once more. ‘Can he really sail out of this mooring? Why not row out instead?’ Clearly too much sun, not enough fluids, sunstroke and a sudden bout of rashness!
The nearest yacht, 6m astern, is ridiculously too close in his opinion! Slackening mainsail sheets through the aft mounted block, sheeting the mizzen tight; a rare display of agility as our sailor jumps the centre thwart and dashes forward to mast base. Mainsail raised with alacrity; he sweats the last bit of tension into the halyard. Mooring buoy pulled amidships port side, painter slipped. Drift backwards, rudder lowered, tiller to starboard, mizzen sprit boom hand-hauled to port. ‘Has he got this right we hear you ask?’
Just reaching around the stern of the boat on his starboard quarter, a co-ordinated blur of movements sees our sailor shoot along its starboard side before he bears downwind through the next gap between boats. One tack and two gybes later (or was it two tacks and one gybe, never mind), he’s cleared boats, kayakers, SUP boarders, swimmers and rocky platforms. ‘An unorthodox departure with some wrong moves, say you?’ Probably, but he didn’t hit anything or kill anyone; a success then as far as our sailor is concerned.
Sailing the outer Sound proves exhilarating, despite fluky shifting winds. Self-doubts are blown away by strong north easterly 20 kt gusts and steady 13 kt winds. Shroud tell tales stream horizontally, leech one’s flutter in slightly ‘dirty’ air. Our lazy mariner is more interested in casual cruising than getting the most from his sails! “Is that such a sin and why is sail trimming such a dark art anyway?” he mutters to himself. Another windward tack, bow lifting over white crests, spray very occasionally over the bow. 5.5 kts; 5.9 kts on his Garmin InReach Explorer. Racing along, assisted by the last of the easterly 0.5 kt tidal stream. Sat way out on the side deck with lots of tiller weather helm is such fun. Water spurting through the little gap between centreboard casing and top catches his eye. Something else for that maintenance list! “Perhaps too much weather-helm?” Caution creeps into our sailor’s consciousness! “Is it time to reef?” His bare legs extended, feet braced against the far thwart sides, ‘Arwen’s’ hull up and heeled. Letting out the mainsheet during gusts, he eyes approaching waves and troughs with trepidation. Twice the side decks have been ‘sluiced’ with green-grey waters.
The rolling ‘corkscrewing’ swell in Wembury Bay proves ‘nausea’ inducing. Ebb spring tide, north easterly winds, rapidly shallowing seabed, rolling swells from yesterday’s offshore storm! Our sailor’s stomach churns. Reef now and he will be sea sick; all that wallowing in those troughs as he ties the reefing points. “Yuck!” He mentally castigates himself for not keeping a more weatherly eye on the weather and then laughs at his unintended pun.
Mizzen is eased; if only he knew how to twist his upper sail to spill more wind! Mainsail gets flattened; his boat heels less and slows. He shifts his ‘damp’ bottom back inboard. Much better. ‘Arwen’s’ firm bilges, planing flat bottom, small skeg and big beam all afford greater stability. She’s best sailed upright; a far more sensible, prudent, approach! “Dangling my bum over the edge of the side deck to keep her balanced whilst close hauled in steepening seas is bound to end in disaster!” reasons our sailor! Ah, the ‘heel’ reducing advantages of a rig that extends a lot horizontally across bowsprit, boat and boomkin, eh?
A centimetre or so of water sloshes the bilges and not for the first time, he wonders whether it’s worth installing raised bottom boards. He regrets not bringing his little portable electric bilge pump set up; no trim issues but its ‘irritating’ as his bare feet are cold. Good job all his gear is stowed under the side decks in double lined dry bags. It really is time to install a manual bilge pump in ‘Arwen’, “but where to install it so it is easily reached on all points of sail?” A new conundrum for a very ‘short armed’ sailor to ponder over later.
South of the Great Mewstone Island, a wind shadow area slows ‘Arwen’, giving our sailor ample time for a ‘close pass chat’ with three fishermen drifting in a small dory over the Mewstone shoals that extend a mile southwest of the island. Not much luck, it seems. Do they know the old local adage ‘When the winds are east, the fish bite least’? Admiring these boat men, our sailor muses on how they aren’t being sea sick in such rolly conditions.
Our seafarer suddenly chuckles out loud as he recalls the story of ‘Sam Wakeman’. It takes his mind off his impending nausea. About to be sent to Australia in the early 1800’s, Sam cleverly negotiated to live in exile with his family on the Mewstone, looking after the rabbits. Ever the entrepreneur, he earned money by offering boat trips to the island from the local Wembury beach, advertising his service by letter in a local South Devon magazine of the time.
“If any genticeman what likes a wark, he can wark to shoar at Wembury Beach, if they holds up there white pockethanchecuffs as a signal, an I’le cum off and fetch them on me bote to the island for two pence appeasement”.
Unluckily, Sam’s other ‘entrepreneurial endeavour’, smuggling, got him caught by a local excise man and so he was evicted from the island after only a few years!
“The ‘Slimers’! Oh, dear God, where are they?” Our seafarer’s heart pretty much stops. He’s forgotten the ‘Slimers’, two drying out rocky outcrops east of the island. Insufficient attention to pilotage matters, too much reminiscing on old island stories! Urgently, he points ‘Arwen’s’ bow south east to gain some reassuring sea room. The ‘Slimers’ pass by 10m off his port beam. Phew! Too close!
‘Self-preservation’ senses kicking in, our seafarer checks his chart secured to the starboard centre thwart and mentally recomputes his course to the ‘Yealm’ entrance. His brain now whirring, he tries to predict what wind and tidal conditions will be as he closes on the narrow river entrance and its dangerous bar. ‘Much better; he’s thinking ‘pilotage’ once more, is he not?’. A quick perusal then of the annotated, hand drawn sketch maps and hazards in his little yellow log book.
Navigation sorted, our sailor clears up the rat’s nest of ‘string’ accumulating in his aft cockpit area, deftly sorting the different sheets and halyards into their appropriate homemade halyard bags hanging off the rear of the centre thwart. “Aft transom deck mounted mainsheets leave so much loose rope lying around” he muses. Much better! So embarrassing and potentially disastrous, tripping over tangled ropes just as one arrives over one’s chosen anchoring spot! Another thing for the list ‘trim all sheets to their correct length’.
An hour or so past slack water, our small cruising dinghy passes 5m clear of ‘Mouthstone’ ledge at the river entrance and proceeds upriver, bar side of the red channel marker buoys, leaving the main channel clear for the bigger boats. Saves them having to hug the rocky starboard side with its delicate eelgrass beds. Cellars beach lies ahead; small, inaccessible, with a hard sand bottom and a pebbly, boulder strewn beach backed by 30’ high cliffs. Assorted rowing boats, yacht tenders and small motorboats are anchored just off it. Kayakers and SUP paddlers too, just to complicate things a little. Our tired sailor can’t see an obvious anchoring spot close inshore from this distance so prudence suggests dropping mainsail now and sailing in under jib and mizzen only. He retrieves his large canoe paddle off the foredeck. It might be needed up ahead. There’s no room to row!
Seven boat lengths to go, our sailor furls his jib. Five boat lengths to go, the barely filled mizzen carries him into a small gap between three motorboats of various sizes. He throws tiller around sharply, sheets mizzen in tightly at the very last moment and ‘Arwen’ stalls head to wind. Jumping forward quickly, anchor is retrieved from its tray on the cockpit floor and hand over handed into the sea on the starboard side; chain rattling over wooden gunwale. ‘Has he stopped? Has he predicted his turning circle accurately? Is 5m distance a wee bit too close to those northern cliff and rock ledges? So much for him to calculate and appraise!
He stands at the starboard shroud, 10mm anchor rode taut in his hand, waiting patiently, closely watching his chosen transit. A 10lb Danforth with 5m of chain should do the job! Five minutes pass, all seems well. More scope released; rode secured around stem post with hitches. When other boats have left, he’ll dry out on this chosen spot tonight. Through crystal-clear waters below, a clean sandy bottom, no worrying boulders or pea gravel and in the lee of the cliffs, protected from northerly winds. Perfect!
Bilge water is sponged out, the boat tidied. Our sailor doesn’t jump out immediately. Last year, in this same spot, in what he thought was only a couple of feet depth, he jumped overboard straight into an ‘invisible’ hole dug by an over enthusiastic daddy for his young children, earlier that day. A ‘shocking’ surprise to our sailor when the water went over the top of his head. Think ‘Vicar of Dibley’ and that ‘jump in the puddle’ scene! ‘There esteemed reader, you have the picture already’. All in front of fifty or so beach bathers! What a jolly laughing jape that was! Our sailor involuntarily hunches down, reducing his body height; a mental ‘hiding’ reaction to the horrors of last year’s arrival!
Secluded, fairly inaccessible, sheltered from northerly and easterly winds, Cellars beach is a favourite overnight destination for our sailor. Not so good of course in westerlies or when an ebb tide can cause lumpy conditions across the bar, pushing waves onto the beach. Its name, by the way, is derived from the old 1800’s fishermen’s beach cellars where they stored their nets and catches at that time. These, sadly, are now long gone.
Well cherished reader, our day has almost ended. Early evening has rushed by, the tide is almost high. Over the course of twilight, our sailor let out more scope and his little boat drifted backwards into the beach with minimal sideways swing. You will be pleased to know that he clambered overboard earlier into knee deep water, so no nasty surprises this time. A grapnel anchor buried between three big boulders on the beach and another mooring line tied to a convenient washed-up tree trunk. ‘Arwen’ isn’t drifting sideways tonight. Job done!
Most day trippers are gone, one or two rib dinghy tenders remain. The sun is setting and our tired sailor predicts it will be directly westward of his cooking position on the beach in an hour’s time. He ambles the strandline, something he loves to do often. “What strange objects will be washed up tonight?” He never knows what he will find, always so much to see, new things to learn. Tonight, a razor shell, a shoe, some fishing line with lead weight attached, a mermaid’s purse, assorted shells, some small pieces of driftwood which he can use in future winter artwork projects. Not enough driftwood for a small beach fire though and no highly prized, worn smooth, sea glass. He rescues a small stranded jellyfish, returning it to deeper water.
On the top of the tide, he places a fender under his boat’s hull as she comes to rest in the last foot of water; it will ensure a good night’s sleep in a horizontal position for a change. Onboard, he unpacks his white tarp, retrieves the boom crutch from under the side deck and sets up the boom tent, working methodically from bow to mizzen, stopping just amidship. Tonight’s forecast is warm, dry and clear skies. On such nights in secluded bays with no prying eyes, our amateur astronomer likes to sleep out under the stars. Sleeping platform assembled in the aft cockpit well, down sleeping and Gortex bivvy bags laid out. Galley box carried up the beach to an area which has particularly comfortable boulders to sit on.
Gently lapping waves, the tiny rumbles of gravel caught in the undertow of a retreating tide. ‘Hypnotic, soothing, restful, is it not?’ Our sailor deliberates on Jacques Cousteau’s observation that “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”. “How true” he thinks. Little shrimp lice jump upwards as he disturbs the sand around him, the flies on the clumps of seaweed stay away. This rarely happens! Mosquitos, gnats and midges, normally see our sailor as a walking ‘all you can eat buffet’, often leaving him covered in huge red, itchy bite bumps.
A seagull tosses strand line weed aside, foraging for shrimps, crabs and any snacks left behind by humans. Stern anchor warps rhythmically rise and fall, caught in the small wavelets lapping the beach; their ‘captured’ fronds of drying seagrass dancing and waving a merry little jig. A couple amble across to admire his little boat and its boom tent. Both ‘Thames Barge’ artists, they are intrigued by her ‘delightful character’. “What boat is she?” “What does ‘Arwen’ mean?” “How does the sleeping platform work?” “Do you ever get a comfortable night’s sleep?” “You actually built her? Oh well done, how exciting”. Our sailor admires artists and is particularly intrigued by the work being done by the couple.
As our sailor anticipated earlier, the sunset is indeed glorious. The upper sky glows a deep blue whilst the lower half is a deep orange blush overpainted with pink and purple tinged wispy clouds. The sun? A brilliant ‘tangerine’ coloured disc falling behind Wembury Point. His stove rattles, steam rises from the galley box, a bright orange flame flickers skywards as the kettle is lifted out. A tang of meths fills the air. Tired but content; at his feet, a ‘boil in the bag’ meal, a fruit pudding, hot chocolate in a cup, some ginger cream biscuits. A meal fit for a king... well a pauper king perhaps. Just peeking over his galley box rim, his boat bobs on a dazzling, shimmering, golden, gossamer threaded cloak of sunset reflections. The air is warm, breezes gone; smartphone charges off a portable ‘Big Blue’ solar panel catching the last rays of the day. He wonders, if he gets away early tomorrow, whether he might fit in a quick sail up the river before the ebb tide makes it difficult. He dreamily watches the waves kiss the sandy shoreline, retreat and then return once more to steal another caress.
“I like your boat. It’s very pretty. Would you like some of our clams?”
For those interested in sailing Plymouth Sound, the RYA have published an excellent dinghy cruising trail guide at https://www.rya.org.uk/knowledge/dinghy-trails/sw/plymouth-sound written by Peter Guilliatt.