After a Sunday night of singing and drinking with the Lydney mob in Pebbles in Watchet, we woke early Monday morning to catch the tide. The Lyndey fleet had described various vestigial plans and intentions for themselves the night before; one or two had a need to head over to Swansea to deliver certain crew members to pre-agreed train rides home before they continued with their week's sailing. Others had vague notions of Lee Bay then Lynmouth, or perhaps Porlock Weir.
I love Porlock and am intrigued by Lynmouth and would quite like to visit sometime, but I couldn't persuade Dad on the charms of either and, whilst I may be the skipper, on our boat the owner gets the casting vote on itinerary, all other considerations being equal.
In any case, Dad wanted at least a day to dry out on the sands in Ilfracombe Harbour. In many respects, this had become the whole point of the holiday for him after we'd missed our chance at Padstow by effectively losing the previous week.
So we left the Lydney fleet behind in Watchet, still in their bunks recovering from the excesses and indulgences of Pebbles, and early on the Monday morning as the high tide turned to the ebb, cast off and headed west towards Ilfracombe.
It was a good passage.
We motor-sailed initially, until we passed Minehead, the distinctive white peaks of its "Butlins" holiday camp and the RNLI Boathouse where the lifeboats are based that had gotten to us first the week previous. Then, off Hurlstone Point on the edge of Porlock Bay, we silenced the engine as the wind began to build, and set our course on a close-hauled but comfortable beat under full main and headsail to take us out past the race off the headland of Foreland Point.
Despite my trying to sink her on our first day out the previous week, Nikki seems to be taking to the whole sailing thing really well. She appeared to be completely unphased by our experience with the lifeboats, staying quite calm and and good humoured throughout the whole drama.
In contrast to the queasiness that struck her low last year during our long beat out from Swansea to Tenby, the previous day over to Watchet she'd seemed perfectly content perched in the cockpit with the boat heeled past twenty degrees and crashing to windward for hours, and appeared to be just as content on the beat to Ilfracombe the following morning.
Leaving Porlock Bay astern, the chocolate waters began to morph into a distinctly greenish hue. Nikki spotted a pair of porpoises fifty yards astern, their dark fins breaching and diving in tandem a couple of times as they crossed our wake before disappearing into the murky depths again.
We tacked onto starboard well off Foreland Point, putting a roll into the genoa as a rainy squall blew through, reducing visibility to a few hundred yards for twenty minutes. The shower was hard but passed in due course, the wind easing slightly as it did but still stiff enough to keep the little yacht tripping along at a fair pace towards Ilfracombe.
The flow of the ebb increased as the morning wore on and, with the bend of the wind as it hit the cliffs of the North Devon shore, lifted us enough that our second tack eventually let us lay Ilfracombe itself. We arrived at bottom of tide, much too soon to reach the visitor moorings in the outer harbour.
We could've pushed in to the harbour entrance and dropped the anchor to wait, but Blue Anchor Bay the previous day had already demonstrated that the crew don't yet really do bobbing around at anchor waiting for the tide with any great degree of patience grace. Better to keep them occupied, so I elected to bear away from shore and carry on sailing for a while.
However, with low water, the wind dropped, fading away to nothing. So I furled the headsail, cleated the main in tight then started the engine. We motored back towards the shore, turning close to and pottering along gently, close to the cliffs out to Bull Point, admiring the scenery and keeping an eye out for seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
We saw none on the rocks, but did spot one taunting a boat full of mackerel fishing tourists out of Ilfracombe. He'd dive down, pop back up and smuggly throw his head back, tossing a hapless fish up in the air and then catching and devouring it before diving down again for another.
We finally nudged into the shelter of the outer harbour a little after 1500hrs, picking up the mooring buoy without mishap or drama, only a few inches of water under our keels but rising. The sunset was gorgeous. Dad and Nik sent me ashore to secure fish and chips, and I took the opportunity to grab a bottle of white wine at the same time, conveniently cooled in the chiller of a newsagent set in a road just a little back from the harbour.
The food was delicious, the wine a very welcome prelude to finishing the evening with a gin and tonic. Or three.
Sometime around 2200 our keels gently bumped down onto the sand with the falling tide. A short while later, Dad and I climbed down the transom ladder to take a walk around the boat, now settled happily on the hard-packed sand until the next tide.