Friday, 4 October 2019

Calstar: Six Days in August


August feels like a long time ago now, and summer seems to be fast fading with the memory of it.

Nik and I had originally meant to travel down to Calstar with Dad on the evening of Monday 12th and spend the next couple of weeks sailing, but family complications meant we scrapped the first week, then Dad and I went to the boat on the morning of the following Monday.

Nik stayed at home. The complications had been resolved but she decided she wanted to hang around to ensure they stayed that way. And, in any case, had an eye for redecorating a bedroom. A week with a paintbrush in hand and husband out from underfoot is, apparently, as much of a holiday as a week away sailing.

No. I don’t get it either.

Monday 19th August : Queen Anne’s Battery, Plymouth


We went down early on Monday, in the hope that we could sail that day. But the wind was blowing a fresh F5 from the west, with 2m seas out beyond the Breakwater. Not exactly insurmountable, but the forecast was due to ease the following day, so it seemed sensible delay casting off. We could have gone east, Salcombe, Dartmouth, Brixham and Torquay perhaps, but Dad was set on the west and Cornwall.


So we kicked our heels around Plymouth for the day, wandering around the Barbican and Plymouth Hoe. I got to climb Smeaton’s Tower, the second Eddystone lighthouse relocated to the Hoe as a monument to the man when the present day Eddystone light was put up to replace it in 1882. That’s been an ambition of mine for a couple of years now, but I’ve never been able to persuade Nik to walk up there with me.

Dad's much more biddable.


Tuesday 20th August : Plymouth to Fowey
(28.7 nautical miles, 7 hours 2 minutes underway)


The wind was still in the west, but lessened from the day before. High water Plymouth was 0926, but approaching neaps so not much flow in it. Impatient to be going, we cast off from QAB at 1022, motor-sailed with the ebb out across the Sound towards the Western Entrance, resigned to the fact that we’d have to stem a foul tide for another hour or so once we were out of the harbour, but uncaring in our enthusiasm to be underway.


We crossed the Sound in relatively swift time, and beneath a cloud scattered sky had our sails up and engine cut within thirty minutes, having cleared the Breakwater. We held a starboard tack, close-hauled under full sail against a south-westerly across an occasionally lively sea. Just under five miles out, a little over an hour since setting off, we tacked on to port onto a layline that would comfortably clear us of Rame Head. The wind was stiffening and the sea still playfully boisterous, so I put a roll into the headsail to stiffen Calstar up a little.


Dolphins joined us, cavorting playfully across the path of the boat. A delight, but too brief and quickly dashing in their company for us to get a photograph of anything but blue water. Of which we took quite a few in our enthusiasm.


By 1530 we were closing in on pretty Polperro. The wind had stiffened up to a good F4, so we’d put the first reef in the main to supplement the roll in the genoa. Calstar was heeled to 20 degrees, pushing over to just shy of 30 in the bigger gusts, and hammering her way merrily through seas of a meter or two coming at us over her port shoulder. With the tide fair but unenergetic, we were carrying a little under 5 knots over the ground.


The sailing was good. A hazy sky, lively sea, frequent spray washing over the decks. A tack out from the coast off the village of Polperro and then one more tack two or three miles later put us on a line to clear Polruan and lay the entrance to Fowey Harbour. At 1645 we dropped the sails and started the engine, then entered the river to look for a berth for the night.


To find ourselves in the middle of Fowey Regatta week, and all the space on the pontoons taken. The harbour master was obliging however, and found us a vacant resident’s mooring that we could use for the night.


We inflated the tender and went ashore to find a pint easily enough, but nothing but frustration in trying to find somewhere to sit down to get some food, everywhere being fully booked. In the end, we queued outside a chippy for about thirty minutes or so with a crowd of tourists also looking for their supper; happy, friendly enough company as it turned out, a definite “Blitz spirit” of “we’re all in this together” prevailing, which I’ve no doubt will serve us all well when the Armageddon that is our impending departure from the EU finally arrives.


Back on the boat with our fish and chips and a bottle of wine, we settled down to supper. The fish was fine. The chips were a horrid, lank and greasy affair. Nonetheless, it is amazing what you can steel yourself too when you’re hungry.


Wednesday 21st August : Fowey to Falmouth
(28.8 nautical miles, 8 hours 27 minutes underway)


We partially deflated and stowed the tender on the coach roof, then dropped our mooring in Fowey a few minutes before 1100 and motored out of the harbour. Conditions similar to the day before, the wind slightly more in the south, warm, hazy sky speckled with cumulus along the coastline. The sea was much calmer than Tuesday.


We carried on out past Gribben Head still under power, a big fleet of colourful Fowey Rivers, a clinker built racing dinghy particular to Fowey,  and graceful Troys, racing keelboats also native to the same, lining up to race off our port side to seaward, and a couple of large fleets of racing yachts ahead of us tearing around the wide expanse of St Austell’s Bay. Once past the Rivers and Troys, we stilled the engine and hauled sail.


The sea remained slight, although the wind filled in nicely. Barrel jellyfish rolled beneath the surface of the bay as we beat close hauled towards the distant headland of Dodman’s Point, whilst gannets soared, just brushing the crests of the waves, or swooping and circling elegantly above before plummeting into the blue sea for their lunch.


By 1322, eight miles of water now astern of us, we were on a starboard tack looking for sea-room to clear Dodman’s Point. The wind had built to a F4 and close-hauled we were making a satisfactory 5 knots over the ground with just a single roll in the headsail. At 1400 we tacked onto port, taking a line close-hauled to the wind that would clear the Point and run parallel to the Roseland Coast shore, taking us across Veryan Bay and Gerans Bay respectively. The beat carried us all the way to Porthscarro before we had to put another tack in again around 1625 to beat back out from the shore.


By 1710, now back on port and laying St Anthony’s Head, the wind was slacking off and we shook out the roll in the headsail. Entering the Fal, we carried on under sail for half an hour before starting the engine off the shipyard at Pendennis and motoring in amongst the moorings to seek a space on the pontoon at Falmouth Yacht Haven.


By 1820 we were alongside. It was an exquisite sunset.

Thursday 22nd August : Falmouth

The original plan had been to sail across Falmouth Bay to the Helford. However, Dad, already flagging a little after two days of beating to windward, then got suntan lotion in his eyes, which apparently stings more than a little, and certainly imparts sore, red hue to the complexion of your eyeballs. He commented that I was looking a little haggard, and asked if I wouldn’t rather spend the day resting in harbour.

I agreed. For his sake, naturally. So instead of sailing, we went ashore to find lunch and me, a beer.


Friday 23rd August : Falmouth to Fowey
(27.7 nautical miles, 7 hours 32 minutes underway)


After two days of beating to windward to get west, the wind turned around into the east. The forecast, for Monday, although still some way out, was looking ropey, very wet, very windy, very rough, so planning a Sunday return to Plymouth seemed sensible. Saturday night in Fowey was the last evening of their regatta, complete with fireworks. Dad’s a sucker for bright flashes and big bangs, so the plan was to head back to Fowey on Friday, hang around the harbour for Saturday night show, then head back to Plymouth for Sunday before the weather turned.


The tide meant an early(ish) start if we were to make the best of the fair running flood. At 0727 we cast off from Falmouth, A Saddler 25 that had rafted up alongside us the evening before obligingly making room for us to get out before settling back into our now vacated space. The early morning sun glowered behind low, gloaming cloud cover but by the time we were clear of the Fal and leaving the mid-channel sentinel of Black Rock astern, it was already beginning to lift.


We stilled the engine and hauled sail at 0816, close-hauled under full sail on starboard, cutting a mere 3.6 knots over the ground along the shore of the Roseland Peninsula. As the sun continued to climb, the sky cleared. The wind was a modest F3 across our starboard bow, the sea slight. At 0942 we had our first glimpse of dolphins, teasingly brief but lovely as they arced playfully through the water about us then went on about their day.


Once across Gerrans Bay, off Nare Head, the wind began to head us, pushing our course in towards the shore, so we tacked, beating out to seaward to gain room to clear distant Dodman Point. The wind was stiffening and the sea beginning to get a little choppy, so we put a roll into the headsail. At 1030, still beating away from shore, the dolphins came back.


They swept in from astern, a pair of them at first racing each other to disappear under our transom, to then leap out ahead of us, crossing each other, diving back beneath the boat and across again. More joined, until we had perhaps a half dozen torpedoing shapes arcing through the water and breaching up through the waves, dancing around our little yacht as she bashed stubbornly to windward, made clumsy and brutish in her passage through the water in comparison to the grace of our cetacean friends.


They stayed with us for about half an hour, playing between the keels of the boat, leaping out through the chop of the waves, literally honking as they breached and exhaled, which came as something of a surprise. Not the clicks and whistles you’d imagine was a dolphin’s song, and which I suspect you’d have to be a dolphin and your head beneath the waves to hear.


By 1125, the dolphins now gone, the wind had built a little more, so we put the first reef in to the main to stiffen the boat. With fair tide, we were now clearing 4.6 knots through the water on our final approach to Dodman Point. We tacked to clear the churning races of the Bellows, although the sea wasn’t rough, the wind was building, so it seemed the sensible thing to do. At 1206 we cleared Dodman Point and entered St Austell Bay. The wind began to die, so we let the roll out of the headsail.


By 1235 we shook out the reef in the main. Although the conditions were easing, there was still enough pressure to carry us along at just over 4 knots over the ground. Closing on Fowey, we could see big yachts racing off our port side in the confines of the bay, and outside the harbour itself, a swarm of Fowey Rivers, the multitudinous colours of their sails painting a pretty picture.


Every time we cross St Austell Bay, I’m caught by surprise at the time it takes. I mean, intellectually, I can look at it on the chart, correlate the distances involved with our typical speed over the ground, and work out that the eight miles from Dodman Point to Gribbin Head is always going to take Calastar a couple of hours or so to cross. But emotionally, At Austell Bay is where we always used to play with the Drascombe and Moths, so just seems smaller and more cosy than it actually is whenever I think of the place.


At 1422 we dropped the sails and started the engine outside the mouth of the river, the harbour entrance crowded with Rivers, Troys and bigger, modern yachts racing across the waters outside on the penultimate day of the town’s regatta. We did our best to stay out of their way as we headed in. We were safe alongside the pontoon opposite Albert Quay by 1500, and had called the Lugger in town and booked ourselves a table for supper later in the evening, rather than leaving it to chance amongst the crowds again.


The late afternoon entertainment was provided by a team of skydivers jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane and landing in the harbour.


Saturday 24th August : Fowey

Dad was set on watching the fireworks on Saturday night, and in any case, the weather looked much kinder for a return to Plymouth on Sunday; after three days of solid beating uphill into a fresh wind, slightly lighter conditions, even if they remained on the nose, were not unwelcome.  So the crew of Calstar unanimously agreed that Saturday would be another harbour day.


We’ve got a lot of happy history with Fowey. We used to camp at Penmarlam, me with my British Moth that I’d race with the others in the harbour, Dad with his Wanderer and the kids with a Mirror Dinghy. Or another year we rented a cottage for a couple of weeks with Mum & Dad further up river at Golant; again, I had the British Moth to race in the harbour, Dad and the boys would sail the Wanderer. Mum used to walk her dog Blue out on the sands of the river when the tide ran out.

After I’d moved on from the Moth and Dad had sold the Wanderer and bought our Drascombe Lugger, Ondine, Fowey remained a favourite destination. We’d camp at Penmarlam and keep the Lugger on the pontoons there. I remember following the tide all the way up to Lerryn with the Lugger once. Nudging up through the shallows, just the jib set and steering with an oar over the transom because we couldn’t put the rudder down. When the wind turned against us, I’d step over the side and drag Ondine by her bowline over the sandy shallows.


Keeping the crew (ie. in this case myself and Dad) entertained during a harbour day is always a challenge in a small, familiar town like Fowey. So we took the tender up river with the tide for a trip down memory lane.


It is such a pretty river, timeless in its arboreal tranquillity once you get past the light industrialisation of the lower reaches. We motored gently up past Penmarlam and Wiseman’s Point, with the wind behind us, the dinghy was dry and the sun warm on our shoulders. We picked our way through the mooring field of Wiseman’s Reach; I’ve thrashed up and down this stretch of water in days past in a British Moth in weather both good and bad.



We finally reached Golant, about an hour or two before high water. We killed the outboard and paddled the dinghy in under the low railway bridge; with little more than a meter of clearance we found much easier without a mast, as opposed to previous years when I’d either capsize the Moth to get in or we’d lower the Wanderer’s mast on its tabernacle. In the sheltered, still calm of the small harbour behind the railway embankment we paddled past Island Cottage, the lovely place we’d rented for a couple of weeks with Mum, Nik and the kids those many years ago, and landed on the foreshore outside the Fishermans Arms pub.


We bought a couple of pints and sat outside in the sun swept garden, drinking in the view of the river Fowey and her wood-shrouded banks as we drank our beer.


We left just before the tide turned. The trip back into a lively breeze coming up the river was a wet affair. Tolerable in the bright sun, but a little chill. We passed a number of groups of kayakers and paddle boarders on our way, hugging the margins to stay out of the main chop. Back around Wiseman’s Point, we landed at Penmarlam Quay.


The place is very different to how it was when we first came here those many years ago. Busier, which is good for them I suppose, but a pity for the atmosphere of the place, which used to be so tranquil it bordered pleasantly on the lazy.

There is an additional pontoon for little powerboats, more crowds of people about, a proper harbour master’s office, and the burger van that used to be at the top of the slipway is still run by the same two gentlemen but has put down roots, built walls and is now a small cafĂ© / bar / restaurant. Back in the day, the proprietors had been very friendly, and especially kind to Dad one year; he’d been recovering from a bout of chemotherapy which had left his lungs a complete wreck and was struggling hard with the steep slopes of the place. They gave him a place to sit, tea to drink, bacon sandwiches to eat and sympathetic company to pass the time of day with whilst the rest of us got on with playing with our boats.


The atmosphere has changed. That old patience was gone. The one chap in particular, to whom the years have obviously not been kind despite his successful business, at least judging from the way he hobbled about in obvious pain and discomfort, was abrupt and uninterested in pleasantries or conversation as we ordered our lunch. And a few minutes later, we watched him wrathfully descend upon a family of about eight, adults and kids together playing cards on one of his tables, and chase them off as having outstayed their welcome.



It wasn’t a horribly busy afternoon, they were not taking up space anybody else wanted, and whereas the adults had clearly finished their food and drinks and had no intention of ordering more, the kids with them were still drinking their cans of pop. It was unnecessary, spiteful, and set a nasty mood over the place for those few of us that remained. We finished our food and left without much delay, strangely saddened.


The fireworks over the harbour that night were spectacular.


Sunday 25th August : Fowey to Plymouth
(22.8 nautical miles, 5 hours 29 minutes underway)


We left Fowey at 1022 Saturday morning, warping out from beneath a somewhat larger Moody 35 that had rafted up alongside us the day before for lack of anywhere else to go, and motoring out towards the harbour mouth in very little wind and a small collection of other boats. Dad pointedly requested we not put the sails up until we were clear of the “crowds” and into open water.


It didn’t take long, and at 1045 the engine went off and we were under sail, close too in light winds, crossing Lantic Bay at a humble 2.7 knots over the ground. An hour and twenty minutes later, our course and speed still holding, we passed Polperro, and then the wind failed. We rolled away the headsail, started the engine, and motor-sailed under the main.


The sea remained very slight, the sun warm and bright in the blue sky across lunchtime and into the afternoon. Despite the fair tide, there wasn’t enough wind to carry the boat under sail towards Plymouth with any hope of reaching there in reasonable time so we continued under power. A little after 1400, about a mile and a half off Rame Head, a couple of dolphins broached about fifty yards off our port bow. They continued west, arcing lazily through the water, ignoring us.


A couple of minutes later, looking ahead, I saw another shadow in the water. Then a single dolphin broke up out of the water, and started to chase in the direction the other two had gone, literally skipping over the wave tops in his haste. He caught up with them about three hundred yards astern, and the water erupted into a maelstrom, as they either began to feed, or play, or both.


We motored on across a blue sea beneath a blue sky, a smile on both our faces.

We entered the Western Entrance of the Sound at 1505 and, predictably, the wind filled in. By the time we were dropping our mainsail off Jennycliff Bay and preparing the fenders and warps to land, there was a lovely, stiff breeze blowing in from the south east.


We landed back at Queen Anne’s Battery without mishap twenty minutes later, and set about tidying the boat. We stayed aboard Sunday night, eating at The Village restaurant over in the Barbican, the food superb as usual, and then drove home Monday morning, getting on the road nice and early to avoid the worst of the bank holiday traffic.


A total of 107 miles travelled, a total of 28 hours and 30 minutes underway, most of it beating to windward over six days aboard. Not our most adventurous expedition yet, recovering a lot of familiar ground at a leisurely pace, but it was great sailing, great company and great food and drink over the space of a week, and a very welcome break.

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