Monday, 23 July 2012

Westward Ho! and Ilfracombe

This morning (23rd July) I received a complaint. The elder sister expressed dissatisfaction; the blog was not up to date. My defence was that I didn’t think my reader(s?) wanted to know that the Purser and I had spent three days in Padstow waiting for a weather window in which we could dash up the forbidding North Cornwall coast to the safe haven of Ilfracombe and that since then he and I had been too busy to write anything. I believe she may have allowed ne this licence and I hope you (dear reader) will do so too.
I left you and Vagabond in Padstow harbour, moored alongside a larger yacht, whilst I went home to house hunt (possible success but am I ready to move into a setlement for the over 55's?), cut the grass, and take more stuff to the waste disposal site. It amazes me what I have acquired in 38 years whilst living in the same house....
I returned to Vagabond, with the Purser on a full First Great Western train (standing passengers all the way from Reading to Exeter) a week ago expecting to sail on the following day. The weather had other things in mind and we had to wait until the following Thursday for the wind to abate.
Now, Padstow is a lovely town that is overrun by visitors. Fortunately (from my point of view) the current economic climate means  they do not stay out in the bars that surround the harbour until all hours. For the traders it’s another matter.  ‘There’s not so many of them as usual, and they are keeping their hands in their pockets’ was a common refrain from the traders. The town band played on.
Alongside the wall
The famous local fish and chip shop was doing a roaring trade; queue to get in, seat at refectory style tables to eat well cooked, delicious fish and chips.
In between rain showers, we walked on the Rock peninsula, went to the church where John Betjeman is buried and strode out along the Camel trail (river, not ship of the desert) whilst the wind blew over the hill tops.

The Camel Estuary at high water

We returned from one our walks to find that our "buffer boat" had gone and we were now alongside the harbour wall. My weights were deployed to allow the lines to remain taught whilst the water level changed in the harbour, because Padstow, like Penzance, has a single gate across the entrance. This keeps the water in the harbour when the tide goes out and it opened for about 90 minutes either side of high water, during which the water level fluctuates with the tide. It also means that you are restricted to leaving during the open times.
We wanted to go to  Ilfracombe, further up the Bristol Channel from Padstow, so really needed a rising tide to carry us along. We wouldn’t get that until at least seven hours after the gate opened but as it would take about 12 hours to get there, we would at least have a few hours when the tide was with us.

On Wednesday evening,  the forecast suggest that the wind was calming down, Force 4 -5 from the South West. Sea state rough and going to moderate (2 metre waves*) later.

“We’ll go!” I said. “Tomorrow,  after the harbour gate has been open for an hour. It means we leave at 07:30”.

The 05:30 forecast was unchanged. We left. The outgoing tide carried us down the Camel estuary and round the bar. We hoisted the sails turned  North.  By now, the ebbing ride was rushing south, so on came Freddy. The forbidding North coast of Cornwall slide by. Bude. Tintagel.  There are no practical "ports of refuge" along this bit. The sea was very broken and disturbed, with large waves coming at us almost randomly. Keeping the boat on course and us dry was hard work.
We pressed on and eventually passed Hartland Point. Bideford Bay opened ahead of us. Now we had two possible ports of respite – Clovelly, which is very small and dries, or Appledore, which has a difficult entrance. After a brief discussion I decided that we would push on to Ilfracombe. We should be there by early evening.

The tide turned and was now in our favour. Off went Freddie and we swept long at more than 7 knots.  Dolphin appeared and played with us for 10 minutes or so. The sea state changed: gone was the randomness, now  3 metre** swells came in from the South West, lifting our stern whilst pointing the bow down towards the preceding trough. We rose up and had a wonderful view of the surfing beaches as we ploughed on. The wave would pass and we would drop stern first into the trough so that all we could see were walls of water on either side.
We surged past the surfing beaches, Westward Ho, Croid Bay and  Woolacombe Bay
Ahead was Bull Point. We intended to keep close into the point and then turn right to run down to Ilfracombe. Almost at the last minute the Purser spotted some breaking waves. ‘Growlers’ he said and turned away from the land. This took us into very rough water caused by the tide rushing past the point and Freddie had to be awoken to push us towards the coast, away from them.
We were now looking for Ilfracombe. If a small boat hadn’t chosen the right moment to leave port, I think we would still be looking. T e entrance is very narrow and opens into a small outer and slightly bigger inner harbour. Both of these dry out completely at Spring Tides...

It was now a couple of hours before high water again, as it had taken us 10 hours to come up from Padstow. We found a bouy in the outer harbour and hooked on whilst I went to explore the inner harbour in the dinghy. There were bouys available there too. We slipped and moved cautiously into the inner harbour and picked up a visitors buoy.  This had two slimy and very sandy ropes attached. One was secured to the bow and the other to the stern. We lifted the centre board, raised the rudder and went ashore where the local yacht club provided us with a welcome shower.
Vagabond eventually settled quietly on the bottom at about 10;30 pm and we had an undisturbed night. Next day, the Purser caught a bus to go home and I did a few jobs to take care of Vagabond before repairing to the yacht club for some advice on the next stages of my trip.
The weather seemed just right to go to Lundy.

I expect I’ll now get complaints because there are no pictures in this episode. We were too busy!

For the benefit of transatlantic readers
* 6 feet 8 inches
** 10 feet

1 comment:

  1. Not only are there no pictures but no map either!!!!! Glad the weather has improved and you have had a good run.