Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Reflections on a successful circumnavigation

"So how was it?", people ask.

I would say it was an intense experience with no let up from the physical and mental burden which all skippers feel. There are other words I would use too. Responsibility, for the safety of each of my friends and crew, and the boat. Great fun, recalling the many moments of humour, some dark, some irreverent, some directed at me! Great friendship, shared with crew who are not always at their best at 4 in the morning, or who are feeling sea sick but still contribute without complaint. Humility, when I recall that 20 people gave up hard earned family and work commitments to take part in my challenge...which became their challenge too.  Gratitude, to West Suffolk Hospital for monitoring my INR levels while I was away. Admiration, for the fantastic Broadblue boat itself which sailed and looked after us so well and never caused us any worry, however big the sea and hard the wind. Awe, for the beautiful island of Britain which we inhabit, but so little of which we had visited. Appreciation, for the professional standard of care extended by the Coastguard who looked out for us all the way round. Thanks, for my family who indulged my obsession and took up the slack while I was away.

For those who like statistics, here are some which might be of interest:
Distance traveled over the ground: 2,211nm (we added on a few locations as we were running ahead of schedule).
Of this, the tide gave us 243nm.
53pct sailed (though sometimes no sailing for several days of there as no wind)
42 places visited.
43 days of sailing/motoring.(England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Orkneys)
1 overnight passage.
135nm longest non-stop passage
1 day lost for bad weather.
1 proper emergency (jammed rope needed to be cut in Grimsby lock to prevent us hanging)
9 may days and 5 pan pans overheard within a 20nm radius of us.
37 knots highest gust of wind
34 knots highest sustained wind speed
14 knots highest speed SOG while surfing
12.4knots highest sustained speed SOG
Minimum people on board, just me during my solo
Maximum people on board 4
20 crew met and despatched around the country
12,650 approx crew miles travelled to/from the boat/home.
0 No. of scratches or damage to hull
0 fishing nets or pots snared
Wear and tear to boat: one mis aligned lower spreader, one galley drawer needs attention.
10,000 approx litres of water used
1,100 litres of fuel used (2 engines)
0 medical complications
£1,200 so far collected for Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra.
0 the number of paper charts used (we had the complete lot all the way round Britain, just in case).
8400, the number of people from all over the world who have visited the blog.

This is the link to a video taken by Wandering River of our arrival back at Shotley as the curcumnavigation ends. Click on this link.

Sailing past Shotley lock, about to drop sails

19m air draught is a lot of mast!

The reality dawns. We've done it!...

Three cheers, horns and sirens greet us at the lock, and Champagne in our berth.

We fill the lock. No room for error...

Alexandria reverses into her home berth

Pleasure mixed with relief.

So, in the spirit of an honesty box, and rather like one of those restaurants where you pay what you want, I need your help, please! I have spent a lot of effort maintaining this blog, sometimes falling asleep over it. I hope I have successfully reached out to sailors and non-sailors alike. If you have read the blog and you enjoyed reading it, PLEASE DONATE A FIVER (or more) to the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra. To donate, the link is: or just click on the green SPONSOR ME square at the top of this page

This has been an exceptional challenge, the planning and execution of which, has briefly taken over parts of my life. I would be delighted to help any others who are planning a circumnavigation if they want to contact me on

In the meantime, carpe diem!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Thoughts from Andrew - the last day back into Shotley

My sail from Scarborough to Shotley was as diverse as the accents in each harbour. But for peace and tranquility, nothing will beat the last day gliding along steadily on a calm sea (its amazing how it can change) with more seals than lobster pots to avoid, it was paradise.  As the towns and day passed by, being only on my fourth day I was ready to sail on past Alexandria’s berth to who knows where, but we both had commitments and more importantly so did Alexandria as when we arrived at the gates to the marina there was a welcoming committee, together with a crowd curious to see what all the fuss was about. As Martin’s confidence had grown in my helming skills, I had been allowed to take us nearer and nearer to our final destination each evening. But with only 50cm (!!!!) to spare each side, yes, Alexandria does fit in the marina lock but and with cameras pointing it was easy to visualise many other scenarios. Frankly I was very pleased Martin was at the helm this time and not me!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Circumnavigation completed. Arrival at Shotley

Yesterday, 7th August 2014, was a very special day. Andrew was the last man standing, the sole remaining member of my 20 strong support team that took me around the whole of Britain. You will recall that he and I had said good bye to Woody and William at Southwold and then sailed from Southwold to Shotley where Alexandria has her berth.  We had a deliciously lazy day, sailing the last remaining passage of only around 35 nm, which meant that we could sail at a slow rate. So we chilled, listened to some music, chatted, ate Mr Kiplings, drank tea, ate through our stock of fruit lest scurvy should strike, and chatted some more. It's what sailing should be like, ruminating on life at a stately 4 or 5 knots, and it was quite different from the demented dashes which have characterised our adventure and which have been at once so exciting but also sometimes so tiring. No wonder my crew gets exhausted!

We ambled past Aldebrough, slipped past The river Deben both of which are familiar haunts of mine and we found ourselves converging on the shipping lane at Harwich. Andrew took us over and we marvelled at the number of yachts around, quite different from the rest of the country where, with the exception of the East Coast and South Coast we were usually alone for much of the day apart from the ubiquitous trawlers. 

Suddenly, our day became more focused. Shotley marina called to say that there were people to meet us, cameras, photographers, so perhaps we should hurry up a bit. So, a quick change from shorts and no shoes to slightly smarter and we adjusted our sails and hurried towards Harwich. We elected to do a sail past as an act of vanity and to reward any photographers waiting. As we did so, at low water, it occurred to me how ironic it would be that we had safely travelled around 2100 miles around Britain, moored and berthed in really difficult places and had sustained no damage whatsoever, yet we might yet run aground feet from the lock! The sail past was terminated, and the business of fenders and lines was undertaken. It felt odd to be calling on the VHF to Shotley after all this time. "Shotley marina, Shotley marina this is Yacht Alexandria. We have returned from our curcumnavigation and would like to lock in!" " Approach on green, welcome home, the lock is ready for you".

And so, having briefed Andrew how we would squeeze our 6 metres wide vessel into the 7 metre lock at some speed to counteract the cross current, we made our final approach. We were both so focused on getting safely into the narrow lock, that we had not seen the large number of people on the lock side waiting to welcome us. Suddenly, clapping and cheering, THREE CHEERS FOR ALEXANDRIA, hooray! Then horns and sirens sounding, and as I looked up to the edge of the lock, Leslie and a dozen of the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra. We answered their welcome with a long blast from our fog horn. Exceptional and moving! Thank you.

There were a lot of photos and a serious looking camera, and BBC Look East were rumoured to be around as well as the local papers. After welcoming Les back on board for the last 50 metres of manoeuvring into our usual berth, two bottles of Champagne were produced, and 12 people and 2 children boarded the boat. I had forgotten what is was like to have polite society, so just as well I changed. 

Having put the boat to bed, Andrew and I were taken on to Bury St Edmunds where we had a completely spontaneous meal at a local restaurant, and where Andy, Matthew, and Ian joined us with some of their wives. It was a very special evening of about 14 people, all local friends. 

This afternoon, having slept very well indeed I went down to Shotley to clear up and clean after the last 6 weeks intense activity. I reflected as I was driving down, that it was a sudden surprise to realise that we had actually completed a circumnavigation, as the regular and predictable progress every day belied the cumulative progress we had made. 2100 miles, without injury or mishap, all safe and sound. Quite a relief. I was delayed returning home so that I could make a very short live interview by 'phone for BBC Suffolk, which was quite fun. Inevitably, there was much more I wanted to say than I could in the short time, so I shall keep that for another blog, tomorrow, plus some footage of our arrival.

In the meantime, here is the last complement snapped on our last morning together.

...and Andrew getting excited about a 3G signal nearby.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Safe arrival in Southwold, Suffolk

After a very long day starting at 0330 to escape Wells next the sea, yesterday we berthed at Southwold after refuelling in Lowestoft.

The tidal cycle was against us and in an effort to leave Wells, the latest time to slip from our berth was 0400. We had already decided who would do what, as we needed to execute a smart exit on the very last of a falling tide, in pitch black and with 1m of water under the keel for much of the way, and in a long meandering channel which shifts away from even the latest buoy positions. At 0400 everyone was ready, and we slipped. A very odd sensation leaving our berth in the darkness for what you know is a tricky exit. I helmed, helped by having recorded my snail trail on the way in, Andrew cross checked our position versus sonar charts and directed me "Port, starboard, a little port. "STARBOARD!" yells Woody on the bows who is tasked with highlighting the unlit perches which suggest our way. All this with the knowledge that we might beach at any time. We would be left high and dry when the port awoke, a very large, conspicuous monument to what might turn into a foolhardy, though safe, exit from a notorious inland harbour. Our minimum depth was a heart stopping 0,6m although we may have actually grounded temporarily as we attempted a tight turn. But we made it, and the joy of seeing the depth gauge increase, feeling the waves from the sea moving the boat, and the wind in our sail as the sun started to rise is indescribable. A triumphant and happy crew who met a difficult challenge head on.

Having left Wells at 0400, we had a very good sail, towards Southwold, and into very heavy rain indeed which necessitated nav lights on and sailing by radar. Sea sickness returned to our crew briefly, as the sea became very choppy, whipped up by 25 knots of wind, now bang on the nose. Very rough conditions as we came through Scroby Sands and I was concerned that we were using more fuel than the gauges suggested, and had not been able to refuel earlier. We diverted to Lowestoft and the Royal Norfolk  and Suffolk Yacht club fuel berth who made themselves available at short notice, and although we had a back up plan, and a back up plan to that too, I was still relieved to land in Lowestoft for refuelling. Sea sickness had by now been conquered so we went on to Southwold, which was just 2 hours down the coast albeit still uncomfortable at times. Thank goodness we were not in a monohull whose crashing and banging might well have been epic! Our two finely pointed hulls shudder occasionally, but otherwise cut through the large waves and both Andrew and Woody as skilled helmsmen, were able to point so that one hull was on the higher wave and one on the lower, and the ride was rather better.

And so, entering at half tide, but nearly at neaps, we entered Southwold, another difficult river entry. We had reserved a berth but it had been taken by some opportunistic Dutch yachts before we arrived, so we spent some time turning and turning again in the narrow river seeing where we wanted to raft. Options were down to one only, and we rafted up against a fishing vessel, prepared for agitation from its owner, but there were no other options. The owner had been tipped off, and arrived full of bluster and irritation, which I reduced to just annoyance and a concession that we could stay in exchange for a promise that we would be clear of his vessel by 0545 the following morning ...and a promise to pay the fee due to the marina to him instead! In the event, we had moved the boat to a space vacated by the opportunistic Dutch, and the irritable fisherman did not claim his money, ...but the harbourmaster did!

So, today was another early start softened by the memory of an excellent dinner last night, which we elected to be fish and chips as William had been looking forward to it for the last three days! Woody and William left for Guernsey at 0900 this morning and we were sorry to see them go. They are both great fun. 

Now, Andrew and I are enroute to Shotley, and the end of our circumnavigation. As I blog, we are sailing along with a tide against us but the pleasing sound of our wake behind us, and the sight of a yacht ahead of us which we are rapidly catching up. Queue the Walkyries. Andrew thinks the yacht is French... Orford lighthouse is slowly swishing past and Andrew has a 3G signal to attend to some important business. Life is good.

Our ETA is 1700 7th August at Shotley. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Safely out of Wells-next-the-sea

We have safely left Wells and are now out at sea on a gloomy, rainy and very early morning.  We were up at 3.30 this morning to leave tiny Wells harbour which is actually inland by a mile as the sand shifts continually. We took the last of the falling tide, and without our escort boat who led us in yesterday, and in the dark. Great teamwork in pitch black picking out the flashing buoys which make it sound a lot easier than it was! The depth sounder was going off as soon as we left our berth. so we have a sense  of accomplishment but are feeling a bit tired. We are enroute to Southwold ETA 1400, having escaped at the only practicable time to make our destination. 

Andrew is helming, sails about to go up, Woody is making porridge, and William is on lobster pot duty. 

Photo of lovely sunny Wells, taken yesterday as we came in, attached. 

Wells-next-the sea

We have arrived in Wells, Norfolk, and the county underlines how close we are to home in Suffolk.
The photo is of dawn at sea off Grimsby.

I forgot to record one final joke the Grimsby lock played on us in the early hours of this morning after the previous day's trials. There is no pontoon in the lock or place to attach the boat so long ropes are dropped down to secure the boat, a process which needs careful watching and sometimes use of engines to ensure the vessel is kept in the right place. As the lock empties, the ropes are let out as the boat is lowered down on the falling water. One of the ropes became entangled and Alexandria began to be hung by the rope from one of its cleats. This is either a very damaging experience or a very dangerous one if the rope breaks under 10 tonnes of pressure and then snaps back against the unfortunate crew member. Fortunately, Andrew was quick enough to realise what was happening and shout out, and I immediately cut the rope with the rescue knife, the first time it has ever been used. Phew! No injuries, no damage.

Our passage from Grimsby to Wells passed uneventfully, sailing the first part and motoring another as the wind died. We needed to get into Wells for 1600 latest or abort to Wisbech as the next safe harbour is a further 8 hours away. Although the wind subsequently returned and sailing was quite possible as we were running ahead of plan, sea sickness had struck so I decided to run for Wells with all possible haste, and we motor sailed at 9 knots into Wells reaching the cardinal marker early at 1300. Wells has a tiny and difficult channel which is accessible over a very shallow bar, and because of our size the harbourmaster despatched a launch to escort us in. In fact, he was not needed, but the courtesy was very much appreciated. The approach to Wells, whose harbour is a mile inland, is winding and its sandbanks change with successive storms. The channel takes you very close to the beach and people enjoying the sunshine, and it feels very odd indeed to be yards away from small children sitting in the sea!

We tied up on the brand new pontoons in what has now been created as an outer harbour and left for a good walk into Wells aboard the restaurant ship which is moored in the inner harbour. Late lunch, very slow, very pleasant. Then for me, back to Alexandria to register with Wells Harbour, pay their modest dues, and plan the next day.

Tomorrow, we are up at 0330 to leave at 0400 with the last part of the tide. I have just scoped out the channel on foot to confirm I understand its intricacies, as tomorrow we shall be on the last part of a falling tide and cannot make any errors or we shall be stuck until the afternoon. Everyone has their own job to identify the flashing buoys in the dark, confirm position and direction and affirm depth, so all should be well. Teamwork is really important in these situations, as our Wexford entry in Ireland illustrated.

We are off to Southwold where we have a berth, all being well arriving around 1400.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Scarborough to Grimsby. The trials of Grimsby Lock.

Andrew and I set off yesterday from Scarborough, having suffered the first 'weather break' which caused me to stay one day longer in Scarborough than I had intended. However, as the strong wind died down it left a glorious morning and we slipped from Scarborough at 0800. There was a good, useful wind which allowed us to sail our first few hours towards Grimsby, which is a 65nm, 10 hour passage. The wind died around half way and we needed to motor, which we did on one engine benefitting from the tide. Often, a passage will take on its own emphasis with, say, there being more dolphins, or more seals, or birds. This passage, was marked by the number of wind farms and the associated infrastructure and shipping movements necessary for their construction. There were no animals apart from sea birds, but we were kept busy as small very fast wind cats would buzz around, closer than we have become used to and setting off our AIS proximity alarms. After the last five weeks of relative quiet during which we are very often the only yacht sailing all day or perhaps the second or third if it is busy, the East coast from Whitby and south wards was very full of shipping and we were kept active.

Our motor sailing continued as the wind did not return to any great extent, and especially as there is a lock at Grimsby which we needed to pass through, in order to get to our berth at the very helpful Meridian Quay. An advance call to the lock keeper highlighted the possibility of arranging a non-routine, and therefore more convenient, lock in time so that we would not have to wait around for the scheduled ones, in return for a nominal £10. We were also advised that it can get busy with priority given to local or working boats, so we should get there before 1900.

So, having flogged down the North sea to get there by 1830, we eventually arrived on time and announced ourselves. I was not happy to be told that there would be a queue of at least an hour as working boats had priority. However, the experience was far worse. There is just one lock which takes just one vessel at a time, and every time the queue diminished another vessel would announce itself so that we were bumped yet again to the back of the queue. There was no £10 special lock in, and indeed the delay of an hour and three quarters spent hanging around while the working boats went in and out, meant the whole experience was decidedly unsatisfactory. We were just one yacht, and after, say, an hour of waiting it would have been good to have been let in, or indeed courteous to have been allowed a space in the queue. Even our hour and a three quarters delay was itself at risk of being extended indefinitely. I have no idea how the marina on the other side can possibly function. When we arrived in the lock, ropes were dropped down and eventually we passed through to our very shallow berth in the marina. Grimsby is the only port in the whole of the circumnavigation whose practices have been so obstructive, notwithstanding the considerable and genuine friendliness of the staff. 

Andrew and I emerged from the lock, having wasted so much time but having spent it in gentle and pleasant conversation. Good company aids and assuages the trials of sailing and helps you celebrate the successes. There to meet us in the marina, whose staff had gone home, were Woody and William who had been patiently waiting. We were very pleased to see them, and as I had already effectively put the boat to bed while hanging around outside, we stepped from the boat towards a waiting taxi which whisked us off to a very good restaurant which Woody had organised, with the help of the Humber Cruising Association who had befriended him during their enforced delay.

Great meal, and it was very good to spend time with them both as we start our last leg of my circumnavigation and head for home.

Today, we continue our journey south to Wells-next-the-sea, a very pretty little harbour which is quite difficult to enter, especially for our size and I think we might have a town berth arranged by the ever attentive harbourmaster. However, Wells has a very shallow entrance so we must be there by 1530. So, while eating our excellent dinner in the Othello restaurant (who stayed open for us) I spent a while on the 'phone to the lock master negotiating our exit the following morning. We needed to leave at 0630 in order to get to Wells on time, otherwise we would need to abort and run for Wisbech. A special lock out was agreed, for £10, the following 0430 a.m.! The shock of getting up at 0400 was dulled by the huge fun of asking William what time he wanted to get up. His answer was 1100, and his face was a picture! So, As I sit here blogging, Woody has sensibly gone back to bed and William is helming us across the very complicated Humber Approaches towards the Wash and the delights of Wells and Andrew is his technical advisor. 

I am looking forward to my ice cream.