Category Archives: Log

What we’re up to on Guiding Star

All this could be yours!

I’m sad to have put Guiding Star up for sale, but it’s the right time for me to pass her on so I can move to a smaller boat as I grow older. If you’re interested, the full broker’s listing is on Wooden Ships.

The one bright part of putting the boat on sale was a wonderful photo shoot on Plymouth Sound with Paul Gibbins and Mark Smith. We chose a September day with light wind so we could put all the sails up including the big genoa, and reached up and down while Paul buzzed round us in his RIB and Mark manoeuvred his drone overhead. The photos and video they produced were spectacular. Here’s Mark’s video:

Paul caught some action on board as well as magnificent sailing shots.

The drone gave me an uncanny feeling. Here we were, sailing gently on the open sea, when suddenly we’d realise there was an observing presence over our shoulders, whining just out of reach. It was all worth it for the photos!

Paul took time to take some detailed shots, too, which give a vivid feel for the boat.

Here’s the video tour of the boat by Richard Gregson of Wooden Ships. The boat’s on her berth in Plymouth for the winter so just contact Richard if you’d like to see her.

Anchored in Brittany

There’s nothing like the peace of anchoring for the night in a quiet bay far from the busyness of a marina or a harbour and watching the sun go down. July in Brittany in a heatwave was the ideal time to explore some new places and leave the restaurant food and the hot showers till another day.

But first, dolphins. A large pod found us while we were still motoring south from Falmouth waiting for enough breeze to put the sails up.

The photo at the top of the page shows our first stop after crossing the Channel from Falmouth. We’d intended to anchor in a bay on the north side of the outer approach to Brest, the Avant Goulet (‘outer throat’). But when we shot out of the bottom of the Chenal du Four, we hit a fresh breeze from the east and changed plan to beat for shelter under the cliffs by Camaret sur Mer. The Anse de Bertheaume on the chart below was our original destination.

Lois left a fishing line down overnight but caught mostly starfish. A small fish died on her hook and the starfish spent the night scrambling over its caracass.

Then to Brest to have our passports stamped. Not on a Sunday, of course, but we went ashore anyway and demolished several crabs at the Crab and Hammer. It does what it says on the sign.

It’s not much more than 30 miles from Brest to Douarnenez but we were early for the Temps Fete festival so spent a night on the north side of Douarnenez Bay in the beautiful Anse Saint Nicolas.

In Douarnenez (pop. 14,000) for the first time in four years, I found unexpected tensions. A town council for many years run by leftists has been won by right-wingers. Fly posters complain that Douarnenezians are becoming an endangered species because of holiday rentals and the ‘Sardine Walk’ trail of story-boards appears to have been crudely edited. The last story board used to tell how Douarnenez was the ‘Red Town’, one of the first places to elect a Communist council in 1921 and celebrating a history of labour activism in the sardine factories. Now there’s just a patch of fresh asphalt where the story board used to stand. Luckily, someone has posted all the storyboards to Pinterest so here’s No. 17 in three languages.

Heading north again, we finally made it to the Anse de Berthaume. It’s pretty, but protected only from the north and full of mooring buoys.

We chose Roscoff on the north coast as the most convenient port to have our passports stamped out, but the town turned out to be a delight: fabulous stone-carved mediaeval merchants’ houses, an ‘Exotic Garden’ of semi-tropical plants, top-quality crepes and a free bus that linked marina, town and supermarket. The modern marina was efficient and we had only a five-minute walk to the ferry terminal to have our passports stamped.

Manoeuvering a 16-tonne traditional boat with offset propeller out of the marina took a multi-point turn and a mile out into the Channel, we realised that all the forwards and backwards action had broken the engine throttle cable off the engine control. It was fortunate this hadn’t happened when we were nudging between expensive boats. We could still operate the engine with Peter’s foot doing the job of the cable, though, so we pressed on across the channel.

Arriving in Plymouth, we anchored in Cawsand Bay and shipwright Graham, who lives in Cawsand, rowed aboard to join in studying the problem. He suggested a long piece of string to pull the throttle lever until we could replace the cable, and with that high-tech solution we berthed smoothly at home in Plymouth Yacht Haven.

Three days and a thunderstorm

The summer weather looked too good to be true as we set sail for the Falmouth Classics in June: hot sun, clear skies and little wind. “Three days and a thunderstorm”, warned my Cornish friend Mark. “Saturday forecast looking ‘sub-optimal’. BBQ may be challenging.”

He was right. On Friday we drifted round Carrick Roads for two slow races in sunbathing weather. On Saturday we scudded to the start line in a fresh breeze with two reefs in the mainsail and the storm jib up. The wind started gusting a near gale and our race was called off. By evening, rain was beating down on the barbecue marquee at the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. I’m afraid we beat a retreat and missed the Parade of Sail on Sunday.

We had our three days of glorious weather, though, in fact four days: perfect for new crew Justin and Leslie to get used to the boat. On Tuesday, we enjoyed watching our marina’s hired harrier scaring away seagulls as we prepared the boat, and motored across Plymouth Sound to anchor in Cawsand for a moonlit night.

One Wednesday we sailed to Fowey and on Thursday, we challenged the light airs with our new genoa and topsail. There was a nervous moment when the bilge pump started working every five minutes and we thought we might be sinking. But it was only one of our two water tanks, soft bladders under the saloon settees, rupturing and emptying its 150 litres of fresh water into the bottom of the boat.

On Friday, I was thrilled to be joined by my friend Michel from Trégastel in Brittany, who had travelled by car, ferry and train to reach Falmouth in time for the first race. Michel is the President of the Modestine Society, a Franco-Scottish friendship group set up to celebrate the life and work of the nineteenth-century writer Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scot who hiked the mountains in southern France with a recalcitrant donkey called Modestine.

Unfortunately, Michel had injured his knee playing tennis and when he stepped on Guiding Star, he wrenched it further and sat through the race in increasing pain. We managed this shot of us with the Modestine Society banner before the water taxi took him ashore.

On Saturday, my old skipper Anthony joined us for our roaring broad reach down Carrick Roads and an exhilarating beat back after the race was cancelled. Sailing with Anthony on his 1904 Californian yacht Aeolus captured me for traditional boats: all the ropes the same colour and no winches. Needless to say, with the boat heeled to 30 degrees and water rushing over the side deck, none of us took any photographs so you’ll just have to take my word that we had a terrific time.

It wasn’t much fun queueing in the driving rain for barbecued sausages and chicken but when the downpour stopped, we were rewarded with a sky to remember. The lawn in front of the Yacht Club was crowded with awestruck sailors holding their phones up to take photos. Even the view from the car park was stunning.

France at last!

After three years of pandemic lockdowns and uncertainty over post-Brexit passport arrangements, we finally made it to France! We sailed Guiding Star to northern Brittany, to Binic’s friendly annual festival of boats, food and music celebrating the generations of French fishermen who spent six months a year catching cod in the freezing fog off Newfoundland.

We set sail from Plymouth after breakfast, reached straight across the Channel in a steady breeze and warm sunshine, and anchored off Binic at dawn next day to wait for the nine-metre high tide we needed to cross the sandy beach and enter the harbour.

Brexit has added some friction for British sailors: we used to just sail to and fro across the Channel and nobody bothered with passports or boat documents. This time, once we locked in on the afternoon high tide, we had an hour to hunt down the customs police headquarters before they closed. We borrowed a kind friend’s car, Google-mapped our way to a small industrial estate several miles away (thanks to Chris for continual reminders to drive on the right), and made it in time. An overworked customs officer stamped our passports, for me the first French stamp since I went on a school French exchange in 1971.

We should properly have sailed to St Brieuc, six miles down the coast, because non-EU boats should only make land in northern Brittany in one of three ‘ports of entry’ widely spaced along the coast. But the festival organisers persuaded the police to let us sail direct to Binic.

To stamp out of France after the weekend of fun, we should have gone back to the customs headquarters on Monday during office hours, so missing the dawn high tide to set sail. But in an ‘exceptional procedure’, two officers in plain clothes met us in a car park in Binic on Sunday afternoon and stamped our passports in the back of a white van. I hope in another couple of years, someone will have negotiated a pragmatic deal to allow sailors cross the Channel as easily as we used to and let the customs police to get on with catching smugglers.

Our passage back took nearly twice as long as the trip over, first motoring for 12 hours through a millpond sea, then beating into a fickle northwesterly blowing from exactly where we wanted to go. But we did hoist Guiding Star’s new topsail for the first time, and it set perfectly. We had last season’s new sail, the big genoa, up as well as 2020’s new main and staysail, so this was the first time we’d had all Guiding Star’s four new sails up at the same time.

I then left the sails up for too long when the wind freshened and let the genoa drag over the side when I thought it was safely tied up on deck, but we recovered well. We berthed in Plymouth after 36 hours at sea and just made it to the pub before the kitchen closed. Many thanks to Chris, John and Martin for a terrific trip.

Lucky in Dartmouth

Rounding Start Point and sighting the rocky entrance to Dartmouth, I wondered why there were so many sails on the horizon. The sea was thick with boats. Then I remembered that it was Bank Holiday Saturday and this was the climax of the Dartmouth Royal Regatta. I despaired of a berth.

I reckoned without the masterful organisation of the Dart Harbour staff and Regatta volunteers. We were guided to berth on the Town Quay right between the four-deep crowds on the quayside and the barge taking up position in the middle of the river to launch the evening’s fireworks.

Regatta entertainment

Sailing off Devon and Cornwall, the prevailing wind is westerly off the Atlantic Ocean. But this summer’s high pressure systems gave us several days of an easterly wind which opened up anchorages that would not normally be safe: under the east side of Gribbin Head in St Austell Bay and beautiful Hope Cove tucked under Bolt Tail outside Salcombe.

There was one last job before packing up Guiding Star in Plymouth. My yoga teacher wanted to see a photo of me holding “boat pose” on a boat. It was harder than I thought, because even when the boat is tied to a pontoon, it’s not as stable as a church hall floor. Luckily the camera only needed me to stay still for 1/2000th of a second.

Boat pose on a boat

Idyllic Helford

I wanted to go to France for the first time since the pandemic, but after several days of email exchanges to pin down the new post-Brexit arrangements for clearing customs and immigration in Brittany, I gave up. But that brought a chance to sail to one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Helford River.

On the passage down, we dodged low cloud and fog. But then the sun came out; and later, an extraordinary orange moon rose in a cloudless night sky.

Moored in Fowey on the way back to Plymouth, we climbed Polruan Hill and watched the tide flood up the river, each boat swinging as the line of darker blue reached her.

By our home marina in Cattewater, the skilled team on the Island Trust’s schooner Johanna Lucretia manoeuvred her against the wharf in Turnchapel to work on her hull at low tide as we were walking to the pub for a celebratory meal.

Two reefs and the storm jib

We timed our passage back from Scilly to make Falmouth ahead of a summer gale blowing in from the Atlantic. Strong winds ahead of the gale gave us the chance to try Guiding Star’s new mainsail with two reefs in. The boat went like a train with reefed main, the staysail and the storm jib.

We reached up and down the coast south of Falmouth and then scurried to Fowey before the gale made land. The harbourmaster put us on a pontoon well up the river but the wind was southerly so blowing right through the harbour entrance. The pontoon was heaving up and down as you can see in the video.

The boat went splendidly without the storm jib; the new staysail made by Steve Hall pulled strongly on its own. The main is so powerful, though, that we’re going to need that third reef more often than I expected. I need to buy a roll of Hempex and tie on the points.

The magic of Scilly

I’ve never been anywhere quite like the Isles of Scilly: smaller, lower, and more exposed to the ocean than I had ever imagined. When I was a child, snobbish newspapers used to mock the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, for spending all his summers on Scilly, as if he lacked imagination or class to travel further. How wrong they were.

St Mary’s
Looking back at the anchorage and Hugh Town
Halangy Ancient Village, where the first stone houses were built in the Iron Age

Sailing to Scilly, we were entranced by a minke whale swimming off the port side of the boat. So entranced that I was slow to get the camera out, but I did record a glimpse.

More sail, more speed

Three years ago at the Falmouth Classics, we drifted round the course in hot sunshine lagging behind luggers with bigger sails (and more skilled crews) and I came away wondering how to make Guiding Star sail faster in light wind.

The result was a new sail plan designed by Chris Rees, the shipwright who built Spirit of Mystery and Grayhound, and new sails cut by Steve Hall in Tollesbury. This year we kept moving in all but the lightest and most fickle breeze.

We enjoyed some good close racing with Our Boys, the one other lugger to take part in all three races . Phil and Liz sailed her superbly and even after their outrigger broke and they had to take their mizzen sail down, they beat us over the line. Still, Phil said we had them worried at times.

Guiding Star’s new sail plan working at the Classics Parade of Sail

For a morning, we had wondered if we’d ever reach Falmouth. We sat in Fowey in fog so thick we couldn’t see the rocks at the entrance of the harbour. When it lifted briefly, we made a dash south.

The Falmouth Classics coincided with the G7 summit at Carbis Bay on the north Cornwall coast, and reporters covering the meeting were based in a two-storey temporary building in the car park outside the National Maritime Museum. We motored to our mooring past a barge carrying what I thought at first was a shameless attempt by Boris Johnson to pre-empt protests by climate activists.

It did look too good to be true, though, and when I saw workers in hi-vis vests taking the billboard to pieces the next day, I realised it was actually a shameless attempt by climate activists to get their message into the background of broadcasters’ live shots. In the event, the people who made it on camera most dramatically did so entirely by accident.

The Falmouth Classics had to be cancelled last year because of the pandemic and the organisers went an extra mile to welcome us all. When we picked up our mooring buoy, I was touched to find it had a label with the name of the boat. In the water taxi heading for the first evening’s pontoon party, we were hailed two women who I thought wanted to go ashore. In fact, they wanted to hand us bottles of beer and warm pasties.

This was Charlotte and Jess, who have turned Tethra, a 36-foot fishing boat built in Looe like Guiding Star, into a beautiful floating restaurant. The only sad part was that Charlotte was too busy to enter her own engineless lugger Gladys in the Classics racing. On previous form, she’d have beaten us all.

The passage back to Fowey after the regatta gave us one of Guiding Star’s best days: hot sun, a cloudless sky and the satisfaction of beating to windward in only a breath of breeze. By the end of the day, John was the same colour as his shorts and we tumbled into Sam’s bistro for a giant fish stew.

Many thanks to Ezster and Cathy for photos, Ezster on the boat and Cathy on shore watching the Parade.

Among the cruise ships

We had to weave among cruise ships laid up because of Covid when we sailed round Torbay at the 2021 Brixham Heritage Regatta. They’re very big when you’re up close, and we did put the engine on to clear the bow of one Cunarder.

It was sheer pleasure, though, to be on the water with friends after the pandemic-hit season the year before, when all the festivals were cancelled.

One of the delights of the Heritage Regatta is the quality of the photos taken of us by Alex and Stuart. Here are three of this year’s best of Guiding Star.

Rounding the downwind mark
Discussing what to do next
Romping home