Thomas and I made a start on the winter work. We took off most of the running rigging and I spent several days in one of the old RAF seaplane hangars at Plymouth Yacht Haven re-varnishing the spars. Working into the evening in the empty hangar as a northeast wind rattled the big sliding doors, it was eerie to think Lawrence of Arabia knew this space when he was reinventing himself as Aircraftman T.E. Shaw at RAF Mount Batten in the early 1930s.
I left Thomas alone with the angle grinder and he cut off the windlass, which we drove to Dave Webster of Deep Blue Engineering in Millbrook for refurbishment. It’s a manual windlass which you crank with a hand spike and frustrated us all year by working on the backward stroke but not on the forward so it took twice as long as it should to haul up the anchor. I emailed a photograph to Dave asking for advice and when he immediately recognised it as a Simpson Lawrence 250, I knew I’d contacted the right person. When we got to Millbrook, he had two others in a queue.
Dave outside his workshop
Queue of SL250s
Thomas wanted some advice on restoring the roller reefing on his own old wooden boat, so Dave suggested he ask a bearded chap in a woolly hat wandering through the boatyard carrying two supermarket bags. He turned out to be Nick Skeate, one of the world’s most famous gaff rig sailors. Forty years ago, he lost his boat on a reef in the Pacific so he designed and built a replacement in New Zealand and has since sailed her three and a half times round the world.
She’s Wylo II, a 32′ gaff cutter with a steel hull, wooden deck and a sail plan designed for long-distance, short-handed passages: two similar sized jibs so shortening sail means simply rolling one up rather than swapping a large jib for a small one, and an enormous topsail for light winds. Nick’s spending the winter in the mud at Millbrook rather than the sunshine further south because he has some repairs to make, so he showed us round.
Nick has sold the plans of Wylo II so there are now 50 versions of her afloat.
Guiding Star will come out of the water at the end of February for two weeks to renew the anti-fouling and paint the hull and bulwarks. The big job left over from last winter is to strip and re-varnish the coachroof, forehatch and tiller.
We sailed to Falmouth on the 11th and 12th to join a Jamboree of Sail to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Globe, the first single-handed non-stop round the world race. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston led a Parade of Sail on Thursday 14th on Suhaili, the original boat in which he won the race. Read more…
The largest classic boating event in the UK. We came third in the luggers class after some exciting sailing in very light winds and a heatwave. The cover image on the gallery of images of the event is us! Read more…
For the first time, Southwest Gaffers held its annual race and rally in Plymouth, Guiding Star’s home port. There was racing on the Sound on Saturday 7th July and a sail in company up to Saltash on Sunday 8th for a pasty. Read more…
We didn’t plan to go to Guernsey. We wanted to visit the Isles of Scilly to explore wildlife and enjoy the Taste of Scilly food festival in what we hoped would be settled September sunshine.
Tropical Storm Helene put paid to that. By the day before we were due to set sail, the remains of this hurricane looked likely to miss Scilly but leave five metres of swell. So we decided to go in the other direction and hop among the Channel Islands.
A fresh southwesterly breeze gave us a fast crossing from Plymouth and at one point it looked as if we’d make St Peter Port in the early hours of the morning. However, the Coastguard warned that the Platte Fougere lighthouse marking the northern approach to St Peter Port wasn’t working reliably, and I thought we’d better turn south and come round the other side of the island.
The tide had other ideas. It swept us sideways so strongly that we couldn’t make any progress southwards at all. We spent two hours sailing back along exactly the track we had come. I calculated in the end that we might as well go back to the first plan and approach St Peter Port from the north. We’d used up so much time that we would now be arriving in daylight, so the unreliable lighthouse wouldn’t matter.
It took all morning even with the engine on to push against the tide that by then was sweeping up the Little Russell channel and reach St Peter Port. We berthed in an almost empty harbour: the sailing season seemed to have ended suddenly in the Channel Islands.
Maybe the weather forecast had something to do with it. We’d missed Tropical Storm Helene but two more named storms, Bronagh and Callum, were driving in from the Atlantic. Even sheltered in the crook of Brittany, we were in for strong winds. After a short discussion, we took the harbourmaster’s offer of four nights berthing for the price of three and decided to do any island-hopping on a ferry rather than sail ourselves. As it turned out, we had to wait two more nights for the aftermath of Storm Callum to die down and even then, had a rough and windy passage back to Plymouth.
There are worse places to be stuck than Guernsey, though. The island is beautiful and soaked in a unique history which most people in Britain hardly know. I’d never understood the odd legal status of the Channel Islands: they are the last remnant of William the Conqueror’s Duchy of Normandy, loyal to the Crown but never integrated into the United Kingdom and so never part of the European Union. In the 1970s, when the UK joined the EU and we started to eat Dutch tomatoes subsidised by the Common Agricultural Policy, the tomato industry which had been a mainstay of the Guernsey economy died in a decade. But Guernsey and Jersey were able to grow a financial services industry beyond the reach of UK and EU regulation.
Dark memories of the Second World War crop up all over Guernsey. The island is within sight of France and along with the other Channel Islands, was occupied by Nazi German troops within days of the fall of France in 1940. I was unsettled walking into the Tourist Information Office to see a large photograph of German soldiers in coal-scuttle helmets marching in front of Lloyds Bank.
Hitler saw great symbolic value in occupying what he saw, slightly inaccurately, as British territory. He imagined the British would do anything to get the islands back and poured in thousands of troops to defend them and thousands of workers, many of them slaves, to build concrete fortifications. The British government, though, was realistic. It saw no chance of recovering the islands without terrible loss of life and simply ignored them until after the Allies had retaken Normandy.
The German underground military hospital and ammunition store on Guernsey remains as concrete proof of Hitler’s futile obsession. Dug out of solid rock at the cost of many deaths among slave workers, the hospital and store were always damp, so ammunition had to be covered in tarpaulins. The 800-bed hospital was used for only a few weeks, when some of the German casualties from the Allied invasion of Normandy were brought here. When it became clear that the Allies were not going to attack the Channel Islands, the wounded men were brought back into the sunlight and treated in normal hospitals.
When the weather forecast kept us in Guernsey for an extra two days, I went in search of my own local history. My aunt Marie was very proud to come from Guernsey, although she was born in Essex just after the First World War and I’m not sure how much she ever lived on the island. I recently inherited a bible from her which belonged to her grandfather, and a happy morning in the Priaulx Library identified the farmhouse where he had lived in St Peters in the Wood. The oldest part of the building dates back to 1450 and the gable is pierced as a dovecote. The main farmhouse dates from the 1860s.
My aunt’s grandfather’s farmhouse
The 1450 part of the building is pierced as a dovecote
Beating into a northerly Force 6 gusting to Force 7 on the way back to Plymouth made for heavy work on the tiller. With two reefs in the main but both headsails up, Guiding Star didn’t balance. We do have a storm jib but I’ve never had it out of the bag and was hesitant to experiment now: a good lesson would have been to try it out on the pontoon on one of the days we were stuck in harbour.
We left by the northern entrance to the Little Russell and the last of the east-going tide pushed us dangerously close to the rocks north of the island of Herm. When the tide turned and we headed north, the leeway pushing us west was so great I thought we’d end up in Falmouth rather than Plymouth. The disturbed sea made us all feel sick and the cabin reeked of paraffin. It was only after we arrived in Plymouth that I realised the cabin lamp had been swinging and jerking so wildly that it had been oozing enough oil to make the cabin uninhabitable.
By next morning, though, we were sailing gently under a cloudless sky within sight of Start Point, spotting dolphins. Soon, we had to put the engine on to move at all across the glassy sea.
Still several miles from land, we saw what we thought was a small bird darting round the boat. It looked too small to be a seabird and had an odd, fluttering flight. We realised it was a bat, exhausted and looking for a perch. It tried to grab the leech of the mainsail and circled the mizzen where our red ensign had wrapped itself round the top of the mast in the wind. After several attempts, the bat clung onto the flag and crawled inside its folds. We knew how it felt.
The wind was too strong for island hopping but the sun shone brightly…
until the edge of Storm Callum arrived
Up to eight metres of tide in St Peter Port
German dive bombers attacked tomato lorries on the quay at St Peter Port
Four months into the Occupation, the paper had little it could say
Thomas and I took the ferry and walked round the island of Herm
I don’t have any photographs of our racing at the Douarnenez Temps Fete at the end of July because we were too busy avoiding collisions to take any. The organisers set a short course between just two buoys so several dozen heavy working boats charged up and down, bowsprit to bowsprit, for an hour; splendid for the holidaymakers on the stands overlooking the bay but wild on the water.
The stress was not helped by the pre-race briefing having been entirely in French and a lot of the skippers speaking only English, so not everybody was clear about the start line or the course. However, we survived unscathed and went for a splendid sail across the bay afterwards, followed by our best meal of the festival; steak tartare with aubergine slices fried in honey, and Lebanese soft cheese with tomatoes, strawberries and black wheat at Le Balto Ivre. A fruity but not sweet organic wine, too; Les Varennes from Les Roches Seches. I know photos of food are a trope but this was special.
Photos of food are a trope but this was special
Wine to track down again
The music at the festival was amazing, too. Unlike traditional regattas in Britain, which seem put on mainly for the enjoyment of the sailors taking part, the Douarnenez Temps Fete pulled in tens of thousands of people of all ages with music on two stages and food in restaurants and marquees along the harbourside as well as the forest of traditional boats. My favourites were Nøkken, a collaboration between Danish folk singers and a French band, and Thomas de Pourquery‘s ecstatic jazz.
There should have been a luggers’ race on the Saturday of the festival week; but on Friday evening, the sunny weather broke and a storm blew in from the Atlantic. We woke to wet sleeping bags and a crew briefing that racing had been cancelled.
Our passage across the Channel from Plymouth was straightforward with heatwave sunshine and a gentle breeze. Guiding Star’s new AIS system helped to identify commercial ships which might pass close; the only two which came anywhere near close altered course well away from us. Next morning, we hove to off the Ile de Vierge lighthouse to wait for the tide through the Chenal du Four, and watched dolphins feasting on a school of mackerel. We spent the night in Camaret to avoid arriving in Douarnenez in the middle of the night.
Our passage back was less easy because we had to broad reach all the way in an uncertain southwesterly wind, and although the weather was fine, the storm had left an Atlantic swell which made most of us seasick.
The most exciting half hour came as we sailed out of L’Aber-Wrac’h due north through the narrow Chenal de la Malouine, where the rocks either side of the channel look close enough to touch and the fast-flowing tide churned up the shallow water. Photos from an iPhone with a wide-angle lens can’t show the tension.
The Cruising Association website says of the western Channel crossing from west country ports to the tip of Brittany: “This adventure is for robust crews who know their collision regulations, have strong stomachs, can navigate in strong tidal streams and can pilot into rock encumbered harbours and calculate tidal heights correctly.” They got that right.
Thank you to Celia, Emma and Iga for being the perfect crew; competent, collaborative and calm! We had a wonderful two weeks.
Emma keeping hydrated
Some more photos of the trip:
Camaret, our first night in France
Iga and Celia
The first boats to arrive
Douarnenez is all about sardines
Ile Tristan, reachable at lowest low tide
Legendary King Gradlon and his daughter Dahut escaping the flood
Rose of Argyll
Inner port filling up
Dolphin with an itch
Luggers ahead of us
Luggers beside us
The heatwave broke with a storm
Iga and Emma on Ile Tristan
Paul with favourite plant
The Amorous Whelk restaurant clinging to the cliff
Emma with fresh juice for sleeping crew
Those rocks, that choppy sea
Sunnily back in Fowey
Happy to be home
Final moment of ‘you hold that while I jiggle this’
Most of our trips begin, and end, in the Clovelly Bay Inn in Turnchapel. Guiding Star’s berth in Plymouth Yacht Haven would be two minutes away if we could walk on water, or even just organise a dinghy, but it’s only 15 minutes the long way round on the South west Coast Path. The Greek lamb in pitta bread and the seafood chowder are wonderful; not slimming but richly tasty.
The South West Gaffers first Festival of Sail in Plymouth gave us a day of light wind racing in the Sound and then a day sail up the Tamar to Saltash Sailing Club for pasties.
I found the racing frustrating because I couldn’t get Guiding Star moving in the light airs. We were the biggest boat in the fleet and the start line across the restricted width of Cattewater gave us little space to put sails up, so we crossed the start with the topsail still on the deck.
Out on the Sound, several smaller boats passed us on the beat to the windward buoy, despite all I’d learned in the Falmouth Classics about not pinching in very gentle wind. We made up ground reaching and running but then I failed to spot two boats on starboard tack as they started their second lap, and had to wear round 360 degrees to avoid them. Thomas, Ian and I had a happy, hot day, though.
Local photographer Jane Bryan took some splendid photographs which reveal part of our problem; the mizzen was creased and losing power because the strop holding up the yard was a few centimetres too far aft.
At Saltash the next day, Guiding Star was too big to come alongside the Saltash Sailing Club pontoon so we anchored in the Tamar and were kindly given a lift ashore. The wind freshened from the day before, especially once we passed Devonport dockyard, so we rocketed up and down the river.
I’d say there’s a direct link between climate change and wet sleeping bags last week on Guiding Star. Weeks of heatwave opened up decks seams all over the boat and when the weather broke with a storm at the end of July while we were in Douarnenez, the rain poured in.
Back in Plymouth, we spent a day working on seams. Iga and Celia put masking tape on the worst seams, which seemed to cover about a third of the boat. Inspired by Tim on Alert, I put aluminium foil over the cooker and boiled the pitch in the galley to fill up the seams. Iga mastered the big soldering iron to melt the old pitch into the new and smooth the seams.
There’s still a long way to go. We didn’t have a caulking iron to harden down the seams before adding new pitch; that’s on order. But we made a start.
The sun was hot and the wind was light, and we struggled to keep up our speed into the wind by comparison with more experienced lugger sailers on Gladys and Our Boys. However, we managed third place behind them in the lugger class and had a glorious time.
Kim was keen to stick to the racing rules but this was a traditional boat regatta so when Grayhound appeared over our shoulders trying to muscle her way across the start line, clearly upwind of us and completely in the wrong… I let her. She’s something like 80 tons and Guiding Star is 16.
Thanks to William Dax from the Institute of Photography, University of Falmouth for this fine photo
Celia’s neat solution to hang up the anchor light
Thomas used to be a photographer for Reuters in war zones across Africa so his images are worth a gallery of their own:
Here’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston sitting on Suhaili, the original boat in which he made history 50 years ago by becoming the first person to sail alone, non-stop around the world, winning the first Golden Globe race; next to him is Bill Rowntree, who photographed the start and end of the trip for the Sunday Mirror and created some of the most memorable images in sailing.
Sir Robin brought Suhaili to Plymouth for a rally organised by the southwest section of the Cruising Association to celebrate the anniversary. Several of us then followed him to Falmouth, his original departure point, for a three-day jamboree and a chance to see skippers and boats competing in a re-run of the Golden Globe.
Sir Robin is ordinary and extraordinary. He talked to anyone who came up for a chat, spent the afternoon in the pub watching the rugby and nearly got into a fight with a Scotsman who took his seat, and hung his washing over the boom like any of the rest of us. But he had the courage, determination and seamanship to sail alone in an age without GPS, satellite phones or downloadable weather charts; and to keep going when his gear failed and all the other Golden Globe competitors dropped out or went mad; two committed suicide and one sailed a second time round the world rather than come home.
It was a privilege to join a small band of perhaps two hundred passionate sailors for the events in Falmouth: a press conference in the Chain Locker pub to introduce the skippers in the Golden Globe 2018 race, sailing small family-priced, long-keeled cruisers and navigating with sextant and paper charts as Robin did 50 years ago; a book signing by Sir Robin; and a talk about the original and the new race by speakers including Bill Rowntree, who showed some of his famous photographs and told the story behind them.
Falmouth made little of what was a historic event, though. Plymouth grabbed the right to host the start of the race but then couldn’t find sponsors and lost it to Les Sables d’Olonne in France. There was little publicity in the town and no events to pull in lots of spectators. The mayor of Les Sables d’Olonnes said he expected 100,000 people to watch the start on 1st July; surely Falmouth would have wanted a crowd like that?
Many thanks to John and Martin for crewing Guiding Star to Falmouth; and special thanks to Martin’s friend Rich for lending us his pickup truck so we could retrieve the dinghy outboard from servicing in Penryn.
Suhaili at Plymouth Yacht Haven
Topsail hoisted for first time
Heading for Falmouth
Guiding Star in Falmouth
RKJ being photographed by Bill Rowntree
Modern replica of Suhaili, Indian entry to Golden Globe 2018
The Brixham Heritage Regatta turned into an unexpected challenge of navigation and nerves.
We made a good start across the line in very light wind and mist and willed our way north across Torbay to the first buoy. The one other boat in our Lugger class, Le Grand Lejon from Brittany, weighs nearly twice as much as Guiding Star and fell steadily behind.
However, that was about the end of the race. After we rounded the buoy, boats headed off on different tacks for a long beat south to the windward buoy near Berry Head, but the mist quickly thickened into fog and soon we couldn’t see any of the other 30 boats in the fleet; not even the three 80-foot Brixham trawlers, which are hard to miss. Visibility dropped to 50 metres.
We pressed on for half an hour, navigating by GPS and staring into the fog to keep watch. We heard on the radio first one, then two, boats withdraw from the race. The wind freshened and for a moment we hit 5 knots. But then the Regatta committee abandoned the race entirely and called all boats back.
Many thanks indeed to Matt for running our radio comms, Mark for helping to navigate, Paul for knowing every inch of Torbay and Brixham Harbour, and Emma and Sarah for calm helming.
I have no idea how the Regatta Committee worked out the results, but we were delighted to win the beautiful Toni Knights Lugger half-model for the first lugger. We were also surprised and happy to be awarded the Noss Marina Shield for Friday’s passage race from Dartmouth to Brixham, even though we were the only boat taking part and had to motor almost all the way because there was no wind. But we did turn up!
More photos below of the Regatta and our passages up from Plymouth and back again. Many thanks to everyone for their photos.
I’m only sorry there are no photos of the epic bacon, egg and fried bread sandwiches made by Jon on the passage up from Plymouth to Dartmouth and Brixham. It was a pity there wasn’t much wind for sailing, Jon, but it was wonderful to have you on board.
On the outside of our pontoon in Plymouth, we found a 52-metre super yacht owned by Wendy Schmidt, wife of the founder of Google. A full-time crew of eight, a herb garden in the galley and much gleaming gel coat with gold leaf stripes. Our motto for the next few days became, “What would Wendy do?”
Rafted up on the town quay
Site of Uphams Yard, which built many of Brixham’s big wooden trawlers and converted Guiding Star from a fishing boat to a yacht in 1937
Jon leaving us after the passage up from Plymouth
Brixham Town Band enthralling a damp Bank Holiday crowd
Seafood chef Mitch Tonks showing how to crisp hake in the frying pan before baking it
Matt on VHF duty
Sarah and Paul
Other Paul at ease
Two Pauls hoisting the topsail
Topsail up for the first time since I took over the boat from Barry and Jacquie in 2016
A good start with Le Grand Lejon falling behind
Brixham Trawler Pilgrim, twice as long as us and four or five times as heavy
Guiding Star is a Looe lugger built in 1907 by James Angear for the Soady family and converted into a yacht in the 1930s at Uphams yard in Brixham.
She’s a traditional wooden boat with great character and very steady at sea. She has a gaff mainsail and a lug mizzen; there are no winches but the rig is easy for a small crew to handle because none of the sails is very big. There’s a comfortable saloon with a paraffin lamp, a roomy galley, and five berths.
From 1960-1989 Guiding Star was owned by Brigadier John (“Jack”) Glennie, who sailed her all around Europe. She was then substantially rebuilt in the early 1990s by Barry Jobson and Jackie Gillespie, who sailed her to the Caribbean and back and took part in many classic regattas. Her current owners are Paul and Sue Eedle.
Length overall with bowsprit out 15.8 metres 52 feet
Length overall with bowsprit and outrigger out 22 metres 72 feet