Ariel’s Westward Journey

From the 2001/1 Newsletter

It had always been our intention to sail as far as the Helford River either with or without company, so on 18 July 2000 we said goodbye to Abacus and Zest and their respective crews, to continue on our way. We were sorry to part company as we had had a very sociable few days, enhanced by a marked improvement in the weather.

A delightful anchorage

However, we would not be alone it seemed, because we had been hailed on the previous day by Martin and Sheila in Shemar, who also intended to sail west. As the tides were right and the weather was by now calm and sunny, we agreed to rendezvous near the mouth of the Avon estuary and spend the night at Bantham. Once through the potentially tricky entrance (very dangerous in the wrong conditions) the anchorage was a delight, with crystal clear water, clean level sand on which to dry out, and a timeless feel to the small settlement. If one adds to these ingredients a warm summers evening, a mellowing visit to the Sloop Inn and one of Sheila’s excellent dinners - well, it was near perfection.

On the following day we left with the tide at about 0800 and with the anticyclone well established, had a leisurely motor to Fowey. We liked this little port and found it friendly and welcoming, its character augmented by the commercial shipping which remains active day and night. In the morning we met Tony and Wenna Tatham in their Parker 31 Venture from Poole. They had spent some days in Fowey and were also on their way westwards.

One of the objectives of our cruise was, weather permitting, to visit three friends all of whom lived near the sea. Our first success followed our night in Fowey when we made a lunch time stop in the attractive village of Gorran Haven. Protected from the west by the Dodman, the little harbour provides a good anchorage in the right conditions but would probably prove unrelaxing for an overnight stop. After lunch a fitful sea breeze took us some way to the Helford River, but much of the journey involved motoring over glassy water.

Altogether we spent three days in the Fal area; stuck there for two of them by a strong easterly. It was, however, no ill wind as it allowed us to catch up with Martin’s and Sheila’s friends, Andrew and Julie and their Benetteau 29 Flyaway, with whom at various times and in different conditions we visited Gweek, St Mawes, Mylor Basin, the Pandora Inn at Restronguet, Malpas and Truro. There was a considerable amount of eating, drinking and walking, culminating in yet another Sheila dinner in a now peaceful Percuil River on the Sunday evening.

A steep lumpy sea.

Our return to Fowey on the following morning, Monday 24 July, was uncomfortable, as the winds of the previous days had left a steep lumpy sea through which it was difficult to sail. Nevertheless we made good time and at Martin’s suggestion anchored off the small village of Polkerris where we found a singularly good pub and then had a relaxing lunch at anchor. The Seal is ideal for visiting these lesser known fishing ports allowing one to add another dimension to a day’s cruise, which is not an option for a larger yacht.

A day enlivened by an active Naval exercise

After another pleasant night at Fowey we went our separate ways in the morning, Shemar and Flyaway to Salcombe and Ariel to Newton Ferrers where we hoped to visit our second friend. Another day of motoring was enlivened by an active Naval exercise, from which we all had to take avoiding action. The Yealm was looking particularly pretty that evening but it is a pity it becomes too crowded in high summer.

The following day we all met up again by chance at South Sands, Salcombe and then enjoyed a quiet light airs sail to Dartmouth in warm evening sunshine.

The weather by now had developed into an unsettled pattern with a series of shallow lows covering Northern Europe producing good sailing winds but showery conditions. Having said a final goodbye to Shemar and Flyaway we left for Topsham in grey conditions and light airs. However the latter steadily increased and we entered the Exe in a brisk sunny Force 5. Thanks to knowledge gained from the Jubilee dinner, we had a speedy but uneventful sail to Topsham where we moored alongside Trents boatyard. Here we visited our third friend from whom we collected some freezer packs left with them two years ago!

A falling tide meant an early start the next morning, but with the mudflats exposed, navigation was easy and we also saw the greatest number of waders and estuary birds at any time in the cruise. The Exe may not have the wooded charm of inlets further west but its spaciousness and distant horizons do tend to free the spirit.

A torrential downpour.. which flattened the sea

Then on to Lyme Regis in a moderate south westerly. Halfway through the passage we were overtaken by a torrential downpour which for a time flattened the sea and obliterated all other noise with its persistent hissing. Within about three miles of Lyme we called the Harbour Master who was extremely helpful and guided us to a berth near the Cobb. As it was the last day in the town’s RNLI week we were treated to a disco and firework display, before finally retiring to bed for a slightly uncomfortable night. Lyme Regis is an attractive place which despite the trippers has maintained its own integrity and character all set within some magnificent coastal scenery of great geological interest.

We rounded the Bill in a Force 5.

The return to Poole was one of the best sails of the whole cruise. A fast beam reach sped us to Portland where, one reef in, we rounded the Bill in a Force 5. Conditions were lumpy rather than rough but now with a following wind, full concentration was necessary and indeed remained so until rounding Anvil Point. We eventually anchored off Goathorn in Poole Harbour having sailed the entire distance at an average of over five knots for the 50 mile passage.

The cruise ended with a calm starlit night and a fried breakfast the following morning.

It also ended a successful summer season in which we had rounded every headland between Dungeness and the Lizard and visited the extremities of many of the South Coast’s estuaries. We had also enjoyed a very good social time and had many memories of evening barbecues, interesting conversations, hospitality on board and a great deal of laughter.

A few weeks later I was to help a friend sail his Oyster 435 from Lymington to Plymouth. If I was just a little envious of this luxurious yacht, I soon realised that like their natural namesakes, Seals can go where Oysters can’t and undoubtedly have more fun!

John and Angela Brealey

Seal 26/39 ‘Ariel’