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South West: Fowey / Falmouth / Helford Event

20th September 2017

A Cornish Triangle

We decided that a sail to Fowey from Plymouth would be a good idea with a foul tide and a westerly blow. Well, last time we were out we had motored back from the Scillies, so we needed some proper time under sail. You might at this point see our logic, but beating into wind and sea for 6 hours removed some of the crews’ enthusiasm, especially as we had to heave to for a snack and a cuppa soup. So at the 6 hour point “she who must be obeyed” demanded a halt to this nonsense; so we motor sailed the remaining miles to Fowey. We arrived tired but “happy”. A visit to the Old Ferry Boat Inn at Boddinick for dinner cured any of the earlier on board grumpiness, eventually. Well the walk uphill from Mixtow did create an element of “are we there yet?”, to which the answer was a resounding no, unfortunately.

So that was day zero. On the next day the WOA fleet arrived in steadily increasing numbers on the Fowey Gridiron Pontoon, well away from the southerly swell coming up river. It’s a very quiet spot from a sea motion point of view but it can be a bit noisy as china clay is pumped into commercial shipping on the opposite bank of the river. But at night it is wonderfully quiet and calm. So how many steering wheels do you need on a Westerly Vulcan? Well, you really need two, because when one comes off, you can quickly run to the other, breathe a sigh of relief and shout disparagingly at your engineer.

The pontoon party provided an excellent opportunity for Barbara Box to gather us all together in a nautical networking session. The pontoon didn’t quite sink but with 17 people and dogs on board, it was a close call. Although, as is the way of these things, one of the dogs (Polly) did somehow end up in the river. Apparently she walked backwards on hearing a mobile phone go off, but some said that she had been kicked! Luckily she was wearing her life vest.

I don’t know where all the participants came from but Bill, Neil and Rachel had come from eastern England Whistler; Chris Strang and Marguerite had just returned from France but best of all Barbara had come all the way from Mixtow, a journey of all of 250 metres. Saracen (Photo 1 The one with her hands above her head)

So the task set by Barbara was to sail from the entrance of Fowey to a line across the entrance to Falmouth via the “inside” of Gull rock. Then for statistical purposes to record the time under sail and the time under power. The algorithm used for these calculations may very well be the subject of further intense study, as later events will reveal.

On day 2 the weather was not playing ball at all, so a motor from Fowey to Falmouth looked quite likely as we crossed the, not to be called “start” line, off St Catherine’s Point, Fowey. OK so we put the main up at 0930 but it was for show only. At least the tidal stream was favourable but the thought of the dulcet tones of a Beta 25 at 2,200rpm accompaniment to the trip was not very encouraging. So with the wind varying between 6 and 3 Kts we ploughed on. Then, as Dodman Point was abeam, the windometer thing said 8.5Kts. And then, 10.8kts. Out rolled the genoa and we were sailing. What a relief, 5Kts boat speed under sail only. But sadly this only lasted 20 minutes. In 8Kts of wind we were crawling along at 2.7Kts. Not quite Americas cup this. Well we don’t have the foils you know. It makes a big, big difference. So it was engine on but just after passing inside Gull Rock we had 9.4 Kts of breeze and we were sailing again. Boat speed of 5.7Kts in 10 Kts of breeze looks impressive but a knot of tidal stream helps to add shine to the facts. Happy days, we tacked and tacked and tacked again to find ourselves off Pendenis Point at 1311. Just in time to get to the Falmouth fuelling jetty to collect another crewmember, complete with 4 steaming pasties. We also gave a lady a lift to her Halberg Rassy 42 at anchor. She and her husband were on their way to Iona. You meet the nicest people on these jaunts.

Note to self. If you wish to collect crew from Falmouth Marina, a touch and go on the fuelling barge is free, but if you come along side the marina, there lurk parking wardens and charges apply.

So motor sailing up the Fal with mega steak pasty in one hand and a cup of tea in the other is one definition of bliss, providing at low spring tide you keep a close eye on the depthometer as just off channel is v scary. But all was well and we were amazed to find full blown ships parked miles up the Fal, rusting gently in the summer sun. Then equally unexpectedly there ahead of us emerged a squadron of Westerlys all tied up neatly on Ruan pontoon. Administered by Truro District Council no less. Not quite up the Yangtze but a ways away from the sea, and very beautiful to boot. George was clearly beach master and runs a tight ship as we were directed to a spot we thought had been reserved for us, personally. Well that is how it felt. We had a wonderful time there with 20 odd Westerly’s various. An impromptu cocktail party ensued, the sun shone, the breeze blew gently and a warm friendly atmosphere prevailed.

Next day started slowly and gently as we considered our options. After a full English breakfast and debate on the attractions available, we 4 on Frigate decided on a trip to Trelissick House, a National Trust house and garden about half an hours’ put-put away. They have their own jetty next to the Great Harry ferry. Well worth a visit with spectacular vistas down the Fal to Falmouth. Then back to the fleet on the Ruan pontoon and a quick spruce up and off to the BBQ at Roundwood Quay. (Picture 2 at the BBQ.) The brief did say get the cooking underway before 5. There was a simple reason. Lots of water at the top of springs but a mudflat otherwise. So at 6 o’clock ish we all headed back to the Ruan pontoon. The 20 or so rubber dinghies did not race back. Not under WOA rules anyway. Thanks to George and co for a well organised sunny outing. We had the best breeze of the week at the Bar-B-Q. Well it felt like a force 6 when you are 12 inches above water in the dinghy. One individual was brave enough to take his Konsort over to the BBQ as pack horse for all the tables, chairs and paraphernalia that appeared as if by magic from below an Seahawk. They have a coffin locker you know; you can stand up in it and lock yourself in! I’ll let George tell the rest but it sounds like a scary experience to me, especially when there is no one around to hear you scream.

The 23rd of August was scheduled to be a gentle cruise from Ruan, down the Fal to the Helford River. It was decided to compare sailing time and engine time taken from an imaginary line joining St Anthony’s Head and Pendenis Point (the Fal entrance) to a line joining The Gew and Toll point, a bit up the Helford River. And low and behold there was a modicum of breeze at 1215 when we crossed the “start” line under full sail at 5.7 Kts. Well there was a bit of friendly tide too. Plus, to keep us smiling, it looked like this was going to be a single tack transit right down to the Helford. But as with all these rose tinted first impressions, the wind was not really as friendly as we initially thought as it blew straight out of the Helford river mouth. So the last bit involved a few short tacks and a bit of pinching to avoid some rocks and scary stuff off Toll Point. But, we had a very enjoyable one hour and 5 minutes of sailing from a, all the way to b. As we had not been to this part of the world previously, we were expecting a quiet almost deserted creek to find an anchorage. Not quite the crowded scene that emerged before us. A quick call to George on channel 6 and a 20-minute search up the trots for a buoy brought us to a lovely spot to spend the evening. Most of the Westerly flotilla had to raft up and we did too. Later we invited Whistler to come along side us. Two elderly Fulmars together, how romantic. We did quite a bit of dancing around the buoy too with wind opposing tide. Although come evening time the wind calmed and a gentle dinghy trip to the sailing clubhouse followed. George had arranged an early buffet supper for us all in The Helford Sailing club, so as is the way of these things, an impromptu party photo (Photo 3 on Helford balcony) was taken as we all patiently awaited the arrival of our illustrious leader Barbara and her oar carrying compatriot Candy. As soon as they had a glass of chilled white wine to hand we were all called in for an excellent, now not quite so early, buffet supper. If you have not been to this area before you should think about visiting, as it is gorgeous. On the other hand, maybe we should keep places like this secret and special. Tom Cunliffe’s Channel Pilot may have had something to do with its obvious popularity. A dusk trip back into the already setting sun to the buoy was rather spoilt by some teenagers in a speed boat making sure we had a good soaking from his wake. And to prove it was no accident he came back and did it to us again. Good job our RPG was secured in the armoury, as they would have made a lovely splash target. But it didn’t spoil the evening for all of us. As skipper of the dingy I hid behind others and only had a minor soaking, so I didn’t feel too hard done by, but other crew members were a lot less charitable towards them.

The final leg of our Cornish triangle took us back to Fowey with the finale being a dinner for 34 of us, in the Royal Fowey Yacht club. Due to favourable tidal flows we planned to be up for an early departure but Whistler along side us, beat us to it. I was still in bed but they left very very quietly. We decided that breakfast underway was probably best so we followed them shortly afterwards. The day had dawned quiet and sunny, so with a weak sun in our faces we headed East out of the Helford bound for Fowey in virtually no wind. Ideal for eating your wheatyflakes in the cockpit with Herman the autohelm driving. Once we were out of the trots that is.

The first memorable event of this leg was when a small pod of inquisitive dolphins came over to say hello. They swam under the boat, whizzed about for a few seconds then just as quickly headed off. All this happened far too quickly to find a camera, switch it on, point it at the dolphins and press the shutter. After a short discussion we all agreed that to have a camera at the ready in the cockpit was essential, as it would make a good photo to include as a memento of the Cornish Triangle trip. I’m sure you have all guessed the outcome. We saw no more dolphins that Thursday. We saw loads on the Saturday but none came near enough to make a good picture and anyway the “triangle” was over by then. The remainder of this leg involved rolling the genoa in and out depending if there was sufficient wind to keep it inflated, alternating with the throb of a Beta 25 doing the iron foresail job of keeping us moving forward. But for all the lack of sailing the weather was fine, the sea calm and the scenery inspiring, so quite a satisfying leg.

We heard a mayday at 1210 and stopped to try and work out if we could render assistance. It turned out we were over 4 miles away and could not be of any help, as the lifeboat and helicopter were called a few minutes after the call went out and were on the scene in 20 minutes. So we re started the engine and in a very solemn mood we resumed our passage to the Gridiron Pontoon in Fowey. On arrival we discovered that mackerel were being caught from the pontoon. So that evening filleted grilled mackerel was the surprise starter for the impromptu pontoon party. (Photo 4 Sparks Beattie, Chris Strang and John Beattie) Suitably invigorated by the pontoon party the crew of Frigate retired to the King of Prussia for further refreshment and a slap up feed in preparation for a hectic day ahead.

The last day of the Triangle was spent preparing for the dinner in the Royal Fowey Yacht Club. The showers at Mixtow are really quite good but the climb up the hill is a bit of a trial for some. So a compensatory coffee and cake for the crew, sitting in the morning sunshine at the café, seems to be suitable compensation for the energy expended on this most arduous of climbs.
The Fowey water taxi was engaged to transport us all from Gridiron into town, to save us from a late night return by dinghy and the possibility of a further soaking of our best clothes. The dinner was excellent, (Photo 5 Fowey Meal photo) somebody even knew what I had ordered, because I hadn’t a clue as I had filled in the form months before. Thank goodness for great organisers. Barbara gave a congratulatory speech to us all for success in the Triangle followed by a short prize giving to initiate the dinner. Frigate was awarded a prize for the “fastest time”, Senyol III, Lady Annabelle, and Whistler, all won a decorated wooden spoon to remind them of an excellent WOA week in Cornwall. As mentioned earlier, the algorithm used to decide the outcome of the Triangle is still subject to a steward’s enquiry. As is the way of these things it will take a few months to issue an interim report and anyway the final report is likely to follow protocol and be kicked far into the long grass. But this should not detract from the full-bodied congratulations due to Barbara, George, and others for organising a wonderful weeks cruising the southern coast of Cornwall. We all loved it.

Denis and Vivienne McCallum


20th September 2017
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