In this extract from ‘Cruises of the Joan’, the skipper faces the prospect of sailing the remainder of his round Britain voyage single-handed from Ramsey, Isle of Man, as his crew needs to return home by steamer and train.
Having lost his dinghy in a storm, and realising the problems of going ashore without one, Sinclair decides to try to sail the 300 miles from Beaumaris, Anglesey, to Falmouth, Cornwall without calling anywhere.
We catch up with him south of Cardigan Bay.
‘Cruises of the Joan’ is from a delightful series, the Lodestar Library, featuring ‘interesting, the unusual, and the downright eccentric in nautical writing’. The series is published on ‘Sailing by’ with permission from the publisher, Lodestar Books.
I passed Strumble Head at daybreak. The Bishops and Clerks went by and I could then point the Smalls. But the strong tide overpowered my efforts to pass outside and on looking at the Sailing Directions I found that although a long line of rocks extends all the way from the coast to the Smalls there were several passages inside. I sailed over the Hats at 4.15 p.m. according to my clock. I could then lay a course for Land’s End SSW.
Wednesday night was passed somewhere in the Bristol Channel, running in a direct line from the Smalls to Land’s End. I hove to for two hours at midnight for sleep, thus wasting a little of the good wind. I wished afterwards that I had kept sailing.
Steering by night was a worry. My compass was an old-fashioned dry thing with no lamp, so that it could not be seen at night. Steering by the stars is the next best thing, but this is only a rough guide. This night the stars were plain enough and a convenient one could be picked out; but the course pursued in trying to keep a tossing, swaying shroud between a certain star and your eye cannot be anything but serpentine.
During the night a little fish jumped aboard. I was startled but got hold of it before it could jump back again, and tossed it into the well. When daylight came I had a great mind to fry it, but as I knew nothing about that kind I threw it away. It induced me, however, to trail a spinner and I caught two mackerel which were promptly fried for dinner.
Land was sighted at noon on Thursday. It seemed at first to be an island and two alarming thoughts crossed my mind. Had I gone so far west of my course as to get to the Scilly Isles, or so far east as to make Lundy Island? It turned out to be the southern extremity of St. Ives Bay.
It was dark when I tried to round Land’s End. The wind was now light and the tide which I had calculated to be in my favour was plainly against me as I approached the Longships Lighthouse. The silent oily swirl of the tideway here and the manner in which it appeared to be setting me towards the rocks scared me and I swung round on the other tack, gave up the idea of turning the corner that night, hove to on the port tack, and turned in to sleep.
When I awoke on Friday morning, a heavy wind was blowing, and a bad sea rapidly rising. Both were severe enough to make reefing down the proper thing to do, but experience had taught me that in the ‘Joan’ you must not reef if you wish to make headway against the wind. The boat had had her testing and I was prepared to trust her. At least two hours were occupied in weathering this corner of the land. I thought that at one time I was in for another gale and had half a mind to turn back for St. Ives, but as I knew that once round the point the wind would be a fair one for Falmouth and St. Mawes I kept on. When at last I drew clear and had gained an offing I hove to and reefed right down. First the jib had to be stowed. Then the mainsail had two reefs taken in. With a small spread of canvas running the twenty miles to the Lizard was a revelation to me. The wind had by this time brought along some very fine specimens of Atlantic rollers, real monsters they were to my thinking. The boat liked them, enjoyed them, and asked them to come on and see what she could do. They accepted the challenge and made that rush to the Lizard a drunken dream of power to me. As I sat steering and watching the big waves rush up astern, flinging the boat up on their tops, and leaving her to slip wantonly down their backs; as she rolled and sheered and lurched along at her top speed and never a drop of water came aboard I dreamed that I should like to go on in this style for ever.
Now and again I stepped down into the cabin for a morsel to eat or to boil the kettle. At first I tried to be quick enough to get in and back again, before the yacht could broach to. But she was too quick for me. She was slung round on the top of a big wave and hove herself to. She knew how to do this herself; she liked doing it and she was evidently designed, built, and rigged with the one aim of making her a boat that would heave to quickly, safely, surely and remain hove to till you sailed her again. As soon as I discovered this praiseworthy feature I had no further qualms about going into the cabin. I used to leave the tiller for any odd excuse and at any phase of the following waves and let the boat do as she pleased. She never once mugged the manoeuvre.
On reaching the Lizard I seriously thought of going straight away up Channel, but wiser reflections won. I knew I was tired, that the weather was really bad, and that a good harbour was within easy reach during the daylight. So I went into St. Mawes and anchored there about 8 p.m. on Friday night.