‘High Barbaree’ sails round Britain, 2013

'High Barbaree'
‘High Barbaree’

We hear from Tim and Liz Dodwell about their inspiration for undertaking the OGA Round Britain Challenge, 2013 and glimpse some of their experiences from the circumnavigation. They’re happy to be the veterans of the OGA Round Britain Challenge fleet, the real ‘old gaffers’, on the newest British boat ‘High Barbaree’, a Cornish Crabber Pilot Cutter 30 built in 2001. Tackling the OGA Round Britain Challenge, Tim and Liz claim they’re the veterans of the fleet on the newest British boat, since ‘Cine Mare’, the Dutch steel repro. Galway Hooker, is in fact newer than ‘High Barbaree’. Their claim is to be the real ‘Old Gaffers’ on this trip, and share some of their experiences and inspirations.

Why did we do the Round Britain Challenge?

Our inspiration for the OGA50 RBC is Libby Purves, who made the circumnavigation a while ago with her young family in ‘Grace O’Malley’, a boat like ours, and then wrote her lovely book ‘One Summer’s Grace’. We’ve both sailed round in our fibreglass 30 foot pilot cutters built by Cornish Crabbers.

‘High Barbaree’ was built in 2001, we bought her in Holland the following year after chartering her to discover if she was our dream boat, which indeed she was. We enjoyed cruising the Dutch canals before bringing her back to the English East Coast, where we joined events with the East Coast OGA. These included sorties to the Walton Backwaters, up the Rivers Blackwater, Orwell, Stour, Ore, Alde and Deben and northwards to Southwold.

In 2005 we sailed to a Classics event in Holland and then on to the Baltic. Adverse weather didn’t deter us much, as taking advantage of our centreplate and having a mast in a tabernacle, we motored through a canal route in North Germany. The Baltic was a great experience for two seasons, and we’d like to go back there one day. We overwintered close to Stockholm spending some time in the wonderful archipelagos of Stockholm’s Skargard, the Finnish islands and the Aland Islands en route to the Cruising Association Rally in Riga in 2006.

By then we’d moved south and our home port had become Bucklers Hard on the Beaulieu River, Hampshire. In 2004 and 2008 we’ve had challenging trips to the Brest and Douarnenez Festivals, and we’ll never forget that great sail between the two events when over 1,000 craft set out together jostling their way through the narrow gaps in the Tas de Pois. The mast came down again as we returned through the Brittany canals to St Malo in 2008. We joined many classic boats again at Paimpol in 2009 and in 2010 had a wonderful week in the Scilly Isles on our way to the Milford Haven Festival. Oh! and back in 2003 we went up the Thames as far as Benson near Oxford.

Round Britain Challenge

One of the best things about this trip has been the great company, especially the wonderful Dutch friends we have made on their seven boats. We’ve been a select band of 21 boats (approximately) going all the way round. This also includes the brave East Anglian contingent who mostly set out on their seven boats back in April. There are five of us from the South Coast and two from Wales.

In addition to the organised musical events, special highlights have been our informal gatherings in pubs, yacht clubs or marinas with a varying group of musicians and performers including the locals, at least it was well worth our carrying the guitar which has been much used!

On our boat we’ve had 14 different crew, including ten members of our family with four grandchildren with us for various legs of the trip. The youngsters had a great time, starting with a fanfare for Prince Michael at the Hamble Parade of Sail and Royal Review.

‘High Barbaree’ appropriately flies the Jolly Roger at times and ‘Bonify’ was successfully raided and captured in Milford Haven whereas Koosje, the ship’s dog on ‘Windbreker’, soon saw off the pirate attack!

The wildlife has been wonderful, especially the dolphins in the Bristol Cannel and the Moray Firth, as well as the seals at Copeland Island (near Dublin), Eyemouth, Holy Island and in the Walton Backwaters.

We’ve been thrilled too by the birds, in particular the graceful gannets, comic puffins and frantic antics of the guillemots as they almost scramble across the water to get out of our way. Thrilled too to see the avocets on the Ore.

'High Barbaree' approaches Strangford Lough 'No, she's not sinking!'
‘High Barbaree’ approaches Strangford Lough ‘No, she’s not sinking!’

Perhaps our wildest time was on the west coast of Scotland around the islands of Islay, Jura and Mull. There were strong winds and blustery weather, very welcome visits to whisky distilleries, carefully navigating through narrow passages between islands and lochs alongside the grand and threatening headlands. Once we glimpsed a regal stag as we crept by.

Then there’s been the tidal ‘rips’ and mini whirlpools in Scotland’s western waters (only mini if you get there when the tide is right), but most spectacular perhaps was the entrance to Strangford Lough in Ireland – no, we’re not sinking!

It was a special and rather different period coming through the Caledonian Canal with its staircases of locks, castles, wonderful views and even a few days of welcome sunshine.

Then came the uncomfortable rolling seas off East Scotland with new challenges, threading our way in and out of the tiny harbours with nearly invisible entrances often only accessible at high water.

We’d been away from England proper for about seven weeks when we came into Amble and from then on we’ve been enjoying the sun even if it sometimes meant we lacked enough wind to make our deadlines. That’s been the most exhausting part of the trip, planning and working out distances, tides, rendezvous with crews and getting to the organised events, in conjunction with continuous references to weather forecasts. The endless parties and festivals organised for us have been just great but there’s come a time when most of us have welcomed a restful day stormbound in a fairly quiet if not remote spot, especially if there’s been enough cover to use the mobile phone and internet, and hopefully a washing machine nearby!

We’ll certainly have mixed feelings about getting home after three and a half months ‘at sea’. But yes, it has been great to do a round-Britain trip before we got any older!

Tim and Liz Dodwell, Solent OGA members