‘Snoopy’: counter-clockwise around Britain, 2013

'Snoopy', 18 foot ship's lifeboat, rests in the mud
‘Snoopy’, 18 foot ship’s lifeboat, rests in the mud Photo: Kees Koomen

Kees Koomen, skipper of 18 foot ‘Snoopy’, brings a lively account with fascinating statistics of his counter-clockwise circumnavigation of Britain, taking just under 65 days to complete his passage from the Netherlands via the Canals including a visit to the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands to arrive in good time for the OGA50 celebrations in Cowes, before returning home.

We had done it before, ‘Snoopy’ and I, going round Britain clockwise, through the Scottish canals, with a small extension from Falmouth via the Azores to Kinsale, Ireland. Counter-clockwise, starting from Holland and crossing to Whitby directly, would result in a trip to Cowes of around 1400 miles. Clockwise would add another 400 miles, so the choice was easy. Anti-clockwise for the 2013 OGA Round Britain Challenge.

A days sail of one tide, six hours, would give me around 30 miles a day, so I would need 50 days to get to Cowes. Some spare was taken for bad weather and the departure date set on 17 June, 60 days before the OGA50 celebrations.

Doubts were heard from several members, including Barry and Sue, as the other Dutch participants would already sail on 21 April. I assured them I would be at Cowes in time, even if I had to complete the circumnavigation by 4×4 and trailer. The only one who believed I could make it was Brian Hammett, who initially also opted for the counter-clockwise RBC.

Starting out, with a new engine

The trip had already started with a delay, as a new engine had to be installed. The departure was set back to 21 June. The first lap was from Oud-Beijerland to Scheveningen, where I entered in dense fog. There I found out it was going to blow a south-westerly force 7 with expected wave heights of four meters for the next three days. Not the weather to start a crossing in a small boat.

25 June, as soon as the weather improved, I sailed from Scheveningen, via Scarborough and Blyth, to arrive in Peterhead 2 July. At a distance of 463 miles, almost 30% of the trip was done in one week exactly. I hoped to meet the clockwise RBC fleet there, but they had just left the day before, only ‘Greensleeves’ came in for a while.

Through the Canals

The weather forecast for Fair Isle was not good to go ‘around the top’. A friend of mine would fly in from Kazakhstan to Glasgow to join me on 10 July, which did not leave me much time to wait for favourable winds. The disappointing decision had to be made to go via the Canals, giving me the feel of failure. After a night stopover in Whitehills and Lossiemouth, I continued for Inverness and carried straight on into the Caledonian Canal. The disappointment was compensated for by a wonderful goose-winged sail along Loch Ness to Fort Augustus. I had ample time now. My friend boarded at Fort William. From there we called at Oban, and sailed in dense fog to Crinan. We were guided by my friend’s electronics and Isobel Hood’s classic yacht ‘Glance’, we could follow her AIS beacon.

‘Snoopy’ already received quite a few ‘awes’, when crews from much bigger boats realised that, with her 18 feet, she was quite far from home. After the Crinan Canal, and a great sail over the Clyde, a stopover was made in the pretty harbour of Girvan. To our surprise the harbour was visited by the ‘SS Waverly’ next afternoon.

15/7 Left the Scottish canals behind me yesterday. A nice passage through the Caledonian and Crinan Canal. Even a splendid goose-winged sail up Loch Ness. Dimitri joined in Fort William. Yesterday a 54 miles sail across the Clyde, from Ardrishaig to the cute harbour of Girvan. Started with an on board prepared English breakfast. Isle of Man here we come.

Isle of Man to the Channel Isles

I had a few other wishes. I wanted to visit the Isle of Man, go through the Menai Strait and visit the Scilly Isles during my round trip.

We continued straight from Girvan to Peel IOM, and from there to the Menai Strait, arriving there exactly on time. When done so, there is nothing to the passage through the ‘Swellies’. Actually quite uneventful! I would not like to have had it otherwise though.

16/7 Awaiting the tide at Peel Isle of Man. Exact 777 miles done since I left Holland June 25th, 480 Miles left to go to Cowes Isle of Wight! And than back home again. All in a cramped 18 footer. She’s doing well though.

19/7 Passed the Menai Strait and now moored at the marina at Caernarvon. Passed the Swellies as planned, thanks to a proper royal navy navigator and his electronic gimmicks. (checked him with my paper charts though). Giving me the opportunity to make a beautiful photo of Britannia Bridge in the early morning sunshine. Another 85 miles done.

The rest of the trip is well illustrated by the following Facebook postings:

21/7 Milford Haven. The crew is leaving here. ‘Snoopy’ and her skipper will have a break and some time for maintenance. The weather forecast is not right to continue the 130 mile crossing to the Scilly Islands. Oil change and some repairs ahead.

24/7 You do not realise how you love cruising with your boat, until you have been intimate with your heads again for half a day, to repair the leaks. :-S

This actually was at my birthday, but

24/7 A pint of bitter, a rib eye and a glass or two of Merlot solved the problem. Forgot what the problem was. ;D.

26 July I left Milford Haven. A heavy, wind against tide, swell in the Eastern Channel could not stop me.

27/7 Moored in St. Mary’s harbour, Isles of Scilly, after a trip of 125 miles and 29 hours of struggle against wind and tide. A dram at last.

Also here some ‘awe’, when people realised that I didn’t sail straight from Holland but came via Scotland.

31/7 In spite of the strong wind forecast, I had a delightful sail from St. Mary’s yesterday. Goose-winged, sunshine and a 10 feet SW’ly swell to rock me asleep. Now cocooned in Falmouth.

4/8 Had a great sail from Fal river to Brixham, 75 miles, SW6. Here passing Eddystone lighthouse. Its really on the picture.

Then I had a problem. Still full of adrenaline, I could not sit, wait and spend almost two weeks doing nothing but go to the Solent. So I decided to cross to the Channel Islands. It became the topping on the trip.

6/8 Beaucette, a real hole in the wall. Very charming. Compensates the boring windless crossing from Brixham.

After having walked miles to do some shopping:

7/8 The one who says cruising with your sailing boat is no sport, is entirely wrong. At sea, preparing your meals, dressing and visiting the heads are already Olympic feats. Especially when the sea state is moderate or worse. When ashore, you’re walking as if you’re back in the army again. Besides you have to keep the boat going. I love it.

9/8 Now at Alderney. ‘Snoopy’ had a good top speed. 12 knots. 6.5 knots of current to take me there. Stay here till the weekend, and then go across the Channel again to the Solent and the OGA50 celebrations. Finally join the clockwise Round Britain fleet.

10/8 Had a very sportive day. Walked and cycled around Alderney, saw all the fortresses and other places of interest. Early morning I will sail for Wight. Cowes and OGA50 here I come.

Preparing for Cowes

‘Snoopy’ needed a clean up as Anneke (my wife) would come on board for the Cowes festival.

13/8 On a special request about the dress code of the OGA50 committee, addressed to the RBC crews, I took my undies to the laundry today. They appeared to be alive, and resisted heavily. I’ll stay downwind.

15/8 After a fab. sail from Yarmouth, I arrived in Cowes, together with about 229 other gaff-rigged boats. It’s the biggest Old Gaffers event ever.

Here I finally met the clockwise RBC fleet. They had a completely different story to tell, having cruised in company, and visited all the local festivities along the trip. They had a bond. There appeared to be very little in common. There was no affinity. For me it had been more like a professional project, not a shared adventure, with shared emotions.

The festivities in Cowes were great. Perfect accommodation and entertainment and I would like to thank everyone involved in the organisation.

Having been involved in the organisation of the Dutch Classic Yacht Regatta, together with my wife, for many years, I know what it takes to receive hundreds of boats, fulfil their wishes, keep them happy and give them value for money. After all they are all individualists ‘avant la lettre’, and they all think that they, and only they are special. And of course they are, otherwise they would not sail in old and classic, gaff-rigged boats.

Passage home

I had a speedy passage home. A five hour stopover in Newhaven, one day in Rye, and one day in Ostend. Back in my home waters Friday night, left with the memories.

20/8 at Rye: Mud, glorious mud. Finally a night’s sleep in a not rocking boat, mud, MUD. Hands full with mud, boat bathing in, and covered with mud. Trousers, shoes and feet. All MUD. In a beauty parlour you have to pay for it. Here it’s all for free.

Some statistics from a small boat . . .

The fact that not much was seen of ‘Snoopy’, was also because she is so small (I even had trouble to find her back when standing ashore when she was hiding between all these normal cruisers). Besides my stay in the harbours was very brief. After all I did 1731nm in nine weeks, one day, 17 hours and four minutes. During the voyage I was only 25 whole days in port. Altogether, not bad, for an old 18 footer.

23/8 Arrived in Stellendam, back in Holland. The loop is almost closed. The venom was in the tail. Had to fight headwinds waves and tide. In Ostend ‘Snoopy’ was surrounded by ticky-tacky plastic again.

Followed by a sigh

When your finish is the same as your start, you have achieved nothing in the end. A disappointment, all this effort and adrenalin for no result at all. Anyway I did it. Against the odds, only 63 days. More than 1700 miles in a 77 year-old 18 footer. Everyone who said I could not possibly make it in that time, or was doubtful about it was wrong. Achieved something after all…

Duration of the voyage: 64 days, 17 hours and 4 minutes
Days spent in port (00-24): 25
Total time moored in a harbour: 1164.5 hours (48.5 days)
Under way: 388.5 hours (including waiting for locks and tides)
Motoring and motor sailing: 291 hours
Sailing: 79.9 hours (20.55%)
Average speed: 4.69 kts (80% of the max hull speed)
Log miles: 1738.3 nm
GPS miles: 1730.5 nm
With crew: 399 nm
Single-handed: 1331.5 nm
Fuel consumption: 245.9 litres (0.85 l/h)
Harbour dues/Canal fees: 715.24 GBP