Padstow to Cowes
Waking up in Padstow the next morning, I felt like I in a completely different place from the day before. Arriving the previous afternoon in thick fog, I couldn’t even see past the first row of houses in the town and had been totally unaware of the beautiful surroundings of rolling green hills, sandy beaches and picturesque cliffs. As I sat in the cockpit, taking five minutes to myself before the day started, the sun was beaming down and for once I truly felt on holiday. I felt more relaxed than I had the whole of the past two months, now that I had crossed the Bristol Channel, I only had one last big hurdle ahead of me, which was sailing around Land’s End.
After all the fog which had plagued my passage across the Bristol Channel, we ended up having to stay put in Padstow for three days due to high winds, although this time I had so much to explore that it was actually a nice interlude. On Day 4, we set off our final, long and arduous passage around Land’s End which took thirteen hours overall. Everyone talks about rounding Land’s End as such a huge landmark in sailing around Britain, but when it came to it, it felt like just yet another headland – a big one though, I have to say! I had no idea there were so many people watching me sail around, and generously donating to my JustGiving page. Huge thanks to all of you!
Once Alchemy and I had passed this milestone, we were on a roll…suddenly we didn’t have far to go, we were heading in the right direction and, most importantly, for the first time in the whole trip I actually felt confident in myself that I could sail around Britain! This feeling continued for the rest of the way along the South coast and just kept on getting stronger and stronger. Even though I had been gaining confidence gradually throughout the trip, once I had rounded Land’s End it went through the roof. Although we still had ups and downs, I felt that I could now handle them properly, not just get through them.
One of the key moments I realised all of this was when we were rounding Start Point, one of three feisty and very tidal headlands on the South-West coast. We had set off from Plymouth in a steady force five, then, as we came round the headland a couple hours later, we were met with a solid thirty knots (force 7) which we had to sail into upwind. The conditions were far from ideal and it was very gusty too. In fact, it was safe to say that they were up there on a level with our horrendous passage from Troon to Stranraer. However, this time I felt so much more confident in myself and in handling the boat. I knew exactly what I was doing and there wasn’t a single moment where I was hesitating on the big decisions.
This passage stuck prominently in my mind for a while because after that I felt as if I had really achieved something! That, together with the realisation that my whole trip was coming to an end, was causing me to reflect a lot on the incredible adventure that I had experienced.
However, it wasn’t quite over yet. After rounding Start Point, my next passage would include Portland Bill – Europe’s worst tidal race. It is a headland that is infamous for being vicious and I was very conscious of that fact there were only two ways to round it too: one, you pass very close inshore so that you are no more than fifty metres off the headland, or two, you pass very far offshore so that you are no closer than five miles off land. Anything in between and you are effectively in a washing machine! I chose the inshore route. The weather looked good, and it would certainly save a lot of time, however it would require some pinpoint navigation to get it right.
Thankfully, we got round just fine and it was actually not as bad as I had expected, although those watching from the headland may have been a little alarmed given that I was within shouting distance!
From Portland Marina I only had one final long leg to do – fifty miles to Cowes, where I was due to stop to do a day of media interviews before the finish.
For my final big sail, the main thing I wanted to ensure was to minimise the risk of something going wrong. Being so close to the end, there was a lot of pressure on me to actually finish without anything going pear shaped! In order to make sure of all of this, I had to set off from Portland in the middle of the night – the alternative would have been leaving at midday, which would mean coming into the busy Solent at night. However, by now I was so used to setting off in the middle of the night now that it was like clockwork!
As I slowly made my way out of Portland at 2am, I have to say I felt rather sad. This was the final time of the whole trip that I was going to experience this solitude – just Alchemy and I in the silence of the night – and I knew I was going to miss every single aspect of it. The first few miles of the passage were very strange to say the least. Normally, whenever I had left in the middle of the night I would be thrown into a world of darkness as soon as I left the marina. This time though, as soon as I left the marina, I was catapulted straight into what felt like a stadium of light! In Weymouth Bay there are several cruise ships which have been anchored there ever since the pandemic began, and every night they have to switch on all their lights to ensure the floating cities can be clearly seen – so as I was passing through them it literally felt like being in a stadium. I could see everything as if it were day! It was short-lived though, and soon we were back in complete darkness.
After we passed the cruise ships the going just got better and better! It was as if King Neptune knew that this was my last big passage and he had for once brought wind coming from the perfect direction! Throughout the night (and, in fact, for the whole passage) we were storming along. Everything was perfect. I felt completely in tune with Alchemy, and although it was still hard work – the wind was very gusty, so we were constantly reefing and making sail changes – it was incredibly rewarding.
In the middle of taking in a reef as the sun rose the next morning. I had another strange occurrence. This time, I was on deck wrestling with the rams horn1, when I suddenly heard the radio chirp into action:
“Alchemy, Alchemy, this is Vindloni, Vindloni, Do you read me? Over”
Huh? Who the hell is that! And why are they trying to contact me at 5:30 in the morning?? I immediately franticly searched the surroundings of the boat, thinking I hadn’t spotted another boat nearby. I was in fact half preparing myself for a full-on collision.
Then I heard it again. In the same calm and collected voice.
“Alchemy, Alchemy, this is Vindloni, Vindloni. Do you read me? Over”
I left Alchemy mid-reef and replied.
“Vindloni, Vindloni, this is Alchemy, change channel 9. Over”
Now on channel 9
“Hello, Timothy it’s Sven!”
I grinned from ear to ear and burst out laughing, both in relief and happiness. Sven, the Chairman of one of my sponsors (The Hunter Association), had been tracking me and decided to come and surprise me!
Another moment that portrayed the incredible kindness I had received on this magical trip.
Sven stayed only miles away from me for the rest of the passage. By now, the sun was up, and we were fast approaching the famous Needles headland and the entrance into the Solent. I was full of electrical energy, the finish was getting closer and closer, and the culmination of nearly two years of effort was in sight.
[Well actually no, that isn’t true, from the outside it would appear that way…however, the truth is that getting to the start was itself the culmination of the real work. The sailing was the fun bit!]
For me, reaching the Needles was the moment where I had achieved my dream – and I was ecstatic! I was the happiest person on the planet in that moment, and I felt so, so lucky.
The last short stretch up the Solent was very different sailing compared to the previous 1,700 miles around Britain. To start with, in the space of an hour I had seen more boats than anywhere else around the whole coast. The main difference was that I suddenly felt safe and relaxed again. I knew these waters and what was ahead of me wasn’t a scary thought anymore – it was merely a muddy, grey expanse of water which I had sailed on several times before!
Coming into Cowes, people must have thought I was crazy. I had an enormous grin on my face which just would not go away!
My day in Cowes was also going to be a pretty astounding experience… little did I know I was going to meet Ellen MacArthur, the person who, so many years ago, had inspired me to do this!
Watch this space for my final blog recount of sailing around Britain!
Ram’s horn: A ram’s horn is essentially two opposite facing stainless steel hooks positioned at the bottom of the main sail, next to the mast. It is used to hook on the reef points (holes in the sail) of the sail so that you can effectively sail the boat with a reef in.
Reefing: When you purposely make a sail smaller so that you can sail in more wind!