This summer I set off on an incredible voyage where I met some of the most amazing people, sailed the most picturesque of places and was pushed to find new limits. On the 16th July 2020 I set off from Hamble Point Marina on my Hunter Impala 28 (Alchemy) to sail round Britain. Solo. My route would take me anti-clockwise round Britain with 39 stops and a total distance of 1,600 nautical miles. Now I want to recount my amazing adventure to you.
The start and the South East Coast
When I first began speaking to people back in late 2018 about my ambition to sail around Britain a lot of people said to me that one of the hardest parts of my project would be just getting to the start line. Until the 23rd March I never fully understood this, but from that moment on it became clearer than crystal, as the UK was plunged into what would be a 3-month lockdown to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. In summary, I had to completely re-think my project and how, or if, I was going to be able to set off round Britain this summer. However, after a hectic month and a half since the easing of lockdown I was finally able to set off on the adventure which I had been dreaming of since the age of twelve. To sail round Britain.
Setting off felt like a relief more than anything! I had been so stressed for so long before the start and it was only once I got out on the water that I was able to relax and focus my mind on the challenge ahead. As crazy as it seems, I had barely thought about the actual trip before the start and it wasn’t until about a week in that the realisation of what I had embarked upon started to hit me.
My first passage was a shakedown passage and took me from Hamble to Haslar Marina, Gosport, a short 15 nm where I was able to check that everything on the boat was working as it should. All went well and we had a fast, enjoyable trip down the Solent on a beautiful day… you thought! Yes, it was a lovely day and it was a great day for a sail. However, the problem was that the hundreds of other boats on the Solent had similar ideas which made the Solent feel a bit like the M25!
Coming into Haslar felt quite surreal that day but I was met by the marina staff who were so helpful and made sure that I was alright. It turned out to be a gorgeous evening and after cleaning the boat up I took a moment to appreciate just how lucky I was to be out on this adventure. The moment was short lived as reality came crashing down on me and I suddenly remembered that I needed to eat, and that meant I needed to cook… Cook! Cooking was something that I had completely forgotten about in the weeks before I set of and although mum did offer to give me some lessons, I always refused them. So you can imagine the response I got when I phoned her asking what, and how, I was going to eat! I ended up with pasta (well most of it as some ended up down the side of the oven) and went to bed quite satisfied with myself!
The next few days really threw me in at the deep end and by the time I reached Dover 3 days later I had been through an array of conditions which really tested me. We left Haslar and had what turned out to be a very fast but tough sail down to Brighton in a fresh Force 5 and a big swell which threw us around a lot. By the time we reached our 5th jibe I was pretty fed up and tired. 9 hours after setting off we came into Brighton a bit shaken up and battered so I cleaned up the boat, showered, ate and went to bed. I was settling into a routine quickly, eat, sleep, sail, repeat.
The next morning I was off early to make the short hop round to Eastbourne with the tide. Coming into Eastbourne I was greeted by Steve and Liz who had been tracking me on my journey so far and came to say hello which was a welcome surprise. In the afternoon I cleaned the boat up and then looked at the new weather forecast which had turned a lot less favourable than before and was forecast to bring easterlies in the next 24-48 hrs which meant that before then I had to get out of the channel and to Ramsgate before they filled in. The pressure was on and I realised I was going to have to set off from Eastbourne at 01:00 am the next morning to head for Dover with the right tide. It was going to be a long passage in some busy waters, culminating in a tricky entrance into the port of Dover which is best known for being the busiest passenger port in the world! I wasn’t very chuffed at all, but I knew it had to be done!
That night as the lock gates of the marina opened to the sea the nerves really hit like a sledge-hammer! All I could see beyond the breakwater was black, no navigation lights, nothing. It was absolutely pitch black. As I came out of the marina, I became very disorientated, when we began to pick up an uncomfortable swell and I was trying to find my bearings, quite literally! On top of this I was very fearful of the fishing pots that there were around which you cannot see at night, knowing that it would only take one to foul Alchemy’s propellor and leave us without power. In those 4 hours of darkness I was concentrating harder than I have ever before, I simply couldn’t get it wrong. (Looking back at this I now know that I can concentrate this hard, if not harder for longer but at the time It was well beyond anything I had done before.). That afternoon I came into Dover exhausted but satisfied as I now knew I was going to be able to get round to Ramsgate and I was soon asleep.
Now, although I didn’t have many expectations for my trip, I did have one, that at some point my sleep routine would end up completely the wrong way round. Well it certainly did in Dover when I woke up at midnight wide awake after a full night’s sleep! It was peculiar to say the least, but It gave me a chance to think, since I had very little else to do – to reflect about my last passage, what went well, what went less well, the emotions. Everything really.
10 hours later I was off again for a short hop to Ramsgate where we passed the notorious Goodwin Sands which, when you have the tidal streams with you, is very fast… and incredibly slow if you don’t. Thankfully, we had it with us!
That afternoon we arrived into Ramsgate, 5 days after setting off from Hamble and overall I felt really happy with what Alchemy and I had achieved, and Alchemy had kept me safe. I felt a real responsibility with Alchemy, If I look after her then she’ll look after me.