Boating around Britain in 26 days: How our charity challenge came to an end

Bad weather and mechanical mishaps make their Jersey homecoming all the sweeter for UK circumnavigators Neil Cotillard and Phil Carter…

This is Part Four of Phil and Neil’s boating around Britain challenge – if you haven’t already, make sure to read Part One, Part Two and Part Three first.

18 May – Bangor & Belfast

We’ve made it from Brighton to Belfast in 23 days but with only three days left of our original 26-day target to make it down to Land’s End and along the South West Coast of England, we are disappointed to wake up to yet more strong winds keeping us pinned in harbour for another day.

We use the time to visit the Titanic Museum in the old Harland & Wolff shipyard where the ill-fated ocean liner was built. It’s an eerie experience to stand on the very slipway she was launched from, and the museum and surrounding exhibits are every bit as fascinating as you’d imagine.

19-20 May – Bangor To Peel, Isle of Man (47nm)

Our plan was to head straight from Bangor to Dublin but the temptation of stopping off for cheaper fuel in the Isle of Man proves too tempting so after a quick breakfast, I fire up April Rose’s engines and call Neil on the VHF.

All is not well – Joie de Vivre’s single big Caterpillar engine does not want to wake up. The amount of gaffer tape stuck all over the wheelhouse to try and stop a series of persistent water leaks, including one which has been dripping over the electrical circuits in the engineroom below, makes this the prime suspect.

Colin and I pop over to help and after trying a number of things, Neil manages to identify a circuit breaker which has tripped. He resets it and vroom, the mighty CAT awakes!

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The sun is shining as we exit the marina, and with the coast providing shelter from the SSW winds as we run across Groomsport Bay, progress is smooth and fast. The minute we move out of the lee of the land, we are punching into an uncomfortable Force 4 to 5 chop with spray flying over the boats.

After three hours of enduring the Irish Sea on spin cycle, we enter Peel outer harbour. It is low tide so we tie up to the pier to wait for the marina gate to open. Once safely inside, we are allocated berths and are soon hosing salt off the boats in bright sunshine and trying to discover where the various leaks are coming from.

With no obvious source we resort to another liberal application of gaffer tape, leaving Joie de Vivre looking like a poorly bandaged Egyptian mummy. We spend the rest of the day exploring the picturesque harbour town and visiting the Manx Smokehouse, which has been producing Manx Smokies since 1882 – and smelt like it too!

Bangor marina proved to be the calm before the storm

By the time we’ve purchased some for our dinner, the weather has once again closed in, giving us another enforced day ashore, and washing away our chances of competing our circumnavigation of Britain in less than 26 days.

Waking the next day to yacht rigging clanging in the wind, we arrange to fuel the boats in the afternoon once the marina gate opens, and spend the rest of the day doing boat maintenance and wandering round the pretty town and castle.

Once we have brimmed the tanks and scurried back into the marina, we head to the Creek Inn for dinner and an inter-boat pool competition, April Rose’s crew emerging as worthy winners once again.

Peel harbour’s sights are diverting… as is the smell of smoked fish

Joe de Vivre’s night goes from bad to worse when Neil returns to his boat to discover a problem with the holding tank backing up. The smell is disgusting so Neil strips to his underpants (we don’t know why either) and resolves the blockage but not the stench, although a Calvados nightcap helps to numb the nostrils.

Journey time: 4 hrs
Average speed: 14 knots
Approx fuel burn: 190 litres per boat

21-22 May – Peel to Conwy via Anglesey (151nm)

It is barely light as we start the engines and contact the harbourmaster to open the bridge. We exit the outer harbour into a large swell, keeping our speed down to ten knots and staying well offshore as we round the Calf of Man, rather than taking the inside route where there appears to be a lot of white water.

Turning south-east towards Conwy, the conditions improve, so we push back to our normal 15 knots and settle in for the 40-mile crossing to Anglesey. There is a lot of shipping around, keeping us on our toes and helping the three-hour journey to rattle by.

Joie de Vivre living up to her name as she piles through the swell

As we close into Point Lynas, the sea calms enough for us to pop the kettle on for a very welcome coffee but over on JDV the inverter has failed completely, killing the coffee machine, much to Neil’s distress, but more worryingly causing the alternator light to come on and the battery voltage to plummet.

We slalom through the anchored shipping waiting to enter Liverpool docks and look for a spot where we can wait for the tidal marina at Conwy to open.

Once safely on the hook in a sheltered bay near Trwyn Dinmor, JDV nudges alongside so we can investigate what looks worryingly like an alternator failure. By the time the marina gates open, Neil has found a new alternator but it’s a two-hour drive away in Preston.

The channel into Conwy is quite convoluted and I miss the fairway buoy, much to Neil’s amusement, but as soon as we’re safely berthed, Phil extracts the still-hot alternator and Neil jumps in a hastily organised rental van to take it to Preston for further assessment. It’s pronounced DOA but a suitable replacement is found and the smile returns to Neil’s face.

The gin bar on April Rose has already been open for a couple of hours by the time Neil returns, and with another bad forecast for tomorrow, we decide to leave fitting the alternator until then.

Bad call. By the time I arrive the next morning, it’s clear that the mountings on the new alternator are fractionally different and no amount of hacksawing and filing can make it fit. This time Phil removes the entire alternator assembly so Neil can take the whole lot back to the supplier.

Whilst waiting for his return, Phil and I have a good meander around the area on our bikes, finding a nice pub on Conwy high street under the castle walls where we settle in for a few pints.

Getting back just in time to meet Neil’s speedy return, Phil squirrels his way back under the wheelhouse floor and successfully mounts the revised alternator onto the engine. Neil starts it up and everything is working as it should again, including the inverter.

We toast the success with more beers and a BBQ on deck watching the sunset as we plan the next day’s adventure.

Journey time: 8.5 hrs
Average speed: 10 knots
Approx fuel burn: 360 litres per boat

23–26 May – Conwy to Neyland (151nm)

Today’s destination is Neyland in Milford Haven, South Wales where April Rose was built in 1988. Ever since buying her in 2003 I have dreamt about returning to the Dale Sailing yard and now it is going to happen.

The alarm goes off at 0600 as we need to be out of the marina before the tidal gate closes. It is overcast but relatively calm, which is just as well given that we have 150nm to cover and don’t fancy being bounced around for the entire day.

We consider going through the Menai Straight but with the tide still running hard, we think it prudent (for once) to take the long way around Anglesey.

Visiting Tenby’s famous lifeboat stations, old and new

Luckily, the tide is with us and by hugging the coast the sea remains calm, but as soon as we turn the corner inside the Skerries, the wind against tide starts kicking up large waves. We cut inside Holyhead Bay to pick up shelter and as the tide eases off, turn south at the South Stack on Holy Island into a gentler three-metre swell.

Even with the overcast skies the scenery is stunning and after two mesmerising hours we cruise past Bardsey Island and head into Cardigan Bay for the four-hour run to St David’s Head.

Between Ramsey Island and St David’s Head we pick up the tide again, giving us a real boost across St Brides Bay into Jack Sound. There is more shipping now and Neil contacts Milford Haven Transit to get permission to enter.

George from Dale Sailing who worked on April Rose when she was built

Neyland is about seven miles into the Haven and we pass a number of Navy RIBs as we make our way slowly up the buoyed channel to Neyland Yacht Haven where we are soon tied up and washed down.

The forecast for the next couple of days is not good, so Mike Reynolds, the MD of Dale Sailing, kindly arranges for us to look around the factory the next day.

It’s fascinating to see the place where April Rose was made and the maze of workshops now house a number of boats in for repair as well as the hull of the brand new Dale Classic 37 waiting for the engines to be installed and superstructure placed on top.

We end up in the chandlery where Neil finds some vent covers which he hopes will finally resolve the ongoing leak of water into the fuel tank.

Journey time: 10.5 hrs
Average speed: 12.4 knots
Approx fuel burn: 600 litres per boat

Entering Gannets Bay on Lundy Island

27 May – Neyland to Padstow via Lundy Island (87nm)

It is still sunny when we leave Neyland at 0930 with the forecast set fair and both the swell and wind behind us for the 40-mile run down to Lundy Island. Colin and I take up position on the flybridge, enjoying the view of boats coming and going.

Leaving Milford Haven, we give the firing range a wide berth then surf the swell towards Lundy with pods of common dolphins leaping in our bow wave.

We make good time and are soon cruising down Lundy’s east coast where we stop in Gannets Bay to take a few photos and check JDV’s water separator, with much better results. The wildlife on Lundy is amazing, with seals everywhere and all sorts of bird life.

The 45 miles to Padstow pass quickly and as we run down the North Devon coast, the water colour changes from dark to light blue. It is high tide as we cross the infamous Doom Bar into Padstow, and the beaches look gorgeous in the summer sun.

The harbourmaster asks us to raft alongside the harbour wall where a sill retains enough water for us to stay afloat when the tide runs out.

We have a longstanding reservation at Rick Stein’s famous seafood restaurant for dinner tonight and after brushing up for the occasion, Neil and I treat our crew to thank them for joining us on this amazing journey. The meal is excellent, living up to all our lofty expectations.

There is a ukulele band playing at the Harbour Inn when we return so we join in the singalong to a great selection of oldies before staggering back to the boats with a handful of new friends for a few more drinks.

The evening ends with Neil stripping off and leaping into the harbour for a skinny dip, surprising a couple of old yachties having a nightcap in their cockpit.

Journey time: 7 hrs
Average speed: 12.4 knots
Approx fuel burn: 355 litres per boat

Early morning departure from Padstow

28 May – Padstow to Falmouth via Scilly Islands (133nm)

It’s 0530 and the sun is rising over the Camel river almost as fast as my hangover. We need to be out of the harbour by 0600 to catch the tide so after a brief but fruitless search for an open café, I wake up the rest of the crew, start the engines and get going.

Cutting inside Gulland Rock, we settle in for the four-hour run to the Scillies in a gentle northerly swell, which doesn’t seem to be helping Neil’s condition, judging from his occasional dashes for the gunwales.

April Rose and Joie de Vivre make their way up the Camel Estuary to Padstow, Cornwall

Passing Cape Cornwall, we can clearly see the Sevenstones Lightvessel and a steady stream of boats heading north and south along the traffic separation zone. The wind picks up as we run along the eastern edge of the Scillies before entering Crow Sound and picking up a mooring buoy on the edge of Porth Mellon.

Neil retires to bed while we enjoy lunch onboard in the sunshine. After tidying up the boats, we drop the mooring and pick up our old friend Rob, who has flown out to join us on the final leg, from the steps on the quay before motoring out into Saint Mary’s Sound. Once past Peninnis Head we open the throttles and set course back to the mainland.

Wolf Rock lighthouse is a towering testament to engineering ingenuity

We stop at Wolf Rock lighthouse, eight miles from Land’s End in 70m of water, and wonder at the logistics of engineering and building such a tall structure in such an inhospitable location.

We punch the tide along the Cornish coast, running close in to the Lizard while keeping a sharp lookout for the many pot markers running right into Falmouth Harbour.

There are boats everywhere and we have to weave our way past Falmouth Docks and into Port Pendennis Marina, where a large superyacht provides some shelter from the swell rolling across the outer pontoons.

Moored in Port Pendennis, Falmouth

After a much-needed shower we rendezvous in a nearby bar before enjoying our last dinner of the tour in one of the high street restaurants. We’ve another long day of boating tomorrow, even though it will be our last.

Journey time: 10 hrs
Average speed: 13.5 knots
Approx fuel burn: 510 litres per boat

29 May – Falmouth to Jersey (132nm)

We wake early to get to the fuel pontoon the minute it opens at 0800. Just as well because the attendant says they are low on diesel but we can have whatever he’s got left. JDV is in greater need than April Rose so Neil goes first and I manage to put 150 litres in both tanks before the pump runs dry.

Soon we are passing Shag Rock out into the English Channel, destination home! It is a straight line to Corbière, Jersey 120 miles away and we settle into a rolling rhythm with the swell. Sensing the moment, the crew leave me alone on the flybridge as we close in on the end of our epic circumnavigation.

Family and friends provide an emotional welcome party

The sun reappears as we pass Guernsey to port, Neil sounding emotional as he announces over the VHF that he can see the TV tower on Jersey’s North Coast close to his home. By this time I have already taken a number of waves over the flybridge, giving me a good dousing, but I am determined to stay there till the very end.

Our friend Sean meets us off Corbière in his boat with my son George and his girlfriend Danielle on board to accompany us the last few miles into St Aubin’s Bay. As we round Elizabeth Castle breakwater, marking the end of our adventure around Britain, a crowd of family and friends cheer us home. It is a very emotional experience for us all.

We moor alongside the holding pontoon and enjoy a glass of bubbly with the crowd. It is so good to see our wives and families. The local ITV news crew are even there to interview us about our achievement.

An unforgettable voyage gets the thumbs-up

It all goes to show that a little planning, a decent boat and a good crew are all that’s needed to undertake a 1,900-mile journey broken down into daily achievable distances. Our decision to do this in such a short period of time has left us hungry to return to some of the places that we visited, albeit by land.

Our challenge to raise £5,000 for Prostate Cancer UK has been surpassed, with the current total well over £10,000, and people still donating on the back of these articles and our YouTube videos.

Aquastars On Tour will be back in action later this year with a much shorter but no less interesting journey round the Channel Islands, which our wives and partners seem much happier with!

Journey time: 9 hrs
Average speed: 9.1 knots
Approx fuel burn: 600 litres per boat

To donate to their fundraising efforts for Prostate Cancer UK visit the Aquastars on Tour GoFundMe page.