Kelston and Jackie Tobin didn’t intend to circumnavigate Britain, but after cruising from Kent to the Solent they decided to keep on going...
Since Jackie and I bought our 1990 Broom 37 Boisterous Mistress in 2004 we have never had a permanent mooring. Most winters we moored her in London, initially in Limehouse marina and later in South Dock marina, then during the summer months we cruise around the English Channel taking in everywhere from Holland in the north to the Channel Islands in the south, so we are quite used to leaving her in different marinas for a month or two.
Over the last few years we discussed the idea of circumnavigating the UK and came to the conclusion that anticlockwise would be the favoured route, with a winter stop in Scotland so we would be well placed to explore the Western Isles the following season.
We decided that May 2020 was going to be the start of our epic voyage. Then Covid-19 arrived and that was the end of that!
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Making the most of lockdown
Luckily, we had decided not to leave the boat in London the previous year so it had spent the winter at The Boat Yard on the River Stour in Kent. As this is close to our home, we had access to our boat during lockdown and managed to complete a lot of repairs and improvements. By the time July arrived and marinas were open again, we could not wait to get out on the water.
Having managed to arrange a berth on the Itchen for a couple of months, and with Boisterous Mistress fuelled and ready to go, we just had to wait for the right weather and tide.
With a favourable forecast, an early afternoon high water and the sun shining we left The Boat Yard at 11am on 22 July to make the two-hour journey down river to join the sea at Pegwell Bay. Access is only possible near high water and involves getting the swing bridge opened in Sandwich, so careful timing is required.
On this occasion it was more difficult than usual due to fallen trees, overgrown river banks and flood defence construction in Sandwich all reducing the width of the river. After safely negotiating this obstacle course we could now smell the sea and before long we were back in salt water once again.
It felt great to leave the shallow waters of the river behind and head out into the big wide world once again. We waved goodbye to the seals and pushed on into deeper water in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. With the usual thrill I eased the throttles forward, relishing the whine from the turbos after so many months at idling speeds. The gentle rumble of the engines turned into a roar as 612hp of Volvo’s finest pushed all 11 tonnes of boat onto the plane once more.
Our next adventure had begun and we were now heading west in the direction of Eastbourne for our first planned overnight stop. Little did we know at the time that this was in fact the start of our circumnavigation.
We made it to Eastbourne without any issues, cooked on board and were tucked up in bed by 9pm ready for an early lock out the following morning. After months of lockdown confinement, it felt so liberating to be on the water again in what has become our second home.
By 7.30am we were through the lock and heading towards East Cowes on the Isle of Wight at an economical 7 to 8 knots. Once again the sun was shining and the waters remained blissfully calm, allowing us to enjoy a flask of coffee and sausage sandwiches on the go.
As forecast, the wind started to strengthen at around midday so we sped up to 18 knots and 2200rpm, causing the occasional fleck of spray to land on the windscreen. As usual the way our Broom’s deep-vee planing hull cut through the moderate head sea proved very reassuring.
I’ve rarely felt so excited to arrive in the Solent. We’ve been here countless times before but this time it felt doubly special. There was a sense of normality about seeing other boats on the water and being welcomed in by so many familiar sights. We were soon heading up the Medina river to East Cowes Marina and by 3pm we were safely moored up for the start of our five-day stay.
We really love the Isle of Wight and when the weather is good there is no better place to be on one’s own boat. We had an early evening meal in The Lifeboat pub next to the marina and realised this was the first time we had eaten out since 13 March. After so long at home it felt almost illicit and yet the familiar sounds of people chatting and clinking glasses made it feel good to be alive.
We spent the next few days exploring the island on our folding bikes. We visited the gardens at Osborne House and a rather sad-looking Cowes where half the shops seemed to be shut. We used our dinghy to get to Island Harbour marina where we met up with fellow members of the Broom Owners Club. Finally, after five happy days we left Cowes mid-afternoon on 28 July and headed across a windy Solent so as to arrive at our tidal berth on the Itchen near high water.
With our boat now based there for the summer months we enjoyed a number of short breaks in the Solent, staying on our boat whenever time allowed. We anchored in Newtown Creek overnight and swam from the boat off various beaches around the island.
These really were idyllic days heightened by our awareness of how lucky we were to be able to escape to our floating refuge. It wasn’t until the end of August when we began to sense that summer was coming to an end that our new plan started to crystallise.
We were at anchor in Newtown Creek having just had a BBQ supper on the aft deck. We were watching the sun set while enjoying a glass of wine and discussing our aborted trip around the UK when one of us said, “Why don’t we just carry on clockwise?” We thought about it for all of five seconds and agreed there and then that this was to be our new plan, subject to securing a winter berth somewhere on the west coast and there being a suitable period of good weather.
Early in September, a slow moving high pressure system approaching from the South West looked like it might provide just the weather window we were looking for. I eventually got confirmation of a berth at Milford Marina in South Wales, and at 7.45am on 12 September we left the Itchen bound for Dartmouth.
It was sunny and calm as we made our way down Southampton Water for one last time. The forecast looked favourable for the next few days with light winds and a Force 3-4 breeze so it was a little disconcerting to find lumpy conditions even in the Solent.
To avoid rolling around we sped up to 18 knots off Lymington and with spray blowing over the boat we took the inshore route past Hurst Castle, Christchurch and Anvil Point before heading about five miles south of Portland Bill to avoid the race.
With Portland Bill in sight we now had to decide whether to carry on for Dartmouth or abort to Weymouth. It was touch and go as it was unpleasantly bumpy and wet but we were aware that if we did not get to Dartmouth now we might end up stuck in Padstow on the wrong side of the Bristol Channel from our winter berth.
With some apprehension we decided to carry on into Lyme Bay. The wind had increased as forecast but at least we now had some protection from the headland while the presence of several huge cruise ships at anchor proved a welcome distraction. We had already seen two of these mothballed giants off Bournemouth, several more off Weymouth and passed another four en route to Dartmouth, including the Queen Mary anchored in Torbay.
The entrance to the Dart always takes my breath away, especially when the sun is beaming down on its turquoise blue waters. First stop was the fuel barge before managing to get the last berth on the Town Quay. We had forgotten how beautiful Dartmouth is with its colourful houses tumbling down the hillside to the water’s edge. We had a quick wander before returning with boxes of piping hot fish and chips to eat on the aft deck. We definitely had the best seat in town.
The next morning we had to leave our berth before the trip boats started at 09.00. There was an autumn chill in the air as we set off but the sun soon warmed our backs and we enjoyed a lovely calm 72-mile run to Falmouth at a steady 17 knots, spotting pods of dolphin or porpoise frolicking on the surface in the distance.
By the time we arrived in Falmouth it was early afternoon and the sun was still sparkling off its welcoming waters. I had forgotten how big it was. We filled up with diesel at Falmouth Haven before being directed to a berth. We discussed the possibility of diverting to the Isles of Scilly for a few days but had second thoughts after Jackie read the relevant section in our south coast pilot book with its warnings of navigational hazards and limited berthing amenities.
Unfortunately, our night was disturbed by the low-battery alarm going off. The harbour master had not pointed out that we needed to buy electricity cards for the shore power to work, meaning we had flattened our domestic batteries by leaving an electric heater on. We won’t make that mistake again!
Round Land’s End
We left Falmouth on 14 September, a little later than planned. The wind had now gone round to the South East Force 3 to 4 but all looked fine for another three days. We were alarmed at how uncomfortably confused the sea was when we left the shelter of the harbour and headed towards Land’s End. I’d had many a nightmare about Land’s End and the North Cornish coast so this definitely heightened the concentration.
We were heavy with fuel and water and due to the confused sea conditions we had to increase our speed to keep the boat constantly on the plane. As we got closer to Land’s End the effects of the Atlantic swell became more and more evident with a disturbing rise and fall of the sea. It was disconcerting to witness the surf breaking on the shore line and the many rocks; all thoughts of venturing to the Isles of Scilly had long been dismissed and forgotten.
We went inside Longships. It all felt decidedly hostile especially as we were aware that there were no ports of refuge for at least 50 miles should we have a problem. Thankfully, after what felt like an age, we were now heading along the Cornish coast towards Padstow with the tide and a significant following sea making it feel like an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride.
Our speed was surging from 19 to 25 knots as we surfed down the waves with me listening intently for any unusual noises and keeping a constant eye on the instruments and engine CCTV.
The roar from the exhausts when going down the rollers together with the spray being thrown up on deck all added to the excitement. We tucked in to the coast to get some shelter; however, in 30m of water the swell became notably steeper.
Calm after the storm
The entrance to the Camel river when coming from the west is not that simple so we were very relieved to eventually be surfing in towards the channel markers. Our rapid progress meant that we arrived in good time to access Padstow harbour (access is two hours either side of high water) and having successfully avoided the infamous Doom Bar at the entrance to the estuary, we were allocated a mooring against the harbour wall by the friendly harbour master.
We definitely deserved a drink after the 94-mile Land’s End passage, which we enjoyed sitting on the deck filled with a deep sense of achievement.
The weather looked set for another two days so we treated ourselves to a day of rest before planning to leave the morning after. Having had a good night’s sleep we thought we would try one of Rick Stein’s eateries and attempted to book a table at his café but with no luck.
Surprisingly, there was still space at the seafood bar where we enjoyed some lovely dressed crab, fresh prawns and rollmops with champagne to celebrate rounding Land’s End, and were fortunate to be notified of a last minute dinner cancellation at Rick Stein’s Café after all – the perfect end to the day. The only spoiler was a bank of fog that we could see rolling up the Camel estuary as we walked back to the boat.
Neither of us likes an early start but with high tide at 5am we had to be under way by 7am and there is something magical about setting out as the sun comes up. It was murky and decidedly chilly as we left Padstow but there was no sign of the dreaded fog.
We decided to go via Lundy Island as it required only a small deviation from the direct route to Milford Haven. The sea was smooth with just a hint of swell and no wind but cold enough for us to put the heating on and fit the rear helm cover to keep the heat in.
We didn’t fancy a nine-hour journey so we increased speed to 17 knots. Unfortunately, we soon hit thick fog and visibility dropped to 100m at times. Full concentration was required from both of us; one looking directly ahead and the other monitoring the radar.
Although we passed close to Lundy Island we never even saw it. We did pick up a few targets on the radar including some dolphins jumping out of the water ahead of us but they disappeared into the fog as quickly as they appeared. About 10 miles from the Welsh coast there was some lively radio chatter on Channel 16 from one of the many firing ranges. They were trying to contact an unidentified white motor boat that had entered their exclusion zone! After some initial concern we concluded it was not us.
Two miles from the shore, as quickly as the fog had appeared it was gone and we were in brilliant sunshine admiring the Welsh coastline.
It was just after midday when we made our way through Milford Haven port towards Milford marina. We were excited to be in a new place and slowed right down to take in the scenery. We had been allocated a hammerhead pontoon behind a large yacht and were soon tied up securely. The marina looked lovely in the afternoon sunshine and we felt an immense sense of satisfaction that we had made it to our new winter berth.
Since leaving The Boat Yard on the Stour we had covered 565 miles, including our many trips around the Solent. The plan was to explore Wales during the winter using the boat as a base to stay. Sadly, Covid restrictions kicked in again before we could take full advantage of this but at least we are now well placed to resume our circumnavigation in 2021.
We haven’t yet made definitive plans for the coming season but as with last year’s spur of the moment decision to start our circumnavigation, we rather like it that way. Whatever happens it will be a great adventure and well worth waiting for.
First published in the July 21 issue of MBY.
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