After 1,500 miles cruising around the UK in their 27ft Rhea 850, our plucky pair tackle the final leg home from Cornwall to Gosport
This is the seventh and final of Phillip Davies and Nigel Boutwood’s round Britain adventure. You can read part one here.
Although Padstow in north Cornwall has been a wonderful spot to spend a night we are keen to get going again and escape the feeling of being trapped in a goldfish bowl surrounded by tourists. The weather and sea gods seem to agree and have granted us fair conditions for a swift departure.
However, we can only leave two and a half hours before high tide, when the cill gate opens, which isn’t going to be before 15.00 at the earliest. Thankfully, we are getting quite good at being goldfish and there are jobs to be done before leaving, not least replenishing our water tank so we can spend the night on a buoy in the Helford River.
Eventually, the cill gates open. We slip our lines and exit the inner harbour, making our way down the beautiful Camel estuary past the buoy marking the Doom Bar and out into the open sea.
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We set a course for Land’s End, the slight following sea making for a comfortable ride as we settle down to listen to the cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand on Test Match Special.
Between this and the magnificent coastal scenery of north Cornwall, the two-and-a-half hours it takes us to reach Land’s End at 20 knots seem to flash by and before long we are rounding Longships Lighthouse on its rocky islet 1.25 miles off the southernmost tip of mainland Britain.
This is the fourth and final significant left turn in our journey, and the final leg. We still have 36 miles to go to our planned overnight stop in the Helford River and the Lizard peninsula is looking moody up ahead, but the sun on our backs and the cricket on TMS keeps us in buoyant mood. Come on England!
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A couple of hours later, we enter the Helford River, pick up a buoy and break out some beers. England have won the World Cup by the tightest of margins and we are on our way home.
The Helford River looks spectacular but is open to the east where the wind and waves are now coming from. It won’t make for a comfortable night but we decide to stick it out and eat aboard as the river taxi has stopped running and it’s too choppy for our small inflatable tender.
Thankfully, the sausages we bought in Dublin a few days ago hit the spot, especially when accompanied by an excellent bottle of wine and the usual good company.
Helford River to Falmouth
The next morning we are still bouncing about on our buoy on the Helford River and after discussing the idea of inflating the dinghy to get ashore for emergency supplies (lunch in the pub), inertia gets the better of us and we hail the river taxi to take us
to the Ferry Boat Inn on the north bank (excellent seafood) and then the Shipwright Arms on the south bank for a digestif.
Having thanked the moorings officer, Ian Tolchard, for donating our berthing fee to the two charities we are supporting, we slip our buoy and make our way out of the Helford River to the Black Rock and its cardinal buoy, which stands guard at the entrance to the magnificent Fal estuary.
We pootle up the estuary to Falmouth marina and refuel the diesel tank before finding our berth. After the goldfish bowl atmosphere of Padstow and a bumpy overnight in Helford it is a pleasure to be in the peaceful environs of Falmouth marina.
I have berthed here a couple of times before and know that it’s a hike into Falmouth town, so we break out the electric scooters.
Freshly scrubbed up (the finest marina showers so far) we set up the scooters and waft our way into Falmouth town centre to visit the National Maritime Museum and get some pub grub in the Customs House Quay.
Falmouth to Dartmouth via Fowey
The weather and sea forecasts are set fair for the next couple of days, so we decide to take advantage of them to complete our circumnavigation. Our plan is to drop in to Fowey for lunch but press on to Dartmouth for the night.
We leave our berth late morning and make our way along the south coast of Cornwall on a flat sea in perfect weather. It is only an hour or so to Fowey, which doesn’t have a marina but does have various mooring buoys and a very nice pontoon at Albert Quay where you can walk ashore and stay for two hours.
By the time we arrive, there are already five boats berthed on the pontoon at unnecessarily wide intervals leaving no room for other visitors. We decide to raft up to a small motorboat, whose owners kindly interrupt their lunch to help us alongside.
Nigel heads off to Fowey town centre to buy some pasties and I learn from our new neighbours that they have trailered their boat down from Kettering and launched it in Plymouth to explore the local area. I tell them our story and rather enjoy their reaction when they realise we have already cruised most of the way round Britain in a boat that is only a little larger than theirs.
Nigel returns with some delicious pasties (voted best of the trip so far) and 45 minutes later we are on our way again, heading directly for Start Point on our way to Dartmouth. After three more hours of spectacular scenery scrolling by we enter the Dart itself.
The entrance to this historic river never fails to impress with its colourful houses spilling down the steep valley and the imposing naval college overlooking the scene.
We make our way to the town jetty pontoon right in the middle of the action, where berths are available after 17.00. The only disadvantage is that you have to leave by 08.45 the next morning, when the tourist boats resume their trade.
We clock in at the Yacht Club, where we sample their impressive range of beers. Another beer on the historic quay at Bayard’s Cove is followed by a fine meal at Kendricks restaurant.
Dartmouth to Yarmouth
We leave the town jetty pontoon at precisely 08.45 and head up the Dart to the fuel pontoon – their first customers of the day. Once the tank is full we head out to sea and Nigel gives me a course to steer that takes us south of the infamous tidal races off Portland Bill and well clear of the army firing ranges at Lulworth Camp and the overfalls at St Alban’s Ledge.
We head off across Lyme Bay on a glassy sea but with grey skies overhead and visibility limited to a few miles. We both
agree that it feels rather spooky, like flying on a shiny grey carpet through an endless misty sky!
However, after an hour or so the wind picks up behind us, the clouds disperse and the sun breaks through, revealing the outline of Portland Bill on the horizon.
We arrive comfortably south of the race (mere ripples today), keep south of the shallow Shambles patch and are soon skipping past St Alban’s Ledge (more ripples), where we catch our first glimpse of the familiar triangle of chalk cliff that is the western tip of the Isle of Wight.
The following seastate has picked up a bit on the back of a Force 4 but less than an hour later we are passing the Needles lighthouse, cruising comfortably at 20 knots down the Needles Channel past Hurst Castle and into the Western Solent, or as my wife prefers to call it, ‘The Womb’!
Thirty minutes later we are rafted up alongside a classic 37ft trawler yacht on a walk ashore berth in Yarmouth. It has taken
us less than five hours to get here from Dartmouth. The owner of the trawler asks if we have come far. To which Nigel responds, “Yes, Gosport.”
“That’s not too far,” retorts the owner, setting up Nigel perfectly for the response he’s clearly been working on for the past few weeks. “It is if you turn left!”
Nigel gives him the lowdown on our adventure and the trawler owner is suitably impressed. We are impressed ourselves, in a (relatively) self-effacing and humble sort of way.
Since leaving Bangor Marina in Northern Ireland, eight days ago, we have covered 600 nautical miles, enjoyed a day off in Dublin, cruised the length of the Irish Sea, crossed St George’s Channel and the Bristol Channel, rounded Land’s End and the Lizard, passed Start Point, Portland Bill, St Alban’s Ledge and the Needles. All in an 8.5-metre boat. Well done to us.
We break out the cold beers, set up the director’s chairs and table in the cockpit, and enjoy a well-earned rest in the sunshine.
That night we celebrate in On The Rocks, Nigel’s favourite Yarmouth restaurant. It’s an unusual establishment as you have to cook your own steaks or seafood. All they do is cook the chips and prepare a salad.
We share a Chateaubriand steak and a couple of bottles of fine red wine before heading back to Start Me Up. Nigel converts the saloon into his sleeping quarters for the last time, while I retire to the vee-berth in the forward cabin.
Tomorrow we will make our way through the Solent to Gosport, as we have a hundred times before over the previous decades. But on this occasion, those 18 miles will signify something much more. They will mark the end of our circumnavigation of Great Britain and tick off a very big item on our respective bucket lists.
Yarmouth to Gosport – the final leg
Even though we are in the most familiar of surroundings in our most frequently visited harbour, we go through the same routine as we have on all of our previous departures. This involves me meticulously checking the engines and ensuring all loose objects are properly battened down.
Nigel, meanwhile, calculates the waypoints and courses to steer. In his capacity as chief cook and bottle washer, he also prepares and clears up breakfast before converting his ‘cabin’ back into a wheelhouse.
Our neighbours on the inside of the raft kindly help with the lines and wish us well on our last leg through the Solent. We need to get back to Sussex and call Peter Wingate Saul, who dropped us off at the beginning of our adventure, to see if he can pick us up at the end of it and complete the circle. He is only too happy to oblige.
An hour after leaving Yarmouth we cross our virtual finish line and come alongside Start Me Up’s home berth at Gosport. It is good to be home. Nigel nips off to buy some bubbly at the local Aldi, while Peter and I load seven bags of kit and Nigel’s electric scooter into his car.
The three of us return to Start Me Up and pop the cork, raising a toast to the boat for delivering us safely around the shores of Great Britain. The engines haven’t missed a beat and other than a few teething troubles with the plotter at the beginning of our adventure, everything has worked flawlessly.
We toast each other too. Neither of us has ever lived in such close confinement with another human being for so long. We have managed to get all the way around without falling out. We were the very best of friends at the beginning and are the very best of friends at the end of it. Lastly, we toast Peter for picking us up and delivering us back to East Sussex.
Thank you, Start Me Up, you are the ballsiest 8.5-metre motorboat on God’s earth and I love you.
Why we did it
As a final sign off I wanted to remind you why we undertook this challenge and tell you a story of my own.
Nigel’s motivation was his son Charlie, who survived a brain tumour some 25 years ago, and the charity that helps ensure many others will too. You can read his story on his JustGiving page.
My own story is this. In February 1999 I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and told to go home and get my affairs in order. I was 46 years old and didn’t know what a prostate was. I was given two to five years to live. It was too far gone to be operable and could only be held up by hormone treatment.
It worked for a while but three years later it returned in a ‘localised’ form. Thankfully, this meant I could be treated with the latest targeted radiotherapy.
This did the trick and my cancer didn’t return for another eight years, when it showed up in my lymph system. The offending ones along with a few either side were surgically removed and since then (touch wood) I’ve been cancer-free.
It’s now 21 years since my original devastating diagnosis. Back then, my head was in a flat spin, my world had been turned upside down in an instant. It was early spring and I wanted to go and see my boat, a Princess 45, which I had had for nine years.
I clambered aboard, poured myself a large Bacardi and Coke and sat on the flybridge looking out over Portsmouth harbour. The magic of boats and water did their trick. I felt calmer, more ‘normal’ and strangely uplifted. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and realised that I’d had an amazing 46 years, and was determined to have a few more.
For business reasons, I kept my plight private and it has remained so ever since. Until now and this very publication. Twelve-thousand men die each year from prostate cancer and I think it’s about time I ‘came out’, tell my story and celebrate life by doing something out of the ordinary to raise money for the cause.
Circumnavigating Great Britain in my little Rhea was challenging, even frightening at times. Nigel thinks we might have made it look too easy but I can confirm that with 30 years experience and mostly sound judgement we were never going to make it look too difficult.
What we do hope we have done is entertain you enough to inspire you to put your hands in your pocket and donate a few quid to our respective charities. And maybe, just maybe, give it a go yourself. Thank you in anticipation.
First published in the June 2020 edition of Motor Boat & Yachting.