Cruising around Britain in a 27ft boat: Part 3 – Grimsby to Wick

Philip Davies and Nigel Boutwood battle up the North East coasts of England and Scotland in their charity raising effort to circumnavigate Britain

This is part three of Phillip Davies and Nigel Boutwood’s round Britain adventure. You can read part one here.

The marinas we have chosen for our circumnavigation of Britain have been selected for two reasons – they have fuel and 24-hour access. Grimsby is a rare exception as it only has access two hours either side of high water, which for us means leaving between 7am and 11am. The forecast is fair with a slight sea state for the 110-mile leg to Sunderland — a six-hour run at our Rhea 850’s comfortable cruising speed of 18 knots.

Fully refuelled, we exit the lock at 10am and make our way back through the Humber estuary before pointing the bows north up the Yorkshire coast. I am feeling guilty about not going into Whitby as it looks rather lovely and is said to serve the best fish and chips in England.

As if to spite us the sea picks up from slight to moderate as we pass, forcing us to reduce our speed below 14 knots and drop off the plane. We are tempted to duck in for some respite but decide to plough on for a few more miles to see if the sea flattens off again further up the coast.


Sunderland Marina is compact but as good as it gets

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Sure enough the waves gradually subside, allowing us to climb back up to 16 knots, so we plough on past Hartlepool to Sunderland. The entrance to the River Wear proves joyfully simple and we’re soon pulling into Sunderland Marina, a short distance from the harbour entrance.

It turns out to be a super little marina, clean, modern and very convenient for leisure boats like ours. It even has a very respectable Italian restaurant on site. We hose down the boat and crack a couple of cold beers to lubricate our tonsils.

Sunderland to Edinburgh

It’s strange to think that leaving Sunderland, our next planned English port of call is Padstow, Cornwall, 1,200 miles away! But first there’s the small matter of going round the top of Scotland. This leg will take us past Newcastle (more guilt pangs), up the wonderful Northumberland coast to the Farne Islands and on past Berwick-upon-Tweed to Scotland.

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The passage slides by without incident on relatively calm seas. Once north of the border we enter the Firth of Forth and make the 26-mile run up to Port Edgar Marina, nestled between the two road bridges just beyond the famous Forth Rail Bridge. We are allocated a berth by the marina manager and once secure, make our way up to South Queensferry with its quaint cobbled streets, where we enjoy an excellent fish and chips with a zesty white at the Boathouse Bistro overlooking the bridge.

Edinburgh to Peterhead

The forecast is the best yet with a slight sea state and a gentle following wind. We refuel and make our way back up the Firth of Forth before turning north towards our planned next stop of Peterhead, 23 miles on from Aberdeen. This is our simplest and easiest passage yet. I set the revs at 3,400rpm under the Forth Rail Bridge, equating to 18/19 knots and don’t touch the throttles again until we slow down to enter Peterhead Harbour some five and a half hours later.

I spent around £2,500 having Webasto heating installed on the boat and I’m starting to get my money’s worth. It may be the back end of May but by early evening the temperature is only 9°C and falling fast. I have to wear gloves to hose the boat down.


Forth Rail Bridge is a proud symbol of Scotland’s industrial heritage

We ask a couple on a sailing boat if there are any good restaurants nearby; when the answer comes back ‘no’, Nigel decides to give his Xiaomi M365 electric scooter a workout. We’re told there’s an Aldi two miles away so Nigel heads off on his scooter to buy a cottage pie and a decent bottle of red.

Much to my amazement, within 30 minutes Nigel is back with a full bag of shopping and four two-litre bottles of water. What a brilliant device that scooter is and perfect for smaller boats such as ours. We enjoy our Aldi cottage pie and an appropriately robust red, while watching Britain’s Got Talent on my laptop. Living the life!

The following day, with the weather set to deteriorate and the most challenging part of the journey still to come, we decide to leave the boat here for a few days and head home until the weather improves. A taxi to Aberdeen, an open return to Lewes (ticket price heavily discounted courtesy of our Senior Railcards) and we are home by 9pm, almost the other end of the country. It’s so easy it makes us wonder why more people don’t venture this far north in their boats.


The Rhea 850 is a small, but plucky vessel

Peterhead to Wick

The weather is looking good for our attempt to round the top of Scotland, so after almost a three-week pause, we return to Peterhead to resume our anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Great Britain. I’ve taken the opportunity to buy my own Ninebot Segway scooter to take the legwork out of the sometimes long distances from visitors’ berths to marina showers and local shops.

Start Me Up seems to have enjoyed her holiday too and I am relieved to see that the seagulls of Peterhead have not used her for target practice. I drop by the marina office to sort out our charges, which amount to £240 – good value compared to the south coast.

Keith, the very helpful manager, is intrigued by our mission and having heard about our charity fundraising efforts makes a telephone call to the Harbour Master. Within minutes our berthing fees are donated to the charities. Thank you, Keith and Peterhead Bay Marina.


The weather forecast looks good enough to make the 70-mile hop across the Moray Firth to Wick but this being the very top of the North Sea, the potential for big northerly swells rolling in from unseen storms beyond Norway is cause for concern. We are beginning to wonder if Scottish ‘slight’ seas are rather less slight than those in the Solent.

Nevertheless, we fuel up the boat, seek permission to leave and head north with a brisk south-easterly rolling us around from our starboard quarter. This lasts for nine miles or so before we pass Fraserburgh and turn north-west towards Wick making the sea into a following one and the boat motion more comfortable. We set off on the open sea passage across the Moray Firth in pleasant weather but with just a hint of mist reducing visibility.

After an incident-free 60 miles and just a dozen miles off Wick a large wind farm appears on the plotter but not on our increasingly short horizon. The mist is gradually turning into a proper fog bank and where the plotter shows multiple wind turbines, we see nothing. We assume they haven’t been constructed yet.


Historic Slains Castle, east of Cruden Bay

Put the wind up

We decide to go right through the middle of the notional wind farm, blithely entering the pink hatched area on the plotter, until our reveries are interrupted by a big whooshing sound. I poke my head out of the wheelhouse just in time to see a massive windmill looming out of the fog. ‘Whoosh!’ Another one appears on our port side. ‘Whoosh!’ And another to starboard. Cautiously, we pick our way through this maritime forest of Eiffel Towers.

After what seems a long time, we pop out of the other side of what I now know is the Beatrice Array, where each hub stands over 100 metres tall and the diameter of the rotors spans 154 metres. By the time we reach the entrance to Wick harbour the fog is as thick as soup. We don’t have radar but according to the AIS system on the plotter there is only one other (AIS equipped) boat ahead of us going into the harbour.

It’s not a lot of fun going into an unfamiliar harbour in thick fog with an increasingly strong easterly wind and a pilot guide that advises ‘dangerous to enter in easterly winds above force 4’, due to a sharp turn to port through a narrow inner entrance. We cautiously make our approach and negotiate the turn with more than a little gratitude to our plotter, which showed everything we needed to avoid exactly where it was supposed to be.

The Harbour Master is there to meet us on our allocated berth, positioned among a fleet of boats flying their colours in celebration of the annual Wick RNLI Lifeboat Station party. The Harbour Master assures us the evening celebrations are not to be missed. Nigel needs no further encouragement but first we head into Wick for a pie and a pint. We find the latter at The Camp pub whose landlord then points us in the direction of The Norseman, where we find the former — a very decent steak pie.


Pretty Wick, the day after a rather boozy RNLI annual bash

It’s a good job we’ve lined our stomachs because the Wick RNLI party has not been oversold. Neither of us have ever seen so much booze laid out on any table, anywhere. Spirits are lined up by the dozen with copious mixers and ice, and a mammoth beer ‘skip’ is awash with every conceivable type of beer. In another corner a vast BBQ is serving up local sausages and burgers. What more could we ask for?

“Where do we pay?” enquires Nigel. “Just put something in the box,” responds the station manager before asking if we would like a tour of the station. Would we ever! The tour includes a spectacular photo of the harbour wall being engulfed by massive waves during an easterly storm in the early 2000s. Just the image we didn’t want to see before heading back out to tackle the dreaded Pentland Firth the following day.

A donation, however big or small, for as much food and booze as you can consume all night long and a live band. No wonder the 300 attendees were having the time of their lives. We stumble back to the boat at 2am. Not ideal preparation for our passage along the exposed North coast of Scotland. Still, might as well enjoy it while we can!

Next month: Will our intrepid duo survive Cape Wrath?


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