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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Reflections on Rowing Round Cornwall

Many thanks to family and friends who supported this event and also for generously supporting CASPA.
Rowing out into the Atlantic in a 12 foot.6 inch boat, even only two miles away from land, definitely creates a mild sense of anxiety even if it wasn't mine but my family and friends. I see fear as a welcome reaction in this instance, helping me to take care not to do something stupid.
I was aware that around the west coast of Cornwall there are numerous shipwrecks and people have considerable respect for the sea. Chatting in the pub at the Bridge Inn near where I stayed in the winter to help explore the coastal path, one local described how a fisherman had recently drowned and his body was found several miles up the coast. There was concern about my plan to row round the coast and I found myself reassuring people about my caution and level of experience.

In a small Norman church in Zennor close to the Cornish coastal path I found this card:

To me, it sums up the fear of the sailor. There is a Portugese proverb - "if you want to learn how to pray, go to sea."
Fear can also bring with it contentment for some.
"I tasted once again the greatest joy which small boat cruising can offer: the satisfying contentment of an anxious passage successfully achieved. Eric Hiscock, Wandering under Sail.
Not to be complacent, of course.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

PicoMicroYacht Rounds Land's End

Overnight, in the hotel overlooking Sennen Cove I could hear the surf pounding on the beach.  But by the morning it had calmed down and the surfers were going to be disappointed.

I had the morning to prepare and gradually a group of CASPA runner support people and friends turned up in anticipation of the runners arriving from Pendeen and also to see me go.
I chatted and then went down to the beach and several people helped me drag the boat off the sand into the water. We bantered.'You must be mad - I have looked at the sea and it is rough out there.' 'no it isn't it's quite calm really' I replied, knowing it was not.


Inside the harbour it was calm and I was able to get PicoMicroYacht completely ready for the voyage.

I called up the Falmouth Coastguard on the radio. They asked whether I had a shore party. I hesitated in my reply because I thought they might not believe me if I said "well there are about 20 people running along the cliff tops looking out for me and my wife is on the mobile phone"

There was time to take photographs of the people seeing me off.

I had been studying the sea carefully and saw there was only white water where it broke against the rocks. There was a commotion but not enough to upset PicoMicroYacht.

Quickly I was off, rowing down the Tribbens, a narrow channel between some rocks and the shore, feeling my way along trying to find the right line to avoid the worse of the turbulence. I had chosen the best time to use the channel, high tide.

PicoMicroYacht was pushed upwards by the oncoming waves and bouncing down the other side, but no water broke over the boat and I felt in control.

As I pulled away from the land the waves became considerably larger, with smaller cross waves, but I was struck by how little wind there was given the commotion of the sea.
I was looking to position myself between the Longships lighthouse and the shore, enough out to sea to avoid any overfalls but trying to avoid two treacherous rocks, known as Kettle's Bottom. Everything was going to plan, and I moved forward gingerly looking out for rough patches.

                                 Longships Lighthouse with large wave passing in the foreground
As I neared Land's End I could see the gothic like architecture of the cliffs with houses perched on the top. The people sending me off had disappeared from view. I had to force myself to stop and take some photographs because the temptation was to keep moving forwards.

I became aware of the noise of a ship and looked round to see a large catamaran motoring towards me with sails up. I altered course to signal I was manoeuvring out of the way, following collision regulations. But the catamaran kept alterning course as if not seeing me. So I turned 90 degrees and rowed hard to make sure I was clear and in doing so I was seen.

        The catamaran heading off past Land's End on the right with Cape Cornwall in the distance

I headed the for the Runnel Stone buoy, which marks the passage avoiding a hazardous rock pinacle off Gwennap Head. As I drew near I heard a bell clanging and a moaning noise. The buoy is fitted with a bell that sounds with wave movement and also with a whistle set in a tube, which makes the moaning noise whenever there is a good swell. The doleful atmosphere it created contrasted with the bright blue sky.

                                                                        The Runnel Stone buoy
Soon I could just see the Minack Theatre and the two beaches of Porthcurno. At this point I was 1.5 miles out and the shore party could just see me, my rowing blades catching the sun and flickering.
The sea became calmer and the wind dropped off near to nothing and I was joined by two small fishing boats, one of which seemed to keep station about 100 metres away but then continued fishing.

Eventually PicoMicoYacht was rounding the headland into Mounts Bay and St Michael's Mount could be seen in the distance. Mousehole was on the left and I was reeling in the miles.
I arrived on the hard sandy beach at Marazion to be met by two friends who helped me take the boat out of the water.
I checked the distance - it was 19 nautical miles and had taken five hours.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

No rowing yesterday but today PicoMicroYacht rounds Land's End

Yesterday the wind was too strong, a headwind gusting over 20 knots and the sea too rough to be out in a small boat, giving PicoMicoYacht at rest.

I had various alternatives to rowing - one was to put a rowing machine on the sea front in St Ives and 'row' the same distance whilst collecting money and the other was to cycle instead.

But I opted for going with the CASPA runners. We set off from Carbis bay, going through St Ives and on to Pendeen.

I haven't been doing any running training, so I was allowed half an hour head start and also I jogged through St Ives whilst the CASPA runners took their time having refreshments and wandering around with what they call the red boot in which people who want to donate can put in pound.

The red boot carrier, who I nickname the golden boot because he is so aimable that people find it even easier to give to CASPA, has to empy it at the refreshment stops because it gets too heavy.

Gorse everywhere

I pushed on ahead, wondering when the CASPA runners would overtake me, but then it dawned on me that most of the time we couldn't run properly - as on a flat road - so they might not be catching me up very fast. The coast path was strewn with rocks which meant picking your way at fast walking pace and then getting into a jog when it became more smooth. The up and down cliff tops were so steep it was like doing step  training in the gym.

My knees ached, but the good thing was that all the muscles that I had used the day before didn't seem to be required - instead a different set of muscles, which complained in a different way, but nevertheless were fairly fresh.

Along the way I was distracted by the spring flowers, seals and people coming in the opposite direction peering at my bright yellow CASPA shirt.

The weather has improved today, so I am going have a go at rounding Landsend and round the coast to St Mounts bay.

 View of the rocks off Sennen Cove with Cape Cornwall in the distance

Friday, 3 May 2013

Portreath to St Ives - An Early Start

The first day of the four day row was to be a 9 mile voyage down the north coast of Cornwall.

The plan was for everyone to set off for St Ives  Portreath at 1.00, coinciding with high tide - I would have the advantage of the westerly ebb tide down to St Ives.

But the forecast predicted strong head winds for the afternoon and my only chance was to go very early in the morning when the winds were light, catching the last of the ebb tide.

This meant a 4.00 am start, rigging PicoMicroYacht in the dark and leaving Portreath at 5.30.

Rowing out of Portreath bay I went inside the large rock just west of the bay - a large wave swept up the side of the rock and created a snarling noise as if to say 'don't mess with the sea round here.'

As the sun rose, the sea and sky became a deep blue colour and the coastal scenary a mellow green, the sun gradually burning off the haze over the land.

There was a long swell with superimposed smaller waves caused by the wind and  every so often PicoMicoYacht crashed into the steeper ones with a thump, with a fine spray covering the boat. I had expected  a somewhat confuse sea, but PicoMicroYacht was coping really well with it.

My course took me several miles out to sea to avoid a huge reef called the 'Stones' close to the Godrevy lighthouse. As I headed for the outside of the reef I could see the sea breaking over parts of it. The wind was rising and the tide turning against me and it was hard going getting past it. I reached the Stones buoy, marking the outside of the reef, and turned sharply into St Ives bay.

The Stones buoy with some of the 'Stones' just visible in the distance

The tide and wind was sweeping me back along the bay, but I kept moving as fast as possible to get close to shore where the tide was weaker and I was more protected from the wind. It was slow going but I arrived in a small bay near St Ives - Carbis bay - the trip taking four and a half hours.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

May the Wind be at your Back

The wind direction is a key issue for rowing or sailing -  'in your face' can mean a long slog if you are sailing.

But of course rowing along backwards (why do rowers make it so complicated by facing the wrong way round?), it is not good to have it 'in your back' which is why a recent encouraging comment from Alison 'may the wind be at your back' made me chuckle - grammatically correct and spot on - a following wind is what is needed - at my back -  from the back of my boat.

I am looking very carefully at the wind chart. On friday it is currently threatening a solid 16 mile an hour wind 'on my back.' So I am hoping the forecast is wrong, but I have three days for it change in my favour.

See full size image

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bad news for surfers but good news for PicoMicroYacht

I don't want to spoil your fun, fellow surfers, but the truth is I have to admit that just for a little while good news for me will mean disappointing news for you. I logged on to a Cornwall surfing report and read the following comment from today:

'The coming week isn't looking great with high pressure stationed to the west of the UK all week, sending weak lows to the north, we're into a run of north dominated winds and small north wind swell, making for north coast small onshore sessions the only option, with the south coast basically flat. A rest week I reckon (and yes, I will just paddle out for fitness at some point, like you will).'

Frustrating for your I know but it's the news I want to hear - low waves.

Two hours on the rowing machine today watching YouTube videos of people sailing across the oceans.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Weighing the odds and planning the route

It's only six days until I set off from Portreath, weather permitting. Realistically the weather systems are not particularly settled. A current forecast for the day before I start is light northwesterly winds with relatively low waves.

Being cautious I am not going if there is any doubt about the wind and sea state.

I have plotted my route, with estimated voyage times. The first voyage is from Portreath, about 9 miles, which should take about three hours. It takes me two miles out to sea to avoid the Stones, a series of reefs off Godrevy Island. There is an inner passage between the reefs and the island but there is danger of a race forming if there is any sea. After the Stones I cut in and end up at St Ives.

The next three days take me round the tip of cornwall, starting at St Ives and tucking into Sennen Cove for one night and then Mousehole, with a short hop in the final day.

To get to Sennen I have to be two and a half miles off Pendeen to avoid a race and then I head to the right of a rock formation called the Brisons, then entering Whitesand Bay and manoevring into Sennen Cove just before Lands End. Passing Lands End I go inside the Longships but outside the Runnel Stone to avoid the risk of turbulent water off Gwennap Head. The total voyage is about 42 miles according to my measures.

The art of sailing is to be thinking of plan B, plan C and preferably plan D. The problem with the tip of Cornwall is that there are fewer plans. If the sea state gets too difficult to get into Sennen Cove there isn't a great plan B - either reversing up the coast back to St Ives or South and the East, perhaps to get into Porth Curno or Lamorna or on to Mousehole. So in a small boat I am being very cautious.

BUT I have another plan B for the charity event - if the weather fails me then I will cycle round the coast, meeting up with runners on the way and do the same distance on my rowing machine the next weekend - and wait for another opportunity!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

PicoMicroYacht versus Oxford University

Relatively high winds and cold weather means I am training using the rowing machine. On Sunday I was in a safety patrol boat in the middle of Chichester Harbour so missed the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

I watched it on iplayer, on my rowing machine at the same time. I was supporting Oxford and there was no comparison (I mean between me and Oxford).

Oxford at 45 at the start settling into a rhythm

Oxford went off at a stonking 45 strokes per minute and settled into an amazing rhythm between 34 and 36. I started at 20 and settled into 24, not so impressive. Because Oxford were in the lead and focused on their 'power plan,' by about Chiswick Steps they were down to 33  and keeping  ahead by 2/3 of a length. At this point I got off the rowing machine to start running my bath.

Cambridge trailing Oxford

When I returned, Oxford sprinted, their rate going up to about 37 and they drew clear ahead, just in time to avoid taking the outside of the next bend. I resumed rowing and kept going to the finish increasing to 26, whilst Oxford settled down to a sedate 34 until sprinting for the finish, but only at about 36. They didn't seem particularly exhausted at the end.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Ivor's Plan

When my friend Ivor Reveley found out that I had rowed across the English Channel last year he asked me to join his charity run around the western tip of Cornwall. The idea is that I would instead row and his CASPA runners would see me off, jogging along the cliff tops, occasionally glimpsing PicoMicroYacht bobbing about in the sea.

A good plan, but I agreed with some trepidation. Western Cornwall sticks out in the Atlantic Ocean and rollers pound the coastline. My little boat is designed for estuaries and I only go out when the weather is fair and the sea kindly. But I am willing to give it a go, provided the weather is calm - I really hope I can do it.

The strength of the sea in this stretch of coastline is seen at Sennen Cove, a little haven close to Lands End, photographed at Christmas. As the harbour masters says "The difficulties and potential dangers of operating small boats from Sennen Cove should not be under-estimated . This is the Atlantic Ocean - the area is littered with rocks and shoal areas ; subject to the Atlantic swell , and affected by strong and varied tidal streams."