Plymouth to Salcombe

This series of five posts outlines a September passage from Plymouth to Teignmouth and back.

My son had a few days holiday owing and wanted to sail. We had a choice of Falmouth or Teignmouth. The wind direction and tides suited Teignmouth. To add interest on the way, we decided to overnight in Salcombe and Torquay. He was going to leave the boat in Teignmouth and I was going to return to Plymouth alone. In the event, we were weather-bound in Teignmouth for a week. A family holiday was imminent, so when the weather eventually eased, I had only a short time to return Blue Mistress to Plymouth. I planned a direct passage to Salcombe, to overnight there and then on to Plymouth. As it happened, I had a major problem off Berry Head which completely altered my passage plan.


(Click on image to enlarge. Double click magnifies)

04. Plymouth to Salcombe

If we had had a trip in which we fell out with each other, I would probably not have mentioned this, but we had a good time and I want to acknowledge it.

For a single-hander having someone aboard adds a whole extra dimension. The boat has been set up for one person. Ropes and gear have been placed to-hand and manoeuvers thought through in advance so that much of the routine on the boat has become automatic to me. I’m ahead of the game – most of the time. Few people want to be a passenger on a small boat, they want to be part of the crew. Therefore, having another person on board, someone who will inevitably do things differently, means my having to stand back and create ‘space’ for them to do it. How much space depends on the person.

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Dear George: singlehanded

Dear George

I am sorry it has taken so long to reply to your letter. As I mentioned the other day, the day job is proving a handful. You work hard throughout a long career and, at the very end, with the next step beckoning, you find yourself jumping through endless regulatory hoops that appear to have been created by someone in a hurry to finish a school project. One day I’ll tell you about it – ‘nuff said for now.

– – –

You say you want to sail and you are thinking of buying a boat of your own. You have sent me a lot of questions. Of course, I am flattered to be asked, but it would take a master mariner and his mate – the gnarled old yachtsman, a year to answer these – and still give them an excuse for another beer. So, before I wade in . . .

  • I am neither a master mariner – nor an old yachtsman (let alone gnarled);
  • What you get is not an expert’s guidance, more a fellow crew’s comments;
  • All my answers will come from my own experience such that it is – and if I quote someone else I will tell you (whether I can remember who it is or not);
  • You have to decide whether it is useful or not – and if you want to come back at me, that’s OK. We’ll both learn something.

– – –

You bring up the single-handed question.

Here’s my answer: “If you have to ask whether or not you should sail single-handed, the answer is no, don’t – go to sea with a crew and enjoy the company.”

The whole point of being single-handed is to be able to make those decisions for yourself. You do the preparation beforehand, you work out the potential problems, you solve the extra challenges as they come along. You run the boat – every aspect of it. You can seek answers from as many people as you like, but ultimately the responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Among many other things, (and we can talk about these later), you have to enjoy your own company. You have to live with your own mistakes, and your own triumphs. There will be no applause.

I agree with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s comment, “ The loneliness you get by the sea is personal and alive. It doesn’t subdue you and make you abject. It’s a stimulating loneliness.” I might even substitute the word ‘aloneness’ for ‘loneliness’.

A crew is a different matter.

Here is a question for you. Family aside, if you had a choice, who would you have aboard? Someone who can stay focussd, someone who knows one end of a rope from another, someone who can work close to other people without getting their ego in the way – (that’s a misquote from a sixties film by the way).

Do you want a crew that is excitable and can’t sit still? Someone who is always on the move? You might if you are in a twenty-minute America’s Cup race, but perhaps not if you are on a gentle cruise down the coast to Falmouth. It depends how long you intend to stay together, doesn’t it.

Of course, you don’t always get the choice. On s boat, you have to learn to live close with all sorts of people. Now there’s a topic . . .

I hope this is the sort of reply you are after.

I will sleep on your other questions and get back to you later.