Victoria and Dominic March
Opus Too – owned by Dominic and Victoria March. Victoria wrote an award-winning article on a summer cruise to the Scilly Isles in Opus Too, which was featured in Sailing Today magazine.
The following article appeared in Sailing Today, June 2005. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Victoria March (the author) and John Goode (editor of Sailing Today). Available as a download in pdf format – click here
Enjoy the Isles of Scilly
Victoria March won the Small Boat Category in Sailing Todays writing competition, with her story of a cruise to the Isles of Scilly in a Corribee 21
For some time it had been our dream to sail to the Isles of Scilly in our Corribee, Opus Too. In June 2003 we got married and had our honeymoon on board. For our first wedding anniversary present to each other we bought the charts for the Isles of Scilly and had been studying them with longing ever since. At the end of July 2004, when we found ourselves lucky enough to have six weeks off, we could realistically plan to sail there.
On July 26 we had an evening tide in our favour and spent the day making final preparations to leave our home port of Brixham. Once round Start Point we always feel that we are on our way – it’s our first major headland and a place where it is crucial for a small yacht to meet a fair tide. This time we had a flat passage and when we reached Prawle Point the wind had dropped completely. Wanting to reach the Yealm we dropped the headsail and motor-sailed across Bigbury Bay, keeping a close watch for crab pots. By 2300 we were moored alongside another yacht on the pontoon in the Yealm for a few hours sleep. High pressure stayed with us for the next few days, giving settled weather, but little wind for our coastal hops to Fowey, Falmouth and the Helford. In the Fal we anchored off St Just, a lovely calm, peaceful anchorage. The following night we dropped the hook off Durgan, Helford. Next morning we had a beautiful dawn start for our sail around the Lizard. The wind was light and the tide still against us for a little while, so we motor-sailed round the Manacles. By 1020 the wind had increased and was blowing from the east; with the tide now in our favour we were soon nearing Lizard Point. This was our next major landmark and we were treating the headland with respect, but we had perfect conditions for flying our new spinnaker. Three miles off the Lizard the spinnaker went up and we were soon flying along. For the next two hours we averaged 6kn and had the most incredible sail across Mounts Bay before we reluctantly dropped the spinnaker and raised the cruising chute to head into the bay. We planned to spend the night in the wet dock at Penzance and with time to spare before the gates opened (HW- 2hrs and HW+ 1 hr) we anchored off St Michael’s Mount for a swim. The following day we had planned to go into Mousehole, a few miles south of Penzance, but with a very big swell in the bay it didn’t seem wise to attempt the entry into the harbour, and instead we dried out alongside Albert Pier in Penzance.
When we swam the previous day we had noticed how much Brixham weed we had on the hull, so while Dom scrubbed off, I searched the surrounding chandlers for antifouling. It seemed that all we could buy was a large drum of red antifouling that the fishing boats use. Eventually, after a walk to the far side of Newlyn, I found what we needed and by evening Opus was newly painted. Once refloated, we motored the short distance round to Newlyn Harbour where we rafted alongside a Brixham trawler and a French yacht. It’s very much a working fishing port, but the Harbourmaster was extremely accommodating and the locals very friendly.
Dom was quick to accept an invitation from our neighbour to climb the mast steps of his 40-foot yacht and take some aerial photos of our two yachts. For weeks we had planned this crossing, had studied charts, almanac and pilot; now we carefully listened to every forecast. It appeared the weather would be good for us; even the tide was favourable at a sociable time for a change. We discovered that the French boat alongside was also leaving at around 1100 for the Scillies, so we were somewhat alarmed when at 1050 their engine was on and their lines off with us still tied alongside. An amused audience of fisherman looked on from the trawler as we cast off.
Leaving Land’s End behind
Sea mist hung over Mounts Bay, but cleared as we headed west, giving good visibility. It was an exciting moment when we left Land’s End behind and had nothing but open water ahead. The wind was very light and we motor-sailed for the first couple of hours; with the engine just ticking over, and the tide pushing us along, we were doing 5-6kn. Finally, the wind increased, the engine went off and we had a lovely sail. At 1420 we sighted land. The islands are so low that you wonder if it is indeed land or if your eyes are playing tricks; in the occasional large swell they would disappear altogether, but as we got closer we could identify the different islands. Mark Fishwick’s West Country Cruising Companion was invaluable in selecting anchorages and, having considered wind and shelter, we decided to spend our first night in St Helen’s Pool. It was with relief, satisfaction and elation that we dropped the hook in a weed-free patch of sand in the north of the pool. The clarity of the water was quite unnerving at first; standing in the bow I felt a sense of vertigo as I looked down to the rocks and white sand far below. We had been looking forward to celebratory bangers and mash that evening, and I had just fried some onions and put the potatoes on when the gas started to dwindle and die. With perfect timing, in one of the most remote anchorages in the islands, with no pub in sight, our gas had run out. It was biscuits with cheese spread and hungry to bed. There was a big swell at HW as the pilot had warned and the wind increased, but our anchor held well. I woke in the middle of the night to find it perfectly still and beautiful. Once we had replenished our gas supply in St Mary’s we were able to explore the many wonderful anchorages around the islands.
The next few days were spent exploring around New Grimsby on Tresco, dried out on our legs in Green Bay at Bryher and in Porth Conger at St Agnes. The weather was superb, giving the islands a Mediterranean feel, and we swam in the beautiful clear water. Before our visit we had heard horror stories of dragging anchors, poor holding and lack of shelter, but encountered no such problems. We chose our anchorages carefully according to wind direction and used plenty of chain and warp. We did see one yacht drag its anchor in New Grimsby when a very strong spring tide was running, and watched in useless horror as a French yacht rapidly started dragging. Eventually the skipper and crew appeared from below, obviously greatly surprised to find themselves alongside a motor cruiser. A few days into our visit SE gales were forecast and we were concerned about shelter. It appeared that we had a day in hand before the weather deteriorated and made the decision to run for shelter on the mainland. When we left Porth Conger at 0700 the wind was gusting strongly. As we approached St Mary’s Sound we saw one yacht heading out and, from the way it was being thrown around, could see that it was terribly rough. The yacht turned and headed back for shelter. That decided it for us; we headed for St Mary’s Harbour, where, with relief, we picked up the last available mooring. This was the night that the Atlantic rowers had their boat broken up in huge seas west of the Isles of Scilly, and by 2130 the wind was screaming in the rigging and continued all night. However, the harbour was sheltered and there was no swell. We were glad to be safely on a mooring. The harbour patrol wanted us to anchor so that larger yachts could have the mooring, anticipating yachts rafting up but it turned out to be less busy than expected and we stayed for two nights. Once the gales had abated we left St Mary’s and spent a couple of nights anchored 100m off the pier of Old Grimsby on Tresco. The weather was so hot and glorious that we swam ashore with shorts and t-shirts in a dry bag, went for a walk round the island and had a drink in the New Inn. The views and scenery round the north of the island were beautiful, the rugged landscape covered by a carpet of flowering gorse and heather. After the recent storms the surf around the islands was enormous and spectacular.
Making new friends
Before leaving home we had gone through our Corribee Owners’ Association booklet and tried to get in touch with other owners in the Southwest. We had never sailed with another boat of our class and were longing to do so. We felt we must be fated to reach the Isles of Scilly when we found one owner, Adrian Pearce, to be living on St Agnes. A chance overheard conversation outside the Turk’s Head (the most Southwesterly pub in the British Isles!) led to our meeting Adrian and arranging a sail with him in his boat, Blue Moon. It was wonderful to sail alongside another Corribee and fantastic to see what our boat looked like under sail. Adrian guided us round to the Cove off St Agnes. The guide books warn about following the locals who know the rocks and waters very well. He gave us a few anxious moments as we passed within feet of breaking waves on the rocks off Gugh. The following day we went for another sail with Adrian in St Mary’s Road; with a strong wind and a big swell it was exhilarating. At different points of sail one boat was faster than the other. We both put a reef in and we had a smaller headsail. Adrian has a rolling headsail for single-handed sailing and we were struggling to keep up with Blue Moon until we changed up to our genoa, which gave us more sail area. However, we were pretty well matched, even with all our cruising gear on board. A great day ended with a meal at the Pearce’s cottage and a most happy final night on Scilly. It seemed that the next day was the last weather window for some time to return to the mainland and so with much sadness we planned to leave. Adrian left ahead of us, but we arranged to meet for one last sail together as we made our departure. The wind was much stronger than forecast once we left the shelter of the Cove, and in a heavy sea we were forced to change down headsails and reef. We kept our eyes peeled for Blue Moon and saw her sailing out of the Sound, but in the heavy conditions we felt it wise to continue on our way. We later found out that Adrian got a line round his prop and had to anchor in Windmill Cove on the other side of St Mary’s to get it free, which meant he was unable to get back in time to meet us. It made it even more of a wrench for us to go. It was incredibly hard to leave the islands that had provided us with shelter, a fantastic time and hospitality too. “It was an exciting moment when we left Land’s End behind and had nothing but open water ahead” The conditions were quite bad and although neither of us voiced it, we both thought about turning back. After four hours of testing conditions the wind and swell dropped off and we made a few sail changes until we had the cruising chute up in light winds. By five miles from Wolf Rock the wind had dropped completely and we were slopping around an uncomfortable swell, going nowhere, and were forced to put the engine on. By the time we’d passed Land’s End we had dried out and were in shorts again, such is the changeability of the sea and weather. It certainly teaches one to have eternal respect for it. We had to motor in light airs into Mounts Bay, hardly believing the conditions when we had left the Scillies. At 1940 after nine hours sailing we were tied up in Newlyn. The following day the forecast was favourable, so we pushed on for Falmouth, very aware that the weather was forecast to deteriorate in the next few days. Our sail started in a leisurely manner, reading the Sunday papers as we crossed Mounts Bay. We had plenty of time to reach Lizard Point as we had chosen to sail across the bay against the tide in order to have a fair tide from the Lizard into Falmouth. Only when our speed dropped to less than 2kn did we put the engine on.
Heading for home
As we approached the headland the wind increased, the weather deteriorated and it took some time tacking against a southerly wind to get beyond the race. Once off the Point we had a following sea and started to surf. With tide and wind in our favour we covered the 12 miles to the Manacles from the Lizard in just 1.5 hours. After a long day we tied up wearily in the Yacht Haven in Falmouth Harbour. There followed several days of torrential rain and gales- the period of the Boscastle disaster – but it gave us the chance to catch up on showers and laundry in the Yacht Haven and we spent a few days exploring the Fal. Finally the forecast improved and we sailed to the River Yealm. Another few days of southwesterly gales and strong winds saw us storm bound again – another beautiful place to spend some time. Again we waited for a weather window for our sail to Dartmouth and arrived there during the regatta. We stayed for the Red Arrows display – a spectacular finale to our trip. On the last day of our cruise we left Dartmouth early with the tide. The wind was very light and we were expecting to fly the spinnaker all the way to Berry Head. When we got just beyond Black Stone, however, an ominous black cloud appeared over Start Point. I was making breakfast when a huge squall hit us. We were totally over canvased and had to drop the genoa as quickly as possible to prevent a broach. It was great to end the cruise with a final eventful sail. The squall passed quickly and we had a swift sail back to Brixham, five wonderful weeks and a day after we left.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When Dominic and Victoria met, Dominic had already sailed for several years and introduced Victoria to the sport. In 2001 they made their first joint boating buy, a 30-year-old Enterprise dinghy. Within a couple of years they wanted to extend their sailing area and decided that a Corribee 21 would be perfect. The hunt for a good boat that fitted their budget ended when they fell in love with Opus Too, and bought her in preference to installing central heating. They live just 10 minutes away from their mooring in Brixham and every available weekend and holiday is now spent on board. Victoria is an artist and also works at Baltic Wharf Boatyard In Totnes; Dominic is an outdoor instructor.
ABOUT THE BOAT
Opus Too is a fin keel Mkll Corribee 21, built In 1978. We have the original layout down below with two quarter berths and a forward double berth. With just 4ft 8in headroom it takes organisation to stow all we need for cruising. Our chart table is just big enough for the West Country Admiralty folio charts. As a back up for navigation we carry a hand-held GPS. The chart table swings around and underneath we have a two-burner gas stove and grill. It takes a bit of juggling when cooking and, as the stove is not glmballed, the chef needs to keep hold of pans in any kind of swell. Clothes we try to keep to a minimum, and our bedding gets stuffed into dry bags and packed forward ready to make our bed each night. The quarter berths are used for storing sails and wet weather gear. There is space for a Portaloo, but we needed the locker space. We use the ‘bucket and chuck it’ method. She’s equipped with a 4hp outboard for those times when you need the engine.
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