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Sailing around Lands End to Milford Haven – We get as far as St Ives!

After a night at anchor in Newlyn our big passage was ahead of us – Newlyn to Milford Haven in Wales, a passage that Navionics was estimating to take around 25 hours at a distance of some 115nm. Last year we undertook our first ‘big passage‘ from Falmouth to the Scilly Isles, a journey that we broke up into two legs, but this one was going to be a bit tougher; it would involve going around Land’s End, an area which can throw up strong tides and unfavourable seas, before the long overnight slog up the Celtic Sea to Milford Haven. Suffice to say we were a little anxious!

A great book we purchased last year for cruising the West Country was Mark Fishwick’s West Country Cruising Companion. This excellent and very detailed book was an essential guide for us, and once again it proved invaluable with some great information for planning our navigation around the bottom of Britain!

The book recommends catching the favourable tidal stream at Land’s End one hour after high water Dover when bound west/north. The normal passage takes you to the west of Longships Lighthouse, situated just over a mile offshore and marking the most westerly point of Britain. Standing on a rocky reef on Carn Bras, the highest point on the reef, the lighthouse warns of these dangerous islets which has claimed many ships over the years. If conditions are settled then you can take the inshore passage between Longships and the mainland, a route we decided against seeing as this was our first time sailing this particular stretch of rugged coastline. Continuing north you reach Cape Cornwall, a small cone shaped headland before approaching the overfalls that extend westwards from Pendeen Head. After rounding this area we would start to leave the coast behind and make our way out into the Celtic Sea.

The Passage Plan

Conditions were looking very benign. The forecast showed light winds of just 7 to 8 knots building to an average of 12 to 14 knots overnight from the south west. High water Dover was at 14.43 indicating that the tide would turn slack sometime in the region of 3pm/3.30pm at Lands End.

We set our waypoints as follows:
WP1 50°1.000N 5°40.000W Runnel Stone
WP2 50°04.01N 5°46.40W West of Longships
WP3 50°07.62N 5°46.40W West of Cape Cornwall
WP4 51°37.405N 5°10.239W Clos to Turbot Bank Cardinal
WP5 51°40.056N 5°08.255W Milford Haven East Channel
WP6 51°42.335N 5°09.286W Milford Haven Dale Anchorage

We set a departure time of 12.30pm to allow us ample time to punch against the last of the tide down to Lands End. With the estimated 25 hours this would, however, mean an arrival into Milford Haven at approximately 1pm the next day, which would put us against the ebb tide coming out, not ideal but with a passage of this length sometimes you have to go against the tide! The Scilly Isles and St Ives were noted as our ‘escape plans’ should we feel the need to deviate for any reason. There was also Padstow Harbour however at the entrance is the ‘Doom Bar’, a sandbar which dries at low water. The inner harbour is also protected by a floodgate which only opens for a few hours either side of high water. With Padstow being an estimated 12 hours away from Newlyn it would mean arriving on a falling tide in the night as high water there was at 9.00pm. This therefore meant the harbour wasn’t really a viable bolthole, unless we could get there faster or hold out until the next high water! However we did pencil the anchorage at The Rumps, just north of Padstow and around The Mouls, as a potential.

The Actual Passage

We were bang on schedule with our departure time, weighing anchor at exactly 12.30pm. For the first two hours we motored as we were pretty much head to wind. A small pod of dolphins popped up to say hello when we were passing the coast near Porth Curno.

At 14.25, shortly after making our turn at the Runnel Stone Cardinal Buoy, we finally turned the engine off – for a whole 4 minutes! 🤣

Approaching Land’s End

Back under motor we were making very good going, our boat speed was averaging 7.5 knots and it felt as though we had tide with us although our tidal stream atlas was suggesting that this wasn’t the case. Possibly we may have had a back eddy of some sort? Unfortunately the tidal stream atlases are not that detailed, only a local salty sailor or fisherman would have that sort of local knowledge!

Approaching Longships

For a brief moment we debated taking the inshore passage between Longships and the mainland. The sea was glass like and visibility excellent. But, as we were motoring, we opted to stay away from the coast as we thought there may be less lobster pots slightly further out. Also if we lost our engine we had more room to try and sail our way out of trouble, albeit in the lightest of winds!

Longships Lighthouse

At 15.10, and in position 50°05.075W 5°45.909W, we managed to get sailing again on what was probably the calmest of conditions we have ever enjoyed. The apparent wind was only 6 knots from the west but we were sailing along beautifully. If there was ever a case of ‘champagne sailing’ this was it, and unbelievably we got to enjoy this at Land’s End, an area we were expecting to be lively and rough!

Champagne Sailing!

But the sailing wasn’t to last unfortunately. The wind completely dropped off to around 3 knots, our speed through the water also dropped to just 0.9 knots and if it wasn’t for the tide we would have been pretty much stationary! The motor had to go back on 😞

Checking the weather forecast again we saw that the light winds would remain for at least another 8 – 10 hours, with the following day showing 12-15 knots from the south-west. Not wanting to motor unnecessarily we decided to head to St Ives for the night and wait for a little more wind the following day.

Pendeen Head Lighthouse

So off of Pendeen Head (pretty much were we would have started heading north!) we turned the bow to the north-east and started tracking along this beautiful stretch of coastline. Tall granite cliffs and isolated sandy coves made up this little corner of the UK, as did the many pots in the sea – a careful look out is needed in this area.

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives

Arriving into St Ives you are immediately drawn to the breathtaking stretches of beach, reminiscent of those in the Scilly Isles, and the impressive sand dunes that back onto them. But do not take your eyes off the water for too long, the amount of buoys here is quite astonishing!

We actually headed for the anchorage at Carbis Bay, slightly south-east of St Ives, eventually dropping the hook at position 50°12.197N 5°27.683W. The bay is wide with plenty of room and depth, with excellent sand holding, although there were an awful lot of Jellyfish – which put our evening swim out of the question! By now it was 6.30pm and as we still had a long sail ahead of us we remained onboard, although we would have loved to have gone ashore. We previously visited St Ives (by land😃) a few years ago and it’s a little gem of a place. But with the wind set to increase over the next few days we unfortunately couldn’t extend our stay here this time. Our ‘big passage’ had only been 33nm so far but with plenty of ground yet to cover a relaxing evening was in order – tomorrow we would be sailing to Wales!

Yacht at Sunset
Carbis Bay Anchorage at Sunset

VIDEO: Sailing around Land’s End


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