Your first sail round Britain will probably become simply a maritime reconaissance mission for the many magical places that you will want to explore, says Ken Endean

How to sail round Britain

What you really need to know to undertake a cruise around the British Isles can actually be summed up in seven words: arrange three months’ holiday and set sail.

This expedition is not particularly difficult, provided the boat is seaworthy and the skipper reasonably competent. A direct circuit will certainly give you a lot of satisfaction, and yet it is surely a mistake to treat the journey as a simple, around-and-back project. The intricate coastlines encompass an astonishing variety of cruising grounds, with landscapes ranging from mountains for climbers to marshes for bird-spotters, plus all manner of havens and hospitable ports, from metropolitan marinas and hole-in-the-cliff harbours to village quays and scores of wonderful anchorages. To make the most of the experience, it is worth planning for all options, then taking the trouble to inspect and learn from each area. You may even find that the cruise is not an end in itself but a reconnaissance – a taster trip prompting schemes for revisiting all the places that have taken your fancy.

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Rushing through Jack Sound, off Pembrokeshire, with powerful tide. This cruise will provide plenty of pilotage practice

When my wife Mary and I made a circuit of Britain we became aware that we were sailing past plenty of intriguing waterways and settlements, so we followed up with a half a dozen prolonged cruises to western Scotland, East Anglia and the west coast of Ireland to look at the many bits that we had missed. This was not simply a matter of admiring great scenery. Even urban areas and post-industrial landscapes become fascinating when approached from seaward. Or to put it another way, if you visit a coastal town by car you are a tourist but if you visit by boat you are a mariner and your reception is likely to be different.

I must also confess to a mild obsession with the commercial sailing craft that once carried goods and materials to every estuary and bay – and even to beaches where there was no natural shelter. Most of the present harbours were originally constructed for vessels that relied upon sail power, and visiting them on a sailing boat is like travelling by time machine. In small maritime museums the exhibits mean so much more when you have just had the pleasure of navigating to a harbour, finding your way over the bar and mooring to the quay where the old photos show brigs and topsail schooners.

Exploring the intricacies of these islands also provides excellent lessons in seamanship, allowing an amateur skipper to acquire experience in all kinds of conditions. It’s one thing to read about terrifying seas off Portland Bill or in the Pentland Firth, but going there and executing a successful passage around the hazards can do wonders for self-belief.

Someone who has reefed in squalls off Bloody Foreland, ridden a spring flood through Jack Sound and brought a yacht home with the galvanising worn off her anchor is fairly well qualified to exercise judgment on the pilot books.

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Ken Endean is a retired chartered surveyor who cruises a twin-keeled Sabre 27 from Southampton Water

Weather and sea state

A lot of the weather-related advice for sailors concentrates on gales. This is understandable and yet gales rarely cause surprises as they are normally forecast well in advance. Most coastal sailors do their sailing in light or moderate winds and fine weather, which is when they encounter unexpected changes in strength and direction because the background winds are weak enough to be deflected by the effects of coastal topography and sunshine.

It is fairly common for long-distance coastal cruisers to lurk in port during the rough stuff and then emerge to find that fading winds demand engine assistance. If we want to really sail around the British Isles, rather than cover the distance under diesel rig, it is a good idea to study the effects of high ground and warm air.

Across the British Isles the prevailing winds are from the south-west, which looks good for sailors on the eastern and northern coasts, in the lee of the land. High ground will interfere with the airflow and strong winds are likely to turn gusty, but a strong wind off the land will be more welcome than one blowing on to the shore, except perhaps in northern waters where higher mountains can create feeble, fluky breezes for a long way downwind.

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A cracking sail on the sheltered Sound of Sleat, between Skye and the mainland – lots of wind and spray but no big waves

When the sun heats the air above the land, it causes another set of atmospheric quirks, the most obvious being sea breezes that weaken or reverse the offshore winds. In many places the resulting winds veer during the day, tending to blow with the coast on their left, and the sea breeze effect can also influence a light onshore wind by increasing its strength and inducing a similar veer. This means that in fine weather the winds near the coast will often display a bias towards blowing anticlockwise around the land.

Coastal sea state is influenced by ocean swell and strong currents. Atlantic swell is most prominent around south-west England and Wales, and on the exposed flanks of western and southern Ireland.

Western Scotland may look equally vulnerable but the numerous islands and promontories are effective breakwaters for protecting the inner sounds.

The North Sea coast is open to swell from the Arctic Ocean and although these waves are generally smaller than Atlantic rollers they are often more troublesome because there are very few natural features to act as breakwaters and many of the harbour entrances are shallow.

All sailors will have heard blood-curdling tales about tidal races. These can generally be avoided by steering a few miles offshore, or by timing a passage for slack water at the turn of tide. A strong current will not necessarily generate rough conditions, because overfalls are created by interaction between currents and waves, so a fast stream in a sheltered strait may simply be marked by turbulent flat water – unless swell is finding its way into the strait, when the sea is more likely to turn angry.

Therefore, when planning a passage through an area with strong tides it is important to be aware of the incident waves and swell, as well as the tide times.

Putting miles on the log

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Boscastle, on the North Cornwall coast, where local boats moor clear of the walls in case of swell

Good coastal cruising tactics should be directed at keeping the crew warm, dry and comfortable. This may sound wimp-like but it is good for morale and also for safety, because cold, stressed people are more likely to make mistakes. Ideally, passage planning should keep the wind abaft the beam and the spray out of the cockpit; this will also encourage fast progress and there will be less inclination to shorten passages in order to seek shelter. However, achieving that ideal requires thinking ahead, to take account of developing weather patterns and other factors. I usually enter tidal data in the log for several days in advance, also recording medium-term weather predictions so that I can maintain a continuous, rolling passage plan. For instance, let’s imagine we are at South Wales and wanting to head up the Irish Sea, with a light east wind but the weather forecasts predicting an Atlantic low passing over Scotland in three days’ time. The wind is likely to become a strong westerly, before possibly veering to north-west. Sailing via North Wales could be wet work, but life should be easier if we cross the Irish Sea and then race up the Irish coast on fairly flat water, with the low hopefully clearing away eastward before we face the North Channel.

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For yachts bound north, Lowestoft is the last deep-water harbour before the Humber. The hospitable Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club provides pontoon berths for visitors

Or, perhaps we are at Lowestoft and bound for Scotland. The wind is a moderate southwesterly, due to veer to north in a couple of days, and high water times for the coasts near the Wash are morning and evening. We’d like to spend a day in Lowestoft and make our next stop at Wells, on the northern rim of East Anglia, However, that north wind could trap us inside Wells Bar and by the time it has changed to a more suitable direction the high water times will be around midday and midnight – inconvenient for the next leg because departure from Wells has to be made close to high tide. In these circumstances, it could be sensible to forego Lowestoft’s pleasures and make a direct passage to Humberside or Yorkshire before the wind changes.

Taking a rest

For relaxed voyages around the British Isles you must be familiar with anchoring. On long stretches there are few marinas or visitor moorings and, in any case, anchorages have the more picturesque surroundings. For skippers who distrust their anchors there is insufficient space in this article to debate anchor types or techniques but I must point out that thousands of yachts spend time in anchorages without coming to grief, so why not practise and gain confidence?

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A ‘chum’ weight is one way of enhancing anchor performance

With a ‘chum’ weight suspended on our cable to damp the boat’s sheering we have lain securely to a 10kg Delta anchor in winds of more than 45 knots without undue concern, and that is more than can be said for some of our experiences in harbour. Onshore waves sometimes cause surging within harbour basins, when most boats will be secured clear of the masonry and a visiting skipper would be well advised to borrow a fore-and-aft mooring rather than a wall berth. Even so, that is not a reason to automatically avoid a harbour: everything depends on weather and swell.

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Green Bay, in the Isles of Scilly. A yacht that can take the ground has a greater choice of moorings and anchorages

Small harbours, often the focal points of communities, are among the great delights of our home cruising grounds. Visiting yachts are usually welcomed warmly, with the locals offering helpful advice, vacant moorings or perhaps a lift to the nearest garage with fuel cans. A skipper who has maintained a rolling passage plan should be able to judge whether there is a window of opportunity to divert from the coastal track and spend time at an old quayside.

The boat and her equipment

People have voyaged around Britain by canoe and sailboard, so a cruising yacht should be more than adequate. However some aspects of design and equipment deserve attention. Skippers accustomed to marina pontoons may be alarmed to find themselves mooring against jetty piles, rough stonework or projecting ladders, so they should carry a fender board to protect their yacht’s topsides.

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Carry a fender board for when harbour walls have projections

They may also need very long lines for warps and springs, to allow for the great rise and fall of tide in places like the Bristol Channel. In the days when trading and fishing was done under sail, most vessels used drying berths, and before the advent of steam dredgers and gated basins this was normal practice in even the larger ports. In about half of today’s harbours, craft still have to take the ground and yachts that can stand upright securely, whether by virtue of twin keels or beaching legs, give their crews a wider choice of destinations.

When cruising far from popular yachting areas, self-sufficiency often means having to carry stuff by hand. We usually put a couple of ten-litre plastic containers in the dinghy when rowing ashore because small coastal settlements normally boast a public tap. Topping-up little and often keeps the main tank close to full, so that we never waste time on a diversion to a marina hose. Similarly if there is no harbour-side fuel pump, a container-full from a filling station may seem expensive but preferable to another diversion. Buying food, in remote places such as north Scotland, is less of a problem than it used to be since small supermarkets have been established in many villages.

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For coastal cruising in out-of-the way places, London Apprentice carries solar panels and a dinghy on davits

Of course, for a boat at anchor a decent tender is a prime requirement – one that can be launched and recovered without hassle.

To escape from the madding crowd and enjoy life to the full in delightfully uncivilised places, a yacht and her crew must be able to function without shore power. That means all electrical items being run or charged from the ship’s 12 or 24 volts – including equipment like shavers, camera batteries, phones and computers. To give the engine a rest, consider fitting solar panels or a wind generator. Solar panels are often under-valued, particularly in magazine features that set out to calculate a yacht’s ‘energy budget’ and invariably prove that she needs to carry a small power station. We have cruised for 27 years on London Apprentice with all our power drawn from just three ten-watt panels, and have never run short of amps. Heating should not be a major issue in summer cruising, although some artificial warmth will be welcome in May or early June if winds are from the north. Fresh bread can be baked on board and if the boat has no oven a closed pan will do the job. On a yacht with no built-in shower a solar shower bag in the cockpit will be quite acceptable.

Finally, we always carry a roll-damper, or ‘flopper stopper’ to reduce the effects of wave motion in open anchorages.

Cruise planning strategies

Which way round?

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The anticlockwise bias of sea breezes can make a significant difference for a yacht sailing around the British Isles

A crew who can’t arrange a three-month break could make the voyage in short hops or slow, relaxed stages, with the boat parked in marinas while they commute back to paid employment.

The diagram suggests one way of rationalising a long-term cruising plan, whether it involves a slow circuit over several summers or a series of separate cruises. All the areas denoted as ‘primary cruising zones’ have good transport links and boating facilities, including plenty of secure moorings. They are also convenient for weekend cruising because their headlands, estuaries and islands allow for some sheltered-water sailing in poor weather. Each could serve as a temporary base for part or all of a season, with ample opportunities for local sailing or holiday excursions to adjoining areas.

In the areas labelled ‘wilder holiday zones’, the geography is both magnificent and complex, with estuaries and partly enclosed coastal sounds that offer lots of excuses for lingering in beautiful places, and each of these zones could be a summer objective in its own right. However, there are fewer facilities for yachts. For example, on two cruises to Scotland and Ireland we needed to purchase items of chandlery but could not find what we wanted until we arrived back at Falmouth.

On the coastlines between the marked zones there are many notable cruising destinations, some of which have home moorings for hundreds of yachts. Their usual drawback is that local sailing conditions are more susceptible to weather because there are fewer headlands or estuaries to create areas of relatively calm water.

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Entering a small harbour, such as Portreath, Cornwall, will not be easy in onshore winds or swell

For yachts on passage along these coasts, an ideal port of call will be a harbour that coincides with the end of a day’s run, but that harbour may not be safe to enter at low tide, or when steep waves are smacking across the pier heads, or if swell is breaking in the approaches. This is where intelligent passage planning, combining a good appreciation of meteorology, tidal tactics and sea state, can make the difference between steady progress and dangerous misjudgment.

For a quick sail around, this article will go anticlockwise. Our experience suggests the anticlockwise bias of sea breezes will make a difference for nearly half the trip.

Thames approaches

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The real thing: the Thames barge Reminder glides up the River Orwell to Maldon

We’ll start in the Thames Approaches, the spiritual home of Yachting Monthly, where Maurice Griffiths enthused about the Magic of the Swatchways and Arthur Ransome’s literary children ‘Didn’t Mean to go to Sea’. As an occasional visitor to this zone, I reckon its main attraction is the quiet, unpretentious cosiness of its riverside towns and villages. I know that many inhabitants are London commuters but big-city attitudes are quickly squelched by the reality of East Coast mud. Old timber jetties, gravel hards and houseboats have survived the impact of modern developments and it is still possible to tack gently up rivers such as the Orwell or the Alde, like those old sailing coasters, and anchor in rural surroundings.

Even better, we may be in company with the genuine article: Thames sailing barges work these estuaries under full sail, now carrying passengers rather than cargo but demonstrating how to use wind power alone in the tightest of corners.

Many yacht crews will want to travel up the Thames into central London but even here the waterside environment softens the harsh edges of modern life and we have contented memories of lying in St Katharine Docks. Occasional suits padded by with briefcases but the city was only a faint murmur beyond the dockside buildings and both swans and coots were nesting in the basin.

East Coast

Pushing north past Lowestoft, we are faced with a very different scenario. The whole of the east coast of England and Scotland is exposed to easterly winds, with only a few protected estuaries, and the best conditions for covering distance will probably be in a southwesterly airflow or southeasterly sea breezes. Fine weather may be bad news if an anticyclone is bringing stiff winds from the north-east – even if you’re sailing south, some harbour entrances will be hazardous. But don’t let me put you off: the towns along this shore have enormous character. It is difficult to resist the romance of Whitby, whether Captain Cook or Count Dracula excites your interest, and central Newcastle is great fun, even if the harbour authority now prohibits sailing craft from tacking in the River Tyne – the skippers of the old collier brigs would have been most unimpressed!

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Portsoy, on the Moray Firth, is an ancient harbour that holds an annual festival for classic boats

A few wilder anchorages are accessible in suitable conditions, such as the sand dune harbours of north Norfolk and the inlet at Holy Island. Most of the small ports have lost their fishing fleets and now make a point of welcoming yachts, particularly in Scotland where Aberdeenshire and Moray District Councils sell ‘rover tickets’ with discounted charges to encourage visiting boats.

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Stonehaven’s multiple basins help to attenuate big waves – but only the outer jetty has deep water berths

Some of these harbours are vulnerable to swell, as evidenced by their multiple basins intended to deflect and absorb wave energy, but choose your weather well and you’ll cherish the experience of mooring to an ancient granite quay, where other boats are double-ended with dipping lugsails.

North Coast

Beyond Duncansby Head, Scotland’s north coast offers virtually no shelter from northerly winds or waves and the normal coastal track passes through the Pentland Firth, a notorious patch of water. The most common wind direction in summer is from SSW – we were treated to fairly placid seas with southerly winds and even anchored for several nights, off Talmine and in the Kyle of Durness, while waiting for the right conditions for rounding Cape Wrath.

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Wide Scapa Flow, which gives access to Stromness Marina, was an important naval anchorage in two world wars

At this point of the cruise, we are passing our first ‘wilder zone’: the Northern Isles. Mary and I made a diversion to the Orkneys, but only to Stromness, with a calm passage through the historic naval anchorage of Scapa Flow, which enabled us to split the transit of the Pentland Firth into two legs. I am not qualified to write about the northern Orkneys or the Shetlands, but I know a man who is: John MacMullen and his wife Ann took their Twister, Crionna, there in 2010, see below.

The Northern Isles, by John McMullen

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Balta Harbour, the most northerly visitors’ pontoon in Shetland. Rent a car and explore

Self-sufficiency and a well-found craft are the prime requirements for getting the most from this area. Be sure to have the excellent Clyde Cruising Club Pilots and a good set of charts. Beautiful and awesome scenery on a good day becomes a very different ‘awesome’ when the weather turns bad. Planning is all.

Heading north from Stromness, we were surprised by the greenness of the landscape and the extensive agriculture. No wonder prehistoric man thrived at Skara Brae. Meander through the northern isles of Orkney but do take note of the tidal streams and don’t miss stopping at the friendly village of Pierowall.

Fair Isle, halfway to Shetland, gives its name to the sea area and is home to the renowned bird observatory.

Shetland has lots of cruising possibilities with a multitude of interesting and often deserted anchorages. Of the latter, North Voe of Gletness, West Lunna Voe, Easter Wick of Fethaland and Hamnavoe were our favourites.

Fish farming is booming so don’t be surprised to find your intended anchorage obstructed. Little community marinas, such as Mid Yell, Brae and Voe offer the chance of a berth.

Lerwick has all facilities and in most other settlements you’ll obtain basic supplies somewhere. Make it as far as Balta Harbour and you’ll find the northernmost brewery in the UK. The enthralling marine museum at Harolds Wick and the spectacular Hermaness Nature Reserve should not be missed.

The locals are brilliant, free with advice, help and hospitality. Public transport is limited but lifts were not!

Would we return? Certainly! Self-sufficiency and a well-found craft are the prime requirements for getting the most from this area. Be sure to have the excellent Clyde Cruising Club Pilots and a good set of charts. Beautiful and awesome scenery on a good day becomes a very different ‘awesome’ when the weather turns bad. Planning is all.

Heading north from Stromness, we were surprised by the greenness of the landscape and the extensive agriculture. No wonder prehistoric man thrived at Skara Brae. Meander through the northern isles of Orkney but do take note of the tidal streams and don’t miss stopping at the friendly village of Pierowall.

Fair Isle, halfway to Shetland, gives its name to the sea area and is home to the renowned bird observatory.

Shetland has lots of cruising possibilities with a multitude of interesting and often deserted anchorages. Of the latter, North Voe of Gletness, West Lunna Voe, Easter Wick of Fethaland and Hamnavoe were our favourites.

Fish farming is booming so don’t be surprised to find your intended anchorage obstructed. Little community marinas, such as Mid Yell, Brae and Voe offer the chance of a berth.

Lerwick has all facilities and in most other settlements you’ll obtain basic supplies somewhere. Make it as far as Balta Harbour and you’ll find the northernmost brewery in the UK. The enthralling marine museum at Harolds Wick and the spectacular Hermaness Nature Reserve should not be missed.

The locals are brilliant, free with advice, help and hospitality. Public transport is limited but lifts were not!

Would we return? Certainly!

Western Scotland

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In the Western Isles, one of the most remote anchorages is in Witches Pool, entered by a tortuous channel between rugged islets

I have divided most of western Scotland into two zones, both of which offer superb sailing against a backdrop of mountains, with hundreds of anchorages where the shores may be sandy beaches, wooded slopes or dramatic crags. In the northern zone, the Highlands and Hebrides, shore facilities are basic, the scenery splendid and the outer islands provide protection that compensates for the variable weather. In fact, the weather is generally better than its reputation and in summer the long days have plenty of sunshine. If you want to climb to higher ground for unforgettable views, it is advisable to carry large-scale maps, decent walking shoes and insect repellent. The midges seem to be most active near fresh water, after rain and in late evenings – we have generally managed to evade them by spending nights at anchor, some distance offshore.

About 15 years ago, the Highlands and Islands Development Board installed groups of mooring buoys to encourage water-borne tourism. A few harbours have pontoon berths. However, most yachts use their anchors – kelp beds and rock ledges should be avoided but there are lots of bays and hidey-holes with good holding on beds of sand or mud.

The Western Isles have most of their settlements on the Atlantic flank, where the soil is better for farming and the tradition of crofting managed to survive the land clearances which depopulated parts of the inner islands and mainland.

The most amazing, timeless, back-of-beyond anchorages are on their deeply indented eastern side, where convoluted channels twist into the raw landscape and there are very few signs of human activity.

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The marina at Dunstaffnage, near Oban, is a convenient base for cruising further north

In the southern zone, the Clyde’s yachting heritage is comparable with that of the Solent and for modern cruisers there are plenty of marina berths. Most of this area can be traversed on sheltered water, inshore of the islands, and I have included part of the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland because that offers a protected track through the North Channel in strong west winds.

West Ireland

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London Apprentice alongside a Donegal-style fishing boat at Belmullet. In many Irish harbours, leisure and commerce mingle

Continuing our imaginary cruise around the outer rim of the British Isles, the next two zones are north-west and south-west Ireland: both ‘wild’ by virtue of their exposure to the ocean. Nowhere on these coasts is more than a few hours’ drive from Belfast or Dublin. But most yachts are summer visitors and the most popular sailing area is at the south-west corner, readily accessible from home moorings further east and offering some shelter within the deep rias. The north-west zone is more remote for people with short holidays, bearing in mind that a couple of Atlantic depressions can trap you there for a week or more, and a proportion of the yachts on passage through this zone will be from Holland or Germany, undertaking summer-long cruises and in no particular hurry.

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The island of Inishbofin has a small shop and a harbour with all-round shelter

There are scores of wonderful inlets and islands, although navigation marks are sparse and big swell adds menace by heaving and foaming over submerged shoals. Winds from south and south-west are likely to bring rain, which is why we pottered along from north to south, generally sailing in fine weather with favourable winds because blue skies were often accompanied by northerlies or sea breezes – delightful conditions for zig-zagging between the outliers and nosing over shallows with the seabed visible in crystal-clear water.

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Malin Harbour, on the northern tip of the Irish mainland, is not usually quite so tranquil!

Parts of the hinterland resemble the Hebrides and the overall impression is of an area that is attractively under-developed but trying hard to overcome recent economic gloom. Mary and I shared an anchorage with fishing boat crews using medieval-style currachs as tenders. One had been re-covered with glass mat and epoxy in place of tarred canvas, as a 21st-century experiment.

Southern Ireland

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Glandore Harbour is a hospitable inlet on the lush southern shore of Ireland

Along the south coast, there is a string of estuaries resembling those of Devon and Cornwall – less crowded but enfolded by similar lush, green hills and overlooked by old sea ports that have come to terms with yachting. The shore becomes gradually softer, less weather-beaten, and yachts can either coast-hop all the way from Baltimore to St George’s Channel or take advantage of a fair wind for a direct passage to Land’s End.

The Inside route – down the Irish Sea

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Barmouth, in Cardigan Bay, has a shallow entrance bar and most moorings dry at low tide

The Irish Sea has better protection from the ocean but troublesome tide races. On some stretches, such as north-west England and Cardigan Bay, most of the harbours are ‘closed’ at low tide. The north-south route can be done in daysails via the Isle of Man, North and South Wales, all of which have striking scenery. The Isle of Man has gated harbours and pontoons at Douglas and Peel, with several bays and drying harbours on each side.

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Porthdinllaen is a fine passage anchorage, with a shop nearby and a pub on the beach

In North Wales, visiting skippers may wish to experience the Menai Straits, but if they are in a hurry one of the best of all passage anchorages is at Porthdinllaen, where a promontory wraps around a sandy bay and the Ty Coch Inn has its front door opening on to the beach. In South Wales, short cuts through the tidal sluices of Ramsey Sound and Jack Sound are sometimes preferable to a slower, rougher ride through the offshore overfalls where currents tangle with Atlantic swell.

The English Channel

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Tean Sound, in the Isles of Scilly, one of the deep gullies between rocks and sand banks

In south-west England there is the same mix of estuaries, headlands and beaches as in Ireland and South Wales but the weather is a little warmer and gentler, and there is also one unique attraction. I respectfully suggest that the Isles of Scilly is the best destination for yachts in the whole of the British Isles and north-west France. To be sure, there is no completely secure harbour but the numerous anchorages provide options for all weathers and I can’t think of any other archipelago that gives so much pleasure. We have twice spent happy fortnights here, moving between islands as the wind shifts.

Continuing eastward, there’s a chance to call at some of the local estuary ports, then we could try for a clean run past Lyme Bay and Portland Bill, where westerly winds, including sea breezes, often frustrate sailors going the other way.

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Gorey is a popular port of call in the Channel Islands, with a drying harbour and also a deep water anchorage in west winds

Alternatively, we could sail from South Devon to the Channel Islands, to make sure that we don’t miss these southern outposts of Britain – or their strong tides and rocks. It’s all valuable experience!

Re-crossing the English Channel will allow us to pause and admire the spectacular Dorset coast before arriving at the Solent, which has a reputation for overcrowding. Yes, it has rivers serving as boat parks and yes, many moorings are expensive, but we return frequently to our favourite spots and reflect that they are as good as anything we have seen elsewhere.

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Newtown River has been a favourite destination for several generations of cruising sailors

If you want to sample just one of the Solent’s delights, anchor in the Isle of Wight’s Newtown River on, say, a Wednesday. Avoiding weekends will ensure that there are only a few other visitors – most of them on sailing school yachts making short stops for anchor practice. Row ashore and follow footpaths up the valley, through meadows beside the Caul Bourne stream to the high ground that overlooks the estuary. The views will repay the effort and if you are late in the season there should be sloes, blackberries and wild plums as a bonus.

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Strand Quay, in Rye, East Sussex, with yachts gathering for the annual Maritime Festival

To complete our circuit we just have to sail past south-east England. It looks fairly boring on paper but Mary and I have been going up and down the South Coast for more than 40 years and by last summer had called at every harbour except one. So we were delighted to tick off the final name on our list by entering the ancient Cinque Port of Rye – demonstrating why it’s worth making more than one cruise to each area.

Rye’s hospitality belies its difficulties. The whole harbour dries, the entrance is potentially dangerous in onshore winds, the flood and ebb can be torrential and most boats have to take the ground in a muddy backwater. And yet, the ooze at Strand Quay is so soft that fin-keelers simply slice into it and stand upright, so everyone can be accommodated comfortably. We arrived with a fleet of other visitors the day before the annual maritime festival – a good excuse for London Apprentice to dress overall – at a town that has been welcoming boats for more than a thousand years.

That’s time travel for you.

  • Matthew Longbone

    Nice to see our own boat pictured at the Rye maritime festival! – a fantastic spot and one we enjoyed for one of our very first trips in our new yacht…too bad she listed as she found the overnight mud meaning my wife was ‘boat-bound’ as her limited stride wouldn’t stretch to the wide gap that had opened up between ladder and boat! That said, it’s a lovely spot if you are lucky enough to avoid the only spot in the riverbed with a hole in the mud!

  • AndrewB

    This is a fantastic article and I found it very interesting, useful and inspiring.
    There is a copy error in The Northern Isles, by John McMullen section where 2 paragraphs are repeated.