Summer Cruise 2015 TARKA II (A Privateer 20) Part 1 – South Devon by Oliver Shaw

Tarka 11 is a Privateer 20 Yacht 

All Change

This summer’s cruise was perhaps not as adventurous as in some previous years, largely because it took the form of three separate, and thus shorter, cruises rather than one extended one.

The third of these had its origin 12 months ago, when after one of my autumn cruises the then Vice-Commodore of the Sailing Club, Rob McIntyre, now Commodore, asked me whether I would be prepared to put on a similar cruise for the club the following year. Of course the answer was that I would be delighted to do so, although I did point out that I had programmed such a cruise in the Sailing Programme in at least three previous years but had had no takers; however I would be delighted to give it another go. Nowadays we have an increasing number of owners of small yachts, at least some of whom are very keen to flex their wings but would like some guidance in doing so, and we both felt that the time was right to try again. This time we gave it a lot of publicity, and received a goodly number of expressions of interest, so at the time of writing we are hopeful that it will indeed now happen.

That apart, the original idea, in deference to my serious doubts about the launching difficulties when using the (original) road trailer for Tarka II – and indeed its very roadworthiness when carrying the yacht fully stored for cruising and with the additional ballast which I added last year – was to limit my yacht cruising to what could be achieved by sailing out from the Mersey, and aim to buy a new trailer next year. Instead of a yacht cruise for my main summer cruise I proposed to take A Capella, my cruising GP14 dinghy, plus a tent, up to Scotland for six weeks. However I then bought something for the boat on eBay, and in their email to advise that I had won the item they also indicated “some other items you may be interested in”; these included an eminently suitable trailer, 12 months old
but used only once, with a capacity more than sufficient and offering a modest reserve, at a saving of around £1,000 over the cost of buying one next year – so I broke the bank and snapped it up.

Given a fully usable road trailer for the yacht, my amended plan was now to cruise Sea Area Lundy for five or six weeks. This was a much overdue return visit to an area where I lived in the seventies and eighties, which used to be my local patch, and which I much love. It is, incidentally, both immensely rewarding and immensely challenging; not for nothing is it sometimes called “the seaman’s coast”, and both boat and seamanship need to be above reproach.

However my start was modestly delayed, and then I had a pleasurable diversion to sail South Devon for a week, meeting up with old friends of the GP14 cruising fleet who were holding their Annual UK Cruising Week at Brixham, sharing dates and venue with the National Championship of the class.

And the other end was curtailed because we have a pair of dinghy races at home on August Bank Holiday Monday, and my crew and I need the points; sad, but there you are. We were leading the series at the start of the season, and have now slipped back to second place.

The Cruise

Having researched a limited number of launching sites, deliberately not including Brixham (because I wanted to actually arrive there by sea), a major consideration was not only the launching and recovery of the yacht but also the safe parking of car and trailer during my absence. I eventually settled on Plymouth Yacht Haven Marina. That proved to be an excellent choice, fairly priced as marinas go, and the staff could not have been more helpful and

So I towed overland to Plymouth, arriving on Thursday evening 30th July, and after checking in with the marina office and arranging for overnight accommodation on their hard standing I did no more than step the mast and then settled down to dinner and then turned in. Incidentally they declined to charge me for that night.

Rigged the boat on Friday morning, and launched with modest assistance from the marina staff; I can manage either boat or car and trailer perfectly adequately on my own, but it is difficult to manage both simultaneously. Then a brief shakedown sail in Plymouth Sound, before returning to the marina for the night. On the morning of Saturday 1st August I did some of the shiphusbandry electrical jobs which had perforce been left for attention during the cruise, when I had run out of time before leaving, and then left the marina about midday on passage to Brixham.

It was a passage of mixed conditions, at times cracking along with the first reef pulled down because we were slightly overpressed under full sail, albeit never up to the speeds attained last year with a good force 5 (just possibly 6) on the quarter; on that previous occasion we had been touching 7 knots, with two reefs down. On this occasion perhaps 5 knots, with one reef down, which is only very marginally below the nominal hull speed for a yacht of this size. At other times we were motor-sailing in order to maintain acceptable passage speed in light winds, and from Start Point all the way to Berry Head was pure motoring in almost zero wind. Once I rounded Berry Head the wind came in for the very short leg to Brixham, but bang on the nose, so I continued motoring, until I eventually entered Brixham and moored alongside one of the pontoons (which I had arranged in advance) of Brixham Yacht Club.

Prawle Point

Prawle Point


I arrived too late for the Commodore’s Reception, which I would have enjoyed, and later in the week I missed the Shanty Night because when the time came I was just too damned tired to go ashore for it. That very slightly galls; there was a full social programme for the Championship, to which we cruisers were fully invited, but those were the only two social events which happened to appeal to me, and for different reasons I missed them both. Since I was not sailing a GP14, and would not therefore be requiring the (expensive) services of the safety RIB – indeed I might well be helping to provide the safety cover myself – I had been quoted a special rate, to cover just the cost of the social functions, which I had duly paid, but had ended up by not attending any of them!

However had I been quoted the same rate for the week, in recognition of my different situation but without any link to the social functions, I would have considered it a fair rate, so I can’t really grumble! The remainder of the week was planned as day sailing, within the capabilities of the GP14 fleet, aiming to sail for just a few hours per day. As I said to the one newcomer amongst the skippers, “You are faster than I am, but I can sail further and stay out for longer!”

Sunday was a shakedown sail for the GP14 fleet, and was more than a little chaotic because we arranged to sail towards Paignton, and agreed VHF channel M2 (a.k.a. P4), but the race officials were monopolising that channel and we felt it unreasonable to intrude. So in effect we had no radio communication within the cruising fleet, and ended up with a change of destination and total confusion as to what the plan now was. Typical of the GP14 cruising fleet, if I may say so, unless given a very clear lead – which sadly was not in evidence on this occasion. We eventually ended up in Breakwater Cove, in the opposite direction entirely from Paignton, where the dinghy sailors went ashore for ice creams, etc.

On the Monday we went off on a slightly uncomfortable dead run for the Orestone, the far side of Torbay, a distance of about three and a half miles, although it looked and felt a lot further! It soon became evident that the return passage in the wind strength then pertaining would be a testingly long and hard beat, particularly for the dinghies, and that some might well get into trouble, particularly since by no means all were equipped for reefing at sea, and
that I might be called upon to provide supplementary safety cover. With that in mind I handed all sail and motored back. As it happened, all the dinghies made it back without assistance, but the fleet became very spread out, and I was willingly roped in as escort for the tail-ender, which was very useful. The fact that the tail-ender in question was my oldest sailing friend, and hugely experienced, was entirely by the way; the escort was welcomed by him, and was a relief to the official escort boat, which could then concentrate on the others.

Tuesday and Wednesday were non-sailing days due to the strength of the winds; indeed even the Championship Fleet postponed on the Tuesday until later in the day, when the winds had moderated, and they had planned the Wednesday as a lay day anyway. However those two days in port enabled me to complete at leisure the remaining shiphusbandry jobs that had perforce been left for completion during the cruise. Then on the Wednesday evening all
enjoyed the annual Cruiser Dinner, which was the social high spot of the week, and not part of the programme laid on for the Championship.

By the Thursday the winds had moderated, and the plan for the dinghies was to sail towards Dartmouth, with the alternative option of either of a couple of small beaches before the Dart. I therefore decided to sail outward with them, but to continue on passage towards Plymouth when they turned round. Inevitably, since the GP14 is a faster boat than the Privateer, I alternated between sailing in company with them and motor-sailing in order to catch up.
Then shortly before Dartmouth the dinghies opted to make for one of the beaches immediately to hand, and I took my departure, which with the wind on the nose and falling light was made under engine.

Having crossed the mouth of the Dart I then anchored in Sugary Cove to await the turn of the tide and enjoy a civilised lunch. Then before resuming the passage I took the opportunity to refuel from the fuel barge moored in the river; expensive per litre, but justified for them by the additional cost of providing the fuel actually on the water, and justified for myself by the convenience of having the fuel available where I happened to be, without having to go
ashore, and then a possibly long walk backpacking the fuel.

While going up the Dart it was a pleasure to see the paddle steamer Kingsbridge Castle plying her route. Then, once the tide was favourable, I resumed passage, for Salcombe in the first instance, intending to overnight there and continue to Plymouth on the Friday. With the wind more or less on the nose almost all the way it was a case of doing the whole remaining passage under engine, albeit that it was at times under Solent rig, i.e. mainsail plus engine and no headsails (for better forward visibilty, apart from anything else; a very useful motor-sailing rig, and I am indebted to my good friend Ed Wingfield for the terminology). Rounding Start Point I was tempted to venture into the Race, to maximise the benefit of the fair tide, but this proved to be a mistake; very lumpy and uncomfortable, rolling heavily, and the steepness of the seas was actually slowing the boat down. It was an easy decision to abort that and head inshore, to the narrow passage between the rocks and the Race.

Some comfort for having to motor was the evidence of other larger and more powerful yachts taking similar decisions, whether under Solent rig or bare poles. Between Start Point and Prawle Point I was overtaken by a large navy blue yacht flying the white ensign, so she was obviously owned by the Royal Navy, powering strongly under Solent rig at a substantially higher speed than myself. It soon became apparent that she was also bound for alcombe, and for a long time she was a useful “pilot” ahead of me confirming my own decisions on the approach route. When I finally arrived at Salcombe a little over an hour later I caught up with her again, together with her sister ship (already there, and anchored), apparently still deciding where to anchor, so her superior speed had not made a lot of difference to our respective arrival times.

I then went a little further upriver and anchored in the shallows, where it was understandably much less crowded.
On Friday morning I was greeted by the sight of numerous dinghies sailing, ranging from a flotilla (possibly indeed more than one) of trainees of a local sailing school, to a magnificent racing fleet of Salcombe Yawls. They are sometimes claimed to be the world’s most expensive sailing dinghy, although on the other side of the pond I suspect that the Herreshoff “12 and a halfs” may also be vying for that accolade, and certainly in either case they are beauties. All of them are traditional wooden construction, by real craftsmen, and they are not to be confused with the Devon Yawl which is a GRP boat built to the same lines, and which I have no doubt is somewhat less expensive.


Devon Yawl

Devon Yawl

Then it was time to move on, again taking the opportunity to top up the second petrol tank from the Fuel Barge moored in the estuary, It was interesting to note that both I, as a visiting yachtsman, and the workboat of the local sailing club, instinctively came alongside stemming the tide; whereas the RIB “driver” – in his case a much more appropriate term than either helmsman or skipper – who preceded us came in downtide in blissful ignorance. When I commented on this to the fuel attendant he said that I would be amazed at some of the “seamanship” which he had witnessed, and I can well believe it!

Yacht Cruising

The passage from Salcombe to Plymouth was active but frustrating. It was downwind all the way, at times a dead run, in light and variable winds. At times there was enough wind to sensibly proceed under sail alone, at other times Solent rig was the order of the day in lighter winds, and from time to time it was a case of handing all sail and motoring. It seemed at times that I was either making or handing sail every ten or fifteen minutes. The one
consolation was that everyone else on the same course seemed to be having the same problems, and making much the same decisions.

Thus in due course and in good order I made my approach to Plymouth, and berthed for the night in the marina, where amongst other benefits the electric hook-up enabled me to recharge the batteries, as well as also topping up the water and disposing of gash. Then on the Saturday morning the marina staff delivered my car and trailer to the slip while I brought the boat round, and assisted with loading her onto the trailer, all included in the fee which I had
already paid. I spent the rest of the morning derigging and making ready for the road, and then enjoyed a pleasant fish lunch of locally caught delicacies at the marina pub, before towing by road up to North Devon.

The latter is the subject of Part 2 of this account.

Overall it was an enjoyable cruise, and a welcome opportunity to meet up with a number of old friends, but a little disappointing that the weather was not as warm as I feel entitled to expect for South Devon in August, and Part 2 (in North Devon) was no better in that respect, – indeed at times it was far worse.

Amongst the improvements to the boat this year was putting a furler on the staysail and then completing the job of leading all the routine sail controls back to the cockpit, which much reduces the need to go forward on deck, except of course for anchoring and mooring. That generally works well, although there still remain a few minor teething problems requiring further tweaks in the detail.

Another significant improvement is to the galley. In recent previous seasons I had been using a pair of camping “suitcase type” single burner gas cookers, with integral horizontal cylinder, but I found several problems with them. Most serious, the manufacturing tolerances of the several different manufacturers of cylinders are simply not good enough for safety onboard, and last season I had two worrying gas leaks; these manifested themselves in perhaps the least dangerous way, but probably the most alarming one, when escaping gas around the cylinder inside the casing lit itself from the burner, causing a small localised fire within the unit. That was immediately extinguished by just releasing the locking lever, but the more worrying risk is that of escaping unburned gas migrating to the bilges,  creating an explosive mixture.

So at the end of last season I purchased an Origo 3000 double burner alcohol cooker. Then I discovered that because the burning fuel vapour is not under pressure the position of the flame is acutely influenced by even a small angle of heel. So for this season I added a pair of the official manufacturer’s gimbals, and also invested in an Omnia stove-top oven. The new arrangements can be considered a qualified success; not quite an unqualified success, as there are certain minor issues, but nonetheless a qualified one.

The Origo flame burns with a very slight yellow tip, and creates very slight carbon monoxide, but provided I ensure adequate ventilation this is no more than a minor inconvenience; it produces slight sooting of pans, etc., but probably produces less CO than would a couple of candles, or paraffin wick type cabin lamps – and no-one would worry about CO emissions from either of those lighting systems.

The manufacturer of the Omnia oven claims that it can do anything which a conventional oven can do; that is manifestly untrue, simply because it is not physically large enough to roast a joint, for example, but within the obvious limitations of size it does indeed perform well. I have enjoyed roast chicken breasts, Hunter’s chicken, and (with a bit of ingenuity) an Indian ready meal by courtesy of Mr. Tesco, as well as flatbread, and warmed up bread
rolls. However as yet I have tended to use my ridged grill pan for red meats, purely because the size of a steak fits that better than it fits the Omnia. One very quickly gets used to setting the cooking temperature; ears and nose are both good guides, but essentially set the burner on about half power until there is the first evidence of cooking having started, as deduced by either smell or the sound of sizzling, and then turn the burner down to near minimum, and
thereafter adjust the burner as necessary to keep the food just sizzling.

Read Part 2 – North Devon