Day 24, Tuesday 19th June 2018, Padstow to Ilfracombe… drying out on the mud!

I would have liked to stay longer in Padstow…. from what I saw briefly on the evening we arrived…. a town fighting back from recession…. a couple of rest days would not have gone amiss after our hard slog round Lands End and up the Cornish coast.


Photo above… the evening before departure… look at the fog. Poli Poli rafted up against a steel sailing yacht in Padstow.

The inner harbour where we were rafted up is a locked harbour… so at certain times according to the tide rise and fall the lock gates open and close. The Padstow Harbour Master had told us the evening before that he would not open them until 8.45am the next day. Prior to this, we tried out the harbour showers… which were ok… very clean and lots of hot water. After a quick breakfast, we prepped the boat for sea.

As 8.30am approached boats in the inner harbour were straining on their leashes to be let out. Mike went and helped a Hallberg Rassey yacht ( Swedish ) with their lines so that they could be first. The fishing boats were revving up their engines and straining on their moorings. We don’t play the game of first out…. far too risky.

Once outside the harbour wall, in the bright light of morning it all looked so different. We had come in with a howling wind, cold and very poor visibility. We paid a visit first to the fuel berth, a green half a million litres of diesel tank set up on an old harbour wall. Good job our fenders were out …. Mike climbed up the ladder to tie our lines to very old and rusty mooring rings. We filled our fuel tank and left, following a sprightly Nauticat out into the main buoyed channel.

All calmness at first in the estuary…. then we re-crossed the Doom Bar heading north east away from the verdant green hills atop the craggy grey Cornish cliffs. Sails went up and we sailed awhile, until the wind came dead over our stern and the sails flogged briefly from side to side.

Once out of the confines of the estuary and passed the huge threatening islands of rock… now into open sea… and wham bang… did we feel the influence of the big Atlantic rollers bearing down on us…. then under us…. and onwards to pound the coast line.

Big, big waves…. a gloomy, drizzly start. By 10 o’clock it was raining steadily and we hid behind the spray hood, peering round the side or over the top… to spot the odd lobster pot marker… even ten miles out at sea and away from the coast. Visibilty was poor but we managed to avoid any fisherman’s ropes around our rudders or prop. Oilies, two layers, gloves and a hat were the dress order of the day… middle of June for goodness sake.

By 4.30pm we were viewing a grey island shape away to the north… the chart said Lundy Island…. a bird paradise misty and murky in the far distance. Then on AIS  ( a ship appears as a black triangle on our chartplotter screen and we are able to identify what it is, where it is heading, its size and speed etc etc.) …. we followed this small passenger ship towards Ilfracombe …. we reasoned it was a “tripper boat” out to Lundy Island to see the wildlife. What the tourists saw in the foggy gloom, heaven knows.

The “tripper” boat was doing 13 knots, twice our speed and soon reached its home port to disembark what must have been a collection of very cold twitchers.

We arrived off Ilfracombe at about 6pm. The entrance was somewhat difficult to identify and this caused us to track up and down outside until we had clearly seen a way in. By now the wind had got up…. and it was howling banshees again. Amazingly, out in the sea were three rowing boats… full of hardy looking young folk pulling on oars… six to a long hulled thin rowing boat… roaring along at pace, and we could hear the “stroke and cox” shouting in rythmn “pull, pull” and so on. This is what’s known as “gig rowing.” We had seen  this many times up and down the Devon and Cornish coasts and a plenty in the Scilly Isles where inter island races are extremely competitive.

From the descriptions in the pilot books we had, plus those of the sailing almanacs… we reasoned there to be an inner harbour in Ilfracombe which completely dried out at low tide as well as part of the early flood tide. We further reasoned from the varying accounts  that there was an outer harbour which would have enough water in it at half flood tide.

Well we went in finally at 7pm…. only to see a couple of metres depth at best… and a muddy beach leading up to the yellow mooring buoys you were supposed to pick up and tie onto. Our keel had been raised to 0.8m draft and we gently grounded on the mud…. but too far off the yellow buoys to pick up and then  tie up. So we backed out slowly and left Ilfracombe.

We retreated into deep waters and discussed our options. Night passage to Bristol??? Anchor up outside Ilfracombe? Nearest minor harbour was at least another six hours away and we  had already done ten. Our solution was to go round in circles killing time… and we went back in at roughly 8pm and hey ho there was enough tide rise to go in and pick up the yellow mooring buoys. The “rule of twelfths” worked perfectly for us.


A complicated system of two pick up buoys linked to chains, tied somehow to underwater weights or anchors…. took us 40 minutes to work out a system of ensuring Poli Poli was secure and would not swing into any adjacent boats.


Two hours off high tide we were “safely” moored up…. so down came the dinghy and we rowed ashore for our supper at a quayside pub. We stowed our dighy on a set of steep concrete steps leading down into the harbour…. no wet bums but certainly aching limbs.


Photo above… Ilfracome Harbour. Poli Poli at high water, moored up to the yellow buoys…pic taken after we had rowed ashore.


Poli Poli on mooring buoys, Ilfracombe Harbour. Nearly high water.

So back on the boat after our meal… we worked out that it was one hour to high tide… then six hours back down to low tide… so  at some stage in the early morning whilst asleep…. we would be sitting on the mud. The lifting keel was already fully retracted and I was awakened at 4am by the gentle sound of Poli Poli gently sitting on the mud. She balances on a huge two ton grounding plate set around her one ton keel… and then is held in place by her twin rudders and a thing called a “skeg” which she sits on and this protects her propeller.


Ilfracombe… Poli Poli 7am the next day… safely grounded “deliberately” on the mud. View over the port side. Tide has gone out!

Mike did not hear a thing. I did as I knew what was happening. Mike awoke long after the “event” to come on deck in the morning light… to find himself high and dry on the mud flats of Ilfracombe. What a strange harbour… what an experience… certainly demonstrated the lifting keel and drying out capability of the Southerly marque.


Well and truly on the mud! Ilfracombe Harbour. Waiting for the tide to come back in and lift Poli Poli off the mud.


Photo above…. on the mud, must get that chain off before we depart Ilfracombe.

At 8.45am after a rise of tide of 2 hours, we had sufficient water under the keel, to quietly depart Ilfracombe outer harbour…. carefully leaving the two yellow mooring buoys behind. I don’t think anyone noticed.

Padstowe to Ilfracombe… distance 60.2 n.miles, duration 10 hours, 538.2 n.miles from Eastbourne.

Tomorrow Wednesday… Ilfracombe to Portishead ( Bristol ).




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s