Friday 05/08/11 L’Aber-Ildut to Helford

After a bit of a frustrating day on Wednesday and a fairly dismal outlook from the forecasts we woke yesterday to find that the skies had cleared a bit, and after paddling ashore in half our punt (much to our neighbours’ amusement), we returned to Planet having checked every available forecast. Although they were unanimous in forecast light northerly winds up to a maximum of a F3 we were both decided that it was too good a chance to miss, despite the likelihood of motoring most of the way.

And then suddenly it dawned on us that this was it. We were actually about to start the last sail of our trip. Although I’d like to say we were appropriately subdued and pensive about this, in reality we were so excited at the prospect of Portscatho waiting for us the other side that we just grinned at each other for a bit.

So we packed everything up, checked everything was working and went to fire up the engine and cast off. And then the engine didn’t start. Si had serviced it yesterday and changed the oil, air and fuel filters and checked every last thing over so that we knew it was good for the journey home. But still it wouldn’t start. Two years of faultless performance, thousands of miles with no complaint and it falls at the last hurdle. After checking everything over, Si worked out there was air in the fuel line, stopping it from getting through. Eventually after stopping and starting and turning over and revving, Si managed to coax it through and she chugged away like a beauty. And so we slipped our mooring about 1700 and headed out of the estuary and just as we did, the sun came out!

We whipped along with the tide under us until we left the Chenal du Four, set the Walker log as our electronic one was jammed with seaweed, got the main up and put the autopilot on. There wasn’t a lot of wind, which although a bit boring was easy, and we watched the last of France slip away behind us and settled into watches for the night. It wasn’t the quietest of nights, although the visibility stayed good and the wind behaved itself and blew lightly from the north, although annoying slightly west of north, which slowed us down a bit. The tides for leaving L’Aberildut meant we got to the main shipping area in the dark. The first few ships were fine, but by around midnight there were enough lights for an Ikea catalogue, and not all of them at all clear. So both of us stayed on watch for most of the rest of the night until we were safely past all the various ships and trawlers. Having come this far it wouldn’t do to sink at the last hurdle.

We took it in turns to sleep once dawn came, by which time we were well out of the shipping and there were only a few fishing boats dotted around on the horizon.

Si took down the French and Breton flags later on this morning, and for the first time on our trip apart from when we entered Gibraltar, we didn’t put another set up. It took us back to our first trip on Planet to France and back, when we left Falmouth on our way over only to realise we had no French courtesy flag. Undeterred, Si managed to find an old red ensign in a locker, and by using scraps of material we found in various lockers, managed to fashion a tricolore with a needle and thread. It looked fine from a distance. Half way across the Channel on our way home however, after a breezy fast sail overnight, we looked up the next morning to see that the material Si had stitched over the ensign had come undone, and the flag now flying at the starboard crosstrees was very definitely British. Planet obviously had a good nose for an international boundary, we decided at the time.  There was none of that this time, but I’m sure she perked up when about 11am this morning ‘All stations, all stations, all stations. This is Falmouth Coastguard’ came over the VHF in a Cornish accent. It felt as though they were broadcasting just for us.

And then we saw land! Which was good, because I was getting pretty hungry by then, and despite a huge meal last night and about eighty biscuits during the night, we were more than ready for our traditional landfall breakfast of scrambled eggs.

Si went down for a sleep after brunch and Planet and I watched the Lizard getting closer, until the rest of the coast opened up and we could see St Antony’s and the ships anchored off the Helford. I won’t forget this morning. I was supposed to wake Si after an hour or so, but he was sleeping peacefully and I was so happy on my own I didn’t want my watch to end. So I let him sleep and enjoyed an easy couple of hours with the autopilot on, drinking tea and picking out places I knew on the land. There were a couple of fishing boats and ships to avoid, but otherwise it was quiet, and it struck me that when we left home two years ago I would have felt a bit nervous at the prospect of being in a situation like this on my own. Instead now I couldn’t have been happier.

After a while, Si joined me again and I had a little sleep before we got in. As we got closer to the land, a nice sea breeze picked up and we turned the engine off, got the headsails out and had a beautiful quiet sail in past the Manacles to the mouth of the Helford where we’d decided to head to tonight. We’ve arranged to meet everyone tomorrow at Percuil, not telling them we were hoping to arrive in Cornwall today, in case we had a bad crossing and were shattered and wanting to sleep.

As it was we were fine, and shortly after anchoring off Durgan in the Helford for the night, we were met by a secret advance party in the form of my sister Sarah and her husband Ed and my Mum, who’d come over in the RIB from Percuil to meet us and take us out for dinner at the Ferryboat! And we didn’t even need to get our punt in the water!

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