Padstow is the only genuine port of refuge on the north Cornish coast indeed almost the only place on the south west peninsular west of the River Avon and Portishead Marina. Arrival for entry to the inner harbour (where the boat stays afloat) is two hours either side of high water (2.30pm that day) and I was going to allow five hours for this 70 mile passage across the outer Bristol channel. I phoned to book a berth but not for the first time the call was not answered. I tried again 20 minutes later but still no answer. I left a message letting them know that we were on our way and hoped that they would return the call to confirm that there was space before we had finally left Milford Haven.
The weather and sea forecast were too good not to take advantage of and we decided that we were going anyway. Start Me Up is actually capable of ‘taking the ground’ and if needs must the Camel Estuary had plenty of sheltered spots to do this, however, we obviously would much rather be afloat in the inner harbour.
The Milford marina lock master called us on channel 14 at 9.15am to invite us to take our reserved place for the lock at 9.30am. 25 minutes later we were heading back down an empty Milford Haven finally clearing the approaches and heading due south to Padstow by 10am.
Needless to say, we had no return call from Padstow. Either way some two and a half hours later we could make out Lundy Island a dozen miles to the east of us and could pick out what we thought was Hartland Point on the north Devon coast. One hour later we could see what we thought must be the entrance to the Camel estuary. I was once told by a very experienced skipper that mariners always look to soon and are invariably too far away to make a proper judgement re harbour entrances or significant landfalls, however much we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t do this, we managed to do it every time.
The Camel estuary is navigationally challenging but nothing extraordinary. It has got the famed DOOM BAR of course, which is to be avoided. It turns out that ‘doom’ is a Cornish derivative of dune as in a sand dune, but enough boats have come to grief on this bar for the name ‘Doom’ to be not far displaced from its normal meaning if the weather turns nasty.
We were at least 45 minutes early as we went past the green conical buoy that marked the extremity of the fabled Doom Bar, I hadn’t missed any calls on my mobile i.e. Padstow harbour hadn’t phoned back and they weren’t answering on the preferred Channel 12 either. I kept within the channel markers on what was a rising tide but it was decided that we would head out again to deeper water and wait until we were answered. The estuary is stunning and the white sand beaches of Polzeath on the Rock side and turquoise seas were beautiful. A harbour patrol Rib powered up to us and asked whether we were the boat calling channel 12? Indeed we were. He told us that there was a waiting pontoon just outside the harbour cill gate and he would escort us to it. The chap who actually operates it only clocks on 15 minutes before, he’ll come to us on the waiting pontoon to sort things out.
Five minutes later we were safe alongside the waiting pontoon and the duty manager called in on us. For various reasons the gate would not be opened for another 30 minutes or so, he only had a spot for us against the harbour wall itself as all of the pontoon fingers were occupied, there was a two metre tidal range when the gate was opened so make sure we allowed for this with our mooring lines. I asked if he had a mooring board ( a six foot plank of wood) for us to fender against and he confirmed he did. This would prevent the boat’s fenders getting filthy and help the boat’s gel coat avoid the usually rusty barnacled ladders you climb up to get ashore. I then asked if we could fuel up whilst we waited. The fuel pump was on the outer harbour wall and accessible. He confirmed that we could and we duly refuelled the tank.
45 minutes later we were moored against the harbour wall and ladder 21 in the inner harbour of Padstow, having successfully got alongside to the amusement of the 100’s of tourists spectating our efforts and our bickering re the length of rope we should allow for the tidal range and other mooring line arrangements. There were numerous kids with lines for crabs and dozens of people drinking pints of beer or glasses of wine or bowls of gin from what were real glasses, not plastic ones. We were occasionally being dive bombed by seagulls and were being asked numerous interesting questions by the tourist hordes that Padstow attracts. We were in a goldfish bowl.
It was a lovely day and before long we relaxed to the unique atmosphere of Padstow inner harbour with a few cold beers of our own and our first genuine Cornish pasties of the trip. A couple sitting above us on the harbour wall told us that our pasties looked nicer than the ones they had bought, indeed they seemed to have more meat in them. Nigel told them where they were acquired.
By about seven in the evening the hordes seemed to vanish and we made our way to the nearest pub. We had discussed whether or not we would eat in Rick Stein’s restaurant, this was to be Nigel’s decision as I had eaten there some years before, he decided he wasn’t fussed. We had a good couple of laps of Padstow trying to choose between one ludicrously expensive restaurant/pub or another, that’s if they had a table for us. Eventually, we found ourselves in a harbour front eatery which for the money was very average.
The weather and sea forecasts looked like they were going to be perfect for our 50 mile passage down to Lands End, we had decided that we wouldn’t visit the Scilly Isles after all. In discussions with some sailing types at Milford Marina, we had been put off. Their experience at this time of the year was that the Scillies were overrun with the French, the only hope of mooring was likely to be on a buoy with five other boats and all the favourable anchorages would be taken. If the weather kicked up it was not the place to be if you didn’t have a couple of weeks to wait for the next opportunity to head back to the mainland. We had both been to the Scillies before by ferry and small aircraft, it was decided that we would head for Helford River and celebrate having made the fourth and final significant left turn of our voyage and arrive back on the south coast.
Padstow had been one of my big ambitions for this trip, and I was very happy that at long last I had bought my boat there, I would not be unhappy to leave however as unless you are on one of the few pontoons that probably need booking ages in advance, being on the harbour wall is not fun, unless of course, you are a goldfish.