Everyone has a different view of cruising.
For some people, the loom of the French coast is a mere obstacle,
indicating that it is time to change direction and blast off into blue
water and not even think about the land for weeks.
me. As I approach the coast, my nostrils are testing the breeze for
hints of steak frites. Naturally I like to up anchor and head for the
horizon, and I am by no means averse to making a hefty passage, or far
from immune to the satisfaction of a good landfall. But after all the
seafaring, I like to sail into a harbour, preferably out of the sunset.
a harbour is a wonderful thing. There is the smell of the land, honey
and spices and motherhood, with perhaps a hint of brimstone if you are
passing the refineries at Milford Haven. Elsewhere you will get the Ali
Baba effect, in which the apparently solid cliffs of the Crowlin Islands
part, as if by magic, to admit you to the sheltered pool in their
middle. And there is the Land of Oz effect, produced by sailing along
the ironbound southern shore of Cardigan Bay, glimpsing through a slot
in the shingle the candy colours of regency Aberaeron, and realising
that within the hour there will be fine ice cream and a chance of a
There are ‘stately harbours’, of course. New
Grimsby in the Isles of Scilly is the entry-level example, in which the
sense of security is intensified by the granite drum of Cromwell’s
Castle. Higher on the stateliness scale is quaintly fortified La
Rochelle, once closed by a chain and now entirely unwelcoming to yachts,
which are shunted to a vast and soulless marina round the corner.
Somewhere near the top is the Grand Harbour of Valletta, whose ancient
fortifications speak directly to the yachtsman’s inner Crusader.
The fortifications of these harbours give insights into the mindset
of our swashbuckling ancestors. Allow yourself a pleasant shudder as you
reflect that in their day, the batteries that now smile picturesquely
above the restaurants on the quay would have been full of loaded guns,
and the locals would have been interested not so much in the colour of
your money as the colour of your insides.
best harbours of the lot are not harbours at all. There is a particular
dip in the sand between the Dutch coast and the island of Vlieland,
marked by a fistful of perches, where a boat can lie afloat in a pool of
water as the tide bares the sands and clouds of marsh-birds rush
overhead under the moon. There is a little bay just inside the mouth of
Loch Hourn, on the mainland inside Skye, where the plunge of the anchor
echoes from sheets of stone and the silence falls like a thick, bright
blanket. And there is Arne in Poole Harbour, where you can picnic in an
ancient corner, ignoring the twenty-first century howling in the dredged
channels further east.
What all these harbours have in
common is this. As you zigzag back from the pub or waddle boatwards from
the taverna or close your book and turn out the cabin lamp, you will
have the encouraging thought that you have worked out the tidal gates,
got the forecast, and organised your passage plan. So you can wake up in
the morning, catch the tide, and do it all over again.
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