Quieter cruising

As cruising gets busier Sam Llewellyn asks whether we should turn our attention towards some of Britain’s less-travelled cruising grounds.

As cruising gets busier Sam Llewellyn asks whether we should turn our attention towards some of Britain’s less-travelled cruising grounds.

Once, cruising was a relaxed business. You would sail to your coast of choice. If you saw a lobster pot you would haul it, remove the large crustacean and substitute a small cloth bag with half a crown in it. You would then proceed to a quaint harbour, tie up among the fishing boats, and be welcomed as a hero by the populace.

Cruising has however changed. Lobsters are hard to find, marinas are bulging at the seams, and the populace, on seeing your yellow wellies, may well make sotto voce remarks about bankers.

The fact is that the favourite cruising grounds of the world, from the Caribbean via the Solent to the Riviera, are pretty much full up. So much for the bad news. But there is good news too. There are plenty of other places, still relatively untouched.

There are two main kinds of less-travelled cruising ground. One, lonely and perhaps a little threatening, starts north of the Mull of Kintyre, and continues via Norway to Jan Mayen, increasing in degree of difficulty as it goes.

In these cruising grounds you will need good anchor skills and a well-stocked larder. In their southern regions you may find it advantageous to have a taste for fine whiskies. In their northern sections whisky is optional, but a rifle in case of polar bears is not.

The other kind of cruising ground whilst perhaps less exotic is nevertheless interesting. One of my most enjoyable cruises was an open-boat journey from the source of the Severn, via the rivers and canals of Britain, to the Thames tideway, made during the wettest October on record.

The good thing about open boats, particularly ancient ones with soaking tents pitched beside them, is that nobody is going to mistake you for a capitalist, so you make plenty of new friends.

Furthermore, a small boat with a collapsible mast can get you to places where larger yachts, constrained by draught and owners’ pride, cannot go.  

Charles Stock made this clear in his remarkable travels around the shoal waters of the Thames estuary. There was also the great Frank Dye, who with his wife Margaret cruised a Wayfarer where fifty-foot Bavarias fear to tread.

Once, while sailing in the Wash, the Dyes decided they did not like the weather and cruised across the Fens to Cambridge, arriving in time for choral evensong at King’s College Chapel.

There is the Bristol Channel, where there are the relics of a mighty industrial civilisation to be explored, and Lundy, whose anchorage is becoming more popular as the years go by, the difficult micro-harbour at Clovelly, and a chance to dry out by the pier at Weston Super-Mare.

Perhaps even the mudbanks of Cumbria, or the small, beautiful stone harbours of Fife.

On the way to the Prebon Tullet London Boat Show at Excel, you can see sailors gazing out of the DLR windows at the creeks that wind between the gasworks and wharves of the lower Thames.

There are strange fluorescent foams on the water of these creeks, and supermarket trolleys line their shores. But there are also oystercatchers, and interesting tides, and trapdoors in blackened brick walls that give access to cemeteries, and secret ways that wind through the back regions of the city.

By their faraway look, these DLR sailors are planning a cruise. Up anchor! To Docklands, and beyond!

Sam Llewelyn