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The Straits of Magellan or the Menai Strait?

Yachting journalist Sam Llewellyn mulls over the promise of heading to far flung shores this summer...

The charts have been out all winter. But now the evenings are long, and the fury of the equinox in some measure abated, as the Prophet Elijah used to put it. And it is time to decide where to go this year.    

Tierra del Fuego?   

In one, the decider downloads the charts of Tierra del Fuego, pulls the armchair a foot closer to the fire, and spends an evening in an excited reverie, wondering whether the Straits of Magellan or the Beagle Channel is preferable to rounding the Horn itself.

This kind of deciding is largely done in winter, and a carping person might call it more of a fantasy than an actual plan, unless of course your name is Knox-Johnson.

The other kind of deciding involves looking at where the boat is, how much time you can contrive to spend on board this year, and how far you can reasonably expect to get, given the fact that not everyone in the family likes long passages and the weather will be horrible.    

If you are in the Solent, people will be telling you that you are already in a charming cruising ground. But Yarmouth may be full, and jetskis overplentiful. And the chances are that if you go into Bembridge or Keyhaven you will go aground. Where, then?

Go east?

If you go east, you will have a vast range of creeks and harbours at your disposal. And you will probably get a westerly to waft you in the general direction of Holland; but then you will have to think about getting back again in the teeth of that same westerly or one very like it.

Or west?

If you go west, you will find yourself beating down-Channel. There is usually a heavily-bearded salt in a corner of the bar who will claim that this is a splendid idea. Go to the CH1 buoy off Cherbourg, he or she will boom. Then tack. You’ll be in Falmouth by breakfast time. Note that he or she does not specify on which day.

Better to drop in at Cherbourg, recruit the inner person with a spot of lunch, and set off west again. Though the more typical cruising person will chug gently down the coast, working the tides against the prevailing winds. The crew will grit its teeth in the overfalls off Old Harry, Portland and Start Point, and will arrive at last somewhere delightful, like Falmouth.

Once you are in Falmouth there is virtually no excuse not to proceed to Scilly, a fine cruising ground for the strong-minded. From Scilly you can turn right up the Irish Sea. A scant week of Guinness stops will land you in Scotland, heaving with whales and studded with solitary anchorages filled with a silence thick enough to cut with the ship’s bread knife. And from the west coast of Scotland, it is of course a mere step across the Great Glen to the charming grey stone harbours of Peterhead and Buckie and the east coast of Britain. Or of course Norway....    

Get real!

Hang on. In about three minutes those Cape Horn charts will be out again. Get real. If it is cold and you have a fortnight, charter something in Turkey.

If you wish to visit the Ijsselmeer of Holland and the weather forecast is revolting, recruit a crew of hearties for the delivery trip and put the family on the ferry to meet you in the beautiful Sixhafen, ten minutes from the centre of Amsterdam. And if your cruising is a weekend affair, well, picnics are enjoyed by all.

The main thing to remember:

Every time you step out of the tender and onto your local mud, you will feel slightly - very, very slightly - like Drake setting foot on the Spanish Main. Cape Horn, the Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Channel? You can go there next winter.      

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