Multiple award winning boatbuilder and designer and all-round interesting bloke Will Stirling is continuing his campaign to visit dramatic lighthouses using a traditional 14ft dinghy built by Stirling and Son – most recently with a trip to the Longships Lighthouse, built on group of rocks a couple of miles west of the notorious point of Land’s End.
With this August’s weather, I think he’s done well to find a window in the weather!
Here’s his story about the expedition:
‘The original plan was to sail from Sennen Cove just North of Land’s End down to the Wolf Lighthouse, back around the Longships Lighthouse and return to Sennen Cove.
‘I set off early from Plymouth to avoid any traffic. On the way down the A30 the windmills were gently turning. From high land the Isles of Scilly and the Wolf were in clear view. Light winds and good visibility augured well.
‘I arrived in good time at Land’s End and twisted my way down the lane into Sennen Cove. The tiny old harbour was very pretty. I backed the dinghy down a very steep granite slipway overlooked by a mighty lifeboat station.
‘Reversing on the sand was easy and the dinghy was soon afloat and anchored off – but driving forward on the sand was not easy and the van soon became bogged down. Two fisherman were watching and no doubt the odd curtain was twitching. I am used to feeling stupid.
‘There was the predictable sucking through teeth about the difficulties of recovering the van and when it would be possible to do so later in the day. No doubt King Cnut sat in his throne on the beach to demonstrate that the tide could not be defied, with a pair of stout thurls on hand to lug the throne up the beach when the old king’s toes started to get wet. I could see that the van would be a little more difficult to recover.
‘However, having played the lead role in many acts of foolishness I am pretty philosophical; things tend to get sorted out.
‘I had some time in hand in relation to the tide, so I prepared the dinghy, hauled the trailer up the beach and bought a parking ticket. By the time I was back the fishermen had rigged a warp around a turning block and back to the harbour-head capstan. We dragged the van up the beach, and with an extra burst of speed managed to claw up the slipway.
‘I didn’t bother to contemplate dinghy recovery at this stage, but gave the kind fishermen my thanks and some chocolate and set off.
‘Soon afterwards, I returned having realised I had forgotten the VHF and then pulled the zip off the drysuit. The zip was unrepairable but the VHF was now on board.
‘The trip was still within the tidal constraints for doubling the Wolf; however, the wind was very light and I began to doubt that I would reach the Wolf before the tide turned. I decided to sail to the Longship’s first and see if the wind would fill in away from the land or come up as time passed.
‘I sailed just South of the Shark’s Fin, a nasty rock to the North of the Longships, and despite the calm weather there were tidal overfalls. Strangely, the wind seemed to increase in each of the overfalls as the dinghy sailed through them quite fast.
‘Turning South and to seaward of the Longships I could see an alarming line of broken water to the West, indicating further overfalls. As the tide was pushing East, I had to hope I wouldn’t be sucked into them.
‘When I successfully got to the Longships, it seemed calm enough to consider a landing. I sailed among the rocks to the south of the lighthouse and anchored in a little cove where there were seals.
‘The dry suit was broken so I swam five metres to the shore in underpants and took some photos – very aware that if the main sheet did wind itself around the tiller and become jammed, trip the anchor and sail the dinghy out of the cove, massive embarrassment awaited. I didn’t waste any time ashore and took care to ensure I was always within a few seconds of regaining the dinghy.
‘In the second trip ashore to a small off lying rock the dinghy began to drag. I quickly clambered back aboard and sailed into deeper water away from the rocks before sorting everything out on board.
‘It was now 1130 with one hour until the tidal gate for arriving at the Wolf, which was 8 miles away to the South. The wind itself was now a steady F3 from the N. Ideal conditions for getting to the Wolf; not good conditions for getting back, particularly if the wind increased. I decided that it was not wise to attempt the Wolf with only an hour of tide, adverse wind for the return journey and a broken dry suit which made me vulnerable to offshore capsize. I was already quite cold after my swim.
‘I sailed back towards Sennen, through the overfalls just North of Kettle Rock and into the little harbour.
‘Charles Bush (the director of Mayflower Marina which is right next to our yard in Plymouth) happened to be standing on the beach with his family. He had been out catching turbot for supper.
‘With a bit of Norwegian steam we dragged the dinghy up the beach and hitched her onto the van at the very bottom of the granite slipway. Charles’ family pushed, his son sat on the bonnet to give the wheels traction and with much revving the whole rig reached the tarmac at the top of the slip. One cream tea later at the Bush’s cottage over looking the cove and some local advice about a better launching spot for the next Wolf attempt concluded a very pleasant Longship’s circumnavigation.
‘Best wishes, Will’
Stirling and Son offers traditional yacht building and wooden boat repair and is based at the historic No 1 Covered Slip at Devonport. Also, follow the Stirling and Son Facebook page for news, some wonderful boats and great photos.