Portland to Plymouth

Having met our first Biscay crossing crew member, Richard, on a previous trip, it was now time to meet our second, Gerald, a part time vet in Ireland. Gerald had flown in earlier before staying with one of his many daughters, in Bristol. He had then travelled down to Portland where his cousin, also a keen sailor, dropped him at the marina – oh the advantages of a large family.

Gerald arrived with a suitcase and we were reminded of our honeymoon when we arrived for our yacht charter with several suitcases! We were away for three weeks was our excuse, and they hadn’t sent us the branded bags that would allow us to pack in the way they wanted. Fortunately that was a large boat with several rooms so it all went somewhere. We found a place for Gerald’s too but agreed he should leave his stuff on mariadz and take the empty case away with him. Hopefully he would return with a bag suitable to return his belongings but that can also be stowed.

We decide to leave in the morning which was the best time to pass Portland bill and also give us a favourable tide for most of our journey to Plymouth getting us there much sooner. There promised to be a little more wind than when Richard was with us so hopefully more of an opportunity to do some sailing. It is a glorious day with enough wind to get us going and before long we are under sail and going wonderfully.

Now I may have said this before but we are not racers, however, Maria, sees herself as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and “you shall not pass!” Is definitely her attitude. So as we round the bill, I am quickly on the AIS, as I say it is all Maria…., and looking for potential victims to be caught and overtaken by a beautiful moody with full new sails flying. It is another glorious sail and like from Southampton, Mariadz is enjoying a nice breeze powering her through the waves and with the tide, we are eating up the miles.

One of the new devices that Maria has acquired is a pinger, which is used by fishermen to keep dolphins away from their nets, and stop them eating all the fish. We have yet to see these in action but clearly Maria doesn’t want to do this for dolphins since this is what she has been looking forward to for the entire trip.

You may also recall that Maria was promised dolphins on this trip – yes you Lynne Fisher! Now in Lynne’s defence, I had seen a dolphin on the approach to Portland Marina but Maria was busy getting us into the marina and missed it. Prior to that, the human pinger that is Richard had also resulted in no dolphins in our trip from Eastbourne (sorry Richard).

However, we now have a vet who is clearly like Dr Doolittle and can call dolphins up at will or have we. Gerald, AKA the Dolphin Whisperer, doesn’t seem to be too confident.

We are half way across the bay chasing down other yachts when we see a pod of six dolphins off our starboard bow. On the right hand side at the front to the uninitiated! They see us and make a beeline to Mariadz like they are hunting us down. At this stage, Maria can only be described as squealing with glee although she has fallen short of making up a song about dolphins, unlike her fishing song from a few years ago which had parental advisory lyrics.

We are all very excited, there is no danger anywhere near us and Mariadz, under autopilot is just bounding along fine, so we all head to the bow to watch the show. I don’t think anyone has ever adequately explained why dolphins love to play in the bow wave of boats but it is surely a wonder to behold. Our only previous experience of dolphins in the wild was on a pleasure boat in Australia a few years ago when we were seeing Amie, but there is something special about it being your own pride and joy they are playing with.

Time stands still as you watch these playful dolphins and I genuinely dont know whether it was five minutes, ten minutes or thirty minutes before they decided to move on and probably catch some fish. It was fantastic and we all stood in awe watching and filming away. However, too soon, they are gone but for next thirty minutes all we can do is watch the videos and talk about the experience. Clearly the dolphin whisperer has some talent!

We have only just stopped talking about it, and Maria stopped crying tears of joy, when there are some more fins and another over-excited pod is on their way to see us. Dolphins playing in this way does not get boring and we are back out there. Clearly the dolphins have got overexcited themselves since, as I look aft, I see a little juvenile dolphin frantically swimming to catch up and join in the fun. They must have forgotten about junior in all the excitement and you can imagine him chasing them saying wait for me as his little body propels him as fast as it can. This has really passed the time and it seems no time at all until we are approaching Salcombe, our stop for the night.

We came to Salcombe by land last year when we met up with my work colleague, Rachel, and her gorgeous wife Louise. At that time we looked longingly at the bay and said one day Mariadz will be out there in all her glory. We thought we would be able to anchor but the area is covered in moorings. Our experience in the east coast is that these can be quite lightweight and close together, not suitable for a boat the size of Mariadz. As we call in hoping for a berth for the night, they politely don’t laugh at us when we ask will the mooring be able to take us! Don’t worry we take much bigger than you. We are told our allocated anchor ball but now are worrying about our ability to pick this up and put our line through it. As we arrive we can see this isn’t going to be possible because they are huge but the harbourmaster has come over to help us by taking a line, threading it through and handing it back. Maria is all over this as she approaches against the tide, stops Mariadz adjacent to the mooring before a little dab of bow thruster allows me to pass the line to the harbourmaster, no uncouth throwing of lines here. He gives it back and I tie us off. I have no idea if he was impressed by the boat handling but I was. His help also probably saved me another boat hook, since I kept dropping these at a mooring ball opposite Levington for years. I always intended to get the dive gear and go and retrieve the four or five that are down there…

We are now tied nicely up and it is clearly time to pop in for a quick drink and explore. We don’t even have to get the rib down since there is an excellent water taxi that will pick us up and drop us back. We really like the staff here who are friendly and helpful. A cracking end to a great day of sailing, dolphin watching and chilling.

The next day is the short hop to Plymouth and after a good nights sleep and breakfast we are ready to rejoin the “race”, identifying a few likely victims early on. We are having fun and making great speed but today there are no dolphins.

However, we are now approaching Plymouth, home of a lot of the British navy and workplace for my cousin Simon who we are looking forward to catching up with. We negotiate the west entrance of the wall that protects Plymouth and start to go around Drake’s Island in the harbour. We won’t go through “the bridge” a shallow area on the inside track past the island, just a bit too tight for us and we would rather take a little longer and be safe. As we approach, the east side of the island, there are quite a few yachts in front of us circling around and a tourist boat with 40 or so people on the top deck watching. A rib, at high speed, approaches us and vigorously waves us to get out of the way as this is clearly some kind of race. At this stage we are on the left hand side of the channel just inside the red buoy and can’t go outside this because of the spectators. I politely wave back and then go about my business, we are nowhere near any of these yachts and the race hasn’t even started yet – I also wonder whether they would have said the same to a Type 23 frigate, that often goes through this channel, I suspect they would have been shot for approaching at high speed!

We approach the mayflower marina and head towards the visitors pontoon having been guided there by the staff. As we approach two members of staff are waiting for us to take lines and help us get settled, how nice is that! The start of another stay at a new marina for us as we prepare to leave England for the last time on Mariadz.

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