Prior to her single-handed round-Britain circumnavigation, Katie McCabe sailed her newly restored classic yacht solo to the Isles of Scilly
After buying Falanda, my 26ft Morgan Giles, in September 2019 and spending the winter restoring her in my dad’s shed, she was launched on 19 March 2020 – two days before the first UK lockdown.
Living on my parents’ 50ft converted fishing trawler Ros Ailither on the river Exe, I was able to spend the whole of lockdown sanding, varnishing, painting and scraping in the amazing weather.
Once the river was open again, I could finally go out sailing and enjoy the light winds and sunshine on the water.
After several trial sails alongside my parents in their 33ft classic yawl Amaryllis dad and I set off west on the two boats on 10 July 2020.
Solo voyage to the Isles of Scilly
My first proper single-handed sea trip was to Salcombe. It was my first time navigating completely by myself, and without any electronics on board I was completely reliant on two-point fixes.
I planned the passage and waypoints the night before to give myself a rough line to follow. It was an amazing eight-hour trip with the wind behind us.
I had been in front the whole time, however as we rounded Start Point the wind changed and dad shot ahead. After 45 minutes of tacking up to the entrance I needed a visit to the heads.
I called dad on the VHF to warn him, and with no autopilot I lashed the tiller and went below for a maximum of two minutes.
In that time, Falanda had turned into the wind, and seemed to have drifted miles out to sea.
Dad was a mere speck in the distance as he dropped the sails and motored into the harbour, and I was left to restart my tacking and head in behind him.
The harbour patrol guided me up to dad’s pontoon, and we relaxed into the madness and noise of Salcombe.
It was very busy there but the weather was nice and I spent the next day varnishing and planning the next few passages.
We caught the morning tide and spent the day sailing gently to Plymouth.
Once in, we met up with friends, a family who had restored another classic – a Stella folkboat named Four Bells – at the same time as me, so we spent the day sailing around with them.
The ship’s captain was Sol, who was a similar age to me, so the competition was intense as we raced our small classic yachts among the cruise ships.
The next morning all three boats headed up the Tamar to Calstock where our friend, Dot, was working on her boat, Tess of Teign, the sister ship to Falanda.
After a week of helping make Tess watertight, she was launched and the fleet of four wooden boats headed back down the river.
Tess (with no engine or mast) towed perfectly, and we were soon back at Saltash where Tess was craned out and safely transported back to Topsham for further restoration work.
Captain Sol left his ship on her mooring, and dad gained two crew (my mum and brother) before we left for Fowey.
It was a short six-hour trip averaging 4 knots until the last hour when the wind picked up and we shot in at 6 knots.
I’d originally bought Falanda from Polruan (across the river from Fowey) so the next morning I welcomed the former owner on board, who was delighted to see her sailing again.
Then on to Falmouth, followed by pods of dolphins and a chilly breeze.
After a couple of days in Falmouth, we turned back round to Mevagissey and then Charlestown, where we locked in for 14 days while we all returned home for supplies and for my parents’ work commitments.
I made some shelves and had a big tidy up, before we all set off again for Falmouth on 6 August.
The passage started out perfectly with a light breeze, but as we passed Dodman’s Point, fog started to roll in, slowly surrounding us until the visibility range was only 8-10ft.
Up until this point I’d been leading the way, following the course I’d plotted the night before.
However, in fog, charts and compass are pretty useless, and with no land in sight you have to rely on equipment such as GPS or chartplotter, neither of which I have.
Luckily, dad had brought his chartplotter from Ros Ailither and happened to know that instead of being a quarter of a mile off the coast (as I thought we were), we were actually about four miles out.
I’m still going to blame it on the fog as I was pretty much always about right for the whole rest of trip.
Hearing the bell of St Anthony’s Head lighthouse without being able to see it was disconcerting, and for around half a minute we were occupied with scanning the whiteness for the headland.
Unknown to us an aluminium boat had been ploughing towards us, veiled by the fog, until it was about 20ft off dad’s bow, when it suddenly steamed out of the emptiness straight towards him.
Both boats turned in opposite directions and within 30 seconds it had once again vanished out of sight.
Once in the main entrance everything cleared and apart from being attacked by a massive hornet, anchoring went pretty smoothly.
It turned out friends on Our Boys, a classic lugger, were anchored nearby so we went over for a visit and showed them around my tiny Falanda.
Next morning it was past the Lizard and on to Mousehole. We had a chilly breeze but from completely the wrong direction so we ended up motor-sailing for most of the way.
I’d been apprehensive about passing the Lizard, but it was great fun getting whizzed straight past with the tide, although very bumpy.
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After anchoring for the night outside Mousehole we had all morning to waste as the tide only started going with us at 11am.
Something I haven’t mentioned is that although I made the whole trip by myself, both boats only had two free bunks so my 10-year-old (and very unimpressed with the small boats) brother slept aboard Falanda with me at night and only became crew for my dad when I rowed him across in the morning.
So, we had a very relaxed morning, and with only a one-ringed camping stove (and no oven), we decided to fry cookies.
This left me with an incredible mess inside as I made the crossing to the Isles of Scilly and even the wind and multiple rain showers couldn’t blow away the smell of burnt chocolate.
As we left, I was in front and began racing a fibreglass yacht that had been anchored near us in Mousehole. They overtook me approaching Land’s End, and fog started to appear.
This isn’t the best thing to happen on your first Isles of Scilly crossing (and first shipping lanes alone), so with a couple of highly skilled ninja moves by the captains of both classic boats, dad threw me his phone in case the fog thickened and we lost sight of each other.
A moment of panic
Then the wind picked up and we decided to put a reef in the main. This of course is easy in an estuary, but out to sea, in the fog, and when it’s a bit windy, it can become quite difficult.
So, jib down, boat into the wind, crawl forward and take out reefing lines. Get very wet and salty, crawl back to cockpit.
Big wave. Starts to rain. Main starts flapping, boat starts to come away from the wind. Winch in reef sheet, loose main catches wind.
Panic. Start engine. Steer back into wind.
“No I’m not a weakling, I will do this under sail”.
Engine off. Winch in more main. Boat comes away from wind. Let more main off. Loose main catches the wind.
Ahhh, engine on. Steer into wind, winch in main. Lash tiller and crawl forward. Reefing lines in main. Boat starts to drift off course.
Crawl back to cockpit. Realise dad was finished ages ago and is now almost out of sight. Start sheeting main in…
“Falanda, Falanda, Falanda, is your engine on Katie?”
Finish sheeting main in…
“Falanda, Falanda…” grab VHF.
“Okay, okay I’m coming.”
Unfurl jib, sheet in jib and off we go. Once the reef was in, off went the engine and I was back on course, but by now Amaryllis had disappeared.
After a quick conversation while passing Wolf Rock, the outcome was, “Ah don’t worry love, just carry on on course.”
Visiting pods of dolphins brightened my mood but it didn’t last long as we were fast approaching the shipping lanes, and the fog hadn’t cleared any.
Not to worry, as I had dad’s phone with Navionics.
However, after about 20 minutes I still couldn’t work out how to put GPS location on, so the best comfort it gave me was that if I sank, dad would surely come back for his phone.
He did wait before the first shipping lane so I could catch up with him, and after all he was only five minutes ahead.
Quiet shipping lanes en route to the Isles of Scilly
We only saw one ship on the whole Isles of Scilly crossing, which was a big relief, and once the lanes were behind us the fog started to clear as well.
The wind continued to pick up as we approached the Scillies and at one point we touched 8.7 knots which I was very happy about!
The tide was against us coming up to St Mary’s but we anchored beautifully in The Cove between St Agnes and Gugh.
We spent three days in The Cove, where we met up with the boat I’d been racing after leaving Mousehole.
They had two daughters – one my age, and one my brother’s – so we explored the Isles of Scilly with them, finding the legendary ice cream factory, and having a barbecue.
Both Amaryllis and Falanda have legs, so we dried out for an afternoon, which was spent scraping and brushing all barnacles and weed off.
It was good to have a proper look at the antifouling and keel and I was surprised at how clean the bottom was after several months in the water.
Then across to Porth Cressa in St Mary’s, where we found a laundrette and supermarket.
I was pretty impressed with my housekeeping skills on Falanda, and had already done most of my washing on board when we dragged all the towels and my parent’s clothes ashore.
We filled up the water tanks and headed over to Old Grimsby Sound in the fog which was very scary.
We could literally hear the sea breaking gently on the rocks close by, despite not being able to see anything.
Although it was less than a three mile journey, it seemed to take forever.
We spent two days exploring Tresco with other boating friends until the weather eventually cleared.
We enjoyed a barbecue on the beach before heading across to explore the Eastern Isles of Scilly.
The islands were great, although teeming with massive seals which were lovely to see from the boats at anchor but seemed more menacing close up – especially when they surround your small rowing boat and you realise they’re twice the size of you.
Then storm Ellen appeared on the weather forecast so we fled the Isles of Scilly and headed back to the mainland.
I don’t have much to say about the trip apart from it was very wet and cold and my logbook pages kept disintegrating as I wrote in them.
Planning pays off
After planning a highly skilled anchoring manoeuvre, I partly dropped the main so that we caught the wind but were not overpowered.
I snuck into Mousehole very gracefully under half jib and a bit of loose main and was about to drop anchor when Amaryllis, who had just motored in behind me, called up via VHF.
“It’s too bumpy in here, we’re going to carry on to Newlyn.”
“WHAT? Did you see that? That was so cool”.
I was very disappointed.
“Turn around love, start your engine.”
I insisted on slowly crawling on round the corner to Newlyn under jib so that by the time I was finally anchored up my family was impatient and ready to go ashore.
We got fish and chips and enjoyed the rest of the evening on the boats. Then to Falmouth, which started out as a horrible trip, with pouring rain and lots of tacking, although we averaged 5 knots all the way.
My log entry for the second hour reads ‘soaking, everything wet, on the floor. Heeling well, gunwales underwater’.
As we approached the Lizard, the sky cleared and soon there was some sunshine and dolphins.
We once again got rushed round, and max speed was 7.5 knots. The next evening the storm came through while we were anchored in Falmouth.
We had quite a bumpy night and both anchors dragged, leaving us just outside the anchoring zone by the morning. We headed up the Fal towards Malpas as yet another storm arrived.
We’d hoped it would be more sheltered up the river, however, even upon leaving the harbour the wind started to pick up and we headed into a choppy swell left over from the previous day’s storm.
The plan was to motor upriver, but with the wind behind us I sailed the whole way.
With around 3ft of jib out, I averaged 5-6 knots, until near the chain ferry below Malpas when the wind picked up and with 1ft of jib we soared along at 7-8 knots.
It was great fun until we came to the patch of moorings, when I couldn’t slow down and passed within 2ft of two expensive racing boats.
My parents were motoring ahead on Amaryllis, and they discovered 30 knots of wind at the pontoons where we’d hoped to stay.
So, as I finally got through the maze of boats, Amaryllis called me up via VHF saying that we had to head back down past the cluster of boats again.
We motored to a sheltered bend in the river where we anchored alongside each other. That night the wind shifted and picked up to 50 knots.
We swung round onto the bank, and both boats rolled over at what felt like 90°.
With my brother sleeping on the side of my boat, and Amaryllis literally leaning on Falanda, me and dad could only watch as the two catamarans anchored near us sheared wildly from side to side, shooting straight towards us, then once 20ft away zooming off in the opposite direction.
In the morning, the boats started to float, and with the wind still as strong, we picked up a mooring in a sheltered spot around the corner.
The next day, in more moderate conditions, we sailed back down to Falmouth, only to find it would have been more sheltered there.
Falmouth to Fowey on 23 August was a great sail averaging 6 knots, and despite the grey sky not much rain.
Coming into the entrance at Fowey was a little scary because I’d been sailing at 7 knots so was eager to get the sails down before entering the channel.
As I dropped the main, a massive speedboat came whizzing out heading almost straight for me at over 15 knots.
I clung on to the boom with sail ties in hand as it passed within 10ft of me. Plymouth was the next stop, a grey day but we averaged 5.5 knots.
Two hours out, my vang rope snapped. I lashed the tiller and joined the rope with a make-do knot, which did the job until we were home. After that the swell picked up and I realised my main bilge pump had broken.
Falanda doesn’t normally let in much water, only when we are sailing in choppier seas, however I noticed the seawater down below because it rose above the floorboards.
Luckily there’s a hand pump in the cockpit so I had no problems bailing it all out.
Coming in the entrance to Plymouth was great with the swell up and we shot through the Narrows into Barn Pool, a lovely anchorage opposite Plymouth.
Captain Sol and his mum joined us on Four Bells for lunch and we had a walk around the gardens there.
Two days later we set off together, and the three boats raced around the breakwater, rescuing Captain Sol’s dinghy (my fault), and anchored again in Cawsand where I dropped my mug overboard, never to be seen again.
Early the next morning up came the anchors and we headed out into the rain, wind and swell.
It was a pretty fun trip in my eyes, although according to my parents and brother the Amaryllis experience hadn’t been quite so great.
Off Salcombe, we were already drenched, with every other wave completely drowning the boats and spray reaching halfway up the main.
Views from the crew on Amaryllis were to head into Salcombe, and pay for a night’s expensive harbour dues there while the front passed.
However, mine and the boats’ views were to carry on as we were already wet and were having great fun, so with a bit of reluctance on dad’s part, on we went, straight into the wind and rain.
Passing Start Point, the wind continued to get stronger, which was a slight issue as my reefing system only allowed for one reef in the main.
We hadn’t yet got round to sorting out a new system to allow second and third reefs to be put in.
So, as well as hand pumping out all the water sloshing about below, I tried to take a couple of fixes as we were approaching the Skerries (a shallow patch of water east of Start Point) although with the rain and seawater everywhere all I accomplished was to mess up a perfectly good chart.
Lost in fog
Then the fog came in, and I was completely lost, so dad came to the rescue with his chartplotter.
The wind picked up to about 40 knots, so we hammered along at about 9 knots under reefed main and around 2ft of jib.
The fog started to clear a bit and the rain slowed down as we got nearer and nearer to Dartmouth, but even with the entrance ¼ mile away, no land was in sight.
Dropping the main was hard work in the swell, especially without an autopilot or wind vane to keep us into the wind.
At one point I was literally clinging to the boom as waves crashed over the deck, and the wind howled through the rigging.
With the sails down, we motored into the invisible entrance, which was terrifying because all we could see were jagged rocks appearing either side of us as the mist began to clear.
As we entered the channel, the wind and sea were all behind us and dad’s dinghy was on the verge of being sunk by each breaking wave.
Then within around two minutes, the wind turned 180°, so we were going into it, and torrential rain started pouring down.
There was so much water coming down, that it started filling up Falanda’s cockpit, which drains into the bilges, so I had to keep pumping away at the bilge pump.
You couldn’t really see anything, and opening your eyes was painful because of the rain. We just had to slow down and steam on through it.
Dad somehow found a free pontoon and tied up so I headed over, and he guided me into a tight gap between two boats.
Mooring up was quite difficult with the wind, but my parents ran out and got my lines before we all retreated back into the comforts of the boats… or mess as it was for me.
With quite a bit of water left in the bilges I pumped out as much as possible and collected the debris from the floor.
This consisted of cookers, waterproofs, apples, oranges, and plates. Off came the rest of my waterproofs which I wrung out and strung over the bunks.
Emerging about two minutes later, the strong wind had completely disappeared, as well as the rain and murk. It was a completely different day.
Chatting with the other boaters later on, we found out that it had been gusting 40-50 knots while we were at sea (compared to my estimate of 30 knots).
The next day was both my mum’s birthday and the last passage of the trip – a great sail back to the Exe.
It was only a short hop, and we were back alongside before dark on 28 August. It was only six days before I started back at school and life went back to its boring normal.
LOA 8.01m (26ft 3in)
Waterline length 6.48m (2ft 3in)
Displacement 3.26 tonnes
Beam 2.13m (7ft 0in)
Draught 1.28m (4ft 6in)
Sail Area Main + No1 jib 28.34m2 (305ft2)
Design West Channel One Design
Builder Morgan Giles yard in Teignmouth in 1950
Construction Mahogany planking on oak frames
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Winner of the YJA Young Sailor of the Year and Young Journalist of the year, Katie McCabe is a 14-year-old sailor based on the river Exe. In 2019 she found her dream boat abandoned in Polruan and spent the winter restoring her.
In summer 2020 she sailed Falanda to the Isles of Scilly in preparation for a solo sail around Britain this summer, and is now considering her next offshore challenge: a mini-Transat race.
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