James Crickmere circumnavigated Britain in his Laser 28 Tandem. He tells Claudia Myatt how he managed his successful solo voyage

When someone says they are planning to sail around Britain, the first question you ask them is ‘Which way round?’

A happy debate then ensues about prevailing winds that don’t prevail any more and the likelihood of headwinds whichever way you go.

There are those who swear either clockwise or anticlockwise is the only way, but whichever you choose the only certainty, especially in these times of changing weather patterns, is that conditions will be challenging at times.

The discussion then moves on to the scarcity of deep water harbours on the East Coast and the perils of tides, rocks, sandbanks, wind farms, lobster pots, and headlands.

A white yacht on a river

James Crickmere leaving the Deben aboard his Laser 28 Tandem, Acorn. Credit: Claudia Myatt

You conclude that if you can sail around Britain you can sail anywhere.

There’s certainly plenty of contrast and it’s enjoyable as well as challenging; several people have done it more than once.

In 2022 James Crickmere started planning a solo round Britain cruise which began in Gosport on 22 April 2023.

He allowed himself four months and completed the circle on 8 August.

We followed his track on AIS and couldn’t wait to find out all about it when he came home. This is what we wanted to know… Why do it?

Why sail around Britain?

Why not? It’s a challenge and you get to explore loads of new places with a huge variety of coastline and sailing conditions.

How long did it take to sail around Britain?

I estimated I would need three to four months. I had to give up my job to do the voyage, but worked out that if I was careful with spending I could take as long as needed.

I wanted to do as much under sail as possible, so I needed time to wait for the right window of weather and tides and make the most of them when they came.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do as much waiting as I’d feared.

Which way round?

I went anticlockwise starting in Portsmouth Harbour. The decision was based on getting the East Coast done first and then being on the west coast of Scotland for the summer months.

A map showing how to sail around Britain anticlockwise

James decided to sail around Britain clockwise, to make the most of the summer months in Scotland. Credit: Claudia Myatt

Early season weather favoured this choice and gave me mainly southerly and easterly winds all the way up to Scotland.

Coming down the Irish Sea I had endless south-westerlies, but at least there were plenty of options for finding a route that made the most of wind shifts.

If I ever do it the other way, I’ll post an update on which was best!

Which boat?

Acorn is a Laser 28 Tandem. She’s a lightweight cruiser-racer, easy to manage single-handed.

I didn’t really know if she was up to the job; however, she far exceeded my expectations and coped well with a wide variety of weather and sea conditions.

There are better choices, of course, but she’s the boat I have and I made it work.

The speed worked to my advantage, but the lack of weight made for some bumpy and slow passages and uncomfortable nights at anchor.

A man standing on a boat

James and Acorn spent a total of 16 days and 3 hours at sea while sailing solo around Britain. Credit: Claudia Myatt

Acorn turned out to be a good all-rounder in light winds, and heavy winds (the mainsail almost always had reefs in; I can now add and remove reefs without using the engine and with my eyes closed!)

With a following swell and a Force 6 aft of the beam, we surfed brilliantly, once logging 11 knots.

But sea state is also the biggest problem for a lightweight boat.

In the Irish Sea, I often found a swell that was confused or in an illogical direction due to recent storms. This was a real speed killer even in a good wind.

How did you prepare the boat to sail around Britain?

Having spent the previous summer sailing around the Solent I knew what was needed to get her ready for longer solo passages.

There were no major changes; a new halyard, some adjustments to make (almost) everything do-able from the cockpit, some string to lash the tiller.

And, of course, a squeaky clean and newly antifouled bottom.

I bought a new Rocna anchor with 40m of chain. I considered a good anchor would be essential during heavy weather and in emergencies.

The only space for this was on the cabin floor – useful ballast, but a pain to drag onto deck, so the lighter anchor and warp the boat already had was used in calmer weather.

The cockpit of a small boat

James made sure he could comfortably sail from the cockpit of Acorn to make it easier and safer for sailing alone. Credit: James Crickmere

The existing boat electronics were nothing more than an echo sounder and log so I added a DSC Radio, AIS transponder, and a handheld Garmin GPS 73.

The Garmin has no charts, it simply gives bearing and distance to the next waypoint but it’s waterproof, low power, and completely indestructible.

I bought paper charts for the whole of Scotland and borrowed charts for the South Coast and East Anglia.

The rest of the time I relied on the chart software on my laptop and tablet (OpenCPN and Navionics), which were mainly used for passage planning, and sometimes getting into tricky harbours.

An inflatable kayak tied to the back of a boat

A two-person inflatable kayak saved space on board and was ideal for exploring. Credit: James Crickmere

If all the electrics on the boat failed, the GPS, tablet, laptop, and phone all have an internal battery.

Most of these gadgets also have their own internal GPS receiver.

Finally, I replaced the rubber tender with a two-man Intuit inflatable kayak.

This was easy to inflate and deflate and took up a fraction of the space.

It worked well for exploring, especially in Orkney where I kayaked some distance from my anchorage to get to the highly recommended Scapa Flow Museum on Hoy.

How much planning did you do to sail around Britain?

I researched every possible stop-over and wrote up notes which included:

  • Type of harbour – anchorage, mooring, marina
  • Access limitations – certain times of tide, advice against entering in certain winds
  • How to navigate into the harbour, access procedures
  • Phone numbers and VHF channels of the harbour master, marinas, local sailing clubs, NCI stations – anyone who may be able to offer help or advice

I admit I only got halfway through my notes before I set off – the rest was finished en route – but it meant I could decide on my stopover at the last minute, depending on the conditions.

If I ever ran into problems on passage, or conditions slowed progress more than expected, I could quickly glance at my notes and find the nearest safe harbour.

For the most part, I was able to stick to my preferred stopovers until I was dodging a series of depressions on the West Coast and I had to change my plans several times.

A laptop and books on a boat

Detailed passage planning was mostly done in harbour; James made passage notes to help with navigation. Credit: James Crickmere

Most detailed passage planning was done during spare time in harbour.

I wrote down the times of tides and streams for the day and passage notes based on a series of waypoints created on my laptop and loaded onto the GPS.

While sailing I’d figure out a compass course that would keep the GPS on track to the next waypoint.

A pilot book and an almanac helped plan some of the more complex routes, like crossing the Pentland Firth.

How did you check the weather during your sail around Britain?

My main source was the weather models from WindGuru.

This should be treated with the usual caveats about weather models, but the level of detail was very useful.

The next few days were always accurate and even the next few weeks always gave a good indication.

Continues below…

I always listened to and paid attention to the Inshore Waters forecast.

I almost always had mobile 4G signal, even in the remotest of locations.

There was only one night, at anchor in Loch a’ Chadh-fi, where there was no mobile signal, and VHF broadcasts from the Coastguard were too weak.

This is the only time in a lifetime of sailing I have had to tune into Radio 4 to get the Shipping Forecast!

What was the longest passage during your sail around Britain?

The longest distance was from Lowestoft to Scarborough, 140 miles, completed in 23 hours, which was one of the best night passages under moonlight.

The passage that took the longest was Milford Haven to Newlyn, 130 miles, which took 29 hours, far longer than expected which meant the tides were all wrong rounding Land’s End.

A depression passing over the day before had left a large and confused sea state so I averaged about 4 knots.

This was one of only two times I got seasick!

A boat heeling while the sailor sails around Britain

Acorn far exceeded James’s expectations during his sail around Britain and coped well in a wide variety of sea and weather conditions. Credit: James Crickmere

Rounding Land’s End at midnight, I was faced with hundreds of tiny red and green lights on the horizon, followed by a long game of weaving through the middle of the Fastnet fleet into Newlyn.

For the most part, the circumnavigation was done with day sails.

Longer trips were useful to cut out the corners like the Thames and Humber Estuaries, Moray Firth, Cardigan Bay and Bristol Channel.

With enough time, most of these could have been split into smaller hops.

Crossing the Moray Firth to Wick became a frustrating exercise in sailing in cyclonic winds, dodging wind farms, and diverting around fleets of survey and cable laying ships.

What were the highlights?

Predictably, the Highlands! But I also enjoyed areas all over England, Scotland and Northern Ireland that I have never been to before.

A man on top of a hill taking a selfie

James did plenty of walking in Scotland. Credit: James Crickmere

All have their own charm, even Scarborough, which I loved but have yet to find anyone else who likes it!

Did you have any gear failure?

Nothing major failed. I woke up at anchor once to a flat battery and had to hand crank the engine, which took 30 attempts and a lot of shouting.

This was partly my fault for having just one battery.

There were the usual small things – a broken rope clutch, jammed furling and a broken nav light which were all fixable or bodgeable.

A tool bag and the usual spares you end up with (screws, bolts, wood, hose, etc) are of course essential. The tiller pilot failed twice.

Even when it worked, it was only usable in calm conditions and with perfectly balanced sails, and then only for short periods of time because it was too energy hungry.

I perfected a good system of lashing the tiller and letting the mainsail luff so the boat would continue to average the correct course which gave me enough time to make tea and meals and update the log.

I spent many hours with freezing fingers wedded to the tiller wishing I had proper self-steering gear, and this was my biggest regret.

How did you prepare for a long single-handed passage?

Before a long passage, I made sure I had plenty of sleep and drank plenty of water.

I had sandwiches and snacks prepared and close to hand, along with water and coffee – but absolutely no ‘energy’ drinks.

Long passages can be hellishly boring so I had podcasts or music downloaded offline to play on a Bluetooth speaker.

There were only six passages that were longer than 16 hours, which is about the point where I get dangerously tired.

I never dared have even a small nap – I’m sure I’d have not woken up for hours!

You could certainly do smaller hops, but I felt I had to make the most of good weather and keep to plan as much as possible.

How did you cope with entering a strange harbour at night after a long passage?

I always prepared well for late night arrivals and had notes to hand on entry procedures, navigation lights to look out for, transit lines, etc.

Navionics on a tablet would often be used as well but with caution, as too much staring at the screen kills your night vision.

There were many night-time arrivals, including the River Tyne at 0100, but there were no disasters!

What do you do all day when riding out a gale at anchor?

I brought many books and a guitar to re-learn, but almost always ended up just scrolling through my phone!

It’s frustrating how difficult it is to truly escape and find somewhere disconnected.

How did you keep the battery charged for instruments?

I had one battery on board, and a 100W solar panel.

It kept the instruments going and various devices charged, but after a few nights away from shore power it did nearly run flat a few times; one battery proved to be inadequate.

A second leisure battery or portable power bank would have helped.

Food and drink

I bought a load of tinned food before the trip, but didn’t use most of it – I cooked fresh meals as much as I could. I had no fridge, only a coolbox, but buying some frozen food would keep it cool for a few days; by the time the fresh food had been eaten, the frozen food was defrosted and ready.

Saucepans with food cooking on a hob on a boat

James favoured cooking fresh meals on passage, rather than relying on freeze-dried pouches, although these were used for night sailing. Credit: James Crickmere

I could usually buy enough food for five or six days at most, which was as long as I was ever away from access to a shop.

For long night passages, the freeze-dried pouches designed for hiking are perfect. Just add boiling water and you get tasty mashed potatoes and beef brimming with calories.

How did you work out a budget for the trip (and did it cost more or less than you expected?)

I haven’t added it all together. Marina fees were between £15-£35 per night (for an 8m boat) but there were plenty more opportunities to anchor than I took advantage of.

If you do some research there are good cheap alternatives to marinas – pontoons run by the local harbour authority or community, mooring buoys owned by local pubs (especially in Scotland).

A view of a harbour with moored boats

There are plenty of local harbour or community run moorings in Scotland, like in Canna. Credit: James Crickmere

The trip can definitely be done on a budget.

After a long, hard passage, when everything is wet and you’re struggling to keep your eyelids open, the budget suddenly gets forgotten and you will just go to a marina for the lovely hot showers, shore power and warmth.

Did you meet anyone else doing the same thing?

There were plenty of other nutters out there doing around Britain this year, with their own goals.

A man on a boat leaving a harbour while sailing around Britain

Other circumnavigators James met included Neil Marshall and Shaun Croft on their Sadler 29, Waikare. Credit: James Crickmere

Some of the highlights:

  • Neil Marshall and Shaun Croft sailed a six month trip around Britain anticlockwise from Ipswich in a Sadler 29, Waikare. They have done an astonishing job raising thousands for the RNLI and the British Heart Foundation, taking the longer route along the coast to visit as many lifeboat stations as possible. I had the pleasure of sharing a harbour on a couple of occasions and getting fed spaghetti bolognese and beer. (Search ‘Waikare’ on Just Giving, ‘Sailing Waikare’ on YouTube)
  • Andrew Hill-Smith (aka Shrink in the Drink) sailed a Laser dinghy around the UK (the third person to do so), unsupported, anticlockwise starting from the Solent, raising money for a number of great health causes. Going in the same direction, we overtook each other a few times but never quite ended up in the same port! I get exhausted after just a couple of hours in a Laser dinghy, so… wow. (www.laseraroundtheuk3.uk)
  • Dougal Glaisher, a 24-year-old with Type 1 diabetes, paddled clockwise in his Surfski in 40 days. We met briefly in Mallaig while he was restocking, before setting off in the evening to his next stop. (www.dougalsepicadventure.com)

I honestly believe with the right mindset, planning and prep, you could go around Britain in a bathtub. It’s probably the only avenue left if you want to break any records.

What would you do differently next time if you did the whole thing again?

I’m proud of completing the trip solo and doing so much of it under sail.

However, if I were to do the same trip again then I would have a more relaxed holiday, bring crew and spend longer exploring the Scottish coast.

I would also make sure to have more than one battery on board and, if single-handed, install a decent self-steering system.

What next?

I would love eventually to get a larger boat and set myself something more challenging further afield, possibly the Faroe Islands or Norway.

Facts and figures

I collected all the tracks recorded by the GPS in GPX file format and also built a spreadsheet recording each passage start and stop times, locations, and times when changing between sailing, motoring and motorsailing.

Combining all of this data with some Python code yields some interesting stats!

So here they are (bear in mind these distances measure the track that was sailed, not a straight line course):

  • Total miles: 1,885
  • Total miles (under sail/under engine/motor sailing): 1,544 (82%)/269 (14%)/70 (4%)
  • Total time at sea: 16 days, 3 hours
  • Overall average speed: 4.87 knots
  • Longest leg by distance: Lowestoft to Scarborough, 139 miles, 23 hours, average 6.1 knots
  • Longest leg by time: Milford Haven to Newlyn, 131 miles, 28½ hours, average 4.6 knots
  • Other legs over 100 miles: Portsmouth to Dover Peterhead to Wick
  • GPX traces, stats and code: github.com/zcz3/rtuk2023

Boat type:

  • Laser 28 Tandem
  • LOA: 8.66m/28ft 3in
  • Draught: 1.0m/3ft 3in
  • Displacement: 2,118kg/4,669lb
  • Rig: fractional
  • Keel: winged
  • Engine: 9hp inboard
  • Built: 1987

Enjoy reading Sail around Britain: How I did it alone aboard my 28ft boat?

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