Planning a single handed round GB trip

Introduction


This is partly an overview page with links to more detailed advice either to relevant blog posts or pages (which may also listed under "Tips").

First published 29 Jan 21, being updated November / December 2021.

A Satellite track of the 2020 trip as far as Holy Island
when I switched the Iridium off to save a months
subscription The very wiggly line to Ireland is a
tracking error and I forgot to switch the IridiumGo
on crossing to Peterhead hence I appear to go overland.
For detailed guidance I recommend Sam Steele's UK and Ireland Circumnavigators guide (Steele, 2011) together with the appropriate pilots (see Charts and Guides). She did most of the trip two handed with some legs more fully crewed so I will expand a little to cover single handed / smaller boat issues, and add a few thoughts based on my 2020 clockwise and 2021 anticlockwise circumnavigations.

The preferred time to start is early in the season, typically April or May hoping for the best weather but because of covid-19 my 2020 trip started in July. With poor weather and restricted time it was rather rushed with "only" 32 days at sea. Although I skipped many stops because the weather was just too miserable to make it worth while, the legs sailed were surprisingly close to those planned except that I went up the east coast of Ireland rather than the west coast of England and Wales.  

Planning for 2021 was undertaken in January and February due to general uncertainly about the 2021 season and in particular the Jester Baltimore Challenge. (See my post "Time to revise plans for 2021?")

Contents (Below if not a link):

Single Handed Specific Issues

Canals

Many prefer to shorten their trip and to avoid Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth by using the Caledonian Canal, others use the Crinan to avoid the Mull of Kintyre. Although not recommended by someone I know who has done it, the Caledonian can be done single handed but the Crinan can not as most of the locks are unmanned so you would be relying on the good will of others as boat and rope handling in very deep locks would be at best problematic singlehanded. For the relatively short route help is available to hire at sensible money. See my post on my passage through in 2021.

 [Note: due to Covid single handed passages through the Caledonian Canal were banned in 2021, I understand that has changed but check with the authorities].

Certainly on the Crinan, some of the walls are very rough (e.g. parts of Lock 14) so take a fender board (see below). You will also need a couple of long mooring lines (20 - 25 metres) - one of them will need to run from the top of the lock wall to the bow and back to a cockpit winch. 

General tips 

Berthing on high & rough walls.

Many small harbours only have berthing available against rather high and rough walls, at low tide getting alongside and lines ashore singlehanded can be problematic, if planning to use these harbours (or a canal) take a fender board and be prepared for some gymnastics on arrival. 

A single long plank with ropes attached will serve as a fender board, but on a small boat it is difficult to store and will usually end up on the lifelines where it gets in the way and will be bashed by the sea. I made one in two shorter sections joined by rope top and bottom so that it can be folded, it also conforms better to the curved side of an Achilles.

My articulated fender board(s), a 2.4m length of tantalized decking
board cut in two and tied together. Two fenders fit nicely under each.
Note the ropes go through the edges of the board so that they are less
likely to get damaged by the wall.
The long mooring lines needed for going through locks are likely to be required for lying alongside in many of the working harbours.

Which way round?

San Steele covers this in some detail so I'll not spend much time on this, generally there is not much in it, at least for the crewed boat with rather more flexibility to undertake long passages, particularly up the east coast where an easterly wind closes down many of the passage anchorages.

If the main or sole objective is to complete the round GB voyage and you are starting anywhere from about Portland to somewhere in East Anglia, say Lowestoft. The best option in my view is to make the decision on the day before you leave based on the weather forecast for the next week or so. Any east in the wind go clockwise otherwise get as far up the east coast as you can with a fair wind. I had a miserable time at the start of my 2021 trip in a very cold April beating up channel for 3 days, some long legs due to lack of anchorages (see Passage making along the East Coast) and then getting stuck in Peterhead for a week waiting for a weather window long enough to move on. Of course the same can happen in reverse as it did to me in 2020 but you can't plan that far ahead.

If you leave in April there is a better than average chance of a COLD easterly wind to get you down to the west country although it could be an uncomfortable dead run, you can them make a decision weather to to head north along the Irish or Welsh coasts or a bit of both.

If on the other hand visiting a particular area is a high priority then go for it, in 2020 with limited time due to Covid-19 restrictions my prime objective was to get to the Scottish Islands and to carry on around if weather and time permitted so I went clockwise, then if stuck for a week or two waiting for good conditions to get round Cape Wrath I could at least cruise in the sheltered waters of the Inner Isles and if time ran out I could head back the way I had come.

Pre-planning

On long trips, plan well ahead, I outline the trip in Excel, being retired I have plenty of time during the winter (and during Covid-19 lock downs πŸ˜’) so I planned all of the route legs and many options on the computer, generating waypoints and routes to transfer to the plotter as and when required. This helps identify potential issues, best routes, timings, start dates etc. I run the route at least twice once at springs and once at neaps and usually at several different speeds to get a feel for the issues. For my first trip round and with the extended Covid shut down, I produced two complete plans, one starting at springs one at neaps. I did not bother doing that the 2nd time around (except for going through the Pentland Firth). My SeaPro software will also, in one run, give approximate route timings for the selected start time and the following 12 hours which helps:

The route from St Margret's Bay (Just S of Rosslare) to Arklow.

As well as being useful this level of planning is also a diverting and quite pleasurable exercise. 

The plan will almost certainly change but forms a good basis and with some spare days built in you might catch up with the schedule. Having gone round twice there will be little to do for a planned trip to St Kilda in 2022.

I'll have the pilot to hand and will usually read the appropriate section several times before starting a leg but I put key points in the comments section of my excel summary for quick reference whilst sailing, this allows for quick re-planning and to have basic information to hand and organised if on route I decide to combine two legs or take an alternate - perhaps due to bad weather when getting the information together could be challenging. These examples are far more detailed than most - a tribute to some dangerous waters requiring accurate timing and pilotage.

Into Scapa Flow from the South East. I include a note of the
route file(s) needed to be moved to the plotter (a simple job) from the
iPad on which they are stored ready - the plotter will "only" handle
100 routes and a good number are used for my "normal" trips along
the south coast.
Part of a route planned from Wick in SeaPro, this one to the
Long Hope anchorage. Red = tide race / over falls / Roost.

And out through the sound of Hoy and on.

When dates are known or can reasonably be estimated I fill in the blanks or update from the navigation software.

Below is the summary of my planned trip from the Hamble round GB to the start of the 2021 Jester Baltimore Challenge, the full version is as above albeit generally with far fewer notes, I had the notes and experience from the 2020 clockwise trip, many of which work in reverse. As things turned out the trip did not turn out this way due to bad weather and I missed the cruise down the outer Isles and St Kilda and when it was clear I would not make the start of the Jester I took a diversion through the Crinan Canal.

A summary of the actual itinerary of my 2020 clockwise trip can be found here and the 2021 here.

Outline of my plan for the 2021 Trip


From

To

NM

Hamble

Downs (2 days)

122

Downs

Lowestoft (or somewhere short)

78

Rest Day

 

 

Lowestoft

Filey (or Bridlington, Scarborough or other)

132

Filey

Blyth (or anchor short or long?)

72

Rest Day


 

Blyth

Lindisfarne

38

Rest Day

 

 

Lindisfarne

St Andrews (or close to)

57

St Andrews

Peterhead

76

2 days stopping off somewhere.

Rest Day

 

 

Spare day

 

 

Peterhead

Wick / Sinclair's Bay

72

Direct?

Spare day

 

 

Wick (Sinclair's Bay)

Stromness

34

Rest Day

Consider a week extra to go to Fair Isle and The Hebrides 

Rest Day

 

Rest Day

Or IF light wind / calm seas V early start to go round to Bray of Skaill / Scarabray for the night.

Stromness

Eriboll

49

Eriboll

Loch Ned

55

Loch Ned

Stornoway

42

Rest Day

 

 

Rest Day

 

 

Stornaway

Scalpay

27

Scalpay

Ensay (Sound of Harris)

 

Ensay

St Kilda (have to be lucky with the weather for this!)

54

Rest day

St Kilda

Loch Boisdale via the sound of Barra or various anchorages around the sound of Barra.

76

Alternate:

 

 

Scalpay

Loch Maddy

24

Loch Maddy

Loch Boisdale

31

Rest Day

 

 

End alternate

 

 

Loch Boisdale

Canna

30

Canna

Tobermory

34

Rest Day

 

 

Rest Day

 

 

Rest Day

 

 

Tobermory

Ardalanish via Iona

40

Cruise the area

End in time to get to  Pwllheli  for the start of the JBC assuming its on.

 

???

Port Ellen

 

Rest Day

 

 

Port Ellen

Browns Bay

50

Browns Bay

Ardglass

53

Rest Day

 

 

Rest Day

 

 

Ardglass

Dundalk Bay or Carlingford.

31

Dundalk

Dublin

44

Dublin

Wiklow

27

Wiklow

Pwllheli

70

Rest days

 

 

Jester Baltimore

 

 


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