Which way round GB?

San Steele covers this in a lot of detail, so I'll keep this brief.

Overall, there is not much in it, at least for the faster crewed boat with more flexibility to undertake long passages. Things can be a bit more complicated for a solo sailor in a small boat, here are a few things to remember:

  • The Dover Straights to Land's End is the best part of 300 miles, that is a long way to beat if you don't have to.
  • A wind with east in it closes down most of the anchorages on the east coast and most of the marinas are only accessible a few hours around high tide, either because of drying or exposed approaches (Well-next-the-sea), locks (many), or bridges (Whitby), so you are likly to miss half a fair tide on departure and may have to wait to get in. The same does not apply up the west coast, in a westerly wind you can follow the Irish coast between Northern Ireland and St Georges Channel or in an easterly the Welsh coast.
  • There are three particular places where you need AT LEAST reasonable weather for several days to round and most people will want good weather so if you can get round one or two of them with favourable weather in the forecast it would be best to go for it.:
    • Land's End (and the passage across the Celtic Sea / Bristol Channel).
    • Cape Wrath.
    • The Pentland Firth / Orkney / Duncansby Head.

So, if the main or sole objective is to complete the round GB voyage and you are starting anywhere on the south coast or from Dover 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. If there is any east in the wind go clockwise, otherwise get as far up the east coast as you can with a fair wind. 

From anywhere else make best use of the wind forecast over the next week. 

You might as well do this as it will be potluck as to what the weather will be like for your final legs, and you may as well get a good start through waters you probably know.

Having been round clockwise, for my second circumnavigation I wanted to go the other way and that resulted in a miserable time at the start of my 2021 trip round GB 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 I got stuck in Peterhead for 8 days waiting for a weather window long enough to move on to Orkney. Of course, the same can happen in reverse as it did to me in 2020 when I was stuck in a fully locked down Blyth for 12 days; but you can't plan on the weather that far ahead.

If on the other hand visiting a particular area is a high priority then head for that cruising ground, especially if time is limited, then if the weather does not cooperate you can always give up on the longer trip and sail that area. 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 and in the event managed to complete the round GB trip in 64 days, but if I had got 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 that I had come. Similarly in 2022 my prime objective was St Kilda, I didn't make it and weather was awful, so I abandoned possible trips on to Shetland or home via the west coast of Ireland.

Bear in mind the tides and the advisability of an easy few days to start with, for instance leaving from the Solent to the west leaving on or near a neap tide will set you up to stop of at Portland then take the inshore route round the Bill in the early morning (after sun rise!) for a good start across Lyme Bay. Leave on springs and you have strong adverse tides down to Hurst until lunch time and will need to take the offshore round The Bill fighting the tide during an overnight passage.

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