Bristol to St Ives – Problem, solution, joy

Greetings. We are not in Spain or Portugal but storm bound in exotic St Ives. This is because of the untold difficulties and problems, solutions and blessings. It is as if Winny is showing all her weaknesses so that we are able to strengthen her before heading out over the Bay of Biscay.

Last words came when we were waiting for some mechanics to get some bits so that they could fix our problems. This delay meant that we would not be able to sail down to Penzance in time to go to play music and visit some Cornish schools. The krew decided that it would be best to fulfil our commitments so we borrowed Poppy and Pablo’s car and Steve drove at breakneck speeds through the night to the home of the incredible musicians; Jeff and Michaela. The next day Jeff took us to the beautiful Lugdvig Primary School, full of creative clutter and fantastic children. We played them our sounds and they loved it but we spoke for too long and they fidgeted so we played more music and gained control. The lovely Northern Irish head teacher then fed us cakes and cheese on toast and told us of her son who runs an anarchist café in Bristol. The next school was head mastered by Jeff. He has managed to infuse the whole place with a deep musical vibe. There are guitars hanging in his office and a quarter of the main hall is filled with instruments from all around the world. After we had done our presentation, all the different classes sang us their favourite songs and as this was going on the oldest kids got out electric guitars, amps and a drum kit then played us “rocking all over the world”. Steve commandeered a guitar and thwapped it manically and gloriously. That evening we had a wonderful devotional at Jeff and Michaela’s, which was our last devotional with Steve Day and was attended by many sweeties including Jeff’s mum and her 102-year-old boyfriend.

The next day saw the separation of Steve from the krew. He had filled a big loving happy rock and roll hole in our hearts but had to leave us when the summer came along. We left Jeff and Michaela’s to drive back home and en route picked up some famously tasty Cornish pasties and one of the sturdy men who were joining us to cross the Bay of Biscay; Nigel Burgess: Engineer, Salty Man of the Sea, mighty and gentle, sweet songs from the western isles. We flew back to Bristol with a vision of buying provisions for the big passage, getting to the boat (to be freshly fixed by the mechanics), and hoping to sail off on the evening tide. We got back to the boat and met up with the other salty seaman Victor: handy and direct, knowledgeable, stout Viking lineage. The mechanics had just finished fixing our exhaust system, however after they had left and we started our engine Vic and Nigel noticed a leak in the new work. The mechanic came back and tweaked some bits, but alas, as we tried to restart the engine the starter motor failed. Peter the mechanic took the starter motor and told us that he would fix it by Monday (2 days later). Though disappointed that we would not be leaving the krew found ways to be happy.



The next morning was filled with fixing bits and pieces on a boat. With a vessel as old as Winny something is always broken. Around us by the docks there was a festival, so Oshan and Paddy went to explore. We found an incredibly soulful, deep and mellow band playing called Creation Sounds. They were fantastic. At the same time another festival was happening close by so some of the krew went to check it out. It was to celebrate refugee week and there was a wonderfully diverse crowd there. An incredible samba band played and we were taught how to dance by a small and feisty Brazilian woman, followed by proppa banging Kurdish Dance music and Greek dancing, and then by ecstatic dancing in the pouring rain to a Congolese/Zimbabwean soukous band led by a mighty Zimbabwean Mama.

Monday was filled with furious activity as all tried to fix bits, buy bits, find bits, make bits in order to be ready so that we could leave on the evening tidal window (there are only 2 hours in which a boat can leave Bristol harbour and move down the Avon which raises and falls 14.5 meters on the tide). The closer we got to the tidal window the higher the tension rose. In the afternoon Peter the engineer came back with our fixed starter motor. It was fitted, we turned the key, and it exploded, slightly. This was frustrating. He rushed off to try to find out what had happened (there had been a short between a new soldered point and an old connection) and we became resigned to further setbacks. No worries, some visited Ishmael to sing and discuss being a rock in a wavy place, some watched the football.

Tuesday began like Monday. All set to various tasks; Vic and Nigel sorted out the ships pluming, Oshan re-hinged the after cabin hatchway after being locked out in the night and having to break in, Gary re-tuned the rigging and Paddy frantically rode around Bristol getting bits and pieces. Again tensions rose as we approached our window of leaving possibility, this pressure was intensified by the absence of our engineer and the re-fixed re-fixed starter motor. He eventually arrived around 4 o’clock, installed, the motor…teeth were gritted, palms sweaty, again we turned the key… chug…….chug…nothing. shit.

Further investigation revealed our engine was full of water. This is not its ideal state, and explained the reason why our engine was not starting. The injectors were then removed from the top of the engine and the engine was turned over firing a rainbow spray of water and oil, which burst forth into the air, thus removing the water. Now Peter looked over the engine under the glare of the highly competent and knowledgeable Vic and Nigel and the passionate Garry. It emerged that the new exhaust that had been put in was not designed to take in the fact that the engine rests under the water line. Peter frantically searched for a solution, suggestions were shot at him by V and N and consensus was reached with a plan of putting in an above waterline anti-siphon valve. However, despite every ones best efforts, the possibility of leaving that day disappeared.


V and N ingeniously used the cockpit drain seacock to provide a cooling water feed to the engine. The key again was turned…ALIVE ALIVE OH… She roared into life to rapturous applause of those on the boat and from the people relaxing in the evening sunlight on the pier side. Winny came alive again and a possibility of leaving came into reality. We still needed parts and they were in Portishead. A plan was developed that we would leave early on the next morning tide and sail into Portishead marina. That night Oshan went to a xenophobic hippy pub (they hated the English people too) to watch the match…later on that night the cockpit was filled for the last time in Bristol by sweet singing people.


We were joined just after sunrise by sweet Pablo and Richie and set off through the floating docks, past the swinging bridges, the harbour lock, under Isambard Kingdom Brunels incredible Clifton suspension bridge and down the Avon, into the Bristol Channel, and then into the Portishead harbour sea lock. We then went straight onto the harbour crane that would lift the Winny out of the water so that we could fix a potential hole in the hull. Bits of Winnys bottom were anti-fowled (paint that stops barnacles), V and N fixed the hole, Gary got a beautiful hem rope and Paddy got ginger and coffee (only a fool goes to sea with an inadequate supply of coffee and ginger). In no time we were back in the water and racing back towards the sea lock to try to get out before the tide went too low for us to be able to get back out to sea. We got a last fill up with diesel and water and then slipped into the sea lock with only moments to spare. As the lock gate closed the krew were thrown into pure salty sea bliss as we realised that after a week and a half’s delay we would be back out to sea. As we were lowered down into the sea lock a song tumbled out, no resistance. Nigel danced a jig on the cabin roof, we wailed and sang our song of love for the sea, our song of relief, our song of victory over all problems that we had faced.


Out at sea, everything was stowed away and made ship shape, sails were raised and we floated gracefully down the Bristol Channel in full sail. We were arranged into watches and set out through the night. The wind freshened, the sea grew lumpy, and all found it hard to sleep as we were thrown around in our bunks. We developed various ways of lodging ourselves in, Paddy developed the Jethro Tull sleeping position, Oshan learned to sleep whilst griping a shelf, and Nigel didn’t sleep at all.

The next morning’s progress was halted when Vic motored into some fishing tackle that promptly wound its self around the propeller. We tried everything to untangle the rope without someone having to go swimming. However nothing worked and we had to sail into a cove so that we could find shelter so that Vic could cut the rope free without being bashed against the boat by waves. Vic made ready. In order to try to create an insulating layer he borrowed thermals and spare waterproofs from Paddy. He lowered himself in and dived down to begin to chop the rope away. As the rest of the krew watched a small red book appeared in the water and started floating away from the boat. Paddy realised that this book was his Passport, which had been in the pocket of the coat he had lent to Vic. The only solution was for Paddy to strip off and dive in to collect his document that was being whisked along the surface of the water by the wind. The rope was cleared and the passport retrieved and there was much laughter and merriment. Three walkers had watched the whole scene from a hilltop. As we left the cove a boatload of divers motored past us.


Back en route we pounded into rough seas and a wind right on our head. Garry made a surprisingly delicious lunch, which combined the stew from the night before and leftover porridge from that morning. The coast guard began forecasting gales and we realised that it would be foolish to strike out into the Bay of Biscay, instead we made a b-line to the twee harbour of St Ives. Winny pitched about in the lumpy ocean with the gathering storms and we beat down the coast. Waves crashed over the deck, we were thrown this way and that way, everything got damp, Oshan spewed. The exhaust outlet, which comes out just above Paddys head when he is in bed, put in by the Bristol engineers had begun to leek streams of water. This was particularly problematic because  it comes out just above the water line and is often under the waterline in high seas. In St Ives we were able to tie up next to the peer, so that when the tide was out in the middle of the night V and N could re-fix the skin fitting on the exhaust, which had been put in by Peter and his engineers. They found that the exhaust had been put in incredibly poorly and had left the krew in a potentially life threatening situation; should the inadequate fixings have come out the boat would have filled very quickly with water. The exhaust had been cut in order to fit it in a smallish hole, rather than enlarging the hole, which had possibly been leaking a small amount of exhaust fuel in to Paddy and Oshans cabin “the bachelor pad”, Garry attributed this to Oshans sickness. V and N did a great job of sorting out the mess and all slept soundly in the St Ives Harbour.

Yesterday was filed with general repairs, fixing the seat, and ting, the Winny is like the forth road bridge, they paint it from one end to the other, by the time they get to the other end they have to start again. In the afternoon the krew went to explore St Ives, Paddy and Oshan spotted that it was cracking busking territory so motored the dingy back to the boat (which was now on a mooring) to get some instruments. When they had loaded the dingy they cast off. The motor spluttered out and the dingy began to be blown away from the boat at an alarming speed. As they rowed with all their might, inching back towards the boat everything got wet, a self inflating life-jacket in the bottom of the dingy self inflated.

Back on dry land Oshan, Victor and Paddy did a little busking in one of St Ives’s little winding streets and scored bigish. Garry and Nigel went to the St Ives Tate, Nigel charmed the staff by singing Gallic songs in their beautiful acoustical foyer and won free admittance. The krew were reunited with a Cornish cream tea (cream then jam) on the beautiful St Ives cove. We sang a few choons before some went to watch football whilst other made stuff shipshape and others played music on the pier.

Today (now also yesterday) started gently with sweet slumber, as so many days do, and ended in moderate drama tension and discomfort for some. We fixed some bits of the boat and tried to repair electrical machines destroyed by the salty seas. In the afternoon we went back to the Tate and played some sweet music in their acoustically beautiful amphitheater, we played sweet mellow ones, Irish jigs, deep soulful ones and some glorious howlers.



oshan arrives at tate on a bike

When our musical desire was a bit quenched, we went to the life guard post to inform them that we were planning to leave. We found a wonderful woman in a wonderful look out post which had fine views all across St Ives bay. As we were chatting and looking through her binoculars and telescopes we spotted a big krew of dolphins who rushed up past us jumping wildly out of the water.

It rained, we bought chips and fish as good as we had ever eaten before going to watch some football and to wait for our new member of krew who, because of our delayed departure had decided to meet us in Cornwall instead of Lisbon. Garry disappeared just as we were leaving the football pub and then appeared 2 minutes later bleeding and freshly shaved for our impending passe across Biscay. So, later on some of the krew, a lot of shopping and the fold up bike piled into the dingy and was motored back to the boat. Once unloaded Vic tried to set off back to shore but got in a pickle when the out board motor failed again. Vic got on the oars and managed with great effort to get back to the Winny. It was decided that the Winny should be brought into the harbour to pick people up because the winds were to strong to attempt to row the dingy in and out in the absence of the out board motor.

Winny was brought into the harbour where everyone assembled and our new krew member Sebina: intrepid, Competent and buoyant, arrived. Paddy and Oshan went to try and gather chips for Sebina, Nigel, inspired by Gazza went for a shave. As he walked out of the pub he heard an old salty man remark (in a Cornish accent) “Shes going on the sand bank”. At the end of the pier something was happening.

Garry, Vic and Sebina were on board when the capaiin felt a bump…and then another bump. He jumped out of the boat to untie the Winny from the pier and shouted an order to Vic to take the boat out. The Winny was cast off and Vic drove her with all might available into a sub merged sand bank. Shit. After attempts to drive her forwards and backwards under groaning engine, and a desprate endevor to get her out under sail,  shouts from the stranded captain who had been left on shore in the rush and much confusssion, the VHF radio erupted into life “this if Falmouth Coastguard, Falmouth Coastguard, Falmouth Coastguard. Is there a yacht in difficulty in St Ives Harbour?” Vick explained the situation and within 3 minutes a lifeboat was whisked down the harbour slip way, into the sea and drove full speed to the beached boat. Many considerations were considered and many people in highly visible water proofs appeared. It was ordered by the Captain that the Winny was to be let to go aground rather than trying to pull her to deeper water. The Highly Visible people began to disappear and the stranded krew rowed themselves to the angular Winny. We were askew. Tea was made and things were investigated and everyone tried to find comfortable positions in a boat that was 60 degrees further to the left than usual. We fell back into slumber.

All awoke achy to water lapping against the side and a gentle lifting. Vic and Nigel awoke, spooning having slid into a heap in the corner of their cabin. Eventually the boat rose to her full height and we took her back to a mooring for tea and porridge and reflection.

Now the weather window we have been waiting for has arrived, the gales have passed over. The ships veg baskets are full, as are the lentil and rice and coffee supplies. All that remains is to wait for the tide to turn and then to set off for a victorious passage over the Bay of Biscay.




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6 responses to “Bristol to St Ives – Problem, solution, joy

  1. Incredible!! Wish I was there (a little bit…) 😉

  2. Chris

    Yet another most glorious chapter in the Voyage of Winny, so full of crises and victories.

  3. Nicola Woods

    wow!!! When you think you make it to Lisbon roughly….so looking forward to seeing you x

  4. penny kemp

    breathtakingly exhausting just to read!!! What incredible weather we’ve been having all over the country. Was your departure delayed by providence?? You’re certainly generating enough spirit to know that God’s mercy is with you every moment. And so now your on your maybe we can all look forward to a bit more of that glorious Bangor, Gwynedd, sunshine. much love to all, penny.

  5. Wow! This beats Nigel Tranter! Epic stuff, will deserve a book if the thrills keep up this good! Although I reckon you guys and gal(?) have prob had enough of thrills for now and are looking forward to some ‘plain sailing’ 😉 I bid thee fair winds and a smooth sail to Lisbon x

  6. Carolyn Sparey Fox

    I love it —– couldn’t read fast enough!!!!! This has to become a book. Can’t wait for the next instalment —— come on captain, get writing!!!! x

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