Preparing for a Cruise around Mainland Britain

The idea

For a number of years I have had the ambition to undertake a cruise round the British mainland. The aim is to see our country from the sea, rather than set any records for getting round. So the plan is to make the circumnavigation as a number of day sails between recognised ports or anchorages, and then explore the local area.

There are plenty of ports and anchorages to allow you to (mostly) day sail round Great Britain or Great Britain and Ireland. The outline route is to sail round mainland Britain in a clockwise direction over two seasons, starting in July 2015 going via Lands End, hopefully the Scillies, the Bristol Channel, Irish Sea, Isle of Man, and Northern Ireland to the Clyde and overwinter there. The following spring to cruise the Scottish Islands, round the top of Scotland via Cape Wrath and the Orkneys before returning down the East Coast and back to the Solent.

On reading about the experience of others that have done similar circumnavigations, I gather that it typically takes about 60 sailing days out of about 100 days on board to get round. The other days being held up for bad weather or tides, or repairs. We will probably spend extra time sightseeing. The other thing of note is that most spend half their sea time motoring, against adverse wind or tide. Since Wandering Glider, a thirty foot trimaran, is faster than most of the boats that do a circumnavigation, I hope we will motor rather less than that. We will see.

My wife Lydia is less keen on the sailing and keener on the sightseeing, so she will take the land route for most of the way. That means that we will have transport easily available, rather than be restricted to public transport. However, that also means that I am looking for crew. Whilst I’m quite happy to sail single handed, I prefer company.

Route Planning and Navigation

The first challenge is planning the route. For this you need charts and details of ports and anchorages. However, a full set of paper charts and pilots for the UK will set you back at least £1000. On the other hand, if you have a tablet computer, you can get Navionics electronic charts for the UK for less than £50. This comes with photos of most ports, provides tidal streams and heights, and thus enables you to do basic passage planning of the distances of the daily passages, the best ports to use, and ports of refuge.

As well as the tablet, I also have a Garmin 620 chart plotter, which is the primary navigation aid when at sea. This is portable, with its own internal battery, and has a cradle that charges and runs it from the boats batteries. When considering backup, one should consider the possible modes of failure. The three particular concerns are main battery failure, equipment failure, and GPS signal failure. If the main battery fails, the chartplotter has its own internal battery, with the tablet as further backup. If the Garmin chart plotter fails, I have the tablet as backup. If the GPS signal fails (for example, some warships may jam the GPS signal in their vicinity) I have the last position and time, but I need to move to paper based navigation. So I do need paper charts, but for back-up. My choice is for the Imray C series charts which offer good value with large areas covered and insets at larger scale for harbours and other places where this is needed. I already have several Imray chart folios for the south coast, and have purchased the Bristol Channel folio plus the C Charts for the Irish Sea, Isle of Man and the Clyde Estuary. Enough for this year. I also routinely carry Reeds Almanac, and a pilot for each area I sail in.

Sailing skills – Yachtmaster

When setting out on an extended cruise like this in unfamiliar waters, it is sensible to make sure you have the skills you need, in particular navigation. When looking at the RYA syllabus for the various yachting qualifications, my son David and I noticed we had the relevant prerequisite experience for Yachtmaster Offshore. So in October last year we went to the Clyde for a few days training and the exam. In particular this was a brush up on paper navigation for me. The exam itself was long (some 14 hours continuous) and challenging, but also fun, and a good test of day and night sailing and navigation.

I am expecting that I will be sailing at least some legs single handed. I have a tiller pilot, so the sailing part is not too hard provided you don’t push too hard. The trickiest bits are usually coming along side in a marina at the end of a sail when either tide or wind is taking you off the berth.


The RNLI offer a free Sea Check (now Advice Onboard) for safety equipment on board any privately owned boat. I took the RNLI up on this several years ago now. At the time, the main concern was what would happen if I fell overboard when sailing single handed. They recommended a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) kept on me, so I could alert them that I was in trouble. They explained that they much preferred to find people alive than dead, which would almost certainly be the case without one.

The other item we discussed was whether or not to carry a liferaft. A trimaran like Wandering Glider does not have a keel or other ballast, so if it is holed, it does not sink, like most monohull cruisers, but just settles a little. So the main risks are being run down by a large ship, capsize, or fire. With capsize, the boat will still float in a stable and accessible attitude, but will not provide much shelter. In the case of fire, you are very likely to want to leave the boat, and if you are run down you are going to be in serious trouble, with perhaps not much left to hang on to.

Liferaft installed
Liferaft installed

My view has been that if you are sailing inshore, which we generally are, then you don’t need one. Only if you are going offshore (e.g. crossing the Channel) would I consider it necessary. ISAF agree, requiring a liferaft for Category 3 races, but not for Category 4 for multihulls. So I have not had one thus far. However, going round mainland Britain involves sailing in some pretty remote places, like Cape Wrath and the Orkneys. So I decided we should carry one. A valise style is cheaper, but given that would have to be stored below decks, and the main risks were fire, capsize or collision, when it would be inaccessible, I decided to go for a canister. The challenge then was where to position it so it would be accessible but not in the way. The rear beam seemed the best place, and it is now in place (see Figure 1). The position had to be carefully chosen so it did not snag the pushpit when the float is folded in. We have a less than 24 hour pack, but we have an emergency compartment accessible from inside or outside the boat with a range of emergency gear such as first aid kit, torch, flares, and water which can top this up.

A trimaran with a carbon mast is almost invisible on radar. So as well as a passive radar reflector, we also have an AIS transponder. This is the main defence against being run down, both giving us information about anything large, and providing them with our position, speed and course.

Another emergency you can be faced with is man overboard. Prevention is the first recourse, so Wandering Glider is equipped with jackstays and lifelines that clip on to the lifejacket and to the jackstays or fixed points. Lifejackets (with integral harness) and lifelines are worn and attached in bad weather or at night. The aim of the lifeline is to prevent the man going overboard, but if you did find yourself attached to the boat but in the water and being towed, this is very dangerous. So a safety knife is issued with the lifeline to cut it if need be.

In case of a man going overboard, there is specific kit for effecting a rescue including a Danbuoy and lifering, a throwing line for connecting with the casualty, and a bathing ladder for recovering them.

In case of fire there are two fire extinguishers and a fire blanket.

Another problem you can suffer is dismasting. The main thing in this case is to be able to cut the rig away, so it does not damage the hull. For this we have both wire cutters and a hack saw.

You should also have a plan for loss of your rudder. The good news here is that since our engine is an outboard connected to the tiller, we have an immediate substitute available, at least for as long as you have fuel.

You also need a plan for the failure of your engine. For Wandering Glider the plan would be to sail to a mooring, which we can pick up under sail, or a safe anchorage near a harbour and then we have a small outboard with the tender, and this could be used to get us into a harbour, either towing or pushing.

Finally, you need to deal with First Aid incidents. I am First Aid qualified (it is a prerequisite for Yachtmaster Offshore) and we have a standard First Aid kit on board as well as a limited First Aid kit in the liferaft. Hopefully we will need neither. You also need a good supply of any prescription medicines, and standard drugs like Parcetemol and Ibuprofen.

I recently had a follow up Advice Onboard, to check there was nothing missed. Only some minor checks resulted.

Boat preparation

It is important with any boat to keep it in good condition and to address any wear and tear in a timely manner. I divide things into those that are critical, and need attending to immediately, and those that will wait to winter refit. This year the refit included replacing the standing rigging and the mainsail. The other sails are spinnaker, Code 0 and Genoa. These should be up to the planned cruise.

One of the things one needs to be prepared for on an extended cruise are the different ways one might spend the night: in a marina on a floating pontoon, against a harbour wall, on a mooring, or at anchor. In a marina is the normal situation for Wandering Glider, and we often pick up a mooring. For an overnight mooring you need to take extra care about chafe, however, we do not often moor against a harbour wall. This can cause damage to fenders and result in damage to the boat, so fender boards (planks placed between the fenders and the wall) are a good idea. We have some made up from decking planks, which have the advantage of being pre-treated. Finally, we have two anchors. The bower anchor is a 10kg Delta anchor with 10m chain and 50m of rope, which is conservative for overnight anchoring. The kedge is a Fortress with 40m of line, the first 10m of which is leaded. This makes an excellent anchor for short stops, being light and easy to handle.

For cruising, we also carry an inflatable four person tender with a 2HP outboard. When not in use this is carried inverted on a trampoline. The low freeboard Wandering Glider has means this is easy to launch and recover by hand.

A common saying among sailors is that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes. Wandering Glider is inclined to be a wet boat, so good clothing is essential. I have a Musto Offshore smock top, with a neck seal as well as wrist and waist seals. Although this is difficult to get into in the first place, when worn properly, it has always kept me dry in conjunction with high trousers and sea boots. After that it is a matter of layers. You should not need too much clothing, because marinas routinely have laundry facilities, and we do not expect to spend more than a few days between marinas.

It is probably also worth mentioning that although we have a heads and sink, we have no shower. So it is not only the clothes that we will need to wash at the marina. Indeed, the accommodation on Wandering Glider could best be described as cosy. We have four full length berths, a double in the forecabin, and two singles in the main cabin, all of which are quite comfortable. But that is all the space there is, with one of the berths in the main cabin taking up the gangway from the galley to the forecabin. We do have a cockpit tent to give extra space when at berth or at anchor. So when we are in a marina, we are inclined to find bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Food and drink is another key consideration. We have two rings, but no cooker, so we are not going to be cooking a Sunday roast. However, this just narrows the choices. We also do not have a fridge, though we do have a cool box, but even so, the essence of cooking is on a combination of fresh food with a back-up of tinned and dried food. We are not planning extended passages, or many overnight sails.

Power on a cruiser is always an issue, especially if you are sailing rather than motoring. Wandering Glider has two sources of power: the outboard, and a solar panel. The solar panel delivers up to 70W and is more than enough to keep the batteries topped up, but not enough to meet all power needs. These charge a single bank of two batteries. There is no need for a separate bank for starting the engine, since that has a hand start. When cruising you would normally expect to run the engine for between half an hour and an hour each day just leaving a berth or anchorage and getting the sails up and down. I’ve only very occasionally had problems with power consumption, and these have been when sailing overnight without using the engine at all. The main drains then are the VHF radio, instruments, navigation lights and the tiller pilot. None of these are really optional, but this winter I replaced the navigation lights with LED lights to reduce the consumption. Running the cool box is optional, but takes 10W when you do run it.  

Operating mobile phones, a tablet and a PC means having 12V power supplies to charge them, and enough 12V sockets. These were fitted a couple of years ago, so we can charge or run up to four 12V devices at the same time.  

So now we are just about ready, waiting for July and the start of our adventure.