Champagne on Top Cat on her pontoon in Kingsbridge, Devon 1989
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5 May, 2013 1:32
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Delivery passage Salcombe to North Wales - September 1989

In the first two weeks of September 1989 we were to bring Top Cat home to North Wales, where my father had arranged to moor her. Four of us would bring her to Porthmadog, my father and I, along with two of his friends from his company; Chris and Phil.

My parents had bought Top Cat a few weeks previously and she was on her current home berth at Kingsbridge, just north of Salcombe. This was to be the first time I had been onboard the boat, it is no exaggeration to say that I was immediately impressed with her tardis like qualities.

Due the time we had arrived, I still had not seen Top Cat as it was pitch dark. The following morning my mother set off home in the car and my fathers friends arrived.


Top Cat on her pontoon in Kingsbridge, Devon 1989
  Salcombe Lifeboat 'Baltic Exchange' 1989  


We set off from her pontoon in Salcombe early morning stopping briefly at the fuel barge to fill up with diesel. It was interesting to see the old Mersey ferry; Egremont, on her mooring here, she is now used as a party and activity boat.

We also passed the Salcombe Lifeboat the Baltic Exchange, which is now owned by a friend of mine. Salcombe is a beautiful harbour, but it seems they are pricing make do and mend boat owners like us, out of the estuary with phenomenal harbour and visiting levies.

It was early and a still morning, so no problems expected crossing Salcombe's infamous bar were envisaged.


As we crossed the bar we had a bit of a cheer as we were on our way up north, the weather looked good, the boat was running fine, the mood was optimistic.

We planned to make daytime passages and use as much of the two weeks we had to cruise around the coast. As well as a need to get Top Cat to Porthmadog, we also wanted to enjoy the sailing and visit a few places on the way up.

On day one we set off toward Falmouth in cornwall.

West Coast Passage, Salcombe to Porthmadog


We sailed into Falmouth late evening, about 2140 hrs. The marina club was not built and we ate in a portacabin There were no showers, yet they charged full berthing rates.

We were rafted against a brand new Heavenly Twins, which had just been launched that day from the yard around the corner. He must have been petrified that this mankey auld boat was tying up alongside his spanking new pride and joy.

The marina provided a helpful means to get off to sleep, the never ending list of rules and regulations had you sleeping like a baby before you could finish reading it.

  Al sorting the mainsail on Top Cat  

We left Falmouth the next morning for Padstow. Unfortunately we were becalmed and forced to motor most of the way around Lands end...

We had made good progress from Falmouth to Lands End until the wind fell away, the sea was a mill pond as we rounded the corner of Great Britain. Just off Lands End I dropped my mothers new camera over the side; I was sunbathing, as you do, I rolled over to get up from the saloon roof and knocked the camera which slid slowly over the side.

Two of us dived for it and Chris nearly caught it, the last time I saw the camera the wrist cord had just slipped through his fingers...

I did save my £20.00 walkman though! The photographs I have left were taken with my cheapo point and click camera, this is why the quality is less than perfect. 


St. Ives .

To prevent a crew mutiny my father was forced to stay in St.Ives for two days as we had been at sea almost two days solid and were meant to be on holiday.

St. Ives - A Jewel situated at the south-western tip of Cornwall flanked by miles of magnificent coastal scenery, surrounded by tranquil sub-tropical gardens and country lanes that are hedged with wild honeysuckle, foxgloves, montbretia and fuschias.

Warm summers and Britain’s mildest climate make St. Ives perfect for all seasons.

  Top Cat in the inner harbour at St Ives  
  Top Cat on the beach at St. Ives  

We had stopped at St. Ives as progress had been so slow after the wind disappeared.

A lovely place to spend a couple of days. Luckily because Top Cat is a catamaran and dries flat we were able to lie at anchor in the inner harbour, most yachts can either not access St. Ives or have to moor outside the harbour.

  Albert and Julian alongside Top Cat in St Ives harbour  


  Sailing into the night  

After a couple of days rest we set off again, toward Padstow. Two things of note happened on the trip from St. Ives to Padstow. Because we had left with unfavourable tides and weather, progress was very slow. We calculated that we would miss the tide gate at Padstow if we did not make up some speed. We decided we should motor-sail in order to pick the speed up.

After about two hours the small Petter single engine in the starboard hull chose to blow its gearbox and seal. The starboard companionway soon filled with oil and gunk that spilled out of this engine. We were then down to one engine, a twin cylinder vetus unit. Which at the time was a nice little engine.




An hour and a half or so from Padstow, we picked up some floating rope around the propeller. I had to go over the side and cut away at the rope which was now pinning us to the bottom, probably a lobster pot, yet there was no float.

The water was cold, I thought I had taken just a few minutes to clear the prop when in fact it had taken nearly twenty five minutes, the cold must have slowed me down. We missed out on the evenings tide gate and eventually entered Padstow the following morning.

Strangely the near exact experience with respect to picking up a rope in the prop would happen again when Tanya and I went to Padstow 14 years later in 2003. See details of that trip here

  Top Cat on the wall at Padstow  
  Al sat in the saloon of Top Cat  

We spent a couple of days in Padstow, a great Cornish village. I met up with another yacht crew who had sailed up from Spain and spent many happy hours in the harbour side pub watching the world go by with them.

One of my biggest mistakes on the trip was showing the crew early on that I can cook. I became chief cook and bottle washer as well as navigator for the rest of the trip. Though, after trying to eat some of the food prepared in the first couple of days this became a necessity rather than a chore, I did not wish to die of malnutrition.




Our next leg would be from Padstow to Milford Haven, this journey went without incident and we anchored at sunset twenty hours after leaving Padstow at an inlet named Dale.

Tranquil is a good word for this anchorage!



  At the anchorage at Dale in Milford Haven  
  Dolphins in Cardigan Bay  


We had two days left to get Top Cat to Porthmadog, we chose a long slog from Dale first thing into Porthmadog around 15 hours later. It started off well and we had a great sail watching dolphins as we went.

Around 2000 the wind came around to the north and blew F7, we were about 20 miles north of Fishguard.



We could not get into Aberystwyth and were making no progress at all trying to beat to wind. We decided to fall back to Fishguard. We turned about and changed from near stopped to 8-9 kts all the way back to Fishguard, the best sail of the trip.

As the forecast was expecting worse we realised at this point that we would not get to Porthmadog the following day and called my mother to drive down and pick us all up. It was up to my father and I to bring Top Cat into Porthmadog the next weekend which proved to be beautiful weather and great wind, it is always the way, isn't it?

  Al and Phil in the cockpit of Top Cat in Cardigan Bay  
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