Mingming’s Northern Voyage 2007

»«4th August 2007

Left Burnham on Crouch 0915 22 June. Three days later we ran into a severe gale off the N Yorks coast. This was the storm that caused the first lot of flooding across the UK. I had to sail quite aggressively to maintain position. Winds were NE backing N then NW. I had the coast to the west, Dogger Bank to the east and the shallower waters of the Humber, plus the gas rigs, to the south. Fortunately I had had enough time to get Mingming into deeper water with reasonable sea-room.

Two days later, probably because of strains imposed during this storm, my top two battens broke. These were fixed with boathooks, brush handles and bits of spare wood. This patched up rig took me well over 2000 miles. We had to ride out a less severe storm half way up the Scottish coast.

Eleven and a half days after leaving Burnham we rounded the northern tip of Unst, the most northerly island of the UK. Magical moment. Three days later we were off the east coast of the Faroes. Here we started running into strong northerly headwinds. The next day a third batten broke. More patching up. I was heading for NE Iceland but F7 northerlies kept forcing us further and further west. With the broken rig I could not sail too aggressively to windward. Between the Faroes and Iceland we had a pod of 200 plus pilot whales with us for 5-6 hours. I took some amazing video of this.

The consistent northerlies finally put NE Iceland and the Arctic Circle out of reach. Highest latitude reached was 63 12N, about 200 miles short of the Arctic Circle. I decided to head west towards the Vestmann Islands - SW Iceland. Friday 13 July, 21 days out from Burnham, was my day for turning back. At 0815 I was finally rewarded when the mighty Oraefajockull - the 7000' glacier on Iceland's south coast, appeared on the horizon. We were about 55 miles south of the central south coast.

We then ran south to Rockall. The northerlies persisted, giving us nearly a week of fast sailing. We passed Rockall itself 50 miles to the west. A F7 northeasterly was blowing, with big seas - not the weather to venture onto the shallow waters of the Rockall Bank. We followed the 500 metre contour line down the west side. Then down towards Ireland. 130 miles west of Ireland we met a second pod of pilot whales, again about 200. This time the light was good for still shots.

The lows then started rolling in - five in all. The first - through Sole, was the one that caused the second round of major flooding. I did my best to dodge them, at one point spending two days holding my position in F7-8 weather about 80 miles west of the Fastnet Rock, waiting for the right moment to cross the Celtic Sea. This came with strong but benign westerlies and I crossed in two days. A final low and a good dusting south of the Lizard kept me on my toes to the end. Towards midnight on 29 July, 37 days out from Burnham, we dropped anchor in Cawsand Bay, Plymouth Sound. Next day I brought Mingming in to Plymouth Yacht Haven.

A fantastic voyage. Very tough, with plenty of heavy weather and cold conditions. But the northern waters were magical. From the Shetlands to western Ireland I saw less than ten other vessels. Total distance sailed was about 2500 miles - so in time and distance it was almost identical to last year's Azores voyage. Mingming was again brilliant - an extraordinary little seaboat, always at ease in the big stuff.

Roger Taylor