Water blog

We sailed under Weymouth town bridge with nine inches to spare, not waiting for it to be raised as we wanted to catch the tide. A cardboard cup blew off the table as we headed for the Shambles, east of Portland Bill. There were three of us aboard, bound for the Isles of Scilly in a motor yacht, Moonlight Dancer. We were going to see my daughter who was working there for the summer. It was my first real sea voyage.

For a while I had been in emotionally uncharted waters and it felt good to be planning a trip meticulously and to know my destination. However, I was apprehensive about how I would cope with rough seas and had a supply of ginger sweets just in case. We gave the notorious Portland Race a wide berth, but the seas were very rocky and it took a while to round the Bill.

As we entered Lyme Bay off the Jurassic Coast, a watery sun tarnished the lumpy waves. A gannet swooped past in a flash of yellow, black and white then a fulmar skimmed the bow, dipping one wing in the water as it passed. Soon we were surrounded by a flock of fulmars, guillemots and black-backed gulls. I stood on deck with a sense of being cocooned in their weaving flight as they moved effortlessly between air and water, equally at home in either.

By late afternoon we sighted Start Point. We had the sun in our eyes and were negotiating three-metre waves. We decided to head for Salcombe to shelter overnight, but would be entering the harbour at low tide over the sand bar across the entrance. The sun went down and it became grey and murky. My feet were numb as we finally tied up in Salcombe. We could see the pub on the harbour side among the huddled houses, but had to be content with imagining its comforting warmth and good food.

When you see waves coming onto a beach, they seem orderly – all lining up and taking their turn to roll in. Out on the sea it’s a different matter – they seem to come from all directions and flow together in a chaotic mix of peaks and troughs. It makes for a relaxing night’s sleep however, being rocked about continuously.

The next morning was colder and windier. A weak sun glittered across the harbour as we had a cooked breakfast. We set off into a swelling sea, punching tide and doing 12 knots. About mid-morning a pod of dolphins appeared and swam along with us, playing around the boat for about ten minutes. I wondered if they could sense our pleasure and excitement at seeing them. I tried to take photos without success – all I got was a splash or two as if the camera was a net, from which they were trying to escape.

What must it be like to live in a limitless environment like the sea instead of being tethered to rooms, houses and towns . . . The cohesion between this family of dolphins formed an entity stronger than any manmade city. The collective fluidity of the creatures was like the sea itself – a harmony of living that seemed so much more sophisticated than our own muddled existence.

The dark curves of the plunging dolphins shed water like memories leaving bubbles of laughter on the surface of the sea. The way they moved seemed carefree, exultant yet purposeful and organised. I wondered if they were aware of the stick-like creature standing on the deck cheering them on.

Just off Fowey five warships loomed menacingly out of the fog, then two more dolphins swam reassuringly beside us in tandem, mirroring each other’s movements. By 2pm we had covered fifty-two miles and had forty-eight to go before we arrived on Scilly. We passed the Lizard then Lands End and saw the splendid isolation of Wolf Rock Lighthouse as the seas became very rough, and there was no leisure to do anything but try to keep the boat on course.

Scilly emerged from the distant horizon – a collection of fragmented rocks no bigger than seals. On a clear Summer’s day the Atlantic waters would be turquoise, each island surrounded by a frill of white sand, but this evening the archipelago seemed more sea than land, grey and indistinct. We set a course for St Mary’s and went slowly on a low tide down Crow Sound to the Quay where my youngest daughter waited – a sleek silhouette against the setting sun – as we came alongside.


Radipole Lake RSPB

In the middle of Weymouth is Radipole Lake surrounded by reed beds. It is an RSPB Wetland reserve where otters and water voles can be seen. It is the perfect habitat for many water birds and also marsh harriers and bearded tits. I visited on a sunny day in November – in fact the only sunny day this November.

Golden feathered reeds provide an appropriate backdrop for the birds of Radipole Lake. I was greeted by the excited applause of the Cettis warbler – as usual, heard but not seen. A few steps further on and a sparrow hawk flipped overhead, brindled breast feathers glowing in the low sun.

The water reflected the blue sky and swans posed for the camera. Black headed gulls (without their summer hoods) conversed raucously. A cluster of Canada geese kept themselves separate from the gulls, coots, mallards and moorhens circling in the centre. To one side a spring of Teal and in the distance a Little Egret in solitary stillness – a negative space.

A tall shape on a gate turned out to be a grey heron surveying the scene. At the North Hide someone said they’d seen a Marsh Harrier fly over as we approached – I was cross to have missed seeing it. A shelduck shimmered in Picasso blocks of colour. On a small island in the middle of the lake a cormorant spread its wings like the Angel of the North.

Alongside the footpaths the hedges were bright with the last of autumn’s fruits, varnished by the recent rain. Sloes, berries and ivy buds hung gaudily among the bare twigs tempting little birds like the goldfinch. Wrens darted and chirped juicily. Robins, blackbirds and dunnocks hopped around on the paths, unfazed by my presence.

I stood for a while gazing at the surface of the water hoping for the splash of an otter, but it was probably too late in the day. Surrounded by the feathered quills of the reeds, it was easy to forget that this haven for wildlife is in the middle of a seaside town.