Circumnavigating Great Britain in an 18ft speedboat: The final hurdle

Circumnavigating Great Britain in an 18ft speedboat: The final hurdle

Ten days and 1,500 miles into circumnavigating the UK in an 18ft speedboat, Ian Furby and his mate Dobbo risk falling at the final hurdle

Having made it all the way to Stromness aboard his 18ft open sportsboat, Ian Furby pushes on with his bid to circumnavigate Britain in less than 12 days. But will his hopes of a complete tour of Great Britain be dashed as he nears the conclusion of his journey?

Make sure you catch up on the rest of Ian’s circumnavigation:

Runswick Bay to Harwich
Harwich to Brixham
Brixham to Milford Haven
Milford Haven to Oban
Oban to Stromness

Day 10: 19 June 2021 – Stromness, Orkney to Berwick-Upon -Tweed – 215nm

Having already covered over 1,500 miles in nine days from Yorkshire to the Orkneys via Dover, Land’s End, Dublin and Cape Wrath, we now had just 330 miles and two days to complete my circumnavigation of the UK in the target time of 11 days.

There was just one problem: while the forecast for tomorrow looked fine, the next five days after that were a write-off.

We looked at charts and made some calculations. If we straight-lined it from Stromness to Yorkshire, rather than hugging the east coast of Scotland, it was only around 290 miles. At an average speed of 18 knots that would take 16 hours.

It would be a hell of a long day but it was doable. Just. We decided to go for it, leaving at 3.30am to catch the flooding tide.

Leaving Stromness in calm waters but with a big day ahead. Photo: Ian Furby

The morning came all too soon and, as usual, I was awake by 3am and itching to go. I made us a brew before getting our kit together and heading for Summer Buoys. By 3.30am we were underway, an orange glow on the horizon telling us the sun would soon be joining us.

We edged out of the marina at 5 knots, taking care not to disturb anyone as we retraced our steps towards Scapa Flow. Free of the marina, throttle forward, the sea glassy, we were up to 28 knots. We reached Scapa Flow and the sleeping tankers; five miles done, 285 to go.

More early morning Stromness scenery. Photo: Ian Furby

There was an eerie calm as we steamed on through the graveyard of all those scuttled World War I battleships. The sea conditions couldn’t have been better and before long we were passing South Ronaldsay to our port and powering on towards Duncansby Head.

Poseidon was with us that morning. It was flat, flat, flat. My intended route during the planning stages was to hug the coast and head south-west from Duncansby Head to Inverness, before cutting the corner and making for Lossiemouth, then on to Peterhead for an overnight stop – a route of around 120 miles. By straight-lining it to Peterhead, we could cut it down to 80 miles but at the mid-point, we would be 40 miles offshore and a long, long way from land. In an 18ft boat, that’s going some.

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Experience breeds confidence and today I was feeling confident. We went for it. The sun was up, blue skies, flat seas – all was good with the world. An hour or so later, something appeared on the horizon dead ahead of us. It looked like a massive block of flats.

From a distance, it was hard to work out if it was an oil rig or a ship. It turned out to be a supertanker, heading right for us. As she was a little bigger than us, by more than 1,000ft, we decided not to play chicken and passed her port to port. God only knows what the crew must have thought seeing us way out there.

A wide berth is given to a looming supertanker on the first leg to Peterhead. Photo: Ian Furby

Flying along

Once we had cleared her wake, I stopped to refuel before pressing on again. By 9am, we were approaching Peterhead. We had been running for five and a half hours and averaged close to 20 knots, our fastest speed yet for any long passage. We were flying.

To get us home and beat the weather, I had banked on averaging 18 knots. We were ahead of schedule and the weather was still with us. We now had 180 miles left to run at an average speed of 15 knots to get us home by 9pm. We might just do it.

One issue with cutting the corner was that we had bypassed all my planned refuelling points. We didn’t have enough fuel to straight-line it again from Peterhead to Bamburgh, so we decided to hug the coast for a couple of hours as far as Stonehaven, where I knew there was a fuel station just ten minutes’ walk from the quay.

Wind farm turbines off Aberdeen give the first signs of trouble. Photo: Ian Furby

We pushed on, with blue skies and flat seas, taking in the scenery. After such a long stint out of sight of land, this was incredibly welcome.

Off Aberdeen, we were back among the wind farms again. These vast turbines are a useful navigation aid; you can see them from miles away and they tell you which way the wind is blowing and how fast. These turbines were facing east and turning – not good. An easterly wind, even a Force 3 blowing over a 300-mile fetch from Denmark, spelled trouble.

By the time we approached Stonehaven, some 10 miles later, the sea was already starting to lift and that easterly breeze was getting stronger. Pulling into the harbour, we looked for a suitable place to tie up. There were no pontoons and the tide was mid-ebb, so we had to be careful not to dry out. We chose a spot on the quay, then tied up with long bow and stern lines to allow for the falling tide.

Climbing the ladder to the quay 12ft above, we hauled up the folding truck and jerrycans. I left Dobbo to mind the boat while I secured the cans and legged it to the fuel station. As quickly as I could, I filled all four cans and dragged the 100kg of fuel back through the streets. The final cobbled stretch was particularly brutal and seemed to take an age. By the time I got back, I was knackered. At least the effort was justified – had I taken another 15 minutes, we’d have been aground.

Dobby and Ian looking pensive as the wind gets up. Photo: Ian Furby

With no time to enjoy Stonehaven’s white sandy beaches and crystal-clear water, not to mention its enticing bars and restaurants, we set about emptying the jerrycans into Summer Buoys’ tank.

By the time we had filled it, we only had one jerrycan remaining. Not enough to get us home but enough to reach Amble. Normally I’d have topped up again, but the 3am start was taking its toll and the easterly was getting stronger. We cast off.

Once again my original plan had been to hug the coast, taking in Arbroath, St Andrews and Anstruther, before crossing Edinburgh Bay to North Berwick. We didn’t have time for that. To save miles, we plotted a straight line to Bamburgh and the Farne Islands.

The first couple of hours went well but the sea continued to lift. The driving got harder and slower. I asked Dobbo to take a stint at the helm. I was trashed and needed a break. I sank into Dobbo’s seat, delirious with fatigue.

A short while later Dobbo hit a wave and rather than rocking forward to counter the movement, I did the opposite and crashed into the backrest. I heard a massive crack as the backrest broke away, nearly taking me with it. We stopped to assess the damage. The backrest support had ripped free from the fibreglass. Among my many spares was a vast array of straps and cable ties, so I quickly lashed a couple of cam straps around it to the gunwale rail, along with several cable ties as a temporary fix.

Enjoying the view of Slains Castle off Cruden Bay. Photo: Ian Furby

Surprisingly, after an hour or so of not having to concentrate, I got my second wind. I’m not sure if Dobbo sensed this but he asked me to take over. The sea was still lifting.

On a flat sea, with the tide with you, Summer Buoys can push along at close to two miles per litre. In these conditions we were doing almost half that. Not good. An hour later and our hopes of getting back in one day were looking remote. The sea was so bad we were having to stand up to absorb the waves and our fuel consumption was horrendous.

There was no chance of making Amble. We had no choice but to take the most direct route to shore. We were quite a long way out and our nearest option was Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England.

As the easterly strengthens the sea gets lumpy. Photo: Ian Furby

Lively entrance

The next hour and a half was an endurance test: hard, brutal and slow. We were tired, wet and deflated as we limped, battered, broken and bruised, to port. At 5pm we were on our entry transit and it was bloody lively with breaking waves at the entrance to the harbour. Low on fuel, with the weather against us, we had to run the gauntlet. Before we knew it, we were meandering up the Tweed on flat water, free of the sea’s torments.

The marina was still under development but we berthed on one of the brand-new pontoons and collapsed into the rear seats, demoralised and mentally and physically exhausted. It was only 5pm but we’d been at sea since 3.30am, covering 215 miles in the process, the last two of which had been utterly gruelling.

I looked at the forecasts again, which only depressed me further. We were just 90 miles short of finishing but every forecast was saying, “You ain’t getting home for a week.” My half-full glass had suddenly developed a massive hole in the bottom and the contents were flowing out fast.

I considered leaving the boat, getting the train home and coming back with the road trailer to collect it, or finishing when the sea permitted. Both options felt like a failure. It was Dobbo who snapped me out of it by suggesting we wait and see what the next day brought. If we could go, then we would; even if that meant limping home at 10 knots and taking all day to get there.
I wasn’t convinced, but it was a plan, and I was too knackered to go any further that evening.

Ian and Dobby are relieved to have escaped the wind in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Photo: Ian Furby

The harbourmaster rocked up and when he heard what we were doing, said he was more than happy for us to stay and wouldn’t accept any money. He even recommended a B&B two minutes away.

Before packing it in for the day, we decided to refuel just in case. After two trips to the local Asda, and with the trolley on its last legs, we were fully fuelled up once again.

Making the boat secure, we went in search of the B&B. The owner seemed both surprised and pleased to get a last-minute booking – but not as surprised as we were when he asked for just £60 for the both of us for bed and breakfast.

We left our bags and headed into town in search of grub. The Magna Tandoori came to our rescue. A chicken balti and two pints of Cobra later, everything was good in the world again.

During dinner, we went over plans and potential bail-out ports. Seahouses, Amble, Blyth, Tynemouth, Sunderland – there were plenty of them as long as it wasn’t too rough. We had already been in some big-ass seas; we could fight for an hour or so, then sneak into port, rest a bit, then bash on again. I was beginning to get my hopes up even if the forecast showed no let-up in the weather. Well fed and paid up, we made our way back to our digs before collapsing into bed.

Berwick-upon-Tweed hosted the duo when the weather closed in. Photo: Ian Furby

Day 11: 20 June 2021 – Berwick-upon-Tweed to Runswick Bay and home – 90nm

Morning came far too soon and, as per my new norm, my mind was whirring from the early hours. Dobbo was still asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him. I checked the forecasts again: no change. I heard him stir just after 6am.

I flicked on the kettle for a brew before heading for the window and peering out. I looked, rubbed my eyes, shook my head and looked again. I couldn’t see the sea but I could see several trees and bushes, and not a leaf was moving. My heart skipped a beat, but I dared not get too excited. Those trees could have been in the lee of buildings. Still, it was forecast to be blowing its arse off and right now it wasn’t. Maybe, just maybe . . .

Breakfast was a feast for kings. We thanked our host and headed back to the boat. At the quayside, the wind still wasn’t blowing. But we were several hundred metres upstream from the sea and couldn’t yet see what conditions were like outside the harbour.

We put our wet weather gear on, and cast off, not knowing when or if we would make it home that day. A couple of minutes later, I turned to Dobbo and pointed out to sea, “Look. It’s flat. It’s chuffin’ flat!” I said.

Elated to be nosing out of Berwick towards flatter seas the morning after. Photo: Ian Furby

Bonkers weather

Passing the outer harbour wall, we turned south, put the throttle forward and sat on 25 knots. Neither of us spoke, fearful of tempting fate and breaking the spell. We all know that weather forecasts can be wrong (just ask Michael Fish) but this was bonkers; it simply shouldn’t have been like this. In less than an hour, we were passing Holy Island, Bamburgh and the Farne Islands. More importantly, we were back in familiar waters.

Passing Seahouses, I plotted what was to be the last passage of The Big Trip: bearing 155 degrees and a 70nm straight line home. Just off Whitley Bay, we pulled up for the last refuel at sea.

The almost military routine came with an edge of melancholy. I had enjoyed the stops, 15 minutes off driving, stretching my legs, grabbing some grub.

Dobbo and I were both grinning. Less than 40 miles left. We had got this, and we knew we had.

Three miles north of Runswick, a fellow Runswick boater came out in his RIB to congratulate us. I felt a little uneasy. I had left in relative secrecy but word had got out.

Dry land at last, plus 50kg of salt to scrape off later. Photo: Ian Furby

At 1pm we rounded Lingrow Cliffs, at the northern point of Runswick Bay. South of us lay Kettleness Point, which we had passed ten days and 1,770nm previously.

The main lobster fishing ground lies just inshore. Swinging wide of it, we headed west towards the village and Little Beach, where we launch and recover the boat.

I can’t put into words the elation and emotion that were coursing through me. Throttling back to 5 knots to line up the two white transit-marker poles that bring you in through the channel, I noticed a large Union Jack hanging from one of the houses and a small crowd of people on the beach – odd but not unusual for this time of year.

It was only when the air horns went off and people started clapping and cheering that I realised it was all for us. I saw my wife, Sheddy, and my youngest son amongst the crowd. I hadn’t envisaged any of this and really didn’t know how to take it. Should I laugh, cry, fist pump, bow? I didn’t think we had achieved anything that warranted this kind of rapturous welcome. It was all a bit much. It took all my effort not to start blubbing.

Ian’s family look happy to get him back after his epic challenge. Photo: Ian Furby

Ten more feet and the bow nudged gently onto soft sand. I jumped off the bow while Dobbo held the boat, then walked up the beach into Sheddy’s arms.


A couple of days later, I headed back to the boat to wash off the 50kg of salt that had crystallised all over Summer Buoys. Driving down off the Yorkshire Moors you get a beautiful panoramic view of the sea. It gets me every time. I was still exhausted but after all the planning and activity of the last nine months, I was overcome with an unexpected feeling of emptiness.

I yearned to be back out there. So what next? Don’t tell Sheddy, but I fancy having another go… t’other way round!

If you’d like to buy a copy of Ian’s book about his Big Trip, which covers the full story in even more gritty detail, please email him on [email protected]. All the proceeds go to his local Runswick Bay rescue boat.

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