For a few hours en route from the Scillies to the west coast of Cornwall, the land lies beyond our visible horizon. Hours of peace in which, under a complacent sun, we move as one with the rhythmic swell of the ocean. Only the lines of cargo vessels steaming north and south present any kind of danger - but they can be seen when still far off and are easily avoided.
Sailing offshore in a small boat may seem to the uninitiated as more adventurous and frightening than keeping the land in view; but it is the coast that fills sailors with apprehension and keeps them on their toes. At sea there are no rocks or sandbanks to circumvent, no headlands to round or lobster pots to avoid, no narrow entrances to negotiate or tides and depths to calculate. Even gales are easier to manage in mid ocean than near a coastline where steep seas may form over shallows, and winds and adverse waves can drive vessels onto a lee shore.
But today, no gale threatens and the south-westerly promised by the Met Office has emerged as a breathless drift. Our progress is slow and stately; and in the afternoon heat, Ardent's gentle rocking reduces us to a dozy silence that lasts until the sun glows red on the western horizon and the evening chill stirs us into activity.
Padstow proudly announces itself as the largest harbour on the north coast of Cornwall - but the distinction derives its force from the absence of competition for there are no others of note. The inner harbour is tiny and charming. A "downtown" pool - surrounded on three sides by pubs, restaurant and shops, it is managed by an energetic harbourmaster who seems able by some sleight of hand to accommodate as many yachts and power cruisers as seek entry even when, to concerned onlookers like ourselves, there seems to be no room.
Though a small fishing fleet operates from Padstow, the town is almost wholly given over to tourism. Locals complain that the season "is one of the worst in living memory", but daytrippers nonetheless throng the narrow streets, the pubs and restaurants hum, and the B&Bs are fully booked.
Many visitors have come 'en famille' and for the sake of the children must perforce ignore the glowering skies and misty rain - both having returned - and brace themselves for a chilly cruise in the estuary or a windswept walk on the beach. We are a hardy race in the matter of climate, and go about our pleasures with a steely determination to ignore discrepancies between the sun-filled blandishments of guidebooks and brochures - and the miserable reality of our island weather.
I am intrigued by the cross-section of English hominids on view. Moulded in every size and shape available to the bi-pedal frame, they are dressed - with an endearing lack of self-regard - in ill-fitting summer livery: baggy, calf-length shorts, nylon frocks, and parti-coloured t-shirts emblazoned with advertising slogans. I remember Robertson Davies - the Canadian novelist - remarking that the English don't give a damn what anyone thinks of them, a view that Padstow's holidaymakers - inelegant, unprepossessing, and entirely unselfconscious - seem content to confirm. Joining the crowd, I am bemused by our collective plainness (yes, I include myself). We are not a pretty sight. But as I write these words, I remember Thoreau's reminder that the rawest humanity possesses a deep richness, no matter its outward appearance. "Though there are many crooked and crabbled specimens ," he writes, ".....run all to thorn and rind, and crowded out of shape by adverse circumstances, like the third chestnut in the burr, ... yet fear not that the race will fail or waver in them; like the crabs which grow in hedges, they furnish the stocks of sweet and thrifty fruits still."
The quotation is from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack - a work hardly anyone reads but which is every bit as fascinating as his more famous Walden.
Another side exists to Padstow: thanks to one of Britain's most celebrated chefs it has become a gastronomic centre of international repute. Rick Stein - the chef in question - owns a good dozen businesses in town including several restaurants and B&B's, a small hotel, a delicatessen, a fish shop, and a bakery. A leaflet available at the tourist office lists them all and marks them on a map.
At a generous friend's invitation, we dined twice at Rick Stein's flagship which is known simply as "The Seafood Restaurant", and once on our own more modest account at his relatively downmarket fish-and chip shop. Both are expensive - the former extravagantly so, though the dining is memorable, the latter overpriced for fare that differs in flavour hardly at all from that of any half decent chippy except that Rick Stein's portions err on the thin side of minceur.
The great man's influence on Padstow must have been considerable. Several other restaurants of quality have emerged to compete with his, and even those with lower prices and less obvious appeal to gourmet tastes offer interesting menus and excellent cooking.
How do the locals feel about Mr Stein's success? Under questioning, one wondered if the town's name should not be changed to "Padstein" - but the remark came in a tone of mild amusement rather than resentment. We heard no adverse comment - and the friendliness of the townsfolk and the welcome they offer to strangers suggest that they are not unhappy with their lot.
Two months after we set out, I have been called urgently back to work. I had been hoping at least to cross the Bristol Channel in Ardent, but once again the weather detained us and I could delay my departure no longer. As I write, Ian has reached Milford Haven where he has been joined by a replacement crew member - Colin Robson. Both are safe; but Ian tells me that the rain still falls and the wind continues to howl in the rigging.
Here, then my log ends. I will not miss the self-exposure that literary effort demands however simple its message and restricted its readership; but I will miss the discipline, this being one of the few occasions in my life when I have managed to put into practice a lesson I learned many years ago from Chateaubriand - but have heeded on the whole too lightly. Here, from his Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Grave) is the passage, first in the original French and then in my own inadequate translation:
"Notre existence est d’une telle fuite, que si nous n’ecrivons pas le soir l’événement du matin, le travail nous encombre et nous n’avons plus le temps de le mettre à jour. Cela ne nous empêche pas de gaspiller nos années, de jeter au vent ces heures qui sont pour l’homme les semences de l’éternité."
“Our existence is so fleeting that if, in the evening, we fail to record the day’s events, their sheer volume overwhelms us and we are no longer able to bring them to light. Even so we go on wasting our time, spending in idleness hours that for humankind are the seeds of eternity.“