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Padstow, North Cornwall
First screened 9 March 2008

Lady Mary

Sailing the Doom Bar

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Lellizzick lies between Harbour Cove and Hawkers Cove, some 11 miles south-west of Tintagel, close to Padstow. If ships from as far away as the Mediterranean navigated to the trading site here, then they had to cope with the famous Doom Bar, a mammoth sand bank (not the tasty beer) which throws a concoction of terrifying conditions at the seafarer. We spoke to local skipper Jim West to find out what it's like to navigate the Doom Bar.

'Nothing stops what's coming our way'
'I know that most sailors will tell you that they know a local dangerous water, but the Doom Bar must be one of the most dangerous in the country. In front of us we have some 4,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean. That's it – it's a whole ocean out there. There's basically nothing until you get to America. Nothing stops what's coming our way – we even get the tail ends of hurricanes.'

Jim, who skippers the Lady Mary (, has been navigating the Doom Bar for over ten years, taking people on special fishing trips. He knows the seven-metre tide well and can read the surface of the sea.

Atlantic swell
'The hardest thing we face is the Atlantic swell. Over the Doom Bar you get what we call a "ground sea", where the swell drops right down and then you get huge breakers which are really, really difficult to get out of. I've 500 horsepower and struggle with it when it's like that. In the days of sail power they would have been really stuck. The Doom Bar is not a good place to be in bad weather.'

Of course with wind power you haven't always got a constant source. 'Once the ships got around the corner they would have often lost wind,' continues Jim. 'They would have been stuck and even if they dropped anchor to wait for wind, their anchor would have had no purchase in the sand. Add to that the fact that you can get an outgoing tide with an incoming wind, and you get more breakers. All in all it's a tough estuary to navigate today, let alone in the past when those old sailors only had wind and oars to get them in.'

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