Race Against the Tide Timothy Spall: Somewhere at Sea


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Race Against the Tide

Timothy and Shane Spall conclude their voyage by negotiating some of the most extreme tides in Britain, as Tim plans his route through the Bristol Channel.


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The Atlantic can be a dangerous place.

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Usually, only the most experienced mariner will take it on.

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Occasionally, the odd actor might have a go as well.

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If this gets considerably bigger, we're going back.

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I'm Timothy Spall

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and I've just skippered around Land's End in a barge.

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With my first mate and wife Shane,

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we're making our way around the British coast, one port at a time.

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The roughest sea we've ever been on.

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The waves are about eight foot high,

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and the front of the boat is going smash,

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and the waves were coming over the boat and hitting the roof,

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and that was on the Thames!

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We're now in St Ives, and in this last stretch before winter,

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I'm going to get us to Wales.

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That's 150 miles away,

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and our barge does seven miles an hour...

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on a good day.

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It really is you, your boat and the sea.

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A to B by sea

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will definitely end in a catastrophe if you don't get it right.

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# Somewhere at sea A liner is somewhere at sea

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# Bringing to me

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# A traveller who will build

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# My life anew... #

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But there's nothing better, I'm telling you,

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than discovering your own country by sea.

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# Somewhere at sea. #

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Dawn is breaking over St Ives,

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and the fishermen are up early to catch their mackerel.

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They still line fish here, as they have done for centuries.

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These small boats will be back later,

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each carrying a tonne of mackerel.

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We won't be around to see them.

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We've got to be out of here in the next hour.

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If we leave any later, it won't be a harbour, it'll be a beach.

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This green signifies that when the tide goes away,

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the sea becomes land.

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The stretch of sea from North Cornwall to the Bristol Channel

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has some of the most extreme tides in Britain.

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A skilled mariner will get the tide behind him.

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All the skilled mariners around here are out fishing.

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Well, if we get that knot, if we get that tide behind us

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like we did last night, yesterday...

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whether it'll be going that way or that way or that way,

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I should check it, really.

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I still don't know if I'm getting this right or not.

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No-one's ever showed me how to do it.

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I calculate I've got a few hours to wait

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if we're going to catch the next tide.

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But as I don't want to get beached in St Ives,

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I'm trying an old sailor's trick.

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It's nothing complicated.

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Just move to deep water, switch off the engine and drop anchor.

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-Is it working?

-No.

-No?

-No.

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The anchor's not working.

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The electric anchor's not working, so Tim's got to do it manually.

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This is technical, so I'm giving it a whack.

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The anchor's broken.

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The boat by now is drifting

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and there are rocks to the right and rocks to the left.

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Our only option is to press on...against the tide.

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I don't know.

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-A different story every day.

-It's a different story.

-I don't know!

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We're heading up the coast to Padstow.

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The strong tides and the Atlantic swell make this

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the best place in Europe for surfing.

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Surfing means big waves that crash in.

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Now, that's not very good for a barge.

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Oh, my goodness!

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If you're going to go across surfing waves,

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it means it's going to be quite rough.

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I'm feeling a bit nauseous, actually.

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I'm not supposed to say that. He'll be annoyed.

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It's taken us all day just to do 30 miles.

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But finally, we're greeted by the Camel Estuary -

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the gateway to Padstow.

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At either side of us,

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two of the most stunning beaches I've ever seen.

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But beneath the water here is a famous sandbank - the Doom Bar,

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which you can see in all its glory at low tide.

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It's so beautiful.

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It's absolutely beautiful.

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You wouldn't think it was September.

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Once an industrial region of shipbuilding and mining,

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it's now protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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Such a delight to arrive in a place

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you've never been before in your life by boat, once again.

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I'm not going to get smug,

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we'll probably end up on a bloody sandbank.

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It may be stunning, but the tide here can create problems

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because of the speed that it comes in.

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And right now, the Camel River has got the hump.

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6.8 we're doing here, so the tide's banging in here.

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-The tide's doing four knots.

-Yeah, I saw it.

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'It's pulling us along too quickly, and I don't like it.'

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-You stay there, and I'll do this.

-I know what I'm doing, love.

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I'm trying to get into position.

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BANG! Oh, right, OK.

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You've sunk the buoy.

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-Eh?!

-You've sunk the buoy. You'll have to tell the harbour master.

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'It's not just the buoy we've got to worry about -

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'the dinghy that was attached to it is doing a runner.'

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Are you sure it's loose?

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I don't know any more.

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Well, I'll come back and around.

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-It's still attached.

-Just be careful.

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-It's attached.

-Let me have a look if that's in the water or not.

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No, but you've sunk the buoy.

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I hit it and snapped it off the buoy. The tide got the better of me.

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'Our dramatic entrance hasn't gone unnoticed.'

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MUSIC: Theme from Jaws

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-Hello.

-Hiya.

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'This skipper knows the owner of the dinghy.

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'He doesn't seem that impressed.'

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I'm very sorry about that. The tide got the better of me.

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'Shane's not impressed either.'

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It's the biggest buoy I've ever seen in my life, and he missed it.

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I love your loyalty, Shane(!) You know, you blame me when something...

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You should have seen it! It was a bloody big yellow thing!

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Well, what's the point of shouting at me about it for?

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First an anchor and now a buoy.

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It can't get any worse...can it?

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-It's very shallow here, isn't it?

-Yeah, I know, I'm pulling back.

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Cor, blimey!

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-I think we've run aground.

-Yeah.

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'Princess Matilda. Padstow Harbour. Over.'

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Hi, Padstow Harbour, this is Princess Matilda.

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Yeah, we've just arrived and we've run into a bit of trouble.

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The tide got us into this trouble

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and only the tide can get us out of it.

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It's all right. It's coming... it's coming in really quickly, so...

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We might be moving.

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Hang on a minute, let's not get smug.

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Padstow Harbour, this is Princess Matilda.

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'Make your way in now. As soon as you go through the gate,

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'if you go to starboard.'

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Right by where all the tourists are sitting. That'll be nice.

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Padstow gets over a million visitors a year.

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They come here for the glorious beaches and the delightful village.

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But today, the main attraction is two idiots in a barge.

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-Bloody hell!

-That was a palaver, weren't it?

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Why is there always an audience?

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Is this called keeping a low profile?

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It's like being on the tourist trail.

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What a journey that was!

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It's 20... It's five to five.

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We didn't push it, but that's...

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that's nine hours.

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Nine hours! We came round Land's End,

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which was three miles less, in four.

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Jesus!

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And we've had a barney.

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And we've wrecked a boat.

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Chin-chin.

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Do you still love me?

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I might do. Course I do!

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One relationship fixed. One barge broken.

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We can't go anywhere until we fix our anchor.

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Still, there are worse places to be stuck.

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Padstow is named after St Petroc,

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a Christian missionary who came here by accident.

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Like us, his boat was caught in the tide of the Camel River

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and came to rest here.

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I wonder if HE hit a sandbank.

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It's a bit chilly. Not bad for September.

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Look at that. Ain't that lovely? Beautiful.

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St Petroc came from Wales.

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If we're to get there before winter,

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we'll have to pray that Matilda gets fixed soon.

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It's probably a very simple thing. It's probably a fuse

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or, you know, just something that a mechanic's going to look at and go,

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"There you go, mate."

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I do feel such a fool.

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I just don't know mechanically how it functions and I should, really.

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I really should, because it's probably a very simple thing.

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It took four days for someone to come and fix the anchor

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and another day to go a whopping 60 miles to Ilfracombe in Devon.

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Ilfracombe is built on a series of cliffs.

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The most famous, Hillsborough Hill,

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is known locally as the sleeping elephant.

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He protects the small harbour from the storms of the Bristol Channel,

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but as he can't stop the tide, we're not sticking around.

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Soon the harbour will be dry,

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so I'm going to try the old sailor's trick again.

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-So they don't have...

-Ah!

-Oh, Timmy! For goodness' sake!

-I enjoyed that(!)

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This is our first chance to test how well Matilda's been fixed.

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Why is it every morning on this boat seems like three days?

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Is it working?

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-Tim? Have you got it?

-I think so.

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-You think so?

-I think so, yeah.

-We're holding?

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Oh, hallelujah!

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For the time being.

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The great thing about making mistakes, or anything going wrong,

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is that's the only way I learn.

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The man who fixed our anchor said there was something missing

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from the end of the anchor chain -

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a short bit of rope called the bitter end.

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Say, for instance, you're in a boat, and your anchor gets caught

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and you can't move and the storm's coming, you need to get in.

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if you don't want to lose it, it's held on by a rope,

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but if you DO want to lose it, you cut the bitter end.

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Hence, "to the bitter end"!

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When he gave me the rope and the chain, he measured it like this.

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Do you know what that is? A man's arm's length?

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A fathom.

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I couldn't fathom what he was doing.

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Ho-ho-ho!

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We're in touching distance of Wales,

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but Penarth, our final destination, is just out of reach.

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So we're heading 30 miles along the coast

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to a port in Somerset called Watchet.

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Watchet. Never tire of saying it, do you? Watchet.

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I've heard that Watchet Harbour is notoriously difficult to get into.

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The tides could pull you onto rocks just outside its entrance.

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Get through that,

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and there's another even smaller gate into the marina.

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It's literally about 20 foot wide, and our boat's 15 foot wide,

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so that's...

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We've got to get in that little hole.

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We might be missing the opportunity if we don't get going,

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but I haven't done my calculations and I'm not going to rush.

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I've got to work out when the tide will turn before I leave.

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If I get it right, we'll be there in six hours, just before sunset.

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Tide is a science.

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I hated science at school.

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Got about another...

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45 minutes.

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And at the moment,

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this is telling us we're going to arrive at ten o'clock.

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I bloody hope not.

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Because we've been in England all this time,

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Wales is almost like a tantalising, um, you know,

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it's almost like we have to reach it, but we...

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we're not doing it.

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We're, um, staying in England for no other reason than practicality.

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Give me a kiss, then.

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No, you give me a kiss.

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No, you give me a kiss.

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I'm concentrating. Kiss my little finger.

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I'm not a natural leader or a natural skipper.

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The sense of responsibility is enormous,

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but like anything that is, um, possibly life-threatening,

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fear tends to turn into adrenaline and concentration.

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My God, look at that. How beautiful is that?

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The sunset on your right.

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Trying to get into a harbour that you know's difficult

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and not even getting there yet.

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And then the glory that is Barry Island and Wales behind you.

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-I'm going to make a cock-up, I know.

-No, you won't. No, you won't.

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The sun is sinking fast, and if we hit the rocks by the harbour wall,

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we'll be sinking with it.

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This is the first time I've ever entered a sea port in the dark.

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Come on, girl. Come on, girl.

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Come on, girl.

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Well done, Tim!

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You've done it.

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Ho ho! Woo!

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SHE APPLAUDS

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God, that's one for the book, Timmy.

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Hang on a minute, love. We ain't out of the fire yet.

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I'm not going to start congratulating myself

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until we're in that harbour.

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'We can't go through the small gate into the marina.'

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Watchet harbour master, this is Princess Matilda. Over.

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-'The lights are on, but no-one's home.'

-They've gone out.

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We're just going to have to keep spinning around.

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I'm trembling.

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I need gin.

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'This is confusing. I can't even see if the gate is open.'

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-It actually could be automated, couldn't it?

-I think it is.

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The light's so green, I can't bloody see the hole!

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Why's it gone all red again?

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Is something coming out?

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You can't go in when the lights are... Ah, there we go.

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Right. Now, this is going to be the hard part

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because I've got no idea whether this boat's going to fit in that hole.

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-Argh!

-BLEEP!

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We're allowed one of those.

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We're allowed one of those every now and again.

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I've done it - we're here!

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We're in Watchet Harbour!

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Talk about Watchet. Watch it!

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This is one of the hardest ports I've ever had to get in my life. It's tiny!

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We're both shattered after yet another full day at sea,

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but we've arrived in one piece,

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or at least I hope we have.

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Where's that big torch?

0:19:270:19:29

'The marks of nautical war.'

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There's a little bit of a dent in it, but Matilda's very forgiving.

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Watchet Harbour used to be a major port for freight liners,

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exporting locally made paper and importing European wine.

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Seems like a fair swap.

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Nowadays, the main trade is pleasure boats.

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Watchet has the biggest repair yard in Somerset.

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Crane, Timmy!

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This old crane is pivotal to the entire business,

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and the driver is keen to show it to us.

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Do you want to have a go? You're welcome to.

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Well, I think I know someone who might.

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He's just come out the shower.

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He said you can have a go.

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Where is it?

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I wonder if he'd let me play with his crane

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if he knew what I'd done to his harbour wall.

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-He's very agile, my husband.

-I am quite agile for a fat girl.

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-Right, in the seat, look.

-All right.

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-40-years-old?

-Yeah. Older than you!

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I'm worried he'll put his foot on the wrong pedal.

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It's no problem.

0:21:010:21:02

You've got to look relaxed. Right, foot on that pedal there, look.

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ENGINE REVS

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With a top speed of three miles an hour,

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this is even slower than Matilda.

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And he's not even looking where he's going!

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He don't have to at that speed.

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We may well bring Matilda back here over the winter to get some repairs,

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but it's safe to say I won't be driving the crane.

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Jesus Christ!

0:21:350:21:37

Oh, look at that. I love it.

0:21:400:21:43

-Playing by wire.

-It is, isn't it?

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Yeah, no, it is, you are, you're like a...octopus-cum-drummer.

0:21:450:21:49

I bet you can pick up the drums in about five minutes.

0:21:490:21:53

As soon as I retire from the acting profession, I'm up here.

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When do I start?

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I like this, because once you're up here, you get a real sense of what it was.

0:21:580:22:02

-Oh, yeah.

-This is proper hard here.

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-Is this an ancient port, then, as well?

-Oh, aye, yeah. 1,000 years.

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1,000 years?!

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Yeah. Used to have her own mint here and jails and stuff like that.

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It's absolutely beautiful, innit?

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This is a stunning coastline.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to Watchet in 1797.

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He wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner here.

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In the story, the ancient mariner ends up with an albatross around

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his neck, which is exactly how I feel about the Bristol Channel.

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But our final destination is in our sights.

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So that's Penarth there.

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He said head straight out to that.

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But I've actually charted a course to go...

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..around there and up there.

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Look at these rocks here, you get stuck on those, for God's sake!

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If you did come up here on high tide and got stuck up here,

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you'd probably have to wait another three months

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before you got off again!

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In the last nine days, Matilda's done 150 nautical miles.

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Sometimes we don't even manage that in a year.

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Lately, we've really put her through her paces.

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There's the paint where you hit it.

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That's where I hit.

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This is her final journey of the year to Penarth in Wales.

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We want to make this a celebration.

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I'll try and relax a bit now.

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We're joined by an old friend, Miriam,

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and Shane is giving Matilda a makeover.

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Yeah! Matilda's dressed up.

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Shane says she wants bunting.

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They're going to have bunting, because I might be the skipper

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and the admiral, but she's the purser and the ship's figurehead.

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She's the ship's magician.

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Doesn't she look pretty?

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See, I think Matilda's got a heart, that's what I think.

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The way she got... I mean, Tim was amazing getting into that harbour

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the other night, but this boat was extraordinary.

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She was just really solid, really solid and safe.

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And she likes it.

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So she's got a present.

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'And the thing about boating is that because it's slow,

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'it makes your country feel as big as it actually is.

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'You know, speed, cars, airlines have shrunk the world.

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'We've grown to believe it's small.

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'It's not, it's still big.'

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Hello!

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Is this Wales? Are we in Wales?

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All that stands between us and the end of this adventure

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is the Cardiff Bay Barrage -

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a huge sea wall and a set of locks built ten years ago

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at a cost of £220 million.

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Better make sure I don't bump THESE harbour walls.

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-Wait.

-BEEPING

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Yes!

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We're here, we've done it. We've done it.

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Oh, I feel like Mr and Mrs... I tell you who we are.

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We're Mr and Mrs Vasco de Gama Magellan Francis Drake Columbus,

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that's who we are.

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# Here we are

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# Just about to sail

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# Foggy little fella Drowsy little dame

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# Two sleepy people by dawn's early light

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# And too much in love to say goodnight... #

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One, two, three.

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ENGINE STOPS

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Come on, we've done it. We've arrived in another country.

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Our journey's over,

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for this year at least.

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We'll have all winter to explore this old seaside town

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while Matilda hibernates.

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You know, I mean, I absolutely love...

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We've always loved seaside towns in the winter.

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I mean, there's nobody here, and there's a melancholy and a beauty.

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It's so unbelievably, quintessentially Britain, isn't it?

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Come next spring, we'll be off again.

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How far? Who knows?

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Like this pier, our journey's a bit rough round the edges.

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We're just taking it one port at a time.

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That on the right, if I'm right in thinking...

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..is the Gower Peninsula.

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And we've got to go down there, straight down there and turn right.

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I think I'm right, I think that is the Gower Peninsula.

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Yeah, that is definitely the Gower Peninsula, I think,

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unless I'm getting it wrong, and that's Devon.

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Trouble with the sea, plays tricks on your eyes.

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Especially if you don't know what you're talking about.

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# Somewhere at sea

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# A liner is somewhere at sea

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# Bringing to me

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# A traveller who will build

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# My life anew

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# She's out on the sea

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# Somewhere at sea. #

0:28:440:28:48

Three-part documentary series featuring one of Britain's best loved actors, Timothy Spall, as he and his wife sail from to Cornwall to south Wales in a Dutch barge.

In the concluding leg, having navigated the Princess Matilda around the dangerous waters of Land's End and into the relative calm of the port of St Ives, Tim is still troubled. He now has to negotiate some of the most extreme tides in Britain as he plans his route through the Bristol Channel. Not only that, but it occurs to him that his anchor is faulty as he and Shane discover the delights of nearby Padstow, which attracts a million visitors a year for its seafood and other local attractions.

From Padstow, Timothy and Shane moor overnight at Watchet in Somerset, but first have to navigate its notoriously difficult approach, and as they are behind schedule they have to cope with this in the dark. They eventually complete this task with only a few bumps and bruises and then make it over to the Cardiff Barrage and nearby Penarth Marina for the winter.