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(First published in Latitudes and Attitudes and meant for US readers)

Without a doubt, July is the best time for visiting England. Then there are long hours of daylight, light winds and generally temperatures are in the mid 70's - although sometimes it will get over 80. The prevailing winds are SW to NW 15 knots, but if a high pressure system settles over England, then easterlies can blow in the English Channel for days. By August occasional thunderstorms drift north from France and ex-hurricanes can sweep in across the Atlantic.

Having said that, the weather in July is still very changeable, especially when compared to the USA. It doesn't just change dramatically from day to day, but also from area to area. For example, the north coast of Cornwall has very different weather from the south, only 30 miles away, while the Isle of Wight has better weather than the mainland, despite being only 5 miles offshore. So the golden rule is that one must make good use of fine weather.

Despite what you've heard, it doesn't rain all the time! Indeed, as I write this in February, there is already water rationing in SE England, as it rained so infrequently this winter. However, even in summer there are gales; nothing too serious, just gusts to 40 knots or so. A couple of times each winter one can expect gales to a sustained 70 knots. So although we don't get hurricanes, England does regularly have hurricane strength winds.

Although no one in England lives more than 70 miles from the sea, most people prefer to sail in the English Channel, even if it means a four hour drive to their boat. I suggest you do the same. None the less, the Thames Estuary is a wonderful cruising ground if you have a fascination for shallow, muddy waters. It's also a great experience to sail up the Thames to central London. You can even get Tower Bridge to open for you and spend the night in the marina next to the 11th C Tower of London where Charles 1st, amongst many others, was beheaded.

The English Channel tides are strong, which, coupled with the funnelling effect of the French coast, mean that, in any wind, short steep waves - maybe 6-8 ft high - form. These waves are famous world wide, and are known as the "Channel Chop". So no one worries about wave heights, we just assume it will be rough, for smooth water in the Channel is very rare. Indeed, Pete Goss, who has sailed single handed round the world and also the "wrong way" round Cape Horn, told me the worst weather he ever met was on a day sail off Plymouth.

Once on shore, you'll find everything in England is very expensive when compared to the US. Fuel is the most obviously pricy, for petrol has been near 8USD a gallon for some years. That's why you won't see any big outboards. It also means that are no trawler yachts or sportsfishermen; indeed powerboats are rarely used as cruisers. Fishermen will use diesel engines and motor at displacement speeds. I once bought a chart plotter from West Marine, complete with "Made in England" sticker, for half the English retail price. Marinas typically cost 3USD a foot a day. A Starbucks coffee costs at least 20% more than in the US, while, even in inexpensive restaurants, a meal costs 50USD a head, without drinks. So I prefer to eat in pubs where good value meals are the norm and you can soak up the local atmosphere.

England uses the metric system, as indeed does most of the world. Don't worry, it's all very easy; roughly 2metres is 1 fathom, 1 kg is 2lbs and 1litre is a quart. More of a problem will be getting used to the buoyage system, which in Europe is the opposite of N America. Green buoys are on the right when going up a river, so it's a case of "green right returning". Europe also makes much more use of Cardinal marks than does the USA. Fortunately there are no off-lying dangers anywhere in the English Channel, apart from the well lit Eddystone light, 12 miles off Plymouth. However, Portland Bill is considered the Cape Horn of the Channel so my advice is to keep 5 miles off and to round it with the tide.

However, it is not the high costs, nor the metric system, not even the back to front buoyage that will cause you the most problems. It is the tides. In my home port of Plymouth the tidal range is 20 ft, but it is 50 ft on the north coast of Devon and just as high in France. Clearly anchoring requires much care, when you may be anchoring in a strong tidal stream, probably with a lot of other boats, in a minimum of 60 ft of water. The tidal currents are correspondingly strong, so one must always sail with the tide, even if means leaving port at 2am.

This all sounds very daunting, so why on earth would an American consider sailing in England?

If they are being honest, few cruisers really want to sail offshore or at night, instead they like daysailing along the coast, watching the scenery go past, and then want to enter a safe harbour for the night. That's why England is such a great place to cruise, especially if you compare it to the USA. Believe me, I've sailed the whole East coast from Florida to Maine and also much of the west. I've also driven the coast road from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California.

The US west coast has a better climate than the east, and San Francisco Bay is a fantastic sailing area, I give you that. But go out past the Golden Gate and where can you sail to in a day? In S California there is often too little wind for fun sailing, while north of San Francisco fog prevails; furthermore, most of the northern harbours have potentially dangerous bars. If you are an East coast sailor who has seen nothing except marshes or the low lying scrub islands of Bahamas you don't know what you're missing. Snow and cold in winter reduces the season north of Virginia, while hurricanes and lightning make summertime sailing risky further south.

In contrast, sailing is a year round sport for many in England. Indeed I have seen more yachts out in the Solent in mid winter than on a summer's day in the Chesapeake. It's also a sport for everyone; thousands of people of all ages sail dinghies. So you'll find sailing clubs in every harbour, and even on small lakes, where dinghies are actively raced.

While researching for this article I realised I had stayed in over 30 safe all-weather harbours in the 250 miles between the Scillies and Chichester to the east. And that's counting Plymouth, for example, as one harbour and doesn't include many more that are safe only in daylight and settled weather.

Falmouth and Plymouth are the two big yachting centres in SW England. Both have dozens of yacht clubs and marinas, and thousands of boats. Yet it isn't hard to get away from the crowds by going up the nearby rivers or by visiting the smaller creeks. Here you will find farms and fields going down to the water's edge, with not a house in sight. Although the big cities have all the normal attractions, it is probably the small fishing villages that will have the most appeal. So while Falmouth may have the National Maritime Museum and Old Customs House, just a few miles away is the waterside Pandora Inn, dating back to the 13th century. Here you can moor your boat to their dock for a meal and a drink.

Just across Carrick Roads is St Just in Roseland, one of the most picturesque anchorages in the country. A day sail east of Falmouth is Fowey, which has a wide safe entrance, so it's used by freighters picking up china clay, Cornwall's biggest industry. But catch the tide right and go up river and you are in a different world. Polperro is just along the coast and a tiny harbour, yet probably the most photogenic of all. If you are brave you can get right into the inner harbour, but most cruisers anchor off and dinghy ashore.

20 miles further on is the navy port of Plymouth. A large breakwater offers complete protection for the huge outer harbour. Sail on up the Tamar River, past the submarines and frigates and you can go on undisturbed for another 15 miles to yet another waterside pub! You can also do as the Pilgrim Fathers did and tie your boat to the Mayflower Steps. Or copy Drake and use his bowling green on which he famously played as the Spanish Armada sailed past in 1588.

A couple of miles east of Plymouth is theYealm River and the waterside villages of Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo. Once again you can moor your boat to the dock, this time for a meal at the Ship Inn. It's then only a morning sail to Salcombe and Dartmouth. The latter is usually the jumping off point for the sail across Lyme Bay which, at 45 miles, is the longest stretch of open water on the south coast.

As you cross Lyme Bay and sail further east, the dramatic coastline granite of Cornwall and Devon gives way to white chalk cliffs. Those off Dover are probably the most famous, but many cruisers will also have heard of The Needles. Named after a rock pinnacle that fell down in a gale 150 years ago, The Needles mark the gateway to the Solent. Forming the waterway between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, the Solent is probably the most famous stretch of water in the world, and the number of yachts using it emphasises its popularity. Keep your wits about you. Hovercraft, hydrofoils, ferries and ships, including the QE2 and other cruise liners, use the shallow, tidal Solent, as well as the most scary of all, sailing school yachts.

The reason is simple, it's a safe and beautiful place to sail. Something like San Francisco Bay in fact, but with many more snug harbours and no big cities. On the Island-shore favourites are Yarmouth, Newtown, and of course Cowes, the most famous yachting town of all. No wonder the Island was Queen Victoria's favourite place.

Southampton, on the mainland, is the commercial heart of the Solent, with a modern shopping mall just a short walk from the city marina. So too is the Red Lion pub which was built in the 12th Century and later, in Tudor times, used as a court house. Portsmouth, another navy port, is a veritable museum, housing the Mary Rose warship, which was built in 1510 and capsized in 1545 when fighting the French. It has been raised from the sea bed and partially restored. Next door is a relatively new ship (it was built in 1765), Nelson's Victory. It's also the world's oldest commissioned warship.

Sailing eastwards again you soon come to the shallow, but hugely popular Chichester Harbour, which is generally the eastern limit for Channel sailors.

I've now sailed in over 40 countries, yet many of my favourite harbours are in England. Once you've sailed there yourself, I know you'll agree with me.

Finally you'll see that I've written this article in English, not American. So I've used spellings like harbour and colour. Remember too, it's petrol not gas, chips not fries, city centre not downtown. So when you come to England you'll need to learn a new language. As in "Hey mush, stop rabbiting on and let me take a butchers at what you took out of the boot and bunged in the skip" (Gordon Bennett! You don't understand that - I'm gobsmacked). Oh, and you'll also need to know what a "loo" is, and darleks of course!