I’m writing this from the middle of the Irish Sea; somewhere I wasn’t prepared to come a week ago.
It wasn’t all bad, we had gluten/dairy free trifle
Our trip round Land’s End, across the Bristol Channel up to Fishguard in Wales turned out, for me, to be the worst we’ve done all year, and left me a little traumatised and frightened about going to sea again.
I’ve been pondering why now, why that particular adventure, we’ve had some wild ones before, what was different about this one?
I don’t know for sure but suspect it’s the combination of tiredness, tides and troubled engine.
Lyra and crew who we watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony with left Sunday morning and heading east we left in the afternoon heading west.
The forecast looked good for a straight run all the way however first it meant a big tacking session to get round Land’s End.
After a long haul out to Wolf Rock we tacked and were on course for Wales, then disaster………the engine alarm came on and we discovered that again no water was coming out of the back. Ash fiddled away with it for an hour or so to no avail before heading to bed. With wind and tide in our favour we decided to push on. Throughout he night we averaged 6 knots which is fantastic for us. The slowest we sailed was 3.5 knots for a while the next morning but the wind then came round more on to our beam and we scudded along.
We calculated we would reach the Welsh headlands of St. Ann’s, St. David’s and hopefully Strumble Head with the tide, which is important as there are some pretty strong races there. We also realised, with horror that we would arrive in the dark!
So we have tidal races, darkness, a harbour we don’t know AND no engine.
Being rather cautious and not fancying the 7-8 knot tides we took the longer route outside some of the Islands. I’m glad we did as the wind freshened to a force 7 on the beam ( the middle of the boat), with full sail and the tide with us we sped along maintaining over 8 knots for some time and even hitting 10 at one point. Over the next two hours our average speed was 7 1/2 knots, a record.
Proof of speed
This all happened as we passed Grassholm island where we met a smell……….. the binoculars explained it all, the whole rock was teeming with birds. It’s home to thousands of gannets and boy do you know it.
Grassholm the smelly island
I was on watch now and sitting alone at the helm in a force 7 contemplating how on earth we would negotiate out way into an unknown harbour, in the dark with no engine started to get to me.
We’d phoned the harbour master who was 65 miles away and not particularly interested. He said there was no-one who could assist us and that it was basically lunacy to come to the west coast of Wales in a fin keel ( most boats have bilge keels so they can dry out in the tidal harbours.
He did however say that there was a buoy we could pick up which would we okay until Tuesday when he reckoned the depth would be insufficient for us. The spring tides were coming. This turned out not to be true, we did our tidal curve calculations and stayed.
GREAT A BUOY, BUT HOW DO WE FIND IT IN THE DARK UNDER SAIL AND IF WE CAN’T HOW DO WE THEN GET TO THE ANCHORING AREA????????
Winds change once inside harbour walls and things are never quite as you expect them to be so we were facing a potentially very difficult situation.
My mind raced around all the possibilities that needed thought through. We all needed to know exactly what our jobs were and how and when to do them. I went in to “military precision mode”.
It was now getting dark, the wind had dropped and we were only managing 1.8 to 2.2 knots against the tide around Strumble Head, not nice. It was pretty bouncy and more than a little alarming as we were slowly being nudged towards the headland.
Desperate to get there but critically aware of the potential danger we had to choose to take a longer route and stay outside the shallows after the headland; it’s horrible having to point the boat away from where you want to be, but we safety comes first. This did give us a little more speed which helped.
We were all shattered and I could hardly focus on the chart-plotter which was worrying. I guess my anxiety level now escalated, partly through genuine concern about the reality of our situation but also because I was aware that pushing myself like this has a price and has past led to a relapse on my part and I hate that; aching and pains and crushing exhaustion. Rufus also pointed out that we had now done 3 nights at sea in a week, no wonder we were all shattered.
Knowing I needed 100% concentration led to a rather tense exchange with the children. I basically read the riot act and instilled in them the absolute need for them to do exactly what they were asked , exactly when they were asked with no questions or answering back.
“What, jump in the water if you say so…….”, always have to have the last word!
“Exactly that. If I tell you to jump in the water then you jump in, you do not stop to ask why or to argue about it you just do it, because that will be exactly what the situation demands”
That sobered up two previously lippy twin teens I can tell you.
I know it was probably pretty horrible to see your Mum so tense and to be shouted at to shut up and not to say a word at all, nothing, nada, but that’s how it is on a boat when you need 100% concentration and cooperation.
As we neared the outer mole Ashley pumped the dingy up, fast, as the wind had picked up again and we were whizzing into the harbour now. The outboard was installed incase we need to use it to punt us around then Ashley pulled out chain incase we had to anchor and got a rope ready for the mooring.
Ashley and the kids then dropped the main we wanted to use the jib only as we could furl it in and out as needed, more flexible.
Rufus was assigned as Ashley’s aide; they took up their post on the foredeck complete with boat hook and the big powerful torch to look for the buoy. Anya stayed in the cockpit with me as chief jib furler and to keep and eye on the depth gage. I took the helm.
We inched in with a little pocket-handkerchief of a jib, torch on searching searching for the elusive buoy.
Just as we decided to give up and anchor we spotted it. We had switched the engine at the last-minute and used that to punt us to the buoy which we picked up first time, well done Rufus and Ashley. Anya did an amazing job furling the jib and as quickly as we could we turned off the engine, whose alarm was screaming by now, “I’m too hot”.
Huge relief all round.
I know a few sailors who would have poured themselves an enormous dram at that stage, but all we wanted was bed.
Some dear friends of ours live in Fishguard having moved here there just before we set off on this voyage. Ben has sailing and the sea in his blood so was most sympathetic about our adventure and achievement of the pervious 30 odd hours, very supportive and affirming.
Rufus taking friends ashore in Fishguard
Actually after he pointed out what a big trip we had made I took a closer look at their map of the UK and it suddenly hit me what a biggy it was, two massive headlands as well as crossing an exposed open expanse of sea with no engine for back-up, need I say more?
Ben and their son Alasdair came to Rowan the next morning bearing gluten-free chocolate cake and the offer of hot showers, washing machine and dinner.
We were scooped up in a bubble of love, care and attention which was exactly what we needed. At one point the night before we all agreed we never wanted to go to sea again. The care of friends, hot showers and good food soothed.
We ended up staying the night too, so just as well we had all brought our pj’s in the dirty washing, which by this time had been washed and dried for us.
The next day Rufus and Anya settled into the couch with Alasdair and spent the day ensconced in films and the X-box while we adults did a wee tour of the local area. We also stocked up at the green grocer where lots of local fruit and veg abound, and visited the deli where we were sampled and bought some lovely local cheeses, including a blue goats cheese which I adored.
As a side note I’d just like to say that having had various tests since coming back to the UK I have had confirmation that there are various nasties I have to deal with in my digestive system as well as a few other things going on health-wise, BUT and this is a big BUT for me, I am not allergic or intolerant to dairy or gluten or eggs after all. The reaction to these has all been symptoms of other issues. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be finally getting some answers, and to be able to eat cheese, though I can’t go mad as the problems won’t be tackled till I’m home.
I’m starting on the blue goat’s cheese and yogurt, yum!
Sugar free/dairy free ice-cream
Not content with those delights we also visited a famous ice-cream shop in St. David’s where, would you believe it, they had soya, sugar-free raspberry ice-cream, right up my street thank you, and delicious too.
House in St. Davids, Wales
St. Davids is a delightful little town with a huge cathedral I am often moved to tears in the sanctuary of a church and this was no exception, enhanced I think, by the choir practice going on.
I had a pre-planned telephone date so returned to Rowan for that while the rest of the crew opted for another night ashore. In fact I stayed the whole of the next day and night too, sleeping, resting and relaxing, I do so enjoy my own, quiet company and my lovely family enjoyed what they love, the delights of shore life.
Oh I forgot to mention that after finding out that the local engineer was off all week due to family illness Ashley had another go at the engine. He blew through lots of pipes and by some miracle the engine ran and water came out of the back, problem solved, or so we thought, read on…………
Nasty weather kept us in Fishguard till Saturday morning, and a good thing too. I think we all needed the rest and recuperation. Ben, Debra and Alasdair looked after us well so by friday evening and our last fair-well supper together we were ready to go to sea again.
Rainbow in Fishguard
They came down to wave us off waving like mad from the fort as we blew our fog horn in salute and thanks to a our lovely family friends, we miss you.
Our plan was to sail as far north as we thought we could manage, definitely one over night perhaps two, in which case we hoped to make it all the way to Scotland, but guess what?
After hammering away for a day and night the engine decided to overheat at 2am. Ashley did all the blowing he’d done before but to no avail so we had no choice but to switch off AGAIN.
Dolphins in the Irish Sea
We made slow progress tacking back and forth in a bumpy lumpy sea eventually limping into Bangor in Northern Ireland around 9am. Again we used the engine at the very last minute to get us into a berth.
Luckily we landed on our feet, Bangor has a lovely marina, with superb hot showers and a laundry. Ashley sorted out all our washing, we stocked up with fresh stuff again and an engineer came down in the afternoon.
Gluten, dairy and sugar free blueberry muffins, a woman needs treats you know.
Michael Glover of Marine Engine Services was wonderful. A lovely chatty bloke who immediately instilled confidence as he worked his way around the engine explaining all the things that could be up.
With Ashley’s help he eventually narrowed it down to possible blockage in the sea cock value. Since we weren’t up for having the boat lifted out he took apart what he could and in true engineer style, wiggled a screw driver around and he presto the flow of water improved.
After hearing about all our exploits and the current niggles with the engine he was firstly amazed we’d had such little trouble all year and secondly suggested that this old motor is spiraling downwards and needs some serious tlc over the winter. It’s not “fixed” but if we are careful and don’t thrash it we should make it home.
Still time for a round of crazy golf in Bangor
Everyone was tired, we hadn’t had much sleep, what with two night’s at sea, the engine anxiety and a very bumpy and uncomfortable motion. I hit a wall about lunch time and spent most of the rest of the day lying in bed, boring but necessary.
Rather than get up at 3am we opted for a good night’s sleep and to leave on the afternoon tide, it would mean another night at sea, but we’d get to Scotland, at last.
Sunset over Northern Ireland
Well we’re nearly there. Courtesy of our dongle and close proximity to land I am typing this as we pass between Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. The jolly old Cal Mac ferry has just passed, the sun is shining, blue skies and puffy white clouds, green everywhere, this must be home.
Sailing past Arran
Our aim is to get to Ardrishaig today, head through the Crinan Canal tomorrow then up to Dunstaffnage Marina on Friday or Sat, it all depends on the tides and weather.