Spring Launch has been postponed. We are currently looking at Friday 29 and Saturday 30 May but this might change as you will appreciate. We are asking people who have to use the yard to stay out of the clubhouse and to distance themselves from other members. Please follow the hygiene rules, which are clearly displayed around the yard.
Please remember – we all have a duty to each other to keep everyone safe and well. If you don’t need to go to the boatyard please stay away.
“West of the Lizard is no place for a small boat come the end of August”, it says in the West Country Cruising Companion. So with that in mind I set off from Padstow in the early hours, bound round Land’s End to Newlyn. There was still some swell left over from the strong winds. In fact, as I worked my way out past Trevose Head, the seas were enormous.
Originally I had hoped to tackle Land’s End from St Ives, but the conditions didn’t permit, so I had to do the trip in one go. To shorten the journey somewhat I planned to take the inshore passage, but if it was going to be rough then I’d prefer to have more sea room to play with, especially in the onshore winds. But that would be a long trip indeed. On the outward journey, I’d had some rough treatment around here, and really wasn’t looking forward to the day. Apprehension was building as I worked my way south west, in fact, as I passed St Ives, I seriously thought about just taking the boat in and handing the keys to someone. After all, my journey was pretty much over, this was no longer about fun, just about getting home. At least I’d save on winter storage fees. But it sounded like a hassle so I just pressed on. As I rounded Pendeen Point, I found that the water wasn’t that rough and it was a blowing a happy Force 4.
All the tension I’d felt on the way down started to melt away as it turned into quite a nice sail. I was still keen to get around and into shelter as quickly as possible, but the fear was fading away now. I took the inshore passage behind the Longships lighthouse.
At this point I was supposed to get a boost from the inshore counter current, but I didn’t seem to be getting any help at all, although I wasn’t fighting the tide either, so I just watched the coast go by as progress was steadily made. Eventually I had gotten past the most treacherous parts, and as I was sailing away from Gwennap Head, I looked astern and it seemed like the weather was closing in. It was as though the Gods had chosen mercy and allowed me a window of safe passage, and now it was closing up astern.
Soon enough I had made it all the way to Mousehole where I checked
to see if I could anchor. There was too much swell for a comfortable night so I
pressed on to Newlyn. It was pitch black as I approached and had to watch
carefully for anchored yachts hidden against the town lights. I wasn’t planning
on going into harbour, so I found a good spot to anchor, and promptly went to
The next day it was time to do battle with the Lizard once more. In the previous bout I’d been slapped around quite badly, but I felt a bit more prepared this time. The relatively easy passage around Land’s End had boosted my confidence somewhat. I clipped across Mount’s Bay in good time with favourable tide and wind, doing about 6 knots over the ground. It was a smashing day. The sun was shining, the sea was that brilliant colour that you only seem to get in Cornwall and there was wildlife everywhere. Part of me thought: when you’ve got this sort of thing on your doorstep, what’s the point in sailing hundreds of miles away?
My Dad, a birdwatcher, had informed me that there was a rare bird in the area, an unusual visitor to these parts in the form of a Brown Booby (yeah, have fun with that). It had been seen around St Ives the day before and now apparently it was sighted at Kynance Cove, which I was very close to. There were tons of gannets about and some pretty big mixed feeding aggregations, with dolphins chipping in too and I even saw a sunfish, but no basking sharks.
I kept my eyes peeled for the booby, but it’s really difficult to use binoculars on a small boat when you’re getting bounced around, one hand on the helm and the other hand holding onto to something solid. But I did see a likely culprit in one feeding group, and snapped a couple of pictures.
In the end, after lots of careful analysis, I think it was just a young gannet. I’m not too fussed about seeing rarities though, I’d rather just watch everything in action instead of stressing over an unusual visitor. The water around here was just brimming with wildlife.
I would have liked to linger a while, but had to get on. I had timed it to arrive off the point at slack water, but when it turned it’d be against me. I also set course to pass about 5 miles off, but as I got closer, the inshore route looked OK, and there were a couple of other boats passing much further in, seemingly without trouble. I decided to take a shortcut and pass closer to land.
I was almost passed the point and into safety when the tide turned
and started to flow against me. And it flowed hard. It built in speed very
quickly and I soon had both engines on, the inboard and the outboard, the first
time I’d done this. Fighting against it, I was less than a mile away from
safety and had the boat pointed eastwards but was travelling northwards. The
sea wasn’t especially rough, at least not yet but I could feel the overfalls
building. After what seemed like forever, I made it through into clean water,
immediately east of the point itself and suddenly the boat started going where
she was pointing. Feeling a bit stressed out I decided to find a cove to drop
the anchor and take a break. I was a bit disappointed in myself for letting a
situation like that develop. I probably shouldn’t have changed course on a
whim, I nearly didn’t make it round the point. But I ended up in a nice spot
where I had a swim and some lunch, and waited for the tide to turn again in my
It occurred to me that my experiences of rounding these exposed
headlands have all been very different, and were never what I anticipated. I
don’t know how much of this is down to pot-luck and the complexities of weather
systems and tidal currents, or if it’s a sign of just how little I know. I’d
like to have a better idea of what I’ll face in any given situation with
regards to the weather. One thing I need to do is develop more knowledge of
small scale weather systems; it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Later that afternoon I set off with the tide to find a place to stop, not just for the night but for the following night too, as a front was moving in. I decided to go into Gillan Creek instead of the Helford because it looked like it would afford more shelter and I could use the boat’s small size to tuck right in.
It was quite close quarters finding a spot equidistant between the moorings but I ended up dropping hook off the picturesque little village of Flushing. I didn’t go ashore, just waited for the wind to blow through and then on the morning of Thursday 5th September 2019 I set off for the final passage of my journey, back to Plymouth.
The forecast said it should have been a great day for sailing, but
it was a little stronger than I was expecting. I certainly made good progress,
but the wind kept shifting from a force 3 up to a force 6. Not gusting, but
blowing for about 20 minutes and then changing. I kept reefing, and then
finding myself doing 2 knots, then shaking out the reef and shortly thereafter
getting blasted and heeling right over with the tiller in my armpit. And the
direction kept swinging back and forth through about 40 degrees, so that I
couldn’t just leave the tiller pilot to do the helming.
I suspect it was because the wind was blowing from over the land. It
was actually quite frustrating, but I made very good time. In fact, it was the
first long passage of the entire trip where I arrived before my ETA. I usually
arrive significantly after. Last year the journey from Mevagissey to Plymouth
had felt like a massive undertaking, but now I was doing a journey twice as
long and it felt routine. Before long, I was rounding Rame Head and then Les
came out to meet me just off Penlee Point to welcome me home and we sailed
I went over to Bovisand and anchored in the sandy bay, where Ness
and her friend swam out to the boat and joined me for a drink. It was in this
spot back in 2014 that I saw a boat at anchor, when I was up on the coastal
path, looking down on it from above, I think it’s what made me want to get a
boat and learn how to sail. It was such an idyllic sight and having grown up in
rural Scotland, only just moving to Plymouth that year, it’s the sort of thing
that had always seemed unattainable, the quintessential life of privilege. I
guess that means I’m a man of privilege now, but it’s pretty amazing that you
can get an old 70’s fibreglass yacht for next to nothing and just go off and
mess about in it. I talked with Bernie about this later on in the pub, and it’s
great that you can still do this here. Apparently in most countries you need to
be qualified before you can do that, but here they’ll let a dafty go out and do
what they please. Long may it continue.
Anyway Les showed up after a bit and scared them off, and then we had a few beers and waited for the tide to allow us back onto the moorings. It was a short trip back in, and it felt strange to be coming back in around Devil’s Point and then seeing Storehouse Pool open. Maybe it was just the beers. I came alongside the pontoon and met a few members who had come down to say hello. It was nice to have a few folk welcome me home, so thank you for that.
I apologise if anyone had wanted to do so, but couldn’t because of the short notice, but my passage plans always seem to be somewhat elastic and I didn’t want to schedule a date I might miss. On that note, I’ve got to leave for Australia tomorrow and spend more money. I wonder if they’ve got Lidl down there….
After spending the first night at Wexford alongside peacefully (which I was dubious about on account of the vigorous partying I witnessed on arrival), the following evening I made acquaintances with some of the local youths who quizzed me about many things, including the Union Jack on the Red Ensign. Our discourse covered a range of topics, from how long it took me to get there to how much the boat cost, back to how long it took me to get there. They seemed innocuous enough but as some other tweens arrived I watched as they descended into pack animal behaviour before my very eyes, and they bounded off to the next object of interest. I suspected they might return after nightfall in search of mischief (earlier that afternoon I had returned to the boat to find unidentified brown liquid splattered over it, either the work of a seagull or a delinquent with a milkshake, but it washed off easily enough). With that in mind, I cast off and dropped anchor in the channel. In any account, I had to get away sharpish in the morning and this saved time putting all the fenders, fender boards and warps away.
I had to make the crossing to Milford Haven on this particular day to due to a window in the weather, and as usual to avoid being caught out by
winds too strong I ended up caught out by winds too light. Not far off the
coast of Ireland I was becalmed and so once again I had to pass the hours
accompanied by the steady drone of the engine.
About halfway however the wind picked up a little and I
was able to get the cruising chute up and started making pretty good progress
until the tide turned against me. I couldn’t really work the tides on this trip
as I had to make the crossing on this day, and it was going to be an all-day
affair, so I’d have to just cope with whatever the tide was doing.
I had hoped to make it all the way to Milford Haven, but as the sun was setting I decided to stop short and go back into the south haven of Skomer Island. It was dark when I arrived, and I had a fairly turbulent night in here. Most of the seabirds had gone, although there were some seals having a bit of a dust up. In the morning I got round to Milford Haven and anchored in the Dale anchorage. The winds were not conducive for crossing the Bristol Channel that day. I was watching the forecast like a hawk as I had to make as much progress towards Plymouth as I could, and there were several days of strong winds coming soon. In fact, if I didn’t leave before they arrived, I’d probably be stuck in Milford Haven for nearly a whole week, but then at least anchoring here is free. The forecast for the next day gave very light winds until late afternoon, then blowing steady until the morning when the strong stuff was arriving. I had hoped to leave first thing to cross the channel, but the wind was just too light and I didn’t want to go all the way up to the marina for diesel only to burn it all on the crossing. So I waited until the late afternoon before setting off for another night sail.
It was pretty rough, and I was sceptical about how much I’d enjoy this crossing. I felt seasick, which was the first time this happened other than the first day out of Plymouth. I popped a couple of Stugeron. While inside the cabin at one point I was somehow flung into one of the side windows and later flew into the radio, hitting my lower back. Impressive considering it’s mounted on the ceiling. I was also having a hard time setting the tiller-pilot to keep on course without yawing all over the place, but at least there was plenty of wind. It got dark quickly, and the passing of time seemed to really slow down. All passages seem to take a long time, but this one was going exceptionally slowly, regardless of my speed. When I had night sailed to Dublin, I didn’t sleep, partly because I was still close to shore and there was lots of traffic, partly because it was my first time night sailing and it was unfamiliar, and mostly because I couldn’t have slept if I had tried. This time however, I was out of sight of land and there was no traffic on the horizon. The boat seemed to be steering herself ok and I was getting cold in the cockpit so I put some cushions on the cabin sole and lay down. It was remarkable how much better the motion was down here, with my head low, near the centre of the boat. Even though the boat was bucking around it didn’t feel like it. From my position I could look back out of the companionway, it was a clear night so I could see the Plough constellation and I could see the boat was staying on course, pretty cool! I set an alarm on my phone for 20 minutes and tried to get some shut-eye. Twenty very long minutes later it went off and I was still wide awake. I hauled myself up and scanned the horizon: nothing. Back down, I set the alarm again. This time, the minutes passed a little
quicker. Again, there was nothing on the horizon. Although it was pitch black
outside, something in the water caught my eye. It passed by and I dismissed it
as the foam left behind after a breaking wave, but I saw it again a few minutes
later. It turned out to be a dolphin swimming alongside the boat, or rather it
was the phosphorescent wake it left behind as it shot through the water. It was
really trippy; it didn’t sparkle like I expected, it looked more like the
contrail left behind a jet. There were quite a few dolphins about and it was
amazing seeing the bright trails left behind them as they zoomed around. They
stayed with me all night and I think I could even hear them through the hull.
And so on it went, lying down for 20 minutes at a time, then getting up to scan
the horizon all around. I gradually got more tired and ended up in a permanent
state of half-sleep misery. It made it hard to focus my bleary eyes on the
horizon, but made a huge difference to the passage of time. The rest of the
night passed as quickly as that first hour of darkness and before I knew it,
dawn was breaking.
Although the groggy half-sleep had helped the night
pass quickly, it was still pretty gruelling and I just wanted the journey to
end. It had been really tempting at times to just turn off the alarm and fall
fully asleep. This “20 minute sleep” schedule is how single handers cross
oceans, but it is definitely not for me. During the night the wind had backed
to the south west and I had adjusted the sails accordingly but it meant I was
now on a close reach, and my track had ended up about 10 miles to leeward of my
destination near Padstow. The wind was blowing much harder with the break of
dawn and I put a reef in. I was really annoyed with myself for letting my track
veer so far off course. I had anticipated that the ebb tide would push me back
on course, but I think the boat was making too much leeway. I should have
reefed earlier and probably also erred on the windward side. In the end it took
me an extra 3 hours to claw my way upwind and eventually I just lowered the
sails and used the engine.
Eventually I made it into the lee of the cliffs at Port Quin Bay, and it was quite a relief. In this little spot, it was actually quite a nice day, the sun was shining, the swell was much reduced and the sea was a brilliant colour. I thought about a swim but I was knackered so just went to sleep. When I woke the sky was grey and the swell was coming round the corner. If I left immediately I could get into Padstow Harbour, but I decided to stay the night here. Turned out to be quite uncomfortable and I basically just had to lie there and wait until the next tide to get into Padstow. This was early the following morning and I had to wait until there was enough light as I didn’t want to motor into any of the many, many lobster pots around here. The swell was enormous and the short trip around the Mouls and into the Camel Estuary was arduous. I couldn’t help but think of the Maria Assumpta, a tall ship which had been wrecked here in the 90s. Seeing the size of the waves breaking on the cliffs, I was dubious about how safe the Doom Bar would be to cross, but it turned out to be fine and it was a relief to get into the buoyed channel.
Arriving at Padstow, the harbourmaster was apparently surprised to see me as there were some fishing boats already in harbour that were sheltering from the weather. I was very glad to join them. I hadn’t really wanted to come here again; I was hoping to not revisit anywhere on the return journey, but so far I had been to every place already. Ideally I would have gone into Clovelly Harbour and then down to St Ives, but these places just aren’t suitable in the current conditions. This whole stretch of coastline is pretty daunting actually, and Padstow is a fantastically welcome haven.
Well, I was chuffed with myself for getting across the
channel before the weather hit, but now I was stuck in harbour for a few days.
I had been invited to wedding of a friend earlier in the year but unfortunately
I already had my grand voyage all planned out so had to decline. But here I
was, within reaching distance of the venue and with a day or two to spare. Ness
was already driving to the wedding from Plymouth when it dawned on us that I
could still attend, so she made a detour to pick me up and off we went.
Obviously back in May I hadn’t stocked the boat with any wedding outfits, so I
had to scrounge clothes (thanks Tony and Mike!), and while it was an eclectic
outfit at least I wasn’t wearing flip flops…
The wedding felt a bit like a false finish to my
journey in terms of a return to land life, but I was soon back in Padstow and
found the boat just as I left her, albeit sporting a bit more guano splatter.
We had an afternoon to look about Padstow, so we got pasties, popped into the
lobster hatchery, had ice cream, and went for a walk along the beach.
The next big obstacle is getting around Land’s End, which I had hoped to tackle from St Ives but it wasn’t looking like it was on the cards…
Well, after sheltering from the bad weather in Strangford Lough it was time to move onwards. I had considered setting out at the end of the day and doing a night sail to Dublin, but at the last minute I chickened out of it and stayed put for the night. It was probably the right decision considering the conditions I encountered the next day, which turned out to be a very long one.
I was a bit apprehensive about crossing the bar leaving the Lough, as with the speed of the ebb flow there can be some pretty epic overfalls, especially in contrary winds and ebb runs against the main tidal flow in the Irish Sea for the first few hours. So I timed it carefully to cross the bar at exactly low water. As I was approaching I could look ahead through the binoculars at what I thought were a bunch of fishing boats, but actually turned out to be standing waves sticking up above the horizon. I think they diminished a bit as I approached, and when I crossed, there was some fairly big rolling swell but it was no cause for concern. The wind was plenty strong and under full sail I was going quickly. There wasn’t much time to get out before the tide turned and started flooding back in.
As soon as I was out in open water however, the wind faded and things got very difficult. I was faced with the remnants of the previous strong winds in terms of short, steep seas and combined with the current light winds, progress was painful. Every time I built some speed I’d just slam into the oncoming sea like a brick wall, stopping me dead. It was like trying to run up a sand dune. After 5 hours I had only made 11 miles, with more than 50 to do to get to Dublin. It also didn’t help that the wind was constantly shifting around, swinging back and forth through 180 degrees, and every 20 minutes or so I had to put a reef in due to the frequent squalls. Then the wind would die completely and i’d shake it back out. This went on for some time, and it was probably the most unsatisfying sailing experience I’ve had so far.
By the early evening the wind had become more consistent in strength and direction and I started making steady progress southwards. I had to decide where to stop for the night, as I was nowhere near where I had planned to be. Seeing as I had considered doing a night sail the night before, and was a little disappointed I hadn’t, I took the opportunity to just keep going and do the night sail tonight. The big difference of course was that I wasn’t just starting; I had already been sailing since 9 am. But conditions had improved, the sea was getting flatter, the wind was going to keep blowing until the morning and there was going to be a near-full moon.
The frustrations of the day were soon forgotten as I got the auto-helm working, the sails were trimmed just right and the tide had turned back round in my favour. I made good progress directly south at about 6 knots. I didn’t feel tired at all, I think due to the heightened alertness of being my first night sail and I was having fun. The horizon had seemed empty in daylight but now in the darkness I could see all the navigation lights of various shipping much further out. I had a bit of a scary moment when a fishing trawler headed inshore came straight at me. It had been against the backdrop of lights on the horizon and it took a while to single it out and determine how far away it was and what direction it was travelling, and before I knew what was happening I could see the white water of the bow wave and the dark holes of the bridge windows. In some alarm, I turned on all the lights I had and fired up the engine to get out of the way. It was a pretty close call and I spent the next while pondering what I needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again.
The water was fairly shallow where I was and I was also a bit concerned about lobster pots. I had seen a few go by fairly close in the fading light, but now it was pitch black and I would have a hard time spotting them. I was happy when I saw the red glow on the moon rising behind the clouds, providing some light, but it soon disappeared behind the clouds and the sky was effectively moonless. I reasoned with myself that as I wasn’t using the engine, I’d have less chance of fouling any lines around the prop. It was pretty cold and I spent a bit of time inside the cabin, which I hadn’t really done much of so far while on the move. The auto-helm was performing well, and I would peer out every now and then to scan the horizon. I made what was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, partly because of the atmosphere and partly because I put in about 4 times too much powder cause I couldn’t see in the dark. I found I could stand in the companionway with only my head sticking out so I could see ahead. It was while doing this that I suddenly saw the dark shadow of a lobster float appear out of the gloom dead ahead. I didn’t have time to get to the tiller, disengage the auto-helm and steer around it so I just had to watch as it disappeared beneath the bow, bumping along the hull. I waited for the sudden jolt but instead felt relief as I watched it pass astern. After a few hours I could see the lit navigation markers ahead signifying the end was near (also I could see it on the chart plotter…). I had decided to anchor at Lambay Island and go in to Dublin in daylight. Approaching the island, I could see the high cliffs looming dark ahead, and relied heavily on the chart plotter to get me in the right spot for anchoring. With the hook dropped at 3.39 am, I wasted no time getting to bed. I was pretty beat, having been on the move for 18 hours. I only slept for about 4 hours as I wanted to catch the early morning wind and tide to get into Dublin.
In the daylight, Lambay Island looked like quite a nice place, but I was underway as soon as I woke up. Anticipating an early arrival into Dublin, I was disappointed that I didn’t get there until 5 pm. The winds were not favourable and it just took forever getting there.
I had to call up the port traffic control who directed me in after some very large ferries and it was a very miserable rainy day. I didn’t waste any time getting showered and then having a Guinness in the marina bar. I was running low on food and there were no shops nearby so I ordered a Dominos delivery (2 for 1) and feasted before passing out for the night.
I didn’t have a particularly peaceful night as the port is very busy and the propeller noises of all the big ships really transmits through the hull. I’d hate to be a whale around here. I was awoken by an especially noisy ship and wasn’t too happy to see the towering bow of a massive cruise liner bearing down on me.
However it was just turning around in the channel with the assistance of some tug boats, but I couldn’t help but think of some videos I’d seen online of such manoeuvres going badly wrong. I wished the visitors pontoon wasn’t the one on the outside. Anyway, with some pizza for breakfast, it was off into the city for a look about. I did the usual things, visit the art gallery, walk about Trinity College, mostly just sat in a few pubs and enjoyed the Guinness, which really is noticeably better here. I don’t know it the weather affected my experience adversely, but I found the place to be a bit grim, although the pubs were brilliant. I did appreciate the contrast of the heavy industry with all the pretty little places I’d been to lately.
I could have stayed another night for free but I wanted to press on. Setting off into a force 6, I got blown across Dublin Bay at top speed with 2 reefs in. It wasn’t long before the wind died down and my visions of an epic coastal passage diminished.
I had to put the engine on and in the end only got as far as Wicklow, where I arrived in the dark and dropped the anchor for a short night rolling about. I wanted get going at 4 am to catch the tide but slept in late and only caught the second half of the tide. It was a pretty brutal morning with wind and rain and big seas and I had to motorsail upwind all the way. I only made 12 miles before pulling into Arklow as the tide turned against me.
This stretch of coastline doesn’t afford much shelter for the frugal sailor who prefers to anchor but I took full advantage of Fairhaven’s shallow draft by tucking in behind the breakwater. No sooner had I made the anchor fast than I heard over the radio an updated forecast for strong south easterlies, which would blow right into the tiny sliver of shelter I had squeezed into. And by the time the tide turned in my favour for southwards travel, this would have blown through and I’d then be facing a calm. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep, I said “sod this” and motored into Arklow to splash out on a pontoon berth. In the end, this was a good decision as nearby to the pontoon there is both a maritime museum and an Aldi. What more could I possibly want?
I went off the to pub again, and mostly just enjoyed not being cooked up on the boat. At one point a yacht got caught up on one of the submerged mooring lines in the middle of the river and after a while, I was about to offer to get the wetsuit on and jump in when a local launch pulled up to help them. I’m glad I didn’t as I later found out this river is heavily polluted with raw sewage….
The following day I could either catch the tide at 3am or 3.30pm so no surprises which I chose. After stocking up in Aldi (what supermarket doesn’t have UHT milk!?) and having a lazy day, I made ready to catch the tide south. There was a high pressure sitting over the country and the sun was blazing, also there was bugger all wind. I had hoped to catch a sea-breeze, but there was very little of that to be found so I motored south for 6 hours. The initial plan was to anchor off Rosslare for the night and then make the hop across Saint George’s Channel to Milford Haven the following day, but between the swell and the light winds forecast the next day, I changed my mind and headed for Wexford instead. I hadn’t planned on coming here, partly due to the entrance being covered with extensive shifting sandbanks. I had to do my planning on the fly and thanks to the internet I was able to download a digital map from the Wexford Harbour website that had the channel marker buoys detailed for navigation.
As I approached the entrance the light was fading fast and going through here in darkness is not recommended for first timers, but I thought what-the-hell, I’ve made it this far. The digital map has information on the light sequences of the buoys but it was less than ideal figuring this out on the move. Thankfully there was just enough twilight in the western sky to provide a bit of silhouette to the buoys closest to me, but if I had been going the opposite way it would have been pitch black and much harder.
I got alarmingly close to the exposed sandbanks at points, and the cries of the basking seals in the dark was eerie. There was quite a bit of cross tide at times and the navigation kept me on my toes. Eventually I made it all the way to the town without mishap. Coming in on the flood I had quite a bit of speed turning into the quayside. I had considered anchoring but the tide is strong here and didn’t want to get up at the turn to check the anchor. Also, mooring to the quayside is free so it’s a nobrainer really.
Now that I’m here, I’ll just have to wait until the conditions are right for crossing to Wales. The forecast is for rather light, variable winds so I may have to just go over on the engine, which is never much fun.
The morning I left Raithlin Island, I did my neck in which made life for the next few days pretty miserable, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. The weather was looking decent for the next few days so that was a plus. I timed my departure from Rathlin Island to coincide with the period of slack low water in the channel between the island and the mainland, as the sea pours through here with some enthusiasm. When the tide started flowing, it would be pushing me the right way, southwards down the coast of Northern Ireland.
The coastline along these parts is pretty spectacular, and the weather seems to match it, with constant shifts between clear skies, cloudy skies, rain and I’ve never seen more rainbows before. I had left Rathlin pretty late in the day so I only made it as far as Carnlough before dropping the anchor for the night.
I caught the early tide the next morning and it turned out to be a fantastic day, the sun was shining and the wind was favourable so it was a great speedy sail down the coast. I wasn’t sure where I was going to stop, but heard that Donaghdee was a nice place, I needed some supplies, and the tide was soon going to turn against me so I stopped into the harbour here. The neck was causing me some grief, so I just popped down the shops and then just lay down and waited for the tide. The young un’s were tombstoning off the pier however, which stopped me getting my shut-eye so I motored off to Copeland Island and dropped the anchor so I could at least get 40 winks before the tide.
It was the same procedure in the afternoon riding the tide southwards, again unsure how far I’d get. I had considered sailing until late in the day and trying to get into Strangford Lough but in the end thought it unwise to try going in here for the first time during the dark, so I anchored off Ballyhalbert and had a brief and rolly night.
In the morning, the weather was quite a bit worse than expected, with a heavy sky, even heavier rain and fairly big seas, but I had a tidal gate to meet so I headed off southwards again. After suffering a few hours in the cockpit, I was pleased to see the first of navigation buoys appearing out of the gloom marking the entrance to Strangford Lough. The tide runs through the Narrows here at a ferocious pace and once you’ve started in, there’s no going back. So it was that I went through here at about 10 knots with the wind helping to flatten the water at the entrance. I dropped anchor just on the other side of the Narrows at Audley’s Roads and was quite relieved, I’d had a bumpy morning and was soaking wet. I got some dry clothes on rustled up some breakfast, and went back to sleep. That day was spent inside the boat watching the rain. The next day was much better and I went for a nice sail about the lough. I can see why there are so many sailing clubs in here, the place is fantastic for flying the canvas. It’s sheltered, with flat water, plenty of little interesting islands which are pretty flat which allows for a good steady wind to blow through.
Some more foul weather blew through the next couple of days so I had to stay put in Lough. The first day my choice of anchorage was ok, but the next day the wind shifted and it got pretty bouncy so I motored about in the rain for a while trying to find somewhere to stay. Eventually I found a nice little spot to leeward of a forested island and the trees were a great windbreak, it was quite a relief getting in behind them. The weather was going to blow through the night and ease up the following day so I just had to wait until the right moment to leave, which seemed to be how I spent most of the week.
After a peaceful night at anchor in Kiloran Bay on Colonsay, I had a lazy morning waiting for the tide to turn in favour. When the time was right, I hoisted the main and sailed off the anchor. The tide gave me a good boost and it didn’t take long to get around the north end of Colonsay. The wind was supposed to swing around to allow me to then sail down the opposite side of Colonsay, but it never quite got all the way around. I was starting to tack, working my way to windward so I could stop at the main settlement on the island. But I’d also been here on holiday when I was a young lad, but I’d never been to Jura, so I scrapped the tacking and aimed for Jura instead. It was a fair distance off, but the wind and tide was in my favour, and I let the auto-helm do most of the work while I made some lunch.
It was a good day, and as I drew closer to Jura I could see some of the interesting geology the place is renowned for. There are tons of caves, and loads of raised beaches, which used to be at sea level, but are now considerably higher. I tacked my way into Loch Tarbert (yet another Tarbert…). This loch goes in quite far, almost all the way to the other side of the island, and there are quite a few rocks and islands to manoeuvre around. There are plenty of leading marks to help they wary navigator find his way.
I had thought about going all the way to the end, where I would get the benefit of the bilge keels in the drying “Top Pool”, but weighing up the weather, the tides, and what I actually wanted to do, I decided to stop halfway. The next day I went for a
jaunt up the hills and admired the scenery.
There were, however, a ferocious number of clegs around. I made sure to cover up, and made it through without any of them finding their target, but they sure tried. Every time I stopped to catch my breath I could see them silently rising from the heather en masse to make their attack.
It certainly kept me going. As a younger man, I used to tackle hills by just going straight up. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m getting older, or it’s the experience of sailing, but I’ve started taking the edge off by zig-zagging my way uphill. This is the way you’re supposed to do it, and it makes a difference. It just take a lot longer.
At the top, I had a good view of the Paps of Jura (no I haven’t been at sea for too long, that’s what they’re called).
Once again, I had taken some soap and spare clothes with me so I could use some of Scotland’s finest freshwater and have another wilderness wash. Luckily there weren’t many clegs about, but the midges certainly made themselves known.
The next day it was time to harness the wind and tide and get myself down to Islay. It was a good run going down the Sound of Islay; with the tide pushing me along I was making 9 knots for most of it. This was another great day’s sailing where I got to go along on every point of sail, finally tacking upwind to get into Islay Harbour. I had wanted to anchor, but it didn’t look very suitable and it was due to get pretty windy soon, so I took a berth on one the pontoons.
On the sail here I went past three whisky distillery’s in a row, each one of them I could have anchored in front of, but decided not to. Now I wished I had, as I made the trek along the road for a visit. I don’t have a particularly refined whisky palate, the stuff is so damn expensive I can’t afford to drink enough to figure out which one I like best. But you’re not a real man unless you have a favourite single malt, so with that in mind I went along to the Lagavulin distillery to see how much a bottle cost. £57 pounds for the standard one as it turns out. Bugger that. This is why I favour the second cheapest bottle out of Lidl (£14, but a *sniff* blended whisky). Turns out though, that the Lidl’s budget bottle won a “world’s best” award! Of course I mentioned none of this to the people in the distillery, but made sure to get myself one of the complimentary drams and retreat to the “reading room”.
There were some interesting books to peruse while I nursed my dram of whisky as long as was reasonable. One book on Canna had a pretty good take on the prison/castle/thing that I had climbed up.
It was a long walk back to the boat, but what a stunning day it was. It was going to be foul weather the next day, but it was hard to believe on a day like this. I had to remind myself of the adage “the calm before the storm”.
Sure enough, the next day it was foul, so I spent most of it indoors, typing these blog posts and enjoying the shower. I was a bit concerned by the long term forecast as it looked like the foul weather was going to continue for 4 days, and I really didn’t want to spend that time tied up to a pontoon, as I’d rack up quite a bill. Luckily, the weather eased up for the morning of one of those days so I seized the opportunity and headed south for Rathlin Island, just off the northern coast of Northern Ireland. It was a fairly drab journey done mostly on the engine. There was some pretty impressive swell ruling through, and with the huge tidal currents to be found around here, I had to point the boat considerably further to the side of where I actually wanted to go.
Eventually I got round to the southern side of the island where the shelter was, admiring the scenery on the way. According to the almanac, there is a spot to anchor inside the outer breakwaters of the harbour here. When I arrived, I floated around a bit scratching my head in puzzlement as I tried to figure out where it was, cause there seemed to be a great big ferry in the way. It turns out, that the almanac either wasn’t updated very well, or they build new ferry terminals real quick in these parts. Either way, the spot I wanted to anchor in was occupied, so there was nothing for it but to take up another pontoon berth. I pondered how my bank balance was doing as I secured the warps. The main reason I had made the dash here was to avoid racking up bills in Islay, but here I was again on another pontoon, and it was even more expensive here! Well there wasn’t much for it, the weather was coming in, and I’d have to stay put for a
couple of days.
I spent my time here walking around the clifftops, having a few pints in the pub, and sheltering from the weather. I was treated to a pretty impressive aerial display by a pair of peregrine falcons, and looked for choughs, but didn’t find any. I also watched the ferocious overfalls that form around the island when the tide is running, and made sure to carefully work out when I would leave so as to not get
caught in the whirlpool of Slough-na-more.