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July 13, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 5

I needed to catch the early morning high tide to get out of the harbour in Bangor, which meant getting up at 3am, but it was already starting to get light. I motored off out into the Menai Strait, but at this point I still hadn’t decided if I was going direct to the Isle of Man, or just up to the most northerly point of Anglesey to spend the night before making the crossing the following day. I knew I had to go on of those days as there was nothing but northerly winds forecast for the rest of the week. Looking at the forecast the previous day, it wasn’t looking particularly great for either day, with very light north westerly winds eventually veering north. I wanted to get the most up to date forecast before making the decision, and so on I motored towards Puffin Sound whilst refreshing the various weather apps on my phone. Somewhere off Beaumaris I decided the conditions favoured making the crossing today, and so as I left Puffin Island to starboard I set course for the Isle of Man.

Leaving North Wales in the early morning gloom.

It was a long journey. I had to motor for about half of it, and there was zero wildlife to be seen, not even a gannet. One unexpected thing happened though when I heard the coastguard calling for Fairhaven on the VHF. They had no reason to be calling me, and I wondered how many boats with the same name could be around here, so it was with some trepidation that I replied. At this point I should note that I have been using a smartphone app that allows my family to see where I am via GPS, but of course this only works when there is phone signal. As I got further offshore apparently the little blip on the map that represents me simply disappeared. So my parents got worried and then decided to call up the coastguard, who promptly tried to get hold of me on the radio. It was lucky that I actually heard the radio, as on these long passages I tend to put headphones on and listen to music so don’t always hear the radio. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t responded….

Isle of Man at last.

Eventually I arrived at Castletown Bay around 7pm and dropped anchor off the harbour pier. I wanted to go into the harbour but was unsure there was enough water, I didn’t have much info on the place, the charts looked mighty rocky and I couldn’t get hold of the harbourmaster, so I didn’t risk it. Instead I inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore to stretch my legs and get some supplies.

This was my first time on the Isle of Man, and it seemed like an odd place. It was very quiet, there was hardly anyone around and it felt like the place was asleep. But it was nice enough, and clean too. In fact, the whole of the Isle of Man (that I went to) had the vibe of a former Great British coastal tourist hotspot, like so many that have gone a bit derelict thanks to EasyJet and the likes. But instead of getting all filthy and full of junkies, it’s still well looked after, bright and clean, although minus all the holidaymakers. But I could tell there is money here, not least because I could see it flying in on a private jet when anchored next to the airport. One thing I didn’t expect though, was to have no phone signal. Apparently Virgin mobile don’t allow roaming here, but luckily I had prepared with spare phones and SIM cards for different networks, and where Virgin failed, Vodafone succeeded.

Laundry time again.

After a night at anchor, I sailed the short hop round to Port St Mary and got a berth alongside the inner harbour wall. I was pleased to be here as the ground was hard sand and it dried out, which allowed me to have another look at the damned shaft anode. It had been rattling again, or at least something had been rattling, during the crossing from Wales. But it seemed fine, no sign of movement and the nuts and bolts were tight so I am still scratching my head with that one.

However, I was surprised to see how pitted it was already, considering it hadn’t been on all that long and the previous one wasn’t much more pitted. But I didn’t worry about it too much, it was roasting here and I had another place to look around. Port St Mary was a little busier than Castletown, but not exactly a bustling centre of civilisation.

Seemed pretty secure.

I spent two nights here and then it was time to get round the southern tip of the island through Calf Sound. Ideally I would go through here at slack water, but by the time there was enough water to leave the harbour, there would be a bit of current through the sound, but I didn’t have too many options and went for it anyway, and it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t bother to deflate the dinghy so towed it along behind, casting frequent glances back to make sure it held on for the ride.

Getting lumpy through the Calf Sound.

Before long I arrived at Port Erin and dropped anchor. There are the submerged remnants of an old breakwater in the bay that are marked with a green can, but have apparently still caught out the odd boat here and there, as the rudderless yacht on the harbour wall testified to. I was glad I had the dinghy ready to go so I could make a quick trip ashore to have a look around.

Anchored in Port Erin.

My time here was pretty uneventful and the following day I made the longer journey up to Peel. The coastline was pretty dramatic and the weather was nice (first time sailing in a t-shirt!), but the wind was very fickle and I was constantly trimming the sails.

Enjoying the sail to Peel.

I saw some Risso’s dolphins, which is a first for me. These guys get covered in scars as they grow older, due to fighting amongst themselves, and the older ones can look really pale thanks to all the scars. I saw one individual though that looked like an albino, he was so white. I suppose he must have just been a battle scarred hardcase.

The white whale dolphin.

Towards the end of my trip the wind had picked up considerably and being downwind of some pretty big hills I was getting some pretty strong squalls. I had thought about anchoring in the little bay between the main island and Saint Patrick’s Isle but when I got closer I could see it was getting gusts that were just a bit too strong for comfort, so I went round the corner to pick up a visitor mooring behind the breakwater but the wind and swell had too much north in them and the breakwater wasn’t offering much shelter.

Approaching Peel.

I decided I wanted to go into the inner harbour where there is a marina, but there was not yet enough water to allow access, and I cursed myself for getting here too early. I hadn’t planned on going into the marina, but knew it was a possibility; I should have planned to arrive at a better time to allow access. So I waited a few hours, and then a few hours more as the conditions were holding back the tide, and it was neaps as well so it wasn’t until late that I could get in. I’m generally trying to limit how often I go into marinas and harbours, just from a financial perspective, but it was getting pretty lump outside and I was starting to feel a bit grimy anyway so was glad to be inside.

At least I’ll get a shower.

I had initially wanted to leave Peel first thing and set sail for Scotland, but it was really blowing a hooley outside so I stayed put. It was nice to look around Peel anyway; it was probably the most interesting place I had been to on the Isle so far. There was a cool castle and a big hill to walk up, and the town didn’t seem so quiet and best of all if I stood outside the museum I got free Wifi!

Walking up the hill was a bit of a challenge at times due to wind. The weather was interesting actually, ’cause everywhere else on the west coast it seemed ok, but the spot in the Irish sea that the Isle of Man occupies was covered in a big blob of high wind, and the terrain was making it really ferocious in places. From up the hill, I could look out to sea far enough to actually see the areas of less wind; there was tons of shite water close in but much further out it looked ok, and I wondered to myself if I had should have set sail after all. But the first few miles would have been hellish. I could see the gusty downdraughts caused by the wind rushing down the slopes and between the hills there was really strong offshore winds.

A windy day.

Towards the evening the winds dissipated and I treated myself to a local delicacy: chips, cheese and gravy. The forecast for the following day was looking good, but getting pretty windy again after so it looked like it was my window to make the crossing to my homeland. I could hear my people calling…..

July 1, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 4

After my marathon sleep I was feeling refreshed and had a day in the marina to sort stuff out. Top of my list was to do some laundry. I had planned on doing it the old fashioned way, but decided to splash out on the proper laundry facilities, although I still insisted on air drying onboard. A quick trip to Lidl saw me resupplied and then I generally spent the day just reading and doing little jobs here and there. It was still pretty windy and I was glad to be hidden away in the marina. Although as I was entering the previous day, apparently the entrants in the Jester Challenge Race were just heading out, and I imagine they had a long night of upwind tacking in less than ideal conditions.

The laundry pile was getting out of control!

The next big obstacle on my journey was to get round the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, passing inside Bardsey Island, through Bardsey Sound. The chap next door to me in the marina was well versed in this, as this was his home cruising grounds, and he had some sheets of paper with tide information on it that he kindly gave to me (thanks!). It seems the trick here is to arrive quite a bit before the the tide turns in the main channel and catch a back-eddy which runs very close to the shore, passing between a rock known as Carreg Ddu and the mainland. Reading about this, it sounded quite fierce, and was described as having the same effect on the water as a blunt bowed container ship ploughing full steam ahead, which made sense when I looked at a satellite image of the area.

Crikey! That looks fierce.

But I had pretty good information and made sure to arrive at the bottleneck nice and early. There wasn’t much wind, and it was on the nose, so it was another journey on the engine. I was just drifting idle in Aberdare Bay waiting for the tide, getting a bit bored, so I went through a bit early. I got through the narrow passage just as it hit slack water, but just round the corner the tide in the main sound was still running, although it wasn’t too rough so I just pushed on. I tried to stick as close to the shore as I dared, but the rocks were mighty sharp looking.

Getting up close and personal.

A lot of the features around this area have some pretty savage sounding names, as they often do, like “Hells’ Mouth” and “Devil’s Ridge”, but I made it through without too much drama, although the wind had all but vanished so I motored on to the anchorage at Porth Dinllaen. This was a really nice little spot, well sheltered from the prevailing sou’westerlies and quite picturesque, but I only spent a short night there and was then onwards to the Menai Strait.

Zero knots of wind.

The next big obstacle was crossing the Caernarfon Bar, which needed to be done in favourable conditions, but the forecast was looking suitable for the day after, so I headed for a little anchorage called Pilot’s Cove at Llanddwyn island.

Great day for sailing.

It was a fantastic sail there, as I had stunning scenery on the starboard side, and the wind was a nice steady F4 for much of the journey, there was very little swell and the sun was shining, so a good time was had by all! There wasn’t much wildlife around, but the RAF were never too far away, and also various little stunt planes presumably practicing for some aerobatics displays.


I arrived at Pilot’s Cove around midday and nosed right into the bay to drop the hook. It’s quite a tight spot, and I wanted to go ashore, so I rowed my second anchor out on the dinghy and used it to hold the stern out such that the boat wouldn’t swing around in the bay. With her safely secured, I could spend some time stretching my legs ashore, and what a lovely place it was to be!

My own little haven.

I had been to this place before when I was at uni, but I couldn’t remember it being so nice. I thought about going for a swim, but there was an abundance of jellyfish around, and the stinging type no less.

One of many.

The good weather didn’t last though, by evening time a stronger wind had picked up and there was some swell running. Because I had come right into the bay, it wasn’t affecting me too much but another yacht had appeared at some point and it being much larger had to anchor further offshore. She was pitching up and down quite a bit, and before long she had motored off out of sight, presumably to seek shelter in Holyhead. Feeling pleased with myself for having such a small boat, I settled in for the night and made sure I had all the information for crossing the bar the next day. I was up early to make sure I would get to the entrance through the Caernarfon Bar in time. I had gotten the latest navigation info from the harbour master’s website, and plotted the waypoints into my phone’s chart plotter, and made a note of the bearings and distances between the channel marker buoys. There was a little more wind than I was hoping for, and I could see some wave crests turning white, but I decided to plough on anyway. It turned out to be ok, there was definitely quite a bit of turbulence, but there were no breakers and no serious calls for concern. I did realise that one of the buoys wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and I checked my coordinates, but I never figured out what that was all about.

Navigating the Caernarfon Bar.

Once I was into the Menai Strait, I made for the port of Caernarfon. There are two main options for berthing here: marina or harbour wall. Naturally I opted for the more rustic approach and headed into the harbour. This is in the mouth of the River Afon Seiont and to access it a swing bridge needs to be shifted out of the way. You are supposed to signal your desire to enter by blasting the Morse code for ‘B’ on your horn, but I don’t actually have a horn, so just raced in behind another boat that was entering in front of me. There is a traffic light system, but it seemed to just stay on red, and I wasn’t chastised for running the light so I guess they must play fast and loose with the regulations in these parts. After I tied up to the harbour wall with some lengthy ropes, I guesstimated the fall of the tide and adjusted accordingly, then looked around to take in my surroundings.

Tied up in front of the castle.

This was another very scenic spot to park the boat, right in front of the castle. I met up with a friend and we headed off to find the nearest boozer; we didn’t have to go far. It may have been the length of my ropes, or the beer in my belly, but for one reason or another I was pretty relaxed with leaving the boat unattended on a new harbour wall on a falling tide. After my friend headed off, I went back to the boat and found her lying at an angle, with the ropes fairly taut….

The ropes aren’t as tight as they look…

All was fine though, as the angle was simply the way the seabed sloped and the ropes had no slack but weren’t bar tight; any longer and the boat would be all over the place at high tide and any shorter she’d be abseiling. I treated myself to a KFC and stuffed some cushions under the mattress to level out the bed, and then passed out.

Bilge keelers everywhere.

The following morning, I had planned to depart, but I hadn’t fully worked out the tides for the next passage and due to my advancing years the previous night’s beers had made me less than enthusiastic for an early start. It was cheap to moor here, and it was a nice place, so I opted to stay another night and take my time planning the next step. The onwards journey would take me through the Swellies, which are a pretty notorious stretch of the Menai Strait which needed to be done properly. There are various leading lines that need to be followed to thread your way between the hidden rocks and timing is critical, so I got everything prepared properly. When the time came, it was pretty straightforward, although the rattling from the prop shaft had picked a terrible time to return.

Almost through the Swellies.
You can’t help but look…

Originally I had planned on continuing right through and heading up the east coast of Anglesey to anchor somewhere on the north coast to shorten the journey to the Isle of Man, but the weather wasn’t looking fabulous so at the last minute I headed into Bangor. I wanted to have another look at this damned anode to figure out what was going on before I made another big passage. With Bangor having a drying harbour I hoped I could access the prop shaft at low tide, but the bottom was far too muddy for that, and she sank into the mud right up to the tops of the keels. So once more, it was on with the wetsuit and into the water at high tide. The anode seemed pretty tight on the shaft, I certainly couldn’t wobble it around at all, and the nuts and bolts were tight, but I did manage to clinch them up a little more, so hoped that would be the end of it. And once again, I found myself sleeping at damn near 45 degrees…..

Maybe 45 is an exaggeration, but still…

June 23, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 3

Having decided to stick to the Welsh coast, I set out from Milford Haven on Thursday the 13th of June. It was only a short hop, and I was hoping to do most of the trip on one tack as soon as I got out to sea, but as always the wind was refusing to cooperate so I had to zigzag my way upwind once again, but I quite enjoyed it. It was only 5 miles or so and it was good to be sailing after spending 3 days cooped up in the boat at anchor.

I was bound for the South Haven of Skomer Island, which is little bay sheltered from any winds other than southerly. Skomer being a seabird mecca, I was welcomed to the anchorage by thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills and a few seals as well. This was a really nice little place, and you end up anchored really close to birds on the cliffs, and they didn’t seem to be put off by my presence. The only downside to all this birdlife flying around was the splattering the boat received….

The sacrificial anode I took off previously needed to be replaced, so in the morning I got out the still wet SCUBA gear and went under to fit the anode. I could have reused the old one as it had plenty of material left, but it wold still have the issue of the nut spinning.

Putting the new anode on.

Putting the new one on was fiddly, but luckily I didn’t drop anything and it went quite smoothly. Afterwards I went for a little swim around, but didn’t see much. I was hoping to see some big lobsters, which I did, albeit inside a fisherman’s trap.

The water was clear but only 11 degrees! Should have brought my drysuit.

On the way back to the boat, the GoPro fell off my head and I didn’t realise straight away, so it took me a while to search around and find it again. I checked out the anchor as well, and was interested to see that although the boat had swung almost 180 degrees with the change in wind direction, the anchor was still dug in the orientation I had originally set it the night before, and the boat was just lying to the weight of the 10m length of chain alone. It was also interesting to see how quickly the anchor must have set. My old CQR anchor would have probably ploughed the seabed for 10 metres before finally digging in, but from the lack of disturbed sand it looks like the new one dug in almost immediately.

Anchor dug in.

When I arrived back at the surface next to the boat, the sky was much greyer and the wind had picked up, and being south-westerly, it was making the anchorage untenable. This was not a surprise as it’s exactly what the forecast predicted, but I had planned to depart a bit earlier, so I got out of the water quick sharp and motored out of the anchorage before the wind got any stronger.

I had considered going around Skomer on the eastern side which would involve going through Jack Sound, which is rather narrow and rocky and gets some strong tides running through it, so I opted to go west. The sea was rough enough going this way so I was glad I had decided to not go through Jack Sound. I still had to negotiate another sound further up, Ramsey Sound, which has bit of a bottleneck halfway through as some rocks known as ”The Bitches” stick out into the channel.  

Look closely and you can see the Bitches…

But my timings were pretty good for this one and the Bitches stayed where they were so I cruised through at slack water and all was well. The next leg was towards Fishguard, and with the wind behind and the tide pushing me along I made good progress; for a while I was doing 9 knots over the ground!

As I arrived in Fishguard two lifeboats were heading out and there was a coastguard helicopter flying around, so someone somewhere must have been having a bad time although I never heard anything on VHF. After dropping anchor I was pretty hungry by this point so made an enormous meal and turned in for the night. I was awoken in the small hours by a ferocious southerly wind blasting through the anchorage, I did read in the almanac that southerly winds can funnel themselves down through the harbour, and certainly did that night.

The following morning I had to decide my next destination. I wanted to get from South Wales across Cardigan Bay to North Wales as quickly as possible, but the winds for that day were not conducive towards getting there. Even if I did, I would have to wait around anyway for the weather to improve to negotiate my way over the Caernarfon Bar and into the Menai Strait. I had wanted to go from Fishguard right up to Porth Dinllaen in one big leap, but in the end I decided to break the journey into smaller legs and headed up the coast to New Quay. The winds were very light to begin with so it took all day to make the 25 mile journey. On the way in though I was joined by some bottlenose dolphins, which are huge compared to the common dolphins I had seen so far. They swam around the anchorage for a while, and there were throngs of people on the shore trying to see them, but being on my boat I definitely got the best view!

These fellas are much bigger.

New Quay looked like a very nice place and I would have liked to go ashore, but I needed to set off at 5 the following morning and it was already getting late so I turned in. I was awoken somewhat earlier than expected, not by my alarm, but by the thumping of the boat on the ground. I had misjudged the tide and how much water there was under me. Hopping out of bed still in pyjamas I got up on deck pronto, got the engine on and moved out to some deeper water, and all was well. It was around 2.30 am at this point so I just stayed up and pottered around doing some chores on my to-do list and this made sure I got away from the anchorage on time, instead of just hitting the snooze button. The main reason I was leaving so early was due to some strong winds blowing in later on in the day and I wanted to get across Cardigan Bay before they arrived. I didn’t want to spend any longer in South Wales because as well as some bad weather rolling through, much of Cardigan Bay consists of yet another bloody MoD firing range which was definitely going live the following day (I got all my information in advance this time…)

Goose-winging it.

So off I sailed, bound for Abersoch. The day started nicely but with almost no wind, although slowly it started to build. I was sailing almost dead downwind so I poled out the genoa and goose-winged my way north. By lunchtime it was really blowing hard and I had the sails reefed down as far as they would go. Controlling the boat was getting to be a bit of a handful, but it was good fun as well and by far the fastest I had ever sailed downwind, which up until that point had always been a fairly boring, roly-poly affair.

Tearing along downwind.

When I arrived in Abersoch Bay, it turned out to be far too rough for anchoring. The boats on the moorings there were bouncing around all over the place, and it would have been a very uncomfortable couple of days, so I changed course and headed for Pwllheli to seek refuge in the fancy-pants marina. I called ahead to ask their opinion on entering the channel at low water, and they didn’t give me much confidence, but by this point I was really wanting to get somewhere sheltered. I ended up going for it, inching my way up the channel to the marina bang on low tide, and luckily made it through without any sudden jolts. My allocated berth was already occupied so I went to the next one down, got the boat tied up and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost as soon as I turned the engine off, the heavens opened up and it really hammered it down. I was very happy I made the decision to come in, instead of riding it out at anchor. I headed straight to the showers as it had been quite some time since my previous wash, excluding the short trips beneath the hull. The showers in Padstow were a bit lacklustre but Pwllheli’s plumbing did not disappoint. The shower was bloody marvellous! After that I headed off to the Wetherspoons to treat myself even more, then back to the boat and that night I slept for 12 hours straight.

June 19, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 2 (part 2)

Having never been to Padstow before, it turned out to be a very nice place. The harbour was nice and secure so I could relax a bit even knowing there was some foul weather on the way. For my first day in port though, the weather was amazing so I went for a stroll out to Stepper Point, picking up a delicious pasty along the way. From up high I could get a good view of the entrance to the estuary, including the Doom Bar, about which I was mildly apprehensive on the way in the night before and also gives its name to the popular brewed ale, which was news to me.

The infamous Doom Bar

The walk along the cliffs was pretty dramatic and there were lots of nesting seabirds to be seen, and also a pair of peregrine falcons. It was a fairly long walk and I was glad to have a refreshing pint of the afore mentioned beverage when I got back. 

Peregrine Falcons

I was happy to see the boat where I left her, having gone so far away but there wasn’t really much to be concerned about other than getting the right length of dock lines out to allow for the tide, although with the harbour being sealed at low water there wasn’t really much drop anyway.

Padstow harbour

Negotiating my way through throngs of inquisitive tourists (of which I suppose I am one) I got back onboard and rustled up some dinner. The bad weather arrived during the night and the following day was spent almost entirely inside the boat. There were a few leaks here and there but nothing too drastic, worse was the condensation. The temperature was hovering around 14C which I thought highly inappropriate for a summer month in Cornwall. 

Haute cuisine

I had planned on leaving the day after the gale came through, but after speaking to a fellow Scotsman with a boat, I decided to stay another day in harbour. After all, with the man being older and his boat being larger, I thought if he is staying put then I had better do the same. 

Surprisingly, I had used the engine a bit more than intended and I needed to refuel so after two visits to the fuel berth (the 2nd was due to me sailing off with the shower block key fob and having to pop back to throw it up the quayside to the harbourmaster). As I raised sail leaving Padstow I had to negotiate my way through a flotilla of Cornish Crabbers. 

Crabbers, Crabbers everywhere!

I was heading north east around Hartland Point to anchor off the small village of Clovelly. Once again, this looked like a really nice place, from my boat. I couldn’t go ashore as I arrived too late and there was more bad weather due, strong northerly winds and being exposed on the north Cornish coast I didn’t fancy my chances lingering here. I had planned to go further up the Bristol Channel to make the crossing at Ilfracombe but I wouldn’t get great shelter there with the forecast winds so I decided to make a longer journey across the channel where I was, much further out. 

Heading for Clovelly

Looking at the charts, I had eyeballed Lydstep Bay as a good place to anchor and ride out the weather, but only now, consulting the almanac I realised that the entire area north of me was covered by MoD firing ranges. I tried phoning them up, but being late Sunday evening there was nobody to talk to and the automated answer machine hadn’t been updated with the coming week’s schedule. I was planning on setting off at dawn the next day, but would try to call again. It was another bumpy night at anchor, and I setup the flopper stopper again to smooth things out. One thing that was bugging me though was some rattling coming from somewhere around the engine when under power, or even when the prop was free-spinning out of gear when sailing along. I had been messing around with engine alignment before leaving Plymouth and wondered if it was related. The other possibility was that the sacrificial anode bolted to the propeller shaft could be loose, so in the morning before setting off I got the SCUBA gear out and went under to inspect it. It seemed pretty tight, but one of the nuts wasn’t locating properly and was spinning as I tried to tighten the bolt, so I just took the whole thing off, to see if the noise would go away. Sure enough, as I motored away from Clovelly the noise had disappeared. 

It was pretty calm in the morning and I couldn’t get up the sails until I was fairly close to Lundy island. As it was a northerly wind, the wind wasn’t much use to me anyway, but I did bear away slightly to allow me to motorsail. Also, with it being a northerly wind it was pretty chilly!

Thought it was supposed to be summer… 

There was tons of wildlife around Lundy Island though, including a pod of common dolphins that followed me for quite a long time. 

Travelling companions

I had been trying to phone up the firing range to get some info, but by the time they had updated their answer machine I was too far offshore to get decent phone signal and I couldn’t understand what they were saying, the reception was just too poor. I was also too far away to radio apparently, or at least nobody would answer my calls. Either way, I couldn’t get any info about the firing times. It’s my understanding that it is not illegal to sail straight through an active range, but being a gentleman I decided to keep out of the area and go the long way round. The benefit to this was on that bearing I could go along under sail power alone. The disadvantage was that it would take a long time, and the last thing I heard on the VHF was a gale warning issued for “later”. I decided that if it got bad, I could just head directly through the range, and so on I went, tacking upwind around the edge of the range. 

Skirting around the range

Eventually, I got better reception on the radio and overheard the range notifying the coastguard that firing was finished until 1930hrs, so I changed course and headed directly for Milford Haven. At this point the wind really picked up and I was reefed right down as far as I could. It got quite lively and I was getting some decent speed. 

Getting more lively in the Bristol Channel

The wind was getting really quite strong now and I was wondering about taking the sails down altogether. The course I was on was taking me too far to leeward of the entrance to Milford Haven, so I decided to bring the sails down and motor upwind to the entrance. At this point I heard the radio crackle to life: “Yacht 3 miles south of Linney head, yacht 3 miles south of Linney head this is Castlemartin range, over”. As it turned out, I misheard 1830hrs as 1930hrs, and the range was soon going live and they were none to pleased to find me splashing through the dangerzone. If the firing time had indeed been 1930 I would have made it though just in the nick of time, but as it stood, I had to alter course, for some reason I couldn’t quite fathom as it seemed to take me longer to get out of the range on this bearing. But I obeyed and motored on as instructed. It was really quite rough by now and I was getting horrendous spray coming over the top of the boat. I had forgotten to stow away the cockpit cushions and although they are somewhat weather resistant compared to the interior cushions, they are not meant for this kind of punishment and got a proper salty soaking (they are still drying out now, a week later). 

Eventually I got through the east channel into Milford Haven and was heading towards Sandy Haven Bay as this place was recommended as an anchorage if the wind was anything slightly east of north, which it was. However on the way there, I spied a better looking spot, that wasn’t named on the chart, but it was a lot closer, and had nice high cliffs to the north. I was hoping the cliffs would send the worst of the wind overhead, and sure enough, when I dropped anchor I found myself safely tucked away in my own nice little haven.

Nice and sheltered underneath the cliffs

I ended up spending 3 nights in Milford Haven, mostly just passing time waiting on the right weather window. I had a hard time deciding how to proceed: whether to go north along the Welsh coast or turn westwards and hop over to the Irish coast. The benefits of heading to Ireland are many, but mostly it means you can travel a on a long coastline sheltered from the prevailing southwesterlies all the way to Scotland. The main disadvantage was that I don’t have any paper charts for Ireland and the weather wasn’t especially conducive to the initial crossing across the Irish Sea, so I opted to stay on the Welsh coast for my journey north. I was getting a bit fed up being stuck in the boat at anchor anyway, so I made a fuel stop in the marina, which involved going through the lock gate, and then made my way out of the Haven, bound for Skomer Island….

Entering the marina

June 13, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 2

The weather in Coverack deteriorated during the night and I woke up to some rather grey skies and boisterous swell coming round the corner into the anchorage, which put me in high spirits for the day ahead. After struggling to put some breakfast together and wolfing it down, I weighed anchor, put the sails up and got underway to catch the tide around the Lizard. 

The weather already wasn’t especially pleasant, even though the forecast didn’t set any alarm bells off, but as luck would have it the worst of it occurred right when I was in the thick of the tidal races going round the Lizard. I had timed it to go round at slack water, but it was still plenty rough and the squalls that passed through couldn’t have picked a worse time really. This was my first time out in big seas and the little boat was getting thrown around all over the place. I kept the engine running and had the sails reefed down and just soldiered on as best I could. I had thought about turning back but by this point I was halfway round and the ebb tide would start flowing so I’d be fighting that on the way back. I reminded myself of a great Churchill line “If you are going through hell…keep going!” and so with my chin up I pressed on. The sky was very dark, visibility had dropped down to a few hundred metres and I felt like I was in a little world of my own out there bouncing around. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I had many clouds, but the only positive thing here was that the heavy downpour seemed to flattening the waves a little. The sea was getting very confused and hard to negotiate under sail so I took the sails down and pressed on under engine power. 

Just after passing the lizard.

Eventually, after rehearsing the Mayday procedures in my head a few times, I got through to the other-side, the skies cleared up and the seas smoothed out considerably. I took some videos of my passage, but watching them back, it doesn’t seem as extreme as it felt. I’ve heard that sailors always over-estimate the size of waves when they are in them, and thought that was a bit odd, but now I understand it a bit better. Whenever I’ve seen photos of the seas around Cape Horn I’ve thought “that’s not so bad”, but I think I’ll appreciate them a little better now. 

I had seen another yacht going round at the same time as me and caught glimpses of it through the spray, getting thrown around. It was a larger boat than mine, but seemed to be pitching up and down and thrown every which way something fierce. I could see that same boat now as I was setting course for Newlyn. It seemed to be heading for Land’s End to do both headbands in a oner, and I considered doing the same but by the time I reached it, the tide would not be in my favour. The wind had basically buggered off completely now so I motored the long hours towards Newlyn but with the sails up to dry them off.

Rafted up in Newlyn.

When I arrived I found all the berths occupied and so rafted up alongside a larger boat and headed off for a shower. Dartmouth Marina, this place ain’t. But it was nice and sunny now so I took a walk along to Penzance and visited the largest Lidl I’ve ever seen. 

Newlyn’s infinitely long pontoon…

The following morning it was time to do battle once more, this time with Land’s End. I had read that the Lizard is generally worse, and so I was fairly relaxed and made good progress under sail. But once more, as I approached the point of no return, the wind went haywire and the seas rose up. I had planned on taking the inner passage; the books said this was a good option, in settled conditions. I decided that the conditions were decidedly unsettled and seeing an awful lot of white water east of the Longships, headed further offshore. For the next hour or so I just clung on tightly and rode it out, thinking about how much fun I was having and marvelling at the weather’s tendency to dish out the good stuff at the most opportune moments, but at least this time it wasn’t raining. 

Longships Lighthouse.

Once again, I was shaken up and spat out on the other side. The skies cleared and the way ahead flattened out. Now the tide was flowing north east, carrying me towards St Ives. I was making pretty good time and remembering how far I still had to go and it was already well into June, I decided to press on and watched St Ives go by on the starboard side. It looked lovely.

On the way to Padstow – glad that cloud is all the way over there!

I set course for Padstow and got out the almanac to see what the story was with this place, as I had not planned on going that far in one day. The forecast had some pretty strong winds coming and according to the almanac the only real shelter was in the harbour, which had tidal restrictions. Working it out in my head, I was going to be hard pressed to get there in time to get into the harbour, and with the wind slowly disappearing, it was time to open up the throttle. It was a long way, but the sun was shining and some dolphins joined me for a bit so the journey wasn’t so bad. I made the questionable decision to shorten the journey by passing between and the Quies Rocks and Travose Head, and ended up dodging endless lobster pots whilst getting rough treatment from the tidal races. I called up the Harbourmaster, but I was too late to get into the harbour. He saw me racing down the channel though as darkness was falling and being a nice chap, he let me spend the night on the outer pontoon and gave me keys to the shower block. With some bad weather coming in the next 24 hours I was glad to be where I was and was able to get into the harbour the following morning.

This has turned into quite a lengthy post, and this is only half of the story for this past week. As I type this I’m at anchor in Milford Haven sheltering from yet more bad weather, but I’m aware that the attention spans of some SPBA members may be under strain at this point so I’ll do another post soon about the journey across the Bristol Channel (spoilers: more bad weather).

June 4, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 1

Well I set off eventually on Sunday 26th May, for my Grand Voyage, to try and sail around the UK (or get as far as possible). This was a bit later than I wanted, but better late than never. I had tried to leave the day before but had some engine trouble and headed back to the mooring for the night. After fixing the problems I decided to sail my way over to Cawsand Bay to anchor for the night, it was a fairly blustery day and the first proper sail of the day, and it was a pretty messy affair, hopefully nobody was watching me too closely….

It’s important to look good on the high seas.

My night at Cawsand was my first time using a new anchor that I bought; a 7kg Manson Supreme to replace the original 7kg CQR that came with the boat. I was quite pleased with how quickly it dug in compared with the old anchor and I had a pretty comfortable night.

The next day I made my way around Rame head and headed for some port on the other side of Whitsand Bay, but I hadn’t yet made up my mind which one. I was thinking possibly either Looe, Polperro, Fowey, Mevagissey but in the end I opted for a little bay just south of Mevagissey called Portmellon. The water here was very clear and I could easily see the anchor set in the sand below. Just before I left Plymouth I had stocked up on a variety of canned food from a wholesaler’s on the outskirts of town, well known for selling out-of-date items, and it was at this point I began to question the wisdom of this move as I spent all of the 3rd day at anchor in Portmellon with stomach issues.

Feeling better the next day I headed towards Falmouth, and it was a fantastic day sailing. With sunny skies and blowing a F3/4 from the south west I made good progress westwards, albeit close hauled. In fact ever since I left Plymouth I had been heading straight upwind, which was a bit annoying but a good chance for me to practice helming and trimming the sails. I decided on the way to not go all the way to Falmouth but to anchor off Porthscatho, but a couple miles off the wind really picked up and suddenly I was struggling to make any progress upwind at all. Looking at my GPS track it was clear that when I tacked, I was just turning around 180 degrees and retracing my steps. Eventually after a wasted mile or two I got better at trimming the sails and started making progress upwind. I refused to put the engine on until I was almost within anchoring range, after all if I wanted to motor I would have bought a speedboat. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up but at least I’ll save a few £££’s on diesel….

Alongside in Falmouth.

After a fairly sleepless night bouncing around in the swell I headed for Falmouth in the morning and got a spot in the marina. I arrived very early so I had plenty of time to look around, have a shower etc. My girlfriend Ness joined me in the evening (her journey via train sounded almost as arduous as my own) and we dined al fresco on the poop deck, so to speak. The next day we went to the maritime museum (always recommended) and then headed up river to spend the night.

Nice little anchorage up the River Fal.

The next day was fairly dreary so we just hung around in the river and then in the late afternoon headed upriver to Truro on the rising tide. In the upper reaches the navigable portion of the channel is very narrow but clearly marked with posts. In Truro we found ourselves in a pub called the Old Ale house, where there are barrels of free monkey nuts and apparently it’s the done thing to just chuck the shells on the floor, which of course I obligingly did.

Making a right mess!

In the evening the berth alongside the pontoon dried out completely and we ended up stuck in the mud at a somewhat uncomfortable angle for the night. Ness had to go back to work the following morning and I caught the early tide back down the river.

Deep in the Truro mud.

There was no wind at all in the upper reaches and going down the river was like gliding on glass. Passing Falmouth I got the sails up and headed south to Coverack, upwind all the way, naturally. In fact I’m starting to think some higher power has taken a dislike to my intentions and is actively trying to blow me back to Plymouth. Looking at the forecast for Wednesday, when I want to get around Land’s End, it seems their intentions aren’t changing anytime soon.

Water like glass.

As I write this I’m anchored off Coverack, and the swell has been fairly boisterous, so I’ve got a “flopper-stopper” rigged and also set up an anchor bridle arrangement to get the boat pointing more into the swell instead of the wind. It seems to be working well.

So far, so good. It’s been fun so far, not too tiring or anything and some really nice days. I am making rather slow progress though, maybe the weather will be more favourable once I get around the corner into the Bristol Channel…..

This is just taking the piss now!

February 11, 2019
by spba2018

New website up and running

The new SPBA website is up and running. If you have information to share, photographs for our gallery, items to sell or just news you feel club members would be interested in then please send them to SPBAPlymouth@gmail.com.

Over the next few months there will be many other features added to the website including – members only pages, useful links, blog features from members. We are also very open to incorporating ideas and requests from our members so please get in touch if you have something to say about the new website.