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