Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 3

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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.

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