Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 5

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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…..

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