Thursday, May 31, 2007

Isle of Man to Arran

From the Isle of Man we sailed almost due north on the 15th of May and finally sighted Scotland. The Mull of Galloway, as photographed below through the lens of the binoculars.

As has frequently been the case, the wind died down and we motored up the hammerhead coastline past Portpatrick and around into the shelter of Loch Ryan where we anchored overnight, again next to Waveney Harrier and Farida. Just around the entrance to Loch Ryan is a nice little anchorage, but it suffers heavily from the wash of passing ferries on their way between Stranraer, Dublin and Belfast. I was preparing to pan fry some sea bass filets when one went by and I discovered I was one hand short when trying to grab two pots of vegetables and a pan of hot oil to stop them sliding onto the floor. After that, a ferry watch was established until dinner was ready! So we weren't at all disappointed the following morning to weigh anchor and set a course due north, past the dome-shaped Ailsa Craig to the Isle of Arran. Rain showers and wet mist greeted us, presenting Holy Island in a ghostly shroud. We didn't step ashore on Holy Island, which is inhabited only by Buddhist monks, although there is a landing area provided for visitors.

Holy Island

Lamlash Harbour
We drifted into Lamlash harbour and dropped the hook amongst the moorings just off the town quay. Eager to set foot for the first time on Scottish soil, we jumped into the dinghy and rowed ashore in search of warm hospitality, which we found at the pub which has a tandoori restaurant attached. We hung our dripping wet weather gear in the adjoining hallway and happily made use of both. That evening was folk music night where local musicians get together for an open mike session. Guitars, violins, pipes and voices. The quality of music was somewhat variable but was definitely improved by several pints of ale as the evening progressed.
The next morning, despite unusually shifting and stalling winds, we decided to make use of the free mooring buoys provided a few miles up the Arran coast in Brodick harbour, in order to wait out the strong winds that were predicted over the following few days. Indeed, they were strong, up to F9 which made us glad not to have to keep an anchor watch. Fortunately in such areas there is not enough distance for much swell to develop, but the winds were hard and cruel, dislodging again one of the wind generator mounting brackets which was a weak point anyway, following an incident last year in the Solent with a lobster pot :) During the first night of howling winds the Arran lifeboat towed in an apparently disabled Bavaria yacht with at least four or five crew aboard to a nearby mooring. Couldn't work out what was wrong with it as they sailed off again the next day.
Brodick Harbour
Brodick Harbour
Goat Fell
The Isle of Arran provided some lovely walking areas, lush almost tropical low forest, and a long sandy beach around Brodick Bay with the tall mountain, Goat Fell, above, often obscured by cloud. After several days of rain and wind we finally awoke to sunshine and decided it was time to get a move on.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Anglesey to the Isle of Man

Hello from Scotland, where internet access is becoming inreasingly rare. From Holyhead we sailed to Peel, on the west coast of the Isle of Man. A beautiful green island and a town lost in some time all of its own. We initially tied up against the breakwater seen in the first photo below, but managed to raft up to an American yacht in the inner harbour after an uncomfortable first night once the swell started to kick in. We were woken up by the sound of heavy breathing. Several seals had come into the harbour looking for sand eels and regularly popped their heads up near the boat. The weather was due to darken and rise, and we were very glad for a few nights within the protective sill in the inner harbour which is the focal point of the whole town. Locals and tourists alike wandered past the dock looking over visiting yachts and were always ready to chat and ask where we've come from and where we're going. The castle provided a romantic backdrop, and the pub, the Creek Inn was in the middle of a real ale festival which was not at all a disappointment to me. Met up with Murray and Elaine, Murray is Jaime's great Uncle, who treated us to a fantastic Indian meal.

Peel, outer harbour.

Peel, Inner Harbour.

Peel Castle, St Patricks Island.

Looking south down the coast from Peel towards the Calf of Man.

Peel from above.

Rafted up to our American friends, 'Farida' out of San Fransisco, who are also heading towards Scotland. There was some unresolved local discussion about whether they were correctly flying the Isle of Man courtesy flag.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Milford Haven to the Isle of Anglesey

Dale to Fishgard - May 4th.

The quick passage from Milford Haven around St Davids Head to Fishgard was made in order to simplify the next leg up the St Georges Channel, across Cardigan Bay and around the Lleyn Peninsula to a place called Trwyn Porth-Dinllaen which would give us overnight protection from the continuing Southwesterlies. We now enter the region of unpronouncable names. Luckily, 'Fishgard' is fairly simple to say for us foreigners. It's just a little port with a few yachts moored up outside a drying fishing boat harbour. I went ashore in the dinghy in search of some supplies but was informed by a local man that the shop had closed down long ago and there was nothing anymore in the area but the supermarket in the old town, several miles up a steep hill. Not to worry, he said. I'll drive you there in my car! So he sorted out his boat and off we went. But not only that, he was waiting outside the supermarket to drive me back down to the dock again afterwards. So I made the most of the opportunity and brought back as much as I could carry, including a half-shoulder of lamb which we roasted that evening. Why the Welsh need to import lamb from New Zealand, I'll never know, but it was lovely with mint sauce, roast potatoes and a robust Aussie red.

Fishgard to Holyhead - May 5th.

Another early rise and a successful attempt to sail off our anchorage was followed by several hours of less than a knot of boatspeed in barely perceptable winds. But as the day was sunny, and the sea so flat, we took the opportunity to read and relax and go with the tide, not wanting to disturb the serenity with a chugging engine. We made various attempts to gain a little extra speed using the cruising chute but it frequently hung like an old sock. What a contrast this turned out to be to the weather we were to experience later that night! Going slowly forwards is one thing, but going backwards on the tide is altogether another. So, after a number of hours pretending to be sailing purists, we gave up and started the engine. A good measure, I justified, as we needed to have the batteries fully topped up to run all the electronics through the night, in particular the radar which consumes quite a bit of power. When our passage plan involves night sailing, we try to take shifts during daylight hours to sleep, in order to be as rested as possible when the sun goes down as this is the time we often need an extra pair of eyes on the radar.

As the afternoon passed, we gradually recorded higher and higher windspeeds until after a shift below, I came up to the cockpit to find Jaime gripping the tiller and suggesting it was time to reduce sail. Finally! F5-6 over the port quarter, and Lady Ayesha had woken up too! Bouncing along with confidence and a sense that she was on a mission with gusts now peaking up to F7 and wave heights to match. We changed our mind about anchoring in Porth-Dinllean due to the possible exposure if the wind veered around to the west, and a curious comment on the chart 'Use With Caution'. Besides, there were no port facilities for a deep-draught yacht aside from a ruined pier and we preferred the idea of a sheltered harbour if we were to approach land at all in this kind of wind. So the decision was made to press on to Holyhead, on Holy Island off Ynys Mon (the Isle of Anglesey), only an additional 30 miles which we expected to cover by dawn.

The wind was unrelenting and surf crashed about us all night with plenty of spray over the cockpit but no direct hits on the beam which was fortunate given the lack of moonlight which meant we weren't able to predict the waves. After a long period at the helm you just kind of feel where they are coming from and steer just in time to keep them aft of the beam and to help the boat surf down the leeward slopes with enough speed to keep her under control and avoid the bows turning to windward which would leave us open to getting a wave over the beam. Although this may sound frightening at first, I should say that Lady Ayesha is a strongly built boat with natural buoyancy and I never doubted for a moment her ability to deliver us safely to port. We were clipped on at all times in the cockpit, and aside from getting a bit damp, never even suffered so much as a bruised elbow! Having said that, in the black night, it was such a comfort to eventually sight the South Stack lighthouse which is charted as visible for 24 miles. Keeping to a compass course in rough conditions can be very tiring especially when trying to maintain night vision, so a lighthouse can be such a relief to steer towards... er, I mean to steer past! The rocks on which it is built line the western side of Holy Island and proved to be our last challenge before finally sailing into Holyhead harbour. The tide was in full flow against us at this stage, and with as much sail up as we could handle we were barely able to make 1 or 2 knots over ground. So for the sake of a safe entry we relented again and fired up twenty horses of iron to give us a few more knots to keep us clear of the races which extend over a mile off the Stacks and where the locals tell me they have seen waves of up to 10 metres in rough weather! I'm not sure if they also catch 6 foot long mackeral around here, but I am certainly glad we put in a few extra gybes and steered well clear of this headland.

Holyhead harbour - SC moorings

Rocks near the breakwater - much calmer seas the next morning!

We found a few surplus anchors, but much to big for Lady Ayesha.

Sheep. And Copa summit in the background.

The view from the top.

South Stack lighthouse, from above.

As I write, this is our fourth day on this club mooring buoy. We are spending time relaxing, doing a bit of maintenance and catching up on sleep while we do further passage planning and wait for the next weather window to sail the relatively short distance across to the Isle of Man and then into the Firth of Clyde, finally we are almost in sight of Scotland! The wind has picked up again this morning with a fairly constant F6, gusting up to 32 knots. We are very glad to be safely tucked away behind the world's second largest breakwater. Nearby boats reveal their keel sizes and weights, with light little bilge keelers tossed about like toys in a bath, while we, and a Halburg-Rassey next to us swing sedately in unison, just staying out of reach of each other. The Holyhead Sailing Club is another friendly little venue, with an active group of dinghy and yacht sailors who show as much dedication to the club bar as they do to their sailing. Yesterday after a hearty bowl of porridge we donned our hiking boots and climbed to the peak of the island, called 'Copa' from which we could view the whole of the island, and the larger Isle of Anglesey. On the way back down we were surprised to stumble upon three people in RSPCA uniforms hiding behind a bush and peering intently at something through binoculars. They beckoned us over and asked if we wanted to take a look. They turned out to be Animal Collection Officers and had been stalking a persistent llama since Sunday who had escaped from a neighbouring farm after being shunned by its mother. In response to my question they said that shooting it with a dart would be 'Plan C' and they weren't quite at that stage yet. As the drizzle turned gradually into rain we wished them luck and carried on, while being watched intently by the suspicious llama in the next field.

So, it looks like we will be harbour-bound a few more days until these lows 'lose their identity' as the forecasters say, and we can be sure of better conditions to press on.

Penzance Bay to Milford Haven

From Penzance Bay our next destination was Milford Haven, around 120 nautical miles. The passage around Lands End was something we were a bit nervous about at first since all our sailing up until then had been in the Channel. There was some swell but the wind had veered around to the Southeast overnight, perfectly in our favour. Even with 2 reefs in the mainsail and the genoa rolled safely away we still made 5 knots through the water and 7 or 8 over ground thanks to a strong tide. It was a great feeling to pass Longships lighthouse off Lands End and Cape Cornwall, marking our entry into the Celtic Sea and the start of the next stage of our journey.

However, the wind wasn't to last, and by lunchtime it had dropped off to almost nothing, forcing us to use the engine to keep making way as the tide turned against us. Sadly we ended up motoring most of the afternoon and into the evening. By about 10pm we were most of the way across the entrance to the Bristol Channel, about 35 miles off the Welsh coast. The moon was managing to penetrate the clouds enough to add sparkle to the dark sea and I was becoming entranced by the rhythmic sound of water against hull as we lazily dipped and rose over each wave. A few extra splashes caused me to look over the side where I suddenly noticed that we had company. I called Jaime up from the cabin to enjoy the spectacle. Up to a dozen porpoises had joined us and were playing in our bow waves, skimming through the water, then leaping up and disappearing just as quickly. They only stayed with us for about 15 minutes, but it was an amazing experience that I won't forget. Just before the first light of dawn appeared across the sky we found ourselves dodging large ships and fishing boats doing pair trawling as we approached Milford Haven. It takes some getting used to, watching them all on radar and trying to interpret their courses when they are too far away to see their nav lights. Especially the trawlers who don't keep to any particular course. Even with their starboard nav light visible, and with us showing our port side, the huge tankers and container vessels don't seem to make any effort to change course to give way, regardless of the Collision Regulations, so the rule we adopt is if they're bigger than us, then we keep well out of their way!

Once into Milford Haven, there is a free pontoon provided by the Dale Sailing Club, just NW inside the entrance, if anyone is interested in making use of it. It has become a tradition to drink a beer to toast our arrival in port no matter what time we arrive. We'd only just done so, and were about to get a well-earned sleep when we were approached by a powerful RIB occupied by three port authority police, in combat boots and black uniforms, who tied up alongside. They explained that under the Anti-terrorism act which allows them to do whatever the hell they like they were coming aboard to inspect our papers, and search our vessel for illegal immigrants, drugs, firearms or whatever else. They were professionally polite, and failed to find any illegal immigrants, drugs or firearms, but took swabs of some white chocolate powder which was on the floor after a box of chocolates flew out of a locker during the passage, and asked many questions, especially about why we had stamps for places like Russia and Poland in our passports. (Cheers Branko!) We knew they were only doing their jobs, but we felt it was quite a rude introduction to Wales nonetheless. Especially given our lack of sleep and the mess that was left below after such a long sea passage. Anyway, they left us to get some sleep after that and we ended up staying in Dale until Thursday night.

There is an interesting coastal walk which we took around the headland which leads to views of Skokholm and Skomer Islands, and some dramatic rocky cliffs towards Saint Bride's Bay. We even found some people surfing on a small beach where we stopped for a while. We ate at the Griffin Inn one night, and spent several evenings at the Dale Sailing Club which has a great view across the bay to the distant smokestacks of Milford Haven's main industrial area.

The Griffin Inn, and SC moorings.

Locals outside the pub.

Coast near Skokholm Island

Surprising discovery of a surf beach.

Dale castle.

View across Dale to Milford Haven

Falmouth to Penzance Bay

On Friday April 27th we slipped quietly off our anchor in Falmouth harbour just before sunrise and sailed into a fresh NE breeze which took us the 40NM or so around Lizard Point to Penzance Bay where we anchored in the lee of St Michael's Mount, mid afternoon. We thought it might be a good opportunity to try out the folding lobster pot we'd purchased earlier from Rod O'Reely's in Dartmouth. It was to our great surprise later that evening that we found we had caught a large Edible Crab, the better part of a kilo in weight. So, it was crab for breakfast, and a photo shoot for the freshly cooked crustacean. St Michaels Mount is a spectacular place to anchor, but only really good for Easterlies. The town of Marazion has little more than a general store, pub and bakery. I made use of all three in a quick trip ashore. We stayed there for another night while the island continued to give us protection in order to relax and complete our passage plan and make an early start on Sunday around the corner.

Anchored off St Michael's Mount.

Early morning fishing, and Radio 4.

The view from the hill over Marazion.

Still Life with Crab.