Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Isles of Scilly

Jaime writes:

The Scilly Isles consist of 48 Islands separated by sandy rock-strewn channels. Their position in the Southwestern corner of the United Kingdom affords them the benefit of warm weather transported by the gulf stream, but at a cost of being exposed to the full force of the Atlantic weather.

We arrived in New Grimsby Sound which is quite a sheltered place to stay in terms of swell and wind. It was used in 1942 as a base for mock French fishing boats which would take on reconnaissance missions to the French coast. Their mission was very important as the information they gathered helped to prepare for the D-Day landings. I digress…. We spent a couple of days exploring Tresco which is a very pretty island, with well tended gardens full of tropical plants spilling out over the stone walls. There are no cars on the island. Instead, those who don’t use their legs get around in golf-cart type vehicles. The experience was made all the better as summer seemed to have arrived, giving us beautiful hot days. We even spent an afternoon sunbathing on a deserted beach next to Cromwell’s Castle. In October!!

Cromwell's Castle

Sunset in New Grimsby Sound

Beach near Cromwell's Castle

Abbey Gardens, Tresco

Abbey Gardens, Tresco

Separating New Grimsby Sound from St. Mary’s, the main Island, are Tresco Flats. These are about a mile of sand flats that dry, that is to say that at low tide you can walk around. Not good news for a boat with a draught of 1.8m. As well as the sand, there are also quite a few rocks to avoid, but our pilotage guide makes the point that most of these rocks are “friendly”, as they are distinctive and can be used for navigation. So we made a trace of the chart, marking the relevant transits and bearings on it and headed off in the dinghy quite close to low water, across the flats. We followed the same route as we would go in Lady Ayesha, which worked fine and gave us confidence to do it for real.

Craig continued on to St. Marys, and dropped me off at Tresco Abbey Gardens. These are beautiful gardens with more than 4000 original plants. Many of the exotic plants were originally brought here by Scillonian Master Mariners returning from their travels. There is also the Valhalla Museum which contains numerous figureheads from the many ships that have been wrecked (and salvaged) on the shores of these islands.

Craig returned later with supplies and news of the French who we had met in Dublin. The next day they joined us in New Grimsby Sound and came over for dinner, which was good fun, and quite fortunate for them too as they had just run out of cooking gas.

The harbour master had given us a good deal on the mooring, so we stayed a couple more days than we had planned. We eventually headed off at the top of the tide across the Tresco Flats, without any problems and over to St. Mary’s Pool next to Hugh Town where we picked up a mooring buoy. We were told that in summer you cannot get a buoy for love nor money as it is so busy. Hugh Town is another lovely town, and what struck me was the amount of bird song. The air was positively alive with the buzz of birds singing in the palm trees and lush gardens. They also seem to be very tame. When we went for a walk we noticed they didn’t scatter as we approached them, they just carried on with what they were doing. We even hand fed a Song Thrush and some Blackbirds. Our walk took us past the Garrison, built during the civil war, across Porth Cressa Beach and around Peninnis Head with its peculiar rock formations to Old Town where we brought ice creams, as the weather had miraculously stayed hot. We had a packed lunch in the sublime Carrag Dhu Gardens which we had to ourselves, except for the friendly birds. One sentence in the Channel Pilot we are using would not get out of my head, it follows: “Buy some bulbs for your garden and keep your holiday for years” So as we passed Sunnydale farm which had an assortment of bulbs for sale, we just had to get some, ignoring the fact that we don’t have a garden.

Hugh Town moorings, St Mary's

Hugh Town sunset

Porth Cressa, St Mary's

That evening just before the sun set, with all its glorious pinks and purples and oranges which reflect in the calm waters, we motored off and dropped the hook in the pinch (Porth Congar) between Gugh and St. Agnes. As anchorages go, this is not particularly sheltered, but the weather has been so benign that it was possible to stay here for a couple of days quite comfortably. We walked around St. Agnes in the afternoon, which is a great place just to relax. On the way we passed Beady Bay, so named as a cargo of red & black Viennese beads from a ship wrecked on nearby rocks was washed up here. The western side of the island, near St. Warnes Bay offers spectacular views of the Western Rocks, which today looked so striking against the bright sky, but must be terrifying on a stormy night. By the way, St. Warnes is the patron saint of Shipwrecks. It would seem that Admiral Sir Clowdisley was not praying to the right saint on the foggy night of October 22nd 1707, for his ship, The Association and three other navy ships struck the outlying rocks and sank to the bottom like stones- with the loss of 2000 lives. The Admiral actually survived and was washed ashore where he was found by an old Scillonian lady (no doubt with a beautiful garden). However the old lady fell in love with the emerald ring on his finger, and promptly murdered him for it! The simple reason that they hit the rocks was because they did not know how far east or west they were as the question of longitude had not yet been resolved. The sinking of the Association catapulted the longitude question into the forefront of national affairs and eventually lead to the Longitude Act of 1714 in which parliament promised a prize of £20,000 for a solution.

Briefly, lines of latitude were derived from the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and therefore could be easily calculated with celestial navigation, however the placing of the lines of longitude was a political decision. Hence why the Greenwich Meridian line (0 degrees longitude) runs through London (the French didn’t like this by the way and used to refer to it as “Paris Mean Time, retarded by 9 minutes twenty-one seconds“). To learn one’s longitude at sea, you need to know exactly what time it is aboard the ship and exactly what time it is in a reference port. So what was needed was an accurate clock, that would keep time in a rolling, wet, hot/cold ship. If you want to know the end of this fascinating story that stumped natural philosophers & the like and changed the world, read Longitude by Dava Sobel. Nowadays we have GPS, which is frankly amazing when you think about what it actually does.


Gugh looking over the bar to St Agnes

St Agnes Beach stone piles

Western Rocks

Anyway, so the Scillies in the right weather are a gorgeous semi-tropical paradise with lush gardens, turquoise sea, and white sandy beaches, in fact the perfect place to chill out and read a book before heading home to Brighton, just watch out for those old ladies with an eye for jewellery…

Republic of Ireland

Tuesday September 18. From the Irish Sea we sailed several miles along the narrow buoyed channel into Carlingford Lough, which marks the Eastern end of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We must be getting soft because we decided to use the marina rather than anchoring, probably because of strong wind warnings. I also raised the yellow Q flag under the Irish courtesy flag below the starboard spreader as I am not an EU citizen. I even called Immigration and the local Gardia, but disappointingly, nobody seemed to be too interested that I had arrived in the Republic. I put my passport back in its box and we went ashore to discover the delights of Carlingford. The marina pontoons are quite run down and the place doesn't seem very well managed. However, the town is a neat and tidy place to visit with a number of inviting pubs and many well kept historical buildings. We spent the evening in a pub enjoying some really good trad Irish music and sat next to a table of Swedish golfers who also joined in and entertained us with some of their own songs and jokes, usually relating to the consumption of beer and the hunting of deer, or women.

The next morning we thought it was about time we climbed another mountain, and the one overlooking Carlingford was a nice easy walk through thick heather and blackberries. Great views over the lough, but a difficult thrash through the forest to get back into town. Next time we'll follow the path!

Carlingford Lough looking towards Northern Ireland

On Thursday we had an uneventful sail down to the Skerries, which would be a stopping point on our way to Dublin, only another short day sail south along the coast. This would be our first entry into a major city port. The towering cranes, commercial dockyards and the massive container and cargo ships were awesome to watch from our little boat. From seaward into Dublin Bay there are three major shipping lanes forming a kind of roundabout in the centre so it is fairly straightforward to predict where vessels are going and keep out of their way. We were obliged to call the port authority on the radio to ask for clearance, then drop sails and enter under power as it is important to keep well clear of the busy commercial shipping channel leading into the River Liffey.

The Dalek guarding the entrance to the Liffey!

Entering the commercial port area

Everything was going fine until we were approaching red buoy number 14. That was when the temperature alarm went off, indicating that the engine was overheating and we had to shut it down straight away. Unfortunately we had a massive cargo ship just behind us and another leaving the docks ahead of us. No problem. Jaime got on the radio to inform the port authority of our problem and we used the river's stream to steer the boat to just outside the channel, in front of an ancient timber pier near an old power station where we dropped the anchor and I went below to sort out what was causing the problem with the engine. I hadn't got further than removing the impellor cover when a couple of blokes in a RIB turned up and offered us a tow to the marina upstream past the docks. After making sure it wasn't going to cost us anything we decided to take up their offer and they towed us to the pontoon at Poolbeg marina where we stayed overnight. I got on the phone to Bukh and order some new parts to be delivered ASAP, replaced the cracked impellor and fixed up the pump as best I could with a cardboard gasket cut out of a Kelloggs box.

Getting a tow!

Poolbeg Marina

Container terminal near Poolbeg

Between Poolbeg and the Dublin City centre about a mile further upstream there is a road bridge which is always busy with city traffic. It only has a few metres clearance at high water so to pass it we needed to get the traffic stopped and the bridge lifted. We booked a lift for the Friday morning and carried on to Dublin City Moorings, in the heart of the city, where we parked up near the 'megayacht' Fortunate Sun. This was occupied by a single American family. You too could hire this boat for your next holiday, at a mere one million US dollars per month! Anyway, it was good fun to get ashore and experience a big city again. The first thing I noticed was the constant noise that a city generates. Nothing in particular, just an accumulation of millions of different things emitting sound all blended together. It takes a while to get used to. We spent an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, wandered around Temple Bar at night, visited a few pubs for some Guinness, poured close to home, ate a meal at a Lebanese restaurant, did some market shopping, sorted out the boat, and relaxed on deck while modern life surged on around us. After the solitude of anchorages in Orkney and Shetland, and the Western Isles of Scotland, it felt really strange to emerge in the morning to drink my coffee in the cockpit, and watch people wearing office clothes, rushing past on their way to work, mobile phones stuck to ears and briefcases clutched in hand. I tried not to think too much about having to join them all again next year.

Dublin City Moorings

River Liffey

Dublin street market

Pub window

Parked near Fortunate Sun

While we were there, a French boat called Summertime turned up and we met the crew - five young chaps who had sailed from France to Orkney, Iceland and Shetland in a boat they'd bought just for the trip and would be selling once they returned - 50,000 euros if anyone is interested! Aluminium hull and a nice looking boat. We'd even met some of the same people in Shetland. We discovered they would also soon be heading south, back to France.

After 5 days it was time to get out, and on Thursday the crew of Summertime decided to sail in company with us to Arklow, about 30 miles south where we would meet again. We planned to take photographs of each other's boats and swap the pictures later. Since we left Brighton in April we haven't had a single photo of Lady Ayesha actually under sail.

Motoring out of Dublin

Photographers aboard Summertime

We motored out into Dublin Bay and hoisted plain sails for the passage to Dalkey Sound, between Dalkey Island and Sorrento Point on the mainland, where a few Irish celebrities such as Bono and Enya own houses. Lady Ayesha sailed ahead at first with her slightly longer water length and bigger genoa (foresail). However, with our respective national ensigns flying in the breeze, it wasn't long before we detected a sense of competitive spirit from the French boat. After we pased Dalkey Island we saw them eagerly hoisting their spinnaker for the downwind run to Arklow. We don't carry a spinnaker, so we hoisted our cruising chute which didn't do too badly, and got us speeds up to 8 or 9 knots.

All going well...

Still going okay...

Damn! The French are in the lead!

Summertime doing 10 knots past the windfarm

With the wind dead behind us their spinnaker gave them the advantage. It was a fast and fun passage nonetheless. We moored in the river at Arklow and they in the marina where we met up again for a glass of wine and some music in the afternoon sunshine.

We hadn't made any exact plan for the passage further south, but with forecasts of Easterly and Northeasterly winds for another few days, which would be accompanied by a pleasantly slight or moderate seastate, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to make the passage across the St Georges Channel and the Celtic Sea to our next destination - the Isles of Scilly. This would be a long passage of about 180 sea miles which we expected would take around 36 hours. We prepared the boat that evening and the next morning we slipped our lines and headed out into a fair tide and a perfect wind, aft of the beam. With the cruising chute hoisted again we were flying along at speeds of 7 knots or more, giving us a great start. I'd been watching the sky, wondering about visibility that evening since we were expecting plenty of light from the moon, and fortunately we had very few clouds. It makes such a difference to sail under a full moon, being able to see for miles around. We continued to make good progress through the night but by Saturday morning the wind had dropped and we decided to motor until it picked up again. The Scillies are surrounded by many offshore rocks and we wanted to arrive in daylight to ensure safe pilotage. In all the passage took only 33 hours and by 1900UT we were safely moored in New Grimsby Sound between the Islands of Tresco and Bryher.