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.
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.