Irish Trip 1999
Here is a picture of the actual trip, recorded by GPS.
Ireland 1999. Well, the lead up to the cruise was fairly frenic workwise. A lot of work to be completed, and we made it with a day to spare. The itinerary was modelled on flexibility. I had decided on a basic plan many months ago but resisted the urge to make hard and fast plans. By experience, those plans are difficult to maintain.
Plan 1. The over-riding plan was to meet Harry Sharp in Aberystwyth. Now Harry was sailing around Britain, raising funds for the Island Trust, a charity that provides sailing opportunities for disadvantaged children. Harry was sailing his boat, Gabrielle 2, a Trintella made my Offshore yachts some 20 to 30 years ago. I had kept in touch with Harry via the Internet, and was pleased to read of his progress around Britain. He intended to arrive in Aberystwyth on the 20th August 1999. As I have said, I planned to meet him there. I was leaving Swansea a week earlier, so had a few days of spare time to kill before arriving at Aberystwyth.
My holiday started a week or so before. I had planned to leave Swansea on the 12th of August. Well, that was delayed for a day, so on Friday 13th, I set sail for Dale, Pembrokeshire. 'Twas a contrary day, winds gusting up to a f5, but generally 3 to 4's prevailed. It goes without saying that the wind was coming from where I wanted to go, namely the west.
From Swansea to Dale, a distance of 50 miles, the course covered a coastal sail along the Gower Peninsular. Along this route, there were overfalls at Oxwich, a narrow passage between the Helwick Shoal and Port Eynon, a comfortable sail across Carmarthen Bay, a nasty bit of water off St Govan's Head, a couple of exposed rocks at Linney Head, called the Crows Toes, and a then a passage along Freshwater West Bay into the heads at Milford Haven.
This passage is usually achieved in 10 to 12 hours. Tides tend to cancel each other out on a 12 hour passage, but this route is best achieved with the contrary tide being in the relative calm of the Carmarthen Bay. A favourable tide is needed along the Gower Coast.
On reaching the Oxwich overfalls, the boat was jumping around a lot. The odd balk of timber in the sea was giving me some concern. With the wind gusting to a f5, I decided to put a reef in the main. This was achieved with some effort, mainly because I had forgotten to scald the main. But in a few minutes, the main was reefed and course was again set for Linney Head. I sailed as hard into the wind as I could make Eilidh. I sailed towards the Worms Head, into some very choppy waters. The echo sounder gave readings of 2 metres, before I tacked into open waters. The weather was grim. Rain and murk. Visibility was perhaps 1/2 a mile. The GPS decided to go on the blink. It refused to give me a position. I swapped it for my backup instrument, which very quickly gave me a fix. I passed a small fishing boat, and shortly afterwards sailed into Carmarthen Bay, leaving Worms Head on the starboard quarter.
Once into the bay, the seas calmed, and wind became steady. I shook out the reef, not without incident. To do the shaking out, I loosened the main sheet, and on going up forward to the mast, I stumbled, and had to hold onto the boom. I was forced to sit on the safety lines, finding myself about to fall overboard. Thankfully, I had a safety harness on, and I was holding onto boom like crazy, but a few seconds suspended over the side of the Eilidh made very glad to have the safety harness on. That small but serious incident was over in a few seconds, but was certainly not forgotten.
The main was now fully exposed to the westerly wind. Eilidh sailed as best she could into the wind across Carmarthen Bay, with no incident. The tide was now turning again me. I was expecting a difficult sea off St Govan's Head. This spot nearly always produces a nasty sea, in any conflicting tide and wind. But as I approached the area, the wind and tide were both against me. Well that eased my mind. At least the overfalls on St Govan's head would not materialise, though both were against me. We tacked a couple of times before I realised that the engine would have to do the fight against the tide for us. Once the engine was alive, we just plugged against the tide, a tidal gate, for two hours, the jib stowed. Linney Head came eventually, and jib was hoisted, the engine switched off, and a pleasing sail was had all the way into Dale Roads.
This benign sea between Linney Head and Sheep Buoy always carried the threat of thrown away rope and warp. The major port of Milford Haven was only a couple of miles away. So being able to sail it was a relief, across the heads into Dale, and a tie up on the pontoon at Dale was achieved without any further difficulty. The trip took some 13 hours, a distance covered of some 54 miles being logged up.
In Dale, on Saturday, I met a friend, Neil, whom I had befriended at Swansea. He had been on holiday for a week with his wife, who had now gone home. Neil and I discussed the weather, a large frontal system was coming in. Neil left later that day for Tenby, hoping to make it too Swansea before the system came in. That evening, I launched the dinghy to motor to the Griffin Inn. At the Griffin, a good pint of Murphy's was usually had, and a good selection of pub grub available. Whilst eating alone at the pub, an acquaintance of mine suddenly introduced himself. He was a rep of a company that my business dealt with. I was introduced to his wife and family.
I was ready to return to Eilidh. I donned my lifejacket, and made my way down the pontoon to the dinghy, when I met another couple of friends from the Swansea Yacht & Sub Aqua Club. Dale is always the same, I always (?) meet someone (at least one) here that I know. Well, on the way back to Eilidh, a distance of nearly a mile, the outboard ran out of fuel. A good row back to the boat was had, the wind was in the right direction, and made the return journey easy.
The next morning, a boat called Josi tied up to the pontoon. Shaun and Mike, whom I had met the evening before, jumped onto the pontoon. They told me they were intending to make passage to Ireland as soon as a favourable forecast was available. Well, it was now Sunday morning, I had at least six days to kill before arriving in Aberystwyth. I now decided to try and make Ireland for a couple of days before sailing to Aberystwyth.
During that Sunday, I sailed around the Haven, waiting for a good forecast. At six o'clock that evening, the forecast was westerly winds 3 to 4. Ok that was good enough. I set sail out of the Milford Haven Heads to Kilmore Quay. It was to be an overnight passage.
We sailed out of the heads into Broad Sound. The wind was against us, so a lot of tacking was needed. At half past eight that evening, we came to the overfalls just beyond Skomer Island. The sea was fairly calm. But, I can only describe what I saw as the water was trying to jump out of the sea, The band of this water was only a hundred yards wide, as I sailed into it, I nervously watched the echo sounder, but it never dipped below 30 metres. Eilidh and I were soon through this devil's brew. But I quickly realised that we were both heading towards The Bishops Rock lighthouse. Despite our course being some 40' off this lighthouse, the tide was making a monkey out of us.
The solution was to pack up the jib, and fire up the iron sail. We sailed nearly 60 degrees off course to avoid the Bishop Lighthouse. After an hour, we were making a course clear of the Bishops Rock. Light was failing, and soon it was dark. The weather was cool, and windy, the seas lumpy, and uncomfortable. During this night passage, I had to alter course to avoid some vessel that crossed my bows within a mile.
As the dawn came, several fishing boats were in sight, none too near fortunately, and a course for Kilmore was maintained. The tide began to take us to the south, Tuskar Rock came into sight briefly.
I noted that during the night, when the engine was running, a significant amount of water was coming aboard. The amount was measured at 9 pumps per hour. This benchmark was important to quantify, in case things got worse!
The landfall was made, the Barrels light came and went. A whale was spotted close to the boat. A slog along the southern coast of Ireland towards the Saltee Islands was had, the course taking Eilidh and me towards the buoys, which marked the passage across St Patrick's Bridge. By 10:50am, I had entered Kilmore Quay, been welcomed by Johnny Johnson, the harbour constable, and rafted up against another boat.
Sleep was needed, and had. By 16:00 hours, I was up and looking around at Kilmore. To my surprise, Josi, the boat that I had met in Dale came into Kilmore and tied up. Shaun, whose home was nearby, was met by family, and soon departed. Mike from Swansea was off to catch the ferry home.
I was having what seemed to be an electrical problem. The triplog kept resetting to zero, which indicated a switching off of current to the instruments. The culprit was either the regulator, or dynostart.
Having reached Southern Ireland, the weather forecast did not look too good for returning to Aberystwyth. Strong westerlies would make short work of the Irish Sea, but entering these western Welsh harbours, with their bars was something not to be taken on without experience of them. I could see my primary plan falling to pieces. A sail to a lee coast, alone, with a distance of 100nm or so, my arrival back in Wales would be fraught with danger and tiredness, especially single-handed. My common sense said that that sailing into danger was out of the question. Its a fact that sailing single-handed is potentially dangerous, thus there is no logic in putting yourself into a difficult situation.
So a decision had to be made on what to do. I could sail to Wales, with the dangers said, I could stay in Kilmore Quay, or go further west to Waterford.
On the Wednesday 18th of August, at 10:25am, I cast off from the marina in Kilmore, with the help of Jim and Ann from a boat called Spring Fever. The wind was from the north-west, blowing from a 3 to 4 getting up to a force 5 later in the day. The sail was a pleasant beat along the southern Irish coast, dodging the many lobster pots along the way. Several small fishing boats were hauling up these pots, and I had a friendly wave from one or two of the fishermen.
In the distance towards Hook Head, I saw a large black and white stripped spinnaker coming my way. There were also several yachts inshore. As time went by, I realised this spinnaker was staying put, and shortly after that, I realised this spinnaker was the Hook Head lighthouse. The chart showed some overfalls to the south of the head, so a tack was put in to avoid these. The wind was still north westerly, and now up to a f5. A waypoint from the almanac was reached, from which I set course to Duncannon Light. The course given was 2'. When I steered this course, I was pointing at nothing recognisable. It shortly twigged to add the magnetic deviation, and once done Duncannon Light became clear.
The sail into the Suir Estuary was terrific. The fresh wind was now on the beam, Eilidh was surfing down the large waves that accompanied us in the river mouth. Ahead though, I could see a large thunder storm, also a dredger who was dodging around the estuary bar. There are two sets of passage buoys on the way up river, both of which Eilidh and I passed between. There was a moment of indecision about which side of the dredger to pass, he certainly was on an erratic course.
As I passed close to Duncannon, I dropped both sails, and took lightning precautions.
The anchor chain was led from the hawse pipe, wrapped around the main stay, and the end was deposited in the river. My life jacket was stowed in the cockpit near to me. The tide was just before low water. Thus the passage up the river was made into about a knot of current.
Once again, there was a significant amount to water getting into the boat. The amount was still at 9 pumps per hour, I assumed that the stern gland was leaking, but could not see the water coming in.
The trip up the Suir was breathtaking. Once the thunderstorm had passed, I could really enjoy the scenery, passing the ferry, into some beautifully wooded riverbanks. As I approached Cheek Point, I was surprised to see a large power station. And beyond that, was a huge steel railway bridge. Then I spotted a large dock, with equally large container vessels being loaded. How on earth did they find their way up river? It put my navigation into perspective.
Soon the river gave way to the Queens channel, a shortcut up to Waterford. The GPS told me that I was now only a couple of miles from the pontoons, so a full set of fenders and warps were deployed. The river once again took on some beauty, with wooded slopes, before the town of Waterford came into sight. The long pontoon seemed to be full. I chugged all the way along the 170m pontoon, and eventually found a gap where I could come alongside.
A Swiss sailor in the boat behind was quick off the mark, and helped me to tie up. The run of 33 miles had taken some 9.5 hours.
The vista from the pontoon was disappointing. The old wharves were derelict, and some 'happy' people were there drinking out of paper bags nearbye.!
To be fair to Waterford, the area was undergoing some construction work, and the town, after all was a working town. On the other side of the wide river Suir, were fishing boats, and animal transport ships. You wondered how these large ocean-going ships navigated their way up river. Certainly they had tugs to pull and push them into their berths, but the smaller ships did all their own handling.
My instruments were again switching on and off. The radio was being reset onto CH 16, and the triplog was being zeroed. This demanded some sort of action. So the following morning, I went ashore to find a ships electrician. After several directions, I found a small garage, whose proprietor was able to advise me on the problem. I took the regulator to him for testing. All seemed to be OK. Which was just as well, as a phone call to Bukh UK told me that a new regulator would cost over £400. So I put the problem down to dynostart brushes, and hoped they would last till I returned to Swansea.
The weather became wet and the wind direction now changed to the east, and strong with it. It put any hopes of my return to Aberystwyth completely out of reach. That wind blew from the east, at 5, 6 and 7's for nearly a week. It was wet, and the company of the drinkers a few yards away was tiresome.
However, a fellow Swansea boat, Lady Muriel, and her skipper Ron Donahue provided some company. Ron and his wife had fostered a profoundly handicapped young girl. They had brought her to Waterford for a two month holiday. I salute them and their compassion. Mind you, Ron also dragged me off to the pub to meet some of his Irish friends. I can sum up the Irish in a few words. They are friendly and helpful. They have the ability to spend a little time with you, helping you on your way. Something our society on this side of the channel is forgetting how to do.
Enough of the soft stuff. The end of the week was approaching, and I was needing to set sail for home. The forecast was predicting a low weather system coming in from the Atlantic. This system should be bring some westerly winds with it, and hopefully not too strong! The Navtex was also issuing a notice for a survey vessel working in the area of my route back to Swansea. And to make life really exciting, a notice was also given out for a GPS jamming trial to be going on all week, fortunately in the Swansea and Cardigan area.
On the Tuesday 24th August, the following days forecast was for a westerly wind, in the region of a 4 to 5. That sounded good to me. All was prepared. The spring tide , which ran at 5 knots in the river would turn at about 7 o'clock in the morning. I planned to leave at 6.00am
On the Wednesday morning, I was up and ready for the departure. The weather was very wet and misty, with a gentle breeze from the south-east. I trusted in the forecast, and let go from Waterford. The mist got thicker and thicker. It briefly rose halfway down the river, but clagged in again at Duncannon. My tiller pilot was also playing up. It kept switching off. At Duncannon, after a large ship loomed out of the mist a few hundred yards away, I decided that I would go back to Waterford. The return trip was now against the tide. The engine throbbed away as hard as it could taking Eilidh and myself back to safety. We eventually tied back up in Waterford pontoon at 11:10, having motored some 20 miles.
I was very wet, and feeling pretty miserable at this stage. I felt that the trip had not been prepared for properly. In those foggy conditions, not enough waypoints were in the GPS to navigate down the river from buoy to buoy. So the chart was analysed, and more waypoints were measured and stored in the instrument. I tracked down the tiller pilots problem to a loose connection. A note was made in the log about the water in the bilges. I tried to see where it was coming from, I could not see any flow of water, but now felt that the water was coming from the engine somewhere.
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