Irish trip 1999
Waterford back to Swansea
Waterford to Dale 26/8/99
Thursday 26th August. HW was just after 7am. I planned to leave Waterford then. The tide would take me down the River Suir, giving me a good send off back to Swansea. I rose at 05:45, just after the forecast. The day promised to bring winds from the South West, force 4 to 5, backing to the west later. A perfect wind for my sail home. At 6:30, I caste off, having warmed the engine. The day looked good, clear skies, and dry.
Once underway, the sail were hoisted, which gave Eilidh an extra knot or so down the river. It felt a little odd going past all those large boats, which I had gone past yesterday. I wonder if they recognised me. I doubt it, as I didn't see anyone on board of any of them.
Skye Boat, a Fisher 30+ left just after me. The boat, with a crew of 4 on board was on passage to Falmouth. We should sail together for the first few hours. On entering the estuary, I saw Skyeboat about a mile behind me, alas, I lost sight of him, and never saw him again on the trip. The estuary turned into a very rough sea. With the tide going out at full pelt, and the wind blowing against it, the waves were huge.
A couple of waves came right over Eilidh, straight into my lap. I had a working jib and a full main. The wind was on the nose. I comforted myself in the knowledge that I was shortly changing course, and this would put the wind on the beam. These large waves were well inside the estuary, between the buoys on the bar. I was expecting some more rough seas at the entrance of the estuary, were overfalls were shown on the chart. Funnily enough, these did not materialise. It was not too long before Eilidh and I cleared the shore, and were heading off into the Irish Sea. I did hear SkyeBoat contact the coastguard, but as said, never saw him during the passage.
By 10:00am, I had changed course and was heading to a point some 14 miles south of the Smalls. I had a dread of the Smalls, with its 5 knot currents. I was prepared to sail another couple of hours in order to avoid the area. Coninbergh light was in sight, as were the Saltees. The seas had calmed considerably, and Eilidh was dashing through the water at 5 1/2 knots.
An hour later, with speeds through the water of 6 1/2 knots, I decided to reef the main. The wind, nicely on the beam was blowing a good 5 to 6, and the waves were getting larger. I gingerly let go of the tiller, Eilidh put her nose almost into the wind, and steadied herself. The reefing was easily and quickly done, and once more we darted off into the blue seas. I was a little concerned that the wind was blowing stronger all the time. The waves were reaching 10' easily, and the helming was becoming quite strenuous. But Eilidh showed no sign of stress, and was sailing with ease, if not a little bouncily. My bucket, which was wedged between the guardrail and the cockpit combing was swept away. The seas were not in a forgiving mood.
An hour later the boat was speeding through the waves, with no sign of the weather calming, it was the turn of the jib to be reduced. Having dug out the storm jib, I hove too again, and went forward to take down the working foresail. Only then did I fully realise the size of the waves. It slightly unnerved me, and having completed taking off the sail, I was quickly on my way back to the cockpit. For some reason, I was a little reluctant to go forward again, and hoist the storm jib, so I pulled in the main, and set off on course again without a jib. The boat was much easier to sail. She was still sailing at 5 1/2 knots, so that was an easy decision.
Three o'clock in the afternoon brought me a school of porpoises. They stayed for 5 minutes, and disappeared. Eilidh was now approaching the position of the survey vessel, and a look-out was kept for Geotracer. The coastguard had asked for a wide berth around this boat, as she had sonar fish strung out. I mentally rehearsed an approach. In the distance I saw white boat. It was quite small, not what I had expected for a survey vessel.
The white boat and Eilidh were on a converging course, the compass bearing to her was steady. I was worried about going astern, in case she was trailing a sonar. Thus I laid off my course and aimed to pass ahead. As the courses converged, the white boat appeared to be fishing. I could see his stern gear dragging into the sea. At this stage, I felt that I now had to go in front of him. Eilidh was now on a full blown run, and I was sailing as precisely as I could to avoid a jybe.
I not proud of this, but without crew, and with the danger of an accidental jybe, I sailed within 50 metres of this poor Spanish fisherman. Several of the crew came out, and I thought they waved at me. I could see them quite clearly. Once I was well clear of the fisherman's bows, I did the obvious thing, pushed the tiller away, back on to a beam reach, and shot across his bows before you could say "Spanish fisherman". He did hoot at me, but Eilidh was well clear. I had my back to him now. I waved back, and then concentrated on sailing as fast as I could.
Whilst sailing with the wind on the stern, I had been able to relax my arms and legs. I was getting cramp in my legs. This was caused by jamming myself into the cockpit, to stop the boat movement throwing me about. The tiller was hard work. Eilidh has a large rudder, and the strain was beginning to tell. The tiller pilot worked well, but its anchor point was moving. The way the anchor point for the tiller pilot was constructed was not man enough for this sort of strain. Whilst it was holding, and shown no sign of breakage, I felt that it was politic not to use the tiller pilot until I had too. The tiller pilot was used for short periods, when food or nature requirements were called for.
The violent motion also showed up another weakness. Going below was a tricky journey, done with forethought, and careful placement of limbs. Making a cuppa was not too difficult, though a kettle full of boiling water was an obvious hazard. The really difficult challenge was to get that hot cup of tea back on deck, without it being spilt. The contents of one cup sluiced into the bilges, another into the cock-pit sole. It was just as well that I was 30 miles offshore, and no one could hear me.
Dusk was approaching. Two large ships going north came with a mile or so. One changed course for me, and I waved to thank him, though he was at least 1/2 a mile away. The waves were splashing up over his bow, and I guess he thought I needed the help. The Smalls light was beginning to show, above the waves. I had changed my mind about going straight to Swansea. I was very tired, and Dale, now only 25 miles away beckoned with both hands.
I changed course 5 miles short of the waypoint, calculating that the northerly tide was largely spent. The course change meant that the wind was now on the stern, and at last I could relax. The waves were huge. They towered over the stern, maybe 12'. Eilidh's stern rose and they passed beneath us. Eilidh surfed if she could, reaching 8 1/2 knots on one occasion. Food was heated and eaten. Tea was now staying in the cup. Even a beer was had. 25 miles from Dale, and all was well.
At 21:00, the GPS decided to play up. It kept cutting out. The backup did the same, and there were no small batteries for it. Fortunately, I was able to use both hands now to try and sort the problem. As the GPS bracket had been on deck, open to the elements for the last two weeks, a little corrosion had broken the electrical contact. Once the problem was identified, it was easily solved. As dark came, I started the engine. It would help to power the navigation lights, and keep the boat on course. I filled the sink with cold water, knowing that by-product of running the engine for several hours was a sink full of warm water to wash in.
Lights of Skokholm Island were now visible. In the distance, Milford and Pembroke town lights glowed. The Smalls light faded. I was not unhappy to see it disappear. It was nearly midnight; I could now make out the lights at the entrance of the Milford. Two ferries came into sight. I could see a matrix of lights belonging the Swansea to Cork Ferry away on the starboard beam. The Rosslare Ferry was approaching from behind. It passed me a couple of miles on my port beam, and entered the Heads using the West channel.
As soon I had seen the ferry approach, I decided to enter the Haven using the East channel. I would normally use this channel on route from Swansea. I had all the waypoints in the GPS, and I was familiar with that approach. The course took us an extra mile or two, but it felt safer doing it that way.
Once in the Havens entrance, the lights of Dale Point soon became clear, and the end of the sea crossing was in sight. Dale pontoon was the favoured mooring, failing that I would anchor close by. With the pontoon still not in sight, and a GPS fix telling me I was a mile away, I took the mainsail down. I was now well within the Haven, and the sea was at last calm.
In the dark, I saw the pontoon, and it only had two boats tied to it. We motored quietly into the dark to sort warps and fenders. Eilidh came round to approach the pontoon once again, into the wind. We gently touched, and I stepped of the boat and tied up.
The time was 01:45, on Friday morning. The log read 100nm over the ground. Through the water we had sailed 84 miles. What bliss, I radioed the coastguard, washed my face in the warm water, and went to bed.
8 o'clock arrived, and I awoke. My plan was to sail back to Swansea today. But it was the last thing I wanted to do. My legs and arms were so stiff, I could hardly move them. My head ached, and did not feel well at all. I could have slept through the day. I switched on the VHF, ready for the forecast. When it came, it was good. It sounded like a summer's day. Why was yesterday not like that.
On the VHF radio, I heard Lady Muriel talk to the coastguard. When I opened the hatch, I found she was moored a few yards in front of Eilidh. I got dressed, and went to see them. Ron was in the bridge, and we exchanged greetings. He had followed me out of Waterford yesterday, leaving several hours after me. They had arrived in Dale at 3am having had a very rough passage. They were not joking!
At 9:30, I caste off, and motored towards the Heads. Sails were soon up, and a pleasant breeze and calm seas welcomed us back on our journey. The GPS again played up, but a good scratching on its terminals sorted it. Lucky GPS! My course took me close to Linney Head, and close inshore along the Castlemartin Range. I was desperately hoping that the range would not be in use today. I was in luck.
The tide at this stage was ebbing. I had reckoned on the tide being against me. But Eilidh was covering the ground fast. In less than two hours, she had motor-sailed well over 11 miles. I wondered if there was an inshore current going against the tidal direction.
With St Gowans head now clear, Eilidh headed out into Carmarthen Bay. All was not well, I was feeling sick. I put it down to lack of sleep, and the strain of the previous day. I eat OK, but didnt enjoy the food. All I wanted was to get home, and to bed. I slept for short periods, but fishing buoys and large lumps of seaweed kept me from slumbering too long.
Navtex had warned that the MOD was carrying out GPS jamming trials in the area. It was not really inconvenient, as I knew the area well. Swansea was the 6th bay on the left, just after Mumbles. However, I was intrigued to see the effect on this wonderful magic device that had seen me home in the dark yesterday. To my disappointment, nothing happened. The GPS just kept telling me the way home. Either the trial was not working, or the army had knocked off early for the weekend.
Eilidh swept into Swansea Bay at 6 o'clock on Friday evening. We came through the opened free-flow lock at 7pm, giving us a passage time of 9 1/2 hours. This was a very good time, the fastest that I have achieved on the Swansea Dale trip. I tied up, and switched off the engine.
With the exception of the GPS playing up, all had worked well. I was later to find out that the exhaust elbow on the engine was cracked, which may well have made me feel a bit under the weather on the trip back from Dale.
It was not too long before I made the Swansea Yacht & Sub Aqua Club, and a pint was enjoyed, friends greeted and it was not much longer before I departed in a taxi for home. I was very tired.
Ready for next year.
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