I met Owen in the marina toilets and discussed marine tackle as you do. It turned out he was the first mate of a yacht next door to A-Jay and he also had an issue with his main VHF radio, one’s main link with the outside world at sea, which he knew to be water ingress, a serious matter. He later valiantly helped me in my unsuccessful, bad tempered attempts to retrieve my passage planning folder. Dave from Windjammer Marine Services retrieved it, embarrassingly, in a jiffy and diagnosed my VHF problem as simply the faulty splitter fitted by yours truly, which he removed – I do try (to be fair it had lasted 7 years).
‘IT guru’ Kevin Rogers is clearly another ‘bon oeuf’, being short, 60, married to an accountant and a sailor – we had much in common. He popped over because he had spotted A-Jay as the boat mentioned in the latest ‘Practical Boat Owner Magazine’, which she is, to chat and to seek details on behalf of his wife of the pièce de resistance in my ‘heads’, which naturally I was delighted to provide ad nauseam. He also very kindly drove me out to see some nearby parts of lovely Pembrokeshire and we paused for coffee and cake at the Dale Yacht Club. So much of any of life’s little detours is about the people you meet – thank you Kevin. The forecast was better and Barry the barometer had pulled his pants up so we would go on the morrow.
Sleep held my hand for too few hours before Team A-Jay nosed into the Milford Marina lock at 0700 bound for Eire on an unusually pleasant morning. Tugs were hovering in the estuary entrance like crabs, waiting to grab their prey, a huge fat, red tanker which was approaching as I suffered another “Doh!” moment, dropping one of my lovely, large white fenders overboard. Of course this was in full view of the Obergrüppenfuhrer, three tug captains and the entire crew of the fast approaching leviathan. I wasn’t going to lose my fender though, which was whizzing upstream at 2 kots, so went back to edge of the shipping lane to scrabble for it, which gave me a lovely close up of the tanker.
Kevin had suggested I head out through Jack Sound, which is sandwiched between Skomer/Midland Isle, a national nature reserve and seal breeding area, and the mainland. Anyway, this is why we found ourselves fast approaching the scary looking Blackstone Rocks which you have to leave 100 metres to the West, in order to get the correct transit through the narrow, terrifying looking gap that is Jack Sound. The tide runs fast so there is no turning back and it felt a little tight as we shot through, but in retrospect no more so than some Channel Island passages.
We headed across St. Brides Bay, destination South Bishop Light, which we left to port simply because the conditions were good and it suited our course and the wind direction. ALWAYS pass to the West if things are not so favourable. Here we made our first sighting of a Puffin, such a tiny, comical looking little chap, so we celebrated by digging into the nose-bag for sausages to accompany my half pint of Espresso coffee. The Bishops and Clerks gave us a bit of a pasting as we powered through at 9 knots, soon leaving Ramsey Island behind and on into a restless St. George’s Channel, an area I had only ever previously heard of in shipping forecasts. I still don’t know where the Channel ends and the Irish Sea begins.
I had calculated 2 more hours of favourable tide, before it headed us for another 6 hours, though our destination at this point remained one of three options stretching from Wexford in the South to Dublin in the North. Just before lunch I spotted my first Swallow of 2015, swooping and darting towards England; at this point I decided to reduce power consumption by switching off the fridge and towing the milk behind in the cold water, by way of a rope and clove hitch (see Rachel of Dog Groom Room fame for tips on clove hitches). It looked strange to see it skipping along behind us, but I can report it to be a success!
Puffin Number Two was spotted just after lunch as we stormed along on a broad reach with winds between 14 and 20 knots satisfyingly ahead of schedule. Goose bumps shivered across the surface of the sea and tide scrapped with wind, kicking froth from the tops of the crests as Wexford came abeam 25 nautical miles to the West. ‘Goldfrapp’ failed to attract the dolphins this time, but I suspect the skipping milk carton may have had something to do with that.
A friend said before I left, referring to solo sailing; “but what happens if something happens?” The answer of course is that something unexpected invariably does happen, thus becoming almost the ‘norm’. So it was that at tea time, Harry the autopilot spluttered his last gasp and spat out his £400 dummy, which was hugely inconvenient because wind and waves, though not so challenging as the previous leg from Padstow, were from directions that precluded the proper use of Smiley (if we were to maintain our chosen direction) and we still had 8 hours or so to go.
Time to switch to ‘Saga S.A.S mode’ – gritty, determined, no panic, steady or something like that – which began with a few well-chosen expletives shouted to the Heavens, which restored the skipper’s spirits, as I took the helm for what would be a very long flog. At that point I was reminded again how difficult it can be to steer with a confused quartering sea, as we slewed through arcs of 60 degrees for several hours. Still, it kept me warm for it was a very chilly May evening.
Glancing at the radar again I saw what appeared to be the Scilly Isles moving up from the south just before the rain hit us. Visibility, now very poor, had never been more than about 15 miles during the day, so I had seen little of the shipping, revealed by the radar, ploughing up and down ahead of us. At 1830, we hove-to (jib backed, helm a lee) in order to stop and sort ourselves out; A-Jay settled nicely as I prepared for night sailing (navigation lights switched on and working – check; torch – check; navigation items in place – check; additional clothing to hand – check; hand held VHF to hand – check; hot drink – check) – sounds a palava but when solo and helming in the dark, you have to have quick access all these things and those I had probably forgotten.
As dusk cloaked us, the Irish coast emerged tantalisingly slowly from the horizon, in the shape of Cahore Point and it became more difficult in the gloom to write the hourly log with one hand, the other locked on the tiller. By sunset I could see the glow of the South Arklow Light, marking the southern end of a windfarm – and Arklow, our chosen destination, of course. Arklow has a narrow entrance between two long, thin arms and you have to watch the fierce cross current before the entrance and your ‘groins’ inside. As we crabbed towards what I guessed to be the entrance, things were not made any easier by the light pollution that virtually obscured the pier head navigation lights, particularly as the moon had just decided to hide beneath the stacked, black clouds above.
By midnight, we were alongside in the commercial fish dock, a very smelly dead beat haven slippery with guano, drinking hot chocolate and listening to Beethoven (still on page 475). We remained a further day in the fish dock, dining on smoked salmon, cous cous and Irish stew.
Raymarine had agreed to ship out a new autopilot to await me in Dublin and their local agent kindly offered to courier his own unit to me in Arklow, to use on the passage North. Before we left the fish dock, with its sunken yacht and down at heel fishing boats, I witnessed a full blown Irish row between the crew of a battered little fishing boat and the boss, apparently the wife of the skipper, who appeared to have forgotten to pay the troops – including her husband -, all this to the chorus of “Dahdeeeee! Dahdeee!!!!”, from two small children in the car, one of whom was leaning on the horn. This altercation was remarkable both for its sheer volume and longevity, so deserves a mention.
We left through a cloud of blue smoke that smelt like nothing I’d ever come across before, emanating from a battered collection of aluminium panels shaped vaguely like a boat. A few minutes later we were alongside a crowded pontoon just past the marina entrance, our lines taken by a fellow traveller, overlooked by well-heeled Irish retirees in Marina Village. Breakfast in the sunshine on the poop deck consisted of scrambled eggs on smoked salmon, with crusty rolls and half a pint of Espresso.
Here we will kill a little time while we await for the autopilot and explore, which reminds me of a poem written a while ago
“Time drags so in traffic jams
Or the stressful hours of work
But flies us through bright moments
Every second SO precious
Time flies on gossamer wings
At night brings dreams some wanted
Others like thieves steal the night
Leaves you raw come the new dawn
Time heals the wounds of the heart
Eases painful memories
Soothes fever of the spirit
Calms the seething tortured mind
Time sees you enter the World
Stays with you through life’s journey
Observes all you see and do
Holds your hand until the end.”
I have a sneaky feeling that Arklow might be my kind of place as the main butcher in Town proudly displays the following sign across a large, posh red canopy;
“Corned Beef a Speciality”
And the optician’s sign reads;