I was reminded that Eire is a ‘foreign’ country as I struggled to get Euros, couldn’t find a radio station on my little DAB tranny and by the Irish Coastguard voices on the VHF, which I sometimes cannot understand though they speak English.
Arklow sprawls across the River Avoca and is not a pretty town; you won’t find designer shops here, but it is quaint in a shabby honest way, busy, full of ordinary folk and it inclined me to think a sweeping statement – the Irish are all really nice people. I didn’t have to adopt a rictus smile to receive many warm greetings wherever I strolled. There’s character too – the gable of a pub declared ‘Guiness Time’ and other murals adorned shuttering with dramatic images. Across the river I could make out – almost smell – my previous home, the fish dock.
A-Jay does attract attention and has received many nice comments, such as from a German Skipper of a large immaculate motor-sailer, who pronounced A-Jay to be a trim little vessel and went back to get his camera, to photograph Smiley.
I have a thing about bilges and whilst you couldn’t quite eat your dinner out of mine, I suspect they contain less Salmonella than a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Getting down and dirty today confirmed a minor fresh water leak and a dead electric bilge pump so my obsession does occasionally pay off. Talking of dinner, I now know that when the juice from my chicken Kiev catches fire in the oven, it’s cooked.
Passage planning in a rare hour of sun on the poop deck is a joyous experience and I allowed myself to be lulled into the belief that summer might have finally decided to join us, heralding perhaps a pleasant inshore passage to our next stop, Dublin, there to celebrate the Skipper’s 60th and a happy reunion with friends and family …. some Guinness too perhaps.
Next morning Linda from the enormous boat astern with the vast derrière (the boat’s) kindly took my bow line, as I began the Willis exit-in-reverse-master-plan, which bombed from the outset, requiring a seamless lightning fast transition to hastily concocted plan B, which saw Team A-Jay rocketing forwards and curving gracefully if accidentally past the derelict Beneteau 48 ahead. Linda, who had been expecting a reverse exit looked mildly surprised. Only I knew that Lady Luck had definitely been holding my hand, as I said thanks to Linda, who tossed my warp onto the foredeck beautifully.
There is a truth here though – you are more likely to succeed in a manoeuvre, particularly with a wind and tide situation, if you ‘boot’ the boat, rather than ‘faff’ with too little power. OK, if having booted it you cock up, at least the resulting prang will be sufficient to really give your audience something to pick over in the pub.
Three hundred metres out an orange and black Custaims RIB drew alongside with 2 officials, one of whom boarded. Nice chap and I was impressed, as they only have 2 cutters to cover the whole of Ireland and yet they managed to find me. He very politely checked all my boat documents and passport, noting approvingly – fortunately – that I was a Major. It could have gone the other way …….
The day started well as we actually managed to sail for a while, until the wind decided to leave us, so I hand steered the rest of the way, book in one hand, tiller in the other, one eye on the view, t’other elsewhere ……. I really didn’t mind as the scenery was gorgeous, a complete contrast to the bleak, sinister dark smugglers’ cliffs of Cornwall. Rolling green Wicklow hills sloped gently down to the sea, with little beaches like smiles beneath canopies, lying beneath a sky like dirty meringues piled high and behind, the soft dark smoky grey Wicklow ‘mountains’ rolled across the horizon.
I could hear a cow in distress, the gentle hiss of sea sucking on sand and the ugly throb of a diesel fishing trawler approaching from the North. Two Terns circled the boat noisily, one trying to find a landing spot though I couldn’t think why as we were only half a mile out – perhaps they liked Blur…..
This bucolic peaceful idyll lasted an hour before the wind dropped below 5 knots and, as we only had a few hours before the tide turned, Yanni was asked to provide additional motive force and I stood Smiley down, taking over his duties.
The sea was flat, the wind gone and the miles slipped slowly by as we passed Mizen Head, Wicklow Head, Greystones and Sorrento Point often with no more than 7 metres beneath our keels. I decided to go inside of the Muglins, up Dalkey Sound over-looked by some lovely houses and was surprised when Boreas suddenly flicked two fingers at us and sent 20 knots shooting up our nose. Where did that come from!
In Sandy Cove just outside the enormous man made structure that encases Dun Laohaire Harbour, we switched to Saga Mode, engine in neutral, 2,3 … sails down, 2,3 … fenders out port side 2,3 …. warps fitted and led back to cockpit, 2,3. For some reason I tend to set up for port side to and endeavour to jockey my position to come in to land thus, rather than switch warps and fenders at the last minute.
The marina staff ignored my call on VHF 80 so I called them on the phone for directions as Dun Lohaire Marina is vast. So big that they have put floating showers and toilets half way between the Visitors’ berthing area and the shore side facilities, in case you get caught short.
Three or 4 sailing school boats were practising this and that as we came in to land, which I don’t like, as your every move is closely scrutinised by professional skippers. Still we made it, crabwise, landing a little bumpily in the gusty conditions, like the 1845 Aurigny Tri-lander in from Jersey. Dublin at last, 486 nautical miles out from Guernsey.
A stroll through down town Dun Laohaire revealed Maritime and Shackleton Museums; as someone who visits every maritime museum he can find and for whom Sir Ernest Shackleton (who was ¾ Irish) is a super hero, along with the likes of Sir Robin Knox Johnston, this was great.
Anyway, repairs needed to be made for I had discovered that Billy the bilge pump had burned out. Tripping over the step at the chandlers, I fell headlong into the shop and arrived on my stomach alongside the counter. They were very polite though and all was well as they had a replacement Billy, plus the fuses I needed and by tea time Billy had been replaced by a bigger, better model – the story of life! RIP Billy MK1!!
That night I saw a fender floating nearby, which snorted and shook – it was a seal but he disappeared, sinking lazily beneath the surface as I failed to grab the camera in time. Next morning blessed by cold rain and a strong, chilly wind we rolled across a frisky white capped sea to Dublin Port, cringing on the side lines as large ships entered. Port Control told us to run down the Southern edge of the channel to Poolbeg, a little rustic yacht club marina. Staff gesticulated to our berth as we approached and instructed me thus;
“Shoot for the pontoon then stop your engine before you get there as there is a sleeping bag in the water … .last year there was a dead bloke with €5,000 in his pocket!”
Later the genial Yacht Club volunteer advised me:
“The Old Gaffers are in Town this weekend, so put on your drinking boots!”
Sound advice I am sure.