27th June 2015 – Tobermory and on to Mallaig

NE Tip of NI, Rathlin Beyond

NE Tip of NI, Rathlin Beyond

Cam Neill Headland

Cam Neill Headland

The gentleman who filled my jerry cans told me the weather was unique and bemoaned the irritating midges, which the Swallows were so obviously enjoying and which had not bothered me; indeed thus far I hadn’t even seen one, let alone felt one and I sagely put this down to the maintenance of a toxic internal environment, what with my penchant for extra chili, garlic, ginger and hair-restorer on non-sailing days.

Gigalum Cardinal

Gigalum Cardinal

Gigha Anchorage

Gigha Anchorage

Paps of Jura

Paps of Jura

Leaving Craobh

Leaving Craobh

Two big fat pig-ugly red landing craft followed me out shortly after dawn, carrying stores for the inhabitants of imposing castellated Shuna House and associated homesteads on the Islet.  In the loch a floating ‘fender’ became a curious, breakfasting seal like something out of Alice in Wonderland.  As we approached tiny Cuan Sound apprehension grew as severe warnings and scary photographs of yachts on rocks peppered the various pilot books, which I had snapped shut and put away, lest courage failed me completely.

I aimed to enter Cuan at 0700, an hour before HW Dover and by 0810 Team A-Jay was smugly through both Cuan and Inish sounds – at this point I usually describe the morning, but won’t this time as it was like all the rest though with added rain and waves, which we had seen few of in these inland waters.  Half an hour later we ran over a submarine as the depth gauge jumped instantly from 29 meters beneath our keels to 8 and back to exactly 8 metres again a few seconds later; there were no underwater obstacles at this point so I may well be right – others have reported similar occurrences, one skipper even deliberately weaving, only to find the reduced depth followed him; I wonder what the submarine Captain’s log entry read that day: “Had a good day today – chased a yacht in the Firth of Lorne”!  Oh well, it was nice to know we still had a submarine or two.

Cuan Sound

Cuan Sound

Inish Sound

Inish Sound

I am in love with the Stornaway Coast Guard weather forecast announcer, who can lull me into a trance with her soft Scottish bur, leaving me oblivious to the depressing information being dispensed and so it was today, that news of fronts coming in from the Atlantic bringing Force 6/7 with gales nearby and rain, simply didn’t bother me.

It is funny how doubts can creep in at odd times, as they did when our speed dropped and all yachts seemed to be heading South, only to evaporate as we entered the Sound of Mull, fell onto a broad reach and shot off under full sail.  The Heavens delivered a desultory shower but promised much more if the ominous tiered dark clouds were any indication, but I was high on ½ pint of Espresso and we were actually sailing!  Mind you the term ‘shot off’ is a relative one, as we were overtaken by every yacht in the Sound, which was galling except that all were several feet longer and many hadn’t bothered with sails, using the ‘iron donkey’ instead – or perhaps both.

Entrance to Sound of Mull

Entrance to Sound of Mull

Sailing in the Mull

Sailing in the Mull

This was my first experience of loch sailing, but I wasn’t surprised to find the wind varied between 5 and 20 knots from the south and our speed from 2.5 to 6.5 knots.  Neither was I surprised to see the odd ‘lightweight Frenchie’ with a reef tucked in, or rounding up in a strong gust.  Later we had a tussle with a Wayfarer dinghy outside Tobermory and I was confident of an easy victory, but it would be a lie to declare the result as anything other than an honourable draw – and she was only 16 feet long!  Maybe I really am a rubbish sailor!

Large Yacht Tobermory

Large Yacht Tobermory

Tobermory

Tobermory

We ‘parked’ in 20 metres of water, near a waterfall, alongside the ubiquitous fish farm, as the wind sighed loudly over the mast top and colourful little Tobermory smiled cheerfully at us from a mile away.  The waterfall gushed noisily into the loch through dense forest 40 metres away and at its base a grey heron stood, immobile, patience personified.

An Atlantic front dumped itself wetly onto the cabin roof next morning after a windy, wet night and Barry the barometer was in a sulk, unlike the fat seal playfully thrashing a kale stalk around, to see what was inside.  Out in the loch, rain reduced visibility to less than 2 miles and an open sea state with strong winds awaited us round Ardnachern Point, but we were heading North running before the wind.  A wagtail perched briefly on a guard wire and strutted on the foredeck like a little Admiral, before he decided flight was preferable.

Anchored Tobermory

Anchored Tobermory

Leaving the Mull Between Fronts

Leaving the Mull Between Fronts

Wagtail Hitches a Ride

Wagtail Hitches a Ride

Close in to the Point, we benefitted from an extra push from the tide which slid us round and North in fine style.  Streaks of blue sky lightened the morning, though the next front was piling darkly behind us and would be with us in a couple of hours I reckoned.  With Force 5 – 7 up our chuff and 2 metre waves, I decided the genoa alone was the safest and most comfortable option and so we rocked, rolled and surfed to Mallaig as the skipper attacked his ‘elevenses’, ‘twelveses’ and ‘oneses’.

I remember as a little boy of 8 at boarding school, ferociously learning all the capitals of the World and looking for weird names to share with pals.  ‘Rum’, ‘Egg’ and ‘Muck’ were discovered and caused much conspiratorial mirth and here they were, albeit called ‘Rhum’, ‘Eigg’ and ‘Muck’, just a few miles off our port beam, hiding in the murk!

Mallaig Entrance (Note Statue)

Mallaig Entrance (Note Statue)

I was wrong – the front claimed us in an hour and its’ mate was on its way when the pin holding the foot of the genoa disappeared, soliciting colourful vocabulary from the skipper.  Twenty minutes on the foredeck and the genoa was fixed; the next front then caught us, just as we turned in to head up for our final approach for ‘landing’ in Mallaig;  Force 6 and horizontal rain on the nose, just long enough to tease us all the way in and whilst we berthed.  ‘Lady Luck’ has a dark sense of humour sometimes, I fear.

Today’s little jaunt had taken 7 hours, but it was time to stock up with essentials, so an hour or two ashore was required.  Tomorrow will likely be similar in terms of weather, though our destination won’t be fixed until Team A-Jay hits the road – it’ll be a surprise to us all!

Toot toot

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By ajay290

24th June 2015 – Gigha and Beyond

(sadly this wifi link will not support downloading pictures – another time)

Another dawn reveille saw the skipper slip into his pre-departure Saga routine like a well-oiled machine …. “vertical …2,3 …. scratch … 2,3 …. light stove 2,3 (ensuring kettle is on it) … open eyes 2,3 … dress 2,3 …” and by 0430 Team A-Jay was heading out past the fish farm on the high tide, mainsail proudly erect.

The Northern Ireland coast line here is magical – I was in awe as we slipped past on a glassy sea pushed by an extra knot and a half as the tide briefly accelerated us round the headland.  The cliffs are 400 metres high, tumbling lush green, bald in places exposing red grey rock; farmsteads and homes dot the base and a sea level road winds its way, the only real link with the towns.  A few sheep defied gravity as they breakfasted and not even the inevitable lead grey canopy of cloud could spoil the picture.  The sea, smooth as a mirror today and leaden like the sky, lay snugly at the gently sloping foot of the mountains though how terrifying this scene must be in a winter’s gale.

Groups of Guillemots idled on the sea and 15 nautical miles to the East the dark 1,000 foot high Mull of Kintyre floated, its base hidden by fog.  Here and there a lost cloud clung forlornly to gullies in the cliffs and the North Channel was at peace, so very different from the mayhem and disaster of the trip from Port St. Mary.  To the North, Rathlin Island and Islay were darkly visible as a fat red tanker headed briskly South freed from the shackles of the shipping lanes we were approaching.

As we closed the Mull, the top of which looked like broccoli florets in the gloom, Guillemots gave way to formation flying Gannets and jelly fish hung in the sea like discarded translucent shopping bags.  Ray the Radar back from a lengthy furlough, reported no shipping at all in the shipping lanes as we crossed, but he picked up a yacht creeping close round the Mull; long and lean, she was soon far ahead of us.

Where yacht Islay came from I had no idea as I hadn’t seen her when I scanned the horizon, but there she was passing 2 cables to port, the Isle of Islay and Jura’s Paps in the background.  To starboard a few houses and a wind farm did little to lighten the bleak flanks of Kintyre and the wind breathed its last and collapsed into the sea, as we headed into Ardminish Bay on Gigha’s East Side to join a dozen other yachts in the rain.  We’d been at sea for 9 hours.

Saga Reveille procedure next morning included a peek at the Met Office forecast, as astonishingly I had MyFi access in this bay.  Expecting winds from the South, Force 4 – 6, I was puzzled to have almost no wind from the East, North and West; it did rain though, so the forecast was partly right!

Heavy rain during the night had sluiced out A-Jay’s nooks and crannies and left a heavy, soggy dawn to see us off.  Departing an hour before Dover HW we were off the Northern tip of pretty little Gigha an hour later, sharing space with seals and trawlers, watched all the while by the Paps of Jura that playfully pushed their tips through a thin translucent veil of cloud.  Their less well endowed cousins to the East lay flat, squashed by dense heavy cloud.

You navigate the Sound of Gigha in the dark at your peril, for there are pot markers everywhere adding to the hazards posed by numerous rocks and reefs; the skipper had to be alert and strong tea helped.  Some Heavenly Warrior had slashed open the grey canopy to the East, releasing a lagoon of light blue sky …. MORE PLEASE!!!  In contrast the Paps to the West had lifted their skirts to cover their modesty as the sun briefly teased Team A-Jay.

A-Jay at 29 feet is a relative tiddler and despite leaving well before two other yachts, we were soon overhauled us for speed in a yacht is a function of water line length and no amount of power will conquer the laws of hydro dynamics.  It also struck me that I had not seen a single motor boat cruising, though I guess they are designed to be supremely comfortable to sit in, so why bother going far?  What I did see were many long lines of bubbles and ripples, which I soon discovered were made by seals – at least most were.  Team A-Jay was traversing a submarine exercise area and a raised periscope also makes a long line of bubbles and ripples …..

Homesteads were few and far between on the Eastern shore (I couldn’t see much of the Western shore due to rain and mist) and I wondered what it must be like to live there in winter, far from anywhere.  I suspect though that most of the inhabitants would be too busy working the land and tending animals for leisure; a tough life in a harsh but beautiful environment.

We passed the infamous, tantalising, deadly, Corryvreckan sandwiched between Jura and Scarba and five miles later we entered Croabh Harbour just before heavy rain settled in for the afternoon, 7 hours out from Gigha.  As I wrote up the log I realised that I had used the chart much more than the GPS today, because there are so many features in the lochs that it is relatively easy to pick them out and it is satisfying fun that helps while away the hours.

Force 7 and heavy rain welcomed me to the World, but I expected nothing different.   The forecast suggested more of the same for the next few days – oh well, all part of growing up and being British.  Tomorrow we’ll definitely go, though the Willis Master Plan for the trip will be flexible.

Toot toot

By ajay290

23rd June 2015 – Escape from Bangor

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Richard Fixes Yanny

ONLY 3 PICTURES DUE TO SLOW INTERNET CONNECTION – MORE TO FOLLOW

It’s easy when you know how and Richard the engineer, buried deep inside Yanny’s innards, made fitting a new water pump look like a cinch.  By tea time he had finished, I had arranged a bank loan, Yanny was skipping like a lamb and even grumpy Barry the barometer had cheered up a bit as the sunshine arrived, so the omens were good.

Relaxing later with a cuppa on the poop deck, I was hailed by an incoming Skipper giving the ‘thumb’s up’; “What Ho A-Jay!  Saw your bit in Practical Boat Owner!!!”  How positive and cheerful that little article about Team A-Jay seemed all those weeks ago and how much has befallen us since then!  Character building stuff, much of it, so I reckoned we were due a visit from Lady Luck who I hoped would bring sunshine, fair winds and no breakdowns.  If that was too much to ask, I’d settle for fair winds – and if she wanted to award a bonus, a decent haggis.

Reveille is never cheerful at ‘0-sparrow-fart’, but at least I can describe the dawn as other than “cold, grey…” a description that has fitted so many dawns since we left Guernsey.  Refuelled, we sat quietly in the loch as the skipper switched to Saga mode to prepare Team A-Jay for sea and raise the main sail in salute to the new dawn sky, whilst the kettle boiled for a second half pint of tea.

As we crossed Belfast Loch to leave The Briggs & Cloghan Jetty buoys to port, ships slept at anchor, ‘noses’ pointed towards Belfast Docks in anticipation of journey’s end.  15,000 tons of Stenna Lines finest bore down on us out of the rising sun at 20 knots; discretion is the better part of valour and thinking also that ‘might has right’ on its side, whatever the rules of the road, we bore away and around her stern.  Her sister ship passed to the North as a large freighter loomed close and once clear, we scarpered North up the Loch like a cat across a road.

Despite the bright infant sun, Belfast wore its seemingly permanent cap of grey cloud like a grey woollen muffler, draped carelessly across the shoulders of the mountains.  Brightly painted houses on the water’s edge like Opal Fruits, lazily turning wind turbines and soft greenery graced the headland.  The light on Black Head led us towards the Maidens atop their reefs, past the bailey-bridge pathway that links the caves below The Gobbins for the brave hiker, as Team A-Jay rode the tide Northwards.  I didn’t care that what little wind there was came out of the North; after 3 days delay we were heading in the right direction at last.

By now the Isle of Muck stood clear with Carnlough Headland a grey background shadow and distant smudgy land clearly visible across the North Channel to the East.  Glenarm Marina, so insignificant from the sea you’ll miss it if you blink, is such a sweet, charming spot that even the bovine smells off the hills can’t mar it.  Lock on to the yellow Peak Head Buoy, 23 nautical miles out from Bangor and head on in – ‘seemples’.  Billy will probably be there to welcome you.

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Flowers in Glenarm

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Glenarm Church & River

Passage planning in rare sunshine later, I overhead three skippers who had fled South from where Team A-Jay is going because of the weather and the cold.   Oh well, Lady Luck owes us a favour!  Team A-Jay will leave at dawn, bound for Gigha in the Sound of Jura.

IT IS UNLIKELY i WILL HAVE INTERNET FOR A FEW DAYS SO UNTIL THEN …..

 

Toot toot

By ajay290

18th to 23rd? June – Banged up in Bangor

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Bangor

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Bangor

If I hadn’t laughed, I would have cried.  I had been watching the engine coolant system for a few days so whilst it was hugely disappointing to find a significant leak from the sealed system water pump during my pre-departure checks, it wasn’t a total surprise.  Team A-Jay would not be going anywhere today (Thursday).

I happened to find 6 engineers of various hues at coffee in the Marina Offices and wedging myself in their midst, regaled them with my tale of woe, determined not to leave without securing assistance.  Five fingers pointed at Richard, who looked over worked and underwhelmed, but he kindly arrived at Team A-Jay after lunch and agreed with my diagnosis, adding there wasn’t another Yanmar engineer for miles.  The very expensive parts couldn’t be fitted until Monday at best – agggghhhh!!!!  The real sting in this tale is that I had had a new pump fitted before we left.

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Yanny, Nude

If I have any virtues patience would not top the list, so I headed off for a pacey steam powered bash round Bangor to check out bus and train time tables and by the time I arrived at Asda for a spot of culinary retail therapy, equilibrium, though shaky, had been restored.  Indeed the smells of potato gratin and cauliflower cheese wafting through the cabin later reminded me that all was not so bad.  After all, summer might actually arrive before we escaped the clutches of Bangor.

Talking of Bangor, whilst the town lacks designer shops and beauty of the architectural kind – neither of which I miss – the marina is excellent, probably the best managed and run I have encountered on this trip, so not such a bad place to be confined.  Even my case for a discount seemed to find a sympathetic ear.

I am now a fully signed up Guillemot fan; there is a breeding station here in the marina where Black Guillemots can be watched close up.  Plump, dignified, ever so neat fussy looking little birds, they look for all the World like mini-Poirots with red trainers.  Their scruffy, rufty-tufty Common cousins seem to spend all their time out at sea, where they understandably have less opportunity to attend to their coiffure.

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Titanic Museum

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Harland & Wolfe

Harland & Wolf is a very large part of Belfast’s industrial heritage still hugely yellow, visible on the Belfast industrial sea front.  It was of course the yard that built the Titanic, now remembered in a fantastic museum and if you ever go, I recommend the audio visual experience that takes you from engine room to bridge and the incredible live footage of the ship on the sea bed.

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Titanic Bridge

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Titanic Grand Staircase

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Titanic Saloon

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Titanic 3rd Class Smoking Room

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Titanic Engine Room

Having been here for a while now, I have had many neighbours …. there was a hippy German couple with a ‘witch’s broom’ mounted on the backstay of their boat named Kleine Hexe, so  no surprise about the broom – might make an interesting conversation on the VHF though.  Earlier this evening a rufty-tufty little Norwegian yacht arrived, powered by a smoky old egg whisk of an outboard, the propeller of which barely touched the water; I took the lines of the 4 young Vikings aboard and haven’t seen them since; I suspect they are keeping up the Viking tradition ashore.  There was certainly enough testosterone aboard to see them through most things.

I was later adopted by a delightful crew of a Moody 38, led by Eamon Furlong and we dined upstairs at Donegan’s after a pint of Guinness poured through two taps, something I understand is essential to achieve the perfect pint.  Next morning I dropped the boat down to the leeward pontoon to work off the Guinness scrubbing the water line, cheered by news that the spare part had arrived and will be fitted tomorrow, so we’ll be away God willing at ‘0-sparrow-fart’ Tuesday.  Yipppeeee!

Did I say ‘summer might even arrive before I leave ….’?  Barry the barometer is in a sulk and the rain is thundering on the cabin roof as I sign off ……

By ajay290

16th June Onwards and Upwards to Bangor

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Life Boat Leaves Ardglass

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Lifeboat Returns with Wee Gem

Next morning a gentleman arrived to fix my tiller pin.  Who had told him I needed help I have no idea, perhaps ‘Arthur’s Dad’ (Arthur is the pontoon striding marina cat)?  Incredibly he was a Jerseyman, but I didn’t – given the circumstances – hold that against him.  By the time I had finished my evening fish and chips the tiller pin had been returned and fitted and I had sorted Yanny the Yanmar’s fuel supply, so we were ready to roll on the morrow.

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Fuel Pipe & Debris that Stopped the Engine

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Sailing Down to Bangor

Ardglass Marina is tiny, which I like because only smaller boats can visit.  It is a private venture, started as part of an area regeneration scheme, but has been so successful in relative terms as it is a tiny backwater, that there is resentment that the profits are not being spread more widely.  Well, all I can say is that Arthur needs his cat food and there are facilities to maintain …… I would happily come again to hibernate, though not to party.

I paid Arthur’s Dad for our stay using a manual card machine the like of which I had not seen for 10 years or more.  His spaniel was up for a game of ‘retrieve the stone’ and seemed sorry I had to finish the game, which he could have continued FOREVER!!  They like their dogs here I thought, as a bouncy tail wagging Alsation made himself comfortable in a whizzy orange Rib.

Time to go and I knew Arthur’s Dad, plus Arthur and the spaniel would be watching our every move from his eyrie: loosen springs, 2, 3 … engine in gear and bows up against the pontoon 2,3 …. bow and spring warps off, 2, 3 … stroll to stern and coil warps, 2, 3 …. release stern warp, 2, 3 …. reverse out, then full ahead and hard to starboard, 2, 3 …. and on into the narrow Ardglass channel heading for the open sea, where we joined a big old French gaffer; we both raised our sails together, in salute to the morning.

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Sailing with the Tide

The low, soft green coast looked fresh from 3 miles out even beneath a streaky grey sky like something out of an amateur water colour painting, a coastline without the brightness of the Wicklow scenery with its background of brooding mountains, or the in your face harshness of the dark Cornish cliffs.

I wondered what rollicking history lay behind the name Guns Island and felt the lure of the South Patrick’s and Bar Pladdy buoys, drawing us in to beautiful Strangford Loch, but we resisted their siren calls and headed instead for the wreck off Butter Pladdy, overlooked to the North East by Crooked Pladdy, whoever or whatever he might have been.

How nice it was to have the wind aft of the beam for a change; it made up for the unpleasant day, so cold I needed to add a thermal to my attire, but nothing broke or fell off either the skipper or A-Jay, as we rode the tide Northwards like some terrestrial horseman.  The time window was tight, as we had to reach the end of Donaghee Sound, squeezed between the Belfast headland and Copeland Island before the tide turned SE, due at about 1630 (Dover HW + 4 hours and 55 minutes).

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Briggs Buoy

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Copeland Island

We made it and as we bowled past Briggs Buoy my nostrils twitched to the heavy bovine scents that swept out from the foothills and pursued us down the loch.  It is difficult to spot the Bangor Marina entrance as both arms overlap and look identical, but we aimed for the middle and the entrance duly revealed itself.  Following instructions via VHF we were snugly alongside E pontoon by 1730 – time for anti-pasta followed by chilli con carne, enlivened with Angie’s chilies and extra garlic and a well earned glass of hair restorer.

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Starboard Buoy Donaghee Sound

Chap next door says his mate has been round the world and claimed the worst stretch of water he encountered was the Irish Sea North Passage, the neck of the Irish Sea that leads to the Atlantic and squeezes millions of tons of water each tide between its bony shoulders.  I can believe it – I have crossed it but still have to climb further up and scramble across its top to reach the sparkling Isles off Western Scotland – at least I hope they’ll be sparkling when I get there, as they certainly aren’t at the moment.

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Into Bangor Marina

The marina here is excellent and ‘elf and safety’ is thankfully subordinate to common sense, meaning you can boil yourself alive in the showers if you want and I wanted.  So there.

Tomorrow we will head up to Glenarm, which will be our jumping off point on Northern Ireland for Gigha off Kintyre, all being well.  See you there.

Toot toot!!

By ajay290

11th June North to Port St. Mary and Beyond

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Ooops wrong button

There were little devils in my head tempting me to remain abed – it took a determined

effort to get into gear and out into the Holyhead morning.   A little concentration over porridge was

necessary, as any solo departure needs a little extra planning – where to put fenders, which order to remove warps, what is the  wind doing?   Where do I want A-Jay to go when I reverse out and where might she go instead?

This time Team A-Jay did just what I expected and by 1100 we were powering under full sail for the Langdon Buoy West of the Skerries about which much scary stuff has been written.  I was expecting NE Force 3 or 4, but we had a top end F5, perhaps because of the headland, plus a full 30° of tidal leeway as expected.   Mainsail dropped down the track Team A-Jay dug her 2.5 tons of lead ballast deep and ploughed happily on.  The wind was cold and at odds with the blue sky and sunshine but didn’t stop the enjoyment of the sailing, or Helen Castor’s Joan of Arc and a Sam Llewlyn novel.

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Sailing!

As we crossed the shipping lane the tide became more favourable as a ‘light weight Frenchie’ slipped past heading towards Holyhead, a reef in each sail for some reason.  Amazingly 2 sea gulls flying in formation arrived just as I reached for my nose bag, but they soon realised I wasn’t the sharing type and set off in pursuit of the disappearing Frenchie.

Sam Llewlyn’s murder and mayhem lasted until 1700 by which time the Southern tip of the Isle of Man began to reveal itself more clearly.  In over 500 miles of sailing on this trip we had NEVER managed a whole day’s sailing, until now – I barely touched Smiley until it was time for Yanny to take us in.  Wart Sound, Chicken Rock, Calf of Man and Spanish Head all slipped past and by 2000 we were snuggled up to a buoy, just after high water watching an 80 foot catamaran come laboriously alongside the breakwater.  Even at this hour, powerful motorbikes could be heard inland, getting ready for the last 2015 TT races.

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Approaching Port St Mary

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Arriving at high water proved a sound tactic as the ‘S’ shaped course on the chart showed, though there was a strong West going counter eddy close in to be countered as we arrived.

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Port St Mary Inner Harbour

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Port St Mary

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Port St Mary Towards the Harbour

A brisk row ashore next morning revealed Port St. Mary to be a little jewel of a place though I sensed sadness too, for much of it either seemed to be up for sale or was being developed as homes of the rich.  Back aboard I could hear the cheery ‘toot! toot!’ of an invisible train as the wind increased and the cloud came down.  We’ll stay tomorrow to rest a little more, whilst I wrestle with indecision on destination, for the North Passage to Scotland is not to be taken lightly.

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That huge Catamaran Trying to Dock

Life at sea is never dull and that evening I heard the lifeboat being tasked. 10 minutes later and 50 yards away, 30 tons of the RNLI’s finest orange and black began to move out of the harbour, returning an hour later with Wee Gem, a very wee speedboat with 7 aboard.

I guess 600 odd miles alone in adverse weather and some challenging conditions will catch up with anyone, for it inevitably saps strength, will and morale.  In such circumstances, as I now found myself in, a sound tactic is to line up a series of little treats such as a nice wash, shave, breakfast and run ashore for a leisurely coffee and a chat with the proprietor.  On a whim I took the little Manx steam train to Douglas sharing a carriage with a couple of voluble Aussie sheep farmers who, understandably, struggled to ‘get’ the geography of Guernsey.

Sheep and cows in fields, a cap of grey cloud over the mountains, smoke billowing from the engine which toot tooted its way along, people smiling and waving at the many crossings, neat gardens and tidy yards; real life slipped by.  I didn’t tarry in Douglas and enjoyed the company of a mad barn door sized Swede, a small Welsh Norwegian hippy with hay fever – and a girl in every port I had no doubt – and, inevitably, an Aussie this time with a vast suitcase.  We had a common bond – motorbikes and it was exciting to briefly catch sight of the Supersports screaming past the start/finish line, round and over the train through the smoke, crazy!  The day was rounded off with a wet, bracing 1/2 mile row back to Team A-Jay for final preparations for a pre-dawn start.

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A-Jay in Port St. Mary

Up with the gannet next morning, anticipation and excitement banished any negativity and we sailed smartly off the buoy earlier than planned, simply because I was ready, though it would mean another hour or so of adverse tide.  As we rounded the breakwater a vast 3 deck motor yacht lurked in the near distance; Calf of Man was soon off to starboard and I was looking forward to “Force 4 or 5, decreasing 3 later, sea state slight”.

‘Sod that for a forecast’ said Boreas and as we rounded the lighthouse West of the Calf, he threw 26 – 28 knots at our bows and the sea responded with delight doffing the occasional white cap over Team A-Jay, as we struggled through the headland tide rip at a snail’s pace.  ‘Oh well, Déja vu’ I thought as we plugged on into a typical day but with surprises in store.

Within 2 hours, the tiller mounted retaining pin for the autopilot, repaired at Padstow, sheered off – which generated some very loud expletives, which rather enjoyably relived tension.  We had 40 miles to go to Bangor and it was bouncy, slow progress so no autopilot meant many more hours at the helm.

Shortly afterwards the Selden kicker, which supports and holds down the boom, disconnected itself from the base of the mast.  To steady things down, I decided to put a reef in to the main at which point the starboard mast mounted block holding the stack pack rigging broke off, creating a mess of dragging rope and flapping canvas.  This wasn’t good, but it wasn’t critical and I was still determined to head North for Bangor.

That was until the engine lost power and stopped; I knew exactly why – it was a fuel problem, but Team A-Jay was not now in any shape to continue safely into this for another 40 nautical miles, so we bore away onto a broad reach for Ardglass in Northern Ireland 18 miles West, engine off and sailing like a train.  Fortunately I had read up on this little harbour, though had made no passage plan for it.

Minor disasters apart there were as so often, special moments, such as watching tough little guillemots take off from the waves, all revs and no go but great survivors and the seal, who popped up to see what we were up to but clearly found us to be of no interest whatsoever.

Nine hours out from Port St. Mary, we docked.  A relaxed old local, mug of tea in hand said; “nicely done – solo too.”  That made me feel very good but I was glad he couldn’t see the chaos aboard.  An hour later A-Jay was minus stack pack and the kicker was fixed.  The delightful chap in the yacht club, who could not have been less than 85, reckoned he knew people who could fix things for me ….

Later I saw him wandering around the pontoons followed by faithful hugely magnificent Arthur the cat ….. follows him everywhere apparently.  “I feeds him you see” said the old man, which would explain the cat food on the marina office counter.

Toot toot!!

By ajay290

11th June – North from Holyhead

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Holy Island from the Breakwater

I am probably marginally less seaworthy than when I left as the reduction in my midriff probably means I would be less stable in the water and unlikely to float belly up.  I’ve also got funny bumps on my biceps and legs which might reduce buoyancy. This increases the need to ensure I stay in the boat and to remain aware of possible disasters…….

Such things came to mind as I watched the lifeboat return this morning towing a yacht whose skipper sounded defeated and tired on the VHF, as he replied to the lifeboat crew’s instructions.  Further away Dom, who is skippering his little yacht around Britain anti-clockwise and who has had the same rubbish weather as Team A-Jay, has also been brought in under tow from a lifeboat.  Poor Dom is currently at home nursing a very bad back.  Good luck Dom and hope you are sailing again soon.

In Dublin a 60 year old skipper was winched off his boat but died later of a heart attack and on the way to Holyhead, the Coast Guard asked if anyone had seen a certain yacht in the last 12 hours.  All this I suppose, just shows that one is but a stroke of misfortune from disaster when at sea, so I’ll go on working at staying in harmony with Team A-Jay, in an effort to invite rather than repel Lady Luck.

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Dragonfly!! Poop poop!!!

On a happier note there is a Dragonfly nearby, which those who have been bored rigid by me about these boats will know, has much the same effect on me as the automobile had on Toad of Toad Hall!  I just have to try one of these things before they lock me up.

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Second Longest Breakwater in the World

View from the Breakwater

View from the Breakwater

Holyhead Breakwater Lighthouse

Holyhead Breakwater Lighthouse

Yesterday I belted off down the 1.7 mile breakwater, before heading out for a steak and chips at a nearby hotel, where I enjoyed a lobster salad instead.  Today a visit to the Maritime Museum found me with a personal guide, who regaled me with many stories including that of a famous local skipper who carried a pet raven on his shoulder.  This bird had a party trick.  If it spotted a dog it would feign death throes near the edge of the breakwater; the dog would charge off to finish off the raven, who would cunningly take flight at the last second …. and the dog, unable to stop, would continue over the breakwater.

I am feeling smug as the Skipper’s dobey is flapping wetly in the cold breeze and the sun is shining warmly in contrast, the water tank is full, diesel topped up and the passage plan is in the making as I scribble this despatch.   The Willis Master Plan should see us departing North into the middle of the Irish Sea tomorrow morning, destination Isle of Man where I hope to anchor off the South coast.  I guess we’ll see our old friend Johnathon Swift shoot past again, as we make our stately way.

All being well, Team A-Jay will then continue North towards the underbelly of the Western Isles.  I shall be sorry to leave Holyhead, which is a brilliant place.

Toot toot!!

By ajay290

7th June – East to Holyhead (Part 2)

I don't Know where my Wallet is!

No idea where my wallet is ….

It was this Big!

It really was this big ….

Leprachaun Shows Skipper the Way

Leprechaun points the way

Skipper at Ease

Skipper relaxing … again

Early Morning Dublin Docks

Early Morning Dublin Docks

The gale had blown itself out, so it was a simple matter to reverse out in the quiet early morning and squeeze past the slipway across which I had seen an enormous rat run busily, the evening before.  Port Control advised that I should wait to the West, whilst Stena Adventurer slowly eased out of her berth and proceeded up stream.  As we dallied I listened to names on the VHF, Ulysses, Coromel, Johnathon Swift, A-Jay and White Snake, a motor-cruiser that slithered past towards Dalkey Sound as we pottered out.

Nothing could spoil for me the pleasure of a rare fine morning; not the crumbling Northern breakwater, the mountain of rusting heavy metal at the recycling yard, the dirty candy striped chimneys of the city’s incinerator, or even the caustic chemical stench oozing frothily from the South side piles.   Johnathon Swift, looking like a Tupperware on stilts, aimed its twin hulls at Holyhead 60 nautical miles away and shot off, as Team A-Jay paused, whilst the skipper clumsily untangled the main halyard from the topping lift, evidence of sloppiness born of too long ashore.

Dublin's Incinerator

Dublin’s Incinerator

Piper's Head

Piper’s Head

Piper Head eventually fell slowly astern as we tried valiantly to sail, but the main and genoa barely filled, the exhausted ensign hung limply down the flagstaff and A-Jay hardly stirred the water’s surface, but I didn’t care!  It was sunny, the Irish Sea was a pussy cat, we weren’t fighting a force 6 on the nose, Harry 3rd was playing ball and it was time for breakfast.

Farewell Dublin

Farewell Dublin

Later, motor-sailing serenely across the calm seas, I finally finished Jan Swaffor’s enormous, monumental and scintillating work on Beethoven.  What a guy and such a pity he drank himself into a premature grave at the youthful age of 57.  Progress was slow but peaceful and it was no surprise to see Johnathon Swift pass us for the third time – I wondered if the Captain had perhaps pointed us out to his passengers as a semi-permanent fixture upon the Irish Sea.

2/3 of the way across a swell began to build, but not enough to disturb A-Jay, who gently head butted the occasional rogue.  Holy Island, whose secret had been revealed for some time by the crown of clouds curving over the still invisible land, came into view and crept imperceptibly towards us.  The wind, defying all predictions slipped round to the SE but with no strength to bother us, as Mr and Mrs Puffin took off in alarm, their sagging bellies scuffing spray off the wave tops before flopping back onto the surface at a safe distance.  Busy Guillemots ignored us completely.

Holy Island

Holy Island

Eyesight and haste in my late evening passage planning brought another “Doh!” moment, for the tides were doing the exact opposite of my predictions, meaning we would trot to the finish line, rather than gallop – but Hey!  Supper was on, the evening was pleasant and we were in no rush.  By 2230 we were tucked alongside a pontoon in a chilly, increasingly breezy Holyhead Harbour, protected by the enormous 1½ mile long breakwater.

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Nightfall … approaching Holyhead Harbour

Next morning I awoke with a plan to walk to South Stack on Holy Island before looping round to Holyhead Town.  My Welsh is coming on well and I know that “araf” means slowly and I should have ‘arafed’ round Holy Island and not set off like Red Rum in a Grand National, for my ankles seized after 10 miles and I finished more like Toad on a pogo stick, though that would be to discredit that honourable creature.

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Sunset Holyhead

Stumbling past the Titan Tattoo Parlour, which is next to Wynes Worms (fresh & frozen) I collapsed into an hostelry for an enormous lunch and pint of John smiths for £9.  As I ate, I wondered whether Wyne’s worms were purchased by the kilo, or pint … or even perhaps the yard and what one did with them ….

A rufty tufty, very well organised little number docked without fuss or drama earlier and I chatted to the ex RN skipper (not that I hold that against him).  The only interest my chaotic little assemblage generates is “what is she?” referring to A-Jay, as you don’t see many of those about, rather like the wide mouthed South African bull frog (it’s a very long story).  He had sailed solo round GB in 2013 and had contemplated doing the same in 2015, so I am again reminded that my little adventure is really no big deal.

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Holyhead Marina to Holy Island

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Holy Island Tower

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Holy Island Ruins

Holy Island Mine

Holy Island Mine

Holy Island Hill

Holy Island Hill

Holy Island Dwellings

Holy Island Dwellings

Bleak Holy Island

Bleak Holy Island

All solo skippers I have met have been on the curmudgeonly end of the spectrum, like me and I am beginning to think we are all doing it solo because our First Mates are probably glad to lose us for a while!  Mind you, it does mean we don’t have to tidy up the cabin so much.  Which reminds me – I must wash my green maggot liner as it can now stand, unaided.

Holy Island is a lovely place to walk, but don’t expect the 2 cafés to be open … or the first two pubs you find in Holyhead.   It has a wonderful wildness to it, but I rather expected to see a ruined abbey or two, but could only find derelict mine workings and a crumbling tower and castellated ex hotel.

The helpful signs show a circular walk, but as there are so many paths converging, diverging and disappearing, all marked thus, it is pretty impossible to do much but walk in lots of circles.  For an irreverent second I wondered if I was still in Ireland.  It would have helped if some had been marked; “NO! Not this way silly!  The other way!” But with the central high hill and the sun to guide you, it wasn’t hard to find one’s own circuit.

We will stay another day and I’ll finally sort Billy the Bilge Pump, who spat out his dummy yesterday, due to bad workmanship he tells me.  I’ll probably also do something really interesting … like go boat spotting.

Ensign Evening Salute

Ensign Evening Salute

For now

Toot toot

By ajay290

We Leave Dublin on the Morrow

Leprechaun shows the Way

PLEASE NOTE YOU CAN EXPAND ANY OF THE PICTURES BY CLICKING ON THEM

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Molly Malone

You can tell a skipper who has been in port awhile for as surely as night succeeds day, at some point his washing will be festooned along the guard wires, flapping gently in the breeze and occasionally escaping in a gust.  This is when you wish you had Kalvin Klein smalls and matching socks.  So it was that I dressed A-Jay overall with my eclectic washing on my return from days of Birthday celebrations in Dublin, though the dearth of sunlight and warmth meant it flew noisily for 2 days before it dried.

A fashion conscious skipper should therefore select his wardrobe with care, just as a sensible skipper will choose his boat name with care as it may well be used during a VHF conversation particularly in an emergency.  Can you imagine calling; “Mayday!  Mayday! This is yacht Cirrhosis of the River …” (yes, it really is the name of a boat…)

 

I find it takes a little while to get back into gear so I adopted the usual Willis Saga mode and decided to make a little list, which is not a natural thing for me to do.  However, as the passage of anno domini inevitably brings forgetfulness, a list becomes essential though two copies are best as you are sure to lose one.

Billy the Bilge pump needed finishing, Harry the autopilot Mk3 needed a new plug, the main sail needed to be changed at some point, the nose bag needed preparing, all the usual system checks needed doing and of course, I had to decide on the next destination and then do the passage planning.  There were many other things to do, but at that moment, they eluded me.  Embracing all this is always the weather, which will ultimately dictate the final shape of any Willis master plan.  Currently it is blowing Force 8…..

If you tarry awhile in Poolbeg, you will eventually discover hidden beauty in Sandymount, a wide sweeping shallow bay and village, which softens the harsh industrial aspect that is Poolbeg and the docks.  For a while you can lose yourself in a park and enjoy views out to sea as you march to Sandymount’s Tesco 1 ½ miles off.  I headed that way because refreshments were required as Cousin Sarah and travelling companion were in Town, en route back from Iceland ……..

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Tea was a fun Affair

It had been mentioned that my master plan included no more stops on the English West coast so I spread the chart out and looked across the Irish Sea to see how this might be rectified.  I decided to avoid the IOM as the TT was in full flow, so Holyhead it will be, which is about 58 nautical miles to the East.  If the forecast is to be believed, we might even be able to sail there ………

Toot toot!!!!!!

By ajay290