Holyhead was getting to me, even though it was where I received my first salute for voyages made from a very pleasant fellow inmate. I shall remember the final night, 26th May 2022, as Pippin tugged and surged at her restraining ropes that jerked and squeaked in protest as I rolled in harmony, sleep a distant shadow. The morning came grey, cold and windy and so desperate was one crew, they left only to turn round at the end of the breakwater and scuttle back.
The forecast suggested the elements would calm by the afternoon and I wasn’t waiting a minute longer, so I cast off helped by a new friend and raised sail in the safety of the huge harbour. The seabed and breakwater belong to the ferry company and it was suggested that they are instrumental in the delay of plans to rebuild the marina destroyed in thecstorm of 2017.
It was still breezy and choppy but I didn’t care we were off and anyway I was transfixed by a new hazard up ahead. Over the years I have diverted to avoid many types of floating obstacles – but never a flying one, until now. Just up ahead was a small helicopter, hovering 50′ above the sea intent on what I have no idea. Just before I called him up to ask him to blow me across the sea to Ardglass, he pulled up and flew off, Pippin 100 metres off.
I had determined not to drop below 5 knots, jogging pace, so it was a journey much aided by the Yanmar though just then Hercule the Hydrovane and was in charge. He doesn’t like me to interfere so I dug out my battered copy of Das Boot and got comfortable. At 5 knots, it takes a very long time before you feel you are getting anywhere and I became certain that the Isle of Man, 20 miles off, was jogging alo g beside us so static did it appear to be.
But with night came signs of progress, and I let Miss Lemon the electric tiller pilot, come out to play with inscrutable Hercule as I rummaged around for some scoff. There are strong tides in the Irish Sea and I kept Miss Lemon busy with course changes – you can’t sleep at all in coastal waters with tides, not just because of the traffic, but also because of the need to regularly check and adjust course.
Ardglass, my destination, is a tiny place and though I had been there before, I had no wish to enter in the dark so slowed down to arrive with the first flush of dawn. Accessed down a very narrow shallow channel flanked by rock and mud banks there is little room for error, but with 2′ beneath the keel, I brought Pippin alongside – helped by Paul who jumped off his boat onto the guano strewn pontoon, wearing nothing but his underpants; it was 0330!
On my last visit in 2015, an old man and his cat Arthur, hugely magnificent and disdainful of all, met me. Imagine my surprise when they greeted me next morning, the old man now 89 and Arthur a stately 16. Ardglass was a previous home of Pippin and Gerry Burns, master mariner and a previous owner came aboard later, crushing my arthritic fingers in his huge paw. He had just bought a boat but still agonised for 2 days when Pippin hit the market. Kindly, amusing and indomitable, Gerry described his first heart attack and 5 subsequent bypass operations, though looking at him you would never know. At 67, he is the same age as me and I felt quite inadequate with no such stories to tell – yet.
Naturally it was grey, dark, cold and blowy, but what do you expect? This is Ireland for Heaven’s sake, the place you stand behind a wall to shelter from the rain because it blows horizontally. It is also the place I have awarded the Willis prize for rain as noone does rain quite like the Irish. But I was on a mission, for I was desperate for sweet and sour pork for reasons unknown to me so I headed for the Chinese restaurant I had discovered in 2015, a place where quantity marginally pips quality and the wine comes in tiny plastic bottles. I was too embarrassed to ask for 4.
0900 and I was going, full oilies for it was, you guessed it, a freezing, grey, blowy Irish morning. Two neighbours helped me but instead of following as they had planned retreated back to their warm cabin for bacon and eggs. It really was very tight and I had to really gun the motor seemingly inches from the mud banks to force Pippins bows through the wind. I felt quite chuffed as I knew several pairs of eyes were following my antics through cabin windows and I was pleased to disappoint them.
Nosing out of the channel, I turned Pippin North, straight into 16 knots of wind and quite big seas. But there was no option as I had to make Donaghee Sound, between Copeland Island and the shore at the corner into Belfast Lough before the tide turned; and it was 35 miles away, so no time for mucking about. Staysail out, sheeted in tight, hang on tight, put Miss Lemon in charge and go for it. So we banged and crashed our way, but Pippin isn’t easily deterred and she managed beautifully though movement on board was impossible without hanging on like a limpet.
A few hours later we were closing the Sound when a windsurfer shot out from the shore and screeched to a halt 15 metres from Pippin, took one hand off his sail, waved jauntily shouting “Hi!” before spinning effortlessly and careering shorewards at 20 knots. I would have called him a dirty show off, as he was clad only in briefs and was sporting a disgustingly impressive 6 pack – but I was so darned impressed, I could only admire.
A fellow Jester, down from Tobermory, was there to meet me at Bangor Marina and it seemed a good opportunity to consume the chilled bottle of Lanson Black Label in Pippin’s fridge. Before we hit the town, though haring 137 years between us and both being arthritic, it was a gentle, hobbling sort of hit.
The weather is variable, but latest indications are that escape might be possible in 2 days, across the infamous North Passage where the Irish Sea spews it’s tides back and forth into the Atlantic. Keen to finish now, the Willis master plan includes the option of pushing on to the end, without stopping. But who knows for plans are but the intentions of the moment
But in the meantime, there’s a town to hit again – if we can manage to hobble there as on pedestrian crossing en route requires us to make maximum speed to clear the road before the light goes red. Frankly we’re safer at sea!
Cheeri as we Guerns say