The beginning of our adventure didn’t start off quite as planned! One cold Spring morning we headed out of Fleetwood Marina, through the 100 year old Oak lock gates into Morecambe Bay. The intention was to then sail out of the estuary into the Irish Sea and turn right. We would head for Whitehaven Marina and then across the Solway Firth to Kikrkudbright, Scotland.
It was a great plan, not too far, ease in to the adventure gently, etc.etc.
By the time we got to the Irish Sea, the wind and rain were coming horizontally through the boat, the sea was rough and we were already questioning this great plan. So after not very much thought, we turned left and headed for Conwy in North Wales instead!
Fleetwood to Conwy
It was around 60-70 miles and we needed to do some rapid calculations as the entrance is very tidal. We didn’t want to be sitting out at sea for several hours waiting for the tide to come in. I sharpened my pencil and after a few double checks I worked out we could make it, so Conwy it was.
We were familiar with Conwy, we knew the way in, so as long as we got the tide height correct, it didn’t matter too much if we arrived in the dark. In the end, it all worked out, we had a decent downwind sail and arrived safe and well.
From there, we came up with a new mini adventure and decide to sail to Ireland .
We met up with our friend Steven from Port Dinorwic. He runs the sail makers business there called ‘The Boat Shed’
and amongst other talents, he is a Yachtmaster instructor.
We told him our plan and he suggested we sail down the Menai Straits to Port Dinorwic Marina and then when we felt like it, continue down the Menai past Caernarfon, to Holyhead and then Dublin. Hmmm! sounded like a plan, but the Menai Straits have a fierce tidal current with submerged rocks waiting to get unwitting yachties. “No need to worry” said Steven, “I will come with you to Port Dinorwic, that’s the worst bit” !!! That sounded great, until he said “so we need to leave tonight around 19:30 to catch the tide”
Ah! ok!. So to put this in to context we were going to sail from Conwy to Port Dinorwic a distance of around 20 miles, along a treacherous part of the North Wales coast which is incredibly tidal, with shifting sandbanks. From there we would sail between more sandbanks and shallows past Beaumaris, in to the Menai Straits, ………in the dark? Good job he knew what he was doing!
Unremarkably, everything went as Steven had planned and with his skills and local knowledge he made it look very easy. It was a thouroughly enjoyable excursion ending around midnight.
Port Dinorwic to Holyhead.
Having spent a great few days in Port Dinorwic it was time to move on. The tide times were good and in our favour so we left in daylight to sail to Holyhead, a sail of about 35 miles. We worked it out that should take 7 hours ish and we would arrive by 3pm. The only difference now was we didn’t have Steven and we had a leisurely sail North. Unfortunately though, too leisurely and when South Stack Lighthouse came in to view, the tide changed. instead of doing our gentle 5 knots in lovely winds we were now almost stationery with all our sails up. I started the engine and we motored hard in to the current for 3 hours instead of the predicted 3/4 of an hour to our destination.
We made it in behind the enormous breakwater just before 18:00 and managed to pick up a mooring ball. Phew.
A side note.
Holyhead is a major Ferry Terminal to Belfast and Dublin with services day and night. The harbour is protected by a long breakwater, but a few years after we had been there a bad storm destroyed the marina https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-wales-43265912
and then in 2021 the breakwater was severely damaged by Storms Arwen and Barra.
Sadly, as many as 80 boats were sunk and the breakwater itself was severely damaged by Hurricane force winds.
We were fortunate to have visited Holyhead several years prior to this and been able to use it a hopping off point to Ireland.
Holyhead to Dublin
The sail from Holyhead to Dublin is around 65 miles, so easily handled in a day sail. We left the port of Holyhead early one misty morning and headed off across the Irish Sea. We had decided to go to a smaller harbour just outside Dublin called Dún Laoghaire, (pronounced Dun Learey if you are from Wigan like me!)
It is the home of the Royal Irish Yacht Club and my goal was to get there in plenty of time to enjoy a glass of Guinness in the splendid surroundings.(if they let me in!)
The sail had thankfully been fast and uneventful, with a happy crew. We tried racing a couple of Ferries but inevitably lost and then with just ten minutes before we arrived, I caught a wave badly and got completely soaked. Ah well.
The good news was, they let me into the Royal Irish Yacht Club and I got my Guinness. Whatever anyone tells you, it definitely tastes better in Ireland. Maybe it doesn’t travel well?
We had a great time in Dún Laoghaire, the people were so friendly and the place was picture perfect, an absolute gem.
We began to notice different people each day and in particular our nearest neighbour in the marina. He would arrive most afternoons. Sometimes with his wife, sometimes with friends. They would sail out for an hour or so and the return before dark. I got chatting to him and asked him where he went for his afternoon sail. He responded with great enthusiasm and said “Dalkey Island, have you ever been?” (I can’t remember how to pronounce Dalkey, but it certainly isn’t like ‘Donkey’)
It was roughly 4 miles south, around the headland and they would go for a swim, a bite to eat and then return to the marina. I should point out that ‘Open water swimming’ was very popular here and on our morning stroll we would regularly pass people of all ages taking a dip.
So off to Dalkey Island we went. As expected, it was lovely. Crystal clear water, cold enough to make you swim quite fast but not so cold as to be uncomfortable . A thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This area is also the home to the ‘Rich and Famous’ with people like Bono, the Edge and F1 driver Eddie Irvine having homes here. Easy to see why.
Our youngest son had now just returned from 3 months in America and called us to see what we were up to. Well,……..unsurprisingly, he was on the next plane to Dublin and decide to travel with us for a few weeks before he started a new job.
He quickly took up position of Skipper and we decided, next stop, The Isle of Man. Wohoooo!
Dún Laoghaire to Douglas IOM
It was great to have Michael with us again and the extra pair of hands was appreciated. (I think mum was very pleased)
So off we went. it was a long sail, but we should be able to get there before dark and we had very good tidal current on our side for once. However we did hit a bit of foul tide from Castletown to Douglas, but the scenery was great.
We arrived in good light and tied up along the quayside waiting for the road bridge to open and let everyone in and out of the marina.
The Isle of Man has a special place in my heart and I had spent a lot of time there in my earlier, crazier years. I competed in the ‘Manx Grand Prix’ twice and also the ‘Southern 100 road race’ This was my first time back to the Island for many years and also the first time Amanda had ever been!
For those who have never been, the Isle of Man seems to have its own micro climate. It is common to see Palm trees and the beaches are fantastic. Bizarrely, the only boat I have been on to the Isle of Man is the old Manx Maid (that’s a long time ago!) and the ‘Ben McRee’ which Amanda and I have encountered many times sailing around Fleetwood. It sails daily from the Port of Heysham in Lancashire to the Isle of Man. Best not to try and beat that across Morecambe Bay, it is a fast ferry!
The marina is right smack bang in the middle of Douglas, it is not a large place so we were lucky to find a space.
I enjoyed showing Mike and Amanda around the Island, trying to remember some of the history which the Manx inhabitants are fiercely proud of. The Isle of Man, although part of Great Britain, is a self governing body. The Isle of Man was never part of the European Union………………………………….I have to repeat that bit, The Isle of Man was NEVER part of the European Union! Probably best to leave that there 🙂
I could go on and on about this Island in the middle of the Irish Sea, but it could get boring, so here is the Wikipedia link! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_Man
After a very enjoyable stopover, it was time to move on.
Next stop Whitehaven in Cumbria.
Isle of Man to Whitehaven
The trip from the Isle of Man to Whitehaven should have been a straightforward affair!
The distance was approximately 40 miles, easily done in daylight and the weather forecast was good. We headed out from Douglas marina at the first bridge opening, just in time to have to get out of the way of the fast approaching ‘Ben McRee’ ferry. Hmm!
We got out of the way pretty sharpish and set a direct course for Whitehaven. We predicted we would arrive around 17:00. A little early, as Whitehaven is a ‘locked ‘ marina like Fleetwood and the gates open around 1 hour before high water until 2 hours after. The gates should be opening around 18:15 ish.
We had a lovely sail across the Irish Sea, back to England and arrived in the bay around 17:30 and dropped anchor.
We called the lock keeper on the VHF radio and told him of our intention to enter at his discretion . He responded cheerfully and told us he expected to open for the departing fishing vessels in half an hour, after which, we should tuck in behind a motorboat also waiting to enter.
Great we thought, time for an early supper and get ropes and fenders ready.
Right on time, what remained of the fishing fleet departed and the lock keeper called up the motor boat and asked him to make his way to the lock. We fired up the engine in readiness and pulled up the anchor.
After what seemed a lifetime, the lock keeper called the motor boat again and asked him how long he would be!
A conversation then ensued, revealing the motor boat had a number of manoeuvring issues!!
We could hear all of this over the VHF marine radio and wondered what on earth was going on?
After at least another hour, the motor boat had not yet entered the lock well and we were circling so much we began to get dizzy.
It transpired, much to our annoyance, the motor boat only had one engine working and his Bow thruster had now failed with excessive use. He was effectively stuck at the entrance to the lock. No one could get in or out!!!!!!
Time was now pressing, the tide had begun to turn and we had around 30 minutes to get in to the lock well before the water became too shallow for us. The motor boat still wasn’t moving and we were starting to think of our alternatives.
At this point, the alarm went off in the lock well to signify the gates were closing. “That’s it” we thought. We were faced with the option of anchoring in the not very protected bay, or sail south through the night back to Fleetwood.
Suddenly the lock alarm went off again to signify the gates were about to open, ‘Curious’ we thought and like a Knight in shining armour, a small boat appeared from the brightly tungsten lit lock well. They threw a line to the motor boat and with all its little might, this tiny boat dragged the motor boat in to the lock and the gates closed swiftly behind it!
Within a couple of minutes, the lock keeper came back over the radio, with his cheerful voice back on. “Carried Away, prepare to enter the lock, fenders to port 2 long lines, watch out for the turbulence, this is going to be a fast one!”
We didn’t need to be told twice! and 15-20 minutes later we were in the marina and safely tied up to the dock. Hoorah!
We spent the rest of the season pottering between Fleetwood, Conwy and Whitehaven, better luck next year.
So! We eventually set off on our ‘Adventure’ almost a year later, early one cold and rainy morning with a passage plan to Cork in Ireland .
The forecast was 15 knt winds from the North East and all was going well.
As it started to go dark, we reefed the main down to a little triangle of cloth and left the Genoa with one or two turns and were zooming along with the wind behind us doing a steady 5.5 knts.
By Midnight, we made our first Waypoint and began our turn South around the outside of the Holyhead Traffic Separation Scheme. The wind had got up to a steady 22knts, no gusts but we decided to reef the Genoa down a bit more as our SOG was now 6.5 to 7 knts. There was no moon at all and it was difficult to make out the difference between a big ship near us or lights of the towns on Anglesey. At this point, I was really pleased that Amanda had forced me up the mast to sort out the AIS antenna!
By 04:00 the wind had increased to around 28 knts, but our boat speed was now touching 11 kts. The boat seemed quite happy, but I wasn’t, we were going far too quickly for my liking and at that point it seemed a better option to crash on regardless, rather than turn in to the wind and try to reef again!
At first light, it was blowing force 6 constantly and we could see how big the waves were. I wished it was still dark! Looking around, we realised that we had lost our non-slip table cover (so that didn’t work) a fender was missing and one of our lovely new cockpit cushions which Steven had made, had gone – good job we hadn’t brought the dogs along!
By 07:00 we were away from the TSS and 20 miles from Arklow on the West coast of Ireland. We decided we didn’t fancy another freezing, windy night like we had just endured so looked at our options. Although it was only around 5 hours to Arklow, I really didn’t like the prospect of getting to Arklow with an onshore wind and also trying to negotiate the banks, so we turned left; like you do and we headed for Pwllheli (North Wales). It was a pivotal moment, like in the film Apollo 13, when they realise they won’t be going to the Moon, I realised we wouldn’t be going to Ireland this trip.
We dropped anchor off St Tudswalls Islands around 14:00 in flat calm and glorious sunshine and waited for the tide.
It was nice to eventually get in to somewhere familiar, even though I did crash in to the pontoon at Pwllheli AGAIN! (Becoming a bit of a habit there, got to watch that
After a couple of days to recover we set off for Fishguard on Monday morning.
I called up the firing range at Aberporth, to see if they wanted to use us as target practice, but the range officer said we would be fine to pass through as they were tidying up today, collecting unexploded ordnance with their RIB’s – GREAT ! We motored until lunch time as there was no wind at all – what a contrast to the beginning of the trip.
We had some company along the way in the form of a Dolphin pod who followed us for hours. I managed to get some good video footage and I think they realised and put on a bit of a show for us.
We approached Fishguard old harbour at 18:00 and dropped anchor after circling round and round to find the deepest bit. It was tranquil, calm and sunny and a perfect end to a great day. Our confidence restored.
Around 02:00 I awoke abruptly, being bounced around the boat. My immediate thought was that we were drifting, so I raced up on deck to see what was going on only to find the Irish Sea Ferry had just arrived in the harbour! No consideration.
Tuesday brought another fine day for our trip to Skomer Island bird sanctuary. So before leaving Fishguard, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the fabulous surroundings, before pulling up the anchor and setting off on our next leg. The wind was great, pushing us in the right direction, the sun was shining and life was good. We arrived at Skomer Island about 14:30 and the weather was glorious. However, didn’t really think it through too well before hand. Being a bird sanctuary has it’s downfalls, mainly from the birds!
The trip from Skomer to Padstow was going to be a fair old hike, so we set our alarm for 04:00 to get moving by first light. Waking up before dawn in this setting was so peaceful, no background noise, no ambient light – It was fantastic.
We checked the weather on every available medium as usual and settled for the NAVTEX version of Force 3 to 4, occasionally 5 later, which seemed to be the general synopsis from all. We decide that by “later”, we would be tucked up in Padstow. Hmmmm!
Anchor was weighed and off we went before sunrise. I suppose the clue was in the sky, “Red sky in the morning…etc. etc.”
Once we cleared the islands, we were happily zooming along, dodging the tankers and having a great time.
Once past the entrance to Milford, I decided to reef a bit, the wind was blowing around 20 knts so slightly more than expected. The sea had chopped up a bit by the time we had got level with the Bristol Channel but the wind which was now at the top end of our comfort zone of 25 knts. It was a constant breeze, not gusting and we were sailing along quite happily, but the sea state was pretty awful, with waves seeming to come from all directions.
By 11:00 we had reefed down to virtually nothing. The wind was NE 33 knts constant, directly on our beam. We were side on to the breaking swell with a crazy, confused set of smaller waves coming from our Starboard side. The motion was horrible. The auto helm was making things worse, so we were doing it the old fashioned way and steering ourselves!. I know this went on for 5 hours, because that is how long the gap is in our log (Amanda was virtually unconscious with seasickness!!).
Inevitably and much to our relief, as we approached land things started to calm down a bit.
The weather went from sublime to ridiculous and we had to motor the last two hours in to Padstow, as the wind had dropped away completely and the sea was as flat as a mill pond.
As we pulled in to Padstow, still in all our storm gear, we looked around to see people in shorts and ‘T’ shirts pointing and laughing. There was hardly any point trying to explain what we had encountered for the last 14 hours, they just wouldn’t have believed us!
As luck would have it, our stay would be short lived. We slept like logs and woke to a fantastic morning. We went off to explore our surroundings, trying to count just how many restaurants Rick Stein does own?
Once back on CA, we decide to get a wash on and I went for a chat with the Harbour Master. He was a great guy and seemed genuinely impressed that we had sailed down from Fleetwood (although I could have misinterpreted his incredulity at these Northern folk on a folly).
Padstow was lovely and having treated ourselves to a nice cold beer, all that had passed before was forgotten and we looked forward to a few days chilling in this lovely part of the world, before the next leg, rounding Cape Cornwall and the Lizard!
As we were wandering around aimlessly, we bumped in to him again a little later and I introduced the Captain of our ship to him. I had failed to mention to him earlier, our onward journey and when Amanda explained that we were only here for a couple of days before heading off to Falmouth, there was an obvious sucking of air through teeth moment, which resulted in us all sat around his computer studying the weather.
It was now 16:00 and we had been in Padstow 23 hours. The decision was made; we would leave on the evening tide for Newlyn (in two hours).
As it happened, the Harbour master also had a Yacht, which he kept at Newlyn, where he also used to be the Harbour Master before taking over at Padstow. He had an intimate knowledge of our proposed route South and drew it on our chart for us in crayon, so that we couldn’t get lost.
Suitably rested! After our arduous previous day, by 18:30 we were underway again. We had been given specific waypoint times to take advantage of the “Tidal gate” rounding Land’s End.
Trust me! That is Lands End in the background
Mousehole, aptly named.
By 09:00 we were tied up in Newlyn, with a cup of tea, having successfully achieved what we thought was going to be the hardest part of our sail. In the end it was fairly straightforward, all to do with timing, so I am told, despite me going in to panic mode around 01:00,when I thought we were about to crash in to a buoy right in front of us, only to find out (Amanda pointed out) it was the Pendeen Lighthouse about 10 miles away! (I think it s called sleep depravation hallucination )
We didn’t see too much of the Cornish coastline, due to the mist, but we got the basic idea.
Newlyn was a bit like Fleetwood but with hills, so we did a quick restock, had a good night’s sleep ready for our final UK leg.
When I read back through the notes, it has overtones of a Gangster hit list, “Make Pendeen no later than 03:30” “Aim to hit Cape Cornwall 04:00”, “Out the Brisons”, “In Longships, watch out for drift on Sharks Fin and Kettles Bottom”, “Take out Runnel Stone if getting hairy”, “Once you have dealt with the Bucks, take out The Stannock, then lookout for Mousehole, Newlyn can be a rough Place to enter SE.” It all made sense at the time, following our crayon line we rounded Land’s End just after daybreak in drizzle and a bit cold, but who cares, we made it!
It was a mere 35 miles from Newlyn to Falmouth and we decided we would base ourselves at Mylor Yacht Haven 3 or 4 miles further up the estuary, which would be nice and protected! Plus the fact it was half price, which was nice (but still more expensive than Padstow).
On this leg, we encountered our first sea mist which was really weird. One second we were sailing along in lovely sunshine looking at the coastline around the Lizard, then, it disappeared! We could still see the ships around us in glorious sunshine, but the coastline was gone. Time to use all our electronic gizmos again. The radar is a fantastic tool and AIS takes it to the next level. We can pick out the targets on the radar and then click on them on the AIS and find out their heading, speed, bearing from us and destination. Fortunately, the mist disappeared as quickly as it arrived and we tied up in Mylor after a really pleasant sail.
Mylor was a great location, more yachts than I have ever seen in one place. Every shape and size, home-made, production boats, Racing Yachts, hand built masterpieces. If it ever floated, you would probably find an example of it here.
There was every kind of boating service available. The washers were great, nice snack bar and a sailing apparel store. The only thing they forgot was a food shop! Worse still, no buses into Falmouth to get to the Supermarket .
So, I had to improvise.
OK on a nice day, not sure I would want to do it on a rainy or windy day!
We didn’t feel in any hurry whatsoever to leave Mylor, but we did keep a lazy eye on the weather. Sure enough, just as we started to get used to staying anywhere, Amanda noticed bad weather approaching, preceded by about 36 hours of decent weather (decent for April in the GB). So about 15:30 on the 29th of April we said goodbye to Falmouth, GB and headed out across the Channel to Brittany.
We had worked out a passage plan, taking in to account the uneven tidal drift, seven hours one way, five hours the other. All seemed to be going well, the Auto Helm was doing its thing and the kettle was on. Then I noticed HMS Somethingorother doing a dramatic U turn in front of us! By the time we had sailed around the Tsunami of a wake it had left for us, we were heading back towards Fleetwood! The Auto pilot wanted us to go back to the start and try again and I couldn’t remember how to tell it to just resume from where we had left off. In the end, it was easier to just stick in a new waypoint ‘Roscoff’ and tell it to go there. So much for tidal drift, leeway etc. etc.
It seemed to go dark quickly and we settled in to our ship spotting routine, wondering why the big ships were not using the Traffic Separation Scheme. It would have made life so much easier for us. By the time we actually reached the TSS, we had zig zagged around more ships than I can ever remember seeing on the move at any one time. (if I had studied the charts more carefully, I would have noticed the Traffic Separation Scheme is further East and further West than the bit we crossed!)
Having tried to race the Brittany Ferry ‘Amorique’ to Port and losing, we eventually arrived in Roscoff at 07:00 UK time which apparently is “no one really cares about time” French time. It was shut!
We tied up on the first dock we found and went to sleep for a couple of hours.
We would like to thank our home Port of Fleetwood and especially all of the staff at Fleetwood Haven Marina, we miss you and the windy walks along the Promenade with Sam & Elly.
Also Enterprise Car Rental for always managing to have something available at a moments notice, Mylor Yacht Haven, Falmouth for answering our million questions and of course Roscoff Marina for pretending not to mind how bad our French was!
Where are we now? Click here.