Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Tides, Rips and Overfalls....

From an earlier time- mizz stays'l and nbf = bliss
 After a lot of checking of tides and winds we began to move from the wonderfully sheltered safety of the anchorage. Night was less than an hour away but, as ever, with the winds probably picking up later the following day we wanted to get moving. Although we left at slack the wind over tide situation soon dragged our speed down and down regardless of what we did. Patience was the only answer and victory's were counted as increments of a tenth of a knot. Once properly underway and clear, speeds shot up and Cape Wrath looked to be on target for early the following morning. Not to be as winds eased of course but we rounded the corner about a mile offshore with a following tide in the early pm. A few miles down the coast the seas went flat, totally flat and our speeds, briefly, exceeded 9knots as we worked our way down to Loch Neddy, an anchorage we had, Bee assured me, last visited some 10 years earlier although I had absolutely no memory of it. Deep and long with a collection of local boats on buoys, a number of houses along one side, many hidden amongst the trees it was a welcome stop. But with another tidal gate to meet we had to leave early the next morning to round Stour Head and back into the familiar waters we've sailed so many times on our way south. Familiar perhaps but it won't stop interesting times with the tides.

The days followed their usual pattern, some progress, some delay but we were getting south. We sailed into Tobermory to find a huge gaffer anchored in the centre. 
Atlantic at Crinan

A super yacht of some sort and as we slid by the stern we saw it was Atlantic. Our offer to swap boats was met with a smile... I'm sure these boats are impressive but I can't get excited about them. They left well before us the following day heading, like us, down the Sound of Mull. We anchored off Kerrara, the island that protects Oban, to sit out a stiff SW before fighting our way down the Kerrara Sound toward Ardfan Point for the night where we were joined by another boat whilst across the way could be seen at least 7 masts using the usual, Puilladobhrain, anchorage. 

We joined a procession of boats, at the back of course, heading south through the Sound of Insh and then the Sound of Luing. We were early for the first and struggled but the tide had turned for the second and we swept on through. It brings you out at the eastern end of the Corryvreken, somewhere we have yet to traverse. The wind was fluky and soon after we raised the genny it increased dramatically to 30 knots and we had too much sail for comfort. The prospect of beating was overcome by simply turning, albeit against the tide and heading up to Crinan for a bit of shelter, where we again found ourselves anchored off Atlantic. Weeks afterwards we saw a fb post from a young woman we had last seen as a 10 year old in Bonaire on Lily Bolero and is now crewing aboard superyachts. But we didn't know that and so missed the chance to catch up with her. A shame.

We left with the tide the following day, a tad early as usual to get down toward Gigha. An ok day as we could sail once we got clear of the rips although the wind was, inevitably, from ahead.We opted to go on past the usual anchorage/mooring field at Ardminish for the little used anchorage off the overnight ferry mooring. 

Deserted when we arrived there, pretty good shelter and a warm friendliness from the ferry when it did eventually arrive for the night. Only a mile or so further south but quiet and empty.

Leaving the following day we had to buck the tide to make sure we were able to make good use of the tide out past Kintyre and across to Ireland. A number of other boats were out there too, most much quicker than us but we plodded on with very little (4 knots) wind from astern but bright sunshine. After a day of motoring we arrived off Carrickfergus as dusk arrived and anchored off the town, bizarrely buzzed by a drone as we did so. A passing fishing boat slowed down to our hail and explained the layout of the harbour for our morning fuel visit, even offering to take me in to check it out. Luckily I turned them down as motoring in the next morning we found ourselves in a tight area with little turning room and had to deal with it, reversing onto the occupied fuel dock. As we needed to fuel up and stock up we decided we'd stay a night but got two nights for the price of one as we paid up front. But we couldn't stay where we were but needed to move to the adjacent marina which necessitated more "to-ing and fro-ing" in order to turn around in a restricted space, to the consternation of those still aboard already moored boats. Ah the joys of long keels and bowsprits.

The marina was fine, the folks friendly and helpful, the town has, to us, a strange, slightly menacing air about it... union flags in abundance and large Loyalist murals on several walls.

The SW blow that came through caused a bit of a swell in the marina but as it began to ease we thought we'd head across the bay toward our usual anchorage off Bangor. Thick weather, foggy and still blowing 25knots  gave us a wet, hairy bash across, dodging incoming ships before we made it into sheltered water and peace and quiet.  

Old stays'l out of retirement

Another earlyish start but little wind, creeping through the sound between Copeland Island and the mainland, hoping the wind remained westerly as forecast. It didn't and when it came in SW we kept as tight as we could but all the time were getting further from the Irish coast and closer to the Welsh one. We persevered, the south running current helping our track but as we were now well across channel and the tide about to change I stupidly made the decision to ease sheets a little and head into Port Dinllaeen to wait out the tide. Well it didn't seem to be a good decision once we'd anchored but with the tide now running hard it would have been a bear to do anything other than wait. We watched a boat leave and butt into the tide without sail attempting to make their way west, the bow dipping and water cascading down the deck as they appeared to stand still for minutes at a time. When our turn came to leave hours later, the tide was with us but the wind over tide made life miserable and at one point we blundered into rips and over-falls forcing us to head almost north to clear it safely. 

We'd heard from the forecasts that severe weather was forecast for a couple of days time so wanted to get into decent shelter. For us that meant getting to Milford Haven and up the river when we could. However first we had to beat our way south, around St David's Head through a narrow part of the Irish Sea, at Springs with a head wind for much of the trip. It is at times like this I seriously wonder why we do this as the journey involved rips, ferries and juggling the tide to try and reach the right point at the right time. It became obvious that we were not going to make the entrance to Milford before the tide changed but perhaps an hour after. We approached the entrance and some 3 miles out the tide changed and the seas rapidly built up as the wind strength had also increased. Quite possibly one of the least enjoyable hour or so we have spent as the seas grew in confusion and height; 3 metres or more and we were thrown around, hanging on to the tiller and trying to maintain the course and not gybe . The rain fell, the vis. was poor and we hoped desperately that no ships were either entering or leaving when we were. In that respect we were lucky and as we slid between the cliffs and the rocks that split the entrance in half, the seas eased and we could look forward to shelter, a fire and a stiff drink. The anchorage, Dale Bay, had a few boats in, more on buoys but we easily found somewhere and settled for the rest of the day. However the forecast hadn't gone away so we opted to move up river where the wind should have less impact and motored the 12 miles or so up to anchor off the Carew River. We had a better time in terms of wind although the tide kept us on our toes. However back at Dale all had not gone well for a 15m yacht on a buoy that dragged its buoy before going ashore on rocks, ending up completely destroyed. Luckily no one was aboard but only the epirb alerting the CG to the fact that it was sinking.

We left from Dale for the last, we hoped, leg back. We'd indicated to Alex that we'd like to get back on the quay for the winter but throughout the summer we'd had little hope there might be space and had had no reply from Southdown either so we weren't really sure what we'd do. But as we made our way south and still in telephone contact a text arrived with a message saying we had a quay space! 

Winds were good and 20 hours after leaving Dale we rounded Lands End and made for the Helford for an overnight stop before getting up to Cawsand Bay to rendezvous with Nick and Nadja and an easy pilotage back up the river from where we had left almost 5 months and 4300 odd miles ago. Not without a cost it has to be said as we'd blown out one sail and ripped two others. The stays'l had simply split from UV and chafe wear forcing us to dig out the original stays'l from when we first had the boat and was luckily still serviceable although smaller than we were accustomed to. And our lovely new main has torn through my own stupidity when I wired a ratline to the main shroud and didn't cover the wire properly.
Penance - hand sewing the stays'l

And finally. Somewhere on this trip I read or perhaps re-read Helen Tew's story. In part it covers her crossing the Atlantic in a 27' boat at 89 accompanied by her son. But what gave me pause for thought and, as I battled the tides and headwinds of the Irish Sea, no end of encouragement was her tales of how she sailed with her dad as a child venturing as far as Iceland and covering much of the ground that we had on this trip. Well worth getting hold of.



  1. Lovely to 'catch up' with you via your posts. I see the Rachael and Mike fairly often - amazing how those 'little girls' are all grown now. And I just re-read Helen Tew's delightful book a few weeks ago. What a grand old lady she was. It was a privilege to know her.

    I guess you guys are holed up for the winter. I hope it's a good one and look forward to hearing of your plans for next year. All the best for Christmas!

  2. Hi Annie,

    Yup, holed up along the road from Pete built Oryx(sp?) at Millbrook - say hi to Mike and Rachel for us - hadn't realised you were near to them. You're doing a great job on the boat build too - very impressed.


  3. (O)
    hello via Boxes & Bellows

  4. And greetings in return! Perhaps we'll see you again or even meet you when next we're in the north....assuming you live on Lewis or thereabouts.