Heading South again – Islay to Milford Haven

The course from Port Ellen to the Mull of Kintyre is south east.  Sailing being what it is, and Murphy being alive and well, the wind was in the south east and so straight on the nose!  We weighed the anchor shortly after 0800 on Friday, 25th July, had the main hoisted and were clear of the harbour just before 0900.  At this stage, we had a lot of wind, and although the course took us well south of the Mull, the plan was to tack back later.  The wind then died, we had the main down and up again, a reef in the main, genoa to jib to genoa.  We tried everything.  Inevitably in the end we needed to start the engine as there wasn’t enough wind, and we motor-sailed to the Mull, managed to sail round it, and then motored through Sanda Sound, turned north for Campbeltown, and sailed the last few miles.  A frustrating day – but at least it didn’t rain!

We refuelled the following day with diesel and set off in thick fog for Troon.  The radar and AIS (automatic identification system) make sailing in poor vis easier, but keeping watch for lobster pots, ships that do not have AIS or small boats is essential and challenging.  As it was, we needed to alter course to avoid an unidentified boat that was obviously not listening to the VHF or monitoring his radar.  Eventually the sun broke through east of the Isle of Arran, and we arrived at Troon in the early afternoon to be met by Martin, who had left Weston Patrick at 0300 that morning to join us.

A small repair was required to the mainsail, and this was unexpectedly collected by Saturn Sails a day early on Sunday evening.  Shortly afterwards, Azrar III arrived with Andrea and Mark who had bought her from us in February of this year.

Andrea & Mark with Azrar III

They had left Portsmouth in April, and had sailed up the west coast of Ireland, coupled with a short break sailing in Greece in the sunshine (lucky them!), and to avoid the gales and rain that we had been experiencing.  We all had a great dinner that evening at Scott’s Restaurant in the marina, with excellent food, company and surroundings.

Our mainsail was returned and rigged on Monday evening, and shortly afterwards we bade our farewells, slipping our moorings to head south to the Isle of Man.  Our passages have to a large extent been dictated by weather windows of opportunity, as generally the patterns have been totally different from the norm for this time of year.  Our original planning had been for south westerlies on the journey both north and south.  What were we faced with?  Northerlies as the predominant wind in June, then south winds in July and early August.  In addition we had 4 gales in three weeks in June, another 2 gales in July, and currently are berthed in Milford Haven waiting for further gales to pass through.  We’re now hoping to leave on Friday 15th August, and will be 10 days behind schedule.  One of our necessary pastimes has become the frequent study of weather maps and forecasts – can become quite a fixation!

Back to Man ….. Neither Elaine, Martin nor I had visited the IOM before.  We berthed at Peel, a fishing harbour on the west coast, with a tidal harbour wall and castle ruins as a backdrop.

Peel Castle

The inner harbour with its tidal flap has a free flow for 2 hours each side of high water. We had to berth on the harbour wall when we arrived, and used the opportunity to arrange a hire car to go exploring the following day.

A trough of low pressure was crossing the area, so we set off in rain anti-clockwise round the island, with a cloud base of 200 ft above sea level, so unfortunately we missed out on what are reportedly dramatic views of land and sea. What we did see left us with very mixed views of what the IOM has to offer the tourist at non-TT times.  We visited Calf Sound looking across to the Calf of Man, its tidal race and seals.

Calf of Man

The towns and villages around Port St Mary, Port Erin and Castletown we found attractive,

Castletown

but Douglas did little for us with the exception of the horse drawn trams, the steam and electric railways.  We drove on to Laxey which is another small seaside resort on the east coast, but famous for its big wheel which used water power from the river to power the local mine pumps.

The Laxey Wheel

Our route then took us through Ramsey and along part of the TT course before finishing back at Peel in the rain.

All rather disappointing until we arrived at Niarbyl south of Peel for dinner at the Niarbyl Cafe, on the recommendation of my son Andrew.  This restaurant and visitor centre has dramatic views of the cliffs along the coast, and holiday cottages almost on the beach!  A DVD that’s played on flat screens in the restaurant with information about the history, wild life, people and scenery of the area turned out to be compelling viewing the first 20 minutes or so while we sipped our wine and waited for our starters to arrive – ‘queenies’ or Manx Queen scallops.  For example we were unaware that the geology of the area includes plates of Africa and America next to each other.

Having returned the car the next morning we extracted ourselves and sailed south west for Dublin.  This turned out to be an excellent sail, using our huge genoa alone until late afternoon, and then hoisting the main as the wind eased to maintain our speed of 8 knots.  Pipistrelle sails beautifully off the wind, and enables us to cover significant distances in short time spans.  We were berthed in Dublin at Poolbeg YC within 12 hours of leaving Peel, and the following day Martin went exploring the city, as Elaine and I set about the normal maintenance jobs, and also the laundry, which on this occasion involved taxi rides to deliver and collect the washing!  We were then off to enjoy another night out in Dublin.  This time we got it right with dinner of traditional Irish Stew at Oliver St John Gogarty, and then a visit to the floor below for excellent live Irish music – a fiddler, piper and guitarist.  Craic as it should be!

Our next passage to Kilmore Quay demonstrated the importance of planning alternative ports of refuge.  The southerly wind slowed our passage, and once we had an adverse tide, we were not going to manage to sail inside Tuskar Rock and on to Kilmore, without arriving in the small hours, with a difficult approach and entrance.  We put in to Rosslare, and while this is a commercial port, it did provide us with a comfortable berth alongside the wall with a couple of fishing boats for company!  We were on our way again the next morning, and had a fast and exciting sail, dropping the main before traversing Patrick’s Bridge, and then following the leading lines to the harbour.

Kilmore Quay is a fishing harbour, the busiest we have seen, and has two resident seals who follow every fishing boat in, and then beg for food, just like dogs.  They even have names and are a veritable tourist attraction.  We were gifted 5 crabs, and a bin liner of crabs claws, so were eating crab for lunch and dinner in various guises over a number of days!

Kilmore Quay

Having enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Silver Fox (fresh fillets of plaice prepared in butter and a dry white wine to accompany), we were keen to try to head south the following day for the Isles of Scilly.  Again the winds and weather were against us.  We slipped our moorings with visibility of 200 yds, and navigated out to the bridge using the chart plotter and radar, and steering from the navigation station below decks (one of the joys of owning a pilot saloon).  Eventually the water became calm enough to hoist the main, but it quickly became apparent that heading south would be arduous, uncomfortable and time consuming. The term “head banging” comes to mind!  If JP is reading this, he might smile! Instead we headed east for Milford Haven, and did not see another vessel until entering the harbour, but for the first time did enjoy the company of schools of dolphins.  They are such delightful and graceful creatures.

After a night on a mooring in Dale Bay, and with a gale due on Saturday, we decided to let the favourable north westerlies go by, and wait until we have more favourable winds to enable us to leave and head south west and then south.  We moved into Neyland Yacht Haven, which is in a creek further east than Milford Haven town and marina.  Mark and Andrea (of Azrar III) were very disappointed with the facilities at Milford Haven, but we are happy to report that the tidal marina at Neyland is excellent.  We are sheltered from almost every wind direction and the facilities satisfy most needs.  In addition we have attractive views looking east, and enjoyable walks into nature reserves on the doorstep.

Since beginning to write this, the near gale at the weekend has almost gone, only to be followed by another which is due on Tuesday/Wednesday.  As we were going to be here for a number of days, we decided to make the best of it and hired a car for 3 days over the weekend to explore an area that we have never visited before.  The first day was to Martin’s Haven which is on the south side of St. Bride’s Bay, and walked along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, enjoying spectacular views towards St. Bride’s which we visited before heading for “home”.  Saturday it rained incessantly all day so we took advantage of having a car to manage a big Tesco shop (has to be done!).  On Sunday the day dawned bright but breezy and we drove through the pretty, undulating scenery to St. David’s Head.  At Whitesands Bay we had our packed lunch while watching the lifeguard whose thankless task it was to rescue surfboarders who chose to ignore his signals and as a consequence were swept by the current into rocks to the north of the bay – with a 35 knot breeze there was considerable surf!  The walk amongst the heather and gorse along the coastal path to St. David’s Head was exhilarating and watching the movement of the dancing sea below mesmerising.

At St Davids Head

On the way back we stopped in St. David’s, the smallest city in the UK.  As we walked towards the cathedral, we were captivated by the view looking down into the valley where it stands with the adjoining ruins of the Bishops Palace.  The palace was just closing, but we were able to briefly look inside.  On entering the cathedral we were enchanted by the most beautiful singing, 5 female and 3 male choristers, practising for evensong with the director of music and organ accompaniment.  The acoustics were superb.  Not only is the cathedral fascinating, dating back to the 6th century with finely decorated wooden ceilings, but to listen to top class singing was a real treat.   As we were leaving, a team of campanologists set the bells peeling in the separate bell tower.  What an atmospheric and memorable experience!

St Davids Cathedral

Before relinquishing the car we also visited the lily ponds at Broad Haven South which were part of Stackpole Court, now demolished, but the Stackpole Estate is owned and managed by the National Trust.  We managed to walk to the beach before heavy rain gave us a soaking (good for the complexion!) and forced a hasty retreat, but this area is definitely one we’d love to explore further at some stage in the future.

While we wait for the break we need in the weather, it is now back to the remaining maintenance jobs like easing valves, clearing drains and pipes (ugh!) and servicing winches…….all part of routine on board, but we may even have time for a local walk or two before we leave.

Keep your fingers crossed for us! Cheers!

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