Our recent trip
22 August 2010 | Irish Sea
John - not bad weather
THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Day one was Conway. We were to leave at 12.30 but as usual Billy was late and then had to run back for his sandwiches. We were hoping to follow another boat skippered by Charlie's friend, Dave, but circumstance meant we got off a little later. We worked our way out to Brazil and through the rock channel. There, as always, we once again met a head wind and so decided to try a long tack so as to do a little sailing. We headed up to the north of Burbo Bank and then realised we were practically at the mouth of the Mersey. We saw no sign of the other boat and eventually we made a direct line for Conway via the Great Orme.
It was late when we arrived at the Orme and the engine had once again decided it needed cooling down - this meant we would once again miss the wonderful pint of Unicorn ale at the local Inn. We saw another boat making its way in very early and via a course we were unaware of. We decided not to follow and edged our way across the Scabs by cutting the corner off the fairway buoy. We eventually arrived, in the dark, at our mooring. I was on the helm and could not see very well in the dark. Charlie, being aware of my difficulty, decided to leap for the pontoon. Bad decision, as he bounced straight into the water and almost straight out. Fortunately another sailor was there to give a helping hand. Billy was too mesmerised by Charlie's dramatics and a burst tap, which had been hit by the boat, to be of much use. I weighed up the situation and decided there was now an even greater need to run to the pub and order a few pints, six altogether, which helped me maintain my status as a skipper with the right priorities. On the return to the boat Charlie disappeared - to see his real mates said Billy- and we grabbed our bunks and sipped lovingly on a bottle of wine and the remainder of some Mount Gay Rum.
We were to be up early as we were hoping to follow Dave through the Gallows. This was a short cut through the sandbank and on to the Swellies, which would get us there in time for a trip through the Menai Straits. Unfortunately, after circling patiently for the other boats appearance Dave appeared at the end of the jetty to tell us it was off and our best bet was Holyhead. We found out later he could not get through on the radio. Realising we would not get to the Menai in time to go through, we agreed and set of on the ebb tide tucked up nicely behind their boat.
After a while we put up the sails. We could see they had theirs up but noticed they appeared to be waiting for us. Without trying we were clearly pulling away from them so Charlie steered back to ask them a few questions about the trip as we still could not get them on the radio. We later realised we were on the wrong frequency. It soon became clear that they did not know the way either and had never done this trip before. We scrambled to our charts and looked at the Lowrance, our favourite navigational aid, and soon worked out the course.
We then set about a very pleasant sail which from time to time led to a few differences of opinion about where and when we changed course, sometimes a debate and sometimes an order from the chief navigator. Charlie, has more patience when tacking but if left unchallenged he will head for America. Billy and I, however, will always opt for the nearest thing to a straight line. We were all aware of the reputation of the Swellie Rocks and repeatedly checked our course but once through we felt like we had sailed through between the rocks and the Little Mouse like veterans. Now there was only the harbour to negotiate although this was quite a distance. At some point a huge boat appeared on the horizon and I assured Billy that we were in no danger as we would be in a long before it. A short time later Charlie also reassured Billy and told him to stop worrying. We confidently carried on heading for the inner harbour. The speed of the boat was very deceptive and brought on a state of panic amongst the crew, ending in us abruptly changing course. As we did the radio blared out, telling us to stop or get out of the harbour. For the rest of the voyage Billy sat astride the cockpit staring ahead and with a smug grin on his face. We were near an hour getting through to the moorings and for some time we were unable to discern were they actually were. It was a grand experience and we arrived at Holyhead with time on our hands.
After a shower and a tidy up of the boat - the latter making little difference, we headed off for a meal. We chose the Boat Guest House, which we were informed was a short trip across the boatyard. The food did not look very inviting and so we decided to try the Marina. On the way out we saw the Special's Board and changed our mind when we saw the menu - although nobody chose the lobster. The food and wine flowed freely, but I chose to stay on the beer. Billy had warned me - somewhere around his third pint and second bottle of wine that he was now engaged in a drunken spree which would knock him out and I needed to make note of that. I decided - on past experience - that I could do nothing and he duly ended up totally pissed and incapable. By some miracle we got him back to the boat but we were unable to get him below so left him there covered up with a sleeping bag. In the middle of the night he awoke, discarded all his clothes on the deck and crept into his bunk.
Next day we had the option of getting up early about 4.30 am and going through the bottom end of the Menai with Dave. We decided to go to the IOM instead as the idea of getting up that early and heading off on a journey we may, or may not, complete on time, and doing it with a hangover, was not a pleasant thought.
The wind to the IOM was good and meant we would be on a broad reach all the way and we would be there inside eight hours - an exciting prospect. However, once again, a very common experience by now, the wind dropped as we left the harbour so we continued on, motor sailing all the way to Douglas. We headed for the south of the Island so as to make use of the northerly currents before high tide. We arrived about 10. 30 pm - too late for the pub, but untroubled as we had a few bottles of wine. We moored up alongside some elderly gentlemen who had come over from Ireland. They were very nice company and showed some concern for Billy who had gone stomping off over their yacht in pursuit of a wash and a number two.
Early next day we set a course for Ardglass in Northern Ireland. We followed the IOM coast, past Port St Mary, past the island's imposing landscape and all the way down to the Calf of Man. Unsure of a course through The Sound we decided to sail between Chicken Rock and the Isle. A brand new experience and thanks to the good weather we were only threatened with violence for a short space of time. The boat reacted as if it was being pummelled from below and we had to change course slightly until clear of the area. On another much windier day we could have been bounced around like a cork. We all knew then we would not be coming back the same way.
The rest of the journey was plain sailing giving us an opportunity to admire a calm sea, peppered with sea life ranging from numerous birds and seals to basking sharks and small fishing boats. Ahead was Ireland and behind the IOM. During this enjoyable episode between the two skylines we revised our understanding of the weather forecast ensuring we all knew the meaning of imminent, before and later. At one time a seal rose before us, probably looking for escapees from a nearby fishing boat. It dived like a submarine beneath our prow, revealing the whole length of its body so much so I thought it was small whale.
We were concerned about the entrance to Ardglass as it was now low tide and we knew that there was just about room for our two metre draught, and the channel in was very narrow. Fortunately the boat entered like a queen her biggest problem being the confused behaviour of the man deciding on where we moored up. After a wash and a shower we decided to get some diesel as we did not want to be hanging around waiting the next morning. This was an important decision as we had been informed that we could get red diesel with no questions asked for as little as 63 pence a litre. At any other time we would have been delighted. But leaving early was crucial if were to get back to Douglas and meet our partners from the boat at 2.30 Saturday. Carrying 20 litres of diesel about half a mile was going to be difficult so we commandeered and old supermarket trolley and pushed it up the hill to the local store, bought a few items and headed back to the boat, just in time to meet up with Billy whose priority had been to examine and report back on the Marina's facilities.
On the way to and fro we were privileged to see a few surprising elements of the local culture. The first being the local store which relied upon the customer as to whether or not they had purchased fuel. The second being a game which appeared to involve the throwing of logs at an object we was later told was a skittle. Money clearly changed hands amongst a small band of men who paid no attention whatsoever to two strangers pushing what could have been a bomb up and down the hill. Charlie, being a true Brit abroad, unconcerned or oblivious to the North's recent history, decided to push the trolley all the way down to the moorings - and leave it there.
It was time to eat so we set off for the local golf club. Charlie had been told of its good reputation. On the way we passed a group of teenagers playing football in the main road and listening to the deafening sound of rap music emanating from a local media type shop. The club was in the grounds of an ancient castle with a beautifully manicured lawn and a wonderful view acroos the Irish sea. On entering the hallway we could hear the hackneyed language of the committee with all its obsequious lilting waffle being wafted out of the lecture room. This reminded me of the Thirty Nine Steps but I did not feel in the mood for an exchange of literary banter, mainly because I was at the time trudging painfully behind the other two, both loping leisurely up and down the harbour like visiiting gourmets. A member of staff confirmed that a local meeting had taken over for the night and it was not open for food.
Apart from finding somewhere else to eat this meant trudging back up the hill so I got off first. The other two soon overtook me and we walked straight into a hotel, Aldo's Place. We will always remember Aldo's for providing us with one of the best meals we have ever had. We all had a starter - I had a fantastic prawn dish followed by a main of freshly caught cod. We shared some wonderful garlicky seasoned potatoes, sumptuous brown soda bread and choice of vegetables. This was followed by an Irish coffee which gave a perfect end to the meal. The waitress who made it was delighted with our praises and we gave her a large tip. Too late for the pub we strolled home to bed full of bonhomie and thanking our Gods for filling every moment with life for every minute of the day.
Next morning we slipped away early again and out onto a calm and inviting sea. On the way out we watched a cluster of seals lazing as the ebb tide flowed past them. Slowly Ardglass began to disappear, its memories and quaint behaviours sliding past, just like the landscape, from offshore. Once again we crossed the Irish sea and breathed in the empty sea and sky. About 9am we heard the radio telling us we may be going into rain but took little notice as it did not look that bad ahead. However, after about two hours the rain came and it never stopped until we eventually moored up in Douglas at about three in the afternoon. It was rain we had not experienced before over such a long period. We were grateful that our clothes had proved seaworthy - that was the only plus, as the rain and the wind combined to make us grit our teeth in determination. For the moment sailing was about survival. It was a leeward wind and with the tide pushing us up alongside the island and the waves pushing us shoreward we had to remain vigilant at all times in order to avoid being driven into the rocks. Consequently, Charlie and I stayed on deck for most of the journey. Billy stayed blow and made tea as he was fortunate enough never to get seasick. This was much appreciated by the rest of the crew and made it unnecessary for Billy to feel embarrassed at not being on deck suffering like the rest of us. However, after a week at sea this advantage disappeared once we got our sea legs. So it was quite amusing; on the odd occasion he came on deck, to see his disappointment when nobody said yes to his appeals to make tea or coffee.
Charlie, our chief navigator, decided we should head as far out as possible before steering in towards Douglas. We didn't argue, although I was not as concerned at this stage and pointed out that we were making too large a triangle and that the land had disappeared. Billy, who had been on deck for a short visit, decided that survival was the issue and sided with Charlie. Mainly, he said, because he could see white house through the mist and the rain. I pointed out that directly too our left was the port of St Mary and we could see nothing. My comment was seen as cynical and petulant and fell on deaf ears. Later on their fears were proven to be completely justified when Charlie screamed out we were only twenty feet away from a disaster at sea and it was time to pull in the foresail and head out from the shore as fast as we could. We had learnt another lesson. In short, you cannot assume the automatic pilot can be left unattended as other factors have to be taken note of, such as wind and tide pushing you off course. We were lucky as I took my information from the course clearly visible on the Lowrance. This graphic, confirming the course with a red line, and the fact I could see we were clearly heading towards the rocks, prompted me to call the crew, and then to whip the pilot off and steer by hand while they calmly and frustratingly assembled their lifejackets. It was clearly expected of me as nobody thanked me.
With the wind behind us and the foresail filled out, the boat had been rocking and rolling, dipping and diving - almost travelling in a series of pirouettes. Now we were drawing in close to the harbour so we took down the foresail and started to dream of an easy mooring in the inner harbour and then drying ourselves out. At that point Billy radioed in for a berth. He was told that the Seacat was coming out and we would have to wait. I offered my favourite theory, Quantom, as an explanation but they were not amused. We circled for a while hoping the tide would not turn and force us into further difficulties, but the harbourmaster was speedy and called us in as soon as the Seacat was out of our way.
Highly relieved we coasted into the harbour and down towards the inner pontoons, Number 5 he said. This was to be the second time we were messed about in Douglas, the first being on a previous trip when we entered the harbour and told them only after we were in. They then sent us to the wrong mooring. This time they were being either vindictive again, or we were up against an incompetent harbourmaster who was determined to give us the wrong mooring despite repeated attempts to point out that we were crammed into a berth more suited to a dinghy.
The voyage over, our wet gear discarded, our limbs exhausted we went looking for a pub. Billy could not resist taking us into his favourite, which certainly wasn't mine. It proved to be too much for Charlie too and we moved on to the Tarleton further in the town. It was delightful and we will not forget the manager, who appeared to warm to one of us (not me) rather quickly and insisted on ferrying the drinks across to our table alongside the very comfortable leather backed settees we had commandeered. On the way back to the boat we were fortunate to meet one of the harbour staff, who gave us a pass key. We were all tired and weary so we went to bed.
The next day was Saturday and we rose about 8am. I happened to find the office open and they gave us an option of another berth but we decided to put up with the one we had. They also gave me two tickets for the showers and they let me call home for my son's phone number. Damian arrived within a few minutes and I went off to see a few of my grandkids and eat a hearty bacon breakfast. Then I popped round to Jacque's. She wasn't in but the kids were and they looked really healthy and it made me very proud seeing the way they looked after each other and played together. Damian had lent us his spare car and I picked Charlie up. We noted the hotel, The St Hellier, and booked a table at a local restaurant - having been rejected by our first and second choice, both fully booked, although Charlie thought it might be because of the way he was dressed.
At half two we picked up our partners and headed for the hotel. Billy had opted to stay on the boat and looked determined to enjoy this new freedom. The hotel was very basic as we had to share the toilet and showers. Marilyn likened it to Faulty Towers. Jenny suggested we were crammed in to two single rooms - a logical deduction as we had only one cup in each room. This had Marilyn suggesting we complain and look elsewhere. We decided to put up with it and went out for our meal. The meal was adequate and an opportunity to try the local Manx dish of Queenies, the main ingredient being scollops cooked in butter. Then it was time for a walk home and bed.
On the Sunday we had arranged to go to Port Erin on the steam train. Billy was to meet us at the station. He says he arrived too late and that is undoubtedly true whatever way you look at it. The journey was a hoot. We jumped into a carriage but had to share with a couple from Sunderland who told us of a grand pub in Peel. Charlie had meanwhile found a carriage we could all have a window seat in. We moved quickly only to be followed by a group of four from Tipperary. They are not to be forgotten - especially the one with the shorts, the Irish face and Irish hat to match. Marilyn likened it to going asleep and waking up in an episode of Father Ted. He was very friendly, bounced about like a teenager and spoke in a strange tongue. We all nodded knowingly even though his comments, when understood, were mostly child-like. I wanted to savour the experience and attempted to escape his attention by looking out of the window, Marilyn glowered at him, Jenny thought it all hilarious and appeared to understand every word and Charlie seemed to escape his attention completely. His mate was totally the opposite, witty, friendly softly spoken and interested in the company. The third male member of the group reeked of ale. Thankfully, unlike Charlie, I was protected from his attention by the presence of his wife sitting between us as silent as a stone throughout the whole journey.
The train journey brought back a lot of memories and we all enjoyed our trip back in time, took some pictures and sauntered out onto the town. Marilyn and I walked along the beach and took in the sea air. We could see Ireland across the bay and I made a note that Port Erin's harbour had no pontoons and offered little shelter from a rough sea.
Unfortunately, the bus did not run on a Sunday so Charlie called up a cab. After a short wait an agreeable young man called Kelly, who chattered away all through the delightful Manx countryside, took us to Peel.
As we walked over to the quay we rounded a comer and bumped into my son Damian and his family - quantum? He wandered away with the kids, the sun came out and we sat down and took a table over the road from the local pub, The Creek. We had a few pints and took in the atmosphere and decided we had the best spot in the village as we were sitting where the parade was to begin. Pretty soon they assembled; Breton Dancers, Clog dancers, Irish flute players, The Red Barrows complete with black plastic macs, and numerous other participants including a huge semi automated spider and a huge elk made out of reeds. The kids loved it and some were dressed up as a mix of cartoon characters, fairies and other images. This was all followed by the vintage cars, one of which was a striking blast from the past - a Rolls Royce complete with a lady suitably dressed in clothes and hairstyle to match the car.
We followed them on he short walk to the beach and once again I took note of the pontoon facilities. This is a place we must visit, no buoyage visible just a direct line along the harbour wall and you are in. We spoke to a couple from Preston who had their own boat and they gave us some more details, two hours either side of high water, Xmas day festivities, when they all decorate their boats with lights and put their generators on - the best place on the island. After mixing in with the joyous crowd and negotiating the long queues for ice creams we bought a few cups for the boat and headed back for out meal in the Creek Inn. We managed to get a table inside and we all chose something special from queenies to crab salad.
Then it was time for the bus home and this meant a trip up the hill and following directions far to complicated for a visitor. In short we got lost for a moment. The bus was pretty packed but we got a seat upstairs and were able to enjoy the view once again. This didn't last long as we were tired from the exhaustions of the past week and the few pints we had out in the sun so we slept through most of it. We got off the bus early to get the car but once back in the hotel we went to bed and slept for a while. That evening I bought a bottle of wine, drank half of it and was asleep by nine o'clock.
Monday and we had to be out by 10am. We had breakfast early and packed then car. Marilyn decided I was to take her bags on the boat. I went off to see my daughter again and this time she was in. They are selling up and renting but have to auction the house first. The business is going well and they now employ six people. Conner is now awaiting the results of his exams on his journey to be an architect.
We got back to town in time to see Freddy and Marilyn. He was doing well and was now getting about more and believed the operation to be a big success. We then met Charlie and Jenny in a café Marilyn decided it would be a pleasure to have a coffee in. It was the dearest on the Island so I made sure I ate every crumb and licked my cup. Then we delivered them to the yatch. I rushed ahead in order to prepare the way. My activity was found to be highly amusing by a small group of locals who found it not too difficult to interpret the unfolding activity - especially the contents of the bucket. Bills reputation saved we said our goodbyes, paid our dues at the harbour and headed out on the first bridge opening.
We reversed out of the mooring and headed straight out to sea while Billy tried to make love over the radio to the harbourmaster. A few miles out at sea the Seacat overtook us and we waved to our partners. Jenny phoned us and we changed course to show them we had seen them. The journey home was to be through the night. The wind was behind us but not strong enough to put the main up so we let out the foresail and headed home in a straight line. We got to the head of the Mersey just after 1am and that's when we realised we all needed to be fully alert as in the night nothing looks the same. We were a little confused by the behaviour of a larger boat crossing our stern and going to our starboard as it seemed the wrong direction. An observation worsened by his comment over the radio that he was at point we were heading for according to our Lowrance. We decided to trust our equipment and pushed on. Eventually we began to get a more comforting feeling, A feeling which appeared and disappeared as we headed for each buoy down the river. Time after time we would scan the seas looking for the flashing green lights of the starboard buoys. Eventually we arrived at our chosen spot and after a few attempts managed to moor up alongside an empty buoy. I turned the engine off and we all gazed in wonder at the fantastic skyline of our city. While the city slept we toasted our adventure with a couple of shots of Mount Gay rum.
At 5.55 we heard the radio go off and the voice of the lockkeeper asking if we would like to go in. We love you I shouted - I almost meant it!