Conwy, 24-26 June

 

This is a chance to relax and catch up on some general messing around in boats. A sunny day sees us happily fettling, mending and moving things around…tough life huh? We wander into town as the afternoon wears on to find that we’ve moved back a few centuries and the medieval festival is in full swing, although we’re not sure if t shirts, tight white trousers, high heels and bouncers (on the doors!) is completely authentic. The medieval banquet looks great complete with candles and wooden platters, but we settle in to the Blue Bell for some live medieval music complete with hurdy gurdy…and electic 6 string base guitar! James is the party-pooper however as he is clearly not into what amounts to a drunken ceilidh!

The tides here are huge and the sand/mud banks become all too apparent as the water rushes out. Not a place to go aground, even in our bilge keeler.

We repeat the process on Sunday (not the drunken ceilidh) having shown John’s grandchildren around the boat and it is certainly a great sight with all the jesters, jousters (truly great horse-riding and hard knocks), donkeys and men on stilts, all under the imposing walls of Edward 1’s castle designed to subdue the Welsh…

This would be a good festival to come back to and the town is enchanting even without plastic swords and chain-mail.

Isle of Man to Conwy

The weather forecast for Thursday is not great for a 12 hour trip East. The plan is to get to Liverpool to see John’s daughter Sarah and the grandchildren, but a combination of tide gate out of Isle of Man and a very restricted tide gate into Liverpool Dock make this a bit fraught. However it looks like a trip to Conwy is do-able on the following day…and Sarah can get there reasonably easily as well.

The forecast is promising SW 5-6 veering W 4-5. This will be a bit bumpy at first but should ease during the day and free up for a nice fetch down to N Wales. We take the 10.15 bridge out of Douglas and head out into a heavyish sea. We take stock of the situation but decide that this is the worst it is likely to be and will improve as the day wears on, especially as we close the shelter of Anglesey.

The wind has more south in it than we expected and while the triple-reefed main pushes us along nicely with a touch of motor, a filled genny just takes us too far to the east. We need to get off Anglesey with enough west in our track to make the tricky entrance to Conwy… The purists would either turn back to wait until we can sail to where we want to go, or go where the wind takes us…we’re not purists and settle in to a bouncy motor-sail.

Heydays behaves perfectly. With the engine just above tick-over and our scrap of main, we are making 7kts through the water. We tuck behind the spray-hood in the warm and dry and let the auto-helm guide us.

Bouncy is probably an understatement and the picture does no justice at all…

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Mostly we ride nicely over a surprisingly confused sea, but every so often a huge breaker dumps several bucket fulls into the cockpit…but we are warm and dry!

After a few hours the wind has veered very slightly and we get a scrap of genny out to match the scrap of main…this is great sailing even though a bit bouncy.

All of a sudden the waves ease and the wind frees and we relax for all of 30s until we realise that the continuous and sometimes violent shaking has damaged some compass connections. The autohelm has no idea where it or we are going.

Below is not a great place to be (despite stugeron) and the helm is not great either. However for the next 4 hours James gets regular duckings of green sea water, while John spends half an hour at a time (before needing to see a horizon), upside down in a locker trying to repair the corroded connections. With a very faint coastline coming into view he gets the autohelm working again and we tuck in once more under the spray-hood. Despite the duckings and the upside down-ness, neither of us is worse for wear or even damp. The motion eases slightly but there is no sign whatsoever of the forecast west wind…

Soon we are peering into the gloom to make out the approach buoys and as the first appears we reluctantly dispense with the sails. Of the North Welsh coast we see almost nothing on this fine summer’s evening!!! We berth in what appears to be the North Welsh equivalent of Lymington. This is out of our class, with expensive-looking gleaming boats all around but at least Heydays has been to sea…!

Footnote: The day has one last surprise. The posh marina bar has stopped serving food, but when we explain we have just arrived ON A BOAT, they suggest we go into town for food . “Don’t worry, its only 5 minutes by car”!!!!! Grrr. We get wetter walking back from town (fish and chips on a bench) than a whole day at sea.

Isle of Man

 

We’re confused. Hardly surprising for two blokes of advanced years you may say, but we’ve heard a lot about the IoM and its not-quite separateness from the UK, its being a self governing dependency (they pay UK £3m to defend them)…its home to the wealthy and their banks…and its relative reluctance to give up corporal punishment (the birch) for young male offenders. In places it certainly seems like that (not the birch), but a short walk back from the front in Douglas and we are into grand old Victorian houses, now a bit shabby and turned into HMOs. The other surprising thing to us, is the number of boats in the marina which appear unloved and in need of serious TLC. It turns out that despite this being the most expensive place we have visited in terms of mooring fees, the charges for residents are astoundingly cheap (a couple of hundred £ a year…whole boat not per metre..) so it is cheaper to keep them than dispose. As the harbour manager says, “…they can still stand in the pub and tell their mates they’ve got a yacht!”.

Not for the first time, it seems like we are stepping back into the 1950s and we do the whole tourist thing. A £16 day pass on all public transport gets us;

  • a ride along the front (could be Brighton in the 50s) on a horse-drawn tram. Watching the world and the sea front go by at this speed is very soothing and James misses his two old horses… ☹

 

  • a ride on the electric tram from Douglas to Laxey…wonderful old (1880s) trams in original ash and oak…

This also gives us a chance to have a quick look at the Laxey water wheel (huge) and the remains of the old mine workings, which were once a big source of income and employment.

 

  • a ride up Snaefell which is the island’s highest peak. Apparently on a clear day one can see 6 kingdoms…so they say. However it is still a magical ride up through the clouds on yet another old tram…

….complete with unique mountain braking system….

  • A ride on the steam train from Douglas to Port Erin. The train is the old compartment model with no corridor and it brings back memories of being a teenager…

…there’s nothing like a bit of brass and steam…

Port Erin is a stunning beach and harbour, with another old Victorian front and some very luxurious apartments higher up.

 

It brings out the romantic side of us (missing Chris and Yee Tak)

But we console ourselves with a glass of Rhubarb fizz in a harbour bar…so this is               where the well to do come to drink and snack!!

  • And finally, a ride on the motor bus (should have been a charabanc!) back to Douglas in time for dinner. All this (not dinner or the booze) for 16 notes!

Belfast to Isle of Man

Having made a fairly rapid decision to go, the couple of hours kip is over almost before it has begun and a 12.30am alarm is not terribly welcome. Not a lot is said as we get Heydays ready like a well oiled machine (ha!).

The Harbour Control give us permission to leave and we pick our way down the Lagan, once again not seeing anything much like our arrival. The line of red buoys is mesmerising as we peer into the not-quite-night picking our way past a very active dock and yards. A pilot boat hurries past to meet an incoming big ship and leaves us wallowing in its wake.

There is still light in the North Eastern sky and we are grateful for the reminder that dawn in this latitude is not far away.  At buoy 2 we radio out of Belfast Control area and breath a sigh of relief to be in wider channels. We put two reefs in the main ahead of the promised 4 to 5 and with a couple of rolls in the genny as well, Heydays is soon very keen to leave NI behind and head for the morning sun as it wins its battle with the rising moon.

 

We rush headlong out of the lough at nearly 9kts over the ground thanks to a strong southerly current carrying us past the gradually wakening villages along the coast.

With the islands past and clear water ahead, we decide to each get some kip and take proper watches for a few hours at least. Sod’s law of course dictates that as soon as John is making zzzs below, a line of fishing boats appears over the horizon. there follows the usual period of continual questions…are we on a collision course….are they fishing in pairs…can we pass behind this one….and ahead of that one???

It gets resolved of course with minimal course changes in the end and then the excitement is over. Still, its helps to pass the time until I can cough loudly and get a bleary John taking his turn on watch. The seas are quite confused at times and every so often a string of 4 or 5 breakers comes hissing up over the port quarter. The autohelm is struggling to cope and we steer manually, feeling her respond as the head is pushed off and then bringing her back as we slide down the back of the wave.

Next decision…do we save ourselves a good 2 hours by going through Calf Sound between Calf of Man and the main island? The pilot guide is saying it will be bumpy but will be over (?) in a short time…we decide to go for it. Sod’s law is back and three boats all meet at just about the narrowest and bumpiest point. We are being tossed around and John is concentrating hard to avoid a broach (but clearly enjoying himself). The sailing boat coming the other way is faring much less well and we are genuinely concerned for him. The motor boat….well…we started this blog by saying to ourselves that if we can’t say anything positive then we wouldn’t say anything at all….but he ploughs on through with less than 20m between us…make your own minds up.

…and then as if stepping over a line, all is calm…

As we come round up the east coast of IoM the wind eases and starts to head and we motor sail to Douglas. The rock formations are fascinating as always and then after a glorious crossing the lighthouse beckons us round the final headland and into the harbour with just the Isle of Man Steam Packet for company.

We are too early for the lifting bridge and flap gate into the marina so we wait outside, rafted up next to a boat with a broken boom. They were towed in by the lifeboat having had boom, genoa furling AND engine impellor failure.

We catch up on some sleep in the afternoon sun only to be awakened by the arrival of a mast-less Sadler34. Apparently they lost it around 6 this morning not far from where we were (didn’t see anything guv’). Two Polish lads (in their 30s but lads to us) had been planning the trip round UK for months but were understandingly distraught at losing all rigging, sails and guard wires. They refuelled and then left around 5pm for Holyhead and presumably a train home to Plymouth.

We are grateful to get Heydays into her berth in one piece…

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…shame about the attractive deck cushions drying in the sun!

Return to Belfast…and more politics

 

We land back in Belfast on a hot and dry morning wondering where Heydays will be and whether we will be able even to get into the marina. Still no response from the harbour admin… Heydays is now rafted up and the remains of the sailing festival are being cleared away with a lovely square rigger still in the marina. A call to the harbour gets a code for the gates and the promise of a response re payment etc.

We have a loose plan to sail for Isle of Man on Tuesday due to favourable winds and so after a quick settle in we set off to see something of Belfast. The Titanic museum certainly deserves its reputation and we end up spending over 3 hours there learning about not just the building and sinking but also about the history of Harland and Wolff and the docks.

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It turns out that even in the late 1800s there was a clear sectarian segregation among the workers, with catholics working in the poorly paid flax spinning and rope-making industries and living in 2 room houses, whilst the 3 room houses and skilled jobs were reserved for the protestants.

Equally fascinating, but also depressing was the open top bus tour. This took in all the key sights including Stormont with its imposing statue of (the protestant) founder of separate Ulster, Edward Carson.

We wondered how they would deal with ‘the troubles’, but the commentary whilst being very balanced and non-sectarian, nonetheless tackled the difficult matters head on. It included a visit to all the key areas of West Belfast such as Shankill and Falls road, the various para-military murals, the memorials to the ‘heroes’ from both sides… mostly shown with balaclavas and guns… and the ‘Peace Wall’ and gates.

 

…and it went on and on and on throughout West Belfast…

We had seen pictures and documentaries many times, but we were still both shocked and depressed in equal measure by the wall. In places it is nearly 15m high and one passes through shabby industrial gates which are still shut each night to keep the catholic and protestant communities apart despite nearly 20 years since the Good Friday agreement. Each housing estate seems solely the province of one ‘religion’ or the other and all have high walls and razor wire surrounding them.

The murals are all carefully repainted and nurtured and we saw plenty of Union Flags hanging from protestant lamp-posts together with huge bonfire preparations for the 12 July commemoration of William of Orange defeating the catholic King James at the battle of the Boyne. A big mural says “Culture is not a threat” but we wonder whether in the face of all these reminders plus segregated schools when/if it will ever really end.

Even Crumlin Road Jail remains as a monument to the inability to seek to forgive rather than condemn. We failed to learn from Nelson…

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Back on the boat we re-do the tidal calculations and decide to make best use of the southerly ebb from Belfast Lough rather than the at first simple option of a day sail…the snag is that it requires a 1am departure. A quick shop, pizza on board and a couple of hours kip serves as our preparation.

With apologies for so much focus on the politics this time, but it still has an enormous impact on Belfast, whether as a tourist or resident.

Belfast; surprising, confusing…and worrying?

 

As a footnote to the previous post…having arrived and paid for a day at the automatic machine, we squelch our way into the city in search of a couple of beers and some food. At 9.30 there are some bars open but none serving even a sandwich. An increasingly anxious dash round various shut restaurants does not lift the spirits until we come across a Mexican fast food outlet called Boojum. They are starting to clean down but welcome us with apparent joy as if they had spent most of the day waiting for two damp old blokes to come in. It gets even better when they serve us some beer (lager really). The food was excellent and very reasonable in price.

The next day is spent drying out and doing laundry and exciting stuff in preparation for leaving her for a couple of weeks. Despite repeated calls we still have no response from the harbour admin re an extended stay, but we meet Elliot who almost lives aboard his small yacht in the harbour and Dave the harbour attendant. They exchange knowing glances when we ask about formalities and happily give us codes to get us in and out.

Belfast of course, comes with a set of expectations, assumptions and perhaps even prejudice for those  of us old enough to remember the nightly news in the 70s and 80s of yet another shooting, bombing or knee-capping. We are in what is now described as the Titanic Quarter and it has preserved two of the big iconic gantrys called Samson and Goliath which were used in building the Olympic class ships including Titanic herself. The area is very much like many other up-market harbour redevelopments and links via a new foot-bridge to the Cathedral Quarter with its bars and shops …and cathedrals.we later see a Thai restaurant…

 

But back to the assumptions… whilst waiting for laundry to dry (our reader can probably hardly be contained at this point), Dave and Elliot have a very detailed discussion about the police reaction to the London Bridge van attack. They both are very knowledgeable about weaponry, ordinance and things of that nature. Our reader may be mildly surprised to know that James does not get involved in this particular discussion, but within very few minutes it is so abundantly clear that they are from the protestant community. They clearly intensely dislike Jeremy Corbin (“…obviously as he is an IRA sympathiser…”) and even want the ‘return’ of a further two counties now in the republic that apparently should be part of Ulster. Dave it turns out, used to be in the forces, but not Elliot whose parents moved to Scotland to get away from the troubles. He however returned as an 18 year old “…to be part of it”. We put two and two together and make a few hundred about Elliot and wonder about how he managed to get so much knowledge of ordinance…just askin’!.

The early morning flight out gives us a bird’s eye view of the marina. The issue of payment is unresolved even though we have no idea what they will do with Heydays when the international sailing festival arrives while we are away. Oh well, we’ll find out in a couple of weeks.

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A great day for a sail…

Our reason for a stop-over in Campbeltown was the promise of winds for a decent sail over to Ireland. In the event Campbeltown proves to be a great stopping off point in its own right. The facilities for sailors are clean, modern and…they don’t charge extra for luxury items such as loos, showers, electricity and wifi (which actually reaches to the end of the furthest pontoon)! Sadly we don’t have enough time to look around more, but what we see is delightful and we would recommend it for a longer stay…and a great local bakery.

After topping up with diesel we leave a drizzly Campbeltown, complete with mist rolling in from the sea and gear ourselves up for what has been forecast as some strongish cyclonic winds.

The currents in the North Channel (between Mull of Galloway and the Antrim coast) are strong and we have planned to arrive off Belfast Lough on the last of the Southerly stream. This means that we opt for a course which takes us further east of Mull of Kintyre than the direct route, to avoid the last of the north-going stream.

Cyclonic 4 or 5 does not appear and we motor on into an increasing bright day. To be fair, we probably are experiencing cyclonic winds but are just right in the centre of the slow-moving low. The sea is very lumpy however with a long and steep swell coming from the SW. The sky continues to lighten and soon we are stuffed up in our oilies and getting hotter and hotter. The huge lump of Ailsa Craig stays with us all the way to irish landfall.

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Soon there are some tentative little gusts of wind from an unfamiliar direction and we shake out the sails. Just motor sailing with the main at first, but then unfurling our big genoa as the wind continues to get more north in it. Heydays is in a sunlit centre of circling cloud. There is gloom over Scotland and as far as we can tell, gloom over Antrim as well, but we are scooting along at 6 or 7 kts with just a few distant ferries for company.

We start to see the Irish coast and adjust our course to take account of the stronger stream south (as we’re closing faster than planned). The sun disappears as the wind strengthens to the forecast 5 and the oilies become a help rather than a hindrance.

We reach the entrance to Belfast Lough and round the Black Head lighthouse (unfortunate name) in increasing gloom and the first few drops of rain.

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We get a tantalising glimpse of the cranes of Belfast, still two hours away. It is the last we see of the city until we are in it!

Our final picture of today (other than another Rothko study in grey) is the little town of Whitehead (no comment) where they appear t have used some colour on their pebbledash!

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Belfast disappears into the rain and soon we are huddled under the spayhood counting the marker buoys down the remarkably narrow channel for such a major port. A huge cruise liner comes the other way with its little pilot boat in pursuit and we keep well clear. With sail down as instructed, we make contact with the harbour control and receive permission to enter…not sure what we would have done if they had refused. We begin to wonder if we should have opted for Carrickfergus instead of the City Centre Marina. We can only make out just one buoy ahead each time and soon another coaster appears out of the gloom going the other way. It would have been fascinating to have seen the city docks with all their history, but neither light nor inclination allow for photos at this point. The old Harland and Woolf big cranes appear and the old Titanic dock and new centre slide past just before we turn in to Abercorn basin and find a berth for the next couple of weeks. The sitter-oooter (cockpit cover in Peterheadish) is up in double quick time and we set off to find some beer and some nosh…