This is to be our longest trip so far, and at 130 miles is around 24 hours depending on wind, tides etc. The pilot book unhelpfully suggests that the south to north route is best, as it is possible to carry tides north for a long time using back eddies and other oddities off the coast. We are going north to south so just have to sit through two tide cycles and tough it out. James flies in on the morning flight from Bristol and by noon we are waving goodbye to Chris and to Dublin.
Again, we are told to keep well clear of the channel and as soon as we are able, we gratefully bear away south east across the bay and away from the big commercial movements…just the ferry into Dun Laoighaire to think about…
The wind is more south than the forecast SW and we motor-sail with some tide having decided to keep to the Irish coast for as long as possible before getting a good wind (and neutral tide) across to Milford Haven. We set a course to pass down the outside of Arklow Bank and the wind farm and the autohelm whirrs away happily as we alternately doze in loose watches. Dublin County and Wexford coast slip past…
But of the Wexford coast we see nothing. The clouds close in and the visibility reduces just in time for us to be in a relatively busy part of the shipping lane along the coast! With visibility less than a mile, the wind farm is there and not there…
…and at times strangely half there…
The radar however gives us great comfort and we can ‘see’ other boats in reasonable time and make adjustments to keep clear. This is only the second time we have had to use it in anger so to speak on this trip and we count ourselves lucky, given the number of anxious foggy crossings of the channel we have made in the past in the days before we had radar.
The fog comes and goes and darkness descends early, together with a more lively sea and Heydays still only able to motor-sail with just a main to help us along. Ships come and go and only one gives us concern until we show a very definite course change, at which point she also changes course to pass well clear. Even so, a mile and a half is close enough…By now we are plugging a foul tide and the miles tick past…and the night wears on….
We close the edge of the main Irish side shipping lanes and bear away towards Wales, thankful to be away from the main traffic and able to finally set a decent genoa in what it still stubbornly a SSW F4 or 5. Taking turns to sleep, the night passes and just a ferry with lights so bright they mask the navigation lights, gives any cause for concern. It slips away into the night as the moon and a few stars put in an appearance for a short while…and then we are alone again, peering hopefully into the east for some signs of brightening if not actual sun.
By 3 we have the first signs of Wales with the Bishop and Clerks light welcoming(?) us and then the first signs of dawn around 4. Just after 5 John is woken by an excited James as we have the company of a pod of dolphins. They disappear on their own journey all to quickly and just a lone dolphin joins us later for a short while before she(?) too follows another path.
We breakfast on warm focaccia and coffee to welcome the day and pick our way past Skokholm and Grassholm islands and the start of the channel into Milford Haven. From the ruggedness and tranquillity of the coast we are suddenly into heavy industrial area of docks and refineries.
The pilot book, the chart and the almanac each give conflicting advice on what the yacht should do…the pilot says either east or west side but keep out of main channel; the chart shows the track for yachts clearly in the west channel and Reeds Almanac says keep to the East! We’re coming from the West so opt for West channel. A large tanker is given permission to leave by the harbour authority over the radio and we decide to cross rapidly to East channel just as a pilot boat speeds up very close to head us out East. We wave cheerily and comply. He doesn’t wave back! The tugs are busy nudging and nosing the huge tanker…and we keep clear.
Only a tug passing by in a hurry to Pembroke Dock bothers us…
…until we pass under the Cleddau Bridge and then….another world. The refineries and docks are hidden from view and all is beautiful river, with trees and woods tumbling down to the banks and occasional lines of moored yachts and other assorted small craft.
We pick up a mooring buoy belonging to Rudders Boatyard just down river from our friend Madeline at Llangwm and having given Heydays a cursory tidy up …we sleep in the cockpit in the sun.
This is Heydays’ home for a couple of months as we all have commitments over the summer, although will be visiting to explore on several occasions hopefully. It is difficult to imagine a more peaceful spot and the sun goes down (after a pint or two at the Jolly Sailor)
with some more focaccia and cheese (OK and some rum…) and the sound of curlews to take us to bedtime….
Footnote: We have a rough plan for September to re-cross the Irish sea to explore a bit of southern Ireland and then cross to the Scillies for a week or so, before working our way home to Lymington along the south coast. Home by end of October is a broad plan…we’ll see.