Three men and a boat, 8th October
It was more than 2 years ago when the 3 of us, John, Paul and Frank, went cycling the Outer Hebredis in Scotland. As Sea Ghost was now an option as well, we picked a week and planned to make a last minute choice to go cycling or sailing. Cycling was the bad weather option as a bike is nicely exposed to the elements and a yacht can always stay put in a sheltered harbour with 17 pubs nearby. Makes sense doesn't it?
The forecast however was good, with just the tail of a depression coming over on Monday night, and then the high pressure returning.
Some of the stuff
As two years before there was a distinct difference between
the minimal cyclist and the "I'll-carry-that-just-in-case" cyclist.
This time there was a noticeable gap between the minimal boating approach and the
Admittedly, my newly bought marine maps did not include the Barents sea the therefore the chance to escape from there in a sensible direction would be minimal indeed.
This is how you hold on to a sinking ship Yeah right...
After picking up the boat, loading the stuff into all the lockers, sideboard and berths, sink and dinghy we checked she was still afloat. This confirmed we ran briefly through the newly created set-off checklist to introduce the crew to the boat and set off around 11:00 with the tide with us.
On the way to Puffin Island
There was very little wind and the 10:50 Holyhead forecast of SE F3 did not materialise. The sails were up but that was mainly to show off to other boats that we were real sailors.
At around 13:10 we anchored at the North Eastern edge of Puffin Island, just inside the swell as opposed to just outside the swell. It was a good spot however, with seals basking in the sun just 20 meters off to starboard.
Mooring in Beaumaris
We left Puffin at 14:35 on the motor and crossed the Perch sand bar with a lookout on the bow. I had calculated there to be +1.7m of water which gave us a 0.9m clearance. Following the channel we picked up a mooring in Beaumaris at 16:10.
Guinness in the local hotel Now where did we moor again?
We rowed ashore, left the dinghy on the pier and after a short tour of the town we settled for Guinness in a local hotel. The 16:50 forecast had predicted a Easterly F6 and we therefore moved the boat to a more sheltered mooring in the dark.
The next morning we set off for Bangor, exploring new grounds for Sea Ghost. Bangor is a drying harbour and the time gap to enter the harbour was estimated to be 09:00 - 13:00. After that the chance to sample to harbour mud levels would increase rapidly.
View towards main land Wales
John had caught briefly a fish during breakfast (brief enough for Paul and myself to see the fish sticking up its middle fin before jumping from the line back in the water). Obviously this looked promising and it was the start of 4 days of fishing around Angelsey. We now know that there are only 2 fish living in the area; one in Beaumaris and the other has been spotted around Puffin. And we were heading away from them.
One of the many fishy moments
The wind was a Southerly F3/4 which was excellent to do a bit of sailing. We managed to get into Bangor harbour and row ashore in true SAS style. The bare feet walking on the bare rocks was done in another style altogether and not to be recommended under enemy fire. A short trip to the pier was crowned with allegedly the best scones of North Wales.
Landing in Bangor
We left Bangor in time (13:20) on sail into the Menai Strait. At around 15:00 we approached the Menai Bridge and as I had carefully miscalculated the currents through the Swellies we arrived a low water slack instead of HW slack.
Tense moment in the Swellies Will they bite this time?
But with the currents being negligible we decided to sample the area. I had studied the pilotage, and with the right finger on the map, the GPS in the other hand and the third on the tiller we sailed in a relaxed manner up to Swelly rock.
The rocks sticking above the water looked impressive. No wonder as the skipper was only 6 hours
out with his estimate and still assumed it was HW slack.
Sea Ghost was turned around to pick up a mooring near Saint Georges pier.
The talented galley slave Navigation home work
Like the night before, a similar expedition was send ashore after listening to another skipper warning us not to attempt rowing back after 20:00, that is if we wanted to sleep onboard and not separated on Swelly rock, the Caernarfon Traeth Gwyllt South cardinal buoy and somewhere along the Llyn peninsula North coast.
And he was right. That night the current sweeping along the boat was most impressive.
The next morning was one of those beautiful still autumn mornings with the sun slowly warming and long shadows dissolving.
While John and Paul went to a massage parlour awaiting HW slack this time, I decided to do a reccie of the Swellies from land.
Menai strait towards Bangor
I managed to spot the final transit below the Britannia bridge to guide us from Swelly rock alongside Cribbin rock and not discovering it from the bilges. Back at the boat John and Paul looked fit and relaxed after their massage in the family run business (mother and daughter). They said I should have joined them but as they suggested the third family member was the man of the house I still thought I had made a good choice.
The Swellies The end of the Swellies in sight
The trip through the Swellies was uneventful and it was only on the way back that the Caernarfon pilot of the Swellies suggested that boats with a draught of less than 1 meter have a 30 meter wide channel at HW slack. But that was knowledge for the way back.
But success invites complacency and we had just navigated a notorious stretch of water in North Wales, so I went below to make some tea. As I stuck my head out of the companionway to enjoy the view of Plas Menai I looked briefly forward and saw a moored sloop approaching us fast.
Before my brain managed to decide on a new saver course, translate it to the helmsman, the sloop
took on Titanic size. With us being the iceberg and John playing Leonardo there was no escaping
faith and we rammed it almost bow to bow.
As the dust settled and the iceberg appeared not to be sinking we inspected the sloop with two inspection runs. There appeared to be no noticeable damage. As John indicated he knew the owners he kindly offered to settle the damage and we spoke no more of it...
Mooring in Caernarfon The waters around Caernarfon
The 5.5 NM distance between Plas Menai and Caernarfon was quickly covered. The plan was to get through the swing bridge, moor and sample Caernarfon, to keep some routine in our irregular sailor's lives. Checking time tables however showed that we would not be able to leave early enough the next morning to make it back in time to get through the Swellies at HW slack. The then next HW slack would be in the dark. With our summed up experience of navigating the Swellies successfully just once in bright daylight in one direction only, we decided to anchor near Aber Menai.
John and Paul paid a short visit to Caernarfon to check if there were any massage parlours with enough female staff but they knew we would not be spending the night there and never reported back.
The Llyn peninsula
I checked the strength of the current through Aber Menai (2.3 kts @ 230°). The wind was F3 from the SW and the plan was to motor out towards the Caernarfon bar, sample the view and sail back.
The current quickly set us past Fort Belan and the views were stunning. We passed the mussel bank buoy (red port mark), prepared to raise the sails and turn around. Not in a particular hurry we raced past the 2nd red channel marker (C6). As no course was set for after this buoy (we would turn back anyway) we were heading rapidly towards South Sands. The wind did not materialise and a wreck appeared on our starboard which I could not find on the map...at first.
Then I realised we had already made much more progress than estimated, we turned around and the motor was switched on to assist the limp sails. It occurred to me that if the motor failed we would be rapidly swept on the sand banks if I didn't get the anchor out in time. What took is 15 minutes of motoring out took 45 minutes full power motoring trying to get back in. Mmmmm.
A beautiful mooring spot
We crawled back and turned port to round Aber Menai Point into Treath Melynog, a beautiful totally empty anchoring spot. We rowed ashore with a picnic box (3 bottles of beer and a few bananas). More experienced sailors probably know this, but it is always good practice to take a bottle opener with you on these wild exploration trips. No Ray Mears can turn a banana into a bottle opener.
A view towards Snowdonia
We picked a bucket full of mussels from the beach before rowing back to the boat, which settled the menu for the evening. As usual, Paul, the galley slave, did an excellent job bringing out the result when the sun settled over the dunes. Caernarfon, with its loud pubs seemed miles away. And to be fair, it was.
Tea time, fresh mussels Sailing the sandbanks
The next morning a fair wind was blowing (F4 from the SW). After breakfast (08:00) we motor sailed towards C8 in the channel. With a strong current coming in from the Caernarfon bar, we started to sail sideways straight over a large sand plate. I had not checked how much water it would carry. The proper choice would have been to turn back but stubborn pride and an unrealistic trust in the shallow draught of Sea Ghost was mixed with great swirling pools of sand as we crossed the bank. How more often I can rely on Sea Ghost's shallow draft I don't know but maybe I should stop taking the risk.
Inside the Swellies Out of the Swellies
With the current and wind behind us we made good progress towards the Swellies which would be ready for us at around 9:40 BST (2.5 hours before HW Liverpool). At 09:30 we were close to Britannia bridge. One other yacht was following us which gave comfort that our timing was right, up to the moment when you realise that they might have the same reasoning.
The GPS was on and I had studied the pilotage in detail the night before. Being early we raced with 7 kts through the Swellies. Looking back our follower made some very strange maneuvers and close to Menai bridge I was playing with the thought to turn back and check out why someone would go on a wild erratic course amidst lots of underwater rocks but then she seemed to follow us.
Bangor Harbour (Dickies)
We followed the Menai Strait up to Bangor but the attraction of the pier (=scones) was too much for us and we turned into the harbour. This time we managed to moor up in Dickies little concrete harbour joining several boats on the last trip of season, ready to be lifted ashore.
After lunch in the social club we took Sea Ghost out again. The plan was to motor out and set a reef in the shelter of Bangor before some spectacular sailing. Didn't quite work as the peak and throat halyard decided to get twisted (can you make a note of this guys?). We sailed back into Dickies harbour which was now running low on water.
Dried out in Beaumaris
The next plan was to set the reef while moored but we got further problems. We then motored to Beaumaris where we picked up a mooring at 14:45. John had the courage to ring the local hotel in Beaumaris to ask if they would do a room for 3 men for an hour...just for a shower. They reclined.
Sea Ghost settled at 15:40, 2.2 hours before LW. Expected to be floating at 20:20. As soon as the water was low enough the ladder set in the mud and we walked to dry land. I hate to admit that I, as a minimalist sailor, borrowed John's warm dry mountain boot and left my minimal single set of dry trainers on board for when we came back. In the pub we practiced some knots (bowline, clover hitch, figure of eight, sheet bend and the reef knot).
With no Dinghy carried ashore I went back twice to check on the progress of the tide. Later, back on board, after an intense boot cleaning process, we cooked a meal and at exactly 20:20 Sea Ghost started floating again. In the darkness we took her further out to be able to leave on time the next morning and make in time for the high tide in Conwy.
The plan was to leave around 07:00 and have breakfast on the way. The last mooring we had picked up did not clear us sufficiently and it was 07:45 when we set off. We followed the channel to Puffin as Lavan Sands were still mainly sands. At 08:45 we set a transit to Great Ormes head (74 °C). Speed was around 4 kts which meant we would be out of Irishman Split in about 15 minutes. At 09:00 we set a new course of 108°C to aim for Fairway.
Early morning departure John on the look out ... for?
At around 10:08 we passed C11 and mooring at Conwy fuel station at 10:25. This gave us 1.5 hour to clear and clean the boat. Paul picked up the car and waited ashore while John and I brought Sea Ghost to her mooring. The rowing back was easy at slack water.
Back in Conwy
- We had perfect weather
- Never a problem picking up a mooring
- No long queues in massage parlours
- Anchorage to ourselves which brought that Robinson Crusoe feeling