Ireland – At Last

I’d first met Donald when he and I crewed aboard Avilion on The Chentlemens’ Cruise. He ‘phoned me last week and asked if I’d like to crew on his Bruce Roberts 34 Shard, on a cruise to Rathlin from Ardrossan. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to redeem my failure to reach Cork from the Solent a couple of weeks ago.

I joined Donald and Charlotte aboard in Clyde Marina, Ardrossan at 1900 on Thursday and we were under way in an hour or so. The wind was F4 on the nose (does this sound familiar?) and we tacked SW for Pladda on the southern tip of Arran in a lumpy sea. Excellent conditions for getting to know a new boat and I was allowed to monopolise the helm to begin with, using the excuse that I should get my hand in before sunset.

I was happy to find that Shard sails much like a bigger version of Silkie with a very similar long fin and skeg underwater profile. A slightly greater beam/length ratio means that she is not so tender initially but she yields to the puffs with much the same grace and the helm remains beautifully balanced. This is not something that can always be said of the good ship Silkie. The rudder had authority and she inspired confidence immediately. She could often be left to sail on the wind without a hand on the tiller for ten minutes or so despite the conditions.

Skipper wisely decided that it wasn’t a lone watch kind of wind and he and I stood the first as darkness fell. It wasn’t long before we had talked ourselves into anchoring for the rest of the night. We held port tack to sail in behind Holy Isle, dropped the hook off Lamlash at 0030 and turned in after a couple of drams in the cockpit.

An 0730 start on Friday saw us motorsailing down the east coast of Arran while we breakfasted. Rounding Pladda light let us sail the course to go south of Sanda in F3-4. Our timing was now a bit out and the current was against us so we gave the Mull a wide berth and began the slog across the North Channel against a couple of knots of current. The wind had fallen light and progress was hard won. Eventually the wind freshened again and the current relented but it was a couple of hours after slack water as we approached Rathlin Island.

This is less than ideal and it was with some trepidation that we scanned the horizon for the fearsome “slough na morra” as we entered Rathlin Sound. We saw the line of breakers soon enough and seamanlike precautions were taken aboard Shard. It seemed at first that the line was broken about a third of the way south of it’s northern end and (since we had to make a large clockwise circuit of the bay to follow the eddy) that we would be able to slip throught the gap. But we reckoned without the speed of the current that carried us towards them and it quickly became obvious that they couldn’t be avoided. We took them on the nose and although we seemed at times to be more nearly vertical than horizontal we were soon through, and much relieved.

We continued our circuitous approach to the miniature harbour which nestles inside the more recently constructed outer breakwater in the crook of the L-shaped island.

My guiding principle in these situations is that if there is any chance of grounding or collision then the skipper should helm his own boat but my pleas fell on deaf ears and I was “allowed the glory” of bringing her in. The inner harbour is so small that the berthed ferry must partially block the entrance. We squeezed through with less than a metre clearance and then had to make an immediate right-angled turn to starboard since the shore side of the harbour is too shallow for us. We were rafted alongside a 60yo converted wooden naval supply vessel Wilmiranda by 2130. A celebratory brandy was consumed as we tidied ourselves up and we were in the pub by 2200, just as the evening was beginning to warm up.

It was Rathlin’s festival week and this was the excuse for our trip since Donald had been invited to join the musicians in McCuaig’s bar. This really deserves a blog entry of its own but suffice it to say that Donald’s mandolin and bazouki made a fine contribution to the joyous ensemble and even I felt moved to join the singing occasionally. It had been a long day for us and we left early at 0300 (the party continued ’til after five) for a nightcap aboard. Why does that always seem like such a good idea?

An 0000 Sunday departure was planned so we allowed ourselves a late start on Saturday and the day was spent in a leisurely exploration of the island. The excellent wee museum was very informative and is definitely worth an hour or two of anyone’s time. It’s free but be sure to leave a donation. “Slough na morra” was translated here for me as “swallow of the sea” because of it’s habit of swallowing unwary vessels. The chip van is also highly recommended and was very professionally run (I’ve never before seen such an establishment use a temperature probe) by two friendly young ladies, one of whom had personally landed some of the fish that morning!

Friendly and welcoming doesn’t really do justice to the atmosphere of this island whose permanent population numbers less than a hundred souls. Our welcome may have been especially warm because of Donald’s contribution to the entertainments but it seemed impossible to walk more than 100m without stopping for a chat with someone. Graham was the accordian player and a regular visitor from Gigha in his stout wee converted open boat Jamie Boy which had originally been the Gigha foot passenger ferry.

The arrival of a centre-cockpit Westerly Corsair Slioch provided a particularly fine demonstration of seamanship. With a wonderfully delicate touch on the throttle her skipper berthed in the now very crowded harbour in a space only inches longer than Slioch herself using an impressive wind-powered ferry glide. Not to be outdone we decided to warp Shard around in preparation for our departure. Though they stopped short of applauding, I’m positive that the audience were at least entertained if not, perhaps, hugely impressed! After a couple of early evening pints I turned in for an hour or two, prior to our departure.

We slipped our lines at 0040 and set off motoring across a glassy bay in the absence of the forecast SW F3/4. We used a waypoint to keep us south of the TSS but a large vessel emerging from the TSS on a constant bearing for more than half an hour gave us an anxious time. Although we were the stand-on vessel, by the time we could see the whites of their eyes we decided it would be prudent to slow down. They probably altered for us at the same time and passed comfortably ahead.

Skipper went below for a nap and our next nocturnal encounter was off the Mull with HMS Monmouth whose Securite announcement¬† on CH16 informed us that she was on a dived submarine excercise. Daybreak off Sanda was followed by breakfast and I went below for a couple of hours. By the time I awoke we were off Holy Isle and the forecast SW wind was putting in an appearance. We tried out Shard’s new twin headsail foil in the freshening breeze and our initial three knots on a dead run built to over six as we approached Ardrossan. We dropped one sail and rolled the genoa down to a scrap to slow down to let the ferry out and were safely back alongside by 1340.

Many thanks to Donald and Charlotte for a marvellous sail on the wonderful Shard. I’m now a fully paid up member of the Rathlin fan club and am already making plans to return on Silkie!

Miles this trip 140
Miles this season 641 (s/h 93)

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Ireland – not quite

I’d been offered a place crewing on the delivery of Glen Rosa, a Beneteau Oceanis 331, from the Solent to Cork. Her skipper Jim and first mate Douglas are both very experienced sailors while Hywel and myself have fewer miles on the log and this was to be my first proper passage.

Wednesday 29th June

My plane was delayed several hours (some bad weather about apparently!) and it was 2300 by the time I was aboard Glen Rosa in Hythe Marina so we locked out into Southampton Water without further delay. We motor-sailed into the Solent and Jim and I stood the first watch while Douglas and Hywel attempted to get some sleep.

This was my first night sail and it was quite a change from the west coast of Scotland. Even at this time of night there were vessels large and small, ferries fast and faster, lines of winking reds and greens and the whole panoply of cardinals, isolated danger and safe water marks. My late arrival had put the tide against us and we were making less than 4 knots over the ground so we decided to go for a buoy in Newton Creek to get our heads down for a couple of hours and wait out the rest of the foul tide.

There is a safe-water mark outside but apart from that it was a pitch dark entry between shingle banks with only a compass course and quick flashes from a powerful torch for comfort as we sought an unoccupied mooring buoy. A sharpish manouevre to avoid said shingle bank brought Douglas on deck to assist. We eventually realised that all buoys were occupied and anchored in indecently thin water sometime after 0300. Skipper started rattling pans at about 0530 and produced a serious fry-up which was to have consequences later.

Thursday 30th June

We were under way by 0630 and set off motor-sailing into F4/5 out past the Needles and into the English Channel. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of sailing here I offer the following observations:

1. The wind is F4 or F5 on the nose.
2. The sea and the sky are grey.
3. Visibility is approximately one mile and land is only occasionally glimpsed as sticky-out bits that get in the way.
4. There is a short chop of 1-2 metre waves on top of an underlying swell from a different direction.
5. Licking your beard will enable you to determine whether you are being lashed by rain or spray.

Channel sailing

I decided to try a nap in the cockpit (another first) and stretched out on the lee side to doze for 20 minutes or so. I woke up in a hurry and headed for the lee rail where I had to jettison some of the skipper’s breakfast. I felt immediately revived and had just settled on the high side when Hywel appeared from below to stage a similar performance. Neither of us had ever previously suffered. Five minutes later our skipper also had a quick dry boak. Only Iron Man Douglas seemed unaffected.

We passed outside the St. Alban’s Head spit as the tide turned against us. Since some of the crew had had only 3 hours sleep in the past 30 hours by this point, it was decided to set a course for Weymouth and save Lyme Bay for the morrow.

This brings me to the most remarkable aspect of the whole cruise. I’ve never before seen so many people spend so much time partially conscious while under way. We stretched out in the cockpit and fell asleep. We propped ourselves under the sprayhood and dozed off. We went below for a quick nap. I had to fight to keep my eyes open sometimes while on watch. Hywel was particularly able in this respect. On one occasion he succumbed to slumber while fetching some pasties from the oven. On another (although he swears he was only resting his eyes) he nodded off while standing on the companionway steps. The motion was certainly tiring and the total age of the crew about two centuries but the power-napping seemed to border on the ridiculous. In retrospect I suppose the late nights and early starts may have had something to do with it.

The pressure to “make miles” was off since we had chosen an easy destination for the night so the donkey was silenced and I had my first shot at helming Glen Rosa under sail. What an embarassment! It appears that the hull characteristics of a Beneteau are strikingly dissimilar to those of a Hurley. On Silkie it is clear when to reef since water will be streaming over the cockpit coaming. On Glen Rosa however a digital readout tells the cognoscenti what’s going on but a naive helm ends up with the rudder against the stop before the penny drops. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

Somehow we reached Weymouth Harbour safely and entered between two square-riggers.

Square riggers

First class showers at the HM’s premises. The skipper’s spaghetti bolognaise was followed by a run ashore (two Hurley 22s in the part of the harbour we explored) and a small libation.

Friday 1st July

An 0600 rise this morning to catch slack water for the inside passage around Portland Bill. Despite near-perfect timing the race was quite impressive off to port with large lumps of white-capped water rearing up seemingly at random. We had left Weymouth in brilliant sunshine (sunscreen was applied) but as we buoy-dodged within spitting distance of the Bill the weather closed in again and the course to clear Start Point put the F4/5 on the nose along with the accompanying short chop.

As we crossed Lyme Bay the engine revs suddenly dropped and a slick of partially burnt diesel was ejected from the exhaust accompanied by the smell of burning. Skipper and first mate investigated the engine room but nothing untoward was found and on we went. Rounding Prawle Point gave us a slant on the wind and a series of alternating short and long boards with a reef in the main allowed us to sail into Plymouth Sound at about 2130.

We seemed to pick up something round the prop as we manoeuvred in Queen Anne’s Battery (not the cleanest of waters) and the skipper went off to try to arrange a diver for the morning but the rope cutter eventually dealt with the problem. Had we in fact picked up something in Lyme Bay which the rope-cutter had chewed through but engaging reverse in the marina had drawn the remains back into the prop? The marina bar had stopped serving food but an obliging local curry house was found to deliver to the marina. A small libation was taken.

Saturday 2nd July

We set off for Falmouth (grey, wet, short chop, F4/5 on the nose in case you were wondering) to refuel and get the latest weather before making the final decision about crossing St. George’s Channel. With a forecast for F6 occasionally F7 the skipper reluctantly decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. Fajitas aboard in Port Pendennis Marina were followed by a run ashore. A small libation was taken in the Cutty Sark pub which may be slightly down-at-heel but deserves a special mention since the round cost less than ?8. Returning aboard for a nightcap, a lively debate about the weather ensued and this included the appearance of a laptop at 0300 to download the latest weatherfax via SSB. Skipper had the last word but it’s not suitable for a family audience.

Sunday 3rd July

A beautiful day and we went sailing just for fun along with everything else in the area that was capable of floating. I now understand why YBW ColRegs threads get so heated. We sailed up the Carrick Roads past King Harry’s Ferry before turning and heading back down and across Falmouth Bay to Helford. Short-tacking up the Helford River sharpened crew co-ordination and produced big cheesy grins all round. The skipper demonstrated his trapezing technique without the aid of a trapeze.

 No trapeze

Another spectacular culinary creation aboard was followed by a small libation in the Shipwright’s Arms.

A small libation

Monday 4th July

We sailed back to Pendennis Marina (my helming was slightly improved by now) and squeezed Glen Rosa into the inner harbour where she’ll be snug until Jim can return for another shot at the crossing.

An excellent trip, beautiful boat, fine company and lots of new experiences. What more need be said apart from thanks to Jim for inviting me and to Douglas and Hywel for being such congenial shipmates. Hope you make it to Cork next time Jim.

Miles this trip 216
Miles this season 501 (s/h 93)