Tuesday, 17 May 2011 – Thursday,19 May 2011
Tuesday 17 May 2011
Mylor – Penzance
Winds mostly SW 4-5 (decreasing) with ‘moderate’ seas
(picture above shows Howth Marina, we are tucked in behind the breakwater)
The weather had been anything but favourable to set sail for Ireland the week we spent getting reacquainted with Whinchat (the weather pretty much prevented much sailing at all, too much wind and too many storms rolling around). However, the weather gods were shining on us for our scheduled departure. After much anguish, we decided that we would head for Penzance as our first port of call… a couple of reasons. Firstly it would divide the passage, giving a 6 hour sail on the first day, rather than a 48 sail… Secondly, I wasn’t convinced that our sea-legs were strong enough for the whole passage (which proved to be right). We had sailed to Penzance previously, so the prospect of a familiar trip also helped me. The sailing winds were good, and we had our mainsail raised about 30 minutes after setting off from Mylor, with the sea seeming to be fairly benign. As we approached the Manacles, the wind freshened a little, and the sea became more lumpy. Nothing to bother either of us particularly, but I did helm a straight two hours in the promotion of good tummy vibes! Come lunch time, the sea was feeling quite uncomfortable – wind over tide, and a stronger wind than we’d expected (although the forecast had warned of stronger winds around the headlands, and there isn’t much of a bigger headland than the Lizard!), so we reefed the main, which felt more comfortable without compromising our speed. As we came past the Lizard, I was beginning to regret not dosing up on Stugeron, but I came back to the helm and managed to weather the worst of that dreadful feeling that seasickness brings. Neither of us wanted to go down below and prepare lunch, so that was abandoned as a plan. We would sort ourselves out at Penzance. It was a relief to come into Mount’s Bay, as the south western headland provided some shelter against the prevailing wind and sea, and as we approached Penzance, it all felt very gentle again… a blessed relief! We had decided to opt for a visitor’s mooring outside of Penzance Harbour (to give us no restriction on the tidal gate there). It was a long time since we’d had to hook a mooring buoy, and I had forgotten what to do. A quick revision lesson, rehearsed in the cockpit, and I was good to have a go. It took three attempts to hook the buoy, but I tied us on with little drama, only a dose of frustration at slipping the buoy. We were looking forward to a quiet evening, preparing ourselves for the long passage towards Dublin. The evening didn’t quite go as planned! For reasons that are still not clear to me, the mooring was a terrible one. The motion of the water, like a swell, was hitting Whinchat side on, so we were permanently rolled sideways. It wasn’t too bad at first, evidenced by the fact that I made ‘lunch’ (at 17:30), but an hour or so later and both of us had to lie down under a blanket to try and ward off the queasiness, swallowing Stugeron. A second hour of rest was called for, and we napped some more. About 9pm, Pete made supper of sausages and beans. Neither of us could be bothered to cook up the food we wanted to prepare for our passage. In fact, we abandoned everything and went to bed. I tried to sleep in the forward cabin (our usual bunk) but it was too rolly, so I ended up sleeping on the ‘couch’ in the saloon. Not a great sleep, and not how I really wanted to prepare myself for 36 hours at sea….
Wednesday 18 May – Thursday 19 May 2011
Penzance – Howth
Winds mostly NNW 4, shifting SW later on Thursday with ‘moderate-rough’ seas
The BIG day had arrived, the one that I had been dreading in many ways. Memories of the hairy sail down to Falmouth were very present. This was longer, across a notoriously rough sea. We managed breakfast, with a side order of Stugeron, just in case. The wind did not do as forecast, as we were expecting westerlies, perhaps with a smidge of north. The mist and drizzle was also a bit of a surprise (not in a good way), which meant full wet-weather gear from the outset. We had decided to motor out to Land’s End, giving the batteries a chance to recharge, with the hope of sailing as we turned north. We must have passed Land’s End after about 2-3 hours, and still we were motoring. The sea wasn’t as bad as had been to Penzance, thank goodness, but the effect of the Stugeron might have helped. We didn’t think that the wind would allow us to sail the course we wanted to, so we ended up motoring and motoring. From my perspective, this is less risky (cannot get overpowered) but it’s draining. The engine noise is hard going, and Whinchat certainly doesn’t move as well in the water. We rotated into a pattern of hour-on, hour-off during daylight. Auto-Doris (the auto pilot) was doing all of the steering, so it was just a question of being on watch. The hours drift by, and when you know that you’ve only done 6 and there are 30 to go… well… I really questionned the sanity of the passage. Daylight wasn’t so bad, but the sea got rougher as darkness approached. I continued with the programme of Stugeron; I’m not sure when Pete stopped taking them. The watch system proper was due to kick in over night, and we had planned to do 3-on/3-off. Pete took a rest for a couple of hours around sunset, but I had to wake him at 10pm, as I was feeling queasy and needed to rest myself. The wonder of the sight of the sun setting with a couple of dolphins leaping through the water had long worn off, and I was tired and probably hungry. Pete had made lunch (at a sensible time) but it was too much to make supper. I had found a pack of Pringles, so this became our staple food over night. When I got into the snug, I crashed out, asking Pete to wake me in 2 hours… but he let me sleep on, about 3 hours in total. We then switched, with me doing from about 1:15-3:00. The action of me putting my sailing boots on made me feel terrible, really queasy, but I wanted to do my shift. I prowled around the cockpit (clipped on with the safety line) trying to find things to distract my mind from my stomach… I watched the lights on the bow illuminating the water as we crashed through the waves, but that didn’t make me feel too great. I then spotted a ship, which hadn’t shown up on the chart-plotter (like a big satnav, with a kind of radar information called AIS), so I deduced that AIS wasn’t working. The ships were some way off, so nothing to worry about. I really wanted to last my 3 hours, but I just couldn’t. I had to call Pete to relieve me, and I collapsed into my bed on the verge of having to throw up when I must have just passed out! 5 hours passed by, and I woke after a good sleep… I had missed the complete dolphin show, and the move to sailing when Pete had judged that the wind had shifted enough… however, when I came on deck, the wind speed was dropping, and with me sending Pete to rest, we reverted back to motoring so that I didn’t have to deal with dropping sails single handed. The tank gauges had also failed at some point, so we had no idea how much fuel we had (enough, we thought, but we didn’t exactly know). Breakfast was a banana and another can of sprite (it really does help with the feelings of being queasy), which perked me up. I moved around as Pete slept. I was quite buoyant at this point. It was 60 miles to the next way point, which should take 5-6 hours (according to the GPS). I had calculated we’d be there by 1pm, and therefore in Dublin by 6pm. Oh, how disappointingly wrong was I? We were racing with the tide at this point, at around 8-9 knots. After a couple of hours, we hit the turn of the tides and we were totally fouled by the sea. Curses! We were doing about 3-4 knots, so we never seemed to get any closer to the waypoint, it was very dispiriting. At 1pm, the seas had calmed enough so I made lunch (I cooked pasta, hot food and it was gorgeous!!) At 3pm, a full two hours after I had calculated we should have reached the way point, we still had two hours to run. I could have cried, and I think this was the lowest point for me of the trip. I wasn’t queasy any more, just really tired of the whole experience. I asked Pete why we were doing it, and at that point he couldn’t really answer… only to say that it was a stretch challenge. “Why do people climb mountains; because they’re there…” he said. He did tell me we didn’t have to do it again (figure!!!). I said to him that this passage really involved doing things I don’t like – wearing the same clothes constantly without washing, being bumped along at the mercy of the elements and knowing that when I eventually made land, I would immediately fall over… It wasn’t a great hour at sea.
The Irish Coastguards then issued a small craft warning, for strong winds around all coasts! Great! That gave us something to look forward to in the afternoon – wondering when the wind and sea would whip up. Thank goodness the wind had the good sense to veer, so that when it did blow (and it was Force 5-6) it came across the stern, so we were blown along under the Yankee only. We were sailing, the wind was kind, the sea livened up, but nothing that disturbed either of us. Finally, we had found our sealegs (or rather, I had found mine). I was watching stormy clouds over Dublin, wondering if we were going to get a soaking, but we didn’t. The wind was pushing the clouds faster than we were! We were chasing the fading light, with a motoring light that kept on fusing! Our front port light was having a moment, which meant I had to dive down to the electrics and reset every twenty seconds or so. No matter, we were in sight of our last waypoint, bringing us into Howth. Only a minor drama to see us in. Pete radioed Howth Marina, who were expecting us, but couldn’t raise them. He swore very loudly. I was despatched to check the almanac and validate the channel – all OK. In the end I called them up from my mobile, and we were guided to a berth. Of course, I hadn’t prepared us for berthing. Odd really, after many hours of inactivity, my last few minutes of the passage were very frantic, as I chased around laying the fenders and the mooring lines. It was only as we approached the berth that I was ready to climb over the rails, by the forstays, to jump onto the finger pontoon and secure us alongside. Finally, after 36 hours at sea we had at last arrived.