Dark waters: how the adventure of a lifetime turned to tragedy

This Guardian article was worth reading – not because we ever plan to do trans-ocean passages, but because it illustrates how easily an overstretched, overtired crew can start making serious mistakes. That can happen on a simple cross-channel passage, let alone the Southern Ocean.


PS She called it the River Solent – don’t think she’s a south-coast sailor!

Just out – the new Pass Your Day Skipper

The new edition of Pass Your Day Skipper by David Fairhall and Peter Rodgers is now on sale. The book was originally by David but – at his invitation – I’ve expanded it and added lots of new material on electronic navigation, weather, and safety. The illustrations are by the famous sailing cartoonist Mike Peyton.

Peyton’s cartoons are still hilarious for any sailor, and most of the jokes are drawn from real-life incidents of a sort familiar to most of us. Anybody who’s been sailing for a while will have memories of their own mistakes, bad luck or cringe-worthy bad judgements: Peyton pins them all down.

The book is meant to be used as a crammer or revision text to study just before the exam, rather than as a detailed training course manual. It packs a lot of information into a slim volume that fits in a pocket. That means it can easily be consulted in the odd free moment, perhaps when travelling – and even for a last minute refresher on the way to the exam.

Pass Your Day Skipper is published by Adlard Coles, part of Bloomsbury, and costs £14.99. Look for the 7th edition with both authors’ names on the cover. Some websites still seem to offer David’s earlier editions at a cut price alongside the new one.

Pass Your Day Skipper is a companion book to Pass Your Yachtmaster, which I also updated and expanded for a new edition, published in 2021.

Another Admiralty problem

What I didn’t realise when I wrote the recent post on the UKHO delaying the end of Admiralty paper charts was that there was a sting in the tail – they had wanted to drop raster electronic charts as well. That has also been delayed a few years to 2030 while they think about it.

Continue reading “Another Admiralty problem”

Ancient Pacific navigation inspires mainstream art

Two events 10,000 miles apart link a renaissance in traditional Pacific navigation and the world of art.

I was lucky enough last week to visit the TarraWarra Biennial exhibition 2023. a prestige art venue in the countryside near Melbourne in Australia. The  biennale title is a Samoan proverb which translates as – ‘the canoe obeys the wind’.

The curator’s notes say “this proverb calls attention to the contemporary revival of Great Ocean celestial navigation practices which have been accompanied by waves of renewal of language, thought, movement and relationships.’

Continue reading “Ancient Pacific navigation inspires mainstream art”

Wooden boat craftsmanship

The craft of wooden boatbuilding is alive and well on the other side of the world. Here are two dinghies built recently by local boatbuilders for the Hobart Maritime Museum in Tasmania. On close inspection they are not only strongly built, they are finished almost to cabinet maker standard.

Continue reading “Wooden boat craftsmanship”

Admiralty gives in

The revolution has been postponed: the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office has delayed the phasing out of its Admiralty paper charts for four years, to 2030. This follows pressure from the Royal Yachting Association and others.

The argument against losing paper charts sooner is that adequate electronic alternatives for small craft – especially small commercial ones – will not be ready in time.

I assume this means officially approved, high-quality electronic charts designed for the relatively simple equipment that small craft use. These are not currently available on the market.

The vast majority of electronic charts in use by smaller craft are not officially authorised by national hydrographic authorities – hence the prominent, but universally ignored, warnings that they must not be used for navigation.

Their quality control and some of their operational features are not good enough to satisfy official standards: one key feature missing from most is reliability information – the electronic equivalent of the diagrams on Admiralty charts showing age of seabed surveys. Leisure charts do have the advantage, of course, of being cheap compared with the officially approved versions used by ships.

The day before the RYA announced it had won a four year reprieve for paper, I filled in a survey on chart usage by SHOM, the French equivalent of the UKHO, which is also trying to establish what to do about paper charts. The survey was forwarded by the RIN to its members. SHOM does seem to be keener than the UKHO to continue with paper.

The Royal Institute of Navigation and other bodies including the RYA are trying to improve leisure chart standards to the point where they can gain some sort of official approval. But it’s a slow process.

Meanwhile, we all have to carry on using what are basically sub-standard charts. Remember that next time you read advertising guff about how wonderful the various leisure chart brands are.

This is a link to the SHOM questionnaire: https://forms.gle/U1vHNW6QXrcA5pBe6

The RIN has provided an English translation: https://458rl1jp.r.us-east-1.awstrack.me/L0/https://rin.org.uk/resource/resmgr/groupresources/pmng/SHOM_Questionnairetranslati.docx/1/0100018611f11e9b-5a6da8bd-4829-4877-bb12-1eded6a56be2-000000/62F7DRX91Vv1rq6xzQj2OyxpLt0=307

Wrong-headed satellite precision claims

I’ve had quite a few emails recently from Orca, a navigation equipment and software firm, boasting about the 3 metre location accuracy of their equipment as a major selling point. It’s a waste of marketing effort, as far as I’m concerned.

Three metre satellite accuracy – available nowadays even on some top of the range phones – is no use when round much of the British Isles chart positions can be far less accurate.

Orca equipment and software do look temptingly attractive on paper, and I have no doubt that their 3 metre claim about their GNSS equipment is accurate. But that’s not how we should be thinking about satellite positions in practical navigation.

Passing through the Thames Array – one of the few places in the estuary where we trust the chart.

In many places we sail, such as the Western Isles, the West of Ireland and, much nearer to home, most of the Thames Estuary, it’s particularly risky to expect your charts to be able to match anything like that standard.

In the Thames Estuary, 3 metre satellite accuracy is irrelevant for a small boat that needs to keep out of the main channels and use swatchways and other routes less frequented by commercial traffic. The only short cut I know where the chartplotter positions are reliable is through the Thames Array windfarm, which you’d expect to be charted and updated to high precision.

But generally, the depths are changing all the time and charts cannot keep up outside the main ship channels. Valiant efforts are made by amateurs to track the changes, especially East Coast Pilot and Roger Gaspar’s Crossing the Thames Estuary

They publish plenty of examples of rapidly changing profiles of the sea bed. Recently they noted how several yachts had gone aground together on the Sunk (I think it was) because they followed their chartplotters.

Last year (2021) we crossed the Sunk in May and by August when we came back to the Solent an alert had already been put out by Gaspar that the sand had shifted the swatchway since the spring. No published chart of the Thames Estuary, paper or electronic, can keep up with that pace of change.

Ireland has been updating the once notoriously old surveys of its West Coast, and charts were supposed to have been much improved by the last time we visited. But inshore, for instance along the Connemara coast, we still assumed 100 metres error, to give ourselves a safe margin. In some places, that meant focusing on old methods, and ignoring the plotter.

In the west of Scotland, Bill Bradshaw has done a great service over the last 15 years or so with his Antares charts of anchorages. We have used them, and hope to again, but they are not official charts. In fact, one thing they have done is expose how out of date other paper and electronic inshore charts actually are, based on surveys sometimes unchecked since the 19th century.

I’m not criticising the Orca products, which I’m sure are fine, and I will try out their app next season. It’s the marketing message that I take issue with.

Update, Jan 2023: Bill Bradshaw gave an excellent talk in London this month on his charts, and on the deficiencies of official charts in Scotland. It was organised by the Little Ship Club and the Royal Institute of Navigation (of which I’m a member).

Sigma 362 gets top marks

Practical Boat Owner’s current issue goes to great lengths to praise the qualities of the Sigma 362. It is given three whole pages of an 8 page article on the best cruiser-racers to adapt to cruising.

That’s quite an accolade for a 1980s design that was last built in the early ’90s.

The article’s premise is simple: boats designed with racing in mind go well to windward. Why shouldn’t sailing upwind be a pleasure instead of the penance it can often be in a boat designed only for cruising? Sailors who avoid racing designs could be missing the extra pleasure that comes from a boat that sails well in all wind directions.

One of the three pages on the Sigma 362

That’s exactly why we bought our Sigma 362, Spring Fever, and it’s good to have it confirmed by a well known racing name from the years when Sigmas were designed and built. The author is Peter Poland, who was also builder of many popular racing boats in the ’70s and ’80s, including the Sonata and Impala.

Practical Boat Owner, issue 684, November 2022.

RYA electronic chart training has missed the boat

The near-universal shift by small boat sailors from paper to electronic charts has left the Royal Yachting Association’s training courses floundering in recent years.

That was underlined when Admiralty, owned by the UK Hydrographic Office and one of the world’s gold standard official chart brands, said in July that it will stop selling paper charts altogether by the end of 2026.

The RYA’s response was that it would “continue to teach both traditional and electronic navigational techniques through its range of courses, although over time it is right to expect the weight of emphasis to shift towards more digitally based techniques.”

I’m afraid that’s a bit late. Implying that the shift is in the future is wrong. It has already happened and it’s been obvious for years which way the wind has been blowing.

The Golden Globe race is a trial of old skills, and its ban on satellite navigation makes it stand out – a living museum of navigation

The first signs of the shift to electronics actually arrived many years ago when ships were first allowed to abandon paper, and worldwide sales of paper charts soon started to plummet.

But in the small boat world, the RYA reaction until recently was to make excuses about why it could not start systematically training candidates on day skipper and yachtmaster courses in the use of electronic charts. People were given some instruction and tips about safe use of electronic charts but were basically left to pick up for themselves how to operate a real chartplotter.

It was only in January this year that the RYA announced it was hiring a new training manager to tackle these issues after a two year gap in filling the position, and results are still awaited.

You only need to read the RYA’s training publications and syllabuses to see that this modernisation should have started a long time ago. Then compare with a book such as Stress Free Navigation by Duncan Wells (Adlard Coles), which teaches the old methods alongside the new, and you can see how the RYA has missed out.

This month the RYA strategic report said that it had “begun on modernising” shorebased navigation courses, and the review would run into 2023. Details would begin to roll out to instructors and training centres later this year. The word ‘begun’ at this stage of the electronic revolution on boats rather stands out.

The strongest argument the RYA used over the years for not upgrading training in electronic charts was that there was no uniformity among leisure chartplotter systems, so it was impossible to teach how to use them in a coherent way. That now seems to reveal a lack of determination, ingenuity and ambition.

Another rather legalistic argument was that leisure charts are not currently approved for navigation by maritime authorities (see the warnings when you open your charts). But again, things have moved on: everyone does use them, and that includes many fishing boats and small commercial craft. The ‘not for navigation’ warning is a problem that needs solving by higher leisure chart production standards, and it will be in the next few years.

Another thought I heard expressed at the top of the RYA was that if you encourage electronic navigation by bringing it to the forefront of training you’d undermine the all-important teaching of traditional navigation. In the extreme, you’d end up with people who do not have a clue what to do if their electronics fails, and – horror of horrors – they might even be doing it all on a phone app.

But as a Royal Institute of Navigation survey three years ago found, most leisure sailors by then already relied mainly on electronic charts, paper had become largely a backup, and few even bothered to correct their paper charts any more, because electronic charts can be updated frequently and reliably.

That was a survey of experienced members (I remember filling it in). I would guess that the younger and less experienced were by then automatically gravitating to apps, the internet and electronic navigation because that’s how most people under 40 live their lives. If you take up sailing, where’s the first place you search for advice? Maybe U-tube? You’d find plenty of material about modern navigation methods and you would already be entirely accustomed to relying on electronics.

Before going any further, I have to say I am strongly in favour of learning traditional methods alongside electronic navigation, for a variety of good reasons which I’ve set out in the new updated edition of Pass Your Day Skipper (out in the New Year from Adlard Coles).

But given the ease and cheapness with which multiple independently powered back up systems can be brought on board (think laptops, tablets and mobile phones) the much-repeated threat that you must learn the old methods or you’d be lost if your batteries failed is now rather lame. The stronger case for learning both methods is much less dramatic: they are complementary, and each helps to better understand and use the other safely.

A modernised chart table on an old boat – ours. Two raster charts are being tested on tablets (Imray and VMH’s UKHO charts). The ancient Garmin GPS is still working and is connected to the DSC radio. The main chartplotter uses C-Map vector charts and is installed in front of the wheel in the cockpit.

There will be more to say on the consequences of Admiralty’s abandonment of paper charts in subsequent posts.

Beachcombing for weathered teak

Every river I know with saltings has timber rubbish stranded near the high tide line, usually broken and ignored. A close look, however, tells a better story. Today’s flotsam is often a fragment of a very old boat, and the best of all is a piece of long-lasting teak.

It will look like scruffy, broken, unidentifiable, grey rubbish. But examined closely there may well be usable sections that can be cut into smaller pieces of timber. Old teak, cleaned and oiled, has a rich colour and patina that is impossible to reproduce with new wood.

It took 20 minutes strolling along the saltings high up the River Medina on the Isle of Wight to find what we were looking for: a chunk of teak, probably a fragment of a boat’s coachroof. It was about 6 feet long and jagged, but there were several undamaged sections within it.

Above is one of them: a mounting plate for a new chronometer and barometer on the saloon bulkhead. The teak was cut, the edges rounded, and then it was rubbed down and oiled.

These two instruments were retirement gifts, forgotten in a cupboard for a while, now handsomely displayed.

August – Dun Laoghaire to Cowes

Covid caused a full week’s delay in Ireland, and the weather forecast added another three days. By then we were feeling fit, though perhaps tiring a touch more easily than usual. We grabbed the chance to see more of Dublin, along with Rob, who arrived by ferry late on Sunday night.

Sandy Cove, Joyce’s Tower almost hidden behind the trees on the right

Near Dun Laoghaire, the James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandy Cove is fascinating both for its atmosphere and – at weekends – for the fluent storytelling about Joyce and Ulysses by the volunteers who staff it. The tower is the setting of the first page of the book.

We visited Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells, which is beautifully presented and described, and walked a mile along the River Liffey to find the Decorative Arts and History section of the National Museum of Ireland in the Collins Barracks. There Rob searched out an exhibit that includes a photo of his mother (and Chris’s aunt) in army nurses’ uniform during WW2 – she was with the troops in Normandy after D-Day.

I went with Chris, who was nearing the end of her stay at Trinity College, to the Irish Film Institute to see the newly-released Joyride, set in Galway, though starring English actress Olivia Colman with what the Irish Times described as a “slightly undisciplined Irish accent”. The delay also gave me an opportunity to meet grandaughter Nora’s other grandfather, Brendan – Covid had ruined previous plans.

Rob as we passed Dalkey close inshore

Finally, the strong southerly winds veered round to northerly and weakened, so Tony, Rob and I set off on Thursday morning for the 120 mile overnight passage from Dun Laoghaire to Milford Haven.

Sailing down the Irish coast

The wind had dropped so far that within a few hours we were motor sailing until we were 15 miles from St David’s Head, where the wind began to build from the north-north west, right behind us. The seas built as well, so we eventually roared along in the dark with two reefs in the main, past the big headland and Ramsey Island. As dawn broke we saw Skomer and Skokholm islands to port, with Grassholm off to starboard, before rounding up into Milford Haven and anchoring just inside the entrance in a breezy Dale Bay.

Back into Milford Haven

There we slept till early afternoon, had a late lunch of spicy pasta, and set off in the early evening for another 120 mile overnight passage to Newlyn. There was the same northerly weather pattern, with light winds and motor sailing, and we encountered very little shipping overnight in the approaches to the Bristol Channel.

We had one scare, in daylight, when Rob spotted a long rope floating just under the surface and right across our track. He reacted fast by shoving the gear lever into neutral and stopping the prop. The rope was attached to a small orange pot buoy which must have broken loose. Badly marked and sometimes almost invisible lobster and crab pots are a menace nowadays, to the point where we have to plan overnight passages so that as far as possible we spend the dark hours well offshore. These hazards are everywhere.

Worse still, Antony F, who fishes regularly offshore from Plymouth, had told us on the outward passage that some of the buoys in the south-west were in pairs and marked the two ends of a net, floating supposedly well under water. But sometimes the nets broke free of their moorings, and it was wise not to go between the buoys

This was something I had been warned about when sailing the Adriatic but I did not realise we had to worry about it in the UK, where I thought all the buoys were for heavy crab and lobster pots. Whatever they are, the vast majority of buoys are badly marked with no flags, a practice which has now been made illegal in Scotland (probably unenforceable). The English government has not done anything about the problem, ignoring a campaign by the Cruising Association.

After the rope incident, the wind gradually built and veered to a good sailing breeze as we approached Cape Cornwall and Lands End, passed the Longships reef and then the Runnel Stone on the south-west point of Mounts Bay in the late afternoon.

Just as on the last visit in July, and as we logged the time before that, a northerly afternoon wind of force 5 built up as we approached Newlyn. I wonder whether this is coincidence or a local weather pattern?

Alongside the fishery patrol boat in Newlyn

We looked at the anchorages by Penzance Harbour and St Michael’s Mount, but decided we’d get a better sleep in Newlyn. Arriving late, there were no pontoons left for yachts so we were told to go alongside the fishery protection vessel.

We’re almost out of sight behind the big grey boat
…but a lot better than being alongside a rusty, laid up trawler.

This was a rundown looking boat with a big half-deflated and weathered RIB on deck. We wondered how many fishing patrols the ship actually did nowadays. The harbourmaster said it was still a fishery vessel but the crew tended to come down to it just for the day. Maybe that says something about how much this government cares for the fishing industry.

It was a comfortable berth, apart from the tricky clamber over a wide gap to reach the iron ladder on the harbour wall the other side of the fisheries vessel. We stocked up on food, had a good sleep, and set off the 70 miles to Plymouth the next morning.

We had a fast reach in a fine north-easterly breeze across Mounts Bay and the wind held till well past the Lizard, but of course Plymouth was then directly to windward. So we tacked eastwards on port for 10 miles or so till the wind died, at which point we gave up, furled the genoa and motor sailed under main only direct to Plymouth on a warm, sunny day, making a failed attempt to catch mackerel for supper (we were probably going too fast).

We anchored for a peaceful night just off the village of Cawsand on the west side of the entrance to Plymouth Sound, outside the breakwater. Next day we went into Queen Anne’s Battery Marina so Rob could catch his train home.


We then spent a pleasant afternoon helping Antony F and his daughter launch his Drascombe at Saltash Sailing Club, and Antony and his wife invited us for a delightful dinner and overnight stay, our first real beds for a month.

Finally, Tony and I started on the last passage of the cruise, 125 miles overnight to Cowes.

For the first hours down the Devon coast to Start Point we had a perfect breeze, mostly a close reach in a north-north-easterly 3 to 4 on a flat sea, close inshore, admiring the scenery. Start Point was peaceful, the tide race turbulence hardly visible even with wind over tide (we were nearer neaps than springs). Once round Start Point and after turning to a course to clear the south side of the dangerous Portland Race, the wind was nearly ahead. While it lasted, we tacked eastwards for a few miles, then it died to nothing.

We motor sailed on a glassy sea with a backdrop of a beautiful sunset and almost simultaneous moon rise, gently puttering across the bay, with our speed over the ground dropping to a couple of knots when the tide turned against us.

Fading blues in a low sun...
…and as it sets…
…the moon rises…

We timed it so that the tide began to run eastwards again with us as we approached a waypoint set south of the Portland race. From then on the strong tide did much of the work for us until well past St Alban’s Head in Dorset the following morning.

The north-east breeze got up again as we approached St Albans, so much of the time it was Force 5 over the deck. We compromised by motor sailing 20 degrees off both our course and the wind, rather than trying to beat to the Isle of Wight under sail only. With wind over tide it was choppy and the tide didn’t turn against us till we were a dozen miles from the Needles and the wind was dropping again.

Motoring up to The Bridge

The engine went off, and with the wind eventually backing we held our course to the Needles on one tack. Then we motored into the wind and tide across the shallow shoal called The Bridge that runs from the Needles to the ship channel, and edged up the Isle of Wight close inshore, helped by a counter current that runs north-eastwards from Alum Bay to near the fort at the Narrows.

It would take hours to get through the 5 knot ebb tide at the Narrows so we anchored in Colwell Bay for lunch and a siesta. Once the tide had turned, we rushed through the Narrows and the Solent to Cowes in less than an hour and a half, and were on our own pontoon at Whitegates by 19.30.

End of the cruise, Spring Fever moored

We logged close to 1,100 miles out and back. That’s a cruise distance we’ve often done before, but we’ve not had the complications of rounding Lands End twice in the same cruise.

Neither have we had a problem before that could have justified flying the yellow Q flag for a reason close to its original use (though not remotely as serious, of course). Q signified the 40 days quarantine afloat used to prevent ships’ crews arriving from abroad spreading plague on land.

As it happens we only flew Q to show Customs and Border Force we had arrived from abroad at Milford Haven. That was after the announcement a couple of days before of the abandonment of the government’s appallingly constructed online reporting spreadsheet, which has to be downloaded, edited, saved and emailed. I use spreadsheets a lot but this was the clumsiest I’ve ever come across.

Instead there is a new web-based app which on first investigation seems to work far better. As we arrived during the transition, we simply rang and gave our details to the National Yachtline. They did not seem at all surprised that their system had lost our exit spreadsheet, emailed weeks before as we left Milford Haven for Arklow, and helpfully just took down our details again on the phone and wished us good sailing.

July – passage to Ireland

The plan before Covid struck was to allow three weeks for a cruise to the Irish Sea, which is quite difficult to time exactly because of the uncertainties involved in rounding Lands End.

To make the new cruise work on our original pre-Covid timescale, Tony and I had taken advantage of a generous offer from Antony F to arrange a mooring for us at Saltash Sailing Club, an attractive and friendly place near the Tamar bridges (see June post).

Dolphins all the way from Plymouth to Helford – here’s one about to surface

A good wind to get to Lands End from Plymouth is often a bad wind for carrying on northwards to Ireland. Strong winds can also prevent rounding the headland for days, as we found in 2007 when we were held up for a week in Falmouth.

We set off again from Plymouth on July 11 – myself, Tony and Antony – and headed first to Helford where we picked up a mooring off Durgan, clear of the eel grass beds which are now protected, along with their seahorses.

Durgan, Helford River, with the eelgrass beds inshore of us

It was lazy summer motor sailing, and the three of us were dozing in the sun much of the way on a near windless day. There was entertainment: rarely have we seen so many dolphins surfacing right next to the boat.

Moonlight over Helford River

From there we went round the Lizard next day to the port of Newlyn, where yachts most definitely take second place to fishing. Thankfully, we did not have to moor alongside a rusty, smelly trawler, sometimes the fate of late arrivals, and found space at the end of a small-craft pontoon for the night.

We were early enough to have supper at an excellent little seafood cafe called Mackerel Skies in the town centre. It had been another gentle day until the final couple of hours heading up into Mounts Bay, when the wind rose to a northerly 5.

Newlyn Harbour

Next stop was 60 miles round Lands End and Cape Cornwall to Padstow, past the Longships reef and lighthouse.

The weather was fine with a lovely force 4 sailing breeze after we rounded Cape Cornwall, just after Lands End – except that the wind was ahead of us and we had to beat all the way from there. Force 4 doesn’t sound much, but Spring Fever easily goes at 6 knots in that breeze, so the apparent wind over the deck was solidly 5 and occasionally 6, which was hard work for the 40 miles up the coast.

Top to bottom: Antony, Tony and Peter, Longships in the background.

In fact, when we realised we might miss the closure of the harbour gate at Padstow we leapt into action like a racing crew, working hard for every bit of speed.

We had planned to be there with 3 hours spare till the harbour shut its gate but arrived with only 45 minutes left. Entry to the estuary is over the famous Doom Bar, dangerous in strong west and north winds. It turns out that Doom derives from an old word for sand, and not for what happens to boats that get too close in bad weather. Doom Bar is also the name of a widely marketed Cornish beer.

The Camel Estuary near low tide – an incentive not to miss the Padstow harbour gate.

In the estuary away from the harbour there does not seem to be anywhere secure for a boat with 1.9 metre draft to anchor comfortably without bumping the hard sand at low tide and leaning over. The recommended anchorages are outside Doom Bar on either side of the bay or 3 miles down the coast just east of Trevose Head, by the lifeboat station. None of them look as if they would be comfortable in a northerly wind. We might have had to go on 80 miles overnight to Milford Haven in South Wales if we had missed the gate.

Padstow is lively, though crowded, and the restaurants are heavily booked in the holiday season, so it was fish and chips for us when we arrived. There’s no chance of getting into the famous Rick Stein restaurant at short notice, or it seems any of the other good restaurants without booking well ahead. Not for nothing is the town sometimes called Padstein because of the number of eating places and other businesses he owns.

Moored alongside the harbour wall in Padstow.

We stayed two nights alongside the harbour wall using a fender board borrowed from the harbourmaster to keep us off the piling. Jean-Jacques joined us there by train and bus.

From Padstow it was 80 miles motor sailing to Milford Haven Marina in gentle winds, mainly north-east, arriving yet again to find all the restaurants booked. It always saves a lot to eat on board, anyway.

The marina has a lock gate and is the nearest to the estuary entrance, advantages that overcome the sight of the nearby oil terminals. Books say the estuary is beautiful further up, but we didn’t go to look.

Entering Milford Haven

Next stop was Arklow, 80 miles away on the Irish coast, and 35 miles south of Dublin. It was a clear day and I had not realised that the Irish coast is visible from just off St David’s Head in South Wales, and even less did I realise (as a south-easterner) that half way across we would see both North and South Wales and Ireland at the same time. That makes St George’s Channel seem like an inland sea. The Irish Sea further north is even more enclosed.

Entering Irish waters

Arklow we explored on a previous cruise years ago. This time we were woken by the thunderous sound of pile drivers working on construction of a new sewage works near the marina.

We headed off up the coast for the giant marina at Dun Laoghaire in Dublin Bay, which is a 20 minute train ride from the city centre, where Chris was staying for a few weeks to see family. We saw Antony F off on the airport bus, and collected Peter F from another bus, pottering around Dublin in between.

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey, on the approach to Dun Laoghaire

After exploring Trinity College, where Chris was staying, dinner was at a lively old-fashioned pub called the Ginger Man, after the novel that made JP Donleavy’s name (the barmaid said he threatened to sue them for using the title without permission).

Left to right in The Ginger Man : Jean-Jacques, Peter F, Peter R and Tony K. (Photo Chris)

Next morning we went all of 7 miles to Howth Marina where we had a splendid lunch with Georgia, Peter C and Nora at the Aqua restaurant on the end of the fishing harbour pier, an excellent recommendation by one of Chris’s Irish cousins.

Nora gets to grips with the wheel
Chris, Georgia, Nora, Peter C
Heron leaves our pontoon – didn’t budge till we were a metre or two away

The plan was to spend a few days sailing further north exploring Strangford and Carlingford lochs before heading south again. But the weather was breaking down and we had only 24 hours to get to the nearest, Carlingford, or we’d be facing forces 5, 6 and 7 from ahead, the last thing we’d want to do voluntarily.

We decided to go just to Carlingford, a historic village, and look around there for a few days, regretfully dropping the plan to go to the beautiful Strangford Loch marine reserve in Northern Ireland. We needed to be back in Dublin the following week for Jean-Jacques and Peter F to catch their planes home and for Rob to arrive to join us.

Carlingford is packed with holidaymakers and eating places, and it’s there that things took the challenging turn described in the previous post.

Covid strikes the crew

It was a lovely cruise to Ireland at first, with fine, sunny weather rather than the extraordinarily high temperatures that hit central and southern England. But half way through we had a problem for which there was no easy answer – three of us tested positive for Covid after feeling as if we were getting mild colds, with headache, sinusitis and sore throat.

The loch from a hill behind Carlingford

We did the tests at Carlingford Marina, which looks across its loch to Northern Ireland on the opposite bank. We had all had dinner in a pub two nights before, after seeking out a quiet room in an otherwise crowded place. That pub does seem to be the likeliest source. The result was obviously as worrying for the fourth crew member as for the three with the virus. One of the crew, Antony, had left from Dublin, so escaped the bug, while Peter F had only just joined there.

We are all in our 70s, and while in good health – we wouldn’t be on a small yacht in the Irish Sea otherwise – we are in a vulnerable category. So the first reaction was to put on masks and do our best to stay apart from the one crew member without the virus, which not unexpectedly is hard to do on an 11 meter boat. He ended up spending a lot of time alone in the cockpit.

We consulted the English and Northern Irish NHS web sites, and of course the Irish equivalent, and found slightly different advice in each.

Carlingford Marina

NHS Northern Ireland said (on its website in late July 2022) that after a positive COVID-19 test result you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of the test, or from the day symptoms started (whichever was earlier). NHS England said 5 days from the day after the test rather than the day of symptoms. And Ireland said 7 days isolation.

They all said testing to end isolation is no longer advised. The benchmark is now the date of test or first symptoms, so we started counting days.

As a precaution, we also needed to avoid contact with people at higher risk from Covid-19 for 10 days, especially those with a weakened immune system. Neither should we visit anyone in hospital or social care for 10 days. We should continue regular hand washing and wear a face mask, particularly in crowded indoor places.

Luckily we had good supplies of food on board and our Covid-free friend Jean-Jacques volunteered to top up stores with a masked visit to the Carlingford mini-supermarket half a mile away. (We had already noticed that nobody in the packed holiday village wore a mask)

The debilitating Covid symptoms lasted little more than a day, though the snuffles and particularly the tiredness stretched out several more days and the cough for around a week. All of us had had multiple boosters, and it would have been a different story without them. I was probably the mildest case, because by the day after the test the only symptoms I had were a slight tiredness (much less than after an overnight sail) and occasional cough.

We decided that the two of us who were fittest would take charge and sail the boat 40 miles down the coast to Malahide, near Dublin airport.

Chris, Georgia, Peter C and baby Nora, on holiday for the month in Ireland, made a wonderfully welcome – but masked and distanced – visit to the quayside in Malahide. They took our shopping list to the nearby shops and stocked up for us, including a delicious and cheering supper bought in a deli. Meanwhile Rob, who was scheduled to join in Dublin, postponed to early the following week to allow a full 7 days from our positive tests. Soon after we arrived J-J, still fine and fit, decided to keep to his original schedule and left the boat to fly home.

Jean-Jacques, who didn’t get Covid, on the way from Carlingford to Malahide. The autopilot was the fifth crew member.

Meanwhile, a backgammon board helped shorten the evenings until Peter F. felt strong enough to fly home as well, and we then moved the boat 15 miles to Dun Laoghaire to wait for Rob.

A week after the tests and with a third crew member we were ready to leave for Milford Haven, the first leg to Cowes, though strong southerlies ended up keeping us in Ireland a few more days.

The day before it struck. J-J, centre, didn’t get Covid.

…and thank you to Will for online advice to the crew

June (2) – overnight to Plymouth, fuel consumption

With half a dozen tidal gates on a passage from the Solent round Lands End, we managed to get through four of them in 24 hours last week. The westerlies that usually slow a cruise to Devon and Cornwall gave way to light winds from between north and east, with calm seas.

Two of us were standing ready to sail to Plymouth as soon as we had the right weather forecast, so we would be better positioned for rounding Lands End on our way to Wales and Ireland next month.

Tony bringing the boat in from our mooring to Cowes Yacht Haven so I could do a pierhead jump – we’re too mean to pay marina day rates

We went to Cowes on Monday afternoon, left at 5am on Tuesday and were in Plymouth Sound about the same time on Wednesday.

We logged about 130 miles, mostly doing two hours on and two hours off, because there was not much sail handling to do – we motorsailed for all but two hours. We had to plug contrary tides twice, of course, but that’s a lot easier to plan when you aren’t beating at the same time against a contrary wind.

A friend who will join us for the next leg found us a friendly berth at his club at Saltash on the Tamar, and that’s where Spring Fever is at the moment.

How much fuel do you burn?

We all know that fuel consumption per hour rises dramatically with rising engine revs. But that doesn’t give a true efficiency rating because with higher revs and speed you go further per hour, of course. What really matters is consumption per mile, which is harder to measure. There is an excellent article on this subject in the summer issue of Cruising, the Cruising Association’s magazine.

Our nearly new Beta 30 is proving helpfully economical measured per hour: purring along at only 1500 -1800 revs, fuel consumption was less than 1.5 litres an hour on the way to Plymouth. We were getting a knot or two from the sails so we averaged just over 5 knots. If we had pushed the boat at engine cruising speed of 6.5 knots we’d probably have doubled or trebled the consumption per hour.

The good news is that Cruising’s research report shows very clearly that consumption per mile also rises with engine revs, though not as fast as consumption per hour. Our 1500 to 1800 rpm looks close to the optimum engine speed. Consumption per mile rises steadily as the engine revs up beyond that. The tests were on a 50HP Beta, so are not directly comparable, but it seems unlikely our Beta 30 would be very different.

There is also some useful related data in the article on the effect of headwinds and waves on consumption per mile at different revs, which is of course to drive it up further. But other than at very low revs, the data shows that the relation between rising revs and fuel consumption per mile is maintained.

Venice’s Vogalonga

The first boat to appear at the Dogana on the Grand Canal after the 30 km Vogalonga rally round the lagoon and canals of Venice was a coxed eight. It was another 40 minutes before the arrival of the first of the traditional Venetian boats, the ones everyone really wants to see.

All the boats finished further up, beyond the Rialto, and they then paraded down to the official pontoon at the Dogana, which is at the entrance to the Canal.

A coxed eight was the first to arrive

There they received their awards for participating in the lagoon marathon, which is open to any boat as long as it can be rowed or paddled. It took place on the Sunday before the Transadriatica.

A big international occasion has now evolved from what began in 1974 as a local event for Venetian rowers protesting against the damage motor boats and their wash were causing to the city. Since those days there has been a great revival of interest in Venice in traditional rowing craft, stimulating the creation of many clubs and training programmes.

First traditional Venetian boat to arrive, 40 minutes later

The Vogalonga itself, which is non-competitive, has changed its character over the years. Indeed, we heard that there was some resentment among local rowers at the way it has evolved, with boats appearing from all over the world, many of them starkly different from the traditional craft of the lagoon. There were reportedly 1,700 boats with 7,000 rowers this year.

One of the biggest competitors.
The Dogana (customs house) behind the official Vogalonga pontoon

There were dragon boats, rowing eights, fours, pairs and single skiffs and a variety of kayaks, including an exceptionally long one with four paddlers which was one of the first back, and a number of inflatable kayaks that were hauled out by their owners and packed into bags.

A great display of assorted craft passed by before we saw the first of the traditional Venetian boats with their forward-facing rowers, working gondolier-style.

Competition skiffs and kayaks can be seen anywhere in the world, but Venetian craft in their many forms are unique. The gondola is the most famous but there is a variety of other types, of which the sandolo is the commonest.

Packing an inflatable kayak

Some of the eights and other fast boats were from Venice, but many others were from elsewhere, including Britain, and the sheer number made it hard to keep track of all the national flags as they passed by.

The British coxed four in this picture was flying a Queen’s Jubilee flag. It was Jubilee weekend.

You can certainly see the advantage of facing ahead in the crowded waterways of Venice. While eights and most fours have coxes who look forward to steer, the uncoxed pairs and single skiffs must find it hard to avoid collisions at the speed they go.

The 2022 Vogalonga poster