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.