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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.