Circumnavigating the UK in a Leisure 27, Part 15 - Pwllheli to Miford Haven
Saturday/Sunday/Monday August 20-22 Pyllheli Marina
Friday night brought a full gale with gusts of over 50 knots. On the visitors' berths to the rear at high tide, there is half a mile of open water.
Waves driven down this open stretch were breaking against the stern, throwing water into the cockpit. Not quite the sort of 'shelter' you might expect in a large marina.
Conclusion, ask for an inside berth if strong winds are expected. It's very wild on the outside where they plonk unwary visitors.
Sunday dawns brighter, but with high winds and I take the bus to Abersoch which had caught my eye on the way to Pyllheli. Abersoch looked much better from 4 miles out than close up.
Any claims to be the French Riviera appear delusional. Access to the beaches is difficult and the town is a one street, traffic filled disappointment. And boy, does it rain here!
Cross Cardigan Bay Under Fire?
Perched on the cliff top is the South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club where members are enjoying Sunday lunch time drinks. Unfortunately as in so many yacht clubs, I encounter a "cliquey bunch".
The test as a guest in a 'new' yacht club, is to stand near the bar, drink in hand, looking obviously 'billy no mates' and wait for a friendly contact. Let's just say in SCYC I felt more leper than billy no mates.
Interestngly I found that the bigger the yacht club the less friendly people seem. I mention to one local "grandee" that I am sailing solo round Britain in a Leisure 27. He quickly moves away, presumably fearing I am delusional?
The defence contractor QinetiQ (its a clever? version of Kinetic and was previously called DSTL) had a promotional stall in the yacht club foyer.
I learned that practically all of Cardigan Bay is a designated, very busy firing range. Vessels crossing the Cardigan Bay should seek clearance beforehand.
Naively I had planned earlier to cross from Bardsey Island to Fishguard not realising that Dark Star could become collateral damage!
Monday - Back to Rain and Wind
After a brief respite, the wind and rain are back with a vengeance, allowing a lot of 'housekeeping' to be done. The welcome news is that XC Weather are forecasting north or north westerly winds for Wednesday which could give a lovely reach, 60 plus miles down to Fishguard.
What a useful tool XC Weather has been on this trip. The hour by hour forecasts of wind direction and strength are pretty accurate. I need to see at least 3 or 4 days ahead, before setting off.
The XC Weather forecasts can be compared with the Met Office forecast but they appear to use different models for their forecasts.
Wednesday August 24 Pwllheli Marina to Fishguard - 65 miles
This open sea trip straight across Cardigan Bay from North Wales to South Wales, will be one of the longer trips and at the end there is no welcoming marina, just a mooring buoy or swinging to anchor in Fishguard harbour.
Fishguard's present claim to fame is the regular Stena Line car ferry service to Rosslare in Ireland. There are few facilities for visiting yachts.
A phone call to QinetiQ revealed they are not firing today and Dark Star is cleared to pass through the firing range.
An early departure at 06.45 for this 11/12 hour trip means that it is still pitch dark when I stir for ablutions at 05.30.
Just a week earlier it had been fully light at 5 am, a sign that the days are shortening as autumn approaches. The north westerly breeze strengthens throughout the morning until it is a steady Force 5 (20 knots).
Dark Star romps back along the Lyn Peninsula on a broad reach but it is a pretty 'roly' ride as the swell built up to 1.5 - 2 metres and she slides down the quartering waves.
However, it's pretty effortless sailing. If only there had been more of this! Running down Cardigan Bay, out of sight of land, I reflect how often on this trip, not a ship or yacht or fishing boat was sighted.
On the odd occasion I sight a fishing boat, it always appears about to cross Dark Star's bow, requiring a rapid change of course.
The coast of South Wales gradually appears over the bow where it should. At 17.45 Dark Star sails into the wide expanse of Fishguard Harbour.
I struggle to find a mooring buoy; those free had no mooring strops or had strops which were broken and covered in shellfish and seaweed. Finally, within 200 yards of the Stena Line terminal, I pick up a usable mooring buoy.
The next Irish ferry would arrive at 00.30 and leave again for Rosslare at 02.30. By 20.00 there is a queue of lorries at the terminal. Clearly I would not get much sleep.
Well...I am asleep by 23.00, wake around 05.30 and never hear a thing!
Thursday August 25 Fishguard North Wales to Solva Harbour via Ramsey Sound - 29 miles
The next part of the coast does not involve long passages, but includes two tricky pieces of tidal planning. Sailing from Fishguard around St David's Head means transiting the narrow sound between Ramsey Island and the mainland.
The tides in Ramsey Sound run at 6 knots, changing every six hours with only a twenty minute slack at the change. Leaving Fishguard at high water means pushing against a 2/3 knot adverse tide still coming from St David's Head.
I manage to find the eddy which runs from Fishguard to Strumble Head and whizz along at 6 knots but once around Strumble Head Dark Star loses the favourable eddy and enters a clearly flowing 'river' of adverse tide. Progress slows to 2 knots, under full engine.
This is a rugged coastline of stark, soaring cliffs and bays. Best progress is achieved by grinding slowly around the headlands, nipping into the next bay to find a favourable tidal eddy or just to dodge the current whooshing along just outside the bay.
By 14.30 (when it was slack water in Ramsey Sound) Dark Star is off Porthgain, with 8 miles still to run to Ramsey Sound. So it does not seem not possible for a small yacht to sail from Fishguard, south to Ramsey Sound and arrive there at slack water.
The tide sweeps Dark Star through Ramsey Sound at 10/11 knots on the recommended dog leg course to avoid the worst of the overfalls and water turbulence. However overfalls appear after Dark Star has transited the sound, just as I am breathing a sigh of relief.
Eight miles further south across St Bride's Bay lies another, fiercer tidal sound between Skomer Island (Puffin Island) and the mainland of the Pembroke Peninsula. Unfortunately continuing straight there would find both an adverse tide and growing darkness.
So I turn hard to port and head eight miles east to the tiny drying harbour of Solva. 'Sorry your can't come in' A call to the Solva harbour-master confirmed that Dark Star would arrive there at 17.30, dead low water.
Entry into the inner harbour would not be possible until 21.30 and not recommended in the dark for a first time visitor.
'Anchor for the night in the pool behind the rocks at the harbour entrance and come in the following morning' was the advice.
Solva entrance is completely hidden at the foot of the surrounding cliffs and rocks and the entry between the rocks is barely 50 metres wide.
To starboard just past the scary entrance appeared an inviting little bay into which Dark Star noses quietly and runs aground.
With twin keels, this is not a problem provided the sea bed is level and Dark Star sits quietly for the next three hours awaiting the return of the tide.
In the meantime another two yachts enter this very small anchorage and once the tide rises, Dark Star is moved out to anchor in deeper water. The anchorage is protected from most winds, but is completely open to the west.
By midnight it is blowing 15+knots from the west!. Dark Star bucks the incoming swell and the anchor is holding, but all three yachts had very short scopes due to the restriction of the tiny anchorage.
Not much sleep occurs with the anxiety over the anchor and the near proximity of the other boats who might drag their anchors.
It is still blowing from the west at dawn, but with low water and the light of day, things calm down, anxiety recedes and sleep arrives.
Friday August 26th Solva to Milford Haven, South Wales - 27 miles
The navigational highlight of Friday is to be the transit of the infamous Jack Sound where slack water would occur around 15.00.
Since Jack Sound lies just eight miles to the south west across St Brides Bay there is no point in setting off too early.
Upping anchor, with the rising tide I take Dark Star into the inner harbour at Solva for a look around. Thank goodness I did not to try and enter here in the dark.
The harbour is covered in drying moorings with full occupancy and the ten red visitor buoys appear to hold three lines for bow and stern anchoring. It would have been 'fun' trying to moor in the dark with just a head torch.
Turning around and heading back out into St Brides Bay, Dark Star is soon ploughing into the swell from a south westerly force 4. However it's 12.00 and there are three hours before Dark Star can enter Jack Sound.
For once I have time to spare and Dark Star slowly sails comfortably south, tacking across the increasing south westerly.
However it soon becomes clear that the wind is strengthening and that arrival at Jack Sound will be an hour too early. Dark Star heads south west towards Skomer Island.
There an anchorage is shown on the north side of the island which should provide shelter from the wind and swell.
At 14.00 Dark Star sweeps into North Haven on Skomer Island to find five inviting mooring buoys. Unfortunately the wind is blowing through a gap in the cliffs above the bay at some 25+ knots.
This makes picking up a buoy singlehanded at the first attempt, most satisfying. A home mooring on the tidal River Adur hones the skills!.
There is a surprising amount of swell in this anchorage and I doubt it would be a comfortable overnight stop, but it was good enough for a lunch time hot drink and a sandwich.
The cliffs surrounding the anchorage at Skomer are usually filled with Puffins and Manx Shearwaters, but the Puffins have departed for the Atlantic by the end of July.
The Manx Shearwaters have migrated to the South Atlantic, off the coasts of Brazil and Argentina.
Jack Sound - Oops calculations are out
At 14.45 Dark Star leaves North Haven and heads a mile west to Jack Sound. The recommended line south through Jack Sound is 201 degrees which is straight into the gusty force 5 west/south westerly wind.
The mainsail would flap uselessly on this course so I set off under engine alone.
In the disturbed overfalls it is hard to see what the tide/current is actually doing, but confident in my calculations that slack water is imminent, I turn Dark Star onto a course of 201 degrees.
Progress is made under full engine but instead of the 10 knots which should be showing on the GPS, just 3 knots appear.
Clearly I am too early and the tide is still flowing north, but probably weakening. Within twenty minutes I am through the narrow channel. I brace for the standing waves and overfalls which I expect to occur where the outgoing tide hits the opposing wind and swell.
There were none. Since the tide is still flowing north, with the wind and swell, all was calm. Surely this can be described as serendipity?
Course is set for the shelter of Milford Haven. Dark Star can now be freed off the wind and under just the genoa, sets off for St Anne's Head and the two entrance channels into Milford Haven, allegedly described by Lord Nelson as the "greatest natural harbour in the world".
Milford Haven started in whaling then moved on to fishing and the provision of a Royal Navy dockyard. Since the 1960's it has developed into the biggest energy port in the UK with a continuous string of liquid gas bulk carriers shuttling to and from Qatar.
Trouble off St Anne's Head
Knowing that the tide will be flowing out of the Haven straight into the teeth of the blustery south westerly, Dark Star is kept well over half a mile distant from St Annes Head where the seas are described as "potentially confused on the ebb".
That offing proves hopelessly inadequate and soon it is not just the seas that are confused! Three tidal streams collide off St Annes Head on an ebb tide where it becomes very uncomfortable in a brisk south westerly. I can confirm that.
Waves break randomly. Dark Star is pushed this way and that, just on the edge of control. It's amazing what you become accustomed to and within a short time, as the western channel entrance to Milford Haven grows closer, it seems conditions will improve,
Then a bulk carrier looms into the western channel, leaving harbour, just off the port bow as Dark Star runs before the wind. Rounding up or getting broadside to these confused seas to slow Dark Star's progress is not advisable.
I manage to reef the genoa to reduce the sail area, switch on the engine and run it in reverse to further dampen progress. It seems to take an age for the carrier to move clear across Dark Star's bow. Once clear, normal progress resumes. as the western channel entrance to Milford Haven grows closer. Although conditions do improve within the eastern entrance channel (as advised by a local sailor), I should have gone through the western channel.
In a brisk south westerly, the eastern entrance is more exposed to wind and swell whilst the western entrance lies in the shelter of St Anne's head.
Milford Haven is an enormous expanse of water. It takes over an hour to progress from the haven entrance to the marina at Milford which operates an entry system via a tidal lock.
A radio call to "Pierhead" confirms that Dark Star can go through on the 17.40 lock.
As we progress down the edge of the shipping channel, I prepare the usual lines and fenders, ready to cross the channel towards the marina lock.
Walking back to the cockpit, how can I fail to notice the bulk carrier on my stern, being towed up the channel by two tugs, preceded by the pilot cutter.
With a roar of engines the pilot cutter draws alongside Dark Star and 'requests' that we keep clear until the carrier had passed.
Even with the engine stopped and sails dropped, Dark Star is pushed along the channel by the wind faster than the carrier/tug procession.
After several reverse turns, Dark Star drops around the stern of the towed carrier towards the marina lock, too late for 17.40 lock in and an hour to wait for the next one.
Milford Haven Marina proves a real "find" with plenty of cafes etc on the waterfront, good security, excellent wifi, power on demand and very good, heated shower/toilet facilities.
Change of plan
Mindful of the need to keep moving, I require two good consecutive days to get across the Bristol Channel to Padstow, with an overnight anchorage at Lundy Island. Val reminds me that Monday is a Bank Holiday so I phone Padstow regarding a berth for Monday.
"Sorry, the inner harbour is very full and rafted out.". There is no alternative stopover to Padstow going south from Lundy. The weather forecast for arrival there later in the week is not promising.
Despite pondering on this, I sleep soundly after the previous, disturbed night at anchor in Solva.
On Saturday morning, I take stock. Since May 16, (16 weeks ago including a 10 day break at the end of June) Dark Star has covered 1281 miles ine and has about another 400+ miles to complete the "circle".
This could be done before the end of September but it will be a non stop push, dependant, inevitably on the weather.
En route, 30 miles off Lands End lie the Scilly Isles where I would like to enjoy an extended visit, but there will be not enough time for that on this trip.
To visit the Scilly Isles next season would mean doubling back all the way down the south coast. However, if I leave Dark Star here in Milford Haven until next spring, I could finish the round trip via the Scilly Isles - and with much less pressure.
Enquiries at the marina office confirm Dark Star can be lifted out and placed in secure hard standing to await my return. Normally Dark Star is lifted out at Shoreham and spends the winter in the Sussex Yacht Club, but it turns out Milford is less expensive.
Returning now to Shoreham would allow the very patient Valerie and this single-hander to spend some quality time on a little break which would feature hotel beds and proper showers, but I will miss the M&S and Tesco meals for one!
So it's farewell until spring 2017 when, if I am spared ill health or "events", the meanderings of Dark Star will continue.
Thanks for reading and sharing the fun and games this "summer" of 2016.