STRANRAER TO PWLLHELI VIA ISLE OF MAN - 200 miles
Saturday August 13 Stranraer Marina to East Tarbert Bay Mull of Galloway - 40 miles
After an enjoyable quick two day break with relatives in my home town of Musselburgh (thanks again Kathleen and Jim), there appeared a weather window offering an escape from Stranraer.
On Friday night the wind still howled through the rigging. The plan was to leave Stranraer on Saturday at 12.30 and move 8 miles to the top of Loch Ryan. If the swell in the North Channel was too bad, I would retire for the night to an anchorage, Lady Bay, just inside the top of Loch Ryan.
If conditions were reasonable I would continue and sail 30 miles down the Mull of Galloway. With a flood tide pushing Dark Star along at 2/3 knots for about 6 hours, timing was crucial.
At the bottom of the Mull a sharp turn to port (left) would take me into a nice little anchorage in East Tarbert Bay for the night, but to reach the anchorage I had to negotiate the tide race at the Mull where the tide runs at 5/6 knots. Arriving late and missing the favourable tide was not an option.
Tide Race at the Mull - the last stop in Scotland
It's pretty horrible exiting Loch Ryan and round Carswell Point, but once eased off towards the south and having the north west wind and swell on Dark Star's stern, 6.8 knots soon appears on the GPS.
Genoa with just a bit of engine to help the autopilot, proved a winning combination. Portpatrick and Port Logan pass by, sighted through the gloom and rain showers. Suddenly the wind disappears, leaving a big following swell down which Dark Star rolls towards the Mull, engine at at full speed, mindful of the time to the tide race.
Arriving with some relief at 18.45, Dark Star speeds around the bottom of the Mull at 7.5 knots, heading for the peace and safety of the anchorage. Ten minutes later my speed has dropped to 4 knots; I am too late .
The tide has turned with just a mile to go! With the engine at maximum revs, Dark Star slowly pushes through into East Tarbert Bay. I am lucky, half an hour later the tide is running at 5/6 knots which would have pushed Dark Star backwards.
Last Anchorage in Scotland
East Tarbert Bay is the last anchorage in Scotland. Underneath the lighthouse on the cliffs, it's well sheltered but very remote. The darkness is intense, lit up intermittently by the flashing lighthouse.
With anchor well dug in, a good Tesco beef stroganoff, dinner for one, sleep came quickly and I was so relieved to get away from Stranraer.
Sunday August 14: Mull of Galloway to Peel, Isle of Man - 29 miles
1000 miles under the keel
Up early, egg, toast and coffee quickly consumed, anchored successfully raised, by 07.30 Dark Star is nosing out of East Tarbert Bay to do battle again with 'The Mull Race'.
This time the plan is to keep well out of it's clutches before changing course for the Isle of Man which can be seen on the horizon to the south. For once the north westerly force four is from the perfect direction and the swell has all but disappeared as a high pressure system moves in.
An effortless five hour sail in sunshine brings Dark Star to the Peel Harbour on the east coast of the Isle Of Man and on the way, the 1000 mile mark since departure on May 16th, is passed.
I have not read properly the port notes which state that access to the marina in Peel harbour is available only two hours either side of high tide.
My arrival at 12.30 was an hour too late and the harbour master suggests that Dark Star park up on a visitors' mooring buoy or anchor in the outer harbour until the marina opens again at 20.00!
In the unaccustomed sunshine, everything on the boat is turned out to be aired. The engine and sail drive are checked and it appears that the problem of seawater contamination of the sail drive lubricating oil has for now, disappeared!
On the Isle of Man the phone switches to EU mode and all calls cost 40p per minute etc etc. What's that all that about? The Isle of Man is not part of the EU, but it is within the Customs Union which allows free movement of goods and agricultural products. It makes no contribution to the EU and receives no funding in return. The problem is that IOM can't unilaterally negotiate trade deals so it's not a template for the UK.
The four mooring buoys in the harbour are all taken by 18.00. Shortly after, yachts appear in droves, converging on the harbour for the 20.00 re-opening of the marina. Urgent radio requests for berths reveal that there is not enough space for visitors.
Access to the marina involves operating a 'flap gate' and raising a pedestrian footbridge. I need an early start in the morning for a 50+ mile run to Holyhead, but it becomes obvious that exiting this marina would be as complicated as entering.
Also the harbour staff did not appear till 08.00 so an early departure from the marina would be unlikely. A berth had been allocated to me on arrival at mid day, but I decided instead to remain outside on a buoy overnight, to ensure a 07.30 departure.
Monday August 15 Peel Isle of Man to Holyhead, Anglesey - 65+ miles
An early start at 7.30 is quick and easy from the mooring buoy. Face into the wind, hoist the main, slip the mooring rope and Dark Star is off. The wind has gone to the east but the forecast promises light winds for the 12 mile run up the west coast of the Isle of Man.
Approaching the first set of cliffs, Dark Star staggers under gusts of 20/25 knots coming straight over the rugged cliffs. Perhaps the forecast is wrong. With winds of this strength, the 50 mile run to Holyhead on Anglesey will be too uncomfortable.
As the sun grows stronger, mental illumination also occurs. The sun is heating up the east of the Island. The hot air rises and then cools as it rushes over the colder west coast. The light breeze already flowing in the same direction is being accelerated by the phenomenon.
If correct, then when Dark Star clears the end of the Island, these strong gusts from the high cliffs should disappear. And so it comes to pass. After three slightly 'hairy' hours the wind drops to a force 4 from the south east and Dark Star settles down to a comfortable motor sail on a course of 180 degrees for the next 8 hours.
Unfortunately the tide turns about an hour from our destination Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales. The speed drops from 5.5 knots to 3.5 knots - under full engine. I hate losing a favourable tide at the end of a long trip, just when you feel you have had enough.
After dodging two Stena Line ferries on the Dublin run, at last by 19.30 Dark Star is safely tied up in Holyhead Marina. This trip of around 65 miles was one of the longer legs and took exactly 12 hours. The mechanical log showed 70 miles covered, but it usually over-reads when pushing against unfavourable tides.
Tuesday August 16th Holyhead Marina -3 countries in 3 days and shorts appear.
Holyhead Marina is excellent with individual toilet and shower suites. It's privately owned and run by two brothers. After three day's sailing (Scotland, IOM, Wales) I am short on diesel, water and provisions and needed some recovery time.
It is a beautiful day and for the first time since leaving in mid May, shorts are worn, exposing rather unseasonably white legs. All the dirty washing is pushed into the marina's machine. Unlike the previous occasion, this time I put in the soap powder before closing the door......
The boat is thoroughly rummaged and everything turned out to face the sun. The Asda supermarket is a 20 minute walk and turns out to be next door to Macdonalds....The bags of goodies (from Asda not Macdonalds) need a taxi for the return trip.
The Cobb is unwrapped
I bought a rib eye steak to cook in 'The Cobb'. This was a father's day present which missed the original departure of Dark Star, but was despatched by courier to Musselburgh. From Musselburgh my sister Kathleen and husband Jim brought this clever charcoal cooker to the quayside to greet me on arrival at Eyemouth.
The far travelled 'Cobb' is finally unwrapped and put to work to grill the steak. It does this beautifully but I am so excited that I forget to photgraph the steak cooking on 'The Cobb', but here is a pic of the ashes.
Wednesday August 17th Holyhead Marina to Bardsey Island anchorage - 35 miles
The forecast from Friday onwards indicates this lovely high pressure system will break down soon so I need to push on south, otherwise I could be stuck in Holyhead for a week.
The next harbour, Fishguard is some 85 miles distant, too far for a day's sailing. Unfortunately there is no marina to break the journey, so the decision is made to head for Bardsey Island and to anchor there for the night, then push on to Fishguard.
Bardsey Island is the most westerly point on the Llynn Peninsula and once a famous place of pilgrimage. For centuries holy men sought this remote place to practice self denial (?)
The Pope allegedly declared that one pilgrimage to Bardsey was worth three journeys to Rome in indulgences. Wonder what I get for sailing there? It's the west coast equivalent of Lindisfarne, but the latter was the lap of luxury compared to this remote isle.
Tides in the one mile sound between Bardsey and the mainland run at 5/6 knots with hardly any period of slack. How did they ever cross over in rowing boats? It looks suicidal. Even with powerful engines, the little ferry from Porth Meudy is often cancelled.
A few years ago 17 'day trippers' reportedly were weather bound on Bardsey for 10 days. Merlin and King Arthur are rumoured to be buried here. Maybe they originally went there alive and got stuck.
Caught in the overfalls then on to the Isle of the Tide Race and 2000 Saints
Leaving Holyhead at 09.30 to catch as much favourable south going tide as possible, Dark Star gets caught in the overfalls and tide races off Holyhead at the headlands of North Stack and South Stack.
Much banging into confused waves and ungainly rolling is the result, but the tide is on the turn and it did not last long. By 12.30 Dark Star is fizzing along at 6.8 knots with nearly 3 knots of a favourable spring tide.
Estimated time of arrival is now 16.00 instead of the original estimate of 17.00. This is excellent news since at the end of the trip, Dark Star has to navigate the infamous Bardsey Sound so it is essential to get there before the tide turns.
The wind is light, but the main and genoa are set and the diesel tickiing over to charge the batteries and keep the speed up when the wind turned fluky.
At 16.00 Dark Star sweeps through Bardsey Sound and ploughs through yet more overfalls before ferry gliding into the anchorage on Bardsey Island to be greeted by a chorus of noisy grey seals, irritated that their peace is being disturbed.
It's a pretty tight little anchorage and somewhat 'roly', but I expect the wind to drop at dusk to leave a calm pool. There is no mobile signal which means being unable to report in that I am still afloat and well.
After scoffing the last Tesco chicken massala straight from the oven I watch the seals watching me and doubted whether their mournful sounds would be welcome in the coming darkness. I wonder if any ghosts of the 2,000 'saints' allegedly buried on this tiny island might be inclined to appear?
Will the anchor hold?
Far from dropping, the wind increases from the north east until by 01.00 it's blowing 20/25 knots. In the gusts Dark Star is yawing round the anchor, but I could feel that the anchor is holding.
However, 100 yards under my stern, is a rocky shore and I can't be sure whether the anchor is buried in mud (good), hooked into a rock (tricky) or just embedded in kelp (large, tough seaweed, not good).
Thinking the wind will surely drop, I set the alarm to wake me at fifteen minute intervals. This goes on till 3am when after a cup of tea, I thought 'The anchor has held for eight hours, it should be OK to get some sleep'.
I nod off, but still wake every hour until the darkness turns into a grey, wet miserable dawn. The wind finally drops around 9 am which is a great relief since it will be difficult to haul in the rope, chain and anchor manually, in such windy conditions.
This rocky isle supported a monastery founded around 560 by St Cadman, but it was always a desperate existence. When the Vikings raided the Christian followers of Rome at Lindisfarne on the east coast, they struck it rich. Unfortunately when the Viking long ships pulled in here, rumour has it they handed out food parcels to the poverty stricken Celtic monks of Bardsey.
Thursday August 18 Bardsey Island to Pwllheli Marina - 26 miles
My original plan is to sail directly 45 miles south across Cardigan Bay to Fishguard. However the weather from Friday onwards promises gales and rain which will detain Dark Star in Fishguard for the next 4/5 days.
Fishguard is a ferry port with no developed facilities for yachts. Visiting yachts must lie to anchor, tie up to a mooring buoy (if available) or lie against a wall within the part of the harbour which dries out.
None of these options offer shore power, wifi or easy access to provisions. It's bearable for a single overnight stop, but I need something better for 4/5 days.
The only marina within reach is at Pwllheli, a 20 mile diversion to the east, along the south side of the Llyn Peninsula, with Snowdonia in the background.
At 10.00 Dark Star departs Bardsey. I haul up the anchor expecting a struggle to break it out and to find it covered in mud, but it comes up easily - covered in thick seaweed (kelp,help!). It seems one the 'Bardsey saints' did a bit of guardian anchor work.
Dark Star travels crab like back across the tide race and for the next few hours, makes slow progress against an unfavourable tide along the Welsh coastline of the Lleyn Peninsula. By 11.30 the sun comes out, visibility improves and to port the rugged cliffs, wide bays and sandy coves made a beautiful backdrop.
I had missed the view of the coastline over the past two days which had involved open sea passages from Scotland to IOM and Wales, with little to see except a faint outline of land ahead.
The wind dies and a hot, hazy day develops as the seaside resort of Abersoch comes into view through the off lying islands of St Tudwal. Writer Carla Lane owned St Tudwal East till her death earlier this year and TV outdoor type and Chief Scout, Bear Grylls owns St Tudwall West. With its splendid wide sandy beaches Abersoch lookslike a Welsh Riviera
From the island of Celtic self denial to the land of Billy Butlin and the Nationalists
At 14.30, with the last two hours of the ebbing tide, Dark Star just scrapes into Pwllheli Marina. It proves a good choice to wait out the gales forecast from Friday to Monday with shore power, good wifi, at last a picture on the TV and an Asda supermarket within a 10 minute walk.
When booking in I thought it odd that east Europeans had come this far west for work as I hear the staff chatting. Then the penny drops, this is Welsh speaking Wales! The marina handbook was unusually thick - each page printed in both Welsh and English.
Preparation of this blog, followed by an exploratory walk into town, fills a wet and windy Friday. Pwllheli found fame in 1947 when Billy Butlin opened the huge holiday camp on a 150 acre site which Butlin originally developed for the Admiralty during WW2.
The Butlins camp closed in 1998, but has since been renovated and now thrives under the Haven Holiday brand. Pwllweli is a pleasant, old fashioned holiday resort and is the birthplace of Plaid Cymru the party of the Welsh Nationalists.
It is reported that 85% of the 4,000 residents speak Welsh but after a visit to Asda I reckon it's closer to 95%. It's an odd feeling being in the UK and not understanding a word. Perhaps that's how English visitors feel in Scotland - and they are not speaking Gaelic there!
At present sailing does not look likely until Tuesday when I may head for Aberystwyth and then onto Fishguard.
Distance covered to date 1158 miles including 200 miles this week, the best 7 day's run to date.
Thanks for reading this.