Argo News May 2001
Like any good passage most of the enjoyment is in the preparation and the anticipation. I had been to Carlingford a few years earlier and knew what a wonderful sailing ground it was. Knowing some of the drinking holes is always an advantage and we were looking forward to the Guinness and oysters!
This year we were keeping the boat light and only two of us were heading out, Bill sails with me on a regular basis on the Mersey.
The weekend before the passage we fettled the boat, putting back on all the things that had been stripped off for racing on the Mersey berths, cooker etc. On went the dinghy, the liferaft, the racing sails were stowed and the cruising sails were bent on. On and on went the food!!
We were due to set off with the outgoing tide on Thursday 13th July, high water being 09.11 hours. Sods law it had been blowing hard for the last few days and it hadnt blown through. Undaunted, we set off and were waved away not really, nobody else had been up early enough and anyway all other people that we knew were at work.
We left the sea lock from the marina, into the river and hoisted the sails my god it was blowing hard. We sailed down the Mersey and waved as we passed our place of work. We had told virtually everybody of our trip away and surely somebody must be looking out of a window at the intrepid pair?
On we went, past the famous landmark of the Liver Buildings, down the river to Seaforth. I kid you not it was blowing a good Force 6 and the river was building-up some good waves. Our intention was to sail to Port St.Mary on the southwest tip of the Isle of Man, overnight there and then hop over to Carlingford the following day. We had the luxury of setting off early and could stay longer in the Isle of Man if the weather forced us to.
Passing Seaforth I had this sudden realisation that I must be as mad as a hatter. The Irish Sea was going to be a very unpleasant place to be and that Force 6 I mentioned was blowing from where we wanted to go! I dont think this is a good idea I said to Bill. He didnt put up any arguments when I suggested we go back. Go back we did against an increasing tide. Will we get back to the marina in time for the last lock? It was touch and go but a chat to the lock keeper on VHF was all we needed, he kept the lock open a little bit longer than he should have and in we came.
Back in the marina bar, coffee in hand we decided our next move. Keep an eye on the weather, if its alright tomorrow we try again. If not we will give it till Saturday and then abort the trip altogether. Friday came and it was blowing just as hard. The forecast was for reducing winds over the weekend.
Saturday. High water was at 11.36 hours. The wind had dropped to a steady Force 4. A phone call to Bill and we met at the boat and set off yet again at the top of the tide.
We put a reef in the main and set off past the Liver Buildings again. We reached Brazil buoy off New Brighton and set off the Mersey channel and out through the Rock Channel. Yes that wind was still on the nose so down came the headsail and we motor sailed into the wind and towards the Isle of Man. The passage plan was still the same.
For those who dont know the Irish Sea, it can set up the kind of seas that Folkboats tend to slow down in short and steep. This was the case for us, although the wind had dropped to a good Force 4 the seas hadnt had much of a chance to die down. After about two hours motoring into the wind it was obvious we were not going to get very far. What do we do? We could motor sail on port tack and that would give us a beat to the north, lee bowing or we could go on the starboard tack. The starboard tack would take us towards Anglesey and then we would have a long sail north to the Isle of Man.
We decided on the port tack and motor sailed through the oilfields. The boat was fine, although it wasnt the most comfortable of passages it was nothing to a Folkboat! On and on we went but our speed over the ground wasnt very impressive those short seas kept stopping us.
8.30pm and we were a mere 17.5 miles north of the Bar Light ! At this rate it was going to take us a full 24 hours to get to Port St.Mary. Reluctantly, the decision was made to go back. We turned around and had one of the most pleasant sails Ive had on the Irish Sea for some time. In the failing light we passed the oilrigs again, what the people on them though we were doing doesnt bear thinking about.
Now fully dark we entered the Mersey Channel at Q2 with about an hour before the tide turned against us! A quick chat with Mersey Radio to let them know we were there and gain information about boats coming our way. Keep to the green side we were told and they would advise shipping of our presence. Let us know when you pick up a mooring was the last comment from them. We monitored Mersey Radio as we came down the Channel but didnt hear them advise shipping of our presence not to worry.
About a mile from Brazil Buoy and we were really fighting the tide, the wind had stayed at Force 4 and we were able to sail over the tide. As we approached Brazil the wind was dropping and the tide building, we were inching over the tide. The mooring buoys off New Brighton were some distance away but we managed to get there. There were two vacant moorings and we picked up the first. All moored up 3.30am. On to Mersey Radio to advise them. No answer, they had presumably gone to bed as there was no more commercial shipping using the river.
We couldnt get back into the marina before 10.00 hours so a leisurely breakfast was had and a few phone calls made. One to our spouses and another to the mobile of the leader of our band of Irish Sea Folkboaters, Robin Pinner. No answer so a message was left.
We took the first lock in and as we were going back to our berth we were passed by a couple of Sigmas going out for a day race. They were in T shirts and shorts and looking set for a good days sailing. Yes, youve guessed it the wind had dropped and the sun was shining. I thought you were going to as we passed.
On returning home on the Sunday it was straight to bed!
Monday saw me back at the boat and all the gear put on for the trip was taken off again. Car fully loaded it was time for a well-earned drink at the bar. I was met by Tim, hes the broker at Liverpool Marina. Surprised to see me was an understatement. He obviously saw how dejected I was. Im going down to my boat for a few days sailing Doug, if you want to come along you would be most welcome. How long does it take to make a decision of that nature ? A mere nano-second. Im going to have to get permission from Anita though. ( I know who the boss is)
Six oclock that night and we were driving down to Conwy, North Wales, where Tim keeps his Hillyard 4 tonner. A stop en route for some fresh food but I had brought the essentials with me a bottle of Jamesons.
The boat was loaded and sorted out and off to the local for a few beers followed by a few Jamesons back on board.
The following morning saw us take the inshore passage from Conwy up to the Great Orme and then a very pleasant reach to Puffin Island followed by a very pleasant sail up to Beaumaris. Tims friend has a mooring there, he was away so we picked it up. Gear into a sail bag and onto the dinghy for a trip ashore. Royal Anglesey Yacht Club was open but not a soul in sight. They had left the showers open. This is the way a yacht club should be run. A meal and a few beers later saw us back on the boat and the Jamesons was finished !
Wednesday saw Tims mobile phone in action. A call from the office While youre there any chance of taking some photos of a boat just come on the books? A sail down to Menai Bridge and the offending boat was found and caught on film. Getting close to lunchtime we sailed to The Gazelle, picked up a mooring and in no time we had a good meal and beer in front of us. Eating outside and watching the world go past on boats is not to be sneered at.
Onwards we went, back up the Straights, past Puffin and on to Moelfre. Theres a lovely pub said Tim the food is great but the beers not that good. To call it a pleasant sail would be an understatement. By know I had got to know Tims boat quite well where are the tellies I kept asking. Tim is a cruiser and doesnt use such things. I had really got into cruising mode by now and saw the attraction over thrashing round the cans on the Mersey. We discussed how I could turn my boat back into a cruiser and how next year I will be bringing the boat to the Straights for a few weeks who knows, Anita might even enjoy this kind of sailing?
We dropped the hook at Moelfre and placed the paraffin anchor light at the bow. The other boats saw what we were doing and with a flurry of excitement brought out their electric bulbs! Off to the pub and another good meal and a few beers, yes he was right about the beer. My turn to row the dinghy back. No fool this Tim chap dark, tide flowing, 200 yards to go and a few beers inside. The anchor light was our beacon and we got there. No Jamesons!
The morning broke and we found another Hillyard anchored nearby. This to a Hillyard owner is something akin to Folkboaters meeting. A quick look at the boat showed the French flag flying. Bon jour said we, bon jour said they and a funny conversation then took place with the Dutchman!!
Up anchor and back to puffin and then on to the Fairway buoy and into Conwy.
As we are sailing towards Conwy the phone goes again yes, another boat on the books for a photo shot.
Although I missed out on my trip to Ireland and meeting up with Folkboaters I can honestly say that those few days away were one of my most enjoyable sailing experiences. A good boat, a good sailing ground and most agreeable company. What more can you ask for?