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Caernarfon 1997

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Irish Sea Folkboat Rally Menai Straits 1997
reports Graham Wilson (Howth yacht Club)

A relatively easy overnight passage from Howth (Ireland had brought us over the Caernarfon bar and into the southern entrance to the Menai Straits off Anglesey in the early July afternoon. As we ran northward with the main tidal stream under us in the deep water along the shoreline by the Belan fort I saw, with disbelief, whirling back-eddies and waves moving fast in the opposite direction along the shingle. Admittedly we were both a bit tired, but not quite tired enough to get those visual hallucinations that sometimes come after 24 hours awake at sea in a small boat. We saw ourselves naively as "smart money" having won this event previously in our home waters in Howth in 1995 but this reverse tidal stream was not on the chart. We began to think about the sailing strengths of the local Folkboat crews and were soon to learn that racing in these strongly tidal waters, with shingle banks and back eddies in the shallows, was going to be very different from home.

Deeply embedded in an impressive turret of Caernarfon Castle is another altogether different Caernarfon bar, that of the Royal Welsh Yacht Club 150 years old this year and who were our generous hosts for the Week. A narrow stair through the wall takes you onto the top, high above the water, and it is from here that races are started on a line, which I imagine would defy the ISAF. Depending on the state of the tide there is shallow water at each end and a 5kt stream running in the middle. One fascinating aspect of the Menai Straits is that it is never quite the same tomorrow and the reader is at this stage, recommended to consult an almanac to appreciate the tidal stream picture of the Menai Straits. On the water one is faced with a confusing rapidly changing scene as numerous sandbanks rise above the water as the stream ebbs, not unlike those described by Erskine Childers in 'The Riddle of the Sands'. There are no 'withies' here but there is extensive buoyage including an inconspicuous yellow conical 'change of direction of navigation' buoy which t had only come across previously in Yachtmaster examinations. An echo sounder is a must, obviously, but in the fierce heat of competition one irrationally disregards the alarm. As the water shallows and the sand changes colour from yellow to grey at the end or each tack, a sudden sense of the bottom, an urgent push on the helm and the boat's heel lifts the keel off the sand and we cross the stream again. For these waters the Folkboat design is ideal.

Such is straits racing, all back eddies, available water and wind shifts. In this scenario even the locals get it wrong occasionally. We had six good clean races, mostly north and south along the straits. On the last race, however, Robin Pinner in Neomys headed the fleet out at low water to Bar Buoy No.6 within 50 metres of a back bone of an old ship's ribs quietly barbecuing in the sunlight. A stark memorial to tougher seamen of the past.

But: the Rally wasn't to be all racing. As background I should explain that the 'smart money' at these events has been known to off-load heavy gear not needed for racing- ground tackle, loos etc. Here though, on the third day and half way through the racing, we were to go on an overnight cruise in company. led by Mike Maguire on Spook IV, accompanied by local boats Siskin, Rococa and Neomys, we visitors rather innocently followed what was to become an invaluable itinerary of local knowledge. Soon after breakfast we departed from Caernarfon northwards in order to pass through the Swellies at low water slack. Initially a leisurely affair, a quiet lunch stop at anchor in the lee of Trwyn-du, the irregular mournful bell of the lighthouse clanging at intervals. Then a 6 mile reach to Moelfre in brisk south westerly, by this stage we in Alar had three reefs in and water in my "guaranteed waterproof" GPS. We anchored in 4 metres off Moelfre beach in a pretty exposed position and for a couple of hours kept an eye on anchor transits. By the time it was calm enough to embark in a dinghy we were ready for a great pub supper in the village. Mike Maguire had us up early in the morning for a passage to his favourite lunch spot just west of Point Lynas but with a strong westerly wind, we settled for the old Pilot Jetty in the lee just east of the Point. I noticed a fairly liquid lunch being consumed on Spook IV that I assumed was in anticipation of the afternoon event which was planned to be a helicopter rescue exercise by the RAF from neighbouring Valley airforce Base. Our instructions were to sail on a port hand close-hauled course and to keep clear of Spook IV: a clatter above us resolved itself into Sea King and on the VHF came a clear and unhurried plan of action. To watch a 10 ton helicopter drop and recover a diver onto a 2.5 ton Folkboat with its sails up is a sight and sound which has to be seen to he believed. The downdraught itself is enough to send you off at 5kts. If it ever happens for real, take your sails down and be prepared for a lot of noise and spray.

The passage back into the straits was greatly aided by a flood tide that carried us southwards and through the Swellies at high water slack water. But by the time we were going over the sill of the Victoria flock Marina in Caernarfon it was turning into a very wet and windy evening. It was a great night for a barbecue; cooking burgers from the "best meat in N. Wales" in a gale under the battlements of the isolated Napoleonic Fort at Belan accompanied by Mike Maguire's robust home brew.

By the end of racing on Friday we had a result, followed by a superb and convivial ladies-committee style dinner and prize giving in the RWN'C. The final results were:


1st Spook IV Mike Maguire (Menai Straits) Wooden
2nd  Neomys   Robin Pinner   (Menai Straits) Wooden
3rd    Alar Graham Wilson (Howth) Wooden
4th                Argo Doug McGarvie (Liverpool) Wooden
5th Triton Carl Levins (Dun Laoghaire) GRP Varne
6th             Rococo Harry Gregory (Menai Straits) Wooden
7th Wavedancer Dermot Keeley (Dun Laoghaire) GRP Varne
8th           Siskin Eric Daniels (Menai Straits) Wooden
 9th              Merch Medina Martin Ellis (Menai Straits) Wooden
         Blyth Spirit Mike Blyth (Fleetwood) Wooden

1st Wave Dancer
2nd Rococo
3rd Siskin
4th Argo

The results tell their own tale!
We had a great sunny sail back to Ireland with a big silver cup tattling about in the fo'c'sle and happy memories of a wonderful week, old friends and great hospitality in the very best spirit of Folkboat Rallies. Over the last few years the Irish Sea Folkboat Rally has been a focus for boats from the UK and from Ireland and we have got to know each other well. On the behalf of all the visitors I thank Robin Pinner (Irish Sea Area Chairman), Eric Daniels and Mike Maguire and their families together with all our friends from the Menai Straits and the RWVC. For newcomers I can recommend the newly opened Victoria Dock marina At Caernarfon.

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Puffin Sound en route from Caernarfon to Moelfre.

Flat calm today but look out in a NWesterley.

Trwyn Du
and Puffin Sound

'No Passage to Landward'
(you had better believe it)

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A Summer visitor


To submit new information contact Eric Daniels

This page was last edited 15/01/02 10:34