Unusually for our annual rally, the first part of the program went according to plan. All the Irish Boats arrived safely in Holyhead, to where some of the 'home' contingent drove on Saturday evening to welcome our guests in the time honored way (in the bar). On Sunday the visiting boats set off from the breakwater to round South stack, on past Roscholyn, and then to the infamous Caernarfon Bar, where they were met by Robin Pinner, and Mike Maguire,
who had had a leisurely wait in the picturesque anchorage at Llandwyn Island to escort our visitors safely over the bar and then into the Victoria dock in time for the evenings festivities.
However the good weather was not to last. Monday hailed fair and races one, two and three were completed before the events of the evening, the BBQ prepared on the barbican of the ancient Caernarfon Castle, home of the RWYC
Tuesday was a different story, winds of force 8 encouraged all the hardy sailors to stay put, each crew going thee different ways by car, bus, and foot to explore the delights of Anglesey. The crews of Wavedancer ad Gibbon went on to Dickies boatyard and chandler, and then to watch the north westerly lashing the Trwn Du lighthouse in Puffin sound.
Wednesday dawned slightly better, but only sufficient for three boats to venture out to race four. The problem here being once out of the marina, we were out for seven hours. So Gibbon, Argo and Neomys (all home boats) set off to race to Port Dinorwic, where a landing was made to sample the delights of the Gard Von. The race was a battle against wind and tide to see Neomys the winner, and Gibbon coming a convincing third. The informal race back, running with the tide was a very quick affair indeed. As usual during the evening, there was merrymaking by all, including the customary impromptu parties.
The final day of the rally dawned suitable to hold races five and six, followed by the crews race. Because of the early closure of the dock all boats had to be back by 12.20 to ensure not being locked out until well past the starto f the presentation dinner. All the boats were in in time!
Discards highlighted Green
Cruising in the Menai Strait
Chart 1464 - essential, Good Echo Sounder - highly recommended
The Menai Strait separates the mainland of Wales (Gwynedd) from the island of Anglesey and is 16 NM from the Belan Narrows in the SW to Puffin Island in the NW.
The great advantage is that one can sail in virtually any weather though winds of F5 and above against the tide create an uncomfortable chop and very wet beats for Folkboats. With a SW wind we often head to the North coast of Anglesey and with a North wind we can savour the delights of the rocky bays and beautiful beaches on the south coast. There is plenty of variety and even after eight years sailing in the area we have not tired of it, nor explored all the coasts. A Folkboat is ideal in the Strait because it is so manoeuvrable and its solid iron keel means that there is little damage if you trundle the bottom.
N Easterly and S Westerly tend to funnel through the Strait and accelerate off Bangor Pier. The wind can be one whole force stronger here than the forecast. The area between the Bridges - the Swellies is often very calm and it is rare to be able to sail through. Beating can be very exciting as the channel is rocky and narrow. The tides in the Strait create a great reversible river though the time of the turn from one direction to the other varies according to the location. The trick is to look at the moored boats to see which way they are lying.
The southern entrance over Caernarfon Bar is subject to change from one season to the next but it is well buoyed and has been fairly settled for the last two years. However as I write a winter gale F9 is blowing and everything could change. Two years ago I slowly followed Rococo as we entered the Strait over the Bar at LW Springs. We made it with 6 inches to spare but it was absolutely flat calm! Normally one waits until half-tide when there is more water. The Bar should not be attempted with strong onshore winds.
Once you have located the entrance buoys C1 and C2 you buoy hop but beware of cross-tides. The shallowest part last season (1996) was between C1 and C3. On the flood the tide sets from right to left as you enter. On turning nearly 90° at C3 towards the SSE the tide again sets from right to left towards the shore. It is important to constantly check that you are not being set to port by taking a transit on the buoy ahead with a convenient house, hill or tree in the background. Yachts often end up approaching C6 from the NW instead of the West and there is a wreck just north of C4! Once past Mussel Bank buoy the tide is up your transom and progress through the Belan Narrows is very rapid. With a good breeze and spinnaker set we logged 13 knots over the ground last season as recorded on the GPS.
If you are beating in, progress sideways is faster than forward but dont hold the port tack too long or you end up in the eddy behind Belan Point where the tide is travelling in the opposite direction almost as fast as the flood is entering the Strait.
If one is leaving the Belan Narrows on the ebb again beware of cross-tides on the leg from C6 to C3. Last year Harry on Rococo and I on Neomys were sailing very slowly out in a light breeze. I was happily admiring the bottom in the clear water until I realised that I was being pushed sideways and was only in 4½ feet of water! A rapid dive for the engine starter switch saved the day.
There are two anchorages just inside the Narrows. The one to the North off Abermenai point has a very hard bottom and strong tides on the ebb. The holding seems poor and I have watched several boats attempt to anchor only to see them disappear backwards towards the entrance as they dragged. The anchorage behind Belan Point is much better (marked private) and just as sheltered as Abermenai.
Having shot the Narrows follow the buoyed channel to Caernarfon. With a following wind this is straightforward but keep a check on the echo sounder that you are not being pushed onto a bank by the tide. If beating watch the echo sounder. We usually tack when it reads 2 metres - 3 metres if you want a more relaxed sail.
The new Victoria dock is just beyond buoy C9 which lies off the entrance to Caernarfon with its castle and walls. The Dock has entry/exit lights and a tall modern control tower and can be entered 3 hours either side of HW. C9 also marks a bank where in the last rally Merch Medina was "parked" in the crews race in front of the skippers own Yacht Club.
Just beyond the dock is the S Cardinal Change Buoy (leave to port when heading NE) and remember the buoys are the "wrong way round" from here to Puffin Sound. The Caernarfon shore is fairly steep to more or less all the way to the Britannia bridges so you can tack close in. The island shore is marked by a series of buoys as far as Port Dinorwic. We usually miss out C14 and go straight over the spit running out from Plas Menai - the National Watersports Centre.
At Port Dinorwic (the village has reverted to its old name of Y Felin Heli) there is a good boat yard and slip (the Dinas Boat Yard) the dock where we were based the Folkboat rally in 1992 and the Harbour. (The dock is open from HW -2 to HW +2). The harbour has pontoons but dries to soft mud. There is an excellent slip where Mike and I have launched and recovered Spook and Neomys each season. Off the foreshore are many moorings - sometimes one is free and there is an excellent pub - the Garth Fon on Beach Road. At closing time they close the curtains! The whole area is currently undergoing a transformation with a large house building programme. the local sailing club have races in the area and it is very exciting the watch the dinghies cutting between the moored boats in the strong tide especially if you are on one of the moored boats.
From Port Dinowic to the Swellies there are no navigation buoys but the shore is steep to on both sides so just keep an eye on the echo sounder. To port one passes the beautiful Plas Newydd with its lawns sweeping down to the water. The shores are heavily wooded, quiet and remote with a definite river feel about the waterway.
Between the Britannia Bridge and Menai Suspension Bridge are the Swellies. They seem to have something of a notorious reputation but small boats with good engines should not encounter too many difficulties so long as you are travelling with the tide or at slack water.
Ski-boats and jet-skis can often be seen traversing the Swellies against the tide these days but Folkboats with small engines or under sail should arrive at the Britannia Bridge before the tide starts to run to the SW at approximately Dover HW -2. Any later and the tide is too strong to make headway towards Bangor. HW slack at the Swellies (Dover HW -2) is when most boats go through in both directions so it can be busy. The water at HW Slack is barely moving and it is easy to follow the transits. Nevertheless there are always boats which manage to strand themselves on Swelly Rock or the Platters every year. Luckily at this time the tide is still rising and most float off fairly quickly only suffering temporary embarrassment.
It is possible to transit at LW slack. This is a bit trickier. Last year in Neomys I sailed too close to Prices Point and bumped the bottom. A few feet closer to Swelly Rock the water is much deeper. One can also run the Swellies with strength of the tide (providing the timing is right) but the ride can be quite wild with whitewater and great boils and swirls (Swellies) which turn the boat unpredictably in all directions. In these conditions it pays to keep your distance from other nearby vessels - and passing rocks!
There is a passage on the Anglesey Shore but the usual route is on the Caernarfon (South) side and is well marked. The marks are also lit (unless vandalised from time to time) and the road lights on the bridges also give enough illumination to make it possible at night. On a first visit a daylight excursion is recommended.
Sailing or motoring NE pass under the centre of the right hand arch of the Britannia Bridge and head for a white pyramid beacon on the Caernarfon shore until the transit beacons at the base of the bridge (behind you now) come into line. Follow this transit until Price Pt is almost abeam. Some helmsman have trouble looking over their shoulders and keeping on the transient, probably because we are more used to sailing towards such marks. I am reminded of a night trip in Spook in 1986!!
Off Price Pt, ease over to starboard and pass between Swelly Rock Beacon (S Cardinal) and Price Pt. Stay on the Caernarfon Shore until a boat house and slip in the trees is visible to starboard and then ease out to port into open space to avoid the Platters (unmarked, though at HW usually well covered). From here pass under the Suspension Bridge and all the difficulties are behind you and you are left wondering what all the fuss was about.
From rocks and seaweed we are now passing Menai Bridge and lots of moored boats so try not to bump into anything especially Siskin or Neomys on their moorings. It is possible to berth alongside St George's Pier or more usually Bangor Universitys Prince Madoc survey vessel. From here it is a very short walk to the Liverpool Arms which does excellent meals.
Progressing NE the channel gradually becomes wider and if the tide is against you it pays to stay close to the Anglesey shore out of the tide though this entails a good lookout and dodging the moored boats. On the Caernarfon side dont be tempted to get inshore of Bangor Pier. It is very shallow and presently there are stakes and scaffold poles associated with a new sewage scheme. We sailed Neomys hard on here a few years ago and although the tide was rising it kept pushing us up the bank and we had to lay a kedge anchor from the dinghy to get off.
Opposite Bangor Pier is the Gazelle Pub which also serves meals and is a great place to sit on the wall on a summers day and watch the passing traffic. Just North East of Bangor Pier is Dickies boatyard with a small harbour accessible from about half-tide. The Union Pub, Garth is just a small step from here. Dickies have full marine facilities and an enormous chandlery. Their "bread and butter" work is servicing RNLI Lifeboats from all over the UK and from Eire.
From Bangor Pier head for Gallows Pt (Beaumaris has an ancient jail - now a tourist attraction) and buoy B7. It is feasible at HW to pass close to the Pt and miss out the buoy but Rococo reportedly spent a number of hours on the mud here last season, so it is best to follow the channel past B12, B10 and Beaumaris Pier. The sand spit by B12 can be a real trap for the unwary especially coming from the NE and heading towards Bangor as it is possible to sail into a dead end. We call it Siskin Bank after Eric and Alec parked up on two consecutive weekends some years ago. However on a sunny day its a good chance to scrub one side of the boat at least and enjoy a walk on the huge expanse of Lavan Sands.
Once past Beaumaris the Strait feels less like a river and more like the sea again. Follow the buoys all the way to Puffin Sound. Be careful to identify B1 starboard mark (left to port on the way out) and do not confuse it with the green buoy marking the wreck. Beating into the Strait one day in Neomys we were beating close to the wreck buoy and as we tacked and came upright - youve guessed we went aground. There seems to have been a build up of sand in this area in recent years. On that occasion we got clear by sheeting the main in tight putting the engine on full astern and sitting on the pulpit. This lifted the deepest part of the keel off and Neomys motored clear. It was a bit of a rush to get back to the cockpit.
Puffin Sound is deep and clear of dangers between the Lighthouse and Perch Rock Beacon. The main hazards are anchored fishing boats but you can also experience quite big seas if there is a fresh wind from the NW against the tide. In settled conditions there is a nice anchorage just west of the Lighthouse, off a steep shingle beach. Harry left his anchor and chain here by mistake on one occasion but dont go looking for salvage - he retrieved it a couple of weeks later. There is also a pleasant lunch spot on the East side of Puffin Island very close to the cliffs. All the horizontal ledges of limestone are lined with cormorants especially in the nesting season and the last two years has seen a return of the puffins.
From Puffin Sound is out into the Irish Sea, Meolfre, Cemaes Bay, Holyhead or Conway, Liverpool, Isle of Man, Ireland or Scotland and the Menai Strait is left behind.
On Friday 20th July 2001, an unfortunate incident befell a Folkboat crew as they were returning to their home port of Dun Laoghaire from the Folkboat Week events in Caernarfon. The yacht Xania, skippered by David Connolly and crewed by John Shaw and Alan Stuart, ran into some stormy weather 20 miles from Dun Laoghaire that was worse than had been forecasted for the day. Gradually conditions deteriorated as the south-westerly winds reached Force Six to Seven and the waves 12-15 feet in height. The group of five boats travelling back to Dun Laoghaire had intended to keep together but gradually became separated as the bad weather set in. The crew was wary of going forward to take down the sails or add a reef, so they ran with the winds and waves as best as we could and decided to press on to Dun Laoghaire. Shaw battled to helm the boat as best as he could but the winds had the boat heeled heavily. One freak wave washed John Shaw out of the cockpit and over the side. Thankfully he was wearing bright oilskins and a lifejacket. The others shouted at him to "hang on" but could not turn the boat immediately for fear of smashing the boom by jibing in the heavy winds and seas. The Xania crew unfortunately lost sight of Shaw in the waves. Shaw fumbled to pull the cord to inflate his lifejacket and used his hat as a face cover to avoid swallowing water. "I did not panic as I always knew that I would be rescued", Shaw later recalled. "I also remembered advice given in a talk by Captain Jim Kennedy to the D.M.Y.C. on sea survival" Shaw commented and he tried to conserve energy as best as he could. Stuart took the tiller on Xania as Connolly dispatched a Mayday to Holyhead and Irish Coastguards. An Irish Sea Rescue Helicopter, an RAF Rescue Helicopter, and the Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire lifeboats were dispatched and the Ulysses ferry was put on alert. The Xania crew lowered their mainsail, and turned around to search for the man overboard under engine.
The Dun Laoghaire yacht Trundle skippered by Roy Bedell and crewed by Fionntán Ó Cinnéide heard the distress call and motored to the position of the co-ordinates given by Xania. The crew of a third Dun Laoghaire yacht, Arlene, eventually sighted Shaw in the water and alerted Trundle, as it was closer to him. After turning off the engine and getting windward of him, the Trundle crew ushered Shaw to the stern of the yacht where there was a small ladder. With great difficulty Ó Cinnéide succeeded in pulling him on board. Apart from the obvious shock, Shaw said that he did not require medical attention and refused an offer by the rescue services to be taken to safety. After Xania heard that their missing crewman had been picked up, Stuart helmed the boat back to Dun Laoghaire with great difficulty by GPS as the cockpit compass jammed continuously. Both boats eventually arrived safely in Dun Laoghaire a few hours later. Shaw went straight to the bar of the D.M.Y.C. and was given a whiskey to aid in his recovery! Although Xania was undamaged, Trundle suffered some slight internal damage in the heavy seas. The crews involved in the incident would like to express their gratitude to the RNLI, the RAF and the Irish Air Sea Rescue services for their assistance and rapid response.
"THE FOLKBOAT SONG"
From Carlingford and
Singing, far away ay ay,
We eat albatross, with
Singing, far away ay ay,
We down our beer, year after year,
Singing, far away ay ay,
At the close of day,
Its the time to play,
(An instrumental comes here if we can find a sober musician! If not, keep repeating the chorus until we all collapse on our arses!). "Ill try and write the music to it when I have the chance! " Alan Stuart