Folkboat Week Triumphs over El Nino
Headlines like this certainly
describe the Irish Sea Folkboat Week at Howth (Ireland) this July. We had 14 entries but
forecasts such as "Cyclonic variable, developing fresh/strong W/SW increasing W gale
force 8" typified the week and kept visiting boats from Wales and N. Ireland harbour
Sea Folkboat Week 18th July 1998
The top of Holyhead Mountain has
some spectacular views across the Irish Sea and adjoining areas particularly in a 30kt SW
wind. It was possible to see the Wicklow Mountains but not to get towards them.
THE IRISH SEA AREA FB RALLY
By Robin Pinner
The weather had been grim throughout June. Surely it would improve for the rally in July? It didn't.
The Rally in Howth was due to start on the Saturday evening with a reception party and we had planned to leave the Menai Strait on Friday in plenty of time with a stopover at Holyhead if the weather looked poor. It was now Wednesday and we on Neomys were still in Holyhead in company with Eric, Mike and Helen on Gibbon, Harry, Roger, and Roy on Rococa.
We had managed to sneak round Anglesey during one of the short lulls between depressions but since then the winds had been force 6 and 7 for most of the time from the West. Harry in Rococa had sailed for Ireland on Saturday but had turned back due to gales off the Irish coast. Martin on Merch Medina had met huge seas off Llandwyn Island on the Friday and after returning to Caernarfon had left on the next ferry to Dun Laoghaire. After three days moored in the harbour, the 'delights' of Holyhead were beginning to pall, despite some good walks over Holyhead Mountain and a short informal race just outside the harbour well reefed in big seas. We also enjoyed some very convivial evenings in Holyhead Sailing Club, but couldn't wait to get to Ireland, if only the wind would abate.
Wednesday dawned with a forecast of SE 3-4 increasing 4-5 with rain by midday. At last here was a possibility of getting to Howth before the next depression arrived and the wind veered again to the west. It was at this point that I discovered that the sump was full of seawater! An anti-siphon valve had never been fitted to Neomys and during the race the day before the engine must have filled up with water. There wasn't much power left in the battery either after our abortive attempts to start the engine. Although we could have sailed to Ireland I didn 't fancy manoeuvring in and out of the marina at Howth under sail and as it turned out later there was little wind for the boats on the return trip and they had to motor-sail most of the way to Wales.
Reluctantly I decided to use the weather window to sail the boat to the Menai Strait and sort the engine out back on the mooring. I was really depressed as I watched Rococa and Gibbon leave the harbour in bright sunshine and a following wind.
The tide wouldn't turn to the Northeast off Carmel Head until after 1600 so Chris and I had lunch and left Holyhead at 1400 under full main and working headsail, using the north going
eddy which runs inshore during the last three hours of the ebb tide. At this stage there was still enough power in the battery to radio Holyhead Coastguard and inform them of our plans and the instruments were all working, but as we approached Carmel Head the sun disappeared and the rain clouds were gathering. It was going to be wet and probably windy again though we hadn't anticipated just how bad it was going to be. We donned our waterproofs and harnesses and sailed on into the growing gloom.
We rounded Carmel Head close inshore using the inshore passage and although we cleared the overfalls and broken water, the tide was still ebbing strongly and the headland was sheltering us from the wind. Progress east ceased despite moving through the water at 4 knots. The rain had also arrived and after 20 minutes we decided to bear away northwards to try to get into the slacker current outside The Skerries. If it didn't work it would give us something to do. This is a particularly evil piece of water with rocks awash, overfills and turbulence but at this point the wind and tide were together, both from the east so the sea was reasonably flat. A quick glance at the chart confirmed that a Folkboat should have enough water over Ethel Rock and Archdeacon if we got too close but we would have to keep clear of Coal Rock. We saw Ethel Rock north cardinal buoy off to port just before the visibility clamped down to less than half a mile. At 1530 we tacked back towards the shore and soon after found Archdeacon north cardinal buoy thanks to the GPS. Continuing on port tack the unmistakable outline of Wylfa Nuclear Power Station looking like a giant corrugated iron shed -emerged out of the driving rain. By now the tide had turned and we were able to lay a course for Point Lynas close hauled on starboard. The wind was still SE 4. Chris, whose over-trousers: were starting to1eak disappeared below. No point in us both getting wet! Apart from the incessant rain and the poor visibility, so far so good.
The wind hit us like a sledgehammer off Llanlleiana Head and immediately Neomys accelerated with her toe-rail well under - time for a reef. I called Chris on deck while he sailed the boat under the jib with the mainsail eased, I went forward and put the reef in. The angle of the boat eased and we sped east. Not ten minutes later, with a howl the wind increased again. The boat was gunwale under with water spilling into the cockpit. We hastily repeated the performance with the second reef, which is particularly deep on Neomys. The wind was into force 6 now but we were very close to the Anglesey shore and so the seas still seemed fairly small. This was exhilarating sailing as we clung to the boat and raced past Middle Mouse, East Mouse and Amlwch with the tide under us.
Point Lynas appeared on the nose ahead, and I began to be concerned about the overfalls off the headland. We decided to go as close inshore as we could and this proved to be a good decision as we had no problems riding the waves. Offshore they were getting much lager as the wind met the accelerating tide. Unfortunately I had forgotten that the tide race extends nearly a mile and a half beyond the Point and this was where we were now heading. The wind was blasting at us with full fury across ten miles of open water from the entrance to the Menai Strait and the waves had increased dramatically. It was going to be even wetter and very rough in the overfalls. With the benefit of hindsight perhaps I should have tacked after passing Point Lynas and headed in towards Ynys Dulas to avoid the roughest water, but at the time the wind had veered to the south and we could just lay Trwyn D du light at the entrance to the Strait.
I saw the two monster waves when they were about 50 metres away. I just had time to shout to Chris who was still below, to hang on before we hit the first one. Neomys rose in the air and burst through the crest. There was virtually no back to it as we crashed down into the trough. The second wave sprang on us and the bows disappeared as we plunged straight into its face. It roared along the coach-roof towards me and above my head. I must have kept my eyes open because the world went pale green. As I emerged into daylight I was amazed to find that I was still clinging to the guard-rail with my right arm and I was still holding the tiller in the other! "I thought we'd had it that time," shouted Chris as the wave gurgled into the bilge from the cockpit sole. Neomys had stopped dead and had fallen off to port. As a result the slightly smaller third but succeeding wave caught her on the-starboard bow and exploded harmlessly in the air in a great cloud of spray. The wind whipped into my face. Thank goodness for modern waterproofs - and a sturdy Folkboat! However I was wondering what had happened to the forecast SE3-4. Would the weather ever give us a break.
Through Puffin Sound we were once again exposed to the full force of the wind and although the waves were smaller than those we had encountered off Red Wharf Bay, these were short and steep and consequently it was still a very wet and bumpy ride. The good news was that it had stopped raining but it was hard to tell in the spray.
However there was now a new problem. In the Menai Strait -there are numerous banks which dry and which are always shifting from year to year. The battery was nearly flat and so the echo sounder was becoming unreliable. We would have to take extra care as we drove the boat on starboard tack towards the Lavan Sands. As we tacked the boat stopped and for an instant I thought we were aground, but it was the strength of the wind and the waves that had prevented forward motion.
Gradually we covered the ground towards Menai Bridge trying to tack before the shallows or before the tide pushed us sideways onto a bank. The instruments had stopped working all together and it was beginning to get dark. Hopefully we would reach the mooring before we needed navigation lights. Off Beaumaris the usable channel is barely 200 metres wide and at the speed we were sailing we had to make repeated tacks in quick time. Once past Gallows Point the channel was wider and although the wind was just as strong the seas were definitely flattening. Two figures in waterproofs were standing in the doorway of the Gazelle Inn and watched us as we passed by. They probably thought we were mad to be out on a day like this. There were no other people about or boats moving.
At last we hove to off the mooring, furled the mainsail and picked up the mooring under headsail since the Wind was still blowing over the tide. It was dark by the time we had packed up using a torch and nearly 2200 when we came ashore in the dinghy. I phoned Holyhead Coastguard from a callbox to let them know we had arrived safely, and headed for home, the car heater on full.
Next morning I headed back to Holyhead with my wife caught the HSS ferry and arrived in Howth in time for the Rally's dinner and prize giving. I learned that the crews of Gibbon and Rococa had also taken a pasting off the Kish Light on their passage to Howth and like us had experienced the strong SW Wind. The racing during the week had been held in very high winds and the cruise to Dun Laoghaire had been accomplished on the train!
Next year the Rally is in Dun Laoghaire - first race on Saturday 3rd July 1999. I hope you can make it and that the weather is kinder.