Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Farewell for the moment

We finished packing and I rowed Worm to the slip and we put her safely in the yard.

The taxi turned up on time and the Lithuanian driver was excellent.

We looked wistfully at Robinetta as we left. I'll be back in a month. Alison hopes to come earlier and move her nearer Malin Head.

The ferry was flawlessly efficient and we caught the sail/drive bus to Ayr Railway Station and then the Stagecoach bus direct to Largs Yacht Haven where we had left the car.

For some reason Ayr keeps its train and bus stations as far apart as it can but the weather was fine and the walk also. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Giving up

This morning the weather forecast had changed for the worse. Yesterday, the forecast for Thursday and Friday had looked good. Now a new low was due to form by Thursday night. It seemed to form from nothing centered on Glasgow bringing more gale force winds to the North Channel.

It was just too much. The chances of moving the boat were vanishing. We looked at ways to get home. A taxi to Belfast and then ferry and train to Largs looked viable. Alastair and Christine on Snowbird felt the same - they wanted to get home to Arran.

We spent the rest of the morning booking tickets and taxis. The local Downpatrick taxis were not answering and some of the Belfast ones tried to make things complicated. Luckily we found a lady at ValueCabs who just made everything easy for us.

Snowbird has an immense array of electronic gadgets but the AIS transmitter is configured with the previous name of the boat. I looked on the web and discovered you have to plug a laptop in via USB to change the settings. We looked but couldn't find it without pulling out the Multi-function displays. Something for them to do another time.

We invited Alisdair and Christine to dinner and went shopping. Alison found some pork loin in the butcher and thought to do our favourite Japanese pork and ginger dish but we couldn't find root ginger or Chinese leaves so she picked another recipe. We added the same potato bake we had done in Westray using the Omnia.

I found dulse - the local edible seaweed and decided to make it into a starter. Gently steamed in a little water and butter and tossed with crispy streaky bacon lardons and shallots it made a lovely salty dish.

Alisdair and Christine brought wine, apple pie and cream. All-in-all a fine meal.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Stormbound, catching up with the chores

We are probably going to stay in Ardglass until at least Thursday because of the weather. Since we have shore power here I went out and bought a little electric heater, and we are now cosy in the cabin, although it is very cold and windy outside even though the sun is shining. There are plenty of things to do inside though. So far we have put the tap on the hand basin so it does not leak, taken the toilet apart so the water inlet through hull leaks less. Shifted the ballast to clean up beneath it and check there is no water coming in.... Tomorrow I will wash down the paint work so it is white again.

One of our friends commented that we had done really well to get Robinetta ready to sail only one day after launching, but we are doing things now that would normally be done before leaving port.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Ardglass again

The forecast had not changed in the morning, but the marina felt much calmer at 8am, and the sun was shinning. We decided we should give travelling north a go, not Belfast or Bangor because there was too much west in the wind , but back to Portpatrick from where we could go to Girvan, then the Mull of Kintyre, then Rathlin. This would use the steady north westerlies forecast for next week and let us get to Derry. Failing that we could turn south, and head toward Dublin, probably via Carlingford Lough.

We were ready to go by half eight, but then realised we should put the 15 litres of diesel we had in cans into the proper fuel tank. We did that, then headed out, with the no 2 jib,, staysail, and main with two turns round the boom. There was no north in the wind at all as we left harbour, it was a pure westerly.

At first things went well, but we knew the area around Ardglass was sheltered and sure enough the swell got up as we neared Strangford Lough and the wind came round to the north west. We lowered the stay-sail and fully reefed the main, and rigged the pulleys for the tiller, and carried on for ten minutes, but at 3.5 knots trying to reach Portpatrick would be a marathon. We had no reefs left for the main if the wind got up more, and Robinetta was really heavy on the tiller in the gusts. We were sailing best course to windward, and if the swell got up any more we would be bashing into the waves. We turned South towards Dublin.
For half an hour this felt grand. We were further out on the coast as we retraced our route towards Ardglass, and the gusty wind did not overpower me with the help of the pulleys. The only problem was that out here the swell was larger than inshore, and as we neared St John's point it began to build more. Julian and I looked at each other. Robinetta is a lovely boat, but she is little, and old. Her crew were not exactly race fit after a winter ashore either. Part of being a sensible sailor is knowing when to stop.

We headed back to Ardglass, and moored up on the pontoon we had left three hours before. It looks like we will be here for a while.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Leaving Portaferry

After a morning of doing boat chores and chatting to Gary Lyons from the Northern Ireland OGA Julian and I walked into the town for fish and chips. Our earliest time to leave was 2pm, and we were back on board Robinetta by then, and ready to cast off at 1425. I had been watching wind over the tide in the middle of the channel all morning, and could still see some, but when we were clear of the marina and turned downstream close to the Portaferry shore the tide did not hold us back at all. A quick turn back towards the marina put us head to wind, and we raised the main and staysail before running down the side of the channel at nearly 4 knots. There was no tide against us or under us and we had a lovely gentle run down to the cardinal at the entrance to Strangford Lough. Our timing was perfect! (we had been given a lot of advice!)

We cut inside the cardinal (just) since we were on the top of the tide, and hardened up to head north. Julian set the no 2 jib, but I soon felt overpowered on the helm and Robinetta was heeling an uncomfortable amount so we put a reef in. The forecast had been 4-5, occasionally 6 N to NW, but it felt more like a top end 5. There was more swell than the expected “smooth to slight” too, and our foredeck got a good wash. We lowered the stay-sail, then reefed all the way down.

We had been told it was best to go inside the South Rock, which proudly boasts the oldest wave washed tower in the world still standing, but our best course to windward put us well outside, and when we tacked to head back towards the shore things became rather unpleasant. Rather that burying our bowsprit the waves were coming at us on the beam and rolling us too far over for comfort. We were also only making 1 knot under sail, and turning the engine on made things more uncomfortable without speeding us up noticeably. We quickly turned back onto the other tack and had a think. We were making 3 knots at best, and at some point we would have to tack towards the land. There was just too much west in the wind to make reaching Bangor marina possible in any sensible time frame, and the sea was very unfriendly.

Peel would have been possible, but we would have been at a bad angle to the waves again, and although we could see the Isle of Man it was several hours away. There was only one easy place to go, and that was downwind, back towards Strangford. We could not get in there due to the tide, but Ardglass made a perfect port of refuge.

We  turned away from South Rock, and headed south instead. Life immediately felt easier. The seas were still big, (for Robinetta), but they lifted her stern and rolled under her. We were making a comfortable 4 knots, and although steering still took effort it was easy to control. As we headed south the waves got smaller, although the wind was still gusting to 6, and we crossed the Strangford Entrance without encountering any confused seas. We were ferry gliding rather than going where Robinetta's bows pointed for half an hour as the tide pushed us away from the land, which was not a problem as we had the chartplotter to tell us where we were actually going.

Julian rigged the pulley system to help me hold the course, and we sailed right up to Ardglass, only putting the engine on when we turned into the harbour entrance and were head to wind. The sails came down in a rush, and we headed cautiously in. It did not look much like the picture in the pilot book, or the chart, and there was a cardinal that was not on either. We crept in, keeping close to the cardinal, then followed the channel round to the marina. There were more boats in here than at Portaferry, but there were still plenty of empty berths. Not knowing which were visitor berths I did not head for the closest, but picked a berth where we would be blown off.

A gentleman in a motor yacht came and took out lines, and tried to pull us in. Robinetta would not budge, and it took a couple of minutes to spot that Worm had got stuck behind a finger of the pontoon and was acting as a mooring; we had forgotten to shorten the towing line as we came in. Once Worm was free Robinetta moved easily into her berth. The gentleman who had helped us moor up had tried the same trip as us, and described his boat as “flying” off the waves. Not something a motor boat should do, and like us he had turned south and taken refuge in Ardglass.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is the same as today, meaning there is no point us trying to head north again. Then on Monday the weather gets worse, with real gales, not just a force 6 “yachtsmans”. We will probably continue to head south, to Howth, (or Carlingford if Howth feels too far) and sit out the gale there. We will have to see what tomorrow morning's forecast brings before we finalise our decision.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Strangford Lough

Another beautiful day. We got up late and showered and had a cooked breakfast on board.

Google said there was a plumbing supplies shop in town so we went looking for things to fix the pipe to the new tap.

The first thing we saw was the fishmonger's van. We decided to have scallops for lunch so added accompaniments to the shopping list. 

The weather was so nice we could not resist a walk round the corner to see the Lough 'proper'. Beautiful!

Then we went to the tourist office and had a nice chat and picked up some leaflets.

A wander around the town told us the plumbers merchants was no more. We bought some bread and shallots to go with the scallops and decided that if we got back to the boat before the tide turned we would go for a sail.

We caught the last of the flood through the end of the narrows into the Lough and got the sails up. There was a fantastic breeze and we romped up the Lough at 4 1/2 knots. 

Strangford Lough is 12 miles long and 2 miles wide with 11 sailing clubs around its shores. The shores are low and pretty and don't impede the wind. It is the perfect sailing ground.

There are underwater obstructions to look out for - reminders of the Lough's glacial origin.
After a little the wind dropped and we could tell the tide has turned too. We pottered along enjoying the view. We had the Lough almost to ourselves. One motor boat came out and anchored to fish. Another yacht was sailing and a third motored down from the north.

Around 3pm I went below to cook the scallops with shallots and a slice of bacon. I served them on fresh wheaten soda bread with a glass of Verdiccio. We ate in the cockpit. Lovely.

Then we turned onto a run back to Portaferry. There was almost no wind and only a weak tide. A lovely lazy drift in the sun.

We got the sails down before the narrows and readied fenders and warps. We didn't want any distractions once we were committed to stopping.

With the engine in gear and at idle we pointed at the narrows. As we got to the ferry landing we were doing 8.3 knots. I pointed in and the speed dropped to 7. As the marina got closer I pointed at the middle and we ferry glided towards it. Down to 4.5 knots now, good. Robinetta

We snuck-in past the outer pontoon and curved round towards the visitors trot, speed dropping all the time and slid nicely in, feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Over the Irish Sea

After an early morning walk round Portpatrick in bright warm sunshine we ate breakfast sitting in Robinetta's cockpit and were ready to head out of harbour by 0920. The faint breeze did not tempt us to raise even the stay-sail at first, so we were under engine as I set the course for the entrance to Strangford Lough.

By 1100 the breeze was about F2, so we raised sail with the no 1 jib. We had to keep the engine on, or our speed dropped below 3 knots even with tide assist, but at least we felt like a sailing boat. The 1110 Belfast weather forecast was a new one, issued, unusually, at 1000 UTC. It contained a strong wind warning (occasional 6) for the area just South of us, and NE 4-5 for us. There was no sign of it as we motor sailed south in a light breeze.

We lowered the main sail and furled the jib at 1145 since they were doing nothing except getting a sun tan, but put them both back up at 1310 and sailed (with the engine off) at 3½ knots. Trying to get the twist out of the throat halyard meant we lost a little throat tension and the gaff saddle began to twist on the mast. We had to lower and re-raise the main sail to get rid of the problem, and the throat halyard still had a twist in it! We MUST get some good rope on the throat halyard!

We were on a very broad reach and rigged the preventer. We also had the auto helm in use as the visibility was not good enough for a human helmsman to keep on course easily. The blue sky was mostly covered by cloud at 3, and without direct sun light the air felt much colder. The wind also dropped, until we were doing less than 3 knots under sail, and we put the engine back on at 1520. We got the main down half an hour later, but kept the stay-sail and jib. The wind did get up again later, but the main stayed down; the swell increased and we tied the boom to a back stay to stop it moving as Robinetta rolled. The tiller pilot could not cope and I took the helm.

Julian phoned the marina at Portaferry; it is only small and I was worried that the marina office would be shut before we got there. The contact number is a mobile, which is just as well since the harbour master had it with him. It turns out that the marina is not open for the season yet! However they promised to have someone there to meet us at our ETA, and that the facilities would be open.

Julian and I had been having an ongoing discussion all day. His Navionics charts told him that the flood up Strangford Lough started at 6 pm (based on tidal heights) while the pilot book and Reeds told me that the flood began at 8pm. We reached the entrance just before 6, and tried to go in under engine, staysail, and jib. The pilot book warned of confused seas at the entrance during the ebb and they were right. Robinetta could not make progress against the tide, and Worm was being pushed all over the place. After quarter of an hour we gave up and turned away towards the safe water mark. As soon as we tacked round we were away from the confusion in moments at over 6 knots.

We turned the engine off, furled away the jib, and hung around just off the entrance until 1915, when we tried again. This time, although we were down to 2 knots as we passed the Pladdy cardinal, there was nothing unusual about the sea state and we managed to get into the narrows.

By the time we reached the marina we were doing 6 knots, and had to steer at 90° to our course to make the marina entrance. As soon as we were past the buoy the tidal stream lost its grip, and we could steer normally again.
There were no boats in the marina at all, but Padraig was there to show us where to go, and Robinetta was safely moored up, with Worm hauled up onto the pontoon, by 2045. A much more tiring day than yesterday, but we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset for our troubles.

I will take this as a lesson to trust the pilot, and Reeds, over the Navionics charts for tidal streams in Ireland!