Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Map Updated

This will be the last map update of 2016 as Robinetta's sails are now here in Bishop's Stortford. Robinetta and Worm have travelled 1349 nautical miles this season in 43 days under way. We spend 350 hours on passage, for 249 of which the engine was on.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Holyhead Parade of Sail

Saturday was scheduled for racing but the weather was horrid and only a few brave souls left the harbour.

Sunday was much better and we headed out of the marina with 5 on-board. Aliphotographsnd I were joined in the cockpit by Mary Gibb whose own Molly Cobbler was stuck in Fleetwood following engine repairs. On the fore-deck we had two young sea scouts. We send them forward whilst raising the main to avoid any chance of injury.
The idea was to do about two circuits of the harbour, getting close to the crowds if we could. The problem is that the harbour is shallow with groins near where the public can be!
As well as the Severn class lifeboat leading the parade and squirting everone with their huge water canon the Charles Henry Ashley was looking good.

 Scott Metcalfe's Vilma is always a highlight of the show. She and other boats carry canon for the festival and there were also canon on the shore, courtesy of Hearts of Oak the Anglesey Hussars.

We discovered that our Sea Cadet guests were a major benefit. Not only did they attract ribs and other craft carrying water canon and bombs, which made the whole affair more fun, but they also drew most of the fire to the foredeck! In the cockpit we kept (mostly) dry.

After the parade of sail we lent Mary Worm so she could practice sculling. I don't have a good sculling oar - the ones Alison made for rowing are square cross section and float. I borrowed one from a Mirror dinghy and, as you can see, it worked a treat!

Robinetta and Graunuaile shared the prize for boat traveled furthest. I think we should really have been counted as having come from Portaferry, but I'm not complaining!

Thanks to Peter Philippson for the photographs.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Overnight passage, Isle of Man to Holyhead

We had hoped to stay in Douglas for a day, leaving early on Thursday morning to head for Holyhead, but the newest weather forecast made us change our minds. There were winds gusting to force 7 due then, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday even worse. If we wanted to get to Holyhead for the traditional boat festival we needed to go today.

We headed out of the marina at 10:15 and got the sails up in the bay just outside the harbour. Julian had (most unusually) forgotten to attach the peak halyard when he took the sail cover off on the pontoon, so had to do it as we rolled in the swell. Raising sail took longer than normal. We headed out of the bay under sail at 10:40, with the engine off, making best course to windward.

Three boats that came out of Douglas Harbour half an hour after us gradually caught up and passed us. This happened slowly enough that it felt like we were sailing in company until our courses diverged.

We knew that this would be a long trip, especially since we would get foul tides later on, trying to push Robinetta up the Mersey. Establishing watches, 2 hours on, 2 hours off, from the start made sense. The seas were quite big and were coming from the starboard bow, so we pitched quite a bit. Julian and I both hand steered our first two watches, and it was hard work, although as I came up for my second watch Julian commented that the sailing had been gorgeous. 

Before he went below for a rest he tightened up the peak halyard to take a crease out of the sail. When I looked up a couple of minutes later I saw that the gaff outhaul had snapped. Last time this happened we had just left Eriskay, heading for Lochboisdale and we just took the sail down and motored since it was not very far. This time we needed to fix it en-route as we were much further from shelter. Julian came back up on deck and got the sail down while I held us head to wind on the engine, then we pulled the main sheet in as hard as we could to keep the main centred. The boom rolled sideways every now and then despite this, and Julian rolled with it. Retying the outhaul with a new bit of rope meant standing at the stern, tying knots with one hand while holding onto the boom with the other. He was clipped on to Robinetta with the safety strap but it was still a nervewracking time. The outhaul tension was quite loose when he finished, but the sail was now usable again and we raised it.
Robinetta settled down to cut across the waves again under sail and Julian sat down in the cockpit for a breather before heading down to the cabin. He picked up a fragment and wood, and frowned at it.

I looked forward, and saw that the starboard rear shroud lower dead-eye had sheered clean through the middle, meaning that shroud had no tension on it. The entire load was being carried on the forward shroud and backstay. Julian grabbed the rest of the rope he had just used to replace the outhaul, clipped on his safety line again, and crawled along the cabin top to lash the shroud back into service.

Two gear failures inside half an hour was a telling symptom of how hard a season Robinetta was having. 

I wanted to give Julian a longer “off” watch since he had spent half of it in boat maintenance, so decided not to call him at the end of my two hours on the helm. By that time the wind and swell had gone down a lot. We were just making 3 knots and I was guiltily aware that the reef needed to come out. As I was contemplating doing it Julian came up on deck ready to take over, so we shook out the reef together.

Julian had brought George up with him, and set him to work on the helm. Within half an hour the wind had gone so light that the engine went on, and stayed on.

When I came back on watch it felt like the light was going as well as the wind, so with George on the helm I got the main down, then went forward and tightened up the starboard shroud again. With the much calmer seas it was a lot easier to get tension on it.

Sunset in the Irish Sea
The navigation lights went on as the sun set, and Robinetta's track on the chart plotter began to curve left. George was still steering in the same direction as before but the tide was taking us east of the course. We had known this would happen, and tried to get west while the tide was going that way to compensate, but the wind had not obliged.

I reset George, so we would not be carried too far east, but we were only making half a knot towards where we wanted to go. Our arrival time went from a respectable midnight up to 3am. The tide against us eased at 23:00, and was with us by midnight, but we did not reach Holyhead until 02:45.

The marina looked dark, and there were a lot of moored boats to thread through to get there. Both being tired we decided to pick up an empty mooring rather than try and find a marina berth. The first we looked at said “Dangerous, Do Not Moor” in reflective lettering that showed perfectly in the light of my head torch. The one we picked up had a mass of kelp and a mussel farm on the mooring line, but we made it off on the bits, then lashed it in place with our own line then went to bed. 17 hours for a fifty mile passage is not great, but that is what happens with three hours of a 4 knot foul tide. If we had gone on Thursday as originally planned we would have left earlier, and had a much quicker trip.
A little used mooring line

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Errors and Overfalls

Going to Port Saint Mary was a mistake. The bay is exposed to the south, and almost as soon as we arrived the wind got up from that direction and Robinetta started rolling horribly in the swell. Even though we were tired we could not stay there. Heading back round the Calf of Man to Peel would have seen us beating which did not appeal. Instead we decided to head for Douglas, and came off the mooring at 10:00, with no fog left to obscure the passage.

I laid in a course to take us clear of the overfalls off Dreswick Point, and Julian stayed below to try and get more sleep. I kept looking left, contemplating the two mile detour out to sea. We were close to high water and I could not see any disturbed water off the point, so I decided to cut across. This was not a good idea.

We had had the tide with is through the overfalls coming out of Strangford. This time we had it against us, with a stronger wind behind us. Robinetta, lovely lady that she is, just bobbed up and down and sideways, never feeling unsafe although the steering was hard work. Worm bumped into Robinetta's stern once, but generally hung far enough behind and somehow never took a drop of water on board. Robinetta did get some splashes into the cockpit, and I asked Julian to close the door, just in case a bigger one came in!

Eventually we were through, although it took a while at 1.8 knots! Immediately we were in smoother seas we were making 3.5 knots again. Going round the overfalls would have been quicker, and a lot easier.

We headed up the coast to Douglas with following sea and winds, but motor sailing all the way to make up for the tide being against us. As I checked the course I had put in I noticed we had just entered the Port of Douglas's Harbour Control area and decided to give them a call to say where we were. I used the phone as I was not sure they would be listening on VHF, but they told me to use the VHF and give them a call again when we were 10 minutes from the harbour, since Manannan, the fast cat ferry service from Belfast, would be arriving in the harbour at about the same time as us.

I went on listening watch on channel 12, and about 1½ hours later heard Douglas advising Manannan that the small yacht they could see was probably Robinetta, and that they would call us to check we would stay clear. It gave me a good feeling that they could ID us due to my call, but I was less pleased to be called on the VHF and be told that we needed to turn away and wait south of the entrance.

Turning into the wind felt like quite a difficult manoeuvre where we were, with the following wind and sea, but we complied and it was much easier than expected. Being tired both Julian and I were seeing problems where none existed. Mannanan soon cleared into the harbour and we were free to follow.

The sailing Cruise Liner Wind Surf was anchored in the bay, sending her tenders ashore to the secure landing stage inside the harbour. They were rolling like anything, and Robinetta did the same as we lowered the main, so I did not make a neat job of it.

On the waiting pontoon
We tied up on the waiting pontoon, forward of a Westerly Duo, whose crew came to help us with the lines. They are WOA members and interested to learn that Robinetta is in the “Westerly Story” club publication. 
I got the bowsprit in, and tidied up the foredeck while Julian raised the main sail and and took the reef out since he wanted to tighten the outhaul on the boom. One of the gaff robands had snapped, so he replaced it, and retied the gaff outhaul to tension the top of the sail properly too. He then went on to glue and restrap the tiller pilot attachment point on the tiller. Both of us were pretty much operating on autopilot ourselves. It was 14:30 when we reached Douglas but Julian had to work through his adrenalin rush before he could relax.

The marina staff visited us on the waiting pontoon and gave us a plan of the marina, with the berth Robinetta should take marked on it. They also gave really useful advice about when to call Douglas Harbour and ask for the bridge to be lifted so we could get into the marina. There is a flap gate, which hold the water inside the marina, and entry is only possible for two hours either side of high water. The road bridge crosses the harbour just above the flap gate, and needs to lift to allow entry.

Once Robinetta's mainsail cover was on we had a light lunch, then got the bed out and slept for a couple of hours. We wanted to move Robinetta as soon as possible, but this was not until 2045 when the flap gate would open, so we took the chance for a much needed rest.

After a couple of hours in bed we went for a walk to check out our new berth, and on the way back Julian saw the lifeboat launch down its slipway.
Winching the lifeboat in

Despite the force 6 winds there were 4 yachts racing in the bay. Once of them ended up beached, and the lifeboat launched to recover it and tow it back into harbour. We could see most of the events from Robinetta, and had a ringside seat to see the lifeboat being winched back up the ramp and into its shed.

In contrast moving into the marina was totally non traumatic, even though the wind blew us off our assigned berth and we had to go round again, and we were safely moored up inside by 2100.

Starlight and Seafog

The wake up alarm on Julian's phone went at midnight. We had not put the bed out, just stretched out on the side berths, so getting up was a simple matter of putting on layers of warm clothes. I made a pot of tea, and we had a hot drink as we took Robinetta out of the marina and headed down Strangford Lough narrows with the first of the ebb. Julian helmed Robinetta back along the track we had made entering the lough on Sunday; a very reassuring route to follow in the dark!

Since we were head to wind we raised the main as we went along, not thinking too hard what the wind direction meant.

After we passed the Angus Rock we encountered overfalls. These always happen with an onshore wind during the ebb, but they took us by surprise. The wind was very light, and we were close tot he start of the ebb and only a couple of days past neaps... It took Robinetta at least ten minutes to get through the area of overfalls and her foredeck got a very good wash. At least with the tide with us the waves she kept sticking her bowsprit in did not stop her! I looked back at Worm a couple of times. She was just visible in the glow from our stern navigation light, playing about at the end of her long tow line with no problems.

Julian laid in a course on the chart plotter after we cleared the overfalls while I steered a straight line by using the stars. This was our first night sail of the year, and annoyingly the light on the new compass did not come on with the navigation lights the way it should have done, which left us reliant on the chart plotter as normal. As soon as we had an ETA for Port Saint Mary on the Isle of Man I went below and called the coastguard with our passage plan. We needed them to be aware that a small boat, almost invisible to radar, was out crossing the Irish Sea in the dark.

Julian put George to work, since he is a much better helmsman with poor visibility than a human. Meanwhile I went down below to try and get a couple of hours sleep. The engine went off for about half an hour but mostly we motor sailed.

I put the kettle on and made tea at 3a.m then came up for my watch while Julian went below.

George had no problems with maintaining the course, and we were far enough out to sea that crab pots were not a factor, so all I had to do was keep watch for shipping and admire the stars. I kept an eye on our speed too, and managed half an hour on sail alone before our speed dropped below 3 knots and I put the engine on again.

There were two ships in the area. The first seemed to be a small freighter from its length. As we passed ahead of it it turned its foredeck lights on, maybe trying to see us, but we were at least 4 cables off its bow so the lights did not reach us.

I thought the second ship might be an oil exploration rig at first. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and moving so slowly that I thought it was stationary. After half an hour watching its lights I was finally able to make out a funnel with a cruise line logo on it. They seemed to be making about the same speed as Robinetta, on a collision course, and with the decks so brightly lit the chances of anyone on watch being able to see a small boat with dark sails was slight. I changed course and passed behind them.

Despite the bright stars overhead there was a band of cloud on the port bow. This began to take on a reddish glow as a sliver of moon rose behind it. Half an hour later the stars were fading in the first glimmer of false dawn as Julian came back on watch and I went below for more sleep.

I woke after only an hour, but it was 07:00 and close to my normal waking up time, so I decided to get up. When I put my head out of the cabin rather than bright daylight Robinetta was motoring through a sea of fog. George was still on the helm, but his attachment point on the tiller had come partially off, so Julian had lashed it in place with a sail tie. It was still functional in calm seas, but could not be relied on to hold in anything rougher.

While on my watch I had fine tuned Julian's course to pass close outside the Calf of Man (the tide would have been against us if we tried to go through the sound). The new course would take us between the cliffs and the overfalls near Chicken Rock, but not knowing this Julian had strayed right of the line, just into the overfalls area. The sea state went abruptly from slight to moderately confused, but as soon as we returned to the line the sea was calm again. George had coped admirably with the waves despite the jury rigged repair, which was a relief.

The Calf of Man loomed out of the fog, about 2 cables away, which gave us some idea of the thickness of the fog! We saw very little of the South end of the Isle of Man as we motor sailed along it. As we reached Port Saint Mary the fog began to thin, and we were able to identify and pick up a visitor mooring buoy at 0900 for a well earned rest.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Day sail on Strangford Lough

It was sunny but without much wind at around 10am as we let go the lines and backed out of the pontoon.

The tide took us through the inner narrows into the Lough and we got the main up but there was still hardly any wind and we motored for Ringhaddy Sound. The sound is a winding passage along the western shore and mostly runs through yacht moorings of the cruising club. At its northern end there is a choice of routes around the many small islands and we picked one and made our way through towards Sketrick Island.
Ringhaddy Sound

Alison had got out our tourist guides of the Lough and she went below to read them. A breath of wind kicked in and grew and we were broad reaching. I set the jib and turned the engine off and we sailed gently north around the islands in the warm sunshine. It was really beautiful and with no deadlines to meet I could just enjoy it. We still had tide with us and with the gentle winds we were doing about three knots.

As I rounded Trasnagh Island I needed to gybe to head towards Skerrick. I just let the jib go, put the helm over, grabbed a handful of main sheet, pulled the boom over and reset the jib.

I wish all gybes were like that.

Alison came back up to the cockpit and all too soon we got near enough to Skerrick that if we wanted lunch at Daft Eddies we would need to drop the sails. We thought about going on but it was August Bank Holiday Monday and we thought it might get crowded later.

So we went head to wind and put the sails away. The passage into the Downs Sailing Club at Balydorn has narrows and needs to be taken carefully but we negotiated it ok and went onto the pontoon by the lightship.

Downs Sailing Club pontoon
The club berthing officer help us moor and asked if we were staying the night. We said it was just a lunch stop and he frowned and said he would have to charge us. I said "that's fine" and he relaxed.

We wandered along to the causeway and onto the island. There is a ruined tower house and then Daft Eddies is up on a hill to the right.

We didn't spot until it was too late that there are two food outlets. Maud's Café is separate from the pub but shares the garden. So we had ordered lunch without seeing Daft Eddies menu! What we had was nice and just what we wanted so it didn't matter. I went into the pub anyway and bought a pint to bring out to the garden to have with my ciabatta/pizza.

There were seven or eight children, boys and girls playing ball in the garden, aged from about four to twelve. They were all playing wonderfully together.

We walked back to Robinetta and paid a lunch stop fee. A local sailor gave us a mackerel he had caught and filleted but didn't want and we let loose the lines and allowed the tide to take us away from the pontoon. It is possible to get out of the north side of Ballydorn between Rainey and Mahee island but we were not confidant there was enough water for us so we retraced our steps. Mahee Island is joined to the mainland by a series of causeways so heading north means going outside it. It has medieval monastery ruins on it but we couldn't see a way of landing to look.

I wanted to get far enough up the Lough to see the end and we managed that with a couple of broad reaches while Alison thought about where she wanted to spend the evening. I had assumed we would moor or anchor near Killyleagh but she decided she wanted to try to get through the narrows to Portaferry before the tide turned and wait there for the midnight ebb. That meant we needed to rush south.

it was getting cloudier and windier which made the decision to turn back easier. It was, of course, a beat back. The water got rougher too.

Rather than heading down the exposed east side we decided to seek calmer water and threaded our way back to the entrance to Ringhaddy sound

There were two or three traditional dinghies sailing in the sound.

When we got near the narrows we could see boats already coming through so we thought we might be too late. But it did no harm to try. If we got washed back into the Lough we could pop round the corner to Killyleagh.

In the event we got through with very little trouble. One of the staff at the marina helped us moor and when we said we were off at midnight he said there was no charge for that.

We wandered into town and brought fish and chips back to the boat, eat them, set the alarm and put our heads down.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Carlingford Lough to Strangford Lough. Circumnaviation complete

We were given some mackerel yesterday, (excess catch from a sportfisherman), and Julian cooked them for breakfast. We needed to wait for the tide to be able to leave Carlingford Lough, so it was not at early start, but we were running down the Lough by 10:00. The wind felt quite strong, so the main was reefed, which meant we could not rig a preventer.
The channel out of the Lough had a noticeable kink between Greenore Point and Greencastle Point the inevitable happened, and we did at accidental gybe. No sail damage, but once again the back-stay rope snapped. This time it was the one on the port side that went, so still had the old rope. I am beginning to think the rope was worn out.

Julian cut the excess length from the starboard replacement backstay rope and used it to jury rig repairs on the port one.

Mountains of Mourne
As we came past Haulbowline Light House I had to turn the engine on to help us stay clear of the rocks (I was not risking another gybe!). Much to our dismay it then stayed on all day as the wind died to almost nothing. The sun came and went, but mostly went.

We closed with the coast to see more of the scenery, but that also meant dodging crab pots, so although George was on the helm whoever was on watch could not relax!
St John's Point Lighthouse

We reached the entrance to Strangford Lough about when we had hoped to, at 18:20, an hour after the flood began. We were moored up in the marina an hour later, with Robinetta's circumnavigation completed. It would have been nice to end with a good day's sailing, and the forecast had suggested that we would get one, but some things are not to be.

As soon as Robinetta and Worm were tied up securely Julian and I headed to the Sailing Club for dinner and a well deserved drink.