Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Sidewinder in Innishbofin

Ardglass - Crionna leaving, plus Martyn and Allen relaxed


Safely home again and enjoying the luxury of not sleeping in a sleeping bag, it is time to reflect on the trip - what worked well and what didn't.

First of all the Twister:

The boat was superb for the trip.  The relatively heavy long-keel design, along with her renowned good manners, made it safe and reassuring to be out in the Atlantic swell and poor weather that this summer delivered.  The sailing was memorable, and we loved the way that Sidewinder powered through the water when the wind was brisk, but also could be sailed delicately and quietly when winds were gentle.

Accommodation is generous for two.  The cosy main cabin was big enough for our purposes, the storage was more than enough for both provisions and clothing.  Difficult to dry clothes and wet-gear inside of course.

Best bits of gear for the trip:
The expensive Dubarry sailing boots won the award.  Warm dry feet for the whole trip!
The Garmin 551 chartplotter was a delight to use - simple to set up and reassuringly clear in poor visibility.  Martyn's swing fixing that allowed it to be used at the chart table and also swung round for cockpit visibility was essential.
Lined Craghopper trousers - water-resistant, comfortable and all-purpose (ie OK to go ashore in as well as sail in).

Least useful bits of gear:
Swimmers and t-shirts.  (What were we thinking of!)

Educational insight for non-sailors:
Martyn insists that it would be useful for non-sailors to appreciate the process of using the heads (loo) when sailing.  The number of actions involved is daunting, so it is a considerable disincentive to over-use!

For all those men used to the simple unzip, perform, zip, flush, wash hands routine - compare and contrast:

Remove gloves (release elastic closures and velcro fasteners); Remove lifejacket crotch-straps (2); undo life-jacket and remove; undo velcro outer jacket sleeve closures (2); undo velcro inner sleeve closures (2); release velcro waterproof front closure on jacket; unzip jacket and remove; unfasten waterproof trouser shoulder straps; unzip waterproof trousers; unzip fleece; enter heads (loo); open inlet and outlet seacocks; unzip trousers; perform; zip trousers; lower toilet lid and pump lever 10 times, wait 5 seconds and pump 5 times; wait till vacuum subsides and lift lid; operate pump to empty bowl; close seacocks; wipe hands with wet-wipes; use antibacterial gel; redo all those bits of clothing that had previously been undone; by which stage it is time to go back on duty.  Don't forget that all of the above is performed while trying to hang on to a moving environment.  When the pitching and rolling reaches the 'more than 30 degrees each way' stage, the above steps are truly challenging!

Thanks to all the readers of the blog for appreciative messages and comments.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Back to the start

After the evening of fruitless searching for the weather forecast we wanted, we went to sleep expecting to spend a day in Bangor - frustratingly close to the finishing line. Luckily Martyn woke at 03:30 and, as you do, checked the weather forecast. It had changed significantly from the previous evening - showing a window of favourable winds on Saturday morning. We knew that the tides were favourable for the tricky Copeland Sound up to about 06:30 so if we wanted to go we needed to get started.

Hats off to Bangor Marina, who, as well as providing excellent facilities, were able to process our payment at 4 o'clock in the morning. We sailed off at 04:30 and made good time along the coast with a calm and dry dawn lighting the sky as we went.

First light can play tricks on the eyesight. When Martyn called down "There's a pedalo out here," it seemed as though the early departure and the hazy dawn light might be confusing his eagle eyes. What on earth would a pedalo be doing off Donaghadee at 06:00 in the morning? However closer inspection through binoculars revealed 3 figures pedalling steadily on their orange-hulled craft. We passed close by and shouted questions about their destination, but they were unable to hear us over the noise of the churning water. We guessed it was a fund-raising stunt en route to Scotland. Hope they made it!

By 07:00 we were celebrating passing the most easterly part of Ireland - Burr Point, near Ballywalter. Hands up who knew that! The passing of the most easterly point co-incided with our second breakfast, which was enhanced by Martyn's special tea. It reminded us of the line in Bonnie & Clyde - "Whatever you do don't sell that cow". (That's today's obscure reference for you to Google!)

We had seen porpoises on our first morning of the trip, and it was delightful to see more, feeding off the coast at Millisle, on the last morning, .

We had our third breakfast shortly afterwards near the entrance to Strangford Lough. Fried egg, potato bread, and fried apple consumed while hove-to in the early morning Irish Sea - an experience to be treasured!

Martyn's parents and sister Susie were in Phennick Cove Marina in Ardglass to greet us when we arrived at 11:20. Fred the marina manager was on the pontoon to wave us in to a handy berth. Also there to welcome us were the ubiquitous John and Ann on the sister Twister Crionna, whom we had met on Rathlin. A great homecoming, which developed into a celebratory lunch in the cockpit when Maire, Lesley and Uel arrived bringing more contributions to a picnic, and more congratulations. A delightful end to the four week odyssey.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Bangor - so near ......

Our cultural investigations included the hotel once owned by Winston Churchill (the Londonderry Arms - which deserves high recommendation), and the Waterfall Bar which Winston Churchill should have enjoyed had he tried it. Not exactly the material for a blue plaque.

This morning Martyn covered a page with calculations of tidal range; least depth in the harbour; predicted minimum at the bar ( the shallow bit at the harbour entrance) and concluded that we had better get a move on. To give due credit, his calculation was that we would have 0.4 metres to spare, which was exactly what the depth gauge showed.

We had a relatively gentle but wet journey past Glenarm, Ballygally, Larne, Muck Island (from the Irish for Pig), The Gobbins, Black then White Heads, and finally across Belfast Lough to Bangor. We arrived in our habitual tropical rain squall, but tied up to a visitors' berth and found the hot showers.

Being now close to home we enjoyed a visit from Maire, Katherine and Kirsty who were suitably impressed by our luxurious quarters. We will restock the wine cellar tomorrow.

The weather forecasts are horribly mixed tonight. We tried six without getting the answer we wanted. The Met Office has a strong winds warning issued, which we don't really believe but are unwilling to ignore. Plans to sail triumphantly into Belfast have been shelved.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Goose-winging past Garron Point

Approaching Malin Head

Allen playing the spoons

The luxury of a rest day

Rathlin and Carnlough

The roller-coaster ride to Culdaff turned into a different ride at night. The Pilot book mentions the possibility of a little swell at times. We toyed with the idea of suing the author. The swell rocked the boat all night to an alarming degree, accompanied by the solid metal thud from the chain arrangement in the mooring buoy. They combined to produce an all-night symphony of everything that could slide or rattle doing so, punctuated by a heavy metal clang as the swell hit the mooring buoy. At least we were able to amuse ourselves watching glasses make their own way across the table to a waiting hand. To add to the cacophony Martyn tried to teach Allen to play the spoons - not entirely successfully.

Wednesday's forecast was F4 to 5, occasionally 6. Full of confidence we set off with reefed main and genoa, only to find we were in for a day of hanging on tight as wind and swell gave us an even more 'exciting' ride than the previous day. It is routine for us to clip on with safety harnesses in big seas, but that trip prompted also the fitting of the washboards in the companionway and closing the main hatch for safety. Our slow-reading wind indicator sat at a steady 28kts for a while as we were being driven along at over 7 kts in front of it. That adds up to 35 kts which translates into a F8 gale. As they say, forecasting is not always an exact science.

We arrived in Rathlin around 17:30 and met the Secretary of the Twister Class Association who had arrived the previous day. John and Ann entertained us mentally and gastronomically, but we do have a slight retrospective worry about that Swedish whiskey.

A totally different day today as we left Rathlin at 11:00 to pick up the conveyor belt of the south-going tide down the Antrim coast. Despite light winds we made good time past Fair Head, Torr Head and Garron Point before threading the needle of the narrow entrance into Carnlough Harbour. Tied up alongside a large local yacht we are hopeful of a quiet night tonight.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A Roller-Coaster ride

We left Tory at 08:00 with a fresh W wind and plenty of aerial water. The rain died away thankfully leaving showers for the rest of the day.

The wind was a moderate F4 when we started, plus spells of squalls where speed and excitement were raised. As we passed Horn Head, Melmore Point and Fanad Head the wind became more enthusiastic. It was generally a F5 from the West, so we had a reefed main and genoa. A gybe preventer (a rope that runs from the boom towards the bow and back to the cockpit in order to stop the boom swinging back across the boat) was essential as the swell was 'vigorous'. We noted that when the swell from the two competing directions combined we were heeling 30+ degrees one way and immediately 30 degrees the other way. This was not conducive to complex lunch arrangements.

Malin Head and Inishtrahull were left briskly behind as the wind reached F6 and the helpful tide gave us 9 kts on the GPS of which 6.6 was 'through the water speed' (For the uninitiated that is quite exciting on a small boat!)

Safely into Culdaff Bay on time for Martyn to assemble some of the remaining stores into a gourmet meal. Green lentils, red kidney beans, fresh ground nutmeg, with cous cous, accompanied by a fresh tomato salad (honey and mustard dressing), and washed down by a presumptuous little Chilean Merlot. Times are hard.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Aran to Tory

We slipped the mooring at 08:00, showing off by not having an engine running, and sailed gently out of Church Pool at Portnoo. Unfortunately there was no appreciative audience to admire the performance.

We decided to go north through Aran Sound, as we calculated that there should be enough water. The narrow channel is fringed with rocks, and our chartplotter showed it as a no-go area. However our confidence was rewarded with a splendid view of the island. The east side is sheltered, and almost lush compared with the other barren western isles. It even has trees. The water was sufficiently shallow to keep us very wide awake. 1.4 metres below the hull may sound plenty of depth but it is rather worrying.

The trip to Tory Island was notable also because it included passing Bloody Foreland, so we have passed the north-west corner of Ireland. Three down, one to go.

The arrival at the small harbour on Tory was interesting, but we ended up secure alongside a fishing boat that isn't planning to go out.

We were highly honoured to meet the King of Tory, Patsy Dan Rodgers, who gave us a warm welcome to the island. So in a short time we were able to meet the incumbent of the oldest monarchy in Europe, admire the only round tower on an Irish island, and inspect the curious 'Tau' cross that stands near the harbour.

All of these cultural delights paled into insignificance however. After some days of being 'boat-bound' we were desperately in need of showers. We asked the smiling owner of the island hostel, and she ushered us in, provided clean dry towels, (what a luxury! We'll never take them for granted again) and refused to take any payment. Tory hospitality.

Martyn later went to fill the water carrier from the tap on the pier. A fisherman stopped him and directed him to the village well that has better quality of water and is used by the locals in preference to the pier tap. We could get to like this place.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Donegal Bay

A fine morning, so a departure on schedule - actually a little ahead of schedule at 06:45. Broad Haven was looking beautiful in the early slanting sunlight, which highlighted the undulating curves of the landscape. An unusual feature was the arrangement of fields round two hills. The fields were radially organised in equal strips with the upper narrow ends meeting at a cluster of farm buildings. The geometric pattern accentuated the gentle curvature of the hills and seemed unlike any we had seen before.

Broad Haven is alive with fishing birds. We became almost blasé about the numbers of Gannets executing their dramatic high-speed dives into the sea around us.

The route today left the shelter of Broad Haven and took us past the Stags into the broad expanse of Donegal Bay.

The open jaw of the bay is about 45 miles across, before Rathlin O'Birne Island and Malin More Head complete the inlet. We left Sligo, Donegal town, and Killybegs to Starboard and continued up the coast past Dawros Head to Church Pool off Portnoo.

The sailing was slow at first and needed some engine assistance, but later picked up for another glorious sail in kinder seas.

We picked up a visitors' mooring In Church Pool by 20:00 and are now quietly settled for the night before piloting through Aran Sound in the morning on the way to Tory.