As Covid restrictions gradually improved over the summer, I managed to get Leonore launched following along hot and dry spring which had seriously opened up her planking, and sure enough the water gushed in alarmingly and permanent pumping had to be arranged. After three days nursing in Neyland marina she had tightened up back to normal and I got her on the mooring whilst I went cruising to a Scilly just emerging from hospitality hibernation with my friend Phil in his boat, and contemplated options for Leonore’s cruise. British boats were banned from Ireland, although we could go to Northern Ireland. Scotland would be ok, and I had often mused over going up St George’s channel on the Welsh side rather than my usual approach of going direct to Dublin and up the Irish side from then on. So this was the year to try the Welsh side out, with a view to crossing to Northern Ireland from Anglesea. Various constraints limited time and crew and in a very fluid planning process I came out with just myself and David Hammond going for about 10 days.
24 July Pembroke Dock – Dale 7nm wind SW F4
We loaded up in the afternoon and took the very last of the ebb down to Dale, which involved a bit of tacking to get ourselves in the groove ready for a long sail tomorrow. We took a buoy while the tide rose, and eventually gauged the time perfectly to take Leonore onto the land pontoon, and check in to the Griffin’s newly erected outdoor restaurant tent area. The beer and fish-based meal was excellent, if expensive, but a real tonic after the grim restrictions on hospitality in Wales of late. Well sated we piloted Leonore back to a mooring for the night.
25-6 July Dale – Holyhead 127 nm Wind WNW F4/5
Leaving at 0800 we motored out of Dale and put up sails for a very lumpy rounding of St Ann’s and found we couldn’t quite make the west side of Skomer, so after a quick tide check we headed for Jack Sound and were popped through by the tide, although it was very rough at the north end and we took several waves right down the boat to the spray hood. Emerging, once again we couldn’t make the South Bishop as the predicted W-WNW held at the NW end and we had to navigate the rockery inside of the Bishops and outside of Ramsey. This was quite nerve wracking as we were doing 9 knots in varying directions not connected to where we were pointing. Carreg-trai and the Bais Bank were closely negotiated and it was a blessing to be free at the north end and set the controls for South Stac off Anglesey. We went well all afternoon and shortly after dark we saw the lights off Bardsey Island, and began a 1hour on and off watch as the windvane steered us northwards. There was no traffic. At daylight we were 10 miles off our safe turning waypoint to clear both North and South Stacs and clear the worst of the attendant races, which we reached at 0730 and then piloted our way east through minor races to the head of the world’s second longest pier and finally into quieter waters. There was still a way to go however, with still a fresh westerly wind as we headed over to where the GPS showed a large marina. Although we knew the marina had been wrecked a couple of years ago in storm Emma, we were dismayed at only having about 50m of pontoon with a single visitor yacht and half sunk wreckage all around. Still, we tied up and met our neighbours to discover that the marina wasn’t manned at weekends – logical? A long sleep was called for before venturing out for breakfast etc.
27 & 8 July Days off
On both days a strong WNW wind forcing spray over the top of the pier denied us any chance of heading to Northern Ireland or anywhere else for that matter. We walked the impressively long pier
and sought out the meagre covid-struck hospitality venues in and around town, which were such that we ate at the only close pub for three consecutive nights! Supplies were replenished after a longish walk into Holyhead, and the marina did open, to reveal very adequate shower and toilet facilities. We made friends with our neighbour boat and while they were waiting more days for the weather to settle for Northern Ireland we offered itinerant Polish crew member Marching to come with us around Anglesey and down the Menai Strait next day if he found his own way back.
29 July Holyhead – Caernarfon 34.9 nm wind W F3/4
At last we could move, and set out with Marching putting up the sails in harbour and making good progress up the west side of the island to Carmel Head. Here we took the inside route and there was no serious race to contend with as we turned east and goose winged our way along the north coast dodging various obstacles which gave us no trouble. I had to engage the windvane to show its virtues to Marching who was very interested as he was planning to get a boat and sail singlehanded. At Point Lynas there were again no races of note as we turned south and had a good sail down to Puffin Island. Here we began the Menai Strait, changing to engine power to follow a succession of buoys and keeping an eye on time so as to hit the Swellies at optimum time. Grand victorian Beaumaris was very impressive, and we had planned to stop and wait here if required, but as it happened we were spot-on time so just motored on. An hour later we came to the famous Menai bridge right at high water, so the Swellies rocks and currents just beyond were totally tamed though we stuck to the recommended route nonetheless.
It only remained to motor/drift on down the strait past Port Dinorwic to Victoria Dock at Caernarfon, where we entered over the sill with a short time to spare and were welcomed by the HM and triple rafted on a couple of unoccupied boats. Later on Caernarfon was much more lively than Holyhead, having a choice of several busy pubs though tables and food had to be waited for.
30 July Caernarfon – Porth Dinllaen 41.2 nm Wind SW 6/4
Water over the sill and at the Caernarfon bar dictated we sail off early, so we said goodbye to Marching who headed back to Holyhead. The wind was strong against us going down the strait and it was good to have heard from the HM that he HAD layed the buoys this year (himself) as according to the GPS we often strayed over shallow banks and should have gone aground. Finally we made it to the last pair of buoys and were able to lay off on a tack in safe water. We tacked over to Porth Dinllaen and then back out to sea before heading for the gap between Bardsey Island and the mainland, eventual target Abersoch. However, as we approached the gap it was obvious that the tide was against and a quick check found a planning blunder as I had got high and low tide mixed up as I concentrated on the Caernarfon Bar. We tried to beat the tide but had to give up and headed back at good speed to Porth Dinllaen for the night. The only pub had closed at 8pm, so we had a on board and made sure the planning was right for tomorrow!
31 July Porth Dinllaen – Abersoch 24.1 nm Wind W F3/5
Timed our departure to have a good sail and arrive in time for the tide at Bardsey, and duly popped through into north Cardigan Bay and run east past a series of heads, inside an island and into a big sandy bay at Abersoch, where we anchored and marvelled at the huge variety of watersports going on all around. We VHF’d the Sailing club, asking for a mooring as the wind was now quite fresh but they said there were no serviced moorings, however as we needed fuel water and supplies they would treat us under ‘Port-in-a-storm’ and take us ashore in their water taxi, so we had a pleasant time ashore getting stuff though we weren’t allowed a shower. The club also took us back and managed to offer us a strong fishing boat mooring as the wind was now strengthening. This turned out to have an interesting pendant formed of two big wire cables each sheathed in soft hose and having nice cleat-sized loops to tie down onto our cleat- bomb proof and harmless to the boat. Planning for tomorrow opened the possibility of two long tacks, one down to Aberystwyth for the night then out to North Bishop the next day, but it wasn’t suitable considering the tides and onshore wind at Aberystwyth.. this sort of thing makes the Welsh coast awkward in several ways. So a direct southward journey was the only way. Dinner on board and hope the wind drops as per forecast in the morning.
1 Aug Abersoch – Skomer North Haven 78nm Wind SW/SSW/S 4/5
We set off at 0500 to get in a good day but progress was slow, and we were permanently on the wind which was much closer to South than we would have liked. Approaching the North Bishop it seemed unlikely we could get round it without a tack, so we put one in, but it wasn’t enough, and just as it began to get dark, and as on the way up, I decided to go close in to the west side of Ramsey. This was quite traumatic in the dark, but at least I had our northbound track on the GPS as a guide. At one point and blurred visibility with the sprayhood up I had a shock as we appeared to be really close to a flashing lighthouse on Ramsey, but it turned out to be the moon jumping in and out of view as the boat plunged in waves! Arriving at the south end of Ramsey I had had enough excitement and decided to call in at Skomer North Haven for the night and finish the journey next day, whenever Jack Sound allowed. This we did, joining two other yachts on buoys. A quick look at the tide table indicated 0800 would be right for the sound, so alarms set and a modest round of rum before bed.
2 Aug Skomer North Haven – Pembroke Dock 15nm Wind W 2/3
The overnight stop had worked well - a straightforward motor through Jack Sound and reach down to St Ann’s and then a run down the Haven against the tide and using the usual racing tactics got us to the mooring late morning to finish the cruise in good spirits.