Thursday, 3 July 2014

Peel, Isle of Man to Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland

Yesterday, was a day of two halves. We awoke in Peel to the expected change in weather and the stronger wind for which we had practiced the following day. The forecast was for force 3 to 5 (ok), South to South Westerly( great), increasing  to force 6 (care needed), sea state slight to moderate (meaning moderate to uncomfortable). The Irish Sea is recognised as challenging, and we had a five hour passage across open sea with a slightly worsening forecast. This might be payback time!

Andy, Charles and I had a leisurely breakfast, bought provisions and I returned to Alexandria to mull among other things how we would get out of our tight berth in the freshening wind. Behind us was a classic, small wooden, rather pretty yacht with a slightly haughty couple on board. I knocked on their hull and introductions made, a froideur ruled. No, we did not have a swimming pool on board, and yes cats were generally quite fast, and yes it was us who left from Strangford Lough with them and zoomed off in the way cats do! Not a great start to the task of getting them to move to safety as I had to squeeze our 20 foot beam between them and another boat in a long alley of boats...me in reverse, and with a strong wind on my bows which may or may not help.  Problematic, and a manoeuvre I thought I could do but one I preferred not to. They declined to move so I asked them to fender themselves well in case of catastrophe and were they staying on board at 1300 when the bridge swings and we would execute our stunt? At 1300 we appeared on deck and started to get ready and I ambled over to them, and found him less certain. If they cared to slip back it would help a lot, but if they still preferred to stay that would be fine. I said that since I was sitting in only 0.3m of water and could not go forward, the solution was for me to use my engines to turn out from the pontoon at an angle, release my lines, be quite sure that we would probably be ok as we would be quite close at this stage to them, notwithstanding the high wind, I would then pirouette around them and squeeze past them and all would be well. He looked uncertain. I also told him I thought that it would help if I took a run at it, and I hoped the noise of my engines screaming during the manoeuvre would not disturb him unduly. I thought he looked slightly pale and he ventured he might move after all. Result! In the end the manoeuvre was, even so, still difficult, but was executed with great team work and we duly escaped the lovely Peel harbour at 1330.

A lumpy sea met us but a great wind. Being reasonably short crewed and with a long way to go, we opted for discretion rather than valour and flew the full gennaker, a powerful sail great for the beam reach we would immediately encounter. We had great sailing for the next four or five hours in a quite swelly sea with large waves, but felt safe as we sailed at 7 or 8 knots, blunted sometimes by the larger waves. The boat performed beautifully and my illustrious crew were relaxed and supportive. A great passage towards Belfast Approaches. As we turned into the Lough, the wind fell away and we motor sailed and then just motored on one engine, and then on two engines. And then two engines and willpower!

This second half of the day was deeply unpleasant but in fact was only around two hours length. The wind was now bang on the nose strong 30 knots gusting 37. Wind going one way and the tide going another created a nasty short sharp sea of repeated broken waves where we would be snatched up and dropped down again a few feet or perhaps six feet every five seconds or so, for around an hour and a half. Noisy, uncomfortable, very slow going, difficult to do much down below because of the motion and approaching the time with an ETA of 2130 when we wanted our supper! Add massive sea spray and waves breaking over the bows and getting all over the screens and canopy, the high wind, low visibility and the need for a good look out to avoid boats, ships and fishing buoys, and life was not so easy. Andy and Charles were quite comfortable and totally protected and dry both sitting on the double helming seat manning the autopilot and we approached using radar overlaying the chart to detect anything which may be our there. I was below, further forward looking out the panoramic windows with sea water splashing all over them with a pair of range finding binoculars, spotting anything the others could not hope to see. In doing so, I was moving up and down 4 to 6 feet, being much further forward, which was not the best way to stabilise myself to use the binoculars.

Eventually, we came into Carrickfergus at 2130, almost exactly as planned, at low water which caused some anxiety in the shallow approach given the waves' depth, but all was well. We entered the marina, raining, and the excellent Mark was standing there to ensure we were safely in and offer help if needed. A smart trot to the only remaining restaurant still open rewarded us with more friendly atmosphere and food. Back to the marina, and Mark the marina man, was utterly brilliant in showing anything we needed, informative, helpful beyond the call of duty. Thank you.

Today, Charles is leaving for the airport which is a sadness as we have enjoyed his company and comments on life, and Chris will join us to which we are looking forward. Time for laundry to be done in the middle.

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