Crew: Peter Clare (S), Andy Taylor (M), John Liddy (W/L), Nick Carter, Phillip Harries
Distance logged: 328NM
Heading to Troon from the sun-drenched south, as soon as we left Glasgow Airport we realised that our summer weather had, temporarily at least, departed, to be replaced by a steady drizzle and temperatures about 10 degrees lower. Our taxi from the station attempted to take us first to the Marine Hotel, which is at the opposite end of town from the marina. However, this was soon sorted and we located RelaX on her berth. Thanks to the previous crew for leaving her clean and tidy!
As we organised a shopping party, the wind began to pick up and was soon gusting F5 - F6; not propitious for our planned passage to Portpatrick on Sunday. We consulted all the oracles and decided that Bangor (NI) would be a better option, with a final decision to be taken early next morning. At 0430 on Sunday things looked a little better so an imminent departure was called; we didn’t fancy staying another day in the rather dreary surroundings of Troon marina (Largs Yacht Haven is much nicer).
Sunday 29 July
Leaving Troon - and taking due care following Tinu’s warning about shoal patches on the way out - the weather and sea-state improved so we felt the right decision had been made. The skipper called Belfast CG to make them aware of our passage. However, it wasn’t long before the rain returned and visibility decreased. As it was a 70NM passage, we went into watches so that everyone got sufficient rest in rotation. By about 1000 we had passed to the south of Ailsa Craig, although it was barely visible through the rain.
Around midday, we were off Loch Ryan and the AIS showed numerous ferries all around us. One looked to be getting too close for comfort so the skipper called her on the radio just to check that we showed up on their radar, and was reassured by their very professional response - “we will be passing you on your starboard side”. As we got nearer to the Northern Ireland coast, the weather at last cleared and we had a good final run into Bangor marina, remembering to advise Belfast CG of our safe arrival.
We had a good meal that evening at Tom’s Dining Rooms, a New Orleans style diner - great ribs! And there was the usual debate about the next day’s passage, with a decision to head for Peel in the Isle of Man.
Monday 30 July
Another early departure but in the sunshine this time! Andy got us safely through the Donaghdee Passage and we set sail for Peel, about 45NM, with a target arrival time of 1300. The marina at Peel has a tidal flap gate plus a pedestrian bridge so timing is important. The alternative of sitting on a waiting buoy outside in a forecast F6 - F7 did not appeal. The marina staff were very friendly and helpful, with one of them coming down to indicate our berth and to take our lines. There wasn’t much room to manoeuvre RelaX, especially as the charted depth of 2.2m was only to be found in a few parts of the marina.
Asking about good places to eat (most of the quayside restaurants seem to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), the harbourmaster suggested an adjacent pub and we were not disappointed.
Tuesday 31 July
The weather continued to deteriorate, and prospects for Tuesday were not great. The harbourmaster advised strongly against leaving, although he did think that Wednesday morning might be OK. This would mean a 4am departure in order to get over the tidal flap and to have the pedestrian bridge opened for us. Outside office hours, the bridge is operated remotely from Douglas after a call on the VHF. We made the decision, subject as always to the weather, to miss out Ardglass and head direct to Carlingford, about 65NM.
At least this rest-day enabled us to explore Peel; the castle in particular was very interesting, having been used for military purposes right up to the 19th century. In the light of our very early departure, we ate on board and turned in around 2130.
Wednesday 1 August
The arrangements for departure worked fine, although extricating RelaX was quite tricky as the wind was still gusting F5. However, we made it out safely (although afterwards we discovered that we’d lost a fender in the dark) and were heading for Carlingford with 3 reefs in the main. As we got nearer to the Irish coast, the wind eased but the rain came in and the hoped-for views of the Mountains of Mourne didn’t materialise.
The entrance to Carlingford Lough has strong tidal currents and so arrival / departure needs to be timed for slack water. Also, the channel has to be followed carefully so it was important to check off each buoy as we passed it. The approach to Carlingford marina as shown in the Pilot Book has about 2.1m charted depth so going in nearer to HW is preferable, following the suggested transit of buoys 18 (PHM) and 23 (SHM). This has the air of an optical illusion as the effect is of going past the marina and then turning back towards the entrance.
Carlingford marina is a strange mixture of smartness and dereliction: the marina buildings are fairly modern but the showers seem 1950s, while in the centre of the marina is an old tramp ship which houses the fuel berth and the walkway to get ashore. The on-site restaurant is Indian cuisine.
Thursday 2 August
To exit the lough at slack water required leaving the marina 1 hour before HW, meaning that we had the whole morning to explore Carlingford town itself, which is very pretty with some good pubs. There is a castle (currently closed for renovation) dating back to the 12th century and it is rumoured that King John stayed there in 1210.
The crew had decided that they would like to leave the boat in Deganwy on Saturday morning, meaning an entrance either around midnight Friday / Saturday or the Friday afternoon. Given the weather forecast and the tricky Conwy channel, the skipper’s decision was to sail overnight to Anglesey and make the entrance into Deganwy around 1400 on Friday. To break up the passage, we would sail first to Skerries Bay, north of Howth, anchor up for a few hours and then head across towards the Anglesey Skerries.
Leaving Carlingford around 1500, we had a 25NM passage to Skerries Bay, but unfortunately a light wind right on the nose meant motoring all the way. After an early supper on board, we snatched a few hours’ sleep ready for the 100NM passage to Deganwy.
Friday 3 August
The watch on deck (plus the skipper) was up at 0100, preparing for a 0130 departure. Two good things: (1) it wasn’t raining, and (2) the anchor came up cleanly, much to the skipper’s relief. Then it was due north until Rockabill Light bore 090 degrees so we could safely clear any rocks, and that was to be our course until we reached the Off Skerries TSS off the coast of Anglesey.
Once again, the rain came in and visibility as we approached the TSS was down to about 50m. The AIS showed vessels following the TSS and although a gap in the traffic was evident it wasn’t absolutely clear that we could make it across to the inter-lane zone, so the skipper called Holyhead CG for their opinion. The CG advised that provided all vessels maintained their present speeds we could cross safely. As it happened all went well and we were well clear of the potential danger. The skipper called Holyhead CG to advise them of our safe transit and to thank them for their help.
Not long after, the visibility began to improve and we got good views of Puffin Island, the Great Orme and Conwy Mountain. Although we had been about 1 hour behind our estimated time at the TSS, the tidal stream began to kick in and by the time we reached the Conwy SWM, we were back on schedule. From there it was, like Carlingford, a matter of carefully following the channel and identifying each buoy, and we arrived on berth in Deganwy marina at 1445. A phone call secured us a booking that evening at the Paysanne restaurant just down the road (lucky we did that as people arriving on spec were being turned away). There are several advantages of Deganwy marina over Conwy marina: the train station nearby, a good restaurant, a supermarket not too far away and great views of Conwy Castle!
Saturday 4 August
The crew cleaned the boat, picked up their hire car, then went to the chandlery to replace a gas bottle and also the missing fender before heading south. The skipper, who was staying on to visit his sister, waited for some of the next crew to arrive so that he could effect a hand-over.
During the week, we had a very mixed bag of weather, from sun to rain and very poor visibility, but all enjoyed their time on board. Because of the length of each passage, they appreciated the formality of a watch system and felt that it had worked well. We motored more than desirable in that the wind was sometimes light and on the nose, but we also had some good sailing especially on the very last section from the TSS to Deganwy. There’s no doubt that RelaX is a very fast boat in the right conditions and that reefing early is a must, at least for comfortable cruising.