#1 2018-10-15 19:50:58

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Straits and Narrows. Dart to Menai Strait 2018

Straits and Narrows. Dart to Menai Strait 2018

Colin Reid writes:

I noticed wisps of steam coming from the exhaust as soon as I started the engine, still on my mooring on the Dart, before setting off for North Wales where Tui has an appointment with a new teak deck. The existing teak has lasted over 30 years and is finally wearing right through to the GRP in places. A lot of research has led me to TLC Boat Repairs near Bangor, where Barry Lovell has an excellent reputation for teak decks including high praise from Tom Cunliffe, at a price well below anything on the South Coast.

I wondered if the steam had anything to do with the high humidity but somehow wasn’t convinced. I set off early the next morning for Falmouth and ended up motor sailing the whole way in light airs. About halfway the temperature warning sounded so I switched off the engine. What to do? The first thing I checked was the raw water inlet and sure enough when I took the top off the strainer there was only a meagre trickle of water instead of the usual gush. I got the dinghy pump and shoved it down the strainer, sealed as best I could with a j-cloth, and pumped. It took a lot of pressure before I heard gurgling and bubbles from under the hull and the flow was improved if not as strong as usual. I motored the rest of the way without any problem.

The next day when I got to Newlyn, I anchored outside off the beach and dived under the boat with a snorkel to have a look. I couldn’t see the intake at all, in its place was a plump round sea anemone that had planted itself right inside the intake. I scraped if off unceremoniously and when I later started the engine the cooling was back to normal with no more steam. While diving I was amazed to discover I also had my own personal mussel farm on the bottom of the keel. Fouling on the Dart has been atrocious these last couple of seasons and Tui looked like she had grown a wing keel. I got a scraper and managed to scrape the worst of it off, a difficult job holding my breath and clinging upside down to the bottom of the keel.  I was also interested to see that the new silicone antifouling on the prop was extremely effective.

Next day I set off for Milford Haven. According to the Cruising Association Almanac, there is a counter eddy close inshore round Lands End that gives a few hours extra fair tide. I timed my departure accordingly and took the passage inside the Longships. This is about half a mile wide but constricted by rocks, so you need to keep near the middle. In slack tide it was straightforward, and I got a fair tide well out into the Bristol Channel. I saw plenty of dolphins, always cheering company.

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The Longships

Once past Lands End I set the wind vane steering and trucked along on a reach, making good progress. The wind was forecast to veer NW, so I tried to get some westing in preparation as my course was roughly north and Tui doesn’t point that well. There was very little shipping in the Bristol channel and with mostly good visibility I was able to get some rest, although in spells of no longer than 15 mins at a time. Occasionally there were fog banks and the vis closed right in, so I used the radar and AIS as well as peering into the murk.
 
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Goodbye Cornwall

In the early hours the wind veered right round to the north and then dropped away, and I decided to motor to try to make harbour before the strong north westerlies that were forecast arrived. I motored on a calm sea for the next few hours and reached the lovely anchorage in Dale just as the wind was picking up dramatically. After catching up with sleep I went ashore for a walk. I have happy memories of anchoring here when my girls were small, playing on the beach. It was a poignant walk. I anchored for the night in beautiful Castlebeach Bay which was much more sheltered than Dale in the strong westerly that was blowing.

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West Dale Beach

Next day I had a fast run up the Haven 10 miles or so to Neyland Marina with only a reefed genoa in 25 knots of wind. Milford Haven is magnificent, even the oil terminals and refinery in the lower reaches have a grandeur that doesn’t seem out of place. The upper reaches where I anchored the next day are beautiful with oak woods coming down to the river. A favourite anchorage is in Castle Reach where I spent a lazy afternoon in warm sunshine.

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Castle Reach

However, a gale was forecast so I headed back to Neyland which has good shelter and facilities. I had been single handed up to now but Tom, a friend, was joining me in Neyland. I spent the next day listening to the howling wind and driving rain and studying the options for the passage to Menai Strait.

This is quite complicated, and I was glad to have crew. There is a choice between going through Jack Sound between Skomer Island and the mainland or going out to sea round the island. Then 7 miles north is Ramsey Island with the Bishops and Clerks rocks stretching well out to sea and strong tides. There’s also an inshore passage, Ramsey Sound. Both sounds should be taken close to slack water and reach over 6 knots with fearsome conditions in wind over tide.

There is an inshore eddy here too so with careful timing it is possible to take both passages in one tide and gain several hours of fair tide. Settled weather and neaps are recommended but it was the top of spring tides and forecast fresh to strong westerlies, easing gradually to moderate. I was concerned that the sea would still be rough after the gale, and I would be going close in to a rocky lee shore to enter Jack Sound.

After a lot of fretting and tidal calculations I decided to go and have a look. The sea was sloppy, and I got Tui sailing on a reach with double reefed main and genoa and the motor as well, so I had speed and manoeuvrability. As I approached Jack Sound it looked viable, so I headed through. It’s only a cable wide with rocks on both sides, but my timing was good, and we shot through into calmer seas on the other side. Not calm enough for poor Tom who was already seasick. I then sailed fast for Ramsey Sound and arrived in good time for a smooth fast passage through the sound. It’s very atmospheric with lovely scenery and a pod of porpoise heading through as well.
Once through I set the wind vane steering and relaxed as it was over 50 nm to the next tidal gate, Bardsey Island off the tip of the LLeyn peninsula. The inshore passage through the sounds had given us about 11 hours of fair tide, almost all the way to Bardsey. It was a magical night sail with clear sky and full moon. At one point, dolphins were playing round the boat in the moonlight.

There is a tricky inshore passage off the LLeyn Peninsula, Bardsey Sound, but we arrived as the tide turned against us, so we stayed about 5 miles offshore. The foul stream picked up until we were stemming a 3.5 knot tide and making slow progress. But it eventually eased, dawn broke, the wind picked up and we had a dead run, goosewinged, to the south entrance of the Menai Strait. The landscape was dramatic, the Rivals on the LLeyn Peninsula stretching into the distance.

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North of the LLeyn Penninsula

The Caernarfon Bar extends a long way out to sea with shoals and a constantly shifting channel into the Menai Strait.  The Caernarfon Harbour Master posts the position of the channel buoys online and the strong advice is to check the latest positions, not to attempt it in wind of over F4 or wind over tide, and only HW+/- 3h. Quite a lot of things to get right at the end of a passage. As it turned out we were lucky with the timing, arriving a couple of hours before HW. But the wind which gave us such a nice run in the approach was more like F5. If I missed the time slot it would mean a wait of 24 hours as I wouldn’t contemplate entering in the dark. Or a 70 mile sail round Anglesey with its many tidal gates to the easier north entrance. So of course, we went for it.

Tom had been seasick for much of the passage, but he came in to his own then. I got him spotting buoys and with the latest data from the HM I stuck carefully to the course. It was too rough for comfort, I couldn’t help contemplating what would happen if we strayed from the invisible channel. But the marks were good if sometimes far apart and tricky to spot, and with the odd dog leg. Finally, we were inside in flat water and motored up the beautiful Menai Strait and into a welcome berth in Victoria Dock, Caernarfon, beneath the picturesque walls of the Castle.

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Arrived at Caernarfon

A few hours later I was looking back at the bar from the dockmaster’s office.  It was white water and he explained that with a fresh wind over the strong ebb the waves lengthen to a point where in the troughs boats could ground even in the channel. A sobering thought and a place to treat with caution, but we were safe in harbour and ready for a pint and something to eat.

Next challenge was the Swellies, the tide-wracked, rock infested narrows further up the Menai Strait, but that was for another day.

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