Porthdinllaen To Holyhead

Day 7 - Monday 22nd May 2017

It was bright daylight when I rose at 6am. Putting the kettle on reminded me to switch off the anchor light and hoist the black "anchor ball". The previous night's weather forecast foretold of strong gusts. In order to monitor anchor drag overnight, I'd set a waypoint on my phone's 'SailDroid' app before I turned in. But the wind had been quiet all night.

Getting a lift to Holyhead

I used the quiet time in the early morning to plan the next two legs of our journey. Porthdinllaen to Holyhead was not as far as our previous sails and a reasonably straightforward passage. The best thing would be to wait at anchor until the tide turned in our favour in the early afternoon. We'd then catch the flood tide going north much like walking on a travelator at the airport.

Marked on the chart were overfalls off Anglesey. We'd give them a wide berth before swinging round North Stack and eastwards to the entrance of the huge harbour. We'd also monitor harbour traffic on VHF ch 14. Holyhead marina was a good place for us to refuel and fill up with water. The forecast gave south or southwesterly winds again of force 4 or 5, occasionally 6. These would be great winds for sailing on a reach, but could be challenging when the wind strengthened to F6, a "yachtsman's gale".

With the plan sorted, I turned to Tuesday's passage. Light winds and calm seas were in the offing. Peel on the Isle of Man was the obvious choice. We could anchor in the shelter of the breakwater or pick up a mooring off the beach. We'd just need a suitable depth to clear our 2.1 metre keel at the next low water.

Looking at the British Admiralty 'Tidal Stream Atlas', I could see that if we set off on the northeasterly flood tide we'd be at Chicken Rock lighthouse at the next slack water. That's when the tide turned northwards along the coast to Peel. The tidal stream atlas refers to HW Dover and those tide tables told me we'd have to set off around 4 or 4.30 am. Early starts, or night time adventures are 'par for the course' in these tidal waters!

The only problem facing me now was where to cross the Traffic Separation Scheme. It's a huge area northwest of Holyhead marked on the chart in lanes of NE and SW bound vessels. There's an exclusion zone, or 'central reservation' that is several miles wide. The TSS cut diagonally across our direct route to the Isle of Man and the rules of the road say we must head across it at right angles. This makes the quickest route across. Also being 'beam on' to the direction of traffic we'd be as visible as possible to oncoming vessels.

At that point in my planning, the others were starting to move about. I put the kettle on again and tidied away the charts from the saloon table. Over at the chart table, I entered our planned waypoints into the chart plotter and checked their position as a distance and bearing from our current position in Porthdinllaen. After all these years, I shouldn't have been surprised to find that I'd entered one with the wrong coordinates!

Breakfast with the ship's company at 8.30am was very civilised and even included freshly brewed coffee and toast. The wind was freshening in the background, with an occasional strong gust which slewed the boat round from side to side whilst she lay at anchor. 

Erni was keen to move on and suggested we set off straight after breakfast. I explained that we would have a quick and more comfortable sail later in the afternoon when the tide was with us. The ebb tide against the wind during the morning would make for a very choppy sea state and a slower passage. That was a good enough reason for Erni and he settled down to a relaxing morning, spending some time writing his journal and looking up periodically when the boat made another pirouette in a gust. I briefed our skipper on the plan and agreed that we could set off an hour earlier in order to arrive at a reasonable time for fuelling and dinner.

My thoughts returned to the problem of where to cross the Traffic Separation Scheme the following day. Sitting at the chart table with the tidal stream atlas, I carefully worked out a plan.

Looking at the radar and chart plotter on split screen

Time passed quickly and soon after lunch, we made our preparations to leave. Lowering the anchor ball and removing the rope snubber, we weighed anchor and raised sail with full genoa and partially reefed mainsail. The wind was on the beam, or thereabouts and I didn't feel it was necessary to fit a rope on the boom to prevent a gybe. As we moved away from the shelter of the bay, the waves built and the flukey wind shifts steadied into a moderate to fresh breeze. Erni's flag, the burgee of the Royal West Highland Yacht Club, fluttered proudly on it's halyard at the starboard spreader and looked great against the blue sky. I went down below deck for a nap and spent some time at the chart table refining the radar image.

On hearing mention of a reef from above, I put on my lifejacket and went topsides to see what was going on. A squall had hit us, bringing a good force 6 and the skipper was asking for a reef in both sails. Kathryn and I set to reefing the genoa first. We eased the sheet to spill wind from the sail and the boat rounded up due to the force of the wind in the mainsail. The autohelm couldn't cope and tripped out with the skipper trying to regain control at the wheel. All the time the autohelm alarm was bleeping, adding it's urgency to the sound of the sails flapping and noise of the wind. As we continued to furl the genona, the boat lurched on a wave and gybed. The boom shot across from starboard to port, then BANG!

We quickly tamed the genoa and sheeted in the mainsail before checking to see what had broken. The outer braid of mainsheet had parted at the point it was tethered in a turning block jammer. I made a mental note to inspect it later to see if I could make a temporary repair but for the time being it was prudent to furl the mainsail away completely. We continued on our journey in a much more sober fashion, with no more mishaps. The wind continued to gust strongly for the rest of the way. 

Looking through the restaurant window at sunset

On the final leg eastwards along Holyhead harbour breakwater, the evening ferry from Dublin was coming up fast astern, chasing us in. The wind was howling as we turned between the breakwaters and, furling away the genoa, motored toward the marina in the far corner. The marina responded to our call on channel M and after a lengthy discussion, advised us not to approach the fuel berth that night in such strong winds. He led us to a visitor berth and offered to take our ropes. This was a mistake, as is so often the case because the poor fellow didn't have a clue what to do. At the time it wasn't funny, but looking back, it was quite a sight watching him hold a rope at arms length, and at the other end a thirteen tonne sailboat being blown off in 25 knots of wind!

Skipper booked a table for dinner at the restaurant in the marina and the crew, like rats deserting a sinking ship, hurtled shorewards in search of a shower. Dinner was surprisingly delicious. We soon turned in to our bunks for some sleep before our early morning departure.