Holyhead to Peel, IOM (and beyond)
Day 8 - Tuesday 23rd May 2017
This was always going to be a quick departure. The crew were getting slick at arranging the mooring warps ready to slip, disconnecting shore power and dimming the lights on the navigation instruments. 0415 saw us heading away from the pontoon and through the myriad of moored yachts between us and the breakwater. Kathryn had been getting lots of experience on the VHF radio by calling the coastguard each day with our 'traffic report', or TR for short. Today she informed Holyhead CG that Wind Song was heading to Peel with 4 persons on board, ETA 1400 hours. Listening on VHF ch14 for traffic movements we headed out past the breakwaters.
We'd a course to steer for the next hour, passing close to Langdon Ridge West Cardinal Buoy and on to the waypoint at the edge of the Traffic Separation Scheme. The buoy was spotted first by its white light, flashing quickly 9 times every 15 seconds. Then as dawn broke we could actually see it. We kept a good lookout by sight as well as checking AIS and radar for traffic moving along the TSS, but it was very quiet. Arriving at the waypoint bang on time, we altered course to keep our heading at...
right angles to the lanes.
The previous day, after breakfast, my thoughts had turned to the problem of where to cross the Traffic Separation Scheme. Sitting at the chart table with the tidal stream atlas, I'd worked out our ETA to a waypoint at the side of the traffic lanes. It would take about one hour to cross, so I calculated an hour's worth of tidal set and drift. From the waypoint, I drew a pencil line at right angles to the lanes and 7 miles long, our expected boat speed. I then added another line representing the 2.9 knots of tide and arrived at a point where we would expect to be when we exited the TSS. Sitting back and looking over my handiwork, I realised that this was the very first time I had found a reason to draw a 'projected' Estimated Position!
Now was the time to put the plan into action. The photograph of our track on the chart plotter shows this happening in real time. The blue line shows the ship's heading and the black line is our course over the ground, as the boat was pushed sideways by the tidal stream. The line at the rear is the yacht's ground track, or 'snail trail'.
Whilst the skipper and 1st mate steered the yacht and kept a lookout, I darted down the companionway to the chart table. I monitored AIS and radar as I drew up a 'course to steer' to the next waypoint off Chicken Rock lighthouse, confident that our exit point from the TSS would be fairly accurate. This next waypoint was many hours away so there were a lot of tidal vectors and it took most of the next hour! Thankfully unlike the busy Traffic Separation Schemes in the English Channel, no ships came our way.
Once clear of the TSS, we altered course for Chicken Rock and settled into a routine of watchkeeping. Although there were quite a few vessels transmitting AIS, none came close enough to warrant a change of course. They would also see us displayed on their chart plotter and radar screens, giving our vessel name, MMSI number (VHF ID), position, course and speed. We used a hand compass and noted bearings on the other ships to help us assess the risk of collision. For all the expense of the electronic gadgets onboard, the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) readouts varied constantly from metres to miles as our yacht's bow yawed left and right over the sea. We thought maybe the 'system response time' settings needed adjusting but reading the manual would have to wait for another day.
Halfway to Chicken Rock, I checked our progress to see if we needed to revise our course to steer. All was well, no adjustment necessary. I then looked at a passage plan for the next day, from Peel to Bangor in Northern Ireland. Measuring the total distance and studying the tidal stream atlas, I saw we could actually utilise the full six hours of ebb tide to reach Donaghadee Sound at the edge of Belfast Lough. I knew the tide in the sound turned early, but pushing through a couple of knots of foul tide wouldn't be too bad. In fact, we were on track to reach Chicken Rock by 1015 just as the tide turns north. We could bypass Peel and continue to Bangor today, arriving by 1630. Now, what would the skipper say about that? I added a waypoint, at the entrance to Donaghadee Sound, to the steadily growing list on the chart plotter.
The UK Coastguard broadcast 'Maritime Safety Information' every 3 hours. I'd noted the weather forecast and the outlook. Light winds with a warm tropical airstream moving rapidly northeastwards late Tuesday and into Wednesday. This would bring moisture laden air over the cold sea. Hmm, perfect conditions for the dreaded sea fog. This was another reason to make as much progress as possible whilst the visibility was good.
I went on deck to stand watch, carrying tea for Erni and myself with the skipper asleep in his cabin. Erni filled me in on the vessels he had seen and mentioned there were lots of fishing boats, some with AIS and some without. All were well away from us. As though he knew what was on my mind, the canny Scot said "Hey John, why don't we carry on to Bangor this afternoon? The weather is glorious and we're all well rested." Grinning, I told him it was not only possible, but an excellent idea too but let's wait for the skipper to decide.
For the next half hour, Erni and I kept a good lookout. Ernie was also using radar now, zooming in to check on nearby boats, then zooming out to see if any boats were coming our way. Having got familiar with the knobs and buttons and fine tuning the settings, we were now able to see creel buoys too! When skip came on watch, he too was keen to go straight to Bangor, recovering some of our lost time due to weather and repairs. Kathryn used the VHF radio to inform the coastguard of our new destination.
Close inshore approaching Donaghadee, passing the tiny marina and more substantial harbour.
Through the buoyed Sound, some foul tide
Round the corner and into Belfast Lough - Briggs Rock, on the corner was marked with a red port hand buoy, now it's a north cardinal buoy. Not on the chart plotter.
Called marina on VHF ch 80 for fuel and berth - gave us Foxtrot 13, port side to the finger berth.
Planned tomorrow's trip across the North Channel and onwards past Campbelltown towards Portavadie
Shopping for essentials, bread and milk. Dinner onboard.