Wednesday 17 – Thursday 18 May
Mate stuck my new name transfer onto my port bow, so now I’m properly smart again. She baked flapjack and strawberry and white chocolate blondie – which apparently sounds better than it tasted – while Skipper prepared me for a long passage. We slipped as planned at 1715, to traverse the tricky Narrows out of Strangford Lough at slack water, enjoying once more the very green scenery, stately homes and ancient fortifications along the shores. The crew decided Portaferry and Strangford, the two main towns near the entrance to the Lough, didn’t look very big, so they probably hadn’t missed much by not visiting them. They were also too tightfisted to spend money on the recommended attractions in Belfast. All in all, there was a lot more of Ireland than they had time for.
The first half hour in open water was as rough as the pilot book had warned – the ebb from the Lough meets the North-flowing tide and creates a short, steep sea. Trevver manfully ploughed on through it, guided by Mate’s steady hand at the helm: at least the need to concentrate on holding our course distracted her from any thoughts of the green sea monster. She could see a clear line ahead where the turbulence suddenly ceases, and soon the sails were set and the crew enjoyed a lovely sunset, with the Isle of Man clear to port, and the Mountains of Mourne, crowned by Slieve Donald, to starboard.
The whole passage to North Wales proved to be good sailing, with little shipping other than guard vessels to avoid. Supper was a ‘special treat’ ready meal, out of the packet, into the oven and the whole dish into bowls for easy eating underway. Mate stood watch until midnight, when the Western sky was still not completely dark, and fizzy phosphorescence sparkled in our wake. Skipper took over to play with genoa and staysail combinations until 0300, when Mate returned on deck to a sky already heralding the new dawn in the East. She was pleased to be able to hold the desired course all watch, while revelling in a stunning sunrise. She is always moved by the magic of being at sea for the end of one day and the beginning of the next, especially when actually sailing, and in comfortable conditions.
When Skipper reappeared at 0600 she munched down a quick bowl of cereal before disappearing for another nap, and by 0900 was delighted to be greeted in the cockpit by a clear view of the Anglesey coastline and the mountainous silhouette of North Wales. Unusually hungry, and very happy about it, she tucked into a veggie sausage sandwich AND peanut butter toast with banana for a second breakfast.
The wind had dropped to a variable 2-6 knots, but they were relaxed as they had time in hand to make the tidal gate into the Conwy estuary. Mate found herself a little emotional as we crossed the Eastern end of the Menai Straits – after all, this was where she learned to sail with her late father, and has many happy memories. Unfortunately, my mast is just too tall to ‘do’ the Swellies passage in his honour, as power lines cross the water too low for me to duck under safely.
Once again we were glad of the chart plotter to guide us up the tricky channel into the marina approach, and while Mate prepared my lines and fenders, the harbourmaster called us (it’s almost always the other way around, in our experience) to welcome us in and offer help – a bit of a surprise, but we found out why later. Skipper made a perfect landing, in adverse tide and with wind blowing us onto a tricky alongside berth, just inside and at 90˚ to the sill gateway entrance. High 5s all round! We’d covered just under 100M in 20 hours, averaging 5 knots the whole way, in great conditions and Mate hadn’t felt ill at all. Some days perfection is at our fingertips.