Basking in Welsh sunshine

Tuesday 23 – Wednesday 31 May

Once I was moved into my long stay berth, my crew spent a couple of quiet days preparing me for any storm that might blow through while they were away, doing laundry and packing bags for their trip to Finland. On Thursday 25 May they bade me a fond goodbye and were soon on their way by train to London, in hot sunshine. They were able to meet up with Second Mate for supper near their old home, and then head for their overnight accommodation near Watford.
On Friday 26 May they flew from Heathrow to Helsinki and then on to Kokkola, near the Baltic coast of Finland: who knows, they may even take me there next summer. The trip was to deal with some ‘extended family’ business, while I had a little holiday in the Welsh sunshine – and over a Bank Holiday weekend, too.

State visit

Monday 22 May

This morning Mate’s mother drove a carful of enthusiastic visitors to see me, and my crew apparently. They all loved me and made lots of positive comments about how beautiful I am, and my attractive colour scheme, and the gentleman of the party really wants to come sailing – he knows about boats, has sailed others in the past, and knows a good thing when he sees it…obviously.
They all strolled across to The Mulberry on the marina site for lunch, enjoying very good service, and a lovely pinot noir, before returning to my sunny cockpit for homemade dessert and coffee.

Conwy sunshine

Sunday 21 May

As it was a pleasant, sunny day, the bikes came out of their store and my people cycled back along the river path to stock up on a few fresh items at the handy Tesco just across the beautiful Conwy bridge beside the castle. Mate browsed the Travellers Point map that the Second Mate’s brother has been compiling, showing our journey so far; you can look at this on the Travellerspoint website by searching L’Escale blog.

Family visit

Saturday 20 May

This morning it was the turn of my below-decks to be tidied and cleaned, ready for Skipper’s family to visit me for the first time. Some enjoyed the blue tour, and later decided they’d like to have a go at sailing me some time! The others sat around my saloon table for coffee, and to sample Mate’s baking, before heading into Conwy for a delicious and convivial lunch at Watson’s Bistro. My crew then strolled back through town and along the riverside walk to the marina, where they relaxed and read for the remainder of the afternoon.

Post passage clean up

Friday 19 May

Another chores day, to spruce me up ready for tomorrow’s inspection.  Skipper hosed me down and refilled the water tanks [this is a win-win strategy, as it combines cleaning away salty residue that otherwise scratches decks and windows, with the necessary running off of any stale water, without feeling it’s being wasted; then clean fresh water is run through the carbon filter into my tanks: aluminium + chlorine = sediment deposits that block filters in taps and pumps].  He also gave all the ropes a good soaking as they become very stiff with dry salt, and emptied the sail locker deep in my bow to dry it out, and drill holes for ties to hold bits of kit in place: one of Mate’s better ideas, he had to admit.

Mate spent ages in the laundry room (or sitting outside in the sunshine in the pretty courtyard, enjoying an ice cream and the current issue of Hello), and then spread it all around my outside line to dry.  Between them they took down my lovely red gennaker, as it does not have the UV protection of the other sails, and stowed it in the newly dry and tidy sail locker.  She then caught up with some admin while Skipper took a late nap.

Cymru am byth!

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.

Freedom of the open road

Tuesday 16 May

Chores done, this morning was build-a-bike (or two) time, and off they went to Saul Church – said to have been founded by St Patrick, and the birthplace of Irish Christianity. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place high on a hillside, a fairly tough ride for legs out of practice, but lovely rolling countryside and then a long downhill freewheel into Downpatrick. They found a good lunch in a nice café, a helpful deli/grocer/fishmonger, and Asda supplied the remaining items on the provisioning list. They opted for the lower, flatter main road home, and were glad to find it still a mainly country route, with little traffic.

Laundry lines

Monday 15 May

In fact Mate got no further than a marathon laundry day: three loads but only a duvet cover needed to be tumbled part-dry; just as well as the washing machine had to be unplugged to use the dryer. I was converted to a Chinese laundry again as everything blew from my lines in the warm sunshine.

Borrowed pontoon space

Sunday 14 May

My crew prepared lines and fenders to take me alongside the club pontoon, but decided to wait to move me until all the young people had set off for their Sunday race course. Unfortunately it was too windy for most of them, there were too many tippy Toppers, so they all came straight back in, and played jumping in from the pontoons, as they were all in wetsuits anyway.

Eventually we made our way between the moored cruising yachts and motorboats to the dock, only to find a motorboat where we’d planned to tie up, and I was only prepared for a starboard-to landing, so we gave up and went back to the same buoy. By now it was a nasty wind, and raining. They reset everything for a port-side-to approach, and tried again after the shower had passed over – now it was calm and easy; just as well as there were several curious friendly club members around to witness our arrival. I had a good wash down and my water tanks filled, and we were loaned a security card to access the gate, so we could escape for an explore the following day.

Honorary club members?

Saturday 13 May

Overnight remained misty and still, but the forecast wind began to make itself known bang on time at 0930, accompanied by more rain. My people donned full wet weather gear to start Trevver, and go for a motor around in the Lough to give the electronics a chance to charge up, and get the heating running to warm up my cabin. They looked in at an anchorage recommended in a Southerly wind, but weren’t convinced it looked too comfortable, so we headed back up the river Quoile, and this time Mate was more confident about tucking right in to borrow a vacant mooring at Quoile Yacht Club.
She enjoyed catching up with some e-mails and phone calls, as the Club offers free wifi to visitors, and later they went ashore and (accidentally, I’m told) gate-crashed a birthday barbecue. They were encouraged to take me into the Club pontoon to fill up with water, and maybe to take the bikes ashore to explore a little more of this lovely area.