Following on from Fraser’s blog the other day, I’m left with plenty to talk about. We stayed in Howth near Dublin for three nights while we waited for another acceptable weather window, and as we’d spent some time there last year, we decided to explore a little further afield. We took the Dart (train) and then the Luas (tram) into Dublin itself and took ourselves on a tour of the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery. It was either that or Guinness, and we both prefer whiskey!
It was disappointing, which is a shame. No actual whiskey has been distilled on the site for a very long time, and it was just an expensive audio visual tourist trap with a hammy actor presenting it. We did get to taste three of their whiskeys at the end, but weren’t impressed enough to buy a bottle for essential ship’s stores. We already have several bottles stashed onboard anyway.
We also visited the Emigration Museum, which was similarly disappointing, but on the bright side, we had an excellent lunch nearby!
Weather windows at this time of year are few and far between, but we spotted one where the prevailing south westerlies were a little lighter than usual and decided to go for it. After all, it’s only around 40 nautical miles to Arklow, a mere day sail compared to the previous 90-mile one.
Not one of our better decisions.
When we were planning this voyage and discussing our expectations, we knew there’d be times when we’d ask ourselves why on earth we’d thought this was a good idea. The next two days turned out to be prime examples of those times.
We had huge headwinds and enormous waves nearly the entire way from rounding the Nose of Howth to turning into the Avoca River where the Arklow river pontoon beckoned us. We could have stopped off at Greystones, the halfway mark, but we were really keen to reach Arklow, marking the furthest south we’ve sailed Barberry yet. The worst point was just after Wicklow Head (the point of no return, as Fraser put it). We were tossed around as if we were in a washing machine.
We finally arrived in Arklow and tied up in the smelly, dirty river (fish docks provide the olfactory experience and the river carries rubbish and debris down to the sea). We didn’t care. It was wonderful to not be tossing around.
The next morning, after a shower and a chat to lovely Brazilian man who bought his boat in Sweden and is sailing it to Greece the long way, via the Baltic, Shetlands and Orkneys, Ireland, etc., we decided to risk the next crossing, over the St George’s Channel to Wales.
Arklow looked much nicer after a night’s sleep, and the marina staff member who Fraser tried to hunt down to pay for our berth was really friendly. He said on the phone that he’d be down around noon but that if we left before he got there, just send the money as a donation to the RNLI instead.
The weather forecast (which I genuinely think is developed by a coven of slightly inebriated robots with a sadistic sense of humour) promised light following winds and sunshine the whole way. Perfect! And so it seemed at the beginning as we hoisted Barberry’s sails and removed outer layers of cold weather sailing gear as the sun warmed and cheered us. A dolphin even joined us for a while, frolicking in Barberry’s bow wave. Poseidon’s messenger, surely a good omen from the god of the sea?
It didn’t last, of course. The promised following winds first died completely, then turned around until they were on the nose (again!), causing steep waves to develop on top of the 3 metre plus rolling swell that creams up the channel from the Atlantic Ocean. We’d set off at lunchtime, ensuring that we’d have favourable tides as we enter the busy shipping lanes in the Milford Haven estuary, but that meant arriving in the middle of the night. We could have left in the dark and arrived in daylight, which is way more sensible, but our weather window was quite short and the following several days would have been too dangerous to make the crossing.
The sunset was beautiful, and the full moon rose blood red until it climbed above the horizon, turning the sea into a maelstrom of silver and gold. But darkness meant we couldn’t see the waves coming, so we got thrown around a bit as we moved about the boat. It was a horrible, sick, confused sea, but neither of us actually threw up, which is always a win.
Coming into Milford Haven in the dark at almost 10 knots (very strong tide!) surrounded by confusing lights of all colours, and with my chart plotter telling me that dozens of giant tankers, passenger vessels and tugs were moving all around us seemingly at random, was probably the most scary thing we’ve ever done.
Fraser stood up to shout out visual sightings of navigation buoys or hazards, and I steered at them or around them respectively. I’m not sure I took a proper breath during that couple of fraught hours, and my hands were welded to the wheel with cold by the time we were in the sheltered river waters.
As if we hadn’t had enough challenges that day, just as we were passing a huge passenger ferry, fog descended, a wet blanket that disappeared all our navigation buoys as if by magic. We steered by instruments only, praying that there were no hazards floating around on the river, feeling our way into Neyland Marina in between mud banks on either side.
At 0400, we were tied up to the jetty. We gulped down the now lukewarm soup I’d stored in flasks for the journey, but we’d been too battered to drink, then hit the sack for a few hours, just glad to be alive.
Now the sun is blazing, the locals are incredibly friendly, we’ve showered, got a wash on in the marina laundry, and yesterday’s hell seems like a bad dream.
I’ve decided sailing is a bit like childbirth. As it’s happening, you’re saying never again but afterwards you forget the pain and fear and just remember the good bits. We’ll probably be here for a week or more, unless the forecast changes. Next stop, Padstow on the north Cornish coast. That’s a whole new challenge!
If you want to follow our journey, you can track us using the Marine Traffic app (screenshot below). Once you’re logged in, you can search for ships. I think there’s only one Barberry!