Thursday was a well earned rest day, with an opportunity to fry up a big brunch before a day lazing around Arklow and shopping /reading/ playing pool....just some of the activities for the day. A fair amount of boattie chat with others in the marina, having a break in their journeys up or down the Irish coast.
A point to add here, that I forgot in the earlier blog entry on the way down, is that we were visited by Irish Customs in Arklow on our trip south. This was quite peculiar. Shortly after Alan and I had arrived, a chap appeared and introduced himself as a Customs officer, with ID card. This surprised me, and some other regular local sailors on the pontoon, who had never seen Customs in the marina. Our surprise was compounded when he told us he had tried to find us in Howth in the morning ( our previous marina) and had just missed us there, so had driven to Arklow to meet up with us ( presumably having got our passage details from the coastgaurd). This was beginning to sound quite exciting, and our credibility was rising fast with our new friends in the marina, so we welcomed him aboard. I told him what a big thrill this was, since I had tried to declare myself and boat to customs several times in the Baltic, and eventually had to give up because of their total lack of interest. I think he was proud that it was Irish Customs that finally caught up with us.
I was then quite looking forward to showing the customs man all of the stowage on a Sirius 32 so that he could search the whole boat...would have taken hours. Imagine our disappointment when all he wanted to do was see our passports ( 'if we had them, since I know you do not really need them for coming into Ireland' ). And that was it...we obviously did not look like members of a Medelin cartel. Mind you, if we were in that line of business a Sirius would probably be the boat of choice , since Customs would be bored rigid before they had covered half of the storage compartments........
Back to the trip home. The forecast was ideal for a crossing of the Irish Sea.....sun and calm weather. The tides broadly go up and down the Irish Sea, and since our passage would be approximately 12 hours we would get roughly equal shares of north and south across us, meaning that the overall tide impact would be modest. However, since Arklow is south of our destination, we would benefit from the northerly tide, and our planned 0600 departure would give us the maximum amount of north flowing tide on the trip, and it would be at the start, when we needed to head north to clear the Arklow Bank. Overall, the tides would therefore be working for us, and as it turned out I under estimated their benefit a bit, resulting in an early arrival on the Welsh coast.
The crew were by now resigned to early starts, so we slipped lines more or less on time at 0600 and exited the very small marina without incident. This was clearly going to be a motoring day, with very little wind, and we made our way to the northern end of the Arklow Bank.....clearly seeing the force of the tide which was pushing us NE at some rate. The pilot books are right when they encourage you to be aware of the risk of being swept towards the offshore sandbanks. Once clear of the banks we basically set course for Anglesey and hoisted sail, as our course eased a little and the wind was no longer on the bow. However, it was to be a day of light winds from every direction, and without the motor we would have got nowhere.
The sea has its own quality in these conditions, and in some respects you can better appreciate the power of the currents and the effects of sea bed changes when the wind is not creating a mass of waves. We went through perfectly flat , glassy seas, and would then pass through areas of eddies and little whirlpools, and then areas of little waves which could only be caused by the tidal currents ( in the abscence of wind). These surface effects would often tie in to extreme depth changes on the chart, and are obviously the underlying reason for the fairly horrible conditions we experience in stronger winds, which mix with all of these tidal flows to create general unpleasantness.
Our passage plan was to make for the Menai Straits if the weather held, and we had plenty of time to make Caernarfon Bar ( the Straits entrance ) within 3 hours of high water, which is the 'gate' to enter the Straits. It would be impossible to enter before this ( not enough water), or much after ( too much water flowing out of the Straits at us). If we missed this our alternative was to make a little up the coast to the 24 hr port of Holyhead.
As it transpired, we made very good time, helped by the tides, and were two hours too early at Caernarfon Bar, so we anchored in the delightful Pilots Cove , off Llanddwyn Island, which gave Phil the opportunity to play with the anchor. We were soon safely fixed to the sea bed, alongside a couple of other boats. As you will see from the pictures, this is a beautiful spot, and was made better when we spotted dolphins leaping nearby. We cooked and ate dinner whilst waiting for the tide, and generally had a very pleasant break whilst the tide slowly rose to the level we needed to cross the Bar and get into the Straits.
The channel through the sandbanks into the Straits changes all the time, and I had downloaded the latest bouy positions when in Arklow. On the trip over Naomi had marked these up on our charts, and I had also loaded them into the plotter, so it was an easy job to find the bouys we needed and follow them into the Straits. Sian helmed this leg, and did a great job as we approached the Belan Narrows,with almost 4 kts following tide, and eddies that try to pull the boat all over the place. The upside was that we got to Caernarfon very quickly, and shortly after were entering the lock into the marina at Port Dinorwic. The Straits are more like a wide river than sea, and the scenery here is fantastic, looking up into Snowdonia, and it all made a change from the seascapes earlier in the day. Port Dinorwic is also fairly special, in that the marina is actually a Grade 2 listed old dock, so very different to the other marinas visited ; not a pontoon in sight !
Our arrival revealed that more practice was needed in rope throwing, but we did finally get the boat attached to the land, and then it was off to the Garddfon pub for a well earned drink, and some chips in the village. In the end, the Irish Sea crossing had turned out to be one of the easier passages of the holiday, so many thanks to the weather gods.
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