From Fleetwood towards Pwllheli
During a conversation with one of my usual crew, it was mentioned that someone wanted a Westerly Centaur moving from Fleetwood to Pwellheli. As I had sold my Westerly Fulmar “Tortola” and purchased a motor boat “Why Knot” (as you do). I was missing sailing and thought it would be a great idea to offer my services.
We waited for a window in the weather, during which time we gave the engine a full service and fitted the sails etc. Whilst the boat had been refurbished a few years before, it had not been used for the last two years and therefore needed quite a lot of TLC. Originally there were to be three people on board but as it turned out we ended up with just myself and Tom Bradley (a member of Wardleys Yacht Club). Tom and I have sailed many miles together and know how each other work.
We had decided to leave Fleetwood on Monday 24th July at 01.00am. This was forecast as the start of a three day window in the weather.
The plan was to sail down to Holyhead, where we would spend the first night in the marina, completing the journey to Pwellheli the following day.
During the afternoon of the 23rd July we had a chance conversation with the loch keeper who informed us that it was going to be a bit windy and wet during the night. We told him our plan was to leave at 01.00am the following morning and he said he would listen out for our call. As it got nearer to our allotted time to leave, the wind had increased much higher than was forecast. Due to the change in wind speed we decided it would be prudent to leave the marina and pick up a mooring waiting until the wind eased. At 00.40am there was a knock on the hull and we were informed that we had 20 mins to leave the marina as they were going to start sluicing the gate. At that time we hadn't yet dressed for the occasion. He also informed us that it was blowing around 25knots out on the river.
Leaving the pontoon was the first of many problems to come. As I put her in reverse the bow swung round leaving me no option but to reverse out into the main marina channel, after much ado, I managed to point the boat in the right direction. We left the relative safety of the marina and entered the river and were flattened by a 35knot gust of wind. It was completely black and we couldn't see past the bow of the boat. Making life impossible and it would have been extremely dangerous to try and pick up a mooring buoy, even if we could have found one.
I looked to port as we passed one of the large sea survival pods just inches away. The tide was running around 4knots and we were just blindly going in circles. The only choice left to us was to moor up to the survival pod. This proved to be difficult as we could no longer find it. I have never been out at night when it has been so dark. The torches we had were useless. We eventually found the thing and spent the next half hour bobbing up and down trying to keep the boat on station and loop a mooring rope around the pickup line of the pod. I had drawn the short straw and bounced my way up to the bow on my knees continually moving the safety line to various points. I scrambled back to the cockpit and immediately dumped my last meal into the river. That was only the second time I had been sea sick in over 15 years of sailing. The two of us sat in the cockpit all night fending the two craft off each other in rain and 25-35 knots of wind.
It was not nice to say the least but by 04.00am the rain had stopped and the wind was dropping. Our plan to leave at 01.00am had long gone which left us two choices, we could stay and wait for the lock gates to open and abort the trip or set off and see how the trip panned out. We did the sensible thing and put the kettle on whilst we worked out plan B.
By 05.00 the wind had dropped and the river had settled down a little so we decided to set off down Fleetwood channel turn left at fairway up the Lune deep and away south.
We motored with a little of the main out for the first 40nm in water which can only be described as uncomfortable. As we approached land we pulled more sail out and knocked the revs down to conserve fuel maintaining a steady 5.5knts. However as we approached Anglesey the sea became significantly steeper. Eventually this left us no option but to shorten the sails again.
Holyhead was a new experience for me. Tom however had been in before which helped enormously.
I radioed the Coastguard as I couldn't raise anyone in the marina office, telling them we would be arriving soon. However as it turned out the entrance which I was having difficulty seeing was quite a bit further than I had anticipated and by the time we actually arrived the marina staff were long gone. We moored up in the marina just 14hours 10mins after leaving Fleetwood.
I don't know where time goes, as it was after 22.00 by the time we had showered and sat down to eat. Needless to say we both slept well. Before hitting the sack we worked the tides out for passing through Bardsey Sound only to find out that our late start the previous day would mean another 03.00am start. As neither of us could bear the thought of another all-nighter we decided that Holyhead was the end of the road. I rang the owner who was very understanding and agreed to drive down the following day to collect us.
Even though at some stage during the trip we were both heard to say we would never sail again! I have no doubt we will be going back to Holyhead sometime in the next week or two to complete the delivery to Pwellheli.
Just another story for the Grandchildren.
Russ Tabiner, August 2017