Well, it's certainly true to say that COVID-19 has decimated the social & sailing programme for 2020. Both on terra firma and at sea. The only serious sailing that has taken place has been by our President who needed to return his boat 'Phyllis' to her homeport of Deganwy from Largs in Scotland. The plan was to travel as a fleet to Largs, taking in the splendid scenery and bonhomie company, some sailing around the Clyde before venturing back south to our homeports. As time wore on only 'Spray' was potentially up for the sail, but alas due to COVID-19 issues was delayed in Liverpool and could not make the timescale, 21 July - 31 July.
Members Kevin Goulding and John Hodson then departed by car to Largs Marina in Scotland to board 'Phyllis'. After spending the winter months in Largs all was thought to be set for a return sail. Alas, when onboard and after only ten days since the previous visit to ensure everything was set to go the batteries would not start the engine. In the pouring rain, it took us a day to sort out the issue. The automatic battery charger had burnt out finally resulting in the acquisition of new batteries and a replacement charger. Ouch! Marina prices for the replacements.
However, now sorted we left Largs in dryer weather the following day. The weather should have been good at this time of year but for the majority of the time, it was terrible. Good company but poor weather. It was decided to follow as best we could some of the ports in the NOA Sail Programme. Leaving Largs we sailed up through the famous and beautiful Kyles of Bute. Then headed north into Loch Fyne giving us a choice of two good Marina's. One to starboard Portavadie with the other to port, East Loch Tarbet. We chose the latter if only because that was the one in the programme.
To East Loch Tarbet [30 nm]
A quick thirst quencher in the Harbour House before going for dinner in the refurbished Anchor Hotel. I dined on fresh Loch Fyne langoustine as a starter with scallops served as a main, scrumptious. John settled for a lovely steak. The evening was wrapped up by us finishing our wee bottles with a resident sailor in the marina, who was impressed with 'Phyllis'. Indeed he turned out to be Scott MacDonald (www.scott-macdonald.co.uk) a local artist and musician who resides on his 1955 Hillyard sailing boat.
Leaving Tarbet with a fuzzy head at 8 am the following morning we started our voyage home, back to Deganwy. En-route we stopped off at picturesque Lochranza, at the north of the Isle of Arran, which is the location of the island’s first legal distillery for over 150 years.
Until the 19th century, Arran was renowned for its Malt Whisky, often made illicitly, and known locally as "Arran Water". A must visit. Alas on arrival at the distillery it was found to be closed.
Returning to the boat we departed for Lamlash Harbour, passing Goat Fell to starboard, then across Brodick Bay with Holy Island on the bow. As we had made such good progress we decided to continue to Girvan to berth overnight and partake at a favourite Indian restaurant.
To Girvan [45 nm]
By this time the wind had picked up quite strongly and we found ourselves getting absolutely drenched while the recent road works furniture was being blown all over by the wind. Now, most will not recall but the crew did recall it very well! It was virtually one year to the day when 'Phyllis' was left in Girvan with a broken gearbox. Resulting in a year's stay in Scotland for 'Phyllis' due to a delay in the finding of parts, then the onset of the winter months (where she was berthed in Largs) and finally her subsequent return to Deganwy delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Well as if to remind us 'Phyllis' refused to go into reverse gear. Oh no! However, a quick inspection revealed nothing more than a sticking cable which was soon remedied. Phew!
The following morning, Sunday 25th, John prepared breakfast on the pontoon while I refuelled using the nearest garage, quite a walk carrying fuel back, as Girvan has no on berth fuelling facilities. Departing on what was a much better day to Portpatrick a couple of hours after low water (neaps) and we headed towards Alisa Craig to clear the 'bar' before turning to port. Good weather accompanied us across the entrance to Loch Ryan before bearing to port into the North Channel. The obligatory Northern Ireland ferries passed us going in both directions.
To Portpatrick [30 nm]
Portpatrick can be a difficult entrance in poor weather as the tidal streams race across the entrance, in either direction north/south, but today all was good and we entered the little port lining up the transit markers quite easily. We shared the berthing with three other yachts, 17:30hrs.
That Sunday evening, it was buzzing with people, like Blackpool on a warm summers day, although lightly drizzling. The sky then took on a strange light and shortly after loomed clouds which rained down on us by the bucketful. Fortunately, we managed a beer or two and ate at the Crown Hotel outside under a parasol.
In speaking with Paul, an acquaintance we met coming up from Holyhead he told us that the IOM would allow anchoring or mooring to a buoy but no landing on the island. He had dropped an anchor in Derby Haven on his way north. And we heard of mixed receptions in the Republic of Ireland for visiting boats. Therefore this left little option but to chose the eastern Irish Sea seaboard route via Whitehaven and Fleetwood although with a strong westerly in all forecasts resulted in us on a lee shore.
To Whitehaven [60 nm]
As time was pressing for both crew to be back home before the end of July, and a marginal forecast we set off, 08:30 hrs, for Whitehaven. Looking at the chart the overfalls at the Mull of Galloway looked challenging and indeed they were. This next leg had us in rough seas, rain and at times very poor visibility. The waves were big, at times up to 8ft high and on occasion perhaps more, but the following sea made for some exciting sail surfing. Saint Bees headland finally appeared and at 18:30 hrs we finally tied up in Whitehaven Marina. A quick refresh in the facilities and we just managed to get an evening meal, COVID-19 friendly, in The Vagabond.
The following two days proved taxing, as the wind and the rain picked up to 46 mph westerlies. We were to spend three nights at Whitehaven. A very successful seaport in the past but now a town which looked wretched in the pouring rain with shops closed or opening late mornings everywhere due to the pandemic. We endeavoured to make the best of it in the wind and rain even though all the museums and other facilities remained closed.
A walk in the footsteps of John Paul Jones, a Scotsman born in Kirkcudbrightshire, who led the only American incursion to England in 1778 during the insurgency in North America. He sailed from France to pillage boats and ports in the Irish Sea during this period. Crewed by what sounds like a bunch of scallywag's, they managed to 'spike' the guns and enjoyed some merriment in a quayside pub. Their ship 'Ranger' then sped out of port, chased by the locals, across the Solway Firth to raid his Scottish folk.
In 300 years over seventy pits were sunk in the Whitehaven area. During this period some five hundred or more people were killed in pit disasters and mining accidents. The coal mining pits had shafts going from the top of the cliff then out under the sea. One minute the wind would almost blow us off the cliff tops and in the next we were enjoying some glorious sunshine.
In the afternoon we took a short rail trip down the coast to Saint Bees and a walk along the beach was thoroughly enjoyed as the receding breaking waves broke up the seashore sandstone and granite rock.
To Fleetwood [48 nm]
Bleary-eyed we headed out of Whitehaven at 05:45 hrs although still a little windy. Across the bar and then giving Saint Bees Head a wide berth before heading south towards Fleetwood. As the morning progressed the day was quite cloudy but the seas much more manageable.
Sailing past Sellafield, then Ravenglass before passing Selker Rocks to port with the Black Combe fell dominating the shoreline. Soon the huge Devonshire Dock Hall (one of the world's largest) at Barrow-in-Furness appeared on the skyline as we continued down the Cumbrian coast. Far off to starboard are the massive wind farms of Walney and West Duddon as we pass the smaller Ormonde and Barrow farms also to starboard.
The inclement wet weather finally took its toll on the autohelm. Erratic display and direction before going over to manual steering as we begin to cross Morecambe Bay and the Lune Deep. The weather brightened when looking for the North Cardinal at the entrance to the buoyed channel of the River Wyre. Arriving at low water I expected to pick up a mooring buoy to await the incoming tide to enable the lock gates at Fleetwood Dock to be opened. Alas, no water at the last turning point to the pool at Knott End. Anticipating this I slowed the boat until she 'kissed' the mud and we chose to return down the channel to the North Cardinal and then return. This got us enough water to get us into Knott End pool for a mooring buoy to await the tide. We locked in at 6 pm. An inauspicious meal at the 'Three Lights' pub at the entrance to the docks saw out the day.
To Deganwy [65 nm]
Our last homeward bound leg started at 06:30 hrs in extremely poor visibility which was to last for about a half of the day. A bit of a lumpy start and using the 'bungee' assist autohelm fix we spotted Blackpool Tower to port which was a good sign knowing we were going in the right direction. As it disappeared aft the gas and oil workings of the Irish Sea came into view. Firstly the South Morecambe Gas Field followed by the Hamilton North Gas Field and then the Conway Oilfield. At this point, we could see in the distance the Welsh Mountains.
The temperature then began to rise rapidly and it wasn't long before we began stripping off our wet weather gear. On berth at Deganwy Marina at 18:30 hrs, and what a great relief it was to have her back in her homeport after an enforced absence of 12 months. A quick shower and then a couple of beers and supper in the Quay Hotel to celebrate the return of 'Phyllis'!
A much better route would have been via Ireland and /or IOM, however, Covid-19 prevented this from happening. In summary: Some 278 nm, seven ports of call, terrible wet and windy weather but with an excellent company in the crew.
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