100 miles – Fishguard to Conwy

I’ve just realised it’s nearly two weeks since my last blog. Very remiss of me given how little else I’ve achieved since then! I’m currently say in a marina in Conwy, North Wales where I’ve been for the past week.

The weather over the past fortnight hasn’t been very cooperative and has resulted in me getting stuck in places then grabbing a brief weather window to make a dash for the next place before getting stuck again. It hasn’t been without it’s stress!

Sarah made it to the wedding safely and duly returned back to Fishguard where I was still leaning precariously against the wall. We had an opportunity to make the next leg up to Porth Dinllaen the following day. This was to be a long sail right across Cardigan Bay and then round the Lleyn Peninsular,into Porth Dinllaen bay. We needed to make an early start and couldn’t wait for the tide to come in sufficiently for Caol Ila to float off the wall so we headed off the previous evening to go and drop the anchor in Fishguard harbour. We said our goodbyes to Joe from Golden Cloud who was doing the reverse journey to me, and heading back to The Isle of Wight. We returned the tyres which he had very kindly lent us for protecting Caol Ila from being damaged by the wall and exchanged blog details. His is at www.24ftescape.blogspot.com. Great read and slightly humbling to see how much of a wuss I’m being in doing it in a substantial 36 foot boat with heating, running hot water and any amount of electronic navigation aids! And he’s raising money for charity! Well done Joe, hope it continues to go really well for you.

The night in Fishguard harbour was a pretty miserable night! The wind had piped up and was blowing a big swell into the bay. As a consequence, Caol Ila was bumping and shaking like a ’50s rock ‘n roll dancer. Sarah and I weren’t. At all. Very little sleep due to the noise, movement and general concern that Caol Ila may be about to hurl herself at the cliff due to the anchor dragging. We were glad to get away the following morning.

The run across Cardigan Bay started off very quietly but it wasn’t long before the wind had got up and the sea state had gone from a relatively benign ‘moderate’ to a rather less friendly ‘rough to very rough’. As a plus, however, with the waves coming directly behind Caol Ila, it did give us an opportunity to ‘make like a surfboard’ and surf along, which increased her speed considerably.

Eventually we rounded the corner into the beautiful Porth Dinllaen bay. There were no permanent moorings here so it was down with the anchor again. And another bumpy, noisy night.

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Dusk at Porth Dinllaen Bay

The next day was due to be the one that we started tackling one of the sections that gave me sleepless nights before the trip started. The Menai Straits are narrow, filled with unmarked rocks and have a tide that, if miss timed, would see Caol Ila travelling at 3 times her normal speed. The navigation is a bit of a challenge and the consequences of an ill-advised course somewhat severe and embarrassing. We were tackling it in two stages as it is difficult to get timings right to carry a favourable tide all the way down. Day one had the challenge of the Caernarfon bar and day two had the joys of The Swellies.

We headed off out of Porth Dinllaen in a strong wind that had created a very rough sea. Although we made good progress, the large waves were going to make the bar rather interesting as they grew even further over the water as it shallowed. In the end we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and ran away! Back to Porth Dinllaen for a second night on the anchor, and even less sleep.

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More Porth Dinllaen – Not so pretty at times!

Another day dawned and with a substantial improvement in the weather we headed for the Menai Straits once again. This time, the sea state was much kinder so the only concern was the navigation. The channel through the bar is well buoyed so in theory it should be relatively straightforward. However, we had been advised when we were in Milford Haven, that the recent bad weather had blown two of the buoys off their normal position and a third had just gone missing! So following the marked channel would guarantee we hit the sandbank! Oh, and the sandbank moves regularly so don’t follow the charts – they just show where the channel was in 2009!

A quick call to the local harbour master put our minds at rest. The buoys had been appropriately disciplined and been told to go back to where they should be and to stop messing about. The one that had gone AWOL had also been replaced, albeit with one that he didn’t have a huge amount of confidence in! Oh well, better than it could have been.

In the end it was relatively straightforward and we got through with boat and dignity intact. We moored up in Victoria Docks, in Caernarfon and had a very pleasant afternoon in the town.

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Caernarfon Castle

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Dusk from Victoria Dock

The next day was to be Menai Straits (II) with the joys of The Swellies. The Swellies lie half way down the strait and are the key part of surviving this channel. The tide flies through here at up to 10 knots, the channel is only a few metres wide and there are rocks both above and below the waterline. Sarah had read up on all the relevant marks we had to head towards, turn at or generally avoid so with her giving instructions and me doing the steering we plunged in.

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Bridges in The Menai Strait

I’m not sure whether it was the fact we got the timings right, Sarah’s expert pilotage or blind luck but we breezed through them with almost no concern. We were through. All that remained was to trundle down the remainder of the strait, nip round Puffin Island, cross Conwy bar and we would have completed one of the more challenging sections of this trip. In theory the remainder of this part should be fairly simple.

It’s funny how the bits you worry about end up being straightforward whereas the bits you don’t give much thought to end up taking years off your life. So it was with Puffin Island. We sailed down the remainder of the strait and with the wind picking up, we headed for the gap between Anglesey and Puffin Island. This is a very narrow sound which you have to go through to avoid the shallows that are between Anglesey and Conwy. We had been advised that this could get quite rough in the wrong conditions but it was the best way to go. The pilot guide book also commented that it tended to look worse than it was. It did look quite bad – very rough with big seas and a very narrow channel. Still – we entered relatively confidently knowing that it wouldn’t be as bad as it looked.

Well, I don’t know what conditions the author of the pilot book went through it in but I would quite like to meet him and explain that when it looks rough, it actually is rough. Very rough. The water shallows through the sound and, with the wind blowing hard through it, the waves were approximately 40 feet high and very steep. Caol Ila is only 36 feet long so this gave us the interesting situation of having the entire boat on a single wave. Her normal horizontal attitude became vertical with the bow pointing at the sun on the way up, before she topped the wave and plunged vertically down the other side. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, there was also a lighthouse rather close to our left hand side and a rather more interesting rock to starboard. We made it through but it wasn’t an experience I would like to repeat. I would like to give Mr Rainsbury, and the local harbour master who advised us to go through it, some personal feedback. And a swift kicking.

So there it was. We made it into Conwy Marina somewhat bruised and battered but fundamentally fine. Sarah was due back at work the following day and we had an early start to get her to the station to start the marathon journey from North Wales to South Hampshire. I had decided to have a couple of days exploring Conwy before heading onto The Isle of Man.

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Conwy Castle

That was a week ago, and I’m still here! After a couple of nice days that would have been perfect for the next leg, and when I was busy relaxing and achieving nothing, the weather has turned against me and we now have force 8 winds coming from the north west. Still I’ve caught up on the laundry! Hopefully Saturday will see me off again. Conwy’s very nice but I’ve had enough now.

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Conwy Approach at Dusk

If you’re interested, there are more photos of the trip so far, that haven’t always made it to the blogs, on the Videos & Photos page.

About Stuart Grimwood

Once an accountant, now gainfully unemployed pursuing a dream of a single handed circumnavigation of Britain on my 36 ft yacht, Caol Ila.
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6 Responses to 100 miles – Fishguard to Conwy

  1. Nipperkin says:

    Oooh er sounds really exciting. Hope Sarahs trip back wasnt too miserable – have done it on a shuttle of breakdown lorries so we can compare notes. Conwy looks lovely though!

    • Sarah says:

      Exciting…. I was pleased to get off! The trip back was nicely boring thanks!! See you next weekend xx

  2. Stuart says:

    Exciting it certainly was! It was Sarah’s expert helming that got us through safely. As you can imagine, I was largely in a supervisory role doing helpful things like throttling back at inappropriate moments. I’m sure Sarah will fill you in on the details!

    Looking forward to seeing you guys up in Scotland.

  3. Lynn says:

    Good to hear from you. I was concerned that silence equalled trouble and in a way it did though you seem to have got through with equal measures of luck and skill! Sorry about yet another enforced stay. The winds really haven’t been kind. Hope you get away this weekend and make it to the Isle of Man. I shall go and consult my road atlas for a rudimentary idea of what’s in store! Best of luck, Lynn xx

    • Stuart says:

      Hi Lynn, As you say, no trouble other than that of our own making, and that of the weather! Still, many worse places to be holed up for an impromptu stay. If the worse I have to put up with is a week in Conwy, I reckon I’ll have had a great trip.

      I think the weather should blow through on Friday and if current forecasts hold, then it may be a very quiet run over to Isle of Man – and that’s fine with me. One can have too much excitement I’ve discovered!

  4. Sarah says:

    The master of understatement, for once!! The most terrified I’ve ever been I believe…. 40ft breaking seas (enough to roll her at the wrong angle), dead into wind, rock roughly 30 feet away, and every wave sweeping us closer….. Then Stuart pipes up as we inch past the danger ‘you should be fine now, bear away a bit more… Oh, but mind that rock!’

    I want something nicer than a pair of shoes or a handbag, as my bravery present!!

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