I'm going to be sailing around Caridgan Bay on Saturday from top to bottom in the Magnum 21 trimaran. We will be leaving Black Rock Sands around 10am and staying overnight in New Quay, Ceredigion, before returning on Sunday.
The weather is perfect for doing this, with a fresh easterly breeze. We shall be staying fairly close in shore to take in the spectacular scenery and may stop briefly at Barmouth, Aberdyfi, Aberystwyth and/or Aberaeron, depending upon our progress and how the mood takes us.
This is the tale of an Englishman, an Irishwoman and a Scotswoman sailing around a Welsh Island in a French boat. Strictly speaking a boat built in Britanny, which is Celtic. And of course the Welsh are Celts, the Scots are Celts and the Irish are Celts. So I was the odd one out. But then England is really AngleLand and Anglesey is really Angle's Eye, short for EyeLand or Island as we now spell it. Of course the Welsh call it Ynys Mon and I guess they were there before the Angles.
On Friday evening upon arrival in beautiful Beaumaris, one of my favourite places in the whole world, I scanned the sky at lamp-post height to determine if there were any overhead wires. There were none. So I erected the mast of the Magnum 21 trimaran that I had brought with me from Chester, safe in the knowledge that the short, early-morning drive to the slipway from the carpark would not end in electrocution!
After dinner I spent the night at the, aptly named, Sailor's Return, a local inn. Chef provided me with a packed breakfast, as I was going to be up long before he was.
0615 and Jackie (the Irish one) is already here. 0630 Irene, the Scot, arrives with her husband, David, and we make our final preparations for our adventure.
As we should be passing underneath the Menai suspension bridge at 0730 we needed to depart at 0700 but with one thing and another, including forgetting to mount the rudder, we eventually left at 0715. That was OK. With a knot of tide assisting us we were soon looking backwards at Gallows Point with Irene clutching the "Fearsome Passages" book by David Rainsbury.
Next up was Bangor Pier. Jackie lived just by the pier when she was a student at Bangor. I used to row past it when I was a student at Bangor 10 or more years earlier. It has been lovingly restored since I was there and the café at the end serves great scones but not at 0720. Worth a detour any other time.
The visibility was poor, as forecast, but, as yet, there was no sign of the southerly wind that had tempted me to undertake this excursion.
As we passed the UCNWBC Boat House, where I spent most of my time when I should have been studying electronics at Bangor, a yacht appeared in front of us, heading also for the centre of the famous Telford suspension bridge. Great! We had a guide. And we were arriving at the correct time. My tidal calculations had been right after all!
David was beside the bridge to take a photo as we were swept through by the "slack" tide whilst I lay on the foredeck attaching the gennaker furler. There was no need to waste time ashore putting sails up before our departure when we had two hours of motoring at the start of the voyage.
Irene recited the instructions from "Fearsome Passages" for our westward passage through one of the most feared stretches of water in the world, THE SWELLIES! Beneath us was a rugged underwater mountain range that creates the whirlpools referred to in the name of the local village with the longest place name in the UK, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, meaning: St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of St Tysillio's church, by the red cave.
The heights of the bridges were determined by the Admiralty so that British men o' war might pass through unhindered so it seems appropriate that watching over our progress should be the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson, our greatest Admiral.
On the mainland (left) side of the Britannia bridge you can just discern that the yacht immediately ahead of us is still on the transit provided by two white lattice beacons and is about to turn towards the middle of the arch, as it is alongside the pyramid beacon on the shore. The yacht in the lead has already turned towards the centre of the arch.
Safely through we simply followed the channel towards Port Dinorwic passing the Marquis of Anglesey's palacial residence on the starboard side, and the Plas Menai sailing centre on our port side. It was around this time that Jackie revealed to us that sailing around Anglesey was on her list of things to do before she dies; as she'd nearly died attempting to canoe around Anglesey when she was a young and foolhardy 18 year old student. I knew this story already but it was fun listening to Irene dragging it out of Jackie, morsel by morsel, as we sailed on.
Caernarfon soon hove into view.
I only recently discovered from a new road sign near Abergele that Caer is Welsh for Chester meaning fort, so the Welsh towns like Caerphilly and Caerwent, equate to the English towns such as Winchester and Gloucester.
At Caernarfon we stopped to put up the mainsail. The sun was now shining brightly and it was suddenly warm so I had to strip down to my base layer. Then with the main sail up yet still no sign of wind but nevertheless with 4 knots of tidal stream we were squirted out through the narrows that separate Newborough Warren from Fort Belan. At this point, Abermenai, the straits change suddenly from treacherous sand banks to a narrow, fast-moving, vertical column of water that is 20 metres deep. It all sounds much worse than it actually was. With no wind there are no waves and on deep water at least one is not going to hit the bottom.
We picked our way though the remaining buoys towards the infamous Caernarfon bar, our second of the fearsome passages written about by David Rainsbury. Fortunately owing to the lack of wind the bar was as smooth as a baby's bottom. Instead of turning to port at the penultimate buoy we headed straight on towards Llanddwyn Island, which is all but connected by an isthmus to Newborough, if I remember correctly from the day that I once sunbathed there as a student.
Now, at last, the wind arrived as we passed Malltraeth Bay and we were able to switch off the engine for the first time. Peace! We unfurled the gennaker and sailed at about 5 knots with two other yachts following behind a little more slowly. We decided that we had enough time to sail into Aberffraw Bay and to have a coffee break before we gybed to run out of the bay. Whilst we were there the two yachts overtook us. But we caught them up again, now with our spinnaker deployed.
We bye-passed Rhosneigr to save time as we were slipping behind schedule and when we got close to Rhoscolyn Head it was clear that we had an opportunity to sail past the narrow entrance to the bay and then between the head and some rocks off shore with a beacon on them. This was great fun and emboldened us for even closer encounters with rocks later on.
Soon we had the spinnaker down because the wind had died altogether and with the engine on again we made quicker progress towards Trearddur Bay but the wind picked up again and with the blue and white gennaker out we made a colourful sight as we approached a canoeist fishing. He told us he had caught loads of pollock but put them all back. He'd nowhere to put them anyway, I thought.
Irene phoned David who was easily able to identify us from the rocky shore and there was much waving. The wind was from the North East! Not the south. So we had to beat into the bay.
We ignored the sailing club entrance on our right, heading instead for the shallow bay on the north side reserved for jetskis and ribs.
But it was very confined, too crowded and too shallow (the centreboard popped up and we just managed to maintain steerage) so we quickly turned tail and made for the main beach, where there was plenty of space. A few tacks later and we were ashore, but not before I had nearly fallen in, demonstrating how one could lean against the jib! Silly me. The slider securing the inboard end of the jib sheet was not fully out. I should have checked first.
Euan and Ailsa were there with David to greet mummy. And Irene's Dad too. We arrived at 1300, which was the time I had set for departure, so after a quick toilet break we sailed off again.
On the beach, ready for departure, as usual, the Magnum 21 generated interest as, still, so few people have ever seen one.
With the gennaker out we were soon being told by Irene that the gap in the cliffs that all the boats and jetskis were coming from led to a lovely beach called Dafarch. It was impossible to see this entrance until we had passed it. Irene lives at Trearddur Bay so everything was that much more interesting to her to see from the sea instead of from the land. She was keen to point out to us a place where a water spout comes up in the middle of a field on stormy days.
On the next corner were some rocks known as The Fangs. You can imagine from the name what these might be like when the tide is running fast and there is a strong wind. One would definitely give them a wide berth. But the wind was light and the tide was flowing slightly but not dangerously. Just enough to show us if there were any rocks beneath. So I switched on the Garmin GPS276C with its intergrated charts and seeing that we had enough water we sailed between The Fangs.
Almost immediately afterwards we looked north to see the famous South Stack lighthouse.
Time for Jackie to expand on the story of how she spent a night in a cave there and wrote out her last will and testament! And how the fact that the lighthouse was manned in those days had saved her life. She had put on her headphones and was playing music to herself to drown out the awful noise of the surf crashing on the rocks around her little sea canoe. The lighthouse keeper saw her plight and directed her towards the gap in between the South Stack and the mainland of Anglesey. She shot through to safety.
I had calculated that if we had been fortunate with the wind and arrived off South Stack at 1100 then there would have been 4 kn of tide against us! But at 1330 it was all but slack. Nevertheless changes in the water were clearly visible at the overfalls and we recalled the time that we had come and looked at a gale here last summer. Thank goodness it was not like that now.
But now the wind was coming from where we wanted to go. Two yachts passed by under power on their way to Holyhead. We tacked and tacked and gingerly made our way towards North Stack but we were losing time and I elected to start the engine and set a direct course for Carmel Head, the third Fearsome Passage! Sightings of the Skerries came and went in the murky air. The fastest car ferry in the world came out of Holyhead and headed off towards Ireland. We motored through her wash and then her wake. The tide was picking up and we were making 10 knots over the ground and, of course, with the wind against the tide we experienced a little chop, the first and last of the day.
Even this close to Carmel Head we could not make out the Skerries through the haze. Then suddenly I spotted a white lighthouse, seemingly in the sky. Jackie was at the helm and Irene was relaxing alternately on the port trampoline and then on the starboard one as we moved around the boat taking photos of each other!
Then when we were almost at the Head we were able to pick out West Mouse, a tiny rock with a beacon on it. At this point the sea usually gets rougher but it was really benign on this occasion and nothing to what I've been through in this capable little trimaran before.
In the nineteenth century the news of the arrival of ships off Carmel Head used to be passed to Liverpool by a semaphore system in just 5 minutes! Nobody seemed to be watching as we passed by.
The next landmark was Wylfa nuclear power station, which, Irene told us, she had been around. However, one would have difficulty getting to see inside it these days! The Aluminium plant at Holyhead, where her husband, David, works, saves a fortune in electricty transmission losses by being sited so close to this power station. When Wylfa closes down, the Aluminium plant will have to source its electricity, at the right price, elsewhere. That it is possible to do this is one of the advantages of the open market system for purchasing electricity, I guess.
Still motoring into the wind. Occasionally we try the jib to see if we can sail in this direction but we can't. The main sail stays up so that we can be seen. Middlemouse is upon us, the biggest of the three mice. I check the chart to see if there are any anchorages but it is just a rock. So much for the southerly wind. We've seen none of it. We are making good progress though with this tide. I was never concerned about being a bit behind schedule because the tidal flow was always going to be increasing and helping us to catch up.
However, I am concerned about fuel. I check the tank. Plenty. If things get critical we can always pull in somewhere and David can meet us with some petrol in a can. He's found that he has got one.
There is some pretty rugged scenery along this exposed coast. These cliffs hid some old industrial works.
Soon we were passing East Mouse off Amlwch.
I used to see buses to Amlwch when I lived in Bangor and wondered what it was like. The rather utilitarian looking harbour (behind Jackie's laughing head) was built because of an oil pipeline that was used to pump oil to Stanlow (Ellesmere Port) in the days of supertankers when the Suez Canal was closed and it was only economical to sail around the Cape of Good Hope with very large ships. These ships were too large get up the Mersey so a pipeline was built from Amlwch and covered over so that you would never know it is there.
Spirits are high as we are now only a mile from Point Lynas, which you can just see looking like a white "castle in the air" behind me. There is a 19th century semaphore station at Point Lynas that would have been visible in good weather from the Great Orme and there is a jetty around the corner that used to be used by the Liverpool Pilots who were stationed in a hostel there for a week at a time during the 20th century. I guess that GPS has largely seen the demise of the pilot profession.
As we draw near we can see the change in the water that implies there is an overfall and as we race around the point I catch sight of our next objective, Ynus Dulas, a small rock with a beacon on it. But as we turn towards it we slip out of the stream and our speed drops from 9 something to 6 something knots. We still have quite a distance to go and cannot afford this loss of speed as we might run out of fuel so I quickly decided to abandon the plan of hugging the coast and opt to sail directly towards Puffin Island and stay in the current. Irene, at the helm, asks for a course to steer but I have not worked one out yet and it is not that important as we can all see from the look of the water where to go. Irene, who is an experienced slalom canoeist understands immediately and gamely picks up the trail of turbulent water.
We make a few simple calculations and set a course of 120 degrees initially. I check the fuel again. OK. And reduce the revs on the engine a little to ease consumption. I set the GPS scale so that Penmon Light is on the screen, Point Lynas gradually fades from view and we settle down to some navigation instead of pilotage.
After a while I took the helm and the girls chatted on either side of the mast. We had found early on that putting one or two people in the bows gave us and extra 1/2 to 3/4 knot. After watching the GPS for about half an hour I adjusted our course to 135 degrees and after an hour we began to see land again on the starboard side.
Eventually we spotted the famous lighthouse that marks the NW entrance to the Menai Strait. The green bouy was easy to see but it took the eagle-eyed Irene to spot the red pillar buoy that marked the port side of the entrance.
Not long afterwards we could see the water change yet again. And a quick glance at the chart revealed sudden changes in depth from 14m to 5m and then back to 17m again.
Irene had never seen Puffin Island before, even though she lives in Anglesey. So I took this photo of it and her.
Sadly there are no longer any Puffins on the Island, rats having eaten all the eggs some considerable time ago, so I believe. Nevertheless it is a bird sanctuary and special permission is required to visit it.
The red beacon sitting on Perch Rock on our port bow indicates the limit of safe water, that to the left of it drying out up to 4.7m above chart datum. So we are swept though the channel and it is just possible to hear the bell on the lighthouse above the sound of the engine. It would be quite eery in fog.
Just at this point Jackie spots a dolphin's fin breaking the surface. I saw and tried in vain (as usual) to photograph it and Irene missed it. In the excitement I had to remind Jackie, who was helming, to keep an eye on where we were going!
Now we're in the pool and on the home run, picking up every buoy along the way like professionals. We pass the radio masts that are conveniently in transit with Penmaen Swatch, a short cut to Penmaenmawr, and in no time at all we are phoning David to get him out of the fish and chip shop to record the moment of our arrival, 1930, only an hour after our original ETA. Not bad.
And there is still enough light for dismantling our trusty vessel the Magnum 21 trimaran.
What a great day out! The only disappointment being the wind and the visibilty or rather the lack of both. Normally when sailing anywhere on Anglesey there is wind and normally there are spectacular views of the mountains of Snowdonia to the south, of the Lleyn Peninsula in the west and Great Ormes Head in the east. None of these were visible today.
On the plus side, the weather was pleasantly warm even though the sea was cold and we were able to establish just how economical the Tohatsu engine is. We still had a quarter of a tank left at the end so I reckon we could have got right the way round without touching the sails, though I would not like to have cut it that fine. The boat performed impeccably and sailed with good speed in the light airs yet it is built for much sterner conditions and it would have been fun to have sailed faster. In these conditions it was certainly not stressful and it was a good opportunity to discover Anglesey and the oft treacherous waters around it. And of course we enjoyed each others company tremendously. Day sailing at its best in the ultimate day boat, the Magnum 21 trimaran.
Planned route: 68.6 nm
Actual distance covered: 70.67 nm
Max Speed: 11kn
Moving Average Speed: 6kn
Moving time: 11hrs 48min
Total time: 12hrs 30mins
Fuel consumed: 9.6 litres
Magnum 21 trimaran
14m2 Main sail
5HP Tohatsu 4 stroke outboard motor
Tools for outboard motor (not used)
Anchor with rode (not used)
Spare rope for painter (not used)
Flares in cannister in stern locker (not used)
Hand pump (not used)
Handheld VHF Radio (ICOM IC-M21) in stern locker (not used)
Spare battery pack for radio (in dry bag in forelocker) (not used)
Garmin GPS 72 (used throughout, mainly as a log to display speed but also to record track). This runs on 2 AA batteries.
Garmin GPS276C including charts. This has its own battery pack that was fully charged before departure but for which we had no on-board means of recharge so this was only used occasionally during the trip to conserve the battery.
Portland Course Plotter (not used)
2 pencils with rubbers
Reeds Nautical Almanac (used only in planning)
FEARSOME PASSAGES by David Rainsbury
Plastimo compass mounted in the boat (could be demounted for taking bearings but it never was)
VION AXIUM 2 Handbearing compass (not used)
7x50 binoculars with built in compass and rangefinder (not used)
8x21 compact binoculars (not used)
Clockwork Torch (not used)
SILVA M4 Head Torch including red light (not used)
Pair of pliers
Rechargeable air horn including pump (not used)
Skymaster digital barometer/anomometer (not used)
Spare AA batteries (2 used only)
Mobile phone in waterproof case (not used)
2 other mobiles
Plastimo life jackets
Hats and gloves all round
Lots of layers of clothing and waterproofs
Lots of sandwiches and snack bars, water and hot coffee in flasks
Toilet paper (not used)
35mm camera (not used)
Irene's sunblock (much used!)
Tomorrow I intend to sail around Anglesey in a Magnum 21 trimaran. We'll be launching into the Menai Straits at 0645 and setting off from Beaumaris Pier promptly at 0700 so that we pass through the Swellies between the bridges at HW slack.
We should be squirted out of the Abermenai narrows W of Caernarfon at about 0900 and intend to stop for lunch at Trearddur Bay between 1100 and 1300. Should pass the Stacks around 1400 and Carmel Head at approx 1500.
Then it's Point Lynas about 1615, Puffin Island 1800 and Beaumaris again at 1830 all being well.