June 30, 2007

Looking Seaward from N Wales

By way of a foot note to this month's adventure sailing a Magnum 21 trimaran out of the River Dee from Chester I took a few photos from the land on my way home with the boat.

After the deluge at Rhos-on-Sea the sun shone on part of the coast that I'd just sailed along single-handed in the French trimaran. You can just pick out the aptly named Sun Centre tower at Rhyl on the left.

Rhyl - Abergele illuminated by the sun.

On the drive home I stopped firstly at Towyn and took this next picture looking back over Colwyn Bay with Snowdonia on the left and Great Orme's Head on the right. The leaden sky adding drama to this scene that exemplifies the staggeringly beautiful North Wales coast, one of the best kept secrets in Wales, this was the sort of view I had hoped to see whilst sailing on Sunday 17th but instead, on Monday 18th, I had to contend with drizzle.

Looking back from Towyn towards the Great Orme's Head with Snowdonia rising to the left of the picture.

Next stop was the site of Rhyl Sailing Club on the River Clwyd with boats galore, dead and alive. Big slipways mean that this would be an easy launch site for the Magnum 21 and worth investigating again.
Rhyl Sailing Club on the River Clwyd.

And the exit from the river into the sea looks interesting too.

River Clwyd flowing into the Irish Sea.

From the sea all I could see was a green light on a big dipper inviting me ashore via this narrow channel. It is nice to know now what would be underneath the water, should I be approaching at high tide someday!

Next on the agenda was the Talacre lighthouse at the Point of Ayr. I really liked this lighthouse. It is a classic, helter-skelter, lighthouse shape in a classic situation at the entrance to the River Dee.

Talacre Lighthouse marking the entrance to the River Dee.

The first lighthouse here was constructed in 1777 and the first lighthouse keeper was paid 16 guineas (£16.80) per annum to look after the light. Trinity House constructed the present lighthouse in 1819. It is 99ft high and when it was lit could be seen 19 miles away.

The point of Ayr is an important wildlife site. The natterjack toad has recently been reintroduced here after an absence of 60 years and as I was leaving I was privileged to hear one start croaking.

On many, many occasions in the past I have watched the sun slip into an orange pool of liquid sunshine above the sea at the Point of Ayr from Parkgate on the Wirral but I'd never been here before this day and never seen the lighthouse until I sailed past it. I'll be back.

Finally I visited the cut at Greenfield before it was too dark to take a photo.

The cut at Greenfield.

This is the place where the lifeboat crew kindly ferried us ashore on Sunday night after guiding us to a mooring in the dark. The mooring was on the first sandy bit in the main river. And it was from here that I had set off at lunchtime on the Monday to sail single-handed to Rhos-on-Sea. Heswall is in the background on the other side of the Dee Estuary. Many is the time that I have been on the other side looking this way wondering what was over here. Now I know.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 04:21 PM

June 20, 2007

Single handing the Magnum 21

We arrived at Greenfield cut yesterday morning with just 15 minutes to spare before the tide cut us off from the Magnum 21 trimaran day-boat that we'd left there on a mooring the night before. No time to photograph it languishing on the sand.

Ray wasn't feeling well so Maud stayed ashore with him and I quickly made my way across the stones, mud and sand to get on board. There was plenty to do before I could sail her, as we'd taken the mast down at Flint in case we were swept under a low bridge in the dark undertaking Plan A. But as it turned out we'd undertaken Plan B and ended up here.

The tide came in quickly and just before it enveloped the trimaran I had time to inspect the ropes on the mooring. All OK. I hopped aboard.

Not quite afloat yet - but nearly.

I phoned Maud, ashore in her car, and told her of a snag that I'd hit upon. She had the sandwiches! We'd think of something.

The wind had now turned through 180 degrees since yesterday and was from the SE, blowing out of the estuary. Ideal. But the tide was now against the wind. It was coming in at a terrific rate so it was getting fairly rough. Not ideal conditions for erecting the mast single handed, a job I usually do on dry land, with help. The Magnum 21 trimaran was unsure whether to turn her head to the wind or to the tide so she decided to sojourn sideways-on to both of them whilst I set about preparing the mast.

I had plenty of time as it was only about 1000 when we arrived and the tide was not likely to turn until about 1400. So I worked slowly and methodically.

It had started to rain a little so I got dressed in my foul weather gear and put on my buoyancy aid first. All the time I was looking around at the water coming in, occasionally observing through binoculars in order to see which channels filled up with water first and where my best route out would be, later. Where were the buoys? What else was happening? There seemed to be some activity at Mostyn Dock. There was a rig being towed out by tugs with pylons on it for the new Burbo Bank wind farm. Interesting.

The only way to lift the mast safely into position with the boat rolling around was to fix a couple of short temporary shrouds (yellow rope in this case) to the mast, fixed at their outer ends to the outboard end of the akas, the tubes that support the amas (floats). This would stabilise the mast laterally whilst it was lifted. To make the lift easier I fixed the main sheet, with all its mechanical advantage, to the spinnaker halyard. I then positioned the foot of the mast onto its pin on its hinge and tensioned the main sheet block and tackle system so that it would take some of the strain as soon as I lifted the mast onto my shoulder.

I checked the relative positions of all the ropes and stays and shrouds and the jib too and then, eventually, when I was happy I lifted and had no problems at all. Once it was on my shoulder it was only a question of pulling on the main sheet until the mast started its journey upwards and to keep pulling until it was in position. Then it looked like this.

Note the temporary, yellow, diagonal shrouds stabilising the mast and the main sheet attached to the bow for mast raising.

All that remained was to attach the jib (containing the forestay) to the furler on the foredeck. Then I could set about the boom and main sail.

A solution to the sandwich problem presented itself. Two fishermen arrived with their tender. I quickly phoned Maud and she persuaded them to bring over my share of Maud's specially prepared picnic. Fives loaves and two fishes. Well almost. It was actually six batches filled with salmon and mayonnaise, dill and home grown lettuce - very French, very nice and very welcome.

Lunch! Behind you can see the Greenfield cut and the slipway upon which we had been landed the night before.

They also brought with them the spare can of fuel I'd brought and I attempted to get the fuel from the can into the fuel tank. It was only just possible, indicating just how economical this 4 stroke, Japanese engine is. All yesterday's motoring had barely consumed 5 litres.

I took some photos of the rig leaving Mostyn.

Pylons bound for the Burbo Bank wind farm

Then as the water was not going to be slack for another hour I sat down and ate lunch. Here is a picture of the last one of Maud's excellent sandwiches. I saved it till I got home. The picture does not do it justice.

Last of Maud's excellent sandwiches.

I had plenty of time to think about what was necessary for safe single-handing. It was best if did not have to stop sailing in order to do something that I had forgotten to do.

I trimmed the boat, moving some heavy items from the bow locker to the stern locker. I made the VHF radio more accessible. I swapped a large bottle of water with a screw cap, which required two hands to open it, for a small one with a cap that I could open with my teeth. A number of small details like this. Remember that this was the first time this boat had been used for sailing as it was brand new. Remember too that, inevitably, I usually have somebody with me, as I mostly sail with a customer for demonstration purposes. So this was only the second time that I'd ever sailed single-handed and the first time was only for 20 minutes or so.

I attached the boom to the mast and got the main sail ready to hoist when the water went slack. This would be when the boat would be able to turn head to wind easily on the mooring. No hurry. At this time the water would also turn from rough to calm.

Not a bad sail set, considering we're head to wind still.

Finally I phoned Maud to invite her and Ray aboard for the trip but he was still under the weather so I let go of the mooring and turned the boat downwind. I was off on the final part of this adventure, alone.

I was able to gybe downwind, following the channel as depicted by the chart on the GPS, which I now trusted. The course brought me very close to the "Fun Ship" (near to the famous fabric shop, Abakhan) and then close along the shore to Mostyn Docks. I had to run dead down wind in the channel here and even to goose-wing (one sail on the port side and one on the starboard side) but at least the speed was manageable and the stress levels were low whilst I got used to being on my own. I only had one accidental gybe and I was ready for it.

Working catamaran slowly approaching Mostyn dock as I sail by in the Magnum 21 trimaran.

The buoys after Mostyn led me quite far from the shore but on checking with Maud on my mobile phone (how did we ever manage without them?) I discovered that she and Ray could see me all the time, as they were already at the viewpoint at Talacre.

Talacre lighthouse.

You can see the change in the colour of the water from slate grey to brown close in shore. This boundary was the limit of safe navigation for a small boat. As I came as near as was prudent to the lighthouse at Talacre on the point of Ayr, which marked the end of the Dee Estuary I called Maud again and they frantically waved at me from the beach.

Now I was reaching along the North Wales coast. The sails were well set and we, the boat and I, were making reasonable way; about 10 knots mostly with a maximum speed, just after Rhyl, of 13 knots.

Great sail set. My view of the Irish Sea. GPS showing 10.6 knots.

I played with the trim of the sails and tried to maintain a good speed, learning all the time about the boat, much more than I would have done with a crew to worry about.

I have driven along the A55 North Wales coast road more times than I care to remember. Having been to university at Bangor I remember when the road was not all dual carriageway as it is now. So it was a great pleasure to see this all from the sea and it took a surprisingly short time to get along it.

After Rhyl it was possible to make out the castle at Abergele in the hillside. But then we had some drizzle and visibility was poor. Too poor for decent photos.

The castle at Abergele in the hillside in the distance.

Along this part of the coast I was able to get quite close in shore where the sea wall at Towyn and Pensarn have been rebuilt following the flooding there in February 1990. I lay fore and aft on the port trampoline with the tiller in my right hand and the sheets across my lap. This way I could see easily where I was going, I could turn my head easily to the left to watch for any gusts (there was nothing serious) and I was balancing out the wind in the sails thereby reducing the immersion of the starboard float and maximising speed. Oh and it was very relaxing.

The wind had been subsiding and had backed as forecast so that it was now easterly and progress became less rapid but still a respectable 4 - 5 knots though probably 1.5 knots of this was tidal flow. As I entered Colwyn Bay I phoned Maud again to see if she had to rush off to work but she didn't. She complained though that they might have to book a hotel at this rate of progress.

Slowly I passed the Colwyn Bay pier, that, by all accounts was sold on Ebay!

The pier at Colwyn Bay was apparently sold on Ebay.

Then all of a sudden I was there in Rhos-on-Sea at the slipway, which I know so well, and Maud and Ray were there to welcome me.

Maud and Ray.

My car was still there with the trailer and Maud quickly had the Magnum 21 winched onto it.

Maud winched the boat onto the trailer whilst I slowly reversed the Toyota so as not to drag the boat along the sand. The ramp at Rhos-on-Sea.

Then the heavens opened! But, looking on the bright side whilst I was de-rigging the Magnum 21, I was wearing excellent Gill waterproofs and the rain meant that I would not have to rinse this foul weather clothing with fresh water when I got home. Also the boat got rinsed. Every cloud has its silver lining.

Rainbow!

Or a rainbow, as in this case.

All that remained was to go to my favourite café in Rhos by the zebra crossing for tea and cakes. I had a Viennese Chocolate finger and a Japanese Fancy. Yummy!

Data

Total distance covered over the ground from Chester to Rhos-on-Sea: 39.4 nautical miles
Moving time: 7hrs 36 mins
Moving average speed: 5.2kn
Max Speed: 12.9kn

Epic voyage in Magnum 21 trimaran. CLICK to enlarge.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 11:31 PM

June 19, 2007

Drama on the High Seas

This photo was taken in the VirusBoats Magnum 21 trimaran at 1654 on Sunday 17th June as I tried to interpret the water ahead, which seemed to be changing somewhat.

Me attempting to read the water.

We had the stream with us and the wind against us. This made the water quite rough. But ahead of us was a change to smooth water. This meant that the stream must have slowed down. The water flows fastest in the channel. We were clearly in the channel at the moment. But we were going to go out of the channel if we carried on in the same direction. I looked for clues, as the channel was supposed to be buoyed. It had been clearly marked so far. The chart said it was buoyed but it did not indicate the position of the buoys, merely that they existed and that one would have to trust the people who put them there. No drying heights were mentioned either. No matter. I had learned at Portmeirion, on May 27th, to treat the chart with a little scepticism because the Google Earth aerial photograph had turned out to be a lot more accurate and useful.

I had looked at the Google Earth photos for the Dee already but they were low resolution and apparently taken at high tide so not very useful. At this point I should have looked at the chart on the GPS. But my attention was drawn to a very big and very obvious red buoy over on my right. It should be possible to sail from this buoy to the next buoy and stay in the channel. But where was the next buoy? Whilst we were considering this we crossed the boundary into the slower calmer water. Next the centre board kicked up. Then almost immediately the rudder too. What does the chart say? It says we're on a sand bank. Damn! The chart is correct! I released the main sheet so that the main sail would not impede a turn and attempted to turn to port but the now extended rudder caught on the engine's propeller, which took a nick out of the rudder so I lifted the rudder and tried to turn using the motor but we were touching the bottom by now. I killed the outboard and dangled my feet over the stern to check the firmness of the bottom - sand or mud? Sand! Firm sand. I jumped out and entreated Ray to do the same and we started pushing the Magnum 21 over in the direction of the Flint bank as fast as we could. This was not in the plan!

This photo was taken at 1703, just nine minutes after the photo above.

Ray and I pushed for all we were worth.

You can see the change in the water on the left side of Ray and you can see the white mark indicating the point that the channel passes by on the right.

We succeeded in pushing the day boat with its shallow draft for about 100m but we did not know whether we were pushing uphill or down and the tide was running out just as quickly as it possibly could at this time. Eventually we ground to a halt. We tried to do something clever with the anchor but it was hopeless. She was stuck.

The Magnum 21 trimaran takes the ground extremely well.

She takes a good photograph when she has taken the ground, doesn't she, the magnum 21 trimaran? If you want to take the ground then this is the boat to do it in.

We now had six hours in which to plan what to do when the water came back.

First thing was to let the coastguard know where we were and what our predicament was. I dialled 999 and asked to speak with them. Not that it was an emergency but I figured that it would be easier to reach them by mobile phone than it would to use the hand-held VHF radio, which only works on line of sight and I was pretty sure that we would not be able to reach either Holyhead or Liverpool from here.

I told the girl at Holyhead that we were well clothed and provisioned and were not in any way, shape or form in "grave and imminent danger" and that this was not a Mayday call. She laughed when I told her that we even had toilet paper.

She asked the usual questions about number of persons on board and description of the vessel and I gave her our exact position from the GPS. She promised to call back in a couple of hours.

Then I phoned Maud to let her know. She thought that I was joking! If only.

We decided to have a good look around our island while we had plenty of light.

As we walked away from the boat my phone rang. It was somebody from the Flint inshore lifeboat. Reassuringly, somebody on the bank had already reported our position before the Coastguard at Holyhead had passed on the information that I had provided. Kind of them.

The lifeboat man ashore could see us walking away from the boat and we could see him ashore in his yellow jacket.

Lifeboat man ashore in yellow jacket.

We had a discussion about options and he informed us that at 2215 when the lifeboat could be launched from the slipway at Greenfield they would come and find us so as to assist us when the tide came back in. He said it would be a good exercise for them. We agreed to talk again later.

A close inspection of the buoy was due. The buoy that seemed to serve no purpose other than to drive ships aground, perhaps to wreck them intentionally! As you can see the channel that it marks is not what you could call deep. In fact anybody who aimed for this buoy or anywhere near it would be almost certain to run aground as we had done.

You stupid, stupid buoy!

What I should have done when I saw the change on the surface of the water was to turn around immediately to face upstream and then skirt around the borderline in search of the channel, oh and of course to look at the chart, which would have told me where the channel was.

20/20 hindsight!

We wandered around cautiously as some of the sand was a little unstable.

Ray being careful.

We examined the channel at its closest point to the boat. It was pretty quick and turbulent and obviously still quite deep but narrow.

Man walking dog next to the channel, oblivious or perhaps just helpless.

With my back to the channel I could see Parkgate in the distance on the Wirral side of the estuary. It is difficult to believe that, as Chester declined as a port, Parkgate took over the ferry trade to Ireland and that Handel sailed from here to Dublin for the very first performance of the Messiah, which took place on 13th April 1742.

Parkgate in the distance.

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's bit of stuff, Lady Emma Hamilton, hailed from here also. Oh and they sell great ice cream on the sea front, which visitors promenade along wondering when the sea might come in. It does that about twice a year only!

To the left of Parkgate you may observe the naughty buoy and to the right of Parkgate, mid-picture, on the highest ground, is our sailing vessel. So this was now turning into a drama on the high land!

My plan now was to use the incoming tide to speed us back to Queensferry and to tie up alongside the shore there where the ground is sandy and safe and we could easily get ashore. Alternatively we could make it all the way back into Chester and up over the weir as there would be more water over it than there had been at 1400. But it would be very dark and very late. In any event if we were to go that far, or even if we misjudged the speed of the water and were to be inadvertently swept under a low bridge then we needed to have the mast down and not up as it now was.

Ray examines the anchor.

So we took it down before the sunset. This presented us with an opportunity to kill a little more time by teaching Ray how to tie a few useful seaman's knots and then to use them in the mast lowering process.

Sunset and mast down - ready for the flood.

Having formulated a plan, after the sun had set, it seemed only natural to go to sleep for a while. There was good cloud cover, it was not cold and neither were we. So we took a trampoline each for about an hour's kip.

Ray takes a kip on the port trampoline

About 2230 we could see a small vessel speeding up the channel in our direction. It stopped, somebody appeared to step ashore and there was some talking and flashing of torches. As I'd given our exact position to the coastguard I thought initially that perhaps these were fishermen. But eventually I realised that it was the lifeboat and they were probably looking for us. Maybe, for exercise, they'd not been given our latitude and longitude in order to make their exercise more difficult and more realistic. Anyway I stood on the boat and turned the reflective strip on the front of my foul weather gear in their direction. I didn't have a torch this time and didn't consider using my horn or a flare to attract attention as I was not exactly worried about our predicament and did not wish to create any alarm.

Anyway they did see the reflective strip and continued up the channel in our direction. It was quite a while though before two men in RNLI dry suits and helmets walked over to greet us. They had not been passed our coordinates!

We exchanged pleasantries - "Dr Livingstone I presume!" and such like. Then followed a discussion of options. The favoured one was for them to escort us in the direction in which we had been heading, along the channel to Greenfield, where they had launched. We knew there was a cut there but would not have expected to be able to spot it in the dark. However they had a Landrover there with plenty of lights. They told us that there would be a spare mooring there, which we could pick up, and that they could ferry us ashore. In the morning it would be possible to walk out to the mooring, as the tide would be out.

They checked in with Liverpool Coastguard just in case there was another incident at which their assistance was required but there wasn't so when the tide came in, at a brisk walking pace, we were all afloat within minutes and set off together in the dark.

Steve Ray

It took quite a while to get to Greenfield against the tide. Over an hour to cover the 3 miles. The RNLI Landrover had all its flashing blue lights on! Considerately they had parked so that its headlights illuminated the spare mooring for us and the lifeboat crew used their torches too. It was quite a job to pick up the mooring in the very strong flow, especially as Ray had never done it before and did not know what to expect. The lifeboat came too close and touched us just as we picked it up and with the extra pressure we had to let it go.

On the second approach I went extremely slowly and we got it OK. There was a terrific display of bioluminescence caused by plankton in the swirling water. Quite spectacular, blue, white, purple. I'd not seen anything like it for many years.

We lifted the centreboard and rudder and tried a couple of rope options but she was swinging about quite a lot. All multihulls do this on moorings because there is not much boat in the water. I'd never left a Magnum 21 in a fast flowing situation before and I had to try a few things to stabilise her. What worked in the end in this situation was a single rope off the bow and the tiller lashed centrally with the rudder exactly horizontal so it just touched the water. If I were to leave her at this site permanently I would try a few different things but I felt happy with this solution for just one night.

When we got ashore, there was a huge welcoming party. There seemed to be four crew in the water in dry suits! Indeed up to their necks in the water! Then there were people on the trailer and Landrover and on the shore. Quite a team. Many more than I had expected. Quite humbling. We were offered tea and whilst I was drinking it I phoned Maud to arrange for her to pick us up at the Lifeboat station in Flint. Meanwhile the lifeboat went out again briefly to clear the engine's throat because it had not been comfortable motoring at our relatively slow speed with our little 5HP engine.

We were given a lift back to Flint and more tea before Maud arrived to take us back to Chester about 2am. All was well that ended well.

CLICK to enlarge chart. Note the poisition of the red buoy and the lack of detail about drying heights.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 11:14 PM

June 18, 2007

First Trimaran to Sail from Chester

I've sailed along most of the Welsh coastline but not the part nearest my home. So it had to be done. The Romans used to sail right up to Chester but the Dee silted up during the 19th Century particularly and now it is rare for anybody even to motor to or from the city. Nobody sails on this part of the Dee any more, though there is a sailing club in Chester, another one at Thursaston on the Dee Estuary and one right at the tip of the Wirral at West Kirby.

First obstacle is the weir, which is right outside my apartment. (Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Lot of water going over the weir at the moment.

As you can see there is a lot of river water going over the weir at the moment so with the ebb tide as well we should have a fast passage.

Needless to say we are not going over the weir in a brand new Magnum 21 trimaran when the tide is out as this photo shows the consquences of getting the tide even slightly wrong.

Ray holding the painter of the brand new Magnum 21 after its launch at Sandy Lane in Boughton. (photo by Maud)

First we launched at Sandy Lane beside the only remaining ferry across the River, which only operates on weekends and holidays in the summer. The car park quickly filled up as there was a Dragon Boat Regatta about to start.

We motored downriver testing our manoeuvrability without centreboard and rudder as we went. Not advisable to go over the weir with these boards down and I wanted to be sure I did not end up stuck sideways onto the Old Dee Bridge with the mast horizontal (or vertical, come to that)! Manoeuvrability was excellent as it turned out.

We passed my rowing Club, Grosvenor RC, and the Blue Moon Café next door, where I spend a lot of my time, and we tied up alongside Bithell's unused jetty on the Groves.

The world famous Blue Moon Café My Rowing Club

Then Maud drove us back to Sandy Lane where I picked up the trailer and drove it to Rhos-on-Sea in Colwyn Bay - our destination, some 35 nautical miles away. I caught the train along the coast and was back in Chester by midday. Time for a leisurely lunch in the Blue Moon Café whilst we waited for the tide to come in and cover the weir. Departure time was set at 1400.

The first bridge that we went under was the suspension bridge connecting Queens Park to the city.

Chester suspension bridge.

Then it was past the band stand and down to the weir where the water was slack and we could take a little look at it and my apartment block "Salmon Leap" behind it.

Salmon Leap - my home office.

For thirteen years, when I used to live within the city walls, I used to walk down the Recorder Steps from the walls on my way to the rowing club each day, look at these apartments with loathing and wonder who on earth gave planning permission for them to be built. Indeed they were put forward on a TV programme as a suggestion for demolition, so disliked are they. But they have to be looked at in the context of what was there before - a derelict snuff mill! Actually they were the bee's knees when they were built in 1971. And, of course, when you are inside looking out, you cannot see how ugly they are. In fact you have a wall to wall panoramic view of the quaint mediaeval ramparts and the interesting architecture of the buildings within the walls, not to mention the interesting wildlife on the weir and the Old Dee Bridge and people in boats etc. It is like live cinemascope! So altogether a pretty good place to live and work.

In the foreground (or more accurately the forewater) in the above picture you can see a small sandstone building that is actually the fish trap where daily the salmon and sea trout that are swimming up the River Dee to spawn are trapped, counted, measured, weighed, tagged and aged. There is some 15 years worth of unique data about the river population that has been meticulously collected here.

So we slipped over the now invisible weir and underneath the Old Dee Bridge.

No problem with the mast down. Maud, camera in hand. Maud's photo of us approaching the Old Dee Bridge.

Ray's French girlfriend, Maud, was there on the bridge to photograph, from above, this triumph of this remarkable French trimaran, while another friend, Alan Hardman took a photo from the Handbridge side with my old camera.

Magnum 21 becomes the first trimaran ever to sail under the Old Dee Bridge.

We've only gone a few yards and already we're passing a historic site, Edgar's Field, from where, in 973 AD, King Edgar was rowed up the River Dee to St. John's Church by 8 other kings to show their allegiance to him. Must have been a high tide like this or they wouldn't have got over the weir! So we can safely also say that it was around the middle of the day, which is when we have high spring tides at Chester. The occasion is commemorated in a stained glass window at St. John's.

Edgar's Field. King Edgar being rowed up the Dee in 973 AD

Then it's past nowhere. Yes this house is called "Nowhere".

Nowhere!

And under the Grosvenor Bridge, which, at the time of its construction in 1832, was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world, a title that it retained for 30 years.

The Grosvenor Bridge.

Ray was looking for Kingfishers at this point. Didn't see any as they're hiding at this state of the tide, apparently!

With the elegant houses of Curzon Park on our left we pass the Roodee on our right, which was a harbour in Roman times and where horse racing has been held since 1539.

Roodee Race Course.

Next up, the railway viaduct, over which I came earlier in the morning on my way back from Rhos-on-Sea.

Railway viaduct.

New race horse stables have recently been constructed on the other side of the bridge.

New stables

Next past the excellent Crane Bank Garage, where I used to get my car serviced and then the lock which offers access to the Shropshire Union Canal from the Dee. The pleasure launches that provide trips on the river during the summer used to come through here for their winter maintenance in the dry dock that lurks behind the bushes. They had to get over the weir as we had just done but because of their greater draft they had to utilise the lock on the weir also. The original course of the river would have gone in the direction of the canal before the river was straightened.

Lock into the canal system.

After the Kop, a playground, we come to the first artificial straight in the river. It is bounded on the left bank by the golf course. Ahead of us is a wakeboarder from Connahs Quay and the smart, (if architecturally sterile) new, industrial units to let at the 'River Lane' estate in Saltney.

Wakeboarder

There are the inevitable, irremovable concrete reminders of the 2nd World War and a sign welcoming us to Wales before we reach Saltney Ferry, where now there is a 1960s concrete footbridge instead. To my amazement Ray remembers catching the ferry as a child.

WWII defences! Saltney Ferry, now replaced with a footbridge.

This modern slipway at Broughton is an expensive bit of infrastructure designed to accommodate the barge used to transport the giant wings of the new super Airbus A380 to Mostyn docks, where they are transferred to a ship, the Ville de Bordeaux, and taken by sea to France where ultimately they are joined to the fuselage at Toulouse. The giant buffers are designed to rise and fall on their piles with the tide.

Broughton slipway for the giant Airbus wings.

Further along is some old and crumbling wooden infrastructure that must have been just as important in its day.

Imagine ships tied up alongside this.

Still three bridges to go under before we can raise the mast and put the sails up and then slip under the final and newest bridge. And lots of debris to negotiate! Strictly speaking this is neither flotsam nor jetsam but is the result of central heating. Central heating? Yes before central heating, people used to scavenge wood like this that had floated down the river after heavy weather to burn on their fires. But now they don't and this is the result.

Hawarden, Shotton and Queensferry ahead.

There is a new cycleway that follows the river from Shotton all the way to Chester, which is very popular and these passing cyclists reminded me of those that I saw on the Kiel Canal on June 26th 2005 on my trip from Latvia in TARDIS, the somewhat bigger CATRI 24 trimaran.

Cycling from Shotton towards Chester.

As I child I spent hours in the family car queueing to get over this famous blue bridge at Queensferry, except it was not blue but grey then. The queues extended as far as Two Mills Garage on the way out to Wales and as far as Holywell on the way back. At that time there used to be a gigantic hump backed bridge on the road leading towards the bridge from England so that the two parts of RAF Sealand on either side of the road might be connected together underneath it. I remember my father used to take great delight in speeding up over this hump (when there was no queue) so as to turn all our stomachs! Happy days.

The rolling lifting bridge was built after the first world war by Mott, Hay and Anderson but has not been lifted since the bypass bridge was built next to it. Now there is yet another bridge in the pipeline. It would have been fun to have had the mast up and request it be opened for us to pass underneath.

Queensferry bridges astern.

The HQ building of the John Sumners Shotton steel works (now Corus) was next. This steel company was nationalised and then sold off and then renationalised by successive Labour and Tory governments in the 1960s. What a waste of public money. Now it belongs to an Indian squillionaire. Good luck to him.

John Sumners steel works HQ now Chorus.

Another wakeboarder came past as we approached Hawarden Bridge at 9.1 knots. When I reconnoitred this area I was amazed to discover that this old, rusting bridge, that used to swing out of the way for shipping, is still in use by heavy, freight trains and the occasional passenger train too. It is clearly made of stern stuff. But then I guess it is right next door to the Shotton Steel works so the materials to build it would have been cheap. One can still walk across it on the footways that many thousands of steel workers would have walked along each day when iron and steel was being made in the blast furnaces that have long since disappeared.

Hawarden Bridge connecting Shotton to Sealand.

At Connah's Quay we tried in vain to pick up a mooring and plumped instead for tying up alongside a tender to erect the mast in the strong current.

Tying up at Connah's Quay to erect the mast.

Then it was off with the buoyancy aids (OK to help you swim but not great if you're unconscious) and on with the rest of our foul weather gear and our self inflating life jackets (difficult to swim with as they turn you onto your back but great if you've been knocked out). Now we were going out to sea.

Mast up.

As the wind was coming up the estuary I had to wait till we had turned around before putting the main sail up and we were busy doing this when we passed underneath the newest bridge over the Dee at Connah's Quay, the only one high enough now for us to sail under. I just had the presence of mind to photograph it afterwards as we sped away towards Flint. I feel certain that we must have been the first boat ever to sail under it and, if not, then definitely the first trimaran.

New Connah's Quay bridge over the River Dee.

2 miles further on we reached the last land mark on the training wall on the right bank then Flint Castle on the left bank.

Last land mark.

If you think this has been interesting so far, wait till you read what happened next!

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 11:37 PM

June 14, 2007

Mind that bridge!

Trimaran at St. Malo marina.

On the way to the VirusBoats yard in South Brittany on Tuesday morning I happened upon this beautiful racing trimaran in the marina at St. Malo as I emerged from the 'Bretagne' car ferry.

I went to pick up a new Magnum 21 trimarandemonstrator but also to sail in a Magnum 21.S with William, the works driver, as it were, and pick up some sail-trimming tips.

William with the pont L'Orois in the background.

In the process we had to sail under the Pont L'Orois on the Ria d'Étel.

I don't think we'll make it William.  It's awfully close William!  Are you sure it's OK William?!! William!!!

The nearer we got the more convinced I became that we could not possibly get underneath this bridge. But William said that he had checked everything and that we could.

I held my breath. Check this out.

5cm?  Whatever, we made it.

Then we sailed around the picturesque island of St. Cado.

St. Cado's Island

When we had almost returned from whence we came the engine conked out for lack of fuel and William displayed his mastery of the art of sailing by performing a "Marche Derriere" under sail to park the Magnum 21.S trimaran exactly where it had been berthed originally. Miraculous!

Then I picked up the new boat, a classic Magnum 21, in blue with a white deck, very smart, and headed off to Roskoff to catch the Pont Aven ferry back to Plymouth.

New Blue Magnum 21 trimaran in front of the Brittany Ferries flagship, the Pont Aven

It is typical of the French attitude to authority that behind this "No Fishing" sign you may observe a group of men fishing with a rod.

I seen no sign saying, No Fishing.

Once on board we were told that the ferry would not be departing until 0100, which meant a peaceful dinner in harbour and the possibility of getting to sleep before the engines started up. My dinner was so unusual that I took a photo of it. Note the way the coffee is served too, with sugar crystals on a stick and a miniature ice cream cornet.

My dinner. Brittany Ferries coffee.

On this trip, Laouen de Kersauson, the export manager at VirusBoats, informed me that Brittany Ferries was started in 1973 by local farmers wishing to sell their vegetables to England. I mentioned this to the crew member taking my payment for dinner and she waxed lyrical about Alexis Gouvernnec, the founder of Brittany Ferries, who died on Monday 19th February 2007, aged 71, and what an impact he had had on Brittany as a whole. Amazing what you pick up.

I am hoping to Christen the new boat with a trip from Chester to Rhos-on-Sea in Colwyn Bay this weekend. It is many years since sailing boats were able to ply their trade from Chester. The River Dee has largely silted up and the bridges, which used to open in one way or another, are now locked in a closed position for river traffic meaning that masts need to be taken down in order to pass under them. It should be quite an adventure, starting with shooting the weir that is outside my apartment when the high spring tide covers it, probably on Sunday.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 10:57 PM

June 10, 2007

New demo boat

I'm off to France tomorrow to pick up a new Magnum 21 for my next demonstrator. I'll be back in the office on Thursday. But I'll be available on the phone 07 985 043 981, all the time.

I'm considering christening the new boat by sailing out of the River Dee from Chester to Rhos on Sea in Colwyn Bay, which will cover a little bit more of the Welsh coast, a good part of which I've already sailed along. Yet the part of it nearest to my home I've never sailed, so it's overdue.

The spring tide next weekend looks pretty good but a bit more planning is required yet.

Posted by © Stephen Walker at 09:58 PM