August 21, 2006

Sailing TARDIS with an Olympian

I had Jon Bilger, a New Zealander who competed in the Barcelona Olympics, sail TARDIS at Abersoch with me over the weekend. He is in an Americas Cup team now in Spain and flew over specially from Valencia to try out this exceptionally interesting, special boat.

Jon has been researching the CATRI for a while so I was delighted, when out in a seaway, to hear him say that it exceeded his expectations. We were doing 17 knots in 1.5m waves and because it was raining we were soaked through. "It's got more balls than I have!" he exclaimed, as he tested it beyond the limits that he had expected to. "Other boats would be hobby-horsing."

On the Sunday it was not so windy and Jon appeared bright and early, keen for another trial in different conditions. It was force 3 and dry, so we got the gennaker out and almost made 20 knots! Fantastic sailing. He was thrilled and is going to buy a 27R for use in Auckland, racing and cruising with his family.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 10:14 AM

August 05, 2006

Taking stock in Abersoch

We have lost a lot of time. To get to Brest now for our rendevous date will entail sailing every day, something that we know is possible but which puts us under pressure and it is when press-on-itis sets in that disasters happen. We know we can opt out at any time and catch a ferry or a plane. But then where would TARDIS be? Milford Haven at the tip of Pembrokeshire, Padstow on the North Cornwall coast or worse still St. Ives, virtually at Lands End, waiting for a tidal gate in a harbour that dries out! None of these places is anywhere near Chester and it would be a logistical nightmare for me to manage the boat and keep her safe at such long distances.

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Abersoch is a good place. Indeed an excellent and very beautiful place to sail. And it is only two hours away from Chester by car. I can fetch the trailer here easily from Holyhead. It makes sense to make arrangements to leave TARDIS here and fly to Brest from Birmingham. So we have abandoned our sailing voyage but not our trip. We are spending a few days sailing and holidaying here in Abersoch and making the necessary arrangements.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 07:48 PM

August 03, 2006

Escape from Porth Dinllaen

TARDIS in the middle of Porth Dinllaen Harbour

We missed an opportunity to get away from Porth Dinllaen last night as we were on a bus returning from Pwllheli, via Abersoch & Pwllheli again for good measure at the time we could have been sailing round Bardsey Island as the wind has eased. We had all day to prepare for the next tidal opportunity so Sue went ashore with Jackie and took this photo.

At last the skies cleared and the wind dropped, a bit much actually. Despite the lack of wind Sue managed to get her hair in a tangle.

We set off at a mere 3 knots when I had calculated on 6 so we had to use the engine to get to Bardsey Sound in time for slack water. This pushed our progress against the slackening tide up to 7 knots. With a crew member at the bow the improvement in trim gave us 8 knots.

I drew a line on the chart and noted the time as the transit between the end of the peninsula and the southern edge of Bardsey Island became visible. As it was so calm we went through the races approaching the sound and gained another knot, 9 knots, and by the time we reached Barsdey Sound we were up to 10 knots over the ground.

Jackie helming TARDIS past Bardsey Island

Get it wrong here and you can be battling against 6.5 knots tides and if the wind is with you it would be rough into the bargain. Wind against you and you'd never get through. But at slack water in fair weather this fearsome passage is a doddle.

Safely through Bardsey Sound

We altered our course to East and passed Aberdaron, the scene of a previous sailing adventure with this intrepid crew but in a Magnum 21 trimaran that we had sailed there from Abersoch. Now we were headed in the opposite direction. Speeds increased to 13.5 knots without the engine and without tidal assisitance but with the aid of the gennaker as we reached past Hell's Mouth. This was enjoyable easy sailing.

A small, red monohull hove into view and we sailed as close as possible to her so that we could hail her. "RED PEPPER" was crewed, presumably single handedly, by a SALTY sea dog character. He had a white beard and a good head of white curly hair. He had all his sail up too. He asked if there was any chance of a tow as we wafted past. We had time to discover that he had sailed from Dublin and then we were gone.

We sailed into Abersoch to pick up a visitor mooring and he continued his relaxing, eastward journey.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 10:38 PM

August 02, 2006

Crew on verge of mutiny

Girls in desperate need of showers!

Sue and Jackie, heading for a shower at the swimming pool in Pwllheli, walk past the cottage where Sue and I stayed when we visited Porth Dinllaen with friends in May 2005.

So we all caught the bus today to Pwllheli for a wash and brush up. Since our dramatic arrival at Porth Dinllaen we have been unable to break out because of the bad weather. We heard today of somebody holed up in Bangor, N. Ireland, unable to set off for Scotland and our friend in France, Sian, has been held up crossing the channel in a car ferry!

We had been having glorious weather at home until the day of our departure, when, ominously, I spotted mare's tails in the sky, the first sign of a change in the weather.

It took us much longer than I had anticipated to get everything on board TARDIS that we had brought and to launch her using the sailing club slipway at Holyhead. So we missed our lunchtime opportunity to get away and round Bardsey.

For the tides to be with us we would have required a night passage and this was not on with a novice crew, unfamiliar with the boat. So we left early last Saturday and passed South Stack at about 15.5 knots. Jackie asked for a demonstration of how to use the radio to make a Mayday call. This is when I discovered the battery was not holding its charge. No worries; I had a spare battery system using conventional batteries.

I did a radio check with Holyhead Coast Guard. "Loud and Clear!"

Next the GPS went on the blink. Battery low. I had a spare GPS but elected to navigate manually. No problem we knew where we were.

It was getting rougher out to sea so we elected not to go to Ireland but tacked instead to stay in sight of Anglesey. The weather was closing in and we took a reef. Next I started the engine to charge the battery and bring the GPS back to life.

The weather deteriorated further and we took another reef and later part furled the jib. We were making slow progress against the tide and wind but we were making progress. Then the engine spluttered to a halt. We were on a lee shore and visibilty was poor. We tacked and sailed away from the shore and I called up Holyhead Coast Guard on Channel 16 on the VHF radio. They put me onto CH 84 and I let them know about our engine failure. After a brief discussion about our options and details of our position they informed me that the Porth Dinllaen life boat was happy to launch and come to our assistance.

Next on CH67 we were told they had mustered and launched and would be with us in 40 minutes.

It was a relief to see them. They stood by the whole of our beat towards the only safe harbour in Caernarfon Bay.

Just when spirits were at their lowest four dolphins joined us and finally the life boat towed us the last mile onto a mooring (diffcult for us to do without an engine in these conditions) at Porth Dinllaen, where we have been ever since.

Porth Dinllaen Life Boat being winched back into the Lifeboat Station after coming to our aid.

We were pretty tired and hungry after this, as you can imagine. We were not going anywhere the next day. We were due a rest. And we got to watch the lifeboat being launched for somebody else!

Porth Dinllaen Lifeboat having a busy time of it.

We went ashore in the new Bombard AX3 dinghy that I had bought for this trip and were just in time for lunch at Ty Coch (Red House) the pub in the village.

Bombard AX3 dinghy

On July 31st, my birthday, it was so windy that we decided not even to venture ashore in the dinghy for fear of being swept out to sea. The brand new engine had proved a trifle difficult to start. It got better later but I did not want to rely on it at this stage in these conditions.

Birthday boy

On Tuesday we moved to a mooring closer in shore after a fairly sleepless night on this one. I was up several times checking that TARDIS was secure and nothing was going to happen to her or us. We took the dinghy and went shopping in Morfa Nefyn, which is across the bay on a lee shore. When all the shopping was loaded we managed to swamp the dinghy in the waves and nearly everything got wet before we had even got into the boat ourselves! You live and learn. So I went alone in the boat back to TARDIS with the fuel whilst the girls walked around the bay with the wet shopping.

Then today we moved closer in shore again in search of even better shelter and dropped anchor. You can see it is a clear day, indicating a northish wind and rough water out of the harbour because of the fetch all the way from Ireland. Anglesey is just visible on the horizon. Perhaps it will be calmer later.

TARDIS anchored at Porth Dinllaen

This was an opportunity to try setting up a bridle. Everybody says that multhihulls require this to prevent them from swinging around on moorings or at anchor but nowhere have I discovered a recommended way of setting one up. What I did was to tie a slippery hitch in the anchor rode and attach two warps to the loop in the rode by means of bowlines. It worked a treat. You can see that the rode is not under strain as it leaves the boat and that the strain is taken by one warp or the other thus automatically creating a correcting force should the boat turn away from the wind.

Tomorrow we hope to get out and make some progress to Fishguard, perhaps, on our journey to Brest.


We later discovered that another friend, who was camping on the Lleyn peninsula the same weekend that we arrived there, had her tent poles broken by the gale!

Also I subsequently discovered that TARDIS'S main battery was not holding its charge (even though it was still capable of starting the engine) and needed to be replaced. This was the cause of the succession of electronic failures that led to my being concerned enough to inform the coastguard of our situation.

The engine was fine, as it turned out, the fuel was low and although there seemed to be ample visible in the tank, the rough seas were making it diffucult to suck up the fuel from the bottom of the tank and so the engine was spluttering. All I needed to do was swap tanks!

Posted by Stephen Walker at 04:35 PM