Friday 24th May 2019
This year's spring cruise of the NWCC was set for the Isle of Man (IoM). If you look it up on a map, it appears to be a patch of dry land some 54 NM North of Conwy in the Irish sea. It can be seen on a clear day from the Great Orme and therefore can't be hard to find (yeah ... right). The trigger to go was my son Timo, who, to my surprise, stated that he wanted to go sailing during the holidays. As we both have little experience beyond the coast of North Wales, I thought it would be wise to call in for help from another person with no experience beyond the coast of North Wales; my good old Dutch friend Ronald.
Ronald would arrive on Friday at 22:00 after the club briefing at 21:00. The briefing was simple:
Leave Conwy at the ungodly hour of 04:00, when all normal people snore away and head on a course 330 for about the next 12 hours. When you hit land, drop the sail, send a scout with a British flag, plant it in the sand and claim it is yours. That is how you start an empire.
However, the problem with Ronald is that tends to cause problems. Last time he arrived late (we are talking about robbing sleep here, a serious offence). The time before that, he had to leave early (as a result I had to paint my own boat on my own). Consistent as he is, this time, due to a public transport strike, his flight on Tuesday had been cancelled and he had to return on Monday. That would throw spanners in the water as men over 50 need 25 hours to recover from an early rise and the return trip on Monday could not be guaranteed with the weather and all.
Saturday 25th of May
As a result we discussed options...until 02:00, a time when normal people snore away, especially those that need to be up at 04:00. Anyway, the alarm went at 04:00 combined with a loud knock on the hull. The latter was Alun from Alkazoro who must have noticed the complete lack of activity on our boat. While sticking my head outside and stating a polite "good morning Alun, what makes you wake up at this time?", I quickly conversed with Ronald to confirm he had found a complicated travel scheme to allow him to head back on Monday from the Isle of Man by other transport than an unreliable sailing boat. The answer was yes.
Leaving Conwy at 04:15
This was followed by a set of sharp commands from the captain to the crew to prepare the boat for cast off. Tricky from your sleeping bag but the decision was made; we were to go to the Isle of Man.
Within 15 minutes we followed Alkazoro and Split Decision out of Conwy channel in the very early morning light. There was a F3 from the NW which allowed us to motor sail just on the right course. We took the North Deep (it is really the North Undeep with 1.5 meter clearance at high water neaps). Once we passed the Great Orme's head we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.
Sunrise at the Great Orme
The engine was switched off at 06:20 but was called in for assistance again at 06:50 as the wind dropped to a F1/F2. Timo took a turn to sleep and so did I later. I woke up as we crossed the traffic between Liverpool and Irish Sea (about 12 NM out).
Under motor sail we still made 5 to 5.5 kts which was encouraging. I had sort of made up my mind that if we could not hit a consistent 5 kts, we might have to repeat the Not Going To Liverpool trip, just with a different title this time. But with this speed planned arrival time would be between 15:00 and 16:00 in Douglas, provided we could find the Isle of Man.
Alkazoro and Split Decision in the distance
We kept up nicely with Alkazoro and Spit Decision, until the wind dropped further and their more powerful engines left us trailing. They kindly tried to call us on the VHF, on the agreed channel 72. However, my VHF has an overkeen squelch or maybe one of the channel buttons had been accidentally pressed. We did not answer but they concluded correctly that if there was a problem I would have called them. In the mean time we were frolicking around by dressing up and playing guitar.
Bosun Donker and Admiral Cook
I had told Timo confidently that we would always see land. By the time Snowdonia would sink below the horizon, the Snafell would be loud and clear ahead of us, as a beacon to guide towards the IoM. However, when the GPS said 10 NM to go, no land was in sight.
I started to get doubts.
- Did the IoM actually exist or was it a mythical island who's stories were passed on generation upon generation by descendants of Norsemen? But nobody had bothered to check in years.
- Was it like Atlantis, an Island that had always been there but decided to relocate at this inconvenient moment?
At 5 NM out and still no Isle or Man in sight, I played with the thought to call Alkazoro on the VHF and tell Alun we were disappointed and heading back.
Douglas and Alexandra pier appearing in the murk
But slowly in the fog something started to materialise out of the murky sky and Douglas Head and Alexandra Pier became visible. I called Douglas Harbour on the VHF and they kindly allowed us in after some confusion about our boat's name. But Anyway, that can happen to the best of us.
Arrival in the outer harbour. Harbour launch, Split Decision and Free Will behind it.
A number of yachts were waiting to go into the inner harbour, amongst them Split Decision, Alkazoro and Steve Gorst's Free Will, who had over taken us on the horizon. It was 15:15, we had covered 61 NM at an average of 4.9 kts in 12.5 hours.
Anyway moored up in Douglas inner harbour
We moored up on our allocated spot, slightly tired. Ronald stayed onboard, while Timo and I went to look for the showers, with the magical door code of "3490". At the shower block we found a door lock with 5 buttons and a choice of [1,2,3,4,5]. That gave a problem as it did not contain a number 9 nor a zero. In search of help, the lady at the bar above let us in via a different door. Then, after getting completely undressed we found that both showers were out of order. Pffffreezingnutsoffbrrreflippinshowerrrr, clothes back on, in search of more help from the lady upstairs. She said there were more showers at the back of the building. I guess this is where we should have headed in the 1st place as the door code worked. After we undressed again, Timo asked me to pass on the shampoo, only to find that I left it in the 1st shower block. Pffsbrrrrfreezinfucknshiterfrozennutsbloodysoappointlessbarefeetsocold, back into clothes again and on bare feet retrieved the shampoo to next enjoy a lukewarm shower.
After that we did a round of Douglas and went for a meal. We turned down to go for a drink that evening in the Douglas sailing club as steam had run out and for some reason we all agreed on an early night.
Sunday 26th of May
The next morning the sun was out. Ronald was ordered to go for a shower and to get some breakfast bread. He turned back with tickets for a local steam train which goes to show that he's good at following orders. But nobody complained as we had an exiting day ahead: a steam train to Castle Town.
Breakfast on Anyway with Ronald and Timo
We walked triumphantly past the ticket office to board an old steam train coach. As this is steam, nothing goes fast and we enjoyed fantastic coastal views until the train pulled into Castle Town.
Arrival in Castle Town
It is only a short walk to the centre which has a very charming fully drying harbour. This would be my next destination if we were to return to the Isle of Man. A place where minutes before you dry out some smugglers had just offloaded their contraband and some oligarch opened a bank account to avoid steep tax. So romantic. We had a coffee and and walked the town.
Castle Town inner harbout and the castle on the right
Next we visited the local Maritime museum which wasn't all that impressive to be honest. However, it also gave access to the the cute little castle in the centre of town. This in turn was quite impressive. Tiny but we got an extensive explanation of the local history followed by a lovely tour.
The view from Castle Town castle
Some of the room were set up with mannequins and we joined them at the dinner table. Quite unusual although the food was a tad disappointing.
Timo just agreed a deal with the local nobles
Then it was time to head back for the train to Douglas.
Ronald made another attempt to see if he could work out a train-plane-ferry-car combination that would allow him to sail back with us on Monday. In the end he could not take the risk. This meant he would be up at 05:30 to catch a ferry to Liverpool, a train to Conwy to take the hire car back to Liverpool to catch a flight back to the Netherlands. So easy compared to what waited for us.
We checked the weather forecast with the harbour master. The best forecast was for the next day. After strong winds that evening it would settle down for the day to a F3/F4 from the W, veer NW. An F6 was forecaster later on Monday evening. An ideal forecast if it was all true.
Monday 27th of May
It was time to say goodbye to Ronald at 05:30. Sleep after that was difficult and at 06:45 Timo and I both woke up. Steve Gorst came to tell us that the bridge would open at 07:30, 15 minutes early. So fried egg on toast breakfast was hastened and we queued up with four boats to leave the harbour.
Leaving Douglas harbour
Free Will was going to Peel on the other side of the IoM and we would leave him to starboard. We were heading in the opposite direction of the course we took on Saturday for the next 12 hours. The sea was lumpy and, as I tried to keep my balance by holding onto the spray-hood, both hinges snapped and the whole thing collapsed. It wasn't my weight I told myself, it was the age of the thing.
Timo steering away from the Isle of Man
After lashing it back together with a few lines it sort of stayed where it was. Timo felt unwell and retreated down below. So I put on my stern face, checked my stubbles (sailors have stubbles), stared at the horizon thinking of ... eh ... Wales and plodded on. The waves were considerable (3 m) and at one point I saw something white approaching from starboard in the corner of my eye. A big wave crashed into us and knocked us over quite a bit. The cutlery was launched through the cabin and from that point on I kept a better look out for any other jokers approaching from starboard. I also strapped myself to a safety line with Timo being inside.
Anglesey on the horizon with 26 NM to go
As the main land became visible again, the wind increased and I dropped the main to the 2nd reef and reduced foresail. The wind increased to a good F5 from the SW, not the NW as predicted. About 8 NM out of Puffin I could see that the wind was about to increase again by the sea state ahead.
The weather changing for the worse
Once in Conwy Bay it started raining heavily but the wind dropped to just about nothing within 2 NM or so. Amazing. Timo came out to help steering us through the channel and at 17:50 we moored up again our familiar pontoon. The log showed 60.5 NM at an average of 5.8 kts in 10.5 hours. Not bad, but the engine had helped the last 20 NM.
Back in Conwy, drying the sails
In Conwy, the sun came out and the wind completely disappeared. I dried the sails, took a shower in the club house and we ate the soup we made for the passage. So we made it. By far the longest sailing trip we've made with Anyway. Anyway, she is a good boat.