My trip around Britain, in words: Holyhead to Pwllheli

Holyhead to Pwllheli

Alchemy and I found ourselves stuck in Holyhead for three days. Although it was once again very frustrating, I did get to explore Anglesey a bit which I enjoyed. I also managed to buy a heater that I could use on Alchemy when we were stopped – now that it was September it had become a lot colder and having a heater made all the difference!

Our next passage would be following the Welsh coast down to Pwllheli. It was going to be a long but far from simple passage. For this leg I was going to have to time everything perfectly; there were two tidal gates1 which I had to pass through, one at the start and the other thirty-five odd miles later (6-7 hours of sailing). The timing needed to be spot on because I only had one favourable tide, around 6.5 hrs, to get through both gates! The tide times also meant that I was going to have to set off in the middle of the night.

So, after three days in Holyhead, Alchemy and I left in the dead of night. This time though, it felt like I was in some sort of race, from the moment I left the dock the countdown was on. If I didn’t get past the second gate before the tide turned It would cost me a 4 hour detour around the outside of Bardsey Island. It was around one in the morning when we left the safety of Holyhead. For a while it was almost like daytime as the floodlights from the harbour lit up the area, but soon we were plunged back into inky black darkness. At just around the same time the going got gnarly, as we were beginning to head through the first tidal gate just as the tide was turning. The boat was being chucked around the place, similar to our previous passage in the Irish Sea, but worse. This time you couldn’t see where the swell and waves were actually coming from, making it feel rather like being on the back of a bucking bronco. Gladly, this soon passed and within a few hours the morning sun was filling the sky.

Seeing the sun rise is like the ultimate beacon of hope. Although after over two months of sailing I had seen plenty of sunrises, yet it was only on the West coast passages that I realised how much of a symbol of hope the sun really is. For me, on that day seeing the sun rise gave me hope that I could finally eat some food! I hadn’t eaten anything all night and I was paying the consequences. Thankfully, a calorie-packed chicken korma with rice restored the energy levels well… I could practically feel life returning!

It took us precisely five hours and fifty-six minutes to sail between the tidal gates – we had made it with minutes to spare! I was so relieved; finally, I felt like I could breathe out and stop pushing Alchemy so hard. Once we rounded the headland the overcast sky dispersed, and we had a lovely final few hours on our way to Pwllheli. The sun was beaming down and it felt like summer, I even took off my salopettes, probably the third time on the trip so far!

I felt very lucky to be there that day, I was living my dream… not many people get to do that.

Bad weather delayed us again once we reached Pwllheli; we were stuck there for three days…yes, another three days! This stopping and starting had become a recurring theme, and it was certainly helping to lay on the pressure. I really had to finish as quickly as possible now. In fact, by the time I left Pwllheli everything was pretty well “make or break”; from what I was seeing on the weather models, when I left Pwllheli I would have three days to sail all the way to Padstow, Cornwall, and if I didn’t get there in three days my next chance would be more a week later.

The route from Pwllheli to Padstow


Tidal gates1: A point where a landmass/es (in this case it was a gap between an island and a headland) accelerates a tidal stream to speeds twice or three times that of the surrounding areas. Tidal gates tend to form around headlands or at pinch points between landmasses. It is crucial that the tide flows with you through these points!