Pwllheli to Milford Haven
My final night in Pwllheli was spent preparing for what was going to be a pretty non-stop three days. Then, I set the alarm to screech at me at four in the morning and went to bed.
The following morning the atmosphere was still and so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I felt terrible as I left the marina and shattered the tranquillity with the resounding noise of Alchemy’s engine. PAT PAT PAT PAT PAT! Thankfully within minutes we were out of the marina and there wasn’t a single other soul in sight. To my delight we had an incredible sunrise too which illuminated the sails as I pulled them up. It was a magical start to what I knew was going to be a rather arduous three days… unbeknown to me was exactly how testing they were going to be.
From Pwllheli, we had a 12 hour sail across the notorious Cardigan Bay to Fishguard. It was a crossing that you’d be safe to say a lot of sailors feared; the bay is relatively shallow and is fully exposed to the south westerly storms – meaning in bad weather it’s rather like a washing machine. Thankfully on that trip I had no such storms, in fact the weather for once was quite good! It was one long reach all the way to Fishguard, all of which was in bright sunshine. However, I wasn’t incredibly at ease, since at forefront of my mind was what I was going to face at the end of this passage. Fishguard was a well-protected bay but it had no marina where Alchemy and I could moor, meaning that I was going to have to anchor or pick up a mooring buoy, something I had never done alone before. I was apprehensive, as the last thing I wanted to do was screw it up and end up looking like a complete fool…or worse, damage the boat! I needn’t have worried, as we arrived at Fishguard and came onto the mooring buoy with no trouble at all – it was almost easier that doing it with other people on board because I didn’t have to communicate instructions with anyone!
We didn’t stay in Fishguard for long and I were on our way again by four-thirty the following morning. I was already sleep-deprived; it had taken a while to sort the boat out the night before so I had only managed four hours sleep.
From Fishguard we were headed to Milford Haven, a much shorter passage of only eight and a half hours, however navigationally it was going to be much harder. In fact, it was going to prove the hardest yet. On this passage I was going to take on two of the fiercest tidal gates in the country: Ramsey Sound and Jack Sound. These two tidal gates are infamous and can be incredibly dangerous even in calm weather. They are two very tight channels in-between islands with large submerged rocks in the middle of them, so If you got the tide wrong you’d end up on them without a doubt.
This was all on my mind as we left Fishguard, but I was confident and my brain was switched on. The plan was to make our way to the tidal gates with three hours of bad tide against us, in the hope that we would then pass through the tidal gates when the tide was turning, meaning that we would be passing through the area when the tide was at its weakest, so giving us the most control.
The plan was working perfectly. We were even enjoying a private escort of a small pod of dolphins through the first tidal gate. I had noticed that in the distance, towards the direction of the tidal gate there appeared to be some low-lying clouds forming. It was nothing to worry about…or so I thought, that is, until it clearly turned out to be a bank of fog.
You have got to be kidding me.
“I haven’t had fog this whole trip, and now, NOW, you give me fog! Just before I pass through the fourth worst tidal gate in the country!” Those were my exact words…well, the ones that are publishable!
I could feel every muscle in my face tense up and my concentration was stronger than ever. I had ten minutes to make a critical decision on what to do. Do I pass through the tidal gate? Or do I stop and make a large detour which would mean that I would be spending an extra two hours in this fog as a result. The longer I stayed in the fog, the greater the risk of colliding with another boat. I decided to bite the bullet and head through the tidal gate – the fog wasn’t too thick and I had 500 metres of visibility. We were in and out in minutes. Thank goodness!
Two hours later I came into Milford Haven. By now, after nearly three hours of fog I was tired, although really happy to have finally reached Milford Haven. I was also impressed with how Alchemy and I had handled the fog; there had been no panicking, solely objective thinking. I looked after the boat and the boat had looked after me.
However, I knew I couldn’t take my foot off the pedal. I now had the Bristol Channel to take on. I was stopped in Milford Haven for the grand total of seven hours, two of which were spent passage planning, two sorting the boat out and a quick shower, then I had to eat and after that I finally I went to sleep. Mind you, I couldn’t get to sleep at all. I had what felt like litres of adrenaline pouring into my bloodstream and I was the most nervous I had ever been. The Bristol Channel crossing was a huge undertaking for me. It’s a busy and treacherous piece of water and all I could think about was the fact that in a matter of hours I was going to have to go out and cross it. What I was most worried about though was the possibility that the fog might not have lifted. Three hours of fog were hard enough… and little did I know that I was about to spend 18 hours in it.