Milford Haven to Padstow
That night I managed no more than half an hour’s sleep before I got up and left Milford Haven. I did not actually feel very tired though because of the amount of adrenaline that was running through me.
As most of the country went to sleep, at around eleven thirty Alchemy and I were slowly making our way into the sea lock of Milford Haven marina before heading out into the estuary. By now the nerves were starting to disappear, replaced by absolute concentration. The fog which had been haunting my thoughts for hours now had somewhat lifted, although I knew that there was a bank of fog to pass through as I left Milford Haven estuary.
As the lock gates opened up into the channel, I was once again staring straight into an abyss of blackness. From inside the lock, I felt rather like a horse wearing blinkers, you could only see forward which was just an endless black! As we headed out of the lock I quickly began to pick up the channel markers that were guiding me through the night. Then, after about a mile, the fog returned thick and fast. I went from being able to see around five channel markers ahead, to barely being able to pick out the next marker. I really had been dealt the short straw by the weather Gods.
The Port Control, who manage all the activity in and out of the estuary, proved to be an invaluable help to me as I left the area. When the fog hit, I was effectively rendered blind. I couldn’t see any other vessels around me, and I was unable to go down into the boat to check the AIS as I had to remain in the cockpit to steer. All I could do was keep as far to one side of the channel as possible to avoid the ships, and crack on! Thankfully, the Port Control who I had contacted to let them know I was leaving, stayed in touch with me all the way out of the estuary. They were following me every step of the way through AIS and Radar and kept me regularly updated on any other vessels which were around me. Particularly, they were incredibly helpful when a huge ferry entered the channel and we had to pass it. I had heard its fog horn from miles away but couldn’t see it! The port control frequently updated me on its position and quite literally gave me a ten second countdown to when I passed it… It was so foggy that it only loomed into view four seconds before we passed each-other!
I was relieved when we were out of the channel, the more sea room I had… the safer I was. However, as soon as I left the channel, I was completely alone again. Within moments, the remaining lights of the channel were gone, and I quite literally could not see anything. I was surrounded by this endless eerie foggy black, no stars, and no moon. It was like being in a black room. In my video recording I said, “Without my red light on I can’t even see my boots!”
From the moment I left Milford Haven I had broken the passage up into stages which helped me to not feel overwhelmed by the next eighteen hours of sailing. Firstly, I had to get out of the Milford Haven Estuary… which we had now done. Now, my next stage was to get through the last four hours of darkness. Then, once the sun was up I could set my eyes on arriving within five miles of Padstow, and my last stage would be the tricky entrance, passing the infamous Doom Bar moving sandbank, that would be the final hurdle before I finished.
Upon reflection, I think breaking my passage up into stages was a critical move which mentally helped me more than I even realised at the time. Nevertheless, I was still mentally exhausted despite my various coping methods… I was in a world of psychological mind games, induced by the shear disorientation and frustration caused by the fog, and the immense concentration it was demanding. All I wanted was for the fog to lift. It didn’t.
We were encased in a world of white for the full eighteen hours across the Bristol Channel. It felt never ending. Nothing changed, you couldn’t see the sky, there were no clouds moving and the wind was a monotone four or five knots. All I had to gauge whether I was even still on this planet were the hours on the clock creeping by, and the little dot on the chart-plotter slowly gliding across the screen. Other than that, I knew absolutely nothing. For all I knew there could have been some freak event and I was the only one left on earth! (Of course only my wacky teenage brain would think of something like that!)
By the time I came into Padstow it was already quite late in the afternoon. The whole place felt eerie, and I could only just make out some tourists wandering around the harbour. I couldn’t have cared less where I was, all I wanted was to get the boat safely moored up, switch off and then eat at least 3,000 calories… priorities, am I right?! Fish & Chips it would have to be – turned out I was in the perfect place for that! Exploring could wait till tomorrow.