Bangor to Holyhead
Following five days in Bangor I was quite eager to get moving again. Although I had had an amazing time, I was determined to get South. What was at the forefront of my mind was that we finally had a weather window to cross the Irish Sea from Ardglass to Holyhead… Something I didn’t want to miss out on.
Leaving Bangor it was quite windy and within minutes of having the sails up we were storming along on a reach. You could feel the power of the boat with every gust, consistently we were hitting speeds of around eight and occasionally nine knots. Unfortunately, though, soon we turned the corner to head South, and within an hour we were sailing hard upwind, into a force 6, in the rain and squalls…served me right for sailing round Britain!
After seven hours of sailing, Alchemy and I came slowly into Ardglass. The boat was now completely soaked inside as well as out, so I had a big drying job on my hands, something that I hated with a passion! Trying to dry out boats is tedious, slow and most of the time completely useless too because they all have leaks, and sure as hell it will rain during the process and then you’re back to square one! It took two hours in the end to dry out the boat. Then soon, after an hour or so planning the followings day’s passage to Holyhead, some food and a shower, I was in bed.
My alarm pierced the silence of the night at the ghostly time of 3:30am the next morning. It was flat calm inside the harbour and peaceful and I was sad that I hadn’t had the chance to explore the area. However, I finally had an opportunity to get across the Irish Sea, and that was something I would refuse to let go. Within an hour we had cast off; it was like clockwork after over 7 weeks of sailing.
Heading out of Ardglass the predicted north-westerly breeze was good, it was quite light, but I had high hopes that it would fill in and we would have some nice fast downwind sailing. There wasn’t much of a sea state yet either, so Alchemy’s autopilot was coping well. These relatively good conditions meant that for the first few hours, when we were still in darkness, I was able to focus on looking out of the boat more instead. The Irish Sea is a pretty busy piece of water, and just offshore from Ardglass were some fishing areas that I had to pass through which meant two things: firstly, there would be more fishing boats around, and secondly, there would be more fishing pots. Dreaded pots! I was really conscious of this because the last thing I wanted was to hit a pot or another vessel and scupper my chances of getting across the Irish Sea.
By sunrise, the wind was beginning to fill in more and we were sailing along nicely, but the sea state was becoming bigger and more confused and by now I was quite far offshore too. Now there was nothing else in sight, so it was just Alchemy and I in what felt like quite an ominous place. The green hills of Ireland had faded into a grey haze, and all I could see of the Isle of Man were its barren cliffs. Everything was grey other than the water, which was black. The sea seemed to have an edge to it as well, because every once in a while, Alchemy would be knocked sideways from the swell. Then, almost as if nature had seen my thoughts, a dolphin popped up alongside us to keep us company. Then another one, and another. Soon, I was surrounded by a pod of over 20 dolphins! It was an amazing feeling, I was both full of excitement yet also in awe. This huge pod followed us for miles, putting on an incredible show of acrobatics around the boat.
This is why you don’t get lonely at sea, you are always surrounded by nature and the elements. On every passage you encounter something different, and this time I had a private escort of dolphins!
After the dolphins left us the wind had unexpectedly died, and as we approached Holyhead the sea-state was becoming more and more confused. We had around thirty miles left, which was becoming a very slow and uncomfortable slog. The more the wind dropped, the slower we went and therefore the more Alchemy would pitch and roll around in the turbulent sea. I was already tired after ten hours on the water and little sleep, so everything became harder and it was not fun.
In the last fifteen miles, I found myself in a new type of mental low; stress and tiredness-induced frustration and anger. There was now very little wind and the very strong tides surrounding Anglesey had turned on me. I was also passing through shipping lanes. All this meant that I ended up only doing around two or three knots in the right direction, and I spent the final four and a half hours of the trip mentally punishing myself for it – even though I couldn’t have done anything differently!
Sixteen hours after leaving Ardglass, I quite literally stumbled and fumbled into Holyhead. The final thirty miles of the passage had been one of the most mentally challenging yet. The very slow progress and repetitive rolling of the boat had slowly worn me down and I was mentally drained. My eye sockets were aching, and everything felt tense. Nothing some sleep and a bit of food couldn’t fix though, and most of all I was glad to have got that passage under my belt and to be back on the mainland.