Porth Dinllaen to Port Dinorwic, Menai Straits – Home sweet home

Our last night at anchor was just perfect, we both slept well after sailing through the night the day before.  After eggs and bacon (we have missed bacon!) we pulled the anchor up and started our last passage through Caenarfon Bar to Port Dinorwic.  The wind was perfect, the sea was blue, the scenery just stunning, we felt really quite sad and will miss the fresh air and freedom we have enjoyed so much over the last 2 years.

We timed our passage perfectly, we had double and triple checked it to make sure we got the tide timings right, the last thing we wanted was to run aground so close to home!  As we approached the Bar we heard a boat calling us on the radio, it was our friends Kink and Jeff who had waved us off 2 years ago from Dinas Boatyard.  They have been following our blog and were there to take a photo and welcome us home.  As we motored through the Bar at 9 knots – lots of tide whooshing us through into the straits – there were our friends waving us in, what a lovely welcome home and a great photo of Rivalady.

An hour later and we had gone through the lock and were safely moored up in Port Dinworwic.  It’s like we have really gone full circle now as we launched our very first yacht at Port Dinworic, Yacht Bluebell, a Hunter Delta, many years ago.  

We plan to haul Rivalady out of the water in the next few weeks for improvements and maintenance then go to Largs, Scotland next Spring by which time we hope to have achieved a good work life balance and got our house sorted out.  We are looking forward to sailing in Scotland again next year, our favourite cruising area.

But for now, it’s goodbye from me.

And goodbye from the Skipper.

We hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures in our blog, we’ve enjoyed keeping it up to date and receiving all your lovely comments.  I hope to get a book published this year about our sailing adventures over the last 20 years, going back to how it all started in 1996.  We’ve had some hard lessons out at sea over the years and I’ve given up sailing twice!  We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to take two years out and would totally recommend an adult gap year or two – just do it!

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 5 Comments

Padstow, Cornwall to Porth Dinllaen, Lleyn Peninsular, North Wales

We enjoyed our fish and chips and Cornish pasties at Padstow – we had been looking forward to them for days whilst crossing Biscay! We bought 2 Cornish pasties and reheated them for lunch on our passage across the Bristol Channel. Just delicious!  

We timed our visit well to Padstow – we were there for the hottest day of the year so far and we enjoyed the views from our walk to Stepper Point.

After a few days rest and recovery from our Biscay crossing we got a weather window and left Padstow at 7.15am as the harbour gates were opened. We had a bit of tide against us as we motored out of the channel but this was the best time to leave as it meant we got a couple of hours tide behind us once out of the channel before it turned.  

As we progressed north we got strongly pushed to the left by the tide for 6 hours, then strongly back to the right for another 6 hours, then the tide was against us as we approached Milford Haven – our speed went down to 3 knots for a couple of hours. It is a long slog north across this stretch of water. We are just coming off Spring tides so although the tides are not quite as fierce as they were when we got to Padstow they are still reasonably strong.  

The forecast was for a W becoming SW 3/4 occasionally 5 with smooth to slight seas occasionally moderate. Just perfect for a sail across the Bristol Channel. Throughout the day there was less than 10 knots of winds which isn’t enough wind to sail so once again we were motoring. We’d rather too little wind though than too much so we’re not complaining. 

By mid morning it was foggy, damp, drizzly and very cold. We are back to full waterproof sailing kit, gloves and hats. Did we really sail in t-shirts and shorts just a few weeks ago?!

It was a real treat to be joined by the Dolphins again, they stayed with us on and off for most of the day, playing under the boat and jumping out of the water at the side. We have been so fortunate to have so many Dolphins with us a number of times during our long our journey home.

We had planned to anchor overnight at Dale (a sheltered anchorage near Milford Haven) for 24 hours as there was a strong NW wind forecast for the next day. Winds were then forecast to be lighter the following day to enable us to continue the final leg of our passage up to Caernarfon. However the forecast changed whilst we were sailing. The NW winds were now forecast to be further north in Scotland and our sea area just had SW winds. We both agreed to continue sailing throughout the night rather than stopping.

We had a good night, very little shipping, and quickly got back into our watch routines. Egg and bacon in the morning just tastes so much better out here after a long night doing watches!

We went to an anchorage on the Lleyn Peninsular called Porth Dinllaen as we arrived too late to get through Caernarfon Bar which needs careful passage planning. We could go through on the next tide but that’s around midnight – we’re not that brave or desperate! We both agree to go through the Bar tomorrow around midday in the forecasted light winds and will enjoy our last night out at anchor before going home and back to work.

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 2 Comments

La Coruna to Padstow

We were getting fed up of studying gribs and weather, often there had been 1 or even 2 good days but the days either side of it were just too windy or there was too much swell (we have a 2 metre limit for comfort).  It seemed never ending.  We geared up to leave for Gijon as this reduces the crossing to 2 days rather than 3 days but then the wind increased to gale force round the headland so we changed our mind and stayed put.

A week later we saw a window, it was perfect, finally after almost a month of waiting.  But the next day it got worse, the wind direction became less favourable, wind strength increased, the swell increased, but on balance it was still just about ok and we agreed we could probably still leave.  

We started our pre-departure preparations, then the lunchtime before we were due to leave it all went even worse and we really doubted our decision. It is awful to be in such a state of indecision with these changing forecasts.  We are so keen to get going and get home but neither of us want to make the wrong decision and have a bad experience – Biscay has a fearsome reputation in the sailing world.    

We continued to make our meals for passage and cooked a big joint of beef just in case it improved in the evening update.  For once it actually improved and it was even better in the morning.  Steph, our professional forecaster from MeteoGib, confirmed the forecast for us and it was all systems go for a lunchtime departure

We knew we were in for an uncomfortable first 24 hours with a NW swell of 1.8m, light N winds, with opposing easterly wind waves and shorter swell from the very strong easterly that has just died down a few hours ago.  It wasn’t too bad at first but overnight it was horrible.  Neither of us really slept, Ian said he got more sleep in the cockpit on watch just dozing than he did in his bunk.  

But we got through the night and I was on watch when the sun was rising.  As I took this photo a dolphin just jumped up next to us, I had no idea he was there, what a lovely surprise.

We had dolphins with us throughout the night, on and off, you can seem them in the dark swimming next to the boat, they really are beautiful creatures.

At Monday 12 noon we had been motoring for 24 hours and had done 120 miles, 5 knots per hour.  Not bad considering what we’ve motored through at times.

Steph is sending us forecasts twice a day for this passage with a 24 hour forecast and a further outlook for the next 3 days to support our passage planning.    We would like to get to Padstow round Lands End but if the winds and/or sea become unfavourable we will divert to Newlyn (near Penzance) or Camaret (near Brest, Brittany).  On Monday evening the forecast continues to be favourable so we plan to go to Padstow and do our passage plan to get round Lands End in a favourable tide.  We are on Spring tides at the moment so it would be good to have 1-3 knots of tide with us rather than against us.  

It is actually a better forecast for Padstow than Camaret as there are strong north easterlies forecast on the approach to Camaret whereas if we stay offshore the winds are much lighter. We have noticed that Brest seems to be a very windy corner and we don’t want to get “trapped” again on a windy headland.

We have a much better second night, the sea is calmer and the stars are visible although it is very damp.  We have had an abundance of dolphins with us throughout the afternoon and night, keeping us entertained with their acrobatics as they weave under and around the boat.  At night they are silvery shadows, absolutely stunning.

Overnight we start to pick up more traffic on the AIS system as we approach the shipping lanes off Brittany into the English Channel.  

Moonrise on Tuesday morning at the start of my 5am watch and a big ship is just passing to starboard heading to the shipping lanes.  

An hour later and we have a stunning sunrise as another tanker passes by in the distance.  What a glorious morning.  

Unfortunately about an hour later we spot fog banks in the distance and spend the rest of the day in poor visibility, fog and mist which was forecasted so not unexpected.

We made good time overnight and are now going to get to Lands End too early.  Lands End is best rounded between HW Dover and HW Dover+6 so we decide to aim for the last 2 hours of the earlier tide rather than the first 2 hours of the later tide.  This means we will have more tide with us on approach but very little once we are round.  This is probably better anyway as the tides are stronger on approach.  

During the day we started to notice the effect of the tides pushing us to starboard for a few hours then to port.  We also notice our speed is changing significantly – we are down to 4.5 knots for a few hours then back up to 6.5 hours for a few hours.  We don’t have a tidal atlas for this area of the English Channel but can extrapolate the tides from Lands End and the Scilly Isles and understand how the tides are now starting to affect our boat speed and direction.

Steph confirms the forecast for our final 36 hours to Padstow with an Easterly force 4 forecast all Wednesday which is perfect to finally turn the engine off and start sailing.  We have had force 2-4 winds for most of the passage but more from the north than the west that we were hoping for so we haven’t done any sailing yet.  Fog and poor visibility continues to be forecast for the duration of our passage.  There are more easterly gales forecast in Finisterre in the next couple of days with a rough sea in the sea area we have just come through – no turning back now!

We had to put our spare 80 litres of fuel that we carry in cans on deck into our fuel tank during Tuesday afternoon which was very challenging in the persistent 1.5 metre westerly swell but had to be done just in case this easterly wind doesn’t appear and we have to continue motoring.  

As we enter the English Channel during our third night we are kept busy with shipping and poor visibility so no dozing off on watch for either of us tonight!  The persistent westerly swell on the beam continues to make it difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep but we both manage to get a few hours.

Dawn breaks on the fourth day and there are no photos of the sunrise this morning.  We have  got 100% grey cloud cover and we notice the sea is no longer blue but grey to match the sky.  Visibility has improved and we are no longer in fog and mist. Around 7am we cross the line on the chart, we are back in UK waters and it feels surprisingly good, we are really on our way home now.  The wind is has gone through N overnight and is now NE as forecast – the long awaited Easterly 3/4 is in the Met Office Shipping Forecast for our sea area today.

During the afternoon the cloud clears and the skies are blue.  The promised Easterly arrives but not quite strong enough for us to sail so we hoist the mainsail but keep the engine on as we are doing 6-7 knots and can’t afford to go slower as there is a strong tidal gate at Lands End.  It’s unlikely we will get through the worst of the tide before it turns so can’t afford to give away any more time.

We spot Lands End in the distance, what a welcome sight! 

We get half way round Lands End and start to slow down, the tide had turned.   We had hoped to get further round but knew we were pushing our luck.  Our speed went down quickly from the 6-7 knots we had enjoyed all afternoon to 3-4 knots.  At one point it even went down to less than 2 knots for an hour or so. We made very slow progress, lots of whirlpools and disturbed water.  On the chart it says ‘Heavy seas during gales’ – we had relatively little wind and a slight sea and can imagine how quickly it would build in any sort of wind.  That is why we wait so long for our good weather windows.

We have a slow 6 hours making between 2-4 knots until the tide turns again around midnight and our speed increases back to 5-6 knots.  

We arrive in Padstow harbour at 4.30am, we slowed down a bit towards the entrance so we could go down the channel as it was just starting to get light.  The harbour master remembered us from 2 years ago, it was good to be back.  We had sent an email before leaving La Coruna asking for a pontoon berth and there was one space that had been reserved for us – just perfect!

We would like to thank Steph at MeteoGib for her weather forecasting support pre-departure and en route.  It is so incredibly reassuring to know a professional weather forecaster is watching your back while you are offshore.  Steph really cares about your safety and this comes across all the time, we very much recommend her service.

TOTAL miles – 471.3

Day 1 – 120, average 5 knots

Day 2 – 136.5, average 5.7 knots

Day 3 – 136, average 5.7 knots

Day 4 – 78.8, average 5 knots

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 4 Comments

Still waiting in La Coruna 

Another week has flown by and we are still waiting for our weather window to leave La Coruna.  We had a “dodgy” window to leave yesterday and arrive early Saturday morning and took advice from Steph at MeteoGib.  Her advice was:

“it’s a difficult one.  I’ve had a look at the winds and generally as you said they’re F5 or less over the trip with swell below 2m as long as you’re in by early Saturday. But the signal is for some active, possibly thundery troughs to push around this LOW and NE across Biscay and while no stronger winds are showing at present on these, I’d certainly cater for the risk of some squally/stronger gusts around any thunderstorms, together with some poorer visibility”.

This was an excellent summary and confirmed our thoughts and understanding.   We chatted to our French friends, they were in a state of indecision as well.  They are both very experienced sailors and have done the Biscay crossing many times, they said they had never experienced such difficult weather conditions as they had in the last few weeks!

We hate these “marginal, dodgy” weather windows.  When looking for a window we are looking at wind direction, wind strength, swell height and swell direction plus anything else like thunder, rain or fog.  We have promised ourselves we will not leave on a dodgy forecast unless we are absolutely sure but time is moving on and it is difficult to just sit and wait when we have commitments to get home for.

We took the decision not to leave.  The French left.  We agonised all day over our decision, was it right, should we have gone?  Then we went for a walk and a huge squall passed by, we sheltered under a bus shelter.  Here it is passing by.

Lying in bed last night we were listening to thunder and heavy rain. We got an email from Steph this morning to tell us that the strongest gust yesterday was recorded over Finisterre at 93 km or 50 knots with squalls of 38-45 knots.  We are frustrated at still being here but relieved not to be out there at the moment and know we made the right decision.

So we start again looking at the weather this morning, the gribs have changed this morning with a new low pressure system heading our way bringing big seas and more squally winds.  We are thinking we may go east to Gijon and go for a 48 hour crossing to southern Brittany to minimise the risks and make the weather window a day smaller.  That adds hundreds of miles to our passage but might be a better and safer option for us.  But for now we must practice patience, stay true to our principles and wait.  Biscay is to be respected and we must remember that.

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 2 Comments

La Coruna – waiting for weather

After a great few days of calm seas and light winds the weather has now changed.  We always knew wherever we were on Monday last week is where we would be staying for a good few days – and we were right!

We have had gale force winds, squalls, heavy rain, hailstones, thunder and it’s freezing cold – we had ice on the decks and under the sprayhood after one particularly violent hailstorm!

The thermals are out as are the hats, socks, fleeces and blankets to go over our summer duvets.  We are acclimatising for our arrival in Scotland!

The swell is working its way into the marina, well it is 4m+ just outside the bay, and we are having memories of the marinas in the Canaries when we were rocking back and to in our marina berth.   We have upgraded to our mooring compensators but it’s been very noisy especially at night when trying to sleep.

There is a dodgy weather window tomorrow but we are not taking any risks at all with just the two of us crossing Biscay.  The French boat we arrived with is considering leaving together with a Swedish boat.  We have happy with our decision not to leave despite being keen to get going (although it is always difficult when others leave and you decide to stay put!).

We are starting to research which is the best marina to leave Rivalady in La Coruna if we can’t get a weather window as there is nothing at all in the next 10 days or so, although forecasts can change and we will continue to review daily.  We are still hopeful we can get Rivalady to the UK by the end of May or even the beginning of June as it will be so expensive to leave her here, get flights home, get flights back and find the time to sail her home in the right weather.   We really don’t want to have to pay a delivery crew and want to get her home ourselves.

Despite the weather we are enjoying our time in La Coruna, we always regretted not spending much time here on our way down so it’s great to have the opportunity to explore.  We were woken the other morning by a loud tannoy welcoming guests to La Coruna, we jumped out of bed because it sounded so close – here is our neighbour for the day and we never even heard it arrive.

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 1 Comment

Leixoes, Portugal to La Coruna, Spain

After checking the weather in the morning we decided we had a great opportunity to get round Finisterre and into La Coruna.  This headland has a fearsome reputation and heavy swells quickly build in any wind from the north.  But the weather was looking very settled and had been for several days now, winds were light (maximum 10 knots or less) and the seas were “pink and purple” – it was time to go.

We set the alarm clock but we were both up before it went off, keen to get underway and get the last passage up this coast over with.  The forecast from Tuesday is for strong N/NE winds and bigger swells, up to 3m+ at times so wherever we are on Monday evening is where we are staying for a while.

We motored out of Leixoes in no wind and flat seas.  There is a big oil terminal at Leixoes Port but it doesn’t receive oil tankers during 50-80 days of the year in winter due to difficult weather conditions.  To solve this problem there is a big buoy just about 2 miles offshore which is connected to the local refinery though an underwater pipeline.  Here is a ship using the facility as we passed.

The winds were light throughout the day and we motored north.  We said goodbye to Portugal as Ian lowered the courtesy flag.

And hello to Spain again as the courtesy flag was raised.

We passed the Ria de Vigo and the Isles de Cies as we approached sunset, we were sad to be sailing past one of our most favourite cruising areas, we have very happy memories of our time in the Ria de Vigo.

We had just passed Ria de Arousa and I had been on watch probably half an hour so we were approaching midnight.  There were a number of fishing vessels already on AIS and I noticed that a fishing fleet had left Arousa and were quickly coming up behind us.  It is quite eerie to have all the lights approaching you in the dark and seeing all the traffic on the AIS.  I eventually got Ian up to help me as some passed us to port and some to starboard.  I am SO glad we receive and transmit on AIS, it’s reassuring to know that they are aware of us and we can see their course, speed etc.  An hour later and it had all calmed down although we were busy on our watches maintaining a course and keeping a lookout.

The swell increased slowly as we approached Finisterre, we were glad we had a “pink seas” low swell forecast, it must be horrendous in bigger seas out there.  We got a weather forecast from Steph at MeteoGib at sunrise which confirmed the forecast hadn’t changed so we continued on round the headland to La Coruna.  We knew there were strong easterly winds just offshore from La Coruna but we had the forecasted light westerly wind inshore with us which was just perfect.

We motored past the Torre de Hercules on the headland early afternoon and were safely in the marina by mid afternoon.  We filled up with fuel and then reversed into a berth.  Reversing into a berth is a big deal for Rivalady as she doesn’t reverse easily, it took 3 attempts and the marinero helping us in, but we did it.  We wanted to reverse in so we were facing into the wind as there are quite strong winds forecast in the next few days.

The following day we went for a walk and just thought we would see how much it would cost to stay in the other marina in La Coruna as we thought it was a little bit more expensive than when we previously stayed there.  The Real Club Nautico Marina was over €50 a week cheaper so we moved.  We might be here for 2 weeks waiting for weather so worth doing, and it’s more central.

It is noticeably colder in La Coruna and we have had to put socks and shoes on rather than flip flops and sandals.  It even rained the next day, we’ve not had the umberella out for months!

A rough calculation – since leaving Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, we have done 1070 nautical miles.  We have 830 nm to go.  We are over half way home now and should start to pick up more favourable prevailing winds and currents to help us on our way.  We are delighted, and very proud, to have got this far on our journey back home.

Posted in Sailing 2017 | 2 Comments

Aveiro to Leixoes

After a not so peaceful night at anchor (local open air music concert until early hours!) we were motoring out of the anchorage at 6.45am.  We wanted to take the last of the tide out and leave at low water slack.  It also meant we would arrive in Leixios before those afternoon northerly winds get established.  We were glad we left at slack water, there was very little wind and just half a metre of NW swell and it was quite bouncy at the entrance.  We can imagine in any sort of north or westerly wind with a bit more swell it would be as horrific as it says in the Cruising Guide.

The swell reduced once we got into deeper water, we set the auto pilot and motored the whole way.  There was poor visibility and we could see fog in the distance, memories from when we were sailing south down this coast 2 years ago, we always seemed to be in fog.  You can see fog on the water, it is like a greyness in the distance.  Here’s a very boring photo of the fog in the distance, it was a boring passage.  But we like boring out here, it means no “dramas” or “experiences”.

We were reviewing the weather whilst on passage and have decided we will leave Leixoes early tomorrow morning and try to get round to La Coruna without any more stops.  It is 170 miles so around 34 hours, leave Sunday morning and arrive Monday evening.  The winds are very light Sunday and Monday including the afternoon northerlies so it will probably just be a motor round, hopefully in reasonably flat seas, we would be very happy with that.  We will be sad to completely miss the Ria’s as they were our favourite cruising area but when you get a good weather window and you’re heading home you just have to take it.

Once in La Coruna we can then change the oil and impeller (probably will have done 150 engine hours by La Coruna), get more fuel and relax whilst the next pulse of strong winds blow through.  We are then ready for our next weather window for the big Biscay crossing.

So we’ve had a busy afternoon – checking in, 2 mile walk to the supermarket, transferring the fuel from the cans into the tank, showers, preparing food and preparing the boat for another 2 day passage.  We will check the weather again in the morning before leaving and en route, there are lots of places to stop if we don’t like it or the weather changes.  Also there are no lobster pots out once we leave Portugal so that makes night sailing easier.  As ever we reserve the right to completely change our plans!

Posted in Sailing 2017 | Leave a comment