11th of April of 2019. Myself, one Irish and an English lads slipped the lines on a dream trip sailing from Ireland to the Mediterranean. Thirst for adventure, fairly well stocked with booze, as confident as pirates who have sailed the 7 seas, as experienced as less than a thousand nautical miles altogether, off we went on an expedition across the Irish Sea: the lost boys of Neverland.
The boat was fully equipped (safety-wise) and upgraded (less than self-sufficient-wise) to what I would consider safe and enjoyable at the time. I would find out later that a 200L water tank runs out really fast with 3 people aboard and the cheap Chinese wind turbine was a worthless noisy spinning piece of shit.
First Stop: Caernarfon – Wales
Early start and radio check before heading out to sea.
An almost easy 12h crossing with some headwind forcing us a bit northerly than expected. Good to test the crew’s endurance and our capability of considering diverting to other ports on the fly. That diverting plan being for nothing since the wind died in the end and we just motored to our initially intended destination. It was almost dark already as we got to the entrance of the Menai Strait. The tides were low and we tossed a coin over the chart advise: “moving sand banks, the channel should not be used at any time other than 3 hours either side of high water and during suitable sea state conditions”. Since the sea state was very calm, the worst that could happen would be to run aground in 1.5m water and have to wait an hour or so to motor the remaining half an hour to the anchorage. Well, 1.9m is what we got on the sounder. Plenty of depth to reach the first lighthouse, turn to port, drop the hook and drink to our first successful passage.
Next Stop: Porthdinllaen – Wales
After a short visit to the city and castle in Caernarfon, we headed to Porthdinllaen beach, where we would be stuck initially with hopes that the famous Tŷ Coch Inn pub would throw a party and then due to strong winds on the next days. Plenty of time to play board games, drink and take our first seawater dip shower. A dip shower is one of the main strategies to save water on a boat. You basically jump on the water just to get wet and climb back. Then you scrub yourself and jump back again to wash. Finally you rinse the salt water with fresh water. There you go, a shower with only a liter of fresh water!
All was great, until it wasn’t…
One of the nights anchored half sheltered from strong winds and the boat swinging all over, one of the guys that I won’t name on this blog, drank too much. It was a Monday as I recall at about 10:00pm. I was in my cabin ready to sleep, the other crew, Jordan (great lad by the way) was outside on the phone and the-one-that-must-not-be-named rises from his cabin trying to move still but bouncing all over. Noticeably drunk, out he goes to the cockpit. Guess for what? To pee overboard. What a genius. On those conditions, if it wasn’t for Jordan and myself rushing from my cabin to grab him, he’d be overboard. At night. Drunk. Gusting 25+ knots. Boat swinging more than 100°. 13°C water. I didn’t sleep that night while my mind digested the situation: First week in and one of my crew is half helpful and half worse than useless, a risk! My other crew, very smart and 150% reliable. Even a better sailor than me I’d find sometimes. Balance is achieved. Still I feel very uncomfortable with the other crew that, believe it or not, has other problems including very bad smell.
We had a talk the next morning and things got back to ‘normal’.
Next Stop: Pwllheli – Wales
Easy 40nm passage and top speed of 11knots on Bardsey sound with ~6 knots current. Couldn’t believe when I saw the GPS speed. Right after the sound there was the Devil’s Ridge on the chart that got us worried but the sea state was alright in the end and we passed through just fine tacking across.
Getting inside Pwllheli marina was an easy ride on the right tide even after forgetting the mainsail fully up. Oops. There was practically no wind at the time and we quickly took it down.
Pwllheli wasn’t much of a nice town to be honest. We did some shopping and on the way back Jordan creeped on a woman with her kid to ask her how to pronounce Pwllheli haha. She looked a bit scared like: “What are these guys up to?” then she said: “pool-heli” while getting hold of her child. There you go, Pwllheli, funny welsh name that means salt-water pool.
Back to the marina, we took our first proper shower since the start of the trip and bought some boat parts on the chandlery early next morning before setting sail to Fishguard.
By a huge coincidence, my sailing instructor from Ireland was making a boat delivery from Pwllheli to Fishguard next day! He found our boat on the slip and came to say hi. If it wasn’t for the chandlery early next morning we could have raced to Fishguard! Like we stood a chance against a professional on a 40 footer.
Next Stop: Fishguard – Wales
The passage to Fishguard was great, Dolphins followed the boat for the first time and we had loads of fun hanging out the boom downwind.
It was practically night when we arrived at the anchorage where we managed to spot my instructor’s boat and dropped the hook nearby to say hi.
After that we noticed that our anchor light wasn’t working which required us to climb the mast next day to fix. We had to climb the mast many times over the next weeks by the way. Luckily I had the equipment! Big thanks to Sergio from SV Florence who taught me the ropes of going up the mast with the Prusik knot technique back in Ireland. Jordan also happened to be a climber himself and helped a lot going up a few times.
Quick stop to talk about problems…
They happen all the time! Read again slowly: ALL THE TIME! First was the anchor light, then the headsail halyard and furling system (will come back to that later) and finally the wind speed sensor that got stuck and wouldn’t spin. That alone was a battle that required us going up the mast multiple times before we decided taking the sensor apart and doing a proper job cleaning the bearing and soaking it on WD-40. I also managed to break it on the process and had to glue it up with epoxy. Works perfectly to this day!
And that was just up the mast. Next stop plumbing leaks.
Dinghy out the locker, pumped it up and rowed to shore. Was a bit of a hassle to find a safe place for the dinghy and also close enough to the water since the tides were still going down at the time. It was even worse to come back at low water. We basically had to drag the dinghy for a couple hundred meters before reaching the water again.
Fishguard was a beautiful little town, specially the lower town.
In the meantime, after friends and family sharing my expedition, I was contacted by a newspaper in Italy called Il Telegrafo Livorno. They asked me a few questions and pictures and a couple days later there was it. They published a huge photo of my face stamped on the front page! I couldn’t believe my eyes when they sent me the picture. I was smiling and pinching myself for a week. The dream was as real as ever.
Next Stop: Skomer Island – Wales
Done with Fishguard we decided to go on our first night passage to Skomer Island, a bird sanctuary where we could spot the famous Puffin bird.
Beautiful night, full moon on the sky and light head winds. We could smell bird shit from miles away coming from the island. At about 01:00am we anchored on the south bay. Felt amazing to wake up with the sound of the birds and that view…
We went to the other side anchorage next day hoping to go on the island but were told over the radio that the fee to get in was only payable by cash and none of us had money except on card – 1st world problems #sadface – so we left.
Worried about timing we ended skipping
Milf Heaven Milford Haven to get to Cardiff and Bristol faster and aimed for Caldey Island to anchor for the night. Dropped the hook, reversed to set the anchor and bang! The engine noise before dying. We had reversed on our fishing line. Oops. Fortunately we had a wetsuit, diving mask, a good knife and a highly motivated Jordan excited to dive in and clear the propeller saving the day.
Next Stop: Cardiff – The Bristol Channel
The Bristol Channel was a big surprise. It boasts the second highest tidal range in the world at between 12 and 14 meters! (highest is at the Bay of Fundy in Canada with 16 meters). Can you picture a 14 meters depth pool empty? Now imagine a whole channel cycling between empty and full every 6 hours. You just can’t fight that current and need to plan well your passage. The water also gets super muddy and I gave up the idea of drinking a shot of sea water to celebrate my first thousand nautical miles. Dark rum did the job though.
We got there at high water late afternoon and called the lock controllers over the radio and were assigned a bay to lock in. Once inside we called the marina that was already booked and were assigned a berth to dock.
Cardiff Marina was really nice! They have a bar with a beegarden perfect for a sunset beer. Cardiff city night out on the hand wasn’t very nice at all. Maybe it was the day or the time, I don’t know. Lots of drunk and weird people on the streets. The bars were kind of empty and had a heavy atmosphere. As it is said in Ireland: no craic! We were fast to leave that city to Bristol next day.
BRISTOL! – England
Bristol was just amazing and holds the post of favourite city of the trip. Just to get there is an adventure on its own! From getting down the Avon River on the right tide, passing by the famous Portishead, past under the Avonmouth Bridge before the iconic Victorian Clifton Suspension Bridge and into the first lock, then watching two swinging bridges having traffic stopped so you can pass through and finally into the city right by a beer garden being greeted by people drinking and waving at you as a welcome sign. You can literally park your boat in front of a pub for a drink! How epic is that?
The city has loads of nice restaurants and bars, the unmissable St Nicholas Market, a great chandlery: Force 4 and a hardware/building materials store: Wickes where I bought a hose, some ptfe tape and a couple aluminium strips to make a stronger support for the solar panel.
I also got to visit friends and collect a new solar mppt charge controller that they kindly received and stored for me. Thanks Tom and Julia! Jordan’s auntie also came over for some tea time and gave us a bottle of rum as a gift. Thanks Judith! Straight to the wall of good memories!
Then a storm was forecast for the next days and we had to wait for it to pass before heading out. Loads of time to walk around and do nothing! Quick note about the facilities for boaters in Bristol. They seemed very poor. At least the ones we saw.
Next Stop: Lundy Island – England
The plan to get out of the Bristol channel was to split the trip in two from Bristol to Lundy Island so we wouldn’t fight the currents head on. The options were limited and we decided to anchor outside Cardiff, east of Flat Holm. Seems only doable in neaps but still about 2 knots of current at its peak. Not very advisable to be honest but still doable on good weather and calm sea. The other option was to get inside Cardiff marina again and pay another night but we would still lose a lot of time.
The second leg of the passage was rainy and with very light winds. We tried flying the spinnaker for the first time but the wind was just too weak so we were mostly motoring. Then in the middle of the channel we heard a familiar sudden bang as the engine died again. We had ran over a thick yellow rope adrift that went straight to the prop. Took us a few seconds to notice it dragging behind the boat. It was very cold and soon to be dark and the sea state was a bit rolly at the time. There was nowhere to anchor nearby, no wind and the current would eventually turn back on us. It was my turn to wear the wetsuit and save the day. I cut a piece of the rope and stuck to the wall of memories.
After that it was smooth motoring til Lundy Island where we dropped the hook for the night. Lundy is one of my favourite Island of the trip. It is like a big farm and bio researching reserve with a beautiful landscape. Full of birds, soey sheep, goats, poneis, highland cattle and many more animals.
We stayed there only for a day and set sail originally to Port Isaac. That was our first attempt to not rely on the engine if the wind died and planned to stay under sails only for the whole night if needed. Was very tedious to sail at 2knots. Then the wind picked up head on and we diverted to Port Quinn Bay where we could safely anchor at night. We couldn’t see anything at all and were basically relying on the GPS. After almost run over a few lobster pods, we made it safely into the bay and dropped the hook at about 5m depth.
Next Stop: Padstow – England
We knew there was some strong winds coming next days and the River Camel was our best shelter. Only a few issues though. The tides dry most of the channel and the only anchorable spaces in front of Padstow were full of mooring buoys, none being available to visitors. The marina was an option but we were on a budget
trying to save money and would rather spend on beer. We found a spot and dropped the hook. For our surprise, we were charged to anchor! The harbour master came to us, really nice guy by the way, and after a long explanation about history and bay ownership, we were charged a symbolic fee of 40 pounds for the week. Still way cheaper than the marina that would be easily about 35 pounds a night!
Padstow was the biggest example of the “ups and downs of sailing”. The Ups usually feels like the best days of your life and the Downs feels like you wished those days never happened.
We arrived on 1st of May, by coincidence the best day of the year to be there all thanks to the May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival. A folk festival where everyone was dressed up on this white sailors uniform with either a red or blue scarf and ribbon in reference to the ‘Oss. Red known as Old Oss and Blue known as Peace Oss. Streets packed with people dancing, playing the accordion and drums, singing along and drinking beers. Perfect occasion for a good old pub crawling. What a blast we had! The weather was just perfect, sunny and warm. A rare taste of summer on these latitudes and season.
Motivated by the bad weather coming and my decision to sit there longer, we had a drunk open talk about comfort zone and when we should sail. The guys were keen to get out on strong winds, which is 22+ knots in my dictionary, and I compared them to recently deployed soldiers craving for action at war. They wanted a fight with the sea. In my head that wasn’t sensible at all. How one could enjoy cold wind, salt water spray that feels like cutting your face, bashing waves, hearing all those harsh noises that resonate as “this is not right” (at least in my head), battling a heavier rudder, a boat heeling to the deck and things falling and breaking inside, feeling sea sick and increasing the chance of having to solve problems that you didn’t even know that could happen in the first place but now on harder conditions? NOT ME!
I get it that they wanted to see it for themselves, after all how could they face that infamous “Have you ever been on a storm” question that every non sailor asks? But I was a novice sailor on a cruising dream with a heavy captain’s hat of responsibility and a tourist heart. Don’t judge me, I’ve been on a storm with 4+ meter waves, some even crashing on the boat during my skipper course. Then on strong winds single handed to the Isle of Man and back with a broken autopilot. And after 6 months sailing practically on a daily basis, trust me, I’ve been there, several times! It’s not pleasant or remotely fun. It’s sadism if you say you enjoy it. I heard a joke once that a man liked to use shoes 2 numbers smaller than his feet just to feel the pleasure of taking them off after a long day of work… I like sunshine, a nice breeze, new places, sunsets, fresh fish and cold beer!
Jokes a part, seamanship is an art and there are all types of sailors on every port. Know who you are!
Back to our dinghy dried out in mud and with an audience hoping they had a reason to laugh at us, we managed to drag it back to the water and motor back to the boat.
All was great, until it wasn’t… AGAIN!
A night or two later, 02:00 am and I heard a bang! Something hit us I thought (or we hit something). I woke up, opened my hatch on the bow and looked around. There was this green and red lights and somebody walking on the back. We were still anchored I could tell. I thought it was one of the guys outside at the time. Then I looked back inside and Jordan was just about to open the companionway board. It probably took me a full minute as I climbed out to the deck to realise that there was another sailboat that hit us and got attached side by side and the person walking was the skipper on the deck of his boat. Still a bit half asleep and confused, I asked him: “Did you drag anchor or was it us?”. He just said: “I don’t know”. We assessed the situation which was: He was single handed and has drifted with the wind and current, hit us and his spinnaker pole tied to his deck and sticking the tip out was stuck to my boat’s stanchion preventing him from drifting further.
What really happened that night? I still don’t know to this day. Me and Jordan helped him out and freed the pole stuck to the stanchion and he just went adrift down the river with the current and wind. Didn’t even say sorry. All I know is the name of the boat “Just For Now” because his AIS was broadcasting at the time. Also because of a small yellow paint mark that was left on my boat matching a yellow hulled boat found moored at the marina next day. Guilty!
Back inside there was a Mr You-Sure-Know, throwing up on the heads for earlier having drank 2 bottles of wine on his own and mumbling words.
Imagine my brain boiling in a feeling that I can’t even name. That event could have been a disaster. The other boat could have punched a hole on our hull, could have dragged us onto other boats, or onto land running aground and falling to the side and taking water, specially due the strong winds and current, and there was him, not only unhelpful but in need to be minded again.
Luckily the problem was sorted easily and nothing major really happened but that was the last straw. You-know-who needed to go.
I put my head back to sense and wrote down all the reasons I had for “kicking him out” (there was quite a few) and came with a sensible plan for the next morning: “We are heading to Falmouth over the next 10 days or so where it should be easier for you to find another boat and for me to find another crew.”
If only you knew me personally you’d know how hard it was for me do that. I am as ‘diplomatic’ and sensible as possible and I always try to avoid conflict. But that was my dream trip and it wasn’t working for me.
Imagine the atmosphere on the boat for the next days.
Jordan played a very good part in trying to improve the mood aboard but we only hit rock bottom of that “down” later on that same day. We decided going fishing with the new equipment we bought in Padstow and the plan was interrupted by a bilge full of water. About 150 L or precisely all we had left on the freshwater tank. That was all on me. We had this annoying small leak on the fresh water line that I tried to fix and did a lousy job. The hose got disconnected while we were sailing and an always-on electric water pump did the rest bringing us to that. We had a bilge to dry and only a few spare water bottles left. Back to the anchorage.
That day felt like 2020 alone. PUN
Next Stop: Newquay – England
Newquay is a drying harbour and the entrance was quite challenging, not only because of the strong wind and waves at the time but also because there was a bunch of people on 2 ribs (from the rowing club maybe) paddling viciously into the sea fighting the waves head on, right in front of the harbour entrance. To make things worse, one of them capsized and all of a sudden they were all over the place floating on their vests. I was already hanging there fighting the waves myself, waiting for a chance to get in, and now I was worried that one of them would come under the boat! After a few long minutes keeping distance and driving in circles, they cleared up and we had our window to get in. That was one of those stressful moments that things could have gone really bad really fast. A lot of people looking at us from the harbour, I was standing with firmed feet apart and steady at the helm: “I got this!”. Nice and steady, timing the waves and adjusting the angle I motored through the narrow entrance that offered little margin for error and things were way calmer inside. I asked the guys to set the fenders to port where it seemed more sheltered to dock on the East wall instead of the North wall that we planned initially.
As we tied the lines, we were greeted by the friendliest fisherman ever that were very jealous of us when we said we were heading the to Scilly Isles. “Ohhhh take us with you!”. The people was so friendly and the day was so nice that we decided to dry dock Neverland on the wall and stay for the night.
Dry docking on a wall can be tricky, specially if the sea is not 100% flat. There was still a little bit of swell coming inside the harbour and I had to spend the night waking up every hour looking after the lines so the boat wouldn’t hit the wall and also chafe the port shroud. To dry dock, you basically tie a halyard somewhere on land and keep the boat leaning just the right amount into the wall so you don’t chafe the shrouds nor lean over the wrong side which would be a total disaster. I also like to add filled water containers on the bow when the bottom is not flat (like on a slip) to make sure the boat sits nicely on its keel and doesn’t fall backwards. And make sure your keel can stand the boat!
That is what dry docking looks like. Picture was taken when I was cleaning and painting the bottom between tides.
Next Stop: Sciliy Isles – The English Caribbean
Our passage to the Scillies was definitely one of the nicest with a beautiful weather. Except that our headsail collapsed all of a sudden like a dead tree. Timber! Quickly killed the engine and pulled the sail back aboard. The halyard had failed due to a problem with the top furler swivel that was chafing it. We simply connected the other front halyard for the moment hoisted it back and kept going. See how life is easier on good weather?
Finished our way into St Mary’s bay, tied to a mooring, dinghy on the water and off to land!
We arrived there on Cinco de Mayo (you have to drink a tequila if you know what it means), the last day of a rowing championship and everyone was having a blast singing sailing shanties! And so were us pub crawling. As we say in Ireland: GREAT CRAIC!
Even on our way back while trying to get the outboard to start we ended up meeting these lads, drunker than us, searching for their boat. One of the guys, a self proclaimed marine engineer that couldn’t spot a fuel hose disconnected from the tank, tried to help with no success. After a few tries I got it working myself. Anyway, I had to invite them for more drinking aboard Neverland! Back to the boat, as we all hopped aboard, Jordan got a grip on the swimming ladder that wasn’t properly secured and back he felt into the water with the ladder. Our first man overboard! We were laughing for hours till late night.
With that classic hangover we got up next day to some bacon and eggs and a Guinness, because why not? One of the guys had crashed on the saloon for the night and got back to land with us, never to be seen again haha. He was a resident at the island as I recall. Can’t remember his name.
We went cliff diving after that and then the weather just went to shite. Storm after storm. We couldn’t even explore the other islands. Even moored sheltered the swell wouldn’t let me sleep for a few days and I was settled to sleep on a marina on our next stop: Penzance.
Next Stop: Penzance and Falmouth – End of part I
The Irishman Jordan also had plans of buying his own boat with his best friend back in Belfast – one of the reasons he almost didn’t come on this trip back then. So he was flying to Greece from Penzance. When we left the Scillies we were all on a good bye mood.
We arrived at the marina, tied the lines, Jordan got his bag packed, hopped off, big hug, good luck and good bye “We shall meet again at some port around the world”.
Went for a walk and a beer in town, got back and finally got a proper night of sleep in days.
I left to Falmouth next day where the-other-crew also disembarked shortly after, never to be heard or seen again. No hug. Adios!
Well that’s it. The end of a long and intense chapter. An experience of a lifetime in only 30 days. So much I learned. So much I still had to go through… The lost boys crew was disbanded. I was alone. So I did what any other sailor would do. Got the chart back on the table. I had the English Channel ahead.
NEXT POST: France and Spain…
You can follow Jordan’s own adventures here!