TALISMAN 2009, CRUISE TO CARDIGAN BAY.

By Martin McArthur..


This year, instead of one long cruise (to France), we opted to stay within UK waters and explore places that we normally sail straight past. Our cruising this year consisted of 3 parts; Isle of Man, Cardigan Bay, then Tobermory to Carlingford. In general I hoped to go to as many 'new' ports (places we had never visited before) as possible, and during the course of the season we visited 53 harbours, 20 of these for the first time.

Following our successful cruise to the Isle of Man I was looking forward to our exploration of Cardigan Bay. We set off from Troon in mid June heading for Holyhead via Portpatrick, Peel and Port St Mary. I was welcomed at Holyhead marina by Gwyneth who said "Summer must have started, Talisman is here!"

We spent a couple of days at Holyhead, topping up stores from Tesco and the Co-op and waiting for favourable conditions to sail to Beaumaris. Our first attempt was not good, before we reached Carmel Head, just south of the Skerries, the westerly wind, blowing F5 and against the west going tide made conditions quite uncomfortable! We had sailed just 11 miles when I decided that we should return to Holyhead. Next day the forecast was for a slight reduction in the wind, so off we went again. The sea state was still quite lumpy but we were able to make progress along the north coast of Anglesey - there were fewer cups of coffee made that morning and I received a few complaints from down below! Once past Point Lynas both wind and tide reduced and the remainder of the passage was much calmer.

By the time we reached the entrance to the Menai Straight, at Puffin Island, the wind had dropped to a light breeze and we motored to Beaumaris where we picked up a vacant mooring. Interesting task, picking up a mooring, single handed with a tidal stream running at over 2 knots! (View of Beaumaris looking north from the mooring.)

The following day we had a late start as we did not have to reach the Swellies, between the Menai and Britannia bridges, until high water slack, and there were only 10 miles to go to Victoria Dock, Caernarfon. As we approached the Menai Suspension Bridge, (Menai Suspension Bridge from the north.)despite the fact that it was nearly slack water, we experienced a fair amount of turbulence in the water, no waves, just swirls and whirlpools, causing Talisman to alter course quite significantly. The autopilot could not cope and I had to take over Britannia Bridge.

Between the bridges we passed the infamous Swellies Rock, but as it was high water we could not see the rock, just the south cardinal mark.

Navigation through the Swellies at slack water is not overly difficult, buoys and leading marks, described in the pilot book, are easily seen and followed. I would imagine the passage could be much more difficult at other stages of the tidal stream, at night or in bad weather.

From the Britannia Bridge the channel opens up and the water is no longer disturbed by unpredictable swirls and eddies. Unexpectedly, on the north shore, just south of the Britannia Bridge, there is a statue of Lord Nelson.

And, just another mile on, is a very impressive, grand house, Plas Newydd, home of the Marquess of Anglesey, with neatly manicured lawns between the house and waters edge. Approaching Caernarfon the deep water channel narrows and the effect of the tidal stream becomes more noticeable. As we approached the entrance to Victoria Dock Talisman was at an angle of about 45° to our line of approach and, as soon as we were in the harbour entrance, had to be turned sharply to starboard before we hit the wall!

Victoria Dock is a small compact marina with a depth of 2 metres, maintained by a flap gate that opens at HW +/- 3 hours. The marina is set in a redevelopment of an old harbour with smart new buildings on the waterfront and a Morrison's supermarket only a short walk away.

It is also possible to moor, in the river Seiont, under the walls of the famous castle. Access to the river is via a swing bridge, opened on request by VHF.

Leaving the Menai Straight it was necessary to follow closely a buoyed channel to clear the Caernarfon Bar. The buoys are moved whenever the channel shifts and up to date information is essential to make this passage if visibility is restricted in any way. We were fortunate to have a clear day and were able to follow the channel easily.

Our next port of call was Port Dinllaen, not so much a port, more of a sheltered anchorage. Here we sailed past the vacant RNLI mooring and went on to pick up another mooring. No sooner than we were secure I observed another yacht tie up to the lifeboat mooring!

Next day we sailed for Pwhelli, passing through Bardsey Sound, one of the many 'tidal-gates' on the eastern side of the Irish Sea. The sound can be quite rough but we were able to pass through at low water slack and had no problems whatsoever.

Arrival at Pwhelli (first port in Cardigan Bay) the entrance was not as clear as appeared on the chart, the pilot book, or Reeds Almanac. Fortunately a local yacht offered to lead the way and all soon became clear. Why, I do not know , but I did not like Pwhelli marina (maybe because it was the most expensive marina, at £22.75 per night, I had ever been in?) and consequently left next day, heading for Port Madoc.

The approach to Port Madoc is along a buoyed channel, at some parts with buoys on one side only. As I was to find out, it is essential to stay close to these buoys, even those you fail to spot! I had navigated the channel successfully (despite the flooding tide flowing across the channel at right angles) until I reached the penultimate starboard hand buoy I failed to see the small (temporary) red mark, tucked in close to some moored yachts, and headed instead directly towards the ultimate green cone mark. Big mistake! Fortunately the bottom is sand so we took the ground quite gently. But the tide was flooding in fairly fast and was pushing Talisman further aground. By some heavy handed use of engine (max revs) and rudder (hard to port) I was able to turn Talisman to face in the direction of deeper water. Then by rapidly moving the tiller from one side to the other we gradually floated off. The whole event lasted only about 10 minutes but seemed to take forever and I had visions of spending the night high and dry! Less than half a mile further we arrived at the Port Madoc Yacht Club where we were made very welcome and tied up at their pontoons.

While 'crabbing' across the channel (strong flood), between buoys numbers 7 and 11, I had the impression that my one remaining autopilot had acted in an odd fashion. I was too busy keeping my eye on a transit, watching the echo sounder and counting the buoys to take time to investigate. Once safely alongside I discussed the autopilot situation with Anne and she suggested that it may be wise to buy another as we were now using the spare. I knew that there was a Raymarine agent back at Pwhelli (shouldn't have left so soon!). On the phone he said that he could not repair either of my Simrad tillerpilots but he had a Raymarine tillerpilot in stock and could possibly repair another Raymarine I had on board (this one had failed a couple of years ago). On enquiring at the yacht club regarding the best way to get to Pwhelli, either bus or train, Bob, the club steward offered to lend me his car! He even gave me the keys that evening, as he would not be at the club until later in the morning. My visit to Pwhelli was successful and I returned with a brand new ST2000 having left the other for repair. Two days later the repaired autopilot was delivered to the boat. I now have 4 tillerpilots, 2 serviceable Raymarine ST2000 and 2 Simrads, one a TP22 (awaiting repair) and a TP20, functional but makes funny noises and is suspect following some questionable operation on our approach to Port Madoc.

With the autopilot situation now well under control we were ready to leave to continue our cruise of Cardigan Bay. Unfortunately the moderate weather, that we had enjoyed for nearly a week, abandoned us and we had to wait another 3 days before the wind dropped to a forecast F4/5 from the northwest. This would be fine for the passage to Barmouth, our next destination, and would be a broad reach most of the way. Because the wind had been strong, from the same direction, for the past few days, we had 3 or 4 feet waves on the starboard quarter and we rolled and pitched all the way. There was a minor panic when Anne saw smoke coming from the area around the engine. I stopped the engine immediately and opened up the engine box. There was definitely smoke, but the source was not evident. Next I checked the rear of the engine, I suspected that the smoke was coming from the exhaust. As soon as I could see the back of the engine it was evident that there was a lot of oil spattered around the engine bay - and no smoke from the exhaust. Another check at the front of the engine revealed that when I had dipped the engine oil, in the morning, I had failed to put the dipstick into the hole - it was down the side of the engine and the oil was coming from there and some had fallen on to the exhaust manifold. My excuse, the dipstick hole on a Yanmar 1GM10 is not visible so the dipstick has to be replaced by feel. I have been a lot more careful since! As most of the oil had gone from the sump, we were close to a serious, and very expensive, failure, that from the cockpit I would not have detected until too late!

The approach to Barmouth was beam on to the seas and we rolled severely until rounding the harbour wall. Once inside all was calm and we motored to a vacant spot alongside the wall. Once more, as in Ramsay on the Isle of Man, we suffered from a deep groove under our outboard keel and Talisman heeled over to nearly 10° when the tide receded. Next day we moved to a slightly better place where we only heeled by 6°! Barmouth is very nice, a holiday place with a decent size Co-op and a welcoming Yacht Club where showers were avaiable. In the evening I went up to the yacht club bar and found the place full of 'grey haired gangsters', 98% ladies, playing bingo! Would TCC get much response if we laid on bingo? Another feature of laying alongside the wall in Barmouth, with a north westerly wind blowing, was the amount of sand that came over the wall. By the time we left there was about 3/16 of an inch of sand all over the deck. There is still some sand on board, tucked away in inaccessible nooks and crannies!

After 2 days in Barmouth we set off again, this time towards Aberystwyth. We had to wait at anchor, for 4 hours, off the harbour until the tide rose to a height that would allow us to enter. Once secure alongside I discovered this marina, despite being in an attractive location and close to all the local facilities, beat Pwhelli for price, it was now the most expensive marina we had visited. For a 26 foot yacht the charge of £21.06 per night, was high enough, but to charge a further £3.00 per night for shore power added insult to injury! The weather intervened again and we had to stay at Aberystwyth for 3 days.

By now we had lost 6 days by staying in port to avoid strong winds. Our plan was to return home by the end of the first week in August, before our pills ran out. I still intended to visit Aberaeron, New Quay and Cardigan but would most likely have to miss out a few places on our way home.

At Aberaeron we tied up alongside the wall and once more suffered from drying out at an angle when the tide receded. One thing this cruise has proved, it is that there is more to drying out comfortably than having bilge keels - a flat resting place is also necessary!

Aberaeron is a very attractive small town and we spent 2 very pleasant days there.

Our plan had been to sail westwards to Cardigan via New Quay, but the wind stayed in the north west and was forecast to increase. This would make New Quay uncomfortable at least, and entry into Cardigan difficult, so I decided that we would return to Aberystwyth where, despite the cost, we could shelter from the forecast strong winds. We stayed in Aberystwyth for 4 more days!

I had intended to leave on the early morning high tide, so that we would arrive at Holyhead before dark, but the forecast was still not good. As the day progressed it became clear that the weather was much better than expected so, late in the afternoon, we set off, to sail overnight, to Holyhead. We motored 7 miles out to the west cardinal bouy marking the shallow water of the Cynfelyn Patches, and as we turned northwest towards Bardsey Sound set sail on a close reach. The wind stayed with us until after midnight, just as we reached Bardsey Sound, where we had to motor at full throttle against an adverse tide. At one stage we were making 4.5 knots through the water but only 1.2 knots over the ground! Eventually we made our way through the sound into Caernarfon Bay as the tide slackened, then turned in our favour. Arriving in Holyhead at 0930 we had made the 73 mile passage in just over 15 hours, nearly 5 knots average, very good for Talisman!

From Holyhead back to Troon we were retracing familiar ground, calling at Port St Mary, Peel (where we spent a further week waiting for the wind to reduce) and Portpatrick on the way. We had been away from Troon for nearly 8 weeks, logged 540 miles (553 over the ground) and visited 17 ports (8 of these for the first time).