Wednesday, 19th August

We spent four days in Troon waiting for southwesterly winds to abate. The weather was rainy and very unsettled, not ideal conditions for where we wanted to sail to. brian was enthusiastic about giving it a go but since the skipper was officially on holidays, we chilled out for a few days and did bits of maintanance and lots of reading. Troon is well equipped with chandlers etc so I spent ages "pottering". Our weather window finally arrived on tuesday when we were due to be in the centre of a depression meaning that the west of Ireland and the southeast ofthe UK were to get hammered a bit and we would have lighter but less predictable winds. With a slowly falling barometer we left aiming for a 50 mile passage along the Ayrshire coast to the small harbour of Portpatrick. The wind was on the beam at about 12 knots so we set the ghoster for 4 hours until the winds went light a couple of times when the engine went back on. Finally, approaching Logh Ryan we had more wind and had a cracking sail on good seas. Unfortunately, on rounding the point to head south on the coast we found the wind had strengthened, force 5 gusting to 6 at times on the nose. We had the tide going with us. The wind going in the opposite direction created steep seas which we had to punch through the last 5 miles into the narrow harbour entrance. It was a tricky manoevre but Brian got himself well organised and sorted out ropes well in no time. We were under pressure as a French boat was following close behind us. We had met Jerome in Troon and decided to sail together but he didn't leave us enough time to tie up before coming in. As a result there was a bit of dodgems for a bit before he managed to safely tie up outside us. Lesson learnt: when sailing in company give other boats lots of space.

A Hundred years ago Portpatrck was the ferryport to get to Northern Ireland but the harbour was extensively damaged in a storm and the port activities were moved to Lough Ryan where Stranraer and Cairnryan benefited from the trade. Portpatrick itself must have suffered a lot as a result of the loss, but today tourism is keeping it alive. It is at the side of the Mull of Galloway facing across to Northern Ireland, not on the road to anywhere, which keeps it quiet. A real place to get away from it all.

The weather had calmed down a lot during the night and we woke to a light northerly wind in the harbour. We had the morning to do bits and pieces as well as to stroll around town. The evening before we hadn't seen much as we were tired and hungry after our trip. After a bimble then we left and found light airs outside the harbour which died away and the engine was on again for the crossing of the Irish Sea. We headed south- southwest and gradually the coast of the Ards peninsula appeared from under dark clouds. For a while I thought that they might bring rain our way but we stared in fine weather all the way to the entrance to Strangford Lough. This was a place I had never been to before, a vast inland lake accessed through a narrow channel from the sea 5 miles long. In the "Narrows" the tidal current coming in and out is up to 8 knots so we timed our arrival for shortly after the flood started coming in. Despite this we still had almost 5 knots of current and so had to be exact on approaching the small marina in Portaferry, on the north side of the Narrows. Once we were within 50 metres of the marina entrance the current eased dramatically and we had very little inside so mooring up was not too difficult. Claire Hughes was there to meet us. She lives 7 miles away in Portavoige and was excited about seeing Suckin' Diesel in her home waters. A pleasant dinner followed as well as the usual custom of "sampling the pint", a tradition we have on board........ The next day was to be rest day and we wandered a bit around the area, did our washing, "pottered", etc but the following day we persuaded Jerome on "Lady Salope" to take us for a sail up into the Lough. Brian was keen to get experience sailing on another boat and I was very interested in seeing how she would sail. The boat is an Ovni 435 made of aluminium with lovely lines and very well thought out. I was very impressed with how well she sailed, especially close to the wind. The conditions were light enough, but having sailed close to her coming down from Troon, I am sure she would sail well in heavy weather also.

The weather continued to harass us with strong wind warnings and the occasional gale also. This was as a result of the Azores High not doing its job and letting a chain of depressions march across the Atlantic, leading to very unsettled conditions with rain and constantly changing wind. Finally we had a small window and decided to get out of Strangford before the next strong winds came in. We headed the short distance to Ardglass from where we could leave at any time for the long run to Dublin. As it was we had strong winds for 24 hours which eased at 5pm the next day and allowed the sea enough time to settle before the wind was forecast to come up a bit again from the west or northwest. We left at six am for the 50 mile passage to Dublin and found ideal sailing conditions: slight to moderate seas and wind force 4-5 on the beam. It was Brian's longest passage under sail and it was ideal. Certainly for me it was a great way of ending the season's sailing. You forget days stuck at anchor, blowing out sails, surfing 4 metre swells, all of that fades when you have the chance to finish on such a high. We made such great time that we arrived in 2 hours earlier than expected but still Anne was there to make sure we did it ok. A celebratory dinner topped off the trip. great !

And then in a flash it was all over. I felt like I had never left but in reality I was not the same sailor I was. I was happy that the boat coped really well with the strong conditions Ireland threw at her this year. Ther were times when I made mistakes but she looked after me and I never felt that there was anything missing which would have made life easier on board. Naturally, there is a shopping list for next year: a new dingy to replace the awful Avon one, a new mainsail and possibly a cruising chute. This is for the light winds and settled conditions expected next summer since Anne has decided already we are heading south to the sun. Bring it on !!!!!!!!!!

To all crew and frieds, Fair Winds