Naas, 27th June 2010

My time in Derry was very relaxing. We did the touristy thing on the sunday after Anne left as there were things to see in the maritime festival. Yet another holiday with Johnny looking at boats!! On Monday, James and Aoife had to do some driving around Donegal so I cadged a lift to Letterkenny to see John Joe to do some work setting up his boat. In particular, I wanted to check on the new sails we had got for the boat during the winter. We did lots of little stuff and sorted out a load so his boat was now better prepared for the trip we would be taking in it later on in the summer.
On tuesday, James and Aoife left to go home and I was alone with a list of jobs to do. I spent the next three days busy enough, in between watching some of the World Cup games on tv. On thursday I set off in light winds with Kevin McKenna to Greencastle to start the trip back home. We motored out to the Foyle with hopes of sailing but it never materialised. We rafted 5 out in the fishing port of Greencastle, a big change from the last time when the fishermen moved us 3 times during one night. There are even plans by the locals to put down a pontoon so that sailors would be made more welcome. The next morning I went for a wander around the maritime museum in the former coastguard station. It painted an interesting picture of the role of the port during the second world war in particular.
On a falling tide Kevin and I zipped out with the 3 knot current. Just before leaving the forecast gave NW force 3 to 4 becoming 5 to 6, becoming lighter overnight so a good relaxing 2 days dail in store. On heading out, I realised that the blow had arived already and we were soon under 2 reefs. On turning out of the chanel to sail east along the coast for the short trip to Portrush, we were sailing well with the wind aft of the beam. But it was a good taster for Kevin. Arriving in Portrush, we had a pint as we awaited Derrick's arrival from Derry airport. He arrived so we had a pint to celebrate, then met Charlie, my local sailor connection, so we had another pint, watched England play an awful game of football, and then retired to have whiskey and jaffa cakes before heading to bed.
Next morning Kevin was moaning that the whiskey and Jaffa Cakes were not a good combination so he went to clear his head. Before setting out we went for a stroll along the front and saw the winds from the day before had eased ahd the seas looked good. But 2 hours later we found on leaving the winds were around 20 knots and the seas were getting up. After rounding the headland at Portrush we were close hauled to pass the Skerries rocky islands. Then we were able to sail well at 60 degrees making over 6 knots. In an hour the wind rose to 25 knots over the deck and we were flying in 2 metre swell at times. True wind rose to 25 knots. With 2 reefs and the headsail partly reefed we were heeling comfortably and making 7.5 knots, reaching a max of 8.6, a record high for the last few years. Derrick was comfortable as usual, popping his head out from behind the shelter of the sprayhood from time to time to say "it is a bit windy" !!. Meanwhile Kevin and I had to struggle (not really) in the sun. For the first time ever, we got one wave that was big enough that it crashed over the bow and ended up in the cockpit, drenching the workers (Kevin and I). It was a baptism for Kevin, but he seemed to be handling it well.
We went for a stroll to the East Lighthouse to show Kevin the McDonell tidal race. He was keen to learn on the trip about currents, passage planning, etc, but here he could see the tidal currents in action. That evening we ended up at a set dancing evening the locals were having. Interestingly, for trad music, there were no flutes or fiddles, just acordions. But then the island is a crossing over point between Ireland and Scotland so traditions of both have been amalgamated somewhat.
The forecast was for light Northwest winds so downwind sailing. I am sure Kevin was glad to hear that after the previous day. So we set off with a bit of sun and soon the cruising chute was working us through Rathlin Sound at a pleasant 4-5 knots. Over the next couple of hours Kevin helmed, trying to keep the chute filled, tricky enough when you are dead downwind on a goosewing at times. A few times the wind rose to over 20 knots and we had to down the chute but in general, it was a lovely downwind sail. We arrived into Bangor an hour before John Lambe joined us again for a few days. Sadly the forecast was for little wind so we knew we had a motor ahead of us. We had hoped to sail to Portpatrick in Scotland, but the high pressure which had been giving us northerly winds was forecast to decline so southerly winds on the nose were on the cards. So we motored through Copeland Sound heading south to Ardglass. The seas were flat and the wind 6-8 knots on the nose. At one stage I went for a snooze, only to find the crew had mutinied. They spotted a wreck in 30 metres of water and decided to stop so they could drift over it to try to catch some fish. After a while without any luck we managed to sail slowly inshore of the rocks near Portavogie, there we had some luck, with Kevin landing 2 mackerel. Just perfect for a starter.
Passing the entrance to Strangford Lough the bright sunshine gave way to thick fog quite suddenly. So the radar was on to look for traffic, but as we only had 4 miles to go, we just wrapped up warm and went on lookout mode. It reminded me of a long foggy trip years ago with Siobhan and Jane from Bangor to Ardglass. This time though, we were able to make out the rocks at the entrance to the harbour. With light winds tying up in the tight marina was not hard either. Soon dinner was on and we got to eat watching the first half of the Spain Honduras game. The second half we got to watch in Mannies pub with Guinness for desert to celebrate a much improved Spanish performance.
We were up early the next morning to take the tide into Strangford. We hoped to do some more fishing along the rocks outside, but there was an uncomfortable ground swell so we motored instead into the Lough. The currents are strong in the narrow entrance but once inside, we were able to slowly sail between the Pladdies (shallow rocky islets), trying to fish. This time Kevin and John had no luck but the crew didn't mind as we were taking in the scenery, rolling drumlins and islands. Sadly Kevin was to head home from here. His father arranged to collect him from Sketrick Island and so ended his first long trip on Suckin' Diesel. A hundred miles done, I just hope he learnt lots, we certainly learnt lots about fishing from him.
After upping anchor, we found the wind had risen a bit and was on the nose. We didn't have far to go, so we put John Lambe at the wheel and tacked our way between the Pladdies with 2 reefs in the main. John got the most out of the boat and Derrick and I worked the winches. Good work kept the speed up down to Portaferry where we tied up and went for a pub grub lunch as we had little food left. That evening Claire Hughes joined us with her Parents. I hadn't seen them in ages but they seemed well and full of chat as usual. Luken, Claires 4 year old son, was the entertainment. It is great to see he is so settled after moving at a young age from Spain.
The following morning we were able to relax and do a few jobs as the tide would not allow us to leave until lunchtime. After a bit of shopping we headed off with wind forecast to be on the nose for the next few days. As it turned out th wind was nore southeast so we were able to sail well at 60 degrees for most of the trip to Analong, a small harbour I only visited once a few years ago. The wind shifted more to the nose in the last two miles, so we motored the last bit and approached slowly as we were close to low water, in a harbour with minimum depth stated as 2.1 metres. We needed 1.8 so I felt confident that I could get in. 50 metres off the entrance, the depth suddenly went from 1.4 metres under us to 0 and with a sickening shudder the boat landed on the rocky shelf a couple of times before the sudden reverse brought us back into deeper water. Luckily we were creeping in slowly but the wind driven chop meant that depths in the troughs were less than expected. We tried again on a different course but touched again. There was nothing for it but to head out into deeper water, check all was ok, and head for another harbour.
Naturally, we were a bit heart in mouth, but a check of the bilge showed no water was coming in. Kilkeel was nearby but it was even shallower so we headed to Carlingford, motoring as far as the first marker and then sailing in pleasant winds
as far as the marina. By then, we were happy that there was no serious damage done in the grounding. We ate in the marina bar and were joined by Donal
Bradley for a few pints.
Next morning I got the dive gear on to check the hull fully. The base of the keel took the brunt of the contact. It is flat, wide at the front, tapering off to a point at the rear. The weight comes from lead, which is fibreglassed into the boat. So the damage was some scrapes and gouges in a few spots, with the rear point of the keel shattered for an area of 4-6 inches. I inspected this area in detail with the divers torch but could clearly see that there were layers of good fibreglass potecting the inside of the damaged area. So, though I felt the mistake was mine, the damage done could wait until the winter haulout to repair.
Leaving Carlingford after the inspection, we had wind for an hour or so but ended up on glassy seas to Skerries. The overcast skies cleared as we anchored so we chilled onboard, fishing for a hour or so before going ashore for a pint in Stoops. By then it was positively hot in the sun, really pleasant for dinner in the cockpit. Next morning, it was so calm that we didn't even bother to raise the mainsail. Before you knew it, the trip was over. A truly great three weeks sailing, with wind for all tastes. I really feel that all who joined up learnt lots and became more confident as a result.
But it wasn't over. The following day Derrick, Anne and I went out with a southerly force 3-4 expected. But we found a southeast 5 and set off to round Lambay Island on bouncy seas. Anne was on the helm and made the most out of the conditions, keeping us working well close to the wind as we rounded the far tip of the island. On the way back, the seas rose with the wind and we were flying at over 7 knots, getting to a max of 8.4. Closing in on the safewater mark, Anne and I spotted there was no water cooling the engine when we warmed it up. So after checking there was a problem, we decided to sail back down the channel. The marina staff were very helpful when we contacted them by radio. In the gusty conditions, we reduced sail, taking down the mainsail and rolling in half of the yankee. Making less than 4 knots we came in slowly and rounded up into the wind with a quick burst of the engine to help. After tying up, we all helped go through the whole cooling system, and found a small blockage in the heat exchanger which we were able to blow out. It was relief all around when we found the engine ran normally on reassmbly.
So it ended, lots of sailing, a grounding and engine cooling wopsies. All part of sailing on Suckin' Diesel !!