Trip one: Isle of Man and Strangford

Ronnie and Glenis arrived on a sunny tuesday and were blessed with a visit from Anne for dinner. Following a night of laughs and girly giggles, we went to bed early with a forecast of suitable winds for the sail to the Isle of Man the next day. Anne sadly had to leave at 6am to go to work and we sailed at 7.30am for the 70 mile spin to Peel. The forecast was Southeast 4-5 occasionally 6, easing and going West later. The morning was grey and showery going out and the winds as forecast but on setting sail we found ourselves sailing with wind aft of the beam and a steady 25 knots. We put in a first reef in the main to help the autopilot and were soon charging along at 7-8 knots, touching 9.1 at one stage, a rarity for Suckin' Diesel.

We sailed like that in lumpy seas charging along all morning. Gradually the skies brightened a bit and the winds eased to about 20 knots but the seas were still a little confused. After 1pm the winds died away to very little and we were motoring for an hour until the wind came back at a steady 12 knots from the East and the seas started to settle. At this stage we were visited by dolphins, something of a rarity for me in the Irish Sea. We had about 15 of them, mostly small, jumping and playing in our wake.

We were closehauled with staysail up as we approached the Island from the south west but visibility was down to 2 miles so we couldn't appreciate the view until we were 12 miles from our destination of Peel on the west side of the island. We were visited by a basking shark at this stage. I saw a fin on the surface slowly approaching and I ran to the bow for a look. As it came cloaser I could see his full 5 metre length as he dove under the surface. So majestic!! By now the seas had calmed a lot as we were in the lee of the land and we sailed gently on. Visibility continued to improve so we could easily pick out the rolling hills of the island and more importantly the lobster pot markers along the way. We arrived at Peel after just over 12 hours at sea, just in time for the opening of the tidal gate and footbridge into the harbour. Going in the narrow entrance I was surprised to hear my name shouted. It was Paul who I had met sailing in Lundy the year I got married. He had been with his daughter Ella who was 11 at the time. The last time I was in Peel Paul had been there as well. It was good to be welcomed by someone you know as you arrive in late into a safe harbour after a long day at sea. Needless to say, we had a good dinner to celebrate our arrival before going for a brief stroll to orientate Ronnie and Glenis. It was very quiet in the streets at 10 pm but they liked what they saw. We went to bed early ready for a relaxed day to plan our sightseeing of the island.

The forecast was for strongish westerly winds for the next few days so we were staying put which suited my visitors whio wanted to explore the island. The first day we woke to overcast skies and light showers. We wandered around the castle before heading up the hill overlooking the harbour to get our bearings. The grey sea looked lumpy and uncomfortable and we were glad to be safely tied up in port. The rest of the day we wandered around town and made a plan for the following days. Ronnie and Glenis found out about a 3 day explorer bus and train pass which made great sense to fully visit its offerings. The first day we went to Castletown, first by bus to Douglas and then by steam train to Castletown, the original capital of the island. It is a small town built around a tidal harbour dominated by an impressive castle. We wandered around the quiet streets before going into the Maritime Museum. It told the story of the oldest surviving leisure yacht which was from the 18th century. A man whose name I forget, built it and sailed it out of Castletown. It was a rarity at the time because it was an open boat with 3 weighted daggerboards which neant it could carry more sail in bad weather. During the winter he was able to float it into a custom basement shed dug out of the rock under his house. When he died his family forgot about it and it remained there for 100 years in the basement.

The castle was very impressive as it had been well restored and the tour guided you up throught the soldiers quarters and work area as well as the living quarters of the king. Mockups and furnishings really showed off how the people would have lived there and were really well done. From there we bussed back to Douglas and had a quick stroll as the shops were shutting, before bussing back to Peel.

The second day exploring we got a bus to Ramsey, the second largest town on the island. It had a long promenade but not a lot else. You could see there was an active fishing fleet in the drying harbour and it had a coaster offloading so maybe it was the main commercial harbour for the island, with Douglas handling the passenger traffic. But we had a stroll in the sunshine before getting the old electric narrow grade train south to Laxey. The train had 2 carriages, one of them open which gave great views of the countryside. Anne would have loved it as we could see the hills around Snaefell, the tallest on the island. As the train meandered through the valleys you could see marked trails heading off up the hill. We got off in Laxey to visit Snaefell and the Laxey wheel. They built an electric train line up to the summit in just 7 months which was a great achievement. We had great views on the way up but sadly the summit was covered in cloud so we couldn't see the views west to the Mournes in Ireland, north to the Mull of Galloway in Scotland, or south to Anglesea in Wales. Next time.....

After a bit of grub in Laxey we went up to the Laxey wheel which was a massive water driven piston engine used to pump water out of the mines. It was built by a man named Casement who had no formal training, just an incredible engineering mind. It was astounding to see how a little water could drive something so huge. Anyway, after a little stroll we bussed back to Douglas and then on to Peel, tired after a long day walking. We had a drink in the Sailing club that evening and it was busy as there was a gathering of Moody yachts in with sailors from all over. We met the president, commodore and vice commodore of the club and they were great fun and very glad to pass on information about life on the island. They described winter life as 85,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock !! But the end of the evening we were all wondering if it might be a good place to retire to ..........

Next day there was a series of bicycle races on the TT course so roads were clased at times. So we did the tour of the House of Mannan in Peel in the morning before bussing to Douglas to the Manx Museum. The first was a great museum of the history of the island, a real crossroads in the Irish Sea. Vikings and Celts predominated but the Romans never landed as they said the island hid itself in a fog to prevent them. I had seen it before but was still really impressed by what I saw. Sadly the museum in Douglas was closed when we got there but we enjoyed ourselves meandering through the shops and had a sandwich lunch on the prom looking out at a cruising tall ship anchored in the bay. Naturally we looked at the boat porn in the marina but were disappointed at the large number of boats in poor condition. The Tynwald (government) were trying to tackle it by insisting that every boat on the island carry insurance. I presume that if they don't, the boat could be impounded and disposed of. After the roads opened we bussed back to Peel and chilled out before going to the Creek Inn for a pre dinner pint. We met up with Paul, the Commodore, Andrew, and some other locals, most of whom hadn't been born on the island but were loving life there. Yet again the question was asked: could we retire here???? Hills for walking, sea for sailing and wonderful friendly people........

Our last morning we did some shopping and a wander around Peel Castle before the lock opened ad 11.30am. We were sorry to be leaving this lovely island and hoping to return again soon. I really hope Anne can make it next time. But we were off towards Northern Ireland. We wanted to go to Strangford Lough to meet Sam who also had a Rival 41. He lives on an island in the lough. We also hoped to explore a bit as it is a lovely inland waterway. Leaving at high tide from Peel meant that the tide would be against us going in to Strangford so we went to Ardglas for the night. Rain was forecast but no wind so we motored all the way across and got in just before the rain got heavy. Half way across the autopilot gave up so we had to hand steer on flat seas. This meant that I had to replace the hydraulic ram with the spare in the rain after getting in. But at least we now had a functioning autopilot again. Ronnie and Glenis went for a walk around the village after the rain eased a bit while I pottered on board. The rain came back again as we sat down to Glenis' cottage pie and rained hard all night. But we had good grub inside us so didn't mind.

The tuesday morning was overcast as we went for a stroll around Ardglass but it lifted a little as we prepared to leave. We found lumpy seas outside and sailable light winds from astern. We sailed along avoiding the pot buoys in poorish visibility. Before leaving we could clearly see the Isle of Man but now struggled to clerarly make out the coastline features. Approaching the entrance to Strangford it lifted a little so we could make out the lighthouse and other markers. The wind was now light and dead astern but with strong tides we decided to sail slowly in and let the current do the rest. We passed through the narrows at up to 10 knots over the ground, mostly sailing at 2-3 knots. Once inside we sailed up the lough a bit until the wind died and we downed sail and motored past the pladdies. These are the local name for the numerous rock islands which litter the lough. Near the top end we turned west to find Conly Island, where Sam lived, and then anchored off his house. His Rival 41 was out of the water on a cradle winched out of the water. What a great thing to be able to moor your boat off your house and take it out of the water in your garden.

Sam was very welcoming and supplied us with a drink in his book lined sitting room complete with a massive window giving a great view of Suckin' Diesel and the islands of the lough. We chatted for a bit but then I had to go collect Claire, Barry and Luken who had driven down from Belfast for a visit. As it was an island, they couldn't drive to the house so I went in the dinghy to collect them. But the wind had increased a bit so driving back in the wind chop pelple got splashed and were fairly wet when we got in. But Sam supplied changes of trousers to allow drying and soo with the great conversation, the trip was forgotten. We set up a barbecue and soon dines on a great dinner of Lamb, Steak, Salad and new potatoes. Sam regaled us with stories of his travels, which were extensive, and Barry and Claire told us of their preparations to kayak around Ireland, starting next week. But soon enough the dinner was over and I had to ferry Claire and co back to their car before returning Ronnie and Glenis to the boat.

The wind was up a bit at this stage and coming from a more exposed direction. Overnight it increased to 20 knots and Glenis and I didn't sleep very well. The morning dawned cloudy and breezy so we decided it wasn't ideal for exploring the lough. We decided to up anchor and head on the last of the fair tide to Portaferry where we could snooze and chill out before heading south the following day. I took the dinghy ashore to thank Sam for his kindness and explain our plans. Hopefully I will get back to see him again with Joel in a few weeks. So we raised anchor and motored through Ringhaddy sound between all the boats on moorings before crossing the lough and tying up in Portaferry. The rest of the day was spent snoozing, relaxing and shopping. Ronnie and Glenis had been in Portaferry before but on a rainy day so didn't explore much. This time the weather was clearing and we were pleasantly surprised to see the work being done around town. Houses and shops were being tastefully done up and roads improved. It was great to see.

Thursday morning dawned overcast again and the wind had turned more into the north which was a favorable direction for us heading southwest for Clogherhead. Leaving the lough we heard the UK forecast for the Irish Sea of force 5 to 7, more than the grib which said little over 20 knots. Initially we had flat seas with wind coming off the land but passing St John's Point to cross Dundrum Bay we saw the winds increase to 25 knots steady and a bit of wind chop to go with it. Suckin' Diesel loved the conditions and we romped along at 7 to 8 knots with Harry the Hyrdovane steering us on a meandering course. It was a pity that the low cloud covered the Mourne Mountains and the grey permeated the sea, sky and land. Passing Carlingford we found the wind increasing to 30 knots true at times raising the chop a bit. With it came the rain and we all started to get wet as we approached Clougher Head. The fishing harbour is small and home to an active fleet of working boats so when you approach you never know where you will be tying up. We organised ourselves as much as we could before lowering sail and slowly rocking our way into the harbour. We found the swell getting in a little but more importantly, we found a single trawler to tie alongside. Ronnie clambered up the ladder to tie up and soon we were safe, wet but safe!!! It had been a cracking sail. 45 miles in 6 and a half hours is no mean speed for SD.

It was too wet for the crew to go walking so we stayed on board. We had a visit from Sinead from work who regularly goes sea swimming in Clogher Head. Then we played dominoes and went to bed tired after a busy sailing day. I was up once or twice during the night to check the lines but we were well tied up when stronger winds came in around dawn. In the morning the winds seemed to ease a bit and the cloud lift enough for us to go for a walk up the hill to the village. We could see white horses out to sea but I felt things had eased a little. On returning we organised ourselves for the 25 mile trip south to Malahide. We got the spinnaker pole ready and lubricated its jaws ready for a downwind sail. Then we had to plan the process of what sequence we would undo lines in. It was blowing 18 to 23 knots in the harbour and we were a little sheltered by the high wall and the large trawlers we were behind. But on casting off and trying to manoeuver in the tight space we found the wind and swell challenging, especially as we were trying to move slowly to give the crew enough time to stow everything away. Leaving the harbour to go into the swell we were well set up and had a double reefed main set in no time. Then we relaxed into the motion and moved past the headland before adding half of the headsail. A few miles down the coast we found that we were heading dead downwind and so, with Glenis on the helm, we poled out the headsail on a goosewing and started to surf. At this stage we had 25 to 33 knots of wind and we were making 8+ knots with a maximum of 9.6. This was a record for Suckin' Diesel. Glenis sailed a great course in increasing swell, only letting the boat rool a bit when Ronnie went down below to go to the toilet. Now that is a good test of your aim!!! Passing Skerries we were still sailing fast and altered course for Malahide. This meant lowering the pole and taking the wind more on the quarter. Closing the land the seas eased and we prepared ourselves for going into the estuary. It was still blowing 25 knots in the Marina but we managed to tie up on an outer hammerhead without any drama.

After a snooze Anne joined us for the weekend to sail to Greystones and Dublin. We had fish and chips with lots of girly giggles before getting a good nights sleep. In the morning we had sun and pleasant winds as we sailed out at 8am in company with Charles and Helena on Kea Two. We had gusty conditions as we sailed through Howth Sound. Rounding Howth Head we found the wind sothwesterly so we were closehauled crossing Dublin Bay. Then the wind shifted into the south and southeast. This meant that we would have wind on the nose for the trip to Greystones. Even if we tacked we would not make it as the tide would turn against us in an hour and a half. So we altered course to Dublin Port and sailed up the river. This allowed our foreign visitors to get out and explore the city. We walked the legs off them before returning to the club before dinner. Tonight we were having an non spicy Tandoori Masala but it turned out to be very spicy. Yoghurt and fire extinguishers didn't help calm the mouth for the crew so we can say this was a step too far. But at least we had Anne's rhubarb crumble and Irish Coffees to save the day. Brian and Alan from Blue Air joined us after they sailed from Skerries for an after dinner natter.

The following morning we walked Bull Wall before a relaxing lunch on board. Ronnie and Glenis at this stage were beginning to really regret not bringing their proper walking shoes (and maybe a motorised wheelchair...) but at least they had a quiet day left in Malahide before they got their flight home. Anne stayed sunday night for dinner so lots more girly giggles from the ladies.... Monday was quiet, with me starting into a list of boat jobs. Our guests wandered around town in between showers before we went out for dinner on their last night. And then it was all over. Another memorable trip on SD. Lots of varied conditions for the long haul to the Isle of Man and then the downwind sail in good wind back. Many thanks to boat and crew.