Some times its great to see the familiar things we love and cherish from an altogether different perspective. Wardley’s sailors love the cut and thrust of sailing in and out of the tidal waters of the Wyre Estuary and Morecambe Bay. More often or not he is happy weekend after weekend to thumb through his little blue tide booklet, bang out a cunning tidal-curve, and finally gamble on just how late he can leave it cutting across any sandbanks lying between Morecambe Bay’s choppy seas and a good pint at the Ship Inn. This quirky Wardley Marine Yacht Club art form was taken to its extreme recently by the magnificent skipper of REXY who amazingly made it safely home after a cracking trip back from the Ship Inn, going aground only ten yards short of his mooring buoy.
It occurred to Andy and Simon, as they discussed the possibility of an extended three day cruise, that maybe they should try and do things a little differently this time. The pre-sail-planning wasn’t going to be by any means a walk in the park! The moon was out of alignment with the two other significant ‘planets’ in the Wardley-sailor’s life, namely the sun and the earth. Neap tides were upon us! And so the old tidal curve sums were going to count more than ever.
The plan was to go Piel-Glasson-Piel. The problem’s discussed on a telephone line between Rawtenstall and Rochdale were as follows. Could we assemble all our kit and make it out to Jamila without losing something or capsizing? The measely 7.5 metre tide was barely going to make it to the end of the slipway. After unloading the dinghy into Jamila’s cockpit, could we get the boat ready before the water in the river Wyre rushes away into the sea? If we were late arriving, would there be any moorings left at Piel or should we anchor? Would they open the gate at Glasson for us and would it open 12 hours later to let us out? And finally and most importantly, given the tide of Monday was going to be the lowest in the current cycle, would we make it back home? The decision was taken in the best Wardley’s tradition, let’s go for it.
The two sailors arrived by car and as always there was a friendly club member to chat with. A natter with Vic ensued where certain matters pertaining to the club were chewed over. Darren’s car was on the hard but with no Darren in evidence. He must be napping on his boat following a long shift at work. It would not be fair to disturb him!
Getting all the kit down the slipway was going to be tricky. Slippery mud covered the last four yards to the water. They did not want to bring mud on the boat. An idea was formulated to do things slightly differently. A plan to man handle the dinghy down the ladders and across the work boat was put into action. It worked well! The dinghy was deposited into the water. All the kit plus 25 litres of diesel in multiple cans took the same route. Eventually the two sailors, in cramped conditions, legs at awkward angles paddled out to Jamila patiently awaiting them on her mooring. The clock was ticking. The river Wyre was soon going to empty itself leaving a mere trickle.
Aboard Jamila with all the kit pushed into the cockpit it was a fight to get into the cabin. Arms, legs, diesel cans, loafs of bread, and more were everywhere. Still, it was all quickly packed away. The boat was pointing down stream by now, the tide had turned. But the bilges still had to be pumped and Vic’s check list of things to do had to be followed before starting the engine. The engine burst into life first go. Jamila slip her mooring slightly behind schedule but still with a good chance of making it down river. Both sailors watched the depth sounder and looked anxiously at each other at times, but finally made it to Knott End.
It was an amazing sail across the bay. The wind got better and better as time went on. They even managed to eat a delicious vegetable curry and rice dinner on the go, as it would be largely passed pub serving hours on arrival, They sailed directly into the inner channel, and were soon past Haws Point East, affectionally known as Norman’s Perch, and turned left at the buoys off the notorious East Scar into Bass Pool.
The sun was very low and soon to set in the west. They zig zagged into Bass Pool carefully noting the depths. At a calculated 1.5 metres under the keel at absolute low water the anchor was set. They were tidying the decks when the sun dropped below the horizon. They rowed ashore. The walk up the foreshore was over soft mussel beds, but not quite soft enough for boots to sink in. There were big boulders everywhere. Some would be dangerously awash when the tide returns. It was important at that very moment to concentrate on walking over the large pebbles and to not to turn ankle whilst making for the grassy banks below the castle. Finally they reached green grass, and walked across the castle’s outer keep. There were tents all around where campers were showing off their fashionable LED lights and barbecuing setups.
The ship Inn was busy. It was a karaoke night. A number of drinkers put on some accomplish performances. The usual crowd of sailors and fisherman were in propping up the bar. The story of a recent five boat tour of Isle of Man and Western Isles of Scotland was told. Apparently the cruise could not have been better, they all concluded that they had as good as won the lottery with the weather. Sheila rang a bell for last orders . Some of the younger drinkers looked at each other a little puzzled. The more weather beaten looking sailors could easily read the expression writ large on the landlady’s face: “Right you lot, its last orders, I want you all out in 1/2 hour, and then I want to clear up and go to bed!” Last orders was soon over and everyone tumbled out of the pub, it was just after midnight.
The two sailors picked their way through the rising meadow towards the campsite. They tried not to trip over the many guy lines that lay in wait. Many tents were festooned with faint solar charged LED lights that helped somewhat. Eventually, they threaded their way passed an inky black castle set against a star blazoned sky. Coastal lights swept the horizon from Morecambe to Blackpool. They stumbled down onto the beach. They disturbed a young couple sharing a sleeping bag under the stars. Apologies were made and humorously accepted. They re-entered the boulder strewn foreshore of Piel Scar. Black shapes were all around. They stumbled on. They questioned themselves: where’s the dinghy, did we come the same way back, have we walked too far, what’s the strange looking shape lying fifty yards square on the left. They wheeled sharply to the left. As the distance closed, the watery light emitting from their head torches revealed a shiny damp dinghy, almost appearing to glow-in-the-dark. Strangely the Avon round-tail dinghy looked like new under the ghostly LED light that shone upon it!
Soon the two Wardleys sailors were transiting the water between the shoreline and what, at that moment, appeared to be a dim shape out in the dark. It was a moonless sky. The countless millions of stars, as magnificent as they were, were even less capable at illuminating the boat than the head torches. However after twenty or thirty quick sharp strokes of the oars, the small distance covered was enough to bring the shape of a Mirage 2700 into focus. It grew larger and larger, eventually overwhelming the darkness, and for some strange reason, maybe the ale consumed in the Ship or other simulant, Jamila’s mast seemed taller than ever, reaching right up as high as the stars themselves.
After a quick check that Jamila’s position had not changed, and that the anchor was holding good the two sailors retired for the night. And so it was, Jamila spent a restful night tucked away from the world’s worries moored in Bass Pool on the much loved Piel Island’s south side.
A scrumptious breakfast was enjoyed at the Ship Inn whilst looking out over Morecambe Bay. This time, one of King Steve’s small English breakfasts and a cup of tea proved quite enough. Ten litres of fresh drinking water was taken from the tap in the camper’s ablutions block and carried back to Bass Pool. Along the way, a few friendly nods were exchanged with bleary eye happy campers emerging from tents.
Rather than the previous landing in the midst of the boulders on Piel Scar, the dinghy was this time retrieved from the sandy shoreline further to the west. Yes, a little further to row, but a much more amenable landing point from a Wardley’s sailors practical point of view.
At the beginning of this narrative, it was said that an aim during this trip was to see the familiar from a different perspective. Anchoring in Bass Pool as opposed to picking up a buoy was the first great step in this regard. The views seemed broader and wider. The castle with its outer wall looked more striking. The lighthouse on Walney Island is closer and more prominent. At low tide Bass pool gives an open expanse feel similar to that of a mere on the Norfolk Broads, being surrounded on all sides by a big skies. But there was better to come. Just across the way was Walney Island. Surprisingly, neither sailor had stepped foot on the largest of the Furness Peninsular islands before. Low tide had brought the sand of Walney within spitting distance of Jamila. A short hop in the Avon-round-tail was all that was required. The island turned out to be amazing. It felt like it was a links golf course that had been allowed to return to the wild. It had a swarthy but fresh open feel about it. A rough road running a long side a deep green grass covered flood plain led to a tall white painted light house with an adjoining keepers house, which as been since converted into a lovely family home.
There were several wild life hides dotted around. As the two sailors ambled past them, they appeared very quiet and unoccupied, or so they thought? Finally they reached a magnificent beach on the far side where the sea stretches out across Morecambe Bay to Blackpool tower and beyond. Looking back the way they came, masts and sails protruding above the grassy landscape were observed working there way across the low country side.
In reality they were simply navigating the Barrow channel heading to the open sea. Yet again the two sailor were see things from a new perspective. It was an artist’s paradise! Andy painfully regretted not having brought his serious camera, which a that moment was sat uselessly back at home in Rochdale. Available smart phones were thus pressed into service as can be see.
Once back on Jamila it was time to clear the decks and to hoist the canvas for the next leg and perhaps the most interesting part of the planned journey. They were preparing to sail back to the Lancashire coast, but instead of the ‘Fairway Buoy’ the next waypoint was the ‘Lune No1 Buoy several miles further north’. The destination was the port of Glasson-Dock.
The main channel into Glasson-Dock is surrounded by deep sand banks that are just and so covered at high water. The very prominent Plover Scar beacon stationed some way offshore marks an out-crop rock where care must be taken. If any part of this cruise could rip the keel or rudder off an approaching Wardley’s yacht carried along unknowingly by an incoming tide, it would be Plover Scar!
The lateral marker buoys into Lancaster are few and far between compared with other places but Andy’s sharp eyes were able to pick them out one by one. Jamila’s keel kept clear of the bottom, passing Sunderland Point and finally arriving at Glasson Dock. The entry light was on red, but the two sailors could see the tidal gate sinking slowly under the water. The light turned to green that allowed the two sailors to advance over the threshold and tie up along side a pilot boat called ‘Trelawney,’ Just a little later on they were supping a pint in the ‘Dalton Arms’ dock side pub.
The stay at Glasson was short. The ‘Silver River’ coaster was due in at 6am. Bob the harbour master wanted them out before the big boat comes slewing in on the tide. Everything was going to plan until Jamila went aground just before the gate. This cost vital minutes. Bob shouted from the quayside that they should try again but take a line further to port. It worked except as they passed the tidal gate the ‘Silver River’ came in spinning around her stern, still being carried by the flood tide. The exit out to sea was block by 500 tonnes of steel. Jamila was forced hard astern. For a moment they were faced with a large churning propeller forcing chunks of the river lune onto a rusty rudder as the big boat struggle to complete a full turn in front of the tidal gate. Silver River’s aim was the North wall just outside the gate where she takes the ground at low tide.
All this action was happening on an overcast Monday morning. The plan for the day was to leave Glasson on the early tide, sail to Piel, have lunch at the Ship Inn, and return to Wardley’s Creek on the following evening high water.
After hovering for a minute or two by the gate, where Bob the harbour master was standing tall commanding operations on the quayside, a gap opened up through which Jamila made a dash for open water. The weather forecast was cited as force four to five. As Jamila passed the ancient quay side dwellings of Sunderland Point, home to a few hundred Lancastrians whos single approaching road is famously cut off at high water, a decision was taken to hoist the sails with a number one reef in the main. The wind was mainly on the nose leaving Lancaster. Neither of the Wardley’s sailors had much experience of sailing in this neck of the woods so it was decided to remain under engine until arriving at number four buoy. At that point the Jamila’s skipper had calculated a feasible close hauled course over the Sunderland shoulder (drying 4m above) which would give up at least a metre and a half under the keel that would take us roughly, with a knot and a half of out going tide, in the general direction of Piel Island.
By this time the overcast sky was being replaced by blue sky and fluffy white clouds coming in from the west. With a reef in the main, a balancing portion of genoa was unfurled, Jamila engine was cut and a port-tack heading in the direction of ‘ Humphry Head’ was struck. Jamila’s sails filled and stiffened, she healed to the wind, her gunwales buried into the on coming sea and soon the depth gauge plummeted as proof that she was making way and advancing over the said shallows leading to the open sea.
The three hour sail over to Piel was one of the classic sails that all sailors idealize about in the off season whilst thumbing through additions of the Practical Boat Owner, or watching episodes of Dylan Winter on YouTube with a glass of scotch in hand. It was all blissful sunshine blue sea, canvas filled with wind and a frothy white trail left astern.
Eventually the depth dropped off dramatically as Jamila cross into the Heysham deeps. After an hour of tough close-hauled sailing, both sailors looked at each other quizzically and were agreed that the view looking towards our destination looked somewhat peculiar. The castle was way to the left and the Barrow docks well to the right. This is NOT how it looks coming out of the River Wyre! Why hadn’t the tide taken then further to the south?
Jamila’s position was plotted on the chart. It was then compared again the estimated positions planned a few hours earlier. This revealed that she was much higher up into Morecambe Bay than expected. The estimate of a one knot current sweeping us south had been an over estimation, and thinking back, no offset for leeway had been factored in, all which had contributed to the current situation. Luckily, during the course of the morning, the wind had backed-off to the south and the Wardley’s sailors were able to make the necessary course correction without the need for a starboard tack. Nevertheless it was going to be a seat of the pants ride over shallow waters and drying banks until ‘Haws Point East’. Harking back to the premise at the beginning of this post, yes it is certainly invigorating to see the ‘familiar, from a different perspective!
The lunch at Piel turned out to be a non event. Steve and Sheila had just arrived back, in two rusty 4x4s packed full of previsions. There was a sense of mild disarray on the Island. Again, the different perspective thingy again, it was a Monday not the weekend when everything runs like a swiss watch. Although Steve gave the answer we were looking for, the look on Shelia’s face told us straight that we weren’t going to be sat over looking the full expanse of Morecambe Bay with a large pub lunch before us and a pint in hand any time soon. The two Wardley’s sailor beat a retreat over the island, passing the castle and the few remaining tents, back to Bass Pool where Jamila lay at anchor. A lunch of sorts was rustled up from the left-over provisions on board. It wasn’t that bad to be honest, but no draft beers were consumed that lunch time.
The wind was dropping. By the time the boat slipped her anchorage the tide had been on the flood for an hour. The engine was required to get out 0f the channel. Once back at Haws Point the engine was cut and a course set for home. Three knots was the best the boat would do. Unfortunately this was not enough. One of the big questions arising out of this trip was still to be answered, would Jamila get back to her mooring without running aground? The sailors looked at each other and almost without having to touch anything the engine burst back into life.
There was a moment of respite from the monotonous throbbing found however. Once the boat had passed the Fairway Buoy the tide veered in towards the river Wyre. Now, the wind and tide ran in the same direction. The last couple of miles were completed under sail alone.
Once back in the river. A cunning plan was put into action. It was neap tides. The best we could expect was 7.5 metres of water in the river. This was touch and go territory. To the rescue, Andy had a trump card tucked up his sleeve that would help us up the river. In our possession we had a small iBook tablet. On it was chart plotting software putting a our disposal latest depth survey sounding of the Wyre’s upper reaches. Equally important, it would tell us our exact location with respect to the multitude of depth numbers shown on the little screen.
Needless to say, the two sailors made it back to the mooring.
At times there was very little margin for error. Some agressive turns to port and starboard were required to keep to the optimal line. At one point there was only half a meter under the keel. Momentarily the boat crossed a deep pool marked at 0.5 surrounded by 4s and 5s. As predicted, Jamila’s depth sounder shot up very briefly to 7 metres. Once passed the chemical plant the going was straight forward with little to go wrong.
The club house was very quiet when they returned. A bye stander would have observed two tired but happy looking sailors finally disembark from an Avon round-tail dinghy and carry their kit up concrete slipway. It was around 7:30pm and there was a relaxed sultry feel in the air. The day was getting long in the tooth and in a few hours the sun would be setting. All that remained was to pack-up the dinghy, put stuff in the car, start the engine and go home. Still, what an amazing three days.