Pulling yourself and kit to the starting line for a single handed cruise out into the Irish sea is never as you might imagine it. When sat at home enjoying the warmth of an open fire with a mug of tea in hand, the expectation of a summer cruise always includes a sun that shines, a sea that always shimmers, and gulls that glide endlessly in a perfectly blue sky. The reality was somewhat different. There was a cold wind, a miserable grey sky, and a gale forecast in four days time. With this, and being alone, and added to the stress of preparing to get away, a cloud of melancholy descended. I suddenly became painfully aware that I was leaving a safe and cushioned world for a very uncertain Irish sea where anything could happen and something was almost certainly going to do so.
The Marina was deserted. My electronic pass got me into the building. No one was there. I comforted myself with a cup of vending machine hot chocolate. This small but strangely up-lifting treat reminded me of youthful days with pals following a swim at the local pool. It did its job, at least in my head the sun started to break through the cloud. I still had to stock up on diesel. The plan was to take as much as I was likely to need and replenish on route where the opportunity occurs. Fifty litres of capacity in all sorted cans sat empty in my car. It was soon coming up to High Water Fleetwood, and still no marina man on the fuel pontoon. This was the last bit of the jigsaw before I could set sail. Maybe this service was disrupted because of COVID-19? Should I go to ASDA? The thought of filling the cans at the pumps and lugging them all the way down to the boat didn’t appeal. Time was running out, a decision would have to be taken soon.
Ten minutes earlier, I had checked Jamila’s sea worthiness. She looked great. Her batteries were OK, she had dry bilges, her engine started the instant the key was turned. yes, she was sitting pretty. So far so good.
I walked out into the car park to see if anything was happening elsewhere. Maybe the marina lads were doing an errand somewhere nearby. Just as I walked around the harbour office a tooting car horn caught my attention. I looked over and saw a friendly face beaming back at me from a small white van. It was Billy Wizz from the club. Bill is one of those steadfast characters that are the bedrock of any organization. He is a cup half full man, always smiling, always good humoured, and always ready for a natter about boats and some good old club gossip. Together we went back to the Marina office and drank yet another cup of hot chocolate. He cheered me up with a bit of banter and news of goings on at the Wardley’s Marina.
Up until this point, Billy had not yet been adorned with the moniker ‘Wizz’. He had for a long time suffered more than his fair share of bad luck with boat engines, but had recently found a crack marine mechanic who sprinkled some magic dust over his Honda’s Forty-Five horses and had bought them back to life. On this very day Billy was determined to take his very competent Hardy 18 out into the Fleetwood channel and up to twenty knots in speed.
I was beginning to feel much better thanks to Billy. The proverbial sun had begun to shine again, and to make things even better, in walked the missing fuel pontoon man, just as I had been readying myself for a trip to ASDA. The fuel pontoon man, with a broad smile containing a wry hint of amusement such I should dare to doubt his honour, had assured me that there was plenty of diesel to go around, and would sort me out whenever I wanted.
Billy announced that he was awaiting a pal from the club, Martin, and that in due course would escort me down the channel for a good old send off, explaining it would be an excuse to test out his newly wired up ship’s horn.
First leg to Ramsey on the Isle-of-Man. Game on! Jamila finally got on her way, leaving the calm and safety of Fleetwood Marine, turning left in to the river Wyre, and eventually meeting the gently swell of Morecambe Bay as the river gave way to the sea.
There is always a feel-good factor to be had when leaving port with a full tank of fuel and with various five and ten litre cans stashed in and around the boat in reserve, which is not always the case when weekend sailing. And this sense of well being is accentuated when you find yourself creaming along under full sail on a broad reach for a whole twelve hours, and moreover with a favourable tide.
As the Fleetwood promenade began to resemble a thin line in the distance, in what looked like a miniature pilot-boat, Billy and Martin could be seen rapidly approaching in the distance.
By this time Jamila was at full pelt, ploughing an nice frothy white furrow down the Fleetwood channel toward the Fairway Buoy. But in spite of mother nature’s awesome power pushing at the sails, and the boat’s willingness to respond, Billy was nevertheless catching rapidly and was in the process of earning his new nickname Billy Wizz. He could be seen sitting at the helm of his fast fishing boat, beaming from ear to ear, as he approached and soon overhauled the sailing boat. His crew member Martin was stood in the stern holding on tight looking vaguely embarrassed at the ease of it all.
A photo session then took place. Both Skippers tried to out do each other with clever artistically framed camera shots, as if both boats were the iconic ‘Christine Keeler’ in the buff on a back to front chair.
To the sound of a few farewell hoots of Billy’s ship’s horn, Jamila continued her long march out into the ocean, and the miniature pilot-boat, with a fuel gauge needle rapidly heading south, calved a long turn creating a fanfare of spray and spume and headed back to safer waters.
Jamila charged on and on. The first waypoint Halfway Shoal marks the absolute limits of navigation west of Walney. Between said waypoint and the shore errant sailing boats run a risk of spending a night on a sandbank, which is not normally a feature of this Wardley’s sailor’s passage plan. Once clear of the Heysham Deeps and over the Mort Bank shallows where big boats don’t venture, the auto pilot was set allowing the skipper to duck down into the cabin below. It always good to get away from the tiller for short periods. When out of the wind and spray the charts can be checked, the passage plan can be verified, the chart plotter can be gazed at, and maybe the barometer can be tapped. And in addition, these days you can’t forget ones social media commitments!
Why not do a posting showing an electronic position and a pretty sunset over water came to mind? Surely better than yet again another picture of an enormous plate of food from an American holiday, or a picture of mate’s daughter pouting her lips? To be honest the FB ‘Likes’ tend to prove me wrong on this score such is social anthropology these days. In any case, as the land starts to recede you’ve got a get a move on before the signal vanishes. From then on you are out at sea on your own.
The vast wind blasted space between Walney Island west and the eastern shores of the Isle of Man is a show case for the new world wind turbine paradise that keeps our kettles bubbling and our router lights pulsating. The passage plan to Ramsay leaves the Halfway Shoal buoy to the north west, threading between the Walney West wind farm and the Ormonde wind farm to the north, up past first one north cardinal, then on to another north cardinal buoy, scraping the boundaries of the Walney Extension Wind farm — that’s three farms in all — until the field of vision is clear all the way to the Isle of Man. The canny Wardley’s sailor leaves Fleetwood an hour or so before high water getting across Morecambe Bay at slack water or there about, and then hitches a ride on the ebbing tide towards the Isle of Man lasting six hours. The neat trick it to get into the lee of the IOM before the tide turns and tries to sweep you back down towards France. Get positioned roughly in the vicinity south of the Bahama south cardinal, you’ll find the contra flowing flood tide is weakened by the IOM land mass, and will never reach its normal speed as it would do further to the east.
Passing the shear scale of this array of wind farms is impressive. Our PM talked up Britain’s windfarms in a recent speech on tele. He lamented the days when people claimed that the power generated by these installations would be unable to knock the ‘Skin off a rice pudding’. Well, I got a little bit close to one of these towering turbines and experienced first hand the deafening scream that pulsated my ear drums as a blade, exceeding the wing span of a jumbo jet, came down from the sky at one hundred and fifty mph, reaching its lowest apex, and then shooting back up skywards a moment later. An experience such as this puts you in no doubt of their awesome power and that these things can kick-arse, at least when the wind is blowing.
Luckily for my little fluttering burgee and mast head aerial, the said lowest apex of one of these monster blades is well above the height of Jamila’s not inadequate proportioned mast.
Later in his speech, Boris continued and listed off notable British wind farm locations, citing Teesside, Humber, Scotland and Wales, but no mention of the biggest of them all off Walney Island, Chez Nous. You just cannot get decent speech writers these days!
Once south of the Bahama south cardinal buoy and after seven hours of sailing the vast wind farms began to recede into the east. The first glimpses of the Isle of Man appeared. Mountains shrouded in cloud and mist could be seen up a head. The tide had turned by this point, but who cared. It would never reach a speed, as I have explained above, to worry Jamila, She was still doing what she was doing earlier on when Billy Wizz turned tail, and that was creaming along under her billowing white canvas sails with a full Beaufort force five wind coming at her from the beam. Like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, this was where Jamila was born to be, and what she knew best.
Maughold Head lighthouse FI(8)30s 15m began to resolve itself as Jamila surge forwards and onwards. Situated to towards the top of a dramatic rocky cliff, the said lighthouse it just what any Hollywood director would like to have in his movie, say in a scene where some hapless undersized fishing boat is being stalked by some ravenous blood and flesh obsessed shark. The destination was an overnight anchorage in Ramsey Bay, and, unfortunately for this particular Wardley’s sailor, not safely tucked away in the atmospheric port of Ramsey, where there would be beer on tap in the ‘Harbour Hotel’. Instead, I would be exposed out front in the bay, swinging from a hook clinging to a submerged sandy beach, two hundred yards offshore. Such a position would be exposed to any easterly gale that might appear in the night. But fortunately, in the modern internet age, Wardley’s Sailors are not reliant on tapping the barometer with a finger to gauge the impending weather anymore. A glance at my iPhone’s display revealed a friendly message from my service provider welcoming me to the IOM, and to paraphrase, assuring me of business as usual at no extra charge.
Once at anchor it was time to relax and ponder the current Covid-19 situation that had denied me, as a Wardley’s sailor bound for Ramsey, my inalienable right to drink a beer or two in a port side bar. Still I couldn’t complain. I got to briefly share an anchorage with the celebrated IOM tramp steamer ‘SILVER RIVER’. Hallowed company it was for sure. I have now bumped into her both at Glasson Dock and Ramsay. She wasn’t to stay long though. We had both had arrived at roughly the same time. The SILVER RIVER passed JAMILA as we both negotiated the final reach of the Walney Extension wind farm. Fortunately for Silver River, the COVIDE-19 rules do not exclude commercial traffic, only leisure traffic to the Isle of Man like me. Ramsey is not an all tidal port. Boats can only enter and leave port two hours before and after high water. As soon as there was enough depth for Silver River to drag her bilges over the soft Manx mud, she weighed anchor and disappear between the jutting but impressive parallel harbour walls.
The irony of the Isle of Man Covide-19 rules is that they were quite rightfully make by a risk averse committee mentality, to protect the elderly tax exiles, who most probably during their rise to financial supremacy had conducted themselves in quite a NON risk averse manor, most probably borrowing other peoples money as capital, under the protection of limited liability where the risks and costs of failure are yet again most probably borne by the good folks from from the excluded mainland — or perhaps this minor pension fund investor currently swinging at anchor in Ramsey Bay. That said however the people of IOM are incredibly friendly and welcoming in better times and the very best of them are the harbour masters and crew that operate the ports of Ramsey and Douglas.
Luckily, that night the weather was kind. A gentle onshore wind maintained a view out of Jamila’s companion-way toward a lovely row of Georgian Terraces, which as the day slowly turned to night were gently illuminated by cleverly sited multi coloured lights, bringing out the magnificent spender of a by-gone era. It must be said here that this type of aesthetically pleasing architecture is rarely seen now for utilitarian cost-saving reasons, compounded by a lack of skilled artisans, and a modern greed for space including a modern desire for oversized glass windows and balconies.
But I had to count my lucky stars, since it was I who had the best view in town that night and it was costing me nothing. “Oh, to be swinging at anchor out in Ramsey Bay”! (SA, get your guitar out, I can feel another Wardley’s ballad coming on!).
The next episode coming soon: from Ramsey – Port Patrick – Cushendun via the very disturbed and rough waters of the ‘Point of Aire’!