We’re under way!

Yesterday dawned misty and miserable. When I asked the night-watchman at the marina office in Plymouth Yacht Haven for the most recent forecast, he asked if I wanted the one for Bermuda. The forecast more locally wasn’t too bad – the mist was due to clear mid-morning, so we continued with our preparations, and put our departure back by an hour.

While Julian got the boat ready, I made a loaf of soda bread and a big pot of soup that would get us through the day, and got myself and the girls ready for the day ahead. By 11.30 the sun was out and we departed Plymouth in reasonably calm seas. And so it continued for the day. It was lovely to have such an uneventful first day out.

Cruising along the Cornish coast yesterday afternoon.

Cruising along the Cornish coast yesterday afternoon.

Alas, there was no sailing. We motored all the way. But we knew that was going to be the case, and we had factored the cost of the diesel for an eight-hour passage into our decision that it would be cheaper to move to Falmouth than stay in Plymouth until we had more suitable sailing conditions.

No spectacular marine mammals to report, but we were treated to the aerial beauty of gannets and at one point saw a lone puffin bobbing on the sea. We were within sight of a British Navy destroyer for most of the day, with helicopters landing and taking off almost continuously. After a few hours we heard the repeated and unmistakable booms of firing. An hour later, we heard a voice on the radio announcing that the Navy’s LIVE firing had now ceased. Perhaps we wouldn’t have been so nonchalant had we realised they were firing live rounds!!

Lily and Katie were fantastic considering it was their first time out on the boat in nine months. Julian and I couldn’t believe that we did this when they were two years younger – when Katie was only eighteen months old! They’re cool customers now, carrying on with their reading and playing and dressing up, generally oblivious that their home is moving through the ocean!

We arrived in Falmouth just after 7pm, tired, hungry and very happy. We rafted against Dignity Too, whose owners are almost at the end of their five-year circumnavigation of the British Isles! It’s always reassuring to meet other people who have made their crazy dreams come true.

Cloudy Falmouth today

Cloudy Falmouth today

Today the girls and I have been grocery shopping and doing the laundry, while Julian’s been buying fuel and oil, making repairs and gradually getting Carina ready for a longer passage across the Channel to France. We’re heading up the river this evening to anchor for a day or two, and will return to Falmouth to make final preparations before we set sail for France, when the weather is favourable.

It feels good to be on our way at last!



Schull to Long Island

Cottages on Long Island

Beach days have been few and far between this summer, so when they come we have to make the most of them. On Saturday morning, Julian and the girls had lots of beach fun on a tiny beach beside the harbour in Schull. On Sunday morning I discovered a wonderful farmer’s market where I stocked up on local produce – Gubbeen cheese, ham and bacon; fresh fish off the boat; and fruit and vegetables from a market gardener whose van was bursting at the seams with the best of the season. We’ve been eating like kings ever since!

My family and our boat

Due south of Schull Point is Long Island. On Sunday afternoon we made the short trip across to an anchorage on the north side of the island, and took the dinghy to shore to a deserted pebble beach (now that schools have re-opened for the autumn term, all beaches are deserted!). What a find. The smooth pebbles were comfortable underfoot and the beach was a treasure trove of natural and man-made detritus. The latter was somewhat depressing, and the girls are well versed regarding all the plastics that can kill their favourite sea creatures. There were lots of plastics to see on this beach. However, I was also curious as to why there were so many bras and knickers lying around – Julian said he’d leave me if I checked to see if any were my size (sometimes one can take beachcombing a little too far). The natural detritus was equally exciting. Like all children, mine love looking for and collecting shells, and this beach was covered with huge shells of all sorts of sea creature, including crabs and lobsters. We haven’t found shells this large on our travels before, and the girls used a giant crab shell to scoop up water to pour over themselves and their unsuspecting (and not very impressed) parents.

Yesterday morning dawned still and warm and after breakfast we had a slow but delightful sail in amongst the islands that lie between Long Island Bay and Roaringwater Bay, accompanied by the, now almost ever present, dolphins, cormorants, gannets and fulmars. A mist descended as we neared Sherkin Island, but we were soon in Baltimore, a much quieter and more peaceful place than it was on the bank holiday weekend! We returned here to fill up with water, re-fuel and wash the boat. While Julian got on with those chores, Lily, Katie and I walked to Lott’s Wife, the beacon at the entrance to the harbour, picking a large bag of blackberries along the way. Up at Lott’s Wife, we sat in the mist, surrounded by a herd of young heifers and bullocks. One brown and white bullock was particularly curious and Lily made friends with him. I was so pleased to see this – little Lily and a big bullock face to face having a chat with one another! There was a time, only a few months ago, when she was scared of even the tiniest dog.

Today is promising to be another fine day, so we’re making our way back around to the other side of Sherkin to go ashore on a sandy beach we spotted yesterday.



Dolphins, divers and Derrynane

The Cow, one of a series of bovine rocks at the mouth of Kenmare Bay

At some point during my mid-teens, my family started to holiday in Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry. We’d load up the car for the six hour drive from Edenderry, and for a week in August the four of us would, if the weather permitted, drive out to Derrynane for long days on the beach, and evenings back in Waterville where it took little convincing to get Daddy, otherwise tee-total and very pub-shy, to come with us into Mick O’Dwyer’s pub where he could look at all the Gaelic football memorabilia on the walls. One year, my friend, Niamh, and her boyfriend joined us, and we got up to all sorts of devilment – and I still have the photos to prove it. Our last family holiday to Waterville was in 2004, when Daddy had been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few more months left to live. My godmother, Catherine joined us that year, on what was a poignant and emotional holiday, as we all knew it was to be our last as a family.

These fond family memories is one reason why Derrynane is my favourite beach. Perhaps my fondest memory is of the time I was rescued by an over-zealous black Labrador. I didn’t ask to be rescued, or need to be rescued, but I suppose it speaks volumes for my swimming style that the Lab thought I did. There I was, having a leisurely swim in the calm sea when the Lab came splashing into the water from the beach, his owner shouting at me “He won’t hurt you. He’s just trying to rescue you”. And sure enough, he swam straight for me, gently took my wrist in his mouth, and led me back to shore. If I wasn’t in danger of drowning before my rescue, I sure was during its execution, as I lost control from laughing so much. The Lab deposited me on the beach, and returned to its owner with a look of “See…I rescued another one” on its face. The owner was profoundly apologetic, but I assured her I didn’t mind, and indeed had found it a rather pleasant experience.

All of this is by way of explaining why I was so eager to bring my husband and daughters to this wonderful beach. Down a single track road, that passes the home of one of our great nationalist leaders, Daniel O’Connell, the golden sandy beaches resting at the bottom of rugged grey mountains. At the western end of the beach, a series of small islands are accessible by foot across the golden sands at low tide. The largest of these, Abbey Island, contains the ruins of an old abbey, and even today the dead are carried across the sand at low tide for burial in the island’s graveyard. The water here is always calm, sheltered and warm, and ideal for swimming.

So we spent two days there, the four of us playing on the beach, swimming in the water, and enjoying soup and toasted sandwiches at the pub up the road.

The Cow and The Bull

Our sail to Derrynane took us past the islands the Cow, Bull, Calf and Heifer, near the entrance to the massive Kenmare Bay. From one side of the bay we couldn’t see our destination on the other side (it was a misty day). Kenmare Bay – and Bantry Bay which we visited a few days later – is rich in marine life. As we sailed along, on one of the most enjoyable sails so far, we watched masses of gannets dive bombing the sea for food, fulmers swooping low, and other birds I unfortunately couldn’t name. And where there are lots of seabirds feeding, other animals can’t be far behind. And sure enough, we were soon joined by a large pod of common dolphins, leaping out of the water around our boat, and riding on our bow wave. At one point I saw the fin of a shark in the water. Alas, I don’t know which species, but it looked like it was feeding. On our return journey back across Kenmare Bay a couple of days later, Julian saw a fin whale, but he didn’t reveal himself again.

The Calf

From Kenmare we returned to Bantry Bay and a few nights on a mooring buoy in Castletownbere. Lily had her stitches removed and we bought some locally produced sausages. From there we sailed up Bantry Bay with more gannets and dolphins keeping us entertained on the passage. We met my mother in Glengarriff for a couple of days. But Glengarriff deserves a post all of its own.

Crossing to Ireland

We enjoyed a very pleasant couple of nights moored in New Grimsby Sound in the Isles of Scilly. The weather was as it should be, but unfortunately hasn’t been for most of this summer. So we made the most of warm sunshine to play on the glorious golden beach of Tresco Island and explore the two castle ruins at the north end of the island. We could have stayed there for a few more days – or forever – but decided the time had come to venture across the 130 nautical miles to Kinsale, our destination port on the south coast of Ireland. We had always intended to have another crew member on board for the trip to Ireland, but as the days and weeks went by and we grew more comfortable with handling Carina, we decided to go it alone. The 24th and 25th of July gave us a weather window – not great for sailing due to the lack of wind, but good for two novices who might have to forego sleep for 24 hours or more.

Julian and I woke early on the morning of Tuesday the 24th. It was foggy, but we got everything in order and at 6.30am we slipped silently out of New Grimsby Sound. After about half an hour the fog grew considerably worse and we wondered if we’d made a mistake. Luckily, the girls were still asleep, so Julian and I were able to give all our attention to navigating through pea soup. I helmed, while Julian regularly blew the fog horn, and we listened intently to the radio as we kept our eyes peeled for anything that might suddenly loom out of the fog. By 9am it had lifted, to reveal a clear blue-sky day, with a southerly puff of wind that wouldn’t knock a feather over. We motored along for most of the day, now and again cutting the motor to see if it was worth putting up the sails. If we had more crew, or were more experienced we might have been happy to chug along at 2 or 3 knots for 48 hours, but we made the decision to just go for it, and make as much speed as we could for as long as we could.

We spent a pleasant day at sea, getting on with life as usual – even the washing hanging out (see the photo below!). There were few signs of other humans – a fishing vessel mid morning and then a container ship far in the distance later in the day. For the first time we saw fulmers – lots of them. When the herring gulls ended the fulmers began, swooping low, masters of the open ocean. Gannets flew past too, often in flocks of twenty or more birds, but always going somewhere, never diving to fish.

Hardly ‘single-handed’ sailing!

I had a two hour nap mid-afternoon, and when I awoke I relieved Julian to do likewise, although he didn’t sleep for as long. Putting the girls to bed at bedtime proved somewhat difficult. They were aware that we were doing something different and wanted to be part of it. They both eventually nodded off, but half an hour later Lily reappeared, and finally fell asleep in the cockpit, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and we transferred her to bed.

It was around this time, after the sun had set, but there was still plenty of light in the sky, and Lily was drifting off, that we decided there finally was enough wind, and we got the sails out. Beautiful silence at last. Shortly after 11pm, Julian got kitted out in warmer overnight clothing and made himself a large coffee. I went down to the saloon to sleep for a few hours. At 1.30 Julian came bounding down the companionway yelling ‘Fog horn, fog horn’. I leaped out of bed, quickly found the fog horn and went up on deck. A thick fog had descended and the sound of a fog horn somewhere on our port side had Julian worried. But the fog horn was too consistent, too regular and a quick glance at the chart plotter revealed it to be marking the boundary of the Kinsale gas field.

Moments later we received a radio message from the gas field!! ‘Will the vessel one mile south of Kinsale B please alter course, you are entering a restricted zone’. Oops. We altered course to go around the restricted area, still in fog and not able to see a thing. Moments later the fog lifted, revealing two massive gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees, less than a mile from us. Hard to believe that two such massive brightly lit structures rising out the sea could be so obscured by fog. Thankfully that was the end of the fog and the rest of the night we had good visibility with occasional drizzle. Julian went to bed and I helmed for a couple of hours, watching the lights on Ireland’s south coast gradually come into view – lighthouses and other lights – and the coastline taking shape as dawn approached. We swapped places once again and when I was woken by Lily at 6.30 we were only a couple of hours from our destination.

We arrived in Kinsale on a cold drizzly morning, 26 hours after we’d left the Isles of Scilly. We were both exhausted, but delighted with our achievement and delighted to be in Ireland. After setting ourselves up on the pontoon at Castlepark Marina, we enjoyed a hearty fried breakfast. Julian slept while I took the girls to the beach, and in the afternoon Lily and I slept while Julian and Katie walked into Kinsale.

Yippee…we had arrived, and after a day of rest and recovery, we were ready to begin the Irish leg of our adventure!

Torquay to Plymouth

Departure day at last. We planned to sail west from Torquay to Salcombe or, if we wanted a shorter trip, Dartmouth. We didn’t need to leave too early, but decided on being under way by 10am to make the most of the tidal stream around Start Point and, crucially, to get across the bar into Salcombe harbour (a shallow area that we wouldn’t be able to get over on or near low water and not, as you might think, the pub). We were all up at 7am and by 9am we had finished breakfast, the girls were dressed and ready to go, and all that remained was getting the boat ship shape for the trip. We were ready to leave on the dot of 10 o’clock. When Julian turned the key in the ignition we were met with an annoying high pitched noise alerting us that the battery wasn’t charging. This is a recurring problem and in the past it’s taken Julian anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours to resolve, working his way through the various wires running to the battery til he finds the offending wire. This time it took him an hour, with me keeping the girls entertained in the cockpit and occasionally trying the ignition when instructed. At 11.15 we were under way. The delay did have one advantage, however. The fog that had been hanging over land and sea all morning finally burned away, bringing us good visibility.

As soon as we got beyond the harbour walls we set the sails and sailed with a southwesterly breeze for the next almost seven hours, all the way to Salcombe. It was a lovely sail, if a little on the cool side. Katie, who generally no longer has a daytime nap, quickly got very grouchy and within two minutes of being cuddled fell fast asleep and slept for about three hours! Lily spent most of the day playing with her toys in the cockpit and late in the afternoon moved down to the saloon to play with her cuddly toys, who weren’t allowed in the cockpit due to the rain. It was the girls’ first time to really experience the boat leaning and it took a little getting used to – for us and them.

At 6.15 we arrived in Salcombe and spent the night on a swinging mooring. After a quick pasta supper I called the water taxi and we went into Salcombe for an hour, to the wonderful Victoria Inn, where Julian and I had a pint each while the girls played in the brilliant child-friendly pub garden. But it had been a long day and the girls soon became grouchy, so we caught the taxi back home and we were all soon tucked up in bed asleep. I don’t know how the girls felt, but Julian and I were feeling very proud of our first sailing trip as just a four-some!

I can’t tell you if it was a calm night or a wild night in Salcombe harbour, because all four of us slept soundly from 9.30 until 8 o’clock this morning! The magic of fresh sea air! A few things were somewhat difficult yesterday and I made adjustments today to make life easier. I boiled the kettle three times yesterday but never got round to making a hot drink. Making lunch was an exercise in maintaining balance, overcoming queasiness and not scalding myself. It’s amazing the difference in having two adults on board compared to three. No extra set of hands to keep the children occupied while you make tea, or help with passing cups and food up and down the companionway. So this morning I prepared myself. I made a Thermos of coffee to last the day and I got all the lunch ingredients out, so I only needed to assemble them at lunch time. I planned ahead for when Katie would wake from the inevitable nap, so I didn’t have to deal with a grouchy and potentially seasick toddler. And when Lily asked if she could have cornflakes for lunch, I thought ‘What the hell’ and watched her devour a bowlful. And it all made for a much more relaxing day.

We belted along with on a southeasterly wind, with the sun warming up through thin clouds. We watched lone, and occasionally flocks of ten or more, gannets flying to and from the land. Apart from the swell coming over the bar out of Salcombe it was a lovely sail – and even the swell was cause for amusement for the girls who treated it like an amusement ride. We suffered one technical glitch when, about an hour out of Salcombe, the bolt holding the kicking strap in place suddenly broke, and Julian had to do a running repair.

After four hours of sailing we were in Plymouth Sound. Julian had turned the engine on and we were starting to bring the genoa in when a rib came zooming in our direction. It was almost beside us before I saw ‘Police’ written on the side of the boat. They told us a Navy frigate was coming out and advised us where to go in the channel. So we abandoned taking down the sails for a minute while Julian motored Carina out of the path of the pilot boat and the frigate. Less than a minute later the frigate was passing us to port, her sailors all standing on deck. Now I’m a pacifist and I have very little time for the military, but I have to admit the sight of goodness knows how many sailors all waving to us from the deck of their ship, and my girls waving back, was moving. It was amazing!

We’re back in Plymouth Yacht Haven now and plan to stay here for about a week. Tonight Julian made a to-do list of all the little and not so little jobs that still need to be done on the boat. At last count the list was up to 34, so he has a busy week ahead of him. My job is to keep the girls busy and out of the way while he gets the jobs done. So I’ve promised I’ll take them to the National Marine Aquarium tomorrow – a brilliant place that we been to so many times, but never tire of. And Katie’s told me she wants doughnuts!! A girl after my own heart.