Port of Call – La Graciosa, hiking volcanos with kids

La Graciosa – Spanish for graceful, is found off the North Eastern tip of Lanzarote. The El Rio and a 35 minute ferry ride separates the islands. It is volcanic, and is the Canary Islands small (just 27km2),sleepy and largely forgotten sister. These qualities make it a charming place to visit – ‘graceful’, it lives up to its name. Unlike its larger, louder and well known siblings, La Graciosa is chilled, quiet and relaxing. There are around 500 permanent residents and it is rumoured that many of these have never left – not even the short 2km distance to Lanzarote, making their livelihood from fishing and tourists.

Do not expect a sunset strip with tourist shops and happy hour in the small town of Caleta del Sebo…there are a few quiet bars, a bakery and a couple of small grocery stores (so small, we asked the children to wait outside), a glass bottom boat and a scuba dive school – the waters around La Graciosa are marine and fishing reserves.

Approaching the small town from the dingy, we got a distinct feeling of arriving somewhere off the beaten track – to the minds eye it looked reminiscent of old Arabia. The roads are sandy, dirt, tumbleweed tracks – the only vehicles are 4×4’s and there are very few of these. There are basic one story, whitewashed pensions to rent, a free campsite and a very small harbour with a couple of pontoons. Or, do as we did, come by yacht and drop anchor (make sure you have your permit for the marine reserve) in the ruggedly beautiful Playa Francesa with its white sandy beach and black volcano backdrop landscape.

There are several mountainous volcanic cones on the island, but the one we chose to hike up with the kids in tow was Montana Amarilla, one of the smaller at 172 meters high. We chose this one simply because it was the nearest to where we could make landfall in the dinghy and we didn’t think that the children aged 10, 7 and 4 needed to put in any extra miles before climbing their first volcano! Entering the sand dunes at the back of the beach, we wound our way in between dry, dusty, arid bushes, cacti and the elusive giant lizard.

There is no natural water source on this island and as we walked in the early morning warmth, we soon became covered in a gentle coating of volcanic dust, with a dryness that gets to the back of your throat. Leaving the dunes and starting up the volcano, the terrain changes dramatically under foot from sand to cooled black lava that resembles a ploughed field, only with huge, giant sods of hard volcanic stone instead of dirt. There is a worn path that zig zags its way to the top – this is a tourist destination after all – but where the many feet have travelled before us, the hard volcanic rock has be ground down to a jagged pebble like consistency, sometimes in large drifts, making it difficult to get a grip under foot for adults and children alike. At times it was comical, one step forward and a slide back on the drift of green minerals – walking sandals and pumps don’t really cut it here, hiking boots would have been preferable but sadly they were at home in Cornwall!

Quite honestly I was amazed when we summited the volcanic cone – everyone had walked with determination all the way up. Hot, sweaty and dusty we stood at the top for the obligatory photo and admired the view over the rest of La Graciosa and Lanzarote… Shortly followed by the demands for snacks and water!

Going down was more hazardous than going up. It was a bit like skiing through rubble as you stood on a drift of ground down rock and took off, down the mountain, with a child in tow, slaloming behind you and clutching your hand!

Happily all survived and the swim off the picture postcard sandy beach at the end felt all the better for our mornings Expedition. Everyone slept soundly that night!

Port of Call – Porto Santo

Porto Santo is a small island just north of Madeira. It is Madeiras’ quiet and sleepy neighbour.  It was indeed a welcome port of call for us on our yacht Moonlighting, having had rather a difficult sail over from Lisbon some 500 miles to the north east.

The slow and gentle pace of life on this warm Atlantic island, west of Europe and Africa, suited our recovery from the gruelling passage perfectly. We picked up a buoy in the inner harbour for 6.5 euros a night, including the use of shower facilities and a free laundry service wash.  The marina is very small. There is an excellent cheap cafe on site that offered free WiFi for the marina guests. It is the hub for socialising sailors, exchanging notes on where they’ve been, where they’re going, recommendations, advice and the ever-present swapping of crucial weather information.

The language spoken is Portuguese, and English, as their second language is also spoken by most to a greater or lesser degree.  Making the effort to try and speak a little Portuguese is welcome – we always teach the children the basics of please, thank you, hello and goodbye in the local language wherever we are, and the women of the island in particular seemed surprised and pleased when our four year old would shout ‘obrigado’ to anyone that would listen.  This usually resulted in her cheeks being given a squeeze, her red hair stroked and generally a lot of attention – she knew what she was doing!

The islanders try to eek out a living from tourism. Porto Santo is off the beaten track and is Madeira’s poorer neighbour – it has one main advantage over Madeira – a long and golden sandy beach that extends the whole length of the south side of the 9 mile long island.  In particular the beach at Ponta da Calheta at the south west of the island is superb – as a family we went snorkelling here and the visibility was 15 meters plus with plenty of fish to view and on a par with our snorkelling experiences in the Caribbean. 

There is hiking – not for the feint hearted, this rock sticks up out of the ocean 516 metres high at Pico do Facho. There is also a golf course – the only really green bit of this arid dusty landscape apart from the numerous cacti and palm trees. The open top tourist bus can be caught from the centre of the only town – Cidade Villa Baleria and takes you on a basic tour, proudly showing how sleepy and a little run down but friendly the island is – the driver stopping to chat to friends and honking his horn at others.  There is a daily passenger ferry that comes across from Madeira and a very small airport.  But personally, we prefer to travel under our own steam – arriving under sail to a new port of call, knowing that you have made this journey successful, no matter how hard that journey was, far outweighs in our opinion any other way of arriving at a destination…

 

Family Cruise……. or Endurance Passage?

Sailing is a great way to see the world with the family in tow.  The kids eyes are opened every day to new experiences, culture, food and people. They rapidly learn to not be too shy and make friends with other kids quickly and are confident around the boat – safety wise and usefulness wise.  Our ten year old can happily use appropriate knots for tying the fenders onto the boat, take a bow or stern line ashore and even helm under power and sail in some quite tricky conditions as we found out on our last passage from Lisbon to Porto Santo, one of the islands of the Madeira group.

The distance from Lisbon to Porto Santo is just shy of 500 miles.  We assume our average sailing speed to be about 6 knots and therefore it’s going to take us 3-4 days depending on wind and sea state.  This was the longest ocean passage we’d done with the children so far.

15 hours into the trip our auto helm failed. This is an essential piece of kit for us.  Usually we would embark on a longer ocean passage and once on our route and the sails have been set for conditions and direction we would switch on the auto helm, sit back and enjoy the journey (occasionally ‘tweaking’ sails and auto helm as the conditions change.  So long as someone is on lookout we are free to move about the boat, cook, make tea, read a book, sort the kids out,  anything really.  Making long ocean passages with the children on board and no auto helm is not much fun to say the least!

For 60 hours day and night William and I had to hand steer the boat by compass. We decided on a two hour rota. Two hours helming, two hours off.  On the helm you can literally do nothing else, the wind was strong and coming from directly astern of us and made the boat roll heavily from port to starboard and back again continuously.  You constantly had to adjust the course steered with the roll of the boat to continue on course and watch out for waves our 40ft yacht Moonlighting might like to surf down.

In the day this is relatively straight forward – there is nothing around you but wide open ocean and the occasional huge cargo ship, so a visual fix on something in the distance to make sure you’re going in the right direction isn’t an option. But you can at least see the direction the waves are coming from, feel the wind on the back of your neck and even use the clouds and patches of blue sky as a reference point – something to aim for, with the odd glance down at the compass immediately in front of you, just to be sure.

But at night it’s a different story. It’s pitch black from about 6pm, you can hear and feel the ever present strong wind berating down the back of your neck and you can sense the power of the huge waves all around you, but you can see nothing but the glow of the compass which is lit so you can see it to steer by, but destroys any night vision you might have other wise been able to see by. All you can do is stare at the compass and feel the boat moving and make helming decisions with all the senses available to you.  If you’re lucky, the night will be clear with stars and when the moon rises it will give some light to dissipate that closed in, dark, lonely, claustrophobic feeling. Sitting at the helm under these conditions is not passive.  It very, very physical.  You’re constantly bracing yourself for the heavy rolling of the boat side to side. The wheel is heavy and stiff because of the wave action hitting the rudder, requiring large amounts of efforts to move it port to starboard.  You feel bruised and beaten up.  I’m sure I now have abs of steel and my arms have been nicely toned!

And of course the conditions are changing often, and with that requires sail changes and adjustments.  Usually I’d be on the helm while William would half walk half crawl along the deck to make changes to the main sail or the headsail – both of which have been secured so they can’t accidentally be blown across to the other side of the boat (accidental jibe) which is a high risk with the wind coming from behind us and would be bad news. It’s one thing doing this in daylight but quite another in the dark.  I’m sure Will got fed up with me double and triple checking that he had ‘clipped on’  whenever he went forward- secured himself with a line from his life jacket to the boat – I’ll leave the potential consequences of not clipping on in these conditions and at night to your imagination!  The boat naturally wants to round up into the wind and she wants to surf down the waves, veering off at the bottom, but this is not what we want the boat to do – we want to steer as straight a line as possible to get there as quickly as we can.

Off watch for two hours does not mean you can relax. Those sail changes I mentioned have to come out of someone’s off watch time – it’s just too exhausting to spend extra time on the helm. At night, the kids are asleep snug in their bunks, oblivious to the sleep deprived labour both their parents are going through (thank goodness they did sleep through it!). So this means whoever is off the helm can try and get their head down for some sleep.  Neither of us managed to get much of this high value and prized commodity! We opted to sleep in the saloon on one of the sofas that’s not a proper bunk so we were within easy shouting distance for the person on watch if they needed help.  The sofa is narrow, you’ve got the table at your back pinning you in position but the boats throwing you around so much your constantly under threat of being thrown onto the floor.  Cupboards and lockers occasionally popping open through ageing catches, threatening to tip out their contents with the next wave (we must buy some bolts for those before the next ocean passage!), the contents of the lockers rattle around with the rocking of the boat. Grabbing something to eat or drink all uses up precious little off watch sleeping time.  We slept fully clothed, ate food that was convenient and need little cooking, if any at all. The day before we’d set sail I’d made a big pasta sauce, cake and brownies – I always do this before a passage because it’s good to have something to just heat up or grab – just in case.

During the daylight hours off watch was same – we still needed to try and get some sleep because we were getting so little of it at night, but there was also the children to consider.  I have to say they were amazing.  They’re all proper little sailors having been dragged along on family sailing holidays since they were in nappies, so they know their way around boats well.  But they really did just get on with it and sorted themselves out.  Occasionally William or I would throw some food in their direction,but they know where the snacks locker is and took full advantage of not being told to stay out of it! The big one plugged herself into audio books for three days straight, now and then slowly responding to a request for her parents – once we’d managed to get her to unplug her headphones! The other two just played together or watched films either in the saloon on their bunks – we barely saw them they were so self sufficient! Personally I think it was self preservation on their part – they know how horrible I am without sleep and thought it better to keep out of the way!

One or two other incidents also kept us on our toes – a very small Galley Fire woke everyone up a bit on day three – the kettle had been put on for a cuppa and a plastic food container had worked itself loose from its stowage and ended up sitting on the gas hob.  I was on the helm and William on the foredeck – he soon scampered back when the girls started shouting ‘fire,fire,fire’! At the top of their voices!

On another occasion I was once again on the helm and William was behind me checking the dinghy was still ok on its davits. Without any warning I had all 14 stone of husband land on my back, knocking me flying off the helm – he’d tripped as the boat lurched ( nothing to do with my helming!), he swears he tried to miss me but I’m not so sure – land on a hard deck or a nice soft wife?! We’re lucky we got away without injury. I about eighteen years of sailing with my husband I’ve never seen him stumble before and we’ve seen some fairly wild conditions – that will be the sleep deprivation then……

All in all it was quite a passage – it did have moments of feeling like a Royal Navy sleep deprivation exercise, I half expected someone in uniform to turn up and shout ‘EndEx’- releasing us form our torture (we’re both ex Royal Navy Reservists); that didn’t happen until we finally arrived in Porto Santo when we gratefully picked up a mooring.

 

It’s interesting how sailing with family Davies seems to quite regularly turn into an Expedition! I think perhaps subconsciously my husband is turning our children into the next generation of hard core adventurers! Whatever…it doesn’t seem to be putting them off the sailing!

I however am quite keen on a caravan holiday in Cornwall next year!…..

Port of Call – Spain and Portugal

October 2017 was a blur of Spanish ports always trying to push south to beat the autumn creeping in from the north. Push south to eventually meet up with my parents in Portugal and push south to make up time from when Will flew home for a week.

We’ve visited some beautiful places in Galicia and seen some amazing sights and met some new friends.

Bayona was both pretty and dramatic – a huge bay surrounded with pine Forrest, an ancient castle and temperatures that’s ranged from 30 degrees, gale force winds and six meter seas,

with wind driven sand and fires that alighted the whole bays surrounding pine forests. The girls spent hours watching the sea planes scooping up water and dumping it on the fires from high up – to a chilly 15 degrees and rain the following day.

This seems quite true if Galicia- she’s a bit touchy and you want to keep on the right side of her!

 

It us here we met yacht Maloya – a French boat with 3 girls the same ages as our 3. It’s good to have some playmates to hook up with now and then – they are on a slower schedule than us as they’re planning to cruise for 5-10 years!

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My school girl French has been tested to the limit as have my nerves – with other small children naturally also come play dates, bringing all my anxieties and lack of trust of new people flooding to the surface….but, we survived and the girls have some new friends.

Vigo is a small city in the same area as Bayona and has a lovely atmosphere with beautiful old architecture. We’d liked to have explored more but there us no anchorage and the marina was crawling with mosquitoes- we were eaten alive and promptly sailed on after just two nights.

The jewel in the crown this month has to be  Portugal –  Lisbon and Cascais. This is where mum and dad joined us for a week aboard and we were very impressed with how they managed on the boat – not being sailors themselves. The kids loved seeing them and it was great to share somewhere we like so much. The historic old city centre in Lisbon is beautiful. There are mosaic or cobbled floors everywhere, little winding streets with colourful tiled buildings and the classic terracotta roofs, all with balconies that open up onto little squares littered with cafes.
Trams and tuktuk’s take tourists on tours around the old town – or if you’re married to my husband you’re marched on foot from sea level up to the castle – the highest point in Lisbon whether you’re 4 or 70! Just out of town a short distance to the west is Blenem – full if open green parks and many many museums – the pedestrian water front is a hive of joggers, walkers and bars.

Cascais is a small town west of Lisbon that also happens to be where Williams grandfather on his mothers side grew up, so we were keen to visit. It’s beautiful. Again the old town is littered with cobbles, mosaics, tiles and balconies. It has some lovely open green parks and sculptured gardens but also has the bonus of an anchorage and beaches for us. It was historically the holiday home of the Portuguese royal family and is described as THE place to be outside of Lisbon – we agree. Lisbon and Cascais is somewhere we feel we could spend a lot more time. Unfortunately time is ticking on – we’re already three months into the trip and to complete a Caribbean circuit in a year we really need to start pushing on at a faster pace (and to avoid autumn catching us). I’m Beginning to think the French have it right…5-10 years…what’s the rush…there’s so much to see…

Next stop Porto Santo a small island to the north of Madeira. Should be about a 4 day sail.

Underway


I can’t believe how fast the last few months have gone by since our last post. 

In the intervening period we finished the boat preparations, completed the final house DIY projects and with the help of a good friend acting as our letting agent, we found a couple happy to rent our house while we are away.

All systems go!

Our family moved onboard Moonlighting at the start of August and since then we have sailed to the Channel Islands, Brittany and most recently to Galicia in N Spain.

We are busy with normal family life onboard, as well as less usuall family life, exploring foreign Continue reading “Underway”

Boat slipped ashore for an intensive 2 week pre-season/cruise clean up

The job lists are still multiplying……to prepare the boat for an extended cruise consists of constantly weighing up what is essential versus what is desirable against your budget in terms of boat upgrades, repairs and maintenance.

Moonlighting has been lifted ashore in Plymouth for an intensive 2 week clean up. I also have enlisted the help of some local marine professionals to assist with some of the work like electrical upgrades and hull repairs in order to try and meet the targets on my ‘to do’ lists.

She was significantly more fouled than I expected having spend a year in the water without break, while this makes for cost savings it certainly leaves the boat in a fairly rank condition!

2017 – 12 month Sabbatical Approved!!

Wow, Where did the last 9 months go?

We had a great Cruise on Moonlighting during August 2016, we slowly drifted down the Cornish coast, stopping at Falmouth, the River Helford and Penzance before heading across to the Isles of Scilly for a week before heading back to Plymouth for school, work and the resumption of business as usual. Groan……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since then we received the exciting news that Will’s application for a 12 month sabbatical has been approved from work which will commence in the Summer of 2017. We plan to use this time to go sailing on Moonlighting further afield, spend time together as a family and seek out new adventures and horizons. We received this news around Christmas and since then we have been working incredibly hard to prepare the house for renting and getting the boat ready for long distance cruising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our life at present is largely governed by ‘to do’ lists……decorating, plumbing and meeting rental regulations at home; while the boat is a floating workshop for bed construction, davit fitting and the purchase of loads of new kit including sat comms, extra water tanks, WIFI antennas etc etc etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the great news is we have a year off coming up and we plan to spend it together as a family sailing to new destinations, the challenge right now for us to get everything in place to make this possible. Hopefully the next few months will be the short term pain in order to enjoy the long term gain!

 

I hope to write again soon…..Will.

May Half term

Better late than never!

Looking back……May half term was great. We took a week off work and the kids were off school and the weather was great, we had no real distance to cover having already moved Moonlighting down from Scotland so we planned for a quiet trip along the South Coat of Devon and Cornwall.

Initially we came down the Tamar and spent a couple of night in Cawsand, we caught up with extended family who live there. The onto the Mouth of the River Erm at Mothercombe, here is a beautiful anchorage which we had to ourselves and some lovely beaches which are only visited by locals ‘in the know’.

Ready to launch the dinghy at Cawsand
Ready to launch the dinghy at Cawsand

 

On passage to Salcombe
On passage to Salcombe

 

 

 

 

The week was full of swimming, sky larking, bonfires on the beach and generally having fun. There is much to be said for not going that far and making the sailing dead easy so as to maximise the time anchored in great spots and visiting lovely harbours.

Catching Pouting
Catching Pouting
Cant get any fresher!
Cant get any fresher!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moonlighting worked really well, while there were still plenty of ongoing jobs to do, all the things that were meant to work, worked well and it was a good week to prove the boat as a comfortable platform to live on and chill out.

Mouth of the River Erm
Mouth of the River Erm
Cooking Marshmallows at Wanal beach on the River Erm
Cooking Marshmallows at Wanal beach on the River Erm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach Bums
Beach Bums
Woodland estuary walk
Woodland estuary walk

Refit

It always seems like a good idea after buying a rather old and rather tatty boat to start pulling everything sub standard out of her in some mad rush to try and make her more ship-shape. The reality is, that the ripping out is easy, where as the reinstating is hard, expensive, time consuming and often slightly maddening. What planned to be two weeks ashore at Millbrooks Southdown Marina, turned into four.

Our mistrust in the variety of old sea cocks fitted to Moonlighting which had leaked at times on the trip down from Scotland, led us down the path of re-newing them all. Once I had taken advice of a knowledgeable friend, Jon, who was going go help with the fitting of the new sea cocks, it became clear that we would also need to re-new the skin fittings and hose tails at the same time, and to make them last for the long term, we would go for bronze for below the water and DZR for above. An eye wateringly expensive purchase of over £1000 for all the bits, which Grace and Connie inspected for quality once they arrived!

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I took to the outside of the hull with gusty weilding my angle grinder to grind off the old skin fittings and soon had the holes exposed. Another job was to create some additional fittings to allow for example the forward heads basin to drain overboard and not into the bilge? As well as the bilge pumps to actually discharge and not terminate in a short length if hose going nowhere….I was slowly working through the poor boat husbandry we had inherited. As I pulled the boat apart a little, more jobs rapidly became apparent as well as a few shocks such as the live positive and negative cables running from the domestic batteries to beneath one of the bunks where they were left unattached to anything while lying amongst loads of wooden offcuts (tinder box); a fire waiting to happen.

One of the other major jobs was the replacement of the exhaust hose which was corroded internally and collapsing upon itself in places. It also became evident that the waterlock was not big enough and the swan neck in the exhaust to prevent a following sea from running through to the engine was not high enough. Jon had advised me to check carefully the size of the exhaust hose before ordering but I took a measurement from the exhaust manifold which I though was ok and got on with ordering 10m of 60mm exhaust and a Vetus 10lt water lock muffler. Sure enough, when I came to fit it all, it turned out to be 50mm after all which then was followed by lots of returning of goods, refunds, re-orders and delays.

One of the problems of having the boat out the water is that it saps what little time you have spare outside of work and family comittments. Every job seems to take a out three times as long as you anticipate and everything on board is reduced into a state of disorder which can be pretty demoralising.

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In addition to the hull fittings and exhaust I also tried to tackle some of the engine pipe work which in places was of the wrong material and configurationin, plus the toilet pipe work which again was often of the wrong material and without the necessary anti-syphon loops or swan necks.

My stress levels rose as the weeks raced past and with still much to do on the forth week I was unsure that the boat would be relaunched in time for the required Spring tides to allow us to exit Millbrook creek. Thankfully Jon and a couple of his mates helped during two evenings of the final week and together we got all the essential pre-launch work completed with some of the other jobs able to be completed once she was back in the water.

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With very fine looking skin fittings externally and with the knowledge of well backed valves and hoses within she was taking shape. Once the correct components for the

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exhaust were sorted that was finished off and the launch was confirmed for HW at 0617 on Saturday 21st May.

Alyssa and I slept onboard the night before and the girls stayed with Grandparents nearby so that we could be up early for the off. After a bit of a false start where the engine wasn’t pulling raw water through, I soon realised that the strainer had an air leak which turned out to be  a mummified O ring seal, so the suction hose was temporarily attached direct to the sea cock to get us going. With this jury rig we got underway, cleared the shallows at Millbrook, took fuel and water at Mayflower Marina and then made our way upriver to our mooring at Cargreen.

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Alyssa and I spent the rest of the day finishing off plumbing jobs, tidying up and hanging the sails and sprayhood. Generally trying to get the boat back into order for the children’s half term holiday which is coming up when we hope to spend some time onboard together, hopefully not worrying about long distance delivers, gale force winds or grotty refit jobs. Rather, beaches, rope swings and BBQ’s….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started, our new boat launched.

Moonlighting launched at Ardrossan.
Moonlighting launched at Ardrossan.

We finally launched

Moonlighting on April fool’s day following a protracted purchase which involved trips from Cornwall to Scotland and visa-versa for both parties as we come to own her through part exchanging our last boat, ‘Kudos’. We hoped the launch on the 1st April was not going to prove a bad omen as we had already suffered a bout of sickness bug by our youngest daughter Nancy which called for various stops on the nine and a half hour overnight drive from our home in Calstock, East Cornwall to where Moonlighting had stood for two years on the hard at Clyde Marina, Ard

rossan. We had timed the launch and our journey to the boat to coincide with the kids Easter Holiday, various jobs completed by contractors onboard and hopefully with a reasonable weather forecast to complete or at least start the delivery trip home; collectively a tall order for the first week of April.

Connie helming Moonlighting for her first time, broad reach down the Firth of Clyde. 5.4.16
Connie helming Moonlighting for her first time, broad reach down the Firth of Clyde. 5.4.16

We had arrived at 3am and thankfully collapsed into a local B&B with the promise of a few hours sleep and a hearty breakfast, St Rule house is slightly eccentric with its medieval themes of armour and weapons upon the walls and house rabbit that lops around the place but a huge hit with Grace, Connie and Nancy for all these reasons. Will left at 8 in order to get to the boat in time for the launch. She was launched in a gale of wind from the west which provided an exciting first steam across the marina. The list of items onboard that didn’t work outnumbered those that did and included the VHF radio, engine alternator, depth sounder, and bilge pump, mast head light and freshwater pump. While some had been anticipated, the full scope of work to get her seaworthy in the first few days in Ardrossan took us by surprise and the candle was burnt at both ends to get enough essential systems up and running ready for departure.

We set sail on Tuesday 5th April with a reasonable forecast but with stronger winds due from the NW overnight. The boat sailed beautifully for the first few hours either by hand steering or on the autopilot; we raced out of the Firth of Clyde passing the Isle of Aron to starboard. Overnight the wind dropped no we motored on passing through the Northern Channel which divides Scotland from Northern

Grace, aka ringleader. Alongside at Holyhead, April 2016.
Grace, aka ringleader. Alongside at Holyhead, April 2016.

Ireland and passing close to the South Rock light ship on the Irish side of the channel. The plan was to close with the coast of Southern Ireland before the stronger winds came in, but during weather update on our new VHF radio the wind strength was upgraded to force 8 imminent. Shortly afterwards the wind filled in and our progress under engine slowed to a crawl. We set sail as best we could in the general direction of Dublin but it soon became clear that the wind strength and direction was not going to allow this, with 50 miles to go we faced a tricky decision. The weather forecast for the night had been revised from force 6 – 7 and occasionally 8 to 8 – 9 as we were altering sail and during a bodged tack in growing seas the leach of the head sail was damaged. A difficult hour followed where the larger genoa was furled as best as possible, the working jib stowed on deck was replaced with a storm jib and the third reef was set in the main sail; normally activities easily undertaken in benign conditions, but in strong winds and rough seas in the early hours it means a lot of crawling around on deck and brute force. All the shouting of instructions and requests back and forth between the cockpit and the deck along with the loud noise of flogging sails and large seas left the children pretty shaken below and sadly after a youth of holidays afloat our 6 year old Connie peered out from her bunk at one stage asking if everything was OK and said she was scared.

You feel pretty guilty as the skipper and their Father when you are told by your kids they are scared at sea; a few times during that night I wandered what I had got ourselves into…At 4am (not necessarily the best time for major decisions) the change of plan was made to divert to Holyhead which was an equal distance to Dublin but a much more favourable sailing angle, while going back on ourselves was a shorter distance the availability of a safe haven was unclear and would probably involve several hours of bashing straight into the sea which would have been very uncomfortable. In hindsight we probably should have headed back even if it meant right back up into Belfast or somewhere close to there and lost much ground but found a bay or inlet to anchor during the worst of what was coming through.

The next 6 – 8 hours was ok, although the motion was very lively, two of the girls had been sea sick and were restricted to a berth to avoid a fall they were happily watch DVD’s below. Moonlighting was still rigged with three reefs and a storm jib and the estimated average wind was a force 8, the seas were fairly large but regular and not too steep and fast progress was being made straight for Holyhead. Howimageever with approx 20 miles remaining we encountered a cross current which made the wave train get much steeper, there was the occasional risk of the boat broaching as the autopilot was really at its limit of capability. In open ocean we would have either hove too or taken all the sails off and run before the sea with bare poles and a drogue astern but with limited sea room, a worsening forecast which had now been revised up to a force 9 and the general desire by everyone onboard to be ashore we pushed on. Will took the helm in hand for the last 4 hours or so, dangerous and quite frankly frightening seas were weaved through during our approach to Holyhead which were estimated to be at their maximum approx 6m. For the first time with the kids onboard we felt we might have an emerging accident on our hands, either by someone taking a fall below and injuring themselves, the boat broaching on the face of a large wave and being knocked down or the possibility of a pitch pole if the bow were to dig in to the back of the wave ahead while surfing down the one behind. The frightening decision was made to get the kids ready below in foul weather gear and life jackets just in case we had to get off the boat into the raft in the event of a disaster such as possible de-masting following a knock down.

The last few miles were covered in what seemed like slow motion of frantic helming alterations and glances astern and often up at approaching waves. Once Anglesey Westward tip was passed the sea eased and once we finally passed the small lighthouse marking the entrance of the harbour the sense of relief was palpable. Now having turned into the wind under engine to lower the sails in flat water the wind strength was even more noticeable, we took two runs at getting alongside a visitors berth and had to literally winch the bow of the boat into the pontoon as the wind was so strong that two of us together could not manage it. It had taken 17 hours to cover the 150 miles from Ardrossan to Holyhead, our first sail of Moonlighting and indeed our first sail of the season that year; it had turned out to be far more of a sea trial than expected or wished for but we were there, safe and with no major defects or ailments; the temptation to kiss the pontoon was very strong.

A short while after we arrived a lifeboat came alongside; it was part way through a delivery as a replacement boat for one that was du maintenance somewhere up the coast. The coxswain came over to say hello and see if we were ok, they had come in due to the weather, when answering where our last port had been his response was one of surprise and he agreed that a night or two alongside would be wise.

In the end, the weather forecast never quite described the benign window we were wishing for to continue the journey South within the confines of a week’s leave of absence from work and the children’s Easter break. Moonlighting was left on a visitors buoy, thanked for looking after us, and the family headed back to Cornwall by train so that another attempt could be made once the weather allowed.