A great friend of ours, Nick, agreed to help Will to sail Moonlighting from Holyhead to Plymouth. We had met Nick in 2005 as he was sailing his own boat Kika around the world. Nicks wife Olga was hugely generous is allowing Nick to help with this trip on Moonlighting as she had just given birth to their second child Ted ten days earlier, we love you Olga x.
The pod-cast that Nick recorded while on passage gives a flavour of life onboard.
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.
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
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. However 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.