Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Rough Passage

[Kyle]Everything started out all right. We left just after Midnight and hoisted the sails for a fast reach out of Belfast Lough. For the first time in a long while, we were sailing in the dark. So dark was it, in fact, under the thick overcast that it was impossible to see anything forward of the instruments. I kept having the unsettling thought that if there were a big tree adrift right in front of us, I’d never see it. We of course have done all of our long passages except to and from Norway with a significant amount of pitch-blackness, but it’s been a while and it takes a while to regain the faith that there’s probably nothing out there harder than jellyfish or seaweed – probably.

It started to rain, which increased the feeling of closeness by providing something to see out of the windows that was no further than their far surface. As we sped along the southern shore of the lough, Mew light came into view, marking the boundary with the Irish Sea. It was an impressive sight. Its four bright beams shot out into the rain and fog like searchlights. The light reflected brightly, creating an even greater contrast with the black night. As we got closer, the light got brighter and brighter until nothing could be seen but those four beams sweeping the sky like spokes on a giant wheel. I checked and rechecked our position to make sure we were as far away as we should be but without any other outside references, that light looked pretty close indeed. As we passed, I got a bit of an uneasy feeling when I realized I was looking up at the light and that I could make out individual panes in the glass. I couldn’t hear waves breaking. That was good. The depth sounder never went below 45 meters. I was glad to see that light fall astern.

Once into the Irish Sea, we hardened up on the wind and turned southeast bound. We were pointing pretty close to the Isle of Man, but the strong north setting ebb current made our actual track almost due east. My plan was to wait it out until the flood pushed us south, but it never materialized. By the time the tide started coming in, we were most of the way across to the Mull of Galloway in Scotland and were finding ourselves in a north-setting back eddy. A tack would have taken us right back toward Belfast – at least for a while. Even when we met with the south current, we would be still going well the wrong way, so we decided to pack it in and motor.

Motoring is not my favorite and motoring upwind into a steep chop is even worse. At our normal cruising rpm, we were making about three knots through the water, even less at times. The current took another half knot off of that. It was slow, miserable going and we both just wanted to get it over with. To compound this, we also had a deadline for our arrival that it was looking more and more like we were going to miss. Our destination, Peel Harbour, is only accessible within two hours of high tide, only one of which was during business hours. This would mean we would basically lose an entire day if we were late. As Peel was still the only suitable harbor for a long way, we pressed on, resigning ourselves to waiting on a mooring in the slop for a day.

When we got close enough, Maryanne phoned the harbour master and was told we could tie up at the sea wall used by the fishing fleet until they opened the water-retention flap for the harbour and swung the footbridge over it. Since the next high tide wasn’t too far out of business hours, they would have a special opening at 8pm. Great! We wouldn’t lose a day after all and would be able to wander around town while we waited for the tide.

Approaching the island, we could see nothing through the rain and mist until we were maybe a mile away. I had hoped the closer we got, the calmer it would get, but the seas wouldn’t die down. When we finally chugged past the protection of the breakwater, the seas flattened instantly, as if we had just gone from a rutted dirt road to fresh, new asphalt.

We could not enter until the tide was high enough to open the gate, in the mean time we get to wonder around Peel

We tied up, met the harbour master and had a brief wander around the perimeter of the castle and then into the town. What a pretty place Peel is! Like Lerwick in the Shetlands, it bustles out of proportion to its modest size. We wandered up and down narrow, winding streets and alleys lined with tidy houses freshly painted and sprouting flower boxes. We returned to Footprint for an early dinner and found the outer harbor quickly filling up with newly arrived boats, including two large Royal Navy boats. It seems others were more successful at arriving on time than we had been.

Word came over the radio that the bridge was now open and the flap was down. In the space of a few minutes, the outer harbor was empty and everybody was busily securing to their assigned berths. It was late and it had been a long trip over, so we called it a night right then and there.

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