Saturday, August 21, 2010

Holyhead to Pwllheli

Sailing scenes

[Kyle]We got up from our little nap just as it was getting really dark. We ran the checklist and were soon motoring the long upwind leg to the other end of the breakwater. We got the sails up while still in the protection of the harbor, then turned downwind into the darkness of the open sea.

We were making pretty respectable speed even though we were way over-reefed as a precaution. It was a good thing we were. The wind got pushed around and funneled by the hills so that it would jump from the mid teens into the high 20s every now and then. Just about the time I was about to make the trip out of the cockpit to put in another reef, it would die back down until I was seriously thinking about shaking one out because we were going too slow, then wham! The wind would return. Eventually, I decided to just live with what we had up until we made it far enough from land that the wind would be more stable.

In the meantime, as we made it back to the beginning of the breakwater on the other side, the bright lights of Holyhead became blocked by the coastal mountains and it got really dark. A bit further on, the light at South Stack came into view.

South Stack had come with a reputation. It was touted as one of the great things to see near Holyhead - a lighthouse on a small island reached by 400 steps down a steep, narrow walkway and footbridge. That wasn’t the reputation I was worried about. We had also read that the currents off of South Stack can reach as high as eight knots. A local sailor told us that the highest waves ever recorded in Britain were there: 60 foot breakers on a force 8 fresh gale - 34-40 knots, with wind against tide. South Stack was clearly not a place to be taken lightly. The reason we left at Midnight was that, like all prudent mariners, we had planned to arrive at South Stack near slack water in milder winds. Still, I knew things could get a little “uncomfortable”.

Approaching the light, The mood became more ominous. The cloud cover meant that it was completely black except for that light. Its beams swept out to sea, passed us with a flash, and then slowly swept across the mountains behind, as if to say “look at what your messing with, kid”. We got caught in a back eddy, which slowed us down, and I had too look at that scene way longer than I had wanted.

In the end, we got by uneventfully and my own worries ended up being the biggest drama. After South Stack, we gradually headed out into Caernarfon Bay until the shore was just a thin line of lights on the horizon. Maryanne had asked me to wake her after a few hours, but I know how she likes her sleep. The late hours of a night watch can be pretty tough. It’s hard to keep from nodding off and the temperature is at its coldest. I decided that my goal was to just make it until the first ray of sunshine popped over the horizon, then I would wake her. i got up at increasingly shorter intervals to pop my head into the breeze and have a look around in order to stay alert.

Kyle awakes to a sunny day.... Or is he still dreaming?

The sun came up and five minutes later I was out cold while Maryanne stood watch. I awoke a few hours later to a cloudless sky and was amazed to find that it was a beautiful day, an actual beautiful day. I mean, it was a really, really nice day. It was like, it was like....Summer! That’s what it was, it was like Summer! I had completely forgotten what Summer was even like. I hadn’t seen Summer in a long time. I had begun to think of sailing as a means of mainlining misery and suffering for the purpose of making us broke, but this was actually pleasant. I think that if I had not already been on a boat, I would have thought it would be a perfect day to go sailing. Well, lucky us, we were already there. The seas were flat, the wind was up and, even dragging our broken drive leg, we were sailing fast. Plus, it turns out, Wales is really pretty.

Everybody else in Wales that had a boat seemed to have the same idea about the day. There were boats everywhere. People were sailing, people were water skiing, Dinghies were out racing. It seemed that everybody without a boat was out at the beach. I suppose If you only really get one day of Summer, you had better make use of it.

At the entrance to Pwllheli harbor, we joined a long cue of boats heading up the narrow channel. This is when we got our first look at what I would later call the “Welsh Stare”. We would wave and smile at people in the way that we do and in return, we would get the stare. It was not one of curiosity or even indifference, like we were used to seeing, but mild hostility. Everybody seemed to be sending us the message to piss off.

The marina was huge. We had been in the boonies for a couple of years and had not been to a marina this busy since Boston. Since marinas are few and far between, it seems that every single boat in Wales is based in Pwllheli and most of them were being used this lovely day.

A very busy Marina

Our assigned berth turned out to be right next to the ramp where the powerboats haul out. Several power boats were milling around while others were temporarily filling every available dock waiting for their turn. We were clearly made to feel in the way as we maneuvered into our spot. Maryanne very politely asked a powerboat occupying our berth if they wouldn’t mind moving down a bit so we could tie up. This was met with the stare. In their haste to move along, one of the occupants ended up straddling the ever widening space between their boat and the float and fell in, earning us glares from all aboard. After we got tied up, Maryanne went over and apologized. They sheepishly accepted, but were still not happy. Luckily their trailer arrived soon after, so they weren’t there long.

The Marina had an amazing system for hauling out boats. As they entered the harbor, they would call ahead and their trailer was added to the cue behind a marina tractor. When they arrived at the ramp, they would wait for their trailer and drive on, where they would be whisked away to make room for the next boat. Our berth made for great front-row-seat entertainment, but the fumes from all of those high horsepower engines running rich at idle quickly became intolerable.

We went into the office to check in. The manager saw our whole docking incident and seemed to think there was nothing unusual about it. He said people fall in all of the time over there and he was in our spot. No, we did not do anything wrong by asking them to move.

We went for a brief walk into town and encountered more of the Welsh Stare from people walking the other way. Well, this time we knew it wasn’t the American flag. Everybody we actually talked to was very nice, but we kept getting the stare. It seemed odd in such a small town. I eventually decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps children are taught at an early age to fear strangers so that, by the time they’re adults, they mistrust anyone openly friendly. Maybe there’s just too many damn tourists in this pretty little town and they just want us to piss of and go back home so they can resume being neighborly to each other. I want to believe they really are nice people.

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

As I'm reading through, I can't wait to find out what that Welsh Stare is really all about. I'm sure you've figured it out by now, right? I'll keep reading. Perhaps this is why they had pay toilets...