Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day Blog

View from Laughrigg Fell - the Lake District

[Kyle]For those of you who saw me standing on the ice and decided I was completely crazy - perhaps! But, I had a good plan for the rest of the day; it involved snuggling up on my warm and cosy boat, with boat heaters on, enjoying the occasional glass of whisky and some lovely hot potato soup. Maryanne (!!), in a demonstration of why we are actually perfect for each other, decided she wanted to spend the day hiking the hills of the lake district in sub-zero temperatures. SO, off we went in a rental car to go and spend a day familiarizing ourselves with some of the many ways to die in Britain's climate.

I want to reiterate! This was Maryanne's idea. I was for staying inside the toasty warm interior of our ice bound boat. However, in the true fashion of me, once she got me out there and pointed me in the direction of the highest hill (which by the way was shrouded in cloud) my tail started wagging and I was eager as ever to go sprinting to the top with her in tow. It was actually a beautiful, stereotypically winter, day. Fresh snow covered the fields, we saw several groups out sledding, and the low temperatures, which we were properly dressed for, kept the ground from being being boggy and muddy and horrible. Except for a few patches of thick ice, the weather made for easy going.

The views of the valleys with the hills beyond and the lakes below (lakes in this area are called tarns), were monochromatic but stereotypically Christmasy. At the highest point of our frozen hike, the 3:30pm sunset broke through to give our black and white little world some fiery colour; magical. It really was very nice and at the end of the day I had to reluctantly thank Maryanne for dragging me out of the homey warmth of Footprint. This was just as well because the homey warmth, in spite of the effort of the heaters, really wasn't that homey nor warm.

Earlier that morning, before we left, I found I could not get water in the galley sink because the pipes from the port tank on the other side of the boat had frozen. One of my clothes lockers had also frozen shut; glued to the outside of the hull by a pair of frozen t-shirts. The night before, while making the bed, I'd discovered our mattress was frozen to the hull at it's foot - where the condensation had turned to perma-frost. Don't worry though, the top of the bed (the part we sleep on) stays nice and warm throughout the night and by the end of the evening I'd managed to melt enough of the pipes to do the dishes following our traditional Christmas dinner of potato soup (using the ice cold tank water).

The almanac tells us that tormmorow tomorrow we'll have 29 more seconds of daylight than today, now we have finally passed the winter solstice - bring it on. Every little bit brings us closer to the spring that seems so far off right now.

[Maryanne]YES! we had a car. We were not expecting to have a car for the Christmas break, but Kyle's messed up work commute left me booking one as an emergency, thinking I'd have to travel to Edinburgh on Christmas day to collect him. Luckily he made it home a day earlier than we expected (and 3 days later than planned originally) - so we were left with a car and no mercy mission. Without a car, I'd have been happy to spend Christmas holed up with the heating on full, but with a car, I was determined to explore, and I knew Kyle would love it if I could just get him out of his cocoon. We've not really allowed ourselves to plan weekends of 'fun'; priorities have been boat jobs, and dull household chores on our rare days off together. Nobody could convince me though that we should be doing boat jobs on Christmas day - so I wanted to get out and see some of the lovely (relatively local) areas and to show Kyle some of the best of England. As he mentioned, he took some convincing, but it was worth it! We both loved it.

Cristmas Day walk - a rare moment with the Lakes (practically) to ourselves

Merry Christmas from Footprint

[Kyle]Merry Christmas, everyone.

We got up this morning to -3°C (27°F) inside, -10°C (14°F) outside. I had this idea of taking a Christmas photo of me standing next to Footprint in the pre-dawn light for posterity’s sake. Some day, we’ll look at that photo and remember just how cold it was that winter in Preston.

Note that I am not wearing shorts because it wasn’t that cold (although the lack of wind helped). I was doing it as a precaution in case I fell in. I didn’t want to wreck any of my warm trousers. It turns out I needn’t have worried about that. Traction was my biggest problem.

Brrr... It looks like the ice stops just beyond where Kyle stands, but it's just an illusion - a difference between once broken up ice and smooth, (relatively) new ice - all is pretty thick right now

[Maryanne]Oh Yes, my husband! I did check before he started this particular plan if he'd got insurance all paid up, and he'd heard of the Darwin awards. I was a little concerned, after all the it seemed quite a miracle that he'd made it home for Christmas at all - I really didn't want to lose him so close to the boat. Thankfully the ice is pretty thick, and he's survived to tell the tale of the Christmas where he could walk around the hull and clean the boat!

I hope you all have a wonderful day, and don't venture on anything daft yourselves! Keep warm and happy

Maryanne & Kyle

Friday, December 17, 2010

Haven’t heard form us for a while? What have we been up to?

[Kyle]We’ve been up to the decidedly less glamorous side of the cruising life.

I’m afraid life for us since arriving back in Preston from Conwy in August has been a bit of a long slog. I’ve been commuting across the Atlantic several times per month for work. Maryanne got a job in Manchester that, when combined with her commute, takes her away from the boat fourteen hours per day. We both arrive home exhausted with little motivation to tackle the long list of jobs hanging over our heads that need to be completed in preparation for any spring sailing along with more of the Irish Sea.

Plus, up here at 53° 45’ North, it is dark most of the day this time of the year. These days, the official sunrise isn’t until well after 8:00, and it’s back down again before 4:00. Even at its highest point, the Sun barely breaks 13° above the horizon, which even on clear days just clears the trees and buildings to the South, providing at best a heavily slanting light that offers no warmth as comfort. The small amount of useful daylight limits the amount we are able to do, especially outside. The other day after seeing Maryanne off to work in pitch dark, I waited for daylight and then went for a longish run. By the time I got back, showered and fed myself, there was less than three hours of daylight left. I was exhausted and could have used a couple of hours to recover a bit, but I couldn’t spare the time.

Marina full of ice and snow, but Christmas season well underway

Compounding this difficulty is that in early December, all of Britain suffered a polar cold snap, driving temperatures well below freezing. This, of course, made going out even during the brief hours of daylight unappealing.

Aboard Footprint, I am constantly reminded of the vigorous arguments I had with Tony Smith when we purchased her about the necessity of having heat. He insisted Scotland was not that cold (North of here, by the way), and that heating up a cup of tea on the stove would produce enough heat to take the chill off the cabin in the morning. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I’ve heated whole POTS of coffee and the most I’ve ever seen our digital thermometer rise is a tenth of a degree Celsius from such efforts. On days like that, our little space heater can’t keep up, but throw in the Espar heater and we can be nice and toasty.

A few days ago, Maryanne and I woke up all snug in our bed. I said good morning to her and she disappeared behind the fog of my breath. It hovered there for a few seconds and then turned to ice crystals, which fell lightly on her face.

We weren’t cold. We could probably survive a winter almost anywhere as long as we never had to leave the warmth of the bed. We’ve probably got a couple of quilts too many, but we refuse to remove them on principle. I mean, c’mon… ice crystals!

As is our normal practice (on those few days when I’m home), I was the first to get out of the warm cocoon of our bed to fire up the heaters and start the coffee. I checked our weather station before starting the heat: -.7°C (30°F) inside, -7°C (19°F) outside.

A couple of days before, the water in the basin started to freeze a thin layer at the water’s surface. It began in the fairways then spread toward the boats until only an inch or so remained around the hulls of the occupied boats with heat. Eventually, even that small space vanished. The ice grew thicker and thicker. Every now and then, I would go out and punch through it with a boathook to see how thick it was. This particular morning, while the Espar roared to life, it took a couple of serious jabs to penetrate the ice. It was almost an inch thick. Everything was covered in a heavy coat of frost, I stepped onto the dock, still barefoot, and walked along pushing and pulling on Footprint. The dock and the ice cracked and groaned with my weight, but the boat wouldn’t budge. Back inside, as I moved around, I could hear the ice cracking as Footprint settled on her new lines with the load shift.

This seems to have become our new normal condition. Some days we can wiggle the boat back forth a couple of inches, some days we can’t. One Saturday, we walked into Preston to see a Billy Bragg concert. It was wonderful, and afterwards, he even made the time to talk to Maryanne and me for a few minutes. He really is one of the good guys.

Billy Bragg - great evening, worth the treacherous journey home

By the time the evening was over and it was time to make the walk home, ice fog had been coating everything for hours and the entire surface of the city was slick. With every step, we could feel each foot smearing along the surface, never holding firm. Nothing was safe to grab for support. Lampposts were slippery, railings were slippery, the walls of the buildings were slippery, cars were slippery. A few times, out of instinct, we would grab for each other, which immediately led to a frightening and comical dance, where we jerkily circled each other as our legs and arms flailed around wildly while we tried to regain balance. Eventually, we had to agree to walk far enough apart that when one of us fell, we wouldn’t drag the other one down as well. It was a long walk home. Every single step had to be slow and small and taken with arms out for balance. It was so cold, but it was impossible to walk any faster than about 1/3rd speed without falling. By the time we finally made it back home, we were both sore and exhausted from straining every muscle along the way to keep our balance.

The cold also ran the risk of freezing the pipes to the docks, so the marina shut off the water. At first it wasn’t a big deal because we thought it was only going to be for a few days. Then we ran out of water. When it happened, there was no relief in sight from the weather, so we had to haul jugs from the tap at the marina office down to Footprint and fill the tanks with them. Of course, on the day, there wasn’t a dock cart to be found, so I made six increasingly long trips from the office with a 40lb jug of water in each hand. Next time, I’m definitely not going to wait until we’re dry before filling up again so I have the luxury of waiting for a cart. A few days later, with everybody else desperately low and a slightly above freezing day, the marina relented and turned on the water and found leaks everywhere. Now it looks like the water’s going to be off all winter. Ugh! The office said they’ll try to get something turned on as close to the docks as possible, so we don’t have to make the whole walk, but it looks like jugs are going to be our only source of water for a while.

The days of cruising in tropical breezes seems a long way away, both ahead and behind. I have never wanted a Winter to be over so badly in my life.

View from the office Kitchen

[Maryanne]I've settled into my job in central Manchester, and I'm pleased to report that I'm enjoying it, and that everyone is really nice (no, I don't expect they'll be reading this). I'm enjoying working in the big city; the company is an IT company, and very relaxed (Guitar Hero in the Kitchen for whenever you feel like kicking back!). We've had several really nice lunches out and a fantastic Christmas dinner too.

Of course moving back was not about work; it was about time to re-connect with my UK family and friends. Having a permanent base in the UK, and given my location, I've also been seeing plenty of my best friend Annie, who lives just outside Manchester with her family.. Even Kyle's spent some time there although he was thoroughly engrossed in a 3-D jigsaw puzzle of the earth (I never saw him as a jigsaw guy - but now I know how to keep him out of trouble!). I've met up in Central Manchester (for lunch, or dinner, how decadent) with several friends from times past. It's all been fun.

Kyle builds a new world, while I catch up with friends

Before starting work in early November, we took one last trip to the States for a friend's wedding, I've had visits from family members, and I'm off for the new year on an England Mega-circuit to see everyone (well, almost everyone) - so we're making the best of our new home in the UK and catching up with friends and family; it feels good. I've even had a Gemini boat friend from Bermuda come to visit (Thanks Mary!).

Kyle and Maryanne at Angie's Wedding

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Travelling Sans Boat

[Maryanne]It’s a while since we posted so I thought I’d give a little update. No sailing unfortunately; we are (for the winter at least) land lubbers! Well, dock-lubbers maybe? Kyle is getting used to the commute back and forth between the UK and the USA, and I’ve been getting used to Preston, and job hunting. All very dull and not at all worth expanding upon on this blog. Of course we do take some time off from the monotony of life, and I’m just back from a fantastic 10 days in the USA.

We started with a weekend in VA – here I was able to catch up with ex-work colleagues, boating and other friends, and this naturally involved LOTS of sitting out in the sunshine enjoying many a good chat with friends. Angie (our good boating friend) let me spend the day with her, running around planning her upcoming wedding, and Liz (my EMT friend) spoilt me with a trip to Virginia Beach, and a fantastic seafood lunch before a walk on the boardwalk to see the upcoming Neptune festival preparations (including piles of sand for the giant sand castle, or should I say sand-sculpture, building competition).

Sunshine, side walk cafes and friends - a perfect break,
and thanks to Jennifer for the pic of me!

The highlight of this weekend was renting a Cessna, and taking our good friends Kate and Mark for a trip to Ocracoke for lunch (how decadent is THAT!). The weather was stunning, the beaches dramatic with surf rolling in from the distant impact of Igor, and life felt good all around. We even squeezed in a return to Kill Devil Hills – where the Wright brothers first flew. We love this area of North Carolina known to all as the outer banks (or OBX), and have made it the location for two of our anniversary retreats, it was wonderful to return; who knows if we’ll ever get the chance again!

Trip to the Outer Banks - thanks to Kate for one of these pics too!

I left Virginia to join Kyle in Houston. He was scheduled for a “check-ride” and I was hoping to join him in the giant purpose built simulator. The instructor/examiner kindly consented and I was able to experience the action from within the hydraulically controlled box. The screen visuals were really impressive, and the motion completely realistic.. No sick bags were provided, and I was OK but they should maybe think of that for the future, the combined visuals and that motion is VERY realistic (did I say that already?).

Finally both Kyle and I were free and we headed off to Arizona for more sun, a quick dental check up and some leisurely time with Carla, Kyle’s Mom. Weather – amazing, pool – perfect, company – fantastic, teeth – apparently fine.

Work (Kyle at the SIM) and play, lots of play

OK - now back home and back to the job hunt, but enough memories from the last few days to keep me going for a while.... Forecast for Preston - rain!!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back Snugly in Preston

[Kyle]Three o’clock in the morning arrived in Conwy. By then, we’d already been gone for 20 minutes. Our route out of the river had us going directly into the wind with the current until well into Conwy Bay, where we would make a crosswind turn to clear the peninsula before turning on the long downwind leg to the entrance to the River Ribble on the other side of the Irish Sea.

I had expected sloppy wind against wave conditions in the open bay, but almost as soon as we pulled into the ebb on the River Conwy, the standing wave party started. It was very dark and the current was sweeping us out of the river very quickly. We were both worried about being swept into moored boats or out of the winding channel should we fail to spot one of the navigation markers. Loss of way for steerage would have been very serious and I doubted the strong currents in this part of the river had left behind enough good mud for a hasty, emergency anchoring. I was less than eager to push our transmission/propeller too hard as I didn’t want a repeat of the same problem we had coming in.

Every time Footprint and a wave would collide, we would come to a complete stop, We may have even been being pushed slightly backwards. There is a pretty good chance the prop was also encountering the aerated crests of the waves as they passed under us every time we pitched into the next trough. At our modest power settings, the boat was not able to pick up speed again against her own weight as we climbed back out onto the next wave. This meant we had a pretty long time of having the engine in forward and the speed reading zero.

Or, it could be that the engine wasn’t converting any of its power to propeller thrust. If there really was a problem, I didn’t want to exacerbate it by adding power, which left us the option of waiting it out and using the ebb to flush us into the bay, using minimal power to stay in the middle of the channel.

It was a miserable ride through all of that slop. We were straining so hard to make out any obstructions that I had no time to really figure out why we were going so slowly through the water. It was a tense ride and our lower speed made it long and tense. It had very much the same feel as driving on a windy, deserted road with no reflective markings in heavy rain with dodgy brakes. It is amazing how much adrenaline gets released in such situations. Even though it was four in the morning and neither of us had done much else but nap lightly before our departure, we were WIDE awake. Even though we were moving over the bottom at what was ordinarily a sedate, even boring, speed of three or four knots, the idea of getting swept sideways into a big steel navigation mark, or worse, rocks, at four knots was sufficiently terrifying to get our full attention.

Further out into the bay, the current diffused and slowed. The horrible wind against wave mess we were in calmed down a little and we gradually attained the sort of speeds we would expect against waves of that size and wind of that strength. I gingerly added more and more power until we were almost at our normal cruising rpm with no signs of trouble. Perhaps it was just the conditions.

Once we got clear of the channel in Conwy Bay, we hoisted the sails, shut down the engine and made the downwind turn for England. Even though it was the Irish Sea, the ride wasn’t actually that bad. This was entirely because our point of sail was both well downwind and down wave, going the other way would have been a nightmare. Our forward speed brought the apparent wind speeds down into the mid-twenties, which was fast enough to keep us moving near wave speeds, giving us the sensation of a gentle, rolling float eastwards.

In fact, we were going a bit too fast. We needed to arrive at the Ribble about two hours before high tide in Preston in order to be able to clear the bar at the entrance. We reefed and reefed again until we were carrying only enough sail for winds double what we were experiencing before finally getting slow enough to make it work.

As we approached the English coast, the sea gradually shallowed, making the waves shorter and steeper. The wind had been gradually increasing all day until it was reaching into the 30s, causing the waves to grow even further still. As the depth decreased to around 15 meters, I started noticing that there were beginning to be a lot more waves that I couldn’t see over and it was starting to get pretty rough for us in spite of our downwind direction.

By the time we approached the river entrance in 5 meters of water, waves that were themselves 3 to 4 meters high were breaking and toppling over everywhere. It was getting rather alarming. We pulled down the mainsail entirely to slow down even more, just in case in we dropped off of one of them, and just rode the seas in. I could only imagine what we must have looked like to anyone watching from shore; a tiny catamaran with a scrap of sail hurtling in from sea through the pounding surf. I suspect the answer is: crazy.

Rough seas as the water shallows, with Blackpool in the background, and once fully in the river Ribble, calmer again with a down wind, with current sail and a scrap of jib to keep us in the channel

Further up the Ribble, the swell had finally lost all of its energy and the water was flat. We were pushed upriver by both the wind and the fast flood current. We were still going too fast to have deep water when we arrived at Preston, so I reduced sail further until we were only flying the reinforced panel at the clew of our jib. Eventually, that became too much, so we furled that and sailed for a few miles under bare poles. With just the drag of the wind going over the boat, we were averaging three knots through the water and about eight over the bottom, gliding through the flat countryside.

We started the motor sufficiently early to make sure it worked and called the bridge operator in Preston. That guy hates us. We have been told by several people that he’s grumpy anyway and really needs to retire, but he seems to hate us especially. He was civil enough on the radio on the initial call, but seemed to make a point of having us wait once we got there. I decided to be patient and just wait until he was ready, rather than run the risk of bothering him further with repetitive radio calls. several minutes passed with no sign of movement on his end. We were starting to get worried that he had misunderstood us and not interpreted our request for an opening as a bridge-and-all-other-intervening-encumbrances opening, and that perhaps he required a separate call for each step. I called as politely as I could and told him we were ready for the bridge when he was. He told me there was a train in 7 minutes and he would open when they were over. I got the sense that he thought we were idiots for not knowing that. Hmmm, seems like we could have been well through by now, but he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. Well, we did get to see a cool steam train cross the river right ahead of us (no, I did not get the number).

Waiting for the train before the last lock gate and the swing bridge before home

Finally, we were in. Now that we were safely in the basin with no other critical maneuvering required, we decided to give our engine/transmission/propeller a good check-over. We figured this was the best place to uncover any problems as we would have all Winter to fix them if something came up. The poor engine and drive train. I did everything I could do to make it fail. Even with Footprint going as fast as I could make her go backwards, and then switching to full forward throttle (with a brief pause in neutral of course), putting maximum possible strain on the whole system, I did not notice any slippage or loss of thrust. Good news. We took Footprint back to her new and improved, wider dock and tied her up, probably for the rest of Winter.

That’s just as well. I’m getting pretty sick of the bloody Irish Sea as well as what passes in Britain for Summer. I’m sure poor Footprint would say the same if she could talk. I think it will be good to have a few months to give her some much needed TLC and get her back in proper shape for next year, which will, of course, whatever direction we head, have to start with yet another trip into the Irish Sea.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Conwy

Telfords Bridge, and Edward Ist's Conwy Castle kept us busy for most of the day

[Kyle] We repo’d Footprint in the wee hours without incident. We floated off of the mud with a gurgle that sounded like a really hungry stomach growling. The engine started fine and the exhaust water showed no hint of mud. We got to our new dock with no steering or transmission problems. We later went to our old dock. There were still two teardrop shaped holes where our rudders were.

Much calmer than we were the night before, we went up to speak to the manager the next morning. He was very good. He said he understood our concern, took responsibility on the marinas behalf and offered to haul us out for a quick look at his expense. We declined because we didn’t think it as that serious and we didn’t want to spend all day doing that. He told us the next time we hauled out, to keep in touch and if we had any issues with the rudders, he’d make things right, then he refunded us the cost of our stay. We left feeling pretty satisfied (and a little surprised at their good nature); All is well with the world again.

We left for Conwy, that is. This time, having done most of the other stuff, we headed straight to the castle.

Conwy Castle is the best preserved medieval castle in Europe. This is because most other castles have had post-medieval additions and modifications that make them hard to pinpoint temporally. Conwy was completed entirely in the 13th Century and apart from replacing the roof on the main hall in the 14th Century, has been unaltered since. This was because, for the most part, it was never used as a residence and “redecorated”, nor was there any re-modelling over subsequent centuries. During his entire reign, Edward I stayed in the castle for a cumulative total of five months. Mostly it was occupied by 30 soldiers and 25 staff just in case he showed up and as a symbol to impress the Welsh with English power and superiority.

The place is impressive. The entire town, which was only occupied by English settlers, is visible and defensible from the castle’s turrets and the town walls. The castle itself is a monument not only to Edward I, but to extremely paranoid thinking. A castle is essentially layers upon layers of defenses. Starting at the unscaleable outer walls, the castle is designed as a series of well-defended fallback positions in the event of a breach. The King resides way in the back behind all of it where, if necessary, he can escape via the back way to the river. England had a Navy. Wales did not. All of the defenses ended up being unnecessary in this case because nobody even dared trying to invade.

We learned all of this and more form our tour guide, Neil, who is head of the Deganwy Historical Society (Deganwy is across the river from Conwy). For an extra £1.50, he took us around and told us way more than we ever knew about castles and the history of the time. He was really knowledgeable and interesting. It was the best £1.50 we could have spent. He made the whole place come alive.

Having crawled all over every stone in the castle, we went down to the adjoining suspension bridge, Built by Thomas Telford in 1829, and payed our toll to walk across, a little more than the 1d it cost originally. Pretty cool. The bridge was followed 20 years later by the railroad bridge, then in 1959 by the highway bridge. So when it was built, it was the only way across Conwy river.

After that, we had a nice meal in a pub to save both of us cooking and dishes, and then returned to Footprint for an early night. Our planned departure the next morning is at 3 o’clock.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cruising and the Emotional Roller Coaster

Leaving Plas Newydd, and setting out for the Swellies

[Kyle]Okay, so the day started out really well. We got to keep our mooring from the night before. We were well rested and we woke up to partly cloudy skies, which in Britain passes for clear.

We managed to depart early enough to ride a fast current through the Britannia Bridge, The Swellies and the Menai Suspension Bridge. So far, so good.

Britannia Bridge

On the other side of the Menai Bridge, the strait gradually opens into the wide Conwy Bay. The wind picked up until it was around double the forecast - the usual. It interacted with the opposite-going current to make for really rough, standing seas. Any help we were getting from the current was more than offset by or dramatic reduction in speed through the water as we fought both wind and seas. As we passed Bangor (our third, after Maine and Northern Ireland), the pounding got so bad that we had to pull back the throttle and drift through with the current. At least it was really pretty out. The terrain was getting more mountainous and rugged and there seemed to be a new castle along the banks every five miles or so.

Bangor Pier (Wales)

Further into the open bay, the current reversed and the wind picked up, making for some slow going. The route out of the strait and across Conwy bay makes an s-turn around an island called Puffin Island. We didn’t see any Puffins there but we weren’t really looking by then. The swirling currents had made the seas very big and short and steep. I spent the whole trip around that little island hunched over the wheel with my heart in my throat trying to keep poor Footprint upright through will alone. I ached to turn away from the waves and smooth it out a bit.

Penman Light on the East end of the Menai Strait

As we rounded the north end of the island, the waves curved with us and we saw no relief at all. The four mile trip across the open bay was a long four miles. It was miserable and we were getting really beat up.

At the other end of the bay, we got a little protection from its northeastern arm and things died down gradually. Then our engine did something weird. We came off of one last steep wave and the rpm rose by a couple hundred and the boat slowed down. The wave was steep enough that we thought the prop had momentarily come out of the water. A couple minutes later, it did it again, only this time the prop was definitely submerged the entire time. It seemed like our transmission was slipping in and out of gear or perhaps the prop was slipping on the shaft. It seemed to go away at lower power settings, but either one was not good. Due to all of the chop in the bay, we were running a little late to arrive in Conwy at high water. We needed to arrive before they closed the water retention gate and the more time we spent out there, the worse the ebb current would be that we would have to fight up the river.

My leading theory at that point was that we had been working the transmission really hard by using a lot of power all day and not going very fast, leading it to overheat and cause the clutch to slip intermittently. When I backed off an the power and gave it a rest, it was okay for a while. Then I would start to gradually try another 100rpm and then another, and then it would slip again. Eventually, when we got far enough up the channel that the water was flat, we were able to achieve normal speeds at normal rpm. I was still all clenched up the whole way up the river. If it failed more seriously, we would be stuck in an area of mud flats at low tide. The weather was also supposed to be even worse for the next couple of days and I did not want to be out in the open. Plus, there was the prospect of getting stuck in Conwy for a really long time to get a major problem fixed.

Well, so far, it all seems to have worked out fine. We got to the marina, bought fuel at the fuel dock and then repositioned to our assigned berth with no problems. We must have shifted from forward to reverse 30 times maneuvering around in the tight marina. Afterwards, I checked the transmission. The fluid level was good and it was so clean, it was hard to see on the dipstick, but we checked it with a tissue and it was at the right spot. Maryanne called the mechanics in Pwllheli and asked them if they had any ideas. He thought it may be air in the fuel system. Others thought the prop may not be gripping the shaft tightly enough, which is only a problem if the load is way too high. Another culprit may be belt tension, so I adjusted that just to be sure.

Right now, I’m hoping that if we don’t push it too hard getting out of Conwy and into Preston and sail all of the way in between, we’ll have all Winter to worry about it.

Not wanting to ruin the rest of a nice day over it, we walked into Conwy to have a look at what we had gone to so much trouble to see. The walk into town had turned out to be a lot farther than we thought. We were kind of expecting it to be like Cærnarfon, with the marina right in town. Well, Conwy marina as a couple of miles from town.

What a sight it was when we got there, though. Our Lonely Planet guide had basically said that, yeah, there was a castle there, but that Conwy otherwise had nothing to offer. They could not have been more wrong. There must be another Conwy. This place was wonderful. The town is, of course, dominated by a very impressive castle set on the West bank of the river, backed by green hills and connected to one of Thomas Telford’s suspension bridges, which is a work of art in its own right. The river along the town front is filled with boats of all types. Whitewashed houses with steep roofs and a dozen chimneys each cluster atop a rolling, winding landscape. all are encircled by a very impressive town wall with all of the features of 13th century fortification. The whole place is a postcard.

Walk along the town walls of Conwy

After meandering through town, we had an evening stroll along the top of the perimeter wall, which is all in good shape and accessible to the public. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an evening stroll like that before, taking in views and gliding over houses, gardens and traffic.

Conwy Castle with another Telford bridge, and river at most way to low tide

We walked back to the marina along the river at low tide, amazed at this huge area that just a few hours ago was water and now was all mud and sand and boats canting this way and that, looking very much like fish out of water.

We got back to the marina thinking about dinner and found Footprint riding high on her lines. The guy on the keelboat next to ours looked like he may be slightly aground. Then I noticed that the water in our vicinity didn’t look too deep either. We gave Footprint a shove when we got to her and she wouldn’t budge. I stuck a boathook in and found the water was 4” deep. She was sitting in the mud in 4” of water.

We were livid. We had told them we needed a meter and a half of water and then they assigned us this dock. We had specifically come to a marina with a flap gate because we wanted to remain afloat. Had they told us something like we would ground, but the mud is soft, we probably would have gone somewhere else. If we ended up having no other option, we could have at least prepared to take the ground. As it was, our speed wheel was installed and all of our seawater intakes were open. At the very least, they’re now packed with mud. Even if our raw water pump can suck in the mud, I don’t like the idea of running abrasive silt through our engine. More seriously, our rudders were down. They are not structural and are not designed to support any weight. Best case is that they were just slowly pushed into really soft mud, but if there’s a rock in there or a sunken dock cart or pretty much anything hard, it’s much more serious. At the very least, they’re gummed up with mud. Had we known we were going to ground, we could have pulled them up. Oh and our dock lines were tied like we were going to float. Now the dock is hanging from them.

To make thing worse, the next high tide is at Midnight, so if we want to avoid a second grounding in the wee hours, we have to stay up and move then. Maryanne is already about half yawns. I found the night attendant and asked him if anything deeper was available. He gave me a ‘what’s the big deal look’ and banished us to a far away spot, I think as punishment for bothering him.

So far, we’ve had the same problem with this marina that we did with the last. The first guy we dealt with, in this case the fuel guy, was really, really nice. Everybody after that, well...not so much. Maryanne went to go check in and was met by the “computer says no” woman, who couldn’t be bothered to do anything. When Maryanne asked for clarification or help with anything, she was treated like an idiot for asking. Not her job. Ask somebody who cares later.

Sure, we get to see some cool stuff, but sometimes this life can seem like non-stop frustration.

More of the castle (in the background) and Britain's Smallest house - the little red one!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Menai Strait Scenes

[Kyle] We had intended to motor the rest of the way trough the Menai Strait to Conwy. The day before, I had checked all of my figures and gone into the harbor master’s office to find out if it sounded good to him as far as tides and currents and such and to ask about payment. In an offhand manner, he said our departure time sounded okay to him and then spent forever looking up the fee on his table. He eventually came up with £19/day plus £3 for electricity.

I told him we hadn’t used the electricity and he shot me a look that said he thought I was a liar. “It says here you got electricity!” he said, pointing at his sheet.

“Nope, sorry, that’s wrong. We didn’t get electricity.”

“Well, it says here you did!” He started craning his neck to see around me to see if we were plugged in. We weren’t.

Eventually, he only backed down when I explained that the boat had an American electrical system and couldn’t take British power.

The next morning, Maryanne went in to pay and came back (not knowing about the conversation I had had with him the day earlier, except that she needed to take £38) and said she had practically got into an argument with him. He had taken forever looking up the rate and came up with £22/day plus £3/day for electric - a total of £50 or around $80 for two nights stay. When she said we hadn’t used electric, he wouldn't believe her. Eventually, she just refused to pay it, and handed over the £44 fee without electricity. Wow, the guy who checked us in when we arrived - Mark - was sooo nice. We miss you, Mark. Anyway, we left at the appointed time, not sure we'd be welcomed back again, nor if the Police were already being informed of our imaginary electricity theft.

It was a beautiful sunny morning with almost no wind. We wound our way up the Menai Strait passing tidy little villages with boats moored below. As we passed the beautiful stately home of Plâs Newydd, near the town with the longest name in Great Britain, here it is, ready: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerwchwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, or Llanfiar P.G. for short, the current started increasing rapidly against us. By the time we made it a couple miles further to the Britannia Bridge, it was near 6 knots and we were hardly moving.

Just in the other side of the bridge is an area called The Swellies. It is the narrowest and shallowest bit of water in the whole strait and, as such, has the strongest currents. It was just after high water, but the current was really killing us. We later found out slack water was about two hours before high water. We should have known that given the nature of the channel. Think of a wave. Water at the crest moves forward, water in the trough moves backwards. It’s the water halfway in between that’s stopped. The current at The Swellies increases about a knot per 10 minutes after slack water until reaching its peak. {Maryanne: Even I don't understand what Kyle's saying here... But generally high tide coincides (give or take 30 mins) with slack water, but not always, and in this case certainly not. We'd made a classic mistake, and although our decision was confirmed by a local, we were still wrong. Here the current flows around the island of Anglesea and from both directions at once along the Menai Strait, meeting somewhere in the middle and making the Swellies very difficult to "guess" at.}

Initially, my plan had been to just make it over The Swellies to the milder current on the other side, which was soon predicted to reverse in our favor. We approached the narrow channel under the Britannia Bridge and just stopped moving in the strong, swirly current. I increased the engine rpm from our normal cruising 2800 to 3300 (red line is 3400), and we gradually pulled away from the bridge at about half a knot. We got about another 1/4 mile before the current finally eroded that to the point where we were just hovering in place. We were stuck. We couldn’t get through.

Defeated, I finally pulled the poor overworked engine back to idle and turned around. We went back under the bridge at ten knots in idle forward. At Llanfair P.G. we considered picking up a mooring for the night. We were giving each one a good look over when we noticed a guy on one of them in an old lifeboat. He told us they were all available, but that they hadn’t been checked in a couple of years, so they might not be too secure. We thought about it for about half a second and decided to give them a miss and go back to one of the moorings in front of Plâs Newydd. When we got there, I had to use 1800 rpm just to stay in place while Maryanne secured the bridle. The current, even there, was now up to 3 knots.

We got all secured. Maryanne looked up the number for the house. She called them and explained our predicament to someone very nice who said the mooring was private, but she was pretty sure the boat using it was in the shop with engine trouble. She said she’d call the owner and ask if it was alright and call us back if it wasn’t. We’ll call back in a while just to be sure but, so far, no bad news. I hope we get to stay, the view is fantastic.

Our terrible failure in planning a passage through The Swellies, left us fortunate to find a pretty cool temporary home