I had a look at the forecast and it looked to be a bit windier than previously predicted. This meant we’d be able to make a little bit better boat speed and so wouldn’t have to leave so early to get to the Menai Straight on a rising tide, stalling the inevitable.
At least we were alone in a big bay with lots of maneuvering room. This meant at least we would get to sail off of the anchor, one of my favorite things.
We bundled up in all of our foul weather gear and headed outside to prepare for departure. Within a couple of minutes, the sun came out and we were baking in all of our layers. I wasn’t falling for it. We pulled up the anchor. Footprint drifted backward a bit and her bows fell away from the wind. We sheeted in the sails and she picked up speed, heading south out of the bay.
We sailed a few more miles out into the open sea until I was sure we could clear the Llŷn peninsula on the next tack. When we did, our line looked good. We had a slight head current as the tide fell on the south-going ebb, costing us about a quarter of our speed. The wind was good and strong, though and we were going fast, even though we had put a couple of extra reefs more than we needed for good measure before we left. The Gemini always seems to do best in these conditions - 20kts wind with a couple a reef in each sail. These were ideal monohull passing conditions, except that there weren’t any around.
As we neared Bardsley Sound at the tip of the peninsula, the current sped up in the gap, eventually reaching 6 knots. We would be making slow but reliable headway against it and then we’d sail into a lull, the boat would slow down and we would start getting pushed backwards, or we would just equal the current and would end up crabbing sideways.
Our track had become a series of scribbled circles. In the lee of Bardsley Island, we kept sailing into the dead spot where the wind meets again on its way around the island and then drifting back into the wind to speed back up so we could get back in the lull. I was beginning to think that we were just going to have to wait until the current slacked a little. While we were waiting, I decided to try easing to one side or the other to try to find some good air. By doing this, I managed to escape the lull. We crept ahead of the island, found some good, clean air and we were able to power our way away from the worst of the current. We had spent so much time fighting the current that I was beginning to worry that we wouldn’t make it to the entrance to the Menai Straits in time.
We turned downwind and had a fast, half sunny, half pouring rain sail up the Welsh coast. The wind was increasing and the seas were starting to get bigger. the current slacked and then reversed, giving us some much needed help. The Coast Guard started issuing gale warnings for later, which seemed to jibe with the worsening conditions. The waves got large enough for us to surf. We kept reefing and then reefing some more to try to slow down.
As we approached the entrance to the Menai Strait, the sea shallowed and the waves began to get increasingly steep and alarming the closer we became. The Strait is entered by approaching the shore of Anglesey and then making a hard right turn to parallel the beach in a shallow channel just inside a sand bar. The height of the bar is maybe only a meter above the bottom of the channel. Entering near high tide, both were well submerged. The bar offered almost no protection against the steepening waves. It felt a little like we were just paralleling the beach for the experience of landing a Gemini in heavy surf. If it hadn’t been for all of the gale warnings flying through the airwaves, we probably would have skipped it.
Eventually, it came time for us to make the left turn into the gap. As soon as we did, the water completely flattened and we shot through the gap pushed by the flood at over ten knots. We zinged past pretty houses and mooring fields backed by mountains. In no time at all, we approached Victoria Docks at Caernarfon.
Arriving at Caernarfon at Sunset - the 14 century castle dominates the town view
The docks lie inside a basin protected from draining at low tide by a sill in the same manner as Peel on the Isle of Man. We called the harbor master, who warned us that the current was racing across the narrow entrance and gave us some advice for transiting the entrance, the best of which was to keep the helm hard over longer than felt right because, while most of the boat would be in calm water, the rudders would still be in the stream and would kick us around into the wall if we didn’t keep the correction in.
The harbor master directed us to a spot that was exactly the right size for us and helped tie us up. We were now safely in the middle of town and well secured against the impending gale.