Gwennol’s Cruise, 2014

Our boat, Gwennol, is a 23 year old, 31 foot Jeaneau Sun Odyssey, with Yanmar 2GM20 engine. The fuel capacity is 10gall, plus a 5 gall jerry can, say 70 litres in all.

The crew, with main responsibilities were Pat Tyson-Jones (sails and chef), Pete Bland (electronic navigation), Gwyn Jones (engine, and general worrying). Three is the ideal crew for  this boat- four would cause too much congestion on a long trip

On this trip, unless conditions were ideal, we preferred to maintain at least 5 kts as distances are often from 20 to 35 miles. Since Gwennol tends to heel in anything but light airs, we reef early, set the foresail to obtain balance, and put the engine on as necessary to maintain this speed. Lazy perhaps, but comfortable and not too tiring- Pat and Gwyn have been drawing their pensions for some years! Tide and overfall effects dominate navigation around the north Irish sea, so it’s essential to get the timing right. It can give very fast sailing- but also unpleasant wind over tide conditions in an area prone to overfalls anyway.

Our route was Conwy, Port St Mary, Douglas (to repair a shroud), Ardglass, Copeland Islands, Bangor(NI), Glenarm, Rathlin Island, Port Ellen(Islay), Ardminish Bay (Gigha), Ballycastle, Bangor (missing out Glenarm), Ardglass, Port St Mary, Moelfre and Conwy. It took us 3 weeks.

In general, the Marinas were fine, costing about £23/night, with Ballycastle being the one we liked best.  Port St Mary was not good- there is no full time harbourmaster, and the facilities are very limited. The 12m ladders on the Albert Pier are rusty and some are not securely attached to the wall. Sadly, not a good place to stop, but with a fin keeler the alternatives of Douglas or Port Erin are less convenient.

Habourmasters everywhere were very helpful, as was everyone we met- Ulster bus drivers included, in spite of being trained by Jeremy Clarkson.

We had very little good sailing due to unhelpful winds. We motored/motor sailed for 100 hours. Otherwise, this was  great holiday with many interesting and pleasant ports, whose details you can find on the internet. The highspots for us were Rathlin, Gigha and Ballycastle.

The following includes what may be obvious to many, no doubt, but it could be of interest to others who may want to undertake a similar cruise-

 What we learnt….

Ride the tides! This is important everywhere, especially along the coasts of Northern Ireland. To avoid wind over tide conditions, a following wind is needed,  for which you may have to wait. Tidal times are not dissimilar to those in Conwy: HW neaps tend to happen at about 0600 and 1800, whilst HW springs are at about 0000 and 1200

Get detailed  Tidal and Overfalls Atlases for IoM and North Channel before setting out. Finding eddies can be very important eg Donaghadee, SE of Bangor.  Go inshore of overfalls where you can eg Langeness on the Isle of Man and possibly Tor point near Ballycastle as well

Go round Fair Head/Tor Point at slack. Even with no wind, the overfalls can be very heavy if taken at the wrong time.

Leaving the North Channel against a South Easterly is very difficult, including crossing to Portpatrick.

Leave PSM near high water. If aiming for Moelfre, arrive off Point Lynas on the flood, but hold off (for example, head for Conwy)  to avoid the east going tidal stream and overfalls.

When crossing 2 tides, such at going to the IoM, it is quicker to steer on the constant compass heading than to  track to a waypoint.

Most convenient places for fuel are Bangor, Ardglass, Carrickfergus. Ballycastle should be possible if less convenient.

Take a trolley to carry groceries and fuel.

Eat at the Boathouse on Gigha if at all possible. Book beforehand. Go ashore in the dinghy.

Craig at the ManxMarine chandler’s at Douglas is most helpful. Support if possible.

May -June is the ideal time to go, with very short nights, and no midges.

Technical Issues


Most boats we have sailed can be quickly stopped by engaging reverse, but not Gwennol. We rarely manoeuvre in marinas and discovered that, at times, reverse embarrassingly had no effect at all.  At first, I thought this was due a failure to engage reverse due to cable stretch, but later I realised it was cavitation- the 2 bladed prop was turning in its own bubbles. So the lesson is to open throttle slowly.

Cap shroud damage

At PSM, on the way out, Pat noticed that half the stainless steel wires of the port cap shroud were broken at the bottlescrew. We sought help from the chandlers at Douglas, who supplied and gave ready help in fitting a ‘Norseman’ to make an effective repair.. You don’t get help like that over the internet and they fully deserve our support when in Douglas

Navigation aids.


Admiralty Small craft Portfolios for N Wales (SC5609) and West Coast of Scotland (SC5611)

Imray Irish Sea (C62), Isle of Man (Y60)

Irish Sea Pilot, David Rainsbury

Isle of Man Pilot

The Yachtsman’s Pilot to the West Coast of Scotland, Martin Lawrence (out of print?)

Nautical almanac (for its tidal charts)

Irish Sea Tide Tables

Hardware and software

Garmin GPS 12. This elderly GPS is very useful as its output is well damped, and is repeated in the cockpit. A more modern GPS was too responsive to be useful.

PC laptop

Meridian chartware and Navstick. This is complete set of Admiralty charts for UK and Ireland, together with a GPS receiver which displays on the laptop making it into a very readable chart plotter. Costs a little over £100- very good value if you have a laptop.

A Mobile phone with apps for  tides, XCweather, Meteo weather (good, French, but some continental timings)

Very useful websites:  and

Sailing Notes  

Note:Times are approximate, and are given with respect to Dover


Sunday 25.  To Port Saint Mary (PSM), 57nm. SSE 8 kts. Left at 6.30 (HW Conwy-0120)  wind died around 1430.  Arrived PSM at 1730

Monday 25. To Douglas, 13nm. SE3. Planned to arrive at HW-2, when gate and bridge could open.  Left PSM at LW+0030. Inside overfalls (1 cable offshore) at Langeness. Strong favourable tide, arrived comfortably at Douglas at HW-2. Rafted 6 deep to wait for bridge and tidal gate.

Wednesday 27 Towards Ardglass, 46nm, or maybe Port Erin or PSM. NE3. Left Douglas at HW. No overfalls. Went around the Calf, again, no overfalls, arriving Ardglass HW-4. (8 hours)

Thursday 28 Towards Bangor, 35nm. ENE3. Left at HW+1. Headwind and foul tide approaching Donaghadee, down to 3kts SOG. Found a favourable eddy near shore and anchored for the night in Chapel Bay, Copeland Islands at HW-0430. Should have left earlier, and had a detailed a tidal atlas to show tides and  overfalls around the Copelands.

Friday 29. Moved to Bangor, 6nm. Refuelled.

Saturday 31. to Glenarm, 23nm.  SE3, dropping to zero. Left Bangor at HW, arrived Glenarm HW+0430


Sunday1. Towards Ballycastle, 23nm. SE4. Left at HW, arrived at Tor point/ Fair Head at HW+3. Luckily, only slight overfalls. Decided to go to Rathlin Island Marina.

Tuesday 3. To Port  Ellen on Islay, 24nm. Little wind. Passing W of Rathlin and avoiding TSS.  Left at HW-6 (1000) arrived 1500

Thursday 5. To Ardminish Bay, Gigha, 18nm. NW4.  Left at HW-2, arrived HW+2. As Southerlies were forecast, we decided not to proceed to Craighouse on Jura, but to return to Ballycastle next day to await fair winds.

Friday 6. To Ballycastle 35nm. SE3/4. Left at HW+5, down the Mull of Kintyre, then across TSS at 90 deg, approx. Arrived HW-0030. Tides and overflows aound Rathlin are fierce and complex. Again, detailed Tidal atlas much needed.

Saturday to Tuesday, 7-10. SE4-6.  Difficult to leave the North Channel against a South Easterly, so stayed in Ballycastle (nice area to stop in) for 4 days. Also, wind over south-going tide avoided.

Wednesday 11 June. To Bangor, 44nm. SW2/3. Left at HW-0530. Heavy overfalls at Fair Head. Should have left at HW+6!. Reached Black Head, N of Belfast Loch as the tide turned, arrived Bangor HW+2

Thursday 12 To Ardglass, 35nm. Little wind. Left at HW-6, arrived HW+1.

Friday, 13. To PSM.  Little wind. Left at HW+5 to avoid shallows at LWS, near marina. Arrived Calf Sound at HW-1, and PSM at HW

Saturday 14. Towards Conwy, 57 nm. N2. Left at HW-0100, ie 11.30. Decided to stop at Moelfre to avoid coming into Conwy at midnight, feeling tired. Anchored at 2300.

Sunday 15. Left Moelfre at HW-0430, arrived Conwy HW-0100, ie near mid-day. Job done!

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