Isle of Man Single Handed

I went to Port St Mary over the weekend single handed and even though I had a great trip it was beyond my endurance levels so I suffered a bit.

I left Port Penrhyn at 0730 on Saturday and total time to Port St Mary was 13.5hrs. I raised the sails off Gallows Point, Beaumaris, and had a great days’ sailing up to 11 miles off IOM.

At that point I had to use the engine so I didnt arrive in the dark. After checking the forecast I left Port St Mary at 0420 and the return took 18hrs mostly on the engine. I only managed 10 miles of sailing due to a dead spot on my bearing and the spring tide.

There were huge waves from one mile off Port St Mary but the boat handled them superbly. Fortunately they weren’t breaking so I carried on and the waves got smaller around 8 miles off. I think the wind blew up from midnight causing the huge wind-with-tide swell but had dropped again by the time I put the sails up around 0440.

I wasn’t expecting the big seas and was looking up at every wave as they blocked the horizon. Fascinating and frightening in equal measures. Even though they were mostly on my stbd beam, the slope of the waves was so shallow and the pitch so wide that the boat hardly rolled at all.

I’d slept for less than four hours on the mooring and the lack of sleep caught up with me as the adrenaline wore off. I took two seats out of the cabin and wedged myself in. The auto pilot whirred and lulled me to sleep and I slept in 15 minute blocks, or so. I woke up every time channel 16 came on and I jumped up to make sure I wasn’t about to be rammed. After four hours I’d caught up.

The Coastguard’s forecast was westerly 4-5 but I estimated the wind to be 5-8 knots. There was a sweet spot around 230° but that was taking me to Wicklow rather than Puffin Island and as much as I love a pint of Guinness I had to head around 155° to get home.

Visibility was good looking north but not so good to the south. The ebb had pushed me west a bit and I countered the error using the tracker on the Raymarine Dragonfly.  I probably lost 60 minutes or so by not bearing off early enough but that’s down to inexperience.

There was very little company and I only saw two sails, one heading southwest and the other west. I also passed two puffins about 20 miles north of Amlwch which seemed a long way from home with such small wings.

A few miles off Anglesey the wind picked up enough to turn the engine off but It didn’t last and a strong tide dropped my speed to 1.5 knots. It was calm enough to top up the fuel tank and I put about 15 litres in which was a pleasant surprise.

As I approached Puffin Sound I was mesmerized by all the birds coming and going, then there was a huge splash as two dolphins broke the surface. I had plenty of time so I went after them. There was a lot of feed around and I had a near miss with a gannet. The dolphins tagged along and I got a few photos and a bit of video before turning back. A great welcome though which spurred me on a bit.

Back to civilisation and even though it was 19.30 there were three ribs buzzing round with squealing passengers. A bit like the baddies in Waterworld I thought.

I eased up the Strait and as it was a spring-low I skirted along the edge of Traeth Lafan between the shore and red buoys. Suddenly the seabed was was coming up a bit too fast and I turned back to the channel to save any embarrassment. I saw three more dolphins just before Beaumaris but they were heading into the shallows.

I moored in Port Penrhyn at 22.20 after an 18-hour trip with a huge sigh of relief.

The trip had gone well and my 43-year-old boat had performed beyond my expectations.

That wasn’t my first time in Port St Mary but the first in a yacht. The last time I went, and the first, was in 1987 and not by choice:

I was working on a long liner called the Galleachd Milis which is currently lying in Conwy. We had been working around Peel and had 600 stone of spurdog on board. We’d been at sea for three days and were heading back to Holyhead for the weekend market. We would often be awake for up to 23 hours a day until we filled up so I was glad to get my head down. We also had an uncompromising reputation in Holyhead which left us short handed so there was just myself and the skipper Chris.

I can’t remember how long I’d been asleep but I was woken by Chris stamping on the wheelhouse floor to wake me up then shouting through the hatch, “we’re flipping sinking” *. I jumped out of my bunk and landed in eighteen inches of water. He was right.

We were ten miles south of The Chickens and the belt on the Jabsco pump had broken. We would have to land to fix it but the first priority was to stop the bilge water getting to the catch. The aft electric pump was working so I rigged a hand pump to get the water over the bulkhead. I pumped away as Chris turned and headed for Port St Mary but all I was doing was breaking even.

After an hour the lights flickered then went off and the Decca, radar and radio followed as the batteries became swamped. We were running blind in total darkness and we scrambled around for the chart. I spotted the reef to the east of the entrance and gave Chris the bearing from our last Decca position and we made it safely into port.

The harbour was a real haven that night and we managed to fix the pump in time to save the catch and make last orders.

We got back to Holyhead and landed the fish the next morning. I went to the Midlands for the weekend and called Chris on Sunday to get the time we’d be leaving for our next trip, “don’t bother,” he told me “she’s sank in the harbour”.

Geoff Abbott


* Possibly not actual language used

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.