We fill up with fuel at the refuelling pontoon at the Milford marina entrance and cruise slowly out of the entrance lock. It is ‘free-flow’ time, meaning that the tidal level outside is the same as or more than the water level within the marina, so the lock gates can remain open. We head off down the way that we came in the previous day, following a giant tanker also on its way out. We pass Dale bay and make for Milford Harbour entrance. A huge cruise ship is coming in which we pass on our port side. It seems very close and we can see some of the passengers on deck.
After many discussions and calculations, we have decided to take the outside passage around the outside of Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey Islands. These are all islands with narrow channels between themselves and the mainland which funnel strong tidal currents through the gap, particularly during spring tides. Jack’s Sound, between Skomer and the mainland, is particularly notorious. Passages through these channels are fraught with dangers, with jagged rocks, steep cliffs and underwater reefs to avoid, all the while being whisked along at 7 knots or more. No wonder that many ships have come to grief there over the years. It seems they can be done if the timing in relation to slack water is spot on, and the correct transits are followed, but even then there is no margin for error. We had considered attempting them, but we had been advised against it with our deep keel possibly snagging the sloping edges of the channel.
The three islands themselves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). By coincidence, Moira had been there on a field trip the week before we had met her, and she had regaled us with stories of the puffins and shearwaters that live on the island. Apparently the latter are so dense that if you step off the marked pathways, there is a good chance you will step on a burrow and crush the bird inside. As we are swept past, we are sorry that we don’t have the time to stop and visit the island and see its wonderful inhabitants.
We are swept past St David’s Head at 10 knots, most of which is the tidal current. In the distance we can see the bright light of Strumble Head lighthouse, even though it is more than ten miles away and daylight. Beyond St David’s, there is a little wind, but the northward current is still strong, so we set the sails and the autopilot and spend the afternoon reading, fishing and sunbathing as Ruby Tuesday sails herself along the Welsh coast. This is idyllic – who could wish for more?
I continue reading my book called “In Search of Grace: An Ecological Pilgrimage” by Peter Reason, in which he describes a voyage he makes in his yacht from the south of England, round the west coast of Ireland, then on to the far north of Scotland. He sees his trip as a pilgrimage, to reconnect with the natural world in some way. The technology of civilisation has separated us from this natural world by minimising the impact of natural forces on our lives, so much so that we are now influencing earth systems rather than being only influenced by them. This has resulted in climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, pollution of the air and seas, and all the other ecological problems we are causing. We need to rethink our place in the big scheme of things and see ourselves as part of nature rather than separate from it. We are already part of it of course; it’s just that we don’t see ourselves that way. He defines a pilgrimage as a journey of moral or spiritual significance taken to seek answers to deep questions by escaping from the everyday and, in this case, experiencing the Earth’s ecological processes in the raw. Many of his ideas resonate with my own, and, although I don’t like the word, I wonder if our own voyage is a pilgrimage of sorts. Certainly we have escaped the monotony of everyday work life of meetings, deadlines, and targets that we had, and are governed now much more by the winds, weather, currents and tides than we were. We do have a sense of seeking something more than ourselves, but the deep questions that we want to confront are only half-formed. Perhaps they will become clear during the rest of this voyage or on future ones …
The fishing line twitches, and we think we have caught a fish. We wind it in eagerly, but it is a piece of kelp that has become caught somehow. That pretty much sums up our luck at fishing so far. We throw it back.
We arrive in Fishguard and anchor in the little bay on the south side of the harbour beneath a castle on a promontory. Appropriately, it is called Lower Bay. We pour ourselves glasses of wine and watch the sun go down. The light adds a soft glow to the greenery on shore and the stone buildings of the small village of Lower Town and we are mesmerised by their beauty.
The local sailing club is out in force, and we watch youngsters in their sailing dinghies being put through their paces by their instructors. We think they are lucky to have such a beautiful place to learn their sailing in.
Later that evening, the train from London arrives with Joanne and Peter, my sister and brother-in-law, on it. They have just flown from New Zealand to Britain the day before to spend some time in Europe, and are still exhausted from the jet-lag. They are joining us for a week’s sailing before heading off to Mallorca, Morocco and Spain. We find a taxi to take their luggage from the station to the pier in Lower Bay, then load it into the dinghy and ferry them across one-by-one to Ruby Tuesday. We are well accustomed to sailing with each other, having done trips in Greece and New Zealand in previous years, so we are looking forward to having them with us.
They have worked out that they need to be back to Gatwick for their flight to Mallorca by early afternoon on the following Friday, and have found a train leaving from Holyhead at 0900 that would get them there on time. We carefully plan our week’s sailing to make sure that we arrive in Holyhead the evening before.