Wednesday 29th May
We awake to a misty morning but as we can’t get out of the harbour until 11 we have a leisurely breakfast and use the posh new marina showers. These have only just been upgraded and are the best we have come across so far with individual en suite showers really well fitted out. On our way back to Sundart
Chris photos an enterprising crow that has commandeered the mast of a yacht which seems to take the concept of the nautical crows nest to the extreme. Pity the poor owners who want to go sailing.
John wants to visit Porthmadog to renew his association from many years ago with the Ffestiniog Railway. The weather forecast is for a dry, sunny day with modest winds from the north so although we will have to beat agianst the wind we decide to sail to Porthmadog as it will be a more interesting place to visit than the alternative of Pwllheli. We will have to go into Porthmadog Harbour near high tide late in the evening as the rather tortuous way in is past sand banks which we can only get past when there is sufficient water under the keel. John phones the Porthmadog harbour master who assures us that the route in is properly marked with lit buoys and advises us that we must moor on the correct moorings in the middle of the harbour as the edges get too shallow for our draft of boat at low tide. There is a shoal (St.Patrick’s Causeway) across our route which the Aberystwyth harbour master gives us guidance on the best way to pass.
We leave harbour at 11 in pleasant sun and a light wind. Aberystwyth looks pretty in the sunblight – pity it was so wet the previous night. At times we need to motor as the wind is fickle but it gradually fills in so we become well heeled over
and eventually we need to reef the sails down. It becomes harder work but we successfully navigate between the land and the shoals, using the Samsung tablet to track our progress. John cooks supper as we make our way across Tremadog Bay and we finally drop anchor off Morfa Bychan sands between the magnificent castle at Harlech and Porthmadog to have a well earned meal and await until two hours before the high tide to enter Porthmadog.
We leave the anchorage at 2130 and head towards the first of about 18 buoys that mark the channel into Porthmadog. They are lit but spaced quite a long way apart. At buoy 3 the keel touches the sandy bottom so we drop the anchor and brew a cup of tea to let the tide rise higher. Half an hour later we are able to proceed but it is quite difficult to pick up the flashing lights of the buoys. At one point we stray off the route and again run into the sandy bottom so we have to back track and work out the correct route. We finally get to where the first of the boats are moored at the entry to Porthmadog but as the tide is running strongly into the harbour & estuary we anchor again to let the tidal flow diminish as it gets near high tide to avoid the risk of being swept into the moored boats. We finally reach the harbour at midnight and moor against a pontoon. However, we are not yet finished as calculation shows that the water there will be too shallow for Sundart when it gets to low tide so we cast off and creep around the harbour until we finally find the place where the harbour master advised us to moor. What a saga!
Distance sailed today: 50.6 nautical miles
Total distance sailed to date: 405.9 nautical miles
Thursday 30th May
Next morning, after a good sleep, we awake to a sunny day and see that we are indeed safely afloat in the middle of the harbour with boats dried out around us as it is near low water. We decide to take a lay day and stay until the next day,
Chris kindly volunteering to extend his stay with us by a day. Our thanks to his wife Sharon for her forbearance!
We paddle ashore in the rubber dinghy to pay our harbour dues. Ken , the duty manager, turns out to be the operations manager for the lifeboat at nearby Dinllaen so we emerge half an hour later fully briefed on how to sail from Porthmadog to Caernarfon including a good anchorage at Aberdaron. We have also given the visitors eye view on their buoyage into Porthmadog. It turns out that the channel through the estuary sands is forever changing as the sands shift so the harbour master has to constantly move the buoys to suit. We see from the visitors board that we are the third visiting boat since august 2012 – no wonder! To our surprise & delight, when we leave the following day, we find that the harbour master has laid at least one extra buoy where we ran aground. Thank you Porthmadog Harbour staff – you were nothing if not helpful and friendly.
(The lesson we learnt at Porthmadog is to phone ahead where harbour entrances are over muddy or sandy estuaries and get a copy of the current buoyage from the local harbour master, which can usually be downloaded from the internet. We later successfully used this strategy for Caernarfon and will no doubt use it again on the east coast.)
We do some shopping in the pleasant town of Porthmadog and then decide to take a trip on the Ffestiniog Railway.
John volunteered in his teens on this railway, helping in a small way to rebuild the line back to Blaenau Ffestiniog as well as working on the track, in the kiosk at the temporary end of the line and he was keen to see how the railway had developed in the intervening years.
The Ffestiniog Railway is a remarkable success story. Rescued by dedicated volunteers in 1955, the railway has always been run by a mixture of full-time staff and volunteers.
It has had to overcome numerous challenges,both the sheer feat of rescuing 13 miles of line from the wilderness and making it into a fully working railway that complies with all the requirements of any public railway. No less impressive is the way it has had to fight (and win) legal battles including the longest action of it kind (22 years) to win compensation from the CEGB for flooding the railway by their pumped storage scheme and the local council for illegally removing its bridges. A new deviation had to be built round the pumped storage
scheme complete with tunnel, which was entirely achieved by volunteers over about 10 years. More recently, the Ffestiniog Railway has repeated its success by completely re-building the Welsh Highland Railway from Porthmadog to Caernarfon, a route that passes over the lower parts of Snowdon.
In all, the Railway now operates 40 miles of line and contributes around £12 million per year directly & indirectly to the local economy. This year it celebrates 150 years of steam power on its line. Remarkably it still has 4 of its original locomotives, two of which are currently in working order.
We enjoy our journey and the impressive scenery and views. We stop for a while in Blanau Ffestioniog, which
has recently had considerable sums spent on refurbishing the town centre and buildings. There are very significant slate workings all round the town, most long derelict but their remains are an impressive testimony to a once significant industry and the ambition of the Victorian entrepreneurs.
Friday 31st May
We awake to another sunny day and with a good weather forecast and enjoy breakfast on deck — we could get used to this! A dinghy trip ashore to pay our harbour dues proves to be a muddy experience.
By noon the tide has risen enough for us to leave and we are able to negotiate the way out without difficulty. The views are tremendous across the Mawdach to the Snowdon and other mountain ranges. These views from the sea are unlike any views that can be seen from on land as they combine the sea, sandy beaches and the mountain backdrop. We pass some delightful beaches and coves on the way out.
We decide to follow Ken the lifeboat manager’s advise and sail to Aberdaron on the southern tip of the Lleyn Peninsular. The sailing is excellent and in due course we anchor in the sandy bay at Aberdaron “opposite the end of the church graveyard wall” as per Ken’s advice. Chris cooks supper and we later do the passage plan for the next stages of our journey from Caernarfon through the Menai Straits.
Distance today: 26.9 nautical miles
Distance to date: 432.8 nm
Hours sailed to date: 98
Saturday 1st June
Today we need to time our passage past the tip of the Lleyn Peninsular and past Bardsey Island with care as this can be a rough place except at the turn of the tide. Ken the life boat manager has advised us to stay very close to the mainland “so you can almost touch the rocks” to avoid the rough water. We leave the anchorage at 1130 and all goes well, hugging the shore as advised and passing inside the rocks. By 1230 we are through this water and sailing up the west side of the peninsular. The wind dies a bit so we have to motor for a while and use the Autohelm to steer the boat automatically so we can enjoy our lunch and the passing scenery.
Gradually the wind picks back up and we can use the spinnaker. Setting the spinnaker is always an event as it takes much setting up of the ropes etc and the spinnaker is the biggest sail we carry. We carry this sail until the entry to the passage through the sand banks into Caernarfon at the western end of the Menai Straits. Our experience with the entry to Porthmadog pays off as we have downloaded the local information on the buoyage and we reach Caernarfon without difficulty. The entry to the harbour is open (it only opens 2 hours each side of high water) so we motor in and moor up beneath the castle walls.
Caernarfon is a fine town to visit (although the harbour facilities are the worst we have encountered, being house in an old builders
Portakabin!). We wander into town and decide to eat out.
Chris picks up a brochure and gets enthusiastic about doing the three peaks sailing race that is held annually. This involves sailing from Barmouth to Fort William in Scotland, stopping at Caernarfon and Ravenglass to land runners who run up the highest peaks in Wales (Snowdon), England (Scafell Pike) and finally Scotland (Ben Nevis). No engine power is permitted whist sailing between the ports although rowing is permitted! It seems that teams normally number 2 runners & 3 sailors. We shall see…..!
Days run: 28.0 nautical miles to date: 460.8 nm
Total hours sailed to date: 105
Next stops will be the Menai Straits and Liverpool
Fair winds to you all
Yvonne and John