Lessons to be learnt

We become a Statistic (May, 2004)

Sounds like an article from Yachting monthly doesn’t it but in truth we really have learnt an awful lot in a very short time. I’ve always maintained that the best way to make something stick in your mind is to be shown how NOT to do something. We are now very much wiser!

We have escaped from the clutches of the River Ribble and we are now attached to our mooring buoy at Conwy!!!

This last few weeks have been a considerable learning curve for me and Carole.

As most of you will know, we have been trying to get out of the Ribble since April 6th.

The first time was to be with the aid of an excellent yachtmaster instructor who spent two days with us but (because of the weather) all we managed to do was rig the boat and throw off all the rubbish that wasn’t wanted. It was like one of those lifestyle programs on TV where someone searches through all your bits and pieces and de-clutters your home leaving you with practically nothing!! The previous owner had kept everything he’d replaced so that there were three of each of the sails, etc. He’d even kept all the old gaskets from a previous engine rebuild!!!

Anyhow, I learnt a lot but we didn’t sail for Conwy that time – though we did take her up the river for a test which went well.

The next time was just Carole and myself on April 16th and we ended up in the Preston weekly newspaper having had to be rescued by the RNLI.

Article in local Lytham paper, 17/04/2004

I won’t go into detail – it’s too embarrassing – but we had to be dragged off a sandbank and, because we motored the wrong side of a dotted line on the chart plotter. We were too embarrassed to admit this to the RNLI so we muttered something about engine problems. We were never in any danger on a falling tide but lesson number one learned. Very nice men from RNLI took our main halyard and gunned their 40hp rib perpendicular to Spirit with the result that the yacht tilted at an alarming angle and slid off the bank. It is just as well I had not attached Carole to the boom and swung her out in an attempt to lean the boat against the sandbank as they would never have got us off!! We had replaced the VHF and aerial and the first time it was used was to call the Coast Guard!!

Our next outing was in the dinghy at Conwy, the weekend before last – to fix our mooring strop to the buoy that we had been allocated. All went according to plan but as we approached the jetty on our return, we decided it was so pleasant that we’d carry on past and do a bit of sight seeing. An outboard doesn’t go very far on a third of a gallon of petrol, does it!

Unfortunately we had to ask a passing fishing boat for a tow. Lesson two is make sure you have a spare can of juice with you. We had used dinghy’s before but for short purposeful trips – not pleasure.

Then, last Sunday, we drove to Conwy in the morning and dumped one of our cars and then shot off to Hesketh bank near Preston to get the boat ready to catch the tide.

We arrived about 2 hours before high water and after frantic stowing of items etc, we managed to get away about 1 hour 20 minutes before the tide would change. You have no idea what a relief it was to pass our previous grounding point and continue out to the Irish Sea. In all it is about 13 miles from boat yard to deep water and I must admit the fear of doing it again was very real. We got to our deep water way point and set off at 235 degrees which should have taken us in roughly a straight line to the Constable buoy off Llandudno. The weather forecast was good except that, because of warm air meeting cold air, or something like that, mist was expected. We didn’t have any fog as such but general mistiness meant that we sometimes couldn’t see for more than about 4 miles or so. Net result was that we didn’t see land from the moment we left the Ribble till we got to the Orme’s head.

We had a fairly uneventful journey after having been frightened by what must have been the Lennox oil platform looming out of the murk. We gave that a wide berth and were then pleased to be passing right between the Hoyle wind farm and the Hamilton Platform.

At one point we had to slow down when we worked out that at an average of over 7.5 knots we were going to arrive about a couple of hours too early. We had intended to have our first play with the sails if things were calmish but unfortunately a weary seagull decided to hitch a ride right beside Carole at the helm and she wouldn’t let me disturb it. It was with us for two hours, by which time it was getting dark.

At last we passed the Constable buoy and it was now about midnight with no moon and little ambient light from anywhere else.

We had two GPS’s and two Laptop Computers with identical Chart plotting software. I worked out that if we aimed for the Fairway buoy, we would get there at just about three hours before high water. I have to say that I have come into Conwy many times and have done it twice in the dark before they put lights on the buoys. This was going to be a doddle with GPS as well!!!!!

We left the Fairway and with eyes fixed on the laptop screen headed for Conway No 2 buoy which eventually came into sight and confirmed it’s position because the streetlights disappeared into the road tunnel behind it.

Then disaster happened.

Suddenly a message came up on the laptop screen telling us that a map couldn’t be found and did I want to abort, ignore or cancel. What had happened was that the charts had been set up on our other laptop and the whole plotting setup transferred to this one. The plotting software knew that it should always try to display the largest scale map available but if that map does not exist on the computer it throws a wobbly. Unfortunately the large scale map of Conwy estuary that I had indexed wasn’t on this computer!!

Knowing we were within yards of the fore shore I knew I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes trying to convince the laptop that I really didn’t mind the whole Eastern Irish sea displayed so long as we had the little red arrow showing our position. We gave up on that fairly quickly but in the meantime managed to lose sight of buoy C2!

Then, there it was again, so we quickly made sure we went to the right of it and then we caught site of C1 and felt more and more confident – but shouldn’t C1 be green? – this one was red!!!

We eventually rounded the Perch after finding that we had missed out some not very crucial buoys. Our route had dismissed C2 and C1 completely, picked up C4, C6 and C8, missed out C3 (or at least passed it well on the wrong side) and then picked up the final two greens.

I have to say that whilst we had lost the GPS but were looking for C2 we were in about 2.7 metres of water and that I would certainly have turned the boat round and headed back to the Fairway buoy to regroup if we hadn’t found it (or something similar!!).

Another boat was within about 200 metres of us all the way into Conwy and we wonder whether they realised how wrong we were getting it. I think they also missed the first two buoys (reasonable) but decided not to follow us when we ignored C3.

The night was, of course, not yet over.

We were now entering a harbour in pitch blackness, looking for a mooring buoy we had only seen once in daylight!

Suffice to say that after doing about 10 circles with each one getting us closer to Conwy, we eventually found it and amazingly managed to hook the pick up buoy with me on the boat hook and Carole on the helm. She did an excellent job.

Of course, when I dragged the strop on board, it was too short and wouldn’t reach the deck cleat and I was running out of strength fast. Luckily I discovered that our strop had snagged an older, longer, strop that was attached to the same buoy so I dropped that over the cleat and fell back exhausted.

Carol and I had a much needed snack of beans on toast and decided that it really wasn’t worth risking anything else happening that night so waited for the cruising club launch instead of setting of for shore in the dinghy at 3 in the morning.

Lessons learnt???

Yes, plenty.

Most important is that one should always expect the unexpected in the yachting game.

To be fair, we had done everything we could to be well equipped with regard to being prepared for the expected ie. two GPS receivers, two laptops, two VHF radios (both new), new life-raft, dinghy and two outboards etc. etc. We had also spent a considerable amount of money on the boat to ensure that she was very seaworthy ie. all new sea-cocks, new pipework to engine, new batteries etc.

We had managed to sail a friend’s yacht for a whole summer in the Menai/Conwy area with no problems some 7 years ago with little or no experience. Ignorance was bliss!!

This time round we thought we had everything covered but even though things went wrong here and there, we were never in any real danger and the experiences have taught us a lot. If nothing else in the future, I will have a list of all the Conwy buoys in the cockpit with the bearings between them.

I do hope this has not put any of you off sailing with us. We did manage to take our first yacht from a difficult mooring miles from the sea and arrive safely in the middle of the night at her new home in Conwy harbour.

Regards to you all

Alan and Carole Ellicott

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