Today should be the final days’ sailing of our voyage. Mia and I have decided to pack it in and leave the boat in Northern Ireland for the winter, returning when our bank accounts are fuller and we have more energy. The weather is continually getting worse, the nights are colder and the prospect of a North Sea passage in late September is daunting. We’ve gone far enough, and no matter how we rationalize it, were just done. The deciding factor yesterday was simply that we’ll enjoy the last of this cruise when we’re fresh. This sounds a bit negative as I re-read it, but it’s not meant to be. This is the perfect end to the trip. And the fact that it’s not really an end, gives us something to look forward to. Mia and I are satisfied, more so than we’ve been in sometime, and it feels good to be leaving the boat here.
Ardglass has treated us kindly. An old man called Fred and his dog Ben were the first to greet us upon entering the marina. I stupidly went on the wrong side of a red marker coming into the very narrow channel, and nearly ran up on the rocky breakwater before noticing Fred waving me off. I think it will always be confusing having the red’s on the ‘wrong’ side over here.
We arrived on the evening of the 7th. I marched up to the dock office once the boat was secured and got properly introduced to Fred and Ben. Ben is a five-year-old springer spaniel, with an energy level one might expect from the breed. He’s hilarious. In the small vestibule inside the marina building, Ben would toss a tiny stone at my feet, no bigger than a pea, and expect me to throw it for him. I would, and he’d chase after it at full speed, leaping up onto his hind legs and pouncing on it, front feet first, and carefully holding it his mouth before trotting back and laying it once again at my feet. This would undoubtedly have continued for hours had I not simply walked out. Ben and I played the stone game each time I visited the marina office. It seemed like he and Fred lived there, for they were always around, day and night. A staircase wound around the perimeter of the circular building behind the small office, and I wondered if this was their apartment. I never ascended it.
The village of Ardglass is small and charming. A large fishing fleet operates from behind the big seawall just inside the harbor entrance. Near it, a small chandlery / hardware store supplies the fisherman with commercial-grade ‘stuff,’ from survival suits and boots to large galvanized shackles and barrels of chain. We met a local man named Martin who skippered one of the boats, alongside his three crew, which consisted of two Bulgarians and another Irishman. They catch prawns, he told us. This year has been exceptional, but they expect it to slow down over the winter months. The fleet is perhaps a dozen strong, and Martin informed us that yes, there is competition among them, but it’s more or less friendly. It would have to be – in the harbor, the boats raft onto one another behind the seawall, sometimes four or five deep, so it’s apparent that everyone is at least physically close to one another if not emotionally. Martin said some of the guys won’t chat on the radio, but that generally they’re all on the same team.
Mia and I have spent a big chunk of time in the Harborview Inn pub across the street from the fishing fleet. It’s the only place in town with internet, and we’ve had substantial research to do, looking for a winter berth and trying to find out how to import the boat into the EU without being in Sweden. As it turned out, the people at ‘Her Magesty’s Royal Customs’ department were exceedingly helpful, and managed to sort out all of our questions in a matter of a few minutes and a few phone calls. We’ll import the boat here in the UK, and request tax relief as I’m a new resident of Sweden, and therefore of the EU, so this is possible.
The sails are off. Arcturus will be hauled out tomorrow morning around 10.
The engine gave us fits again this morning, to the point that I was making phone calls and wandering around the marina looking for someone who could tow us out. Today would be the last chance we’d have to make Bangor in fair weather for perhaps a week, with a large low-pressure system poised to reach us tonight, while behind it lurks the remnants of Hurricane Katia. That’s forecast to bring gusts upwards of 60 knots here by Monday. Though we enjoyed the village of Ardglass, it would not have been a place to spend a week. And knowing our trip was coming to a close, it’d be better to keep moving. But that damn engine. It starts every time, but ever since I put it back in the boat this past spring, it refuses to idle smoothly and stalls without warning. Today was the worst yet, surging from 1500 rpm to 3200 and back again, uncontrollably. The alarm would not go off, despite all the gauges showing normal. This nearly scuttled our sail today. The clock read 9:30, and we need to be on the move by 10:00 to catch a fair tide. The Irish Sea flows swiftly near the Mull of Galloway. At 9:45 we were still in the dock and I was scrambling to find a tow. I met a man in the marina parking lot, dressed in shirtsleeves and a tie. He was sat in his car. I asked him if he know where Fred was. He didn’t, and wasn’t sure who Fred was (he’s the marina
guru). But he gave me the number for Ricky, a transplanted South African who
the well-dressed man told me wasa sort of engineer around the marina and might
be able to help. Ricky was friendly enough on the phone, but didn’t have an
immediate solution, and offered to ring back if he could find any help. We
needed an immediate solution.
Standing in the cockpit, I carefully gauged the wind, which seemed to be coming out of the SW and was gusty, but calm most of the time. The channel out of the marina is particularly narrow, and we nearly went on the rocks on the way in. I didn’t think it prudent to try and sail out, as just outside the marina there is a rather tight bend around the inner breakwater. Once round that bend, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to point high enough to make the outer breakwater and not get set down on the rocky shoreline to the north. One large section of reef extended rather far into the harbor, marked by a large cardinal buoy. This was the mark that concerned me. Once clear of it, the coast dropped away to the north, and though it may have been close, I thought we could weather it. The water was deep right to the shore.
In the end, we needn’t have worried. At the time, I nearly had a heart attack. The engine got going, though it screamed in protest idling at the dock. Oddly, it seems to run absolutely fine in gear. This works when powering at sea. Manuevering around a harbor is rather tricky, as we never know if the engine is going to stall when shifting between forward and reverse. And since moving the engine’s electrical panel below into the galley (to keep it safe in the event the cockpit would flood), Mia has to stand on the companionway steps ready to crank the engine when this happened. Mia hoisted the jib, which I let luff as we motored out of the first channel. Once clear of the inner breakwater, she hoisted the mizzen and I sheeted home the jib. Clear of the harbor, the wind was lighter than I’d anticipated, and we motor-sailed, close-hauled, out into open water. The engine didn’t make so much as a hiccup.
Our last sail for quite a while today was a pleasant one. The wind was aft, and we set the small jib on the pole, with the full main pulling to starboard. It was a bit rough at first, and Arcturus rolled heavily sailing downwind. We were in a hurry to make the tide, given our delay in looking for a tow. The cabin had not been made totally seaworthy, and stuff was flying around. We bought some milk the night before from William’s small shop he works with his two sons. We’d actually bought milk from him two nights in a row – without a fridge, it doesn’t keep long, and we like to have it fresh for our coffee. Anyway, the milk was one of the items that hadn’t been stowed properly, and to my dismay, I discovered that it had disappeared, just as I was ready to pour the last of the coffee from the morning now that we were safely under way and I could relax. I searched and searched. Mia searched and searched. We’d located the milk from the day before. This we knew because it did not have a ‘40p’ written in marker on the cap. This we also knew because it smelled like two day old milk that hasn’t been in the fridge might smell. I recalled how one of the other items I hadn’t stowed was the second sink and it’s wooden cover, which also serves as the step into the companionway, and part of the galley top. When this is removed, the 8x12” hole gives access to the top of the engine. It also gives access to the y-valve that swaps the seawater intake between the engine and the foot-pump in the galley. We have to switch this each time we turn on the engine, and subsequently switch it back when we want to wash dishes or cook with saltwater. The ‘40p’ milk had slid across the galley and dropped into this hole (which by the time we were searching for the milk had already been covered – Mia had put the sink and the step back in place). I took the sink out again and found the milk standing upright on the portside engine mount, as neatly as if someone had placed it there as a joke. I had my coffee.
Both Mia and I remained awake. We sailed close to the coast, which had flattened out since we passed the mountains of Morne two days before, near Carlingford Lough. The water was smooth and the wind strong enough to give us 7-8 knots in the fair current (which we did manage to make). The day was warmer than it’s been, and the sun was out almost for nearly the entire six hours it took to get here. The sailing was easy.
Near the entrance to Belfast Lough, the coast falls away to the SW. We sailed through a narrow passage inside of a small island just off the mainland, the shoreline passing by about a quarter mile to either side. The wind was blowing off the land here, the sea flat. By now I’d set the big genoa, and we stowed the pole, inching higher and higher on the wind as the passage opened up into Belfast Lough itself, and we left the Irish Sea behind. Close-hauled, we made good time into the Lough, sailing due west now, the first westerly heading we’ve had since running for cover into Shelburne, Nova Scotia almost two months ago. Since then it’s been entirely northeast.
The marina in Bangor is nestled inside an enormous breakwater. The marina itself is enormous, and will make for good boat-watching tomorrow. Garreth from the yard greeted us on the small floating dock near the haul-out well. He helped us with the docklines and handed us the keycard we’d need to get into the yard, which is surrounded by barbed wire fence. We made Arcturus fast, went to the coffee shop and searched for flights to Sweden.