We’re weather bound today for the first time on the journey. In fact, we’re experiencing lousier weather than at any time during the actual ocean crossing, which is slightly amazing.
Arcturus is on a mooring (free!) in Skerries, a small seaside town 15 miles north of Dublin. The harbor (or more appropriately, ‘harbour’) is wide and shallow, with a large fishing pier at its eastern fringe. There are several moorings to the west of the pier, and we are one of maybe half a dozen sailing boats in at the moment, though we haven’t seen any other people on any of them. They appear to live here (I spoke with Tom yesterday, an engineer at the sailing club, and he told me that in another two weeks all the boats will be hauled and stored for the winter, so it really is the tail end of the season here). Further in, inside the pier, several smaller boats (dinghies, fishing boats and small racing boats) reside on their own moorings. At low tide, the harbor dries, and this smattering of craft, perhaps two dozen or more, lay scattered around the bay, high and dry, like a yachting graveyard. Very close in, right off the main street in town, three of four bilge-keelers literally ‘stand’ on their hulls, balanced by their rudders, their decks six feet off the ground (which is surprisingly solid for how muddy it appears). Against the pier lives the fishing fleet, one or two large steel boats and several smaller ones, though it doesn’t appear that they go out very often. In the last three days we’ve been here, nobody has been around much. Yesterday though, one of the big ones returned to the pier, after having been gone at least as long as we’ve been here, so it appears they venture rather far out to sea (they are certainly built for it).
There are at least two seals in the harbor who routinely make an appearance near the fishing pier. Three times while we were in the dinghy, one big one would poke his head up and just sit there, looking around with those big friendly eyes and just letting himself bob in the water while he did so. The first two occasions he was quite close to the dinghy, which, rather than inciting a fearful reaction, simply made us want to reach out and pet him. They really look like pooches – upon seeing the first one, Ullis shouted ‘A seal! Or, a dog!’. Mia and I have decided that they are lazy seals that live here and get fed by the fisherman who routinely line the pier in the afternoons looking for mackerel. I joked yesterday that the one big guy we’ve seen quite often was waiting for that fishing boat to return, wondering where his dinner was.
Ashore, one main street stretches for half a mile or so, with a line of buildings behind it, the street marking the edge of the harbor, which has a three-foot stone wall on its western side to guard against the stormy weather (the north and west quadrants of the harbor are completely exposed to the weather, and yesterday when it was blowing hard from the NW in the morning, their was a significant chop – my dinghy ride ashore to drop Ullis off was interesting…fine going in, as the wind and seas were with us, but rather wet and slow coming back out, especially without the extra weight of Ullis and her gear to keep us stable). Behind that one row of buildings is a long stretch of beach, which, depending on the tide is either about 15 yards wide, or 100. The town is built on a long, narrow peninsula, the sheltered harbor to the west, the Irish Sea to the east, and ‘Red Island’ at the peninsula’s northern tip. They call it Red ‘Island’, but it’s not really an island at all, just a wider, island-shaped blob of land on which are the ruins of and old tower. There is a lovely restaurant/hotel at the end of the road, The Pierhouse, with which Mia and I became acquainted with yesterday when we realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
As the town stretches away to the south, the peninsular gradually widens until it meets the main land, and the one road split into two at a small roundabout that has a rather large statue of a cormorant in it’s center (speaking of cormorants, when I dropped Ullis off yesterday, there was a big one sitting in a half-flooded dinghy that was tied up to the fishing pier. We came right up close to him, so close that my oars touched the dinghy on which he was standing, and yet he didn’t so much as flinch at our presence. He just sat there and looked at us with a goofy expression, his huge webbed feet standing wide on the dinghy seat and his large, friendly eyes staring at us. A guy came by in a larger boat to tow the derelict dinghy away, and the cormorant went along for the ride). To the left, the road continued along the beach overlooking the Irish Sea, while to the right, it continued around the wide bay, houses lining both sides. The storefronts were in the town center, a few blocks inland.
We remain in Skerries longer than expected thanks to the weather, which is only now becoming typically Irish – wet and windy – whereas the past two weeks have treated us rather kindly. We knew from the outset that we’d stay here at least two night – all three of us wanted to go into Dublin, and the Dart train got us there in only half an hour the other day. We strolled around the city and finally found an old pub in the Temple Bar area (in fact, the first pub I’d visited on my last foray into Ireland, with Michael, my friend from Prague during my English teaching school), and sat down to watch the final of the All Ireland Hurling Championship, between Tipperary and Kilkenny. Hurling is a Gaelic game, kind of reminiscent of field hockey, except that the ball is usually airborn, and players can catch it barehanded and run with it for a stretch. Scoring is accomplished in one of two ways – the easier points are had when a player tosses the ball to himself and takes a swing at it, knocking it through a goal post, not unlike an NFL field goal (however, he does so while everyone else is trying to kill him and get the ball). The more difficult points are had by similarly knocking the ball into a soccer-style goal, with a goalie in front. Kilkenny won, upsetting the reigning champions from the year before. The atmosphere at the stadium was quite lively, and every pub in Dublin was overflowing with people in for the game.
Ullis left yesterday. Mia and I had a long debate about whether to leave or not and high-tail it 30 or so miles north to Annalong, a small fishing village in Northern Ireland, and the only real shelter north of here. The weather was calling for gales from the S-SW by evening, with heavy rain and limited visibility starting in the afternoon. Given the very high tidal ranges, and the accompanying strong currents associated with them, we could only leave Skerries at 11am, at low tide, when we’d have a fair current behind us for the ride north. This would give us only a six-hour window or so of reasonable weather, and that if the system arrived on time. Looking at the GRIB files, it was quite obvious we were in for a blow, as a large area of low pressure was hovering just west of the country and making it’s way towards us. In the end, we decided to take a known quantity – or nice and sturdy (and free!) mooring here in Skerries, rather than an unknown fishing pier only 30 miles further on. The dinghy rides in to shore and back would be uncomfortable, but at least we could relax knowing the boat is safe. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to make miles to have to sit and wait.
The wind arrived, late last night when we were getting ready for bed (which by now consists of donning long underwear and wool socks and slithering into our sleeping bags, on opposite settees, and trying to stay warm. It’s not that cold here yet, but without heat on the boat, it gets chilly at night. I end up pulling my bag right up over my head, and by morning, my hair, which by now is almost as long as it’s ever been, is matted flat down to my forehead, further exaggerating the illusion that I’m in fact wearing a helmet). In the end, we could have made Annalong no problem, or even Ardglass, our intended next stop a further 15 miles up the coast, but we’re safe here anyway. Mia and I instead sat inside the Pierhouse for most of the morning on our computers, and then sauntered into town and to the community center in search of showers. We counted last night, that since leaving Annapolis on July 4, we’ve had a total of 10 real showers, including the ones yesterday in the women’s locker room of the community center. Half of them could hardly count as ‘real’ from a shoreside perspective – the pressure was so weak at William-the-Swedish-Chef’s house in Crookhaven that it was difficult to get the soap out of our hair, while the showers in St Pierre (2), Kinsale and now here, had no adjustment for temperature, and were luke-warm at best. Nonetheless, the water was fresh and came from a spigot rather than a bucket, so they counted in our minds. The two girls at the community center were quite friendly, and offered us the showers for free, but had to turn on the hot water first, and it would take twenty minutes or so to kick in. They let us relax in the staff kitchen, offering us tea while we waited for the water. Kenzie and Carol (I think), ended up joining us up there, and we chatted for a while about traveling and Irish culture.
And now, we remain on board. The wind is whistling in the rigging outside, and has slowly shifted from the south overnight, to more WSW this morning, meaning there is substantially more fetch for the wind to kick up a nasty chop, making our mooring that much less comfortable, and the prospect of a dinghy ride ashore that much less appealing. Rather than pick up my book, as I usually do in the morning with my coffee, I got out my computer (I’m currently involved in three books at the moment – The Lord of the Rings, which I’ve put down indefinitely; Donnie Brasco, a book about the Mafia that I bought the other day in Dublin, and which is currently holding my attention; and the Stieg Larsson Millenium Trilogy, which I’m listening to on my iPod, mainly when I have to hand-steer on watch or when I’m doing dishes, to pass the time. It’s amazing how clean the galley gets when I’m listening to that book – it’s so captivating that I take extra time to clean just so I can listen longer). I have two articles due today, one for Spinsheet and another for Yacht Essentials, and I know if I don't’ start writing straight away this morning that I will get distracted or find an excuse not to get started.
Given the delay, September is advancing far too swiftly for our liking, and we have a hell of a lot further to go than I allowed for. Scotland is still at least five or six sailing days away, and it feels like the fall weather pattern is quickly kicking in, making for fewer and shorter weather windows. We can do about 40-50 miles per day quite comfortably, and have charted several stopping points around those distances up the coast. The passage planning is slightly more complicated than we’re used to, having to play the tides, so often you only get half the day with a fair tide, and can really only use 7 or 8 hours to keep moving. However, with a fair tide, we can make 7-8 knots, which still lets us make good mileage, even with a shorter window. So now Mia and I are considering leaving the boat in Scotland for the winter, as the prospect of a late-September North Sea crossing (which will take us at least three days, and more likely five or six) is seeming less and less enjoyable as the days go by. If we can work something out with the Swedish customs that would allow us to import the boat next summer, we’ll do just that, and return to Scotland with fresh energy and (hopefully) more money, so we can really enjoy this last part of our adventure rather than it feeling like a burden.
Mia is baking bread, and I’m about to make breakfast.
So much for that idea. Scotland was scuttled nearly as quickly as it entered our thoughts. I made an attempt to contact Swedish customs yesterday, to see if they could give us some leeway considering the seasons, and allow us to leave the boat in the UK over the winter, bringing it the rest of the way next spring or summer. According to the immigration laws, I have one year to import all of my belongings from the date that I officially moved to Sweden (which I take to mean January 25, 2011, as that was when I last entered the country on my new residency permit, after having been away more than a year and a half, which qualifies under the guidelines set forth on the immigration website). So we’d need a few months of leeway if we left the boat for the winter. Customs was closed yesterday, so we never got through.
This morning, however, I spoke to a reasonable man in Goteborg, where we’d officially be importing the boat. He was helpful, but maintained that not only can they NOT give us an extension, but also, they can not even determine my one-year eligibility without both myself and the item to be imported (in this case the boat) being present in Sweden. He spoke at length with Mia in Swedish, to more clearly explain the situation, and she came away with the feeling that he was merely doing his job and playing by the book. Apparently there is no way around this, as he was the highest up in that office. So to Sweden we’ll continue, North Sea be damned.
Mia’s getting bored. She’s on to the last book in the Harry Potter series. A running joke for most of the Atlantic crossing was asking each other what the characters in our books were up to. I was reading The Lord of the Rings, while Clint and Mia were each reading different books in the Potter series. ‘How’s Potter doing?’ was invariably answered with ‘Good – he’s in school!’ no matter what was actually happening. My response to ‘How’s Frodo doing?’ was always ‘He’s out traveling!’ This never got old.
We’re stuck on the boat. The wind has continually increased since I started writing this morning, and the chop in the bay is big enough now to douse any ideas we may have had of going ashore. Getting to the pier wouldn’t be a problem, but the return journey in our tiny rowing dinghy would be quite impossible. We’re rocking and rolling on the mooring, and the Coast Guard comes on the VHF every hour or so to update the gale warning. A sea buoy off the west coast of Ireland is reporting waves over 15-feet, with wind gusts in the 50s. We have a steady 25 knots, gusting into the 40s in our anchorage. I continue to give thanks for our free mooring, which seems solid-as.