19th July to 27th July 2001

Baptism by Fire in the Bristol Channel - Passage from Penarth to Neyland
Thursday 19th July 2001, the day we started our big adventure! After months of preparation and planning, we were off to see the world in our 13 metre steel ketch, Anju, leaving Penarth Marina, near Cardiff in South Wales, our home for almost three years.

Wanting none of the razzmatazz and pressure of a big send off, we hoped to slip away quietly and gracefully. In the end, however, weary of continually being asked the same two questions day after day by passers-by; "When are you leaving?" and "What will be your first port of call?", we cracked. Instead of giving our customary answers, "When we're ready" and "Cardiff Bay Barrage Lock, I expect", we impulsively decided to leave right away, besides the weather forecast seemed quite promising. 

During the afternoon we frantically worked to get rid of the mountain of equipment and materials which had been gradually accumulating on the pontoon behind our boat during our preparations, finding stowage on board for everything we needed to take along and suitable homes for all the unwanted items.



(Work in Progress, Penarth Marina)


With the inside of "Anju" bearing closer resemblance to a builders' merchants than a seafaring vessel, all that remained was to say farewell to our friends on the quay and ensure our cat, Sophie, also know as Chief Pest Control Officer, was unable to perform her usual trick of jumping ship when the engine started.    

Goodbyes are never easy and we were hoping to slip through the lock to the Cardiff Barrage unnoticed.  However our friends living around the marina had other ideas and many were waiting at the lock to wave us off.   It was such a strange feeling slipping out of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Lock on the evening high tide, as we had done countless times before, knowing that this time we wouldn't be seeing our friends again for a very long time........


 (Anju looking more glamorous and ready to leave!)


The Bristol Channel lived up to its reputation and our passage towards Swansea was very uncomfortable with winds from the north west, around force five and very confused choppy sea.    After a couple of hours we were somewhat surprised to hear the weather forecast from the Coastguard on the VHF radio, advising us that current conditions were "wind strength force two or three and sea state slight".   We were close enough to wave and wondered about calling up to ask where we could find those wonderful sounding conditions.    Certainly we very quickly located all those hurriedly stowed items which hadn't been secured well enough, as they began to slide around the cabin!

Passage planning in the Bristol Channel is always carried out in terms of the number of tides required to get from A to B, rather than the distance.   With tidal current of up to 5 knots in full flow against you, progress can be slow and on occasion negligible for several hours at a time.  Our passage to Neyland Marina, near Milford Haven would take three tides or 18 hours for the distance of around 90 miles, so we had to sail overnight.  Luckily with the British summer, the darkness wouldn't last too long.  

To picture the scene as we were travelling, imagine a boat bouncing around in a choppy sea, with the cockpit covered in spilt tea, cat vomit and cat litter!   Despite the fact that it was summer, it being Britain, the crew were naturally wrapped up fit for the Arctic, with long johns and fleece jackets.  

To add to the fun, shortly before dark,  the bilges, the lowest point inside the boat, began to fill with seawater.   Luckily the musical bilge alarm quickly alerted us to the fact that the boat was filling up with seawater.   The advantage of having a musical alarm is that you don't waste valuable minutes wondering which of many possible pieces of equipment is beeping.    We also know if the alarm progresses past "The Yellow Rose of Texas" to "Yankee Doodle", we really need to get downstairs quickly to investigate.  

On this occasion, the problem was due to us forgetting to reinstall the one-way valve on the bilge pump outlet, allowing sea water to siphon back into the boat as we heeled over and the outlets dropped below the water.   On realising this, we quickly stopped sailing close to the wind and changed course to motor directly into the wind, to keep the boat more upright and the bilge pump outlets above the water while we rectified the problem.    At this point we were wondering if our departure had perhaps been a little too hasty!  What else had we forgotten?   Once the valves had been successfully refitted and we were relieved to be no longer in danger of sinking, we began to sail again, beating close to the wind again this time on a port tack. 

No sooner had we calmed down after the excitement that we started to notice a strong smell of diesel, which didn't help unsettled stomachs, not yet re-accustomed to sailing.    Phil went back below to investigate and it transpired that our bilges, recently relieved of their cargo of seawater, were now filling up with diesel.    Although we have three fifty gallon diesel tanks aboard, we'd never had them all filled until shortly before we left Penarth.    Somewhere we must have a leak in the diesel tanks or their pipes.    To make matters worse, shortly before leaving we had decided to coat the bottom of the bilges with tar, to protect them from corrosion.   The diesel was dissolving the tar and creating a thick black. gooey mess in our bilges.   The leak seemed to be somewhere high up in the tanks, as it only started as we heeled over to starboard.    We turned off our automatic bilge pumps, to prevent this gooey emulsion from being deposited in the Bristol Channel and again, to keep the boat more level , we changed course and motored directly to windward.    

Tracing the source of the leak would involve lifting up the dining table and floor of the saloon, so we decided this would have to wait until we were safely tied up in Neyland marina and continued our journey under motor, adding frequent checks of the bilges to our watch routine.  The first passage of our big adventure was not going entirely to plan!  We have since learned that this is a normal situation on most passages aboard sailing boats.


Our route down the Bristol Channel (in red)


During the night, we were very glad of our new cockpit cover made by Garlands in Bristol, which provided an enclosed and sheltered watch position.    Both crew members quickly mastered a new watch technique, which involved unzipping only enough of the top of the cover  to allow the watch-keeper to squeeze their head out and take a quick look around the horizon, before quickly retreating back inside and re-zipping the top.   This was christened "The Bristol Channel Watch Position" has proved very useful in bad weather.

As the night passed, conditions gradually improved and the day dawned calm and bright.    Even Sophie emerged from her secret hidey hole and spent the rest of the passage, looking a little frail, in the cockpit with us.    As we approached Castlemartin firing range in West Wales, we were requested to take a detour, to avoid being used for target practice by the tanks on exercises.  This having happened to us on a previous occasion, we didn't hesitate, taking a longer route around to the entrance of Milford Estuary.    Despite all the traumas, we had made good time and rather than entering the estuary with the rising tide, as expected, we found ourselves bashing against the falling tide. 

On approaching Milford Haven,  we were approached by a dark coloured, fast-moving RIB, belonging to the Police.  Bizarrely, they asked to board our boat.   They came alongside and skillfully transferred a couple of their number aboard Anju.   After all we'd already been through that night, things were beginning to seem a little surreal.   Phil jokingly asked if they needed to see our passports, as we'd come all the way from Cardiff.   When they replied that they did, Christine was not best pleased, as this involved dismantling one of the saloon sofas, to retrieve a document file from underneath.   After all we hadn't expected to need our passports this early in our journey.  It struck us as a little ironic considering how far we plan to travel in countries where we expect to be boarded by every official in town!   We hadn't even left Wales!   Perhaps our crime was not flying the dragon courtesy flag, as ours has worn out, or more likely travelling in a very cluttered boat.   Once they were satisfied that we were who and what we claimed to be, the Police left us and we continued motoring up the estuary to Neyland Marina.

We arrived at Neyland marina at around 13.00 hours, unfortunately at low water due to being ahead of schedule, forcing us to hang around outside the marina, in a downpour, waiting for there to be enough water for us to enter.   We were finally tied up safely alongside around 14.00 hours, getting soaked again in the process.   After eating a huge plate of bacon and eggs, we collapsed in our bed and didn't wake again until dinner time!

After our rest, the next day, our first job was to deal with the thick, black gunk in the bilge and locate the source of the diesel leak which caused it.   Up came the dining table and saloon floor, turning our little world into chaos again.    The leak was easy to find.   We discovered that on the starboard side diesel tank, which we had not previously used and had only filled just before we departed from Penarth, the breather pipe at the top of the tank was not connected to the breather outlet pipe.    This meant that if the tank was full, which it was, and we heeled over to starboard, the diesel was simply spilling out of the breather pipe at the top of the tank and running down into the bilge below.    This would be easy to remedy if you were as flexible as a contortionist!  

The gunk in the bilge was not such a quick task.    Armed with rags, newspapers, kitchen rolls and anything else remotely absorbent that we could find, we took turns to drop down into the bilge and mop up the mess as best we could using our long-range grabbing device.   This was one of the best purchases we ever made for our boat, the type of tool used by disabled people to allow them to reach and pick up objects.    Anju has a long keel and very deep bilges and this is the only thing we've been able to use successfully to retrieve items accidentally dropped into the bilges.   

We had called into Neyland primarily to visit the sail makers, who had equipped Anju with a full set of new sails before we left Cardiff, to collect the sail covers.    Luckily, we asked for a demonstration of how to raise our new cruising chute, a lightweight sail, easier to manage short-handed than a spinnaker, a new addition to our sail inventory.    On raising the sail, the sail maker looked puzzled, as when hauled right up to the top of the mast, the bottom of the sail was hanging limply about a metre below the bowsprit.    For some reason the sail was far too long and we were glad we'd insisted on the demonstration.   The poor sail-maker's plans for the evening were cancelled as he went back to work to shorten the sail for us.

Whilst waiting a few days in Neyland for software updates for our Simrad instruments, we got to work on some of those tasks which remained unfinished when we left Penarth.   We had only installed a hot water system to our boat right before we left, as we'd been able to use the wonderful, hot showers in Penarth Marina until then.    So, we set to work to reduce the mountain of building materials in our forepeak and finish off the cladding for the shower unit, two improvements in one!   Deck clutter was reduced as well when Phil sold his two windsurf boards and replaced them with one much smaller board.    We often wonder if anybody ever sets off cruising having actually finished their "Prior to Departure Job List?  

Finally our new chips for our navigation instruments arrived, our cruising chute was made to fit and we were ready to set off on the next leg of our cruise.   To give us a head start on our crossing of the Irish Sea, we decided to head for Skomer Island, a beautiful nature reserve off the Pembrokeshire coast and anchor overnight there in South Haven, one of our favourite anchorages.   This would reduce the distance to our next port of call, Kilmore Quay in Ireland.    

We safely negotiated our way past several tankers manoeuvring around the oil depots, always a nerve-wracking experience when you're in a small boat, and arrived at Skomer in time to watch a beautiful sunset.  

We and our Pest Control Officer, Sophie,  were entertained by the antics of the colourful flocks of puffins, inelegantly crash-landing into the sea before taking off to circle around our boat again.   During the night we were frequently awoken by pinging sounds from our rigging as our boat took by surprise numerous Manx Shearwaters heading back to their burrows on the island.    Although we several times heard the scurrying of small birds' feet on deck, luckily they managed to escape the attentions of Sophie and lived to tell the tale.    Unfortunately the same was not true of our VHF aerial, which also seemed to have taken a passing bird by surprise and in the process was left swinging loosely at the top of our mast, leaving our VHF inoperative!     

Pest Control Officer, Sophie, enjoying the live entertainment at Skomer Island.

Next morning the time had come to say farewell to Wales and cross our first sea, over to Ireland. We were pleased to be leaving from one of the most beautiful areas of the coast. With mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement and sadness at leaving behind family and friends we headed west.


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