Back to Cardiff; reflections on Swansea

We brought Karisma back to Cardiff on Tuesday (30 August). We had taken a 3 month deal in Swansea marina and it ran from 26 May through to the 26 August, so our time was up. With summer coming to an end, we didn’t feel it was worth spending extra money to keep the boat away from home any longer- the four days between the deal running out and us being able to leave racked up nearly £100 in mooring fees on Swansea’s standard rate. The sun was shining and it was a windless day, so it was simply a re-run of our delivery trip in May. We locked out of the Tawe lock at 10am, two hours before low water, and motored for six hours, pulling into Penarth just after 4pm on a comfortable rising tide. We had no foul tide worth mentioning crossing Swansea Bay, and a tidal lift of up to three knots coming through the Nash Passage, which was tricky as we were there before half-tide, so the bar of the Nash Sands was exposed with waves gently breaking to seaward and the rocky reef extending from Nash Point looming landward. The sea inside the passage was oily with a low swell; outside the passage, to seaward of the bar, it looked as if a wind was blowing; but there was no wind on either side, as we discovered when we rounded the point and were in open water between Nash and Llantwit Major. Spooky; and it shows how much the tidal movements control the sea surface of the Channel, even when windless. The Nash Passage was also full of logs and debris (including, strangely, a couple of dead swans floating on the surface), and a trail of rubbish extended west to Porthcawl. You often see stuff like this in the Channel  on a calm day and can avoid it; my worry is always, where does it go when the seas are rougher? It’s not so often you see logs in pounding Bristol Channel seas, but they’re surely still there, presumably thrashing around under the surface. Not an entirely comforting thought.

Arriving back in port at Penarth Marina, we felt a strange and perhaps unexpected sense of relief. Having spent four seasons in Penarth itching to get west against wind, tide and commitments, our season is Swansea felt a bit of a damp squib. Our plan was to get further west to Tenby or Milford Haven; and early in the season we worked out the dates of all the favourable west-going tides, and we dutifully went to the boat and sat on her during every one of those opportunities through the summer. This meant sitting through rain, gale and even a lightning storm. Several times we were sat, going nowhere, in 15-knot breezes and bright sunshine, and then its hard to explain to non-sailing people why you’re not going out. This is because, when you want to go west with the tide, a 15-knot breeze from the west turns into 23 knots of strong wind when you put your boat speed and tidal vector against it, and that is not fun for a family in a 3-tonne boat for ten hours.

Swansea Bay is very good for sailing though, as the tideas are relatively weak and the sea is flat in all but the strongest winds, and there is shelter from the west at Mumbles. However, getting in and out of Swansea is more of a faff that Cardiff; Unlike the bay Barrage, Tawe lock does not operate 24/7 (it closes overnight) and moreover it closes at low water, meaning you sometimes will find that if you go out you can’t come back in for three or four hours in the middle of the day. If the weather should look changeable during that time, you have to put up with it. Also we became very tired of the locking process itself; Tawe lock is allright, although its pontoons are under-spec in comparison with those of the barrage locks, but once in the Tawe river you also have to lock in to Swansea marina. In Penarth, this is a mere formality of getting the marina to open the gates to let you in from the Bay; however most of the time Swansea operates its lock as a lock and you have to come alongside on the pontoons. These are incredibly short- long enough only for a single 30 footer with any room for error, nearly impossible if there is say a 15-foot fishing dayboat pulled up on one ahead of you, and I should think almost impossible with a boat over 40 feet in length. Worse still, the lock gates operate between huge concrete ‘bollards’ that stick way out into the fairway, meaning the miniature pontoon is tucked in behind huge concrete obstacles whichever way you approach. It’s hard enough to see if there’s anything on the pontoon when approaching, let alone actually get your own boat onto it. Eventually, having to tie/untie six times- from home berth, to marina lock, to Tawe lock, and then to Tawe lock to marina lock to home berth all for perhaps an hour or two of daysail discouraged us from taking the boat out as much as we might.

The area around Swansea Marina is also not great; the pubs are of the all-day-drinking-while-Tyler-and-Jayden-play-with-flick-knives type, with the tattooed patrons drinking from plastic glasses and bellowing about infidelity and its consequences, whilst the SA1 restaurant area, which does have a very decent modern curry house, also has some sights that you’d rather a ten year old not see on a Saturday night. The nearby Tesco Extra also broadcasts staff announcements at 2am with fearful volume and repetitive monotony, perhaps to break up the unearthly screams and roars of stag and hen parties staggering home from- you guessed it- SA1. This is not the sort of pastoral, harbour-village-pub-with-scampi-fries world that one gets into sailing for.

So now we are looking forward more to visiting Portishead and perhaps also Watchet and Bristol this month than we might have expected to be. We will return to Swansea next year en-route to Pembrokeshire but we won’t get suced into a very long stay. If we can get to Pembrokeshire, we will probably change tack and take an annual berth in either Neyland or Milford marina for a couple of years. But for now it’s back to the inner channel and fingers crossed for a fine September.


3 thoughts on “Back to Cardiff; reflections on Swansea

  1. “when you want to go west with the tide, a 15-knot breeze from the west turns into 23 knots of strong wind when you put your boat speed and tidal vector against it, and that is not fun for a family in a 3-tonne boat for ten hours.”

    Hahah! As I proved to my albeit temporary matrimonial cost. That moment, on the outside of the Helwick Bank, abeam of Worms Head, when your wife says “Okay, I’ve had enough now” and you think to yourself, Tenby is still three hours ahead and Swansea now four hours behind ……

    Still, Tenby was lovely, and Nikki has now quite forgiven me 😉

    Know exactly what you mean about the hassle of getting in and out of Swansea, found the same. Though I did like the fact that the pontoons in the locks were just that little bit higher; made it much easier to manage the warps short handed, when I could just reach over to loop a cleat. But those concrete buttresses that hold the lock gates really do mess up the line of approach. Not a fan. And the operating hours are the real killer. Not being able to lock out until 7am, regardless of what the tide’s doing, really curtails opportunities when you have to consider the range a 26′ yacht can cover in a single tide.

    Glad you had a smooth trip back to Penarth. We came back to Portishead via Watchet and Penarth ourselves over the bank holiday weekend. Have to admit there is a certain pleasure in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Swansea wasn’t entirely a damp squib for us, but there was a certain degree of frustration in not getting all we’d hoped ourselves out of the three month relocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Bill! Yep, it was a mixed bag, but there’s always next season! Hopefully we will have a decent September and can cruise around the inner channel a bit. If the weather is decent next weekend we’ll be up to Portishead for the Holms Race.


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