Milford Haven has a very nice boatyard.

Dear Reader. Would you like the good news, or the bad news?

Well, it isn’t that bad. Karisma is in Milford Haven! Myself and our pal Julie set out on Saturday afternoon (6th May) from Penarth, locking out of Cardiff Barrage for the last time at 15:30 (HW-2) for Karisma’s first night sail, expecting an approximately 18 hour journey to Milford. The weather forecast showed the tail of a system moving away, with stronger winds on Saturday morning dying away overnight. The wind was whistling through the marina as we settled our final bill (£45 for five nights, on top of two-hundred-and seventy-ish for the month of April- short term rates hurt) before slipping our lines. As soon as we left the barrage the wind dropped away to about 14 knots from the north-east, but the boat was being thrown about by a big, ugly swell coming straight on our beam as we made our way south to Rannie. Where does it come from? There is  not much sea north and east of Cardiff, and hardly anything to build up a fetch. But, that’s the inner channel for you. Julie hand steered as I got the kettle on as we waved goodbye to Penarth Head, standing stark above the lumpy, grey sea.

Minded that we were delivering the boat and not having felt like raising the sails downwind in a slop off Penarth, as we were passing Barry the sea flattened out, but so did the wind. We were down to about 10kn apparent, which is not enough to keep Karisma on the 5kn through the water that I wanted to average for the trip. We passed a moored tanker and eventually decided to pull the headsail out. It filled well enough but didn’t do anything much if we throttled back the engine, so we kept running at 2000 rpm. The headsail seemed to at least give a steadying effect in a still restless, churning sea. The only other leisure vessel was a fair old gin palace of a mobo which overtook us as we passed Rhoose.

South of the Aberthaw Caisson we were able to lay a waypoint off St Govan’s head, some 60 nautical miles to the West-North-West, without encountering any dangers. Accordingly, the steering duties were handed over to Sinbad the autopilot. Readers may remember indifferent performance the last time Sinbad steered us west, but on Saturday he proved an exemplary helm, keeping course for mile after mile. Here’s the course we took:

course

This course meant clearing outside the Nash, Scarweather and Helwick sands, and the plan revolved around getting west of Helwick bofore local low water (22:45), so that we punched the foul flood tide in Carmarthen Bay, where it is generally weaker than in Swansea Bay. I was also keen not to run any risk of being set down onto the Helwick sands by a foul tide at night. Although the course looks relatively offshore, it didn’t feel particularly so, with the long, dark bulk of Gower on our starboard as the light faded away. Somewhere between Scarweather and Gower we saw a lone bull seal; by this point the wind had long ago died to nothing.

The pilot book makes the point that Gower is inhospitable to sailors at night because it is so poorly lit, and that’s certainly true. We struggled to make out the lighthouse on Mumbles, and saw little of any shore lights until we had Port Eynon abeam. The west cardinal at the western end of the Helwick sands is tremendously bright, however, and it gave us a definite point of reference as darkness flowed around us. We both remarked that the western horizon took on a strange, murky quality, with the horizon difficult to make out. Were it not for the cardinal being clearly visible whilst still miles east of it, we would have concluded that there was fog. It was a strange, slightly disquieting, slightly exciting, effect.

As the last light faded and still east of the Helwick cardinal, it became possible to make out a low orange flash behind and to the north-west of the bright cardinal. We had not expected to see the far shore until much closer, but this was undoubtedly the lighthouse on Caldey Island. We could see Pembrokeshire!

We had just passed Helwick in windless conditions when the tide turned, which was spot on for the passage plan and saved us having to punch past the sands. Caldey continued to flash its orangey beam, and before long a faint, indistinct red light became visible high up to the west. As we ran down the miles, this resolved itself into several red lights on three refinery towers actually inside Milford Haven. The wind had long since blown itself out, the sky was overcast, and darkness complete. We motored across Carmarthen bay through the long, quiet hours of the night with just the stern light, and the occasional big ship on AIS, for company.

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By 3am we had made better progress than expected and were some three nautical miles off St Govan’s head. Now we began to get a little jittery. St Govans is completely, and I mean completely, unlit, and we could not tell land from sea because the pre-dawn light – which so often dramatically shortens the night at sea- was still over an hour away. Our plotted course ran beneath St Govans and Linney heads taking the shortest route to the entrance to the Haven; that is, it was about 1Nm offshore. From a completely unlit headland. At night. That didn’t sound great, and worse, we had had a warning about lobster pots in that area from one of the old salts in Penarth Marina before departing. Whether a pot encounter was likely or not, it seemed sensible to turn west and stay a little further offshore. I had no qualms about entering the Haven in the dark; big ships are very obvious at night and the entrance holds no particular dangers for a small boat in settled weather, but we were ahead of our plan, so there was no need to rush either.

Rounding Linney Head, a grey dawn broke as we headed for the East Channel in the entrance to Milford.

And then, after a short motor up the grey- and very quiet- Haven, we found ourselves locking through Milford Lock at 07:00 and tying up on berth F4. The sky might have been grey, but the water was a deep green-blue, filled with the promise of sparkling sailing to come.

The total run was about 88Nm over the ground, taking 15 hours. Jenny and Eira arrived about midday to ferry myself and Julie home. We tidied up the boat, and as we did so I remarked that there was a bit of water in the bilge. Not a lot, but some, and there is usually none. That’s boats though, and I figured that I’d mop it up mid-week, when Jen, Eira and myself were coming back to spend a night (our wedding anniversary) on board.

Did you say something about water in the bilge?

Oh yes, the water in the bilge. Well, Jen, Eira and I arrived on Wednesday evening in beautiful sunny weather and stowed beds and food on the boat before heading out to sample the beers in Pembrokeshire yacht Club. The marina and club, which is based round the corner at Gelliswick, have a reciprocal deal- join the club for fifty quid and get a hundred quid off your berthing fee. A complete no-brainer, and something I was always trying, without success, to tie up between the Penarth marina and yacht club.

Before we headed out I checked on that water in the bilge. And found that there was about twice as much as we’d left there two days eariler. Not a huge amount- about a bucketful- but definitely more than we’d left there. I pumped it out with the bilge pumps (we don’t have an automatic pump, which is why the water was there in the first place) and contemplated. Could it actually be a leak? Surely not. The boat is always dry. The keel bolts come through into the bilge so that would be an obvious source of a leak- but I had checked the keel bolts after launch in January- and keel bolts tend to leak in a catastrophic sort of way. Surely it couldn’t be the keel bolts leaking. I had checked all the skin fittings and seacocks, they had all been dry at launch too. One thing I had done was fill the bilge with water and pump it out to check the bilge pumps worked properly. Could it be that the same water was just cascading back down the bilge pump lines, having been “stored” up there somehow, and not fully pumped out? Well that water was fresh and this water is decidedly salty. But maybe. Time for a beer.

We had a great night at Pembrokeshire Yacht Club which I highly recommend. A couple of Coors and all that stuff about water in the bilge was forgotten.

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I’m sorry, did you say something about water in the bilge?

A good night’s sleep, up and brew coffee, better check the bilge is still nice and dry, which it will be.

The bilge is absolutely completely full of water.

Bucket, sponge. Two buckets worth taken out. This has got in in about 12 hours, so we have a leak, it is quite fast and getting faster. Could something have happened to the keel bolts? Time to get the entire cabin sole up. Screwdriver out, saloon table up, cabin sole up, chaos and stuff everywhere. There was no obvious leak on the keel bolts, which was a relief, but one thing was clear. It was time for a marine engineer and we were going to need to get out of the water pretty quick.

The onsite marine engineers are Windjammer and I had heard good things about them, so I went straight round. In the office were Meurig and Dave. Meurig took my name and address; and on seeing the spelling of my first name- “Huw, the Welsh way”- asked if I spoke Welsh. Well, as it happens I’m learning- so Meurig flipped straight into Welsh and we did the rest of the explanation in the native tongue, which was more than I’d banked on but was a huge pleasure. So it’s Welsh from now on in Windjammer.

Dave was at the boat within half an hour and, after we tore more bits of it apart, we traced the leak to the heads seacock. Water was trickling out of the fitting whether open or closed, getting between the inner moulding and hull, and finding its way to the bilge.

The seacocks are the “ordinary” bronze type, and I’m as aware as the next chap that these aren’t approved any more because they de-zincify (is that a word?), become brittle, and fail. However, in my defence I have always checked them each season, they have always been sound, and pre-emptively replacing the lot with DZR (corrosion resistant) fittings has seemed a bit unnecessary. Anyhow, they are now giving up the ghost, and I suppose I should be grateful that we did not have a sudden or catastrophic failure with one snapping off.

The only remedy was to haul the boat out, having been in been in Milford Marina for a grand total of four days. We will replace all of the below water seacocks immediately, and do the above-waterline ones in the winter. The Marina were incredibly efficient, and it was quite something to see Karisma being trucked down the road to the boatyard with a queue of cars behind her. We are probably looking at a longish wait due to the workload in the yard, but as we are away doing other things for most of May, hopefully it will not have too much of an impact. And at least the boat can’t sink in the yard. Ah well. Roll on summer!

Oh, and I’ve bought an automatic bilge pump, too. Suddenly seems a good idea!

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