Half Term Sailing (Part 1)

Last week was Half Term for us (31st May – 4th June). We couldn’t take the whole week off work, but we did manage two good sailing weekends, across the bank holiday weekend from the Thursday to the Tuesday, and from Friday to Tuesday on the following weekend. We managed a few firsts, including the first trips in the new dinghy, and some nights on a newly-laid mooring in Dale. This post is about the first (bank holiday) weekend, and what we got up to.

I travelled down to Karisma on the evening of Thursday (27th May) to get the boat ready for the Bank Holiday weekend before Jenny and Eira arrived on Friday (28th) after work. After fuelling the boat (with road diesel from a can- so much easier than going to the fuel berth), my jobs included victualling (an hour in Tescos) and getting our Honda 2hp outboard back from Windjammer Marine, who had had it in storage after servicing it during the winter. The engine was needed because our new dinghy- a WavEco 2.6m Airdeck– would be used to ferry us from the anchorage to shore at Dale.

After a very decent breakfast in the Spinnaker Cafe, we pumped up the dinghy, fitted the motor, and took it for a spin in the marina. Around lunchtime, a Moody 31 called ‘Penola’ arrived a couple of berths along from us on ‘C’ leg, and we got chatting to Richard and Mari, the owners. They have two young boys and, with a similar boat and a similar family sailing outlook, they were also intending to sail down to anchor at Dale on Saturday (29th).

Sunset on Friday evening, with the dinghy pumped up and secured to Karisma’s foredeck.

Saturday morning dawned dry and bright with very light southeasterly winds. Penola got moving a bit before us as we locked out of Milford marina towards the end of late-morning freeflow. There wasn’t really enough wind to sail efficiently, so we kept the motor running. Ahead of us, Penola pulled out her headsail, so we tried that too, but it didn’t add much (Karisma does not really like going directly downhill anyhow) and we soon furled it in favour of motoring, cheekily overtaking Penola in the process.

When we arrived at Dale the floating pontoon was very busy, and as we were arriving only a little after high water we decided to investigate the shore pontoon outside the Griffin Inn. Although this pontoon dries at low tide, and the tides were quite ‘springy’, we found an available space alongside and brought Karisma in for Eira to do some ‘crab fishing’, which is her favourite sport.

The south-easterly wind had built enough to blow Karisma off the pontoon when attempting to come alongside from seaward, but she came comfortably in from landward with her bow now pointing seaward. As usual our arrival scattered the handful of crabbers and toe-dippers occupying free pontoon space.

Penola also pulled onto the shore pontoon, a little way inshore of us, as a day trip fishing boat pulled out and created a bit of room.

Karisma on the Griffin Pontoon, with crabbing about to commence.

After crabbing (and ham sandwiches) Eira needed to cool down with a triple scoop of ice cream.

Triple ice cream cone at the Dale beach Cafe.

As the tide fell we decided to move Karisma off the shore pontoon and anchor off for the afternoon, with the intention of dinghying back in in the early evening and then staying the night at Dale. We motored out to the anchorage, where a number of boats had already dropped the hook. As we were heading towards an inviting spot – in about 1m water depth at LAT, more or less due north of the floating pontoon- we spotted some new additions to the Dale anchorage.

Three large yellow mooring buoys have been installed to the northwest of the floating pontoon, sitting in around 0.4 to 0.5m water at LAT. This is a bit shallower than we had intended, but the temptation of picking up a mooring buoy rather than mucking about with the anchor was very great, and, as Karisma is shallow drafted, this is the kind of opportunity that our shallow draft allows us to take when others have to anchor further out over low water springs.

We put the helm over and ferry-glided down onto one of the buoys to check it out. We then did a figure-of-eight turn, glided down on it again, and Jenny lassoed it first time. We then changed out the lasso for our mooring strop (a length of chain spliced to two lengths of three strand; the chain sits in the ring of the mooring buoy and eliminates chafe). This is the first time we’ve ever used it, and it worked perfectly.

This is what it says on the buoys.

There is no information of any kind at www.daleseagrass.org, but a bit of googling reveals that the moorings are newly laid by Rudders Boatyard on behalf of Swansea University, who are seeding (re-seeding?) the Dale roads with seagrass. The riser is certainly a good strong rope, and I guess the idea is that uptake of these moorings will reduce the damage to sea grass from anchor chains swinging on the catenary. I started a thread at ybw.com which has collated a bit more information.

To try and establish the likely depth of these moorings at LAT, and to be sure Karisma wouldn’t touch at 4am early morning low water, we sat it out to 4pm low water that afternoon with me watching the depth sounder like a hawk. The height of tide at LW was expected to be 1.2m above LAT, and the minimum depth we saw on our sounder (calibrated to the waterline) was 1.6m. As Karisma draws 1.2m (I think: the boat is supposed to draw 1.02m, but when I measured her in the yard several years ago, it was 1.2m from the bottom of her boot top to the base of the wing) we had at least 40cm water beneath us, with the 4am low tide expected to be slightly more neapy (1.3m above LAT). We therefore decided we were good to spend the night on the mooring especially as the weather was settled and quiet.

While we were watching the tide fall, Penola came along and anchored just seaward of us, in more or less the spot we would otherwise have chosen (Penola has bilge keels and draws 1.1m, so very similar to us).

Penola at anchor in Dale.

Jenny took some lovely pictures of the anchorage, and Eira blew bubbles.

We then decided to fire up the outboard motor and take the dinghy back into dale for more ice cream and maybe a drink at the Griffin. We pulled the nose of the dinghy tight up onto Karisma’s sugar scoop- this, we have found, makes a very stable boarding platform as the first step down into the dinghy is more or less still ‘onboard’ Karisma. I lifted the engine down from the taff rail, gave it to jenny, got in the dinghy and she lifted it down to me. All went to plan. Eira and Jenny got in, and (besides wearing our lifejackets) we took oars, radio and a plastic bag with a change of clothes. I started up the engine and we set off for the shore.

Half way between the boat and shore, the engine cut out! this was the first time we have ever really used it in a circumstance where we depended on it, and it cut out!

I made repeated attempts to start it, and although I got it to turn over once or twice, it pretty soon became clear that, besides whatever problem had caused it to cut out, it was now flooded. I had to row in to shore and, as I can only really row in circles, our approach must have been quite amusing for any onlookers as we wandered all over the anchorage. Fortunately it was low water, and as the beach in Dale is very shallow at low water, jenny was able to jump out and tow the dinghy to the pontoon, knee deep in water, from at least 50 yards out.

Of course, being low water, the pontoon was more or less dry, and we had to step out of the boat into squelching mud anyway. Eira, who I initially lifted clear onto the pontoon deck, insisted she wanted to get muddy and started to bawl. So in she came too, and, tired, hot and bothered and very muddy, the three of us marched back up to the cafe for a cold drink.

The Griffin pontoon at low tide. You can see where the foreshore turns to mud quite clearly; the dinghy and naughty outboard are down there, somewhere… Karisma is one of the yachts to the far left (north) of the anchorage.

Being as we had no working engine, any thoughts of a beer were off. We were going to have to row back out to the boat against (admittedly light) both wind and tide, and the row was likely to be harder, as we coming in we had to hit only the shore (a line) and not the boat (a dot) and we were not likely to have great directional control. Jenny volunteered for the row back, and we just had a couple of cold drinks in the cafe before deciding to set back off to the boat (Eira, of course, got another ice cream).

Jenny and Eira boarded the dinghy and I plodded through the mud to push it into water deep enough to at least drop the outboard leg. We had determined to give it one more go before we got stuck in to the row. As I held the dinghy, jenny gave the starter cord a pull and… whoosh, the motor started first time! half-covered in black slime I leapt aboard as the dinghy took off (the motor is very old school: it has neither a clutch nor, therefore, any neutral nor reverse gears, so when it’s going, its going) and we motored all the way back to Karisma without a problem, landing comfortably on the sugar scoop we had left an hour or so before.

Thinking over this afterwards, I realised that although the motor had been full of fuel when I got it back from Windjammer the day before, this had not been fresh fuel but was petrol that had been sitting in the tank for 18 months. Old petrol goes ‘stale’, becoming flocculated or blobby, and the very fine injector jest of the 2hp air-cooled Honda engines are known to be susceptible to blockages resulting from old fuel being pulled through. I think that the motor must have failed inbound to Dale because of such a blockage, and that my attempts to restart it probably both cleared the blockage and flooded the carburettor. Hence, after spending half an hour or so in the sun with the fuel in the carb evaporating, it started first time when we headed back to the boat.

It was time for a bolognase dinner followed by stories and sleep for Eira. We sat up in the cockpit with a couple of gins to watch the sun go down in the anchorage.

This was our first night at anchor (well, on a mooring) with Karisma, and of course I couldn’t get myself to sleep because of this. Normally, I would have expected to use the chart table Garmin GPS as a low-power anchor alarm, but the unit had given up the ghost seeing satellites only a couple of weeks before (see the next post for the fix). So I had to use an app on my phone, which was OK, but easy access to the app led to me compulsively checking our swinging distance throughout the night. Anyhow, the night passed without incident, and I was up about 6am on Sunday morning (30th) making coffee. Rather than pull the dinghy back onboard (which we’d have to do to lock in at Milford marina), we decided to aim for the marina freeflow, which started about 8.30am, so at 6.45am we slipped our mooring and motored back to the marina, arriving on our berth just after freeflow began. Over breakfast in the Spinnaker cafe, we watched a boat called ‘Sea Hawk’ head out to sea; it did not look to be in the best of condition but we were still surprised when friends told us it had got into a spot of bother. You can read about its lucky escape in an article by the St David’s RNLI.

On Monday (31st) we slept in, and after a lazy breakfast which was more like a brunch, we took a road trip to Martin’s Haven where Eira had another beach day. Martin’s haven is where the ‘Dale Princess’ departs from for boat trips for Skomer, and as we want to take Karisma there we got a few tips from the National Trust warden in the little shop above the Haven. Eira had the chance to be a puffin, and we then drove back to Karisma where Jenny made a fantastic Prawn Cocktail followed by sweet and sour pork belly. A good sleep in the marina on Monday night was followed by a drive home for mid-week work commitments.

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