Crossing the Irish Sea – Dale to Arklow

Crossing the Irish sea had always been our waterloo. It had to be carefully planned, as Ros was adamant that she did not want to do a night sail. Initially we had thought about crossing to Rosslare or Wexford, but our chance meetings with sailors soon confirmed that Rosslare harbour was a passenger terminal and not yacht friendly and Wexford, though beautiful, had moving sandbanks at the entrance which could be quite hazardous to navigate, not what you want after a long crossing. So in the end, after reading a few books, we decided to bite the bullet and go straight from Dale to Arklow in one long day. We were fortunate with the tides as we could leave Dale at 5:30am one to two hours before high tide to get favourable tide flows through Jack Sound and then northerly tidal flows until about midday after which we had to put up with southerly tides until after 6pm when we had a tidal boost for our final approach.

It was an emotional moment sailing across the Marloes bay and one we could not savour in its entirety as the tide was high and its glorious sandy beaches were not visible. Nevertheless the coastline was majestic and passing through Jack Sound, where we’d often picnicked while observing the swirling streams below, was a magical moment.

IMG_3498Approaching Jack Sound.

Jack Sound is a treacherous stretch of water between the island of Skomer and Wooltrack Point on the mainland of Pembrokeshire. There are numerous reefs and a tidal race of up to 6 knots. It is famous as boats frequently used Jack Sound as a shortcut to avoid the 3 mile detour going round the outside of Skomer Island. One of the most popular wrecks is the Lucy that sank in 1967 in good condition with a cargo of calcium carbide. When we passed through the sea conditions were calm but we still had to navigate a three knot race and very lumpy and swirling currents. I was comforted by Kevin’s advice of the previous evening when he said – “keep to the middle and just let the boat go where it wants to go. The currents steer you round the obstacles!”

What was delightful as we emerged turbulently from Jack Sound was to see the many Puffins swimming and diving off shore quite close to the boat. There was also a dolphin (or possibly a porpoise) that surfaced just once but this time chose not to join us.

A Puffin in the water off the port bowA Puffin in the water off the port bow

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) was great as we crossed the Irish Sea as you could identify ships on a potential collision course even before you could see them and then slightly alter course to miss them. The AIS also tells them where you are – so both parties are on the lookout. This time I made sure I had my AIS switched on, but Andrew still complained that we disappeared shortly after leaving Bishop’s Rock off Pembrokeshire, causing both Andrew and Joanna to worry that we’d foundered on a rock. They were not reassured until much later that day when we came into mobile phone contact as we neared Ireland.

Leaving Wales and Bishop's Rock when our AIS tracking was lost

Leaving Wales and Bishop’s Rock when our AIS tracking was lost

AIS picking up shipping in the St Georges ChannelAIS picking up shipping in the St Georges Channel

Ros tracking a near miss

Ros tracking a near miss

We arrive in Arklow just over 13 hours after leaving Dale, tired but happy to be in Ireland.

Milo just berthed on the outer pontoon in Arklow Marina.

Milo just berthed on the outer pontoon in Arklow Marina.

We took the next day off and in walking around Arklow I was stuck by how many shops were closed down or for rent. The people were extremely friendly and helpful and I managed to get a number of small jobs done on the boat. We met sailors from Dun Laoghaire on the pontoon and later joined them for a drink at the sailing club. This crew were heading for Brittany via the Scilly Isles, sailing  overnight with an hour on the helm and two hours off. They told us how good Howth Marina was north of Dublin and that “The House” restaurant was a must – valuable information which we took advantage of later. Earlier we had met Derek and Norman from Portsmouth who were returning from Scotland. Derek, who’d sailed round Britain several times enthused us both with sailing in the Western Isles of Scotland. He had lived for a time north west of Glasgow and told us that he never tired of sailing in the Firth of Clyde with its links with Loch Fyne and the East & West Kyles and then proceeded to tell us all the best places to visit. We went to bed that night very excited about our impending travels in Scotland.




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