‘Violent storm force eleven expected soon’ announced the Coastguard radio operator. Storm Betty had combined an unseasonably strong ‘jet streak’ with a nasty area of low pressure and produced a ‘Status red – Marine Storm’ warning from the Irish Met Office.
On 18 August 2023 Escapade was anchored in Glengarriff harbour at the top end of Bantry Bay; we were in Betty’s line of fire, protected by the buttresses of Hungry Hill to the west and the Sheep’s Head and Mizen Head to the south west. The bottom was mud and I had 70 metres of cable laid out in 8 metres of water. If we dragged, we had a quarter of a mile of safe water to the east of us and rather more to the south east. If the anchor parted company with the cable, we’d have about five minutes to react before parking somewhere under the castle.
The dinghy was inboard and lashed down. Everyone had a headtorch and we planned to sleep fully clothed with lifejackets immediately to hand. We talked through a couple of worst-case scenarios and checked everything again. By 2100, the south westerly wind was up to 35 knots across the anchorage. There were no other boats likely to interfere with us. The anchor held. At 2200, the wind dropped to 5 knots. The skies (heavy with rain for the past 24 hours) cleared to reveal the night sky in all its glory. The wind direction shifted to the north, then the north east. We emerged on deck to marvel at the calm. At midnight, it was still flat calm, so I turned in. By 0300, the wind was back to 25 knots from the north and it was raining. The anchor held and in the morning we wondered what all the fuss was about. They registered gusts of 60 knots just ten miles to the south west of us.
‘So how was the weather?’ we were asked, when we returned to the Solent in September 2023 after almost three months cruising the west coast of Ireland. ‘Fairly normal for Ireland’, I replied.
And it was. Ideally we would have left Gosport in May and taken advantage of that glorious, prolonged spell of early summer sunshine and light winds. In the end, I left Gosport in mid-June with my friend Nick Lambert as crew as far as Falmouth, where my wife Julie joined the boat and Nick returned to work. The south coast trip gave the engine a good run, but was otherwise uneventful as a ‘no wind sailing’ exercise. Nick and I arrived in Falmouth in time for the International Sea Shanty Festival which filled the Yacht Haven with classic boats and the streets with seasonal merriment. I put 200 litres of very expensive diesel in the tank ahead of a summer off the west coast of Ireland where fuel availability was one of our bigger uncertainties. We lay at anchor off the Yacht Haven overnight – just far enough from the carousing to get some kip.
Nick departed on the Saturday and with Julie back in charge of navigation and planning, we decided to leave for Kinsale on the Sunday morning. We left early to catch the tide, motored round the Lizard and across Mounts Bay, but by lunchtime the wind filled in from the south east and as we cleared the Traffic Separation Scheme north of the Scilly Isles, we hoisted the spinnaker and were finally under sail. Overnight the wind veered south west and increased, giving our new Hyde genoa a chance to prove it was worth the investment. 26 hours after weighing anchor at Falmouth, we were at anchor in Kinsale harbour.
The marina was ‘full’ because of a forthcoming regatta. Several visiting yachts were anchored east of the Town Pier in an area marked as ‘no anchoring’ on our charts and in Norman Kean’s excellent Sailing Directions. We thought this might be because the designated anchorage further east was now filled with moorings, so we loitered in the vicinity of the club for a while to see what happened. Sure enough, the harbourmaster went out to the boat to find us and when we eventually caught up with him he explained that the prohibited area was in force to help larger boats manoeuvre. We could pick up a yellow visitors buoy up the Bandon River towards the bridge or re-anchor further to the east. We spotted a yellow buoy in the anchorage (albeit without a picking up rope) so having attached suitable cordage by rubber boat, we weighed anchor and secured to the buoy. Ashore again, we discovered that the buoy actually belonged to the Sovereign Yacht School. The owner was happy to accommodate us – so we stayed!