Despite COVID we slip the lines
Despite the pandemic, we were committed to slipping the lines to embark on our new life of fulltime cruising. We left Whitehaven on 12th August, known as the glorious 12th in the shooting world but this was sailing not shooting, but all the same a glorious day.
With excitement and a wee bit of trepidation we left for Bangor in Northern Ireland, this was the start of something big, different, and bonkers. A life at sea, where we hoped to find and challenge our limits and push back at conventional life. Ireland was not the original plan, but COVID-19 had put a spanner in the works, so warmer climate cruising is on hold, for now at least. It was 4 am as we left Whitehaven lock, flat calm and the long swell going under Sandpiper was as smooth as glass. I clipped on and went forward to bring in the fenders and stow the mooring lines. I found the safety lines clumsy, but I knew as we went about our life at sea, I would become a dab hand at clipping on and off, as this technique is an essential safety routine, especially in the dark. I remember looking over to see a pale bloom on the horizon, St Bees Lighthouse, growing then fading then pausing and then it returned. Just then Gary gave me a squeeze and a warm kiss on the cheek, we both knew it was the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. Dawn arrived and treated us to a lovely sunrise, which we were thankful for as we had been pot watching in dark morning mist for at least an hour before, which is tough on the eyes.
I settled into logging our journey on the charts and in the logbook each hour. The passage gave me time to reflect on the few months before slipping the lines when we sold the house, left our jobs, and completed the many preparation projects onboard Sandpiper. All these tasks brought a mix of emotions, it took guts and courage to let go, but if you want to move forward, you must let go of some of life’s anchors. Saying ‘goodbye for now’ to our family and friends was a real tearjerker and one of the reasons we left Whitehaven on the first high tide of 4 am. This timing would ensure that no one would be left standing on the quay with tears in their eyes, but all our well-wishers would be blissfully unaware and sleeping in their beds. In some way, that doesn’t sound kind, but I was preserving my sanity. At 1.40 pm we could see Ireland, my god nearly there, how wrong was I!!! I forgot we needed to tack up the coast, so we finally arrived at 7.00 pm, perfect track though. We had sailed since 10 am as the wind had filled in nicely, allowing us to hoist the main, turn off the engine and unfurl the genoa enabling us to average 7 knots through the water.
We woke on Thursday to sunshine, Bangor Marine is busy with racers, families and cruisers and every one of them friendly and welcoming. Two things consistently stood out during our stay in Bangor. We noticed queues at every single ice cream shop, no matter what time of day and that almost everything else closed at 3.30 pm, even on the weekend. Hence our walk to the castle walled gardens was nearly a waste of time as they were closing just as we arrived. However, the nice man on the gate let us whizz round, so glad he did as they were stunning.
Plan C or is it D? Any way one of these plans was to sail down the east coast of Ireland and then to the south of England for winter, but the ever-changing restrictions of COVID-19 said NO! Ireland would not let us in, so we decided to see more of Northern Ireland and then meet friends in Scotland. Plans change, the adventure does not.
Whilst tramping up and down the pontoon in Bangor Marina to do our washing, provision and acquire new paper charts for Scotland. I noticed a boat being sailed by Tim Long, a 15year old young man trying to be the youngest person ever to sail around Britain solo. As I passed the boat, I bid him fair winds and heaps of luck. I also wanted to help him on his way, so invited him to join us for dinner. Spag Bol, the only thing I trust myself to cook and one of my absolute favourites. A fabulous evening was had by all three of us.
Over the next few days, we watched the local racing together, exchanged lots of information, climbed masts whilst spraying copious amounts of Mac lube and generally had a lot of fun. His mum and dad are amazing for supporting him to do this challenge, letting your young ones fly like this at such a tender age is tough. An outstanding and real testament to their belief in his ability. They must utterly understand greatness comes from stepping out of the comfort zone and nothing beats experience. They have a talented son who we are sure will go from strength to strength. A real achiever, the world needs more just like him. Humble yet driven. Go get it Tim Long, live your dream, the world is your oyster! Today Tim holds the record for being the youngest to solo sail around Britain, tomorrow, well who knows what he may achieve but one thing is for sure I feel privileged to have cooked for him.
After five days in Bangor, we left for Carrickfergus, just 5nm away. Carrickfergus was our haven while storm Ellen passed. Pretty town and a very friendly marina. We also visited Belfast by train, a place packed with history. The bus tour of the area almost had me in tears. Belfast’s troubles were evident, and we were taken aback with the peace wall and the gates that still shut at 6 pm every day. We visited the Titanic Museum, cathedrals, and drank silky smooth Guinness in Belfast’s most famous pub. The Crown Liquor Saloon is exceedingly kind on the eye, the tiled exterior and stained-glass windows draw you in. Inside is a visual delight with ten private dining snugs, mosaic-tiled floors and a masterpiece in bar architecture.
Next time I will share our sailing adventures of Strangford Lough and beyond!