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Passage Plan Change: Tales of Mice and Men

Our best-laid plans are scuppered once more! When this dream first began, we were to sail directly to the Mediterranean, but in March 2020, a pandemic struck the world by storm. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, said so many times by my parents when I was younger. A saying used to denote when something ends poorly or differently than expected, despite preparations for success. A very fitting Robbie Burns quote for the position we found ourselves in, swaying about on a mooring in the pretty little bay of Killyleagh, County Down.  
You see, our sailing plan when leaving Whitehaven Marina in August was to sail across to Northern Ireland and then meander our way down the east coast before hopping across to the Scilly Isles. The Scilly Isles is a  favourite destination of ours and then onto the south coast of England for the winter.  The south coast was, in our opinion, a perfect position to gain an early 2021 passage to the Mediterranean. Surely the COVID-19 would be dead and buried by then! We decided to sail southern Ireland early on in our planning as the west coast of England does not have many safe ports of refuge for a vessel with a 2-metre draft, and therefore, the breath-taking east coast of Ireland beckoned.
Looking out over the aft cockpit
When in Bangor, we met a couple from Denmark whose intentions were to sail further south, making their way back home. We discussed whether it was possible to enter ports within southern Ireland, and at the time, had been led to believe that this was possible before leaving Whitehaven. Friends just a couple of weeks ahead of us had sailed from Whitehaven to Northern Ireland and onto southern Ireland. However, things change so quickly; days later, when we started to contact marinas in Ireland for a possible berth, it turns out their policies had changed significantly. The harbour masters denied entry, even when we stated we had been in Northern Ireland for over two weeks and we were willing to quarantine on arrival. If we were not residents in Northern Ireland, we were not welcome! 
Time to make new plans. How long would these restrictions last, and what other lockdowns were on the cards? The problem was that no one had answers to these questions with any degree of certainty.
However, we had already made our way south towards southern Ireland, so what were our options:
a) Go back to Whitehaven
This would feel like a step backwards, and the winter sailing was limited. Whitehaven would mean we would be starting again rather than continuing. Nevertheless, it was an option we gave serious consideration.
b) Sail to Scotland
Scotland offered the lure of sandy beaches, spectacular sunsets over dramatic seas, rocky headlands, secluded bays, plenty of wildlife and miles and miles of heather-covered fells to explore. WHY NOT!  It would be rude not to sail the west coast of Scotland. Our friends, after all, were already there, and in these times of uncertainty, this was appealing. Our friends were sailing the far Hebrides and working their way back south. Perhaps we could meet and explore some anchorages together. 
If we were to go, it would require us to head back north to the tip of Northern Ireland, scattered charts on the table once again. After much discussion and deliberation of goals, purpose, costs, pros and cons, we decided to sail north again from Killyleagh, making a quick call back to Bangor before heading for the picturesque town of Glenarm. The revisit to Bangor was primarily to purchase a set of admiralty charts for Scotland. We had invested in numerous pilot guides and charts for southern Ireland and the Mediterranean but not Scotland.
Smuggler table pub
Feeling a little more settled about our new plans, we decided to explore Killyleagh for all she had to offer. Our time in the Lough was tremendous. We were greeted with open arms by the folks of Killyleagh Sailing Club. Whilst the club was closed to visitors due to COVID-19, Kate and Raymond welcomed us into their home for drinks, gave us keys to their home, organised a reservation at the Smugglers Table. A hugely appreciated gesture, and the meal was outstanding. When we arrived at the town quay to visit the restaurant, we were met by another local who offered to take us for fuel and should we need anything else he said, “just knock, I live at number 4”. We were taken aback firstly by the offer, and how did he know we were from Sandpiper. A small village, I suppose, but such kind people and we cannot thank them enough. 
Freshly caught mackerel
The evening prior, we enjoyed fish and chips in the bay whilst gazing at a fisherman who seemed to be catching fish like they were going out of fashion. Gary looked on with a keen eye to learn the trick to catching many. Low and behold, the very next night, Gary caught five fish in 15 minutes. I had to tell him to stop, as I had no idea how to cook them.  Before I could even think of cooking them, I needed to gut them, that was a first, and I did it even though I was squeamish when they wriggled.  I was proud to say we were Self-sufficient, well, almost! My pulling of faces and loud screams made my friend Fiona laugh so much on our video call that evening. Friends and family contact has become a real high in this new sailing world. I cannot tell you how I craved the solitude of sailing and how stepping into the unknown had such a great appeal, but god, I now value the warmth of people and to be frank, with no internet or phone signal a lot of the time I think solitude could present some low moments.
On the topic of self-sufficiency, the solar power panels we have are amazing, seven days on anchor and the batteries never went below 87%. That was with the fridge and coffee maker on throughout, impressive, and now I know why we have QE2 sized solar panels. There were many more delights in the Lough, and the wildlife was tremendous. Watching the birds dive for fish and others bob on the water was spectacular and so relaxing. Sadly, they do not photograph very well, but a dolphin came on the trip back to Bangor.
Dolphins following Sandpiper
We left the Lough on the last day of August and mastered the exit with ease. A challenge as the tides are so intense, I take my hat off to Gary, who planned the passage. The sail was great, and we had the tide with us for much of the way. We arrived at Bangor at 6.30 pm with 15 knots of wind pushing us off the pontoon as we moored. Of course, if your engine is going to cut out, this is not the time! And of course, it duly did! Luckily, another sailor caught a line and fended us off the pontoon as I took the spring and pulled like billyo until we were in our berth. Another engine problem to explore in the morning! The next morning the Volvo Penta lived another day, some issue with the throttle cable stop. Mr M to the rescue YET again!
Our sail to Glenarm was delightful. More about this beautiful place and our passage to Scotland coming soon.
Tanya Moxon
Published on 2021-03-02