Jack Sound

Yachting Monthly - - PILOTAGE – WEST WALES -

The twin most westerly tips of Wales are Pen Dal-aderyn, just south of St David’s Point, and Wooltack Point to the west of Dale, both on the Pem­brokeshire Penin­sula. Still fur­ther to the west of these pro­trud­ing fin­gers are the is­lands of Ram­sey and Skomer, each sep­a­rated from the main­land by nar­row chan­nels of wa­ter - Ram­sey Sound and Jack Sound re­spec­tively. Their im­por­tance is the short cut they of­fer on pas­sage round this tip of Wales, and their chal­lenge is the pilotage and pas­sage plan­ning in­volved for a safe tran­sit, ide­ally of both sounds in one go. The wa­ters out­side the is­lands are not free of nav­i­ga­tional issues: the ar­chi­pel­ago of The Bish­ops and Clerks lies off Ram­sey, while Skomer looks out to The Smalls, Hats and Bar­rels, and Grassholm. Fast ti­dal streams com­pli­cate pas­sage of all these ar­eas.

Many yachts choose to go through the sounds for a faster, smoother trip, al­though care­ful pilotage and tim­ing is es­sen­tial. Jack Sound, ly­ing be­tween Wooltack Point and Mid­land Isle, is be­set by haz­ards on all sides ready to threaten the un­wary. Ca­ble Rock and The Anvil lie to the east side, the Crab­stones reef to the west, Tusker Rock to the north-east, Black­stones to the south-west, and The Bench oc­cu­pies the south-east cor­ner. Add a ti­dal race that can peak at 6 knots caus­ing vi­o­lent over­falls in strong wind over tide con­di­tions and it is clear why Jack Sound has a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion. Yet choose calm weather and slack wa­ter and you'll won­der what all the fuss is about. We have even en­joyed the pas­sage un­der spin­naker.

The key is­sue is to es­tab­lish the time of slack wa­ter rel­e­vant to Mil­ford Haven. The slack be­fore the north­go­ing stream starts at HW -0425 hours at Springs (-0300 at Neaps), and the slack be­fore a south-go­ing stream starts at HW +0200 hours at Springs (+0300 at Neaps). These slack pe­ri­ods last for ap­prox­i­mately 20 min­utes, though it is gen­er­ally safe to pass through up to an hour be­fore or after slack as long as the wind di­rec­tion is with the flow. To risk pas­sage later or ear­lier, es­pe­cially in high con­trary breezes, is to court dis­as­ter as swirling cur­rents, ex­ac­er­bated by swell, rise up against the wind to form stand­ing waves that kill your speed and steer­age. Don't be tempted – it is best to wait for safe con­di­tions in the nearby South or North Havens on Skomer, de­pend­ing on which side of the race you are.

Gladly, the ac­tual pilotage of the tran­sit is fairly straight­for­ward. Go­ing north­wards, iden­tify the two sharp pointed rocks of the Black­stones ly­ing 450m south of Mid­land Is­land. Start about 70m to the east of these rocks, look­ing for Tusker Rock on a bear­ing of 26°T. Keep strictly on the di­rect line of this course to clear all the haz­ards on ei­ther side, but take care not to drift to port, even if the boat’s head­ing seems to be to­wards the main­land as you fer­ryglide along the safe line. When you're due west of Tusker Rock, you can re­lax and choose your on­ward track. The south­ward pas­sage is a sim­ple re­verse of the same plan, start­ing to the west of Tusker Rock but with a course of 201°T to leave the Black­stones to the east.

Faith­fully fol­low these guide­lines and you will be re­warded by a safe and en­joy­able short­cut be­tween Mil­ford Haven and St Bride’s Bay, and can en­joy be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion as the coast-path walk­ers on the cliffs ad­mire the in­trepid yacht pass­ing through the rock-verged narrows.

Jack Sound – Black­stones in the fore­ground to the right, Tusker in the dis­tance, and crab­stones to the left

Jack Sound on a rough day look­ing south to The Black­stones

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