The pilots suggest that the area off Ramsey Island containing South, Middle, and North Bishop is best avoided as heavy overfalls and tide rips jeopardise safe transit. Indeed, this whole territory is ruled by its tides; an adverse flow can make passage risky, dangerous, or downright impossible whilst a fair stream is generally not only safe, but can be used to boost a yacht's passage up this treacherous coast. With careful timing and an eye to the conditions, it is possible to run both Jack Sound and Ramsey Sound in one go, thereby gaining the evening shelter of Fishguard after a morning departure from Milford Haven.
Care does need to be taken through Ramsey Sound itself, which despite being seven cables wide, is restricted to two cables by the vicious reef of The Bitches extending eastwards from Ramsey Island. Not only that, but the dangerous isolated rock of The Horse occupies the sound's centre – a real ship killer. But fear not, both these restrictions are easily avoided and only really cause a threat to the unaware, unprepared, or those venturing out during unwise conditions.
If the natural constraints to this passage are enough to cause you concern, be aware that Tidal Energy Ltd sank a DeltaStream tidal energy turbine in Ramsey Sound during December 2015. This triple turbine frame sits on a base 36m long and 20m high in a depth of 30m, twothirds of the way across the sound from Porthstinian towards the tip of Ramsey Island (charted clearance 13m, position 51°52.680'N, 5°19.478'W). Its submarine cable snakes east to Porthstinian. A lease agreement has been signed with The Crown Estate for a test development programme for up to seven years. It should present no hazard to yachts; any turbulence it might create would be at full tidal flow, when I would prefer to be elsewhere! However, I try to avoid such installations as a matter of course.
Any planned transit must always start with an assessment of the tides. With a peak Spring current of 6 knots, it is best to pass at or near slack water. In calm conditions it is possible to go through against the flow – I have passed The Bitches recording a speed over the ground of 0.5 knots while the boat speed showed 5.5 knots – and similarly, if you know the terrain well, a fair tide can carry you through, but be VERY careful not to be swept on to Horse Rock, The Bitches, or over the DeltaStream installation. Slack water, or an hour either side, is best. The north-going stream starts at Milford Haven HW -0325 hours, and the south-going stream starts at HW +0300 hours. The slack starts around 20 minutes before each, and might last 30-40 minutes.
Approaching Ramsey Sound from the south, aim for the middle of the gap visible between The Bitches and the mainland. Beware Shoe Rock off the south-west corner of the entrance, and aim to follow the mainland shore opposite The Bitches. Horse Rock lies midway on a line between Ramsey Island's white farmhouse and Porthstinian Lifeboat Station; aiming for the latter while staying a cable off the shore will keep you safe. Along this portion, St David’s Point should be out of view; if not, you are too far out. After keeping close to Point St John, St David’s Head will come into view. Leave Carreg Gafeiliog a cable to starboard and head for St David’s. The southwards passage is a simple reverse.
The anticipation of going through these sounds is only matched by the feeling of satisfied relief once safely concluded. The more often you complete a passage the easier you realise it is, but the enjoyment still lingers on.
Approaching Ramsey Sound. Aim for the middle of the gap visible between The Bitches and the mainland