Jutting out like a bastion into the Irish Sea, Strumble Head can spawn confused and rough water from the fast tidal streams that cycle up and down the coast of West Wales. Like with most such navigational threats, by choosing a good forecast and tidal hour you can simply admire the lighthouse as you cruise by. However, if you plan unwisely you may encounter wind over Spring tide conditions that could have you wish you were either three miles offshore or not there at all. We experienced such a turbulent and unhappy passage in a 22ft E-Boat; we were hurled all round the cockpit like a pair of dice in a tumbler for half an hour, while our speed was drained by the choppy random overfalls. We were very glad to emerge on the far side.
Strumble Head is not the most westerly point of Wales – the St David’s peninsula sticks out more – but it does stand as a bulwark to those sailing up to Fishguard and beyond from Ramsey Sound and St Bride’s Bay. Care has to be taken with the tides up all this coast, but a problem can arise if the timings for Strumble Head are allowed to play second fiddle to the passage of Ramsey Sound; a yacht travelling at 6 knots can take two hours to cover the 12nm distance between St David’s Head and Strumble Head. Thus, if Ramsey Sound is transited an hour after slack water, the stream at Strumble Head may well be at full chat, making for a fast passage but with a certainty of overfalls that are exacerbated by a wind with any north in it.
Gladly, actual pilotage advice for passing round Strumble Head itself can be limited to that of checking the tidal streams and weather conditions. While there are no local nasty traps for navigators, a sprinkling of offlying rocks along the whole coastline should avoided by maintaining an offing of at least two cables and keeping a careful eye to the chart. There is an anchorage behind Carregonnen, the small island immediately to the west of the lighthouse. This is best only used as a waiting anchorage due to its doubtful stony holding in 13m depth, but it can be approached through the sound between Carregonnen and Ynysmeicl, the island upon which the lighthouse perches. I've never stayed overnight, but with four flashes every 15 seconds and a powerful foghorn announcing its presence four times a minute in poor visibility it might not be that relaxing.
The lighthouse stands on its own islet, separated from the mainland by a narrow gap through which the sea boils – a miniature demonstration of the overfalls that extend for several miles offshore in stormy conditions. These overfalls and the submerged rock hazards that lie off the coast between South Bishop and Strumble Head claimed over sixty vessels in the 19th century, triggering the construction of the lighthouse in 1908 to form an onward link from South Bishop Lighthouse in order to increase the safety of the shipping route between Ireland and Fishguard Harbour.
Having cleared Strumble Head on a northwards passage, the whole of Cardigan Bay lies at your feet. Many vessels take a rest at Fishguard, the last deep water refuge before the string of drying harbours dotted up this coast of Wales before you reach the marinas of Aberystwyth or Pwllheli, though those of us who can take the ground are more likely to dally and hop from haven to haven, letting the timings for the bar crossings dictate our days. Either way, it’s a treat not to be missed.
ABOVE: Strumble Head Lighthouse sits majestically atop Ynysmeicl Island
RIGHT: Early morning approach to Strumble Head