Strum­ble Head

Yachting Monthly - - PILOTAGE – WEST WALES -

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

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