Peter Griffiths decides to liven up his weekly commute by sailing across the Irish Sea from his home in Scotland to his office in Ireland
Commuting to work across the Irish Sea
The crossing is infamously unpredictable, so I was under no impression that this would just be a casual Sunday jaunt. Nevertheless, I often picture myself taking the less commercial route across the Irish Sea to work. With the intention of mixing business with pleasure, I set sail in my 1980s Van Dam Nordia 51, Crofton Loch, from Port Bannatyne, the gateway to the Kyles of Bute to Dún Laoghaire just outside Dublin.
As Crofton Loch was a new purchase, this journey was also my first real test of the 60ft 32-tonne ketch, although she has cut her teeth in significantly more temperate waters, having previously made several long voyages with the author Andrew Rayner at the helm. Sailing under her previous name, Nereus, her voyages around the Pacific Islands were detailed in Rayner’s book Reach for Paradise (Companionway Press, £16.45). After spending 10 years with my eye on this beauty, I was eventually able to buy her in August 2016 with funding from the marine finance specialists Arkle Finance.
When it came to finding someone to take the trip with me, Matt Brushwood, a professional yachtsman, said he would take me as a thank you for sponsoring him in the early stages of his racing career. Before we set off, we created our passage plan and diversion points for the 167-mile trip. In the end, this turned out to be an integral part of the journey.
We knew the weather was going to be changeable at best before we set sail but after departing Port Bannatyne in light rain and reasonable winds, the sea conditions took a turn for the worse. As we sailed down the Clyde, conditions were good with speeds up to 14 knots, but as we got closer to the North Channel, the weather rapidly deteriorated and we were soon battling gale-force winds of up to 57 knots, whipping the sea into a frenzy. Luckily, the boat proved to be extremely well balanced in high winds.
We hastily sought shelter from the storm in Lamlash Bay in the lee of the Isle of Arran
– one of our previously plotted diversion points. We sheltered from the wind in a small cove and set up our radar to ensure we did not drift off station in the high winds. We ended up waiting in darkness for around seven or eight hours for the weather to subside; our two-day trip quickly turned into a threeday adventure.
The boat was well equipped, but these were hardly the optimal conditions to be out at sea in. When we eventually departed, just after 0400, it was as black as a coal cellar. With rocks everywhere, we had to be cautious as we weaved our way out of the bay. Thankfully, the wind had died down and so we felt more positive about the journey ahead and were looking forward to arriving.
That evening – the night after the storm – we saw the most amazing sunset over the top of the mountains of Mourne, casting large shadows from the top of the hills. With the sun speckling the coast, it was easy to see why they call Ireland the 40 shades of green. Ireland is particularly good for lighthouses and as night fell, we could see the light beams from about 20 miles away. As well as helping to confirm our GPS position, it was comforting to know that civilisation was not far away.
The next day was smooth sailing at 10-15 knots – we were both up on deck enjoying our favourite Scottish dish of haggis, turnips and tatties, which we prepared before the trip. Of course this tranquility didn’t last long and when we were about 10 miles off the Isle of Man, the wind completely disappeared.
It was a disaster, as the strong tides up the Irish Sea kept pushing the boat back. Fortunately, we have a large Volvo Penta 6-cylinder diesel which pushed us along at 8 knots, so we started a 48-mile motor to the Irish cost.
When we arrived in Port Dún Laoghaire, we met a very affable American couple who were travelling around the world on a Nordhavn 68 named Vesper. We moored up and went for a celebratory dinner and a pint of Guinness in a bistro on Crofton Road.
We had made it across the stormy Irish Sea and now I knew Crofton Loch was the right boat for my next big adventure. I’m planning to go back to Port Bannatyne very soon, and now have plans to sail to Germany, Denmark, Stockholm and hopefully New Zealand!
The Irish Sea crossing was to be Peter’s first major voyage in Crofton Loch The Mountains of Mourne were a welcome sight Peter hopes to sail back to Port Bannatyne soon
Peter Griffiths, 59, spent a decade in the Merchant Navy and Royal Naval Reserve as a marine engineer
Passage planning paid off when the weather changed
Peter and Matt ended up having to motor sail some of the way due to lack of wind
It was a relief to see the Irish coast